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Slow Cooker Beef Bourguignon

Another new recipe on the books. I don’t know if I can pronounce the dish, but I can cook it. It is really quite simple. I was on my feet around 45 minutes getting everything cut, seasoned, sauteed, mixed, etc. Then I let it cook all day. Next time I cook this, I will start earlier. It only had eight hours to cook, and I think it would have been better with ten hours. Nonetheless, I do believe it was a success. It is very similar to a stew, except it makes the gravy using red cooking wine. I did not have red cooking wine and substituted red wine vinegar. It was just as good. The recipe also called for soy sauce, and, again, I substituted with Sweet Baby Ray’s Teriyake. Thank you BestSkinny.com for the recipe. If you would like the recipe, you can click here.

Just put into the crockpot
Served up over rice

6 Hours Later…

So, the headache is a little better. Rest is a wonderful thing. Not dealing with anything that requires too much thinking also helps.

I tried a new recipe for dinner tonight. I made honey garlic chicken, served it over rice, and added field peas and snaps as a side. It was quite the culinary delight. From where the recipe came, I have no idea. I do know that it called for soy sauce, and I substituted Sweet Baby Ray’s Teriyaki instead. Soy tends to be too salty for me. Anyway, everyone seemed to like it. I know I enjoyed it. The best thing about it is that I put it in the crockpot this morning, and that was all I had to do until it was almost time for dinner. Then it was just a matter of cooking the rice and peas and viola’! Done! I wanted to do a dessert as well, but my headache dictated that I leave that for later in the week I meant to take pictures, but I forgot. Oh well. Maybe next time. Right now I am just happy that it turned out well. Tomorrow is another new recipe…

August 8, 2023

Let me explain brain injuries. No two people are affected the same. Traumatic brain injuries are different for everyone. If you have not had a brain injury or had to care for someone with a brain injury, it may be difficult to understand the stress it causes. Please indulge me and allow me to talk about my own experience.

Today is an example of how unpredictable the affects of my brain injury are. I woke up this morning in a wonderful mood. This was my to do list:

  1. Wake up the boys
  2. Get uniform ready
  3. Fix lunch
  4. Drop off at school
  5. Walk
  6. Go to the grocery store
  7. Get dinner in the crock pot
  8. Load boxes to take to storage

That is the bulk of my to do list. This may seem like an easy list. That is not the case for me. Items 1-4 are everyday activities that bring me joy and are not difficult usually. Item 5, however, was a new task. I had walked on this particular walking trail a few times during the summer, but I was never there alone. Someone always went with me. My sister was supposed to meet me today, but something came up with work, and she was unable to do so. I still walked. I turned on an audio book, got Bree out of the car, and she and I walked for almost a mile.

Move on to item 6, “go to the grocery store.” A normal activity, right? Going to the grocery store is something people do every day. I don’t. Going to the grocery store is something I avoid at all costs. I try not to shop very much at all, in fact. When I do go shopping, someone is always with me. Today, Bree and I went alone. I did choose a grocery store that I knew would not be very busy on a Monday morning. Nonetheless, going to the grocery store on my own was a huge deal for me. That is a major accomplishment.

Once I got home, I got the groceries put away, vegetables in air-tight containers, and dinner in the crockpot. I was ready to get started on other tasks around the house. Then I heard the thunder.

My accident occurred on a day when it was storming. I slipped on a wet floor, fell backwards, and my head hit the tile floor. Thunder triggers the PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for those who may not be familiar with it) from which I now suffer. Bree knows way before I do when bad weather is coming. She never leaves my side. However, the PTSD isn’t all that I am experiencing. Changes in weather cause terrible headaches. They always originate at the spot where my head hit the floor. Then it is as if someone is squeezing my brain. The ringing in my ears becomes so loud that I can hardly hear my own thoughts. Forget reading. I have to turn on the TV to distract myself from what is going on outside my room.

The rain has passed through, but the headache did not go with it. I cannot even begin to explain what this headache is like. I am literally in tears as I type this, but I believe it is important for people to understand what happens. I cannot control the headaches. My neurologist prescribed medication for the headaches, but I am limited to not more than ten in a month’s time. An ice pack will help. For now, I am going to lie down and try to get this headache to pass before I need to get up and finish dinner.

August 7, 2022

It is Sunday. It has been a good day. We went to mass this morning (on time). Then we decided it was a good afternoon for mani/pedi’s. I love having my nails done. It is one of those things I discovered late in life, but I consider it part of my self care. I got a new set in June, but then I never went back to get the fill. I ended up peeling off the ones that I had not already lost.

When I got home, I was determined to finish The Forbidden Promise by Lorna Cook. She is such an amazing author. If you love historical fiction/romance, you will love her books. I have read all but one, and it is on the way. Trust me on this. I let my mom borrow one of her books while we were on a road trip. She had every Lorna Cook novel read by the end of the week. They’re that good! If you would like to know more about Lorna Cook and her novels, you can visit her website here. She also writes romance under the name Elle Cook. I’m looking forward to diving into those soon. If they are even half as good has her historical fiction, I will be a forever fan.

I realized today that the first pre-season football game for the Saints is next Saturday night. I did not realize it was starting so fast. Time to break out the black and gold and show my Who Dat pride. Even without Drew Brees and Sean Peyton, I will still support the my Saints. I do not believe there are any fans like fans of the New Orleans Saints. We may not all agree with some choices of the front offices or even the coaching staff. We may not even like some of the players. Nonetheless, we will support them when they are on that field.

Don’t for get that you can get a FREE TICKET TO ALKARRA by clicking here.

August 8, 2022

The house is quiet. Everyone is back in school, and the only sounds I hear are the air conditioner and the ringing in my ears. From the moment the kids get out of school, I look forward to this day. I know that sounds terrible, but I do not do well when there is no schedule, and goodness knows there is no kind of schedule in summer. Plus, I lived alone for almost 20 years before my accident. I enjoy the quiet and having the house to myself. However, I will be happy to hear all about their days this afternoon.

Although I did not take my youngest Godson to school, I did get up and get ready as though I was taking him. That let me know how much time I need in the mornings, especially Fridays because his class will be going to mass on Fridays starting next week. I want to go with him as much as possible this year.

I have so much that I need to do today, but for now, I am going to let Bree and Ella take naps, and I am going to get caught up on some things online.

Don’t forget, Regina is out today!! This is Novella #9 in the Network Saga. Oh how I love Alkarra!! You can click here to get your copy of Regina. However, if you have never been to Alkarra, I recommend that you read Flame, Dragonmaster Trilogy Book 1, first. Your free copy of Flame and ticket to the magical world of Alkarra is here.

Regina

Novella #9 in the Network Saga

When I asked Siri for a definition of “badass,” she came back with: noun – a tough, uncompromising, or intimidating person, a formidably impressive person; adjective – tough, uncompromising, or intimidating, formidable, excellent.

After reading these definitions for badass, I decided to dig a little deeper. I looked up the exact definition for formidable: adjective – inspiring fear or respect by being extremely large, powerful, intense, or capable.

WOW!! Regina’s picture should be with these definitions. Regina is unequivocally a formidable badass.

Throughout The Network Saga, Regina has been a bit of a supporting character. Then Derek showed up. Our interests were piqued. We wanted to know more about the woman who became so important to Derek Black’s mission. We were amazed by her influence, her strength, and her compassion. We wanted to get to know her.

That is just what we do in Regina. Regina is just as complex and thought-provoking as Derek. Geralyn, High Priestess of the Northern Network, is already suspicious of Regina. Add to her suspicions The Patriot, an unidentified source providing news of Geralyn’s activities to the network. As Geralyn becomes more powerful, she also becomes more suspicious of everyone around her, especially Regina. Geralyn will even go after Regina’s family in an effort to reign in Regina. However, Regina’s love for her family and the Northern Network is strong and uncompromising. She will stop at nothing to protect her family and her network, even if it means defying the High Priestess.

Katie Cross has indeed created a formidable character in Regina. Character development throughout the Network Saga (and all of Katie Cross’s books) is unlike anything I have ever seen in a young adult book. Imagery continues to transport readers and make them part of the story. For example, “To the right side of the castle, mist bellowed from a waterfall that rushed down the canyon wall. Lacy, white plumes cascaded past, wetting everything.” When I read this, I can hear the waterfall and feel the mist on my face as I visualize the beautiful castle and its surroundings.

Alkarra is a place I will visit time and time again. Regina is unlike any character we have met up to this point. I couldn’t agree more with Derek Black when he said, “You are Regina Fontaine, Head of Masters, and a woman of power.” Spot on, Derek. Spot on.

If you have never been to Alkarra and want to experience the magic, you should start with Flame, Dragonmaster Trilogy Book 1. Get your free copy here and enter a magical world you will never want to read. Your first trip is free, and this link will give you a 10% discount on future purchases.

Lemon Blueberry Bread

I found this recipe from BestSkinny.com and I decided I wanted to try something new today, so I baked this. It actually turned out pretty good. I made a lemon glaze and put on top of the bread before I cut it. The white dots are powdered sugar that I did not mix well enough. It was still good. I do recommend this recipe if you like lemon and blueberry. It was easy and quite tasty. I did forget to put blueberries on top before baking like she did. I will try to remember to do that next time. I am sure I will be making this one again.

Let me give you a bit of a warning before you visit BestSkinny.com. There are so many recipes on there that you will not know where to start trying them. I don’t think I saw a recipe on their website that I don’t want to try, especially the desserts. They all look so good!!!!

I digress… If you would like the Lemon Blueberry Bread recipe, click here.

August 3, 2022

Have you ever had one of those days when you have so much to do, but you know there is no way it is going to get done. The house is a disaster, especially the kitchen (my fault), but I do not want to do anything. The weather is overcast. The dogs are sleeping like little angels curled up next to me on my bed. It seems that there will not be too much housework done today. I will eventually clean the kitchen, but that might just be all I do.

On another note, let me tell you about a really cool group to which I belong on Facebook. The name of the group is “The Witchery.’ It is all about Katie Cross’s YA fantasy books. Let me just say that if you have not read her books, you are missing out. They are AMAZING! None of us can figure out the method behind her magic, but we are so glad that she shares it with us. I have never known of an author who was so in touch with the readers. She even hosts a “Coffee With Katie” twice a week at various times so she can accommodate readers from all around the globe. YES! That’s right!! She has readers all over the world, and we come together over our love for all things Alkarra.

If you are new to Katie Cross, click here to get Flame for free and 10% off all future purchases. You have nothing to lose. Oh, but there is so much to gain. Trust me.

Never Never

Disney Villains Book 9

Lookie lookie, she got Hookie. Robin Williams fans will recognize that as what Rufio said when he thought he had beaten Captain Hook. So  many movies have been made about  Peter Pan and Captain Hook, but none has been as surprising as Never Never.

Personally, I have never been much of a Disney fan. But, oh, how I love the Disney Villains! Serena Valentino’s brilliance never ceases to amaze me. Each book in her series tells the story of the villain – how s/he became a villain, more specifically. Never Never quickly became one of my favorites.

Captain James Hook’s evolution from an aristocratic upbringing in London to Peter Pan’s nemesis is quite the tale. As with all the Disney Villain books, the Odd Sisters are instrumental in Hook’s evolution. Never Never even explains how Captain Hook’s actions set off a chain reaction resulting in more villains. The reader is reminded that each Disney Villain may have his or her own story, but each story is connected.

Serena Valentino’s much anticipated Never Never does not disappoint. The author provides the perfect mixture of ingredients to create a delicious blend of good and evil. Never Never is a page turner from start to finish. I can hardly wait to see where Serena Valentino takes us next.

Absolutely brilliant!!

The Forgotten Gods

Network Saga Book 3

Bianca Book 7

Sometimes a person reads a book and is left so speechless that writing a review seems like an impossible task. Then the reader remembers that if not for the readers loving the author’s books, the author might stop writing. No one wants that to happen. We need the magic that flows from the pages of Katie Cross’s books.

The Forgotten Gods picks up where Rise of the Demigods leaves off. Bianca is in Alaysia, land of the gods, with Baxter and Ava. Bianca is in awe of the beauty she finds there. The god magic inside her is getting stronger every day. Her affection for Baxter is getting more intense. She has found an ally in a god she thought would kill her. She thought she wanted the god magic removed, but now she is not so sure. She is the only weapon that can save Alkarra. But in order to do so, she must stay in Alaysia.

Can she leave Alkarra to stay in Alaysia with Baxter? She and Merrick are only friends now. Her father left her with no goodbye and no explanation. There seems to be nothing left for her in Alkarra. Is Bianca strong enough to give up everything and everyone she knows and loves in order to save everything and everyone she knows and loves?

To say Katie Cross surprises her readers with every book would be an understatement. Katie Cross is the reason readers all over the world believe in magic. Only magic could create worlds like Alaysia and Alkarra. It is magic that creates witches like Bianca, not to mention the demigods, gods and goddesses of Alkarra and Alaysia. Katie Cross brings magic to a world that has never needed magic more. She may well be the most powerful witch of all.

The Forgotten Gods are forgotten no more.

If you have never been to Alkarra and want to experience the magic, you should start with Flame, Dragonmaster Trilogy Book 1. Get your free copy here and enter a magical world you will never want to read. Your first trip is free, and this link will give you a 10% discount on future purchases.

Hotel Nantucket

2022 New Release

Elin Hilderbrand has taken me to Nantucket many times. However, I believe Hotel Nantucket is my favorite on-island destination so far.

What a fun cast of characters! I’m not sure if they really can be classified as misfits, but each one, in some way, is trying to figure out her/his place in the world. At the Hotel Nantucket, they not only find a place where they belong but also create a very diverse and unlikely family.

When the family’s stability is threatened because of low occupancy, can a child save the hotel? The hotel has been closed for years. No one has wanted any part of it. Hotel Nantucket is riddled with rumors of ghosts and hauntings and all kinds of unexplained phenomena. A little girl staying that the hotel for the summer with her mother and brother sets out to discover if the rumors are true. Is the Hotel Nantucket really haunted? What really happened during the mysterious fire 100 years ago?

As the summer starts to wind down and the tourists start leaving the island, the owner announces his plans to sell the hotel. The staff quickly learn that things area not as they seem, and people are not who they appear to be.

Another great summer read by Elin Hilderbrand. The more I read from this author the more I feel like a resident of Nantucket. I am far from Nantucket, but maybe I will get there one day.

Derek

by Katie Cross

According to askanydifference.com,

“the main difference between Novel and Novella is that a novel is a fictional story that is longer and has more word count, whereas, a novella is a fictional piece of writing that is longer than a short story and shorter than a novel, and also less complex as compared to the novel.”

Allow me to point out two key words in this comparison: “less complex.” Derek does not actually fit that description. I get that word count has the most to do with whether a book is considered a novel or a novella. With Derek, word count is the only thing that separates this novella from a novel.

Derek Black is a very complex character. We have gotten to know him through Bianca since Miss Mabel’s School for Girls. Now we are many years past Bianca’s first year with Miss Mabel, and both Derek and Bianca have given everything they have to Alkarra. They have also lost almost everything because of their dedication to The Central Network. When Derek begins, very few people even know where he is. He has disappeared, and even Bianca does not know where to find him or why he left.

Katie Cross takes the readers on a page-turning, heart-stopping adventure in Derek. Everyone in Alkarra knows that Derek Black is not a witch to challenge, for he will not only step up to the challenge, but he will decimate his opponents. He will stop at nothing to protect Alkarra, not just from other witches but also from demigods who think they can take over Alkarra. However, in addition to the strong Derek Black we expect, we see a side of Derek that he was not even sure he would ever see again. He loves Marie still, even years after her death, and speaks to her daily. He has never loved anyone the way he loves her. Would finding love again diminish what he had with Marie? Will Bianca ever accept Derek with anyone other than her mother? Will Derek be brave enough to let his feelings be known?

Just when we think we are going to find the answers to some of these questions – BAM! Katie Cross pulls the rug out from under Derek and her readers, leaving them shocked and bewildered. No one knows what happened. We only know that Derek, his chances at love, and Alkarra are all in jeopardy. Derek may not be able to come back from what he is told right before Katie Cross types, “THE END.”

If you are new to Alkarra, start your journey where it all began. Grab your FREE COPY of Flame, Book 1 of the Dragonmaster Trilogy here.

Friend of the Devil

by Stephen Lloyd

My first though when I finished this book was…Wait. What just happened?

The story is basically about a school on an island. The school is filled with kids no one seems to want. There are the stereotypical jocks and nerds. Throw in some satanic rituals and demons, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Friend of the Devil was not really what I expected. However, I usually like the unexpected. Maybe if the setting was a college rather than a school with young children, I would have enjoyed it more. Then again, maybe not. The savage nature of the demon was a bit gratuitous. Nonetheless, the ending was very surprising, which almost made up for the gratuitous violence – almost, but not quite.

The Wild Girls

by Phoebe Morgan

Childhood friends are torn apart by secrets they do not want to admit and truths they cannot accept. Can a long weekend at a luxury resort bring them back together? Is two years too much time with too much left unsaid? Will they be able to put back together the bonds that were broken on one fateful night?

Phoebe Morgan delivers a page-turner that is deliciously twisted! The reader is left guessing until the very end. The plot twist is not surprising, it is shocking.

Get your copy here.

Prana

Novella #6 of the Network Saga

Beware of bitter goddesses!!!!

Prana is not like the many other trips taken to Alkarra. During those visits readers faced conflict, heartache, resolution, etc. Prana is different from anything Katie Cross has written.

To say Prana, goddess of the sea, is bitter or holds a grudge would be an understatement. Katie gives her readers a glimpse into Prana’s mindset. We learn why certain events occur the way they do in Alkarra, and also find ourselves in Alaysia at one point.

Although Prana is not the kind of writing to which we have become accustomed, Katie still delivers a best seller. What we learn in Prana will prove critical to The Network Saga.

If you have not been to Alkarra, you may get a FREE TICKET by visiting katiecrossbooks.com and getting your free copy of Flame, Dragonmaster Trilogy Book 1.

Viveet

By Katie Cross

If someone told me that a story about a sword could evoke so many emotions all at once, I would not have believed it. Then again, Viveet is not ordinary sword, and Katie Cross is no ordinary author.

No one knew Derek Black was handfasted and had a young daughter. When Derek traveled to the Southern Network of Alkarra to assist in the recovery of some young girls who had been kidnapped, he med Andrei. Andrei was a sword maker and had a gift for Derek’s daughter. No one was supposed to know about Bianca, but Andrei knew. The sword told Andrei about Bianca. Viveet was forged by Andrei, and Viveet chose Bianca as its other half.

When Bianca was ready, Viveet was presented to her. Bianca felt an instant connection with her new sword, as if Viveet was the piece that had been missing. Wherever Bianca went, Viveet was with her. Losing Viveet, watching her shatter into pieces, was watching Bianca’s heart shatter into pieces.

Jump ahead three years. Viveet has been buried in Letum Wood, and Letum Wood has protected Viveet the way the trees protect Bianca. Unfortunately, no matter how much she searches, Bianca cannot find Andrei. Bianca does not even know if Andrei is still alive. All she knows is that the only hope she has of restoring Viveet depends on her finding Andrei.

The story of Viveet, however, cannot be told without telling a little bit of Andrei’s story. Understanding Andrei and the magic used to create Viveet is crucial to understanding not only Viveet but also Bianca.

When talking about writing her books, Katie Cross speaks as if she is simply an instrument telling someone else’s story – much like a historian or biographer. That is what makes Katie Cross’s books so special. The worlds she creates are very real to her. They are real to her readers. Her characters are living, breathing entities. They are part of her, and they become part of her readers. Anyone who does not believe in magic need only travel to Alkarra to know there truly is magic in this world. In fact, Katie Cross may possess the strongest magic of all. No other fantasy author (and I have read many fantasy novels and traveled to many magical worlds) can cast a spell that entrances the minds of readers with a magic that leaves the readers hungry for more. Katie Cross weaves a powerful web with her magic, and her readers gladly jump into that web longing to return to Alkarra and Bianca and Viveet. Katie Cross proves that magic lies at our fingertips. We just need to pick up a book.

To fully understand Alkarra, one should begin with Flame. This is the first novel in the Dragonmaster Trilogy. It is currently free as an e-book and/or audiobook. To get a FREE copy of the e-book click here. To get your FREE copy of the free audiobook click here.

Second Nature

By Amber Boudreau

SECOND NATURE was a fun read that kept me guessing all the way to the end. Just when I thought I was certain of the story line, Boudreau threw another twist into the mix. The characters are all quite complex,. The author creates a world in which werewolves are quite the norm.

Werewolves, on the verge of being exposed, decide to make themselves known on their own terms. SECOND NATURE is the aftermath of that revelation. As in real life, people fear what they do not understand. Neighbors begin to suspect neighbors. Meetings are held to determine how the community should handle the werewolves and what rights the werewolves should and should not have. The pack leader, or aldwulf, Gloin has disappeared. Mel, one of his most trusted associates, has also disappeared. It has been a year, and the sons of the aldwulf have completely different views of what the werewolves need. On one thing they do agree, someone needs to take over to lead the pack. However, there can only be one leader. For one brother to lead, the other must die.

Six months after waking up in a mental hospital unable to remember anything about who she is and unable to walk, Mavis has finally come to terms with not knowing her past. She can now walk, has her own apartment, and was able to find a job that she enjoys. She has a very small group of people she trusts. However, as Mavis learns more about the people in her life, her trust is tested. What she does know is that someone wants her dead. She just does not know why, and she cannot remember anything before the hospital no matter how hard she tries. When she shows up naked and dirty at her neighbor’s door, she still has almost as many questions as he does. The one thing she needs to know is how her waking up at the hospital is connected to Mel’s disappearance, and what any of it has to do with Gloin’s disappearance.

SECOND NATURE is not a difficult read once the reader understands the “natures” of the characters. Boudreau left the book open ended, which makes me wonder when we will see Mavis again. She is a strong protagonist, much stronger than even she realizes. It will be nice to see where she takes this new-found life.

Rise of the Demigods

Network Saga, Book 2

Katie Cross has created a world that flies high above the realm of ordinary imagination. That is because there is nothing ordinary about Katie Cross or the magical world of Alkarra.

Anyone who has followed Bianca Monroe’s journey since MISS MABEL’S SCHOOL for GIRLS knows that Bianca is an extraordinarily talented witch. We all felt the heartache along when Bianca watched her mother killed. Then we were there when she lost Isadora, a watcher witch Bianca admired and respected, a witch who had waited years for Bianca’s arrival at Miss Mabel’s. Amid all this loss and grief, Bianca discovered a strength she never realized she had. A strength she will need to call upon now more than ever.

Alkarra is changing. Before the demigod Bram was sent back to the land of the gods to be punished for his crimes, he announced that he was not the only demigod in Alkarra. In fact, he let everyone know that demigods were everywhere in Alkarra. Derek Black and the other high priests and priestesses find themselves fighting an invisible enemy. This enemy is not only invisible but also seems to have magic more powerful than any witch has ever seen. How will they defend themselves against power they cannot see and do not understand.

The second installment of Katie Cross’s NETWORK SAGA exceeds expectations. Katie Cross fans knew the book would be good. No one knew it would be THIS good.

If you are new to Katie Cross Fantasy and Alkarra, go back to FLAME, DRAGONMASTER TRILOGY BOOK 1. Get to know Isadora and Sanna, sister witches who were raised without magic. Follow their evolution into two of the most powerful witches in all Alkarra. Once you finish the DRAGONMASTER TRILOGY, read MILDRED’S RESISTENCE, and then move on to the NETWORK SERIES, which begins with MISS MABEL’S SCHOOL FOR GIRLS. Learn why Isadora has waited years for Bianca Monroe to arrive at Miss Mabel’s and see how Isadora helps Bianca grow into the witch she is today.

A word of warning, however: once you pick up FLAME, you will not want to put it down, and you will be hungry for the next book. Whether you read printed copies, e-books, or listen to audio, you will travel a rollercoaster of emotion unlike any other fantasy series you have ever read. Prepare for long nights of reading and anxiety during the times you must stop reading for mundane things like eating and sleeping. You will want to get back to these books as quickly as you can to see what happens next. Although I have read the books, I am now listening to the audiobooks. Each time I listen, I discover something new about the world of Alkarra and the witches there.

The Dressmaker’s Secret

by Lorna Cook

Coco Chanel a Nazi? Wait. What?!?!

I love historical fiction!! I love it even more when I learn a new piece of history, especially as surprising as Coco Chanel’s work with the Nazis. When Lorna Cook dropped that little nugget of information, I had to stop reading and do my own research into the facts (which is not uncommon when I read historical fiction).

