Book Review: Company Assassin (Relic Trilogy Book 1) by Claudia Blood

Company Assassin (Relic Trilogy Book 1) by Claudia Blood

A Sci-Fi YA Action Novel published by Dragon Bane Publishing (01/15/21)

First reviewed through Reedsy Discovery

Summary:

On the day Duff turns 18 he will be kicked out of the Company’s orphanage. Almost all of the extra income he’s earned over the years has gone back into helping the others in the orphanage. With nowhere to go and having been turned down at all of the other Families, Duff’s only hope is to attach himself to a freelance crew and hope to survive the harsh jungle. Perhaps he can even prove himself an asset in a crew’s search for Relics, the only thing of value on the planet.

Keywords:

Assassin, Planet, Jungle, Orphan, Family, Survival, Attack, Mystery, Time Travel, Space, Evil, Power, Tracking, Alien Planet, Seer, Relic

 

My Review:

This book had a lot going on!

Right from the start the author set up the problem and pulled me into it. I was worried for the main character Duff and how he was going to survive in this harsh world. I wanted him to succeed and I was rooting for him from the very beginning.

Duff does seem to have quite a lot of skills – whenever the plot requires them. Since he’s been living in the orphanage for most of his life, I’m surprised that he remembers how to do certain survivalist things like tracking, etc. He does have great instincts and a big heart. He puts others before himself constantly and does everything in his power to save those around him.

I really liked how the book centered on Duff for enough chapters where I felt like I truly understood who he was and his motivations and the hopelessness of his situation before the POV switched to Z. Z seems like a really fascinating character with a rich backstory. I really want to know why Matilda has such disdain for Z.

A lot of the characters have rich, yet mysterious backstories. I’m very curious about Ravenne and what drove her to be such an evil person when her motivation appears so virtuous. I can’t wait to see how Matilda will rise to importance further along in this series. Even Simon the orphan has a unique skill set and a brooding temper. Even though he’s a minor character, he is developed enough that he’s interesting and unique.

The plot gets more and more complex as the layers of the action unfold. I love how the more I read, the more details were divulged in this rich sci-fi novel. I can tell that the author has a complete story laid out behind the plot of this first book in the series.

The ending did feel less climactic than I would have expected. The momentum from the continual action slowly built throughout the novel and I imagine is still building to a more climactic ending of the story overall. Though the problem introduced in the first part of this book – how will Duff survive being kicked out of the company-sponsored orphanage – was answered in the course of this fast-paced novel.

Though this book is set on another planet where time and space are not the same as Earth, I felt very engaged in the environment and wondrous of all the little details of the world. I really liked how this sci-fi was very focused on the characters and the plot, keeping world-building lean and relevant.

I am anxious to find out what happens to Duff, Z, Matilda, the orphans, and even Ravenne.

This novel was published by Dragon Bane Publishing on 01/15/2021 and is available on Amazon here.

TL;DR Star Rating: 4.75

Links for more information:

Claudia Blood’s Website

Goodreads

February Book Special! $5 Print Book Sale.

At cost book special for the rest of the month! At One’s Beast is only $5 – includes sales tax and shipping! Just send me a message (rachel.author.barnard@gmail.com) and I’ll send you an invoice via Paypal. This special runs until the end of the month or until I run out of copies.

Every month I’ve planned a print book surprise sale/giveaway. I’m planning to move at the end of the summer and want to finish off the rest of my physical inventory. I’m moving away from book writing/selling and more towards cat sitting and personal development.

Book Review: The Alien in the Backseat by Phillip Scott

The Alien in the Backseat by Phillip Scott

A Science Fiction/Satire Fiction novel published by Independently published (10/16/2020)

First reviewed through Reedsy Discovery

Summary:

Jake doesn’t necessarily lead a boring life, but he has his routine. Hang out with his girlfriend, have a beer at the local bar with his best friend, and go to work. Then the inevitable happens and his girlfriend breaks up with him. Jake still has routine nights with his friend and a locally crafted beer as well as the usual at work. Jake accepts his life for what it is, until he discovers the alien in the backseat of his car. Upsetting his typical day, Jake decides to seize this opportunity and take a road trip with the alien. It should be simple to drive from North Carolina to Florida, except this trip is anything but routine. Jake already took a leap of faith when he agreed to bring the alien to Florida, but he’ll start to doubt his decision and the alien when he finds out more than just the feds are in pursuit.

