Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Review - Prophecy - R.T. Kaelin

*Review Published in The West Georgia Living Magazine - Nov/Dec 2012 edition
Book: Prophecy (The Children of the White Lions #2)
Author: R.T. Kaelin
Publisher: Terrene Press
Genre: Fantasy


Book Description:
Publication Date: September 30, 2012

The God of Chaos is marching.  The Borderlands are nearly over-run, shredded by his army.  In a dusty village, ninety-four residents led by two soldiers make a last stand.  During the assault, one of the enemies isolates Rhohn Larus, a Dust Man.  Yet rather than kill, the monster gives him a cryptic message and begs he carries it east, claiming it could halt the war.

At Storm Island, Nikalys, Kenders and Jak are adjusting to their new lives as leader, mage and soldier.  In the nation’s capital, nobles spar, some conspire with the enemy, while others ally together to halt Chaos’ advance.  New friends will be made, old rivals rediscovered and secrets revealed.

The stage is set.  War is here. And the Progeny must rise to stop it.


I feel very privileged that I was one of the lucky ones to receive an ARC (Advanced Readers Copy) of the second book of The Children of the White Lions series, The Prophecy from author R.T. Kaelin.  I was so excited that I put aside another project I was reading to dive right in, and I was NOT disappointed.

This story picks right up where the first book left off, with our heroes having survived their first huge battle.  They suffered loss and experienced a bit of tragedy, but instead of being defeated and depressed, they rose to the challenge and put on a shield of determination.

One of the first things I loved about this second installment was the way R.T. Kaelin brought us back to the basics and these powerful, wonderful heroes back to earth by showing their weaknesses and frailties.  Though they may be the “Progeny”, something prophesied by the great heroes that come before them, and had won their first victory, they were still far from where they needed to be in order to fulfill their destiny.  They still had a lot to learn, a lot more to overcome, and they realized they were inept and didn’t know everything.  This is called Character Building, and is true in both life and fiction.  THIS is what I love about story-telling – using fiction as a tool for teaching an inspirational message through example; giving readers something to think about and a hope to overcome their own challenges in life.  Showing that our titles, inheritance and privilege (or lack thereof) isn’t what makes us who we are – but the choices we make during moments of adversity.  

Kaelin does an excellent job with not only the progression of our characters development of magical skill, talents or latent abilities, but in personality, courage and strength of character.  He doesn’t just instantly fill our characters with greatness and then sends them off into battle to prove it.  Kaelin takes the time to build their true character through bits and pieces of moments that build that greatness within them - and expose their weaknesses.  I’m not even sure he knows he’s doing this – but it’s done really well. 

This section of the story is a little bit more mature than the one before (as it should be), so my recommendation would be for an older audience (but not too much older).  It’s still clean, positive and an absolutely beautiful story.  There are battles, magic, love and loss, but on a more mature level – on the same level of our characters.  R.T. Kaelin is also hereby inducted into the Evil Author’s Guild, which is a club for authors with a propensity to kill off beloved characters.  Be prepared to laugh out loud, but also to shed a few tears. 

Thank goodness R.T. Kaelin is busy writing the third book of this series, because I’m sitting on edge waiting to get my hands on it – and you will too.

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray
Author of the Arcainian Series

Review - Progeny - R.T. Kaelin

Review – Progeny - R.T. Kaelin
Published in The West Georgia Living Magazine - Nov/Dec Edition 2012
Book: Progeny (The Children of the White Lions #1)
Author: R.T. Kaelin
Publisher: Terrene Press
Genre: Fantasy

Book Description: 
Publication Date: November 27, 2010

Nikalys and his sister Kenders have grown up living a peaceful life in the small village of Yellow Mud. On a blistering hot day, brother and sister head to the lake for a swim. There, they witness a mysterious stranger send forth a massive, living wave that swallows their village. Believing they are the sole survivors, the two strike out on their own, hoping to discover why their home and family have been destroyed. They must make their way through a countryside where magic is outlawed while struggling with the revelation that one of them can “weave the Strands.”

Through their travels, these siblings discover that their simple life was an illusion. An epic, divine struggle has been underway for ages, and Nikalys and Kenders are at the center of it. Ancient, powerful forces have sought them since before their birth and hunt them to this day. Some wish to eliminate the threat they pose while others want to help the pair fulfill a destiny of which they are unaware. Myths and legends come to life, whisking the pair along a grand journey neither could have imagined possible.

