cats, children's fiction, Fantasy fiction

Warriors Update: Omen of the Stars

Warning: I am breaking all my rules about no spoilers. I just have to.

Also, this is probably going to be an extremely long post. Pull out that comfy sofa and grab some tea and biscuits, and a box (or two) of tissues.

Last night, I finished reading The Last Hope, which is the final book in the Omen of the Stars series, which is considered the last “regular” series of Warriors. (Really, it wasn’t, because there were already many plans for super-editions, and the prequel, Dawn of the Clans, which answers a lot of questions about the beginning of this society and its ways.) Anyway, the point is, in Omen of the Stars, storylines and character arcs that have been going on since either at least the Power of Three, or even the very beginning, are resolved.

I hadn’t really planned on reading through till the end of the book last night, but I hit a point where I just couldn’t stop; it was time to find out what happened. And yet, I’d really been dreading reaching the end of this series. For some reason, I found myself outright resisting reading too fast, or too much of one book at a time. I just…didn’t want this storyline to come to an end.

Just one of the many, many fantastic fan-imagined art images you can find by spending (way too much) time on Google.

This is most likely why I spent so much time looking for all the images I included in this post…

Okay, am I actually going to start reviewing now?

Throughout Omen of the Stars, it’s clear that a lot of things are coming to a head. There is an evil enemy gaining power, the Dark Forest cats. They are the cats that were just real, complete (read unprintable swear words here) in life, and when they die — quite often in bloody battle — they don’t go to a nice, peaceful afterlife (which is StarClan) — they go to (makes sense) the Dark Forest.

Dun-dun-dun!
(Dovewing and Ivypool) If only it could always be like this…

As we read through the Power of Three, we’ve been introduced to Lionblaze, Jayfeather, and Hollyleaf, who are siblings (from the same litter, so, littermates). There’s a prophecy about a trio who will rise to become more powerful than any other cats in living memory, and it’s so that they can defeat this terrible enemy. Because there were three in this litter, it’s just assumed that all three complete the prophecy. (Remember what I said about breaking my spoiler rules? Hold onto your hats, everyone; this is just the start.) Turns out…the prophecy is not that simple and clear-cut.

Lionblaze and Jayfeather are part of the trio; the third is a cousin of theirs, Dovewing. They all have special abilities and skills, apparently from birth, and they hone them to become the greatest threat the Dark Forest has ever seen.

And they’ll need all the help they can get. There are several formidable warriors on the villains’ side, and since they died, they’ve been stewing in what they see as wrongs the Clans did to them. So, the bloodthirsty desire for revenge has been growing; and of course, there’s nothing but time for these lost souls…

Oh my gosh, look! …Where was I? Sorry, just admiring the fan art again…

So, of course, the Dark Forest tries to trick otherwise loyal Clan cats to join the wrong side of the Great Battle…

And the worst part, for me, is that StarClan, which has always watched over the living cats, and not let Clan rivalries divide them, has let the Dark Forest encroach even on that.

One of the major issues throughout the books is the fact that the warrior code — which is basically their laws and regulations — is shown to have some pretty big flaws, and it creates tension not only between the Clans, but within the Clans, too. It means that if you belong to, for example, ThunderClan, you can’t take a mate from, say, RiverClan. But do cats from different Clans still fall in love? Of course. Do some cats take huge offense to that type of thing? Oh, my, yes.

A perfect example is when Tigerstar (think WORST GUY EVER) came to power, back in The Prophecies Begin. He decided that all “half-Clan cats” (meaning mixed parentage) didn’t deserve to live. (Yes, I’m talking genocide.) So, needless to say, he had to be stopped. However, it raised the very important question — how many cats kind of agreed with him that half-Clan lineage was dangerous to the society as a whole?

Gasp… Thank you so much for sharing your creations with us, guys, seriously.