Keywords:

Satire, Science Fiction, Aliens, Road Trip, North Carolina, Florida, Federal Agents, Destruction, Fireworks, Friendship

My Review:

The Alien in the Backseat is a delightful space comedy/road trip that takes place almost entirely between North Carolina and Florida. The writing is concise and the plot is straightforward and fun. This story is told by several characters, but the main character is Jake Whitman. He continuously tells the reader that he likes his routine and isn’t one to take chances or put himself out there, yet his actions speak differently. Jake wants to break out of his routine life. He wants to have an adventure, but he’s never really pushed himself before. The alien that randomly chooses his car to take a nap in is just the push Jake needs to let go of his daily habits. He already lost his girlfriend, so what else does he have to lose? Jake keeps telling us that he’s uncomfortable in the situations this road trip keeps thrusting him into, but he does seem to handle disaster and aliens quite well. I enjoyed the contrast between how Jake viewed himself and how he acted. Some chapters featured other characters’ points of view, like the reporter who is also stuck in a dead-end job, a federal agent, and an alien. These chapters helped to create more tension and elevated the humor present in the back and forth between characters.

The writing style immediately caught my attention. From the first page, I was hooked by the witty use of words and phrases. The prose was delightfully entertaining. The first chapter was the perfect starting point to the narrative. The narrative style and the presence of aliens reminded me of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Science is not at the forefront of this science fiction novel, but instead, the novel focuses on a fun story and the humor in the situations and between the characters. Sometimes the deadpan delivery was so surprising that I had to laugh. If you enjoyed the humor and the outrageous aliens in the Men in Black series, you will surely appreciate this book’s humor.

Jake (and by extension the author) express themselves in a blend of sarcasm and wit that comes across naturally and not at all in a pretentious manner. When we meet the alien and he does come across as pretentious, it is all the more hilarious. The alien is so aggressively outgoing and is written perfectly. The author is able to write the perfect blend of detailed descriptions with dialogue and action. The subtle continuity between chapters was simple yet ingenious. The ending was well set up, made sense to include Jake and his friends, and was wholly satisfying to read.

This novel was published by Independently published 10/16/2020 and is available on Amazon here.

TLDR Star Rating: 4.75

Links for more information:

Goodreads

Phillip Knight Scott’s Website

 

Baking a Birthday Cake – By the Numbers

Kim Joy’s Lemon cake recipe from her book
The Spruce Eats Fluffy Homemade Vanilla Cake recipe

Ingredients for both cakes, Italian buttercream frosting (Kim Joy recipe), ruby chocolate ganache drips, and pink fondant donut topping: $63.75
– 13 sticks of Unsalted butter ($9.75)
– 1 box of caster baking sugar ($5.79)
– Self-Rising Flour ($4.49)
– All-Purpose White Flour ($2.49)
– Cream of tartar from our spice cabinet
– Baking Powder from our spice cabinet
– 15 large eggs ($3.49)
– 6 lemons ($4.99)
– 2 cartons of fresh raspberries ($10.98)
– Heavy cream from our fridge supplies
– Vanilla extract from our spice cabinet
– 4.4oz Pink fondant ($3.19)
– Gel-Based food color 12-count pack ($13)
– Almost 2 bars of ruby chocolate ($5.58)

Baking Supplies (not consumable) bought specially for this cake project: $29.47
– 7″ ring mold pan from Fat Daddio’s ($13.49)
– 7″ Round cheesecake pan from Fat Daddio’s ($11.99)
-11 Piece round cookie cutter set doughnut cutters ($3.99)

New Techniques that I’ve never done before/Lessons learned:

