I have a handful of friends who like to post writing prompts, and I occasionally humor them with my take on a scene. Here’s the first one. Maybe I’ll write the whole book someday.
Prompt:Create the beginning of a murder mystery novel. Your beginning must include the following: You are in the New Orleans French quarter, naked and holding both a live turtle and dead chicken.
Lorraine stood on the corner of Bourbon street, watching the bright headlights flash by and waiting. She shivered as sweat trickled down her naked spine, in part from the heat of the night, and in part from fear. Something else dribbled along her left arm and she glanced down at the drooping head of the once white chicken, now soaked red in its own blood.
The street emptied and quieted.
She shifted a rounded, heavy load further up her right hip and crossed quickly, the blood of the chicken leaving a speckled trail across the pavement. There was a hissing sound and she tightened her grip on the large object as she walked. “No, Beau, it’s okay.” she said under her breath as the small snapping turtle stretched out its long, snake-like head to look around. Beauregard looked her in the eye and nodded before retreating back and presumably going to sleep.
On the other side of Bourbon street stood an ivy covered, many leveled restaurant. The bouncer at the door took one look at her and started cursing. “Where are your damn clothes, woman? He sent you out for a chicken five hours ago and you come back naked and covered in blood. What else you got there? Is that a fucking snapping turtle?”
Lorraine raised her eyebrows at him but didn’t answer. She eased past him when he opened the door and entered the well appointed kitchen.
Mason glanced up from the last of the dishes at the sound of the door, and quickly dropped a soapy pan when saw her. “Jesu Christe. What happened to you? Why is Beaureguard with you?”
Lorraine dropped the bloody chicken carcas on the freshly cleaned counter top and walked past him to the staff dining room before putting Beau on the table. She walked back into the kitchen, rinsed off her bloody arm, and donned a spare chef’s coat. Then she returned to the dining room and sat down. Mason joined her with a glass of sweet tea. “I’m going to need something stronger than that.” She remarked, but chugged the tea anyway.
When he placed two fingers of whiskey in front of her she sighed, crumpling into the chair. Beauregard shuffled over and she absentmindedly rubbed her head and she reached out and took the whole bottle of whiskey from Mason’s hand and upended it over her glass.
“Zach’s dead,” she said, placing the bottle on the table.
There was a loud thump and a wobble as Mason’s butt landed in a chair and nearly sent him over backwards. “What? How? When? What?” He stuttered his words as he tried to grasp at this new reality.
“It’s a long story,” Lorraine answered, picking up her glass. “But before I explain, we should probably call the police.”
Do you have a take on this story prompt? I’d love to see it! Feel free to email me at Amanda@highlightsandhotchocolate.com and I’ll share my favorites in a post!
December feels like it was 10 years ago. Among everything that’s happened in the last six months, I realized that I never shared my favorite reads from 2019. If you, like me, are in need of something really good to get you out of your stress induced reading slump, consider giving one of these a try.
The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman Nina works at a bookstore and hangs out at trivia nights with her friends. Her mom sends occasional postcards from her travels, and everything is right with the world. But then the father Nina never knew dies, and suddenly she has family members coming out of the woodwork, all of whom want to get to know her. Worse, her trivia nemesis seems interested in getting to know her better. All Nina wants is peace and quiet. Can she adjust to a new normal? This one was delightfully quirky and funny, and I made it my very first staff pick at the bookstore when I started working there. More people should read romantic comedies.
May Bird Warrior Princess by Jodi Lynn Anderson (Full Review) This is the final installment in a children’s trilogy about a girl who gets sucked into the land of the dead, known as the Ever After, and has to find her way home. After two books, May and her hairless cat, Somber Kitty, have only just returned to the land of the living when the unthinkable happens. A prediction about the end of the world, and the Ever After, comes true. This whole series blew me away. The character development, the world building, was all phenomenal. The first book honestly creeped me out, but I kept coming back for more. May grows from a scared child into a brave young woman, capable of taking on the “big bad”, along with all of the ghouls and monsters out to get her. With the help of some friendly ghosts and monsters of her own, May is the kick-butt heroine kids need.