There are many reasons authors write stories.  Sometimes it’s to share a little bit of magic in a practical world.  Sometimes it’s cathartic, a release of pent up emotions and hurts that others can identify and share. Sometimes it’s to take a break from the harsh realities and escape in a bit of fantasy.  Sometimes it’s a vehicle used to spread a message, a moral code, a bit of wisdom or advice to pass down to the next generation.  There are many reasons.  In history, story-telling was very crucial to the development and understanding of humanity’s way of life, passing down traditions, values and knowledge to educate and survive.  Today, with the easy access to self-publishing and lowering of standards of excellence by traditional publishing, bookshelves and eBook readers are being filled most often with sensationalized stories, demoralizing values and re-telling of superficial history.  I’m guilty of a bit of this myself.  But, it has me wondering what future generations will look like because of this practice.  It also caused me to pause and re-evaluate the stories I read.

R.T. Kaelin has reminded me in his Children of the White Lions series of what it was that first had me fall in love with reading as a child.  It’s not full of sensationalism, pushing the boundaries of the moral code, or even re-writing history to fit modern-day ideals.  It’s about coming-of-age magic, destiny and first loves.  It’s about discovering who you are, regardless of what you’re told.  It’s about facing fears and adversity, but finding the strength to overcome them within yourself – not waiting on a superhero to swoop down out of the sky to rescue you – most often from your own messes. It’s about failing and finding the courage to get back up.  All these wonderful elements are brilliantly placed within a beautiful story centered on two brave teenaged boys and their rambunctious sister. 

Surrounding the central heroes are powerful minor characters, full of flaws, beauty, scars and well-developed personalities, along with a refreshing and straight forward magical system, and a battle for dominance from an imperfect and fallible antagonist.  This story isn’t just about the battles, the quest, freedom from oppression or victory of the war, but it’s about the lives that are involved.  This is a character-driven story, my favorite kind.  Kaelin stays true to the youth and inexperience of the main characters, allowing plenty of room for growth and development through the series.  I absolutely love them all – including many of the minor characters. 

I would recommend this book from young adult (10yrs – up) to adult.  It’s a wonderful story of loss, love, and leadership.  It’s a great example of reluctant heroes rising to the greatness that’s been thrust upon them.  It’s clean, it’s magical and it leaves the reader with hope instead of despair.  I can’t wait to read more.

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray
Author of the Arcainian Series

Friday, October 26, 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012

10 …9 …8 …7 …6 days left and then the madness begins.  November 1, 2012 is the first day of (Na)tional (No)vel (Wri)ting (Mo)nth.  This annual event is described as “Thirty days and nights of literary abandon”.  I find this sentiment both euphoric and a nightmare waiting to happen.

So far, my journey in preparation for this literary abandon has been exciting while I’ve been outlining, compiling character dossiers, researching locations, environments, muses, and timelines.  However, if October is any indication of what may occur during November, I’m in for some pretty wild roadblocks.  I have less than a week to complete my ‘preparations’ to be sufficiently ready for Nov 1st – that is, if I can avoid computer problems, switching internet providers, having to prepare and market author events, editing projects, website, social media, and resume updates, or writing club and tutorial service participation, not to mention a few lunch dates and birthday celebrations with friends and family. 

I mentioned all the above to get to this point.  During the month of November, my friends, family, club and church members, business clients, and social aquaintences are just going to have to forgive me for my stress, erratic behavior, absence, and avoidance during the month of November.  This is my official proclamation.  Don’t say you haven’t been warned. 
For my NaNoWriMo companions – GOOD LUCK!

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray

Friday, October 19, 2012

To Go, or Not to Go?

For a writer trying to market their book(s), they often have to choose wisely which venues to attend and which to decline.  While, we’d like to disillusion ourselves into thinking of all the great fanfare we’ll receive on the release of our first book, for sure by our second book, and no-denying by our third, we often don’t get to choose when or where we will make our appearances; most often accepting the few and far between appearances that make themselves available.  We often sit alone in our solitude and scour the local events and wonder, where can I go, and how can I get there? And then determine how to move heaven and earth to make it happen.

