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I wrote a poem recently about the mythical creature, the Phoenix. It was inspired by something of an epiphany, but I won't go into too much detail about that now.
Let me know what you think, SLY Readers!
The Phoenix
The Phoenix is fierce and noble,
loved by many, yet hated by more.
He flies with honor, strength, and dignity,
but there are those who revile his soar.
They shot him from the sky.
He fell to the ground.
They burned him alive.
He didn't make a sound.
As they danced around his burning body,
Each feather disintegrated to ashes by the flame,
But then, a new creature suddenly emerged.
Bigger, stronger, and yet the same.
It was the Phoenix.
He had come back to life.
His enemies would spend the rest of theirs
in misery, confusion, and strife.
You can burn him to ashes,
Then watch him fly.
It doesn't matter how you hate him,
The Phoenix will never die.
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Finally! Here we are. After over a month of internet and computer chaos, I'm back in the saddle again. And I have to say, it feels good.
I've been doing a lot of reading, a lot of hand-writing, old school style, and a lot of thinking about Mircea. I've come up with a few new plot twists for much later down the road, and made a few changes to this very chapter as well.
But anyway, I'm not going to waste precious writing time rambling on about my random thoughts on writing. Here it is! Chapter 10!
Chapter 10
Goodbye, Mircea
Ilona wakes the next morning to a gentle hug from Mary. It is still an hour before dawn will break, but John and his men insisted on leaving as early as possible in order to make the ride back to Oradea smooth and quick.
Ilona slowly pushes herself up to a sitting position in her bed and Mary sits beside her at its edge. They sit silently together in the dark, watching Mircea sleep quietly in his bassinet, both exhausted from the sleepless, solemn night behind them. Both women have dark circles under their puffy eyes, covered in crust from dried tears. They spent most of the night crying, unsure of when Mary and Mircea will get to see Ilona again, if ever at all.
John appears in the bedroom doorway. He watches the women quietly for a moment before announcing, “It’s time.” Mary puts an arm around Ilona before helping her with her robe, while Ilona seems barely able to bring herself to leave her bed. She fights back more tears as she buries her face into her hands, and Mary gives her a gentle pat on the back before looking to John with sadness in her eyes.
They leave her alone with her son for one final moment together before they must say goodbye. John forces a smile at Mary as she passes him at the door’s threshold, and she wipes a tear away as she heads to the kitchen to make one last bowl of balmos for Ilona. John turns to follow her and gently closes the bedroom door behind him.
A deep sigh escapes Ilona’s quivering lips and her brow tightens fiercely as she blinks more tears away. They fall from her cheeks onto Mircea’s blankets where he lays warm and safe by her bed, unaware of the chaotic hell that surrounds him. And yet she can see in his eyes that he knows something. What that could be, she doesn’t know, but she can see the empathy in his eyes for his mother. He can sense her anxiety, her worry, and her fear, and it unsettles him.
She picks him up and brings his face to hers, brushing his cheek with hers and kissing him gently before fighting off yet even more more tears before leaving the room herself. The empty bassinet remains in the room, alone and in the dark. It will continue to be a cruel reminder of her now childless life unless she can get rid of it somehow.
Everyone is waiting for her outside at the gate by the dirt road.
“Let’s not prolong the most painful experience a mother could have in her entire life,” Mary suggests to John’s boyars. They all complied respectfully and prepared the horses ahead of time. It should be a swift and painful, but brief goodbye.
Ilona swaddles Mircea snugly with a thick, wool blanket and taking deep, heavy breaths, her chin quivers as tears seem to now permanently fill her eyes. John and Mary stand outside the gate with the horses and carriage ready and waiting. They will ride together and take turns holding Mircea for the trip to Oradea, ensuring his warmth and comfort for the entire journey.
Ilona takes one last look at her baby and hands him to Mary, then covering her mouth with both hands, she muffles the deepest cries of the most heartbroken mother in the world.
Mary cries as well as she carries Mircea to the carriage and hands him to John. He wastes no time in climbing into the carriage with Mircea in his arms, taking him out of Ilona’s sight, and now her life.
The women embrace in a firm hug for several seconds, crying together before Mary finally pulls away, promising through tear blinded eyes, “He will be alright, madam. Everything will be alright.” She then joins John in the carriage, but no one waves goodbye. They just leave. No one could stomach yet another goodbye. Not even Johns boyars dare to look Ilona in the eyes for fear of their own hearts being broken by her now hopeless gaze.