Well Met by Jen DeLuca (Full Review) Emily has just moved to town to take care of her sister and niece when she is thrown into participating in the local renaissance faire. She tries to keep an open mind, but Simon, one of the organizers, just will not let any missteps slide. Which would be frustrating enough if he didn’t look so good in pirate’s leathers. Now Emily is trying to balance caring for her family with the topsy-turvy events of her weekends, and she’s not completely sure she can keep up. First of all, a rom-com at a renaissance faire?! With a side of bookstore?? Sign. Me. Up. I read this in one sitting, and I was very happy with how well the relationship was written. It was real, and characters had good boundaries, and I just loved it so much. 10/10, will reread regularly. The sequel, Well Played, is due out Sept. 22nd, 2020.
The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djeli Clark (Full Review) Agent Hamed al-Nasr and his partner Agent Onsi investigate a mysterious tram car in this alternate universe, early 1900’s Egypt set novella. Humans and Djinn live in quasi-harmony in the city of Cairo, where magic makes mass transportation and many other things possible. Women are gathering to fight for the right to vote, and the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities deals with anything out of the ordinary. This novella blew me away. I was captivated from the first page, and when it ended I desperately wanted to know what case the agents would be assigned next.
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill For as long as they can remember, the people of The Protectorate have given up a baby to the evil witch who poisons the forest so she will let them live in peace. That’s just the way it is. For as long as she can remember, Xan has rescued a child from the same grove of trees every year and brings them to the villages far away from the poisoned forest. As she travels, she feeds them star dust to keep them full and healthy. Xan is getting old though, and one year she makes a mistake. She feeds an infant moon dust instead of star dust, and just like that the little girl is en-magicked. Now Xan, her swamp monster Glerk, and her dragon Fyrian have a little witch on their hands to train and care for, and to keep safe from the dangers looming in the long silent shadows of the forest. This magical middle grade novel was both heart wrenching and heart warming at the same time. Mystery and truth were so tightly wound that I could hardly tell one from the other, which made the ending that much sweeter.
Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny (Full Review) A man wakes from a coma, at first unsure of who he is, but then sure of one thing. He is Corwin, a son of Oberon, and a rightful heir to the throne of the one true world, Amber. If only he can remember how to get back there. This book so tightly winds world building with character development that it is hard to separate one from the other. What is true and what is imagined? Who can be trusted, and how does our world factor in to Amber? With vague ties to Arthurian and Merlinian legends, the 10-book Chronicles of Amber series is one every fantasy lover should pick up.
Gift of the Shaper by D.L. Jennings (Full Review) On a routine trip into the neighboring town of Lusk, Thornton and his best friend, Miera, barely escape from black-clad thugs who claim to want something other than money from the pair. Their return trip moves even more dangerous, and by the time they reach Highglade, Thornton’s father is nowhere to be found. Convinced the thugs have kidnapped him, the young apprentice will stop at nothing to find the only family he has. This debut novel was just the quest fantasy I needed. Wars, prophecies, and gods are all wrapped up in a neat package with great world building reminiscent of Tolkien. The sequel, Awaken The Three, hits shelves August 11th, 2020.
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik (Full Review) A story of faeries and witches and demons who try to push the seasons around for their own gain, Spinning Silver is a masterpiece of interwoven storylines. Heroes all, Miryem, Wanda, and Irina must band together to bring nature back into balance and return peace to their families and their kingdom. This was the second book I’ve read by Novik, and while I think this one was slightly harder to follow, given the mutli-POV, it was so interesting to see similar people react to things in totally different ways.
