Write the Story.

Some time ago, I grabbed this little gem off the bargain books rack at Barnes & Noble.

It’s been rattling around my shelves, collecting dust, and today it caught my eye. The concept is pretty cool – you’re given a topic for a story, and several words to include in your story.

The book itself doesn’t specify, but it would appear that the goal is to help you expand your writing. I’ve never considered myself much of a writer, but at some point in the past, I picked it up and thought, hey, maybe this would be fun.

Never did anything with it…until maybe now? This enforced stay-at-home time, although chock full of work (I’m on the clock just like a regular day, only I don’t have to wear big people clothes or go into the office) and family stuff and meal prep and all, seems to lend itself to taking a crack at something new.

I think I’ll try my hand at writing based on these prompts. I know myself and my handwriting well enough to know that I won’t be able to fit a sensible story in the small space allotted. So I’ll post what I come up with here, maybe once a week-ish. Y’all be gentle, okay? NOT a writer. Just a goofball who might throw some words together and see what comes out.

Posted in Quarantine, Writing | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Book Review: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (The Wingfeather Saga, #1) by Andrew Peterson

  • Title: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness
  • Series: The Wingfeather Saga, #1
  • Author: Andrew Peterson
  • Genre: Juvenile Fiction, Fantasy, Action & Adventure
  • Where to buy: Amazon (affiliate link)
  • Would I recommend: Yes! Outstanding for children and adults!

From Amazon:

Once, in a cottage above the cliffs on the Dark Sea of Darkness, there lived three children and their trusty dog, Nugget.

Janner Igiby, his brother, Tink, and their disabled sister, Leeli, are gifted children as all children are, loved well by a noble mother and ex-pirate grandfather. But they will need all their gifts and all that they love to survive the evil pursuit of the venomous Fangs of Dang, who have crossed the dark sea to rule the land with malice. The Igibys hold the secret to the lost legend and jewels of good King Wingfeather of the Shining Isle of Anniera.

Full of characters rich in heart, smarts, and courage, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness is a tale children of all ages will cherish, families can read aloud, and readers’ groups are sure to enjoy discussing for its many layers of meaning. Extra features include new interior illustrations from Joe Sutphin, funny footnotes, a map of the fantastical world, inventive appendices, and fanciful line art in the tradition of the original Frank L. Baum Wizard of Oz storybooks.

My Review:

My ten-year-old is a voracious reader, and I’m always looking for good books that keep his interest but that are age-appropriate. We read On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness together, and it is a hit! It’s the story of Janner, Tink, and Leeli Igiby, their mother Nia, and their grandfather Podo. They live in Skree, a country that has been under the oppressive rule of Gnag the Nameless for as long as the children can remember. Gnag is searching for the jewels of Anniera. But what could three children have to do with jewels?

This is a story of adventure, love for family, doing the right thing even when it’s hard, and faith. Podo is gruff and blustery at times, but his deep devotion for his grandchildren shines through even when he’s giving them a good chewing out. Janner may chafe at the repeated admonishments to look out for his younger siblings, but he loves them and worries about them.

Andrew Peterson has a quirky, engaging writing style, and the humor in this book has made us laugh out loud at times. (I mean, the fact that the nameless evil’s name is Gnag the Nameless? That’s hilarious!) It’s also a story of mysteries, of secrets not yet revealed. What do Nia and Podo know that they aren’t telling the children? Janner in particular is old enough to catch the glances that pass between the adults and to wonder what overheard snippets of conversation really mean.

This book is great for middle grade readers. It has some pretty intense descriptions of battles and physical characteristics of monstrous beings, so do keep that in mind if your child is sensitive to those things. (Mine is not. He listens to the story and the draws what he sees in his mind.) I’ve really enjoyed it as an adult, too. I can’t wait to read the rest of the Wingfeather Saga!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher and NetGalley. All opinions here are my own, and I don’t say nice things about books I don’t actually like.

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Westside King Cake Review

It’s that time of year in Louisiana – Mardi Gras season! Mardi Gras begins on January 6 each year and runs through the beginning of Lent. One of the best parts of Mardi Gras in my opinion is king cake. The seasonal pastry is available pretty much anywhere now, from your local Walmart to the fanciest bakeries.

A brief history of the king cake, from New Orleans Showcase:

“Mardi Gras season begins on January 6, of each year and ends on Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent. One of the wonderful traditions of Mardi Gras, and probably the most delicious, is the King Cake.

