Review: “Emerald Illusion” by J. Rodes

Author J. Rodes (also known as Jennifer Rodewald with a catalog of contemporary inspirational novels) has penned a unique twist on a fantasy tale, making it a coming-of-age YA story with an adventurous and meaningful lesson.

About the Book

Oz is not what you think.

Emerald IllusionAbrielle used to dream of a different life. Adventure. Romance. Hope. 

Not of Kansas.

Now, after the loss of her mother and a move she didn’t want to make, she’s lost the will to dream anymore, let alone believe in her father’s Somedays. But a swirling wind, a wall of leaves, and a blinding darkness transform her world.

She and both of her brothers, Brogan and Matteaus, are swept from Kansas to someplace beyond—to a desert in which everything is watery brown, including the sky and the light of the weak sun. Abrielle finds herself in the middle of a realm everyone had heard of but no one believed existed. Except this version is run-down and broken, void of color and hope. Not much different from her view of life in Kansas.

When she gathers her bearings, she discovers her youngest brother is missing, lost in a land that is foreign and dying. Finding Matteaus becomes her sole focus, but when she and Brogan meet a boy named Levi, who only adds more mystery to this world that shouldn’t exist, she finds out this kingdom is much more perilous than the children’s book ever told.

Matteaus is in great danger.

There is nothing safe about Oz.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

What an adventure! With surprises on every page, Emerald Illusion is far more than a continuation of a tale set in the Land of Oz — after Dorothy. It is a story of finding HOPE and light in the middle of a world that distracts and presents illusions of its own.

With believably flawed characters, secrets, and otherworldly creatures, Abrielle’s journey mirrored the choices everyone has. The complexity of the tale and the friendships and relationships portrayed in the story were always fascinating. I liked the fantasy mash-up that was the land of Oz: munchkins, talking animals, and a battle of light vs. darkness with a high-tech, modern feel to the Emerald City.

When I got to a certain point in the story where the some of pieces “clicked”, I was nearly speechless with the allegorical implications and the sheer beauty of its message. The book may be (wonderfully) complicated, but its meaning and themes are not. A real Kingdom is coming, with a merciful and loving King, and every one of us has a choice to make: will we serve the light or the darkness?

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

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Review: “A Sparkle of Silver” by Liz Johnson

If you like to read about charming southern settings, romance, and a bit of mystery, you will want to know about A Sparkle of Silver by Liz Johnson that releases in the world today! It is the first book in her new “Georgia Coast Romance” series set on St. Simon’s Island, GA, in a fictional mansion inspired by Hearst Castle. (Intrigued yet?) I was thrilled to read an early copy of this novel — and now I’m anxiously waiting for the next book in the series because I loved it so much! Please read on to find out more about the book and my gushing thoughts!

About the Book

A Sparkle of SilverNinety years ago, Millie Sullivan’s great-grandmother was a guest at oil tycoon Howard Dawkins’ palatial estate on the shore of St. Simons Island, Georgia. Now, Millie plays a 1920s-era guest during tours of the same manor. But when her grandmother suggests that there is a lost diary containing the location of a hidden treasure on the estate, along with the true identity of Millie’s great-grandfather, Millie sets out to find the truth of her heritage–and the fortune that might be hers. When security guard Ben Thornton discovers her snooping in the estate’s private library, he threatens to have her fired. But her story seems almost too ludicrous to be fiction, and her offer to split the treasure is too tempting to pass up . . .

Get ready for a romantic escapade through dark halls and dusty corners that will have you holding your breath and sighing with delight as two charming characters get caught up in the adventure of uncovering the past and finding their way to an unexpected future.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

A Sparkle of Silver is a delightful and glittering tale of HOPE, worth, and romance! I was intrigued by the historical story threads and enchanted with the present-day story of Millie and Ben. While the mystery unfolded, the identities and hearts of the two were revealed. The attraction and romance between them was delightful (and properly swoony, at times)! A charming setting was an added bonus to this story that felt very realistic.

LA Sparkle of Silver Quoteiz Johnson has the ability to write the most relatable characters. Both Ben and Millie are endearing and just “normal”. I really enjoyed the way the pace of the story slowly reveals their dimension and backgrounds, making their newfound friendship more meaningful AND complicated due to a hint of mystery. AND OH, the ROMANCE! “Spark” is in the title for multiple reasons, my favorite being the attraction and natural “fit” between these two. A very swoony first kiss scene just added to the sweetness of their dynamic!

