Masks, Beta Readers, and #AmWatching

It’s a dreary Monday here, but things are happening in my area. Our governor announced KY will follow the new CDC guidelines saying those who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear a mask in most public places. We went to a restaurant with friends Saturday evening to celebrate a couple of birthdays and although the tables were still spaced, servers and most customers weren’t wearing masks. I’ve had Covid and have been fully vaccinated, and it felt almost like walking around naked without my mask! Guess this means sales for lipstick/lipgloss will go up now. Hubby and I still wore masks at the grocery store yesterday, as did most other patrons, but it sure is nice to see some restrictions easing up and things getting back to normal.

I have a new beta reader! My previous one is in the process of relocating several states away and starting a new job (all with a little one at home), and the last thing she needed was added pressure. She was with me through two books and was reponsible for one of my characters having a larger role than planned in Subject A36. I hate to see her go, but I’m so excited for this new chapter in her life. I have no doubt my new beta reader will make significant contributions toward the sequel and keep me in line when it comes to my more than occasional lack of description and hiccups that come with my habit of writing out of sequence.

After seeing a rec for Big Shot on a friend’s blog (thanks, Tessa!), hubby and I tried it. I’ve mentioned before how hard it is to please him when it comes to TV shows and movies, so I’m always looking for something to try. The premise is about a temperamental college basketball coach who gets fired from his job and must take a teaching and coaching job at an elite all-girls private high school. We were afraid it might be kind of dorky, and at times it is, but we’re both enjoying it. John Stamos does a great job at portraying a single dad out of his depth with a teen daughter. If you’re looking for something light, sometimes awkward, and a little humorous, give it a try.

Have a great week!

Songwriter Night by D.G. Driver #bookreview #musical #countrymusic #RBRT

In this sweet romantic novella, Lyle and Trish are two aspiring Country music songwriters that meet at a Nashville coffee house. With Trish being new in town, Lyle invites her to his monthly gathering of songwriters to get to know her better. The evening of quirky characters and light-hearted singing is interrupted by the arrival Aiden Bronson. He’s got a hit song on the radio, and he’s back to show off, stirring up some rivalry while he’s at it. How will Lyle compete against Aiden’s charisma and talent in order to win Trish’s heart?

I’ve never come across anything quite like this, and it’s a cool concept. I read the Kindle version of this book, but there’s also an audiobook which includes not just the story, but also twelve original songs. In the Kindle book the song lyrics are written, but if you’re a country music lover, you may prefer the audiobook version.

If you want to break into the music industry, lots of folks follow their dreams to Nashville, and that’s exactly what the two MCs in this novella are hoping to do. They meet in a coffee house where Trish immediately catches the eye of Lyle. He invites her to a songwriter night he and his roommate host monthly. Being new in town and wanting to meet people, Trish immediately accepts. Much of the story takes place on that evening when we meet several other characters – some of them very animated (George and Tammy especially). When Lyle’s former roommate, who’s recently experienced some success with his music, shows up, Lyle’s hopes for the evening quickly go off the rails.

Being familiar with Nashville, I enjoyed the references to local places, highways, and sections of the city. I’m not a country music fan, but I appreciated the song lyrics and how they add to the story. Trish and Lyle, each a little awkward and unsure, have an adorable meet cute and are very likeable and relatable. This was a novella, but I’d love to see what happens to these characters in the future and hope the author considers expanding on the story.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Rosie’s Book Review Team.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

WWW Wednesday: What Am I Reading? #amreading

WWW Wednesday is a meme from Sam at Taking On A World Of Words

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m currently reading Simulated, the second book of the Calculated series. With its complicated mathematics, the first book blew me away but in this followup, Jo has lost her gift. It’s a different story, but no less compelling.

From Young-Adult author Nova McBee comes the second book in the gritty, action-filled Calculated series.

Jo Rivers, safely back in Seattle, asks the same question daily—how does a math genius go from taking down international criminals and saving the world economy to living a normal teenage life? The only answer she can come up with is—she doesn’t.

