I drive a 20-year-old car with a lot of miles on it. It’s a first generation Honda CR-V, and it is the best car ever. I’ve had to put some money into it to keep it in good order, but by and large, it is a reliable, faithful little vehicle. I wish I could drive it for always.
This weekend the check engine light came on. That light gives me fits. Every time it has come on, it has meant money. Never has it been a loose gas cap or a misfire. My heart jumped into my throat and I anticipated the worst when I saw it. Like a little amber drop of nightmare fuel glowing malevolently on my dashboard.
The code it threw: P0740. For those of you who, like me, don’t know off the top of your head what that means, it’s a code for the torque clutch converter solenoid. Transmission related. I just had the transmission redone in November 2018. So naturally, now that we’re *thatmuch* past the two-year warranty, it throws that code.
Transmission fluid is fine – the level is good, the color is good. It couldn’t be the cheap and easy fix, changing that out. So now it’s likely to either be something to do with wiring (less expensive) or that actual solenoid needing changed out (more expensive, because you pretty much have to take apart the transmission on my car to do anything related to it). I’ve got a call in to our transmission shop, and I’m waiting on a callback. I am a wreck.
God, how much will this cost? Can I afford it? Is it time to admit that my car can’t last forever, to take on a car payment and the higher insurance that goes with a newer vehicle? How will that fit into the budget? And will my car make it safely to the transmission shop? That means crossing the river. On a big, big bridge that gives me anxiety on good days. I don’t want to get stranded on the bridge.
Got these playing on repeat to remind me that God always provides, that He is faithful to meet our needs, that He knows we need a reliable family vehicle. And things may not be in my control, but they are in His.
When I can’t see, You lead me When I can’t hear, You show me When I can’t stand, You carry me When I’m lost, You will find me When I’m weak, You are mighty You are everything I need
You give me everything You give me everything You give me everything I need
I need You more Yeah, I need you more More than ever before Yeah, I need you more
Prepare for the worst Hope for the best Won’t you steady my heart For whatever comes next?
We’ve all seen posts and Facebook statuses about the “one word” people chose for the year. Shine. Grace. Obey. Pick your word.
Always thought, kind of a cool idea, but I’m not sure it’s really for me. No words have ever really jumped out and bonked me over the head, hollering, “ Pick me, pick me!”
But it finally happened. It’s been kind of a cumulative thing, but my word jumped out and tackled me.
Brian can (and probably will) tell you, I have a tendency to overcomplicate things. When I’m cooking, I like to find new recipes and experiment and see what I can come up with, where he’d be fine with pan-fried pork chops and sautéed cabbage. I try to see all sides of any given situation when making decisions, and I can talk myself into circles because of it. I can start – and not finish – one or two or three given projects/ideas in a good month, and just leave them hanging at loose ends. Yeah, I think I’m that person.
Brian and I have long talked about decluttering and reducing the amount of stuff we have. We’ve tried to clean out things we no longer need or use. We’ve taken bags and boxes to our local thrift store. We’ve sold items on Craigslist and eBay. We’ve given books away. How, then, do we still have so much STUFF?! I’m not a huge follower of feng shui, but the stuff, it’s strangling us.
Get priorities straight. Don’t put off the most important things until last. It’s true – if something is important, there will be time for it in your day. In a sermon on tithing, our pastor quoted Proverbs 23:4:
“Do not overwork to be rich; Because of your own understanding, cease!”
I haven’t been doing it to be rich, but I can easily fall into overwork. I love my side hustle editing and proofreading (not only is is the best paying side hustle I’ve ever had, but I’d do it as my full-time job if there was a way to make that happen). I’m glad to do proofing and editing and drafting for friends and family. I love reviewing books and doing blog tours on The Plain-Spoken Pen. But I can easily overload myself and spend all my free time on those things, and not so much with the people I love most.
I need to simplify. Trust God to meet my needs. Be grateful for, and be a good steward of, all that He’s blessed me with, both my monetary income and my stuff. Recognize that being a good steward of things may mean letting go of a little of it (or a lot). Live in the now as much as possible, be present with my family, not feeling like I’m constantly putting off requests to come see or talk or whatever because I have to clean, or work from home. Stress less, love more. Keep it simple.
