Book Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black


Hazel lives in Fairfold, a small town at the edge of the forest that the Folk call home. Nobody remembers how the horned boy in the glass coffin came to be in the middle of the forest, but he slumbered through the decades, his handsome face never changing. Until Hazel woke him up.

Now strange and dangerous things are happening around Fairfold–more so than normal. Townspeople are being attacked by a tree monster that renders them unconscious with no way to awaken them, the high school is under attack from an unseen force, and the King of the Folk reveals that Hazel is in it all up to her eyeballs. He gives her a deadline to turn over his son, the horned prince, or all of Fairfold will face the consequences. The problem is the horned prince is a nice guy, and his father doesn’t want to welcome him home with open arms, he wants to kill him. And since Hazel’s brother is in love with him, it’s more than a little problematic.

Hazel has to find a way to hide the prince, defeat the king, and save her fellow townsmen before time runs out. With the help of the prince, her brother, and her brother’s best friend–who happens to be a changeling and Hazel’s lifelong crush, Hazel refuses to admit defeat. After all, she’s one of the best knights the Folk have ever known.


I don’t read a ton of YA. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against it. On the contrary, I will gladly read a compelling story regardless of the age category. It just so happens that I tend to read more adult-targeted books. This one, though, caught my eye.

It twists some old tropes into something that is both familiar and surprising. The characters are all distinctive and unforgettable. The voice is compelling. In fact, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read this, but the blurb sounded interesting so I download a sample from Amazon. In the first few pages, I knew I had to see where it was going. The plot was barely off the ground, but the voice reeled me in.

There are some things about the story I was less than thrilled with. Any time there is a scene that breaks down to “I know I kissed your sibling, but it’s really you I’m into” or “I’m with you because your sibling won’t look at me twice” I tend to tap out. There are two such points in this story. However, this is a YA story. A high school setting. And since I witnessed this particular storyline play out more than once in my own high school (back when dirt was young and dinosaurs roamed the earth), I can’t argue that it isn’t realistic.

Overall the story was good, the voice was compelling and I don’t regret diving into it. I’m writing this review more than a week after I finished the story, so I’ve come down from the story high and am less attached to it now. That’s my fault. However, it had a flawed but still kick butt heroine, a beautiful male asleep in the glass coffin instead of a princess, and changeling who would have had me drawing hearts in a notebook during homeroom, so if you like fantasy, ya, or would like to read a story that doesn’t pretend the lgbtq+ community doesn’t exist in small towns in the middle of nowhere this could be what you’re looking for.

Keeping Motivated

I’m a list maker. When I sit down to get things done, I prioritize by making a list of everything I need to do, most important goes first.

Spoiler Alert: I’m a mom, so sometimes the list doesn’t get finished. Kids need naps, snuggles, lunch, kisses for boo-boos, trips to the doctor’s office, outside play time, emergency toy surgery, etc. So the most important tasks get listed first because otherwise, I might not get to them.

I’m a writer. Being a writer means more than sitting at my keyboard hacking away. It also means I’m a reader. I have to read in my genre in the industry to keep up with the trends and find good comparative titles. I also read for my critique partners, because, well, it’s a partnership. If I want them to slog through my hot mess drafts until I can beat the prose into something palatable, it’s only fair that I read their wonderful works of art in return. I do book reviews, usually posted here on Thursdays. Thanks to NetGalley, I also do some ARC reviews so I can get a sneak peek at what’s debuting this year. And last, but not least, I do some beta reading too.

It may not sound like a lot, especially since I love to read, but the time adds up. And I still have to find time to get my own writing and revising done–not to mention all of the pesky things my non-writing life entails, like being a mom and paying bills.

It can get a little overwhelming sometimes. Perhaps I’m the only one who has ever felt it, though I doubt it, the feeling of having so much to do that I don’t want to do anything. When my to-do list is so long that my brain refuses to function and I end up stuffing my face with bad snack food and watching Netflix. Or falling asleep sitting up. Maybe both.

Eventually, though, I have to crawl out of my haze and get my rear in gear because that list isn’t going to finish itself.

In the last few weeks both my kids got the flu, so naturally, I got it too. My husband had to travel for work, so it was just the three of us in the house, sneezing, coughing, and fever dreaming up a storm. After we got better, the kids were on Spring Break–which isn’t saying much when they’re in preschool, but it still meant that I didn’t have my usual quiet work time during the two days a week that I usually do. Then my parents came for a surprise visit. And then my youngest had his first birthday so everyone came to visit. It’s been a whirlwind.