After doing my own research, I found that the Coco Chanel portion of The Dressmaker’s Secret is, in fact, factual. To say I was stunned would be an understatement. I used to teach history and had no idea. In fact, I was so flabbergasted that I busted into a friend’s gym, in the middle of his workout (He is also a history teacher), scowl on my face and hands on my hips and in I’m sure was a quite accusatory tone, and asked, “Did you know Coco Chanel worked with the Nazis?! How did I not know this?!?!?!?!” As I ranted, pacing back and forth, throwing hands in the air, irritated by my own ignorance, he sat on the weight bench staring at me like a deer in the headlights. When he finally was able to get a word in, he told me that he did not know about Chanel either. He is like a history encyclopedia, so his lack of knowledge on the subject made me feel a tad bit better. (To be honest, I’m not sure he even knew who Chanel was until I told him.) Nonetheless, I felt as if I should have known about Coco Chanel and her Nazi ties.

The Dressmaker’s Secret is a brilliant marriage of fact and fiction. Cook’s masterful use of Chanel’s history along side that of Chloe and Adele makes the story come to life. The Dressmaker’s Secret is basically a story about a woman who wants to know more about her grandmother, who worked for Coco Chanel during the war. Oh, but this story is so much more.

I cannot recommend this book enough. My heart still races as I think about Chloe’s search into her grandmother’s past and all that she uncovered. In fact, The Dressmaker’s Secret is so good, that I have ordered the entire Lorna Cook collection. I can hardly wait!!

The Silent Friend

Diane Jeffrey

The Silent Friend is difficult to describe, honestly. It is as if Jeffrey took headlines and created a story around them. One thing The Silent Friend does is make the reader think.

I had to reread the first few chapters before I could continue. The timeline was a bit confusing in the beginning. However, once I understood the timeline of what was happening and the way the author was presenting it, I could not put down the book.

Laura and Sandrine are two women from two different countries. They have no reason to cross paths and nothing in common. Nonetheless, they do cross paths when they are both affected by a tragedy, but in very different ways. Laura and Sandrine become acquainted through a website created specifically for victims of that fateful night.

The plot twist surprised me so much that I had to literally put down the book and take a walk to wrap my mind around what I had just read.

Diane Jeffrey does a splendid job of presenting this tragedy from two very different frames of reference. The question arises as to whether withholding information is a lie. A lie of omission may still be considered a betrayal. When that betrayal is revealed, can it be forgiven.

The Silent Friend is not only entertaining but also thought-provoking. Anyone, man or woman, could find themselves in Laura’s or Sandrine’s shoes. Diane Jeffrey leaves the reader wondering how she or he might act under the same circumstances.

Shrimp Lasagna

(Agador from “The Birdcage” came to mind,

“I don’t know! I made it up! I made it up!”)

It has been a long time since I posted any kitchen experiments. Although I planned shrimp ravioli, my zucchini was not large enough to make ravioli noodles. Therefore, I improvised, and ravioli became lasagna.

This is a completely thrown together recipe.

This is how I made it:

Layer 1 – raw zucchini, thinly sliced to make the lasagna noodles (I used the setting on my hand-held cheese grater.)

Layer 2 – 2 small containers of ricotta cheese, shrimp, and fresh spinach (I did not measure anything. The cheese was left over from another meal, and I just tore up fresh spinach leaves until I was happy with the amount.)

Layer 3 – tomato sauce

Layer 4 – shredded parmesan cheese (I like it much better than the mozzarella.)

I cooked it at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately 45 minutes. As the last picture shows, the lasagna was very runny, and we ate it with spoons instead of forks. Garlic bread would be wonderful with this. I did not make any because I am trying to cut down on carbs a bit – not completely, but a little.

Anyway, this was delicious! Everyone loved it, and the kids did not even complain about the spinach or zucchini. To be honest, I am not sure they even knew the noodles were zucchini. I love sneaking healthy meals into their diet.

The Widow’s Last Secret

by Lora Davies

The Widow’s Last Secret is a tale of desperation and running from one’s past.

The locals never really accepted Bella when she first got to town and began working for Mr. Farrow. When she accepted his marriage proposal, locals accused her of marrying him for his money. Mr. Farrow had no children from his first wife, who died, and he and Bella had no children. That left Bella as his sole heir – and a female landowner in the 1800s.

No one knows anything about Bella’s life before Mr. Farrow found her near death. When she meets an ambitious railroad engineer, Bella has no idea their paths have crossed once before. Now he wants part of her land for the new railroad, which she vehemently opposes. Falling in love was never meant to be part of the deal.

The Widow’s Last Secret reminds us all that desperation can cause the most unlikely people to make bad decisions in the spur of the moment. We are also reminded that no matter how far we may try to run from our past, it catches up to us eventually.

Bella shows the kind of strength and perseverance that should have been admired, but instead she was left as the target of rumors and an outcast. She did what she had to do in order to survive, and she fought back when she stood to lose everything, getting help from a very surprising source.

Davies paints an accurate portrait of women in the 1800s. It is obvious she did her research, showing both sides of the controversial new form of transportation – railroads. Anyone who enjoys historical fiction, or a story with a strong female protagonist, would likely enjoy The Widow’s Last Secret.

The Queen of Vampire Hearts

Fated Loves Book 1

Vampires. Witches. Werewolves. Throw in a little bit of New Orleans voodoo, and you have the recipe for a best seller. Jeanette Rose’s first installment of her Fated Loves Series will not only get you hot and bothered, but you will likely stay up way too late reading and want to skip work to find out what happens next.

Lucien is the vampire king who lives in a dark, cold, uninviting castle in Romania. Phoebe is a witch on the run in New Orleans. A chance meeting (or was it?) at an orgy in the Fae Realm leaves each of them surprised at the way they respond to each other. When they are interrupted for what Lucien is told is an urgent matter, he asks Phoebe to wait for him. When he returns and discovers she is no longer there, he is determined to find her again. The problem is that he does not even know her name.

Convinced she is his mate, Lucien will stop at nothing to get Phoebe back – even kidnapping. Will the extreme measures Lucien takes and his devotion and worship of her endear him to Phoebe or make her feel trapped and angry? Can Lucien ever break down the walls that have protected Phoebe’s heart for so long? Neither can deny the chemistry between them. But Phoebe has been betrayed by a vampire once, and she will not let it happen again.

However, Lucien does not really know who Phoebe is. He does not know her story, and she does not trust him enough to tell him – no matter how safe he makes her feel. When Lucien learns Phoebe’s true identity and that she is being hunted by the Witches Council, forces beyond their control threaten to tear them apart forever.

The Queen of Vampire Hearts is a tantalizing introduction to the Fated Loves Series. The author’s father described the books as “Twilight meets 50 Shades of Grey.” I can see where someone would make that analogy. However, having read both the Twilight Series and 50 Shades of Grey Series, I would choose The Queen of Vampire Hearts over them any day. Rose’s story telling will have the reader believing the legends we all have heard for so many years. Jeanette Rose sets herself apart from the many other writers of adult fantasy. She is an author whose books adult fantasy fans want on their shelves. I can hardly wait for Book 2.

The Last House on the Street

“Do you want to know what keeps me awake at night?…Thinking. That’s what keeps me awake. Thinking about killing someone.”

That is just the first chapter. The Last House on the Street just gets better from there.

Kayla and Ellie are two women with absolutely nothing in common. Kayla is an architect and a widowed single mother in her twenties in North Carolina. Ellie is sixty-five, never married, has no children, teaches yoga, and has been working with Civil Rights groups for over forty years. She also lives in California. These two women have no reason to cross paths. That is, until Ellie’s brother Buddy gets sick, and Ellie flies back to North Carolina – a place she hates and never wanted to visit again – not even returning when her father died.

Kayla and her husband Jackson designed their very modern dream home. It is the first home completed in a new subdivision being built on the same street where Ellie’s childhood home sits. In fact, Ellie’s childhood home is the only original home left on the street. After Jackson dies, Kayla is not sure she wants to move into the new house with her three-year-old daughter Rainie. Strange things start happening making it clear to Kayla that someone does not want her in that house.

Behind Kayla’s house, along a trail in the woods that leads to a lake, is a treehouse. Ellie and Buddy played in that treehouse as children. It is also the place to where Ellie would sneak to see the man she loved – a forbidden love her family would never accept. Ellie had the best night of her life in that treehouse. It is also a reminder of the worst night of her life – the reason she left North Carolina with no plans to ever return.

The Last House on the Street is a tragic story of love, loss, and betrayal. Can Ellie ever forgive the sins of the past and put the past behind her? Will Kayla be able to discover who wants her gone and why? And why the stranger who stays awake thinking of killing someone took Rainie? Will they ever be safe in their new home?

Diane Chamberlain tells Kayla’s story in 2010 and Ellie’s story from 1965, when she first started working with the Civil Rights Movement. Chamberlain makes it easy for the reader to transition between the two very different time periods, decades apart, to bring Kayla and Ellie together. The accuracy with which the author describes the Civil Rights Movement in 1965 is so vivid, the reader can easily travel back to 1965 and see the disparity between races in North Carolina. The accuracy of Chamberlain’s descriptions add validity to the story and the author’s skill in using fiction to educate her readers about a very dark time in our country’s history. I commend her for her use of history, and I look forward to reading more from Diane Chamberlain.

You may purchase The Last House on the Street by clicking on the book cover.

The Girl Who Could Breathe Under Water

by Erin Bartels

Great character development. Imagery so vivid it makes the reader wish s/he had a cabin on the lake. An amazing story. Put them all together and you get The Girl Who Could Breathe Under Water. From the very first sentence, I was hooked. The entire book is written as a conversation. This form of writing makes the book seem more personal and makes the reader feel like s/he is part of the story.

Kendra is an author on a deadline. Her first book That Summer was a huge success. Now her publisher is waiting for her second book, and she only has a few weeks to make the deadline. The problem is that Kendra has not started her second book yet. She cannot get past a letter she received from A Disappointed Reader regarding her first book. She knows the author of the letter must know her personally. Not only does the letter come from someone she knows, but this person must also know what happened to her all those years ago. Disappointed Reader seems to know so much about what happened that the letter makes Kendra doubt her own interpretations of the events in That Summer.

In order to solve the mystery and confront the Disappointed Reader, Kendra returns to the cabin on the lake where she spent summers with her grandfather. Her happiest childhood memories were made at that cabin. She spent every summer there. She also met Cami there. Cami was adopted by a couple Kendra knew from her summers at the lake. When they asked her to come to dinner one night, she had no idea she would meet the girl who would become her best friend. In fact, it is Cami to whom Kendra speaks throughout the entirety of The Girl Who Could Breathe Under Water. It does not matter that she has not seen Cami in years. In fact, the last time Cami was seen was at the lake months before Kendra got there. Ike, and old fisherman who lives at the lake year round spoke to Cami on his way to Kendra’s grandfather’s funeral. That was the last known contact with her. Cami’s father is at the lake while her mother is desperately following a lead to locate Cami and bring her home.

Erin Bartels leads the reader through a lifetime of memories and emotions. The plot twists will keep the reader up late to find out what happens next. Secrets are revealed. Truths are unfolded. Lives are changed forever. Friendships are destroyed. Friendships are mended. All the characters’ stories are intertwined in a way that is inescapable.

The Girl Who Could Breathe Under Water is not only a great book but also an exercise in courage. All my life I have been told that truth is stranger than fiction. I have also been told that in every story of fiction lies some truth. The author reveals in her notes at the end of the book that The Girl Who Could Breathe Under Water was her way of getting her own story out into the open. Before I read her notes, I admired Erin Bartels’ writing and talent for storytelling.  Upon discovering the courage it took for her to write this book and send it out for the world to see, my admiration for Erin Bartels increased exponentially. She is an author that I will watch well into the future. I look forward to seeing what else she has in store for her readers – fact or fiction or a little bit of both.

Cold Hearted

Disney Villains, Book 8

What makes a villain a villain?

The Disney Villains Series by Serena Valentino answers that very question. No one is ever born evil. Something happens to make a person that way. The back stories of the Disney villains are startling and captivating.

Lady Tremaine is no exception. Cold Hearted tells the tale of how a wealthy widow whose only real vice was spoiling her daughters became a wicked stepmother with nothing but bitterness and resentment in her heart.

Convinced to come out of mourning years after her loving husband’s death, Lady Tremaine is lured to a party being given by a close friend. In fact, her daughters are betrothed to her friend’s sons. However, Lady Tremaine makes this trip alone, much to the dismay of her daughters. While at the party, she is charmed by Sir Richard. She is certain that he and his daughter are a perfect match for her and her daughters. Lady Tremaine feels things she has not felt since her husband died. The possibilities are endless for Lady Tremaine, Sir Richard, and their children – including Cinderella. This is finally her happily ever after.

Answering Sir Richard’s urgent plea to join him in the Many kingdoms, Lady Tremaine meets her girls at the port to make the long trip from London. Lady Tremaine is warned not to go, but she is so smitten by Sir Richard that she ignores the warnings. After all, how different can the Many Kingdoms really be?

Upon arrival, Lady Tremaine is whisked away to an impromptu wedding without her wedding dress or her girls. She believes that surely Sir Richard has planned a grand reception to follow the ridiculously small wedding for people of their status – a wedding for which Lady Tremaine was not even allowed to prepare. However, Sir Richard disappears before the ink is even dry on their marriage certificate.

Lady Tremaine soon realizes Sir Richard is not quite the person he presented to her when they first met. His chateau is a disaster. There are no servants to help repair or keep up the dwelling. When questioned, Sir Richard informs Lady Tremaine that she and her daughters will be doing the cooking and cleaning. This is the life for which she left London, where she was comfortable, had everything she could ever want or need, and was surrounded by people who cared for her. Those days are gone. No one will be there to help her and her girls maintain the life to which they had become accustomed. Lady Tremaine really believed that she and Sir Richard were in love. Nonetheless, the longer she is there, the more she begins to see why she was being warned about going to the Many Kingdoms.

Cold Hearted shows the evolution of a woman full of love and hope and elegance as she becomes the bitter, angry, vengeful stepmother in Cinderella’s story – just like it is written in the Book of Fairy Tales. Hers is a tale of lies and deception, resentment and revenge. Of course, she would not transform without the help of the Odd Sisters. As they are the ones who wrote the Book of Fairy Tales and make sure that what they write is what happens.

Serena Valentino has given us another surprising twist on a beloved Disney tale. Everyone knows the story of Cinderella and her wicked stepmother. Now we know the story of what made that wicked stepmother wicked.

The latest installment of the Disney Villains Series is Serena Valentino at her best. Everything about Lady Tremaine’s story is unexpected. I finished Evil Thing in January and have been waiting for Cold Hearted to be released. I was not disappointed. Her masterful story-telling skills set Serena Valentino apart from many others who try to write/rewrite the Disney fairy tales. I can hardly wait to see where Book 9 takes us.

Clean Sweep

Coffee Shop Series, Book 8

Add another jewel to her crown!!

Clean Sweep solidifies Katie Cross’s place as the Queen of Clean Contemporary Romance. As the Coffee Shop Series grows, readers are falling more in love with Pineville, and more in love with its residents. Readers are also reminded quite clearly why they want their romance-loving teenagers to read books written by Katie Cross. Her books have just as much passion and emotion as any novel. The difference is that these books do not contain an adult-only rating. There is nothing in these books that I would hesitate to allow my teen daughter to read.

In the latest installment of the Coffee Shop Series, Katie Cross explores a whole new demographic. All books up to now have centered around young adults in Pineville figuring out love and life all at once. Clean Sweep introduces Leslie and Tanner. Both are divorced single parents. Each has created a life that is comfortable, and neither wants to disturb the status quo.

When Leslie’s oldest son announces he is bringing his fiancé home, shock does not quite describe her feelings. Landon has only known Starla for four weeks, and they are already engaged. Then she looks around and realizes that she cannot let Starla see her house the way it is. That is when she calls T&C Cleaning. She needs her house deep cleaned, and she does not care how much it costs, as long is it smells lemony at the end of the day.

Tanner receives a new house assignment the same day his most reliable employee elopes and forgets to call and tell him. That means he must clean the house himself. The house takes over six hours to complete, but the results are priceless. The only problem is that in a rush to pick up his daughter at the Frolicking Moose Coffee Shop, Tanner left a vacuum and other cleaning supplies at Leslie’s house.

A spur-of-the-moment lunch with Leslie, her four boys, Tanner and his daughter turns into a scene for family drama that could not be more awkward for Leslie and Tanner. They hardly know each other. They know each other’s kids, but not each other. Tanner’s intuitive nature and calming presence help Leslie through the bombs thrown at her from Landon. She does not realize just how much Tanner is going to help though.

Leslie and Tanner’s story is about new beginnings. Old loves have been let go. Life has moved on. They are settled into adulthood and each is in a good place. Long phone conversations every night and special moments spent together blow up when Leslie learns that Tanner has been keeping a secret from her – a secret that affects not only her but also Landon and Starla. Leslie is angry and hurt and turns Tanner away.

Can what they have be salvaged? Is it too late for them to start over? Can Leslie forgive Tanner for the perceived betrayal? In order to make any kind of relationship work between them, Leslie and Tanner must have forgiveness and acceptance and openness. After the secret Tanner has kept for over a month, it may be too much for Leslie to forgive.

Clean Sweep does not disappoint! Every installment of the Coffee Shop Series makes me fall in love with Pineville and its residents more and more. I’m seriously ready to pack my bags and go spend time hanging out with all my friends at the Frolicking Moose. It will be wonderful!!!! I can hardly wait to get back.

Those Who Lie

by Diane Jeffrey

Those Who Lie is a shocking thrill ride from beginning to end. Diane Jeffrey takes the reader through a roller coaster of emotions from “that is so sad” to “what in the world is going on here?”

Emily Klein wakes up in the hospital to police investigators. She knows there has been a horrible accident, but she does not remember anything about the crash. She does remember that she was driving, and her husband was in the car. Emily is confused because none of her family is there to be with her. Her husband is not there. She does not see her mother or sister or brother. She soon learns they are all at her husband’s funeral. Emily is devastated when she learns that she killed her husband in the crash.

Or did she? Messages start arriving from her husband. Everywhere she goes, she sees him, but he will not talk to her. Emily cannot understand why her husband keeps running or why he will not come home.

While her past continues to haunt her, Emily must face her demons and unravel the web of betrayal to move forward.

Diane Jeffrey delivers a psychological thriller with one plot twist after another. Jeffrey even ends the book with one final twist that leaves the reader reeling. Some issues remain unresolved even in the end, which makes me hope that there will be a sequel to Those Who Lie.

Those Who Lie will be released December 6, 2021, and I highly recommend it. This would be a great stocking stuffer for someone who enjoys mysteries and/or psychological thrillers. Be prepared to stay up way too late reading and have your mind blown.

Requited Harvest

by Charlsie Russell

SCANDELOUS!! Any time anyone asks me what I think of Requited Harvest, scandalous is the first word that comes to mind.

Charlsie Russell wastes no time jumping right into the scandal and betrayal in Requited Harvest. The book is set in the Mississippi during reconstruction. Murder and manipulation are the name of the game in this nonstop, heart-pumping novel. Being familiar with the location in which the story takes place made it even more interesting.

The very first conversation in Requited Harvest gives a glimpse of the lengths to which some people will go in order to maintain power and control. As bad as a sister’s betrayal is, it pales in comparison to what their grandmother will do to control her daughter and granddaughters. Buying someone else’s guilt in her crimes is nothing new for Eva Markiston. She would sell her own children to maintain control of the company she stole.

Requited Harvest could probably fit into several genres. There is intrigue, suspense, betrayal, murder, manipulation, revenge, drug addiction, and a little bit of romance to round off the story. Penny King is a young woman who shows more strength, determination, and perseverance than one should ever have to muster. Desperate to save what is rightfully hers, she makes a rash decision that could change the lives of everyone she knows – and could backfire.

I had the pleasure of meeting Charlsie Russell at the Mississippi Coast Convention Center in Biloxi during the annual Christmas City. Biloxi is featured quite prominently in Requited Harvest. Mrs. Russell had seven books on display for purchase when I began talking to her. I always enjoy discovering new authors, even if they are only new to me. When asked into what genre her books fell, she replied “historical fiction with a little bit of romance.” By the time we parted ways, I had purchased all seven books, and Mrs. Russell took the time to sign each one. I could not believe my good fortune at meeting such a down-to-earth novelist from my own hometown. Many great authors have come from Mississippi, and meeting Charlsie Russell gives me confidence that Mississippi will continue turning out great novelists for a very long time.

The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop

by Fannie Flagg

When I told my mother that there was a follow-up to Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop, she could not believe it. After all, we first traveled to Whistle Stop, Alabama, more than thirty years ago, and we have traveled back so many times that we still quote our favorite lines quite often and in any given situation. However, after reading The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop, I had great difficulty putting my thoughts to paper. I expressed this to my mother and told her how the book felt to me. She told me to write exactly that.  So here it is…

The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop is like going home, catching up with old friends, and making some new ones along the way. The story centers around Bud Threadgoode, aka Buddy Threadgoode, Jr. He is grown with a grown child of his own now, but his story takes us back to the beginning. It in no way is a repeat of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café. It is some background information we did not have when we first traveled to Whistle Stop and fell in love with the people there. We discover so much more about Idgie, Ruth, Buddy, Jr., and all our friends, including Sheriff Grady, while they all lived in Whistle Stop.

With The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop, we find out what happened after the café closed and the town died. What really grabbed me about Bud Threadgoode, is that deep down he is still the little boy from Whistle Stop. He is still humble although he has seen so much and accomplished so much more than he ever imagined. He remembers all the lessons his mom and Aunt Idgie taught him, especially after Ruth died. Aunt Idgie was strong for him and taught him to be strong and always care for others, never feeling sorry for himself.

When Bud sneaks away from his retirement home in Atlanta to visit Whistle Stop one last time, things do not work out as he planned. Instead of being back before anyone noticed he was gone, a search over two states begins. That is how we find out what happened to Evelyn after Ninny died. As fans will recall, Ninny moved in with Evelyn and Ed at the end of Fried Green Tomatoes. When Evelyn sees Silver Alert for Bud Threadgoode, a chain of events follows that changes not only their lives but also the lives and entire town of Whistle Stop.

The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop is a wonderful follow-up novel that truly feels like going home and catching up with old friends. The bonus is that we get to make some new ones. What I saw at the end of the book is that there is still so much more to be told of the lives of the residents of Whistle Stop, Alabama. I truly hope this will not be the last trip Fannie Flagg takes to Whistle Stop.

Southern Bound Book Shop

 I love sister days. I never know where they might take me. During a recent sisters’ day out, my sister introduced me to my new favorite book shop on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Southern Bound Book Shop is currently located on Howard Avenue in Biloxi and shares a building with Jacked Up Coffee Shop. The two shops even have a connecting door for patrons to experience Southern Bound while they wait for their coffee.

My first thoughts upon entering Southern Bound were along the lines of, “Wow! There are a lot of books in a small space.” I was not aware at the time that the shop kept going beyond the front room. I must admit, however, that the shop felt comfortable to me, as I am surrounded by books at home. I saw a few new books, but most of the books were “pre-loved.” Referring to used books as “pre-loved” is absolutely genius! I could not keep a smile from crossing my face when I saw that. These are not discarded old books. Southern Bound specializes in books that are loved so much that people want to share them so others can fall in love with these books and characters and authors.

Southern Bound Book Shop also offers blind dates with books. There is no way to judge one of these books by its cover. They are neatly wrapped in plain brown paper. A quote is written on the outside of each book, and the wrapping is finished off with string and a tag that only states the genre and price. I could not leave without one of these blind dates for myself.

Bags of books can also be found tied shut. I bought twenty-two books for $10. The bags I looked at were all romance, so I just grabbed a random bag to see what mystery books awaited me inside. I noticed the bags as I was waiting to pay for the books I had already chosen. Other genres may be available in these mystery bags, but I cannot say for sure.

What I can say for sure is that Southern Bound Book Shop has something for everyone. Southern Bound has so much to offer that I could have spent an entire weekend browsing through titles and discovering new (to me) authors. Some series books are sold as bundles at great prices as well. I even saw books for beginning readers and younger children – something for everyone.

Another feature offered at this delightful venue is book trading. Readers can bring in pre-loved books of their own and trade them for credit toward future purchases. I can see myself doing this in the future. I have so many books, which I love, but I unfortunately am unable to keep every book I love. I would need to build a whole new house just for books. 😊

Southern Bound also offers a punch/rewards card for frequent buyers. Although the shop will be moving to D’Iberville soon, it will be worth the drive to discover more pre-loved books. So, if you find yourself on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and you need something to read – or even if you do not – stop at Southern Bound Book Shop. You can also follow them on Facebook and Instagram. Visit their website here.

