Book Gush: “Murder at the Flamingo” by Rachel McMillan (+ Giveaway!)

Book Gush: “Murder at the Flamingo” by Rachel McMillan (+ Giveaway!)

This blog post title is in honor of a beloved author whose own book gushes have added new favorites to my own shelf. Today, I’m absolutely GUSHING over Rachel McMillan’s historical mystery and romance release, Murder at the Flamingo, with a review, interview with Rachel, BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS FROM HER, and a GIVEAWAY!

Read on for more awesome bookish stuff!

About the Book

“Maybe it was time to land straight in the middle of the adventure…”

Murder at the Flamingo by Rachel McMillanHamish DeLuca has spent most of his life trying to hide the anxiety that appears at the most inopportune times — including during his first real court case as a new lawyer. Determined to rise above his father’s expectations, Hamish runs away to Boston where his cousin, Luca Valari, is opening a fashionable nightclub in Scollay Square. When he meets his cousin’s “right hand man” Reggie, Hamish wonders if his dreams for a more normal life might be at hand. 

Regina “Reggie” Van Buren, heir to a New Haven fortune, has fled fine china, small talk, and the man her parents expect her to marry. Determined to make a life as the self-sufficient city girl she’s seen in her favorite Jean Arthur and Katharine Hepburn pictures, Reggie runs away to Boston, where she finds an easy secretarial job with the suave Luca Valari. But as she and Hamish work together in Luca’s glittering world, they discover a darker side to the smashing Flamingo night club.

When a corpse is discovered at the Flamingo, Reggie and Hamish quickly learn there is a vast chasm between the haves and the have-nots in 1937 Boston—and that there’s an underworld that feeds on them both. As Hamish is forced to choose between his conscience and loyalty to his beloved cousin, the unlikely sleuthing duo work to expose a murder before the darkness destroys everything they’ve worked to build.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

With Rachel McMillan’s distinct historical voice and attention to detail, she paints a vivid historical mystery with a hint of romance against the backdrop of a brilliant 1930s Boston scene. In her distinct way, she makes the setting a secondary character of its own, vocal and important in its culture and story role. With a fabulous puzzle solved and room for more adventures to come, the city comes to life as the characters grapple with loyalty, independence, anxiety, and purpose.

IMG_20180708_200945.jpgHamish and Reggie are endearing, quirky, enigmatic, and just plain lovable. Even secondary characters like Luca (whom you will dislike/love/want to hug all at once!) and Nate (and his wonderful candidness!) are sure to be favorites and promise to be even more essential in stories to come. And I just want to hang out with Reggie and watch films of the time!

Fans of McMillan’s previous Herringford & Watts series will be ecstatic to learn of the “next” generation (Hamish is a DeLuca, after all) and see tiny nods to the previous series and a familiar name or two!

Let’s stop right here and talk about Hamish. He is SUCH a product of his parents! But, he is his own kind of special, quirky, and important. Through his unique viewpoint, Rachel McMillan illustrates the challenges of mental illness — namely anxiety and panic — in a normalizing and emphatic way. This makes him wonderfully relatable — even for a reader with no personal experience with such challenges (like myself). I applaud her for using characterization to subtly bring awareness and empathy to the forefront in a way that adds so much to the story.

IMG_20180708_200938.jpgI could talk all day about more wonderful elements of this story — lemon cannolis, bicycles, jazz, picture shows, DANCES, light bulbs, classic literature, and an implied message of grace. Instead, I hope you choose to discover for yourself all the intricacies and fun of this little mystery.

I cannot wait to see where these beloved characters will take me next!

MANY thanks to Thomas Nelson for the review copy.

Interview with the Author

Pick one: lemon sandwich or lemon cannoli?

AHHH this is so hard. I am going to say cannoli.

What’s next for this set of characters?

Murder in the City of LibertyMurder in the City of Liberty releases next May and it finds Hamish and Reggie two years after they open Van Buren and DeLuca investigations/legal consulting/Winchester Molloy listening, in 1940.  There are two major forces in this book: the first is a black baseball player and fastest base stealer in the Boston farm leagues who becomes the target of a series of horrible pranks that eventually lead to murder.  The second is a growing racism (specifically anti-Semitism) which aligns with the conflict in Europe (for which Hamish’s home country is already fighting).  Very much like The White Feather Murders, I wanted explore the lack of social justice and the rampant prejudice heightened during war time.  On a personal front, Reggie and Hamish are doing a very poor job of being “just friends.”  And Nate gets a little bit of romance of his own!

Murder at the Flamingo incorporates a character with panic and anxiety when mental illness was taboo for the era. And, you have started a related hashtag #FictionForEmpowerment. Tell us more about that!

Yes! It is something that I have lived with my entire life and I thought this was the perfect time to talk about it through a fictional lens: so all of the symptoms and challenges I ascribe to Hamish are things I have struggled with since childhood.  Mental illness is very much like any other illness —except it is invisible.  So while, not unlike someone with cancer or diabetes, I have to see a doctor regularly and use medicinal treatment to live a full life, it is not something that is completely easy for everyone to understand. In Hamish DeLuca’s time, there were still rather primitive ideas about it and studies that found patients being doled all manner of horrible mercury pills (that ravaged the system), being locked in sanitariums or exposed to shock treatment. Because of Hamish’s visible symptoms, these are things that are very real threat to him.  I wanted to show that a character who suffers from this illness still has adventures and tries to get the girl: even though he had a steeper hill to climb in terms of acceptance than we do nowadays, he still is just a human being.  At heart, this series works to normalize mental illness without hopefully ever being slated as “issue” fiction. (For Herringford and Watts readers of The White Feather Murders, you will recognize that Hamish comes by his right hand tremor genetically. Something his father had since the end of A Lesson in Love and Murder).

Who was your favorite character to write?

