NYC Midnight Challenge Entry: A Costly Toll

A costly Toll

July 2021 (Round Two)
Genre: Ghost Story
Word: Field
Action: Losing a Coin
Time Constraint: 24 hours
Length: 100 words

Lured by the serene promise of Elysian Fields on the distant shore, Alex shoved through the crush of frantic souls toward the tiny skiff, while the moaning river of luminescent wraiths lapped at the rotting bank.

The cloaked ferryman silently proffered an expectant palm, and Alex fished out his coin with shaking fingers, when a jarring elbow knocked it into the swirling waters. With a panicked cry, he reached into the shallows, desperate for his lost toll.

The hungry souls yanked him in, swallowing Alex with the lost change. 

And the ferryman held out his palm to the next passenger.

JUDGe’s Feedback

This one came in 7th place in my group, and I got to advance to the round 3! Feedback is below.

WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY

{1772}  Alex’s actions shape the plot and his choices make the end feel like an appropriate conclusion to his journey. The story is crafted with rich description and detail to bring the scene to life.

{2092}  The ending works well, it has that heavy sense of dread as Alex is pulled into the waters. This also adds that sense of recurrence, as the reader can expect that Alex isn’t the first or last to be taken into the river. 

{1940}  An enjoyable and horrifying piece that sets and scene and tone very well. Readers will acutely feel Alex’s despair as he drops the coin, knowing his chance of reaching Elysian Fields is gone. The last sentence where the ferryman dispassionately holds his hand for the next fare is great.

WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK

{1772}  One way to continue to develop the story might be to explore more of Alex’s character. His frantic and careless behavior might illuminate the kind of person he was in life. For example, if it is more established that he was the type of person who got what he wanted no matter what, then the end’s “moral” is even more powerful.

{2092}  The verbiage was a bit in consistent and overly complex for the actual events within the story. In multiple areas this causes the pacing to jarringly change, leading to a lack of immersion in the details. Consider reworking the story a bit more, in order to build a consistent language that continually draws the audience in. Try building the complexity based on the protagonist. The details of the world shouldn’t be more complex than Alex is, since he is our guide into those understanding those details.

{1940}  Overall, a great piece, but subtle hints into Alex’s personality could help readers to root for him. We don’t get much of a feeling for the character’s personality.

Audiobook Review – The Switch


The Switch follows a grandmother and her granddaughter as they seek to cope with a still-raw family tragedy and a recent divorce. They swap apartments for a few months in hopes of a change of scenery to help them with a fresh start.

If this plot sounds like a Hallmark movie, it’s because it definitely could be. Eileen and Leena are both sweet and so easy to root for, and in their new environments, they both manage to instill positive change while also discovering the much needed growth they were looking for. You’ll be able to see the romance coming from a mile away, but the romantic interests are also likeable and have a natural development. The audiobook was well told, with different narrators for the two MCs, and overall I definitely enjoyed this light, sweet romance.

Although there’s nothing very surprising or new here, if you’re a fan of Hallmark movies, you will almost certainly enjoy this one.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

But hey, who doesn’t like a good Hallmark movie now and then?

Thanks for reading!

Book Review – A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire


Okay, so I had mixed thoughts on the first book (specifically I thought the first half was boring, and the second half was awesome), but it left off on a bit of cliff-hanger so I decided to give book two a try, and I was NOT disappointed.

I INHALED this book. Book two successfully intensified everything I enjoyed from book one. Although once again, I did think the start was a touch slow, I wasn’t bothered too much because I was already so invested in the characters. And the side characters really showed up here too in the best way. I absolutely loved Kieran. And this time, I loved learning about the world. The world-building definitely fleshed out and deepened here, but it was more seamlessly woven into book two.

It’s darker, it’s steamier (kind of veering into the weird, but this is a world of essentially vampires and werewolves so… you know), and in general, it’s just more awesome. Cas and Poppy are borderline dysfunctional and absolutely violent, but they seem so suited to each other, and their dynamic just totally works. If you’re unfazed by sex, violence, and language, and you enjoyed the second half of book one, then I wholeheartedly recommend. On to Book 3!

