Author… Artist… Amateur Photographer… Book Reviewer… Mom
Author: TJ Fox
I am a slightly sane artist, amateur photographer, book addict, wife, mom and raging introvert. I have more hobbies than I can count, so it is beyond shocking that I manage to find time to do any of them, let alone most of them and still have time to do anything else. Of all the talents I claim, writing wasn’t one of them until my muse dropped the idea for a book on my head.
What a blah day. We are getting all kinds of nasty, but mostly freezing rain and everything is getting coated. It may turn pretty for a brief period, but it is supposed to warm up later, so I’m not holding my breath for any good pics today.
I didn’t get any bubble shots yesterday. By the time I was able to get out and try, the temps had gone up too far for them to freeze and a big enough breeze kicked up that they didn’t last.
The weather is absolutely perfect today for me to get out and play with these again! It is cold as hell, absolutely still and the sun is even peeking out every once in a while. This will be the first real chance to try this again since I’ve gotten my new camera, so I’m over the moon excited. I just have to get up the energy to bundle up enough I don’t end up a frozen human. Only the bubbles are supposed to freeze.
Even though I have a million things going on today, I’m being spoiled a bit. As I told my grandma years ago after saying she was spoiled, being spoiled just means that you have someone that really loves you. Feeling the love today!
Seems like all I have the energy for right now is to share photos. I didn’t even get out the other day when we had another freezing fog. Granted, it wasn’t quite as nice as the last one, but still.
Pretty sure I’m at the peak of this stupid cough and it is kicking my butt. I’m at that point where everything hurts from all the coughing. The muscles your body uses to cough are so much more than you ever realize until every single one of them are screaming at you to just stop already.
Having my week feel condensed because it is going to be bookended by nasty winter storms isn’t helping at all. It’s still a little early yet, but they are calling for a potentially nasty ice storm this next weekend. Any errands that I would normally do over the weekend, like a grocery run, need to get done in the next couple of days. Knowing I have to do it while coughing the whole time makes me want to throw a toddler tantrum, complete with kicking and screaming. Except, that will just hurt and make me cough more.
Well, we got rain first. Then some ice. Now we are finally getting a little snow. Sucks if you have to be out in it, but… fingers crossed, it will make for some pretty stunning photos. I’ll be heading out with my camera after I load up on meds and cough drops.
And… one more to try and push the scale from rain to snow. I’d really prefer to not get ice. I’m also hoping like crazy the mess doesn’t transition over before everyone is home safe this afternoon. MC has yet to drive in anything more than rain. I have a feeling this may just be one of those “be careful what you wish for” kind of events.
Last night was my first time getting to see the costume and song reveal for both the opening tap routine and the assistants performance for BG’s dance recital this year. I cannot get over how excited I am that BG is now in the older girls group and gets to do all these things this year. There is something very different about being in that older group and getting to see this part of that tradition.
It also drove home how insanely privileged she is to be dancing at the studio she is because of who is on the staff and the unique experience of getting to learn from them. I always knew that one of the teachers was a former Rockette, but getting to hear a bit more about her time as a professional dancer was just… wow.
A lot of the teachers at the studio have some really impressive backgrounds, but getting to learn from a former Rockette and being a part of a massive tap routine that has Rockette choreography and elements in it isn’t something many dancers can say they got to experience. What makes that even more impressive is the fact that this studio isn’t some high pressure, high profile, competitive studio. They are so laid back and focus on the kids having fun.
Even though BG has no desire to make dance a career, her being a part of all of this will always be a huge part of her life and will leave a massive impact on who she is going to be as she grows up. She gets to be a part of something really unique and amazing. I will forever be grateful for getting to go and watch my friend way back when I was in grade school when she danced in recitals with this studio because getting to see that and be a part of that, even from the outside, is what made me decide to go with this studio for BG when she decided she wanted to dance.
