Monday, September 15, 2014

Cover Reveal: Anon, Sir, Anon



Cover reveals are such fun! Today I'm participating in the reveal of Rachel Heffington's latest cover. If her name sounds familiar, you might already follow her at The Inkpen Authoress. Or you might recall my review of her debut, Fly Away Home. Or perhaps you remember her being featured here for the Five Glass Slippers blog tour. Yes, Rachel is proving to be a prolific indie author!

Her next release is titled Anon, Sir, Anon, and here's a little more info about the book...
The 12:55 out of Darlington brought more than Orville Farnham's niece; murder was passenger.

In coming to Whistlecreig, Genevieve Langley expected to find an ailing uncle in need of gentle care. In reality, her charge is a cantankerous Shakespearean actor with a penchant for fencing and an affinity for placing impossible bets.

When a body shows up in a field near Whistlecreig Manor and Vivi is the only one to recognize the victim, she is unceremoniously baptized into the art of crime-solving: a field in which first impressions are seldom lasting and personal interest knocks at the front door.

Set against the russet backdrop of a Northamptonshire fog, Anon, Sir, Anon cuts a cozy path to a chilling crime. 

Sounds intriguing, no? Be looking for my review in the next month or so! The book's official release is November 5th.


 And now, without further ado, here is the cover!


My Thoughts: It's simple but striking. I love the contrast in colors, and the main font along with the layout makes it feel very mystery-novel-esque. The berries and bike add a touch of whimsy that makes me curious as to their roles in the story. The lack of character or setting depictions keeps you in suspense, which is fitting for a mystery, wouldn't you say? ;)

What are your thoughts on the cover? Will you be adding Anon, Sir, Anon to your TBR stack this fall?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Time for Candy—Cover Candy, That Is!

Inspired by Rissi of Dreaming Under the Same Moon and her awesome posts, The Enchanted Inkpot's clever cover posts, and the desire to show off a few Harvest House books, I bring you a mixed bag of delicious cover candy...

Bright and Beautiful


Bonus: I saw a note on MaryLu's Coming Soon page that there's going to be a 5th book in the Legacy of the King's Pirates series, coming Fall 2015—and it's going to be a time-travel romance!! How fabulous is that??





Clever, Cute, and Classy







Bonus: Lena Goldinch (my cover designer and indie mentor) is getting ready to take the sweet historical romance genre by storm! Want to be one of the very first to read and review her brand-new novel in a brand-new genre for her? You can email me at amberstokes@corban.edu for details! 

Peachy in Purple







Which of these treats most appeals to you? Would love to hear your thoughts!

Note: Some of these are available now, but most are going to be released later this year or early next year. You can see more of my cover finds on my Cover Candy board on Pinterest.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

My Review of The Hesitant Heiress

Here's a description of the book from the author's website:

"After being unjustly expelled from the Boston Conservatory of Music, Amaryllis Brigham sees her dreams of founding a music academy disappearing before her very eyes. Now the only way to achieve her goal comes with high stakes for someone set on avoiding men as much as possible: marry within the year to inherit her grandmother’s fortune. Amaryllis reluctantly takes part in her aunt’s society, intent on getting to the west coast on her own… and without a husband.

 Despite her own misgivings, she soon finds herself falling in love with the most unlikely of men, Nathan Everstone, whose father not only had a part in her expulsion, but whose ominous presence has haunted her dreams for a decade since her mother’s tragic death. Nathan turns out to be much more than he seems and everything she never knew she wanted. But just as everything Amaryllis has recently hoped for comes to fruition, it all falls apart when she finds that the real culprit who has been 'managing her life' isn’t who she thought at all."

My Rating

Spring

My Review

Despite my poor computer-fried eyes, The Hesitant Heiress held my interest, kept my gaze glued to the Kindle screen, and stole some of my sleep. The descriptions of the setting and era are exquisite, and the scenes flow from one romantic scenario to another, keeping me happily intrigued. I enjoyed the pace very much.

I will confess, though, that while I was an engaged reader, I was also a very frustrated one. With all suspense/mystery novels, there's a fine balance between showing all the cards too soon and not giving the readers enough of a peek to feel invested. I think this particular story skews a little more toward the latter. Maybe I was too sleep-deprived to pay as much attention to the details as I should, but I felt left in the dark for quite a while. I wanted a foundation at first, something to help me really grasp the characters and their relationships with one another (if not all the intricacies of their circumstances, naturally). And with the first-person point-of-view limitation, along with some holes in the back story that don't get filled in until later, it's hard (or at least it was for me!) to get entirely grounded in the story world right away. Just bear in mind that the nature of the relationships and their histories make more sense in time.

Another point of frustration, though, goes along with that first-person POV, and the voice behind it. I smacked my head (wishing I could smack the characters) and groaned at Amaryllis's self-assurance that completely defies her lack of perceptiveness. Her naivete could be more easily forgiven if only she didn't come across as being very self-absorbed. Not that she's an entirely unsympathetic character; I just would have loved to see her have a little more genuine interest in others (beyond attraction or lack thereof) to endear me to her.

Now, Meredyth (a friend) on the other hand shone as a secondary character. She's carefree and considerate - at least the glimpses we're given of her - and I look forward to reading more of her story in Book 2 of "The Everstone Chronicles" series, The Bound Heart!

Coming back to this first installment, though, I did quite enjoy it. I love the cast of characters - the friends with all their underlying feelings and interesting connections. I did appreciate the mystery, even if I would have liked just a bit more grounding to begin with. The suspense that builds at the very end is epic! The scenes at that point jump without much emotional resolution, as so many revelations happen one right after the other, but it's still highly entertaining.

And the romance... I wanted to smack them often for interrupting one another and not finishing their thoughts! So, be forewarned that a lot of drama comes from misunderstandings. Also, I personally found some of the hero's motives suspect. But still... Well, I'll let you draw your own conclusions from that remark. ;)

My feelings are obviously all over the place, so let me sum it up: Intriguing historical romance with plenty of drama and a dash of suspense. Frustrating communication and character flaws, but engaging characters, nonetheless. Great writing, and a story that sets the stage for a promising sequel.

*With thanks to the author for providing me with a PDF copy of the book in exchange for my honest opinion.*

http://whpub.whitakerhouse.com/dawncrandall/heiress.html

Monday, September 8, 2014

My Review of Sync or Swim

Here's a description of the book from Moody Publishers:

"The workplace is stressful these days. When people are stressed, they have a harder time learning and applying helpful information. Fortunately, stories are one of the most powerful ways to communicate truths effectively.

Fables cut through complexity to reveal simple, crucial wisdom.  

Sync or Swim is a refreshing, illustrated story of a sheepdog and a puffin, that helps us to solve a frustrating mystery: Why do morale-building programs often hurt morale . . . and why does communicating appreciation too often result in cynical reactions? In Sync or Swim, you'll follow an organizational manager and the challenges he has to overcome:
  • A threatening storm rapidly approaching the island
  • The expectation to do more with less
  • Complaining, negative team members
  • Morale of loyal employees who feel undervalued
  • Long history of mismanagement
It's a small tale with great wisdom, a classic insight into the ways expressing authentic appreciation can change everything-and help us survive the storms that threaten us in work and life."

My Review

Sync or Swim is a quick and interesting read - a sort of "children's book" that addresses adult issues directly related to the workplace. Certain things I thought were really good - others weren't quite as fresh or directly related to my situation.

On the plus side: No matter what your position in a business, there's some great wisdom in here. Learning how to show genuine appreciation for others' work, taking the time to truly listen, and celebrating achievements - those are all things everyone should take to heart. There are some pithy, highlighter-worthy lines here. And the illustrations are unique and a lot of fun!

Now, I would say that the overall message of the book is more specific than I would prefer. But then, I think if the book finds its way into the hands of the exact target audience...well, there you go! Basically, the book is more for those in leadership roles, helping them to understand the employees they're managing and how to bring everyone in different departments together during turbulent times. And if you're at all familiar with Gary Chapman's The Five Love Languages, then you'll recognize the heavy emphasis. My impression is that it's sort of like The Five Love Languages for employers/managers, but told in a fable format with animal characters.

Don't get me wrong! Helping managers to effectively communicate their appreciation for those working under them is a huge thing, and applying the five "love languages" to the workplace is a significant and worthy goal. And the story's approach is creative, if a little odd in the sense of animals working in human institutions.

If you're looking for some good advice for maintaining positive relationships with your coworkers, Sync or Swim does include that in a roundabout sort of way. It's an encouraging little read - probably most helpful for business leaders, but still including some good food for thought for others.

*With thanks to Moody Publishers and NetGalley for providing me with an e-ARC of the book in exchange for my honest opinion.*

Note: Sync or Swim releases November 1, 2014.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

"It's Always a Good Time"

Taking a cue from blogging friend Kara (Flowers of Quiet Happiness), I wanted to share some of the things that I'm grateful for in this new season of my life... 

Music. To quote the song "Down in New Orleans" from The Princess and the Frog: "They got music, it's always playin'. Start in the daytime, go all through the night..." Singing in the shower, in the car, while I'm cooking and cleaning, before I go to bed - the music makes me smile, laugh, and feel, inspiring my written stories and the story of my life. I recently bought Owl City's The Midsummer Station, and I've been listening to it a lot in the car and in my apartment. Here's one song from the CD that's just so catchy and joyful:



Writing. I'm chipping away at How a Star Falls bit by bit, and I'm having a lot of fun with the story! Certain plot elements are starting to firm up more in my mind, although I don't have a set outline or anything. Sometimes I'll work on the story during lunch at work, scribbling away in my journal...


(Please forgive the mistakes and sloppy handwriting.) I've found it really refreshing and freeing to get the words down on paper first, then type up the scenes later. I'm grateful to Lena Goldfinch for the recommendation to switch things up with my writing!

P.S. The new blog header (which I tweaked via PicMonkey) features the view from one of the lookout points at Trinidad Head, a setting in How a Star Falls

Food. I don't think a long explanation is necessary here. ;) I will say that when I went grocery shopping yesterday, I bought a muffin tin and some muffin mixes. I tried one this morning, and it was SO good!


I sprayed the tin with cooking spray instead of using cupcake liners, and they came out perfectly! And the triple-chocolate goodness, fresh from the oven? Oh, yeah, I'm a happy girl!


Shows. I've been watching the first few seasons of The Office, which I borrowed from a coworker. I'd seen a little of the show before, but it's even more entertaining when you actually work in an office, LOL. And I've been loving When Calls the Heart (less than $20 for the whole season via Amazon Instant Video!). I should write up a post just for this series alone - so much sweetness!

http://www.hallmarkchannel.com/whencallstheheart 

Books. So...I haven't entirely stopped browsing books or thinking about books, but that's not really the goal of Mission: Contentment. The goal is to foster a better attitude and to let go of the obsessiveness - something I certainly haven't mastered since I posted about it. I've picked up a few new books since then, and I've had my moments of giving in to the urge to browse and dwell on new reading opportunities instead of...well, you know, actually reading. However, I'm continuing to read The Art of Creativity by Thomas Kinkade during most of my breakfasts, which has been thought-provoking! I'm also reading a fabulous book on singleness, which I imagine you'll be hearing more about in the coming months. And I'm really excited about fellow authors' upcoming releases and other books that are on my TBR. I'm grateful for this passion for books. Through God's grace, if I can keep it in a healthy balance, it does make my job, my downtime, and my outside projects that much more enjoyable. :) I mean, it would be silly to work in publishing or be an author if I didn't appreciate books!

These are just a few of the tangible things I'm grateful for. Greater than these, of course, are God's love and presence, the hope He gives, my family, my friends and coworkers, a wonderful place to live, precious memories, and more. It's bittersweet to move into a new season of life, as there are things I miss dearly about the previous seasons. And yet, I'm so thankful for all that I've been given, and I'm excited about what this season holds. I'm happy to sing, "It's always a good time!"

What are some things you're grateful for in this season of your life, dear friends?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Cedar Fort Blog Tour: Willow Springs + Review


http://blog.cedarfort.com/blog-tour-willow-springs/

Here's a description of the book from Cedar Fort:

Crissa Engleson comes to the town of Willow Springs to start a new life when she attracts the unwanted attention of a miner – and falls in love with a handsome Express rider. Laugh and cry with Crissa as she escapes her past to find love and helps the townspeople along the way.


My Rating

Fall

My Review

Brace yourselves—here comes a convoluted review!

So...Willow Springs begins like many sweet historical romances, with a new arrival in town, a gallant hero who protects the heroine from the town "bad boys," and a quick infatuation. Eventually, though, what starts out as typical spirals into a story that left me glued to my Kindle in a mix of fascination and aversion.

The pacing is very well done, and despite the plot elements that bothered me, I had to keep reading to find out what was going to happen to our "poor" heroine. There are twists I didn't see coming—situations where I thought, "Oh, something will happen before it comes to that." Umm, nope. One thing's for sure: the author wasn't afraid of taking her characters to some pretty outlandish and creepy places!

The book is definitely a romance, but I could see how the author was influenced by Western novels where everything isn't just "sunshine and roses." In other words, the story travels down some dark and desperate paths. And the heroine, well, she doesn't always make choices I'd applaud. The other side of the reading coin is that, while I couldn't put the book down once the story reached a certain point, I also couldn't stop vocalizing my dismay with the characters and some of the terrible choices they make and the odd situations they find themselves in. I smacked my forehead in frustration more than once, I believe...

Willow Springs is a different sort of read than I'd generally pick up. It is "clean," but there is a non-explicit focus on sex (i.e.: nothing described, but there's a preoccupation with the topic, especially with certain characters). The subtle religious aspect is more LDS in nature, just as a point to note. (I've read a couple of the publisher's other fiction books that were in the fantasy genre, so this influence wasn't as obvious in those stories.) There's some violence and a back-story element that particularly bothered me. And the ending—especially compared to the complicated nature of the middle of the book—seemed a little too easily resolved.

While this book wasn't quite my thing, I did appreciate the stronger Western feel, as well as the risks the author took in deviating away from some typical romance scenarios. (Although most of my experience is with inspirational romance, so perhaps general-romance readers might not be as surprised by some of the twists and turns.) It was an engaging read, but for me, it went too far in some areas (both in situations and choices) for my taste.

*With thanks to Cedar Fort for providing me with a PDF copy of the book in exchange for my honest opinion.*

Now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

About the Author

Born and raised in Utah, Carolyn Steele was introduced to western novels at a very young age by her grandfather, the son of a gold miner. She has been writing technical and marketing communications for most of her adult life. Her nonfiction articles have appeared in numerous national magazines. She earned her undergraduate degree in Communications from the University of Utah. Married and living in Salt Lake City, Utah, Carolyn loves researching obscure history then weaving it into stories. She also enjoys family dinners with her children and grandchildren, photography, travel, golf, reading, and all forms of needlework.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Mission: Contentment (The Sequel to "I Have a Problem")

I was so blessed by the responses to my last post, I Have a Problem. (Thank you to everyone who read and commented!) Though I certainly wouldn't wish my problems on anyone else, it is indeed comforting to know I'm not alone in experiencing the compulsive urge to collect books, and it's inspiring to know that this topic resonated with some of you, as well. And when I say "inspiring," I mean that I feel like this is something we can face together, something that some of you also want to do something about.

Some of you longtime followers might recall the Contentment Reading Challenge (2011, 2013). Although I created it and hosted it for two years, I never actually did very well at it, since the rules generally applied to re-reading books (and I always had so many new books to read). Funny, since I made up the rules...

But I value that state, that goal, of being content (Philippians 4:11-13). Not hating my blessings. Not depriving myself. Simply trusting and resting in the faith that God Himself is all I truly need, and fostering a spirit of gratitude for what He has given me for today.

And that last word clangs so boldly, doesn't it? Today. My tendency to stockpile books comes from an obsession with tomorrow. Every once in a while I'll actually purchase a book I intend to start right away, but so often I save up reading material for that elusive someday. And yes, sometimes those deals are pretty fabulous, I won't deny it! But like with many obsessions, the trouble isn't in the thing itself - it's in the attitude and the overdoing.

I know I'm in trouble when the simply joy is being edged out by guilt.

I'll give you a recent example:

I was checking discount opportunities for my next shopping trip (which should be more grocery shopping than anything else) when I found myself looking at the "entertainment" section and spotting a deal for 20% off a particular book. It's not like I had thought about that book much or even really wanted to read it or see the movie based on it. But the Goodreads reviews were decent, and I mean...20%! (I know.)

So I selected the deal and took my printout discount sheet with me. I spent way too long in the book/entertainment part of the store, browsing and agonizing. This one or that one? Yes or no? I finally threw it into my cart and continued on my way.

But when I got back to my apartment, I began to feel restless. I knew I didn't need that book. I knew I didn't even really want it in the same way I wanted other books. Yet the cover was so cool, and the story would probably turn out to be thought-provoking...and there was nothing wrong with wanting to read a good book. And there isn't.

Still, I couldn't shake the nagging feeling. I then agonized over whether to return it. Would I look stupid for returning an item for no good reason? Should I even make the trip to go back?

The short answer: I took it back after work the next day.

The longer answer. I was tempted not to make the effort, but I still took it back. And I still bought a Kindle book in the days that followed, once again debating between options, checking out reviews, telling myself this would be my last indulgence for a time.

To be honest, I'm just sick and tired of obsessing!

Have you come to that same place?


Dictionary.com defines "mission" in one sense as "any important task or duty that is assigned, allotted, or self-imposed." Contentment is important, and I want to task myself with seeking it, living it. This is Mission: Contentment!

Matthew 6:20-34 speaks of storing up treasure in heaven, of serving only one master, of seeking God first and trusting Him to provide for your needs. Even though the verses discuss food and clothing, I think the heart of the passage applies to all sorts of things we worry/obsess about, and what our attitudes should be toward all "things" that don't last.

Through God's grace, I want to take steps toward being more content. Here are some of my current thoughts on what this might look like:

  1. Reading the books I own. When I'm looking to start something new, may I look to my TBR piles first. You know, I tend to justify buying new books by saying, "I'm supporting an author." True - and as an indie author myself, I certainly appreciate people like me, LOL. But what if I started supporting authors more by actually reading their books...? (This goes along with the epiphany Rissi mentioned in her comment.) What a novel thought!
  2. Stopping the stalking - of Amazon (plus entertainment sections in stores, etc.). Does that mean I can never visit them again? Of course not. I just personally need to find a better balance of my time and stop giving myself excuses. No more "it's been a long day/week/summer/fill in the blank." I need to find a different way to "reward" myself... (That probably goes for my overindulging in sweets, too, actually.)
  3. Keeping busy. I have so many awesome and meaningful things I can be doing: writing, communicating with friends and family, blogging, walking, watching the movies I own, reading the books I own, etc. When I'm tempted to obsess, I ought to redirect. Embrace today and all that I can do in these hours I've been given that I'm too often tempted to waste.
My goal isn't to make this into an endless list of dos and don'ts that I'll never be able to keep. I guess my hope is that I can use this button and hashtag (#MissionContentment) to celebrate the victories. And I wanted to invite you to join me. :) When we make a deliberate choice to enjoy something we already own or focus on something meaningful when we're tempted to obsess, we can share a smile and cheer each other on. Maybe we can theme some posts around this. (I'm thinking perhaps some "Mission: Contentment Snack Size Reviews"?)

I'm not saying this will be the fix-all for my problem. As Ashlee so beautifully put in her comment, "God is always the answer." Only through His grace can we learn to embrace the right attitudes. And only through His grace can we hold onto hope through the times that we fail. Let's lean on Him, trust in His strength, and follow His lead, seeking to value what He values.