Friday, January 31, 2014

Audiobook Review Offer and 2014 Goals Update

Audiobooks - those awesome products that allow you to "read" a book while driving, cleaning the house, walking around the backyard, working out, etc. One of my editing & publicity clients, Sandra Leesmith, had her latest releases, Love's Miracles and Love's Refuge, made into audiobooks, narrated by Rachel Fulginiti. Since rating/reviewing an audiobook is different than rating an e-book or paperback (because you have to take into account the narrator - voice, volume, pacing, etc.), the reviews from Amazon don't exactly transfer to, even if they show up in their own section there. This is where you come in!

If you'd like the opportunity to listen to one or both of Sandra's audiobooks for free in exchange for an honest review on (and perhaps Amazon, Goodreads, etc., if you'd be willing!), all you have to do is e-mail me with your choice (either book, or both). That's it! As long as I have a valid e-mail address from you, I can pass that along to Sandra so she can send you a promotion code and instructions for using it. You don't have to have a blog to review the book(s).

Here's the lowdown on the two audiobooks:

Love's Miracles was originally released as a secular romance in the '80s, but I assisted Sandra in editing the book, cutting out most of the stronger content, and re-publishing it. There are still a couple of swear words and some violence, which we decided to leave in to show the hardships veterans face. So this is a generally clean romance, but it is a bit darker.

Dr. Margo Devaull came to Dominic Zanelli's mountain retreat confident that she could help this Vietnam veteran overcome the torment that kept him apart from the world. But her training as a psychologist had not prepared her for the tragic, explosive contradictions brewing inside him. For here was a sensitive artist who could be gentle - and a man whose eyes flashed with violence and pain when he told her to leave and never come back. Yet Margo did come back, slowly gain his trust, and awaken the sleeping needs of his heart. Only by reliving her own wounded past and helping Zane confront a terrible memory from the war could she set them both free - and save their last chance for love.

Length: 10 hours and 48 minutes
Narrator: Rachel Fulginiti
Audiobook release date: October 28, 2013 

Love's Refuge is more of an inspirational contemporary romance, with a thread of suspense. It's sweeter than Love's Miracles, with no language. It was never published prior to Sandra and I working together on editing the book (along with the help of Rachelle Rea as proofreader) and self-publishing it under our "Amber Press" line.

Skye Larsen loves her peaceful life on Leeza Island in Puget Sound - the tranquility, the friendly neighbors, and especially the safety from big city dangers. So when cruel pranks start to escalate and changes threaten to overtake the island, Skye is determined to fight for her haven. The presence of a handsome vacationer and the unexpected feelings he awakens can't distract her from her goal.

Danny Fraser doesn't realize how desperately he needs a rest until he meets Skye. By allowing him to glimpse her simple way of life, she helps him reorient his priorities - and steals his heart in the process. But his work and home in Seattle keep Skye at bay.

An isolated island girl with painful memories. A dedicated city boy with a wild past. What will it cost for them both to find a refuge from their storms?

 Length: 9 hours and 10 minutes
Narrator: Rachel Fulginiti
Audiobook release date: January 20, 2014

If either of these sound good to you, and you're willing to provide an honest review(s) on, be sure to send me an e-mail!

2014 Goals Update

You can find my goals post from the beginning of the year HERE.

  • new job yet. I did do some online searching and applied to one place (and I went in to meet the manager, as well). Unfortunately, that place isn't currently hiring. *sigh* I suppose I'll have to be a little more diligent next month in actively contacting and applying to places. However, I do have some client projects coming up, and I've been doing some off and on work for my dad, so that's something, right?
  • On the book front - I started off really well, but did get a little carried away with requesting books toward the latter end of the month. Here's the breakdown:
    • Bought 3 Kindle e-books (So I did not surpass my limit there - yay! I did pick up 4 free Kindle books in addition to those, but I'm not counting them if they were free.)
    • Requested 4 books for review (That was 1 e-ARC from an author, 2 e-ARCs from NetGalley, and 1 paperback from Blogging for Books - not counting client projects. However, three of those books have April release dates, so I might be able to sort of keep my goal if I strictly limit my requesting for the next couple of months...)
  • I've been keeping up with reviewing most every book I read (not counting devotionals and such)! I do have one review to write, but it's for a February blog tour, so I have a little bit of time.
  • The exercise was going pretty well... I failed that first week, but starting the first full week of January, I've kept up with exercising four times a week - except for this week (although it's not over yet, but I don't know if I'll make the full four days). Most of my workouts are only 25 minutes, but I've done a few 55-minute ones. (I'm doing exercise videos.) So, mostly I need to try doing the longer workout more often and keep up better after this week.
  • I've written and sent at least one letter every week this month, although I haven't done so this week. But since this has reminded me, I shall have to do it tomorrow!
  • This has been a busy month on the publishing front! I revealed the cover for Morning Glory; launched and maintained "The Heart's Spring" series blog; proofread, finalized, and published Forget Me Not for Kindle (and sent it to my formatter/cover designer for paperback preparation); planned the Forget Me Not blog tour (which starts tomorrow) - including sending out review copies, responding to interview questions, writing guest posts, marketing, etc.; wrote Bellflower, sent it to my proofreader, revealed the cover, and finalized it for distribution to my newsletter subscribers; and put together my first author newsletter. Whew! I don't think I could keep up that pace every month... Next month is going to be rather busy at the beginning with the blog tour and such, but once that's over, I plan to focus on Morning Glory for the next few months. I'll still be maintaining the series blog, and I'm sure I'll be doing something with another short story I've written, but still - I want/need to take a step back from the hectic marketing and get more writing done! 
January had its ups and downs, for sure. We had some friends over a few evenings, and all of my book projects have been generally fun for me. But there were also some very hard times - like taking my grandpa to a care home last weekend, and hearing about difficult things friends and family have been going through. It's been a hard month in the sense that life keeps marching on... My dad has been incredibly busy, my grandma's birthday has come and gone, and we're all just trying to figure out what our priorities are and how we're supposed to be there for one another. There have been some sweet blessings mixed in, though, and God has been providing for us, faithfully present through it all. I'm looking forward to the start of a new month and seeing where God leads in the days ahead.