  1. Making my own cake board using cardboard and tin foil
  2. Making buttercream that isn’t just powdered sugar icing
  3. Fixing the buttercream when it isn’t the correct texture
  4. Using a Kitchen-Aid mixer
  5. Weighing and Coloring the batter for even layers
  6. Putting parchment paper in the baking pan after greasing the pan (and cutting out the circle to fit the pan)
  7. Baking each layer separately because I only had one 9″ pan
  8. Making a chocolate ganache
  9. Using Ruby Chocolate
  10. Creating ganache drips using a spoon and ganache at the correct temperature
  11. Stacking the layers in a cake
  12. Crumb coating a cake
  13. Frosting a cake with a spatula and my grandparent’s turntable
  14. Putting a second tier on top of a 5-layer cake bottom tier
  15. Working with fondant
  16. Cutting a cake that is 9.5″ tall and not dropping the top tier onto the floor when plating the slice

The evolution of my first cake-from-scratch:

Book Review: Flintelf (Exili’s Excellent Elucidation Services, #1) by Victoria Bastedo

Flintelf (Exili’s Excellent Elucidation Services, #1) by Victoria Bastedo

A Fantasy/Cozy Mystery novel published by Amazon Digital Services (10/13/2020)

Summary:

“What made the pure elves in the past great, or their bloodline desirable, if it wasn’t the quality of their souls, and their actions?”

Exili has started his own business of elucidation. His clients are also victims. Potential victims, if he can convince them to pay him to prevent their murder, that is. Exili’s next potential client happens to also be a previous school mate. Exili and Goodall hadn’t spoken since school when they had a falling out. Exili doesn’t want his client to die, but he’s also annoyed that he’s got to convince Goodall to hire him. Why couldn’t it be someone else stalked by a murderer?

Keywords:

Caste, Elves, Mystery, Murder, Murder Prevention, Entrepreneur, Friendship, Bad Blood, Pure, High Born, Feet

My Review:

Quirky Fantasy. Fantasy with a foot focus…

I don’t often read fantasy so I was delighted that this book was part fantasy, part cozy mystery, part supernatural. I also really liked that I couldn’t guess the ending until the end and that the mystery the main character Exili has to solve is part of a larger plot that is revealed slowly over time.

I loved the quirky fantasy element that the author creates with her idea of ‘elucidation.’ I especially enjoyed the fact that Exili elucidates… with his feet! He must actually touch items with his feet to elucidate as accurately as possible and the scene where he must touch a bunch of things with his feet was particularly hilarious.

I’m not sure how I feel about the caste system and the various people groups’ placement in society based on ‘true blood’ that Bastedo describes in this world. This would be a great discussion for a book club, especially the fact that features and skin color were ascribed to certain people groups. I liked the term ‘people groups’ as well. There are humans (as I call myself) as a people group. There are the Flintelfs and the Farris people groups.

Like other Bastedo books, this one features a feel-good message and a happy ending.

This novel was published by Amazon Digital Services 10/13/2020 and is available on Amazon here.

TLDR Star Rating: 4.00

Links for more information:

Goodreads

FreeValleyPublishing

Victoria Bastedo WordPress

Book Review: Canopy by D.M. Darroch

Canopy by D.M. Darroch

A Dystopic YA Novel published by Sleepy Cat Press (01/04/21)

Summary:

“I had tremendous arm span, enviable upper body strength, and powerful feet that gripped tree limbs like hands.” (Kindle location 1703).

Many, many years ago people lived on the ground. When the earth was on the brink of destruction, a group of people climbed thousands of feet into the trees. Now, the community in the canopy is a close-knit group. So close that gossip spreads almost as fast as the potential plummet down to the ground. Everyone has their place and their purpose. Ostrya’s place is as an apprentice doctor. Her mentor is also her mother. Her purpose was assigned to her at birth when she inherited the canopy doctor’s trademark blue/green eye combo. But Ostrya doubts her role as community doctor. She is too different from the others. Too alone and outcast for them to trust her. She would rather spend her time climbing, exploring, or making rope anyways. But she bears the teaching and tries to settle into her role until a devastating storm tears through the canopy and reveals new gossip that could unravel everything Ostrya has been working towards.

