Book Review: Dispatches from Pluto by Richard Grant

I had a few DNFs this week, but was reminded of this gem when I recommended it to someone and don’t regret revisiting it.


Richard Grant is an English ex-pat who has been living in the United States for a number of years. While living in a small New York apartment, Richard took a trip with a friend of his to Mississippi. On a whim, he buys an old plantation house and moves into it with his girlfriend. And thus is the start of hilarity and truth.

Neither Richard nor his girlfriend are familiar with Mississippi, much less the Delta–not named for a geographical delta, but actually an alluvial plain. He is now a resident of Pluto, a town named for the mythological lord of the Underworld. And after stories for critters in the walls, battling bugs, and his initial feelings of complete isolation it doesn’t take much to figure out why.

He meets many interesting people along the way and starts to unravel the mystery of why the Delta is so different not just from the rest of the Mississippi, but the rest of the country. It is its own beast, something that fascinates Grant enough that he becomes enamored of his new home. A self-proclaimed nomad, he puts down roots.

But his transition is not without difficulty, and he relays stories as only an outsider can. Making friends with a Blues legend, an eccentric millionaire, a Hollywood celebrity, a local hunter, a cookbook queen, and many more, Grant doesn’t shy away from his observations about the racial tensions of the area or the major structural problems of the small towns throughout the region.

Despite its lingering problems, Grant declares that Mississippi is the best-kept secret in America.


I was born in the Mississippi Delta. The pictures across the top of my blog all come from places and events near my hometown. My entire family, including my step-family, originates from the same area. And this book brilliantly captures what makes the Delta so utterly unique.

The book barely scratches the surface on a lot of issues, both because it would take thousands of pages to delve deeply and the friendships with locals that help make the book what it is were still developing while he wrote it. But as I read it, I laughed until I cried. And on a couple of occasions, I just cried.

I moved out of the Delta when I was still in elementary school, but returned to visit family frequently throughout my childhood and young adult life. I can say with honesty, that it’s hard to recognize how weird of a place it is until you step outside of it. And seeing it through an outsider’s eyes is always both hilarious and humbling.

That’s the essence of this book. It’s a true account of this man’s experience as he tries to figure out how we, the people of the Delta, came to be the way we are. He talks about how his revelations affect his view of Mississippi in general and the Delta in particular. And let me assure you, the Delta is indeed a space all its own. I noticed in college at Mississippi State that most kids say things like “I’m from the coast,” or “I’m from Jackson,” with the same voice inflection that most people would say “I brushed my teeth this morning.” It’s just a fact. But when people say “I’m from the Delta,” it’s different. It’s a story. And Richard Grant wrote his book based on his attempts to figure out that story.

I didn’t read this book alone. My sisters and my stepmother read it and we would text each other back and forth about things we read. Mostly we were laughing at what the author thought was so utterly strange that was completely familiar to us. So if you want a pretty spot-on account of what makes the Delta tick, this is a great resource.


ARC Review: Unanchored by Stephanie Eding

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in advance of its publication date in exchange for an honest review. It debuts next week.


Cecily Hastings is a Welsh slave to the man her own parents sold her off to in exchange for food. She doesn’t remember what it’s like to be free, but it doesn’t mean she doesn’t crave it. She fears only two things in her pursuit of freedom, the beatings her master hands out at will and the Blood Pirate, the man who burned her village and killed her mistress years ago.

When her master gets drunk and swindled at the gambling tables, Cecily ends up being the payment. She is finally away from her master, but she’s not free. She’s been sold to none other than the Blood Pirate himself. Her worst fear has been realized.

But something doesn’t add up. The pirate who holds her captive treats her better than her master ever did. And she sees him freeing other slaves from around the British Isles as well. How could the man who burned her village and killed her mistress in cold blood be the man who buys her hair ribbons and protects her from harm?

When the British Royal Navy hot on their tails, Cecily has to make a choice. She can go with the soldiers and let them escort her back to her old master and let the fearsome pirate hang for his crimes, or she can grasp the only kind of freedom life has ever offered her and become the thing she hates most–a pirate.


This book reads as a young YA, in my opinion, but I thought it was fun and adorable. The underlying message of things not always being what they seem is felt over and over again. Sometimes bad guys look like good guys. Sometimes freedom doesn’t look like what you think it will.

It does romanticize piracy a bit, but it does so to make a point and has some fun with it in the process. The biggest drawback to the story is a general lack of diversity. All the characters more or less look the same and most of them blend into the background a little too easily. If you’re going to argue with me about Finnish and Welsh pirates being pretty monochromatic during the general era in question, I’m going to redirect you to the blog Writing with Color that had already addressed the subject (spoiler alert: Europe wasn’t ever actually lily white). 

On the plus side, the book has a clean romance arc and so is great for those teens (or any other age) who want an escapist tale without graphic sex scenes. The main character is a teenager, but her general naivete can sometimes make her seem younger, especially for a girl who has spent most of her life as a slave. In some cases she talks like she has seen things, in others, she seems oblivious. But I think this might suit some younger readers, especially those just crossing over to the YA market from MG, who want to read an older teen protagonist, but aren’t ready for some of the heavier scenes that often entails.