So, I completely love it that Lionblaze and Jayfeather are in fact half-Clan themselves. And Dovewing’s grandfather (Cloudtail) actually started out life as a kittypet. That’s right, he was born to a housecat and then he grew up in the forest and became a warrior. But to many, that makes his origins and his blood tainted — and then his granddaughter is one of The Three! Well, guess what — kittypets are more than good enough for StarClan!

This is the other thing Tigerstar hates: kittypets. Since Firestar, one of the best leaders ThunderClan has ever had, was born a housecat (Cloudtail is his nephew), Tigerstar has had it out for Firestar from day one. And since The Last Hope really states a lot by its title, you get the idea that not only are The Three going to be majorly needed, but, chances are, so is the cat that was once prophesied to save all the Clans.

(Yes, we mean Firestar. Of course we do. To me, this was really a no-brainer. Some of the other cats are really shocked by just how important a former kittypet is to the salvation of their families and civilization as they know it. A really good lesson about not judging a cat by his origins.)

The all-powerful trio first alluded to in the Power of Three series.

So, as we draw closer to the Great Battle… As a reader, there were a whole lot of cringe-worthy moments. For example — as the Dark Forest (literally) gets their claws into nice cats, and tries to turn them, figuring out which ones may be traitors, and may not be, became priority number one. There were some cats that, if they turned out to be traitors, it would simply have broken my heart. (And of course that of the other characters… Er, really, I know it’s just a story…)

The other big thing was needing StarClan to get it together. In StarClan, there aren’t supposed to be boundaries, enemies, grudges or resentments. There are no separate territories to fight over; no reason to remember your differences. It’s all one big hunting ground, and the cats who lived noble, honorable lives — and that’s most of them — get to enjoy each other’s company and watch over their descendants and the friends they left behind. So when StarClan split, it was devastating. The living cats needed them more than ever, and… Oh, my gosh…

Both sides poised for battle!

But here comes in a very interesting thing (that I honestly didn’t think was that big a deal): the Ancients. (Wow, was I wrong.)

The Ancients are the cats whose descendants formed the Clan system. Their history has mostly been told through Jayfeather’s experience (and some time travel moments worthy of Star Trek). But in The Last Hope, there are some major players from that group that really step up to the plate, in the present time. Just amazing.

And, yes, StarClan gets its act together. Never doubted it. (Okay, for a bit there…)

A montage of some of the big plot points from the other series.

All of the information in the last 4 series have been leading up to this point…

From The Prophecies Begin, when Firestar receives his nine lives from StarClan.

And so, we finally reach the Great Battle…

Before I get into the outcome of that: This is literally what I think of the Dark Forest leaders. (I have never sworn so much while reading juvenile fiction.)

  • “Mapleshade, you witch!”
  • “Darkstripe, you bastard!”
  • “Hawkfrost, you a—–e!”
  • “Brokenstar, you wanker!”
  • “TIGERSTAR!” (read unprintable words here)

Begin major spoiler alert:

Hollyleaf, a lost but not forgotten warrior, who more than deserved a chance at redemption.

Hollyleaf thought she’d naturally be the third cat in the prophecy, since she was Lionblaze and Jayfeather’s littermate. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the truth. And being half-Clan really wrecked Hollyleaf. She made some very bad decisions, and ran away from ThunderClan, and was believed to be dead. Not only is she not, but she saves the lives of others in the Great Battle.

Get the tissues out. There was so much crying last night…

Since I generally only have time to read when Muffin is in bed or eating, I usually end up reading late in the evening or very early in the morning. Sometimes, this means I have to keep my feelings about a twist quiet, so that I don’t wake other family members.

Sometimes at 6 a.m. in my house, you might hear shouted out, “YELLOWFANG RULES!!!”

Last night, the tears flowed freely, and my husband asked me why I kept talking to the book.

(Totally worth it.)

Yellowfang came back to defend her adopted Clan in grand style. The Ancients were just awesome. Warriors like Whitestorm and Longtail and Honeyfern returned from their afterlife to kick serious evil feline behind. So…much…crying…

And Spottedleaf…oh, my, Spottedleaf…

Firestar and Spottedleaf, dear friends in life, dear friends forever.