With an overprotective father on her back and Kai on the other side of the world, Jo accepts an offer from Prodigy Stealth Solutions (PSS), who may have found a way to get her gift back. Using a newly developed technology, PSS tries a simulation process on Jo to restore her abilities, but during the attempt, PSS is hacked and a blacklist file containing some of PSS’s most sensitive secrets is stolen. Meanwhile, a mysterious caller who seems to know more than he should delivers a warning to Jo about Kai, who then goes missing.

Despite her father’s concerns, Jo sets off on a risky trip to Tunisia with a PSS team of teen prodigies to find an urgently needed solution for PSS and locate Kai. All the while, Jo has to trust the mysterious informant who, frighteningly, is like no one she has ever met before.

I recently finished Curse of the Specter Queen. If you enjoyed Indiana Jones or The Mummy, this book will appeal to you. Sam is such a relatable MC – intelligent, determined, not afraid to take chances – and she talks to the books she repairs as if they were people. How can you not like that? I’m hoping the author makes this a series.

MAY THE HAZEL BRING YOU WISDOM AND THE ASPEN GUIDE AND PROTECT YOU…

Samantha Knox put away her childish fantasies of archaeological adventure the day her father didn’t return home from the Great War, retreating to the safety of the antique bookshop where she works. But when a mysterious package arrives with a damaged diary inside, Sam’s peaceful life is obliterated. Ruthless men intent on reclaiming the diary are after Sam, setting her and her best friend, along with her childhood crush, on a high-stakes adventure that lands them in the green hills outside Dublin, Ireland. Here they discover an ancient order with a dark purpose – to perform an occult ritual that will raise the Specter Queen, the Celtic goddess of vengeance and death, to bring about a war unlike any the world has ever seen. To stop them, Sam must solve a deviously complex cipher – one that will lead her on a treasure hunt to discover the ancient relic at the heart of the ritual: a bowl carved from the tree of life. Will she find the bowl and stop the curse of the Specter Queen, or will the ancient order bring about the end of the world?

Indiana Jones gets a refresh with this female-driven mystery adventure, set in the 1920s, full of ciphers, ancient relics, and heart-stopping action – the first in a brand-new series!

I’m not familiar with the Rabbits podcast, but an alternate reality game? I jumped to request this from NetGalley. It appeals to every cell of my sci-fi-loving brain.

Conspiracies abound in this surreal and yet all-too-real technothriller in which a deadly underground alternate reality game might just be altering reality itself, set in the same world as the popular Rabbits podcast.

It’s an average work day. You’ve been wrapped up in a task, and you check the clock when you come up for air–4:44 pm. You go to check your email, and 44 unread messages have built up. With a shock, you realize it is April 4th–4/4. And when you get in your car to drive home, your odometer reads 44,444. Coincidence? Or have you just seen the edge of a rabbit hole?

Rabbits is a mysterious alternate reality game so vast it uses our global reality as its canvas. Since the game first started in 1959, ten iterations have appeared and nine winners have been declared. Their identities are unknown. So is their reward, which is whispered to be NSA or CIA recruitment, vast wealth, immortality, or perhaps even the key to unlocking the secrets of the universe itself. But the deeper you get, the more deadly the game becomes. Players have died in the past–and the body count is rising.

And now the eleventh round is about to begin. Enter K–a Rabbits obsessive who has been trying to find a way into the game for years. That path opens when K is approached by billionaire Alan Scarpio, the alleged winner of the sixth iteration. Scarpio says that something has gone wrong with the game and that K needs to fix it before Eleven starts or the whole world will pay the price.

Five days later, Scarpio is declared missing. Two weeks after that, K blows the deadline and Eleven begins. And suddenly, the fate of the entire universe is at stake.

Amanda in Malta: The Sleeping Lady by Darlene Foster #bookreview #MG #mystery #TuesdayBookBlog

Amanda receives a postcard from her best friend, Leah, and is surprised to learn that she is in Malta with her aunt. Reading between the lines, she senses Leah is in trouble. Desperate to help her, Amanda travels to Malta with her classmate Caleb and his parents.

Amanda is intrigued by this exotic island in the middle of the Mediterranean, full of colourful history, sun-drenched limestone fortresses, stunning beaches and fascinating birds. But…who is killing the protected birds? Who stole a priceless artifact from the museum? And why is Leah acting so strange? She couldn’t possibly be involved in these illegal activities, or could she?

