Book Review – Left Behind by Vi Keeland and Dylan Scott

Happy Thursday everyone! Ready for the next book review? I’m not gonna lie, I’ve been struggling this week, I’m still not done reading next week’s book review book, but I’m farther into the next book on the list. I need to do something about that. For now though, let’s talk about Left Behind. Once again, I read this book with my cousin Steph. Since I picked the last book her and I read, she got to pick the next one. She chose this and one other. For me they were blind picks, all I knew was that they were more Vi Keeland books, until they arrived at my house. So, without further ado, let’s get to it!

Left Behind is not like the last Vi Keeland book I read. It’s a little different, and I liked it. Steph liked it more than I did probably, but everything else I’m reading right now is a little different so it stuck out. It isn’t that it’s a bad story, on the contrary, I had some really strong feelings about it.

Nikki Fallon is a 17 year old girl living in Texas. When her mom dies and she finds out some family secrets, it turns her life completely on its head. She struggles with unraveling a past she never knew about, and the typical horror of high school all in a new place with family she didn’t even know existed.

Zack Martin has everything. A beautiful cheerleader girlfriend. A spot on the Varsity football team. Everything a high school senior would want. Until it isn’t. Until it all goes wrong. How will he pick up the pieces and learn to live again?

Can Nikki and Zack come together to help one another through their own personal trauma and still manage to graduate on time? Or will the things they don’t know tear them apart?

Thelma & Louise Book Club Chat

Q: Why did you choose this book?
Amber: Steph actually picked this one since I picked the last one. It was a blind draw for me.
Steph: I chose this book because I got to read the first couple of pages from the first chapter online, and it intrigued me. It was a little different than the last one, but I thought it would be good. And obviously because we read a really stellar book by her before this.

Q: Which character did you like best?
Amber:
Zack. I felt like he was the most “real” of the characters. With that amount of grief, sometimes it only takes one small thing to pull you out. Or Kellar, I like characters that make me laugh.
Steph: Nikki. I could relate to her character with some real life events of my past.

Q: Which character did you like least?
Amber:
It’s a toss up between Nikki’s mom and Mrs. Bennet. Her mom because she should have told Nikki the truth and Mrs. Bennet, who is obviously not handling ANYTHING well and took it out on a clueless Nikki.
Steph: Emily, just because of the way she treated Zack and everyone else just because of her popularity. Or maybe Mrs. Bennet because she never gave Nikki the chance to get to know her before she started attacking her.

Q: What was your favorite part of this book?
Amber: My favorite part was either the night at lookout where Zack and Nikki finally opened up to each other and a little about their past.
Steph: The day they went to the lighthouse. Because when they were at the lookout, she mentioned she loved lighthouses and he remembered. And because of the epic kiss they share there as well.
Amber: That is probably my second favorite. Do you think it’s weird that both of our favorite scenes are more toward the beginning?
Steph: That’s because that’s before everything got complicated!

Q: How did the setting impact the story?
Steph: I think that the setting was perfect. They’re both athletic and the setting allowed them to explore that more and be outdoors.
Amber: I think it added depth to the characters. They were able to interact with their surroundings. I like that the differences in not only environment, but the setting between Nikki’s life in Texas and her life in California showed how far she was growing as a character, without it actually being shoved down your throat.

Q: Are there lingering questions from the book you’re still thinking about?
Amber: YES! What actually happened to Emily? Like I get the big picture, but what happened? And why did the writer portray the two funeral scenes exactly the same? Was it for parallels? Cause that was obvious enough without it feeling like it was copied and pasted.
Steph: I feel the same way. But I also want to know how Aunt Clare moved on with her life after Nikki and Zack left? Like, what happened with their relationship?

Q: Did you like the heat level of this book?
Amber: Because of the age of the characters, there wasn’t a lot of heat. I liked how it was done, but I could have used a little more build up maybe? They talk a lot about what happened between them in kind of an off handed way and while I like good Fade to Black spice scenes, I felt like it wasn’t even that most of the time.
Steph: Right, like it was more of just teenager teasing and flirting.

Q: Was the couple’s connection believable? If so, when did they click for you?
Steph: Yes, they clicked right away. They didn’t even have to speak to know that there was a connection.
Amber: Their first couple of meetings were really cute, with the not speaking to one another thing. I liked the little notes, especially when Nikki wrote one to Zack at the end.
Steph: Mmhm

Q: Are there any characters that you’d like to deliver a lecture to? If so, who? What would you say?
Amber: I have a list! OMG! Aunt Clare, why did you give up so easily on losing touch with your sister and your niece? Especially if you knew your niece could potentially be in danger? You knew where they were, why not reach out? Mrs. Bennet, WTF? Mrs. Fallon, dude. I know you had some mental health issues and some other health issues, but your daughter is NOT your caretaker, you are hers. Emily, CHILL OUT HOMEGIRL! It’s not that serious!
Steph: My first one is to Nikki’s Mom, I understand mental illnesses, but I am also a mother with those and I don’t understand how you could let your child down so harshly throughout her entire life. Aunt Clare, wanting children and never having any should have been the biggest reason to stay in touch with your sister so you could have a relationship with your niece. Mrs. Bennet, [redacted cussing] had you gotten the chance to get to know Nikki you would have realized how alike she was to the daughter you raised and hope that now that it’s all said and done, you regret your actions.
Amber: We did good at this. We done?
Steph: No, I’m gonna call Zack out as well. I understand you went through a tough loss at a young age, a lot like Nikki, but it wasn’t kind of you to treat Allie the way that you did. She was just trying to be there for you.