For those few lucky superstars of the literary world, who catch the uber-agent and get snatched up by the big house publisher, they are often ‘told’ by their publishers when and where they will attend – determined by marketing experts who know how to get the most bang for the buck – after all, they did provide the initial investment into the new superstar writer.  Big business is in the business to make money.  It’s not personal, and it certainly isn’t by their charitable hearts they desire to see their writers succeed.  They support the writers who can put out a good product that will make them money.  When, or if, the writer or the book fizzles, so will their love. 

Most often these superstars believe in the fantasy they created concerning their role in the publishing universe, and the role of the publisher – pretty much relegating them to fairy godmothers who wave their magic wands and make the success happen  out of thin air– without any work on their own part (other than writing the novel).  However, truly sustaining and successful authors know the importance of self-marketing and management, and often live a life of self-promotion at all times (except when they’re writing).  They get involved with local groups, mentor new novelists, and make appearance on social media and social events – not giving away ALL power and responsibility to the publishers.  Most often, or at least I’ve seen this happen a few times, surpass their publishers and find themselves entertaining sweeter deals. 

So, thou high and mighty writing superstar – perhaps you should think twice about turning down that ‘small’ public appearance that won’t often lead to big sales or big rewards. Tell the truth – it’s really because those small appearances don’t stroke the big ego enough.  I’ve often found the best networking connections in intimate settings.   But, the bottom line is that you, the writer, are the only one who can truly answer the question of whether to go, or not to go, where to go and where not to go. 

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray

Friday, October 12, 2012

Review - Arrow - Pilot Episode 1:1

Episode 1 – CW – Aired October 10, 2012                  5-Stars

What a bulls’ eye!  No beating around the bush, so slow build up, but started right out in full blown action of a gruff looking, 5-year survivor, Oliver Queen running around like a mad man on a deserted island.  The narration by Oliver gave it a great ‘personal’ feel as he is rescued and returns home.  

I had  reservations about someone other than Justin Hartley playing the familiar Oliver Queen, because I thought Hartley had done such a great job on Smallville, but when clean-cut, and smoldering-eyed, Stephen Amell turned around, my reluctance melted away.  He reminded me of a cross between Henry Cavill and Chris O’Donnell, two of my all-time favorites, an even mixture of wholesomeness and danger.  

Enter our leading ladies.  First up is dear ole Mom.  She seemed genuinely concerned for her son’s safety and well-being, but there was also a sense of something more; something hidden; something not quite revealed.  Oliver’s reception to her was withdrawn and polite, but missing a touch of warmth.  With the maid, Oliver greeted her lovingly, what I would have expected for his mother instead.  That tells me a lot about his relationship with his mother, more than any of the dialogue spoken between them.  Then there was the sister, whom Oliver greeted really affectionately, like a loving, big-brother-who-missed-his-sister would.  By this point I desperately looked for traces of the billionaire playboy, but didn’t see any.  However, I didn’t have to wait too long.  The next leading lady was the sister of the dead girlfriend, the lawyer, the angsty public defender, the Lois-esque fighter against corruption.  I’m not quite sure about her yet, but I will wait and hold judgment after I’ve allowed her plenty of time to interact with our new hero.

After all the cursory introduction, the show quickly takes us back for a tease to the origin of the conflict, the point that brought us to the reason, creating a dozen more questions already bombarding our minds.  His ability to speak Russian, being blunt and observant of his mother’s actions and state of being, his politeness to be excused, his quick, brief answers, all ‘show’ a contrast difference to the care-free, selfish, spoiled party boy who couldn’t save the girl.  He’s clearly damaged, from the accident, his time on the island, as evidenced by his sleeping on the floor, and allowing the storm to rage around him, bringing up the memories of his demons and regrets.   Up to this point, everything mentioned above was all cram-packed just into the opening segment.  I LOVED it.  It was action-packed, character-central, and full of intrigue.  For a superhero show, it’s brimming with simple humanity.  

The second segment starts with a hint of ‘arrows’ and then jumps to the frailty and weakness of his little sister, who is called “speedy”.  I can’t help to assume that the nickname has a double meaning – referring to the drugs, as well as some other meaning – not yet revealed.   Then, it’s off to regain some semblance of the life he’d left behind by pairing up with this old friend, Tommy, – who conveniently pointed out the abandoned Queen Industries warehouse - which would make a perfect place for a hero’s lair.  Then he confronts, Laurel, and his past – including the mistake of cheating on, and being unable to save, his ex-girlfriend’s sister in the accident.  I love the twist that causes friction in their relationship, and adds depth to both characters. 