This historical parts of the story caught me by surprise. I knew Millie was trying to learn about her family and history in this story, but I didn’t realize it would be told in the form of journal entries and personal notes! I LOVE that kind of “epistolary” element! It wonderfully compliments the present-day happenings AND adds an intriguing “Roaring 20s” element that shines with the heart of Millie’s great-grandma, a young woman as out-of-her-depth as Millie.

Fair warning, Millie is BOOKISH. 😉 She is a romantic at heart whose imagination sometimes runs away with her when it comes to Ben Thornton (side note: with a last name like Thornton, how could you not picture a brooding hero who owns a cotton mill. ahem, that was a reference to North and South by Gaskell). Anyway, her fictional habits and story-like thought patterns were an added delight that made me love her (and relate!) even more.

The best part of this story is how it balances all its charms, romance, mystery, and interesting setting with a very strong message of hope and WORTH. I especially related to some of the scenes with Millie’s grandmother (of whom she is a caretaker), in the way her life had made an impact on Millie and was a present encouragement to her. ❤

Thank you to the publisher, Revell, for the review copy. This is my honest review.

 

 

Mini Review: “The Matrimonial Advertisement” by Mimi Matthews

Happy Monday!!!! Today I’m sharing a little review of a Victorian historical romance I devoured over the weekend. (MANY thanks to my author friend Rachel McMillan for always introducing me to lovely stories.) This one is for fans of Jane Eyre and the like, complete with a mansion in disrepair, horse rides on the beach, rainy nights, and mysteries surrounding the past of the hero and the present situation of the heroine.

 

About the Book:

The Matrimonial Advertisement.jpgShe Wanted Sanctuary… 

Helena Reynolds will do anything to escape her life in London, even if that means traveling to a remote cliffside estate on the North Devon coast and marrying a complete stranger. But Greyfriar’s Abbey isn’t the sort of refuge she imagined. And ex-army captain Justin Thornhill–though he may be tall, dark, and devastatingly handsome–is anything but a romantic hero.

He Needed Redemption… 

Justin has spent the last two decades making his fortune, settling scores, and suffering a prolonged period of torture in an Indian prison. Now, he needs someone to smooth the way for him with the villagers. Someone to manage his household–and warm his bed on occasion. What he needs, in short, is a wife and a matrimonial advertisement seems the perfect way to acquire one.

Their marriage was meant to be a business arrangement and nothing more. A dispassionate union free from the entanglements of love and affection. But when Helena’s past threatens, will Justin’s burgeoning feelings for his new bride compel him to come to her rescue? Or will dark secrets of his own force him to let her go?

 

My Thoughts:

A wonderfully atmospheric Victorian tale, this story presents a complicated marriage of convenience situation with absolutely endearing characters. This book was recommended to me as a “redemption” of the Rochester archetype — wherein Justin Thornhill exhibits a burdened past yet a presently noble hero without the deceptions of Bronte’s character. Helena, the heroine, brings a complex mystery to the situation that unfolds slowly and shines a light on a real-life historical issue of the time. While Justin and Helena navigate the dictates of the era, they grapple with lessons of worth, forgiveness, and even the capacity to love — all while the romantic tension is PALPABLE and wonderfully maintained through the story. I enjoyed this story from Mimi, a new-to-me-author, and I look forward to reading more of her work in the future!

Content note: this is overall a clean read, especially concerning the romance element, but it does have (very) mild expletives throughout.

Review: “Lies We Tell Ourselves” by Amy Matayo

 

Amy Matayo (9)

Amy Matayo’s stories always surprise me. Their humor and sarcasm, truth and vulnerability, and relevance always shine through the storytelling. Her latest indie release, Lies We Tell Ourselves, was no different. I could not have predicted the ending, especially the way the last 1/4 of the of story unfolded. And it was perfect — emotionally exhausting in the best way.

About the Book

Presley Waterman is a rescuer: of animals, of businesses, of people. Like the stray cat she’s allergic to, but continues to care for. Like her small-town newspaper, a business that’s been dying a slow death for the better part of a decade. And like Micah. Her best friend and the man she has loved since they were kids, back when no one else cared.   

Lies We Tell OurselvesAs for him… 

Micah Leven loves Presley. She’s the girl who’s always been there to help, the one who knows all the ugly things about him and makes him believe he can be a better man, the one who will never leave because she’s promised over and over.  
But he also loves Mara.  