Smoke & Fire

Coffee Shop Series, Book 7

Thank you, God, for making my home in Hurricane Country!!

I do not think I have ever been more grateful for where I live than I am after reading Smoke & Fire. One of my greatest fears my entire life has been fire. As a child our house had a wood-burning fireplace, and our house was in the middle of twenty acres of trees. Everything around us was flammable. After seeing our closest (about ½ mile away) neighbor’s house burn, that was it. I cannot even begin to imagine living in a place that has a fire season. Not only would it be terrifying but seeing so much beauty go up in flames would be heartbreaking. Although I have great admiration for those who fight the fires and those who choose to leave their homes and return knowing it will likely not be the last time they are told to evacuate. Nonetheless, I will stick to the somewhat predictable hurricanes on the Gulf Coast.

Katie Cross continues to delight in Book 7 of the Coffee Shop Series. Of course, we would expect nothing less from the Queen of the Clean Contemporary Romance. Pineville is one of my all-time favorite vacation spots. However, this trip to Pineville was quite intense at times, and not just because of the unpredictable growing fire. The evolution of Bastian and Dahlia’s relationship is fun to watch. I literally laughed out loud at some of Dahlia’s antics.

Dahlia is basically single-handedly managing the Frolicking Moose Coffee Shop since Ellie left. Dahlia landed in Pineville after the demise of a long-term relationship and months of pulling around an RV visiting family. She chose Pineville as her temporary home because she has a cousin who works at Adventure as a camp counselor. (I would love to rent a cabin at Adventura for a week or so.) She does not really know many people except those she deals with through the coffee shop.

In walks Bastian, a broad-shouldered, very serious, wildland firefighter. He comes to the Frolicking Moose for two reasons – coffee and wi-fi. He does not like small talk. He just wants to be left alone to work on his laptop.

That is until Bastian finds himself in such a predicament that the only way out is to ask for help. What Bastian asks Dahlia to do goes above and beyond a favor as mundane as feeding his cat. She not only has to decide if she will help him but also how she can help him without knowing anything about him. Bastian will be gone for two weeks fighting the fire that threatens Pineville. He will have very little to no reception in the mountains. If Dahlia is going to help him, she must be able to do it on her own. Additionally, she can tell no one what she is doing. The secret he confides in her cannot be repeated. This is crucial to the success of this endeavor. His best friends from high school, a group fondly referred to as the “Merry Idiots,” do not even know this secret. No one really knows the pressure Bastian is under. Bastian’s family needs him but asking for help is very unfamiliar. Dahlia must succeed.

Although Bastian desperately needs Dahlia’s help, it does not take long for her video messages and smile to become a highlight in his day while in the forest fighting the newest fire. He begins to look forward to her updates as she slowly breaks down the walls that have engulfed him for so long.

Smoke & Fire is a case of opposites attract. One has the weight of the world on his shoulders, a weight he has always carried alone, while the other is carefree, with little to no responsibilities outside the Frolicking Moose. Each could be exactly what the other needs. Then again, this could spell disaster.

The Stolen Lady

By Laura Morelli

When I first saw the cover for The Stolen Lady, I was intrigued.  Then I read the description. That is when I knew I had to read this book. The book combines the story behind Leonarda da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and efforts by the Louvre staff to protect her from the Nazis.

The Stolen Lady took quite some time for me to read. I am not a fast reader to begin with, and I broke away from this book to read others. This is a great story, but it just did not keep my attention. There are parts that were heart-pumping, making me want to continue to see what would happen next. Then there were times when I looked ahead to see how much farther I had to get to a stopping point. (I do not like to stop mid-chapter.)

The Stolen Lady is written from the points of view of three people vital to the Mona Lisa’s history: Leonardo da Vinci, the artist; Bellina, Lisa’s servant; and Anne, a Louvre archivist who, along with other staff members from the Louvre, will stop at nothing to protect the masterpieces in her care, especially the iconic Mona Lisa.

Leonardo da Vinci’s chapters are written in first person. They give the reader insight into his thoughts and motivations. It is as if the author was inside his head in the 1500s. The reader gets a good idea of da Vinci’s eccentricities and attitudes toward different classes of people and different commissions. Morelli shows da Vinci’s reluctance to paint Lisa, a merchant’s wife, and then how that reluctance turned to obsession at making sure she was perfect.

Bellina has been responsible for Lisa since the day Lisa’s father put her in Bellina’s arms the day of Lisa’s christening. Bellina was just a child herself at the time, but she took her responsibilities seriously, always putting the needs of her mistress ahead of her own.

Last, but certainly not least, is Anne. She and other staff members travel all over France in an attempt to keep the Louvre’s priceless treasures out of the hands of the Nazis.

I will be honest here. The historical aspects of the book are what drew me in. The fact that The Stolen Lady centered around the Mona Lisa had less to do with my interest than the time periods in which the book took place. I am quite literal by nature. I have never been one to look at a piece of art and see hidden meanings or try to figure out what the artist was thinking when s/he was painting a specific piece. I have always wondered why a painting could not just be a reflection of what the artist was seeing at that moment in time – no hidden messages or meanings or revelations of a particular mood. That is not to say that I do not appreciate masterpieces such as the Mona Lisa as well as other forms of art. The web of stories that intertwined to create the Mona Lisa’s story as presented by Morellie makes me wish I could travel to Paris and see hre in person just to sit and study her for as long as I wanted.

I do not know if the events in The Stolen Lady unfolded in the real world they way they did in the book’s world. Howecer, if Laura Morelli told me everything in The Stolen Lady was factual, I would believe her. She describes historical events in a way that could very well be first-hand accounts. More than that, she is an internationally recognized art historian. I cannot imagine anyone who would know the story of the Mona Lisa better that Laura Morelli.

As for the book, the story was good, but it seemed to drag a bit too long. Some details could have probably been omitted without taking away from the story itself. The chapters about Bellina and Anne are written in third person, unlike Leonardo’s first person point of view. This, in my view, takes a little bit away from the story because it does not seem the reader is seeing everything from their points of view personally. Instead, they are written more like passed down stories from someone who may or may not have been there when things happened. I would have enjoyed the book more if all three chapters had been in first person. Nonetheless, I am glad I chose to read The Stolen Lady. Anyone who loves history and/or art will  surely enjoy The Stolen Lady.

The Whole Town’s Talking

by Fannie Flagg

Fannie Flagg’s books never disappoint. They are always fun reads and do not follow a particular “formula” for any specific genre. Her books contain some drama, some romance, some laugh-out-loud comedy, and even some mystery. Regardless of what genre a reader prefers, a book by Fannie Flagg will include some of those elements.

The Whole Town’s Talking is no exception. This is the story of a small Missouri town from its founding in the late 1800s all the way to 2020. The reader follows the residents through love, loss, war, peace. Children are born. People die. There are war heroes. The residents pull together to get through the Great Depression. Many leave home to join the war effort during World War II.

The book is broken into decades. The readers are not only entertained but also educated on American history. As a retired history teacher, I found it very interesting to watch the evolution of this small community in which everyone knows everyone, and even on to see malls move businesses from the once-thriving downtown area, as so many small towns in the United States have experienced.

What was great about The Whole Town’s Talking is where and when the town was talking. Generations come together in a way that is very unexpected. I thought I had an idea of how this story might develop. The plot twist was so surprising I could not help but smile. The surprises continued all the way to the end.

Every book I have read by Fannie Flagg has contained elements of surprise. There were times I was sure I knew what happened, and who did what. Every time I thought I had figured out everything, the author threw in a plot twist. The Whole Town’s Talking is likely the most unexpected, fun plot twist of any of her books. I wonder how many times during writing this book that Fannie Flagg laughed out loud first at her ideas and then imagining how her readers would react when they read the book.

The Girl in the Maze

by Cathy Hayward

Shocked. Angry. Disturbed. Disgusted. Heartbroken. These are just a few of the emotions that I experienced while reading this book. The Girl in the Maze tells the story of three generations of women who found themselves hurting each other more than helping each other. Maybe if they just listened, their lives would have turned out differently.

Some of the topics covered in The Girl in the Maze are betrayal, denial, family secrets, pedophilia, and rape. There were times when I put the book down because the chapter was too disturbing and upsetting to continue. Because of that, I will not go into the actual story. Instead, I will only write what I think of the author’s writing.

Cathy Hayward uses vivid imagery that takes the reader into Betty, Margaret and Emma’s worlds. Each generation faced its share of troubles and misunderstandings. The feelings of betrayal are so deep in The Girl in the Maze that it is almost impossible for the reader not to become just as angry as Margaret, or just as heartbroken and shocked as Emma.

When Emma’s mother Margaret dies, Emma discovers secrets that her mother wanted kept secret. When Margaret’s solicitor tells Emma to leave the past in the past, she does not listen. She only realizes why he gave her that advice after it is too late to turn back.

However, through digging into Margaret’s past, Emma gains a better understanding of her mother. Margaret, who Emma thought was just mad all the time, turns out to be so much more than Emma expected. Nonetheless, it was too late to make amends with her mother. Her mother was gone. She died alone with only her solicitor by her side. This is something Emma will always have to live with, along with the secrets Margaret did not want exposed. Emma now bears the burden of keeping her mother’s secrets and doing everything in her power to be there for her daughter and let her daughter know that she is loved always.

The Girl in the Maze is very well written. Cathy Hayward laments that her mother always encouraged her to write a book. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until her mother died that she actually did just that. According to the author, The Girl in the Maze was a kind of therapy that helped her deal with the difficult relationship she had with her own mother. I sincerely hope that The Girl in the Maze is just a fictional story with made-up circumstances and not an autobiographical reflection of what Cathy Hayward discovered after her mother died.

One thing I did take away from The Girl in the Maze is that children should not wait until their parents are dead to really get to know them. Listen to their stories. Learn their histories. Parents have so much to teach us. I am extremely blessed to have been raised in a home with unconditional love. Yes, we had our problems, but I never once doubted whether I was loved. Now that I am and adult, my mother and I are more like best friends. I ask about her childhood and want to know everything she can tell me. I did not do that with my father before he died. The stories of his family I must hear from others. As my children get older, I pray they will want to learn from the stories the adults in their lives can tell them. The Girl in the Maze reminded me of just how incredibly blessed I am. All families have stories. All families have secrets. Don’t wait until it is too late to discover those.

If you or someone you know is a victim of abuse, please listen and call the abuse hotline in your country.

UK – For information on how you can help or get help, go to

 Domestic abuse: how to get help – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

USA – For information on how you can help or get help,

please call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233),

text START to 88788, or

visit www.thehotline.org to chat with someone online.

The Five Year Plan

by Jodi Gibson

If Hallmark dos does not make this book into a movie, they really should take another look at the people who make decisions for them. I am quite the Hallmark fan, and I rarely ever think a book is “Hallmark worthy.” Jodi Gibson’s The Five Year Plan is one of those rare gems.

When I first started reading The Five Year Plan, I thought this was going to be predictable and boring. I was not sure I would even finish the book. It started a little slow, and I felt like there may not be much entertainment value, which I desperately needed. I could not have been more wrong!!

When Demi’s world comes crashing down around her, she does not just step out of her comfort zone to figure out what she should do next. She literally flies away from everyone and everything she has ever known. Demi leaves Australia to travel to Italy to stay with family she has never met in order to learn about her family and real Italian traditions and food.

A shattered dream, a betrayal, an unexpected encounter, a family rivalry, and a family secret that is accidentally uncovered all play a part in Demi’s (and the reader’s) whirlwind of emotions. The only real stability seems to be her best friend Anna, who Demi never imagined would turn out to be the true voice of reason when her world is in turmoil. Demi has always been the one who had everything planned out and in order. Anna, on the other hand, is much more impetuous. However, following Anna’s advice, even when her parents are against it, turns out to be the best decision Demi could make for herself.

Life got in the way of my reading The Five Year Plan. When not reading, I often found myself dreaming about the food and beautiful views only seen in Italy. Jodi Gibson gives us a fun, entertaining read that is a wonderful escape from the stress life throws our way. The only thing that would have made this book better would be adding the recipes for all the delicious dishes Jodi Gibson describes throughout the book.

Hallmark seriously needs to snatch this one up before someone else does.

Zucchini Ravioli

Tonight I decided to try something new. I have used zucchini for lasagna noodles, but nothing else. Well, tonight I made Zucchini Ravioli. Everyone loved it. The kids had no idea they were eating zucchini. If they did, they wouldn’t eat it. I’ve been gradually sneaking more and more vegetables into their meals in an effort to get us all eating healthier. Anyway. this recipe is a keeper. I found the recipe on Pinterest. But you can find the recipe at Momsdish.

I did have to change the recipe a bit. I did not have ricotta cheese. So I had to substitute. Instead of ricotta for the filling, I used 1 cup finely chopped (not quite puréed) zucchini and 1 cup Italian blend shredded cheese. I also used the Italian blend on top. It was still cheesy and creamy in the middle. No one had any idea there was zucchini in the filling either. I just told them it was a cheese blend that I used for the middle. It was not a lie. Cheese was blended with zucchini and seasonings. This is a good dish for kids because everyone loves ravioli. This is much better than anything from a can! I can promise you that!!

Shrimp Fettuccine with Roasted Pepper Sauce

So, in an effort to try to eat healthier and get my family eating healthier, I have started attempting at least one new recipe a week. Last week I tried shrimp fettuccini with roasted pepper sauce. (Excuse my poor presentation. I am working on improving that.) It was DELICIOUS!!!! This recipe is definitely a keeper, although I would like to add some crawfish. YUM! I found the recipe on Pinterest, but you may find the recipe at Cooktoria.

The Lost Magic

The Network Saga Book 1

“Magic or no, you have reason to fear me.”

Katie cross has become the queen of the strong female protagonist. Yes, other authors write books with strong female leads. However, Katie Cross takes it to a new level with strong female characters of all ages – from young girls to mature women.

The Lost Magic picks up three years after The War of the Networks. Merrick has returned to the Northern Network. Camille is gone. Leda is isolating herself as an Underlibrarian to avoid the ghosts that haunt Chatham Castle. Bianca lives alone in a cottage deep in Letum Wood, a cottage she inherited from Isadora shortly after the war. Bianca’s father Derek is High Priest, and Bianca has settled in her new role as a Sword Trainer of New Recruits.

While having lunch in a secluded cove of the Eastern Network, Bianca and Priscilla discover a young girl washed up on the beach. The girl seems like every other young witch in Alkarra. Bianca and Priscilla do not know from where the girl came, how she got there, or why she is there all alone. Then she looks at them, and they are shocked to discover amber eyes. She is a mortal. Mortals have not been seen in Alkarra for thousands of years.

Bianca and Priscilla both know that a mortal will not be safe in the Eastern Network even if she is just a young girl. Bianca impetuously takes the mortal to her cottage in Letum Wood. Stories of witches whose magic was changed because of proximity to mortals do not deter Bianca from trying to protect the girl. Plus, the mortal girl looks a great deal like Camille. Bianca still grieves the loss of Camille and does not want anyone else to die on her watch.

The Lost Magic is a tale of sacrifice and loyalty and overcoming fear. Most of all, The Lost Magic is about finding the strength and power from within. When Bianca loses her magic, she believes she has lost her power. Alina lives in the Southern Network where all the witches lost their magic. Alina tells Bianca that she has been given a rare gift, a gift Alina wishes all witches could experience.

Bianca must face the mistakes she has made and summon the courage to help her father when some Council members want to remove Derek from power. Rumors of a mortal and demigod in Alkarra throw fuel on the fire. Bianca realizes she must do for Ava, the young mortal, what Derek did for her. Bianca must step aside and allow Ava to do what she came to Alkarra to do.

The first installment of The Network Saga is worth sharing with girls of all ages. Bianca has been through so much, and it has made her the witch she is now. Ava shows courage beyond what even Bianca could imagine. Alkarra is a magical place where strong girls are encouraged to become strong women. They experience doubt and insecurity, just like everyone does. The female characters of Alkarra are given the space and support they need to find their own power and strength. They are extraordinary role models for girls in today’s world.

Every library across the country and beyond should offer multiple copies of Katie Cross’s books. Strong female protagonists are important now more than ever. Mothers and daughters can easily share these books and discover their powers together. Families – mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. – can find relatable characters and lessons that are timeless and apply to everyone. The Dragonmaster Trilogy, The Network Series, and The Network Saga are books that should be in every personal library and well as public and school library in the United States and beyond. Alkarra is as diverse as the United States, and differences are celebrated, as they should be. We can all learn from Bianca, Leda, Ava, Alina, and all the amazing characters Katie Cross introduces to us in the magical world of Alkarra.

The Cottage

By Daniel Judson

Due to my own PTSD, I was hesitant to read The Cottage. Once I got the courage to start reading, however, I could not stop. It seemed as though I started one minute and was halfway through the next.

Kate lives with the awful memory of her husband’s murder. Her own yard is a constant reminder of how he bled to death as she watched helplessly. Just as she is beginning to feel stronger, the vandalism starts again just like it did two years prior just before her husband was gunned down outside their home.

Thinking another set of eyes on the property will make her feel safer, she rents out the cottage her estranged sister used to live in during the off season. As she becomes more comfortable with her new tenant, the intrusions into Kate’s life become much more personal and invasive.

As soon as she sees Rebecca, her sister, Kate can see a change. Getting to know the new Rebecca and seeing how happy her children are to have their aunt with them, Kate begins to let down her guard and trust Rebecca, putting the past in the past to make a fresh start with her sister.

When Kate discovers the truth about her husband’s murder and who was involved, she discovers a betrayal that changes her life forever – not just hers but also the lives of her children.

Daniel Judson serves up a thriller with all the right ingredients – lies, betrayal, murder, and plot twists. Some parts of The Cottage seem a bit mundane – play-by-play accounts of how Kate does chores, cleans the pantry, etc. Once the reader gets through the unnecessary aspects of the book, the story becomes more and more interesting and shocking. There were times when I wanted to stop reading – too much of the day-to-day in some cases, and in other cases unsure of whether I could handle what happened next. Nonetheless, I am glad I finished. The Cottage is filled with love, loss, unimaginable betrayal, murder, and suspense – everything one needs to deliver a best seller.

Girl in Ice

Erica Ferencik

Unable to put into words what best describes Girl in Ice, the story is somewhat like Nell meets Alexandra Rover, two characters played brilliantly by Jodi Foster.

Sigrid is a young girl found perfectly preserved, frozen in a glacier. Wyatt is the scientist who cut her out and brought her back to life. Val is a linguist Wyatt contacts to help them understand what Sigrid is saying. Andy is Val’s brother, also a scientist who worked with Wyatt in the Arctic Circle until Andy was found frozen, curled up outside the door in the snow. Andy was also one of Wyatt’s students, who always looked up to and admired his professor and mentor.

When Val is contacted by Wyatt to help communicate with a girl he cut out of the ice, she is intrigued. However, she is also skeptical. Her father very forcefully asks her to put aside her fear and her anxiety and go help Wyatt. Val’s father tells her that Wyatt killed Andy, and she needs to find out what really happened.

Ferencik offers and intriguing thriller with Girl in Ice. Val must go way beyond her comfort zone to help this young girl no one understands. She speaks a language even Val has never heard, but Val nonetheless works tirelessly to understand what Sigrid is trying to say through verbal communication and in pictures.

The reader becomes very invested in Val’s overcoming her fears and breaking the code of Sigrid’s language. The one thing Val knows is that her ability to communicate with Sigrid is a matter of life or death. She must be able to understand what Sigrid is saying as well as how to communicate back to her in order to help her. Val learns the truth about Andy in a very unexpected way, while fighting not only for Sigrid’s life but also for her own. They are each other’s only chance to survive the danger they face from extreme weather conditions as well as unexpected and surprising sources.

The story ends in a way far where I expected. Although there is some predictability, the plot twists make up for it in the end. I finished the book in a state of disbelief. This is the way a book should capture its reader’s attention and imagination. Readers should be transported into the environments in which the characters find themselves. Girl in Ice does this well. This is the first book I have read by Erica Ferencik, but I am sure it will not be the last.

Count to Three

Riveting. Emotional. Heart-breaking. An edge-of-your-seat, stay-up-way-too-late thriller are just a few ways to describe T.R. Ragan’s Count to Three. It has been a very long time since a thriller has kept me up past midnight because I could not put it down. It was worth the three or four hours of sleep I missed.

Dani Callahan is so excited to hear everything about her daughter Tinsley’s first day of kindergarten. A flat tire makes her a few minutes late. Those few minutes change Dani’s life forever. When she gets to the school, Tinsley is no longer there.

Her never-ending search for Tinsley leads Dani to become a private investigator. She uses all she has learned in her search for Tinsley to help other families find loved ones and have the closure she never got. No matter how much time passes, Dani refuses to give up the search for Tinsley, even after an inmate confesses to Tinsley’s murder.

Quinn is Dani’s assistant. She is dealing with her own feelings of loss after her mother abandoned her and her father when Quinn was only a teen. Shortly after, Quinn’s father was diagnosed with cancer and died, leaving Quinn with only her grandmother. Quinn became obsessed with following missing persons cases while she tried to understand why her mother left her.

When Ali Cross is abducted in broad daylight, the police want to believe she is a runaway. She ran away once before, and she and her mother did have a big fight that morning before Ali left for school. Nonetheless, Alli’s mom and sister refuse to believe that Ali ran away.

When twelve-year-old Ethan comes forward and tells the police that he saw Ali getting abducted. They find absolutely no evidence of what Ethan says he saw. Ethan has had his own troubles in the past, and the police are reluctant to believe him. That’s when he decides to hire Dani to help find Ali.

The search for Ali leads Dani and Quinn to one dead end after another. At the same time, more questions arise about what really happened to Tinsley. Despite Ali’s ex-husband’s insistence that she stop searching for Tinsley, Dani will not give up.

The more Ethan thinks about the abduction, the more he begins to remember details about what he saw. To say “the devil is in the details” would be an understatement. Ali’s abductor is the devil. The absolute horrors he imposes on Ali are unimaginable. There are times she wishes he would go ahead and kill her to stop the torture and mind games. All the while, he is telling her how much he loves her and how happy they are going to be. She tries her best to play along in the hope he will not find a reason to punish her again before she can figure out how to get away. Bars on the windows, multiple locks that require keys on the doors, and a shock collar that sends excruciating pain through Ali’s body when she gets too close to an exit make it difficult to hold on to hope.

Count to Three is more than just a thriller about an abduction. It is about a mother’s eternal love and never-ending search for her daughter. This is also a story about a girl abandoned by her mother, losing her father, and the pain and guilt that follows. In addition, the author shows the evolution of a troubled child and how the right influences can change his life for the better just because they believe in him.

Twelve-year-old Ethan reminded me a great deal of Mark Sway from John Grisham’s The Client. Ethan knows what he saw, and he refuses to give up on finding Ali. The only thing he sees when he thinks of Ali is the look in her eyes as she was being shoved into the back of the white cargo van. He is haunted by what he saw and feels it is his fault she was taken. He froze and did nothing to stop her abductor.

T.R. Ragan delivers a thriller about every parent’s worst nightmare. The reader cannot help but ache for Dani, Quinn, Ethan, Ali’s mother and sister, and especially Ali. The atrocities described in Count to Three are gut-wrenching and at times difficult to read. The twist the story takes in the end brings a whole new meaning to “shock and awe.” Any reader who enjoys thrillers should add Count to Three to his or her library.

The Last Season

The Last Season, a period novel set in 19th Century England, is a tale that is not uncommon for the time period and setting – spoiled little rich girl defies her father and sneaks away each day to see her best friend, the stable boy, and learn to ride horses, which is strictly forbidden because her mother was killed riding a horse.

Forbidden love is a common theme. Anyone who has read Jane Austen is familiar with the balls of the season when the wealthy young ladies are paraded around hoping to catch the eye of the wealthiest bachelor in attendance. Wealthy parents want wealthy sons-in-law in order to increase their wealth – not unlike an auction really.

These authors, however, throw in a stable boy whose father was a gentleman, accepted in social circles, until he gambled away the family’s fortune and ended up in prison due to unpaid debts. Crispin, unfortunately, only has his father, so most of his childhood is spent in prison alongside his father. Crispin will do anything he can to pay off his father’s debt and rebuild what the family once had. His aunt, who works as a governess, gets him a job as a stable boy. That’s when he meets Cassandra. They become best friends, sharing afternoons riding horses and talking about their dreams. That is, until strategy strikes. Cassandra is thrown from her horse.

The book is somewhat slow in developing the story, but this is where the book starts to get more interesting. Crispin, who is only fifteen, is sent to India alone to find work. He is just a child all alone on a boat for almost a month. Fortunately, he meets the Foresters, a nice couple who takes Crispin under their wing, introduces him to other boys working in India, and helps him find a job.

