Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Real Neat Sisterhood of the World: Blog Awards

Whoever came up with the idea of blog awards is awesome. :) I love that they allow us to show some love to our blogging friends and learn more about one another.

Many thanks to Ariel of The Librarian's Bookshelf and Shantelle of A Writer's Heart for the recent award nominations! I haven't been the greatest about participating in posts like these lately, but I couldn't resist answering these fun questions...


Real Neat Blog Award Rules:
  • Put the award logo on your blog.
  • Thank the people who nominated you, linking to their blogs.
  • Answer 7 questions asked by the person who nominated you.
  • Nominate any number of bloggers you like, linking to their blogs.
  • Let them know you nominated them (by commenting on their blog, etc.).

Here are the questions...

1. What is your favorite genre and why?

I like to think I've broadened my reading horizons a bit since I first started blogging, and I've discovered some lovely gems in a variety of sub-genres (fantasy, contemporary, historical, time-travel, dystopian, and even paranormal). But the overarching theme/genre of the reads I most enjoy would be romance. Sometimes romance is just one flavor in the whole sundae, and most often it's the whole enchilada, but generally I love me some sweet love in my fiction. :)

2. Where is your favorite place to read?

Does "anywhere" count? I love the memories I make reading in unique places (like up a tree or in an airport), but I spend a lot of time reading in bed or on the couch, which works just fine!

3. What are you reading right now? What do you think so far?

I just finished a book last night (Five Enchanted Roses, which was awesome!), but I have a few others I've started, and some I plan to start soon. Part of me wishes I could read it all at once so I don't have to choose, but then I'm grateful that our brains force us to savor one story at a time. ;)

4. What made you want to start a book blog?

My desire to be a writer - with some inspiration from other bloggers I followed and a much-appreciated nudge from one of my professors at college. You can read my first post HERE, if you're interested!

5. Do you prefer physical books or ebooks?

Both! You just can't beat the experience of reading a physical book, but then you can't beat the convenience of buying and reading ebooks. I like collecting both. Love 'em either way!

6. Who is your favorite author?

Oh, good gravy - that's a tough question! While I do have some authors whose releases I eagerly anticipate (Sharon Cameron, Rosamund Hodge, Marissa Meyer, Serena Chase, MaryLu Tyndall, Karen Witemeyer, Jennifer E. Smith, Lena Goldfinch, and many more), I feel like I often roll on a book by book basis. I like trying new authors if the story sounds promising and the cover is pretty (#LetsBeReal). And sometimes, a favorite author releases a book that isn't so much my cup of tea, even though I still love their writing. Just depends!

7. What is your favorite series?

Again, just one? So hard! :) I'm going to cheat and list several: "The Legacy of the King's Pirates" by MaryLu Tyndall, "Phantom Island" by Krissi Dallas (eagerly awaiting the next set of four!), and "The Lunar Chronicles" by Marissa Meyer (not a huge fan of Fairest, but I'm dying for Winter!). Also, for a little #ThrowbackThursday fun, I still have a special place in my heart for the "Disney Girls" series by Gabrielle Charbonnet.


Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award Rules:
  • Thank the blogger who nominated you, linking back to their site. 
  • Put the award logo on your blog. 
  • Answer the ten questions sent to you. 
  • Make up ten new questions for your nominees to answer. 
  • Nominate ten blogs.

Here are the questions...

1. What genre have you read most this year?

Hmmm... I think it's a fairly good mix of contemporary, fantasy, and historical. Although it seems like I've been reading a lot of stories with some sort of fantastical or fairy-tale elements. :) You can check out my stats on Goodreads.

2. Do you enjoy fairy tales? Which one do you like most?

Yes, indeedy! I'd probably have to go with Beauty and the Beast as my favorite, although I greatly enjoy creative retellings of all sorts of tales.

3. Favorite dessert?

My grandma used to make a chocolate Texas sheet cake with homemade frosting for birthdays and special occasions, and there was nothing more delicious or delightful! I haven't tried to make it myself, but perhaps someday. It's a recipe that deserves to live on.