“On the Christian calendar, the 12th day after Christmas is celebrated as the date that the gift-bearing Magi visited the baby Jesus. This day, January 6, is known by several names, including “Epiphany”, “Twelfth Night”, or “Kings Day”. The celebration of this event has evolved over the centuries, with each culture adding its own unique rituals. The New Orleans tradition, borrowing heavily from European influences, is believed to have begun in the 1870’s. As part of this celebration, it is now traditional to bake a cake in honor of the three kings – the King Cake. King Cakes are oval-shaped to symbolize the unity of faiths. Each cake is decorated in the traditional Mardi Gras colors – purple representing justice, green representing faith, and gold representing power. A small baby, symbolizing the baby Jesus, is traditionally hidden inside each King Cake.

“In New Orleans, King Cake parties are held throughout the Mardi Gras season. In offices, classrooms, and homes throughout the city, King Cakes are sliced and enjoyed by all. Like the Biblical story, the “search for the baby” adds excitement, as each person waits to see in which slice of cake the baby will be discovered. While custom holds that the person who “finds” the baby will be rewarded with “good luck”, that person is also traditionally responsible for bringing the King Cake to the next party or gathering.

“The “traditional” King Cake is made from twisted strands of cinnamon dough, covered by poured sugar and sprinkled with purple, green and gold colored sugar. Today, many additional varieties of King Cake are also available by adding cream cheese, or other fillings to the “traditional” King Cake.”

You can get your king cake fix in a variety of forms, from the traditional pastry to king cake bites (made easy with crescent rolls), from bread pudding to cheesecake, from crack candy to cocktails (and there are all kinds of king cake-inspired cocktails out there!). The traditional pastry can be plain cinnamon, or it can be filled with fruit, cream cheese, or (my favorite) Zulu, a chocolate-coconut filling. There’s even a savory variety with boudin! I hope to get my hands on one here locally for my reviews.

King Cake Reviews

This year, I’m reviewing traditional pastry king cake options available to us on the Westside. I’m limiting my review to king cakes in West Baton Rouge and Iberville parishes. Here are my thoughts, in no particular order.

Walmart

We bought a king cake with strawberry filling from Walmart in Plaquemine.

The first thing I noticed is that Walmart has moved away from the traditional oval braided shape for its king cakes. Theirs is one solid oval of cake. As Brian said, that’s likely quicker and easier (and thus more cost effective) to produce. Still, the appearance is a bit disappointing in that regard. They also have the baby in a little plastic bag outside the cake, not baked in it.

As to the quality of the cake, our consensus is that it’s got a good flavor, and there is icing under the purple, green, and gold sugar, so you’re not just getting the crunchy sugar on top. But the texture is a bit packy and tough, and the ratio of filling to cake is lower than I prefer. (If you don’t care for all the filling, this might be a good thing for you.) Overall, the opinion is that if someone served it to us, we’d eat it, but we aren’t going to buy another one.

Rouses Market

Our selection from Rouses in Plaquemine was king cake with cream cheese filling. Thing One likes the cream cheese, but prefers to avoid the fruit fillings.

Rouses was better than Walmart. It wasn’t quite as packy, and it had a better filling-to-cake ratio.

The Poboy House

WOW. This was an amazing cake. First, they had significantly more filling (which is good for me – I like filling), and it was really good quality filling. It had a noticeable strawberry jam flavor, and that really bumped the whole thing up a notch.

Also, this is pastry, y’all. It’s not just cake. You can tell they took time to work with the dough to get the good flaky layers. This is the lightest king cake we’ve tried – as in, I can eat two pieces of it and not feel stuffed and miserable.

(And not for review purposes, as we stuck to strawberry for reviewing, but just because I wanted it – we also got the Zulu variety, chocolate/coconut. HOT DIGGITY. I can’t even tell y’all how good that was. It was chocolately, rich, sweet but not overwhelmingly so – my new favorite, right there.)

So far, this is the leader of the pack, the one to beat!

Benedetto’s/Caluda’s

Benedetto’s used to make their king cakes in-house. This year, they had them made by Caluda’s. This one was more like a big cinnamon roll with frosting than a king cake to our tastes. You can also see that they used sprinkles for decoration rather than the traditional colored sugar.