How was January for you? What are you looking forward to in February? 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Review Copy Cleanup 4.0 Sign-Up!

I saw blogging friend Abbi (Christian Novels) sign up for this one, and while I didn't have a ton of success with the read-a-thons I participated in this last December (although they were great fun!), I'd like to try again to catch up on my review reading. Some poor review books have been languishing in my review TBR stack for far too long... Here are the details for this reading challenge:
  • Who: Open to bloggers who receive books for review
  • What: A reading challenge for catching up on review reading
  • When: February 1st-28th
  • Where: Hosted by Books, Biscuits, and Tea and Nyx Book Reviews 
  • Why: To make a dent in your review TBR and have fun with other reviewers 
February is going to be busy (honestly, when aren't we all busy? LOL) with the Forget Me Not blog tour at the start of the month, preparations for at least two blog tours in March (sign-ups are still open for both: Lena's Sweet Spring Reads Blog Tour and The Paris Connection Blog Tour), editing projects, hopefully getting a good start on Morning Glory, etc. But I would love to catch up on my review reading as much as possible. At least the read-a-thons in December helped me whittle down my review TBR pile a bit, and I haven't been requesting too many new books (although I can't seem to stop myself entirely!). So here's hoping!

Here are the review books I'd like to read/review during the challenge:


The books are: Dragonwitch by Anne Elisabeth Stengl (Bethany House), All in Good Time by Maureen Lang (Tyndale Blog Network), Born of Persuasion by Jessica Dotta (from author), Mountain Homecoming by Sandra Robbins (Harvest House), Burning Sky by Lori Benton (from author), Under a Blackberry Moon by Serena B. Miller (Goodreads First Reads giveaway), and The Thief by Stephanie Landsem (Litfuse Publicity Group).

I haven't received The Thief yet, but it should be coming soon since the tour is supposed to start at the end of February.


The books are: Pilgrimage of Promise by Cathy Bryant (from author), Fly Away Home by Rachel Heffington (from author), Circle of Spies by Roseanna M. White (NetGalley), and Remnants by Lisa T. Bergren (NetGalley).

The last two aren't really crucial, as their publication dates are in April, but I'm looking forward to both and will probably be tempted to read them sooner anyway! ;)

You can follow the challenge tweets via the #RCCleanup hashtag. And if you'd like to join us, you can sign up for the reading challenge HERE!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Seeking Reviewers for a Clean Romance Set in Paris!

I'm organizing a blog tour for Cerella Sechrist's upcoming release, The Paris Connection (from Harlequin Heartwarming)! We're looking for bloggers who enjoy sweet/clean romances to join in by posting a book spotlight, review, or interview. The blog tour is scheduled for March 2-8, with the posts to be shared March 3-7. It's going to be a blast with its focus on Paris, romance, and travel (including an awesome themed giveaway package or two)! So if you meet the qualifications shown on the form - namely the number of blog followers (50+), a willingness to read the e-ARC in PDF format if you want to review the book, and a love for romance - please considering joining in the fun. The more, the merrier!

Here's the book cover and blurb:

Sparks are flying in the city of light… 

Emma Brooks, single mom and managing director at the leading recruiting firm in Paris, was against their merger with an American company from the start. Not only was her firm losing its autonomy, she was losing her well-deserved promotion to Cole Dorset – a handsome, arrogant interloper from New York! 

How did Cole’s ex-girlfriend’s dream of moving to Paris become his nightmare? Now he’s got to find his way in a new country, and the woman showing him the ropes wants to string him up by one. But as he gets to know Emma and her daughter, he realizes Paris may have more to offer than he thought… 

Releases March 1, 2014 from Harlequin Heartwarming
Learn more about the author and her books at

Interested in participating? Just fill out the form below!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Exotic Snack Size Reviews

Here are a couple of books that swept me away to exotic places recently... One is the prequel to a book I'll be featuring on the blog (The Paris Connection) for a tour I'm organizing. The other is one I heard about on Elle Strauss's blog earlier this month and couldn't resist making one of my Kindle purchases this month.

Gentle Persuasion by Cerella Sechrist

Rating: Spring

Once again, Sechrist has penned a sweet romance with a charming setting and delectable food descriptions. The title and cover fit perfectly - this is a gentle love story featuring a hero and heroine whose dreams are at odds, both determined to persuade the other of the rightness of their stance. The unique tour of Hawaii, a fun cast of secondary characters, insight into interesting careers, and a "dream theme" that encompasses the heroine's mother make this a nice medley of story elements. I'm looking forward to following one secondary character's romantic Parisian adventures in The Paris Connection!