Ilona falls to her knees and weeps uncontrollably as the carriage pulls away. Her baby Mircea Ciobanul is taken away from her by her own demand.
“I love you, Mircea!” she cries. The carriage disappears into the brush beyond the hill. “I love you!”
She begins to loathe herself for ever having allowed Vlad Tepes Dracula into her life in the first place. She wonders what kind of a mother sends her child to live so far away for his entire life, and she grieves for Mircea as if he were dead and gone from the world, never to return to her again.
She pounds the stepping stones on the ground angrily with the palms of her hands and sobs for what seems like hours, until the sun rises over the hill, peeking through the curtain of leaves of the willow tree. She prays the strongest and most dire prayer she will make in her life.
“Please, Lord. Bring him back to me. Protect him, keep him safe, and care for him as you have done for me. Protect him from the Draculas. Keep him out of their sight, and give him the courage to live the life that I could not. Make him the shepherd to our fallen world, protect him from their evil, and bring him back to me. Please, bring him back. Please.”
She remains on her knees, but then lowers her face to the ground, burying it into the palms of her hands which lay on the ground beneath her. She cries until she can’t cry anymore, and she pleads with her son, who can no longer hear her.
“Please, Mircea. Please come back to me, my boy.”
The ride out of Buda is painfully silent. The Oradean boyars ride their horses ahead of and behind the carriage while John and Mary sit inside with only Mircea to give them company.
Mary wipes away a few lingering tears as she holds Mircea tightly in her arms, forcing a smile as his eyelids shift and flutter with the threat of opening. The faint voice of Ilona still rings in her ears, in a broken voice declaring her love for a son that she may never know. And another tear falls from Mary’s from her eye.
John lets out a deep sigh, but his expression brightens slightly at the view of the most precious, sleeping baby.
“I just don’t understand,” he finally says, breaking the silence. After almost three miles of nothing but the sound of the horses trotting along the rough terrain on the dirt beaten path and the squeaking of the carriage as it bounces along all around them, conversation seems necessary.
“Understand what?” Mary replies.
“Why is she so certain that Vlad will find her anywhere she goes?” says John.
Mary blinks a few times in hesitation before responding. “It’s difficult to explain,” she says.
John raises an eyebrow at her. “Difficult to explain, or difficult to understand?”
Mary sighs and strokes Mircea’s curly black hair.
“I don’t know. Both, I suppose.”
“Perhaps you could attempt explaining it to me anyway.”
Mary rubs her eyes, still puffy and red from an amount of crying no eyes could tolerate. She sighs at John’s persistence, then closes her eyes and rests her head on the wooden back of the carriage bench. Taking deep breaths and hoping to fall asleep soon, she has no desire to continue a conversation like this with John this morning, or anyone else for that matter.
“Mary,” another man’s voice says. Mary keeps her eyes closed and doesn't respond. She even pretends not to hear him, if it means another conversation avoided. His voice is deep and comforting, and familiar. After a few minutes of listening to his voice, she doesn’t actually realize someone is talking to her at all.
He finally repeats himself enough times that she is startled from her sleepy haze and she forces her bloodshot eyes open. Looking around the small carriage somewhat frantically, she listens for the voice and searches for its owner, nowhere to be seen. He persists in repeating her name several times before she finally responds.
“What? Who is that?” she says, rubbing her eyes. She turns to John, who now widens his eyes at her and tilts his head at her in confusion.
“Did you hear that?” she asks him.
“Hear what? I didn’t hear anything,” he shakes his head.
“My name. Someone keeps saying my name," Mary insists.
John raises his brow at her and turns away to look out the window of the carriage, wondering if he’s bringing a crazy woman to care for the Princess’s son.
Mary leers at him as he proceeds to ignore her presence and looks down at Mircea, still sleeping quietly in her lap. ‘Well, he isn't bothering me for a conversation anymore, is he?’ She thinks to herself.
The voice speaks up once again. This time he says more than just her name, but instead of announcing it to John, she decides to just listen quietly.
“Mary, it’s Anghel.”
