Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Cliffs of Moher

This is the fifth installment in the Ireland Series about studying abroad in Galway, Ireland. Read Part I here.

FIVE MILES along the southwestern coast of County Clare rises a stunning stack of bluffs over the ocean: the famous Cliffs of Moher. Shale and sandstone pile on top of one another like a perilous Jenga game, and the result is dramatic overhangs and hollowed-out caves along a three million-year-old river bed. They tower 390 feet (120 meters), and at their tallest 702 feet (214 meters) toward the north by O’Brien’s Tower. Princess Bride or Harry Potter Movie #6 Fans? You no doubt remember these cliffs making a memorable performance.

 The Cliffs are about an hour and a half to the south of Galway in County Clare. Bus Éireann Route #350 travels there after making stops in Galway and the surrounding towns. We took a day-long tour there via Arcadia University, and pulled into a large parking lot complete with a Visitor’s Center. Children under 16 are free, students and seniors are 4 euros, and adults are 6 euros. The Cliffs of Moher Information Office also offers deals that include transportation and ticket. There is also a fee to enter O’Brien’s Tower, a popular look-out point for photographers (Adult 2; Child 1 euro). Refreshments, mini museums, souvenir shops, and picnic tables are available in and around the Visitor’s Center. I include the main Information Office website at the bottom of this page.

For our group, we were content just meandering along the path and snapping photos. The Cliffs stretch around 5 miles down the coastline. There are always new parts of the Cliffs that will capture your attention, and lighting at the different times of day also adds another unique aspect. If you’re a big hiker, you might make it as far as the puffin colony. There’s also a surf spot here, Aill Na Searrachor, or its nickname, “Aileen’s.” Jet Ski tow is recommended, since the waves can reach up to 30 feet, but real pro surfers have been known to paddle out, too. I’d be too busy gazing at a bottom-up view of the cliffs to pay attention to the waves!

Our daredevil stunts mostly consisted of taking dramatic poses on the precarious outcrops. Warning signs are posted everywhere around unstable rock, but tourists from around the world pretty much ignored them. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spend time on the Cliffs seemed to bring out taking once-in-a-lifetime photo opps, too.


We only spent around two hours at the Cliffs, not nearly enough time if planning to take the hike down to Hag’s Head and out to Liscannor Village. The Cliffs Coastal Trail stretches about 7.4 miles (12 kilometers) and takes around 3 hours. I’d recommend an independent adventure to pencil this gorgeous cliff-side walk in, and make sure to bring gear for blustery winds and rains.

When we arrived back in Galway, I found a new email waiting for me. My uncle had arrived to help paint his friend’s place in Sligo, and he’d invited me up for a visit. I’d been looking forward to meeting his “Irish family” for some time now, so I heartily agreed! But first, there was an upcoming trip to Cork to look forward to. 

To be continued…

Disclaimer: The above is presented as fiction, not fact.


“Cliffs of Moher,” Cliffs of Moher Information Office, accessed July 25, 2014,

“Cliffs of Moher,” Wikipedia Foundation, July 15, 2014, accessed July 25, 2014,

Friday, July 11, 2014

July 2014 Book Review: Tiger's Curse


 By Colleen Houck

~Book Review~

***Warning! Spoilers, Includes Review of Tiger’s Curse and Overview of Series as a Whole!***

I’M NOT GONNA LIE, I’m not a fan of Kelsey Hayes. This is problematic, since she is the heroine of the Tiger’s Curse series.  There are currently five books in counting, which take place primarily in India and Oregon. There are tiger shape-shifters, love triangles, cunning dragons, and Indiana Jones-style puzzles. The world-building and bits of Hindu lore are intriguing enough to invest your time in this series. Don’t expect to become an expert on Hindu mythology—in her Frequently Asked Question section, author Colleen Houck discusses how her mythology is a “westernized” version—but the plot is entertaining, and the supporting characters endearing. Just resign yourself to the fact that you will be doing a lot of eye-rolling over Kelsey’s attitude/actions.

Kelsey lands a pretty cool job at a circus in Oregon, where she is assigned to take care of a rare white tiger. Little does she know that the tiger is actually a cursed 300-year-old Indian prince named Ren, or that she has a role to play in fulfilling an ancient prophecy that will free Ren and his black tiger brother, Kishan. However, the evil magi Lokesh who cursed the princes is pretty keen on making sure they stay ferocious jungle beasts with a liking for poetry and cookies.

