What’s Ashley Reading?: Woman 99

Woman 99 by Greer MacAllister

First line: Goldengrove devoured my sister every time I closed my eyes.

Summary: Charlotte Smith is the daughter of a wealthy San Francisco business man. She is engaged to a respectable man. Her manners and comportment are perfect. However, her sister Phoebe has fits of depression or energy. Her parents do not know what to do with her. Their only hope is to send her to a respected asylum for women called Goldengrove. Charlotte loves her sister and is determined to get her out of the asylum. She devises a plan to be admitted to the asylum in order to find and rescue her sister. When Charlotte arrives at Goldengrove she realizes that her plan may not be as easy as she originally thought.

My Thoughts: The story took a little while to gather momentum. The first several chapters were devoted to giving a little backstory but once Charlotte enters the asylum everything picks up. Quoting one of the reviewers I follow on Goodreads, “…the chick in this book is cray cray!!” Why do you think that walking an insane asylum is going to be easy. She figures that she can just waltz out with her sister once she finds her. Even though her main goal is to find her sister, she learns a lot about the struggles that women have to face out in the world. She was raised very sheltered and wealthy where these hardships are not shared. I loved seeing her growth.

Most of the story is told through Charlotte’s thoughts rather than interactions and conversation. This style makes the reading a little slower but as a reader you can tell that the author did a lot of research in order to fill out her novel. Everything down to the specific treatments to the activity at docks in San Francisco.

The other women at the asylum though were hands down my favorite part. Each of them had a story to tell even though we get it in bits and pieces. Hearing how easily a wife, daughter or sister can be discarded is so sad. If you wanted to do or be anything other than what was expected you were clearly “insane”. It makes me want to scream at the injustice that they faced. And the women that were truly disturbed did not get the help they needed. Be ready for a look into a cruel world but it will also give you the feels for how much Charlotte and Phoebe truly care for each other. I hope that I would do something this crazy for my sister if the time ever came around.

FYI: Greer MacAllister’s first book, The Magician’s Lie, is phenomenal! Read it. Please!

From Reader to Writer: World Building Resources

Both readers and writers can agree that one of the best parts of stepping into an imaginative story is the immersive world building. From Tolkien’s Middle Earth to Rowling’s Wizarding World, the intricacies of creating an entire world are addictive. For genres like fantasy and science fiction that rely on otherworldly elements, it’s a writer’s ability to engage the five senses which hooks us into a story even more than writing plot or characters.

But when it comes to world building, the pressures of playing god can sometimes get really overwhelming. How do you keep it all straight? How do you determine the origins of your world, the climate, the geography, not to mention the cultures, races, plants, and animals that make your world not only believable, but habitable? How do you even know what questions to ask or what information is most important in your story?

As I’m working through my own writing, I’ve found that world building can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s immensely enjoyable to get lost in a world so different from my own, but world building is also an excellent excuse to create and create without really writing anything. I want to be careful not to risk getting “world builder’s disease,” an affliction that plagued even Tolkien where a writer creates every tiny, little detail of a world, inevitably running themselves into the ground and burning out.

To keep my thoughts organized, I’ve discovered this incredible resource. WorldAnvil is a free website that lets a writer, artist, or role-playing gamemaster organize an entire world in an encyclopedia format. The website has an article for various types of entries, and the articles prompt a range of questions that guide you through construction. WorldAnvil also has paid subscription options that offer access to more resources and functions in the website, but you can use the website without having to pay a thing.

I also found WorldAnvil’s YouTube channel and this video on tips for worldbuilding helpful. Beyond WorldAnvil, there are some great videos featuring advice from both seasoned writers and RPG game developers. This video on fantasy map construction is awesome!

Another amazing resource is best-selling author Brandon Sanderson’s lectures on writing. Many of his classes are available on YouTube including this one on worldbuilding.

When writing a story or even developing a world for a role-playing game, there are many elements and decisions to make. It’s intense and rewarding. Use this phase of your creative journey as an outlet to be eccentric and try things. When the real plotting begins, you’ll be so immersed in your story that much of the work will already be done.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Red Scrolls of Magic

Recently Miss Hannah and I recorded a podcast where we gushed about how much we love the author Cassandra Clare and her work. If you love everything Shadowhunters then you should listen to our podcast episode and check out her newest book, The Red Scrolls of Magic.