 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 

Modern day Wolven reporting for duty here.

Thanks for reading!

Book Review – Split Therapy


So I started reading Split Therapy by EP Stavs after my last two book had endings that kind of left me unsatisfied, and I was a little worried about an impending reading slump. But this book was such a breath of fresh air!

I really enjoyed EP Stavs’ Shendri Series, so when I saw the chance to get an ARC of her thriller novella, I just couldn’t help myself! Split Therapy follows sweet college student Jane as she tries to carry on with life after a traumatic incident. Meanwhile, her vigilante alter ego, Jae, roams the night finding a different way to come to terms with the incident.

First of all, I just love EP Stavs’ writing style. It is sharp and snappy but still paints the clearest picture of the action. Her banter is always on point, and she always manages to paint the most loveable characters that are so easy to connect with. I read this book in one enjoyable evening, totally drinking in the building tension and the sweet love interest, and I put it down feeling ready for another!

I totally recommend to anyone looking for a fun thriller to get lost in (that doesn’t mind adult themes and language) and can’t wait to see what Stavs writes next! Thanks so much to EP Stavs for the ARC; Split Therapy comes out on 4 Nov!

 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 

Working on my mysterious alter ego over here. Got the mug shot ready to go. (Yep… I went there.)

Thanks for reading!

Book Review – LIFEL1K3


I put this book on my Amazon list after I loved Illuminae and Geminae. I wasn’t crazy about Obsidio, and then Aurora Rising wasn’t really for me, so I guess this was like a tie-breaker for me on Jay Kristoff. And I can say, this was probably my least favorite so far.

Lifelike takes place in a tech-filled dystopia full of androids, logikas, etc. It follows scrappy Eve after she finds a lifelike (basically a high-tech android) and starts getting chased by all kinds of bad. The world was cool, and while I usually like sci-fi slang, it felt a bit too cutesy/light for the bleak setting. Although I loved the action and the world-building, I had trouble connecting with the characters, and I found their quirky catchphrases (“don’t call me little” etc) to be a bit irritating. Even so, I would’ve given it four stars if it weren’t for the ending.

I felt like Eve did a complete 180 in the last 3% that didn’t seem to jive with anything I knew of her character. If you’re a Jay Kristoff fan and looking for a quirky YA sci-fi, I think you’ll probably enjoy this book, but it left me feeling dissatisfied and a bit annoyed, so I don’t think it was quite for me.

 ⭐⭐⭐

Meh.

Thanks for reading!

Book Review – Hail Mary


My husband (a *huge* sci-fi fan) absolutely loved this book, and basically shoved it to the top of my TBR so that we could talk about it. I loved The Martian, so I was definitely interested in giving this a go. One thing I noticed from the beginning is that Ryland Grace and Mark Watney have a LOT in common. They’re both highly intelligent, independent, passionate scientists, Grace just has a cleaner mouth.

This book follows Grace as he wakes up in a strange room without memories and basically tries to remember who he is and what he’s supposed to be doing. The story goes back and forth between him in “the room” and remembering his past. So… in the beginning, we spend a lot of time with Grace by himself, and there are a LOT of scientific explanations.

While I totally enjoy the way Weir manages to explain complex science in a way that I can understand, I felt like the balance was a little off in Hail Mary, and it seemed to slow down the pace quite a bit. Also, Weir introduces a few very powerful sci-fi elements, that had me asking my husband questions about potential plot holes. (To which he said: don’t think about it too much. XD) However, I absolutely loved the secondary character that comes in about midway. Overall, I thought the premise was super interesting, and on the whole, it was definitely an enjoyable read.

I will say, I thought the ending felt a little incomplete. I can’t say too much more with giving anything away. Still, I totally recommend this for any fans of sci-fi. My husband gave it a glowing a five star review, but while I thought it was a solid sci-fi I didn’t quite love it as much as The Martian.

 ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 

Just a little fan-doodle. *jazz hands*

Thanks for reading!