I have a feeling this is going to be a really emotional recital this year. I already cried at the ballet Christmas program, both because one of the songs they chose and the routine was so emotional and because it is just an emotional program for the Seniors since it is their last. It is also going to be a ton of fun and watching those girls see their costumes last night was awesome.
Coincidence? They are now calling for a potential for significant snow the next couple of days. Guess we will see.
I’m still trying my damnedest to cough up a lung and haven’t managed to do much else. I haven’t gotten out to try and take any new pictures because the cold air kicks that effort up into high gear. Granted, any movement does that. So does breathing. And… I think blinking.
If it does snow, I’m loading up on meds and cough drops and heading out anyway. I want snow pictures, dammit!
Author: Laura Trentham Book Name: An Everyday Hero Release Date: February 4, 2020 Series: A Heart of a Hero Order: #2 Genre: Romance Overall SPA: 4 Stars
Blurb: At thirty, Greer Hadley never expected to be forced home to Madison, Tennessee with her life and dreams of being a songwriter up in flames. To make matters worse, a series of bad decisions and even crappier luck lands her community service hours at a nonprofit organization that aids veterans and their families. Greer cannot fathom how she’s supposed to use music to help anyone deal with their trauma and loss when the one thing that brought her joy has failed her.
When Greer meets fifteen-year-old Ally Martinez, her plans to stay detached and do as little as possible get thrown away. New to town and dealing with the death of her father in action, she hides her emotions behind a mask of bitterness and sarcasm, but Greer is able to see past it and recognizes pieces of who she once was in Ally. The raw and obvious talent she possesses could take her to the top and Greer vows to make sure life’s negativities don’t derail Ally’s potential.
After Greer is assigned a veteran to help, she’s not surprised Emmett Lawson, the town’s golden boy, followed his family’s legacy. What leaves her shocked is the shell of a man who believes he doesn’t deserve anyone’s help. A breakthrough with Ally reminds Greer that no one is worth giving up on. So she shows up one day with his old guitar, and meets Emmett’s rage head on with her stubbornness. When a situation with Ally becomes dire, the two of them must become a team to save her—and along the way they might just save themselves too.
Main SPA Evaluation Areas:
Characters: 4/5 Stars Believability:4/5Stars Personal Opinion:4/5Stars
This was a sweet, funny, and heartwarming story, a definite feel good kind of read. I really enjoyed all the different pieces and characters in this. I would highly recommend this to anyone looking for a warm story about overcoming and characters finding themselves with a small side of low steam romance.
For me, it ran just a touch to far to the “everything is perfectly wrapped up” side of things and a little light on the romance side, though it was still a really good story overall.
*I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. Opinions stated are honest and my own.
Today is the first day that everyone is back to a normal routine after the holidays. Hubby is back to work. The kids are back in school. And it is so quiet in the house.
Well, at least it is in between the moments when I’m desperately trying to cough up a lung (thank you so much my old friend bronchitis, I thought you’d decided to leave me alone this winter), something I’ve been trying hard to do on an off since around Thanksgiving. It is hard to try and get back into any kind of normal routine when you feel like crap.
The longer than normal break has allowed MC’s birthday to sneak up on me. He will be turning 18 and that is such a mixed bag of emotions. We keep joking that we are kicking him out now that he is an adult. He just keeps laughing at us.
Because of his birthday, Death by Chocolate is in my future. The fun of having birthdays so close to the holidays (both MC’s and mine) is that it feels like the holidays don’t just stop, but trickle away slowly. That goes for all the food and goodies.
I have a day to try and get up the energy to do everything I need to for that and I’m going to spend it with my nose buried in a book, eating cough drops like candy and trying not to nap with the hope that I’ll actually be tired enough to sleep through the coughing for a change.
Author: Angela Marsons Book Name: First Blood Release Date: November 14, 2019 Series: D.I. Kim Stone Order: Prequel (release order #12) Genre: Suspense/Mystery/Police/Crime Overall SPA: 5 Stars
Blurb: In the darkness of a cold December morning, Detective Kim Stone steps through the doors of Halesowen Police Station. She’s about to meet her team for the first time. The victim of her next case is about to meet his killer…
When the body of a young man is found beheaded and staked to the ground in a secluded area of the Clent Hills, Kim and her new squad rush to the crime scene.
