Zoe Tasia

Fiction Author

Serpents. Evil, or Just a Bad Rap?

 This will age me but, when the first book in the Harry Potter series was published, I lived in Scotland and, intrigued by the description, bought a copy of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to read to my firstborn. (The book was later published titled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the US.)

My children grew up with Harry, Hermione, Ronald, Neville, and Draco. Even my husband jumped aboard the Potterhead bandwagon eagerly reading the books, and insisted on being the first in the family to read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows. (Usually, he was the last. We are cheap and bought one copy of each book to share.) He even stood in line at midnight for the release.

Of course, I’ve taken the Sorting Hat Quiz—numerous times. As Inigo Montoya said, “Let me explain.” As I took the test for the first time, I was often torn between answers and was so conflicted. I knew that, depending on interpretation and mood, my choices would be different. Was I really in this House? Feelings of ambivalence hectored me.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken that test and many others to discover my true House nor can I tell you if there was one House I was sorted in the most. I can tell you that the most recent, official Pottermore test pegs me a Slytherin.

Regardless of which House one is sorted to, the biggest thrill, I suppose, would be actually getting to attend Hogwarts and study magic. I have, however, always found it fascinating that only one House was deemed evil. I think that all Houses have their good and bad individuals. I believe that their defining, overt passion to succeed at all costs—and I do mean all—marks Slytherins unfairly.

It makes me wonder what secrets the other Houses have. Perhaps, Slytherin House is just more likely to reveal their bad side. Then again—bad is subject to interpretation.

I found Rowling’s treatment of Severus Snape, one of the most prevalent Slytherin in the books, intriguing. He’s a very unpleasant person through most of the series, and yet, the author reveals parts of his past showing the main character’s most beloved godfather and father in an unfavorable light. By the time of his death, Snape is a sympathetic character. When his treatment by popular Gryffindors and his loss of Lily to one of the worst offenders is exposed, one can understand his behavior. Despite the fact that Harry so resembles his father, Snape fights to protect him. Additionally, it is possible he fights to resist caring about Harry, seeing hints of his mother, Snape’s love, in the boy. Considering the behavior of the Marauders, Gryffindors didn’t always behave honorably.

Harry was almost sorted in Slytherin. Now, some may argue that because he contained a Horcrux, this affected the Sorting Hat’s decision, but I choose to agree with the Hat, he would have done well there. I also find it hard to believe that Severus didn’t want to be in the same House as Lily. Did he neglect to tell the Hat his desire?

Another Slytherin, Draco Malfoy, is also revealed to have a softer, vulnerable side. He spends time with Moaning Myrtle sharing his feelings of fear and loneliness and his inadequacies with her.

Like Gryffindors, Ravenclaws also had their not-so-nice moments. Luna had to search for her belongings at the end of school because fellow Ravenclaws would steal and hide them. Gilderoy Lockhart was a vain, cowardly fraud who used Memory Charms to become famous. Quirinus Quirrell did the Dark Lord’s bidding until his death.

The Hufflepuff House contains the fewest badly acting individuals. The worst thing any Hufflepuff did was to blame Harry unfairly for being the second Hogwarts champion in the Triwizard Tournament.

Look at the most infamous Slytherin, Tom Riddle. One could ask if he accurately reflected the spirit of Slytherin House. He hid his true self and deceived all. Slytherin are sly—it’s in the name, but they don’t tend to lie about who they are. They revel in it and admit to the baser traits that most hide. Was Tom always irredeemable? He certainly revealed the antisocial tendencies of a sociopath even as a child and hated and sought to destroy Muggle-born—even though he was one. I would argue that though he is one of the most well-known, Lord Voldemort isn’t the best representative of Slytherin.

Dun an Doras by G Tarr

This book takes place in a village in Ireland where people are dying. A motley group including a werewolf, magpie, banshee, cop, and troll join to solve the murder mystery and find the culprit.

I love books that include mythology and folklore. This book has them in abundance. The story is intriguing and the characters well-described. I think my favorite was Enzo, the magpie. The addition of a sentient inanimate object tickled me.

Dun an Doras would have benefitted from extra editing. There were several places where I wasn’t sure who was speaking and I saw some head-hopping. This book has light scenes interspersed with very dark ones. The lighter ones allow the reader to get to know the characters better. The dark ones illustrate how dangerous and horrible their foe is.

