Leo by L. Krauch

5 stars

This weekend marks the one-year anniversary of launching this blog. I’m celebrating with a review of the latest book by one of my favorite indie authors, L. Krauch.

Krauch is the author of The 13th Zodiac, an anime-inspired high fantasy series with a touch of romance. Her newly released book, Leo, is a prequel to the 13th Zodiac and Dreamtaker. 

The 13th Zodiac: Leo by L. Krauch

While Leo has many of the characters from the other books, it is primarily Jase Raion’s origin story. Jase is one of the main protagonists in the series and a not-so-secret favorite of the authors. 

In Leo, readers learn many things about the gunblade-wielding Jase, including where his name and his fondness for apples come from. We also find out about horrific and violent events during his formative years that shaped who he is in the remainder of the series.

I’m always surprised when an author can make a prequel as interesting as the first book in a series, and Krauch achieves this goal. Reading Leo makes me want to re-visit the other books in the series to see how I would experience it differently. This is very telling because, generally, once I’ve read a book, I am not usually interested in re-reading it, no matter how much I loved it the first time.

With series, especially those with prequels, there’s always a debate about the ideal reading order. I am partial to the order I read the series in, which was 13th Z, Dreamtaker, and then Leo. I think it would also work to read Leo first and then the 13th Z.

However, whatever order you decide to read the series in, the important thing is that you read it!!!! You will not regret one minute you spend indulging in the high fantasy, character-driven world Krauch has created. I know I haven’t!

Thank you to L. Krauch for providing a free e-review copy. This review reflects my honest, unbiased opinion.

My review of Dreamtaker is available here and my review of The 13th Zodiac can be found via this link.

Wrightsville Beach, N.C.

Located on an island off the coast of Wilmington, N.C., Wrightsville Beach is one of my favorite beaches because of its stunning views, easy access, and special memories.

Wrightsville Beach, N.C.

Because it is only a 2-hour drive from where we live, Wrightsville has been the site of countless day trips for my husband and me. We started going when we first began dating and it has become a tradition to go at least once or twice each summer. 

After our daughter was born, she began joining us on these trips. Wrightsville Beach is where she saw the ocean for the first time, built her first sandcastle, and rode her first wave.

Our rituals include eating tacos on the beach from Tower 7. We’ve learned over the years to bring our own cutlery because the Tower 7 team almost always forgets to put it in the to-go bag, but the salsa alone is worth the drive!

We also love stopping at Dockside for fried seafood on their deck overlooking the Intracoastal waterway.

We recently stayed a few nights in Wrightsville beach to celebrate our 24-year anniversary. As much as we love Wrightsville as a day-trip destination, we enjoyed it even more as a long weekend getaway.

We visited Airlie Gardens for the first time. It was beautiful even on the hottest of summer afternoons, although the flowers were a little past peak. This 67-acre garden area is probably best enjoyed in early spring or fall.

The highlight of our trip was traveling across the bridge to see the sunrise each morning. I love the beach’s activity at sunrise, with runners, surfers, and photographers quietly taking in the arresting views.

What is your favorite beach destination?

Dragon Emperor by Dawn Ross

5 stars

Dragon Emperor by Dawn Ross
Dragon Emperor by Dawn Ross

Dragon Emperor is book two in The Dragon Spawn Chronicles. The story picks up where book one left off, and features many familiar faces from the first installment. 

Dragon Emperor is a bit darker and more violent than book one. Surprisingly, I found myself even more drawn in by the increased intensity.

A central element in the story is conflict over whether showing emotion and understanding the feelings of others is a weakness. As someone who considers genuine empathy one of the greatest strengths an individual can have, I was fascinated by the debate in the story. I wanted to find out if Jori and company would come to the same conclusion as I have in my own life.

I appreciated how the author developed the relationship between brothers Jori and Terk, and how each of the characters grew in their own way.

While early chapters of Dragon Emperor offer a good summary of the main events in the first book, I recommend reading book one first. I also recommend reading the books in order.

Again, I appreciated the inclusion of a glossary to help explain the different types of ships, warriors, and devices used in Ross’s universe. While you can easily understand and enjoy the book without referencing the glossary, it serves as a great reminder of the well-thought-out world Ross has created. 

The action continues in a third book, Dragon’s Fall, and I plan to continue reading this intense and exciting series.

Information about where to purchase the books in The Dragon Spawn Chronicles can be found on the author’s website, https://dawnrossauthor.com/

National Harbor, Maryland

Scenes in National Harbor, Maryland

While the east coast of the U.S. is known for having beautiful sunrises, anyone who has visited the west coast will say the sunsets here pale in comparison to those in west coast cities like San Diego. 