Keywords:

Dystopian, Coming of Age, Canopy, Trees, Climbing, Gossip, Friendship, Doctor, Community, Rationing, Apprenticeship, Teaching

My Review:

If I were to describe this book in one word I would say that it is ‘polished.’ I couldn’t put this book down it was so entirely engaging from the plot to the characters to the pacing to the writing style and word choice. Even the ending was  flawless. The story that follows the main character Ostrya was expertly wrapped up but the overarching story of the world she lives in – the Canopy and the ground below – left me wanting to start the second book in this series immediately. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was a solid story that was very well written.

I really liked Ostrya and the way that she was portrayed in Canopy. She has her faults and she makes poor decisions but she is almost always making choices as a good person. Sometimes she cannot see beyond her own teen angst and wishes, but she also cares so much about those around her! Ostrya has a purpose in her world, as the future doctor in the community, but she doesn’t feel like she can live up to her Mother’s and grandfather’s examples. She also doesn’t feel like being a doctor is her real calling. But what else, other than climbing, is she good at? Ostrya questions herself and her abilities (not her climbing skills though) throughout the course of the book, meanwhile she knows that what she’s been told her whole life about her society and the world below on the ground can’t possibly be true. What is the truth and why are the elders spreading lies?

The world building in this story was masterfully woven into the descriptions, dialogue, action, and thoughts of the characters. I loved the details of everyday life in this tree world. They elevated the story and set it firmly in this science fiction/dystopic place of what if… What if humans abandoned the ground and generations of evolution passed thousands of feet above in the trees? The world felt genuine and alive. This civilization felt unique yet still surrounded by the faults and flaws of humanity. Gossip runs rampant in this society. Societal pressures still exist but are different because of the environment that the characters live in. I love how the story included multiple aspects of society so that I felt like I could see the world as a whole – including school, daycare, doctors, gardens, hunting, exploring, love, relationships, etc.

I received a free ARC for an honest review.

This novel was published by Sleepy Cat Press on 01/04/2021 and is available on Amazon here.

TL;DR Star Rating: 5.0

Links for more information:

D.M. Darroch’s Website

Apple Link

Barnes and Noble Link

2021 Net Worth and Monthly Spending Update

Here are some charts I made to compare my monthly spending over 2020, 2019, and 2018. I didn’t include taxes or my monthly HSA withholdings from my paycheck. But you can see where I spend the most of my money. This pie chart only accounts for 42% of my gross income. The rest of it goes towards taxes, HSA paycheck withholdings, investing, and savings. The purpose of these charts is to show changes in spending over time (across different categories).

Here are a few more fun numbers:

  1. I decreased my spending by 28% from 2018 to 2019 while increasing my income 16%
  2. I increased my spending 4% from 2019 to 2020 while increasing my income 3%
  3. I increased my total net worth by 73% from 2019 to 2020
  4. 40% of my spending was in “health” in 2018, 28% in “housing” in 2019, and 26% in “housing” in 2020 as my largest spend categories
  5. Eating comprises my highest spend category after housing in general. 22% in 2020, 30% in 2019, and 16% in 2018. As a non-fixed cost, this is quite high and if I were to cut back on spending this would be the ‘easiest’ category to cut back in. Even though I meal plan and have almost no food waste, I don’t budget this category and it’s my most indulgent spending throughout the year.
  6. My credit score took a dive in January of 2020 (I think because they changed how they calculate) by 7% and recovered 3% throughout the year.

Here is another way of looking at my spending categories over time. Note that I broke out my ‘writing’ category in 2020 and it’s now captured not as personal spending/income but in my business expenses so you don’t see it here in 2020.