Mara is his ideal. She’s the dream he conjured up as a boy and never wavered from. She’s beautiful, ambitious, driven, a fellow newscaster at his Atlanta station, and the perfect asset for the life he’s always wanted. Together, they could conquer the world and their respective careers. Even better, with Mara he could prove that he did—in fact—finally amount to something. Maybe then his father would be proud.   

There are just a few things Presley and Micah have both forgotten. One, just because you rescue someone doesn’t mean they’ll love you for it. Two, some dreams disappear when reality wakes you up. Three, the only way to silence lies is to face the truth head-on. 

This is the story of the man torn between two existences, the woman who finally took the choice away from him, and what happens when you stop listening to lies once and for all. 

Even if the biggest liar is you.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

What begins as an intriguing story of two friends quickly grows into a story much deeper and extremely relevant. One of friendship, of the value of relationships, of the ties and loyalties of the heart, and that of lies told and lies believed. These lies are sometimes spoken by the characters but are most often born from untruths spoken over them as children. The statements are internalized and believed until the lies become a part of their identity and define all of their behaviors. Through a series of events, Presley and Micah navigate their relationship they each label as “friendship” when their true feelings are much more romantic in nature.

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Let’s stop for a second and talk about storytelling technique. This book is separated into 3 different parts, each of which is told from the first person POV of 3 characters, one of which was a big surprise! And, moments of memory or flashback were spread throughout the story, telling of important moments of friendship between a young Presley and Micah. These passages are clearly noted and wonderfully add depth of the story, the meaning behind present-day choices and behaviors.

One little thing about this story that really stood out to me was that sometimes recognizing the truth is admitting vulnerability. No one likes to be vulnerable, but that is our nature when we let someone in to see our hearts and our character. This is demonstrated through Micah’s struggle with admitting his motives when it comes to his friendship with Presley. And let me just tell you, Presley’s character has to respond to all of this… and her choice is wonderfully empowering. I loved it!

What a message to readers this story carries: that of WORTH, of the value of people and the power of words.

 

content: overall a clean read, with some suggestive comments and innuendos, most of which are meant to be sarcastically humorous. I would rate it for teens and up.

Thank you to the author and Relz Author Support Services for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Series Review: The “Carrington Family” by Sarah Monzon

 

It’s been quiet lately on the blog, but that’s mostly because I’ve been binge-reading this  split time series (and a few other things — but more on that later this month!)! The “Carrington Family” series by Sarah Monzon, Finders Keepers, All of You, and Freedom’s Kiss, is a wonderful series. I’m so glad I waited until the last book released (last month!) so I could enjoy these back-to-back! Each book features a different brother of the family with a main drama/romance story set in present day and a historical story thread that ties in to present day in a surprising way.

About the Books

Finders Keepers | Goodreads

Finders KeepersThree lives. Three hundred years. One ship that ties them together.

Spain, 1689

The same evil that stole her mother’s life stalks Isabella Castellano. Afraid for her safety, Isabella disguises herself as a cabin boy and hires on to one of His Majesty’s treasure fleet vessels. But has her flight from a known threat only led her to be ensnared in a sea of dangers?

Florida, Present Day

Summer Arnet will go anywhere to capture the perfect shot that will get her marine photography noticed by the prestigious nature magazine, Our World—even diving in waters haunted by great white sharks. When a treasure hunter with a ladies’-man reputation approaches her about a sunken ship at one of her dive locations, it may be the chance she’s been looking for to launch her career…if his charming smile doesn’t derail her first.

A past tragedy has left a hole in Trent Carrington’s life—a hole he’s tried to fill with women, money, and adventure. Could the feisty marine photographer be the missing piece, or will Trent finally accept that the treasure he seeks can’t be found where rust and moths destroy?

All of You  | Goodreads

All of YouMaryland, Present Day

Jacqueline Rogers can rebuild anything…except the shambles of her past. A restorer of vintage planes, she’s worked hard to earn the reputation of being one of the guys. The last thing she needs is a former Navy pilot fighting his own inner demons stepping in to defend her from dangers she thought she’d outrun long ago. Some battles must be fought alone.

After a freak accident severs Lieutenant Michael “Finch” Carrington’s dreams, as well as two limbs, he’s left with nothing but a fragile faith and a duty-bound promise to watch out for his friend’s baby sister. A promise she insists is as unnecessary as it is unappreciated. But when she turns the tables and begins to weld together the broken parts of his life, it may be his heart that is in need of protection.