I loved writing all of them. Just like in Herringford and Watts: they all mean so much to me.  I gave Reggie all my quips and one-liners so I loved doing that! My breakaway character in this was Nate. I always wanted to feature someone who could map the intricacies of the North End neighbourhood for them but I loved writing him so much that he ended up getting a much larger role than in the first outline. To the extent that he is a huge part of the central mystery in book 2. But my favourite character to write was Hamish! I looove all of my characters but I don’t know if I will ever feel as close to any of them as I do Hamish. I suppose it is because I am using him (as mentioned above) to speak to something very personal and challenging to me.

Loyalty is a BIG subject in this book, much of it revolving around Hamish’s cousin, Luca. What is the message you want readers to take away from their dynamic?

I think that when you read the book you see most people’s loyalty to Luca differs from Hamish’s. While so many speak to loyalty to Luca it is with the expectation that he can do something for them in return. Their loyalty anticipates a symbiotic relationship.  The spiritual themes in the book are deftly hidden but I really used Hamish’s loyalty intentionally to show a measure of grace. A few times in the book when asked by Luca where he gets his unfailing loyalty (even as Luca uses him or lets him down), Hamish has no other answer than “Your Luca.” Hamish’s loyalty is a result of his blind love for his cousin with no expectation of return on that investment. In that sense, writing aspects of this book was really heartbreaking for me. Hamish is a good kid with a great heart who just wants to spend time with his cousin and realizes that he doesn’t truly know Luca at all.  So loyalty without expectation of anything in return is one of the ways in which I tried to explore the themes of grace in the novel.

Rachel’s book recommendation fun!

OK, any #FictionForEmpowerment recommendations?

I would say The Rosie Project by Graham Simsion would be one that immediately comes to mind.  I just finished a book called the The Lost for Words Bookshop by Stephanie Butland and while it is never overtly expressed, it is clear the heroine suffers from PTSD. Charles Todd’s Ian Rutledge mysteries feature a detective late of the war who definitely suffers from anxiety and panic.  Finally, and though this is not intentional,  I view The Blue Castle by LM Montgomery to be a study in anxiety and panic.  Valancy Stirling’s undiagnosed heart condition is very much a representation of typical symptoms of panic attacks: from the initial recognition and through the onslaught. Also, her waking up at 3 a.m. consistently is another symptom. Because LM Montgomery was a life long sufferer, I always find this a perfect unintentional example of anxiety and panic disorder.

Which “McMillan” book should a reader start with?

Love in Three Quarter TimeIf you really just want to get to know my heart and nature, Love in Three Quarter Time. Man! This is a hard question.  In the Herringford and Watts series my personal favourite is A Lesson in Love and Murder. I think it does the best job of giving a well-rounded view of the four central characters (plus Benny) and their relationships and interactions. But, I am hoping a lot of people start with Flamingo. You get better with each book, I had a wonderful editor with this, it is a story close to my heart and I am proud (as much as I can be proud knowing that there is always a million things I would have done better) of the final product.

A book for someone new to the Christian fiction genre?

Try Katherine Reay. Any of her books. They’re literary-infused and filled with romance and also exceptionally written. Any spiritual truths are expressed in a subtle way.  My friend Allison Pittman has a new one coming out next year called The Seamstress (Tyndale, 2019) and it is a fictional spinoff of A Tale of Two Cities set during the reign of Marie Antoinette and it pursues spiritual truths within a truly beautiful historical setting.

A book for people who love YOUR historical mystery/romance series?

Price of PrivilegeI loooove so many books. If you truly want to get to know me and what makes my heart tick and mind gallop, I highly recommend The Price of Privilege series by Jessica Dotta. I am not going to put myself on the Dotta level in terms of comparative storytelling because she is a master.  I also am strongly influenced by Anna Lee Huber (Lady Darby series), Deanna Raybourn, Rhys Bowen (Molly Murphy) and Elizabeth Peters (Amelia Peabody).  I would say reading them has infused my passion for writing mysteries with heavy romance.

A book out of your comfort zone that you really loved?

I try super hard to read as much as I can in as many genres as I can.  Still, science fiction seems to be the one genre that I have the hardest trouble sinking into. But I loooved The Martian by Andy Weir. It is so funny. It has such an arresting narrator. I think it goes to prove that I can love anything if the voice is great.

A small time/indie published book?

JL Spohr’s The Realm Series (it begins with Heirs and Spares). Please read it.  Also, Masque by W.R. Gingell (if you have a beauty and the beast thing going, I will totally read your book).

And last but not least, a romance? (with a Rachel Catnip hero?)

High as the HeavensACK so hard! Just one! I can’t do just one. I really super duper fell in love with an Eva Ibbotson book I read for the first time this year called The Morning Gift.  I have a bit of a thing for Marriage of Convenience stories and this is one.  Quinn is totally a Rachel catnip hero.  Courtney, you know that I think Isaac Dalry in The Price of Privilege series is one of the all-time greatest heroes! Total catnip.  I have a huge thing some of Lynn Austin’s heroes. I think she writes the best kissing scenes of all time and I just love her books to death. So James McGrath in Fire by Night is an all time favourite. I like super intelligent heroes.   Who are just a little different. Or crafted by Katie Breslin. SIMON IN High as the HeavensI am looking at you!!!!!I am also looking at you, you adorable Pimpernel-Phantom of the Opera hybrid Jack Benningham in Not by Sight. Lately, a favourite was Jacobus in The Reckoning at Gossamer Pond by Jaime Jo Wright.  Also, if your hero is a scrappy reporter, I am definitely there for that. I read Anna Blankman’s duology Prisoner of Night and Fog and Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke recently and the hero, Daniel, is a Jewish reporter in Nazi-laden Germany pre-WWII. His ambition to bring truth and light to a world that is against him is marvelous.

Oh Rachel! Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions and give us all new books to add to the TBR!!!! I know I need to read a few more of these. YES to all things Price of Privilege!!!