Pieces of Jade by Lani Woodland and Melonie Piper

Rating: Spring

From the cover to the blurb to the preview, I knew I wanted to read this story. It completely engaged me, even if that sometimes meant I was voicing my frustrations over certain characters' choices or plot elements! The characters are really intriguing, and the situations Jade finds herself alternately hysterical and heart-wrenching (and occasionally bizarre, LOL). I really enjoyed the adventure. It has sort of a historical-fantasy-dystopian vibe. I'm glad to see this is considered Book 1, which hopefully means the story will continue in subsequent releases! Several things to note: there is violence and some disturbing descriptions, as well as sexual innuendos (though that's basically as far as it goes) and the use of magic. 

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

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Seeking Reviewers for Sweet YA Reads!

I'm putting together a reviews-only blog tour for my fabulous cover designer/formatter/mentor/friend, Lena Goldfinch! We're looking for bloggers who are passionate about clean YA (Young Adult) books and interested in receiving an e-book (or four!) to review. The blog tour is scheduled for March 9-15, with the reviews happening March 10-14. While it's a reviews-only tour, there just might be a giveaway and some other fun extras, so do consider joining us for a fantasy-filled celebration this spring!

Here's a little info about the books available for review:

The Language of Souls: This was the first story I read by Lena, and it's what caused me to jump at the chance to be her beta reader...which led to our awesome business partnership today. It's a touching, engaging, and romantic fantasy novella - an endearing little read!

Aire: I had the pleasure of beta reading this book and offering some feedback. It's an intriguing fantasy novel featuring royals, danger, romance, a seer, and a shapeshifter.

Songstone: My favorite of Lena's books so far (though I've loved them all!), this one made my "Favorite Reads of 2013" list. I was one of the editors of this thoroughly enchanting, intense, and beautiful island fantasy romance novel.

Haunting Joy: And here's a novella with a paranormal flair! I also edited this story - the perfect read for those who are curious about the paranormal genre but unsure about the "scariness" or "gross factor." This is a sweet ghost story with a hint of melancholy and a touch of romance.

Interested in signing up? Just fill out the form below! You can choose one, two, three, or all four of the books to review, as long as you can commit to posting your review(s) during the tour. And if you have an open schedule, I'd love to feature some more bloggers earlier during the tour!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Humility and Forget Me Not

After years of writing and waiting, a burst of rewriting and editing, and a bout of finalizing and formatting stress, Elizabeth's finally making her debut...

I confess that Forget Me Not has been a continual lesson in humility for me, and I've marked her arrival on Amazon with a sort of bittersweet welcome. This story and its characters have been with me for so long... I've watched her change and grow as I've done the same. I rejoiced when her first draft was complete, then felt discouragement when I realized how much blossoming she still had left to do. I set her aside in favor of her sequel, and only seriously returned to her this past December. I dug out her deeply rooted issues and gave her a new beginning, fixing up the rest as needed. I revisited her after the proofreader spent some time with her, then again with another read-through. I've worried over her, afraid that I've let myself be too influenced by other stories, afraid that her recent changes have made her too similar to other plots and not as unique as she ought to be. I fretted over her formatting, frustrated at yet another experience demonstrating my lack of skill and understanding in that area. And I grew increasingly impatient, wanting to share her with the world and move on.

The whole thing has left my emotions in a turmoil, although my night-owlish ways, the pressures of marketing, and the knowing that I need to find another job outside the home probably have contributed to my confusion. I just feel at a loss right now, and I wish I was giving Forget Me Not a more proper welcome.

The one thing that stands out to me in this, though, is the important reminder that this is a gift. Forget Me Not wouldn't be what it is today without the help of some really wonderful people (including Elizabeth Ludwig, Rachelle Rea, and Lena Goldfinch, to name just a few). My writing lately, watching pieces fall together, has reminded me that a story - while certainly a labor of love - is not some amazing work of brilliance that I've worked out all on my own. It's a beautiful gift, a combination of inspiration, insights from others, and a passion for characters that I've been privileged to know like no one else will, as they're pieces of my heart (even if I don't know everything about them and get some of their facts mixed up from time to time). I'm not saying the stories I write are perfect or on the level of Scripture, straight from God's mouth - not at all! But I'm learning that being a writer and bringing a story to fruition aren't claims to my own fame. They're indicators of God's glory and love. They're reminders that this dream I'm living is a blessing.

And now I'm crying... Oh goodness. I'm not really sure how this post is going to come across. It probably seems ridiculous that I'm feeling unsure and contemplative instead of ecstatic at the release of another book. I just hope that somehow God uses me and this book baby for His glory and for the blessing of others. And I hope that I'll keep learning and growing through the cyclic seasons of humility.

If you want to check out Forget Me Not on Amazon, you can find it HERE. There should be a paperback version soon, but I'm not sure on the exact timing... If you wouldn't mind praying for God's will to be done with this release, I'd sure be grateful. While I am a little stressed at the thought of the blog tour preparations left to finalize, I am looking forward to that time - and hopefully my spirit will be a little lighter by then!

Thank you for putting up with my rambling release-day thoughts. Hoping all is well with each of you whatever season of humility and life you find yourself in!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Litfuse Publicity Blog Tour: The Dancing Master

Here's a description of the book:

"Finding himself the man of the family, London dancing master Alec Valcourt moves his mother and sister to remote Devonshire, hoping to start over. But he is stunned to learn the village matriarch has prohibited all dancing, for reasons buried deep in her past.

Alec finds an unlikely ally in the matriarch’s daughter. Though he’s initially wary of Julia Midwinter’s reckless flirtation, he comes to realize her bold exterior disguises a vulnerable soul–and hidden sorrows of her own.

Julia is quickly attracted to the handsome dancing master–a man her mother would never approve of–but she cannot imagine why Mr. Valcourt would leave London, or why he evades questions about his past. With Alec’s help, can Julia uncover old secrets and restore life to her somber village…and to her mother’s tattered heart?