Heart of Iron by Ashley Poston (Full Review) This whirlwind adventure takes the old-as-time story of Anastasia and launches it into space, where it takes on a life of its own. This book was my second staff rec pick when I was the bookstore. It’s so well written, and all the characters are such colorful individuals that I just couldn’t help loving them all. Lots and lots of queer and POC rep in this one too! The sequel and end of the duology, Soul of Stars, is now available as well.
Temptation Ridge by Robyn Carr (Virgin River #6) Luke Riordan is a retired Blackhawk Pilot, ready for some peace and quiet in the mountain town of Virgin River. Shelby is ready to get back to living after five years of caring for her very sick mother. She’s just settled into her uncle’s home in Virgin River when she meets Luke and sparks fly, but their difference might be too much for them to overcome. I love just about all of the Virgin River books, but Luke and Shelby’s story has a very special place in my heart. They’ve both been through a lot, and come from military families, and there’s also a 13-year age difference rearing it’s ugly head to keep them apart. If you’re looking for a happy ending despite the odds, this whole series is for you.
Here we are, at the end of another trip around the sun. It’s been a whirlwind year that doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.
Last summer, I was focused on getting all my ducks in a row for my last semester of graduate school. I was getting new roommates, and preparing to start a new job at a bookstore, which was the most exciting thing ever. Fast forward to October, and two of my grandparents were in and out of the hospital. I finished my master’s degree in December, only to promptly slip on ice and take a fall down my front steps the next morning on my way out to work. An afternoon in the ER, five weeks of being house bound, and another three of physical therapy kept me down for the count through the beginning of 2020. In mid-January I lost my grandfather, and traveled down to be with my family for the funeral on the weekend before I returned to work. I had only been back at work for about six weeks when the bookstore closed and put us all on furlough for safety due to COVID-19. In May, graduation was cancelled. At the end of June, I was officially laid off from the bookstore due to COVID-19 financial strains and being one of the lowest people on the proverbial ladder. So far, I have spent more than half of 2020 in my house. It’s been weird to say the least. Here’s hoping I can at least do something productive with the second half of the year.
Looking at my list of goals for my 27th year, it doesn’t look like I got very far, but I guess that’s to be expected given how deep in focus I was during grad school and then how home bound I’ve been since. I got into better shape, but that was only after I really hurt myself. Expect a whole post soon about my post-accident fitness journey. Being stuck at home in a pandemic has enabled me to be more conscious of my nutrition, but that’s also something that I’ll need to keep working on. Writing is hard under normal circumstances, but I definitely hit a wall during quarantine. No fiction, no book reviews, nothing. Even reading was hard for a while. I did manage to complete two outlines last fall though, so hopefully I can turn those into full drafts this year. Things like buying a car, saving for travel, and paying off some of my student loans have to be pushed to a back burner while I find a new job, but thankfully the government has cancelled loan interest and payments until the end of September due to the pandemic. My roommates and I are still hunting for the right cat for us, but we’re hoping to find one soon.
So, what does all of that mean for the next year? It means I still have a lot of work to do. My “Theme of the Year” is Further Reading Required, because I want to keep inspiring myself to dig deeper, do more research, more learning, more exploring of myself and society. I need to take what I wanted to get done last year and bring that with me, while also continuing to push forward and weave in new skills and routines. Here’s what that’s going to look like.