Searching the victim’s home, Kim discovers a little girl’s bedroom and a hidden laptop. Why is his sister relieved to hear he’s dead – and where is the rest of his family?
As Kim begins to unearth the dark secrets at the heart of the case, D.C. Stacey Wood finds a disturbing resemblance to the recent murder of Lester Jackson. But that’s not all Stacey finds …
She’s convinced there is a link between the victims and a women’s shelter run by Marianne Forbes, Lester’s niece. A child of the care system herself, Kim knows all too well what it means to be vulnerable. Could Marianne be the key to cracking this case?
With the killer about to strike again, Kim is in deep water with a rookie squad. Inexperienced Stacey is showing signs of brilliance but struggling to hold her nerve and, while D.S. Bryant is reliable and calm, D.S. Dawson is a liability. With his home life in pieces, his volatile behaviour is already fracturing her fragile new team.
Can Kim bring Dawson in line and pull her crew together in time to catch the killer before another life is taken? This time, one of her own could be in terrible danger…
Main SPA Evaluation Areas:
Characters: 5/5 Stars Believability:5/5Stars
Series Continuity/Expectations: 5/5 Stars Personal Opinion:5/5Stars
I straight up loved this. There is honestly not a negative thing I can come up with to say about this, which might just be a first for me. It is also really surprising as I am not normally a big fan of prequels, for a whole host of reasons. None of those reasons applied in any way to this book, though.
I really loved getting to see how the team came together in the beginning, knowing where they end up and all that happens throughout this series. While there really isn’t anything new about the team in particular that you learn in this, it was great to see the origins of the dynamic between them.
The one thing that we do learn new (at least, I don’t remember ever seeing it mentioned before, though it is possible I missed it) was about Woody’s history. And holy cow! That was a really interesting piece to learn. It kind of shifts the perspective on all the puzzle pieces of this series. It makes me really want to see him get a whole lot more page time in the future.
As with any of the books in this series, if you are a police/crime drama fan, you really need to have this one on your TBR if you don’t already.
Author:Michelle Sagara Book Name: Cast in Wisdom Release Date: January 28, 2019 Series: PChronicles of Elantra Order: #15 Genre: Fantasy Overall SPA: 4 Stars
Blurb: SOMETHING IS WAKING
The fiefs that exist at the heart of the city of Elantra are home to sentient Towers that guard the world against the incursion of Shadow. But between the fiefs exists the gray world of the border zone. In it, geography changes between one passage across a border and the next. The rules of magic are different there—and yet somehow familiar to Kaylin Neya.
When a Shadow escapes, Kaylin must find out how…and why. If Shadows can breach the barrier erected by the Towers, the whole of Elantra will be devoured. It’s happened on other worlds. Bellusdeo, Kaylin’s Dragon companion, absolutely believes it can happen on theirs.
The border zone holds secrets and ancient histories, and people are gathering there in search of its power. Without even understanding what that power is, or why it exists, Kaylin is in a desperate race against time to find those secrets first. She doesn’t know who her enemies are. She doesn’t know how many she’ll face. But she won’t face them alone.
Main SPA Evaluation Areas:
World Building:5/5Stars Series Continuity/Expectations: 3/5 Stars Personal Opinion:4/5Stars
I am yet again struggling to review a book in this series that I love. I could almost copy and past my review from the last book as the issues I had with that one are still very much present in this one.
This is now the at least the third book in a row where you see little to no character growth from Kaylin. You see little to no page time from some of the original favorite characters like Marcus, the Hawklord or Sanabalis.