Filled with mystery and romance, The Dancing Master brings to life the intriguing profession of those who taught essential social graces for ladies and gentlemen hoping to make a 'good match' in Regency England."

My Rating


My Review

The Dancing Master is an intriguing dance from beginning to end, with spins and flourishes and a few dips. I love that each of Klassen's books that I've read so far has been unique, drawing off of her passion for Jane Eyre and Jane Austen books, but sharing characters and themes that are very much her own. Her latest is a bit quirkier in some regards than her others, but the overall rhythm is enjoyable.

The hero and heroine - Alec and Julia - brought to mind Mr. Knightley and Emma from Jane Austen's Emma. (Well, at least the movie version with Gwyneth Paltrow, as I confess I haven't read the book.) Alec is very much an upstanding man, with a devotion to his family and a fondness for Julia, despite the need to correct her on occasion. Julia is often self-centered, craving attention and lacking a Mr. Woodhouse to shower her with a father's love. But she does have a dear friend who has quiet lessons to impart (with an apt name, I might add), and a vulnerable soul waiting to be understood and to come to terms with her need to give understanding in return. Just like with Emma, I confess to getting frustrated with Julia and loving Alec all the more for being such a dear and devoted gentleman.

Yet Klassen's unique twists make the story very different, as well. There's a large cast of characters, a good dose of mystery to lend a somber mood, and some perspective from Julia's mother to add more heart. Alec's fight to find a way to do what he loves, as well as the mother-daughter lessons, resonated with me.

I confess the quirkiness of the premise was at times off-putting or just a little strange to experience. And the ending... This is possibly spoiler-y, so beware, but the ending felt a bit like How the Grinch Stole Christmas to me. It's certainly cute (and goes along with the ending of the Emma movie, in the sense of wrapping up everything thoroughly), but it's also sort of jarring with its "dahoo dores," "everyone's happy now" sort of feel. It is clever, though, and fun, if a bit more whimsical like a storybook.

While perhaps not my favorite of Klassen's books that I've read with its village inhabitants and their interesting behaviors, The Dancing Master is still another great Austen-esque read.

*With thanks to the publisher for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for my honest opinion, to be shared during the Litfuse Publicity blog tour.*

About the Author

Julie Klassen loves all things Jane–Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Julie worked in publishing for sixteen years and now writes full time. She is a three-time Christy Award winner and a 2010 Midwest Book Award winner for Genre Fiction. Julie and her husband have two sons and live in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota. Find out more about Julie at

To Buy the Book: click HERE

Blog Tour: Check out the reviews from other blog tour participants HERE. (My apologies for being a day late in posting my review!)

My Reviews of Other Klassen Books: The Maid of Fairbourne Hall, The Tutor's Daughter

Litfuse Contest

Best-selling author Julie Klassen will be hosting a Kindle Fire HDX giveaway and a live webcast event (1/23) to celebrate the release of her latest novel, The Dancing Master. Enter and RSVP today!

One winner will receive:
  • A Kindle Fire HDX
  • The Dancing Master by Julie Klassen
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on January 23rd. Winner will be announced at the "All Things Jane (from Austen to Eyre)" Live Webcast Event on January 23rd. Connect with Julie for an evening of book chat, trivia, laughter, and more! Julie will also be taking questions from the audience and giving away books, Jane Austen DVDs, fun "Jane" merchandise, and gift certificates throughout the evening.

So grab your copy of The Dancing Master and join Julie and friends on the evening of January 23rd for a chance to connect and make some new friends. (If you haven't read the book, don't let that stop you from coming!)

Don't miss a moment of the fun; RSVP today by signing up for a reminder. Tell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 23rd!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Two Sweet Cover Treats!

Such an exciting way to begin the day! Not only did I receive my first endorsement for Forget Me Not, but two gorgeous covers have been unveiled for the world to see. Check them out!

The Paris Connection by Cerella Sechrist

I was so thrilled last fall when I discovered that Cerella was publishing two new books for the Harlequin Heartwarming line! I adored Love Finds You in Hershey, Pennsylvania (and even re-read it last year), and I was always eager for any news of future books from Cerella. Gentle Persuasion released in December, and The Paris Connection (its sequel) will release this March. Talk about the perfect cover for spring, right?? I love the cheery combination of colors, and the soft scene with lovely flowers, a bike ride, and a warm embrace. And the near-kiss is a promise of a heartwarming connection to come. So sweet!

The especially exciting thing about this is that I have the pleasure and privilege of organizing the blog tour for The Paris Connection this March! So be sure to mark your calendars for March 1-8, and stay tuned for tour sign-up information and more news about all the spring fun in store!

If you'd like to see the author's official cover reveal post, click HERE. She's got a bonus hot chocolate recipe that sounds delish!

Fly Away Home by Rachel Heffington

This debut author and I have chatted a bit about self-publishing by e-mail, and it's been fun getting to know her! She blogs over at The Inkpen Authoress, and she's well on her way to making a splash with her upcoming release. Just look at that cover! It's sort of different having a black background, but I love how it makes the model's features stand out and the lights of the city below shine even brighter. That blue-grey color of the model's eyes and the water is so very lovey, and the auburn hair blends so well with the dark background, like waves of fire gently illuminating the night. There's a really nice contrast at play here, and the way the title is set up along with the model's expression really provoke a sense of longing.

I'm going to be reviewing this book on Valentine's Day (February 14th), so be sure to tune in then to hear my thoughts! You can also check out Rachel's awesome cover-reveal giveaway HERE, as well as add the book on Goodreads.