Audiobook Review – The Scam (Fox and O’Hare #4)


The Scam once again follows smooth ex-con Nick and intense FBI agent Kate on another one of their not-con (but very con-like) capers. All of our favorite side characters are back and we have a few more colorful bad guys to take down in a satisfying, smart action-packed adventure. Nick and Kate’s relationship continues to develop, and this time we even got a bit of a cliffhanger to take us into a Book 5 (which I already have downloaded, is the last book by both original authors, and the last I plan to read.) If you liked the first three books, and are looking for another light, fun bit of audiobook adventure, you’ll definitely like Book 4.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

On to the last book!

Thanks for reading!

Audiobook Review – Anxious People


What an astoundingly beautiful book. A coworker recommended this audiobook to me, and I picked it up from the library with no idea of what it was about. I loved A Man Called Ove, but didn’t really like Bear Town, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. But, it tells you almost right away: “This story is about a lot of things, but mostly about idiots.”

The tale is told in third person omniscient, and the narrator has the perfect tone that is both humorous without being distracting. The story follows a group of people involved in a “hostage situation.” The characters are so humorously but fully painted, and I really couldn’t help but love each one. The story holds a seed of mystery that kept me guessing, and I just enjoyed drinking in every word of this book. So quoteable, so heartfelt, so incredibly lovely, with a sweet ending that left me remembering why I love books so much.

Best book I’ve read this year. Maybe in the last two years, and I will be recommending it to anyone that will listen to me. Especially the audiobook. 

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Loved it sooooo much!!!

Thanks for reading!

Wandering the American Southwest

So this is a break from our regularly scheduled bookish programming, but since I creep on a lot of travel blogs while I meticulously plan our vacations, I figured I’d post this in case it’s helpful to someone.

My husband and I left our kids with my parents (thanks parents! 😘), and road-tripped through Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, and the Grand Canyon for a week in September 2021. I’ll post our itinerary with short notes and then some overall trip thoughts at the end.

Saturday:
– Flew Delta into Las Vegas. Arrived Late.
– Rented car from Enterprise.
– Stayed at Marriott’s Grand Chateau
-> Nice, reasonably priced hotel right off the main strip. Recommend.

Sunday:
– Woke up late. Ate breakfast at The Egg and I.
->Huge portions, great muffins, yum. Recommend.
– Drove 3 hours to Zion National Park.
– Got National Park Pass and Gear (waterproof shoes and stick) for the Narrows from Zion Adventure Company.
->Friendly staff and they give you a short little overview of what to expect in the canyon and some safety tips. Recommend.
– Ate dinner at the Whiptail Grill.
-> Quick service and delicious food. Highly Recommend.
– Stayed at Bumbleberry Inn
-> An old-fashioned inn in walking distance of the park entrance. We got lucky with a nice view of the peaks behind our balcony, and they give free breakfast vouchers for Oscar’s Café across the street. Recommend.

Monday:
– Complementary breakfast at Oscar’s Café
-> Fast service, great food. Recommend.
– Take the park shuttle and hike the Narrows (10 mi)
-> So there’s a town shuttle that runs along Springdale to the park, but we found it was quicker to just walk the mile-ish to the entrance. The shuttles were busy when we got on them around 0800, but they move fast. If you want to avoid the crowds, definitely go as early as possible. The Narrows was an AMAZING hike. One of our favorites of the trip. It’s flat, but you’ll be walking through water nearly the entire way (up to about waist deep) so the waterproof shoes and stick were invaluable. It stays pretty cool in the narrow canyon, and the water was also quite cool in September, so we started off with sweaters and shorts, and eventually went down to our t-shirts. (Pretty much our M.O for the whole time with temps in the 40s in the morning and in the 80s in the afternoon.) There’s a fork in the trail to go left or right, and I definitely recommend going down both if you have the time and energy. We carried about 6 liters of water with us, but due to the cool weather, I only ended up drinking 1 liter. (Adam might have drank 2.) The Narrows is also cool, because it’s an out and back, so you can go until you feel tired and ready to turn around. They told us it would take us the same amount of time going up as it would returning, but we were definitely faster returning. (Mostly because we were used to tromping around in the water, but also because we were going with the current.) There were definitely a lot of people in there, but not unpleasantly so, and I did see some adventurous small kids braving the cold water as well. Highly Recommend.
– Returned shoes and stick and ate dinner at the Whiptail Grill (because we just couldn’t resist)

The Narrows Hike!