That’s my word. My focus for the year. I’m sure it will be a work in progress all year long, and some days will be better than others. But I’ve got to start somewhere, right?
I entered the NYC Midnight 250-word microfiction competition late last year. Results came out recently. I didn’t move on to the second round, but it was still fun. And I reckon I can try again next time.
We did it! We survived 2020! I hope you all have something to get excited about in the New Year.
I do! I’ve started a new blog that will be dedicated to all my bookish pursuits – reviews, memes, blog hops, and my editing and proofreading. I hope y’all will come follow me there at The Plain-Spoken Pen. I have big plans for the new space! I’ve got my first post up today with Can’t-Wait Wednesday.
I’ll be blogging here, too. I’ll be getting back to what the tagline says – food, faith, family, and fun! I hope you’ll stick around here as well.
So what are you looking forward to in 2021? Share in a comment!
Friday Book Beginnings is hosted each week by Rose City Reader. It’s a chance to share the first sentence or so of the book you are reading this week.
This week I’m reading Lore by Alexandra Bracken. It’s one of my Netgalley reads, and it’s being released on January 12. I’m working to finish it up and get a review written before the release date!
MY BOOK BEGINNING
He woke to the feeling of rough ground beneath him and the stench of mortal blood.
His body was slower to recover than his mind. Unwelcome sensations burned through him as his skin tightened like newly fired clay.
Book Blogger Hop is hosted by Coffee Addicted Writer. Each week, there’s a new prompt featuring a book-related question. It’s designed to give bloggers a chance to follow other blogs, learn about new books, make new blogging friends, and gain followers. I thought I’d give it a go!
This week’s prompt: What are your reading goals for 2021?
Hmm. I really haven’t given reading goals much thought, other than “read and review all my Netgalley books in a timely fashion.” I haven’t yet settled on a number of books to read this year. Last year I surpassed my Goodreads goal of 80 by a few, so I’ll probably stick pretty close to that number. I actually spent a good chunk of today organizing my books, though, and one goal I have settled on for the year is alternating e-books and physical books. My shelves are overrun with books I’ve been meaning to read, and it’s time to start clearing some of them out. I reckon some will make it to the “we’re keeping these forever” shelf, but some will be books I enjoy once and then pass on for someone else to enjoy. So, I’ve got to read some of those physical books (to make room for more, don’t you know!).
If y’all have read along with my blog, you’ll already know this is one of my favorites of 2020. There are four books in the series, and every one is worth reading. I’m mentioning book one here because this is the one that started it all. It’s billed as children’s fiction, but it’s an amazing read for adults, too. Chock full of action and adventure, it’s got moments that made me gasp audibly and moments that made my eyes well up with tears. It is a wonderful story of faith, love, redemption, and doing the right thing even when it’s hard.
I was delighted to have a chance to read an advance copy of this book, as I was already pretty sure, after Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe, that Heather Webber was going on my list of authors whose works I’d pick up without even knowing what they were about. This confirmed it. South of the Buttonwood Tree is a story set in the small town of Buttonwood, Alabama. Legend has it that you can ask the buttonwood tree for guidance once a year. The tree will give you a button with its answer, but be prepared to follow its advice – supposedly, failing to do so subjects you to a curse. The book is, in short, magical. It’s full of the pettiness and gossip you so often find in small towns, but it’s also got love and sacrifice and forgiveness. Secrets revealed after being held close for far too long. Family. Healing. This book cemented Ms. Webber’s place on my short list of must-read authors.