About the Author

Rachel McMillanRachel McMillan is a keen history enthusiast and a lifelong bibliophile. When not writing or reading, she can most often be found drinking tea and watching British miniseries. Rachel lives in bustling Toronto, where she works in educational publishing and pursues her passion for art, literature, music, and theater.

Rachel’s Book Blog | Website | Goodreads | Twitter 

Instagram | Facebook | Pinterest

 

Giveaway

Love in Three Quarter TimeRachel has graciously offered a giveaway copy of a kindle ebook of Love in Three Quarter Time. Follow the instructions on the Rafflecopter form to enter! Giveaway ends 7/21/18 12:00am. Open internationally. Entrants will have 1 week to respond to email contact to claim prize. Void where prohibited.

Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway here!

 

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Review + Author Interview: “Just Let Go” by Courtney Walsh

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Today I’m ECSTATIC because I’m welcoming author Courtney Walsh to the blog with an interview and my review of her newest contemporary romance novel, Just Let Go, the second in her “Harbor Pointe” series.

About the Book
FB_IMG_1512955248786.jpgFor Quinn Collins, buying the flower shop in downtown Harbor Pointe fulfills a childhood dream, but also gives her the chance to stick it to her mom, who owned the store before skipping town twenty years ago and never looking back. Completing much-needed renovations, however, while also competing for a prestigious flower competition with her mother as the head judge, soon has Quinn in over her head. Not that she’dever ask for help.

Luckily, she may not need to. Quinn’s father and his meddling friends find the perfect solution in notorious Olympic skier Grady Benson, who had only planned on passing through the old-fashioned lakeside town. But when a heated confrontation leads to property damage,helping Quinn as a community-service sentence seems like the quickest way out—and the best way to avoid more negative press.

Quinn finds Grady reckless and entitled; he thinks she’s uptight and too regimented. Yet as the two begin to hammer and saw, Quinn sees glimpses of the vulnerability behind the bravado, and Grady learns from her passion and determination, qualities he seems to have lost along the way. But when a well-intentioned omission has devastating consequences, Grady finds himself cast out of town—and Quinn’s life—possibly forever. Forced to face the hurt holding her back, Quinn must finally let go or risk missing out on the adventure of a lifetime.

Find out more about Just Let Go from the publisher

About the Author

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Courtney Walsh is a novelist, artist, theatre director, and playwright. Just Let Go will be her eighth inspirational romance novel. Her debut, A Sweethaven Summer, hit the New York Times and USA Today e-book bestseller lists and was a Carol Award finalist in the debut author category. A creative at heart, Courtney has also written two craft books and several full-length musicals. She lives in Illinois with her husband and three children.

Visit her online at any of the links below.

Courtney’s website | Twitter |Facebook

Pinterest |Instagram

Review

Balanced with humor and an endearing and well-meaning “community”, Just Let Go explores the vulnerability, pain, and joy that comes with risking your heart — whether it be for romance, reconciliation, or forgiveness that was never requested.

Just let go quote image 10Just Let Go is contemporary romance perfection! With a couple you just want to have breakfast with, a faith journey that is relevant and worth the work, a picturesque setting with lovable supporting characters, and an opposites-attract romance that progresses naturally with plenty of spark. It was one of those “just realize you’re perfect for each other and hug it out now” kind of situations. I loved Grady and Quinn’s chemistry any time they were in the same room, much to Quinn’s own annoyance at times. 😉

Courtney Walsh never fails to tell a deep and meaningful story, sometimes beyond what a reader expects. As the story unfolds, layers of personality, motives, and history are unveiled, making Grady and Quinn all the more relatable, raw, and people worth cheering on. Speaking of, worth plays a big part in this story, as does letting go of things you can’t control and fighting for what you can. And oh, when a certain person chooses to fight no matter the odds, I just wanted to high-five someone!

Finishing a novel like this makes me eager for more stories from Courtney because I know they will always be heartfelt and honest.

Thank you to Tyndale for providing the review copy. This is my honest review.

Interview with the Author

Welcome back to The Green Mockingbird! 

Since Quinn takes over a flower shop, I must ask. Do you have a favorite
flower?

I’m a little bit torn on this because I absolutely LOVE tulips—my wedding bouquet
was made of white tulips, but I think I have more memories tied to lilacs, which
are my mom’s favorite. Lilacs are so fragrant and we had a few bushes at the
back of our yard growing up, so I think those are the most nostalgic for me. (It
makes me wonder why I don’t have a lilac bush in my yard now! I might have to
remedy that!)

Grady is a serious skier. Have you ever been skiing?

I actually haven’t. I am more like Quinn—terrified of the unknown, especially
skiing. In the book, Quinn talks about a roller blading accident—that is
autobiographical and has forever ruined me for any downhill sport! I crashed SO
hard and so fast and in such an embarrassing way (my geometry teacher really
did drive by at that exact moment and he stuck me in the back of his truck with
my friends and drove me back to my car…OY!)

That was a funny moment in the story! So neat to know it was inspired by reality, even if a little embarrasing 🙂

Did you learn any interesting or quirky facts when researching your lead
characters’ occupations?

Well, I learned a LOT about Olympic skiing—the whole process is confusing, but
I am amazed by these Olympic athletes and what it takes to become the best in
their sports. I’m also amazed that they don’t let fear of hurting themselves hold
them back. I wanted to write a character like Grady because he is the exact
opposite of me (and Quinn!) He’s so fearless in so many ways, and that intrigues
me.

 

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Two Courtneys! I had the pleasure of meeting Courtney Walsh at an author event last April. She’s just as kind in person, ya’ll!

How do you balance writing with your family and theater endeavors?

 

When I am writing, I do a deep dive for several hours at a time. I don’t like to
leave the storyworld because I feel like I have a hard time finding it again, so it’s
honestly pretty difficult. We’ve been fortunate to be able to streamline a lot of
what I had to do when we first started our business and we’ve hired out so much
of the administrative tasks of our business. There are times (like during the last
two weeks before a show goes up) that I hardly write at all—it’s all about the
show. So it’s a bit of an ebb and flow kind of thing.

