Thursday, September 16, 2021

Book Review: Under the Bayou Moon by Valerie Frasier Luesse

Restless with the familiarity of her Alabama home, Ellie Fields accepts a teaching job in a tiny Louisiana town deep in bayou country. Though rightfully suspicious of outsiders, who have threatened both their language and their culture, most of the people in tiny Bernadette, Louisiana, come to appreciate the young and idealistic schoolteacher as a boon to the town. She's soon teaching just about everyone--and coming up against opposition from both the school board and a politician with ulterior motives.

Acclimating to a whole new world, Ellie meets a lonely but intriguing Cajun fisherman named Raphe who introduces her to the legendary white alligator that haunts these waters. Raphe and Ellie have barely found their way to each other when a huge bounty is offered for the elusive gator, bringing about a shocking turn of events that will test their love and their will to right a terrible wrong.

A master of the Southern novel, Valerie Fraser Luesse invites you to enter the sultry swamps of Louisiana in a story that illuminates the struggle for the heart and soul of the bayou.

My rating:

When I saw that this book takes place on the Louisiana bayou, seeing as how someone very close to me is from LA, I of course had to request to review it.

Oh. My. Goodness. Gracious.

It took me a couple of weeks to get into the story; A young woman (Ellie) on her way to a new job in the middle of nowhere stops at a diner and gets sage advice from a wiser lady, higher in years, that works behind the counter of a diner befitting the era of the story. Yippee.

And then, enter stage right: Heywood Thornberry. I adore Heywood. Like...y'all. Heywood needs his own novel, please and thank you. On the surface, Heywood is a happy-go-luck ladies' man, a good ol' boy that everyone wants as their friend. But the way he took care of Ellie...just...yes. Oh my goodness, I adore Heywood.

So then, things started looking up. You learn a bit more about Ellie herself, and she...was an outstanding character. The deep compassion she had for everyone, her logical approach to everything...I really, really loved her. The way she was determined to help the children—and those around her—greatly inspired me. Plus, I just found her generally relatable.

And then we meet Raphe: quiet. Calm. Easygoing, yet intense. I adored the way he looked after Remy like his own son, the way he gently handled Ellie when she needed it most. His compassion for those around him, and the way he always helped out wherever needed. And his friendship with Heywood? LET ME TELL YOU. That trio—Raphe, Ellie, Heywood—was specTACULAR. The fact that if one of them got bored (*cough* mainly Heywood *cough*) they just went and bugged one of the others? Talk about a friend squad.

The spiritual aspect was more cultural than an actual theme in the book, but somehow, it fit. The majority of the cast of characters was catholic, but while I'm not catholic, I also didn't read a lot of catholic doctrine, I said, it was more of a culture thing than an actual message. The message in the book wasn't a spelled-out obvious spiritual truth; it was the subtle theme of close-knit community.

Set a few years after WWII, the governor of Louisiana is trying to stamp out the creole culture, banning the French language from the state. But with ulterior motives comes the realization that when you try to pit neighbors against each other, it'll backfire on you. The people of Bernadette are some of the most loving people you'll ever meet, and the most stubborn.

No wonder Ellie fell in love with the place.

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for promotional purposes. All thoughts are my own.

What was the last book that wrapped you in a hug and made you never want to leave?

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Book Review: To the Uttermost by Kristina Hall

How far will he take his quest for vengeance?

Owen Lockart will track down and kill the man who murdered his three brothers and left him to die in the Colorado wilderness. And no one will get in his way.

Sally Reiner doesn't know a stranger. She thinks nothing of befriending Owen, her family's new ranch hand. Little does she know he's won her trust to gain information about her no-good murderer of a brother.

Will deceit and vengeance destroy Sally and Owen, or will they trust in the only One Who is able to deliver them?

Series: A Better Country, book #2 (can be read as a standalone; I did!)

My rating:

Well, this new-to-me indie author has definitely been a success so far! I might be slightly biased because I've loved westerns my whole life, but pfft, minor details.