The Red Scrolls of Magic by Cassandra Clare & Wesley Chu

First line: From the observation deck of the Eiffel Tower, the city was spread at Magnus Bane and Alec Lightwood’s feet like a gift.

Summary: Following the Mortal War against Valentine Morgenstern and his followers, it is time for a much needed vacation. Alec Lightwood and his warlock boyfriend, Magnus Bane, are on a romantic adventure through Europe. However, everything does not go as planned. With the arrival of an old friend, Magnus is warned that there is a demon worshipping cult making trouble in Europe. And the rumored leader is none other than Magnus Bane himself. In order to clear his name and bring down the cult he and Alec travel across Europe fighting demons and attending some rather exciting parties.

My Thoughts: I have been waiting for this for years! I love Alec and Magnus. I have been a huge fan of their relationship from the very beginning. And now they are traveling across Europe. Yes please! One of the best things about Clare’s characters, especially Magnus, is their wit. He always has perfect little quips.

The story started a little slow and the pacing seemed a little off from Clare’s other works but that may be due to having a co-writer on this novel. However, once I got into the story I was hooked. I read the last 200 pages in one day. I could not put it down. I loved their banter. I was happy to see some characters from later timelines make an appearance. Even though this novel is much shorter than her more recent ones it does not lack any of the pieces that makes her other books so gripping. There is a lot of action, romance and demons.

And this novel is her first adult novel in the Shadowhunter universe. It is evident that this is written for a little older audience because there is some more graphic scenes but it does not go too far. At the end Cassie writes about how she wanted to write this novel for a long time and left a gap in her timeline in case she was able to get it written. I could tell that it was a project she felt very passionate about.

FYI: This is the first in a new trilogy, The Elder Curses. It takes place after the first three books in the Mortal Instruments series.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Then She Was Gone

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

First line: Those months, the months before she disappeared, were the best months.

Summary: Fifteen year old Ellie is the golden child. Then one day she disappears without a trace. Ten years later her mother, Laurel meets a man in a coffee shop. He is charming and appears to be the perfect man. As her relationship with Floyd progresses she meets his daughter who bears a striking resemblance to her missing daughter, Ellie. What happened to Ellie? After all the years of wondering Laurel is determined to find out.

My Thoughts: Lisa Jewell is a new discovery for me. I recently read her latest book, Watching You, on the recommendation of Dawn (who writes our Lit Pairings blog posts). I was hooked immediately. Her novels are fast paced filled with lots of twists and turns. I was pretty sure I had everything figured out early on in the novel. However, I was wrong. Things continued to get more twisted as I read.

The book was divided into different parts with different narrators. As the story progressed we got different looks at the events of then and now. I was very shocked and little saddened by the ending. If you read it you may understand. There were lots of pieces that are very hard to read. But Jewell is an amazing writer. Even if the story had been less intriguing her writing would have saved it. I will definitely be on the hold list for any more of her upcoming thrillers.

FYI: This is perfect for fans of Ruth Ware and Shari Lapena.

Lit Pairings – The Night Visitors by Carol Goodman


ALICE gets off a bus in the middle of a snowstorm in Delphi, NY. She is fleeing an abusive relationship and desperate to protect…

OREN, ten years old, a major Star Wars fan and wise beyond his years. Though Alice is wary, Oren bonds nearly instantly with…

MATTIE, a social worker in her fifties who lives in an enormous run-down house in the middle of the woods. Mattie lives alone and is always available, and so she is the person the hotline always calls when they need a late-night pickup. And although according to protocol Mattie should take Alice and Oren to a local shelter, instead she brings them home for the night. She has plenty of room, she says. What she doesn’t say is that Oren reminds her of her little brother, who died thirty years ago at the age of ten.

But Mattie isn’t the only one withholding elements of the truth. Alice is keeping her own secrets. And as the snowstorm worsens around them, each woman’s past will prove itself unburied, stirring up threats both within and without.

I first read Carol Goodman years ago when I picked up The Death Orchid after hearing from someone that it would appease my never-ending hunger for all things Gothic. It did, and I loved her writing style. I haven’t read all her books but those I have read never disappoint.