Spottedleaf and Firestar were close friends — okay, almost more than friends, but Spottedleaf was a medicine cat, and she was supposed to not take a mate or have kits, in order to serve her whole Clan and treat every single cat as family. It’s a medicine cat rule. I think it’s kind of an unfair rule. But Spottedleaf chose to abide by it completely, and she never acted on the love she felt for Firestar. There’s a lot of honor in that. Firestar respected her decision; plus, he fell in love with Sandstorm. It all worked out. And after Spottedleaf died, she kept visiting Firestar in his dreams to help, warn and guide him when he became leader. What she wanted most for him was happiness.

So, when it came time to save Sandstorm…Spottedleaf made the ultimate sacrifice.

OH. MY. GOSH.

Firestar and Sandstorm, great mates for all of Firestar’s lives.

More tissues, please.

It was time for Firestar to move on. We all saw that one coming. But it doesn’t feel tragic. It feels right. The Dark Forest was defeated; some of its leaders utterly destroyed (and, man, did they deserve it). A new day dawns for the Clans; so much has been lost, but so much resolved, forgiven, and it’s been proven that they can go on.

As I watch my own kittypet (his name is Toby) sleeping so peacefully on the recliner, I can’t help but wonder, if there really was a Clan system in the woods behind our neighborhood, would he join it, become a warrior, defend their way of life? Would those cats welcome him? Even make him a leader?

The majestic leader of Thunderclan, Firestar.

 

Autism, family, Parenting

Runt, Inc.

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Years ago, when White Fang was little, we referred to him as “the Runt.” Obviously he grew out of physically or emotionally fitting that title, yet we still fondly remember. We joked that the name of our family business (which we do not have) should be Runt, Inc.

Now we do actually have a Runt once again. But interestingly, we don’t refer to Muffin that way. It’s like White Fang secured that term so concretely in our memories that we never even considered applying it to Muffin.

Yet in so many ways Muffin does fit the idea of “a runt.” He was tiny when he was born, and he’s still a pretty little guy. However, White Fang certainly taught us that “runts” are not to be underestimated.

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White Fang was diagnosed ASD at age 4. He couldn’t speak proper words or sentences then. He needed occupational therapy and went to a special needs preschool for a year. He only graduated from speech therapy in 6th grade.

But he’s also spent those years learning to play percussion, singing in chorus, making the honor roll, and now he’s a programmer in training.

Muffin spent the first week of his life in the NICU. He still has to go to physical and speech therapy, and has fought hard to be as mobile as he is. He survived jaundice, acid reflux, lazy eye (and its surgery).

White Fang has sensory issues with texture, smell, and taste that mean he’s not a fun person to cook for. But he’s a master at changing diapers.

He and Muffin already have a very strong brotherly bond. I already know they will be there for each other in ways I can’t even imagine yet. White Fang knows what it’s like to have a rough start in life, and that you don’t have to let that define you. Muffin only knows his big brother takes care of him and plays with him and looks out for him. But he loves White Fang, too; and to Muffin, the ASD is normal. I have a feeling he’ll have White Fang’s back in ways we can’t even imagine yet.

So, yeah, don’t underestimate the runts.

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Autism, family

The Lens

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We all see the world through a lens. We often don’t want to admit it, but it’s true.

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But we need to speak up. Not the neurotypical folks who profess to have our corner — those of us on the spectrum. A lot of NTs do love us and support us being who we are — no forced conforming, no cure. And that’s the part I want to address right now.

We are not “broken.” We do not need to be “cured.” We are simply a way of living, a way of being that the rest of the world hasn’t caught onto yet.

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I put all these pleasant pictures in this post to remind myself that I don’t want to go on a rant today. There are other things I have to get to, and they feel more important this morning than focusing on the negative.

In a very loud and busy world, we are the quiet, the simplicity, the sense of taking a deep breath for the pure reason of feeling the sensation of our body and mind filling with fresh air.

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We hold up a lens to the world, and adjust it until we find the stillness, the colors, the tranquility of rest.