Judson and Mahfood not only take Crispin’s life into a different direction but also use such vivid imagery that the reader experiences the overwhelming sights, smells, and sounds in India as though visiting for the first time. Before Crispin even gets there, Mrs. Forester tries to describe Calcutta to him.

“It is a place of contrasts – crowded and tightly packed bazaars a stone’s throw from open avenues and marble palaces – stifling heat followed cool monsoon rains…The ports are teeming with all manner of people, Indian and British. Some half-dressed and others in finery to rival any aristocrat and everything in between.”

Then, when the boat finally arrives in India, twenty-three days after setting sail, Crispin enters a world so far removed from England, and not just geographically.

“cacophonous sounds…pungent smells…so many people, teeming like a colony of ants…colors…a dazzling kaleidoscope of color.”

What is most interesting about The Last Season is not how the story ends. Rather, it is the journeys Crispin and Cassandra take to get there. As they grow up so far apart, a not-so-chance encounter takes them back to their childhood and the bond they shared as children – best friends. This prompts secret correspondence with each telling the other all about their lives, including significant others and plans for the future.

The Last Season is more than a romance. It is a story about true friendship, love, and what is important in life. Regardless of the period in which it is written or the circumstances in which the reader finds herself or himself, the messages apply. The themes are universal across time periods and geographic locations as well as socioeconomic status. Everyone can relate to love, loss, friendship, sacrifice, and family. The descriptions of everything from the environment to the dresses the young ladies wear are so rich that the readers need only to close their eyes and open their minds to experience it all alongside Crispin and Cassandra. Starting off rather slowly, the deeper one gets into the book, the more difficult it becomes to put down.

Wild Child

Coffee Shop Girl, Book 6

“Sweet baby pineapple!” as Lizbeth would say.

Ellie has always been the most mysterious of the Coffee Shop characters. She was very young when she and Lizbeth escaped an abusive home, traveling day and night, to show up on Bethany’s doorstep in the early hours of the morning.

In all of the Coffee Shop books, Ellie has always been in the background. Wild Child puts Ellie front and center. Not only does the reader get to know Ellie better, but Ellie gets to know herself better. Katie Cross breaks through Ellie’s tough façade and shows us who Ellie really is and what she really wants.

Ellie and Devin were inseparable from the moment they met. Devin made Ellie feel safe. He was not just a sense of safety for her. He was her best friend. When Devin leaves to join the Marines, Ellie’s life is turned upside down.

Three years later, Ellie has figured out life without Devin. She has avoided him since the night of his senior prom, when he told her he joined the Marines and would be leaving. Then he shows up in Pineville unannounced – not just in Pineville, but at the Frolicking Moose while Ellie is working.

Multiple deployments to Afghanistan haunt Devin every waking hour. He sometimes has difficulty distinguishing between what is real and what is not, forgetting where he is due to flashbacks from severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Is Ellie really in front of him, or is he just dreaming of her?

All Ellie can think about is how Devin left her. Her mother always told her men leave. She has to take care of herself, which she has successfully done since Devin left.

Will Ellie be able to forgive Devin for leaving her? For making plans for a life without her while at the same time making plans for their future? Will she even give him a chance to explain why he made the decisions he made without her?

Will Devin be able to explain to Ellie why he left? Will he be able to tell her about the nightmares of Afghanistan? Can he ever get past the horrors of what he experienced there? Can Ellie really rescue him the way she did all those times he was surrounded by death and thought he would not make it back home?

Wild Child, the latest addition to the Coffee Shop Series, is a tale of survival. Ellie and Devin do not want to depend on each other until each other is all they have. A very unfortunate turn of events makes what should be an easy hike guiding clients into the mountains for a few days into a literal fight for survival. Losing their supplies makes Ellie and Devin turn to each other to make it out alive. How can they survive the unpredictable weather, bears, and unfamiliar territory with no food or supplies? Can Ellie saver herself and Devin? Can they save each other? They both are longing to be rescued on so many levels.

Anyone who follows Katie Cross knows how much she loves the mountains. She shares that love throughout the Coffee Shop Series, especially in Wild Child. The mountains are Ellie’s escape. They bring her peace. That peace is shattered, however, in Wild Child. Nonetheless, the imagery takes the reader to the mountains. Katie Cross describes the mountains in such vivid detail because she has been there. She uses all her senses to experience the mountains, and she takes her readers on that journey with her.

Every book in the Coffee Shop Series tells a different love story. However, they are so much more than romance novels. They are also adventures novels. Pineville is a beautiful mountain town that offers refuge to all who visit – the characters and the readers. I visit Pineville often, even when I am not reading one of Katie’s books. Hopefully, Katie Cross will take her readers back to Pineville to get to know more of its residents and see what other adventures await and what love stories are yet to be written.

Unholy Murder

A Jane Tennison Novel (Book 1)

Unholy Murder is my first novel featuring Detective Jane Tennison. It was not until I finished this one that I discovered there were more preceded it.

Tennison and Boon make a great team. Jane has the experience Simon lacks, and Simon has a way with people that seems to be lacking in Jane. Maybe Tennison’s experience has jaded her and caused her to become less patient and less trusting. Whatever the reason, the author gave Jane a partner who complements her.

Unholy Murder is suspenseful and kept my interests throughout. Just when I thought I figured out the truth, the author throws in a plot twist. The author solves this cold case but leaves a particularly important part of the story line open. I am interested to see where the author takes Bishop Malone.

This was my first novel from the UK that kept British terminology. Google was my friend as I read Unholy Murder. I learned many terms we do not use in the United States. I do not mind that. In fact, I am happy to learn new terminology. However, the context clues were the heroes when it came to many acronyms that are used. Typically, acronyms are explained when they are first introduced. That was not the case in Unholy Murder. Nonetheless, I did not let that take away from my enjoyment of the book.

The only thing I did not care for in Unholy Murder was that the author seems to carry a high level of disdain for the Catholic church. No one with any kind of moral compass would agree there is a special place in hell for people who abuse their power to abuse others, especially children. Referencing the Catholic church in such general terms stereotypes all Catholics. That is not fair to the parishioners all over the world who fight for the safety of children and who are as angered as everyone else about abuses of power, particularly where children are involved, and cover-ups that put the church’s image above the welfare of children. The people who cover up abuse of children are as guilty as the people who carry out the abuse.

If you or someone you know is being abused, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) TTY 1-800-787-3224.

All Our Darkest Secrets

Martyn Ford

Webster defines riveting as “having the power to fix the attention.” That would be an understatement for All Our Darkest Secrets. It has been a long time since I have read a thriller that left me in such shock at the ending. Martyn Ford could not have told this story or ended this book any better than he did.

Ford sets the tone for his latest novel All Our Darkest Secrets in the prologue, which gives a glimpse into the earliest days of the love story of James and Rosie, back when James’s love for Rosie is unrequited.

James is a DEA agent married to Rose, the only girl he has ever loved. He has been there for her triumphs and her sorrows. He has kept her secrets, even from childhood. When she crosses a deadly line, James must choose between helping Rosie or doing the right thing.

Throughout the book, James has flashbacks to his childhood, when he was growing up with Rosie and her brother Matthew, James’s best friend. At times, James is tormented by these vivid recollections and unsure if he is in that moment or just remembering. The lines are even blurred for the reader on a few occasions. As the back story is coming into better focus for the reader, the current situation in which James finds himself begins to make more sense.

Ford presents an enthralling tale of love and loyalty. All Our Darkest Secrets has plot twists that keep the reader anxious to know what happens next. The story is told in such a way that the reader can feel James’s dilemma and fear and pure horror when Rosie’s darkest secret of all is revealed.

All Our Darkest Secrets kept me on the edge of my seat. Having James and Rosie becoming friends first before they were lovers was refreshing in a world where friendship is often overlooked. It was love at first sight for James. However, in time, he won over Rosie’s heart. Or did he? The reader is left to decide for himself/herself whether Rosie truly loved James or if she was using his feelings for her to manipulate him. James will do anything for Rosie, but how far will James go to protect the woman he loves? How far will Rosie go to protect her secrets?

Golden Girl

This is not the first book I have read. It is not even the first book I have ready by Elin Hilderbrand. However, it is the first time I have seen so many people allow one line in the book to determine whether they liked the book. I had forgotten about Vivi’s reference to Anne Frank until I read so many reviews that referenced it. Maybe it was my brain injury that caused me to forget (short-term memory is overrated, after all). The more likely reason is because that one line had absolutely no effect on the story itself. It was a sarcastic comment by a girl straight out of college who wants to be a writer. She is not concerned about appropriateness of her comment. Plus, the comment was made in the late 1980’s or early 1990’s, a beautiful time when readers were able to put fiction into context and not be so easily offended. If an adult says she or he has never said something they probably should not have said, that adult is lying.

All this criticism falls under, “Those without sin cast the first stone,” or “People who throw stones shouldn’t live in glass houses.” Should one “ill-advised” (as one reviewer called it) comment define an entire body of work? If so, then any one thing any one of us probably should not have done should define how other people see us. At 52, I have made many mistakes. I have made many “ill-advised” comments. None of which makes me a bad person. Likewise, one comment does not make Golden Girl a bad book.

Elin Hilderbrand is an exceptionally talented author. I have read several of her books, and I enjoyed each one – including Golden Girl. The premise of the story is lovely. We have all lost someone we love. Many of us have found ourselves wondering what that loved one would think of the decisions we have made. We look for a sign to show us that the person we lost is still with us. Golden Girl tells the story of losing a loved one from many points of view.

The dynamic between the siblings is spot on. Elin Hilderbrand expresses the different ways they deal with grief and with each other in a way that is believable. As one of six, I have a rather good understanding of how different siblings can be.

As I expected, Golden Girl is an easy, enjoyable read, great for a trip to the beach. Elin Hilderbrand uses vivid imagery to take her readers to Nantucket. It is a shame that she is being vilified by the morality police who are truly in no position to judge. I will recommend this book to my friends, and I might even give it as gifts.

Great job Elin Hilderbrand! Since I just ordered her next book to be released in 2022, I cannot imagine that she will be retiring any time soon. That is fine with me. All the ridiculousness surrounding Golden Girl just makes me want to create a special place in my library just for her books.

Blood of Zeus Trilogy

Born with strength beyond human comprehension, Maximus Kane has always wondered why is is so different from everyone else. Where does get his massive stature and inexplicable strength. Ever since paralyzing his best friend, Maximus has kept himself from getting too close to anyone.

Now Maximus Kane is Professor Kane. All the girls want to be in his class. Maximus never seems to notice. That is, until Kara Valari walks into his classroom.

Kara Valari is just one member of the famous Valari family from Beverly Hills. The difference with Kara is that she does not want the attention she commands everywhere she goes. Kara just wants to focus on books and studying literature, which is why she is in Professor Kane’s class on Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Maximus and Kara are drawn together from the moment they met. Unfortunately, Kara belongs to someone else. Breaking her vow could destroy her whole family. Maximus has never wanted anything or anyone more than he wants Kara. Kara has never felt drawn to anyone the way she is drawn to Maximus. She has known her fate her whole life.

Will Kara keep her vow and fulfill her destiny? Will Maximus break out of his prison and let Kara in? How far is Maximus willing to go for the woman he loves? Is Dante’s description fo Hell real?

The Blood of Zeus trilogy is a great read! The books kept me interested in want to know what happened next. Each book provides unexpected twists and turns. The authors kept me involved with these books and invested in these characters. Maximus is swoon worthy. Kara makes the reader want to root for her. The descriptions of the attraction between Maximus and Kara are quite extreme, but even that is explained in Fate of Storms, Blood of Zeus Book 3.

Fate of Storms provided answers to many questions that arose in Blood of Zeus and Hearts of Fire. The authors added an element to Kara that no one could have seen coming. My favorite surprise, however, came when I finished Fate of Storms. The back cover shows an advertisement for Bridge of Souls, Blood of Zeus Book 4. I cannot wait!!

Order all the Blood of Zeus books here.

Shy Girl

Coffee Shop Girl Book 5

In Fate of Storms, Blood of Zeus Book 3 by Meredith Wild and Angel Payne, Maximus Kane travels through the gates of Hell to fight Hades himself. Maximus shows great courage and strength throughout the book to rescue the love of his life. That is nothing compared to the courage and Strength Dagny Taylor must summon to face the man who has occupied her mind since she was a little girl. When given the opportunity to confront the father she has never met, Dagny shows strength and courage that makes Maximus seem weak.

Shy Girl is another example of Katie Cross’s ability to create characters who are not only endearing but also relatable. Although the latest installment of the Coffee Shop Girl series is a love story, the romance takes a back seat to the story of courage and overcoming obstacles to discover truth – no matter how much it may hurt.

Everyone has hurdles to cross. These hurdles seem like mountains to Dagny, who was born with a speech impediment. Her mother will not help fill the gaps where Dagny’s father is concerned. Accidentally discovering her father’s identity sends Dagny’s life on a whole new trajectory. She becomes obsessed with saving money to travel to Texas to meet her father – one of the wealthiest men in Texas.

While working at the Frolicking Moose Coffee Shop, Dagny watches Jayson Hernandez bring a different girl in for coffee every Friday night. He always arrives at the same time, sits at the same table, and orders the same drink, but with a different girl. Dagny and her friend Serafina cannot figure out if Jayson is a serial dater or just extremely picky. They also cannot understand why he will not as Dagny out. He is completely oblivious to the fact that Dagny has been in love with him since he was a senior and she was a freshman in high school.

Attending a destination wedding on a private island in the Caribbean with Jayson puts Dagny on a collision course for heartache. The only reason Jayson asked Dagny to go was so he would not be there alone when his ex-girlfriend showed up with someone else. The only reason she accepted was because Jayson’s best friend is marrying her half-sister, the sister who knows nothing about her.

Dagny goes as Jayson’s friend, not a fake girlfriend…until she meets Victoria. If ever a fictional character needed to be throat punched, it was Victoria. Will Jayson finally see what has been under his nose all these years, or will the man of Dagny’s dreams leave her with a broken heart? And what will happen when Jayson discovers the truth about why Dagny agreed to attend the wedding with him?

Shy Girl portrays someone with a speech impediment perfectly. When working with students who had a stutter, I found that the more anxious they became, the worse their stutter became. I also witnessed the cruelty of people like Victoria toward others who are different than they are. Singing will often help people communicate without a stutter. Mel Tillis was a perfect example of this, and Dagny Taylor discovers this as well. Katie Cross goes above and beyond to ensure that what she writes, although fictional, is true to the image she wants to portray. The reader can sympathize with the characters and their struggles and becomes invested in these characters.

I literally cried at the end of this book (not the first time Katie Cross has made me cry). When a book makes me cry, that means that it was good. It was not just good, it was great. I felt like I knew Dagny and Jayson and their friends. Quite honestly, I am ready to move to Pineville and enjoy the mountain life. (I currently live in a beach town.)

Fighter

Coffee Shop Girl Book 4

“All bad days breed a need for ice cream.” Ben and Sera definitely need some ice cream.

Benjamin Mercedy is a champion MMA fighter who owns a gym in Pineville. He moved to Pineville when he suddenly became a single father to Ava, his six-year-old daughter. Known as one of the best fighters in the country, Ben is completely unprepared for the fight he will soon face – the most important fight of his life.

Serafina Courdray lives a nomadic life. She travels all over the world, never staying in one place more than a few months. She is in Pineville to enjoy a mountain summer and help her brother recover from shoulder surgery. Sera has no idea that the brother she once new has been replaced with a drug-addicted man she hardly recognizes.

Sparks fly as soon as Ben and Sera meet. Neither is looking for a relationship. Ben just wants to help her learn how to defend herself, and Sera just wants to learn self-defense. Since Ben will not allow Sera to pay for the one-on-one instruction, she brings him food instead. It is not long before Sera has cooked her way into not only Ben’s but also Ava’s heart. It soon becomes apparent that what each of them feels is much more than friendship.

When the ghost of Sadie, Ava’s dead mother, throws a dark shadow over their relationship, Ben is determined not to treat Sera the way Sadie treated him. Sera does so much for Ben and Ava, and Ben feels like he does not reciprocate Sera’s generosity. In order to avoid heartache, Ben determines what is best for their relationship. Instead of allowing Sera to continue to help him navigate the waters of single parenthood while he fights the demons left by Sadie, Ben pushes Sera away. The final blow comes when Ben texts Sera to tell her that she will no longer need to worry about taking care of Ava after school because he will be leaving the MMA Center earlier to spend time with Ava.

No more Ben. No more Ava. No more reason to stay in Pineville.

Ben must figure out what he and Ava need before it is too late. Will he give Sera a reason to stay? Will Sera finally find a place to call home?

Fighter is about loss and fear and communication – or the consequences of no communication. Ben and Sera are both lost souls. The difference is that Ben has Ava to consider. He has to do what is best for Ava, even if it means letting Sera go.

Katie Cross has another home run with Fighter. The entire Coffee Shop Girl series is phenomenal. With each book, more characters enter the lives of Bethany, Lizbeth, and Ellie. More battles are fought – some battles lost; some battles won. The Frolicking Moose Coffee Shop may be in the background of each story, but it is central to them all. I travel to the Frolicking Moose often (have the shirt to prove it). Each person I meet there is a new friend. Katie Cross does not just tell stories in her books. She brings people to life. She makes her settings real to her readers. Pineville is a place every reader wants to visit or move to eventually. After each book, I look forward to the next. This is a series that Katie Cross’s readers want to last for many books to come.

Jane’s Melody

by Ryan Winfield

Jane’s Melody is a story of love and lost and fear and courage. When Jane loses her daughter, she meets Caleb, a young musician struggling to make ends meet. When she finds him beaten up and sleeping on a park bench, she takes him home to get him to do some work for her in her yard and garden. Jane is looking for anyone who can tell her about her daughter Melody’s life before her overdose. She believes Caleb was Melody’s boyfriend, so she thinks he is the connection she needs to help her deal with the grief from losing her daughter.

The more Jane gets to know Caleb, the more he stays on her mind. She cannot stop thinking about his beautiful green eyes and his chiseled features, the sweat glistening off his body as he works shirtless in the sun. Should her daughter’s boyfriend be off-limits? Besides, he is way too young for Jane, yet he is all she thinks about.

This book is an easy, enjoyable love story. When Caleb tells Jane the truth about his relationship with Melody, everything changes.

Although I enjoyed this book and bought the second installment, I am not particularly motivated to read Jane’s Harmony. Usually, a series of books (whether two, three, or ten) will leave many unanswered questions until the very last book. Jane’s Melody did not do that. Series such as The Network Series by Katie Cross and the Blood of Zeus trilogy by Meredith Wild and Angel Payne did not read as if they were stand-alone books. The reader is left wanting to read the next book to see what happens. Unfortunately, Ryan Winfield did not do that with Jane’s Melody. Even if I never ready Jane’s Harmony, I do not feel like I am missing anything. I am sure I will eventually read Jane’s Harmony, but I have no sense of urgency, no need to know what happens next. The questions I had were answered in Jane’s Melody.

Ridiculously Easy Orange Cake

Recipe from The Cookware Geek

I had some fresh oranges that no one was eating, so I decided to make a cake. I found this delicious recipe from Easy Orange Blender Cake – The Cookware Geek. The glaze is a lemon gaze recipe, and I have no idea where I got it. I substituted lemon juice with fresh-squeezed orange juice, but I should have cut the recipe in half. It was delicious, but way too much glaze for this cake.

Warrior, Audrey Hepburn

“For once in your life, Mummy, use your bloody name!”

Audrey’s son Luca could not have known how those words would stay with his mother for the rest of her life.

Warrior, Audrey Hepburn is another example of how Robert Matzen becomes intimately acquainted with his subjects. Audrey may be gone, but her legacy lives on in her sons Sean and Luca, and now her passion is being shared with the world through Warrior.

In Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II, Matzen introduces a young Audrey who dreamed of becoming a ballerina. Then the Nazi’s came. Audrey lived through World War II under Nazi occupation. She witnessed first-hand the atrocities of war – images that would haunt her the rest of her life. She also remembered the hunger – not knowing when, or even if, she would eat again. Robert Matzen helps his readers experience the Hunger Winter of 1944. It was this memory that would drive Audrey to sacrifice her own health and ignore any perceived danger so she could use her “bloody name” to show the world the true victims of senseless wars – the children.

In Warrior, Robert Matzen exposes the real Audrey Hepburn. Beyond the glitz and glamour was a mother who never understood why people were so fascinated by her. She never saw her outer beauty. This book gives the world a clear picture of Audrey’s inner beauty, a beauty that was so much more than people could see on a screen.

Audrey never thought she was special. She never used her name to solicit special treatment for herself or for Sean and Luca. When Luca saw his grandfather lying in a hospital bed left to die, he pleaded with his mum, “For once in your life, Mummy, use your bloody name!” When she did, a bed miraculously became available at a hospital closer to family. Audrey saw the power of her name, and Luca’s words would stay with Audrey and become a driving force in her work with UNICEF.

When Audrey and “her Robbie” (Robert Wolders, her partner) made their first trip for UNICEF in which they looked into the eyes of starving children, Audrey was immediately transported back to the Hunger Winter. She recognized the look in their eyes. She remembered how it felt to suffer the same symptoms these children were suffering. She had to do something. Luca’s words came back to her, “use your bloody name!”

Warrior, Audrey Hepburn shares Audrey’s passion for children and how she used her name as much and as often as she could. This “Mother Teresa in designer jeans” was on a mission to save the worlds children. Luca once stated, “UNICEF expected Audrey Hepburn would be a pretty princess for them at galas. But what they really got was a badass soldier.”

No one could have ever imagined just how hard this soldier would fight for the children of the Developing World. She went into war zones. She showed the seemingly forgotten victims of men’s greed love and compassion like they had never seen. These victims did not know Audrey Hepburn the actress. They only knew the lady who brought smiles, who brought love, who hugged them and cared for them, and the lady who brough the trucks with food and medicine.

Audrey spent her final years as a fierce warrior. As shy as she was, she found the courage to speak to hundreds and thousands about UNICEF and the children they were trying to save. Journalists sometimes accused her of using UNICEF to bring attention to herself. The truth was that she was using herself, putting herself in harm’s way, sacrificing herself, to bring attention to UNICEF and the children.

Warrior, Audrey Hepburn is the portrait of a woman who did not see herself the way the world saw her. She truly was a warrior who spent her whole life putting others before herself. Matzen may not have ever met Audrey Hepburn, but through his research and the relationships he developed with people who did know her, there is no doubt he now has a very special relationship with Audrey Hepburn, and he makes the reader believe that he was right beside her every step of the way, fighting for the world’s children. His imagery is so vivid that one forgets the author was not actually there. Matzen shows the world Audrey’s passion. He shows the readers the world through Audrey’s eyes.

Aside from raising Sean and Luca, Audrey Hepburn was more passionate about saving the innocent children of the world than anything else. Everything she did was for the children. When asked by a reporter if her role at UNICEF was the most rewarding, she replied, “I’m not playing a role. Roles are imaginary and fantasy. There’s no fantasy to this. It’s tough heartbreaking reality.”

Yes, Audrey Hepburn represented beauty and elegance and grace. More importantly, Audrey Hepburn represented hope – hope to a world in which no one should be forced to live. Robert Matzen takes his readers to that world.

Runaway

Coffee Shop Girl, Book 3

Coffee Shop Girl gave us Bethany and Maverick’s story. Lovesick gave us Lizbeth and JJ’s story. Ellie, Bethany and Lizbeth’s younger sister will tell her story in Wild Child. Runaway is a quite unexpected story of love, loss, trust, safety, fear, and triumph. This is the story of Mark Bailey and Stella.

Mark Bailey is JJ’s twin brother. After JJ marries Lizbeth, Mark decides to go full “mountain man.” Stella is his accountant with whom he has bumped heads for the past few years as she has tried to reign him in when he had another business venture idea. When Stella shows up at Adventura unannounced, she is the one surprised by Mark’s appearance when he opens the door. Mark is not expecting company, and when he opens the door, he is shirtless with messy hair and beard. (All I could imagine was Jason Mamoa from that point on, but I digress…) Stella is so stunned by Mark’s appearance, that all she can do is laugh. All Mark can wonder is why she is there.