Let’s get the Kelsey part out of the way first. The goddess Durga chooses her to be “The Chosen One” who will lead her forces against Lokesh. Kelsey gets hooked up with Fanindra, a golden snake arm bracelet who can come to life (and saves her butt many times), and the Golden Fruit, so they never have to worry about running out of food. As the series progress, Kelsey becomes more unlikeable and unrelatable as the “perfect” Chosen One. 

Tiger’s Curse has an exciting introduction, but it really gets bogged down in the middle as Kelsey wanders around the jungle. Eventually she and Ren start communicating properly and orient themselves to complete their quest to recover the first of Duraga’s artifacts. The story delivery is entertaining when it comes to action, but there are excessive info-dumps. Mr. Kadam is the biggest offender. Since Kelsey has zero prior knowledge of Hindu lore, her wealthy mentor spends pages lecturing her, and it comes off as tedious.

As far as the romance goes, Kelsey often acts like an idiotic plot device in order to further the tension/make poor Kishan think he has a chance in the love triangle. I’m not sure what either of the brothers fell in love with, since Kelsey has a flawlessly bland personality and is known for telling people off by way of: “Mister! How dare you!” As we all know, “mister” is often used in a teenager’s vocabulary. Whimsical poet Ren manages to stay relatively true to his character throughout the love triangle woes, but “badass” Kishan loses his fire and becomes steadily more dependent on Kelsey’s every whim—a mindless moon caught in her orbit. It made him lose a lot of appeal to me, and by Book 3, I honestly didn’t care who Kelsey ended up with. That helped soften the “twist” that resolves the love triangle in Book 4.

Each book in the Tiger series features 1) more or less romantic angst between Kelsey and the two brothers, and 2) and Kelsey & Co (Ren, Kishan, her mentor Mr. Kadam, and Mr. Kadam’s  great+ granddaughter Nilima, who I wish more was done with) tracking down Durga’s gifts, which are four artifacts of great power. Lokesh the villain is the epitome of cartoonish evil. See what I mean about the Indiana Jones-feel? Here’s my synopsis of the books:

(These covers are so epic)

Book 1: Tiger’s Curse: Recommended. Exciting, fresh, potential.

Book 2: Tiger’s Quest: Ok. Rehashed plotline except featuring Kishan as main love interest.

Book 3: Tiger’s Voyage: AWESOME. They have to outwit/befriend these different types of dragons and it’s sooo cool! Give me dragons and I’m easily won over.

Book 4: Tiger’s Destiny: Final battle type book. I liked, but Kelsey is intolerably holier-than-thou in this one.

Book 5: Tiger’s Dream (Forthcoming): Probably skip, since I was more interested in world-building than romance resolution. Guess we’ll have to see.

Recommended for fans of: Sarah Fine, Amanda Sun, Kiersten White
Upcoming Book Review: Well, if you haven’t heard of it yet, there is a new YA book out featuring *Korean* mythology that I’ve been dying to get my hands on: Gilded by Christian Farley. So that is plan.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Character Meet Blog Hop: Kantazsia

I would like to give a big shout-out to Erin Diane for inviting me on this "Character Meet" Blog Tour. Erin Diane is the author of Room in the Heart. Erin grew up in Northern Michigan, later moving to Northern Colorado, and was encouraged to write from a very young age. She has been writing poetry, songs and stories since she was 12 years old. Room in the Heart is Erin Diane's first full length book. Check out her books on Amazon here and meet protagonist Thea Michaels here.

This character interview will introduce you to a main character from Works in Progress (WIP) or recent releases. My recent release is THE TRIBE OF ISHMAEL (Afterlife Chronicles #1). In this interview, you will meet Kantazsia, a demon solider in the Host of Hell who plays a pivotal role in determining protagonist Ishmael's afterlife. As a bonus, for today only this book will be available for free on here.


1) What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?
Kantazsia Leviathan is a fictional demoness that protagonist Ishmael befriends on his journey through Hell in Afterlife Chronicles I: The Tribe of Ishmael.

2) When and where is the story set?
This dark epic fantasy tale is set in Hell. No one really knows the date, but it is estimated to be the millionth year of the Miser. All the demons know is that when the Doom Bell in Acheron tolls its seventh chime, warrior angels will descend and the battle of the Apocalypse will begin.
3) What should we know about him/her?