Then the fireworks start.  First the shock of action so soon without having a long, drawn out, and talked-to-death lead up to our first glimpse of Arrow’s heuristic presence (as is the practice of CW shows).  Oliver and Tommy are abducted right away, we get another quick glimpse at Oliver and his father’s backstory, and then it’s wham-bam- you-just-got-the-crap-kicked-out-of-you-without-apology!  Let me repeat that – Oliver Queen/Arrow kills a few men and doesn’t apologize for it.  EXCELLENT!  This jumped twenty spots on my ladder of excitement.  I also loved how his journey as Arrow began with a hood on the island, and then his first attackers wear masks, and then he’ll eventually be the one in a hood and/or mask; great elemental development.  Best line of the night is: “He told me I’m gonna kill you,” He was badass with no super power, no super suit, and no gadgets; just one heck of a will, determination and a great set of abs.  I think his greatest evidence of strength is when he told the bad guy at the end of this segment, “You killed that man.”  Then the baddy replied, “You don’t have to do this.”  And Oliver didn’t hesitate to respond, “Yes I do.  Nobody can know my secret.”  This spoke VOLUMES into the mindset of the newly-returned-from-the-dead Oliver Queen.  This “Arrow” is on a path of justice, and like an aimed projectile that has been loosed from a bow, it doesn’t stray from its path or waivers in its journey to the targeted destination.  It simply shoots where it was aimed.  I can’t tell you how happy I am that he doesn’t suffer from the same weakness many of our previous superheroes have – the inability to kill, confront and destroy their enemies.  Man, the possibilities are endless with this character now, and the depth of his psychosis is quite questionable, which makes him all the more interesting.  Wow, and that was just the first half of the episode.

The second half introduces us to the ‘concept’ of a green-hooded man being responsible for the killing of the kidnappers, and a hostile questioning from a detective.  It’s clear this guy doesn’t like Oliver, or his family. Am glad Tommy had Oliver’s back during the questioning, but am sure he woke early and saw more than he admitted.  The first time through, I didn’t catch the parent protecting their kid jibe at Oliver, but having now seen the full episode, I see where this clever little clue into the detective’s identity had been placed.  I truly appreciate clever quips, even if they aren’t so obvious.  I love the model boat in the background, the way his eyes sometimes look green,  and his brooding silence.  Continuing on – Resa’s assessment of Oliver’s good heart, and Oliver wanting to be the good person she’s always told him he’d be – is a great moment of setting and character development.  

I liked the scene with Diggles, the bodyguard/driver, and Oliver’s disappearance right after that informative little speech.  It’s good to know this show isn’t all about catching bad guys, but balanced with a good sense of humor; kudos for the writers on that part.  The return of the narration makes me wonder if this will be a regular part of the program – like USA does with the show Burn Notice.  I can see where it would be interesting, but also where it could lend to lazy writing or showing intent in the scene.  I LOVED every minute of the warehouse scene; I don’t know any red-blooded woman who wouldn’t.  It was really, really hot!  Stephen Amell's abs were amazing, and his ability to shoot bouncing tennis balls left me tingling with excitement.  It reminded me of Henry Cavill as Theseus in Immortals.  

Now we get to the MISSION.  Having only so far received a quick glance at our antagonist in the background with Laurel and the notebook from his dad, we get more information through narration.  This process works.  The intensity on Oliver’s face shows his steeled determination.   One of the most moving statements is when Oliver says, “He hasn’t met me yet”, referring to Arrow, not Queen.  

Hunt is your typical Luther-esque baddie, complete with bald head and privileged superiority complex.  I love seeing the greedy being humbled.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the rich.  I hope to be rich myself someday.  But greedy, manipulative bullies will always stir a desire for a lesson in humility.  Arrow isn’t emotional in his campaign for justice. He speaks clearly and directly about what he wants and expects, leaving no room for misunderstanding or speech-making.  After the commercial break, we return to the opposite of Arrow’s character with Hunt grandstanding in righteous indignation, spouting commands and demanding service and protection – the very thing he ‘steals’ from those he bullies.