4. Which Disney princess are you most like and why?

Cliche as it is for a book blogger, I have to say Belle. The love of books, the longing for adventure...the naivete and brown hair. :) But when I was younger, I used to want to be like Jasmine (I even had a "magic carpet" - a little Oriental rug with tassels my mom had sewn on it!) and Ariel (I went through a period of wanting to be an Olympic swimmer and a professional singer when I grew up...). And now I really admire Princess Anna's attitude and kindness, and I love Tiana's work ethic, as well as her big dreams and big heart. Wouldn't mind being like them!

5. Which Disney prince do you consider the most dashing?

Flynn Rider/Eugene Fitzherbert. He's handsome, daring, and a total softie with the best smile. :) And if I could pick two, I'd add Prince Naveen. He starts out shallow, yes, but oh my goodness - the way he supports Tiana and totally adores her makes my heart melt. ♥

6. What was your favorite blog post this year?

I'm such a rebel...so I'm going with my Top 3 so far!
7. A few books you hope to read soon?

The Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor by Melanie Dobson (for review), The Wonder of You by Susan May Warren (for fun), and Persuasion by Jane Austen (for the read-along!).

8. Favorite book of the year?

Favorite new fiction: Meant to Be Mine by Becky Wade
Favorite non-fiction: The Best Yes by Lysa Terkeurst

And I just have to mention the two classics... I discovered the loveliness of the Tuck Everlasting book this year, and it's definitely a favorite! I also re-read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time since freshman year of high school, I believe...and I was absolutely blown away by a book I hadn't really understood or appreciated when I was younger. Now, I feel it must be among my top favorites - the story is just that raw and true and meaningful, with characters that are real. Classics (for me) have often been books to wade through and endure because school required it, with a few exceptions in college (like Dracula and Jane Eyre) that I especially enjoyed. I'm so grateful and excited to experience the magic of classics that have surprised me and moved me.

9. Summer or winter?

Generally, I'd say summer. I love family vacations and longer days and sunshine and fun events like county fairs! Right now, this heat and the bugs are making me think fondly of winter days...but still, I do love summer overall.

10. One goal you have?

To read Persuasion for the first time! Yes, this is a shameless shout-out for the read-along starting next week. :)

And the awards go to...

I'm nominating: Julie (My Favorite Pastime) | Kara (Flowers of Quiet Happiness) | Rissi (Dreaming Under the Same Moon) | Courtney (The Green Mockingbird) | Carissa (Carissa's Bookshelf) | Alicia (A Brighter Destiny) | Meghan (A Northern Belle) | Emily (Zerina Blossom's Books) | Caitlyn (Just Your Average Reviews) | Miranda (To Be a Person)

Y'all can pick which award you want to share (or both!). (And absolutely no pressure if you don't have time or interest right now! This is just a fun thing for those who want to do it. :)) Feel free to either respond to the corresponding questions I answered above or choose from the questions below:

1. Dream vacation this summer, if you could go anywhere?

2. Classic (book) you're most interested in revisiting sometime?

3. Latest fictional crush?

4. Favorite period drama?

5. One summer book release you're super excited about?

6. Music you can't get enough of at this moment in time?

7. Most exciting discovery this year (book, movie, or music)?

8. Best freebie you've found online (ebook, download, subscription)?

9. Favorite Jane Austen hero?

10. Most beloved Disney sidekick?

Monday, June 29, 2015

My Review of The Tomb

About the Book

A family divided in faith. A woman imprisoned by shame. A miracle that changes everything.

In this captivating retelling of a classic biblical story, Jesus shocks the town of Bethany with Lazarus’s resurrection from the dead, leading Martha—a seemingly perfect woman trapped by the secrets of her past—to hope and a new life.

Everyone in Bethany admires Martha—the perfect Jewish woman. She feeds and clothes her loved ones, looks after the family farm, and meticulously follows every precept of the Pharisees’ strict laws. But Martha is hiding a secret. At her sister’s marriage feast, she gave her heart and her innocence to a young musician who promised to return and marry her, but instead betrayed her love and abandoned her.

Seven years later, only two people in Bethany know of Martha’s secret sin: her brother, Lazarus, and Simon, the righteous Pharisee to whom Martha is betrothed. When Lazarus falls ill, Martha is faced with a choice: send for Jesus to save her dying brother—risking the wrath of Simon who threatens to betray her—or deny Jesus’ healing power and remain trapped in her tomb of secrecy and lies. 

Meanwhile, on the shores of Galilee, Isa roams the wilderness, tortured by demons and knowing only that someone is waiting for him. When he is healed by Jesus, he finds that seven years have passed since his descent into madness. Isa journeys home to Bethany only to find he is too late to win back Martha’s love. 

When Martha risks all to heal Lazarus, will Jesus arrive in time, or will he—like Isa—come too late?


My Rating

Spring

My Review

Like its predecessor in the series (The Thief, one of my favorite books of 2014), The Tomb is well-written, descriptive, and well-researched. It's a fine example of biblical fiction! I do confess, though, that it didn't hold my attention the same way that The Thief did, nor did I find it quite as compelling...

When pondering what it was that kept me from loving this book, several things came to mind: the connections between different accounts and people in the Gospels felt a little forced to me; the romance was much less prominent, with a prolonged time apart, making the relationship less impactful; and the "retelling" aspect was a little strong, making me feel less invested in what would happen next and a little unsure about the portrayals of beloved characters.

Oddly enough, in looking back on my review of The Thief, I realized that the one thing I had noted I wanted more of was Jesus's presence in the story. We get more of that in The Tomb, which should have made me happy. I do like that this particular story revolves more clearly around him, but for some reason, I just didn't deeply connect with the characters and their situations/emotions. That might be because of when I read it or how I read it...or just because I as a reader can be a fickle creature. I'll admit it!

This story does have some great things going for it: wonderful sibling relationships (Lazarus's character is one of my favorites in the story) and a thoughtful message about faith sometimes requiring something different of us than we expect.

If you like biblical fiction that takes a fresh look at familiar stories, this book is bound to please! I'm afraid I just wasn't the ideal reader for this particular title. But I loved The Thief, and Landsem is certainly an author to watch and follow.

*With thanks to NetGalley and Howard Books for providing me with a temporary e-ARC of the book in exchange for my honest opinion.*

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Announcing a Special Jane Austen Read-Along



Occasionally a special project comes along that sneaks up on you and begs to become a labor of love.

When you're in marketing, it's sadly easy for individual books to get lost in the vast list of upcoming releases. It's just the nature of the ever-hungry, never-satisfied beast that is the world of publishing (pardon the cliché).

But The Prayers of Jane Austen is one delicacy I'd like to take the time to savor with you. To pause and ponder and enjoy for a little while.

So many of us have been inspired by Jane Austen in one way or another. By a heartfelt moral lesson embedded in a character's journey. By the hope of her brilliantly conceived happily-ever-afters. By being a part of the welcoming community of her many fans. (Looking at you, #BookBesties!)

Now we can be inspired in a whole new way (at least for many of us). Jane's prayers are not nearly as widely known as her novels, and we don't have a large collection left to us. But the few samples we do have are rich and sweet and certainly worth mulling over together.

So won't you join us for a thoughtful celebration of the release of this precious gift book?

I'm delivering you a formal invitation...

Dear Friend,
The honor of your presence is requested at the read-along of Persuasion and The Prayers of Jane Austen
This event will begin Monday, the 6th of July, and conclude Friday, the 24th of July. Gifts to be awarded and inspiration to be had by all. 

To clarify...
  • The read-along will last three weeks.
  • We'll discuss Persuasion Monday through Thursday of each week. (If I've done my division right, that means we'll discuss 2 chapters a day for a total of 24 chapters. Do let me know if that's not adding up for you with your copy of the book!)
  • We'll discuss one prayer from The Prayers of Jane Austen on Friday of each week (for a total of three prayers). 
  • One hardcover copy of The Prayers of Jane Austen will be given away to a U.S. participant each week of the read-along, with winners notified on Saturdays (the 11th, 18th, and 25th). With thanks to the generosity of the book's editor - huzzah!

So pen this event in your planner or note it on your calendar, and get ready to get further inspired by the beloved Jane Austen.

P.S. Feel free to take the button above and share it on your blog or social media page to announce your participation in the read-along! You can also join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #InspiredByAusten or tag along on Pinterest via the Inspired By Austen board. (Just leave a comment here or there if you'd like to be invited to pin on the board.)

P.P.S. The Prayers of Jane Austen officially releases on July 1st. You can order your copy now on the Harvest House website, Amazon, BarnesandNoble.com, Christianbook.com, or another e-retailer. Available in hardcover and ebook formats.

Disclaimer: I am employed by the publisher of The Prayers of Jane Austen, but this read-along is something I'm doing in my free time because I want to. :)

Monday, June 8, 2015

My Review of Silver in the Blood

Here's a description of the book:

"A New York Times bestselling author brings dark secrets to life in a lush new YA perfect for fans of Libba Bray or Cassandra Clare. 

Society girls from New York City circa 1890, Dacia and Lou never desired to know more about their lineage, instead preferring to gossip about the mysterious Romanian family that they barely knew. But upon turning seventeen, the girls must return to their homeland to meet their relatives, find proper husbands, and—most terrifyingly—learn the deep family secrets of The Claw, The Wing, and The Smoke. The Florescus, after all, are shape-shifters, and it is time for Dacia and Lou to fulfill the prophecy that demands their acceptance of this fate . . . or fight against this cruel inheritance with all their might.

With a gorgeous Romanian setting, stunning Parisian gowns, and dark brooding young men, readers will be swept up by this epic adventure of two girls in a battle for their lives."


My Rating

Spring

My Review

Dracula is one of the few classics I've read so far that I'd deem a "page-turner." I was enthralled and horrified by the happenings, and I loved the way the story unfolded through various accounts, including newspaper clippings, transcripts of recordings, etc. It made the drama that much more real with such "evidence."

One of the things I particularly enjoyed about Silver in the Blood were the allusions to Dracula. From the time-frame to the setting to the way the story is presented (with diary entries, letters, and telegrams mixed in) - and most especially to The Claw, The Wing, and The Smoke - this book offers many hat-tips to Bram Stoker's classic novel.

But of course, there are some elements that will endear themselves more to the modern young-adult readers, including the age of the heroines, the mysterious men they encounter, and the mission they cannot ignore. I appreciated the bond between the cousins and the great build-up to the revealing of their family's secrets. I was enchanted by the descriptions of their travel and experiences. And I did enjoy the romance when all was said and done.

However, I just have to ask: "Guys, what on earth were you thinking??? You had a chance to act - and you KNEW what was coming for our heroines - and you stinkin' wasted time for no apparent reason!"

I couldn't write this review without berating the heroes. I'm really not sure why they waited around for a certain part of the story - and it was definitely frustrating! I also would have enjoyed a bit more depth concerning their characters.

As the author noted in a post on her blog, this story is more intense than a couple of her other books I've read. So just be aware that there are references to nudity (although there's no explicit sexual content), threats of assault, and violence (including murder). And I'm not entirely sure what to think about what happened to certain characters and certain attitudes they displayed as the story progressed.

Silver in the Blood contains some favorite YA elements but offers an atmosphere and point of reference based on a classic. I found myself especially fascinated by the beginning, but I still liked the story as a whole for the great back-and-forth scenes between the cousins' points-of-view.

*With thanks to NetGalley and Bloomsbury USA Children's Books for providing me with an e-ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.*

Book releases July 7, 2015.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Intensely Seasoned Snack Size Reviews

Those YA books sure can pack a punch! I've read several intense/intriguing books for the young adult crowd, and here are some of my snack size thoughts to chew on...

The Isle of the Lost by Melissa de la Cruz
Rating: Spring
Currently: $12.21 on Amazon (Hardcover)

I loved, loved this book's witty and clever references to a plethora of Disney movies and characters! The author did a great job of balancing familiar elements with characters that came into their own in this intriguing dual world of "good vs. evil."

I was a little uncomfortable with the darkness and heaviness of this book, although I suppose that's to come with the territory of such a premise, where Disney villains are banished to an island together and imprisoned there. The glimpses of light and hope, though - such as the friendships forged and the sacrifices made, especially toward the end - were sweet and made the read meaningful, despite my uncertainties.

(Side Dish: I discovered that this book is actually a lead-up to a Disney channel original movie. I wasn't super impressed by the trailer I found after experiencing the scope and characterization of the book. You can check it out HERE, though, if you're interested!)

* * *

Rook by Sharon Cameron
Rating: Spring/Summer
Currently: $12.78 on Amazon (Hardcover)

Wow. This book kept me up until dawn one night and then took up hours of the next day! It's a very engaging story, although also quite violent and troubling. What would happen if we lost all our technology we depend on? What would we do if history repeated itself with something like the French Revolution? Thought-provoking, intense, and romantic, Rook is another excellent story by Sharon Cameron - one that ignites the imagination and sparks meaningful contemplation about the nature of humanity and the choices we make.

* * *

Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge
Rating: Spring/Summer
Currently: $12.78 on Amazon (Hardcover)

Rosamund Hodge has done it again - created a terrifying and utterly enthralling world that tests the limits of her characters' devotion, endurance, and love. Crimson Bound is quite a different story from Cruel Beauty, one that features a heroine driven by guilt and fueled by the desire to make a difference despite her bad decisions. The story is quite disturbing in parts, but it also raises some important questions and thoughts to ponder about what it means to be human, the burning desire to live, and the need for defiant hope and forgiveness. It's a beautiful - sometimes startling and surprising - and meaty read that draws on spiritual and mythological elements and themes. And yes, there's a little bit of romance in there, too. :)

Appetizers: Here are a few quotes to whet your appetite...
  • "Do you think that doing the right thing will always be pretty?"
  • "He grinned at her, and it felt like there was no space or barrier at all between them, like his smile was happening inside her heart."
  • "This is the human way, she thought. On the edge of destruction, at the end of all things, we still dance. And hope."

* * *

Bonus Middle Grade Review!

I'm with Cupid by Anna Staniszewski
Rating: Spring
Currently: $7.99 on Amazon (Paperback)

This was a fun and yet serious read. I was intrigued by the premise and how Marcus and Lena came to learn and appreciate new things about love and death due to their switch in roles (matchmaker and soul collector). Marcus was a total sweetie! His tender heart, his love for his grandpa and Lena, his attachment to the old-fashioned dating book - all completely endearing. The story line involving his grandpa really hit home and offered a compassionate look at a difficult and heartbreaking emotional reality.

I had a little less fondness for Lena's character, but she had her moments. I don't know if I necessarily like the ambiguity of the supernatural and afterlife elements, but I still enjoyed the story and the characters' growth. I'm with Cupid is cute, sweet, sad, and clever. An overall enjoyable middle grade read - with a cliffhanger epilogue!

*With thanks to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Jabberwocky for providing me with an e-ARC of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.*

Book releases July 7, 2015.

"Seasoned" or "unseasoned" is in reference to my book rating system. Thanks to Juju of Tales of Whimsy for the inspiration regarding mini reviews!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Sound of Diamonds Blog Tour

OK, I just want to go on record as saying I called it! ;) In this post from January 11, 2013, I suggested that historical romance fans keep Rachelle Rea's name on file for future reference...and the day has come to whip that file out and head on over to Amazon to pre-order yourself a copy of her debut!

I'm so, so pleased to help Rachelle celebrate the release of The Sound of Diamonds, the first in her Steadfast Love series. The whole trilogy should be published within a year, and trust me - you're going to want to follow these characters through to the very end of their suspenseful, dramatic, and sweeping journey!


About the Book

"Her only chance of getting home is trusting the man she hates.

With the protestant Elizabeth on the throne of England and her family in shambles, Catholic maiden Gwyneth seeks refuge in the Low Countries of Holland, hoping to soothe her aching soul. But when the Iconoclastic Fury descends and bloodshed overtakes her haven, she has no choice but to trust the rogue who arrives, promising to see her safely home to her uncle’s castle. She doesn’t dare to trust him…and yet doesn’t dare to refuse her one chance to preserve her own life and those of the nuns she rescues from the burning convent.

Dirk Godfrey is determined to restore his honor at whatever cost. Running from a tortured past, Dirk knows he has only one chance at redemption, and it lies with the lovely Gwyneth, who hates him for the crimes she thinks he committed. He must see her to safety, prove to the world that he is innocent, prove that her poor eyesight is not the only thing that has blinded her—but what is he to do when those goals clash?