The prologue was a fantastic way to open the book, and had me hooked from the beginning! An ambush, injuries (*smirks* if you know, you know), the terror of wondering if his brothers were alive or not...just yes.

The writing style really pulled me in. I was definitely invested in the story, and even though life has been insane, I found myself spending extra time reading it. Soooo...sorry to my epic boss for spending an extra long time watering the plants because I was reading. *grins sheepishly*

Owen's thirst for revenge, though I normally find that kind of thing highly annoying, actually kiiiinda had me on his side. Like, yeah, I knew it was wrong and everything, and I would've tried to talk him out of it, but I definitely understood why he was doing it and a tiny bit of me was like Mmm yes okay, go get 'im, tiger! But *cough* after Owen continually persisted for three hundred pages, it...kinda got old. Kinda.

Sally appeared to be your typical I'm-gonna-do-whatever-I-want-to-do-and-I-don't-care-what-you-think kind of female protagonists at first, but she wasn't, and I actually grew to love her. I loved how she was stubborn and determined enough to carry her weight and do what needed to be done when things got tough, but she also knew her limitations and listened to people's advice. I really loved Sally. (Though I'm sorry, I do. not. like. that. name. *cries*)

Doyle was definitely the sweet endearing man everyone wants as a grandpa. Rose was the sweetest thing. The kids were little terrors (honestly seemed like brats that needed some discipline to me, but I won't complain, as they weren't in the book a whole lot). Harry was incredible and the best character in the whole book.

The message of faith was strong—very strong. The message of forgiveness and leaving vengeance to the Lord was epic, and so was the salvation message, was kinda...preachy. Okay, very preachy. I understand that Sally was just doing it out of concern, but in that one scene, I almost felt like I was reading a sermon, and it kinda jerked me out of the story. 

All in all, though, I would definitely recommend this book to someone looking for a clean western with a good message!
*I received an e-copy of this book from the author for promotional purposes. All thoughts are my own.

What's your favorite western?

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Book Review: The Nature of Small Birds by Susie Finkbeiner

In 1975, three thousand children were airlifted out of Saigon to be adopted into Western homes. When Mindy, one of those children, announces her plans to return to Vietnam to find her birth mother, her loving adoptive family is suddenly thrown back to the events surrounding her unconventional arrival into their lives.

Though her father supports Mindy's desire to meet her family of origin, he struggles privately with an unsettling fear that he'll lose the daughter he's poured his heart into. Mindy's mother undergoes the emotional roller coaster inherent in the adoption of a child from a war-torn country, discovering the joy hidden amid the difficulties. And Mindy's sister helps her sort through relics that whisper of the effect the trauma of war has had on their family--but also speak of the beauty of overcoming.

Told through three strong voices in three compelling timelines, The Nature of Small Birds is a hopeful story that explores the meaning of family far beyond genetic code.

My rating:

Honestly, this book was...a huge letdown. I was soooo excited for this new release by a recent favorite author. But, sadly, it fell completely short of my expectations.

I've read books before with dual timelines, but a triple timeline was completely new to me. In this case, it definitely wasn't a bad thing; it was easy to keep up with, and even though the timelines were from different points of view, the cast of characters remained the same, so I wasn't overrun with names to remember. That was really helpful.

1975. Linda doesn't get along with her mother-in-law, and no one has the guts to stand up to the cantankerous matriarch. Also the year that they adopt an adorable little child.

1988. Sonny is in her late teens, about to graduate high school, needing a new job.

2013. Bruce is enjoying his grandpa life, and wishes everyone could just get along.

Three different people. One family. Reading the story, I was pulled in to the lives of the characters, but I wasn't really connecting, y'know? Like, sure, I liked reading about their lives and stuff, but eventually I had to force myself to finish the book. And I couldn't figure out why...until I realized three things:

This book has almost no plot.

This book has no depth of character.