Are you a woman of a certain age who’s tired of reading books with pretty young things as protagonists? You might enjoy Mario Giordano’s Auntie Poldi series. Isolde Oberreiter, or Poldi, thinks she wants to retire to Sicily, near family, to live by the sea and quietly drink herself to death. Thankfully for us, readers, she’s got too much of her father’s investigative nature, and when a young man who’s been helping her with odd jobs dies suddenly, she feels like she has to figure out whodunnit. Poldi is an absolute joy. She is a mature woman who knows what she wants. When she wants to solve a crime, nothing will stop her from investigating. She charges ahead like a ship under full sail. And when she decides she fancies local investigator Vito Montana, well, nothing will stop her there, either. Even though she moved to Sicily thinking her life was over, it’s the start of a whole new set of adventures for Poldi. Maybe she’s not quite so ready to shuffle off this mortal coil after all.
The final installment in S. Usher Evans‘ Princess Vigilante series is a humdinger. If you haven’t yet read the series, you really need to start with the first to get the entire story.
In this fourth book, Brynna, the titular Princess Vigilante, is fighting to win back her kingdom from a backstabbing opponent who originally presented herself as a friend. She’s built an army, but will it be enough? Has she learned that she can trust those who love her and support her to help carry this burden? Will she be able to reclaim Forcadel and become the queen her people need? Evans does an amazing job of world-building and character development, and it has been a treat to see Brynna change and grow during this series. The story is rich with intrigue and emotion, and had me finishing it in two days only because my day job expected me to work – otherwise, I’d have been done in one. If Evans’ work is new to you and you’re a fantasy fan, please, do yourself a favor and check out everything she’s written. You might need a shelf devoted to her books like I have!
Amanda Cox’s debut novel is a dual-time story, told from both Ivy Rose Lashley’s point of view in the present day, and as seen through the lives of those who will become near and dear to her, back in 1994. I was thrilled to have the chance to be on the blogger team for The Edge of Belonging because it touches on two subjects of importance to me. One, Ivy Rose is adopted. I was adopted as an infant, and I grew up knowing that to be the case. It was never a surprise to me, and I never doubted the love my parents had for me. I didn’t grapple with some of the same things Ivy struggles with. But I have that sense of kinship with everyone who grew up in a family other than the one they were born to. Two, the story deals with an abusive relationship. Back in my days as an assistant district attorney, I saw my fair share of abused women. My heart ached for every one of them, and I saw how difficult it was for them to break free from the situations in which they often felt trapped. I’m no longer a trial attorney, but that is one of the very few things I would consider getting back into prosecution for, helping women and children who cannot, in those cases, help themselves. Here, Ivy Rose has to fight to free herself from the clutches of the man she thinks she’s going to marry, the man who thinks she needs him to give her value, worth, a place in the world. (Spoiler: She does not.) This story will break your heart and put it back together, and I look forward to reading much more from Ms. Cox.
Fourteen-year-old Aaron is paralyzed, apparently in a vegetative state. His parents have moved him to a nursing home for care. But no one knows that Aaron is very much alive and well inside his mind until a new roommate, Solomon, moves in. Solomon is an elderly man in the early stages of dementia, and somehow, he can hear Aaron’s thoughts. Aaron also gets pulled into Solomon’s ever more frequent journeys into his past. This book was a delight to read. Whatever I expected it to be when I picked it up, it is so much more. Johan Twiss turns a wonderful phrase. He captures both the attitude of a teenage boy stuck in a prison not of his own making and the crusty exterior and heart of gold of an elderly Jewish man who’s somewhere he doesn’t really want to be, and he takes us on a tour of history when Solomon revisits events in his life. And is it really about time travel, too? Read it and draw your own conclusions.
The Starless Sea has been sitting in my TBR pile for a while. I finally picked it up and read it in this, the last month of 2020, and I am so glad I did! I’ve heard a number of people compare this unfavorably to Morgenstern’s earlier work, The Night Circus. Honestly, they were apples and oranges for me, and I loved them both. The Starless Sea is not The Night Circus, nor is it meant to be. If you pick it up expecting a sequel, or a book in the same universe, you’re likely to be disappointed. But if you seek a beautifully crafted work that takes you down meandering paths of story, you need this book. The tale of the adventure into which Zachary Ezra Rawlins falls after finding a strange book in the library isn’t a fast-paced, hang-on-to-your-hat thriller. It winds, and twists, and folds in on itself, and sometimes you might have a hard time seeing where it’s going before it unfurls. But as with any proper story, connections are made, conclusions reached, and all is revealed in due time. Morgenstern’s style of writing just sings, and I am happy to be carried along on the song. I guess I’m one of those people who loves literature and reading and story, so this book was most definitely my cup of tea!