I also put everything away when my kids get home from school. They’re growing
up fast, and I don’t want to lock myself in my room when they’re home. I know
this lessens my productivity, but I think it’s important to prioritize my life

What is the message you hope readers take away from Just Let Go?

As you can probably guess, the book is about letting go—how you really can’t
move on until you let go of your past. If we let past mistakes or hurts pile on top
of each other and weigh us down, we’ll miss the fullness of what God has for us.
But in addition to that, it’s largely about learning to accept an apology you never
got.

How do you like your coffee? 😉

Well…my favorite coffee drink is a Decaf Coconut Mocha Macchiato from
Starbucks, but of late I have been on a detox from all sugar, white flour and
processed food. Thankfully this wonderful blogger (ahem…Courtney Clark…)
turned me on to these Califia Farms almond/coconut milk coffee creamers. They
are SO good!! So I’m enjoying my coffee again! 🙂

Hahah! I’m happy I could help! (the pecan caramel is still my favorite)

What is your favorite musical?

Oooh, this is a loaded question because I have SO many. As far as shows I’ve
seen or want to listen to, I would say Hamilton and Something Rotten are at the
very top of my list, but then I have all these other categories:

Favorite musical I’ve ever directed: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor
Dreamcoat

Favorite musical I was in: The Will Rogers Follies

Favorite classic musical: Guys and Dolls

Favorite musical to listen to that I have yet to see: Dear Evan Hansen
🙂 Don’t get me started!!

What is next for you story-wise?

A couple of things. I have another book, Things Left Unsaid, releasing in
October. I’ll be writing another Harbor Pointe novel that will release next summer,
and I’m currently working on one that won’t release until 2020. The hardest part
is that I don’t have enough time to write ALL the stories I have in my head…but
I’m going to try!! 🙂

 

Thank you, Courtney, for taking the time to chat and answer my questions. I could talk books and food with you all day!

Review, Author Interview + Giveaway: “Amongst the Roses” by Meghan M. Gorecki

Today I’m SO excited because I get to host author (and friend) Meghan M. Gorecki with a review, interview, and GIVEAWAY of her recent historical romance release, Amongst the Roses. This is a rich story set against the backdrop of the Civil War and two families’ involvement in that conflict.

About the Book

Amongst The Roses

The War Between the States shakes Margaret Bryant out of her comfortable upper-class life when her father enlists in the Army of the Potomac. Despite being safely ensconced above the Mason-Dixon Line in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, Margaret finds her strength tested by opposition from familiar faces and Confederate threats. Will she let a young man from a lesser station into her heart even as war rages ever nearer to the homefront?

Restless Connor Doyle sees the war as a way to escape from his family’s farm and his identity as a poor Irishman’s son. His brother, Adam, torn between duty to country and his family, enlists alongside Connor. Adam dares to hope in a future with Margaret when he begins a courtship correspondence from the war front. The two brothers make a vow to protect one another at all costs, but when faced with death and destruction from all sides—will they be able to uphold it?

The three bloodiest days in America’s history brings these three together at Gettysburg and tragedy’s cruelty threatens to tear two hearts apart—and bring two unlikely allies together.

Amazon | Goodreads

Review

Amongst the Roses transports the reader to the northern front during key conflicts of the Civil War, including its society-shaking start. With multiple viewpoints, it explores the home front and battlefields from multiple perspectives that lend a voice to more than mere characters, but to a tragic and heartbreaking time in history.

This novel explores themes of hope, family loyalty, and the provision of a Heavenly Father whose presence is constant even when He may seem silent. The intricacies of the relationships in this book are fascinating and relatable, even when they illustrate hard truths about sacrifice and consequences.

I’m eagerly looking forward to the next story in this series — especially because “the end” came much too soon (ahem, a little bit abruptly for Margaret, too). I hope the continuing story of the Bryants and Doyles will resolve my questions and bring a few things full circle for the families.

Thank you to the author for the complimentary review copy. This is my honest review.

Interview with the Author

What is the inspiration behind your heroine, Margaret’s, personality?

Part Scarlett O’Hara, part Elinor Dashwood, part Meg March. 🙂

What theme or spiritual message do you want to communicate to readers with this story?

That God holds our hearts in the palm of His hand—and deeply cares for us, regardless of circumstances that may suggest He’s far away. That His perfect plan—and His loving heart—never change even when the winds of war and devastation swirl.

What was most challenging about setting a story in the Civil War era?

The fact that almost the entirety of Chambersburg was burnt to the ground in 1864. And not getting to visit every single battlefield my guy characters fought at.

Which character was your favorite to write?

Connor. 🙂 He’s a stinker, but his redemption arc (ongoing) was something special to get to build.

He IS a stinker! But I can already tell his growth will be worth it.

For fun: If you could live in any other time period in history, which would it be and why?

Oooh. Love this question. Much as I do love the Civil War—I need indoor plumbing. LOL So probably the 1940’s or 1950’s. All things vintage for this red lipstick loving author!

I can’t argue with you there!!! I would NOT want to fetch water or have to go outdoors to do other necessary things. 😉

What are you currently reading (or reading next!)?

I’m reading this powerful book by Jess Connolly called Dance, Stand, Run: The God-Inspired Moves of a Woman on Holy Ground. Absolutely phenomenal—and I’m only through Chapter Two!

Thank you, Meghan, for taking the time to answer my questions today!

About the Author

Meghan M. Goreki

Meghan M. Gorecki is an author of inspirational fiction about what God can make beautiful from the ashes of history, and hearts. A lover and avid studier of people, times gone by, and fiction, she has been writing since childhood and now houses her books under Northern Belle Publishing. Coffee and red lipstick color her days as a redhead from a box, alongside her treasured tribe of family and friends in her beloved hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Website

Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway open 4/26/18 12am – 5/5/18 12am CT for (1) ebook copy of Amongst the Roses, ebook format of choice, provided by the author. Entrants must use a valid email address. Void where prohibited.