Join Amanda and her friends as they visit ancient temples, an exciting falconry and the enchanting Popeye Village, as they try to get to the bottom of the mystery of the Sleeping Lady.

I thoroughly enjoyed Amanda in Alberta when I read it last year not long after visiting Canada. When I saw Amanda’s newest adventure on NetGalley, I thought “Let’s go to Malta!”

The author’s descriptions are vivid and detailed making it easy for readers to visualize the local sights Amanda visits. I drooled over some of the food, especially the pastizzi (but definitely not the rabbit pizza). As an animal lover, I adored the Cat Cafe where locals leave food out for the homeless cats in the city. The Popeye Theme Park was a fun addition. I had no idea the Robin Williams movie was filmed in Malta. With historical details sprinkled throughout the story, I always come away from these books learning something new and feel as if I’ve visited the locations myself.

Amanda is one well-traveled young girl and often finds herself in the midst of troubling occurrences. Malta is no exception. With jellyfish stings, kidnappings, chases, and a trip to the hospital, she and her friends Caleb and Leah encounter both dangerous situations and people several times over the course of the story.

I’d highly recommend this delightful series to young readers and those young at heart who enjoy captivating adventures and mysteries that take them around the world. Who couldn’t use some armchair travel?

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Mother’s Day and #AmWatching

Happy Belated Mother’s Day to all you moms out there! I spent my day unpacking (hubby and I visited his parents for only the second time in over a year due to Covid), then the youngest son came over. He asked if we could help with a DIY project, and I said sure. I had no idea what it was until he got here, but we spent a couple hours repurposing vinyl records. He’d found some YouTube videos, so with some old albums he’d collected, we reshaped them into bowls, shelves, and bookends. He plans to use them in his new apartment.

Which brings me to new life news. He and two other friends are moving to Austin, TX in early June. It’s something they’ve talked about for several months, and he plans to take a year off before starting grad school. We’re sad to see him go, but excited for this new chapter in his life. Plus, we’ve never been to Austin and plan to stay a few extra days and check out the city after helping him move.

Speaking of repurposing old vinyl, here are some pictures of what my sons got me for Mother’s Day. Aren’t they awesome? The artwork is painted on KISS Alive II records. I’ve been a KISS fan for years (and what a coincidence I just mentioned them in my Monday post a couple weeks ago) and plan to have these framed. Aren’t they awesome? Youngest son ran across them at an art festival. I know it may not be the typical Mother’s Day present, but my sons know me pretty well.

Hubby and I finished this short, four episode series of Secrets of the Whales last week. The show explores the cultures of orcas, belugas, narwhals, sperm whales, and humpback whales. What amazing, beautiful footage! We enjoyed every minute of this incredible series and learned a great deal about the whales, their communication skills, and social structures. If you have access to Disney+, I highly recommend watching it.

The Ones We’re Meant To Find by Joan He #bookreview #scifi #YA

One of the most twisty, surprising, engaging page-turner YAs you’ll read this year—We Were Liars meets Black Mirror, with a dash of Studio Ghibli.

Cee awoke on an abandoned island three years ago. With no idea of how she was marooned, she only has a rickety house, an old android, and a single memory: she has a sister, and Cee needs to find her.

STEM prodigy Kasey wants escape from the science and home she once trusted. The eco-city—Earth’s last unpolluted place—is meant to be sanctuary for those commited to planetary protection, but it’s populated by people willing to do anything for refuge, even lie. Now, she’ll have to decide if she’s ready to use science to help humanity, even though it failed the people who mattered most. 

I saw reviewers raving about this book on Goodreads and a few blogs. Being a sci-fi fan, I had to request it.

While this cover is beautiful, it doesn’t scream sci-fi/dystopia to me. I honestly assumed it was YA contemporary until I read the description, and I’m afraid it may be targeting the wrong group of readers. The worldbuilding is the big standout for me in this novel. Earth is overpolluted and nearly uninhabitable, and citizens have taken to living in ecocities in the sky. If you rank high enough, that is. Most people don’t and have little chance of getting in. Oceans are poisoned and natural disasters occur frequently, killing millions. Time is running out.

