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.

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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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Mini Review: “With No Reservations” by Laurie Tomlinson

One of my favorite things about this book blogging community is when a trusted blogger friend highly recommends or gushes over a book that sounds like my cup of tea. After a seeing a few good reviews, Carrie’s totally convinced me. Food + blogging + a clean and sweet romance? I’m in!

About the book: There can be more than comfort in food… 

What could well-known and wealthy Graham Cooper Jr. have in common with a blogger like Sloane Bradley, a woman with secrets she’s kept firmly out of the public eye? That is, besides a love of food. Sloane still can’t believe Cooper’s the chef at the restaurant she’s been assigned to promote. But she’s boiling to prove to him that her “little blog” can put his place on the map. She can also fall head over heels for the guy, who has secrets of his own, it turns out…except for one thing. She can’t get past the post-traumatic stress disorder that keeps her walled up in her home studio.


My thoughts:
With No Reservations was a super sweet romance! I especially identified with the food appreciation, restaurant atmosphere, and blogger processes depicted within the story. But, this couple! Oh, I love it when a story shows two people making each other better versions of themselves by story’s end, not just the sparks of attraction and romance. And the turns the story took to get to the happy end were unexpectedly deep and emotionally engaging —- exploring the depths of grief and its lasting and varied impact on life. I will definitely be interested in whatever Laurie writes next!

Review: “The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck” by Bethany Turner

Review: “The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck” by Bethany Turner

You know those books that seem to release with a blog and social media craze equivalent to a 7-year-old piñata frenzy? Yes? Well, The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck debut novel by Bethany Turner is one such novel that lives up to its hyped expectations. One search or visit to any of Bethany’s social media channels can result in hilarious interviews, videos, and quotes all showing her refreshing style (I highly recommend doing so). Now, I’m extremely happy to be a part of Revell’s blog tour featuring my own gushing review of this little story.

About the Book

The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck

Isn’t this one of the cutest covers of the year?!

Becoming a Christian is the best and worst thing that has ever happened to Sarah Hollenbeck. Best because, well, that’s obvious. Worst because, up to this point, she’s made her very comfortable living as a well-known, bestselling author of steamy romance novels that would leave the members of her new church blushing. Now Sarah is trying to reconcile her past with the future she’s chosen. She’s still under contract with her publisher and on the hook with her enormous fan base for the kind of book she’s not sure she can write anymore. She’s beginning to think that the church might frown on her tithing on royalties from a “scandalous” book. And the fact that she’s falling in love with her pastor doesn’t make things any easier.

With a powerful voice, penetrating insight, and plenty of wit, Bethany Turner explodes onto the scene with a debut that isn’t afraid to deal with the thorny realities of living the Christian life.

 

 

Goodreads | Amazon | Bethany’s Website

 

Review

This story is a literary TREAT! I was seriously laughing and crying in the span of paragraphs. It’s a new take on Christian fiction and a close look at the whirlwind which life (and romance 😉 ) can be through the eyes of a recently redeemed heroine. At times, her character’s perspective as a new Christian could be a little eye-opening for someone “used to” churchy norms. And I love that.

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A part of this is “book inception”: character Sarah is a writer. Her own intent to write a Christian fiction novel appealing to the masses to candidly address attraction in a way not common in the genre is, in fact, what Bethany has accomplished with Sarah’s story. Bethany is not afraid to include the realness of physical attraction and how Sarah’s newfound convictions can be upheld while not altering her core (feisty) personality. (Ben is amazingly sweet and all the more #swoony because of his role in all of this.)

Apart from the romance storyline, The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck explores the deeper ripple effects of the lifestyle change Sarah is pursuing. From self-worth to forgiveness, jealousy, and even deception, deep truths are delivered in this story that starts out as perky but quickly turns serious and rooted in a journey to understanding LOVE in manifestations of family, commitment, choice, and even instant attraction.

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Perhaps my favorite part of this story is the pop culture references!!! (You all know I love some good movie/TV references in story). Especially the rabbit trails of 1980s miniseries. Multiple situations referenced AND connected plot points to The Sound of Music  —- they left me giggling more than once. And the chapter titles alone are hilarious —– “ethical and professional leprosy”, for example, and it makes perfect sense. If you finish the very last page and are left searching for a Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman episode on YouTube, let me know, I can direct you to the right one because I found it! At like 2am. Immediately. 😉

Thank you to Revell Publishers and Netgalley for the complimentary review copy of this novel. This is my honest review.

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Review: “Christmas at Gate 18” Novella by Amy Matayo

You might be saying to yourself “What? Courtney is already talking about Christmas and Christmas novellas???”. Yes. Yes, I am, because Christmas fun starts early and any time is a good time for an Amy Matayo story. This novella happens to be a non-typical Christmas story —- sure, it’s set during Christmas and has the requisite gift exchange, mistletoe, and talk of Christmas traditions, but conventional stops there. As a matter of fact, the gift exchange doesn’t even involve pretty wrappings. 😉

About the Book

Supermodel Rory Gray just wants to go home. After wrapping up a three-day high-fashion photo shoot overseas, she’s exhausted and ready for the holiday. A holiday that involves Hollywood parties, air-kissing the industry elite, and a whole lot of fakeness…but whatever. Once she gets through that torture, she’ll head to her beloved Seattle and the life of anonymity she misses so much. In less than twenty-four hours, she’ll be there. 