Novella Review, Author Interview & GIVEAWAY: “The Cupcake Dilemma” by Jennifer Rodewald

Put the words “cupcake” and “Jennifer Rodewald” together, associated with a novella, and you have my undying attention and interest. Throw in a sweet romance, some chocolate, and a quaint (favorite) small town setting, and you have a recipe for a novella that earns a place on my favorites list!!! I’m thrilled to be sharing my review of this Valentine’s Day release AND an interview with Jennifer, along with an ebook #GIVEAWAY!

About the Book

The Cupcake Dilemma

My name is Kirstin Hill. I’m a simple girl trying to figure out life in a small town. There are a few things you should know about me before we begin. I grew up in the city. I’m a teacher–a first year teacher, (some of you understand that significance). And, finally, when it comes to cooking, I’m a disaster. Maybe none of those things seem story-worthy, but trust me, I have a story. I call it The Cupcake Dilemma, and it literally changed my life. How? I’m glad you asked.

It all started with an extra assignment delegated to me at school right before Valentine’s Day… but before we get too far, let me begin by stating this clearly. I was voluntold.

Amazon | Goodreads

Review

The Cupcake Dilemma is an absolute treat from start to finish! Kirstin and Ian are positively likable and refreshingly awkward — especially when they are “together” on the page. I expected to like this story, but I didn’t expect it to be so hilarious (I mean laugh-out-loud hilarious) in so many ways! Jennifer keeps surprising me with her versatility and voice.

It’s not all hearts and chocolate, though, as the interaction between Kirstin and Ian reveals a deeper desire to find joy and friendship. That’s what I like most about the developing relationship between Kirstin and Ian — that it begins with a friendship and wonderfully, naturally grows into a sweet could-be-love rapport.

If you’re looking for a light-hearted story with epically funny kitchen fails, look no further than this “sweet” novella from Jennifer. And, if you’re a fan of her Rock Creek stories thus far, you will be delighted by the brief appearance of beloved characters.

Thank you to the author for providing the review copy. This is my honest review.

Interview with the Author

You’ve written stories across genres with different emotional depths, from lighthearted to innovative and thought-provoking. How do you prepare to write such varied stories?

You noticed that, huh? *wink and a smile* I’m not sure how to describe the prep work for my more emotionally charged books, other than to say I do quite a bit of research in the way of reading non-fiction books and blogs (blogs are a surprisingly rich wealth of information into the human heart—some people are shockingly honest on their blogs). And prayer. Lots and lots of prayer. Not just that I’d write what He would have me write, but that God would show me more of His heart for people in the stories I explore. Truly, that’s the driving force behind what I do—to discover through story more Truth, to understand the heart of God. So, even with my lighter stories, there is that. I was surprised to see God reveal to me how much I needed to let go of the guilty voices that plague me as a mother through the writing of Ordinary Snowflakes; and I was completely delighted to experience God’s pleasure in humor as I wrote The Cupcake Dilemma.

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That said, with both of my novellas, they came as a reprieve. When I wrote Ordinary
Snowflakes, I had just finished the rough draft of Red Rose Bouquet, which proved to be the most emotionally challenging—and heart-wrenching story God took me through. The Cupcake Dilemma was also written after the completion of another heart-challenging rough draft (Finding Evergreen—which releases March 22). Interestingly, both novellas started with the personal challenge to create a fun hook and write a story from there. So, for Ordinary Snowflakes, the hook I started with was the line “I almost stepped on it…” and, The Cupcake Dilemma was “Let me begin by stating this clearly. I was voluntold.” With both stories, I really didn’t have a shape in mind for what would happen as I began to write. They were both rather a reminder of the delightful surprises that come with simply creating.

I love hearing the heart behind the writing process — and your heart is clearly on display in every story you pen. ❤

What is your favorite cupcake? Did you bake cupcakes while you wrote?

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First off, I LOVE cupcakes. Secondly, I am a total #kitchenfail. Thus, the story. 😉 I am
completely jealous of people who can bake (ehem, Courtney.) *Courtney smiles bashfully* and wish that they could come live with me so that I would have an unending supply of bakery deliciousness. I am ever-hopeful that one of my daughters will take up that charge. My favorite cupcake is a peanut butter Reese’s-esc creation. I’m also a fan of lemon.

Sadly, there was no consumption of cupcakes during the writing of this story. That is just wrong. I do plan on celebrating the release with one—or more! on Valentine’s Day.

You MUST celebrate with cupcakes!!! And, if you’ve had a particularly challenging time lately, I (and Ian would) suggest a “dark and dangerous” chocolate one!

Tell us about the inspiration for and story setting of Rock Creek.

Rock Creek is a mashup of several different small towns I’ve either been a part of, or have visited. When I made up the town for Reclaimed, I wanted to blend the charm of small town with the reality of some of the more difficult politics that are inherently part of small town life, but I didn’t want in any way to paint a real place in a bad light. Thus the fictional town. As a girl who grew up citified (just outside of Denver, in a not-so- awesome neighborhood), and who moved to rural Nebraska as a young married adult, I feel like I have a balanced and realistic view of life in the city versus life in small town. Having said that, though, I’ve kind of fallen in love with fictional Rock Creek, so don’t be surprised if you find me visiting there again. 😉

I do hope Rock Creek will be revisited soon!

Is there a theme or message you want readers to take away from The Cupcake Dilemma?

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Well, my theme song while writing it was Francesca Battistelli’s “Free To Be Me” (https://youtu.be/EKSQjSdU8VA), so that’s pretty much it.“On Your (HIS) shoulders I can see, I’m free to be me.” It is the beautiful gift we are all given, the freedom to embrace who I am, quirks and all. Oh, and to embrace laughter. Life is so much better when we laugh. 😉

What are you currently reading?