Though we do get more time with Nightshade, that interaction is done almost entirely through his mental link with Kaylin and no actual interaction. There is a great deal of Kaylin’s interactions in this book that are handled in this manner. This is frustrating because it seems that somewhere along the way the deep tensions between Kaylin and Nightshade and Kaylin and Severn have been lost. Whatever tension existed between them has vanished. Severn’s place has turned more into a less personal bodyguard kind of a role while Nightshade has been relegated to more of an advisor/information bank.
I did love that we got to spend more time with the Arkon. This really was more about his story than anything and I was glad to see the focus shift from the cohort. You still get a good dose of them in this book, but they aren’t the focal point. It was also nice to see that Kaylin didn’t collect anyone or anything new in this book.
Another piece that was different in this one from many previous books is that Kaylin seems like more of an observer. She participates and has a few points where her abilities are key, but it isn’t her actions that are the most important. In a way, it is nice to see her not always being the one to come in and save the day, but she is the basis for the series. I would have really liked to see this be a book that helped her character grow in some way.
As far as series expectations go, this is where I tend to get tangled up. If you look at the last several books in this series, this is absolutely right in line with those books. But if you look at the earliest books in the series, this doesn’t have quite the same characteristics and feel. It does have more going on and brings about some drastic changes to the world than the last couple of books, so I’d say it falls in between the early books and the last couple as far as those expectations go.
As I mentioned in my review of Cast in Oblivion, I still love this series and these books, but characters need to grow. There are also things about characters that readers fall in love with and if you leave those things behind, you may end up leaving the readers behind as well. This one did a better job of bringing some of those things along than the last few, but not quite as much as I would have liked.
*I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. Opinions stated are honest and my own.
I’m not really big on setting major goals or resolutions. I’d rather focus on just noting the things that are important to me to maybe focus on or to try and the things to look forward to. It is part of my need to focus on the positive things rather than the negative.
This is going to be one of those really big, notable years for me. So much of that focus will be around MC because he will graduate from high school in the spring and then will start college in the fall. BG will add her smaller but still important events by getting her driver’s license and by being in a much larger part of her dance recital by being in the oldest group of girls for the first time and as an assistant. Hubby will turn 50 this year. All major changes, but all things I’m mostly excited about.
I really want to continue to try and focus on the good and the things that bring me joy. While many of the major events this year will be amazing, they will come with that bitter sweetness that most major changes bring, so that positive focus will sometimes be easier said than done. My plan is to add some things to that list of events that help tip the balance.
While there will always be lots of books to read, I really want to spend more time this year doing more creative things. I’ve started playing with one aspect to see if it is going to work for me. I have a few other ideas, but I still need to see if they will fall into the “I’m doing this for fun” side of things or “This is more work than fun” side. Since the goal is to focus on the positive and the joy, it needs to stay on that fun side.
I really want to spend more time out taking photos. Partly for the photos and partly because I really need to be more active than I am. I didn’t spend nearly enough time walking and reading this year as I have in years past, so I need to make some changes to that.
Really, other than the things that are happening this year, this isn’t a whole lot different than what I’d looked to focus on this last year, finding the joy and the things that make me happy.
Outside of photography and the books I read this last year, I thought I’d note a few of the bigger moments and highlights of my year, things that I did or experienced that I was really proud of or stuck with me as important moments.
There will always be tons of those when it comes to my kids. Yes, I’m hugely biased and think I have the best kids ever, even when they are being little shits. There are a couple that really stick out, though.
BG stepping WAY out of her mostly introverted comfort zone to be a dance assistant. Just the few months that she has been doing this, she has really gained a lot of self-confidence that I haven’t seen in her before. It has been amazing to watch. I’ve also seen her really grow and mature this last year with how she has handled friendships and dating and high school.