England, 1944

With the world at war yet again, Alice Galloway rejects her father’s traditional expectations and offers her piloting expertise to the Air Transport Auxiliary. She may be a woman in a man’s world, but when she overhears key intelligence, she must find the strength to transcend boundaries and her own fears. Or countless people may die.

Sometimes the past reaches forward to bring hope to the future.

Freedom’s Kiss | Goodreads

Freedom's KissThey were both prisoners of their past. Could legacy be the key to setting them free?

Olivia Arroyo knows who she is and where she’s going—her sense of family responsibility a stepping stone to her dream of becoming a chef. When her employer refuses her the chance to move from server to the kitchen, she makes another opportunity for herself with the owner of a new food truck. But her life derails when a hidden piece of her past suddenly comes to light, and she discovers everything she thought she knew about herself has been a lie.

A single decision can have innumerable consequences—a truth that has changed Adam Carrington’s life. A criminal defense attorney turned food truck owner, he is haunted by his role in an unpardonable act and driven by his need to make restitution. Unexpected help comes in the form of a feisty, raven-haired beauty, but she soon begins challenging his kitchen as well as his heart.

Florida, 1816

Propelled by a fleeting hope of freedom, Winnie and her family escape slavery and find refuge and new life with the Seminole Indians of Florida. But their future is still uncertain as threats of war, a return to slavery, and removal to the west shake their tentative grasp on freedom. Will they ever step out of the shadow of fear to leave a legacy of deliverance?

My Thoughts

The whole series is well-told and expertly set up, with the stories of the Carrington brothers offset by historical stories featuring three strong women in completely different eras. Yet with each story, the historical thread is tied to present day and its themes and struggles echo the current situations.

Finders Keepers is all about adventure, treasure, and discovering a relationship with God. I liked how it broaches faith and a relationship with the Heavenly Father as simple yet the most important life decision. Trent’s journey is all about realizing his searching to fill an emptiness is in vain, when the true source of peace to be found can only be satisfied by God. Summer helps him see his need while she deals with longing for an earthly father, too. It is beautiful how Summer risks her heart, having faith that Trent can be more. Isabella’s historical story is intriguing and such a wonderful compliment. While reading, I wondered how the two would be intertwined by story’s end.

FB_IMG_1536589396706.jpgWith All of You, Sarah Monzon captures the realistic struggles of life. Oh my heart! It encompasses trust, independence, and sacrifice in so many ways. In Michael’s healing and heroism. In Jack’s independence and worth. In Alice’s fortitude and role in something bigger than herself. The slow-build romance was amazing. My favorite part about this story had to do with the selflessness of Michael — his choices were admirable, but God was calling him to a purpose and a blessing he didn’t think he deserved. Grace.

A wonderful conclusion to the series, Freedom’s Kiss is a story of restoration and freedom with a healthy serving of family and romance. With humor and grace, Adam and Olivia navigate their newfound relationship and reconcile growth while the historical character, Winnie, a runaway slave, finds freedom and belonging in a most unexpected way. First of all, I WANT A FOOD TRUCK. Second, I really loved the history facts I learned while reading about a lesser-known (to me, anyway) part of American history with the settlement and trials of the Black Seminole people of Florida. And, I really love the sense of humor Adam brings to the story with his Disney-thoughts and affectionate ways.

My favorite thing about this series is the family relationship dynamic. Each of these Carrington brothers brings a unique personality to the story, but I really loved the moments they were all together and so obviously supportive and fun. I just have to say, All of You was my favorite of the series because of the themes of sacrifice and the friendship-to-romance storyline. I’m hoping this is not the end of the family, and Sarah will let us in on Amber’s (the baby sister) story in the future!

Thank you to the author for the review copy of Freedom’s Kiss. This is my honest review.

 

Book Review: ” The Lacemaker” by Laura Frantz

My copy of The Lacemaker

Reading a Laura Frantz novel is like stepping back in time. I always learn something new about history or culture with each of her stories. Her 2018 novel, The Lacemaker, is set at the cusp of the American Revolution (one of my fav eras) in and around Williamsburg Virginia. I FINALLY read it – and I’m so glad I did, because it’s one of the very best of 2018, and one of my top 3 favorites of her novels.

About the Book

The Lacemaker by Laura FrantzWhen colonial Williamsburg explodes like a powder keg on the eve of the American Revolution, Lady Elisabeth “Liberty” Lawson is abandoned by her fiance and suspected of being a spy for the hated British. No one comes to her aid save the Patriot Noble Rynallt, a man with formidable enemies of his own. Liberty is left with a terrible choice. Will the Virginia belle turned lacemaker side with the radical revolutionaries, or stay true to her English roots? And at what cost?