Have you come across some sweet cover candy lately or other exciting bookish news to share?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Winner and New Ideas!

The Morning Glory cover reveal was such a grand way to start the year - thank you all for your support and enthusiasm! ♥ We all agree that Lena Goldfinch is an awesome cover designer, right??

In case you missed my post with the story behind the cover and links to the blogs participating in the reveal, you can find it HERE. And don't forget that The Heart's Spring series blog is now live! You can check out my first four posts (includes a sneak peek at Forget Me Not) and share your thoughts on what you'd like to see there in the future. I'd love to know what sort of news/extras interests you!

As for the winner of the Morning Glory cover reveal giveaway, it's...

Nancy McLeroy!

Congratulations, Nancy! I've sent you an e-mail, so be on the lookout!

If you weren't a winner this time, but the prizes interested you, be sure to check out Cindy Lindgren's and Jaye L. Knights's Etsy shops. Beautiful treasures abound! And I've ordered some items for the Forget Me Not tour-wide giveaway that I'm excited to share soon... So be sure to mark the first week in February on your calendars! I'm going to be busy in the next few weeks working on guest posts and interviews, finalizing the manuscript for Kindle release, etc. - not to mention starting some upcoming projects for friends/clients, and some other stuff for "The Heart's Spring" series...

Speaking of which, I don't know about you, but I feel like great ideas hit me when I'm working out or in the shower. That happened to me yesterday, where some story elements "clicked" (one thanks to a blogger's thoughts on Bleeding Heart) and a thought for a project inspired by an idea my grandma once shared with me stood out. I started in on another companion short story last night, and I'm really looking forward to working more on all aspects of this series.

This series isn't and won't be perfect. I know I'm still growing, still maturing, still learning more about writing, the industry, and life in general. But honestly, I feel so blessed that connections and opportunities came together so that this series of my heart could be shared in this season of my life. I came across this quote on Pinterest - fitting, don't you think?

"Begin doing what you want to do now. We are not living in eternity We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand - and melting like a snowflake." ~ Sir Francis Bacon

I wouldn't necessarily say we aren't living in eternity, because I believe eternal life begins when we start our journey with God through faith in Him. But I like what this quote is really saying - that our time on earth, our time to make a difference here, is limited. So let the moment shine, and make it count before it melts away. (That doesn't mean we won't have seasons of waiting, of course! But there are always other things to do while we wait for one thing to come about, right?)

Self-publishing "The Heart's Spring" series is giving me the chance to try creative things, to discover them and apply them moment by moment. As many of you have heard me say before, every story has a season (hence the name of my publisher, Seasons of a Story), and the same goes for every writing journey. Each one is unique. But I can declare with gratitude to God and the people He has placed in my life that I'm loving this season and the chance to share my passions in this way!

And now I've rambled on long enough... Tell me, what is it you want to (and can) do now, as 2014 begins? What new ideas are you excited to pursue?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

My Review of Sun & Moon

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

"She has a past. He has a secret.

Katja Stoltz is a risk-taking singer-songwriter, hoping to make it in the indie music scene in Dresden, Germany. Micah Sturm's a brooding uptown banker on a quest.

Driven to the streets, Katja is picked up by Micah - but he doesn't want what she thinks he does.

There’s an undeniable attraction between them, a gravitational pull they both struggle to resist. Katja knows she mustn’t fall in love with this handsome enigma. There’s something dark lurking beneath the surface. He could be dangerous.

And even if her life isn’t on the line, her heart most definitely is."

My Rating


My Review

A creative approach to NA (New Adult) contemporary romance, Sun and Moon is an interesting read. I enjoy Strauss's writing style, and I appreciate that she offers such a wide variety of stories with the romance I love and minus the explicit content I'd prefer to avoid. (Note that this book does contain a little bit of language, some innuendos, references to drinking, and some heavier kissing scenes, though - definitely for the NA crowd and above.)

This book starts out with such intrigue that I found myself transported to Germany and unwilling to leave through the first quarter of the story. Micah is the kind of guy you'd hope to meet if you were ever in a rough spot or a dangerous place. But that locked door in his apartment... Yeah, I loved the Jane Eyre/Bluebeard vibes! A unique and artsy setting + a handsome and kind stranger + a mystery = a great beginning.

The mystery was solved a little earlier than I expected, and I did miss the promising plot, as it sort of fizzled into a day-to-day romance. Very sweet, certainly, but the main tension revolved around how far they were willing to go physically and will they/won't they stay together. I hoped for a little more excitement, a little more challenge - just...a little more something.

The ending did take a different sort of turn, and what I appreciated the most was Katja's character growth. I would have loved more depth to Micah's character (maybe some of his POV), and I would have appreciated a less superficial look at their beliefs. Even still, the decisions Katja made and the way her attitude started to change were satisfying.

The especially neat thing about this book is the peek at the indie music scene and the songs included to enhance the reading experience. I checked out the Bandcamp page and enjoyed getting to hear "Katja" (songs actually performed by Kim McMechan) and the lyrics sprinkled throughout the story. Strauss has pulled off a really clever idea, and I'm curious to hear more about (and hear more music from) the Minstrel Series!

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

Songs from The Minstrel Series

You can listen to and purchase the songs mentioned in the story HERE.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

My Review of Outcasts

Here's a description of the book from Goodreads:

"The remnant from Glenrock is now living as rebels within the Safe Lands, looking for a way to find purpose in their lives. When a young rebel is murdered and his death points to a rebel leader, it's hard to know who to trust.

Levi tries to organize a plan to free the children and fights for respect as elder over those who'd rather go their own way. Omar tries to change his image of a traitor by donning a costume and going out into the night as a vigilante hero. And Mason stumbles onto a shocking secret about the Safe Lands meds, but his investigation just might get them all liberated."

My Rating


My Review

As exciting as the cover suggests, Outcasts is a highly engaging middle novel for "The Safe Lands" trilogy, with superb characterization. Once again, the story centers on four POVs: three brothers (Levi, Mason, and Omar) and a young girl named Shaylinn - pregnant and lonely, but still striving for purpose and hope despite her life as an outcast from the society that took her and her people captive.

I enjoyed this one even more than Captives (Book 1), with "enjoy" being a relative term, since Outcasts is just as gritty as its predecessor. I'm amazed at Williamson's ability to so vividly depict not only this futuristic world (in wonderful detail), but also the unique personalities and motives of her characters. Each one struggles with uncertainties and weaknesses, and yet each one is drawn so compassionately that, while often cringing at their choices, I couldn't help but root for them. The POV character I probably connected with the least was Levi, but even still, he had his moments that showed his heart and his authentic frustrations. I think I'm currently most interested in Omar and Shaylinn's story - there's a lot of angst and room for redemption and growth there!

The overarching plot is intricate and intriguing, and the storyline for this book built up nicely to an epic conclusion, leaving enough resolution to satisfy and enough of a cliffhanger to make the reader eagerly anticipate the release of Book 3 (Rebels) this summer (2014). This series has a little something of everything - romantic drama, thought-provoking relationship dilemmas, a colorful but chilling setting, an aura of mystery, quirky plot elements, and plenty of danger and adventure.

While the references to drugs, addiction, and physical relations might make this a little too mature for some young readers, all of those things are dealt with tactfully (nothing explicit) and yet honestly. This book certainly leaves plenty of room for discussion (even including discussion questions in the back), and shows the pain of a life and world centered first and foremost on the pursuit of personal pleasure.

For an imaginative dystopian series peopled with relatable characters and filled with disquieting situations for them to face, consider visiting "The Safe Lands."

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

Monday, January 6, 2014

Goals for 2014

I've written these in my planner, but I might as well share them here, too, right? ;)

  • Find part-time employment within the first few months of 2014.
  • Request and purchase fewer books. After January (since I didn't really follow this when I was requesting books in December)...
    • No more than 2 review books a month
    • No more than 3 Kindle (or otherwise) book purchases a month
  • Review every book I read (with a few exceptions - and can be snack size or full length).
  • Exercise in some form 4 days a week (will get a fresh start on that this week, hopefully!).
  • Write at least 1 letter a week.

    • Publish the rest of "The Heart's Spring" series (2 more books - Forget Me Not and Morning Glory - and 4 companion short stories).
    • Write the 1st draft of a new novella/novel. (More info to come later this year, Lord willing!)

    I don't really know what the new year will bring, so beyond my publishing goals and my plan to find part-time employment to supplement my freelance business and my book sales, I don't really have any big, long-term goals. I'm hoping to take this year one day at a time, and I'm hoping the little goals will help me keep things in perspective and maintain a healthier lifestyle. The main goal, though, is to follow after God and trust in him day by day, moment by moment - because He's the one who will sustain me when and long after these goals are broken or met.

    As for the goals above that pertain more to you, please feel free to hold me accountable and encourage me to try to follow them! If you see I've finished a book on Goodreads/Twitter, you can remind me that, for the most part, I agreed to review it, even if it's one I purchased. ;) If you see me going crazy with adding new books, a gentle reprimand might be required, LOL. And I'm hoping that the new blog and all the social media talk will help me stay motivated when it comes to meeting my publishing goals!

    Do you have any goals/resolutions for the new year? Do we share any of the same ones?

    Saturday, January 4, 2014

    My Review of Love's Awakening

    Here's a description of the book from Revell:

    "The path to true love lies somewhere between two feuding families

    In the spring of 1822, Ellie Ballantyne leaves finishing school and returns to the family home in Pittsburgh only to find that her parents are away on a long journey and her siblings don't seem to want her to stay. Determined to stand her ground and find her place in the world, Ellie fills her time by opening a day school for young ladies.

    But when one of her students turns out to be an incorrigible young member of the Turlock family, Ellie knows she must walk a fine line. Slaveholders and whiskey magnates, the Turlocks are envious of the powerful Ballantynes and suspicious of their abolitionist leanings. As Ellie becomes increasingly entangled with the rival clan--particularly the handsome Jack Turlock--she finds herself falling in love with an impossible future. Will she betray her family and side with the enemy?

    Masterful storyteller Laura Frantz continues to unfold the stirring saga of the Ballantyne family in this majestic tale of love and loyalty. This is the Ballantyne Legacy."

    My Rating


    My Review

    Laura Frantz's lovely writing continues in this second installment of "The Ballanytne Legacy" series. The descriptions of the land, the Monongahela River, the fashion, and even the whiskey stills...all are vivid and grand. Frantz pens historicals that are rich and deep!

    This particular story wasn't quite as engaging for me as some of Frantz's other books, however. While there's certainly a looming threat of danger due to Jack's family ties and Ellie's family's abolitionist activities, the plot felt dragged out, languid and hesitant, setting up complex characterization but not quite as thrilling of a tale. I think part of that has to do with the setting. Pennsylvania of the 1820s certainly has some interesting aspects, but it's not quite the adventure that Frantz's frontier and wilderness settings have been. That, and the story felt to be more of a character study - focused on Jack's, Ellie's, and Ansel's decisions, attitudes, and desires, rather than on their destinations.

    The nature of the story, and perhaps just where I am in my reading and personal life, made this a very slow read for me. But that doesn't mean that it wasn't ultimately an enjoyable one! The title is very apt, especially in light of the end, but also in light of the gentle and gradual "awakening" of the plot and romance. Even still, I appreciated that awakening - the descriptions that slowly stole me away, and the characters that are very well-drawn. The fact that this wasn't a fast read allowed me to really get to know the characters, bit by bit, and I loved them for their growth, their uncertainties, their struggles, and their hope. Ansel, the heroine's brother, was a particular favorite of mine, and it was with a bittersweet feeling that I read the brief glimpse into Book 3, Love's Fortune, at the very end of the book.

    For those who don't mind longer but well-written historical fiction that explores the motivations and hearts of the main characters, Love's Awakening is another exquisite read from Frantz, and a worthy addition to "The Ballantyne Legacy."

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

    “Available September 2013 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.”

    Friday, January 3, 2014

    Cover Reveal for Morning Glory!

    I'm so excited to share my third cover with you, once again designed by the amazing Lena Goldfinch (Stone Lily Publishing & Design Services)! Not only does this mean we can now see all three covers for "The Heart's Spring" series together (not including the companion short stories to come), but it also means that I can unveil a series blog, which I'm very excited to do! Read on to learn more about the story behind the cover, the new blogs, and a themed giveaway...

    A Cover Story

    Several months ago, Lena was working on the cover for Forget Me Not, the first book in the series and Bleeding Heart's prequel. I had already started another secret Pinterest board for Morning Glory's cover, including some Oregon sunrise/sunset pictures, some morning glories, and another top-secret element to be shared later on when the paperback cover is completed. ;) I also found one red-haired model I liked. I think perhaps I had pinned some of those pics while we were brainstorming the cover for Forget Me Not or something... Either way, Lena jumped straight into this project before we had even finalized the cover for Forget Me Not! She pinned a few model pics, once again (like with the model for Forget Me Not) zeroing in on a model that I wasn't sure felt quite right for the part. Here's the pic:

    Her headband, necklace, and bouquet look very modern, but Lena assured me that she could take those things out or rework them. I think I continued sharing a couple other pics, because I wasn't completely convinced, LOL. I should have known by then that Lena's eye for cover design is spectacular!

    As Lena wrote down some points to convince me that this girl could work, she was caught up in the vision, declaring that she might just have to put together a comp to show me right then and there. And show me, she did! The first comp showed all of the model's head, and I fell in love with the design and the colors, especially. My reaction:

    Oooooooh! You're making me want to write this book right now, LOL! 

    I went on to tell Lena that I was on cloud 9, and we pretty much gushed about the colors, Crater Lake, research books, and the fact that we were friends. It was awesome. ;)

    Lena made one final tweak, cropping the top of the heroine's head, zooming in so that her skirts were fuller and the headband was no longer an issue.

    So basically, Lena picked all of the images for this particular cover, creating something I hadn't envisioned, but ultimately adored. She told me that the design came together "lightning quick," that she saw it like "a gift." It's truly a beautiful thing to see the Lord's gifts at work, and I'm blessed beyond measure to be the recipient of this one!

    Then in December I received the final version. Lena tried the full head shot again, but we decided to go with the cropped version, which we agree fits well with the other covers and gives it more of a historical flavor (taking away any overly modern pieces). I'm seriously astounded that Lena took the certainly beautiful but modern model above and made her look like this:

    What I Love: The model's expression, perhaps serious, but in a confident, waiting-expectantly-for-something-to-happen way. Her hair, which is absolutely gorgeous - lively, rich, and curled like morning glory vines. Her posture, which is humble with her head bowed a bit, but also tall and elegant. The morning glories she's holding, which are also tall and reaching up to the sky (not to mention a glorious, royal shade). The deep, dark purple-y blues of the background (Crater Lake), and the vivid reds and pinks of the morning sky just touching the cliffs on the other side of the lake - all hinting at dark things that are overshadowed by a bright, coming dawn. The hillsides themselves once again highlighting the emotional peaks and depths my characters face. The title font that's flowy like water and curved like the tendrils of the heroine's hair and the vine. And the whole concept, including the way the depths and heights, the dark and light, are all contrasted in a delightful display of color.

    The Heart's Spring Series Home

    Before I share about the new blogs, here are all three covers together:

    I'd be curious to know if you have a favorite, or what stands out to you about the series' covers sitting side by side! I love each of them, of course, but I think Bleeding Heart has my favorite model/expression, Forget Me Not has my favorite dress, and Morning Glory has my favorite background/color scheme. I thought the progression of the covers was really neat, too, if you take them in the order they're published: Sally is sitting (Bleeding Heart), Elizabeth is kneeling (Forget Me Not), and Felicity is standing (Morning Glory). I think each cover portrays each story's theme and tone so well, and I'm so very grateful to Lena for that!

    And now for the blog reveal...

    Like I did for Bleeding Heart and Forget Me Not, I created a site for Morning Glory. It's a little bare right now because I haven't really started on this project yet, but be sure to check back in the spring for a book blurb, "soundtrack," and more! In the meantime, if you want to be kept completely up-to-date on all of the series news, be sure to follow the brand-new series blog:

    I'm so thrilled to have a place now where all the separate book sites link back to, and where you can find news about the series, learn more about the companion short stories, sign up for my author newsletter, and discover insider information about the books, my writing/publishing process, etc. The separate book blogs are more static - even though I update the information from time to time, there aren't any new "posts" and such. But this blog will allow you to follow the series and get new information delivered to your dashboard/feed/inbox. I hope this will be as much fun for you as it is for me!