I just finished an Advanced Copy of Sondra Kraak’s upcoming release Three Words and A Kiss. Next up is When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, and in between, I’m working through Ted Dekker’s The Forgotten Way. The next novel for me will probably be Courtney Walsh’s Just Look Up.

Oooh, out of those, I’ve read Just Look Up, and it’s fabulous!

Thank you, Jen, for taking the time to answer my questions today! You have written a treat of a story!

About the Author

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Jennifer Rodewald is passionate about the Word of God and the powerful vehicle of story. Four kids and her own personal superman make her home in southwestern Nebraska delightfully chaotic.

Born in Colorado, she experienced both the seclusion of rugged mountain living and the busy streets of a Denver suburb during her growing up years. Somewhere in the middle of college, she married a Husker and found her way back to the quiet lifestyle of a rural area, which suits just fine.

Blessed with a robust curiosity, Jen loves to research. Whether she’s investigating the history of a given area, the biography of a Christian icon, or how nature declares the glory of God, her daily goal is to learn something new. Aiming to live with boundless enthusiasm, her creed is vision, pursuit, and excellence.

Jen lives and writes in a lovely speck of a town where she watches with amazement while her children grow up way too fast, gardens, and marvels at God’s mighty hand in everyday life.

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Novella Review & Author {Christmas} Interview: “One Christmas in Winter” by Bell Renshaw


One Christmas in Winter is the debut novella from author Bell Renshaw. If it is any indication of what her work will be like, I know I will LOVE it all! #Iwanttoreadallthebooks Today I have the privilege of sharing my thoughts on the story plus a Christmas interview with Bell!

About the Book

One Christmas in WinterReba Farwell is finally getting a chance to live out her dreams. Sent to Winter, Montana to direct filming for a crucial, on-location shoot, she knows the next two weeks will make or break her career. And she could definitely use a break. As if that isn’t enough, she’s got a secret that none of her crew knows. All she’s asking for is two weeks of small town, Christmas beauty and a little bit of on-camera sizzle.

Five years ago, Hoyt Bradley’s heart and future shattered in one fell swoop that landed him back in Winter. Thankfully, making lemonade—or his father’s famous lemon meringue pie— out of lemons is what he does best. Running Bentley’s Diner has filled the gaps left in the wake of his heartbreak, even if it hasn’t healed him completely. Not wanting to relive memories of his rocky start in the film industry, Hoyt does his best to steer clear of the dreaded film crew, but Winter has a way of bringing people together.

After one fateful delivery and a score of icy bad luck, Reba finds herself in a bind and at the mercy of what Winter can offer. Will she pull the film together in time to salvage her name as a director? Or will the sparks flying off-camera create more of a distraction than she knows how to handle?

Come visit Winter, Montana in this Christmas Novella where the Christmas lights are always on and the snow falls most frequently when loved ones share a kiss.

Amazon | Goodreads

 

Review

One Christmas in Winter is the perfect little Christmas story, full of small-town charm, Christmassy things like fuzzy sweaters, fun things like sledding, and a sweet romance. Saying this story is just like a Hallmark movie is very accurate and a high compliment— specifically, a Hallmark movie I hope it becomes one day because it has a fresh and realistic slant some of that network’s productions lack. With equal parts humor and romantic depth, it explores family relationships and a feeling of belonging most keen this time of year, whether it be belonging on a career path or a homey place with the people you love.

More little things I loved about this story:

  • fictitious setting of Winter, Montana as a vivid and idyllic backdrop
  • the “Christmas movie” production! Dear Hallmark, this would be perfect to turn into a movie because IT WOULD BE LOW BUDGET! JUST FILM YOUR OWN CREW!
  • secondary characters I LOVED! Troy, Beau, Ansley, Mama Bradley, Mariah, Lloyd, etc!
  • to be a novella, it was a fully developed and complex story
  • Beau’s coffee shop. I want to visit.
  • the fill-in takeout delivery guy 😉
  • the NEXT novella (12/2018) hinted at near the end!

Thank you to the author for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Interview with the Author

Do you have any Christmas traditions?

One that I absolutely love is doing some Christmas baking with my family. I love giving gifts and sometimes a plate of sweets is the best (most tasty) gift for friends and neighbors.

Hot coffee, cocoa, or hot tea? With or without Christmas cookies?

I would have to say tea or coffee (I’ve been loving the Celestial Seasonings Christmas teas recently!) and definitely WITH Christmas cookies 😉

Favorite Christmas song?

I like a lot of Christmas songs so it’s hard to narrow it down to just one. But one of my top favorites is Come Thou Long Expected Jesus!

Tell us about the story setting of Winter, Montana.

It’s actually really neat because Winter is based (very loosely) on the town I grew up in. It’s embellished, of course, but it’s got a few things that my home town does. I think it’s one of my favorite parts of this book (aside from the romance of course) because of the people. They really are what make up the town. You’ll be seeing more of Timon, Fred, the ladies at the hospital, and especially more of Beau and Ansley in book 2, and I can’t wait to showcase even more parts of Winter as well.

What was most challenging about writing this story?

Movie production! I did some research and really wanted to get the feeling of what it would be like to shoot a movie in a small town, but that’s not easy to do. I follow Candace Cameron Bure on Instagram and watching some of her stories actually helped me write some of the scenes!

Which character was your favorite to write?

Mariah! I love Reba and Hoyt and they were so fun to write, but Mariah has a mind of her own and I so enjoyed writing her character. She’s got spunk and says it like it is. I think she’s a mix of a few friends of mine and the kind of friend Reba really needs in her life.

What are you currently reading?

I’m in the Christmas spirit so I’m reading Royal Christmas Wedding by Rachel Hauck! I just love her writing.