Now, we are all well, sanitized, and living on the leftover cake, so it’s time to get back to business. But the problem is that while all that was going on, my to-do list in the writing world didn’t get any shorter. It got longer. Things piled up. A lot.

But it’s time to crawl out of the haze. So what do I do?

I have to find the right motivation. I can’t get on my daily chat with my writer friends until after I finish [insert acceptable number here] pages of the reading I need to do today.

I finished that critique? How about a bite of cake!

Wrote the blog post that was due three hours ago? That deserves a cup of coffee at least. Even if it’s just Folgers.

I reworked the outline of my manuscript and found a way to up the stakes while fixing that character who wasn’t quite working anymore? I’ll take a fifteen-minute break and do something mindless so my brain can rest before it shuts down and resets to factory default settings.

You have to find whatever it is that works for you.

Also, remember to forgive yourself when life interrupts and you don’t finish what it is you were in the middle of doing. Writing is work. It’s work we love, but it’s work. You have to find a good work/life balance. Don’t let your guilt over not finishing that chapter rewrite by today suck all the joy out of the new character arc you just came up with.

If you succeed at keeping the guilt at bay, write a blog post that gives me your secret. Maybe it’ll work for me, too.

Book Review: Courting Cate by Leslie Gould


When Pete Traeger moves to Paradise Township in Lancaster County he meets the lovely Miller sisters, Cate and Betsy. Though each sister is pretty, Betsy is sought after by most of the bachelors in the county, where Cate’s fiery temper and preference for books over people keeps most of them at bay. Their father has decreed that Betsy cannot start courting until after her elder sister is married. So when Pete seems drawn to Cate’s sharp wit, the other bachelors are quick to convince him to start courting Cate. But Cate knows what the local male population thinks of her, and she becomes immediately suspicious. It’ll take more than sweet words and romantic buggy rides to win Cate Miller’s heart, but Pete might just be the man to do it.


I read a lot of Fantasy and Science Fiction. The kind where the main characters get into bloody battles and empirical political machinations rule the day. Some of my favorite secondary characters often end up dead or horribly injured. It can leave me with a book hangover. I’m sure you know the kind. When a book has ravaged your emotions so much in the best and worst ways that you have trouble recovering.

It is then that I love to deploy the palate cleanser. A nice story. Where bad things might happen, but nobody dies and the ending is almost guaranteed to give you the warm fuzzies. It helps balance me out.

I also love a good Shakespearean tale. So Courting Cate by Leslie Gould was right up my alley. It is an Amish Romance take on Taming of the Shrew. Even better, it is the start of a series, all based in the same Amish community, of Shakespearean retellings.

If you are not into clean reads and retellings, this will not be the book or the series for you. There are no curse words, sexually explicit scenes, or instances of bloodshed–at least not the dangerous kind.

The biggest drawback to the story, however, is a lack of representation. If you are hoping there might be POC in this Amish community or the neighboring Englisher (non-Amish) community, you’re going to be disappointed. I have found this true with the vast majority of Amish fiction, though, so I was less than surprised.

Overall the story was cute and I enjoyed the take on the old tale. It was just what I needed to wash away the emotional turmoil of the last book. It was also a quick read, one night rocking a sick child will cover it. I can verify that.

13 Things on the 13th

I do a series called 10 Things on the 10th. Except the 10th was over the weekend when I was busy recovering from the flu and hosing my house down with Lysol. I missed my deadline. Bad blogger!

While I was sick, I didn’t gather a lot of tidbits on a single topic. Truthfully, I didn’t gather much of anything except perhaps tissue boxes. But have no fear, because my family has dubbed me the bottomless pit of useless information. I have trivia to share. And since I’m three days late with the post, I’ll throw in three extra facts.

Call it even?

  1. Your foot and your forearm are the same lengths.
  2. Your wingspan matches your height.
  3. There are exceptions to both of the rules above. Those people are disproportionate.
  4. The kid who played Benny Rodriguez in The Sandlot is now a firefighter.
  5. His older brother played grown-up Benny in The Sandlot.
  6. Utah was originally named Deseret.
  7. In the movie Back to the Future, Doc Brown mispronounces the word gigawatts.
  8. The Beatles had a drummer before Ringo. His name was Pete Best.
  9. C.S. Lewis dictated The Screwtape Letters to J.R.R. Tolkien.
  10. The plus size clothing line Lane Bryant was actually started by a seamstress in NYC named Lena Bryant, who started by making maternity clothes.
  11. The statue of Nathan Hale at Yale University was not based on what Nathan Hale actually looked like because there are no known portraits of him. Instead, the artist lined up the Yale class (of 1912, I believe) and picked the most regal looking of them and made him model for the statue.
  12. Billy the Kid wasn’t actually named Billy (or William). He claimed several different identities. His real first named is believed to be Henry.
  13. The singular of trivia is trivium.