This adage was proven wrong during my recent visit to National Harbor, Maryland, part of the greater Washington, D.C. area. I was in National Harbor for my first in-person professional development conference since February of 2020, days before the COVID-19 pandemic started shutting things down.

During our brief stay in this 300-acre waterfront development along the Potomac River, I had a chance to see for myself why Expedia has ranked National Harbor as one of “The Best Places to Catch Astounding Sunsets” in the United States.

With views of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and the Washington monument, National Harbor is packed with 40 restaurants, a marina, public art displays, the largest casino outside of Las Vegas, and attractions such as an outdoor theater, and a 36-foot carousel. The area even has a circus.

My personal favorite thing to do was ride the Capital Wheel. This 15-minute experience takes riders 180 feet into the air, treating them to unique waterfront views of Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. 

Like the professional development opportunity that brought me to the area, the Capital Wheel ride provided me with a much-needed lift and a new perspective. When I was firmly back on the ground, I was inspired to capture the scenery around the Wheel in a different way.

Dust & Lightning by Rebecca Crunden

4 stars

I have read two other books by Rebecca Crunden so I knew to expect a unique and thought-provoking read when I purchased Dust and Lightning. This sci-fi novella completely lived up to my high expectations.

Dust & Lightning by Rebecca Crunden

Set in the year 4054, when space travel is as common as hopping in an Uber is today, Ames Emerys goes on an intergalactic quest to find out what happened to his brother Callum after receiving word of his death. 

The environmental destruction humans have caused on Earth and beyond is a prominent backdrop for this story about a brother’s commitment to his sibling.

I enjoyed Ames as the main character and was quickly invested in his search. As someone with a brother who is also my best friend, I appreciated that the sibling connection felt genuine and not forced.

Despite the depressing and all-too-possible themes of rampant pollution and political corruption, the book has its light-hearted moments. One of the lines that made me laugh out loud was, “If you don’t want to get fried, don’t turn someone into a human lightning bolt.”

One of the features of Crunden’s writing that continue to impress me is how much world-building and storytelling she packs into so few pages. I wasn’t really a fan of novellas until I started reading hers.

I am looking forward to my next Rebecca Crunden read!

I Let You Fall by Sara Downing

4 stars

In I Let You Fall, Eve Chapman observes an emergency operation on a woman who suffered a traumatic brain injury. When the bandages are removed, Eve realizes she was the person being operated on. While in a coma, Eve hears her family and friends visit, and she struggles to deal with being unable to communicate back with them. In fact, the only person who can see and hear her is Luca, a lawyer whose body is also trapped in a comatose state.

I Let You Fall by Sara Downing

The story primarily follows Eve and Luca, as Eve learns from him how to navigate her new state of being. There are a few side characters and stories thrown in that have more meaning as Eve’s story plays out. 

At its core, I Let You Fall is about the power of human connection. The novel started out a little rough for me, but after the first few chapters, it had me racing through each chapter to find out what would happen next. Ultimately, I felt it was an engaging read, with wholesome characters and light romance reminiscent of a Lifetime movie. 

After reading this book, I am interested in checking out others by Downing. She skillfully creates Eve’s reality without overexplaining how things worked. Some elements didn’t make complete sense to me and yet these mysterious bits were exactly what made a story about an unconscious main character work.

I recommend this book to readers who are fans of uplifting stories about overcoming difficult circumstances and a comfortable with a spiritual thread woven into the narrative.

I read this book at the request of an author support specialist with the publishing company. Thank you to Maria Inot, the author Sara Downing, and Quilla Books for mailing me a free paperback review copy. This review reflects my honest, unbiased opinion of the book.

The Night Swim by Megan Goldin

4 stars

Rachel Krall has a crime podcast that aims to put listeners inside the jury box.

Fresh off a successful season, her podcast takes her to the small coastal town of Neopolis, NC, where an Olympic swim team hopeful has been accused of raping a 16 year old girl.

The book also weaves in the story of a young girl from the same town who died 20 years before. Her death was presumed to be an accidental drowning.

The Night Swim by Megan Goldin

The stories were both heartbreaking and gripping. It was interesting how the stories were intertwined in the end. As a North Carolinian who grew up in a small town, I was intrigued by the setting. Goldin captured small town life well, with its gossip and long held allegiances.