Q: Would you recommend this book to anyone? Who?
Amber: I don’t know. Teenagers maybe? It was a good book, I mean my mom stole it off of my shelf already.
Steph: Yes I would recommend it. It was a good read, a fast read, and I think that I’d recommend it to anyone between the ages of 16 -25 because I think they’d enjoy it more.

Amber: Do you think that the trauma experienced in this book and the recovery, or beginning of that recovery, is believable or would be relatable? We’ve both been through some of those things, the grief of losing a parent is something we both understand. Do you think the authors did a good job portraying that turmoil?
Steph: Yes I do. I think that they showed that the mental and emotional state with Zack dealing with his grief and trauma was so different from Nikki dealing with a similar issue because Nikki had been through so much with her mom already but Zack had never dealt with anything like that before.
Amber: I think it was done well. It was two vastly different reactions to similar situations which is often times true to life.

Our Ratings

This book was good, like I said. We both really enjoyed how quick it was to read. It kept us hooked, I’d call it a beach read, or maybe a good plan book. You could get through most of it in a few hours. The romance angle kept you intrigued, as well as the personal struggles of each character. The characters were well developed, even the background characters, and they were true to their personalities. They were consistent. This was the second book we’ve read by the same author, and so far the writing style is consistent and still good. It wasn’t quite a five star, however. It got a little predictable in the sense that I figured out who Nikki’s long lost sister was long before she did. It didn’t stop the lump in my throat or the pain in my chest when she finally figured it out though. It was rough. I like things that make me feel something.

Disclaimer on the heat level: Due to the ages of the characters, there wasn’t the same level of heat in this book as the last by the same author. It wasn’t even quite fade to black, though the kissing scenes were intense and made both of us a little breathless because we remember being young and being kissed like that, and the fear/excitement of our first times. It was really well written, there just wasn’t a lot of it. So our rating reflects that. It isn’t meant to be judgmental or bad, not this time. There just wasn’t much to judge. Again, given the age of the characters, I’m okay with that.

This book deals with a lot of heavy emotions. Grief, Foster Care, Death, Mental Illness, Depression, First Times, the list goes on. It’s heavy in a lot of ways. What really stuck with me was that the authors never shied away from portraying these things accurately. As someone who has lost a parent (two in my case, one in Steph’s), has their own diagnosed “Mental Illness”, and remembers being a teenager, I appreciated that these concepts were dealt with maturely and were a good representation for how life really is. Zack was still grieving months after everyone else had started to move on and everyone started to get worried about him. That’s realistic and it happens. Sometimes you get stuck there and can’t get passed it. My favorite thing, as someone who is diagnosed Bipolar, is Nikki’s constant and consistent correction of anyone who called her mom crazy or anything else besides sick. I can’t remember now exactly how it went, but there’s even a moment where she’s talking to her best friend, and even though her friend makes an offhanded comment, that Nikki knows she doesn’t mean in a bad way, it’s an automatic correction. I appreciated that. I’m lucky, I don’t have it as bad as some others do, but I’m not crazy, my brain just isn’t always a rational place to live. I loved this book. Please go read it. Give it to your teens, or anyone really. My mom took it off my bookshelf the day after I finished it.

That’s it for this week. I hope you enjoyed the review. See you this time next week!

Book Review – Dark Prince by Michelle Hercules

This week I bring you one of the books I read on my Kindle App. It was available through Kindle Unlimited, and I blew through it so quickly. It took me two days, and it wouldn’t have taken that long except I was busy doing other things in between when I got to read it. If you like Vampires and the paranormal, you have to put this on your reading list. It’s part of a series, and you will not be disappointed.

So, our story revolves around Lucca Della Morte and Vivianne Gale. Lucca is a blueblood vampire and nephew of the vampire King. He’s also cursed and his hibernations are taking longer and longer for him to wake up from. Vivianne is just trying to save her brother from a Dragonshifter, who wants her to steal Lucca’s necklace in exchange for her brother’s life.

After Vivianne fails to steal the necklace the first time, she ends up enrolled at the same school as Lucca and his inner circle. She’s given a glamour so that no one knows she isn’t a vampire, but Lucca sees through it immediately. At first he is dead set on making her miserable due to her attempt at stealing his necklace, but he somehow can’t bring himself to do so.

I liked this book, and I’m reading the second one right now, which I find to be so much better than the first, but the first was good. A lot of reviews talk about how many cliche’s there are in the story, and while they are accurate, this story is chock full of them, I found it an amusing quick read.

What was your favorite part of the book? I really enjoyed the back story on Vivianne. I liked learning about that particular twist.

Did you race to the end or was it more of a slowburn? It was quick. I loved it. I finished it rather quickly in just a couple of days while only reading before bed.

What surprised you most about the book? The backstory of Vivianne and who she really is. That plot twist took me by surprise for sure.

Are there lingering questions from the book you’re still thinking about? Yes, I had several, but now that I’m halfway through the second book and I’m finding that those lingering questions are being answered. It was all background character stuff anyway, so now I’m working on that.

Which characters did you like best? Karl and Aurora. I loved them, even though they’re background characters. Aurora was sweet to Vivianne when she was new and helped her out, even though she could see through her glamour as well. She didn’t ask questions and she didn’t judge her too harshly. Karl was Vivianne’s best friend, and though he tried to be secretive and seemed like they weren’t close at the beginning, everything ended up working out for them to remain best friends.