Mary perks up and looks around, trying to find Anghel somewhere in the carriage, but he isn’t there. She restrains herself from responding aloud. If she were to try and convince John that she is actually hearing an invisible man’s voice in her head, he would have her thrown from the carriage for her insanity. At least, that was the policy at Bran Castle. ‘Just the same,’ she thinks. ‘I better just keep this to myself.’
“That’s fine, Mary. But I need you to listen now,” says Anghel.
Mary’s eyes widen at the unexpected response to her private thoughts. ‘Can you read my mind, Anghel?’ she thinks.
“Yes, I can, but that’s not important right now. It’s important that you listen to me and do exactly as I say,” he insists.
John glances back from the window and looks to Mary, who tries smiling at him nonchalantly but ends up appearing even more unstable than before. John forces a smile while concern for her apparent mental problems is now apparent. He looks back to the window and decides it’s best if he keeps the conversation to a minimum until they reach Oradea, and he can find her the proper care for her instability.
‘Okay, what’s going on?’ she thinks.
“Mircea is going to be very well taken care of in Oradea, Mary. John has three lovely handmaidens to assist him in raising the boy, and John himself with be as good of a father that he could ask for.”
‘Yeah, I know, Anghel. And that’s all well and good, my love, but Ilona insisted that I come anyway. She wanted Mircea to have someone he knows and loves with him. Someone he could trust in a world of strangers and confusion.’ Mary argues.
“He will be fine, Mary. Mircea trusts both of you, and he will learn to love and trust John and his household very quickly. You, my dear, should be with Ilona. She needs you now more than ever, and you need to leave now. If you turn back at this very moment, you can still make it there in time,” he urges.
“In time for what?”
“For Darius, Mary. Darius has found Ilona, and he’s on his way to her now. Mircea is safe, but Ilona may be not, and I cannot interfere with the will of flesh and blood in the Physical Realm. I can only observe, interact verbally, and report back to the Spiritual Realm. I cannot-”
‘-Yeah, yeah, alright, alright. You had me at Darius. I’ll be there, Anghel. I’m leaving now.’
Mary turns to John and takes a deep breath. ‘Lord, help me,’ she prays, and then waits for him to turn and face her.
“Yes?” he says, meeting her gaze. “Is something wrong?”
Mary blinks nervously and takes another deep breath. “No, nothing is wrong,” she answers. She stares at him for several seconds, unsure of what to say or how to say it before he loses his patience.
“Well...what is it?” he asks. Mary bites her lip and brings Mircea to her face, kissing his soft cheek before leaning over and handing him to John, who accepts him with a look of bewilderment. He wraps an arm under Mircea’s body and looks down into his precious face.
“I must go back, John,” she says grimly. “I need to be with Ilona,” she says.
He stares at her blankly as she gathers her bag and tightens her wool robe, pulling its hood over her head and tying the strings that keep it in place.
“I know you’ll take good care of him. Do write to us please. You must write,” she insists. He nods obediently as they both stare down at Mircea for a moment, soaking in his innocence and blissful ignorance at the chaos and confusion around him.
Seconds later, the carriage stops in the road. Mary hops out and one of the men dismount their horse, helping Mary up onto its back and entering the carriage himself in her place. The carriage pulls away once again and Mary watches it fade into the distance before Anghel’s voice speaks up once again.
“Mary, go now. You’re running out of time,” he urges. Mary then turns back toward Buda and commands the horse into a gallop, speeding along the dirt path to make her way back to Ilona, praying that she makes it there before Darius does.
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I read the Hunger Games several years ago when my sister-in-law strongly recommended it. Funnily enough, Ready Player One was very strongly recommended to me as well by a co-worker when it was all the rage, too.
In case you haven't already read that post, I didn't care too much for Ready Player One, and I didn't care much for The Hunger Games either. Sorry. I know a lot of people really love both of them, but I really...REALLY...don't.
I know it's old news, but I had such strong feelings about particular issues in The Hunger Games that I decided I absolutely MUST write a review of it, even if no one cares anymore. I care, and I'm sure there are plenty of people who still haven't read this series who might still be considering it.
If you are, I wouldn't really recommend it. It's nothing that special if you ask me.
Like Ready Player One, I have a few positive things to say about it, but probably more negatives. In fact, I probably liked Ready Player One a lot more than The Hunger Games, and I didn't really like it. Heh.
So, prepare yourselves for disappointment if you're looking for positive re-enforcement here. You won't find it, friend.