Told in alternating POVs between Cee and Kasey, discrepancies in their stories arise early in the book. By Cee’s count, she’s been on the island three years. Kasey says she’s been missing only months. The mystery about what exactly is going on will keep readers turning the pages, but I have to admit I guessed it early. I’ve probably read too many sci-fi books, and I came across a similar premise in another novel a few years ago that clued me in.

If contemporary fans pick this up, I suspect the strong bond between the sisters will be the draw for them, and it’s a driving force in the plot. Cee loves life and is carefree, while Kasey is more at home in a science lab working alone. With me being more a fan of sci-fi than contemporary, the relationship aspect didn’t appeal to me as much.

It’s a grim story, but comes with stunning plot twists that have surprised most readers and complex worldbuilding. If you’re a fan of sci-fi/dystopia who enjoys mysterious puzzles or like reading novels with strong sibling bonds, this book may captivate you.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir #bookreview #scifi #thriller #TuesdayBookBlog

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission–and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.

Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, he realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Alone on this tiny ship that’s been cobbled together by every government and space agency on the planet and hurled into the depths of space, it’s up to him to conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.

And thanks to an unexpected ally, he just might have a chance.

Part scientific mystery, part dazzling interstellar journey, Project Hail Mary is a tale of discovery, speculation, and survival to rival The Martian–while taking us to places it never dreamed of going. 

The Martian absolutely blew me away when it was released (I loved the movie, which can always be hit or miss with adaptations), so I immediately requested this book when I saw it on NetGalley.

This is a difficult review to write without revealing spoilers, but I’ll do what I can. The reader is just as clueless about what’s going on as Ryland is when he wakes after a long coma, and I liked that. You feel his frustration and surprise through flashbacks as his memory returns, and the story is revealed. And what an incredible story it is! So much tension, so many life-threatening situations – I literally couldn’t put the book down. I held it in one hand to read while stirring something on the stove with the other.

Some of the plot points are awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping, and thought-provoking. I experienced a gamut of emotions. Admittedly the math is so far out of my lane it’s incomprehensible, but the author explains it as much as possible. I wouldn’t say there are quite as many humorous moments as in The Martian, but it’s not without some comedic relief after some heavy situations.

At its core, Project Hail Mary is about sacrifices, friendship, acceptance, and self-realization. I enjoyed the hell out of this book and would highly recommend it to sci-fi fans. I’m really hoping for a movie out of this one – they’d better not screw it up.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Derby and Graduation

What a fun, eventful weekend we had! It was Derby weekend here in KY, and after several years of mostly rainy weather, the sun shone down Friday and Saturday, and the temps were in the mid 70s. We went to parties hosted by friends for the Oaks on Friday and Derby on Saturday where we always have far too much food and eat way more than we should. My oldest son even won some money on a horse this year – around $425 maybe? He always seems to win something, but this was the highest amount to date.

This was also college graduation for our youngest son. Because of Covid, the ceremony was held in the football stadium and each student was only allotted four tickets. The weather cooperated (a good thing since there was no backup plan in case of rain), and the students. their families, and friends seemed thrilled to have their graduation in person. Students who graduated in spring of 2020 will have their ceremony next weekend. You may remember our son was fortunate to be able to study abroad both summers before Covid hit. This picture is of the stole he wore during the ceremony showing the flags of the countries he visited. I’m hoping he’ll eventually have it framed for a keepsake.

I’m still in catchup mode but hoping to get around to blogs this week. Hubby and I are going out of town this weekend. He’ll be able to finally visit his parents after only seeing them once in over a year – again, due to Covid.

Have a great week!

Through The Nethergate by Roberta Eaton Cheadle #bookreview #YA #supernatural

Can one girl banish evil?

Margaret, a girl born with second sight, has the unique ability to bring ghosts trapped between Heaven and Hell back to life. When her parents die suddenly, she goes to live with her beloved grandfather but the cellar of her grandfather’s ancient inn is haunted by an evil spirit of its own.