We love, we laugh, we observe. We think, we explore.

We create music and art, we write and some of us dance. We know the power of words and feelings, maybe better than most.

We hope to be accepted, because we really don’t see any reason to change our perspective.

Being appreciated as we are, and even respected, would be just great.

Hopefully one day there will be no need to adjust others’ lenses.

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writing

Flash Fiction: In the Rain

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The rain brings the rainbow, her grandmother had reminded her. You can’t have one without the other.

She wasn’t really comforted by that thought at the moment. This was one of those days when she wanted the rainbow without suffering through the rain first.

He opened her umbrella for her, and took them down a path that was lit with several streetlights. It was quiet; the birds were hiding, and so were most people.

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“A nice cup of tea after this,” he said. “And a warm blanket.”

“And a warm cat,” she added.

He smiled at her, from under his umbrella, the rain falling around him. It didn’t make him look sad.

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She remembered the day they found the cat. A little bundle of dark fur, wet and alone. He wasn’t sure about having a pet; but she couldn’t leave the poor thing. And he wanted her happy, above all else.

Since then, the cat had become treasured by both of them. They both wanted a cuddle from the kitty after coming home.

But this particular rainy evening, she let him cuddle her more. She let him sit right beside her, and draw them both under the big, comfy blanket. She let him select the television program, the hot beverage, and where the cat sat.

Image result for art rain

 

cats, Fantasy fiction, reading, Young Adult fiction

Warriors Update: Power of Three Series

This third sub-series of the Warriors saga was rather different than what I’ve grown used to in The Prophecies Begin and The New Prophecy. Well, in some ways. There are certain things that you’ll always find in every Warriors book — the routine of Clan life, new kits born, apprentices trained, some cats (inevitably or unexpectedly) go to join StarClan. And although I’ve reached the point in the series where new cats are constantly being introduced, and some of my favorites are relegated to supporting roles, at least as a reader I get to visit them, and there’s always the chance to develop new loves.

What’s most, vividly, different about Power of Three is the tone. Secrets are being kept in ThunderClan, and the new narrators really have no clue. Some of that is for their own good (the cats who are keeping the secrets firmly believe that). But the protagonists add many secrets of their own, and this creates an undercurrent of tension that just didn’t exist before.

One of the big reasons for this difference is the change in the location of the Clans. Since they were driven from their home in The New Prophecy, and have to start again in a new territory, their horizons have been broadened. They’ve met new animals and encountered different types of human places or things that they weren’t familiar with. Now they’ve been in their new home long enough that there’s a generation who doesn’t even remember life in the forest, because they weren’t born yet. Despite the Clans trying really hard to keep to the Warrior Code, and carry on the way they did in previous years, some of their old ways are really being tested.

In many ways, I understood why the Clan leaders, deputies, and senior warriors found it important to maintain the traditions and customs from their old home. It kept a sense of stability, of ensuring the future of their society, their families. Although some things had changed beyond their control, this was something that they could decide what happened and how.

There were also many references/throwbacks to the previous series (plural), and it was clear to me that this was considered very important (by the author) to make sure the new cats knew all of their history. A lot happened after they left the forest, yes; but a whole lot happened in the forest. Some cats that we thought had exited the series are back — for example, The Tribe of Rushing Water, the loner Purdy, and most importantly Graystripe.

Now, although I try to stay spoiler-free in these posts, I have to say, in this instance, it’s going to be impossible. One: I really, really feel sorry for Firestar in this series. He’s one of the best leaders any of the Clans have ever known, and he has to worry about his own grandchildren inadverently bringing down the whole Clan structure that he fought so hard to protect and nurture. (Remember what I said about the undercurrent of tension?)

Anyone who’s read through the series to this point understands a couple of very important things: Two:  There are some critical flaws in the warrior code, and it puts a strain on Clan life, and for particular individuals (Yellowfang, anyone? Bluestar, right?). Three:  There is a serious case of history repeating in this series, and it really started to get to me.