Sugah Rush Cakes/Port Allen Bakery II

In years past, we’ve gotten king cake from Port Allen Bakery. This year I went to Sugah Rush in Plaquemine, as it’s my understanding they use the same king cake recipe.

I wanted Sugah Rush to be my favorite. It smells SO GOOD when you walk into their store, and Port Allen Bakery (the original) has been our favorite donut shop pretty much since we moved here. And Sugah Rush was my second favorite. But the one we got had apparently had a little mishap with the filling – strawberry oozed all out one side, and the other side was left with mostly pastry. I liked that they put the icing on top of the sugar, though, and the filling had a good flavor. Not quite as jammy and rich as Poboy House, but very satisfactory. I’d buy it again and share it with folks.

This is probably not an exhaustive list. I understand that Tasty Cream in Addis and Mary Lee’s in Port Allen have king cakes as well, and there may be other outlets for them that I’m not aware of.

Our final verdict: Poboy House was our clear favorite. Sugah Rush came in a respectable second. Rouses was better than Walmart, although neither was rave-inducing. Benedetto’s/Caluda’s was good, but kind of in a category by itself as more like a breakfast pastry than anything else.

Westside folks, what’s your favorite king cake? Leave me a comment!

Posted in Food, Out and About, Product Reviews, Uncategorized, Westside Life | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review and GIVEAWAY – The Fresh Start Bible

If we want to grow in our Christian faith, daily time in God’s Word is vital. But sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. The Fresh Start Bible from Gateway Press can help!

Fresh Start Bible

The Fresh Start Bible is an excellent resource for those who are new to the Christian faith and mature Christians alike. If you have a specific question you’d like to know more about, there are a series of them at the beginning, covering topics such as How Do I Accept Jesus?, Why Should I Be Baptized?, What Is the Lord’s Supper?, How Do I Deal with Anxiety and Worry?, and more. There are fifty-two topical questions in total.

The Fresh Start Bible uses the New Living Translation, which makes it easy to read and understand. I find it to be an excellent translation for reading when I’m trying to grasp the meaning of a Scripture passage.

The Bible is filled with notes and articles, and the introduction at the start of each book gives you valuable insight into the theme and history of the book. It’s also got a reading plan to help you get started if, like me, you sometimes struggle with knowing where to jump in to reading God’s Word.

Gateway Press has generously provided a copy of the Fresh Start Bible for me to give away. To enter, just leave a comment telling me your favorite Bible verse and your email so I can let you know if you’re the winner! Giveaway ends March 13, 2020.

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Tuneful Tuesday: Faith Edition

If y’all have kept up with my sporadic blogging over the years, you may know that life has involved unemployment, underemployment, and just about every financial struggle you can think of. It hasn’t been all sunshine and roses, for a fact.

But there have been blessings, too. Our current car was one of them. It’s a 2001 Honda CR-V, and it was a literal gift to us. I never expected God would hand me any really big blessings like that…until He did. I have been, and am, thankful for my little car. It’s the best car ever. But all things wear out, and the miracle of today isn’t promised for always. Thunderhorse (that’s the car’s name) is in the shop for the second time in two weeks with the same issue, and we’re now having to consider whether it might be time to look for a newer vehicle.

You might think, more reliable car, hey, that’s a no-brainer. But it’s not really an easy choice. On the one hand, I enjoy not having a car note. We’re also hoping to buy a house this year, and I’m not sure what impact buying a car will have on our ability to qualify for a mortgage. But on the other, my commute takes me over some pretty scary bridges and some roads on which I would not like to be left stranded. (Google the I-10 bridge across the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge. If my car broke down on that bridge, the tow truck better come with a shot of Valium, because I would be hysterical. That bridge gives me the wiggins on good days.) And is the benefit of not having a car note greater than the stress and potential stress of waiting for the next problem? Because as much as I love Thunderhorse, he’s nearly 20 years old. He’s been well cared for, but there will always be parts that wear out and things that need money thrown at them. And I know myself well enough to know that, after this most recent experience, every bump and hiccup of the car will have me on edge. So. Which way do we go?

I’ve been listening to a podcast from Transformation Church out of Tulsa, Oklahoma, called Crazy Faith. It talks about having faith, real faith, that God is able to do big things. But we have to build up our faith muscles to get to crazy faith. We start with baby faith, that “faith as small as a mustard seed” that the Bible talks about, and move on to maybe faith. We see that maybe this that’s going on is God (but we might not actually KNOW it was God’s hand at work until we look back after the fact). And then there’s wavy faith – the faith that got Peter out of the boat and walking on the water to Jesus. That kind of faith gives us the ability to follow our Savior wherever He calls us, even if it’s over our heads and we can’t touch bottom.