Historical romance favorite Laura Frantz is back with a suspenseful story of love, betrayal, and new beginnings. With her meticulous eye for detail and her knack for creating living, breathing characters, Frantz continues to enchant historical fiction readers who long to feel they are a part of the story.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

The Lacemaker is an absolutely gorgeous story — rich in history and detail, Laura Frantz continues to prove herself a master storyteller. The patriotic spirit of the American Revolution is captured in this story of love and belonging. The romance between Noble and Lady Elisabeth (Liberty) is everything sacred and precious, its nature reflecting the selfless love of a Savior. This is a book I will love even more upon rereads in the future!

The Lacemaker ElisabethThe beauty of The Lacemaker can be likened to an intricate design of lace itself, where the artistry is in the tiny workings and subtleties that make a grand design. The themes of truth, defending beliefs and loyalty, love, protection, finding a true home with the ones you love, even the joy that can be found during the most tumultuous times all work to make this a historical romance I will long remember and eagerly revisit.

And oh, the history! Noble and company rub elbows with big names leading up to the war, and it fits so naturally into the story and brings a sense of realism to both the story and the larger-than-life historical characters.

Lady Elisabeth, AKA Liberty, was a character I instantly liked and was invested in. Devoting her loyalty to one cause or the other (Tory or Patriot) was a decision that would determine her future. Though I wanted to encourage her to make a decision quickly, this was a journey in which she took her own time – making her own way, learning her own heart, and realizing the opportunity of love right in front of her very nose.

Noble lives up to his name, the effort of which is never a secret and the most endearing part of his character. The other endearing thing is when he speaks Welsh! 🙂 Noble makes the list of favorite heroes as an ideal. Noble is everything. Not because he is perfect, but because he strives to be the person his Savior, Liberty, and his country require. Basically I want to learn to speak Welsh now and eat Bara Brith all day.

Review: “Fawkes” by Nadine Brandes

Social media can be really neat. I first heard of this book way before its official release through the author’s Instagram account. The idea of a young adult (YA) novel with a little fantasy and a little true history caught my attention. Add to that an eye-catching cover, and I was hooked. Fawkes by Nadine Brandes is all that you could want in such a story :).

About the Book

FawkesThomas Fawkes is turning to stone, and the only cure to the Stone Plague is to join his father’s plot to assassinate the king of England.

Silent wars leave the most carnage. The wars that are never declared, but are carried out in dark alleys with masks and hidden knives. Wars where color power alters the natural rhythm of 17th century London. And when the king calls for peace, no one listens until he finally calls for death.

But what if death finds him first?

Keepers think the Igniters caused the plague. Igniters think the Keepers did. But all Thomas knows is that the Stone Plague infecting his eye is spreading. And if he doesn’t do something soon, he’ll be a lifeless statue. So when his Keeper father, Guy Fawkes, invites him to join the Gunpowder Plot—claiming it will put an end to the plague—Thomas is in.

The plan: use 36 barrels of gunpowder to blow up the Igniter King.

The problem: Doing so will destroy the family of the girl Thomas loves. But backing out of the plot will send his father and the other plotters to the gallows. To save one, Thomas will lose the other.

No matter Thomas’s choice, one thing is clear: once the decision is made and the color masks have been put on, there’s no turning back.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

Fawkes by Nadine Brandes explores the era of early 1600s England just before the failed “gunpowder plot”. But, the son of the infamous Guy Fawkes is the main character – Thomas. The added innovative use of magic to portray faith and beliefs adds a hint of fantasy to the story and makes for an allegorical tale of truth.

The twists in this story and the variations on the real-life historical account make for an exciting and intriguing time. On the surface, this story is an adventure and coming-of-age tale. But, upon closer consideration, its revelations and lessons depict the challenge of faith and the importance of choice, freedom, and surrender.

The characters and setting are all equally vivid. I especially loved Emma and the way Brandes used her character to show selfless love and teach Thomas so much about life and about himself. Through Thomas’s eyes, readers see the contrast between beliefs and blind allegiance, and the consequences of choices that have far-reaching effects. His story is one that will stick in my mind as an example of surrender and seeing beyond the surface of a person to the heart.

Thank you to Thomas Nelson and BookLook Bloggers program for the review copy. This is my honest review.