Would I recommend: Only if you like a well-told story with twists and turns aplenty that sucks you so far in, you don’t even want to put it down to go to sleep. If that sounds like you, then yes!
Josie presses her hands into the center of the drowned girl’s chest and pumps, counting off compressions. She takes in the girl’s beautiful face, her brown eyes glassy. The memory of a champion swimmer on the podium with her teammates—a red swim cap on, her head thrown back in laughter—a stark contrast to the cold, still body before her. Breathe. Just breathe…
The body of a young girl lying face down in a swimming pool—white tennis shoes still on her feet, chestnut hair fanned out like a halo—is the last thing Detective Josie Quinn expects to find on an early morning visit to see her brother before class at Denton University. But when she recognizes the girl’s face as she drags her limp body from the water, there’s only one question racing through Josie’s mind: how does a champion swimmer accidentally drown?
Nysa Somers’ family is distraught. She was a model student, beloved daughter and everybody’s friend. There’s no way she would do anything reckless enough to put her scholarship at risk, let alone her life. It’s up to Josie and her team to piece together what happened in the hours leading up to Nysa’s death, and that begins with finding her missing backpack.
But the bag, discarded in the woods on the nearby campus, contains nothing more than empty food wrappers, Nysa’s phone and a cryptic calendar entry telling her to be a mermaid.
The next day, a terrible housefire envelops the nearby home of a retired fireman, nearly killing his two granddaughters. The last words the little girls heard him mutter before he set the blaze were, be a match.
As the body count rises, it’s only Josie who can see the deadly pattern forming. Can she convince her team that the wrapper found in Nysa’s bag that everyone overlooked is the crucial link they’re missing? Not while her partner, Noah, is avoiding her calls and acting so coldly towards her. Josie knows she must go it alone if she’s going to stop this silent and calculated serial killer before any more precious lives are taken.
But with the killer finally in her sights, Josie takes a deadly risk and finds herself hanging onto life by her fingernails. Can she trust her team to save her, and before it’s too late?
An unputdownable and totally gripping crime thriller from an Amazon, USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestselling author. Perfect for fans of Angela Marsons, Robert Dugoni and Rachel Caine.
My review in one sentence: I read this book in 24 hours.
But in case that was insufficient to tell you how amazing I thought the book was, let me expound.
Josie Quinn didn’t expect to find a dead body in the swimming pool when she went to see her brother at his job on the campus of the local college. But find one she did, and unexpectedly, it’s a championship swimmer. Drowned. How does that happen? Others might want to rule it a bizarre and unexpected accident, but Josie doesn’t think so. The problem is proving her theory that foul play was involved. But when other seemingly unexplainable incidents start happening, Josie knows she’s got to get to the bottom of things.
Josie is a likable character – a tough, dedicated detective who’s trying to learn how to let others get close to her. She’s good at her job and when she thinks she’s right, she doesn’t back down. She isn’t such a hardnose that she lacks empathy for the people she’s trying to help, but she will push to get the information she needs.
But we don’t see the story unfold only from Josie’s point of view. The killer’s thoughts are interspersed throughout the book, too. I found those little tidbits to be absolutely fascinating. And even with insights into what was on the killer’s mind, I didn’t see the big reveal coming until it hit me upside the head. I’d think, okay, I’ve got it figured out, and then there was a sudden shift, and I found myself right back in the dark. Well done, Ms. Regan. Well done!
This was the first of Lisa Regan’s Josie Quinn series that I’ve read. I got enough backstory to follow along with no problems, but now I’ve got to go read books one through nine to catch up!