This has been MC’s year to really drop the proud mama moments on me. I’m over the moon proud of his accomplishments and getting not only accepted into his school of choice, but winning a top scholarship because of all the hard work he put into is school work. The biggest mush moment from him though is one I never posted about. I never could quite find the words to describe how he made me feel, but… for a project in one of his classes, he had to name the smartest and the wisest people he knew (separate people). His obvious choice, to me anyway, would be my Hubby because he looks up to him so much. He did name his dad as being the smartest, but he said that I was the wisest. When all the other students were naming famous people and other people of note, he picked me. When he told me all the reasons (which I have now forgotten because I’m still blown away by the fact he even considered me) I just almost bawled. I am not, and never have been, the person he really looks up to. I’m just mom. The fact that he feels that way about me, enough to include it in a school project and then tell me about it… talk about feeling like you’ve done something right as a parent! My 17 year old son thinks I’m wise. Just… wow.
There were a few creative projects that I’m still really proud of. While it wasn’t my best cake, by far, but BG’s birthday cake this year was still insanely challenging and turned out pretty well.
That costume really hit me in the creative nerve because just doing it in cake wasn’t enough, apparently. I had to paint it as well. Again, far from being perfect, it was something new for me and I’m thrilled with how it turned out.
I was also really pleased with the first piece of jewelry I’ve attempted in a few years. It reminded me how much I love working with stones and silver.
Of course I think one of my proudest creative endeavors this year was publishing my book, An Unexpected Turn. Considering I never planned, expected or even dreamed of writing a book, I’m still a little astonished that I actually did it. It has been this insanely difficult, emotional roller coaster of an experience. I’m even more proud of the fact that it really seems to be received well by most readers. It is selling and getting mostly positive reviews. I still sometimes struggle to believe it has all actually happened.
Even though I definitely had some rather low moments throughout the year, 2019 was a pretty good year, especially on the creative and mom front. With MC graduating in the spring, BG starting to drive, and my creative muse chafing to get my hands busy, I know 2020 will probably bring a lot of the same.
This is a look back at some of my favorite images from this year. I have so many, it was really hard to choose. Not all are here because they are the best quality, but because of what I managed to capture and is an image I’m kind of amazed came out of my camera.
Did any of you have a favorite? Are there any that you thought I should have included in this list that I missed? There have been times I’ve been surprised that photos I don’t think are that great are well liked and others that I LOVE seem to not be as popular. I’m always fascinated to see how other people see art and photos and what appeals to them. It would be amazing to see if there is a reader favorite.
If I had to pick a favorite (which I always balk at doing), I’d have to say it is that high contrast black and white iris. I loved that image so much, I had a large print made and framed. It is now hanging on the wall in my living room and holds pride of place as the background on my tablet.
*click any image to bring this gallery up in a slideshow of larger images.
I don’t tend to set reading goals as I already probably spend too much time with my nose buried in a book. Maybe. It’s debatable. I have no desire to ever again hit or even get close to my highest book count in a year, because that 508 was nuts. I can say that based on the numbers below, I can probably still hang onto my my “picky, moody reader” label.
*I didn’t start recording half stars until I changed my rating system in May. I also fully plan on adding at least one or two more books to this before we reach “one” on the countdown clock.
Of those twelve 5 stars I handed out, it isn’t a bit of a surprise that most of them came from authors at the top of my favorites list. Faith Hunter, Anne Bishop and Michelle Sagara (West).
A couple of others were standouts even among those few that managed 5 stars and are worth mentioning again.
Kimberly Belle’s Dear Wife
And G.A. Aiken’s The Blacksmith Queen
One of the other things that I wanted to do as a final wrap up to my 2019 reading is to mention my top Indie Author reads for the year. Keep in mind that these are books that I KNOW are indie books. There are probably dozens of indies on my read list for the year, but not all authors are upfront and it isn’t always easy to tell. If I wasn’t 100% certain, I didn’t notate that a book was an indie.
These are the best indie reads for me this year.
Stephen Paronlini’s Beautiful Sky Beautiful Sky (4 Stars)
Kameo Monson’s I Not David (4.5 Stars)
I highly recommend any of the books I’ve listed here. If you haven’t read one of them yet, you really should add it to your 2020 TBR.
*click on any thumbnail to go to the review for that book*