Runaway is a wonderful addition to the Coffee Shop Girl Series. Mark and JJ did everything together their entire lives. Then JJ met Lizbeth. (You can read all about that in Lovesick.) When Stella shows up on Mark’s doorstep, he cannot imagine what she is doing at Adventura. She is supposed to be in Connecticut. It does not take Mark long to figure out that Stella is running, Mark can tell that she is scared. He believes he can keep her safe at Adventura. No one would travel that canyon road to go out to the middle of the woods so far from civilization. Katie Cross has created the definition of serenity in Adventura. The setting is where I often find myself traveling in my daydreams. When I want to escape, but I cannot leave the house, Adventura is the next best thing – the trees, the sounds of nature, water hitting the shore at the lake, the beauty of the snow-capped mountains, the peace of leaving the day-to-day stress of life – it can all be found at Adventura.

There is no way anyone can foresee how Stella’s arrival will change Mark’s life. After all, what can an accountant who likes everything in order have in common with a mountain man who hates details and drops everything in the blink of an eye when he gets an idea? Seriously?

Katie Cross delivers a surprising connection that no one could have foreseen. The more Mark gets to know about Stella, the more real her fears become, and the more both their lives could be in danger. Neither one wants to talk to the other, so how can they possibly help each other? The reader is taken on an emotional roller coaster as Stella’s fears are revealed. I laughed, cried, got angry, felt happiness. Name the emotion, and I felt it reading Runaway. Nonetheless, the is one roller coaster I did not want to end.

Not just Runaway but also Coffee Shop Girl and Lovesick, are wonderful romance novels with endearing characters and beauty that can only come from nature. Katie Cross writes clean novels that I would not mind allowing a mature teenager to read. Runaway was a wonderful addition, but it is not the only surprise Katie Cross has up her sleeve, and I can hardly wait.

Holiday Inn Express and Suites

Flowood, MS

My mom, Godson (9), and I took a trip to Flowood for my niece’s fifth birthday party. It was a wonderful weekend, and we couldn’t have been happier. The location for this Holiday Inn Express and Suites was perfect. We were about five minutes from the party and only ten minutes from St. Paul Catholic Church, where we attended mass on Sunday morning. The City of Flowood is kept clean and well-maintained. This was the second time this month that we have visited this area, and we were impressed both times. It’s a beautiful area. We felt safe and had no trouble finding what we needed.

The one thing that stood out for me at this particular IHG hotel was that we did not have to “check out.” We were given a bill under the door and instructed to leave our keys either in the room or in a basket at the front desk. During our last trip, three of the four hotels we used were IHG hotels. This was the first one to give us our bill and not require that we check out at the front desk. If this was an option for the other three hotels, it was not made clear to us when we checked in. Nonetheless, we enjoyed our stays at all the Holiday Inn Express and Suites locations.

The High Priestess

The Historical Collection, Book 1

“She was quiet, lovely grace.” But she’s a lavanda maid. What difference can she make?

The Eastern Network is in turmoil. Workers have no rights, no education. High Priest Hodei’s reign is leaving a legacy of cruelty. The workers need a savior. They need La Principessa – Giver of Hope. How can a lavanda maid be what the workers need?

Vittoria’s story is a story of struggle and perseverance. She faces unimaginable tests of her courage and her own beliefs. Everything Vittoria does is for her family and the other workers. But how far is she willing to go?

Mateo is Hodei’s oldest son and the rightful heir to the throne. However, Romeo, the son who actually grew up in Magnolia Castle with The High Priest, is willing to fight Mateo to the death in order to become the next High Priest when Hodei dies. The years with Hodei have made Romeo just as evil as his father – maybe even more. Mateo knows he will have to kill his brother in order to save his own life and the Network. But can he kill his own brother? What does a simple lavanda maid have to do with this battle for the thrown and control of the Network?

The High Priestess is a story about survival. It is a story about love and deceit. Above all else, Vittoria’s story is about family and love and compassion and faith. Katie Cross has given us a book that encompasses the full spectrum of emotions. There are surprises in every chapter. This is just Book 1 of The Historical Collection. I can hardly wait to see where Katie Cross takes Vittoria next.

Little Audrey’s Daydream

The Life of Audrey Hepburn

If you love Audrey Hepburn, you will love this book. Sean Hepburn Ferrer and his wife Karin tell the story of this amazing woman in a way that is relatable to children.. Not only will children like the story, but the illustrations are phenomenal. I read this book to my four-year-old niece, and she loved it. Audrey Hepburn is the kind of role model all girls should want to emulate. Little Audrey’s Daydream: The Life of Audrey Hepburn is a wonderful way to introduce her to a whole new generation. (Although this book is available in audiobook, I highly recommend purchasing the hard cover.)

Drago’s Seafood Restaurant

Drago’s was the first restaurant we visited on our Trip Down Memory Lane. It is very conveniently located on Constitution Avenue just down the street from our hotel – Crowne Plaza Executive Center (I’ll get to that in a minute.) I’ve heard about Drago’s for years, but this was the first time I had eaten there. It was lunch, so I didn’t want anything heavy. I ordered a cup of seafood gumbo with a Caesar salad. The food was delicious. What was better than the food was the service. I travel with a service dog, and they were very accommodating- even brought her a bowl for water and a plate of bread. I will say that dinner prices were a bit high, but the food is good.

Forever His

Precious Love Series, Book 3

“Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth! You have set glory in the heavens…When I consider the heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place, what is mankind that You are mindful of them, human beings that You care for them?…Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth.” Psalm 8.

Forever His takes Jayden and Angie around the world on their year-long honeymoon. They travel to the Mount Everest Base Camp. They volunteer where Saint Theresa (formerly Mother Theresa) used to work. Jayden and Angie meet new people along the way, doing their best to connect with other Christians, even in places like Japan where Christianity is not a major religion. They do not set out to convert others, however. They live their lives in a way that, they pray, shows God’s love. Although they may not actively set out to convert others, they are always available to talk to anyone who has questions and/or just needs a friend, never passing up the opportunity to witness to others and share God’s love with anyone willing to receive it.

Forever His takes Jayden and Angie around the world on their year-long honeymoon. They travel to the Mount Everest Base Camp. They volunteer where Saint Theresa (formerly Mother Theresa) used to work. Jayden and Angie meet new people along the way, doing their best to connect with other Christians, even in places like Japan where Christianity is not a major religion. They do not set out to convert others, however. They live their lives in a way that, they pray, shows God’s love. Although they may not actively set out to convert others, they are always available to talk to anyone who has questions and/or just needs a friend, never passing up the opportunity to witness to others and share God’s love with anyone willing to receive it.

That does not mean their honeymoon is without challenges. Jayden is very adventurous, much more so than Angie, who grew up on a ranch in Montana. Jayden is also still recovering from a brain injury and feels he has something to prove. Angie reluctantly agrees to adventures she would rather not experience, but she wants to make Jayden happy. Will she regret allowing Jayden to push himself and agreeing to always do what he wants even when she has reservations? Or will she be glad he pushed her to be more adventurous and leave her comfort zone?

Meanwhile, back in Australia, Ben and Tessa are facing struggles of their own. Ben has been working for a very well-respected accountant who has been passing more and more work to Ben. The easier life they were hoping for when they moved to the country is beginning to be more and more like the life they thought they had escaped when they left Brisbane. Tessa is not the only one who sees the dark circles under Ben’s eyes growing darker. Jayden and Angie become more concerned each time they video chat. Naomi and Bella, Ben and Tessa’s daughters, also miss Ben and miss spending time with him as he becomes more consumed by work – at the office and at home. Everyone is shocked when the truth comes out. How will they ever survive such scandal? Will their lives ever be the same?

Forever His is a story of love and faith, of trials and triumphs, of actions and consequences. What I enjoyed the most was how Jayden, who has come so far from where he was when he ran away with his mother, often recalls scriptures when he sees something new. For example, while at a teahouse “on the edge of town and the deck had uninterrupted views of the snow-capped mountains, Psalm 19 verse 1 popped into Jayden’s mind: ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.’” I often find myself looking at a beautiful sunrise or sunset or driving along the beach, and I cannot understand how anyone can see such beauty and doubt God’s presence.

In Forever His, Juliette Duncan also reminds us that we are never alone. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” We all need this remind from time to time.

Lovesick

Coffee Shop Girl, Book 2

“I won’t slide off the canyon road. I won’t plunge into the icy river below. I won’t die tonight.”

This is Lizbeth’s mantra as she navigates the snowy canyon road in the middle of a blizzard. “This is fine. Everything is fine. I’m not panicked.” This is what Lizbeth tells herself just before her car slides off the canyon road and through a break in the trees. How would anyone ever see her on the deserted canyon road? She has to find a way out of the car before it plunges to the icy river below. Any movement could cause the car to move forward. Lizbeth has no choice. She must get herself out of the car before she falls hundreds of feet into the icy river with her car, which she is certain will fall any minute.

This is the first tragedy Lizbeth faces in Lovesick. Fortunately for her, JJ Bailey is close by when tragedy strikes. Lizbeth’s story is one that is unlike any other. This is a girl who has been through so much in her life. She has seen so much heartache, and she has seen story-book romance, not only in books but also with her sister Bethany and her husband Maverick. This is the kind of romance Lizbeth has dreamed of her whole life. Almost 1,000 romance novels line the walls of her tiny apartment above the Frolicking Moose. Romance has seen her through so many difficult times. It is the one thing her mother gave her – hope for a life better than the one she chased until the day she died. But is romance real, or is it just made up in books? She is in the perfect setting for a romance novel. Why aren’t all the moments that should be romantic lacking romance?

JJ Bailey has been hurt. He no longer believes in romance. He is determined to stay a bachelor after he had his heart broken. Lizbeth is not part of his plan. When she moves to Adventura to help straighten the mess that is Mark Bailey, JJ becomes more and more intrigued by her. He is determined to make her understand that romance is not real. She is determined to provide scientific evidence that romance is real. They are so far apart on the issue that there seems no way to meet in the middle. The respect they have for each other grows exponentially as they each try to make their points known and understood while, at the same time, trying to understand the other’s point of view. Who is right? Is romance real? Is romance just found in books? Are love and romance the same thing? These are just a few of the questions Lizbeth and JJ try to work out.

Katie Cross has gifted us with yet another story that should not be missed. This is the second installment of the Coffee Shop Girl series. It picks up five years after Coffee Shop Girl ends. Katie tells Lizbeth’s story in such a way that the reader can experience the evolution in not only Lizbeth but also JJ. (Full disclosure: I was crying within the first fifty pages.) I am absolutely in love with these characters. Lovesick is a book that can be enjoyed by anyone. Whether you are in love now, have been in love, or are still looking for love, you will be able to relate to what these characters experience. If you have siblings, twin or not, you will appreciate the dynamic between JJ and Mark, JJ’s twin brother, as well as the relationships between Lizbeth and her sisters Bethany and Ellie. I cannot say enough about how much I loved Lovesick. In fact, I have read it multiple times already. It is that good.

If you have not yet read Coffee Shop Girl, you may get it and Lovesick here. These books belong on the shelves of every person who loves romance.

Forever Faithful

Precious Love Series, Book 2

“I’m sorry, Mr. Williams, your son is in intensive care in Royal Brisbane. He’s in a coma after receiving a punch to the head…He was assaulted…I’d suggest you come straight away. Your son may not make it.”

A phone call no parent ever wants to receive is how Ben, Tessa, and Jayden’s stories begin in Forever Faithful. After all they have endured – all the heartache, all the triumphs – Ben and Tessa find themselves faced with the most difficult challenge of all. They could lose their son.

When Ben and Tessa get to Brisbane, they are faced with even more heartache. Tessa’s parents, Eleanor and Telford, live in Brisbane, so they will be watching Ben and Tessa’s daughters Naomi and Bella. However, Telford’s dementia has progressed to the point that he doesn’t know who Tessa is, much less Ben, Naomi, and Bella. How can they deal with so much heartache and uncertainty thrown at them all at once? The answer is simple: “God truly was their refuge and strength amidst all that life was throwing their way.”

No matter what Ben and Tessa face, they never take their eyes off God. They never lose their faith. Juliette Duncan reminds us that “Anything worth fighting for requires faith and trust, commitment and application, but along the journey God builds character.”

As I read Forever Faithful my heart ached. Just the thought of enduring the pain and challenges they faced brought tears to my eyes. At the same time, I found myself talking to God more often. Instead of being so quick to react to situations, I now find myself pausing and praying for guidance and strength to get through the struggles I face day to day.

I am so grateful for these books by Juliette Duncan and for the example of the characters in these books. I love the underlying theme and pray I can emulate the example given by Ben, Tessa, Jayden, and many other characters in this series about faith, love, forgiveness, and new beginnings.

Forever Cherished

Precious Love Series, Book 1

Forever Cherished continues Ben, Tessa, and Jayden’s stories. However, new characters are introduced, as well as new challenges.

Leah, Ben and Tessa’s first guest at their farm “Misty Morn,” has been fighting demons for forty years. A baby literally taken from her arms at seventeen was just the beginning of Leah’s heartache.

Tessa doesn’t know Leah’s story when Veronica, Leah’s sister, first drops off Leah at “Misty Morn.” Tessa can see sadness in Leah’s eyes and wants desperately to help her. Tessa is no counselor, but she has faith that God brought Leah to “Misty Morn” for a reason. Tessa prays God will use her however He sees fit.

Meanwhile, Tessa is dealing with the decline of her father’s health. The dementia diagnosis does not truly hit Tessa until her mum calls to tell Tessa that her father is missing. He left for work, leaving his phone, and never showed up.

Through learning about Leah’s unimaginable heartache and her father’s illness, Tessa still never loses her faith. She keeps her eyes on God. Tessa reminded me of a very important lesson when reflecting on her father’s dementia: “She could choose to be bitter and resentful, or she could choose to make the most of every day and give thanks for all the precious memories.”

I often forget that I can choose how I feel about things. It has been three years since a traumatic brain injury changed my life forever. I can no longer work in a career I loved. I had to sell my home and have lived with friends since the day of my accident.

Since my accident happened at work, my former employer and their insurance company have done everything they could to interfere with my medical treatment or stop it altogether. Some doctors who have treated me as a result of my accident are still waiting for payments. These doctors and facilities are now coming after me to pay for work-related injuries. Needless to say, anger is an emotion with which I am very familiar.

Juliette Duncan’s books remind me that there are people in much worse situations than I. These books remind me that I cannot control the evil in other people’s hearts. What I can control is my response to that evil and trust that God will see me through.

Triumphant Love

True Love Series, Book 3

Juliette Duncan chose the perfect way to end the True Love Series.

Triumphant Love is a story about forgiveness and new beginnings. This book has a little bit of everything – from deceit to teenage pregnancy to drug addiction. Jayden goes through so much in such a short amount of time, and he is faced with very difficult decisions. Through it all, the people who love him the most never lose faith that God will work on Jayden’s heart.

When Jayden finally decides he wants to know more about God, he approaches it from a very academic point of view. He doesn’t want to just accept what he is being told at church and Bible study. He wants solid, scientific proof. Jayden does his own research while becoming more involved with the youth at the church he attends with Angie, his girlfriend, and her family. Although Angie and her family are devout Christians and very involved in their church, they never pressure Jayden. They talk when he wants to talk and never cease praying for him.

Meanwhile, back in Australia, Ben and Tessa do their best to move on with their lives without Jayden. Their hearts ache to have him home, but they always turn to prayer and never lose faith in God. He has His own plays for Jayden.

This book really pulled at my heartstrings. The one constant that has been the strongest throughout this entire series was Tessa’s faith in God. When I wasn’t reading, I often found myself thinking about Tessa and all the times that may have turned out differently had I been more like her. I cannot change things in my past, but I can try to be more like Tessa in the future.

Tormented Love

True Love Series, Book 3

Ben, Tessa, and Jayden’s journeys continue in Tormented Love.

Juliette Duncan touches on so many issues in this book that it is difficult to review the story without telling the story. The way she presents the issues of mental health, peer pressure, and abusive relationships helps the reader get an understanding of not only the person dealing with the particular issue but also how it affects those around him/her.

This is also a story about love – in good times and bad times. Tormented Love is about forgiveness and appreciation. However, the most important part of Tormented Love is faith. As Ben and Tessa cling to their faith, Jayden still does not truly believe. Jayden is faced with challenges he never expected. He wants to fit in, and peer pressure is difficult to ignore. Jayden may not be fully ready to believe in God, but he cannot ignore the voice in his head reminding him of all the lessons he learned in Sunday School. He knows Ben and Tessa believe in God, no matter what challenges they face. Maybe God is trying to reach him, too.

This is a beautiful love story and a coming-of-age story. People say God works in mysterious ways. Sometimes God allows us to lose some things so we can truly see how blessed we are.

Seafood Stuffed Egg Rolls

These are the Seafood Stuffed Egg Rolls from the Health and Happiness Society Cookbook. They are delicious! I got Sweet Chili Sauce in which to dip the egg rolls, and that added wonderful flavor. This is definitely a recipe I will make again. The one thing we changed was how we rolled the egg roll wrappers. As you can see in the picture, we put the filling at an angle. We found this kept the wrappers closed much better than rolling them straight. This recipe can probably be easily customized as well. For example, one might add crawfish and maybe some Cajun spices. Just an idea…

If you haven’t read the Health and Happiness Society Series, you need to get it now. It is one of the best series I have read in a long time. There was some part of every character to which I related. Now I am enjoying the cookbook that Katie Cross created based on those characters.

Tested Love

True Love Series Book 2

“With God’s help, we’ll get through it.” No truer words have been spoken.

Tested Love finds Ben and Tessa married and, along with Jayden, settling into a new home. Adjusting to being a wife and an instant mother to a teenager is a challenge for anyone. Tessa and Ben find themselves disagreeing quite often when it comes to Jayden. At times Tessa wonders if she really can handle everything or if she is in over her head.

Suddenly, Tessa is faced with two tragedies in the same week. She does not know why these things happened, but she turns to God for help to get through it. She knows that He is the only one who can heal her heart.

Meanwhile, Jayden seems to be drifting farther and farther away from Ben and Tessa. Jayden was devastated when his mother left him to live a life of wealth and fame. Tessa knows he felt rejected and the hurt was beyond what Tessa could imagine. She does everything she can to try to help them bond as a family, even planning trips for the three of them and Jayden’s best friend Neil. Unfortunately, Jayden pushes away from everyone, even Neil.

Throughout all the heartache and pain Ben and Tessa face in Tested Love, they always turn to God. This book is a gentle reminder that God is always in control. Even when things seem hopeless, as at the end of Tested Love, God can see us through all life’s struggles.

Tender Love

Book #1 of the True Love Series

This is such a wonderful book! What’s even better is the book is appropriate for all ages.

Tender Love is the first book in the True Love Series by Juliette Duncan. This is a Christian romance, and faith plays a large role in not only the lives of Ben and Tessa but also most of the other primary characters in the book.

This is the beginning of Ben and Tessa’s love story. Both have been hurt. Ben is a single father of a teenage son who is struggling to cope. It is through prayer and their faith in God that they find the strength to take a chance on love.

My heart overflowed with this book. At times I cried for the pain Ben and his son Jayden were experiencing. There were tears of joy and sadness. It was a nice change to see two characters rely so much on their faith and to turn to their pastors and God for guidance.

This book did truly touch my heart and left me feeling very positive and uplifted. I can hardly wait to see where Ben and Tessa’s journey goes next.

Bitsy’s Apple Strudel Muffins

If you have not read the HEALTH AND HAPPINESS SOCIETY SERIES by Katie Cross, you definitely should. There is even a cookbook that goes with it (two actually), and that is where I found this recipe. These muffins are delicious!! The batter smelled so good I was tempted to eat it before cooking it. You can find the HEALTH AND HAPPINESS SOCIETY here. Click here for the cookbooks.

Waking Up Married

by Mira Lyn Kelly

Waking Up Married has been on my nook for several years. The cover photo makes the book look like a fun read, so I thought, “Why not try this one?” As far as I know, I have never read another book by Mira Lyn Kelly, and I love discovering new (to me) authors.

The cover photo was not misleading. Waking Up Married is a fun read. I read the entire book in one day because I was anxious to see what would become of Megan and Conner.

As one may suspect, this book is about two people who met one night in Las Vegas and thought that getting married on the spur of the moment was a good idea. The premise reminded me of the movie Lover Come Back starring Doris Day and Rock Hudson. Let me assure you, however, this is no Doris Day movie. I would describe it more like Lover Come Back meets 50 Shades of Gray. Somewhere between those two is where you will find Waking Up Married.

This was a fun, fast read. I am glad I finally took the time to read it after seeing it show up on my screen for so long. Mira Lyn Kelly’s imagery is quite vivid. This is a Harlequin Romance, so use caution if you allow your teenager to read it.

A Redbird Christmas

A Redbird Christmas

I love Fannie Flagg’s writing. I’ve read Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café multiple times. I even bought my mom an autographed copy. Fannie Flagg’s books are fun, easy reads, and everyone should have at least one of her books in their library.

A Redbird Christmas is the story of a man who is basically told he will die if he does not get out of Chicago. That is how the story begins anyway. Oswald Campbell and the reader take a journey from Chicago to South Alabama, where they experience southern hospitality at its best along with southern staples like honeysuckle and scuppernong jelly. What neither expects are the surprises found in Lost River, Alabama.

Oswald and the residents of Lost River are astonished by the way their lives become intertwined. So much centers around the way this community comes together to help one another and rally around a little girl no one expected would ever become part of their community. These acquaintances become friends and family and change each other’s lives forever.

I thoroughly enjoyed the characters in A Redbird Christmas. Fannie Flagg made it so easy to see the landscape of Lost River, along with the pelicans and various other species of birds that made the river their home. This is a tale of hope and love and new beginnings. This book shows that faith, hope, and love can get one through the darkest of times to see the beauty that surrounds us all.

This is an endearing tale that leaves the reader felling quite happy – and somewhat encouraged, I must say.

Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe

Mission

“This is not Jimmy’s story. This is the story of the real guy, a quiet, high-strung loner who fought feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt.” – Robert Matzen

As I begin this review, I am in awe of the amount of research that went into writing this book. As with Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3 and Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II,” Robert Matzen spent years researching, conducting interviews, gathering first-hand accounts of events, and visiting actual locations where those events took place. All that work became Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe. This is a book worth reading. I am so grateful for the research that Matzen did to bring this story to the world.

The book begins with a forward by film critic and historian Leonard Maltin. He describes Mission as a “compelling narrative” and “groundbreaking.” Maltin references Matzen’s ability of “getting inside his subject’s head and recreating specific moments in the heat of preparation for combat.” I was already excited about reading Mission. Leonard Maltin’s words only served to feed that excitement.

Robert Matzen begins by telling about Jimmy Stewart’s upbringing. The reader quickly gets a sense of Jimmy’s duty to serve his country. After all, he grew up with stories of the Great War from his father, who left college just weeks before graduating from Princeton to join the Spanish-American War, although he saw no action. Jimmy’s paternal grandfather joined the Union Army and served under Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan and Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer. Sgt. Steward was at Appomattox when Gen. Lee surrendered to Gen. Grant.

In addition to his paternal ancestors, Jimmy Stewart’s maternal grandfather was a colonel in the Eleventh Pennsylvania Reserves and witnessed history at Gettysburg. He became a general by the time the Civil War ended. It seemed military service was Jimmy Stewart’s destiny.

Mission does not just talk about the military life of Jimmy Stewart. The reader gains a thorough understanding of Jimmy’s religious roots, his struggles to get through high school and attend Princeton (following his father’s footsteps), as well as the challenges he faced as he pursued acting and his life after he got to Hollywood, and even the struggles he encountered when he returned home from Europe.

Before reading Mission, I had this preconceived notion that Jimmy Stewart could choose where he went and what he did when he joined the Army. After all, he was Jimmy Stewart, the big-time movie star. I could not have been more wrong! Jimmy loved to fly, and he knew this war would be fought in the air. He was determined to be part of it. He earned his pilot’s license and accumulated as much flight time as possible. When he joined the Army, he had no idea what a fight it would be to get to Europe. Hollywood executives pulled strings to keep him stateside for fear of losing their star. Washington leaders wanted him kept stateside for fear of what a prize he would be if he was shot down and taken captive by Axis forces. Nevertheless, someone saw Jimmy’s determination and resolve. Going against all the notes in Jimmy’s records, he gave Jimmy orders to ship out to Europe and join the US Army’s Eighth Air Force. No one could have prepared him for what was in store.

Most people should understand that war is a horrible thing. No one in his/her right mind would want to go to war. Jimmy Stewart did not want to go to war. However, when war broke out, he did want to serve his country, and he knew his flying abilities would serve as an asset for the Allied Forces. He was correct. Not only his flying abilities but also his leadership skills would prove invaluable to the US Army’s Eight Air Force.

Jimmy Stewart was a man on a mission, and he flew many missions over Europe. He also watched as other flight crews took off to the air over Europe, some never to return. He felt a great deal of responsibility for all those men. Robert Matzen goes into detail to make the reader better understand what life was like for all these men, not just Jimmy Stewart. Matzen writes as if he was telling the story from first-hand experience. His imagery is that vivid.