Lisa Regan is a USA Today, Wall Street Journal bestselling author and Amazon bestselling crime novelist. She has a bachelor’s degree in English and Master of Education Degree from Bloomsburg University. She is a member of Sisters In Crime, Mystery Writers of America and International Thriller Writers. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and daughter. Find out more at her website: www.lisaregan.com
Diagnosed with a rare form of meningitis, fourteen-year-old Aaron Greenburg is paralyzed from head to toe. Doctors believe he is essentially brain dead and unaware of his surroundings, but Aaron is very much aware—trapped in his own mind with no way to communicate.
To cope with his imprisonment, he retreats to an imaginary world called his Mind Palace, but the lines between reality, and time itself, start to blur when he receives a new patient as a roommate—an old, outspoken, Jewish jazz musician, named Solomon.
Filled with witty humor and heart-warming experiences, 4 Years Trapped in My Mind Palace is a coming-of-age story, entwined with an end-of-age story, that will capture your imagination with a hint of nostalgia, a hint of the whimsical unknown, and a wild adventure through modern history.
Fourteen-year-old Aaron is paralyzed due to a rare form of meningitis. His parents have moved him to a nursing home for care, and everyone around him thinks he’s in a vegetative state. But Aaron is very much alive inside his immobile body. He sees his parents coming to visit less and less often, and he sees the strain in their relationship. He gripes about the nurse leaving the same thing on the TV all the time. But he can’t communicate with anyone, so he retreats into his mind palace – his imaginary safe place, where he’s free from the bonds of his unmoving body. Then he gets a new roommate. Solomon, a jazz musician, is in the early stages of dementia, and somehow he can hear Aaron’s thoughts. And not only can Solomon communicate with Aaron, Aaron gets pulled into Solomon’s retreats into his past.
I’m not sure what I really expected when I picked up this book. Whatever I thought it would be, it is so much more. Johan Twiss writes with such wonderful turns of phrase. He captures both the attitude of a teenage boy stuck in a prison not of his own making and the crusty exterior and heart of gold of an elderly Jewish man who’s somewhere he doesn’t really want to be. And this story takes us so many places! We see Aaron’s relationship with Sarah, Solomon’s granddaughter, grow and take shape. We get a tour of history through Aaron’s travels in Solomon’s dementia dreams. And the characters are so believable, so well written. They felt like friends. I cheered as people started to realize that yes, Aaron could hear and could think and was still there. This story made me laugh, and gasp, and roll my eyes, and want to hug the characters. Well done, Mr. Twiss. I look forward to reading more from this author.
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary advance review copy from BookSirens and the publisher. All opinions here are mine, and I don’t say nice things about books I don’t actually like.
Shannon Hammer is about to embark on one of the biggest projects of her career. Her best friend Jane Hennessey has purchased one wing of the Gables, formerly the old state insane asylum, located on a bucolic hillside two miles northeast of Lighthouse Cove. Jane plans to turn her section into a small luxury hotel complete with twenty ocean-view rooms, a spa, and a restaurant.
Shannon is raring to get started on the enormous project and is shocked when a group of unruly protesters shows up at the groundbreaking ceremony and wreaks havoc. She’s even more freaked-out when someone pushes her into a pit of bricks in a closed-off room of the asylum. Despite her close call, Shannon wants nothing more than to get back to work . . . until she finds a body not far from where she was pushed. Now Shannon is determined to get to the bottom of the goings-on at the Gables even if it kills her. . . .
This was actually the first of Kate Carlisle’s Fixer-Upper Mystery series that I’ve read. I want to go read the entire series now, just to see the whole story unfold! However, I was able to get sufficient backstory in this book to have a pretty good feel for where things stand.
Shannon Hammer is about to tackle an ambitious project. The Gables, a former psychiatric institution, is being renovated as a retail development. Shannon’s best friend Jane is turning one of the buildings into the new Hennessey Hotel, and she’s tapped Shannon to handle the remodeling. Shannon’s significant other Mac has also decided to invest in the project. But not everyone in town is excited about the new future for The Gables. There are protestors, the former doctor in charge shows up (and boy, she’s a piece of work – it is all about her, her, her), and someone tries to help Shannon to an untimely demise by shoving her into a pit full of bricks behind a partially demolished wall. Thankfully, Shannon is not the dead body in the story, but she does find one. Who killed this man, and why? And is everyone really who they appear to be?