Which characters did you like least? Manu and Ronan. I just don’t know enough about them to understand why they are standoffish and rude to everyone. I don’t understand it, but if anything I’m learning that I’ll find out eventually if I keep reading the series.

Did you like the “heat” level of this book? I did. I felt like it was appropriately paced and increased. I felt the heat and I didn’t feel like it was forced. I liked it.

Was the couple’s connection believable? If so, at what point did they click for you? I felt like it was. I felt that they handled it well since they started off as enemies and slowly settled into lovers, with the pauses where they examine their own conflicting feelings was believable.

Would you fall for either of the leads? I love Vampires, so yes I would. Though I don’t think it would work out in the long run.

If it’s part of a series, did this book compel you to read the next one? I already know that it’s part of a series, and I am actively reading the second book. I went looking for it immediately. I have the third book downloaded to my Kindle app already waiting for me to finish the second book.

All in all I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a quick read and doesn’t mind cliches. It’s a good read. I swear.

My Ratings

I gave this book four stars because while it was good, it wasn’t the greatest thing I have every read. I liked it, but it wasn’t amazing.

I gave this four flames for heat level. Just because the heat was good, and the spice was spicy, but it wasn’t the spiciest thing that I have ever read. So, four flames.

That’s it on this week’s book review. So, feel free to check out Dark Prince by Michelle Hercules, you won’t regret it. It’s good. Until next week my loves, I’m out.

Setting Preview – Penelope’s Apartment

Hello all! How’s your Friday? So far so good over here. Today’s setting is Penelope Sawyer’s apartment. Since she is the main character in the Ashes & Stars series, I thought it important over the next couple of weeks to show you exactly where my characters live and what their spaces look like. Maybe tell you why certain things are there. You can tell quite a bit about someone by the things they surround themselves with. So, without further ado, let’s explore Penelope’s apartment.

Penelope lives in a two bedroom apartment that she used to share with her brother. Cohen wasn’t there often, but it was his home of residence when he came home on leave. He got the bigger room because Penelope liked the access to the outdoor patio from the smaller room. After her brother died, it took months before she was able to convert his room into a guest room, a feat that was only accomplished with the help of both her Mom and her best friend Bailey. Now the room lacks a lot of personality, which is the way Penelope likes it. It was easier. After which it has unofficially become Bailey’s room at her house, since they live in different states, it’s important to both of them to have a room that feels like their own.

While she isn’t very fond of living in an apartment, she’s made a home for herself there and doesn’t see herself moving. Though she’s thought about it, she hasn’t seriously made plans to do so. She is comfortable with her small kitchen, since it’s always just her.

All of the rooms in her house, besides the guest room, have a common theme that connects them. Specifically the use of the colors of gray and dusty rose. It’s comforting to her as the dusty rose is her favorite color. She loves it and it shows. (I certainly can’t blame her, I use that color with Navy blue in my office and absolutely love it!) While her apartment does appear feminine, and why shouldn’t it, it’s not overly so.

Penelope tends to spend a lot of time in the warmer months out on the patio or on the balcony. She likes to curl up with a good book, or bring her tablet out to relax in the sun with a movie. Some of the important conversations she ends up having take place in these two spots. Despite it’s smaller size, she enjoys that she can turn music on in the living room and anywhere on the first floor she is, she can hear it without the volume being so loud that it disturbs her neighbors.

Since she lives by herself, the separate dining room didn’t make sense to her, so she added bookshelves and a smaller table to the room to make it into a library/game room. When she has company they can sit in there and play cards or board games and have a good time. She eats either on her couch or at the island so there isn’t really a good place to play cards in the living room. Unless there are a bunch of people, like when her and her friends play poker at the coffee table for her birthday. There isn’t room at the table for that so they congregate elsewhere.

Normally, however, there aren’t that many people in her apartment at any given time. Since it’s been just her, she doesn’t have company too often and often ends up feeling isolated. Her parents live a couple of hours north of her and her best friends both live in different states. It’s one of the reasons she keeps coming back to the decision to move elsewhere, though she can’t seem to commit. It would mean leaving behind the last piece of her brother that she has.

I hope you enjoyed this brief look into Penelope’s apartment. A lot of the plot happens here, so I hope you got to look around and get familiar with it. Stay tuned next Friday for the next setting. What do you guys want to see? Do you have a preference? Reid’s house? The cabin? Bailey’s house? These are other important settings. Quite a bit of the series actually takes place in and around Vampire House (Reid and Asher’s house). Let me know what you think.

Book Review – The Summer Proposal

Hello lovlies! How are you this wonderful Thursday? I’m starting a new thing and so every Thursday you’ll get a book review from me. I used to do them all of the time on the old blog, but now I think I’ll do them here. You guys should see what I’m reading and recommending, or not recommending for that matter. This week, we’re talking about The Summer Proposal by Vi Keeland.

*SPOILER ALERT*
There are potential spoilers ahead, ye be warned!

The Summer Proposal
by Vi Keeland

You guys have seen those Ads on Facebook and other places like that about books right? Well, that’s what happened to me. I saw this ad, and the story sounded interesting so I followed the link to Amazon and downloaded a preview of the book to my Kindle app. I read the first three chapters and then immediately ordered two copies, one for me and one for my cousin Steph who loves reading as much as I do. This book had everything we enjoyed; a romantic plot, hockey, some spice, and I learned in the first three chapters that the writer was funny. There were so many times while I was reading that I laughed out loud, scaring whoever was around me.