Next we get a glimpse of the playboy billionaire, and I have to say – he shines brighter than a newly polished crown – as he ventures to his ‘return-from-the-dead’ party.  Diggles’ appearance in the back of the car raises expectations even Oliver can appreciate.  Tommy did a great job throwing the typical soul-less party, filled with women, dancers, booze and loud music, and for the first time we get to see the real mask Oliver Queen wears – and there isn’t a hint of green anywhere.  This whole scene was characteristic, expected and well done, but it blew me right out of the water with the dig at Twilight with the lines - “Which one is she?” Oliver asks.  “The one that looks like the chick from Twilight,” Tommy answers. Oliver responds, “What’s Twilight?” Tommy answers, “You’re so better off not knowing.”  I laughed out loud!  Then, what would a party be without a bit of illegal drugs and a rambunctious little sister giving a ‘woe is me’ speech trying to justify her stupid decisions.  I loved that Oliver listened; allowing her to get her teen-angst off her chest, but then so coolly lifted her stash.  It said so much about his character.  It gave me hope this character isn’t going to spend a lot of time bashing everyone over the head with incessant chatter, but a face-full of fisted action.  I’ve been dying for something like this for a long time.  He basically does the same thing with Laurel, except he takes it a step further and lies to her about who he really is – to push her away, to protect her, and I don’t think it’s just because he has feelings for her, but because he sees her as a distraction from his goals – which she was literally creating.  When his phone buzzed, the truth came out – only she had no idea how much, or what he was talking about, followed instantly by the lie.  Again, this was another pivotal ‘showing’ of the great character of his super hero.  

I like Diggles, but he had it coming.  I saw that writing clearly on the wall before Oliver had to knock him out.  You’d think by now that bad guys would learn to never say, never; and the old-fashioned butt-kicking began.  I LOVED every second of it.  It wasn’t over-done, under-whelmed or off the mark.  Bulls eye!  Though Hunt believed Arrow missed, I knew he had not.  I didn’t know in the moment how, just that it wasn’t a wasted shot.  I find it funny that the bad guys brought guns to a knife fight, and without the presence of any superhuman powers, got their butts royally kicked.  

Our angry detective got a quick glance at our hooded hero as he jumped from the window of the high rise, of what I’m sure is only the beginning of a long story thread to push this series forward.  And of course, for continuity’s sake, Oliver Queen needs an alibi to throw off any suspicion of his involvement with the masked vigilante.  With the hood and slash of green paint gone and the playboy billionaire mask firmly in place, the offer of a $2 Million reward for the hooded man was expected, but funny and worked very well.  And FINALLY we discovered the reason for the detectives’ animosity toward Oliver, being the father of his ex-girlfriend and the girl who drowned on the boat.  This element adds a great dynamic to the story.  Then the threat Oliver makes to Tommy about questioning too much – was good, solid writing.  Oliver taking ALL of Hunt’s money, as he had promised, was priceless.  I had to back it up and see it again, it was so sweet, so direct, so exciting. 

Oliver remembering his father’s last words, “You can survive this; make it home, make it better, right my wrongs, but you’ve got to live through this first.”  Great writing, great moment, great insight into our new hero.  Then came the great tragedy – seeing his father kill another and then sacrificing his self to save Oliver.  In a way, this is the driving force, the under current message and the defining element of what I see in Arrow – kill others – even if means sacrificing yourself, to make it right. The rain in the background of this scene really captured the essence of the message.  

And now for our final scenes:  Seeing how Laurel’s clients, those who had been fighting against the corruption of Hunt, being compensated by Hunt’s own money, were a good example of Arrow not being about greed and power – righting the wrongs. “It looks like Starling City has a guardian angel.” Then we have conflict show up in the guise of best-friend having a relationship with ex-girlfriend.  Didn’t Tommy read the ‘no ex-girlfriend’ bro-code?  Obviously, he missed the memo.  But, no worries – Arrow heard the message clearly from his stalker’s perch. What was he doing there anyway?  It’s a CW or Superhero must to have a love triangle, so here we go.  Last, but certainly not least, and quite surprisingly – the Mommy Dearest twist.  Now, I always suspected the ex-business partner of being dirty somehow, but I never suspected the mom.  Quite a nice twist; I can’t wait to see what happens.  As Oliver said, “She says the island changed me, she has no idea how much.  There are many more names on the list, those who rule my city by intimidation and fear. Every last one of them will wish I had died on that island.”

Well, this concludes my first review of Arrow.  It’s been a while since I’ve written a television show review, and I can’t say how committed I’ll be for future episodes, but I can say this:  I haven’t been this excited and inspired by a show since Smallville, and I really hope it exceeds my expectations.

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray