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Journey To Discover The Heart of God

by

The Reverend Debbie Womack

 

Lovely, guided prayer journal to enhance spiritual reflection and understanding.

 

Journey To Discover The Heart of God is a lovely, guided prayer journal by The Reverend Debbie Womack, an Episcopal deacon in Lubbock, Texas, and veteran author of educational and religious curricula for schools and church classrooms. With its clean lines, simple imagery and layout, and thoughtful and diverse selections of Bible verses, each page is certain to prompt contemplation, spiritual reflection, understanding, and renewal.

 

The journal has a consistent, easy-to-follow layout prefaced by the author’s suggested methods of progressing through the spiritually-themed prayer prompts. There are eight themes: peace, hope, joy, faith, trust, prayer, forgiveness, and love, with approximately ten pages headed by a Bible verse or verses (taken from the New International Version) devoted to each theme. Following each page’s verse or combination of verses is plenty of clean, lined, white space for writing down one’s thoughts on the reading. After the guided prompts, several additional pages are provided for exploring personal prayers, meditations, and thoughts. However, while the author offers options for employing and getting the most out of its use, the journal would be easily customizable or adaptable to individual preferences and needs.

 

With its fresh simplicity, ease of use, adaptability, and nice writing spaces begging for your input, I recommend JOURNEY TO DISCOVER THE HEART OF GOD to readers of middle-school age and older who are looking to examine their spirituality and relationship with God and their fellow man.

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How often do you think about the Roman Empire? BLOOD AND SHADOWS will have you thinking about it a lot.

The Battle of Philippi is over. Octavian and Mark Antony have defeated the Republic. A cause and a generation of young noblemen have been lost.
 
Lucius Sestius, after his deadly encounters with conspiracy and the Ides of March, has been driven from Rome by his allegiance to Caesar’s murderers. He has seen his commanders die on the battlefield, and now he and his friends must rebuild their lives, burdened by defeat and grief.
 
In exile on Sicily, Lucius investigates the mysterious murder of a soldier, just as peace negotiations between Antony, Octavian and the rebel Sextus Pompey are being planned.
 
When another murder threatens the negotiations, Lucius is ordered to make enquiries and provide a convenient explanation. Realising this is his only path to freedom, he returns to Rome knowing that a murderer has gone free.
 
Back home, the murder of the veteran centurion Crastinus leads Lucius to the terrible suspicion that one of his friends is responsible, and that he himself has allowed this to happen. 

Blood and Shadows is the third novel in author Fiona Forsyth’s epic series featuring the Roman Lucius Sestius, and it definitively brings an emotional closure to this wonderfully satisfying historical mystery trilogy. Book three focuses on Lucius’s experiences after he survives the devastating battle between opposing Roman armies at Philippi, an event that changed him and Rome forever. 

The author’s writing is strong in many areas, and one, in particular, is character development. She especially has her craft completely in hand as she depicts Lucius’s changes over three novels. Lucius grew to manhood as a privileged son in a senatorial family and was destined to serve the Republic and lead if chosen. His esteemed father taught him to always act with honor and do what’s right for the people of Rome. Still, Lucius is ultimately disappointed to discover that not all his peers or even Julius Caesar himself are willing to do the same. When Caesar is assassinated, Lucius sides with Brutus and Cassius and is present at their army’s defeat at Philippi. Although he survives, he is not undamaged; Lucius escapes to Sicily, a changed man. He and his friends, Horace and Marcus, understand they will probably live out their lives separated from family, friends, and homeland, and each must deal with the psychological aftermath of the horrors of their battlefield experiences in their own ways. 

Lucius’s anxiety over the murder of the unidentified soldier haunts him throughout the book, and additional murders, committed in a similar fashion, follow him back to Rome after he is pardoned. Tragically, his suspicions shift to his two friends, but his hands are tied as to how to reveal which of them is the murderer. 

As with the previous books in the trilogy, the story is studded with historical figures, true events, and the little details of everyday life in ancient Rome that bring these books to life. There is always a mention of some activity, item, or event that sends me to Google to read more about it. 

With its endearing main character and wonderfully vivid settings, I recommend BLOOD AND SHADOWS to readers of historical mysteries, especially those interested in ancient Rome (and I understand, according to TikTok, that would be many of you?) and fans of the previous novels. 

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from Reedsy Discovery.

 

See my review of The Emperor's Servant (Lucius Sestius Mystery, #2) here!

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Murder in Trastevere (Roman Holiday Mystery, #2) by Jen Collins Moore 

I literally suspected EVERYONE! 

Murder in Trastevere is the second book in author Jen Collins Moore’s intriguing Roman Holiday Mystery series, but the first to feature expat mover and shaker Faye Masters in the lead role. In this mystery, Faye becomes a murder suspect when a fairly recent addition to her close-knit group of friends dies during a party thrown in her honor in Faye’s apartment. When the death is ruled a murder, rumors start flying, and the police start eying her for the deed, Faye decides the only way to clear her name is to do it herself. 

Faye Masters proves to be a tough character to love initially. She’s opinionated, completely involved in their group’s dynamics, and controlling. A criticism repeated in the story is that she always has to be right. I can relate and can’t really fault her for this! However, she’s in the middle of a painful divorce, and she’s been hiding assets from her husband, of which he is entitled a portion. It’s dishonest, but darn if I don’t feel like she’s been done completely wrong by that man and deserves it. In fact, she was much kinder to him than I would have been. I would have set those boxes and the golf clubs he left behind out in the piazza for him to retrieve himself. 

As the story unfolds, Faye relaxes and lets go of some of her attitudes, especially when her crowd of so-called friends goes MIA. I had a lot of empathy for Faye. She’d been the glue for the ex-pat community for over ten years – the hostess with the mostest – and this is how she was treated? She kept wishing for things to get back to normal so she could return with her friends until she finally stopped and re-evaluated those friendships. I look forward to seeing how she will go on in the future with these people. Finally, I think this is the only cozy mystery character I’ve ever encountered who, upon being targeted for murder, realizes someone thinks she’s so awful that she deserves to die. 

Integral to the charm of the story is the fabulous Roman setting. Faye’s excursions throughout the city on her scooter were fun and interesting. I enjoyed her goal of viewing all the locally held Caravaggio paintings. With quotations from the artist’s biography heading each chapter, Faye’s impressions, and images courtesy of Wikipedia, I almost felt like I was along for the ride to the churches and museums. The descriptions of meals and pastries were a to-die-for bonus. 

The murder mystery was intriguing and much more intricate than I first thought. As things progressed, there were many possible theories of motives and matching suspects. The evidence pointed to everyone, and I eventually suspected EVERYONE at one point or another. The resolution was a good one, and with Faye re-examining her future with new eyes, I look forward to the next adventure for her, Maggie, Burt, and Thomas. 

I recommend MURDER IN TRASTEVERE to cozy mystery readers, especially those who read the previous book in the series or enjoy stories set in Rome. 

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours.

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A Storm of Infinite Beauty by Julianne MacLean

Mystery, suspense, and second chances! 

When writer Peter Miller contacts Gwen Hollingsworth regarding his research into the life of her cousin, a famous actress and songwriter who died tragically young at the height of her career, she is understandably suspicious of his intentions. Peter's career up to this point had been that of a notoriously dogged paparazzi, seemingly willing to do whatever it took to get photographs and the latest scoop on the rich and famous. Gwen, as the heir to Scarlet Fontaine's fortune and the curator of a museum dedicated to her life and legacy, was very protective of the memory of her famous cousin and wasn't about to help anyone try to sensationalize something in the past of a woman who'd spent her short life trying to avoid the public eye. But when Peter Miller arrives and shares evidence of a stunning secret in Scarlet's past, Gwen knows she must uncover the truth herself. 

Told with dual timelines, A Storm of Infinite Beauty is the story of two women, separated by more than 50 years, coming to terms with their lives after suffering tremendous losses. In the 1963-4 timeline, young, unmarried Valerie McCarthy, known later by her screen name as Scarlett Fontaine, is sent from her home in Wolfville, Nova Scotia to Valdez, Alaska, by her father when she reveals she is eight weeks pregnant. She and the baby's father had split up during an argument before her delicate condition was discovered, and she is shipped off before she can tell him the news. Valerie is dumped off in rural Alaska at a tourist lodge where she is to work for her room and board and await the birth of her child, out of sight of the people in her hometown. Her father has decided she'll give the child up for adoption and then return home with a clean slate, no one the wiser. She's alone and heartsick but, thankfully, finds the support she needs to heal and determine her own future at the Wilderness Lodge. 

In the 2017-8 storyline, Gwen Hollingsworth is grieving the loss of her first child two years earlier and the subsequent defection of her husband, Eric, for a considerably younger woman. When Peter Miller reveals that Scarlett Fontaine, believed to have never married or had children, may have gone to Alaska and had a baby there before achieving her film success, she's naturally drawn into the mystery, wanting to discover what happened for better or worse. 

Gwen and Peter make a great team and a wonderful couple. He regrets his previous career and is earnest about creating an accurate and truthful portrayal of this much-loved star. He hits all the right notes for me as a thoughtful and considerate partner for Gwen, even as Eric comes back into the picture, remorseful over his prior actions. 

The story is supported by wonderful secondary characters: the warm and wise Maud and Blaine Wilson, Valerie's coworker and fellow expectant mother, Angie Brown, and the unpredictable Jeremy Mikhailov. But if there was ever a character I wanted to slap up the side of the head, it is Angie's husband, Joe, and the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree, as they say. I was taken completely by surprise by the actions of Joe's parents.

The Alaskan setting is captivating and atmospheric; the Wilderness Lodge is a place of warmth and safety. The background events that occurred in Valdez on March 27, 1964, give the story a feeling of a ticking time bomb, the suspense and tension building as the action edges closer and closer to what is revealed in the prologue. The author kindly includes the titles of some resource materials for readers who want to read further about the events of that day. 

While both women's storylines are heartbreaking, Valerie's had already been written, and we are uncovering the past. Gwen's, however, was yet to be determined, and I was on pins and needles as I waited to learn her decisions. I couldn't put the book down until I knew. 

I recommend A STORM OF INFINITE BEAUTY to readers of women's fiction, historical fiction, and even romantic suspense.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author.

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A Fatal Deception at Shanghai by Richard D. Colbert 

The story was pleasing and had a lot of potential, but issues in execution made for a confusing plot and inconsistent character development. 

A Fatal Deception at Shanghai has a lot of promise to be a first-rate murder mystery, especially with its initial setting in 1920s Shanghai among the expat polo set. However, the story’s delivery is incomplete, unpolished, and confusing, almost as if it were the author’s notes and first draft. 

The plot has potential: a wealthy but shady businessman drops dead from an apparent poisoning aboard a private yacht off the coast of China, surrounded by several family members who will greatly benefit from his death. More deaths quickly follow. Three uninvited guests on the ship are immediately suspected of murder even though they have everything to lose and nothing to gain from it. Literally, EVERYONE on board thinks they are Sherlock Holmes and attempts to investigate the murder, which, honestly, was one of my favorite plot elements. 

Shanghai in 1926 is an irresistible draw as a setting, and it felt like the author did some research on the time and place with pictures and illustrations as a nice addition. Having the action take place in the elite world of international polo was intriguing and unique. However, neither aspect had much to do with the plot, and both are left behind 30% into the book when the story moves to a private yacht for the duration. The book could have been set anywhere with the same result as Shanghai, and polo makes little impact or leaves much of an impression. 

The relationships between the characters are, for the most part, underdeveloped and, at times, unclear. For example, Evelyn Beckmann gets some attention early on, but hers is a confusing picture. Is she a somewhat sheltered debutante who blushes at the mention of the mysterious writer she sees at The Astor or a bold hussy who publicly puts her arm around the waist of a newly met Army lieutenant as she invites him to a private dinner back at her hotel? Then, she practically disappears from the story once everyone is on board The Golden Eagle. 

Finally, the story is told to the reader rather than revealed through action and dialogue. I often felt like I was reading a story summation and not the actual goods. Much of the conversation is formatted like a script, with the character’s name listed, followed by their line and accompanying stage directions. However, when presented as a dynamic part of a scene, I often couldn’t tell who was speaking. I did think that the slang and language used by some characters was good, for example, the jockey Stevie West or McClearn, but that was inconsistent. 

Assigning a rating to this book is difficult because the star descriptions here don’t match how I felt about the story. I enjoyed it for what is apparent underneath a very rough presentation. I cannot recommend this book in its current iteration; however, I fully believe the author has the bones for a very good thing here, perhaps even a great jumping-off point for an eventual series featuring Sheldon, McClearn, and maybe West. I urge him to take this to a good editor and flesh out these bones. 

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from Reedsy Discovery.

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Intergalactica by F.P. Trotta 

Sweeping plot with multiple successive storylines in one big book. 

Intergalactica is a science fiction novel by Brazilian author F.P. Trotta, recently translated into English, and is the first book in a series. The lengthy story covers a lot of ground, from Earth to the far reaches of space and back, as Dr. Amanda Collins and her companions match wits with an evil genius, her own father! 

Amanda Collins is a neurosurgeon and therapist who awakens from a coma after contracting meningitis. Her two best friends, who are also her therapy patients, Ripley and Stryker, are at her bedside. Amanda is released from the hospital, and the trio is joined by a new acquaintance, Lina, at a coffee shop, where uniformed officers confront the group to arrest Amanda for treason. A shoot-out ensues, officers are killed, and the heroes escape to Amanda's secret Chicago hideaway, appropriately named "The Lair." Here, Amanda's backstory is revealed, including her heartbreak that the officers are actually minions of her estranged father, renowned scientist Oswald Rose Collins. Amanda is certain that her father plans to use an upcoming space launch to Europa to acquire the means to destroy Earth after he and his trusted followers escape to a distant Earth-like planet. After preparing her friends to help foil her father's plan, the story is off and running at speed, and things never slow down. 

Besides Amanda, a core group of characters are joined in their adventures by representatives of the alien cultures they encounter. While the story's focus is definitely on the action, I found the characters lacked dimension, and they did a lot of screaming and shouting of dialogue. I did not connect much with any of them. 

The plot is imaginative, and the action is non-stop, with an evil genius that just won't die. However, a massive twist in the story turns the entire story on its head. Unfortunately, a rough translation and poor punctuation made this book a tough reading experience, requiring frequent pauses to determine what the author was trying to say. Still, the story comes through as a great adventure. 

The descriptions of the wide range of settings the characters encounter are vivid and creative, running the gamut of familiar scenes of tropical beaches and deserts to strange alien landscapes to Chicago and rural Iceland. Spacecrafts tended toward fantastical interiors without lingering on technical details. 

INTERGALACTICA is for sci-fi/fantasy readers who enjoy big books with sweeping plots and multiple successive storylines and have the patience to tease the tale from the translation. 

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy through RABT Book Tours and PR.

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Dust by Dusti Bowling 

Riveting and realistic story with elements of fantasy, probing serious topics, and all too possible situations middle-grade students may encounter. 

Dust by Dusti Bowling is a riveting tale of four middle-graders navigating a toxic school environment with rampant and unrelenting bullying. Targeted because they stand out as different in some way, three have been friends since starting school together. But when the new kid, Adam, catches the eyes of the mean kids, those most responsible for the bullying, they try to bring him into their group: safety in numbers, right? 

The story is told from the point of view of Avalyn, who suffers from severe asthma and whose struggle hits crisis level when dust storms begin to batter their small hometown. She loves her best friends, Dillon and Nan, but knows her disease affects them, too: always having to accommodate for her health and safety. She is genuinely aware and grateful for their modifications but is frustrated all the same. 

Nan and Dillon have their own struggles, with Dillon drawing the ire of the Meanie Butt Band first and Nan and Avalyn more so by association with him. The constant harassment these children endure is shocking and heartbreaking. But their situation is not new; it's been going on for a long time. Adam's arrival on campus provides the mean kids with another vulnerable target. I was surprised that Nan and Dillon were reluctant to include him in their small group. Avalyn, on the other hand, can sense his pain and loneliness, and he represents a mystery she needs to solve. 

As the dust storms continued to batter the town, the tension built, and so did the severity of the harassment. I knew any minute that something awful was going to happen. When it does, Avalyn must work through her natural doubts and fears to take action and make her voice heard. 

Bullying at schools is ongoing and real for many children. The situation in the story had taken on a life of its own and became part of the school's culture. Adam's home situation is not a singular one, and if a reader learns anything from their reading of this book, please let it be that circumstances like Adam's are never the fault of the victim, the child. The story could serve as a jumping-off point for children and adults to discuss the serious topics involved. 

I recommend DUST to middle-grade readers and adults who work with or parent this age group. 

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author or publisher through TBR and Beyond Book Tours.

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Tessa Miyata Is No Hero (Tessa Miyata, #1) by Julie Abe 

A magical story about being yourself and fighting for what and who you love.

After a difficult school year, highlighted by her best friend dumping her for a "cooler" bunch of kids, Tessa Miyata and her older sisters are sent to spend the summer with her grandparents outside Tokyo. She is excited at first, with loads of opportunities to post pictures to her usually boring social media accounts of her exciting adventures in this exotic location that are sure to impress her former bestie and her new crowd. But the reality is that while her older sisters are allowed to head into the city for fun with friends their age, Tessa's grandparents won't let her out of their sight. To top things off, they seem set on her making friends with the son of one of their neighbors, who makes it abundantly clear that he has other plans for his summer, and they don't include Tessa. But during an impromptu trip into town, the two accidentally break a family heirloom belonging to her grandparents and are drawn through a portal into a magical city hidden from human eyes. Along with a mystical creature, a nine-tailed fox, they must work to stop a mythical samurai god on a rampage through the real Tokyo!

Tessa Miyata Is No Hero is a magical story by acclaimed author Julie Abe, and it is the debut novel in a new middle-grade fantasy series featuring young heroine Tessa Miyata. With its engaging main characters and fresh, fantastic plot drawing on exciting Japanese history and mythology, the story is guaranteed to capture the imagination of readers, young and old alike. 

Tessa is a vibrant, realistic, and likable character, much loved by her older sisters, Peyton and Cecilia, and grandparents. Like many middle-grade students, she is weathering a difficult school year as her former best friend abandons her for a more popular crowd. But a summer in Japan with her grandparents there changes her entire life and outlook. As Tessa and Jin battle an evil out to destroy Tokyo, they also struggle to overcome some inner demons. I appreciated that Tessa's character is surrounded and supported by loving family members and that she sees and recognizes their love: not often the case in many middle-grade novels, which is nice for a change. She's a loving and sympathetic character with the same fears most children her age experience, and she works to overcome them in spectacular fashion. 

The Japanese setting is vivid and dramatic, mixing ancient and modern, a mortal city and a City of Legends. Wisps of culture and language are sprinkled throughout, with a quick explanation when needed, and these help anchor the story in time and place; there's no mistaking the characters are anywhere but Japan. Early mentions of well-known areas and venues near Tokyo further establish the feeling of place. 

From start to finish, the plot is non-stop action, with elements of fantasy appearing right away. Readers learn Tessa's emotional backstory along the way as the story continues to move ahead without any expositional downtime. And, once she and her sisters are in Japan, the pace quickens even more. 

The chapters are short enough for younger readers who need more frequent breaks; however, they frequently stop in the middle of a scene. I felt compelled to read on, and I think others will, too. The story would make a good read-aloud choice, and the cliffhanger chapter endings may have listeners clamoring for "just a little bit more." 

I recommend TESSA MIYATA IS NO HERO to middle-grade readers, especially those who enjoy fantasy adventures. While perfect for all genders, this may be a good selection for girls wanting a book featuring a young female action hero. 

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author or publisher through TBR and Beyond Book Tours.

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Facing the Enemy by DiAnn Mills 

An intricate plot with compelling personalities makes for a riveting mystery.

When the long-awaited reunion with her estranged brother ends in tragedy, FBI Special Agent Risa Maura Jacobs feels responsible and compelled to find his killer. However, the few clues they have lead nowhere, and she steps away from her career to grieve and, hopefully, heal. Returning to her former life as a college creative writing professor, she is stunned when a student submits a short story for the course finals that lays out the exact details of the horrible night her brother died. And according to the story, it was no tragic accident, Risa herself was the target of the driver all along. 

Facing the Enemy by the consistently satisfying author, DiAnn Mills, is an exciting mystery with intricate plotting and compelling characters, making for a truly riveting tale of murder and a baby smuggling operation. I found this book hard to set aside when I needed to attend to business. 

The main character, Risa Jacobs, is headstrong but has the smarts and skills to make that work for her. Her character goes through so much in this book; she struggles with her lifelong beliefs and relationship with God when she is overcome with grief and depression. She's such a decent person. I was behind her all the way to come out on top of the bad guys and find her way back to her faith. Her partner, Gage Patterson, is determined and persistent in his pursuit of justice. He is occasionally blinded by his love for Risa, agreeing to risky plans and half-baked schemes without the proper backup or vetting. He figures it out, though. 

The author's writing style is fast-paced but easy to read; she is a compelling storyteller. The plot is intricate, with two seemingly disparate mysteries under investigation simultaneously. The story unfolds through two first-person viewpoints, Gage's and Risa's, giving us a bird's eye view of both cases. The Houston setting provided a big city, cosmopolitan vibe, and a culturally diverse population that views any kind of law enforcement with a jaundiced eye. These feelings and beliefs hindered the investigation and possibly prevented related crimes from being reported. The bad guys were always one step ahead of our heroes, and there were some twists in the plot that amped up the suspense. I was surprised when the truth of who was behind the baby smuggling when their identity was finally exposed. 

I recommend FACING THE ENEMY to readers who enjoy faith-forward romantic suspense stories. 

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through Lone Star Book Blog Tours.

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Mumentous: Original Photos And Mostly-True Stories About Football, Glue Guns, Moms, And A Supersized High School Tradition That Was Born Deep In The Heart Of Texas by Amy J. Schultz 

A delectable slice of Texas tradition sprinkled with much love and joy. 

If you grew up in Texas or have spent any time in a Texas high school during football season, you know about "The Mum," and author Amy J. Schultz's new photo essay book more than does it justice. With its mix of evocative and fun photographs of people, places, and things that are part of the mum experience, well-researched history of mum culture, and delightful (and sometimes poignant) stories of mums gone by, Mumentous is an unexpected love letter to its past and a thought-provoking peek into its future. 

My Mum Memories (of course!): 

I remember receiving mums for homecoming and what a big deal it was in the high school experience, even back in my day (which is far enough in the past that artificial flowers weren't even a consideration.) My sisters and I had to refrigerate the mums to keep them fresh and healthy-looking. However, with four girls in the house, they certainly wouldn't fit in the kitchen fridge. We had an older one out in the garage where we would store the things in their bakery cake-sized boxes until the flowers eventually died, and my father would get his beer kegger back. 

Mums have changed an awful lot since my supposed 'glory days.' A double mum was 'special' in my era and school, and a triple was downright extravagant and ostentatious. Mum designs were very simple in comparison to what is de rigueur today. I loved the stories of girls (or moms) getting together to make their own mums, either for themselves or for exchanging with friends, especially the idea of embellishing it to reflect one's personal tastes or interests. 

In addition to the individual mum stories, there are numerous shots of girls and guys wearing them mums. The great black and white pictures remove the natural hometown prejudice one might have when viewing the mums' school colors; however, I sometimes had difficulty discriminating between the different parts or items on them, particularly those of the senior girls that were executed in silver and white. 

The author's inclusion of the movement of the manufacture of the mums from florists to enterprising home-based business solutions was absolutely fascinating. First of all, I didn't even know that florists didn't do mums anymore, and secondly, the amount of money spent and the income generated is mind-boggling. 

With straight As for nostalgia, visual showmanship, and mum lore, I recommend MUMENTOUS to those among us who yearn for a nostalgic Friday Night Lights tale that isn't about the big game. 

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through Lone Star Book Blog Tours.