    A Morning Glory Giveaway

    To celebrate all the "reveals" today, I'm offering a themed giveaway! One winner, two lovely prizes from two awesome Etsy sites!

    Morning Glory Note Cards (4-pack) by Cindy Lindgren

    Lavender & Copper Earrings by Jaye L. Knight

    Just use the form below to enter! Please note that this giveaway is for U.S. residents only. Feel free to e-mail me if you have any questions about how to use the form. The winner will be announced next Friday, January 10th.

    a Rafflecopter giveaway
    Cover Reveal Participants

    I have such an awesome influencer team, and I'm grateful for each blogger who has shown an interest in this series and helped me to promote the books by participating in the cover reveals, Bleeding Heart's blog tour, etc. Love you guys! Here's a list of the bloggers participating in this cover reveal:
    You just might find some info about me and Lena, some bloggers' thoughts on the cover, and such, so I do hope you'll visit these wonderful blogs when you get the chance!

    I would love to hear your thoughts on the cover, the new blog, or anything that strikes your fancy in this post! Hope 2014 is going grandly for you so far!

    Wednesday, January 1, 2014

    New Every Morning ~ Welcoming 2014

    I'm the type of person who adores new beginnings. I love changing the calendar to a new month, turning to a fresh page in my planner, starting up a new blog, creating a list of goals for a new year. (Of course, I'm also the type of person who likes my books to be in neat, perfectly aligned stacks, and who straightens up my bed covers after someone's done sitting on the bed...) So I take the start of a new year rather seriously.

    God blessed me tremendously in 2013 with the friendships and support necessary to finish writing my second manuscript, publish my first novel in both e-book and paperback formats, edit my first manuscript, officially start up my freelance editing & publicity business with actual clients, obtain my driver's license, and make my first solo road trip. But while it was a year full of wonderful joys, it was also a year full of very painful things: my grandpa's declining health (including a prolonged stay at the hospital and in rehab), stressful and hurtful family issues, and the loss of my godfather and my grandma.

    To be honest, 2014 feels a little scary. We're selling my grandparents' house, which has been my "second home" since childhood. My grandpa might go to a home where he can get 24/7 professional care and assistance. I agreed to look for part-time work outside of the house to supplement my income for my business and writing, and also to see the world outside of my bedroom (an exciting but frightening prospect!). I have some happy publishing goals which I would love to meet, but otherwise, I'm just not sure what the year ahead will bring. I'm worried that a lot will change, and that the changes will continue to be hard for all of us. But I'm also worried that a lot won't change, because I realize that changes do need to be made, in my own life and for my family.

    So here I am, at the threshold of a new year. While I've prepared some things - made a list of publishing goals, put up the new calendar, bought a 2014 planner, etc. - I feel like there are a lot more things I could have done to get myself ready to face the coming days. Yet the unknown remains. The difficult issues still have to be dealt with; they don't go away when the old year passes.

    I can't look at the whole year ahead. It's too much pressure. While I appreciate the magnitude of the "newness," I need the mercy of new beginnings in a smaller size...

    And thou hast removed my soul far off from peace: I forgat prosperity. And I said, My strength and my hope is perished from the Lord: remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall. My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me. This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.

    Lamentations 3:17-23

    God's mercies, His compassions, are new every morning. Every morning. 

    I'll always love a new month, a new year. And I need a big-picture perspective - but a year isn't it. I need a perspective as big as eternity: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever (Psalm 23:6). But in that, I also need a perspective as small as a day, a moment, knowing that God is with me through every step. 

    My favorite devotional book (Safe in the Shepherd's Arms: Hope and Encouragement from Psalm 23 by Max Lucado) puts it this way:

    God isn't behind me, yelling, "Go!" He is ahead of me, bidding "Come!" He is in front, clearing the path, cutting the brush, showing the way. Just before the curve, he says, "Turn here." Prior to the rise, he motions, "Step up here." Standing next to the rocks, he warns, "Watch your step here." 

    He leads us. He tells us what we need to know when we need to know it.

    The discovery of David is indeed the message of Scripture - the Lord is with us. And since the Lord is near, everything is different. Everything!....

    You may feel alone in the wilderness, but you are not. He is with you.

    You and I are not alone in the wilderness of the year, in the crazy hills and valleys and curves of our day-to-day lives. His mercies are new every morning. I don't need to wait until the start of a new month or a new year to claim the refreshing of His mercies and grace. I don't need to feel like I've blown the whole week or the whole year if the transition was shaky or I wasn't fully prepared. Because the truth is, as many plans as I make and as many goals as I set, I just don't know what's coming. A man's heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps (Proverbs 16:9). We have to plan ahead, yes, but we have to trust that God's will prevails, and that His will is good and holy in light of eternity. And sometimes - perhaps much of the time - we have to take one day at a time, one step at a time, and trust that God is at work.

    We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.... Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.

    2 Corinthians 4:8-9, 16b-17

    The "weight" of our hope for eternity isn't heavy. Jesus offers us a light burden (Matthew 11:30). So in the year ahead, I'll try not to take the change of the calendar too seriously. Instead, I'll continue on this all-important but grace-filled journey of trusting God's eternal perspective, and believing that He is still with me in each little step, offering new mercies every morning for the sake of His glory.

    (Pictures taken at Lady Bird Johnson Grove, Summer 2013.)