Christmas at Gate 18Colt Ross has spent the past six months detaching himself from the Hollywood world he grew up in, and home is the last place he wants to be. But he’s been called back by his overbearing father for reasons he can only imagine. Likely reasons that involve taking over the family corporation or fund raising among Hollywood elite—something Colt has no interest in being part of. Not that he has a choice; when you’re the son of an industry executive, rubbing elbows comes with the territory. In less than twenty-four hours he’ll be home. After all this time away, home no longer appeals to him. Especially not at Christmas. Leave it to his father to ruin a holiday. 

But when a late-season hurricane grounds both of their flights in the Dominican Republic, Rory and Colt find themselves stuck at the airport far longer than anticipated. As weather conditions worsen, they both begin to realize that this Christmas will be spent with strangers packed inside a single airport terminal—specifically at gate 18. 

Rory and Colt are faced with a choice: band together in their misery or make this Christmas one they will never forget. For two people who aren’t real fond of the holiday, this Christmas might turn out to be the best they’ve ever had. 

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

If you’re looking for Christmas carols and hot apple cider, keep going. This story is not your typical gather-round-the-nativity with family and friends occasion, but it IS about relationships and wanting to know people for who they are and celebrating in unconventional ways. This is not your typical Christmas time story in the BEST way.

FB_IMG_1508799477051.jpgChristmas at Gate 18 has all the elements I’ve come to expect (and appreciate) from an Amy Matayo story: riveting character development, sarcastic and snarky humor, breath-stealing kisses (when they finally happen), and unexpected situations or people. The humor, in particular, is an added bonus. I love how Amy includes hilariously normal things like “Duck, Duck, Goose” or soft drink “suicides” and the need for a toothbrush to set a lighter tone while dealing with serious underlying issues. This story challenges boundaries of all kinds, with the storyline, flirtatious content, and raw hearts of the characters (especially when it comes to preconceptions vs. seeing and appreciating the heart.)

It would be appropriate to say Amy Matayo flirts with traditional boundaries when it comes to mild innuendos and actual boy-girl flirting. While the interaction between Colt and Rory never breaches the boundaries of propriety (except for that one short stay in a questionable motel HA! Trust me, it’s hilarious and sweet at the same time.), it still might challenge the comfort levels of the reader (or, at least it did for me and my normal inspirational-fiction comfort zone).

But, I think this is Amy’s intent in more than one way. To challenge boundaries. To delve deeper into the hearts of the characters with all of their insecurities, bagggage, and derailed dreams. To see beyond the surface (as a rich guy and professional model metaphorically represent all things superficial) and into the heart of who a person is and choosing to care about them, to accept their flaws, making them a better person in turn. This nearly-secular niche between messed up and redeemed characters is Amy’s sweet spot. Christmas at Gate 18 is a must-read if you’re looking for a story that challenges convention and makes you appreciate your own treasured family traditions during the Christmas season.

Thank you to the author and Relz Author Support Services for the opportunity to review a copy of this book. This is my honest review.

First Line Fridays #3: Charming the Troublemaker

It’s time for a new edition of First Line Fridays hosted by the Hoarding Books blog!
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Today it’s all about an upcoming release (Nov. 1) from author Pepper Basham: Charming the TroublemakerI’ve had the fortune of reading this story already, and ya’ll, it’s the perfect blend of humor, sass, romance!, and a little bit of family drama/suspense. But I’ll save the exclamations for my upcoming review.

 

Charming the Troublemaker

The first line:

Loser ex-husbands and freezing January afternoons left a nasty chill.

 

Your turn! Find the book closest to you and share your first line in the comments! The, head over to Hoarding Books for the linky and visit other FLF posts!

Review + Giveaway & Blog Tour: Returning Home by Toni Shiloh

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returning-home_1Series: Freedom Lake
Genre:  Adult, Christian, Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: Indie
Publication date: September 26, 2017

Jo Ellen Baker is shocked to find out that the boy who teased her mercilessly throughout high school, has returned to their hometown of Freedom Lake, and he’s missing a leg. When his mother asks her to renovate their carriage house to give him a place to gain his independence back, she wants to say no. But one look at him brings a rush of forgotten feelings.

Evan Carter can’t believe he has to return home and live with his parents. Every hope and dream he ever had dissipated in a car crash that cost him his leg. Stuck in a wheelchair, he’s forced to reexamine his relationship with God and the local carpenter, Jo Ellen Baker.

Will renovating his home open the door for a mended relationship, or are some wounds too deep to heal from?  ​

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Toni Shiloh is a wife, mom, and Christian fiction writer. Once she understood the powerful saving grace thanks to the love of Christ, she was moved to honor her Savior. She writes to bring Him glory and to learn more about His goodness.

She spends her days hanging out with her husband and their two boys. She is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and president of the Virginia Chapter.