The next two pie charts show my net worth split categories:

2020 Reading Challenge Books in Review and Recommended Reads

I spent $26.33 on kindle books this year

My favorite books I read this year:

  • What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful by Marshall Goldsmith
  • I’ll Be the One by Lyla Lee
  • Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
  • Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender
  • Tweet Cute by Emma Lord
  • A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder (A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder #1) by Holly Jackson
  • Be Not Far from Me by Mindy McGinnis
  • Parachutes by Kelly Yang
  • Slay by Brittney Morris
  • The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
  • Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler, Cass R. Sunstein
  • Fix Her Up (Hot & Hammered #1) by Tessa Bailey
  • The Vanishing Deep by Astrid Scholte
  • Bent Heavens by Daniel Kraus
  • This Mortal Coil (This Mortal Coil #1) by Emily Suvada
  • Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America by Barbara Ehrenreich
  • Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport
  • Harvesting the Heart by Jodi Picoult
  • Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  • The Bride Test (The Kiss Quotient #2) by Helen Hoang

My favorite Indie books that I read this year:

  1. The Alien in the Backseat by Phillip Knight Scott
  2. Destination Azurah by Victoria Bastedo
  3. Exile (Forbidden Things #2) by Nikki McCormack
  4. Apostate (Forbidden Things #3) by Nikki McCormack
  5. Drawing Breath (Drawing Breath #1-3) by Laurie Boris
  6. The Anti-Virginity Pact (The Pact #1) by Katie Wismer
  7. Flight of the Spark: Book 1 of the Outlawed Myth Fantasy Series (The Outlawed Myth #1) by Evelyn Puerto

 

Out of the 65 books that I read:

11 Indie Books

8 Nonfiction Books

 

The books I read this year:

I think I will make my challenge for next year 100 books!

2019 Reading Challenge Blog Post

2018 Reading Challenge Blog Post

2017 Reading Challenge Blog Post

2016 Reading Challenge Blog Post

2015 Reading Challenge Blog Post

Goals and Accomplishments from 2020 and Future Goals for 2021

Goals list of 2014
Goals list of 2015
Goals list of 2016
Goals list of 2017
Goals list of 2018
Goals list of 2019


2021 Goals!!!

  • 2021 Describe yourself in 3 words:
    • 2021 Describe what you want more of in 3 words: Vacation, Attentive, Patience
    • Theme for 2021: Plan
  • 2020 Describe yourself in 3 words: Anxious, Quick, Analytic
    • 2020 Describe what you want more of in 3 words: Patience, Deliberate, Calm
    • Theme for 202: Hygge
  • 2019 Describe yourself in 3 words: Driven, Efficient, Restless
    • 2019 Describe what you want more of in 3 words: Calm, Accomplished, Considerate
    • Theme for 2019: Minimize

 

Fitness goals 2020:

I want to try out some small lifestyle change style challenges. I wanted to spend each month focusing on a different aspect of health and fitness. Here are my ideas so far: stretching every morning, increasing my water intake, cooking all my own food, reading more self-growth books, eating more veggies, biking/running, reducing my sugar intake. I very much enjoy the Blogilates challenges and may continue to use those challenges and/or the monthly calendar. 2020 Fitness Actual: I didn’t go forward with this 12-month style challenge and meandered a lot throughout the year with my fitness. I joined a 4-week lifestyle and fitness group challenge and then completed the P-90X fitness course. I completed the Divine 12 days of fitness challenge (taking 12 online classes within 17 days). I tried out an advent style fitness challenge that I abandoned 15 days in because it was too much for my body.

Fitness goals 2021:

  • Freestanding handstand
  • Take floorwork intermediate series
  • Pass intermediate inversions into advanced inversions at Divine Movement Dance
  • Get to 12 pullups of any kind in a row
  • Bike 1000 total on my ebike (already 390 from 2020)

 

Finances Goals 2020:

  1. Max out my Roth IRA, 401k and HSA contributions
    1. Nailed it! Maxed out all three of these investment accounts
  2. Build up my emergency savings to 6 months
    1. I think I’ve accomplished this goal. If I were to rely on my emergency savings, I wouldn’t spend as much as I do currently monthly so what I have saved would actually last 6 months. If I were to calculate 6 month’s spending then I’m I’m $2300 short of a complete 6 month’s emergency savings. In another 8 months I would have that amount in my emergency savings with my automatic savings plan.
  3. Save 50% of my income.
    1. I spent 40% of my gross income
    2. I spent 53% of my net income
  4. Reach 6-figure net worth
    1. Mid-December I hit this goal!