There are references to God and prayer in the book. It is sporadic, and I don’t think it is done in such a way as to be offensive to non-Christians. However, as a Christian myself, I admit that I may have a skewed view of that, since I like the way it was handled.

In the end, I would absolutely recommend this to a tween or younger teen reader (or anyone else who likes fiction for that age market) who likes pirate books and innocent romantic arcs. To be honest, I’d probably read it again myself as a beach read over vacation if my TBR pile didn’t mock me daily. Your mileage may vary.

ARC Review: Girlish by Lara Lillibridge


Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in advance of its publication date in exchange for an honest review. It debuts April 3rd and is available for pre-order.

I don’t read a lot of nonfiction. Reading is my escape and I like to stay on the fiction side of the aisle the majority of the time. However, every now and then something will catch my eye that has me putting down the make-believe in exchange for the real. Truth, after all, is sometimes stranger–and often funnier–than fiction.

I wasn’t sure about this particular book at first. On the surface, it didn’t look like I could relate to it. I didn’t grow up with lesbian parents. I’m younger than the author and our childhood references differ. I’m not from New York. We have seemingly nothing in common. However, a friend of mine suggested I read it because she couldn’t put it down.

So I decided to request it through NetGalley. I have an account there and have gotten a few ARCs (advanced reader copies) of books that are coming out soon so I can provide honest reviews to be available for potential readers by the date of publication. Seriously, after getting the copy of the book, I have no contact with the person sending it. There is zero pressure for me to love a book or to lie about loving it.

By the middle of the next day, I received my ebook copy of Girlish. The author is a name I have seen on Twitter and we were both interviewed for the Winterviews series on K.J. Harrowick’s site, though I have not ever actually met her. Still, I felt the slightest trepidation as I opened her life story. What if I hated it? How would I ever tell this poor woman that I couldn’t even finish her book?

For the record, that’s not a problem. She is so raw and real that I laughed, I cried, I cringed. The author tells the story in third person to give herself a bit of distance from it. I don’t blame her for a minute. I said before that from the outside looking in, I have nothing in common with this author, but as I read through her life story, I found myself nodding along with her feelings. Her struggles. Her heartbreak.

There were chapters that I could not stop reading, much to the detriment of my sleep schedule. There were chapters that I had to put down because I could not handle them and needed some distance myself (Be prepared for this, there are a few scenes that could be triggering). The book is an emotional rollercoaster. She doesn’t leave anything out. Even the ugly, hard stuff. She is so open about her experiences that you feel connected to her from the beginning.

It is a beautiful and also heart-wrenching account of a real person’s life. To me, it is proof that we are all more than the labels life hands us. Lara Lillibridge is labeled the daughter of lesbian parents, but that’s not all of who and what she is. Yes, it had some bearing on her experience, but it was not the sum and whole. Her parents are lesbians, yes, but there is more to each of them than that identifier.

And she is honest about the times in her life when she went through phases of being anti-lesbian because of what she went through. She admits the problematic thoughts she had at the time and that it took a few months, or sometimes years, to see things in a different light. She was, after all, a child trying to sort out who she was in life.

It is both painful and hilarious, but most of all it’s honest. She’s not perfect. Her parents weren’t perfect. Her childhood was messed up, but that seems to have less to do with her parents being lesbians than it does with the other factors in her life.

I would recommend this book to others with the caveat that there are some moments that can be triggering. I don’t want to set anyone off here, so if you need more information, head over the Contact Me page and send me a message. Otherwise, you can pre-order Girlish today or you can wait until April 3rd when it officially hits the market.


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.

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.

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.

Book Review: 5 Secrets of Story Structure by K.M. Weiland

5 Secrets of Story Structure Cover

If you are just getting started as a writer, or if you’ve been at it a while and can’t figure out how to solve your wandering plot issues, this book is invaluable. K.M. Weiland breaks down the concept of the three-act story structure in easy to understand ways and offers common examples.

The book is short, easily read in an hour, more or less depending on your reading speed. If you are already well versed in the three-act plot structure, then you are not the target market for this book. Though I will say, I knew what the three-act structure was, but this did make the pieces of it clearer to me. The examples were a tremendous help. And she has a database of examples. My list-making, organizational heart loves that she has a database of examples. A database. It makes me happy.

All of the information in the book is available on K. M. Weiland’s site, but to have it in a quick to reference book, organized away on my Kindle, is right up my alley–especially considering it’s free. That’s right. You heard me. Free. In it, she points the way to several other resources as well. Some of those are free. Some are not. Your mileage may vary.

I love the simplicity of what she says and will be keeping this one filed away with my reference books for some time yet. Because if I’m having pacing issues, there’s probably an issue with my structure that could easily be fixed if I take a step back and study it a little harder. This book helps me break it down and examine what each of my plot points are and what isn’t necessary or draws the reader out of the story by crowding out the important milestones within it.

It’s quick. It’s simple. It’s valuable and yet free. You have nothing to lose by giving it a shot.