The home Gwyneth knew is not what she once thought. When a dark secret and a twisted plot for power collide in a castle masquerading as a haven, the saint and the sinner must either dare to hold to hope…or be overcome."

Releasing on June 15th!
Purchase on Amazon | Add to Goodreads

Quick Thoughts

While I haven't yet re-read the final version of The Sound of Diamonds, I can tell you that I was impressed when I read and edited an early draft a couple of years ago. This is a story full of insightful metaphors and inviting word pictures, surprising history and suspenseful dangers. And the romance and friendships are also depicted in a rich and deep way.

The Sound of Diamonds is a grand start to a poignant series - an exciting adventure unto itself and a wonderful introduction to a cast of characters you'll befriend, bemoan, and ultimately cheer for throughout the trilogy. I'd say Dirk and Gwyn are the next Edmund Merrick and Charlisse Bristol (of MaryLu Tyndall's "Legacy of the King's Pirates" fame). This couple will break your heart, but they'll also teach you the unexpected music and faith lessons to be found in diamonds, silver, and emeralds.

Be prepared to get swept away by Steadfast Love.

*Disclaimer: I had the pleasure of editing an early version of this book and was provided a final courtesy e-copy. However, these opinions are my own.*


About the Author

Rachelle Rea plots her novels while driving around the little town she’s lived in all her life in her dream car, a pick-up truck. As a freelance editor, she enjoys mentoring fellow authors in the craft. A homeschool graduate and retired gymnast, she wrote The Sound of Diamonds the summer after her sophomore year of college. Connect with Rachelle at http://rachellerea.com.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Birthday and Blogoversary Bash (+ Free Books!)

Three years ago, I had recently graduated from college.

Two years ago, I revealed the cover of my debut novel.

One year ago, I was preparing to move to a new town and start a new job.

What epic life-change does Amber have to announce this year? An engagement?? That would be the logical next step, of course. ;)

But nope, there's not quite so much fanfare around this birthday. No new book releases (yet!). No big move or extremely exciting tidings.

And that's perfectly all right. Because I have all sorts of things to celebrate today...
  • Family awaiting me at home for my sister's upcoming high-school graduation (woot!) and our Disneyland vacation (squee!).
  • Friends and coworkers to play mini golf and eat pizza with tonight. (Can't wait!) Correction: Red Robin instead of pizza - even better!
  • Blogging pals who continue to inspire and encourage and teach me what social media is really all about. (Book chats, am I right?? #BookBesties Hashtag created by the fabulous Rissi)
  • Five-plus years of blogging joys. (Shame on me for missing out on a chance to party back in March... Clarification: That's when my actual blogoversary occurred - I just figured I'd lump it in with the birthday fun. :))
  • Four books out in the world, including my very first audiobook, which I adore.
  • A job to challenge and grow me. (And pay the bills - mustn't forget that!)
  • An apartment for living and sleeping and watching movies and reading and having random one-person dance parties/karaoke sessions.
  • A church and college group to pull me into community.
  • A town and state to explore.
  • And a Savior who blesses beyond measure and never gives up on me.

Well, there's just an awful lot to celebrate! Including the fact that I'm now the same age as my darling hero Derrick from How a Star Falls. ;) We're like twinsies!

While I don't have any new releases to offer you at this time for a giveaway, I don't want to bemoan the fact that I'm behind on where I should be and late on publishing a couple of titles that should be out by now. (Although I still apologize for the delay!)

For now, I just want to look back and say "yay" to the journey and the seasons that came before. Yay for Bleeding Heart and Forget Me Not and the short stories and How a Star Falls! Each of them helped me express my heart and explore new horizons in different seasons, and I'm grateful for the chance to have written those stories and shared them with others.

If you haven't yet read all of my already-published books, I'd love to offer you a copy of one today! You can read more about them HERE. Just fill out the form below, and I'll email you the document of your choice soon. (Offer ends when I close the form to entries.)


* * *

So tell me, dear friends, what is it you're celebrating today? What happened in seasons past that helped shape the person you are and life you have now?