That’s where I am right now. The song I chose for today, “Beyond Me,” reminds me that God may call me to come out deeper. That may be what He’s doing right now with my car. I can’t see clearly right now what the best choice may be. I can’t see clearly how this may affect our desire for a house of our own. But He sees the big picture. All He asks is that I trust Him and step out in faith wherever He may lead.

Call it a reason to retreat
I got some dreams that are bigger than me
I might be outmatched, outsized, the underdog in the fight of my life
Is it so crazy to believe

That You gave me the stars put them out of my reach
Called me to waters a little too deep
Oh, I’ve never been so aware of my need
You keep on making me see
It’s way beyond me
It’s way beyond me
Yeah, it’s out of my league
It’s way beyond me
It’s way beyond me
It’s way beyond …

Anything that I got the strength to do
In over my head keeps me countin’ on You
I’m leaving the sweet spot, sure shot
Tradin’ it all for the plans You got
Is it so crazy to believe

You take me to the place where I know I need You
Straight to the depths that I can’t handle on my own
And the Lord I know, I know I need You
So take me to Your great …
Take me to Your great unknown

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Best of 2019 Book Giveaway Hop!

WHOOPS! I goofed and missed the detail that the hop goes through January 31. Thank you to the reader who pointed that out for me. So, the giveaway is ongoing, and I will give away another $10 Amazon card. The winner will be chosen from all comments made before 11:59 pm on January 31. (Sorry, Beth, you’re out of the running for that one! 🙂 ) So, comment away!

***GIVEAWAY CLOSED!*** The winner, as chosen by random.org, is Beth Minyard!

Welcome to the Best of 2019 Giveaway Hop! All of the blogs in the hop will be sharing about books published in 2019 that they loved, and they’ll all be offering giveaways! Isn’t it fun to start off the year with a giveaway or three? You can find other blogs participating in the hop at the bottom of this post.

Without further ado, let me tell you about my favorite book of the year. It’s actually a series, not a book, because I’m extra like that.

The Kingdoms of Evernow by Heidi Catherine

The Kingdoms of Evernow by Heidi Catherine

I was introduced to the works of Heidi Catherine when she posted in a Facebook group looking for advance readers. I said yes to the first in the series, The Whisperers of Evernow, and I am SO GLAD I did! Heidi Catherine does a marvelous job of creating a believable world that you wish you could visit and characters you will cheer for, laugh with, and cry over. There is incredible good and unspeakable evil, and love that will sacrifice all woven throughout her stories. I can’t recommend the series highly enough, and you can read my review of The Whisperers of Evernow here. See if you think you might enjoy the series as much as I have. Also, you can grab The Whisperers of Evernow on Amazon – it’s available for free if you have Kindle Unlimited, or 99 cents if you don’t (and that’s an affiliate link – if you order through it, I get a little money and you get a good book).

To celebrate my favorite book of 2019, I’m giving one reader a $10 Amazon gift card. If you’d like to enter, just leave a comment telling me YOUR favorite book of 2019! Entries close Friday, January 17, or after eight people have entered, whichever comes first. Please be sure to leave the email address you’d like to receive the gift card at if you’re the winner. Thanks for reading and playing!

You can go check out other blogs’ favorites and giveaways at the link-up here:

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Book Review and Blog Tour: First Cut by Judy Melinek & T. J. Mitchell

  • Title: First Cut
  • Series: I sure hope so!
  • Author: Judy Melinek & T. J. Mitchell
  • Genre: Medical Fiction, Medical Thriller, Forensic Fiction
  • Where to buy: Amazon (affiliate link), Harlequin, Barnes & Noble
  • Would I recommend: Absolutely!

Book Summary:

Wife and husband duo Dr. Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell first enthralled the book world with their runaway bestselling memoir Working Stiff—a fearless account of a young forensic pathologist’s “rookie season” as a NYC medical examiner. This winter, Dr. Melinek, now a prominent forensic pathologist in the Bay Area, once again joins forces with writer T.J. Mitchell to take their first stab at fiction. 