Finances Goals 2021:

  1. Max out my Roth IRA, 401k and HSA contributions
  2. Save 50% of my income

 

Writing Goals 2020:

  • Deplete my physical book inventory
    • Sold/gave away 42 print books this year!
  • Break even on Ataxia and At One’s Beast
    • With my marketing push, I was able to meet this goal in January!
  • Revamp my website
    • Pushed this off
  • Write 4 short stories
  • Send out 4 newsletters
    • Technically I already met this goal with my early December promotional newsletter, but I have one more to send out for my end of year recap.
  • Publish a new coloring book
    • Did not pursue this new project

Writing Goals 2021

  • Deplete my physical book inventory
  • Go to a conference/workshop for writing
  • Revamp website
  • Finish outlining Two for Tiny
  • Finish first draft of Two for Tiny

 

Personal Goals 2021

  1. Take a bookkeeping class
  2. Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Certification
  3. Build a seed library and/or trellis
  4. Grow loofah
  5. Take a doughnut making class
  6. Take goat/bunny yoga class
  7. Face time with friends/family every month

 

For Q1 here are my specific goals:

  • Financial: Update my death binder and review finances on my birthday 1/22
  • Fitness: Personal session for handstands, 2 stretch classes, no sweets and treats until my birthday (1/22)
  • Writing: Book giveaway for my birthday, newsletter, Review two Indie Books (Canopy by D.M. Darroch and Flintelf by Victoria Bastedo), quote and plan for website revamp
  • Personal: Face time with Rich, Face Time with Chris, Face Time with Danelle; Lean Six Sigma Green Belt certification exam in February

2020 Physical Activity – Dance, Health, and Fitness

How do you work out?

Pole Dancing Highlights for 2020
2. I took 35 classes total
3. I spent $225 total (I have credit as an ambassador that I use towards classes)
4. I spent 55.75 hours in class
5. I worked with 7 different instructors

Lifetime money spent (just for pole classes): $7139.95
2014 – $90
2015 – $422.21
2016 – $1777
2017 – $2594
2018 – $1465.74
2019 – $566
2020 – $225

Lifetime total pole classes: 445
2014 – 6
2015 – 19
2016 – 109
2017 – 139
2018 – 92
2019 – 37
2020 – 35

Total time spent poling: 703.25 hours (29.3 days)
2014 – 10.5 hours
2015 – 37.5 hours
2016 – 173.5 hours
2017 – 226 hours
2018 – 144.5 hours
2019 – 55.5 hours
2020 – 55.75 hours

Class Breakdown at different studios for 2020
Divine – 20/35 = 57%
Spinderella – 14/35 = 40%
Habitat Pole and Fitness – 1/35 = 3%

 

In other fitness accomplishments:

  • I biked 446.5 miles (390 miles on my new ebike)
  • I took 16 stretch and flexibility classes
  • I took 3 booty dance classes
  • I took 1 yoga class
  • I took 3 inversions conditioning classes
  • I took 3 handstands classes
  • I took 4 Pilates classes
  • I played soccer one time (and practiced several times)
  • I completed P90X along with some other Beach Body classes
  • I lost 3% body fat over the summer
  • I was able to do 9 chin-ups in a row
  • 7/17/2020 ran a 10:03 mile (after a 13:50 mile and then 11:02 mile with exercise-induced asthma)

My favorite fitness photos: Running up a small pyramid in Teotihuacán, Mexico; biking home across the 520 bridge over Lake Washington on my new ebike; camel pose success during Divine flexibility class

2019 Physical Activity Blog Post Breakdown

2018 Physical Activity Blog Post Breakdown

2017 Physical Activity Blog Post Breakdown

2016 Physical Activity Blog Post Breakdown

2015 Physical Activity Blog Post Breakdown