Again, here are my five areas of criteria for a good story. I decided to eliminate the sixth one, which was Synopsis, because a lot of times the author themselves isn't even responsible for writing the synopsis. Also, a book could have a terrible synopsis, maybe even written by the author himself/herself, and still have a great story.
So here are the five once again.
1. Plot
2. Theme
3. Characters
4. Setting/World
5. Writing/Voice
Here we go!
Well, I will give her one thing. Suzanne Collins can write a great plot. I don't want to be too negative. I mean, there are legitimate reasons why people loved this series, and I think plot had to be the main one.
This was in fact the one thing that kept me in the story, while I couldn't have cared less about anything else. The plot was always moving, always twisting and turning, surprising me and giving me reasons to stay. Had it not been for the plot, I don't know how long I would have lasted.
So, for that reasons, I'll give her Plot a 5.
This is where things start looking bad for The Hunger Games for me. As I've said before, Theme is extremely important for me, and this story, well...it didn't really have much of one.
Sure, it pushes the same message that virtually all other dystopian Sci-Fi stories push: the government sucks, it's corrupt, and will ruin your life if you let it. Yeah, it's true, and a theme I can get behind, but it was obvious from the very beginning, it was predictable and common, and not particularly original.
Okay, I know. Here is a nobody criticizing a somebody big who has managed to turn her bestselling book series into a worldwide movie franchise as well. But listen, I'm not someone who just complains because they're bitter or jealous. I'm more than happy to compliment the work of writers with just as much success, if I actually like their story.
And the theme here is just not that great. But hey, it's a message I can agree with, and it wasn't completely theme-less, which a lot of stories are like these days, so I can't be all negative here.
Unfortunately, there are also some themes I noticed here that I actually don't agree with. Like, why is Gale, the most capable male character in the story, hiding on the sidelines for most of the story? And Haymitch? I mean, come on. These guys should be front and center. In reality, they would be.
I think I smell a feminist, and I don't like it. Ugh.
While Katniss' efforts are heroic, initially, and okay, Peeta's too...why does Gale even exist if he's not going to be allowed to fulfill his true character's purpose? Is he only there for the drama of the stupid love triangle, or man-meat for the readers un-attracted to pathetic little boys like Peeta?
So, I'll give the theme a 3, only because the anti-government theme is agreeable for me.
There are a few characters I actually liked in The Hunger Games, but they got virtually no attention, or were killed off in the end.
Katniss was originally a likable and relatable character. I thought, "Oh, cool, a female on the cusp of adulthood who can shoot a bow and arrow. She takes care of her family, is friends with an awesome guy (Gale), and she sacrifices herself to protect her little sister from The Hunger Games."
And then, eh...things seemed to go downhill from there.
She was somehow able to ignore the magnitude of the violent horrors and death that awaited her because...pretty dresses and yummy food.
She did what too many female protagonists do, and I absolutely hate, by stringing a good and worthy man along (Gale) while at the same time actually pursuing and clinging to someone else (Peeta, like the bread, who threw her bread, so...he's better, right?).
Hey, everyone has their own taste in their choice of partner, but I will just say that I would have stuck with Gale, and Peeta's pathetic ass wouldn't have even phased me. I'm sorry guys, but I really don't want to be the man in the relationship. If I'm constantly having to protect and save Peeta while at the same time trying not to die myself, I will lose interest in about three seconds. Give me Gale, who would take over the rebellion for me, protect me night and day if I let him, and build a fortress in the woods where we can rebuild a community of free, self-sufficient and independent people.
That ruins the feminist ideals of the story's theme though, so...whatever, Sarah! Don't burst our fantasy land where women are stronger than men and strong men are irrelevant to a world of constant violence, corruption and danger. Not like they'd be of any help!
And then! Katniss, the strong, independent face of the rebellion, seems to clam up and cry like a frightened little girl at times, which I guess you could expect from a girl of her age in the circumstances she was in. I mean, it was realistic, but it didn't match her character, did it?
I kind of wanted to tell her to man up, because, I mean, isn't that what her character was supposed to be? A strong, independent, capable woman with the ability to do all the things that a man, Peeta, couldn't do? And yet, she goes into the fetal position and cries like a baby sometimes.