The result: FIRST CUT (Hanover Square Press; Hardcover; January 7, 2020; $26.99)—a gritty and compelling crime debut about a hard-nosed San Francisco medical examiner who uncovers a dangerous conspiracy connecting the seedy underbelly of the city’s nefarious opioid traffickers and its ever-shifting terrain of tech startups.

Dr. Jessie Teska has made a chilling discovery. A suspected overdose case contains hints of something more sinister: a drug lord’s attempt at a murderous cover up. As more bodies land on her autopsy table, Jessie uncovers a constellation of deaths that point to an elaborate network of powerful criminals—on both sides of the law—that will do anything to keep things buried. But autopsy means “see for yourself,” and Jessie Teska won’t stop until she’s seen it all—even if it means the next corpse on the slab could be her own.

My review:

I love a good forensic mystery, and this one pulled me right in. In First Cut, Dr. Jessie Teska has just started her new job at the San Francisco medical examiner’s office. She’s got to jump right in, because the caseload is slammed and the office is, to put it kindly, decrepit. Her first case is described as a slam dunk, a probable overdose. Shortly after, she picks up a homicide. What she doesn’t yet know is how these two cases will overlap and intertwine, and what her investigation will reveal.

I was interested in this book because Melinek was an assistant medical examiner and Mitchell is a writer with an English degree. I majored in English and went to law school. Had life turned out differently, I would have stuck with a science degree and gone into forensics. So I expected First Cut would be right up my alley. Let me tell you, it did not disappoint.

This book has twists and turns and action aplenty. In the course of her investigating, Jessie gets on the radar of some pretty nasty dudes, and one comes after her with the intent to kill. That doesn’t happen. Jessie is tough and persistent, and she does what she feels is right without much concern that the consequences to her may be unpleasant. I like her! I also love the little detail that her house is a converted cable car. Jessie sounds like someone I could really get along with.

The book ends in rather open-ended fashion. Don’t worry, you won’t find major plot line cliffhangers – it just reads like there could be more story yet to come. I would love to see more books set in Jessie Teska’s universe. Thanks to Harlequin Hanover Square for the review copy of the book.

About the Authors:

Judy Melinek was an assistant medical examiner in San Francisco for nine years, and today works as a forensic pathologist in Oakland and as CEO of PathologyExpert Inc. She and T.J. Mitchell met as undergraduates at Harvard, after which she studied medicine and practiced pathology at UCLA. Her training in forensics at the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner is the subject of their first book, the memoir Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner.


T.J. Mitchell is a writer with an English degree from Harvard, and worked in the film industry before becoming a full-time stay-at-home dad. He is the New York Times bestselling co-author of Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner with his wife, Judy Melinek.

SOCIAL:

TWITTER:

FB: @DrWorkingStiff

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Goodreads

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher, Harlequin Hanover Square. All opinions here are my own, and I don’t say nice things about books I don’t like.

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Book Review: The Angels of Evernow by Heidi Catherine (The Kingdoms of Evernow #5)

  • Title: The Angels of Evernow
  • Series: The Kingdoms of Evernow, Book 5
  • Author: Heidi Catherine
  • Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Sword & Sorcery, Epic Fantasy
  • Where to buy: Amazon (affiliate link – releases Nov. 6)
  • Would I recommend: Oh my gosh, have you not been paying attention? GO GET THE SERIES. Do it. Now.

From Goodreads:

Will the Evernow be united at last or will the wicked Queen blind them all?

Taken far from her home, Lily has been forced to mine for treasures alongside an army of starving children. Until the Queen decides she’d like the King to present her with the greatest treasure of all—a daughter.

Lily is brought to the Queen’s bejewelled palace in the middle of the angry sea, only to discover the Queen is as mad as she is selfish. She demands Lily tell her bedtime stories, polish her crystals, and dive into the freezing ocean to search for the magic treasure she lost when she threw it from her tower in a fit of rage.

As Lily fights the madness that surrounds her, she attempts to unlock the power of the crystals to call on the four Angels she dreams of each night. Unless this is a sign she’s going mad herself…

Raphael has been having dreams of his own. Blessed with inexplicable visions of the future, he sees Lily trapped in a faraway kingdom, feeling her cries for help deep in his heart. Could Lily be the missing piece of his life that nothing else has been able to fill?

With only one way to find out, Raphael gathers an ambassador from each of the Kingdoms of Evernow and together they set out to defeat the Queen, release the children from her greedy rule, and bring Lily home. But will the Evernow be united in peace at last, or will the mad Queen use her power of sight to capture them all?