So I took this book to Stephanie, and together we read it. It was a pretty quick read, only 330 pages, but oh did those pages have me hooked! I read through it so quickly that it only took a couple of hours while I was at my cousins, and then a Friday night by myself in my apartment. We got together and asked ourselves ten questions about this, book club style, and here are the answers to those.

Q: What was your least favorite part of the book?

Steph: I was a little disappointed that no one attended the funeral, but seeing as how it was a side character, I’m not surprised.
Amber: I was too, I felt like there should have been some mention of Max attending if he did. It seemed to me like he just skipped it. Rude if they were actually friends.

Q: What was your favorite part of the book?

S: The staycation and the end.
A: I think my favorite was that he never belittled her work and tried so hard to support it. I liked medicine when she was sick.

Q3: Which character did you relate to, or empathize with, the most?

S: Georgia because I’m an anxious creature like she is and I overthink everything so I can relate to how she feels during most of the book.
A: Maggie. I want to be her when I grow up. She was a fabulous friend and I absolutely adored her personality.

Q4: Did you like the “heat” level of this book?

S: Absolutely! It was steamy steamy! I was certainly effected.
A: Yes, I felt it was a good mix of spice and story. The spice was definitely well written.

Q5: Was the couple’s connection believable? If so, at what point did they click for you?

S: Yes, I felt like they were meant to be as soon as Max walked in and pretended to be her blind date.
A: Same, I felt like the moment he gave her the Yoda to hold on to it was a done deal. They were adorable. Especially when she showed up at the Garden.
S: Do you think he left it there on purpose?
A: Oh yeah he totally did. He was hoping she’d return it.
S: Yeah. It was a ploy to see her again.

Q6: What do you think happens to the leads after the ending?

S: They both continue to be extremely successful and have a couple of babies.
A: Adorably dimpled hockey playing babies.

Q7: What do you think of the romance’s pacing?

S: Vi had me hanging on the edge of my seat the whole time waiting to see what would happen next. I loved it.
A: I felt the pacing was good. It definitely lent to it being unputdownable and a quick read. I HAD to know what was going to happen next.

Q8: Would you fall for either of the leads?

S: Oh most definitely. Max is a hockey player, with dimples. I love hockey players, and dimples.
A: Max is on my book boyfriend list. I’d date him. He’s sweet and amazing and loyal.

Q9: Did this book melt your heart? Make you believe in love again?

S: Absolutely. It was a testing time for me.
A: Of course. It made me feel my single status so much more! I want a nice man who’s good in bed, ha ha.

Q10: Did the plot proceed in a way that felt natural? Or did you feel manipulated by the storyline?

S: I think the plot line proceeded perfectly. I liked the way it flowed and it seemed real to me.
A: I think it was perfect. At first I was a little confused as to the purpose of the flashback chapters, but that became clear as I read. They were misleading though, so that was a fun twist in a predictable “I know they’re gonna fall in love no matter what they say to the contrary” type plot.

Final Ratings:

We give this book five stars. We bought two more books by the same author that we can’t wait to read, so definite five stars.

We give this book four flames. It was steamy and really good, but it wasn’t overly abundant. We were satisfied by what was there, but Gabriel the jerk blocked more of what could have been.

In summary, if you like hockey, or romance, or just good spicy scenes, we highly recommend this book. It’s hilarious and a great read. Check it out. Until next time my loves.

Character Profile – Kestral Sherwood

Today’s Character profile is about a character that first shows up in this upcoming weekend’s Short Story Saturday. He’s going to be the counterpart to the main character of Ailee Creed. The two of them will go on an epic journey that you’ll get to read about but only here on the blog. So, without further ado, let’s meet Kestral Sherwood.

Kestral is a Gorlass, a descendant of long ago Dragon shifters. They can no longer shift but retain several characteristics of their previous Dragon ancestors. Kestral himself is the only son out of five children. He’s the youngest and his sisters live to make his life complicated. While his sisters all have jewel colored eyes, his are the same gold as his fathers. When threatened, his skin takes on a golden sheen that is strangely reminiscent of scales, and though his skin is impervious to fire, it is not impenetrable. 

Kestral works with Wilder as a Diffuser. Since he is fireproof, it made sense to him that he could use his gifts to help people. He moved to Port Shadeau two years prior and despite his willingness to settle down, no one had yet caught his eye. 

When he isn’t working, he loves to read books and drink coffee. His favorites are mystery and detective stories and he can spend hours on his days off doing nothing but sitting in his favorite chair and devouring books. When he has enough time to leave the city, he prefers to spend time in wide open spaces. He loves stargazing and watching the night sky while he sleeps next to a campfire.

Ten get to know you questions with Kestral Sherwood:

What makes you happy? A good cup of coffee and a good book on a rainy day.

What is your favorite flower? Sunflowers

Who was your childhood hero? My father. He was honest and unfailingly kind.

What would you do if you won the lottery? Buy a house out in the country and some land. Then build a room that was all windows and fill it with books and comfortable chairs to relax in when the rains come.

Are you a dog person or a cat person? Dog person more often than not. But I don’t mind cats. 

What would you name your future child? Lawson Sherwood, after my father, if it was a boy. And Caroline Sherwood if it’s a girl. I’d be willing to compromise on the middle names, but the last names are fixed in my mind. 

Something you hate that you used to love? Spinach. When I was a kid I’d eat it all the time, but now I can’t stand it. 

What did you want to be as a kid? I’ve always wanted to be a Diffuser, so I guess I did that right. 