I really like the characters in this book! The chemistry between Shannon and Mac is a lot of fun, and I love that Niall has a history of tossing cabers with his buddies. That’s a nifty detail that helps me get a good picture of him in my mind. I could have done without mean girl Whitney – I’m not sure she really adds anything to the story, and I didn’t like mean girls in high school, much less now. But that isn’t enough for me to knock down my rating.
This was a delight to read. It moved at a nice pace, and there were never any parts where I felt like, oh, gosh, I have to slog through this to get to the good bits. Now, if you’re someone who likes the mystery/dead body to pop up right off the bat, this may not be your cup of tea. Shannon and her crew don’t find the corpse until about 2/3 of the way into the book. I enjoyed all the set-up, though. I was fascinated by the description of how Shannon evaluated the renovation and the work that would need to be done, because that’s something completely out of my experience. A good book that lets me learn new stuff, too? Win!
Five stars, and now I’ve got to go read all of these books.
Disclaimer: I received an advance reader copy from NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group. All opinions here are mine, and I don’t say nice things about books I don’t actually like.
With the help of his commanding officer, a genetically engineered ex-soldier fights back against the government that created him and others like him to be expendable slaves.
Halvor Cullen, a genetically-engineered and technology implanted ex-solider, doesn’t see himself as a hero. After getting out of the service, all he’s interested in is chasing the adrenaline rush that his body was designed to crave. Hal knows he won’t live long anyway; vat soldiers like him are designed to die early or will burnt out from relentlessly seeking the rush. His best friend and former CO, Tyce, is determined not to let that happen and distracts him by work salvaging crashed ships in the Edge. But after a new crewmember—hacker-turned-tecker, Vivi—joins their band of misfits, they find a sphere that downloads an alien presence into their ship…
Halvor Cullen (Hal) is a genetically engineered soldier, referred to as a “vat.” His former commanding officer, Tyce Bernon, is a “nat,” or natural born person. Ty is now Hal’s captain on the Loshad, and they make their living as salvagers. Hal isn’t one to back down from a fight, and the book opens with him jumping in to rescue a woman from a couple of guys who are up to no good. The woman, Vivi, is a tecker, and as their ship doesn’t currently have one, Ty offers her a job as part of his crew.
Ms. Smith does a good job of writing an entertaining story. There are a lot of pretty standard sci-fi elements here – alien lifeforms considered to be evil, a scrappy crew of misfits, an ominously looming government trying to squash a rebellion. But they work well together, and the use of those standard elements makes this a story that’s very approachable for the less seasoned sci-fi reader.
The story also isn’t afraid to touch on heavy subjects. For instance, the treatment of vats – they’re considered to be basically expendable once they’ve completed their military service. They’re also programmed by the military to experience the titular “rush,” which basically puts them into combat mode and makes them very aggressive. A lot of nats don’t trust them, don’t like them, don’t want them around. But Ty doesn’t see Hal as “just” a vat. Hal is his best friend, and he will fight for Hal’s well-being, even when it means saving Hal from himself. There’s also the Mudar, the feared aliens who supposedly came intent on destroying humanity. There is more to them than what our heroes initially know, and once they’ve made contact with a Mudar, they realize that just because the government condemns an entire species as evil doesn’t make it so.
This was a fun read. There’s a touch of romance, lots of action, and tech toys aplenty on board the Loshad. Good guys versus bad guys. An epic quest is hinted at as the story closes, and I hope this means Ms. Smith will revisit this universe. My only question: who was actually trying to kidnap Vivi at the beginning of the story? If that question was satisfactorily answered, I missed it.
If you’re a regular sci-fi reader, The Rush’s Edge is delightful. If you’re new to the genre and want to give it a try, The Rush’s Edge is a good place to start. Either way, read with confidence!
Disclaimer: I received an advance reader copy of this book from NetGalley and Angry Robot. All opinions here are mine, and I don’t say nice things about books that I don’t actually like.
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