I enjoyed this book a lot more than The Escape Room. The two books couldn’t have been more different. I cared more about the characters in The Night Swim.  I was completely invested in their lives and in the outcomes of the two cases.

I want to read another Megan Goldin book simply to see if it is different still – or similar to one of the two I’ve already read. I love it when an author can keep you guessing in multiple ways!

Like a Sister by Kellye Garrett

Like a Sister was my first read by Kellye Garrett. I picked it up because it sounded the most interesting of the Book of the Month selections.

The title also grabbed me — I’ve always been drawn in by books that explore different types of sibling relationships.

Like a Sister by Kellye Garrett

I’m glad I picked it up and gave it a chance. There was a lot to like in this novel. Lena, the main character, was funny and tenacious. I loved that she wouldn’t give up on finding out the truth about what happened to her estranged half-sister. I also appreciated the complex relationships Lena had with some of the other members of her family.

The comparisons Garrett made throughout the book were another highlight. I thought they were witty and gave the story a contemporary feel. I didn’t even mind all the “shitnuts” references – although I can truly say I’ve never heard one single person utter that phrase before!

The book did have a few drawbacks for me. It got a little hectic and rushed at the end. And, while I loved that it kept me guessing, there were one (or three) too many red herrings thrown in. 

Finally, there were a few times when the storyline got a teensy bit confusing and unrealistic to me – most of these scenes involved Erin’s character.

Ultimately, this is an entertaining read. Pick it up if you like stories that revolve around minor reality stars or plots that include a civilian investigator.

State Farmers Market

Our State Farmers Market offers fresh produce, a chance to practice photography, and marketing insights.

One of our favorite summer activities is visiting the State Farmers Market to pick up locally grown fresh-cut flowers and produce harvested just a few hours before.

We are repeat customers of the Farmers Market because the taste and quality of the fruits and vegetables – particularly the corn, tomatoes, melons, and peppers – are unmatched by anything we can find in the grocery stores or grow ourselves.

It also brings us joy to support the farmers, vendors, and small businesses with booths at this expansive market owned and operated by the State of North Carolina.

Besides the obvious health benefits of getting fresh fruits and vegetables to add to our diets, walking around the Farmers Market provides me with other benefits. It gives me a chance to sharpen my photography skills. 

The wide variety of colorful plants and produce available at the Farmers Market provide endless photo inspiration. The tight, brightly sunlit spaces have forced me to get better at working unobtrusively with the conditions available. 

One of the tricks I’ve learned is to set my exposure compensation at -1 on sunny summer days to get better detail in the most harshly lit areas. I’ve also learned to spot and make good compositions from existing arrangements since vendors don’t take too well to people rearranging their products!

Finally, these trips have also been a fascinating study in marketing. With handwritten signs, similar prices, and no-frills booths and display tables, the produce and flower vendors compete solely on product. The produce that looks the freshest and best is going to get bought. 

It’s a good reminder that when competition is high and there are few opportunities for promotion, one of the best ways you can stand out is to improve your product. 

The Underground Moon by Melissa Magner

4 stars

It took me a little while to get into this book, but once I did, I was hooked on this unique YA urban fantasy/horror story. While the action starts out slow, the tension builds and significantly picks up the pace about two-thirds of the way through. The ending is unexpected and emotional.

The story follows Rosella, a 15-year-old girl, who moves across the country with her ailing Mom and her 7-year-old sister to live with her Aunt in a small, rural Tennessee town.

While exploring the woodlands in their new town, Rosella and Hettie stumble upon a hidden world. Hettie becomes increasingly enthralled with this underground fantasy world, while Rosella gets the sense that something isn’t quite right.

One of my favorite parts of the book is the bond between the sisters. Rosella is a mother figure to Hettie and the love she has for her little sister is incredibly touching. Most of the time, it seems Rosella is the only person around who pays attention to Hettie and has her best interests at heart.

Wayne and Ava are also good supporting characters. I liked the drama-free friendship that developed between Rosella and Ava. I also appreciated the growth we saw in Wayne throughout the course of the book.

The book is deeper than it seems on the surface and shows some of the impacts on children who grow up around trauma and loss. The loss of childhood innocence is one of its major themes.

Readers who like fantasy stories that don’t fit neatly into one genre will like this book. People who like YA books without romance and sensible main characters will also enjoy this one. 

The beautiful illustrations on the cover and depicting some of the main scenes are worth noting. The drawings were well done and I looked forward to seeing the next one.

Thank you to Melissa Magner for providing me with a free review copy of the book. The opinions expressed in this review are my own.