In the town of Bungay, a black dog wanders the streets, enslaving the ghosts of those who have died unnatural deaths. When Margaret arrives, these phantoms congregate at the inn, hoping she can free them from the clutches of Hugh Bigod, the 12th century ghost who has drawn them away from Heaven’s White Light in his canine guise.

With the help of her grandfather and the spirits she has befriended, Margaret sets out to defeat Hugh Bigod, only to discover he wants to use her for his own ends – to take over Hell itself.

A clever melding of fiction and historical facts. 

I’m always up for a good ghost story, and I have to commend the author (or cover designer) for such an intriguing, foreboding cover. It does a wonderful job of setting the tone of the story.

My heart immediately went out to Margaret. She’s lost both parents in a tragic accident and has been taken away from her familiar environment to live with her grandfather in a haunted inn. Having second sight, she encounters several ghosts, and I enjoyed learning their backstories and how some of them came to linger at the inn. With several historical characters woven into the story (many of them spirits – good and evil), it’s clear the author did extensive research. I’ve read several YA horror/supernatural novels, but a character with the ability to bring ghosts trapped between heaven and hell back to life is new to me and adds a unique spin.

After Margaret is attacked and taken, and Lucifer shows up with plans to use Margaret’s gift for his own benefit, the story becomes a battle between good and evil. A lot is going on, and much responsibility falls on Margaret’s young shoulders. She’s thrust into some extreme situations, and some scenes may cause goosebumps (love it when that happens).

Although categorized as young adult, with the historical aspects and social commentary on several important issues, this novel would also be a crossover to adults. With a mix of supernatural, horror, paranormal, and history, Through the Nethergate will appeal to a wide variety of readers.

WWW Wednesday: What Am I Reading? #amreading

WWW Wednesday is a meme from Sam at Taking On A World Of Words

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Put this post together last night – got up this morning to publish it and it was gone. If this sounds rushed – that’s because it is. I’m only about 15% into Ember of Night and it already looks like two tropes – instalove and love triangle – are included. Not my favorites. But I do like how protective the MC is of her sister.

I am a weed.

Unloved by my abusive, alcoholic dad. Unwanted by my classmates. Unnoticed by everyone else.

But I’d suffer anything to give my kid sister a better life—the minute I turn eighteen, I’m getting us the hell out of here. And some hot stranger telling me I am the key to stopping a war between Heaven and Hell isn’t going to change that.

Let the world crumble and burn, for all I care.

Draven is relentless, though. And very much a liar. Every time his sexy lips are moving, I can see it—in the dip of his head, the grit of his jaw—even if my heart begs me to ignore the signs.

So what does he want?

I need to figure it out fast, because now everyone is gunning for me. And damn if I don’t want to show them what happens when you let weeds thrive in the cracks of the pavement…

We can grow powerful enough to shatter the whole foundation.

I just finished The House in the Cerulean Sea a couple days ago and haven’t written the review because I’m still basking in the glow. This book is utter perfection. You’ll fall in love with these children and Linus. I’d give it one hundred stars if I could.

A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.

But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.

An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours. 

An Irish setting and a female Indiana Jones? I have high hopes for this one.

MAY THE HAZEL BRING YOU WISDOM AND THE ASPEN GUIDE AND PROTECT YOU…

Samantha Knox put away her childish fantasies of archaeological adventure the day her father didn’t return home from the Great War, retreating to the safety of the antique bookshop where she works. But when a mysterious package arrives with a damaged diary inside, Sam’s peaceful life is obliterated. Ruthless men intent on reclaiming the diary are after Sam, setting her and her best friend, along with her childhood crush, on a high-stakes adventure that lands them in the green hills outside Dublin, Ireland. Here they discover an ancient order with a dark purpose – to perform an occult ritual that will raise the Specter Queen, the Celtic goddess of vengeance and death, to bring about a war unlike any the world has ever seen. To stop them, Sam must solve a deviously complex cipher – one that will lead her on a treasure hunt to discover the ancient relic at the heart of the ritual: a bowl carved from the tree of life. Will she find the bowl and stop the curse of the Specter Queen, or will the ancient order bring about the end of the world?

Indiana Jones gets a refresh with this female-driven mystery adventure, set in the 1920s, full of ciphers, ancient relics, and heart-stopping action – the first in a brand-new series!