Mission also includes the story of a young girl born in Germany as Hitler is coming into power. She did not understand, and could not understand, how growing flowers was dangerous. That is what her nice neighbor did before he was taken away to a concentration camp so he could not hurt anyone. Her mother took her to town so she could see history, but she saw burning synagogues and glass scattered about where businesses were destroyed. She stood in a crowd with her parents and listened to a man everyone revered. He frightened her. Years later her father’s diary would give insight into what Germans were being told – and what they were not.

Mission also includes stories of loss and stories of survival against all odds. It is easy to forget that Robert Matzen was not actually there. He has such a thorough understanding of what happened – some from actual survivors themselves. Their stories need to be told just like the stories of those who never returned. No one tells their stories better than Robert Matzen.

Before I retired, I was a high school history teacher. I have learned more from Robert Matzen’s books than I ever taught my classes. His books would be required reading for my students if I were still teaching. When discussing these books with a fellow history teacher, I discovered that he, too, was surprised by some of the information contained in these books. For instance, he had no idea that temperatures would fall to thirty or forty below zero in the airplanes as they flew over Europe. Ice would often form over oxygen masks and oxygen tanks. If flight crews did not pay attention, they could suffocate from ice. Robert Matzen’s books tell what the history books do not. He does not sugarcoat the horrors of war or downplay the nightmares people lived during the war – some continued living those nightmares long after World War II was over.

Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe is an in-depth look at a man who loved his country. He was known all over the world as the laid-back actor everyone loved. However, his happiest time was spent serving his country. Ironically, his happiest time was also the time of his life that left him shaken and forever changed – a time he would not discuss with anyone ever again.

AT&T Sucks

AT&T Internet SUCKS

I am so ready for my contract with AT&T to be up. They want to charge me to cancel my contract to their crappy service. Fortunately, only two months remain on my contract. YAY!!

I actually have an internet booster in my bedroom. As I am typing this, I had to turn off the wifi on my AT&T iPhone in order to access the internet. How sad is it that I have to use my cellular data while sitting beside the internet booster in my house just to get on the internet?

A few years ago I had a bad experience with AT&T, but I was optimistic that maybe, just maybe, they had improved their services. UGH! I am so very disappointed. I actually love my iPhone. I don’t get very good service most of the time, but the phone is great. Again, that’s an AT&T issue. They charge outrageous amounts for unsatisfactory service. AT&T is the epitome of over promise and under deliver.

Blueberry Lemon Cake

Once again I used the rum cake recipe I received from a friend and made substitutions to create this blueberry lemon cake. I didn’t have fresh blueberries, but I did have frozen, and they worked fine. I put a few blueberries in the batter, but not too many. Next time I will probably add more. All I did was substitute lemon juice for the rum in the recipe. I put the blueberries in the bottom of the Bundt pan before I poured the batter in. One thing I did differently with this one that I didn’t do with the pineapple was let it sit in the pan longer with the glaze on it. I gave the glaze about two hours to soak in before I put the cake on a plate. It turned out pretty. It tastes pretty good, too.

Evil Thing

Evil Thing

Cruella De Vil has always been one of the more colorful of the Disney villains. I’ve always seen her as heartless, but entertaining. That view has changed since reading Evil Thing.

Evil Thing is written in first person, which I love. Serena Valentino gives Cruella the opportunity to tell her side of the story. She tells quite the story.

Cruella begins her story in “Hell Hall.” That’s where she lives. There’s a reason for the name, but I will let her tell you that. She quickly jumps back to her childhood so the reader can better understand “what makes me tick,” as Cruella puts it.

After reading Evil Thing, I do have a better understanding of Cruella De Vil. The book gives the reader the sense of actually sitting at a table with a cup of tea listening to Cruella tell the story of her life – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

To me, Evil Thing is more sad than evil. So many times I wished I could reach out and hug Cruella. There were times in her story when she was so misguided and seemed so lost. One thing is for sure, love means different things to different people. Once you read her story, you will understand love as defined by Cruella, and you will understand why the Dalmatians are so important.

I don’t think this is the end of Cruella’s story. Hopefully, Serena Valentina will get another opportunity to sit with Lady De Vil and let us know what happened after their first conversation.

WW84

I’ve been waiting a long time to watch this movie. It was worth the wait!! As expected, Gal Gadot and Chris Pine are brilliant as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor. That is no surprise. I don’t really think it is much of a surprise that Pedro Pascal is the perfect villain as Maxwell Lord. What did surprise me was Kristin Wiig’s Cheetah. WOW! I have always enjoyed Kristen Wiig’s comedic performances. In WW84 she shows the world she can do so much more than comedy. Her character’s transformation from the nerdy, barely noticed, Dr. Barbara Minerva to the powerful, will not be ignored Cheetah is nothing short of phenomenal. Kristen Wiig beautifully portrays the discovery of her powers and the acceptance and then desire to be beyond anything she ever before imagined. Hollywood should stand and take notice. Kristin Wiig has so much more depth to her talent, and I believe WW84 barely scratches the surface.

The story overall kept my attention and kept me interested to see what would happen next and how Wonder Woman could overcome her challenges to save the day. What I especially liked was how Gal Gadot not only portrayed the strong and powerful Wonder Woman, the superhero we all love, but also the vulnerable, heart-broken Diana. We get to see the more human side of Wonder Woman. Exposing her vulnerabilities makes her even more relatable and loved by us mere mortals.

The introduction of Kristoffer Polaha leaves us with hope that maybe Diana can find love again one day. For those of you wondering where you’ve seen him before, he is one of the “Hunks of Hallmark.”

Lynda Carter’s cameo was awesome! As soon as I saw those eyes, I knew it was her. They could not have chosen a better character for her. What a wonderful way to pay homage to the Wonder Woman of my youth.

I recommend continuing to watch through the credits. You will see a surprise that leaves me wanting a much larger collaboration of these two characters in a new movie. That would be beyond EPIC!

*Photo courtesy of Google Photos*

Pineapple Cake

Pineapple Cake

This cake was a bit of an experiment. I used a rum cake recipe, but instead of water and rum I used pineapple juice from the canned pineapple. The picture shows the three final stages: 1. right after I took it from the oven, 2. right after I poured on the pineapple juice glaze, and 3. the final product. The top of the cake looks like it has fallen apart, but that is actually crushed pineapple on top. I put about 1 1/2 cans of crushed pineapple into the prepared Bundt pan before I poured in the batter, and I put the other 1/2 can of crushed pineapple in with the cake mix. The recipe calls for baking 50 – 60 minutes. This cake actually cooked 70 minutes. It turned out very moist. I only let the cake sit in the pan for 30 minutes after I put on the glaze. Next time I will let the cake sit for about two hours before I remove it from the pan to make sure the glaze is soaked all the way through. I made this cake for a friend’s birthday, and she loved it. This is one experiment that turned out quite well.

Sapphire Supper Club

Steak Oscar

This house specialty is “two petite filet mignon medallions, asparagus, jumbo lump crab meat, and béarnaise sauce.” Delicious does not even begin to describe this. The steak was cooked perfectly. The crab meat, asparagus, and béarnaise sauce combined perfectly to make this an instant favorite. Three of us ordered three different dishes, and each one was uniquely presented to ensure we would want to come back, and we definitely will!! Make sure you check out the full menu here.

Spencer Racca

Not only was the food delicious, but the atmosphere was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Spencer Racca entertained the crowd with hits from great artists such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Otis Redding, and Elvis Presley, to name a few. He embodied these artists in every song and entertained the crowd throughout dinner. Spencer Racca was fun and personable and really took the audience back to a time when music was truly entertaining. Some couples even got up and danced, just as they would have in the original supper clubs of an era that seems forgotten but is alive and well at Sapphire Supper Club. You can see Spencer every Friday and Saturday night at Sapphire Supper Club. Make sure you follow him on social media: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

My 14-year-old asked if I could make chocolate chip cookies but in a pan like a cake. Of course the answer was YES! All I did was follow the recipe on the Nestle Toll House semi-sweet chocolate chip bag. There is a “pan version” of the cookies underneath the regular cookie recipe. My pan was not wide enough, so I did have to cook a bit longer. Just make sure you are watching them. Use a toothpick to determine if the dough is cooked through.

Nestle Toll House is a registered trademark. I am in no way affiliated with them. I just really enjoy their chocolate chips when I cook (cookies, fudge, pancakes, etc.).

The Odd Sisters

The Odd Sisters

WOW! What an astounding tale!

After finishing Mother Knows Best, I was quite anxious to learn the fate of the odd sisters. Serena Valentino took me on a journey of incredible discovery.

The Odd Sisters is the story of Circe and Snow White and their search for answers about Circe’s mothers. Circe must decide the fate of Lucinda, Ruby, and Martha, and Snow White wants to make sure Circe knows the whole story.

Their journey takes them to “The Beginning,” described as “a celestial landscape filled with stars and swirling constellations.” The Beginning sounded so beautiful that I closed my eyes so I could go there – even if only for a moment.

Circe knows that all the kingdoms have been touched by her mothers’ evil. Circe also feels responsible because her mothers, in their minds, felt that everything they did – all the death and destruction – was justified because they were doing it out of love for Circe and their desire to keep her for themselves.

Throughout their search for answers and solutions, Snow White reads everything she can, especial The Book of Fairy Tales. Snow White comes across a story titled “The Mourning Box.” As she reads, her heart aches for Gothel. “The Mourning Box” puts Mother Knows Best into perspective. Unfortunately, pages have been ripped out of the book to keep the truth from being discovered. Snow believes that she must find the missing pages in order to truly understand not only Gothel’s story but also that of the odd sisters, and ultimately Circe.

Circe and Snow return to Gothel’s house to check on Mrs. Tiddlebottom and to see if Snow can find the missing pages among Gothel’s books and journals. What they discover is even more surprising – and unexpected. Primrose and Hazel, Gothel’s sisters, have awakened from their death sleep after many, may years. Mrs. Tiddlebottom tells Circe and Snow that the sisters went home. Circe and Snow have no choice but to return to the dead woods.

As Snow searches the library for the missing pages, Circe finds Hazel and Primrose outside their crypts reading the words Jacob had inscribed. “Sisters. Together. Forever.” The sisters were expecting Circe and were happy to see her. They also reassure her that Jacob would want her to wake him, so she does.

Jacob is visibly shaken when asked about the missing pages from “The Mourning Box.” After all, “The Mourning Box” is a tragic story of a love that wasn’t lost, but was violently ripped away. This is Jacob’s story, and his story explains everything.

The Odd Sisters broke my heart. “The Mourning Box” was especially heart breaking. In discovering the truth about the odd sisters, I developed a much better understanding of Gothel and her mother Manea. Mother Knows Best makes much more sense to me now than when I read it.

I know I’ve said this in previous reviews, but Serena Valentino is a very talented story teller. The way she has connected the back stories of all these “villains” is so very unexpected. She brings elements to these characters that make the reader feel bad for the villains. Maybe Maleficent isn’t the only villain that is incredibly misunderstood. Maybe some of them aren’t villains after all.

Another aspect of Serena Valentina’s writing is her word usage. I cannot think of another author (at least at the moment) who uses words like “discombobulated” and “skullduggery.” The Odd Sisters starts out as a fun read. As I read further into this fairy tale, I became intrigued. My emotions were all over the place with this book. (At one point I was wishing Nanny would throat punch The Fairy Godmother just once.) Serena Valentino’s The Odd Sisters took me on the kind of journey I want to take every time I pick up a book.

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Fudge

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Fudge

I decided to try something new in the kitchen yesterday. I had ordered Reese’s Pieces to put into cookies. However, the store substituted mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups instead. If you go to the chocolate fudge recipe, you will see that the recipe calls for chocolate chips and pecans. I substituted those two ingredients with 1/2 bag of the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Mini’s. It measured out to between 1 1/2 – 2 cups. This was an experiment that turned out delicious, if I do say so myself. It is very creamy and rich. Make sure to grab some milk.

*NOTE: Reese’s is a trademarked product. I do not work for Reese’s or have any affiliation with them. This was strictly an experiment I tried that happened to turn out well.

Southern Pecan Praline Bundt Cake

WOW!!

Thank you Spicy Southern Kitchen for this one! This cake is so good! I was surprised that I actually liked it so much. I’m not a huge fan of pralines, but this cake is delicious! The glaze is like having pralines poured over the cake. Honestly, this cake would probably be good even without the glaze. Instead of rewriting the recipe, I’ve included the link to the recipe here.

Mother Knows Best

The fifth installment of Serena Valentino’s Disney Villains Series took me a bit longer to get through. It was mostly just life getting in the way of reading, and I am fine with that. Life is like that sometimes, and that’s okay.

About the book, it isn’t my favorite. The title is a bit misleading. I thought the book would be more about Gothel and Rapunzel, the missing princess. That is not the way the story is written. In fact, the missing princess didn’t become part of the story until I was almost finished with the book. The small portion of the book that is about the missing princess is pretty much the Tangled script – from Rapunzel and Gothel to Flynn Rider. Pascal even makes a cameo. It is just like the movie. What isn’t like the move is the tapestry woven in the background of their stories.

The book starts with Gothel as a child spending every waking moment with her sisters Primrose and Hazel. Their mother is too wrapped up in herself and being Queen of the Dead to care about her daughters. All she cares about is that the girls never leave the dead woods.

The Odd Sisters play a very large part in this story. As in the previous books, the sisters are meddlesome and destructive. Although they try to save Rapunzel from Gothel so Circe will forgive them, Circe knows the sisters are the reason Rapunzel is in danger in the first place. Their feeble attempts to gain Circe’s favor only serve to make Circe angrier.

We all know how the story ends for Rapunzel. After all, we all saw her and Eugene at the coronation of Queen Elsa of Arendelle. Mother Knows Best isn’t really about Rapunzel. Mother Knows Best is about Gothel – the black-hearted daughter of the Queen of the dead.

Mother Knows Best is my least favorite of the Villains Series so far. Don’t misunderstand that statement. Serena Valentino is a very unique story teller. She brings elements to these beloved fairy tales that I, for one, could never imagine. I am enjoying this series very much. However, I will caution you to be careful about who you allow to read these books. It will be quite some time before I allow my four-year-old niece to read these books. Yet, I can hardly wait to share them with my cousin’s eighteen-year-old daughter.

That being said, I would like to offer a sincere apology to Serena Valentino. When I first started reading her Disney Villains Series, I read the first four books in a month. It has taken me over a month to finish Mother Knows Best. The amount of time it took for me to complete this book had very little to do with the book. Life just happens sometimes, and this past month has been quite a challenge on several fronts. I’ve been unable to read on a regular basis, as with the previous four books. For that, I sincerely apologize. I will do my best to get through the next books more expeditiously – between homeschooling a quarantined child and holiday baking. 🙂

Mistress of All Evil

A Tale of the Dark Fairy

Everyone knows Maleficent is the most notorious of the DisneyTM Villains. She is the one all others fear. I often find it difficult not to compare movies to books, and Mistress of All Evil was no exception. Having fallen in love with Angelina Jolie’s portrayal of Maleficent, I was quite anxious to see where Serena Valentino would take Maleficent’s story.

Mistress of All Evil is a heart-breaking tale of a mother’s love. It is a tale of betrayal and a broken heart. Left on her own as a baby because her dark future had been foreseen, Maleficent found love in an unlikely mother — someone who knew Maleficent’s future, but who believed in Maleficent’s goodness.

From a young age it was easy to see that Maleficent was not only the most beautiful, but also the most powerful of the fairies. When she went to school, she was teased and bullied relentlessly. The Fairy Godmother – yes, the same one who made Cinderella’s dream come true – had nothing nice to say to or about Maleficent. In time, Maleficent left school and studied anything and everything she could.

Maleficent met The Odd Sisters when she was sixteen. These are the same sister witches who caused so much death and destruction in Serena Valentino’s previous Disney Villains books. Maleficent loved The Odd Sisters, and they loved her. As Maleficent grew in her power, her loneliness also grew. Maleficent’s loneliness broke The Odd Sisters’ hearts. In an attempt to help Maleficent, they used a spell to create someone for Maleficent to love. The Odd Sisters took the best parts of Maleficent to create this child, leaving Maleficent with nothing but evil in her heart – or did they?

It is true that Maleficent became more and more powerful. It is also true that Maleficent seemed to become more and more evil. After reading Mistress of All Evil, I don’t believe Maleficent was truly evil. Ursula was evil. Yes, Ursula had been hurt, but she also collected the souls of others the way someone would collect stamps. That was not the case with Maleficent.

I understand that Maleficent was The Mistress of All Evil. Yet, her actions were not random. She did not use her powers to hurt others just because she could. Maleficent’s powers became stronger and darker because the one she loved the most as a child lied to her, and Maleficent felt betrayed. More than that, Maleficent’s powers grew stronger and darker out of Maleficent’s love for the child created by The Odd Sisters. Maleficent was desperate to protect this child and would not hesitate to kill anyone she believed would harm the most precious gift Maleficent had ever received.

Serena Valentino’s version of Maleficent’s story broke my heart. Although Maleficent is considered The Mistress of All Evil, she was not always evil. The bullying as a child, the feeling of betrayal by her mother, and the love she was desperate to protect were all driving forces in Maleficent’s descent from a girl with a bright future so full of potential to The Dark Fairy.

Mistress of All Evil is another wonderfully told tale by Serena Valentino. The reader can feel Maleficent’s heartache and desperation. The ones she loved the most were ultimately the cause of her downfall. The imagery the author uses to describe Maleficent’s beauty makes it easy for the reader to appreciate that beauty. The love that drove Maleficent makes the reader fall in love with her. She is probably, in my opinion, the most misunderstood of the DisneyTM villains.

I highly recommend Mistress of All Evil. Maleficent’s story is unlike anything I have ever read. Secrets are revealed that change not only her story, but The Odd Sisters’ story, and, finally, Aurora’s story. Sometimes love hurts, and that was never truer than for Maleficent.

Double Chocolate Chip Muffins

Ingredients

2 eggs

1/2 c oil

1 c milk

1 tsp vanilla

1 3/4 c self-rising flour

1/2 c sugar

1/4 c cocoa

1/2 c chocolate chips (I used 1 c mini chocolate chips.)

Preheat oven to 400. Grease muffin pan. (I use cupcake wraps.) Mix eggs, oil, milk, and vanilla in large bowl. In small bowl combine flour, sugar, cocoa, and chocolate chips. Combine wet and dry ingredients and fold together gently until just mixed. (Confession: I put everything in a stand mixer. I start with the wet mixture and gradually add the dry mixture until everything is mixed.) Spoon into muffin pan. Bake 20 minutes. Remove from pan and allow to cool on rack.

Grab a glass of milk, and enjoy!!

Sapphire Supper Club

Steak Oscar

This house specialty is “two petite filet mignon medallions, asparagus, jumbo lump crab meat, and béarnaise sauce.” Delicious does not even begin to describe this. The steak was cooked perfectly. The crab meat, asparagus, and béarnaise sauce combined perfectly to make this an instant favorite. Three of us ordered three different dishes, and each one was uniquely presented to ensure we would want to come back, and we definitely will!! Make sure you check out the full menu here.

Spencer Racca

Not only was the food delicious, but the atmosphere was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Spencer Racca entertained the crowd with hits from great artists such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Otis Redding, and Elvis Presley, to name a few. He embodied these artists in every song and entertained the crowd throughout dinner. Spencer Racca was fun and personable and really took the audience back to a time when music was truly entertaining. Some couples even got up and danced, just as they would have in the original supper clubs of an era that seems forgotten but is alive and well at Sapphire Supper Club. You can see Spencer every Friday and Saturday night at Sapphire Supper Club. Make sure you follow him on social media: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter.

Poor Unfortunate Souls

Ah, the Sea Witch. Before reading this book, I didn’t know much about Ursula. To be honest, I’m not sure I have ever sat down and watched “The Little Mermaid” start to finish more than once, if that. I was very excited to see how the author might make Ursula’s story grab my attention like Ariel never could.

Serena Valentino did not disappoint! This is a wonderfully told Tale of the Sea Witch. The reader can find/experience practically every emotion in the writing of Ursula’s story.

The book begins by giving the reader a glimpse into Ursula’s derangement. I put the book down two or three times during the prologue due to my shock. Everyone knows the villains of Disney are bad, but the author shows an evil in Ursula that is beyond anything I would have imagined. It is very clear that hate drives evil, and Ursula has nothing in her heart but hate. Then, a moment of confusion when Triton tries to stop her from destroying the town and reveals her true identity. I definitely did not see that coming.

The odd sisters from Valentino’s first two villain novels, Fairest of All and The Beast Within, play a large roll in Poor Unfortunate Souls as well. The author shows how all the stories are connected in some way. This may seem redundant to anyone who has read my other reviews from this series. Nonetheless, I absolutely LOVE the way Serena Valentino ties together these stories.

Poor Unfortunate Souls is a very sad tale of hatred and betrayal. When the readers discover the truth about Ursula and why she is the Sea Witch she has become, it is a heartbreaking discovery – one that serves to fuel Ursula’s hatred, hatred she turns on anyone she believes deserves it, including the sister witches who, , ignoring warnings from the Dark Fairy, consider Ursula their friend.

Poor Unfortunate Souls is a welcome addition to the Villains Series by Serena Valentino. She is a wonderful story teller. A word of caution though, there are some parts I would not recommend for young children. But I can assure you that when my niece is old enough, she will be introduced to Serena Valentino’s writing, particularly the Villain Series.

Cinnamon Sugar Apple Cake

Posted on Pinterest by Pinch of Yum

Cake

1 1/2 c. brown sugar

1/3 c oil

1 egg

1 c buttermilk (I mixed a table spoon of lemon juice with enough milk to make 1 cup and let it reach room temp.)

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 1/2 c flour (I always use self-rising)

2 1/2 c chopped apples (about 2, and I peeled mine.)

Topping

1/2 c sugar

1 tbsp butter melted

1 tsp cinnamon

1 1/2 c. brown sugar

1/3 c oil

1 egg

1 c buttermilk (I mixed a table spoon of lemon juice with enough milk to make 1 cup and let it reach room temp.)

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 1/2 c flour (I always use self-rising)

2 1/2 c chopped apples (about 2, and I peeled mine.)

Topping

1/2 c sugar

1 tbsp butter melted

1 tsp cinnamon

Mix ingredients in order given, stirring until just combined. (I used my stand mixer and let it stir as I added ingredients.)

Pour batter in greased (I use Baker’s Joy) 9 x 13 baking dish.

Combine topping ingredients – sprinkle/spread evenly over batter.

Bake 45 minutes (Mine wasn’t quite done at 45 minutes, so I baked mine 60 minutes.)

Frozen Peanut Butter Pie

1 pkg (3 oz) cream cheese softened (confession: I didn’t read correctly and used an 8 oz pkg. It still turned out great, although had I realized my mistake, I would have added a bit more peanut butter.)

1 c powdered sugar

1/2 c crunchy peanut butter

1/3 c milk

1 8 oz carton Cool Whip

1 graham cracker crust

Whip cream cheese in mixing bowl. Beat in powdered sugar and peanut butter. Slowly add milk, blending thoroughly. Fold in Cool Whip (I put the mixer on the stir setting.) Spoon into pie shell. Freeze until firm. Remove from freezer and let sit 5 minutes before serving. (That last part is optional.) Enjoy!

Cinnamon Sugar Apple Cake

Cinnamon Sugar Apple Cake

I found this recipe on Pinterest posted by Pinch of Yum. I wasn’t too sure about it because I have never been a fan of apple pie. Nonetheless, I though it would be a good use of the apples on the counter not being eaten. Let me just say, this is DELICIOUS!! With Hurricane Zeta bearing down, and Jim Cantore in town (anyone in hurricane country knows what that means), I don’t think this will last long. View recipe here.

The Beast Within

“Tale as old as time. Song as old as rhyme.”

I cannot even begin to count how many times I have watched Disney’s live action “Beauty and the Beast” with Emma Watson and Dan Stevens in the title roles, and Luke Evans as the best Gaston EVER. When I started The Beast Within, I expected it to be a great deal like the movie. After all, how different could it really be?

Very different!! It was as though they were two different stories entirely. The Beast Within begins with Belle already a prisoner in the castle. The Beast is in the rose garden contemplating the idea of loving someone so much that he would sacrifice his own life for that person, the way Belle did for her father. It is a concept he just cannot grasp.