And this book felt like a waste of time once I finished. *hides*

*Sigh* Maybe I'm just tired as I write this, but I do know that this book was a major disappointment. I kept waiting for the characters to learn something, to mature, to actually do something worth noting...but they didn't. They were shallow, and it felt like I could've read a book about their neighbor down the road and not even miss them for as emotionally invested as I got in the story.

The plot carried the characters—not the other way around—and that, people, does not make for a story that I'll enjoy.

What did I like about the book? Well...I liked Ivan. I liked the setting. I liked the pop culture references (except that the people in this historical novel went to see Frozen in the theater and I feel so old). I appreciated the message, about how we're made to spread our wings and fly, but it just...fell flat.

All in all, not a book that I'll be rereading. But it was cool to learn some historical facts about the Vietnam war that I hadn't known before. ;)

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for promotional purposes. All thoughts are my own.

Have you ever been disappointed by a book that didn't meet your expectations? 

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Book Review: Ignite by Jenna Terese

"...Ignite is a must-read for fans of the Marvel universe.” 
— Sandra Fernandez Rhoads, YA author of Mortal Sight & Realms of Light

What if superhumans weren't considered heroes?

When Scarlett Marley is attacked by an illegal super with fire powers, she doesn’t get burned, but now she has a fire-like glow flickering in her eyes.
With superpowers criminalized, she has no choice but to turn herself over to the Superhuman Containment Facility, or risk hurting everyone she loves.
Her normal life seems lost forever, until she is selected to be one of the first to receive the experimental cure to destroy her powers. In exchange, she must first complete one mission:
Infiltrate and capture one of the largest gangs of supers in the remains of once-great Rapid City. 
With the cure and all her future at stake, Scarlett is prepared to do whatever it takes to bring these criminals to justice so she can return to her family. But this gang and their leader, Rez, aren’t what everyone says, and Scarlett begins to question everything she was ever told about the SCF and the fire flowing in her veins.

The cure is her only hope for returning her life to what it was before, but is that life worth returning to after all?

Series: Ignite, book 1

My rating:

Do you ever read certain books where you fully expect them to live up to the hype, but try not to keep your hopes up just in case it's not as good as you hoped, but it turns out to be everything you expected?

Yeah. Me too.

I've been 'friends' with Jenna on Instagram pretty much from the beginning, and being able to watch her journey from aspiring author to published author has been soooo gratifying. The way she talked about this story of hers, I could see how much it meant to her, and after reading Ignite, it's clear how hard she worked on this book.

Mmkay. Now that I've bragged a bit on Jenna as a debut author, let's dive into the story, shall we?

The beginning was a bit slow, to be honest, bordering on annoying with all the times it mentioned people scraping their paper cup to get the last bit of ice cream. But then it definitely picked up the pace when—gasp—Scarlett (the main character, in case you decided to skip the blurb) is attacked by a super.

A super. Not a superhero. Because people with superpowers are criminals.

At says the government.

I adored Scarlett. Her struggles, her determination to do the right thing regardless of what it may mean for her...yes. And what I adored all the more was that it wasn't always clear what was right and what was wrong. Scarlett was so determined to make the right choice, the honest choice...but what happens when you can't see what is right and what is wrong? Do you stick with what you know, or do you explore the unknown? I really appreciated how Scarlett struggled to answer that question, and how she dealt with what followed, and how she chose to take responsibility for choices gone wrong.

Ares, Nadia, and Seth. *deep breath* So different. So unique. To be honest, they was almost allegorically symbolic of the different stages of spiritual growth, and I loved that so much.

But my favorite character? Rez. Always Rez. Having to decide whether or not it's worth doing wrong in order to protect the greater good and, ultimately, save lives. It was so obvious that he was under a lot of stress and pressure, but he still remained gentle and kind. I definitely need more of him in book 2.

The plot, as a whole, was different than I'm used to, but sooo good. My second superhero book, and so far we're 2 for 2! I can't wait to read Ignite's sequel!