TOTY 28 Goals: 1. Practice, Practice, Practice. There are a couple things I want to learn to do this year. ● Learn to do crossword puzzles. ● Learn to skateboard. ● Re-learn to play guitar. ● Learn more about nutrition and practice my cooking and baking skills. ● Learn more about personal finance. ● Learn more website design. 2. Continue to work on strength and fitness. 3. Finish at first draft manuscript by the end of August, and at least two (2) more first drafts in the next year. I’d also like to complete two (2) more outlines, and solid second draft of the manuscript I’ll be finishing in August. 4. Educate myself better on human rights issues, specifically starting with racism and white supremacy. The current Black Lives Matter movement and my experience working through Layla F. Saad’s Me and White Supremacy has helped me to see that I am not supporting Black authors, or my Black friends and acquaintances as much as I can be, so I’m committing to reading at least two books every month by Black authors, one fiction and one non-fiction, for at least the next year. I’ve already added the following to my list, but I welcome any recommendations! **Apologies for the present lack of accented letters. WordPress keeps deleting them, but I am working on a solution.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James She Would Be King by Wayetu Moore Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron Unraveling by Karen Lord Queen of The Conquered by Kacen Callender Song of Blood and Stone by L. Penelope Lost Gods by Micah Yongo The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare Red at the Bone by Jaqueline Woodson The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson Becoming by Michelle Obama The Immortal Life Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot Good Talk by Mira Jacob So You Want to Talk Race by Ijeoma Olou Why I am No Longer talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead Between the World and Me by Ta-Hehisi Coates The Autbiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X/Alex Haley The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindess by Michelle Alexander The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race by Jesmyn Ward The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow by Henry Louis Gates Jr.
I hope that by working toward these goals I grow into a better person than I am today. I hope I find new interests and rediscover old hobbies. I hope I continue to grow in understanding and love for myself. I hope that I become better educated about society and continue to speak up for those that cannot, and amplify the voices of those who can. I also hope I have really good news to share in the next year, because the world could always use more good news.
Thank you for reading my Theme of the Year post, as you all do every year. I know they’re sometimes hokey, but I find that they really set the tone for my year and help keep me accountable throughout the next 365 days. Talk soon.
Lucy has been the assistant to the Editor-in-Chief of Gamin Publishing, and Joshua the assistant to the Editor-in-Chief of Bexley Books since before the merger. Now their bosses have adjoining offices, and Lucy and Joshua have desks in one shared space. Which would be fine if they weren’t complete opposites. Where Lucy is quirky and cheerful, Joshua is meticulous and cold. Everyone at Bexley and Gamin loves Lucy and fears Joshua. They are bitter enemies. Nemeses. Then, their bosses announce a new position opening, and Lucy and Joshua are both in the running. As the competition heats up, so do new tensions, and Lucy discovers that maybe, she doesn’t hate Josh. Maybe it’s all just another game they play: The Hating Game.
This story stood out to me mainly because it’s only told from Lucy’s point of view, unlike most romances which alternate between hero and heroine. It worked well. I didn’t particularly enjoy the sheer amount of objectification that Lucy did of Joshua once things got going, but it did end up serving a purpose. I can’t tell you a lot about it without spoiling some of the jokes, but I will say that the paintball incident was probably my favorite. This quirky rom-com hit all the right buttons and was the perfect antidote to the reading slump I was in. I especially loved Lucy and Josh’s relationship because of how they supported each other when things, as they inevitable do in romance novels, go sideways.
Honoria Smythe-Smith has five siblings and 32 first cousins. The loud and lovingly chaotic family warms her heart. She even loves the annual musicale, which is painful for anyone without a tin ear but which they continue to put on because… well, most of them have a tin ear or two. Marcus Holyrood is the only child of an only child, and grew up with exactly one friend. A single friend, it turns out, is all you need, so long as that friend is Daniel Smythe-Smith. Their friendship takes a turn when Daniel asks Marcus to keep an eye on his youngest sister as Daniel himself is casually fleeing the country, just to make sure she doesn’t marry an idiot. Which should be fine because Honoria is basically Marcus’ little sister too, right?
I loved the inherent closeness the characters had, and the awkwardness that takes over when they start realizing they don’t love each other in a sibling or friendly way. This book has some of the most amusing lines I’ve ever read, simply because of how they attempt to conform to societal standards but can’t quite seem to let go of their childhood attachments. If you’ve read Quinn’s Bridgerton series, you’ll realize this takes place in the midst of Romancing Mister Bridgerton, but there are no spoilers, so you can definitely read this one before, during, or after.