With a story that will light your soul, this stunning conclusion of the spellbinding The Kingdoms of Evernow series is a must-read by award-winning author, Heidi Catherine.

The Kingdoms of Evernow. Five kingdoms. Five senses. One secret that will change them all. 

My review:

I hate that I finished this book. Why, you ask? Because it’s Heidi Catherine’s last entry in The Kingdoms of Evernow, and that means the series is over! There’s no more of it to read! WAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!

The Angels of Evernow is a worthy ending to a marvelous series. In this book, Princess Lily of Forte Cadence is in the kingdom of Feldspar, where she’s been since she was kidnapped. She was one of the children forced to work in the mines, digging for precious stones for the Queen. Then one day, the King plucked her from her work to be daughter to the Queen, her precious Angel. Lily lives in a lighthouse that serves as the Queen’s bejeweled palace, isolated from everyone and everything except the King and Queen. Although she goes by the name Angel, she has never forgotten who she is and where she comes from, and she yearns desperately to return home.

In the other four kingdoms, there are some having visions of Lily, and they know she needs help. We see Micah (sister of King Jeremiah, Forte Cadence), Raphael (the Alchemist of Wintergreen), Azrael (the Sands of Naar), and Pip (Princess Philippa of the Bay of Laurel) and her Guardian, Griffen, join forces and set out to rescue Lily. Each of them will play a vital role in the quest.

The five Kingdoms of Evernow each relate to a particular sense, and Feldspar relates to the sense of sight. Lily and Raphael see each other through visions. The stones the children mine glitter and shine, appealing to the sight (but they’re kind of hard and uncomfortable to touch, showing us that just because something is pretty doesn’t mean it’s gentle or good).

I won’t tell you all of the story. Heidi Catherine does a far better job of that than I could ever hope to do. I will say that this book, this series, is well worth the read. We see characters overcome hardship, battle insecurity, learn their true worth, and find out what family really means. There’s action and intrigue and romance. There is at least one twist to the plot that I didn’t pick up on ahead of time. Lily is not the only person in the story who needs saving, in some form or other. And I will say this: there was more than one point in the story that had me in tears, and I am not a crier. Ms. Catherine weaves a powerful spell with her words, and that spell bring out some mighty strong emotions. I am so pleased to have had the chance to read her work, and I’m sad because there is no more of this series to read. I feel like I’m saying goodbye to friends.

Read The Angels of Evernow. Read the entire series. It is so, so, so good. In my own little ranking system, I give it ten stars and a “MUST READ.”

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary advance copy from the author. All opinions here are mine, and I don’t say nice things about books I don’t actually like.

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Book Review: War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi

  • Title: War Girls
  • Author: Tochi Onyebuchi
  • Genre: Sci-fi/fantasy, African fantasy, military fiction, futuristic fiction
  • Where to buy: Amazon (affiliate link)
  • Would I recommend: Yes

From Goodreads:

Two sisters are torn apart by war and must fight their way back to each other in a futuristic, Black Panther–inspired Nigeria.

The year is 2172. Climate change and nuclear disasters have rendered much of earth unlivable. Only the lucky ones have escaped to space colonies in the sky.

In a war-torn Nigeria, battles are fought using flying, deadly mechs and soldiers are outfitted with bionic limbs and artificial organs meant to protect them from the harsh, radiation-heavy climate. Across the nation, as the years-long civil war wages on, survival becomes the only way of life.

Two sisters, Onyii and Ify, dream of more. Their lives have been marked by violence and political unrest. Still, they dream of peace, of hope, of a future together.

And they’re willing to fight an entire war to get there.

Acclaimed author Tochi Onyebuchi has written an immersive, action-packed, deeply personal novel perfect for fans of Nnedi Okorafor, Marie Lu, and Paolo Bacigalupi. 

My review:

War Girls is set on a future Earth, torn by war and devastated by radiation. Onyii and Ify are sisters, not by blood, but by shared experience. They live in a camp of War Girls, girls who are part of the rebel faction of Biafra. War is raging between Biafra and Nigeria, and these girls have no other home. Onyii and Ify long for a free and independent Biafra, a life where they can live in peace. But for now, they must fight. The girls are enhanced by different types of tech, and they are assisted by droids using nanobot technology. They use every resource they can to protect themselves from the radiation that permeates the atmosphere.