You can find her on her website at http://tonishiloh.wordpress.com.

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Returning Home is a poignant story of healing, faith, and friendship. More than just a sweet and naturally-progressing romance relationship, the intertwining relationships of the characters, including Jo, Evan, and their close friend group, are a testament to the ways you can choose to react to life changes and challenges.

There is a prominent thread of faith I loved in this story. It’s fleshed out in both Evan and Jo as they deal with forgiveness and relying on God’s never-changing strength in completely different ways. And, this faith shines from Evan and Jo as they each grow and have opportunity to come alongside each other in support and understanding (this also wonderfully spills over in their friend group in an encouraging way). My favorite was Nana’s knowing advice and kind prodding — I would just love to have a real-life conversation with her!

With both complexity and camaraderie, this story of Jo and Evan is deeper than a romance or a story of second chances. It’s all about how prayer can change your heart, how love can mean hard lessons of forgiveness, and how faith can be the means of strength and peace no matter your circumstances.

Thank you to SLB Tours and the author for the complimentary ebook copy. This review is my honest opinion.

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Review: “Hometown Girl” by Courtney Walsh

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With each new release from author Courtney Walsh, she establishes her spot on my must-read list by penning charming stories of family and love. Her lighthearted approach cushions deeper themes and elements of faith that speak encouragement to her readers. Her new contemporary romance release, Hometown Girl, is a fresh story with her familiar voice and heart. And, it’s her first full-length indie novel!!! I’m thrilled to be sharing my thoughts on it today!

Random side comment: I’m increasingly impressed with the courageous choices of indie-authors — especially ones who have seen success with traditional publishers and choose to simply share “story” outside of that medium. Bravo, Courtney!

About the BookNew York Times and USA Today bestselling author Courtney Walsh returns with a hopeful and emotional new book about seizing second chances, finding yourself, and forging your own path.

Hometown GirlBeth Whitaker isn’t supposed to be a small-town girl. She’s always dreamed of leaving Willow Grove, Illinois, for the big city, but she feels trapped, struggling to make up for a mistake that’s haunted her for years. Just when Beth is finally ready to break free, her sister impulsively buys a beloved but run-down farm on the outskirts of town, and she begs Beth to help with the restoration. Reluctantly, Beth agrees to help—and puts her own dreams on hold once again.

Drew Barlow hasn’t been back to Fairwind Farm since he was a boy, and he’s spent all these years trying to outrun the pain of a past he thought he buried long ago. When he learns that the owner has passed away, his heart knows it’s finally time to do the right thing. Returning to Willow Grove, Drew revisits the old farm, where he attempts to piece together his memories and the puzzle of the crime he witnessed so long ago.

Both on a journey to find peace, Beth and Drew are surprised when they begin to experience a restoration of their own. But when long-buried secrets break through the soil and the truth unfurls, will it threaten their budding relationship—and the very future of the farm?

Amazon | Goodreads

Review

Hometown Girl made me crave all things apple— apple cider donuts, in particular! And coffee with danishes. Oh, and it tells an enchanting story of second chances, romance, and getting comfortable with unexpected dreams with a colorful cast and hints of suspense. And a sheep!!!

I loved seeing the similarities and contrasts between the arcs of Beth and Drew. They were similar in seeking second chances and a belonging or sense of security. Along the way, Beth begins to find the blessing she can be to others by extending her love without conditions or strings. And, Drew starts to see how his past doesn’t have to define him, or weight him down any longer.

Drew is a realistically flawed hero. His strength and personality are often masked under a no-nonsense, quiet way, but it’s a delight to see how Beth draws him out (and prods him, when needed). And he reciprocates by providing a security that encourages her to admit her self-doubt. He’s perfectly chivalrous except for that one time when he admits he doesn’t want to be polite….. but let me tell you, that’s a very, VERY good thing. *swoon*

While Drew’s appearance on the page brings a gravity and thread of suspense to the story, Hometown Girl is very much Beth’s journey. Her personality drives the relationships of the story, especially that of her dynamic with her seemingly-opposite sister, Molly, whom she approaches with a need to be the sensible voice of reason in their new business venture. As the story builds, the complexity and heart of Beth shine through as her perspective shows a growth in overcoming her internal struggles.

Most of all, I loved the simple message of Hometown Girl. Being a resident of a cozy small town myself, I could understand Beth’s dreams and aspirations — and how they took an unexpected turn along the way. This book is a reassurance that having dreams and goals is a good thing. Yet, it’s OK for those dreams to change along the way and manifest in an unexpected source of happiness.

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

About the Author

courtney8web-1New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Courtney Walsh is a novelist, artist, theatre director, and playwright. Hometown Girl is her seventh novel. Her debut novel, A Sweethaven Summer, was a Carol Award finalist in the debut author category. She has written two additional books and a novella in the Sweethaven series, as well as three small-town romance novels: Paper Hearts, Change of Heart, and Just Look Up. She lives in Illinois, where she and her husband own a performing arts studio and youth theatre. They have three children. Visit her online at www.courtneywalshwrites.com.