*I received an e-copy of this book from the author for promotional purposes. All thoughts are my own.

What's your favorite superhero novel? If that's your thing (or even if it's not), definitely check this one out!

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Book Review: Shadow by Kara Swanson

Peter Pan has crash-landed back on Neverland. But this is not the island he remembers.

Desperate to rescue Claire and the fractured Lost Boys, Peter must unravel what truly tore his dreamland apart. But with each step, he is haunted by more of his own broken memories. Not even Pan himself is what he seems.

Claire Kenton is chained to a pirate ship, watching the wreckage of Neverland rocked by tempests. When she finally finds her brother, Connor is every bit as shattered as the island. Claire may have pixie dust flowing in her veins—but the light of Neverland is flickering dangerously close to going out forever.

To rescue Neverland from the inescapable shadow, the boy who never grew up and the girl who grew up too fast will have to sacrifice the only thing they have left: each other.

Series: Heirs of Neverland, Book 1 (I'd definitely say read Dust first, particularly if you don't normally read fantasy)

My rating:

What a fantastic conclusion to the Heirs of Neverland duology! I was so curious to see how Swanson would pull it off, and I was definitely not disappointed. 

I'll start off by saying that in my review of Dust, while I said that I loved Peter's character...I also failed to convey just how annoying he was. He refused to grow up. Treated it like a disease to be avoided at all costs. I said that his character growth was amazing, and I still stand by that. But I also think that his real growth came in the sequel.

And let me tell you...I loved it.

I adored seeing him struggle with responsibility and the consequences of wrong actions. (Like Shadow. Shadow was the most irritating character on the planet and I'm glad he got what he had coming to him. But I digress.) 

So...that brings us to Connor. The character we've long waited to meet. Claire's loyalty to him was understandable, even admirable, yet...even while I wanted to throttle her, I completely understood her feelings and reasoning, and that should tell you just how well-written the story is. *trying to avoid spoilers* Connor was a hard character to love; more like one we all love to hate. But I loved him because Claire loved him.

The reason I docked it a star is because it was...confusing. So many plot twists that my mind was spinning and could hardly keep up with them (Hook and that other secret character? Kinda overplayed in my humble opinion). Plus, since Shadow takes place in Neverland (whereas Dust took place in London), I knew to expect some worldbuilding. It was just...I don't know. I don't wanna say confusing because that's honestly expected, especially for someone like me who doesn't make it a habit of reading fantasy. But there were certain parts that still left me scratching my head and wondering what in the world was going on.

I also didn't like the epilogue. Y'all can fight me on this, but there are very, very few books that wouldn't be just as good—or even better—without the epilogue. And, in my opinion, this was one such book. I get so invested in the characters throughout the entire book, I don't want to skip ahead several years to see how everything's changed, thank you. Even if it's a good change.

The was hard for me to keep up with all the pieces, but bit by bit, it all came together. And it was inspiring. And painful. And suspenseful. And...*sigh* okay. Y'all. That bit with Lily's people? Dude. Yesssss. The battle. The sirens. Even for a fantasy, it was all pretty epic.

Also, I love Tiger Lily. And the Guardian.

Also, Claire and Peter are pretty cute.

And I hope y'all enjoyed my late-night disjointed review. *halo*

*I received an e-copy of this book from the publisher for promotional purposes. All thoughts are my own.

Have you read Shadow yet?? Sorry, my brain is too dead to come up with a better question. *shrugs*

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

3 Tips for Authentically Writing Characters with Depression: A Guest Post

Have I forgotten about this series? No! It's time for the second installment (do I have a title for this series yet? No. No, I do not.), and today the topic is something y'all know is close to my heart. I'm pleased (see? still trying to avoid the 'I'm so excited' line) to hand the stage over to Victoria PenningVictoria is a sweetheart with a whole lot of spunk that graciously agreed to write a guest post on a subject that is so sensitive for a lot of people.

Hello! I'm Victoria!