What is the last thing you bought? [laughs] Groceries. I bought groceries, though they were minimal. 

That’s the brief introduction to Kestral Sherwood. At least as much as you’ll get for now. Tune in this Saturday to actually meet him in the story. Let me know what you think so far. For now, I’m off to get some work done around the house. Enjoy the rest of your Tuesday friends!

I’ve been thinking

If you’re on my personal facebook, or even follow the Amber Marie Writes facebook, you may have seen this already, but I felt it worth repeating here. I had a bit of a rough year last year, as did everyone. It hasn’t gotten much better this year but I’m pushing through and I’m determined to make something good this year. This post kind of came to me after I saw a graphic in my memories and I thought it was important enough to share here with maybe a little more detail than I’d put on my facebook. Some of it is a little difficult to talk about but the overall idea is about making art out of the difficult stuff that happens.

As most of you know, if you’ve paid any attention at all over the last year, I lost my Dad March 13th of last year. What only my brother knows, is that the night before Dad died, Damien and I were at the hospital until two in the morning. We were emotional and trying to distract ourselves. I had been gearing up for Camp NaNo which happens every year in April. I had written out an outline that I had spent the last couple of months creating from a random thought into an actual story. It wasn’t easy but dealing with everything those last couple of months with Dad gave us, it gave me something else to focus on while working nights. So, my brother and I sat there, three foot from my dad, talking about this outline, talking about my ideas, to distract us from what was happening in the bed right next to us. Dad died the next afternoon. And despite everything that happened in the years leading up to that moment, and no matter how many time we told ourselves we were, we weren’t ready. I wasn’t ready.

Then the world shut down in almost the same breath as we lost Dad. We were trapped at home. People were scared. I was grieving. Hard. I had no idea what to do and my brain desperately was searching for something to do. So a couple of weeks later, when April started, I did what I had planned to do. I did Camp Nano. I set goals, and I smashed them. Quickly.

It had been a very long time since I had finished anything besides a short story. I’d get almost to the end of something and then I just couldn’t finish it. It was frustrating. I started to feel like that with this but I pushed on. I made myself write every second I wasn’t working, or helping the kids with school, or cleaning the house. I did my best. I distracted myself to escape the pain. And this amazing thing happened. On April 25th, 2020, I finished Hold On. Sure, it was just a first draft. Sure, it wasn’t anything spectacular. It was just a piece of fanfiction that I may or may not publish anywhere. It was for me. I wrote my emotions out. I took that grief and turned it into something beautiful.

My goals, as you can see, were simple, 10k words minimum. That was my goal. just something on paper. Anything. Create Art, which I created a lot of art. I really did. And to finish it. Which I did. 25 days and I finished it. Ending with 18 chapters and a total of roughly 63, 457 words. I have never won a full NaNoWriMo before since I started competing in 2013. And the goal there is only 50k in 30 days. I wrote 63k in 25 days. It was huge.

That feeling allowed me to keep going. It allowed me to keep writing and to write everyday. When it’s not a NaNo month (April and November are when I participate), the timeline I give myself is somewhat more relaxed. And by the time October of last year rolled around, I had finished 3 stories, one was primed to go to my editor, and I was working on three more, as the ideas struck. I was making art, so much art, I had perfected my writing process. I was doing so well and I knew, without a doubt that I was going to kick NaNo’s ass in November. If I could do it in April, I could do it in November.

Then my Mom died. And it was, ugh. I shut down. Immediately. It was like my brain had a moment where it went “We’ve already done this, we are NOT doing this again!” I tried to do what I’d done earlier in the year, but I’d stare at the screen and couldn’t make the words come. I just couldn’t. They were gone. The words, the ideas, they were still there, I could feel them but they were silent. For once in my writing life, the voices that guide me were silent. And it was deafening.

I didn’t do NaNo last year. I barely made it through November. Dad’s funeral, finally, then Mom’s the next day. It was, a lot. Then the kids started acting out. Jay almost missed Thanksgiving. Emily hated her 16th birthday, even though I tried. Emily has been acting out since. Sneaking out, and taking off for weeks at a time. This has been constant since November. It hasn’t made the words come, if anything they feel farther away.

I’ve started editing again, because despite everything, life goes on. As much as I’d love to sit and never have to process the things I put off at the end of last year so that I wouldn’t have to deal with it, life doesn’t work that way. So, while I still can barely write, I’ve been editing. I’ve been plotting. I will make it through whatever I have to, and not lose my identity as a writer. I have to, because who am I if I’m not?

My 2k20 Camp NaNo Goals graphic was in my memories recently, and I saw it before I’d even had my first cup of coffee and when I saw it, I immediately remembered that sense of pride I felt when I was done. I felt my chest swelling with it again. I felt my shoulders squaring and my head lifting just a bit. It may be just a simple fanfiction that got me through a large portion of my grief. 63k words that I wasn’t sure I’d ever show to anyone. But I’m so glad that I did. It was officially published on August 31st of last year. Since then I’ve gotten 22 comments telling me what a great story it is. 22 comments telling me I was good at this. 22 comments that helped me get through the hardest year of my life, so far. As of yesterday, I’m up to 107 kudos, which if you read anything on AO3, you know that isn’t that great, but it’s not bad either. And the newest Kudos was just yesterday, according to my email.

I created something that will last. I created something. I took my grief and shaped it into a stepping stone for my goals. This stone may be a bit harder and I’m still working on it. I may be juggling more than one stone right now, but that’s all they are. Stepping stones to my dreams. Stepping stones to my goals. Each painted a different color of memory. I can take this, and I can use it. Art is emotion after all.