Tuesday:
– Complementary breakfast at Oscar’s Cafe
– Hiked Angel’s Landing (5 mi)
-> Another beautiful hike! My husband’s a bit acrophobic, so he waited for me at the bathrooms near the top (along with a bunch of other people) while I hiked out on the ridge. It’s probably the scariest hike I’ve ever done because the path is narrow and those drops are SHEER, but you adjust pretty quickly. The only big problem is that it was SO crowded (and we went on a random Tuesday in September!) SO SO SO crowded, and there’s lots of spots on the ridge, where there’s not room for two people abreast which really adds to the disconcerting feeling like you’re about to be pushed off. But they’re are hand rails to hold on to in most places. It took me about 2 hours to get out and back due to the crowds. Still worth it, and I definitely recommend… however GO AS EARLY AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE. I did hear they’re making this into a permit-only hike in January, and I honestly think that’ll make for a better experience. And I do want to emphasize, the view is nice at the end, but there are lots of nice views of Zion. This hike is really all about the journey and the challenge (not the destination.) If that sounds good to you though and you get the chance, definitely take it! Highly Recommend
– Hiked the Emerald Pools (2.5 mi)
->We had some time so we went off to the nearby Emerald Pools which… were a little underwhelming, but it was a pleasant hike nonetheless, especially if you’re not up for the more intense Angel’s Landing right next door. We hiked from the Grotto, to the three pools, and then to Zion Lodge.
– Ate dinner at Pizza & Noodle
-> Service took a while and the food was just okay. Should’ve eaten at Whiptail again!

Angels Landing Hike!


Wednesday:
– Complementary breakfast at Oscar’s Cafe
– Drive 1 hour and 45 minutes to Bryce Canyon
– Hike Fairyland (8 miles) – top right pic below
-> Loved this hike down into the canyon! Lots of ups and downs, great views and changes of scenery. Highly Recommend. Took 5 L of water between the two of us and that was plenty. Highly Recommend.
– Hike the Queen’s Garden, Navajo Loop, Peekaboo Trail Figure 8 combination trail (6.4 miles)
-> It took some convincing to get my Husband to do the whole Figure 8 after Fairyland, but it was a great hike. While I loved doing both this one and Fairyland, if you’re short on time (and energy), I’d go for this one. (Although it is significantly more crowded.) Highly Recommend.
– Stay at Bryce Canyon Log Cabins
-> Pleasant cabins just outside of Bryce Canyon with a view of the plateaus. Recommend.
– Ate dinner at Pizza Place (this is the actual name)
->There aren’t many places to eat around Bryce so this place was WAY crowded. We got carry out. It took awhile, but it was decent enough pizza.

Fairyland (upper right) and the Peekaboo Trail (part of the Queen’s Garden figure 8)

Thursday:
– Ate breakfast at Bryce Canyon Coffee
-> Solid coffee and pastry place with a cozy atmosphere. Recommend.
– Drive 3 hours to Antelope Canyon and take lower canyon tour with Ken’s tours
-> Loved loved loved this tour! The Navajo nation requires masks during the pandemic, but since they were running at limited capacity, the lighter crowds were really nice. Our guide was lovely, and we got tons of great pictures. Highly Recommend.
– Ate lunch at the Bird House.
-> Counter service with delicious fried chicken and sides (my husband said possibly the best fried chicken he’s ever had). A surprising find. Recommend.
– Drive to see the big bend (*we totally forgot to do this* 😂)
-> Oops! Got a little distracted by Antelope Canyon. Oh well! Guess we’ll have to go next time. We did go peek down at the Glen Canyon Dam which was pretty impressive.
– Drive 2 hours to Grand Canyon
– Ate dinner at Maswik food court
-> Super meh. Which was kind of a theme for the food in the Grand Canyon Park. Next time, I would drive the 15 minutes out of the park to go find real food.
– Stayed at Thunderbird Lodge
-> Can NOT beat for convenience, but the lodge itself was pretty average. It was great to get an early start on the hikes. But it totally wouldn’t be a huge loss to stay outside of the park for cheaper.