Thank you, Bell, for sharing a little behind-the-scenes and your Christmas favorites! Readers, you can learn more about Bell and how to connect with her via her website and other links below.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Pinterest

 

 

YOUR TURN! What are some of your Christmas traditions or seasonal favorites? Do you enjoy Christmas novellas this time of year?

Review & Author Interview + GIVEAWAY: “The Esther Paradigm” by Sarah Monzon

The Esther Paradigm by Sarah Monzon is a unique and compelling story; an easy addition to my favorites list. It is a story of romance and encouragement, but threaded between its pages of an adventurous journey is a mostly-whispered-sometimes-shouted challenge to live out your faith and proclaim the life-changing message of Jesus outside of your comfort zone. I have the privilege of sharing my review as part of the SLB Blog Tour for this book, along with sharing my interview with Sarah and blog tour GIVEAWAY info! Read on for more fun stuff!

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The Esther ParadigmjpgGenre:  Christian, Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: Radiant Publications
Publication date: November 2, 2017

The daughter of missionaries, Hannah Pratt dreams of starting a school for the Bedouin clan with whom she spent her childhood. After completing her education in the United States, she returns to the desert to pursue that dream—only to learn her parents have been receiving threats from within the community they serve. As the danger escalates, Hannah must decide how far she’ll go to stay faithful to a calling that could cost her everything.

As sheikh, Karim Al-Amir feels the weight of responsibility as the leader of his people. When a mysterious illness ravages the clan’s flocks and threatens to destroy their centuries-old way of life, some of his people believe the American doctors and their daughter, his childhood friend, are to blame. Karim must do something to keep Hannah and her parents safe—even if the only solution is to be found within marriage vows.

In a society where the line is drawn between us and them, where Christianity is outlawed and foreigners suspect, will Karim and Hannah’s union heal wounds . . . or inflict a final, fatal blow?

Old Testament history meets Twenty-first Century tensions in this compassionate, tender inspirational romance.

GOODREADS | AMAZON

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A totally new retelling of the story of Esther, The Esther Paradigm outright acknowledges its similarities to the Biblical story and applies them in a unique way to a modern situation. I would say it is influenced more by Esther’s own task to obey a calling to eventually save her people than it is a straight adaptation of her story.

With the utmost respect and care, Sarah Monzon has presented the culture and vivid environment of a Bedouin tribe in the “middle east”, acknowledging the customs and beliefs of a Muslim people group and the danger and challenge of sharing the Gospel and truth of Jesus. With no specifics of people or place, this is a story that could describe any number of real missionaries or situations right now which makes this story all the more relevant. I admired Hannah’s character for her tenacity, commitment, and obedience to sharing her faith in an environment that proves a physical danger to her both from natural elements (hello sandstorms, camels, etc!) and from the very people of her community.

The storytelling style is immersive and vibrant, painting everything from the desert grittiness to the romantic heat with detail and prose. Most fascinating to me was the way dual 1st person POVs contrasted both Hannah and Karim’s perspectives alternately, showing their friendship, growth, and the subtle influence of faith in each of their lives. Most of all, I enjoyed how the story showed how the earnest seeking of God’s will in Hannah’s life shaped her decisions and how her life was a testimony in itself of the truth of Jesus to Karim and others.

Thank you to the author and SLB Tours for the review copy of this novel. This is my honest review.

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What inspired you to write The Esther Paradigm?

Is it okay to say I didn’t really have a direct inspiration? I’m not even sure where the idea came from except from God. One day the idea for a modern day story inspired by Esther entered my head and the need to write it was so strong, the character’s voices so loud, that I had to write it then even though I was in the middle of writing another series. This story…it was more like it wrote me than the other way around. Like I was but a tool to get it down, it flowed so freely. No other story has been like that before.

 That is awesome!

What spiritual message or theme do you want to communicate to readers with this story?

Love. I want readers to take away love. Love for those who are different, whether they believe differently, live differently, or look differently. I want 1 Corinthians 16:14 to take root in everyone’s hearts. “Let all that you do be done in love.”

And, I must say I believe you have accomplished this. Love is a strong and clear part of the story.

What was most challenging about writing a story in this settting?

Well, I have never been anywhere in the Middle East before so I had to rely heavily on pictures and a series I watched on Netflix about the region. It would have been easier to have experienced the atmosphere and culture firsthand, but I’m thankful for the research that was right at my fingertips.

Which character was your favorite to write?

This may sound weird since I am neither male, Muslim, or a leader, but Karim was pretty fun to write. =)

 I can totally see that! 🙂

Just for fun: Do you have any hobbies?

Hobbies? What are those? Lol! One must have time for hobbies, right? I have a six-year-old and a three year old and live on the other side of the country from any family (read no babysitters) so when I have free time after they’ve gone to bed I’m usually too exhausted to do much of anything.

If you could live in any other time period in history, which would it be and why?

Oh this question is so hard! Can I cheat and just have a time machine I can travel and visit all the time periods and then come back to the convenience of the 21st century?

That is a valid choice! 😉

What are you currently reading?

Dreamlander by K. M. Weiland. I’m a mood reader and was in the mood for something speculative after a long line of contemporary and historical romances.

Oooh, I will have to look that one up! Thank you, Sarah, for taking the time to share your answers!

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sarah-monzon-hr-4Sarah Monzon is a Navy chaplain’s wife and a stay at home mom to the two cutest littles in the world. Playing pretend all day with them isn’t enough, she spends the evenings after their heads hit the pillow to create her own imaginary characters. When she isn’t in the world of make believe, she can be found in the pine forests of western Washington taking care of her family, fostering friendships, and enjoying all the adventures each day brings. Her debut novel, The Isaac Project, skyrocketed to Amazon bestseller status while her Sophomore book, Finders Keepers, won the 2017 SELAH award for contemporary romance.