If you read all of this, thank you. It’s really just to remind myself that even when it hurts, even when it feels like you’re going to break, you never know what’s going to happen next and that next thing, may be everything you ever needed.

Leftovers

I know that it’s been a while since I’ve been here, but there have been a lot of things going on personally the last few months. But here I am, back at it and hopefully there won’t be too many more interruptions.

So we are going to kick off May with a lovely new Short Story Saturday. I’m going to pick up where we left off with Ailee Creed and her time in Port Shadeau. So, enjoy!

    Ailee set down the boxes she’d been carrying and wiped her forearm over her brow.  A quick glance at the clock as she opened the top box told her she wasn’t too far from the end of her shift.  With a smile she went back to unloading the boxes and putting the products on the shelf.  When she was finally done, she checked in with her Assistant manager who was working the evening shift, said goodbye to employees still on the clock, and then clocked out.  

    She made her way downstairs toward where Marlowe was also finishing her shift.  Ailee waited, leaned against the end of the counter flipping through a magazine while she finished doing what she was doing.  Once Marlowe was done they walked to the back to grab Marlowe’s coat and went out into the city to find something for dinner.  

    The next couple of days went the same way, and Ailee was happy to finally have a friend. It made her new life in Port Shadeau a little more bearable.  After work on Friday, Marlowe and Ailee met up at Marlowe’s for a couple of drinks and to make dinner.  Marlowe’s husband Wilder was at work for the weekend and so Marlowe had the apartment to herself.  They sat around at the counter and discussed the options for dinner.  

    “I have a lot of easy stuff because I’m not a big fan of cooking.” Marlowe explained standing in front of her fridge and trying to find something to make for them. “It’s such a difference cooking for me as opposed to cooking when Wilder is home.” 

    “Just because you make easy food doesn’t mean it has to taste easy.” Ailee said setting her beer on the counter and sliding off of the stool.  She moved to stand beside Marlowe.  

    “I don’t know how.” Marlowe said, shaking her head.  Ailee just grinned. 

    “I can teach you.  Let me see what you’ve got in here.” Ailee spent a couple of minutes looking through Marlowe’s fridge and cupboards.  She amassed a small collection of things on the counter and then looked at Marlowe.  “Okay.  Let me grab a couple of seasonings from my place that you don’t have, and I’m going to teach you to make something really delicious that isn’t complicated at all.” She said with a grin.  

    After she grabbed the few things from her apartment that she needed, she got to work in the kitchen teaching Marlowe how to make Chicken Penne.  They spent the time laughing and talking and Ailee was happy to really feel like she had a new friend here.  When the food was done, Marlowe was impressed about how easy it was to cook and it smelled amazing.  They sat down and shared a good meal with a lot of laughs and had a great evening.  When dinner was done, they worked together to clean the kitchen and pack up the leftovers.  

    “So, I’m gonna take these home with me since I don’t have to work tomorrow.” Ailee told her with a grin picking up the container off the counter.  

    “Oh no, those are staying here. I have to show Wilder I can actually cook.” Marlowe told her with a grin as she attempted to swipe at the container in Ailee’s hand.  

The girls devolved into a silly play fight over the leftovers before Ailee let Marlowe take them with a proud smile. She went home feeling happy that she had taught her friend the benefits of good food. Marlowe waited no time in taking the leftovers down to the fire house to share with Wilder. It took only one bite before he had shared with a couple of friends, offering a bite or two a piece. He was proud of his wife. When Marlowe got home, she had texted Ailee and asked her to do weekly cooking lessons, and Ailee was happy to agree. It was something wonderful and she was happy to be settling into her new life in Port Shadeau and settled into bed that night with a smile on her face.

Setting Preview: The Librarie

This week we are talking about The Librarie. This is the fictional bookstore and Cafe that Ailee Creed and Marlowe Lark manage in the Short Story Saturday series Port Shadeau. I kind of hope you guys love it as much as I do.

Many years ago I read a series by Nora Roberts about these women who live on an island and it still is one of my favorite series. My mom loaned it to me and I remember looking at her and telling her that I wanted the bookstore from the story. It had a cafe upstairs and it was also a metaphysical shop and I wanted to live there. So, when I was gathering inspiration for Port Shadeau, I found this picture of a bookstore somewhere and I knew that I wanted a cafe bookstore combination.

Now, to prevent copywrite and all of that, I changed it up. A cafe/bookstore isn’t a new idea so that wasn’t the problem, but making sure it didn’t resemble the one I read about a long time ago was essential. So, I set about creating the perfect environment.

It’s two stories, with the Cafe on the first floor near the back of the shop, and there are bookshelves that line the walls. There are new books, used books, a spiral staircase to get to the second floor where there are a few scattered chairs and small couches where you can read and sip your latte. It’s got brick walls and gorgeous windows for plenty of natural light. There’s a wonderful mixture of used books, and new releases, and several wonderful gifts for book lovers and coffee lovers alike.

Marlowe takes great pride in keeping the bookstore easy to navigate but also giving off the vibe of an old forgotten bookstore that you’d find down some alley in Europe, with books piled high not just on the shelves, but scattered on tables, placed carefully on carts, and any bibliophile would love to enter here. I want to go and it doesn’t exist. The smell of old books mixing pleasantly with the smell of freshly roasted coffee beans. It sounds like a sanctuary to me. There’s even a section of the store that’s more like a little library, you can check out the book rather than buy it. It’s wonderful. I kind of want to open this place now.