I had the great privilege of being asked to write a guest post for Kaitlyn’s blog on a topic that I am very passionate about and love to write. Characters with depression. 

Why? Because I struggled with my own depression and suicidal thoughts and I love to share about it with people now that I have overcome my own struggles. 

A little more in-depth about me, I’m nineteen, I come from a large, Christian, homeschool family, and yes, I struggled with depression. That was something that not many people understood. 

“You haven’t had a rough life. You have a great family. You’ve lived a sheltered life. What do you have to be depressed about?

Well, I won’t go into all the details because that’s not really what this post is for, but this is a very common thing for Christian homeschoolers who struggle with depression. 

1) My BIGGEST piece of advice for writing a character who deals with depression is: life doesn’t suddenly get better after the climax. Life isn’t all sunshine and roses for that character after they see the light or are saved. They aren’t suddenly healed and everything is great. 

Nuh uh. It comes and goes in waves. And one thing that comes along in the package of depression is the voice inside the head. That little voice that gives sugared up and painted over lies, making them seem so real that we end believing them. That never just “goes away”. It takes so. Much. TIME. 

So, tip #1: don’t make your character suddenly “get better”. 

2) When you have depression, but are around people who don’t understand why, you learn how to fake a smile and laugh suuuper well. A best friend might be able to pick up something if the mask slips a little bit, but most of the time if that person who is struggling doesn’t want other people to know, no one will know. I’m not kidding. For example:

Your character is in a group setting and is feeling kind of down, maybe playing with the straw in their drink. Someone says something to them and a smile quickly lights their face, knowing they have to look happy as they talk with them. 

Try something different. Anyone could look over and see this friend looking kind of down and ask if they’re okay. While that really is great, and I wish it was that easy, if your character really doesn’t want people to know, something like this might happen:

Carly laughed at her friend's story, wiping tears from her eyes and biting her lips together in an attempt to trap the giggles as a waiter approached the table. She could feel her face turning red with the suppressed laughter.

Sounds totally normal when you’re with a best friend, right? But then continue it. 

Carly closed the door of her bathroom, the silence finally surrounding her and digging its fingernails into her brain. The smile slipped from her face and exhaustion flooded her soul. Her throat clogged, the suppressed tears begging to be released. The familiar weight settled on her shoulders and all of the voices crept back into her mind.

Carly could be totally fine with friends, but when she gets home and is alone, the joy of being with people fades and the crushing weight returns with way too much joy. 

So, tip #2: Depression can be easily hidden. 

3) Things can stick in a person’s brain for a long time. Especially if your character has depression and is an overthinker. You just doubled the pain and difficulty for that poor character. That character will remember pretty much every mistake and awkward moment they’ve ever had, and they will stress about it way too often. It will enforce the voice in their head telling them that they are a mistake, and that they aren’t wanted or that they shouldn’t even be alive so they wouldn’t mess something up for that person or be a burden to their family. Thoughts mess with a person's head so much, it’s hard to even describe it. 

So, tip #3: the inner thought process of your character is super important to know, and they need to have situations in their past or even present that fuel their wrong decision of how they don’t deserve life. 

All of this has been pretty depressing sounding. (Hm, I wonder why, Vic). Now, here’s my last piece of advice, although this is more a personal story. 

I struggled with all of this. Every single thing that you have read here, I have drawn from my own personal experiences. Yes, I went through all of this. I contemplated suicide so many times, and almost went through with it one time. 


But God sent along this incredible friend that I met awkwardly. I never imagined that we would become best friends, or that this person would so effectively make my walls crumble. I told this friend everything. Still do, and this friend is the reason why I am still alive. This one person saw through my masks and made me feel like I honestly come and talk to them. 

If you want to save your character, put them through a heck of a rough life, and then give them that one person who saw something that no one else did. Because that’s often how life works. There’s just one person who might notice something that no one else will. And that can save your character’s life.