Moment of rant: To me, it just seems unnecessary to continue imposing on your society/family rules that appear to be tearing it apart from the inside. Classic example: Four: Firestar receives a lot of flack from the other Clans for taking in loners (in this case, barn cats), and kittypets (cats who used to live with humans). Supposedly, this action will corrupt the “purity” of the Clan bloodlines, and weaken their whole system. While I greatly appreciate that the author creates lots of great discussion points for the reader in this way (allegories for adoption, racism, and prejudice abound), for me, it became a bit frustrating as I read. What about the fact that Firestar is simply compassionate, and in the (not so distant) past, the other Clans know very well they may not have survived the Great Journey to the lake without his compassion?

And, we need to talk about The Tribe of Rushing Water — Five: They faced extinction because of their unwillingness to change the way they’d been doing things “forever.” It shows a powerful lesson that change doesn’t always have to be thought of as a bad thing, and that, unfortunately, sometimes if you don’t change, it results in tragedy.

Okay, end moment of rant.

Six: The Power of Three focuses on a trio of new kits-to-apprentices-to-warriors, Jayfeather, Hollyleaf, and Lionblaze. In their search for answers to some of the aforementioned secrets, they develop a very unhealthy habit of forming more secrets, and keeping them from their Clan leader, their kin, and even each other. It causes them to seek out the aid of a mysterious stranger named Sol, and to try to find more information about “the ancients” (cats who lived in Clans before the term “Clans” was coined).

All of this provides many plot twists, and fills in a lot of gaps in the background (that, as an astute reader, I was wondering about…about 8 books back). But it got rather twitchy for me as I read it, because I realized that the warrior code has become more important to some cats than thinking for themselves, and determining how to figure out what’s right and what’s not based on their experience and conscience.

And it’s also, unfortunately, revealed that there are traitors in our midst — and proof comes to light that keeping secrets not only breeds more secrets, but that sometimes the stakes are raised too high as part of maintaining them.

Overall, this was a rather difficult series for me to read. There were several parts that just made me sad — not in the regular way, because a cat had just died, or because something happened that I didn’t see coming. It made me sad because things happened that didn’t have to — it came about as a result of stubborness, pride, or clinging to ways that probably don’t work anymore, or from not understanding what loyalty really means. It made me ache for cats whose lives had been shattered, when there was no need. And for the first time ever, there were deaths that occurred that I honestly felt the individuals brought it on themselves — and we’re not even talking truly evil cats like Tigerstar. We’re talking cats who should have known better, whose hearts should not have turned that dark, and who deserved to have a happier ending.

As I proceed to Omen of the Stars (the last “regular” series), I know there are some very solemn, and somewhat dark, things brewing — but I’m actually looking forward to it, because I know there’s a serious resolution coming, for old wounds that are still festering in the Clans (remember what I just said about Tigerstar?), and that there will be healing for some of my favorites (Bluestar, Yellowfang, Firestar, just to start with), that desperately needs to come to the Warriors.

 

 

art, books, Young Adult fiction

The Order of the Twelve Tribes Cover Design Contest!

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Hello all! Starting today, I am opening the contest to design my new covers for the reprint of Volume 1, and then the releases of Volumes 2, 3, and 4!

This contest is open to submissions from graphic artists, painters, photographers — basically any sort of illustrator. I’m afraid I can’t guarantee payment (except in the form of free books), so I’m looking for volunteers interested in supporting my writing and sharing their art.

Here is the present cover (from the first edition). Whoever wins the contest will receive a paperback copy to get the full scope.

As you can tell, fans have been excited about me using my real life muse (his name is Toby), and I would like to maintain his presence in some capacity throughout the series covers.

(If you’d like to request pictures of my cat to work from, you may do so via email.)

Otherwise I am open to suggestions on font, type size, letter arrangement, and such.

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So create some ideas for a redesign, and pass them my way! (My contact info is in the top menu or the sidebar. Just put “cover design contest” in the subject heading.)

Submissions are open until August 15th.

Happy art-ing, moths!

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