Kantazsia is one of many demons born into the dark authoritarian world of Hell, which sustains itself through the torment of human souls in each of its ninety-nine punishment circles. By the time they reach demonhood, every demon swears to one of the all-powerful Fallen, who embody one of the Seven Deadly Sins. They train to best be able to serve the mysterious Darkness, King of Hell, for the day when he will free them from their prison. Every aspect of demon life revolves around preparing for the inevitable war.

It is hinted that Kantazsia is estranged from her powerful family. When she was young, the demoness escaped from her cruel mother by day-dreaming that her father was an angel who would one day fly down to rescue her from the unending misery of Hell. This fantasy helped distract her from the reality that she watched her mother kill him. Kantazsia grew up spending a lot of time alone, hunting only with her favorite pets, a pair of gray lyons. When no one ever came to rescue her, Kantazsia’s heart hardened and she committed full-heartily to the cause of the Darkness.

As an adult, the demoness followed her dream to become a follower of Abaddon, the war-like Fallen of Wrath, by joining the Host of Hell. This decision was frowned upon by her family, who championed the Fallen of Envy. In the ranks, Kantazsia’s high-class background alienated her from her military comrades, effectively casting her out as a “lone ranger” type. She is rowdy and crass; loves fire whiskey and human designer jeans; hates tempters, the mind-reading followers of Satan; and keeps her enemies at a distance with a magical golden pistol that never runs out of bullets. Despite her drawl and casual demeanor, Kantazsia is fiercely loyal to those she cares about and is wholly dedicated to the Darkness.

4) What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?
Kantazsia fails her tank squad test and is demoted to be a patroller in the lifeless Furnace circle. She is the laughingstock of her comrades. When she captures Ishmael, an unclaimed soul, Kantazsia finally has the chance to seize the glory she’s always dreamed about in the eyes of the Darkness. However, Ishmael challenges her single-minded dedication to her cause with his vision of a different afterlife beyond anything she’s ever dreamed. Kantazsia must choose between avenging her people’s pain or a glimpse of freedom.
5) What is the personal goal of the character?
Kantazsia wants to be recognized as one of the Darkness’s beloved for everything she has sacrificed as a solider of Hell.
6) When can we expect the book to be published?
It was published recently on Visit: 

“Chapter 43: Reborn” Excerpt:

 ***Warning: Contains Profanity/Violence***


Sooner or later, every demon faces its first death.
It could be over something stupid. Betting a wolf demon you can outdrink him, for example. Or it could be out of curiosity. Cut yourself shaving, and you just keep cutting, until all of the blood runs out of you.
Humans let fear dictate their actions during their earthly life, and for good reason. Once they’re chained to a punishment circle down here, one way or another, Hell will make sure they return to it. Demons know Death like an old friend, but that doesn’t mean they’re any happier to see him. Death strips age and memories from our souls, but he doesn’t strip away enemies.
When I was a fledgling, and kind of a bigger bitch than I am now, I tormented this one imp, Vyphar, for cycles, before stuffing him in a washing machine, sprinkling him with chlorine, and setting the dial to heavy duty. Even during the final stages of the rinse cycle, the poor imp didn’t remember that he’d been the demon who’d failed my entry exam into the Glorious Infernal the first time. The report included this one really cute quip: Kantazsia will never amount to anything more than a follower of Jezebel. Most demons spend their present life obsessed with the past—or what we can remember of it. You never know if you will come back as an imp or a fledgling, female or male. The only thing you know for certain is your name; it whispers from the hearth of your soulfire.
Except this time. This time when I awoke in the Bleeding Grounds, I remembered my family name and every memory of my past life in vivid, excruciating detail. Suddenly I didn’t want to die anymore. I wanted to fight. I wanted to grow strong. I remembered Azrael’s hand returning me to Hell. I remembered fighting my way through its nefarious embrace, felt it eat bits and pieces of me. I felt my hellfire dwindle and watched my vision of Paradise grow dimmer. There are only so many times you can come back before Hell takes you.
Survive. The Darkness has a timeline for getting out of Hell. When the Doom Bell tolls its last, he will bring Heaven to its knees. The question is, will I have endured the mortal banes of life that Hell taunts us with, eating and sleeping; will I have quelled my enemies, past and present; so that I will be left standing at his side?
If Vyphar hadn’t included that last bit, I would have used the delicate cycle. It’s the fuckin’ small things.
 Copyright © Heffner 2013

Meet more Amazing Characters: 

Miranda Var, from A.L. Butcher's fantasy book The Stolen Tower.

Adam Blake, from Ryan Gladney's surreal Nine Lives of Adam Blake