Can you imagine it? Spending hours wandering the aisles, looking for a long forgotten story that calls out to you. sinking into a comfortable couch and losing time while you read and drink a delicious cup of coffee or tea? I can. And I want to go there, like now.

What does your dream bookstore look like?
Have a great week guys!

2k21 Reading List

When I was in high school, I could devour 3 novels in a week in addition to school, sports, chores, and friends. I was also writing at that time. On deployment, I was reading a book every week or so. Now, being a single parent of two teens, writing, working, going to school, and trying to balance what free time I have with friends and family, there isn’t enough time in my life to read books. I read a lot of fanfiction, but not many books. I hate that. So, one of my goals this year is to create a reading list and read at least half of it.

Because everything in my life is split into quarters, just cause it’s easier to look at a three month block rather than the whole year, I have done the same with my reading list. There are sixteen books, mostly from the genre I’m trying to write for and some just because I wanted to read them. So, check out my reading list for 2k21 below and I will explain a little why I chose each book.

Keep in mind that while I chose these sixteen books for the year, I had so much trouble figuring out how to organize these sixteen into four books a quarter, so I asked for help from my best friend. She decided, the only two requirements that I had were,
1. Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes had to be in the first quarter since I’ve already started that one.
2. Don’t put Midnight Sun in the last quarter because I got it for Christmas and I’m super excited to read it.

Those were the only two requirements that I had. Pele didn’t know what most of them were about, so her decisions were based solely on the cover art. It was an interesting way to do it, but I kind of like the way it came out.

For information on what the book is about, click the title of the story and it will take you to the corresponding page on Goodreads. That way you’d get what they were about from the book blurb themselves. Now, the reasons why I chose them, that’s all me. They are listed by quarter, but in no particular order within that quarter.

Quarter One Reading List
(January – March)

From Blood and AshJennifer L. Armentrout

I chose this book because it seemed like a really good read. I love the idea of being forced into one role when you really want something else. Add in that the world hangs in the balance, um, yes please! I cannot wait to read this one and find out what happens to Poppy, why she was chosen as the Maiden, or why the guard, Hawke, gets under her skin so badly. This has disaster all over it and I am so there!

Manners and Monsters – Tilley Wallace

When I made my list of reads for the year, there were twelve books. This one, was one that Amazon recommended to me, and after reading the description, I was all in. Thus, my reading list grew just a tiny bit. I am so excited for this read.
1. I LOVE (and I do mean LOVE) historical romance. My favorite book ever is Pride and Prejudice. And this, this is a historical piece.
2. Monsters and the Ton….I am so excited.

This is but the first in a series and I cannot wait. Mystery, Monsters, the Ton, historical….This read is going to be amazing!

A Discovery of Witches – Deborah Harkness

Okay, who hasn’t heard of this series yet? It’s a got a TV series, and it’s rumored to be an amazing story. It’s been on my reading list for a while now, so when I put together the list for this year, it just had to be on it. I am so excited! The ads make this story seem like something right up my alley. Witches, Vampires, a governing body, rules, laws….. um, yes. I cannot wait to dive into this and honestly, as excited as I am about the other two books, I will most likely read this one as soon as I’m done with Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes – Suzanne Collins

I am a HUGE fan of the Hunger Games series. I loved the books, I loved the movies (until we get to district 13 but that’s a different story). I loved it. So when Suzanne Collins said she was going to release another book from that world, I didn’t care what the subject matter was, I had to have it. It was loaned to me by a friend at Christmas and I was so excited to read it, I started immediately. So far I am in love, but you’ll have to wait until I get done.

Quarter Two Reading List
(April – June)

Shadow of the Fox – Julie Kagawa

I specifically looked up books that have Kitsune’s. This book was at the top of the recommendations, and after reading the synopsis, I added it to the list. I’m not sure how I’m going to like it yet, but I know it sounds awesome. Since I’m writing about Kitsune’s and they aren’t featured too often in literature, I thought it might be nice to see how someone else does it. I’m excited about the opportunity. Add in a samurai and the fight for survival, I am almost always hooked.

The Blacksmith Queen G. A. Aiken

This story, again, came from a recommendation from a list that I read. This one, however, caught my attention because of the characters. The main character, her name is Kelley Smythe. And as my spell check just tried to remind me, my last name is Smyth. No E. I had to read it. Especially since it actually sounds like a really great story. A sister trying drastically to save her younger sibling from the Royal family all because of a prophecy? Sounds like a great adventure. I’m down.

The Vampire Debt – Ali Winters

This book was on my reading list back in the fall, before my life fell apart and reading was something I just couldn’t fathom. So, it’s back on the list this year. This one actually was recommended by my editor and I can’t wait to get to read it. I think I started it, and got a couple of pages in before disaster struck so I’m super excited to actually get to read it this time. Vampires, that was all I needed to know. Combine with that the description I first read had the line “It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a single vampire in possession of a great fortune must be in want of a mortal snack.” Or something to that effect and I was sold. Every time. Never fails.

Mother of Shadows – Meg Anne

This is the first book in a series and as always, that intrigues me. The idea that a simply prophecy can change everything makes me happy. How many of these are self-fulfilling? I can’t help it, I’m a sucker for them. I want to know so much about this world, the description has my writer brain tingling for the world building and the reader in me anxious for the story. I can’t wait to read this one.