HHC Rating: 5 Stars
Other reviews in this series: Book 1 – Just Like Heaven *(This Review)* Book 2 – A Night Like This Book 3 – The Sum of All Kisses Book 4 – The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy
Emily has just been ousted from a relationship to which she had given her all. Moving in with her sister and niece is just what she needs to find her footing again. The only flaw in her plan is the local renaissance faire. Her niece desperately wants to be a cast member, and minors must have an adult accompanying them to join. With Emily’s sister recovering from a car accident, that leaves Emily to join the cast. Resigned to the loss of her summer weekends, Emily is determined to enjoy the sights and sounds of men in kilts, and armor, and of course pirates decked out in leather.
I have been craving a ren faire-themed romance ever since I found All’s Faire in Love in 2012, and Well Met checked all the boxes with heart and enthusiasm and without being over-the-top silly or irreverent. Everything about it was delightful, but most especially the moment when Emily smells a shitty relationship on the horizon and runs the heck away from it. Healthy relationships 2020, am I right, or am I right?
HHC Rating: 5 Stars
Other reviews in this series: Book 1 – Well Met *(This Review)* Book 2 – Well Played (2020) Book 3 – Well Matched (2021)
Bilbo Baggins is a typical hobbit. He likes tea and smoking his pipe in front of his fireplace and has no intention of going on an adventure. Gandalf the wizard has other plans. So it comes to pass that 13 dwarves barge into Bilbo’s home, eat all of his food, insult his abilities as a burglar (of which he has none, anyway), and then leave for an adventure without him.
While the story itself was intriguing, the overly parental way in which Gandalf basically dragged everyone where they needed to be and the subsequent whining that went along with it from the other 14 adventurers was eye-rolling levels of exhausting. I loved the world-building, especially Tolkien’s descriptions of of forests. I just can’t help but feel that there would’ve been less whining if at least one of the party had been a woman. There were exactly zero female characters excepting the odd villager, and it definitely affected the plot.
****Also **Spoiler** but I very much did not like that the whole book was about how the dwarves were going to kill Smaug and take back their mountain and then Smaug was ultimately killed by a white male chosen-one type character who we really didn’t need. ****
I am glad I didn’t read this as a kid because I don’t think I would’ve enjoyed it due to the sheer amount of telling > showing, and again, the whining. If you’re going on an adventure of your own volition, you have forfeited the right to complain about how terrible, boring, and hungry the trip is. Suck it up, buttercup. Overall this one was meh for me, but I think a lot of that was due to the fact of it being written in much the same style as Peter Pan, which I also did not really enjoy. Here’s hoping The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Silmarillion go much better for me.
Mel needs a new start, away from her haunted existence in Los Angeles. The quiet mountain town of Virgin River with a lone, elderly, family practitioner and a rent-free cabin seems like the perfect fit. But the doctor was never informed of Mel’s arrival and claims he has no use for a nurse practitioner and midwife, the cabin is unlivable, and the ridiculously good looking bartender seems overly interested in her business. Is this really what Mel needs, or is her sister Joey right, and LA is where she belongs?
This small town military romance is more than meets the eye. It kicks off Carr’s signature series, the history of a community with romance in its veins. Mel and Jack become the foundation upon which every healthy relationship in the series is built on, and the wit, humor, and deeply emotional stories the characters portray all reach for a bar decidedly set by Mel and Jack. The decadent scenery only adds to the magic of the little town, which is rebuilt book by book, right alongside the couples who find themselves in Virgin River.