Here’s hoping that next month I won’t be in a virus-induced haze and will post on time. Until then, I hope you at least get some entertainment out of this month’s hodgepodge list. Or that I help you win a game of Trivial Pursuit.

Class dismissed.

Book Review: The Empress Game by Rhonda Mason


Kayla lost her home and most of her family in a bloody coup five years ago. Now all she wants is to protect her little brother and earn enough money in the blood pit to get him to safety among others of her kind. When a tall, handsome stranger shows up offering her more money than she could earn in a year, she’d be a fool not to consider. Except she doesn’t trust him.

However, when she discovers that the man they’ve been hiding from for the last five years is sniffing around her hideout, she rethinks her decision. She takes up the handsome stranger on his offer and agrees to play the role of body double for his friend in the Empress Game, a combat tournament to decide who will marry the prince. In exchange, she gets her money and a free ride back to her people, no questions asked.

The only problem is that the very man she is running from has shown up at the game. And is in league with the people she thought would be her salvation. Now she and her brother are in more danger than ever. Somehow, she has to hide from Scary McTraitorface, protect her brother, and pretend to be somebody else while competing in the galaxy’s most famous spectator sport.


I loved this. I don’t want to oversell it for you, so I’ll try to rein in my enthusiasm.

The pacing was great, the plot was exciting, and the handsome stranger romantic arc was the kind that kept me turning pages to see when sparks would finally fly. I burned through this in just a couple of nights, at the expense of sleep, I’ll admit.

The main character is from a race of beings where male/female fraternal twins are common and strong bonds exist between them. The females are taller and stronger physically, and make up the warrior class, but each has a particular internal need to protect her male twin. The males are smaller, but have strong telekinetic and telepathic gifts which they use to aid their female twins in battle. Kayla was not only trained as one of these female warrior twins, she was a princess on her homeworld. She’s a princess who has been taught since birth to unapologetically kick butt in a society that prizes her strength, agility, and tactical prowess as the very pillars of femininity.

Too bad that the enemy empire in which she is hiding out with her brother doesn’t value any of those things in her outside of the fighting pits in the slums–until the Empress Game. An agent of the special security force officiating the game helps orchestrate her secret involvement as she pretends to be the prince’s real-life paramour. Their interactions are volatile at best, but her telepathic brother reads the agent’s mind and informs his sister that it is in part because he is trying to hide a strong and ever-growing attraction to her. It gets even better when the agent finds out where she is really from and that his thoughts have been more or less on display to her. And not all of them were PG.

Combat, political machinations, betrayals, attractions, and spectators; oh my!

It was funny and heart-wrenching at the same time. It sets up the next book in the series well, though not as cleanly as I’d like. In any case, if you like females who don’t just say they can kick butt, but actually do and males who love them for it, this could be your ticket. It is the first book in a trilogy. I have not read the others yet, mostly because the ending to this one made me want to throw things–but in the best possible way. Maybe that only makes sense to other book lovers. Or maybe it’s just me.

P.S. If you’d like to know a little more about me, K.J. Harrowick interviewed me for her Winterviews series over on her blog. Check it out, and while you’re there, you can take a peek at the other posts in the series. There are a lot of fascinating people in the line-up.

Writing Resources


I’m a newbie in the writing world. I finished my first manuscript last year. I was so proud of it. It was so dear to me. It was a piece of me. All of my life I have wanted to be a writer, and I did it.

What then? I did some research about what it would take to get published. I found out about a few twitter pitch parties and contests. Even better, I learned about the special brand of torture called a query. I got some likes and got some kind and encouraging rejection letters. Most importantly, I connected with other people in the writing community.

I learned what critique partners were and found great people who graciously took up the burden of being mine. They helped me to see some things I had been blind to. I loved that manuscript so much because it was my first and it was a part of me, that I had no idea how bad it was. But it was.



But I learned from it. I found some great resources online, some by accident and some from recommendations. Crafting threads, podcasts, free ebooks and online courses. I learned how to tell a story, how to kill your darlings, the three-act structure, the hero’s journey, and found some basic guidelines regarding how to write more inclusively.

Now when I sit down to write, it feels like a different animal than it was before. In some ways it’s harder because when you don’t know what you’re doing you don’t know how badly you’re messing up. But it also feels like I’m growing as a writer. Every time I sit at my keyboard and hack away, even if I end up deleting everything when I’m done, I’ve grown as a writer. Because I know why it needs to be deleted. I can hear my CPs in my head asking questions and know what won’t fly.