Quarter Three Reading List
(July – September)

The Courier’s Tale – Peter Walker

I have already mentioned that I love historical romance. I am fascinated by Henry VIII. I have read almost every Phillipa Gregory book out there. This story, is actually about the couriers who took the kings messages back and forth from London to the Vatican when he was requesting his divorce. It’s super on the list and I cannot wait to read it.

Darklight – Bella Forrest

A world where Vampire’s were extinct and then the aftermath of that….sign me up. This was another one that got added to the list late. I cannot wait to read this. it’s going to be really good. The never ending struggle to find balance in the fight between good and evil. Dude, yes. I am excited to read this one.

Kingdom of the Wicked – Kerri Maniscalco

Streghe, Princes of Hell, a murder, AND it’s presented by James Patterson? That is literally all I needed to know. This was an easy choice for the list. I used to think that I didn’t like mystery too much, but then I started examining the books I read, and well, apparently I do, as long as there is some sort of magical element to it. Go figure. This looks really good and since it’s from the author of Stalking Jack the Ripper, which didn’t make it to my reading list but according to the reviews I read, was fantastic. I am so excited to meet this author on the page.

Midnight Sun – Stephanie Meyer

Do I really need to explain this one? I read Twilight, and while I found a whole host of problems with the writing, the story wasn’t a horrible idea. I loved it enough to read all four books. I knew about this when it got leaked…but I didn’t read it. (I feel like leaked work is the property of the author and as a fellow writer, I would hate if that happened to me. So out of respect I didn’t read it). I also love Vampires. I can’t wait to see if Edward is portrayed as the Sociopath I believed him to be in the original series. I’m so excited for this.

(And Pele’s dark sense of humor strikes again. This book isn’t in the last quarter as requested, but it isn’t anywhere near the first half of the year either. Conclusion: My best friend is a troll.)

Quarter Four
(October – December)

Casually Cursed – Kimberly Frost

This is another book that was on the list from October that I regretfully didn’t get to. So, it’s back on the list as well. I picked it up at Dollar General and I liked the idea of it. Apparently it’s part of a series called The Southern Witch Novels. I’m not sure what that means, I haven’t read it, so I’m looking forward to actually get this off of my TBR list.

Chosen Ones – Veronica Roth

When I picked this up at the store, I generally had no idea what it was about or anything like that. This was one of those impulse buys because of the Author. I loved the Divergent series about as much as I loved the Hunger Games. I read them really close together and loved the different stories. Veronica Roth created such a wonderful story. The writing was fantastic and I was drawn into the story quickly. I didn’t know what this was about but I assumed it would be the same. Once again, there’s a prophecy rearranging people lives and turning them on their heads. I love the idea of examining what happens to the “chosen ones” after their big battle. After they’ve done what they were supposed to do. What do they do now? I love that this tells us what happens next. I honestly cannot wait to read this.

The Awakening – Nora Roberts

1. I love Nora Roberts
2. One of my favorite series ever is one of her trilogies.
3. Dragons.
4. Picking this was the simplest decision ever.

House of Earth and Blood – Sarah J. Maas

Like both Veronica Roth and Nora Roberts, I love Sarah J. Maas. The three of them make up over half of my top 5 modern author list actually. Go figure…
So when I saw this story, it was another of those no brainer things. Angels, murder, Fallen Angels, and Demons….. seriously, how do you look at that and go, “mmm, nope.”

Right. You don’t.

I’m hoping to finish out the year with some well loved authors since the last part of the year is always the busiest for me with NaNoWriMo, my kids’ birthday, Halloween, Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Years…you get it. It’s busy. So, well loved authors will be like a hug at the end of busy days.

What’s on your reading list this year? How did you pick the titles you wanted to? Let me know what you think! Have a great day guys!

Character Profile – Marlowe Lark

This week I wanted to tell you guys all about Marlowe Lark.

Marlowe Lark is the manager at the bookstore, the Librarie, and makes friends with Ailee Creed on her first day. It doesn’t take long for the two of them to become good friends.

Marlowe married a Diffuser, or Arkane fire fighter, named Wilder Lark when she was twenty two. They were high school sweethearts and didn’t let anything stand in their way. They moved to Port Shadeau about five years prior to the start of this story because of Wilder being transferred there. She started working at the bookstore shortly after and about a year later, they bought the larger of the two studio apartments above the Librarie itself. While they have no children, Marlowe and Wilder live a full life.

Marlowe loves to travel, and when their schedules align, they tend to go somewhere new. It averages out to one vacation a month. Although sometimes they prefer to stay at home and never leave their bed.

Marlowe spends a lot of time on her own because of her husband’s work schedule. Since she doesn’t work weekends, she usually spends her time reading and drinking tea. She also likes to wander around Port Shadeau and Seattle trying to find things no one else has. She hikes sometimes out to remote locations so she can play a little with the air discipline that she can’t use as much inside the city. Normally, she will sit on rooftops in the summer with a book and let herself play with the wind around her.

She takes great pride in the way she runs the Librarie. She likes to do special themes every couple of weeks to try and bring people into the shop. Ailee, once she hears about the plan, does her best to create special drinks to match the theme as well.

I don’t know if there are going to be too many surprises with Marlowe. So far she seems like the steady, kind of crazy, force you’d want as a best friend. This week’s Short Story Saturday features heavily on Ailee and Marlowe’s budding friendship as they hang out after work one day. I can’t wait for you guys to read it!

Let me know what you guys think of Marlowe, I’m excited to hear your thoughts!