The Night Visitors is very atmospheric, but is lacking a little when it comes to inspiration for a food based blog. So I’m hoping you will forgive my lack of original recipes and just be excited about how fun this book is!

Now on to the food! At one point in the story the characters are preparing for a big winter storm and what goes better with a storm then a nice slow cooker Chili?!?! Then in the morning when you wake up and find yourself snowed in you can make the other great recipe from the book, Pancakes, and I think this recipe is just the ticket!

I know pancakes and chili aren’t new or exciting, but I promise you this book is! If you enjoy the book drop me a line and let me know.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Daisy Jones and the Six

Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

*If you would like to listen to the audio book it is available on Libby.*

First line: This book is an attempt to piece together a clear portrait of how the renowned 1970s rock band Daisy Jones & The Six rose to fame—as well as what led to their abrupt and infamous split while on tour in Chicago on July 12, 1979.

Summary: Daisy Jones, a young girl in the late 1960s who spends her time on Sunset Boulevard, sneaking into clubs, drinking heavily and dreaming big of a life as a rock star. Billy Dunne is the lead singer of an up and coming rock band called The Six. They each have a unique sound but when their producer decides that the way to make them superstars is to combine their talents.

Told through interviews with band members, family, friends and colleagues we get the story of the legendary band known as Daisy Jones and The Six.

My Thoughts: If you loved the movie Bohemian Rhapsody then you should definitely check this out! And listen to the audio book. I find that the style of the writing is very hard to read because it is an oral history. The book is composed of interviews which bounce back and forth between different members. But the audio has a full cast and it feels like a documentary. I kept having to remind myself that this was fiction not an actual band.

I did not grow up in the seventies but I can imagine that Taylor Jenkins Reid does a great job of portraying it. Life was wild at the time. I really loved hearing about Daisy. She sounds like the typical female rock star of the time who struggled with drugs and the crazy lifestyle. However, I kept rooting for her to figure it out.

Each of the other characters has their own demons but they are mainly supporting characters. But I did enjoy hearing each ones perspective on the same events. It is crazy how different each person views and remembers the same thing. The one character that I really struggled with liking was Eddie. He drove me crazy. He was constantly complaining about everything, even though most of the stuff had nothing to do with him.

FYI: Pick up Reid’s novel, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Haunting of Maddy Clare

The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James

First line: The day I met Mr. Gellis, I had been walking in the rain.

Summary: Sarah Piper is a poor young woman working for a temp agency in London when an unusual job becomes available. She is hired on as an assistant for a ghost hunter. Alistair Gellis, a WWI veteran and ghost enthusiast, is determined to prove the existence of ghosts. He wants Sarah’s help with the ghost of Maddy Clare. Maddy was a servant for the Clare family until she took her own life in their barn. Now her spirit is wreaking havoc on the occupants. With the help of Matthew Ryder, a former soldier and friend of Alistair’s they search for a way to help Maddy move on and solve the mystery behind her destructive behavior.

My Thoughts: Absolutely chilling! Simone St. James is by far one of the best writers, in my opinion, of the Gothic ghost story. She can weave the historical fiction, romance and spookiness together seamlessly. I have been meaning to read this for some time now. It took me just a few days to read because it was that good!

I loved the mystery behind Maddy. No one knew who she was or where she came from. She had no memory and rarely spoke. Then one day she hangs herself in the barn of her employer. That’s when the trouble really begins. Maddy’s vengeful spirit is set to attack any man who sets foot on the Clare property. What happened in her past? Sarah’s first interactions with Maddy were a little terrifying. It literally gets your blood pumping as you read it. When you pick this up be prepared to finish it. Maybe even the same day. Just saying.

FYI: If you like this then try Wendy Webb and Amanda Stevens.

What’s Ashley Reading?: American Duchess

American Duchess by Karen Harper

First line: Everyone was calling it the wedding of the century.

Summary: Consuelo Vanderbilt, the American heiress to the railroad empire, is marrying the future Duke of Marlborough. However, she is in love with someone else and is being forced into the marriage by her strong willed mother, Alva Smith Vanderbilt. The marriage is an unhappy one but Consuelo hopes to use her influence as the Duchess of Marlborough to help the lower classes living around Blenheim Palace.