HHC Rating: 5 Stars
Other reviews in this series: Book 1 – Virgin River *(This Review)* Book 2 – Shelter Mountain Book 3 – Whispering Rock Book 4 – A Virgin River Christmas Book 5 – Second Chance Pass Book 6 – Temptation Ridge Book 7 – Paradise Valley Book 7.5 – Under The Christmas Tree Book 8 – Forbidden Falls Book 9 – Angel’s Peak Book 10 – Moonlight Road Book 10.1 – Sheltering Hearts Book 10.5 – Happy New Year Virgin River Book 11 – Promise Canyon Book 12 – Wild Man Creek Book 13 – Harvest Moon Book 14 – Bring Me Home For Christmas Book 15 – Hidden Summit Book 16 – Redwood Bend Book 17 – Sunrise Point Book 18 – My Kind of Christmas
This *serial* series was designed specifically for those of us struggling through the Outlander drought.
Blair and Austin are unwitting doppelgängers for the actors who play “Jamie Sinclair” and “Elinor” on the hit highlander time travel TV show “Jamie”. This first installment introduces our heroes and the circumstances of their meeting. Presumably, the second installment will explain the hoops they have to jump through, and the third and fourth installments will show them facing those challenges and finding HEA. Whatever. I’m hooked. Cheesy and decently written with witty dialogue. Give it to meee.
The character development is great not just for the main characters, but across the secondary characters as well, and she did a wonderful job with all of the settings, really rounding it all out. Very interested to see where everything goes!
Outlander returns next month on Starz !! And this book is available FREE right now on applebooks. The other 3 books are ~$4.99 each.
HHC Rating: 5 Stars
Other reviews in this series: Book 1 – Almost Jamie *(This Review)* Book 2 – Almost Elinor Book 3 – Simply Blair Book 4 – Simply Austin
Mary Balogh is one of those writers whose works all take place in the same universe—which only makes One Night for Love even more nuanced and interesting! Our hero (Neville Wyatt) and heroine (Lily Doyle) meet not in the gilded ballrooms of London, but on the war torn fields of Portugal. They are married for a day before both are shot during an ambush.
18 months later, Neville has returned to England to take up his late father’s earldom and, believing Lily long dead, prepares to marry another. Into the middle of the wedding walks a girl in a faded blue dress and an army cloak: Lily. Alive.
What follows is a story of love that spans across continents, classes, vows, and self-discoveries to arrive at the place of trust, honesty, communication, and passion that romance readers colloquially refer to as true love and happily-ever-after.
I really enjoyed re-reading this book because I can now see how important every piece of the story truly is. Neville’s sister Gwendolyn, for example, is the same Gwen who kicks off Balogh’s Survivors Club Series, and One Night For Love sets up Lauren’s story for A Summer To Remember, which in turn sets the wheels rolling for both the Slightly Series (The Bedwyn Clan) and the Simply Series! The Baloghverse is truly a fascinating place.
HHC Rating: 5 Stars
Other Reviews in this Series & By This Author: The Bedwyns/ “Slightlys”:: Book 0.5 – One Night for Love *(This Review)* Book 0.75 – A Summer To Remember Book 1 – Slightly Married Book 2 – Slightly Wicked Book 3 – Slightly Scandalous Book 4 – Slightly Tempted Book 5 – Slightly Sinful Book 6 – Slightly Dangerous Book 6.5 – Once Upon A Dream The “Simplys”:: Book 1 – Simply Unforgettable Book 2 – Simply Love Book 3 – Simply Magic Book 4 – Simply Perfect The Huxtables:: Book 1 – First Comes Love Book 2 – Then Comes Seduction Book 3 – At Last Comes Love Book 4 – Seducing And Angel Book 5 – A Secret Affair The Survivors’ Club:: Book 1 – The Proposal Book 1.5 – The Suitor Book 2 – The Arrangement Book 3 – The Escape Book 4 – Only Enchanting Book 5 – Only A Promise Book 6 – Only A Kiss Book 7 – Only Beloved The Westcotts:: Book 1 – Someone to Love Book 2 – Someone To Hold Book 3 – Someone to Wed Book 4 – Someone to Care Book 5 – Someone to Trust Book 6 – Someone to Honor Book 7 – Someone to Remember Book 8 – Someone to Romance (2020) Book 9 – TK – Harry