Some surprising guests visit the Beast while he is in the rose garden. They taunt him and remind him that no one will ever love him. After all, he is a monster – inside and out. Belle confirms what the visitors say when she refuses to eat with him and also calls him a monster

The reader is then taken back to the prince’s life before he was cursed. The author portrays the prince in such a negative manner that the reader is in complete agreement that the curse is warranted. What is a bit surprising is the source of the curse, as well as the prince’s transformation into the beast.

Serena Valentino provides a very thorough back story that sheds light on the Prince and his relationships with the people who have known him his whole life – from the servants in the castle, to his best friend Gaston, and finally to the one whose heart he breaks leading to the curse.

One of the things I enjoyed most about the way Serena Valentino tells the story of Belle and the Beast is her inclusion of characters from Fairest of All who wreaked havoc on the Queen and continue toying with people’s lives in The Beast Within. This adds such an interesting twist to the beloved fairy tale that we think we know. We all know how the story ultimately ends. However, The Beast Within is so compelling that I wondered at times if there would be a “Happily Ever After.” The twists and turns are fun and exciting, and I, for one, will never see this fairy tale the same.

The Beast Within is a fast, easy read. Anyone who loves the original fairy tale will, no doubt, love Serena Valentino’s version just as much. However, as with Fairest of All, I will wait until my young niece is a bit older before I share this version.

Fairest of All

Everyone knows the story of Snow White. The tale has been shared for generations. We all know the Wicked Queen wanted Snow White dead. However, was it really just a story of good versus evil? Serena Valentino offers a new paradigm through which to see the Queen.

When we read basic fairy tales, we often fail to consider small (or not-so-small) details. For example, Snow White was the King’s daughter, not really the Queen’s. Due to numerous wars, and ultimately death, the King left Snow in the Queen’s care. She was the only mother Snow ever knew and solely responsible (along with a few servants) for Snow’s upbringing. Was the Wicked Queen always wicked, or did something happen to change her and the way she looked at Snow?

Fairest of All delves into the complicated relationship between a mother and daughter. Practically any woman in the world understands the very special mother/daughter dynamic. Add “step” in front of mother, royal duties and an absentee king, and what do you get? You have fairy tale we know as Snow White.

The Author takes this tale to a whole new level. There are beautiful family moments. The King, Queen, and Snow love each other dearly, and they do all they can to show that love making the most of the little time they are all together. The Queen makes sure she gives Snow the love and affection she dreamed of as a girl growing up without a mother of her own. The Queen is also very protective of snow – so much so that she speaks out forcefully against the king when he tries to punish Snow without knowing what really happened.

So what happened? What made the Queen grow to hate Snow to the point of wanting her dead? How did such a beloved queen become the Wicked Queen?

Fairest of All takes the reader on a journey that is far beyond good versus evil. Yes, the mirror is a big part of the Queen’s obsession and transformation, but, the mirror is only a small part of the story. The desire for love and acceptance plays a much bigger role in the story of Snow White and the Wicked Queen.

Sarena Valentino does a wonderful job of providing the back story for the Queen. Once her past is revealed, the reader better understands the Queen’s frame of mind. One can understand the struggle the Queen faces every day.

Fairest of All is a tale of love, betrayal, loss, desire, acceptance, and forgiveness. it is a story of lost love and what could have been.

I very much enjoyed this book. It was an easy, fast read that kept me interested throughout. The author’s descriptions, coupled with the many visual adaptations that have been presented through the years, make it easy to see the events unfold. Anyone who enjoys the story of Snow White will enjoy Fairest of All. I would not necessarily read it to my four-year-old niece, yet, but I will not hesitate to share it with her once she is older and can better grasp some of the ideas.

Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3

I often select a book based on its subject matter or story. That is what led me to Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II. I absolutely love Audrey Hepburn, so I read Dutch Girl. While reading Dutch Girl, I fell in love with the way her story was being told. As a former history teacher, I began to see World War II in a whole new light. Her story was told in such a way that I could sense the fear she must have felt as a child under Nazi occupation. The author took me there. He showed me the places and the people in a way I had never experienced with any other book.

The way my love for Audrey Hepburn led me to Dutch Girl, my love for the way her story was told led me to seek out the author. I knew that if he had written a biography about someone, I wanted to read it. In turn, Robert Matzen, author of Dutch Girl, led me to Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3.

When I first started reading Fireball, I knew nothing about Carole Lombard. Fireball changed that. Yes, the book is about Flight 3, a flight that crashed into a mountain and claimed the life of one of Hollywood’s biggest stars of the time. However, Robert Matzen gives the reader so much more than that.

Through Fireball, I not only got to know Carole Lombard, but I also got to know the people closest to her. I learned about a horrible accident when she was a teenager that could have easily ended her career if not for her mother’s insisting that a plastic surgeon be brought in to stitch the lacerations on young Carole’s face, even though plastic surgery was a new field.

I learned about Elizabeth Peters. This was a strong, determined woman who knew her daughter would be a star. She gave her daughter strength, confidence, and opportunity, and was a powerful force behind transitioning Jane Peters into the woman everyone else would come to know as Carole Lombard. Theirs was a bond that would never be broken.

Fireball is a story that draws the reader in. The reader feels so much like a part of the story, that it’s as if s/he knew the passengers and crew of Flight 3 personally. Robert Matzen introduces the reader to not only a glamorous movie star and her famous husband, but also the pilot and co-pilot. He talks about the air hostess who loved her job and often sent post cards home to her parents. The reader learns about the young lieutenant whose widow would “never remarry.” There were also all the young men who were part of the Army Air Corps. Civilians were bumped from the flight so these young pilots could get back to California faster.

 By the time of the crash, the reader is invested in the lives of the passengers and crews and feels the grief of their loss. My heart ached for the men who climbed Potosi Mountain in hopes of finding survivors only to be met with what was left of the charred remains and personal belongings scattered across the crash site. I cried for the young soldier who knelt beside what was left of his fiancé’s body and wept in agony.

Fireball is not just Carole Lombard’s story. Robert Matzen honors everyone who perished when Flight 3 crashed into Potosi Mountain shortly after taking off from Las Vegas. He shows how all these lives were brought together on that fateful day. He described what was found when rescuers arrived at the crash site. He even climbed Potosi Mountain, taking the same route as the rescue party, and viewed what is left of the Flight 3 crash site.

Robert Matzen once stated, “I in many ways continue to be haunted by the mountain and the people I met there.” After many nights of lying awake unable to think of anything but January 16, 1942, and the days that followed, I now understand how his life was forever changed by all he read, the people he met and stories he heard, and the places he visited, especially Potosi Mountain, the mountain that claimed the lives of Carole Lumbard, her mother, and 20 others who never made it home.

Maternal Instincts Mysteries

If you like Stephanie Plum, you will enjoy Kate Connelly. The Maternal Instincts Mysteries are fun, easy reads with interesting characters and unexpected plot twists.

Kate Connelly is a new mom who really doesn’t want to go back to the corporate world. Through an unusual series of events, she finds herself involved in a murder investigation. When she solves her first case, she decides to dip her toe into the world of private investigating – all while adjusting to life with a newborn.

Diana Orgain writes a series with a main character who will make you shake your head one minute wondering what in the world she was thinking, then turn right around and make you feel like you’re reading your own story and thoughts. The struggles Kate endures, as a new mom with a new career, are real, and the author doesn’t attempt to sugarcoat the challenges or make Kate seem like some kind of super woman to whom everything comes easily.

Although some characters may appear in multiple books, each of the Murder Mystery Instincts could be read as a stand-alone without missing too much. I do not recommend reading them that way, however. The books are easy to read. They are fun, and they are deserving of purchasing the whole set.

Coffee Shop Girl

ANOTHER SUCCESS FOR KATIE CROSS!!

“This place needs to burn to the ground.” This is how Bethany’s story begins. She is struggling to keep her father’s dream alive even though he is no longer there. Owning a coffee shop was not her dream; it was his. She doesn’t even like coffee.

From the moment the first line is read, the reader is hooked. It’s obvious the coffee shop is in trouble, but why? Bethany is torn between keeping her father’s dream alive and pursuing her own dreams. Following her father’s dream would help her keep him with her, but she would forfeit the life she truly wants for herself. Pursuing her dream would mean letting the coffee shop go, leaving her feeling like she is losing her father all over again.

In walks Maverick, a businessman running from a past that haunts him and a future he doesn’t believe he deserves.

Then Lizbeth and Ellie show up at the coffee shop at 4:45am. Why have her half sisters, who she hardly knows, traveled so far on foot to find her?

Coffee Shop Girl is a story about love and loss, strength and perseverance. The detail Katie Cross uses in describing events gives the reader a vivid image that brings Bethany, Maverick, Lizbeth, and Ellie together, each running from something, unaware how the crossing of their paths will change their lives forever.

As with all her books, Katie Cross makes it easy to fall in love with the characters. Coffee Shop Girl is a beautifully written story. There will be tears and celebrations. Katie Cross leaves the reader wanting more. I can hardly wait for the next installment of the Coffee Shop Girl series.

Haunted Mansion

Haunted Mansion Pan

This is a collage of all four sides of my hunted mansion cake pan.

(pan purchased from Zulily)

Haunted Mansion Cake

This is actually the second time I have made this. The first time, I used a regular cake mix, and it only filled half the pan. Even after the cake rose, a large portion of the house was not touched by the batter. Therefore, the mansion had no foundation. It was quite funny, but I do not have a picture of that. This one is actually two boxes of devil’s food cake poured together to make the mansion.

Haunted Mansion in Snow

We decided the cake was too plain, so we added snow (powdered sugar). The “snow” actually brought out some of the details in the cake that can’t really be seen in the other pictures. This is the cake that went to the party. Not only did it look better than the skeletons, it tasted much better, too!

Skeletons – 1st Attempt

Skeletons 1st Attempt

What a DISASTER!! The pan looks so cool, and I was so excited. The picture on the bottom is the first batch I tried. They look like they are from some 3 million-year-old society that was just discovered. I used the recipe that came with the pan, except I substituted vanilla extract for anise extract. The consistency of the batter was like frosting. The batter didn’t taste too bad. The skeletons, on the other hand, were horrible! They were for a friend’s party at work, and I would not let her take them. It was my first try, so I will definitely be practicing before Halloween.

Waiting at Hayden’s

The first novel by Riley Costello, Waiting at Hayden’s is a modern-day love story that draws in the reader from the very beginning. Once I started reading, I could not put this book down. It quickly became my favorite love story. I empathized with the characters and their difficulty making tough decisions – decisions that were not only tough, but life-altering. The story shows how people change over time. Everyone grows and is affected by the choices they make as they get older, but how hard is it to follow one’s heart. This is a beautiful love story about just that – following the heart.

Waiting at Hayden’s is also the first book of ShopfictionTM. Digital copies contain links to video scenes from the book, and readers can shop for the clothes the characters are wearing.

Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II

I have always loved and admired Audrey Hepburn. After reading this, my love, admiration, and respect for her have grown exponentially. In all the years teaching WW2, I never presented it from the viewpoint of someone who actually lived under Nazi occupation. What Audrey Hepburn endured during WWII stayed with her the rest of her life. Nevertheless, she carried herself with grace and elegance, never complaining or making excuses. She used her experience to help others. She remembered that when the Nazis were defeated, UNICEF arrived with food and supplies that were so desperately needed, and this led her to eventually become a UNICEF Ambassador. She went from nearly dying as a child in WWII to becoming one of the most beloved icons of her time. Anyone who reads DUTCH GIRL will walk away truly inspired. I highly recommend this book for anyone who loves Audrey Hepburn or loves history.

The Health and Happiness Society

Once again, Katie Cross creates characters that are so relatable to every woman in some way. From the very first chapter of BON BONS TO YOGA PANTS, I was amazed by how closely I related to Lexie. In each book, Katie Cross continues the story of the Health and Happiness Society, but each book is from the viewpoint of a different character. I saw myself in each of these books. This is definitely a must read for anyone who loves “Chic Lit” or who wants to read a story about women who face the same struggles and fears that we all face every day.

Strawberry Cake with Creme Cheese Icing

Strawberry Cake with Creme Cheese Icing

This cake is perfect if you love strawberries. The recipe calls for fresh strawberries, which give the batter the rich red color. The batter was enough to make the cake and a full pan of cup cakes. Also, the icing recipe makes so much that I was able to ice everything and still had some left over. For Christmas, I added peppermint extract in the icing. It was quite delicious.

Thank Your Lucky Stars

Written in the Stars #3

Kudos to Alexandria Bellefleur for a witty, fun, entertaining tale. Thank Your Lucky Stars takes the reader on a rollercoaster of emotions. There are moments of anxiety paired with laugh-out-loud moments. The characters are relatable and show the same insecurities everyone has, but some may be too afraid to show them.

Olivia and Margot were inseparable in high school. If one was around, the other was close. They did everything together. They even made plans to go to college together. Then Olivia announced she was going to a different university – the same university her on-again-off-again boyfriend was attending.  This came after an unforgettable week Margot and Olivia shared while Olivia’s then ex-boyfriend was in Cancun for spring break, When Olivia tells Margot that Brad wants to get back together, Margot tells Olivia that she should get back together with Brad, and that what happened during Spring Break stayed at Spring Break. Margot would never tell anyone their secrets and what happened between them.

After eleven years of burying her feelings for Olivia and believing she was fine, the flood gates open when her best friend’s wedding planner walks in – Olivia. So much rides on the success of this wedding. Olivia’s career is depending on everything going on without a hitch. Now this wedding and everything that leads up to it could be the beginning of something new for Margot and Olivia, or it could bring a finality to a relationship that never got closure.

To make the situation even more awkward, Olivia’s apartment floods, and Margot just so happens to have a spare room and needs a roommate. Both Olivia and Margot are dealing with old wounds and the heartache they still feel. Each still wondering what that Spring Break eleven years ago meant to the other. Will each continue to bottle up her feelings for the other’s sake? Or can they open up and finally share their feelings with each other.

I very much enjoyed Thank Your Lucky Stars. The story is fun. It is sexy. The characters are relatable. Regardless of the nature of one’s relationships. We have all made decisions based on what we thought was better for the other person, only to discover after it is too late that you made the wrong decision. We have all had embarrassing moments in our relationships, especially at the beginning when everything is still new. Some of the situations in which Margot and Olivia find themselves had me laughing until I was almost in tears. Bellefleur creates fun and unexpected turns in the story that make the reader worry about how things will ever work out and turn around and laugh at the small comment that seems to come out of the blue. The behind-the-scenes with each character shares so much about her thoughts and endears her to the reader because the reader, at one time or another, has had the same exact thoughts and worries.

This is my first book by Alexandria Bellefleur, but I am sure this will not be my last.  I will definitely be going back to read Written in the Stars and Hang the Moon.

The Family You Make

The Sunrise Cove Series Book 1

The Family You Make is about exactly that. Jill Shalvis reminds us that blood does not make a family. Love makes a family, and love can come in many forms.

Jane has never really had a cohesive family unit. Her parents were absent from her life. When her grandmother died, Jane was still very young. Her aunt took her so that she would not be any trouble for her grandfather. Her grandfather’s grief kept him from fighting for her. As a result, Jane never felt truly loved or wanted. She spent her entire life building and securing walls around her heart, careful to never get too close to anyone.

Levi grew up surrounded by a loving family and life-long friends. His family owns a sporting goods store near Lake Tahoe, and Levi grew up exploring the great outdoors with his family. However, he never really felt as though he fit into the life the rest of his family wanted. Rather than skiing, Levi enjoys data. He loves using data to solve problems. His parents and sister cannot understand how Levi is so different from them. They have no idea just how much Levi’s problem-solving skills will be needed to save the family from an unforeseen betrayal.

The mountain is being cleared just as Levi reaches the top. A nurse leaving the clinic on the mountain walks onto his gondola. Suddenly, their gondola has stopped. Leaving them to the mercy of the blizzard. Trapped at 750 feet and thrown around by the storm, Levi tries his best to bring calm to the girl who shares his gondola.

When this stranger throws himself in front of a piece of the gondola that breaks off, Jane immediately goes into medical mode. Her nurse training turns her focus from surviving the storm to keeping this stranger alive – a stranger who put himself in harm’s way to protect her, a girl he does not even know.

Neither wants to admit what they both know. There is no way for them to survive the storm. Levi’s injuries will not matter. The gondola in front of them has already fallen, and they know it is only a matter of time before they plunge to their deaths in this fierce storm. Levi’s last thoughts are of his family, and he asks this stranger to please help him call his family to say goodbye.

The Family You Make is about coming together in the aftermath of tragedy. It is about accepting help when it is offered and creating your family despite what DNA says. Blood does not make people family. Bands can be created in between people who come from completely different backgrounds and walks of life. The trick is to all the walls to be broken down and trust what you have never really experienced or believed you would know.

Half Shell Oyster House

Anyone who loves seafood on the Mississippi Gulf Coast knows about the Half Shell Oyster House. Anyone who has been there will tell you it is one of the best seafood restaurants on the entire Gulf Coast. This is my experience:

It was DELICIOUS!!

While we looked at the menu, our server took drink orders. Mom ordered a blackberry pomegranate sangria, which she enjoyed. I ordered the mango sunset martini. It was not only delicious but also pretty (see picture below). I do not usually drink during lunch, but I wanted too try this one, and I am so glad that I did. It has the perfect combination of fruits and liqueur. This is a drink that I am certain I will order again. They also offer a peanut butter cup martini, which our server recommended as a dessert. Unfortunately, I was too full to try it, but I will get it next time.

We started our meal with fried green tomatoes. I have never really been a big fan of eating tomatoes by themselves. They belong on a sandwich or in a salad. Half Shell Oyster House has changed my opinion about that. The fried green tomatoes are phenomenal! I cannot express enough how delicious these are. They are served with a crab cake, which is equally delicious. If I can figure out how in the world they make these tomatoes taste so good, I will be making them more often myself.

The first entrée was fried oysters, which my mom ordered. She loved them! Fried oysters have to be done just right or they will turn you away from them forever. Well, Half Shell does them right. With her oysters, she had a house salad. Everything in the salad was fresh, from the lettuce to the croutons and dressing. She kept bragging about how fresh everything tasted throughout the entire meal.

Crab claws (actually an appetizer) and fried okra made up my meal. I love crab claws, but I have had them when they were not very good. Today was not one of those days. The crab claws are some of the best I have ever eaten. The okra had a nice crisp coating and was soft on the inside. It was cooked perfectly! I could not have asked for anything better.

If you find yourself on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, make sure you stop at the Half Shell Oyster House. You will not be disappointed. The food is a culinary delight you will not soon forget. The service is fantastic. If we needed anything, it was right there. My only regret is not getting our server’s name because he was great! You can visit their website here.

Boozer’s Brew

If you find yourself in downtown Gulfport, Mississippi, and you want some coffee, stop by Boozer’s Brew & a Café Too. They have so many flavors for coffee that you are sure to find something you like.

In addition to coffee, Boozer’s also offers several breakfast and lunch options. From blueberry bagels to croissant sandwiches for breakfast, and sandwiches to salads for lunch, a large variety of options are available to tickle your taste buds.

Last, but certainly not least, Boozer’s Brew also has something for our four-legged family members. They give pup cups. Unlike Starbucks or Smoothie King, however, Boozer’s puts a treat in the pup cup with the whipped cream. That was Bree’s favorite part.

Located at 1921 15th Street, Gulfport, Mississippi, 39501, you will find unbeatable friendly service when you drive up to the window. You can also follow them on Facebook and Instagram. Visit their website at www.boozersbrew.com.

The Lodge

The Bluffs at Thompson Creek

St. Francesville, Louisiana

Southern charm and hospitality await you just off Louisiana 10 between Jackson and St. Francesville. We thought we had taken a wrong turn at first. The road leading to The Lodge was terrible. It was a pretty drive, mostly, but someone really should do something about the road itself, but I digress…

We soon saw the sign pointing us in the direction of The Bluffs. Another canopy of trees led us to nice homes that welcomed us to The Bluffs at Thompson Creek. The setting was beautiful.

We could not help but admire the beautiful homes and manicured lawns. They were stunning. Little did we know they were only the introduction to the breathtaking beauty of The Lodge.

Brick columns accent the veranda that stretches the full length of The Lodge. An upstairs balcony with white railing is just as long. There are ceiling fans and rocking chairs outside each suite encouraging visitors to sit and visit with others around them. The veranda and balcony look over the golf course.

When we entered the suite, we immediately felt at home. They thought of everything, it seemed. The furnishings were high-quality, warm, and inviting. In fact, we both are considering purchasing a sofa like the one we had in our suite.

From the living room area, visitors walk through a small hallway. A kitchenette is on one side. It contains a small refrigerator, microwave, and sing, as well as glasses, some flatware, plates, and bowls. A few snacks are on the counter, and a few bottles of water were already cold in the refrigerator.

I cannot forget the most important part of the kitchen – the coffee pot. Yes, the room has an actual coffee pot with actual coffee cups. There are no paper cups wrapped in plastic to be thrown out once used. In addition, Community Coffee is provided. This is Louisiana, after all. We brought our own honey and creamer, as we always do. The coffee was the best we ever had at a hotel. It was delicious!!

Across the hall from the kitchen was the bathroom. The shower had beautifully laid, large vertical tiles that gave the bathroom a rustic, yet modern, feel. The fixtures were brushed brass. The counter had plenty of room foro makeup or any other toiletries one might bring for a weekend away. The bathroom was very spacious, not a typical hotel bathroom in which one’s knees hit the wall while sitting on the toilet. A special washcloth was even provided for removing makeup. What a brilliant idea! Makeup does tend to stain white linens, so the darker washcloth was just brilliant!

The hallway finally leads to the bedroom. We had a king suite, so the bedroom contained a large king-size bed with white linens. In the closet were freshly cleaned linens for the sofa sleeper. The room also contained a chair and plenty of walking room. Neither bedside lamp was plugged in, so they were of no use. Fortunately, the small lamp on the dresser provided ample lighting. The bedroom also had a rather large television hanging on the wall. This was a bit puzzling to me because the television in the living room area was quite small. That was backwards to me, but it might make perfect sense to the people who own The Lodge.

I cannot write a review of The Lodge without mentioning the people who work there. They were the epitome of southern hospitality. The chick-in and check-out process were extremely easy. The ladies even provided their personal cell phone numbers in case we needed anything after the office was closed.

The Lodge is the perfect place for a quiet getaway with friends or family. I would even feel safe there if I was traveling alone. We will be making more trips to the area and will be making The Lodge our home away from home.

Visit their website here.

Hotel Francis

St. Francisville, Louisiana

This is a long one. Do not miss the pictures scrolling along the bottom…

If the main amenities you seek at a hotel are friendly staff, comfortable beds, and a nice warm shower with great water pressure, Hotel Francis in St. Francisville, Louisiana has that covered.

Everyone who worked at the Hotel Francis was genuinely nice. They are not very well-trained regarding guidelines set by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and service dogs. However, when informed that service dogs are, in fact, allowed to go everywhere their handler goes, the manager acquiesced.

Please indulge me while I paint a picture. As we turned off US Highway 61 onto the road leading to Hotel Francis, we were greeted with a very picturesque scene to our right. We saw a pond with ducks and gees and even a fountain in the middle. Some boys were sitting on the beautiful green grass looking out over the pond while another boy played fetch with his dog. Beautiful oak trees provided much-needed shade from the unforgiving summer sun. The setting was straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

That is where the beauty ended. The driveway was busted up, and a few piles of large chucks of concrete sat to the side of the road across from the pond. We thought everything would get better once we very slowly creeped our way across the busted-up portion of the driveway. We could not have been more wrong! The road gets a little better, but turning into the hotel, we thanked God we were in the Durango and not my Charger. Quite honestly, I’m not sure my Charger would have made it over the first hurdle in the road without damage. Resurfacing the road and parking lot is only the beginning of what needs to be done at Hotel Francis.

Checking in was easy, so we appreciated that. Then we got to our room. Mom went into the room ahead of me while I unhooked the tether on my service dog’s car seat. Once I got her out of the car, I walked right into the room (although the door was completely closed). That is right. The door did not lock when Mom closed it, as is common in every hotel where I have stayed. We discovered that the lock to our door did not work at all, even from the inside. Maintenance was very quick to arrive, determine he was unable to fix the lock, and call the front desk to have us moved.

Our second room was much larger, and much cleaner, than the first room. Mom told me that the first room had an area on the carpet that looked as if someone had vomited, but no one cle3aned the carpet afterward. An unpleasant odor also present in the first room was not in the second room. (We had bought Febreze just in case though.)

After a long drive that afternoon and a delicious dinner at The Francis, we were happy to crawl into bed for some much-needed rest. The linens were bright white, which, to me, makes the room look so nice. The beds were comfortable, and it did not take long for either of us to fall asleep.