When the War Girls’ camp is located and destroyed by Nigerians, Onyii and Ify are separated. Each thinking the other is dead, they go on to very different lives. Ify lives in Nigeria, one of their best and brightest minds, with what appears to be a glorious future ahead of her. Onyii still fights for freedom, and she makes a name for herself as the Demon of Biafra, the most devastating military weapon Biafra has. But the day is coming when each will learn that the other lives, and that will change everything.

I knew almost nothing about the Nigerian War when I read this book. Part of the author’s stated intent is to bring more awareness to that period of history, and it was very interesting to learn about. I’d like to know more.

The story itself is jam-packed with action. There are battles and betrayals, secrets revealed and relationships reconciled. There is also some interesting commentary on what makes us human and what family can really mean. There were some sections where the story got a bit muddled and hard for me to keep straight, and I had to go back and reread a handful of times to make sure I understood where things were heading. But it was good enough to hold my attention throughout, and I’m looking forward to the sequel.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of the book from Bookish First. All opinions here are mine, and I don’t say nice things about books that I don’t like.

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Book Review: Valleys, Vehicles & Victims (A Camper & Criminals Cozy Mystery #9) by Tonya Kappes

  • Title: Valleys, Vehicles & Victims
  • Author: Tonya Kappes
  • Genre: Cozy Mystery, Southern Cozy Mystery
  • Where to buy: Amazon (affiliate link)
  • Would I recommend: If you like a good, clean cozy mystery with a Southern flair, read this whole series!

From Goodreads:

Welcome to Normal, Kentucky where nothing is normal!

The Daniel Boone National Forest is gorgeous in the fall. The leaves have painted the sides of the mountains with yellow, oranges, reds and browns you won’t see anywhere else. That’s why it’s such a popular destination for weddings!

When a wedding party show up at Happy Trails Campground, Mae West is thrilled. She’s all things girly and excited to assist the bride in all things southern, which is what the bride is hankering for.

Mae recognizes the parents of the bride when they arrive. They are from her past. The past she’s been desperately trying to escape…especially since it was the time she was married to Paul West. This just isn’t any couple, it’s the owners of the famous Moonbucks Coffee Company.

Determined to get the happy couple married off and on their way, hoping to see some of her past drive off forever, Mae volunteers herself and the Laundry Club ladies to become the wedding coordinators.

The wedding is set to take place in the beautiful wedding barn at the Old Train Station Motel, only Gert Hobson, the owner of Trails Coffee Shop and providing the coffee for the happy couple, has decided there’s no way she’s going to help out with Tom Moon’s daughter’s wedding since she claims how years ago Tom Moon STOLE her coffee blend recipe known today as the special Moonbucks blend.

A public fight between Gert and Tom leaves Gert a prime suspect after a member of the wedding party is found dead at the wedding venue. There might not be a happily ever after for the bride to be or Gert Hobson if Mae West and the Laundry Club ladies don’t solve the murder before the wedding party’s RV rolls out of town. 

My review:

This is the ninth book in Tonya Kappes’ Camper & Criminals series, and I think it’s the best one yet. The book can be read as a stand-alone, as there are no cliffhangers at the end of any of the books in the series, but you have a better understanding of the characters if you start at the beginning of the series and read straight through.

Shay Moon and her wedding party descend on the campground, with Shay set on having the Southern wedding of her dreams right there in Normal. Come to find out, her father is Tom Moon, the man behind Moonbucks Coffee. Not only was he a part of Mae’s past life in high society, he also has a history with one of the residents of Normal. Not a good history, either. He’s got his own agenda, and what Tom Moon wants, Tom Moon is used to getting. Sparks fly, secrets come to light, and before you know it, someone ends up dead, killed with one of the knives from Gert Hobson’s coffee shop. Gert is the prime suspect, but Mae and the Laundry Club ladies are on the case to help their friend.

As with the rest of the series, the book is full of colorful characters and Southern charm. We learn more about Gert in this story, and we see more of Mae’s life before Normal brought to light. And if she isn’t paying attention, by the end of the story, it’s clear that Mae REALLY means a LOT to Hank. Someone please tell me there will be wedding bells for those two before the series ends!

And don’t worry that you’ll figure out whodunnit before the end of the book. There’s always a twist, and boy, is there ever a twist here. I did NOT see it coming!

This is another fun read from Ms. Kappes, and I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy from the author. All opinions here are mine, and I don’t say nice things about books I don’t like.

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