I enjoyed the tale and am curious to see other books by the author.

Prelude (Borderlands Book 0) by Charles Gull

Prelude, Book 0 of the Borderlands series, is comparable to Grimmdark meets Bronzepunk—two subgenres I’m unfamiliar with. Loving fantasy, I was excited to try something completely different.

Between the forts, brave fighters, derring-dos, and circle-the-wagons vibes, this novella reminds me of the old frontier movies. (Quite a compliment, since I’m a big John Wayne fan.) The further the company travel, the more dire the danger. Will they all make it back? Will any of them? The vivid descriptions of the land and the monsters encountered paired with the first person, present tense point of view makes for an intense sense of urgency that works extremely well.

Gull caught me by surprise a couple of times with interesting plot twists. (Kudos, sir.) The world-building is top notch and the characters well fleshed out. The ending is a cliff-hanger, so I am anxious to read Book 1. I found Prelude a riveting tale of survival, conquest, and heroism and strongly recommend it.

Stone Storm by Jenna Moquin

During a blizzard, a man hears a scream. He finds a dead body outside his home. Rushing inside to call the police, he discovers the phone is as dead as the corpse bleeding out on the snow. As he waits out the storm, he hears noises. How can this be? He is alone—or is he?

Confession. I read this book on a bright sunshiny morning. Afterwards, I thought I heard the door upstairs creak. The murmur of voices. The rustle of curtains. This short story scared me so much that I had to search the house from top to bottom—TWICE.

Even without the Poe reference, EAP’s influence is abundantly evident. As a child, my cousin three grades ahead of me read the eerie short stories out loud. I felt that same shivers down the spine sensation when reading Stone Storm that I felt all those years ago.

Moquin has crafted an excellent horror, skillfully building the tension to a shocking revelation. I’m no newbie to this genre, so believe me when I warn you, don’t read this at night.

Review of The Lost Fairytales of the Dewdrop Forest by Bianca Scharff

A wish is made upon a dandelion setting in motion a terrifying series of events. Lucy, a young lady nearing her 18th birthday, must travel to the enchanted Dewdrop Forest to find answers before it is too late to stop her descent into madness.

I’ve always been a big fan of fairy tales and love reading them, so I was immediately drawn to this book.

Despite the cute, Disneyesque title, this is a fairy tale in the vein of the original Brothers Grimm, replete with disturbing, often violent scenes. I was hooked from the beginning. With foreboding, I read of the wish in the first chapter. The mere appearance of the weed hints at the troubles to come.

The lines between reality and fantasy are blurred and there are cyclic elements to the story. Plying ethereal language, the author visits the similarities between such dichotomous duos as love and hate. The prose has a lyrical quality. I am still pondering the cryptic ending.

Although the book would benefit from tighter editing, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The Lost Fairytales of the Dewdrop Forest has an inventive plot and is a well-written, phantasmagoric story.

Review of Kitty’s First Day of School by Sarah Linx

Linx’s entertaining book introduces children to the concept of school. The vocabulary in this engaging story about Kitty the Calico’s first day is geared toward emerging readers. The colorful, detailed illustrations by the author immediately drew my eye, especially since the main character is a kitten. This book would make a perfect gift for any child.

The Month of April by Chad Ard

In The Month of April, the main character, April Boyd finds out her mother has died and returns to her hometown with her girlfriend, Abby. Her mother left instructions to cremate her body, take the ashes to New Orleans, and scatter them in the river in front of the Jackson Brewery. Inside a box of personal items, they discover an account April’s mother had written about her trip to New Orleans the year before April was born.

They read about how April’s mother, Dani met the love of her life in the Crescent City. The account, entitled “The Month of April,” chronicles the couple’s brief time together and what transpired afterwards during Dani’s time in the military. 

Though grief-stricken after reading the sad tale, April understands her mother better and feels closer to her. Caring for her girlfriend and emotionally moved, Abby encourages April to take steps to bring closure to the tragedy and together, they investigate the occurrences and right twenty-year-old wrongs.