My Thoughts: I have been a reader of Karen Harper for many years. I really enjoy her historical fiction even though she seems to elaborate her narratives a bit. Her most recent novel was a fast read about one of the American heiresses whose money helped sustain the British aristocracy. Having recently read, A Well-Behaved Woman by Therese Anne Fowler, I was familiar with the Vanderbilt family at the turn of the nineteenth century.

Alva was a force to be dealt with but it sounds like her daughter learned a lot from her mother. I loved hearing about Consuelo’s life and the way she tried to improve her circumstances and those of the poor. I cannot imagine living her life though. She was forced into a marriage, had unimaginable wealth and was very unhappy for many years. Harper does a great job of breathing life into her characters. I loved “meeting” Winston Churchill. As with most historical novels, I googled many of the locations and people to see what they really looked like. This was a fun romp through the Gilded Age and into the time of the world wars.

FYI: This is perfect for fans of Downton Abbey!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Huntress

The Huntress by Kate Quinn

First line: She was not used to being hunted.

Summary: Nina dreamed of becoming a pilot. When the German army attacks her native Russia, she enlists to help her country fight its invaders. As one of the all-female bomber regiment called the Night Witches, she gets her wish. Until one day when she goes down behind enemy lines and encounters the evil villainous known as the Huntress.

Ian Graham spent the war years as a war correspondent. He everything from the invasion of Omaha Beach to the Nuremburg Trials but he is determined to find and bring to justice one person, the Huntress. With a personal vendetta against the war criminal he joins an organization tasked with finding members of the Nazi party that escaped punishment.

Jordan McBride is a young girl and aspiring photographer in 1946. Her father recently married a mysterious Austrian widow but her story makes Jordan suspicious. The more she learns the less she trusts her. She is determined to find out who this woman is in order to protect her father.

Told in three narratives we piece together the story of the Huntress.

My Thoughts: From the very first chapter I was hooked. I have been a longtime fan of Kate Quinn and her newest novel does not disappoint. I think I can even say with confidence that it is her best book to date. I loved the different timelines and how each intertwine. This would be perfect for fans of historical fiction and mysteries.

Nina was by far my favorite character. She is strong woman but also has a deep seeded fear. I enjoyed seeing her change and grow throughout the story. She starts as a poor girl from eastern Russia who dreams of becoming a pilot. As the war progresses she discovers more about herself and the country she serves. I learned so much while reading her chapters. I had never heard of female bomber teams during World War II. Even though Russia has a history of being behind the times, this is a very progressive stance. And for them to be highly decorated after the war for their courage.

Read the author’s notes at the end for more background on the story. You can tell that Quinn did a lot of research to build her narrative.

FYI: This reminded me a lot of the new release movie, Operation Finale, starring Oscar Isaac. It follows the search and capture of Adolph Eichmann, the mastermind behind the Holocaust.

What’s Ashley Reading?: King of Scars

King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

First line: Dima heard the barn doors slam before anyone else did.

Summary: Nikolai Lantsov, the young king of Ravka, has spent the first several years of his reign trying to hold his country together. With the help of his Triumvirate he hopes to strengthen the borders, improve diplomatic relations and rebuild the Second Army. However, as miracles continue to happen around the country and a darkness still infects his land, he is met with more than he imagined.

My Thoughts: Nikolai was one of my favorite characters from Bardugo’s original trilogy. He has a sharp wit and charisma that lets him steal every scene. I was so happy when I learned that he was getting his own duology. Authors do answer prayers! Ha! And Nina from The Dregs Duology has a starring role as well. I loved every one of her chapters. She is daring and smart. And she does not mind causing a little trouble along the way.

“But it’s a very arduous path,” Nikolai said. “Who will carry my snacks?”

In addition to past characters we meet several new ones. I did not know how I was going to feel about them when they first entered the storyline but they surprised me. It was a fun plot twist. I am excited to see where these new characters take us.

The first half of the book was a little slower, a trait which I have noticed in the other books. But when the action picks up the story flies by. Trust me and stick with this. It is worth every minute you spend reading it.

And finally that ending! Wow! It was shocking. It literally gave me goosebumps as I was reading it. I will be highly anticipating the next book. I hope I do not have to wait too long.

FYI: I would highly recommend you read The Shadow and Bone Trilogy and The Dregs Duology before picking this one up. There are lots of characters and storylines that carry on into this latest addition to the Grishaverse.