I don't get it. Either she's facing terrifying physical violence with courage and strength, or she's not. She can either handle the pressure and magnitude of what she's doing, or she can't. Is she confused about who she is? Because I am.
Perhaps I was just annoyed at her character in general enough to not care when she was scared or hurt, which probably makes me a terrible person. But here's the deal: I've cried for fictional characters before. I've felt sadness and hope and worry and all the feelings and emotions one should really only reserve for actual people.
The point is that I'm not incapable of feeling empathy for fictional characters in a story. Far from it, and Katniss turned me off enough to keep me from really caring about her at some point. That's a character flaw, and when the reader doesn't like a character for whatever reason, they won't care what happens to them, and it spells doom for the story.
Because of Katniss, her terrible mistakes, the killing off of actually good characters, and the ignoring of the best ones (Haymitch & Gale), I can't give more than 3 points here.
So, a 3 it is.
I actually didn't mind the book's Setting. In fact, it was pretty good. I love a good dystopian sci-fi when the world is done right, and the Hunger Games arena had to be my favorite part of the world. Then there's Snow's mansion.
I won't spend too much time here, because there's not much to say. There's nothing bad to say about it, and nothing particularly amazing that I want to go on about. I'll just say that I enjoyed the setting and the world.
I'll give the Setting a 4.
Last, but certainly not least, the writing itself and the writer's voice.
While I enjoyed the writer's voice in general, I had a lot of problems with the writing. I know that might be confusing to some people. Just try and think of it as a singer's voice compared to the song they're singing. You can like their voice, but hate their song choice, or their song writing. And that was the case for me here.
Without spending too much time going into the painful details of why I disliked the writing itself, I will list my main complaints:
1. Katniss' behavior, character, and decisions are annoying.
2. Gale should be a much more prominent character, but since the writer seems determined to ignore strong, masculine men while rewarding the frightened, weak men and putting Katniss on a pedestal of girl power, he is completely ignored and abused.
Now, in order to be ironic, or for some other weird purpose, the writer kills off Prim in the end. I have no idea why. Maybe to push a message that in trying to protect her little sister and be a hero, Katniss actually puts her at more risk by unleashing the hell that ensues when she decides to take a stand against Snow and the powers that be. *shrug* Seems like a pretty horrible way to send that message. Ignore the strong man who could probably have just taken down the government single-handedly in the very beginning if you'd freaking let him, and then kill the hero's little sister to show that being a hero actually puts people in danger...OR...you don't want to come up with a resolution for certain characters because that's more work that you don't want to put into the story, so kill them off. *sigh*
4. Other good characters are killed off for no apparent reason. Maybe it's to wake people up to the reality of the evils that face these characters, or maybe it's because the writer didn't want to have to come up with resolutions for more characters in the end. Or maybe it's because people enjoy mindless, gory violence too much and the writer wanted to do something to entertain the sociopaths in the audience. Whatever the reason, I don't like any of them.
5. I hate love triangles, especially when you have one person juggling two others, basically playing with the emotions of others with no regard for them, their feelings, or their happiness. Loyalty, faithfulness, integrity, honesty...anything? No? *sigh*
So, for writing, I give it a 3.
In conclusion, I enjoyed the plot, the writing style, the world, and the initial idea of the story...
...I just think it could have been done a lot better, the higher quality characters could have been treated better, and the protagonist could have had much better character overall. The writing itself could have been better, and the love triangle, especially when Gale was ultimately treated as useless to the story, could have been done without.
But hey, the masses loved it, so what do I know? Well, I know what I like, and The Hunger Games gets SLY Score of 18/25, which is a C- in my book. Yeah, sounds about right when all is said and done. It wasn't amazing for me. It wasn't the best book I've ever read. Far from it. Just average. Maybe a little below even.
Sorry, masses! Love ya! :)
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October Was Bad...And Good
After writing a short critique on Ready Player One a while back, I decided that writing book reviews could be something I would enjoy writing on a regular basis for the blog.
Then, after a lot of brainstorming regarding the blog/website over this past month (of agonizing thumb-twiddling) and what niche I will claim once and for all, I realized that it might actually be perfect.
Because here's the thing. I don't have the time or energy to come up with new creative content on a regular basis. That stuff strikes me at random and without warning, planning, or thinking at all really.