As a fan of epistolary books, I especially enjoyed the sections of Dani’s story.  The setting descriptions transported me to a city I’ve briefly visited, but never had the opportunity to tour. Ard’s admiration of Raymond Carver is evident in his writing. I would characterize this novella as dirty realism. The sparse, unadorned prose conveys the author’s meaning succinctly. As a poor, unwed mother, Dani epitomizes the kind of characters which populate the genre.  I found the dialogue somewhat flat, however, that too, could be attributed to an aspect of realism.  I do not typically read this style of writing and the fact that I found the first few pages too compelling not to finish reading the novella says much about this author’s exceptional writing ability.

Update

It’s been just over a month since my book was released and I’ve been so happy with the reviews! (Reviewers, I love you, full stop!) I hope Book 2 will be well-received too.

Speaking of which, Tartan and Thyme (The Shrouded Isle Book 2) is written! I am currently deep in edit mode—an unpleasant, yet necessary task. I have a short story available for free upon signing up for my newsletter. Don’t worry about being inundated. (Trust me when I say, I’m not putting ones out unless I have something to say—or to confirm rumors of my death are exaggerated.)

 I do have another, untitled novel (first of a series) finished which I’m undecided about when and how to publish it. It’s a bit grittier than the Shrouded Isle universe. I am thinking about sharing the first chapter in one of my newsletters. I’ll keep you posted.

I’ve been busy writing guest blogs, editing, outlining Book 3 (YES!), and working on various short story projects. It’s been awhile, I know. I’ll try to be better about blogging. Mwah!

Review of Race for the Sun

This book has an interesting take on the afterlife. After death, in an incorporeal state, beings wait to be reincarnated. As they wait, they act as soul watchers. A soul watcher will choose one person on Earth to help. Soul-watcher Soledad, returning to the afterlife after committing suicide, chooses Ally, a relative from her most recent life, to aid.

Ally is my favorite character. As the one, able-bodied individual in her small family, many duties fall to her. Though exhausted and frustrated at times, she loves her family and strives to do everything possible to keep them safe and happy. Ally is a middle child. Her older sister, Jessica, is an intransigent, forty-year-old, type one diabetic in need of a kidney. Ally’s sweet, younger sister, Alyssa, was born with special needs and requires twenty-four-hour supervision. Their mother’s heart problems prevent her from performing many activities.

Ally is an animal-loving artist who loves riding motorcycles. I think that, since she has many responsibilities, she needs that freedom to fly—be it on the canvas or the road. Though confident in other areas of her life, after her divorce, she finds herself gun-shy around men. As Soledad spiritually guides Ally, we learn about both women, their goals, desires, mistakes—and come to care deeply for them. The secondary characters are written with equal care and detail.

Race for the Sun is a life-affirming journey. The author packs an emotional punch in her writing. I cannot recommend this book enough.

A Two Horse Town By Kathleen Kaska

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A Two Horse Town opens with a visceral scene. It’s a moonlit night in Big Sky Country. An acrophobic woman scales a boulder ever aware that one wrong step, one slip of a sweaty palm, could lead to a painful-at-best fall. A straight-outa-the-chute beginning to an excellent mystery.

 

Kate Caraway hadn’t anticipated how much she would miss Kenya, a place where she immediately felt a sense of home, and a research position that fulfilled her. But her husband had a prime job opportunity, so they moved to Chicago. Disliking her work at the University of Illinois, she eagerly agrees to help her student, Nate Springfield. She takes a leave of absence to go to Montana to save wild mustangs endangered by a purposed dam which would leave them without a water supply. Soon after her arrival, Kate discovers a dead body, that of her student’s grandfather. When Nate becomes the prime suspect, Kate struggles to not only save the horses, but also to clear his name.

 

In Montana, Kate stays with Nate’s great-grandmother, Ida, a gun-toting nonagenarian. She is against the building of the dam, but her reckless outspokenness may work against their cause. Kate also senses that Ida is not as forthright as she seems.

 

Time is against Kate, and the enemies aren’t afraid to use deadly force. I won’t spoil the ending, but will say it is full of heart-racing excitement and fascinating revelations.

 

When I read the vivid descriptions of the settings—so bright, compelling and very much a key part of the story—Nevada Barr’s series is brought to mind.  Kate Caraway has much in common with Barr’s main character, Anna Pigeon. Both feel strongly about protecting the environment and both have the willingness to take on an active role.

 

Like a mustang, the story gallops across the pages and I flew like a rider, gripping the horse’s mane in exhilaration. I encourage you to take that ride too. You won’t regret it.

 

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