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December 11-The Green Mockingbird | Paulette’s Papers | Zerina Blossom’s Books
December 12-Faithfully Bookish | Karen Sue Hadley | Flowers of Quiet Happiness 
December 13-Singing Librarian Books | Heidi Reads… | A Baker’s Perspective
December 14-Book by Book | allofakindmom | Fiction Aficionado
December 15-Remembrancy | Bibliophile Reviews | Kat’s Corner Books
December 16-Red Headed Book Lady Bookworm Mama | Ponderings of a Poet & Procrastinator

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Review & Author Interview: “The Engagement Plot” by Krista Phillips

Today I’m thrilled to welcome author Krista Phillips to the blog to talk about her new small-press release, The Engagement Plot. It’s a contemporary romantic comedy depicting the aftermath of a reality TV show gone wrong — think what could happen after “The Bachelor” but with humor and an important inspirational thread. I’m sharing my review today AND Krista has answered some of my questions about the story and herself.

About the Book

The Engagement PlotSix months ago, William stole Hanna’s heart and shattered it in front of millions of people on a reality TV dating show. And now the big-wig CEO is back on Hanna’s home turf in Minnesota and wants her to forgive him? Fat chance of that. But life is swirling around faster than snow in a blizzard, and despite her objections, teaming up with William seems like the only option to rescue her reputation.

William has never regretted anything more than the day he gave that ill-fated interview for the reality show, The Price of Love. But while he can’t change the past, he’s determined to fix the future. He just needs to convince Hanna to forgive him—and pretend to be engaged with him. Simple, right?

When the media erupts with even worse accusations, teaming up and pretending to be engaged seems to be the only way to salvage their reputations. Despite the media frenzy that swirls around them, an attraction neither of them can fight off begins to surface. Could this love run deeper than a scandal, or will old wounds tear them apart once and for all?

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

The Engagement Plot was at once hilarious, sweet, and emotional. I wanted to hug or high-five the characters sometimes (especially the supporting ones like Carly & Harrison, oh my!). Their vibrancy on the page made them instantly relatable… except for Will, of course 😉 , because I was on Hanna’s side! Seriously though, I was totally willing to hear him out. Sometimes I did want to have a heart to heart with him about his choices. Once I realized his true feelings, I liked him all the more. Their back-and-forth banter and clash of personalities was so funny to observe!

The spin on a reality TV show aftermath was a fresh plot (pun intended) and quite entertaining. Krista used this pop culture context to delve deeper into emotions and beliefs, though, as Hanna’s faith and commitment to standards of morality were contrasted with a secular worldview. The best part about this setup was the way GRACE was presented in story — through forgiveness and a little learning time, Hanna and Will each learn to let some things go and grasp tightly to the truths that matter.

I would be doing you all a great disservice if I failed to mention the swoony ROMANCE of this story! Will and Hanna had a fun affinity for messy kitchens. It’s all sizzling, sweet, and clean, but blunt when necessary in dealing with some real-world stuff. I loved it, and I look forward to more of Krista’s stories in the future (my TBR is growing!).

Thank you to Krista Phillips and the publisher, Shiloh Run Press, for the complimentary review copy. This is my honest review.

About the Author

Krista PhillipsKrista Phillips writes contemporary romance sprinkled with two of her favorite things, laughter and Jesus. And sometimes chocolate for kicks and giggles. She lives in Middle Tennessee with her husband and their four beautiful daughters, and is an advocate for congenital heart defect and organ donation awareness. Visit her online at www.kristaphillips.com.

 

 

 

 

Interview with the Author

Thank you, Krista, for joining me today and answering some questions about your new book!

What inspired you to write The Engagement Plot?

Watching The Bachelor is slightly my guilty pleasure. That and drinking Dr. Pepper. I was inspired by all the brave souls who “confessed” their virginity on the show much to the shock (and sometimes disgust) of the fellow contestants. I also wondered what happened AFTER contestants left the show.

What spiritual message or theme do you want to communicate to readers with this story?

I don’t go into a book trying to put a certain Spiritual message into it. But my characters are Christians and so their journey always ends up including their spiritual growth as well. In The Engagement Plot, there are quite a few, actually. Forgiveness. Not judging people based on the media or rumors. Loving your enemies. And that it is never too late to turn back to God. He loves you no matter how far you’ve fallen. Coming back to him isn’t always this snap of the finger thing, but a journey.

What was most challenging about writing a story in this setting?

For The Engagement Plot, it was juggling the 4 different states the story was set in. It starts off in Minnesota, moves to Tennessee, then to New Jersey, then to New York, then back to Nashville and Minnesota. Phew. Lots of traveling!

As a reader, it’s always fun to “visit” new places! I really liked the contrast of the locations — almost like the contrast between Hanna and Will :).

Which character was your favorite to write?

Yikes. That is like asking me my favorite kid! I love them all for different reasons. My favorite ASPECT of writing them, though, was the banter between Will and Hanna. Goodness that was fun!

The banter was SO fun! Laugh-out-loud moments, for sure.

Just for fun: Do you have any hobbies?

Reading… Playing Cookie Jam on my phone…. Honestly, I have 4 kids and don’t have a lot of time for hobbies outside of writing and reading, but we DO love playing family games and I love a good game of Euchre!

If you could live in any other time period in history, which would it be and why?

Every once in a while I think the Victorian era would be fun… but then I remember corsets. Then I think maybe the roaring 20’s… but then I remember how it was quickly followed by the depression. I’m honestly content right where God put me!

Hahaha! Yes, corsets and no indoor plumbing would be problematic for me, too.

What are you currently reading?

I’m in between fiction books. Just finished Karen Witemeyer’s Heart on the Line, and have Angie Dicken’s My Heart Belongs in Castle Gate, Utah up next on my TBR pile. Non-fiction wise, I’m reading Uninvited by Lysa Terkeurst and oh my goodness, it is just SO GOOD. Every Christian author needs to read it. Goodness, every Christian woman needs to read it!

Oooh, yay! More to add to my TBR! Thank you again, Krista! This has been so fun!

Your turn, readers!!! Do you have any comments or questions for Krista?