Antelope Canyon

Friday:
– Hiked Bright Angel Trail to Plateau Point (12.2 miles)
-> Bright Angel Trail was a fun hike. But I will say it is mostly the same view the whole way. If you’re going to do it, I would definitely recommend going beyond Indian Garden to Plateau Point. Indian Garden is a little underwhelming, but at least at the point you can see the river. There’s three stops for water and bathrooms along the way, which was nice. It took us a little under 6 hours, and while it was tiring, the uphill wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. I will say, just be SURE you bring enough water and are dressed comfortably for the weather. We saw many people not carrying any water and hiking in restricting clothing. A helicopter actually had to fly in and land almost on the trail for one guy (and this was in September when the weather was nearly pleasant!) So, you know, be prepared and know your own ability. Recommend.
– Took shuttle bus to Grand Canyon viewpoints
-> On the first look, the Grand Canyon is enormous and awe-inspiring. But due to the great size… all the viewpoints looked very similar to us, so I wouldn’t say its really necessary to see them all.
– Ate dinner at Fred Harvey Burger
-> Pretty much the only decent place to eat that was open in the actual park. A half hour wait to get a table (though they do text you so you can go wander around) for average burger and pub fare.

Plateau Point! In the bottom left, you can actually see where the trail goes from the rim.

Saturday
– Ate breakfast at Maswik food court
-> Still meh, but pretty much the only option
– Hiked South Kaibab Trail to Oo-ah point (1.7 mi)
-> We were originally planning to hike down to Skeleton Point, but my husband’s acrophobia was getting the better of him, and if we’re being honest, we were kind of being hiked out. Oo-ah point was a very short, steep trail to a nice view of the canyon. But it was super similar to Bright Angel (once again, due to the size of the canyon, the viewpoints look pretty similar), so I didn’t really feel the need to go all the way down.
– Drove 4.5 hours to Las Vegas (we actually passed over the Hoover Dam on the way, but didn’t really feel the need to go investigate)
– Ate Dinner at Ramen-Ya
-> Delicious ramen at a little hole in the wall on the Las Vegas Strip. Recommend.
– Stayed at Marriott’s Grand Chateau

Sunday
– Returned car and flew home!

TL;DR

We definitely enjoyed our week-long road-trip through the national parks. With 3 nights at Zion, 1 night at Bryce, and 2 nights at the Grand Canyon, I thought we had plenty of time in each spot. If it weren’t for COVID, maybe we would’ve caught a show in Vegas on the last night, but that’s not really our scene in general anyway.

Zion was our favorite spot, then Bryce, and GC coming in #3.

The only thing I would’ve done differently is maybe stop over at the Big Bend on our drive from Bryce to GC. Also, I would’ve loved to stay at Phantom Ranch and do the Rim to Rim, but it was totally booked for October when I was planning this trip in April. So book early!

Overall, this was one of our slower-paced vacations. Although we were always up early to hit the trails, we were never in a rush, and we had plenty of time in the evenings to unwind. Hopefully, if you’re interested in planning vacay here, this has been helpful, but if you have any questions at all, please feel free to ask! And maybe when I get some more time on my hands, I’ll post some of our older vacation itineraries as well. 😊

And now this hermit gets to rest up until the next great adventure. 😊

Book Review – Angus: The Little White Fluffy Cloud Who Fell In Love With The Sun


This is a cute little picture book about a cloud that falls in love with the sun, and does his best to get close to her and give her gifts. The illustrations are vibrant and fun and the personalities of the four winds were a lovely touch. I love how it seamlessly weaves in the water cycle into this sweet little story. I read it to my 5yo and my 3yo, and they both said they liked it a whole lot. Super eager to share this in our little free library, and definitely recommend for the 3-7 age group!

 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

And…. it’s already gone. They go so fast!

Thanks for reading!