I hope you enjoyed this little peek into my life, I hope that this helps you write your character with depression, and if you are struggling and don’t have that one person yet, come find me. I will be that one person for you. Or even if you’re struggling with writing your character, send me questions! I am not shy or sensitive about this topic at all and love to answer questions! 

Lastly, thank you to Kaitlyn for giving me this opportunity to share what I’m passionate about. She’s an incredible human being!


Thank you SO MUCH for taking the time to give us a bit of insight into this subject, Victoria, and for being so open to such a sensitive subject. (If y'all are interested checking out Victoria's book, A Tasteful Christmas, you can find it on Goodreads here!)

I'm loving this blog series so far! Do you have any topics you'd like to see discussed in the future?

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Book Review: Dust by Kara Swanson

The truth about Neverland is far more dangerous than a fairy tale.

Claire Kenton believes the world is too dark for magic to be real—since her twin brother was stolen away as a child. Now Claire's desperate search points to London... and a boy who shouldn't exist.

Peter Pan is having a beastly time getting back to Neverland. Grounded in London and hunted by his own Lost Boys, Peter searches for the last hope of restoring his crumbling island: a lass with magic in her veins.

The girl who fears her own destiny is on a collision course with the boy who never wanted to grow up. The truth behind this fairy tale is about to unravel everything Claire thought she knew about Peter Pan—and herself.

Series: Heirs of Neverland, #1

My rating:

So. First of all, I've never read Peter Pan, nor have I seen the entire movie, so maybe that's why, even after seeing friends' reviews that bemoaned the fact that "the innocence of Peter Pan was lost," I enjoyed the reimagining of the childhood fairytale.

Pretty much everything I'd heard about Peter Pan annoyed me. A brat with zero responsibilities, never understanding why people were mad at him because every bad thing he did was blocked from his memory? Uhhhh, no thank you. So when Swanson took Dust and turned it into a story about a boy who was forced to grow up...yes. A thousand yeses. (is that even a word though??) His memory attacks, his efforts to hide them, and his reluctance to grow up added a depth of character that honestly made me love him. He had his moments, of course; he pouted when things didn't go his way, he didn't always listen to people who knew better (*cough* Tiger Lily *cough*), he didn't know how to read people and therefore stuck his foot in his mouth a million times. was Peter. And he learned his lesson. Even if it came at a huge price. Claire. The girl with anxiety. The girl with insecurity. The girl that always looks for the best in people (with the exception being Peter Pan). Her character transformation was incredible. I adored watching her go from the girl fearfully clutching a childhood edition of Peter Pan to the girl that learned to fly. From being terrified of the dust that she couldn't control, to using that dust for good. Loyal to a fault. After being left for Neverland by her brother, she still sold everything she had to find him. And, honestly, that spoke volumes more than all the arguments she got into defending him.

Tiger Lily and the Guardian were fantastic characters—steady, dependable, keeping Peter accountable (specifically Lily). But the other character I'd like to really dive into is Captain Hook. Swanson did an absolutely amazing job with his character. Because while I can't say that his character was exactly endearing...I was honestly questioning who the real bad guy was. Because we know the story: Peter Pan is the hero, Captain Hook is the villain. But what made this so notable was the fact that I was asking, is that really true? Who's the real bad guy? And isn't that how it always is? We hear so many sides of a story that soon we can't even tell what is right and what is wrong. And this book is such a good example of that.

The paranormal aspects were interesting. I actually enjoyed it for the most part. The pixies were fun to read about, and the flying, and just...yeah. Super cool. Peter and Claire, though I'm not a romance fan, were actually super cute. It wasn't enemies-to-lovers, wasn't friends-to-lovers either. Whichever it was, I liked it. Like, that scene with the ashen dust and stuff? Y'alllll that was the sweetest thing. *sniffs*

There were a couple of scenes that I personally think could've been done better, but honestly, if you're a fan of fantasy/paranormal and fairytales, this is definitely the book for you.

What book have you read recently to branch into a different genre than usual?