Right now, my creative energy is occupied with Mircea, and the many other novel ideas that I have stewing in my head. So, what is a fiction writer to do with a blog? Blogs are really designed for non-fiction writers, not novelists.
Yet, I could never shut it down. I love it. It's writing, and I love writing. I love blogging. I couldn't let one little creative block stop me from doing what I love. So, I just kept chugging along, changing things when I felt they needed to be changed, which was constantly, overwhelmed with all the different possibilities and options that I had.
Then I thought I should just go back to my original niche, which I called DayDreaming. Something about it wasn't quite right. I wasn't excited or happy about it. I'd kind of given up on anything else though. I didn't know what else to do, so I was prepared to settle for the only idea I had left that I could tolerate on a long-term basis.
Then, my internet went down. And then, my computer went down. And then...my mind woke up.
Without Facebook, YouTube, politics, and the general overwhelming, mind-numbing information overload of the internet dragging me down constantly, it was like I had been asleep for years, in a trance. A screen trance. I was forced to stop. I had no choice.
It's kind of funny and pathetic at the same time, how addicted I was to that constant, instant gratification that the internet gave me, literally whenever I wanted it. And then it was taken from me, without warning, without permission. Gone. Done.
At first, I absolutely hated it.
But then, wham! SLY Stories was born in my brain.
Introducing SLY Stories
This is it. I'm done flip-flopping between niches and topics for my blog. That nonsense dissipated with my internet connection over a month ago. And without Facebook in my face 24/7, I could finally think.
From now on, I'll be posting book reviews of my favorite works of fiction (and some that I don't like at all), chapters of my own work, and the occasional writing post where I share my thoughts and findings regarding the art of writing and self-publishing.
That is what the SLY Stories blog will consist of. My stories (SLY = Sarah Leann Young), and stories that I love, which I also call SLY Stories because I love them. Makes sense, right? Then lastly, writing posts wherein which I will aim to help others write their own SLY Stories.
And there you have it. Pretty simple, right? I think it is anyway. Okay, maybe it's a little self absorbed to name it after myself. But hey, what am I going to call it, Stephen King Stories? It's my blog, for Pete's sake, and I've always been amused by my initials spelling out the word "sly" anyway, so, that's it!
In reality, the idea goes deeper than I'm letting on. There's more to it than just stories that I love. A SLY Story must meet certain standards. A SLY Story always contains certain themes, certain types of heroes, a certain writing style, and a certain adherence to my favorite genres.
But I won't go into too much detail right now. I will be writing up a new About Us page for the site that will explain everything in a lot more detail. For now, I just wanted to let everyone know where my head was at.
If you've survived this long, I commend you. If you're not into writing or reading too much, you might not enjoy my blog very much. If you're still confused, let me try and simplify it even further.
For The Love of Great Stories
SLY Stories are just great stories that I love. I'll post about all the greatest stories I've ever read (or watched), and I'll do my best to live up to my own standards when writing my own, and I'll do everything I can to help others write their own great stories as well.
Since I was a child, I've been passionate about great stories. Whether it be a movie, a television series, a novel, short story, or any other form of storytelling that you can think of, I've always been entranced and intrigued by the telling of a good story.
I want to build a community of story-lovers like myself where I can share my thoughts on what I think are the best stories of all time, the worst, my own stories, and where I can help others write their own great stories.
A great story can change you. It can affect you mentally, emotionally, and sometimes in an even deeper, spiritual way. A good story can change the world. It can influence individuals, or entire groups of people. It can encourage people, and sometimes it might even save them from something or someone negative that has been tormenting them for a while.
Stories are a powerful art form. C.S. Lewis said, "You can create anything by writing," and he was so right. It's a beautiful and versatile art, and if I'm not working to create it myself, I want to spend my time appreciating them and sharing them in every way that I can with my family and friends. That includes you.
Now, let's take a step back.
I'm not arrogant enough to claim that I'm capable of writing a story that great. Or even close to that great. I may not even be that good at writing stories that are very good quite yet, but that shouldn't keep me from appreciating the stories that are.
It doesn't mean I can't have my own personal opinion and taste, and that others can't agree with it. My goal is definitely to someday be capable of writing a great story, but until then, and while I'm on that journey, I want to enjoy, share, and discuss the many stories that already are that great.
And I'll start with Blake Crouch's Wayward Pines Trilogy, tomorrow :).
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