Unfortunately, sleep did not last too long. Apparently, the smoke detector’s battery was getting low. Each of us waited until morning to say anything for fear of waking the other. We did tell the manager about the smoke detector chirping all night when we went to breakfast. Knowing we would not have to listen to that loud, annoying chirping noise all night the second night was such a relief.

We returned in late afternoon after a long visit with family who live in Clinton, Louisiana. Housekeeping had been in our room by that time. I have never seen housekeeping like this. Someone emptied the trash can but did not take the addition bag of trash we had taken out earlier. My washcloth, which was hanging on the shower rod, was gone. My mom’s washcloth, which was hanging on the grab bar in the shower, was still there. No clean washcloths were left. The paper coffee cups we used that morning were not replaced with new coffee cups. It was as if someone grabbed what was obviously dirty without paying any attention to anything else.

We made the decision to overlook the poor housekeeping and just not stay at Hotel Francis again if we ever find ourselves back in St. Francisville. We were tired and just wanted to go get some dinner and return for a nice rest, free of a chirping smoke detector.

After dinner, Mom and I decided to watch some television before going to sleep. All was quite – so far, so good. After watching History Channel for a couple hours, we turned off the lamps and television, put away our phones, and called it a night. The room was quite and relatively cool (although not 65 degrees as had been set on the air conditioner since we got there the previous afternoon).

At 12:45am, Mom and I were awakened by a very loud chirping smoke alarm. We were NOT HAPPY! We tried to call the front desk from the hotel phone only to learn the phone was dead. We made sure it was plugged in, tried again, and found it still dead. I got my phone and attempted to call the front desk only to discover there was no one there. If someone was there, s/he was not answering the phone. This is where we took matters into our own hands. We really did not have much choice. Mom held onto the rolling chair while I climbed up to see if I could find the batteries on the smoke detector and remove them. As soon as I touched the seemingly old smoke detector, it fell off the wall. There was a screw hanging from the smoke detector, but it was not holding the smoke detector to the wall.

We tried for twenty minutes to twist open the smoke detector as indicated on the detector itself. No matter how hard we tried, we were not getting that smoke detector open, and it was not going to stop chirping. In order to salvage the last few hours left to get some sleep, I took the smoke detector out to the car and decided to discuss this matter with the front desk when we checked out. Sometime around 2:00am, we finally got back to sleep.

We skipped the breakfast provided by the hotel and checked out as quickly as we could. The person at the front desk was nice, but she would not adjust our rate for being unable to sleep both nights. She stated that since we booked through booking.com, she could not adjust the rates. That is crap because hotels have adjusted rates booked online through booking.com at other places, but I digress…

Mom and I were grateful to have a place to stay, and options in St. Francisville are very limited. We will not stay in St. Francisville again if Hotel Francis is our only option. On top of everything else, there was duck and dog poop all over the sidewalks. Do not get me wrong. It is not the hotel staff’s fault that extremely inconsiderate pet owners allow their dogs to poop on the sidewalk, or that those disgusting pet owners leave the poop on the sidewalk. Nonetheless, pride in the appearance of the hotel would dictate that the sidewalks be kept clean in spite of rude pet owners. My service dog goes with me everywhere. She has NEVER done her business where anyone would normally walk, and I always clean up after her.

People, PICK UP AFTER YOUR DOGS!! If you would not let your dog poop on your floor at home, do not let them poop on sidewalks!! It is disgusting, irresponsible, and disrespectful to people who must use that space. Do not get a dog if you cannot clean up after it!! ☹

The Francis

We were in the car for over three hours. Needless to say, we were hungry, and Bree was ready to get out of the car (although we stopped twice to let her walk around). We found a cute little cafe in Jackson, Louisiana, but it was closed. Then we found another cute cafe in St. Francisville – closed. We decided to just forget about it for now. We were tired and wanted to get to the hotel and rest for a few minutes before we ventured out and tried to find a place to eat.

We asked the lady at the hotel’s front desk about eating establishments that might be open in St. Franisville We saw a McDonald’s and Sonic, but we really did not want fast food. We were referred to The Francis on Highway 61. We saw the large building and wondered what it was when we passed our hotel entrance. So, off we went…

When we first walked up to The Francis, we noticed the courtyard. There is a large deck surrounding a very large oak that provides the deck with much-appreciated shade. This is June in Louisiana, so fans were also outside to keep patrons cool. We opted to be seated inside. After all, anyone who lives in the southern portion of Louisiana knows the humidity is extremely high. (We were sweating by the time we got from the car to the door.) We were seated rather quickly. The hostess did hesitate and go to the back for a moment. I think it was because my service dog was with me ,and generally, dogs are not allowed in restaurants – understandably. Nonetheless., she was very kind and seated us as soon as she returned.

We were just looking at the menu when our server arrived to ask us what we would like to drink. Our server was polite and very quickly answered any questions that we had about specials and/or drinks (no frozen mudslide, but they do have margaritas).

We ordered the artichoke dip with shrimp and andouille. That is the first time I have ever had artichoke dip with shrimp or andouille. It was very good. My only suggestion would be to chop the artichoke so that the person eating it does not have to cut it up first. I used the chips to push the dip onto my fork to eat it. There was a little bit of spice, but not very much. I highly recommend it.

For our entrees we ordered a fried oyster po-boy and a grilled ribeye salad. The po-boy had more than enough oysters. The were seasoned well, and the order was exactly the way we asked. The fries served with the po-boy were quite unusual. They were like spiral cut steak fries. The grilled ribeye salad was also good. It was a large salad, but I still managed to finish. I probably will not eat again until tomorrow, but that’s okay. The salad was a healthier option than ordering a fried dish, and it was worth every bite. The ribeye pieces could be cut with a butter knife. The salad came with cucumber, tomato slices, purple onion (not very much), and pepper jack cheese, all served over lettuce. The honey mustard dressing was the perfect amount for the size of salad that I received.

We will be in St. Francisville, Louisiana for two nights. There is no doubt that we will return to The Francis. If you find yourself driving on Highway 61 and pass through St. Francisville, make sure you stop at The Francis to eat. You will find it to be quite the culinary delight.

Visit their website here.

Grilled Ribeye Salad with Honey Mustard Dressing
Oyster Po-Boy

Bacchus On The Beach

Firecracker Shrimp, fried oyster po-boy, creole hummus, Mardi Gras pasta, Coastal West Indies salad, Cajun cordon bleu – just a few of the items one will find on the menu at Bacchus On The Beach in Pass Christian, Mississippi.

When we first arrived at Bacchus On The Beach for our girls’ night out, the first thing I noticed was the magnificent view. Bacchus offers outdoor seating, which is what we chose. The balcony allows patrons to look over the harbor and watch the sun set over the Mississippi Sound. It was stunning! The view is an absolute bonus when eating at Bacchus On The Beach.

We were able to walk right up to a table on the balcony and seat ourselves. There were a number of people there, but it did not seem crowded. Before we were fully settled in, someone was at our table offering to help in any way and providing us with menus. Soon after, our server arrived and took drink orders. She was very polite and helpful with any questions we had. Our server was wonderful throughout our entire visit.

We ordered two appetizers – creole hummus and firecracker shrimp – both of which were quite the culinary delight, and a superb way to begin our meal at Bacchus. Each person at the table ordered a different menu item. I ordered the Coastal West Indies salad, which includes claw meat, shrimp, and capers. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was so happy that I chose this item from the menu. With the perfect amount of dressing, the salad made choosing a healthier meal option much easier. The portion size was twice what I expected, and I enjoyed every last bite. Little was left on my plate when I finished.

Another person ordered the hamburger. This may seem like a typical menu item one would find at any restaurant. This burger, however, was not typical of any restaurant. My friend’s first response was, “Oh my gosh! This tastes just like homemade.” The meat was well-seasoned and cooked to perfection. She stated that the hamburger was large and more than enough for a full meal. She did take off the bacon, but my dog was not unhappy about that. 🙂

In addition to a full menu, Bacchus On The Beach offers a full bar. Two people asked for customized drinks, and they were served exactly what they ordered. Unfortunately, a frozen mudslide was not an option, so my mom had to settle for a Harvey Wallbanger. We may have found her next favorite drink. She had two, and loved every sip.

If ever in Pass Christian, Mississippi, make sure you stop at Bacchus On The Beach to eat lunch or dinner. Weather permitting, sit on the balcony. The food is delicious, the service is wonderful (our server even brought out a dog bowl of water for my dog), and the views are breathtaking. Bacchus On The Beach is located at 111 W. Scenic Dr., Pass Christian, MS 39571. You can view their full menu here.

Holiday Inn Express and Suites

Pearl, MS

I think that from now on, I will just book my stays at Holiday Inn Express and Suites. The location in Pearl isn’t as nice as the one in Clinton but it is still better than Crowne Plaza in Baton Rouge and Grand Natchez. Everyone was so friendly. The room wasn’t very big, but it was big enough. We had two queen beds like in previous nights. The beds were comfortable, and our stay was pleasant.

The one thing I did not like was breakfast. IHG advertises that the breakfast is grab-and-go, like the Clinton location. That was not the case in Pearl. Instead, there is a restaurant called Alumni House that serves breakfast from a menu. It wasn’t clear whether this was free with our stay or if we would have to pay extra for this breakfast. We opted to eat elsewhere rather than go in and probably overpay for breakfast just because type restaurant was in the hotel. It would have been nice to have the grab-and-go breakfast that was supposed to come free with the room.

I can’t talk about the Holiday Inn Express and Suites in Pearl without telling you what happened on our way to check out. Every day of our trip I have kept the key FOB for the Durango in my pocket. Well on this particular day, my shorts did not have pockets. As we rode the elevator, I heard the FOB in my hand. Everything was fine. Mom and I were in great moods and ready to head home after a wonderful trip. However, our adventure was not over. As I stepped out of the elevator, the FOB fell out of my hand and down through that tiny little crack between the elevator and the floor. Yes, I dropped the key FOB to my dad’s Durango down the elevator shaft. I cannot even explain how that happened. The FOB had to fall perfectly for it to go down the shaft. Nonetheless, the maintenance man at the hotel was able to get the FOB back to me in about five minutes. It didn’t take him any time to get down there and retrieve the FOB and send us on our way. Just another example of the wonderful service we received from Holiday Inn Express and Suites.

Salad Station

If you have a Salad Station near you, and you like salad, you will love Salad Station. I first went to a Salad Station in D’Iberville, Mississippi, and I loved it. After leaving a soccer game where my four-year-old niece played hostess to everyone after the game making sure everyone had snacks and drinks (so sweet), Mom and I headed toward our next hotel. We wanted to get something to eat, but neither of us wanted anything heavy. Mom told me there was a Salad Station in town, but she didn’t know where. Not to worry. Siri found it, and Lola (if you don’t understand that reference, I don’t know if we can be friends lol) carefully directed us turn for turn until we arrived at Salad Station. There was no one eating in the restaurant, but they allowed us to eat. I was able to fix Bree a little something from the salad bar as well, and she loved it. Salad Station has just about anything you can think of to put on a salad. There is also a variety of other vegetables and pasta salads, as well as fresh fruit, from which to choose. There are more salad dressing options than I even knew existed, but it is always nice to have options. Everything at Salad Station was so fresh and so delicious that I wish I could eat there more often. A word of caution: you will be charged by weight, so if you pile your salad high with a little bit of everything, it will cost you more. However, it is totally worth it.

At the Salad Station in Flowood, two young ladies were working. Each open was very nice and welcoming. They greeted everyone who walked in the restaurant. They answered any questions we had and directed us to things when we were unsure where to find them. I was able to refill my drink before I left, and they said good-bye as we were leaving. It was a wonderful experience. If in the Jackson area, make sure you stop at Salad Station and get a salad. You won’t regret it!

Holiday Inn and Suites

Clinton, MS

So far this has been the best hotel experience we have had on this trip. It was our third hotel in three days, cost less than ether of the other two, and as much nicer. The pleasant greeting from the moment we walked in set the tone for our stay. Everyone with whom we came into contact was so polite and nice and welcoming. That is what people expect when they stay at a hotel. I gave Bree’s certification card to the lady when I checked in even though she didn’t request it. She never questioned Bree’s presence with me. She was happy to see all of us – including Bree.

The room was spacious and comfortable. We had plenty of space to put our luggage and spread out. Bree had room to play fetch for a little while and let out some energy after being stuck in a car for so long. Our room also had a microwave, small refrigerator, and a Keurig coffee pot. I didn’t care for the coffee, but there wasn’t much cream or sugar. That really didn’t matter though. It wasn’t enough to make me change my opinion that this was the best hotel we had stayed in so far.

Breakfast was exactly what we expected. When we checked in Wednesday night, I asked about breakfast. The lady at the desk said that they did have a grab-and-go breakfast. She explained that due to COVID, they were trying to provide something for their guests without putting anyone at any more risk than we all already face. I appreciated this so much. When we got down to get breakfast, it was exactly what we thought – small white bags, each with a piece of fruit and a muffin, individual cereal servings (although they had run out of white milk, but we didn’t care), chocolate milk, and various fruit juices. there was also fresh coffee. It was great. We just grabbed what we wanted and returned to our room to eat before we checked out.

Without a doubt, I will stay at this hotel again if ever staying in Clinton. Everyone who worked there seemed to go out of their way to make sure their guests had everything they needed. Crowne Plaza and especially Grand Natchez Hotel could take lessons from Holiday Inn Express and Suites in Clinton. They would be wise to follow the example of this awesome hotel.

Salsa’s Mexican Grill

We met my niece and her daughter and husband at Salsa’s for dinner. The atmosphere was family-friendly. Our server had just started working there and was unable to answer some of our questions, but otherwise, the service was good. Mom and I started our meal with frozen strawberry margaritas, and let me just say, I thought they were delicious! It was two-for-one happy hour, so I ordered one, and Mom got the second one. We were happy with that.

The food: The food was interesting. It had great flavor – much better than Chili’s. However, I have never gotten steak and shrimp fajita that had the shrimp, peppers, and onions on top of a T-bone with the bone still in it. Usually the meat is cut up. This made cutting the steak a bit of a challenge, as it was difficult to determine exactly what I was cutting into because it was all covered. I did get a mouth full of gristle, but the rest of the platter was good.

Dessert: Let’s be honest. Fried ice cream takes skill. I’ve been to Mexican restaurants and had ice cream a number of ways. No matter how it was prepared, it was still fried ice cream,. I love fried ice cream. In all fairness, I just love ice cream. We all ordered fried ice cream for dessert. There was nothing fried about this ice cream. It was nothing more than a scoop of ice cream serviced with whipped cream on top and a bit of chocolate syrup. That’s it. There was no coating of any kind like every other order of fried ice cream I have ever had – just ice cream, cool whip, and a bit of chocolate syrup. Don’t misunderstand me. The ice cream was quite the culinary delight. However, it was not fried as indicated on the menu. Nonetheless, if I ever go back, I am sure that I will order the fried (not fried) ice cream.

The overall dinner was fabulous. We were never rushed or felt like we were being pressured to make decisions or hurry up in any way. Bree was created without question. (Amazing how nice people are when they know about service animals.) I asked for a booth, and we were seated at a booth. There were larger tables that would have probably been easier to serve, but the hostess didn’t hesitate to give us a booth when it was requested. The food, atmosphere, and service were all good. However, the best part of all was the company. Family is irreplaceable, and this week has been filled with family, which can make any meal perfect. We don’t get together enough as families, and it is time we go back to the large family gatherings where people love each other regardless of opinions, and everyone is happy to see everyone. That is what family is about.

Old Country Store

What a treat this was!! This is no longer a store, but a restaurant. Mom was told that they had the best fried chicken around. When my mom was a little girl, she and her cousins and friends would ride to the Old Country Store quite often. The food was good, and yes, I did eat the fried chicken. When you go to a place known for its fried chicken, you get fried chicken. If you go, do not leave. without a serving of blackberry cobbler. It is served hot with a large scoop of vanilla ice cream on top – delicious!

The best part of the Old Country Store experience (and it is an experience) was the 83-year-old man who told jokes and stories to anyone who would listen. Mr. Moon will receive his high school diploma in May from Port Gibson High School. He has been trying since 1958 to get his diploma. He joined the Army instead of finishing high school, but he earned his high school equivalency while serving our country. He didn’t get his certificate from the Army until after he was back home. As instructed, he took the certificate from the Army to the high school to get his official diploma. When the principal looked at the certificate, he told Mr. Moon that he couldn’t be awarded the diploma because the commander of his unit had not signed his certificate. Mr. Moon was heartbroken. He gave the certificate back to this mother.

Years later, Mr. Moon asked his mother for the certificate from the Army. She told him that she had given the certificate back to him. He never said anything else about it. When his mother died, she left a trunk full of quilts and different things. One day there was bad weather, and Mr. Moon was unable to work. His wife suggested he go through the cedar chest and see what all was inside. In the midst of all the quilts and blankets and papers, Mr. Moon found the certificate from the Army showing that he earned the credits to receive his high school diploma.

After many calls from one person to another and being passed off time and time again, Mr. Moon finally found a commander who agreed to sign his certificate so that he could receive his high school diploma. Unfortunately, Mr. Moon’s wife passed away January 20, 2021. Although she will not be with him when he receives his diploma, I have no doubt that she will be looking down on him with love and pride.

Congratulations, Mr. Moon, on finally receiving your high school diploma after all these years. I fell so blessed to be able to say I crossed your path and heard your amazing story.

The Old Country Store, Lorman, MS
Mr. Moon

The Natchez Grand Hotel

Where shall I begin. When we first saw the hotel we were amazed. The building is gorgeous and overlooks the Mississippi River. It was breathtaking. The young lady working the front desk when we checked in was very polite and welcoming. Unfortunately, the hospitality at Grand Natchez Hotel stopped there. The room itself was okay. We had a double queen, and no one who books a double queen can have a river view. Our room had what they referred to as “historic view.” Seriously? Yes, Natchez is old, and yes, we did see old buildings. However, it isn’t as if we were looking over monuments or any amazing historical buildings. “Historic view” should really be considered the “view of old buildings with no real significance.” But I digress…

Things really came to a head the morning we were to check out. As with Crowne Plaza in Baton Rouge, Grand Natchez Hotel boasts a free breakfast with your room. As people reading this may or may not know, I have a traumatic brain injury. I have a service dog that makes it possible for me to take trips such as this one with my mother. When I walked into the breakfast room to get breakfast, I was greeted with, “You can’t have your dog in here.” Let me paint a bit of a picture for you. Bree, my service dog, is a miniature dachshund. She weighs about ten pounds. She wears a bright pink harness with “SERVICE DOG” on both sides and a matching bright pink leash with “SERVICE DOG” up and down the leash. Forgive me if I take this a bit personally. My dog is protected by the ADA. She is allowed to go with me everywhere I go. She is not an emotional support animal. She is a service animal. Anyone working in the hospitality industry – regardless of the position – should be trained in dealing with people who have disabilities. My disability is not visible. It is a brain injury. When I tried to explain to the lady that Bree is a service animal she shrugged her shoulders and looked at me in a less-than-pleasant way. She was rude to me the entire time she was fixing my plate. By the time I got to the table to have breakfast with my mother, I was so upset that I couldn’t eat. I had to excuse myself to go back to the room. (When Mom got to the room shortly after me and Bree, she said the breakfast was awful anyway.) I held Bree close and cried the whole way to the elevator, in the elevator, to my room, and once I was in the room. I called my caregiver, who did not come on the trip with us, and told her what had happened. She was able to get me calmed back own before Mom got back to the room. Once she knew we were checked out of the hotel, she called and spoke to the manager. All I can say is that I am glad I was not the one on the other end of that call from her. I didn’t tell my mom what happened because I did not want to upset her. She would have gotten extremely upset and let the people at the hotel know – everyone at the hotel, guests included.

While I was loading the car, my mother finished checking us out of the hotel. The young lady who had helped us Tuesday night was not there. Instead there was a man there who was not very pleasant. Mom said he was quite rude and acted like he didn’t want to be there. NEWSFLASH – If you do not want to deal with people, GET OUT OF THE HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY!!!!

Red Top Seafood

What a lifesaver!! We drove around Natchez for an hour looking for somewhere to eat. Our hotel (Natchez Grand) is by the Mississippi River. It’s a beautiful hotel. Unfortunately, there aren’t very many eating options near our hotel. The young lady working the front desk gave us the name of a restaurant that she said was the best catfish in town. We had not really eaten much since breakfast, so we were very excited about diner. We got to the restaurant and a sign out front said they were closed due to equipment malfunction. WHAT?!?! Equipment Malfunction? Seriously? UGH!!!! So, off we went to search for another location. The next place we found near our hotel was so jam packed full of people, there was no way I was going to make it through dinner. So, we set out to find another place to eat. A few wrong turns (once down a one way street) later, we decided to drive back out toward Hwy 61 to see what we could find. By this time, we were so tired, we opted to settle for McDonald’s. (Desperate times call for desperate measures.) Fortunately, we crossed the highway to go to McDonald’s and saw Red Top Seafood. HALLELUJAH!!!!

The moment we walked in, we were greeted with the Southern Hospitality we were raised to expect. The gentlemen also coming into the restaurant held the door for us to go in and were so polite. (Not something you see every day – although it should be the norm.) The ladies at the counter were awesome! They were welcoming and helpful and just happy to see us. We felt like we were walking into a friend’s home to have dinner. It was great!

The food was delicious. The catfish was fried to perfection. The portion sizes were huge!! I had five catfish filets, a huge mound of French fries, and coleslaw. It was much more than I could eat, but I ate to my heart’s content, along with a Barq’s root beer, and I was happy. When we left, we had some great tips from the other gentlemen eating near us. They were the only other patrons inside the restaurant, but the drive through was full when we got there and full when we left. Honestly., I am surprised there weren’t more people because the food was so good. Anyway, if you’re in Natchez and want seafood, check out Red Top Seafood. The prices were reasonable as well – BONUS!

Crowne Plaza Executive Center

How do I express my disappointment in the Crowne Plaza Executive Center. Let me begin by explaining what was good. The service at the front desk was amazing. The lady who helped us check in and check out was so polite and friendly. I heard her joking with other guests and making people smile all around her. When we needed a cart for our luggage, we didn’t even have to ask her where they were. She overheard our conversation and got a cart for us.

Our room was nice. We had a double queen/handicap accessible. The room was great. We had a small refrigerator and a coffee pot. The bathroom was large and wheelchair accessible. What I did not like was the shower. The shower was large and had a place to sit, which was nice. However, whoever designed the shower thought that it would be a better idea to put a small round drain over I the corner rather than a long drain separating the shower from the rest of the bathroom. As a result, water was all over the floor in the bathroom. This is not good. Take it from someone who has a traumatic brain injury due to slipping on a wet floor. Having the water from the shower flowing into the bathroom is a bad design. Someone will get hurt. Just to feel comfortable taking a shower, I had to put towels all over the floor.

Before we left Tuesday morning, we wanted breakfast. Crowne Plaza offers free breakfast for its guests. Disappointment isn’t even close to what I felt on my entrance into the breakfast room. No one was there except one young man who was working. That didn’t bother me. What bothered me is that I completely understand why no one was in there. The breakfast was awful. The bacon was greasy. I was excited about possibly having some fresh fruit to start my day. The bananas were brown. The young man working asked the chef to make pancakes for me. The pancakes were wonderful. Other offerings included scrambled eggs and grits. There was no toast and no biscuits. Guests could get the chef to make omelets. I opted for the pancakes, and they were a good choice. For the amount Crowne Plaza Executive Center charges for one night (and a Monday at that), one would expect a much better breakfast than what we had.

Chili’s, Baton Rouge

Our next stop was dinner with family. We chose Chili’s for its convenient location near the Crowne Plaza. The food was okay. I ordered a chicken fajita, and the chicken wasn’t seasoned very well. Don’t get me wrong. It didn’t taste bad. I just don’t think it was the best I’ve had. Usually when I order fajitas at a restaurant, the plate is sizzling with delicious onions and peppers and meat that are all seasoned very well. I can typically just look at it and know it is seasoned well, not to mention that wonderful aroma one usually gets from a well-cooked fajita. I had cheesecake for dessert, and it was absolutely divine. It was the perfect dessert for the night.

Regardless of my entrée, I would not have traded last night at Chili’s for anything. The atmosphere was fantastic. I didn’t know I needed to call ahead for a large party. We weren’t sure how may people would actually be there, so I didn’t think it would matter. The hostess told us to just wait a few minutes, and she put tables together for us to all be together. Our server was awesome!! He took all our fun in stride and joked right along with us. Unfortunately, I do not remember his name, but he was wonderful. Being able to be there with cousins I had not seen in so long was so amazing, I cannot even put it into words.