Do I catch it all? Of course not. I’m human. And still learning. But now I at least have some inkling of how much more I still don’t know. It doesn’t stop me from writing. I’m not waiting on that magic day when I’ve read all the crafting blogs, listened to every possible podcast, etc. I do have a life away from my keyboard, after all. Blasphemy, I know.

So I write. And I rewrite. And I edit. And I cut. And I promise my fiction is more polished than my blog writing.

Anyway, I thought today I would pass along some of my favorite resources. If you’re even newer to the writing world than I am, maybe they’ll help you as much as they are still helping me.


I have only recently joined the podcast craze. I’m not the best auditory learner and I’m a mom of little boys. Life is crazy and my attention span is short. All that means that while there are some really great podcasts out there, my favorite right now is Writing Excuses “Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.” As the tagline suggests, each show is only fifteen minutes. This makes it a great podcast to listen to while scrubbing dishes or folding laundry.


As far as blogs go, I have several favorites, so I’m going to narrow it down. First, I’ve learned a lot from Writing with Color and refer back to it often. I highly recommend it. Also, you should let yourself fall down the rabbit hole of their recommended reading. Before you know it, it’s dawn and your kids are up, but you have zero regrets.

K.M. Weiland’s Helping Writers Become Authors is another great resource. She breaks things down in easy to understand chunks. She even has a series where she breaks down story structure using the Avengers franchise. So many light bulbs went off for me while reading that. I will note that most posts have a link at the bottom to listen to the podcast version, but so far I’ve stuck to reading.


If you’re more of a vlog fan, Ellen Brock has some very helpful tips regarding editing. You can see her videos and read her posts on her site, so there it’s really the best of both worlds. The videos are all short, so much like the Writing Excuses podcast, they are great to watch in the few minutes you have between other chores or activities.


If you are looking for specific topics and can afford to pay for classes or webinars, I recommend The Manuscript Academy and the webinars offered through the Pitch Wars site. I have had a good experience with inexpensive courses from both of these sources. And the experience doesn’t stop with just the class. The Manuscript Academy also connected me with a Facebook group for other people who took the same class I did, offered a live Q & A with the author, a podcast, and the class video. The Pitch Wars staff offers ways you can interact with other writers on social media through activities like Pitch Wars Movie Night. They pick the movie and appoint the time, you watch along and tweet with them on the hashtag throughout the show.

This is by no means a comprehensive list. It should be noted that I have a folder of bookmarks on my computer that is nothing but “Writing Advice”. It has five subfolders and I still have to scroll down to reach the bottom of the list. And that does not include the separate folder I have that’s just for podcast links.

Nerd and proud, y’all. Nerd and proud.

What are your favorite resources? I’m always looking for more tools for my writing toolbox.

Book Review: The Watchmaker’s Daughter (Book One of the Glass and Steele Series) by C.J. Archer

Watchmakers Daughter Cover

India Steele’s father just died and the only good thing about her ex-fiance stealing her family shop out from under her is that he’s her ex-fiance. When she goes to the shop to tell him off, because someone has to, she arrives just in time to ruin his interaction with a would-be customer. The customer, however, doesn’t take India’s dressing down quite the way she expected.

He offers her a job.

He’s looking for a specific watchmaker to fix his very special watch, but he doesn’t know the man’s name, where he works, or even if he is still in London. He hires India, who has intimate working knowledge of the clock industry in London to help him find the man. Since she is without employment, prospects, or a place to live, she accepts.

The mysterious man and his special watch intrigue India; especially when she discovers him using the magical watch to heal himself of some undisclosed illness! On the same day she discovers that a man, possibly matching his description, has just arrived in London from America and is an outlaw on the run.

He’s only in town for a week. Perhaps if she can manage to not get distracted by his handsome countenance, his charming manner, and his motley crew of friends, she can survive the week and claim the reward on his head.


I love the chemistry between the two main characters in this book. The supporting cast is varied and endearing. It was a quick, fun read that left me wanting to find out where the story goes from here.

Having said that, I do have to say that I think the story suffers from pacing issues overall. There is a subplot that, while it becomes more relevant through the series, feels superfluous in this book. Also, not being a sensitivity reader and coming from the background that I do, I cannot speak for how anybody else will interpret a couple of the characters, but I will say that each of them gets stronger and more developed throughout the series.

As you can see, there are ups and downs, but I liked it. What I considered flaws in the structure didn’t keep me from enjoying the book as a whole, nor will they stop me from desiring to read the next book in the series. It is a good example of a story not needing to be perfect to be captivating.