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: “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.

Review & Blog Tour: The Uncloaked Trilogy by J. Rodes ~ A YA/Dystopian Series

Today’s featured book series is a TREAT to share because it’s not my normal cup-of-tea in the best way. I DO like to read outside my comfort zone sometimes and foray into YA/Dystopian or even stories with fantastical elements. Lucky for me, “The Uncloaked” series is just that —- a futuristic beginning of a dystopian society all from a 1st-person POV AND a subtle Christian worldview. Author J. Rodes is quickly becoming a favorite and must-read for me (some readers might know her better under the name Jennifer Rodewald *wink* who pens stories that are perfectly my cup of tea. Talk about versatility!).

Please do stop by some other tour stops (listed at the end of this post) because they feature wonderful behind-the-scenes glimpses and interviews with Jennifer AND HER FAMILY.

About the Books

From Sellout to hero, by way of the den. Braxton Luther finds himself in the crossfire of a new order, and discovers apathy is a dangerous option.

The Resistance

The Resistance

Apathy is the illness of the overprivileged…” Words laced with fear—and maybe a hint of prophecy. His father’s words. Words Braxton would prefer to ignore. 

Braxton Luther is sixteen when the Progressive Reform Party takes over the government. It can’t be that bad. So they don’t want religion in government—that’s constitutional. He can’t understand his church’s hypersensitive reaction or his father’s cryptic warning to stand against the Party’s ultimatums. 

But after living under the new government for a year, Braxton faces a choice—conform to the demands of the ungodded in order to protect his best friend, Eliza, or defy the system and go into hiding, ensuring a life of misery. Still certain that life will settle back into normalcy in the near future, Braxton chooses compliance. 

Then the killings begin, and Eliza is captured and sent to Reformation Camp for her defiance. Reality finally sinks in. 

Apathy is no longer a choice.

2-Tearing the VeilTearing the Veil

“They trained us well. Power punctuated our every move, driving fear into the intended target. Who would stand against them? ”

Braxton Luther, the sellout. 

Now a part of the Den, he’s determined to make good on Eliza Knight’s faith in him—to be more than what he’d settled for when the Party had taken over. But his goal is dangerous, and not just for him. As he searches for a way to protect the silent, invisible victims of the new government, Braxton’s mission—which includes finding a way to rescue Eliza from the Reformation Camp—becomes even more complicated. Hannah Knight, Eliza’s sister, is simply too much like him. 

Tired of standing in her perfect sister’s shadow, Hannah determines to find her own place in the world. If that place is with the Pride—the girls’ home and training center provided by the Party—so be it. When she leaves the hopelessness of the cellar, that’s all she’s aiming for. But Quinn Sanger, the handsome son of a powerful political leader, finds her at the creek, and her life takes an unexpected and optimistic turn. 

Braxton’s convinced Hannah’s in trouble. Hannah’s convinced Braxton, and all the Uncloaked, are insane. But when they peek behind the real veil the Party maintains, the truth is beyond what either had feared or hoped. 

If everyone knew, it could change everything. They redefine their mission. It’s time to tear the veil. 

3-The Charging DarknessCharging the Darkness

“You were not saved for this… “

The veil has been torn, but Braxton Luther still has more to do. 

The captive Uncloaked have been freed, and the people know the dark truth. A rebellion against the Party has begun, but the question lingers among those who are safely hidden in the Refuge–what will happen to their broken nation? Secrets and shame, resentment and hatred continue to shake the nation, now divided. 

What will it take to break the grip of the Party? Beyond that, is there any hope of healing after the damage of the darkness? 

 

GOODREADS | AMAZON

Review

“The Uncloaked” trilogy is the thrilling dystopian/YA series from a Christian worldview you didn’t know you needed in your life. It’s a story of family, trust, friendship, loyalty, betrayal, and hardships. Overarching is an abundant theme of choice. Choice of forgiveness or bitterness, of following the Light or living in darkness, of believing in redemption for any soul or living with hate. The Christian worldview offers a realistic scenario and a reason for both the evil and hope portrayed in the story. This is something rare in the  dystopian genre, at least as far as I have experienced it. It makes the story an allegory of sorts that represents choices you and I have every day, to stand for the Light and choose hope.

The Resistance sets up the environment, characters, and dilemma. It explores the real dangers of apathy with a very close-to-life scenario in the near future. Braxton begins in this book with great potential, but by story’s end makes choices that set in motion spiraling events that impact the rest of his own story. His 1st person POV serves to make him relatable even while he makes exasperating choices.

The second book, Tearing the Veil, adds another character’s perspective (Hannah’s) and further complications because of her involvement. Where some second books in a trilogy would lose momentum, this one has plenty of action  and character development, particularly with Braxton and a finality of his choices that mature him greatly (yay I’m soooo proud!) by book’s end.

Random observation: I’m continually impressed with Jennifer’s skill as an author to compellingly write such diverse characters and genres.

Charging the Darkness is the conclusion I hoped it would be. Its edge-of-your seat movement and ALL THE EMOTIONS kept me turning pages late into the night. Seriously, to say very much about this conclusion would reveal its surprises. Just trust me when I say it has more amazing character development and emotional depth that is crazy good! In short, it brings together a group of characters drastically changed by events and choices and –finally– unites them in purpose in a beautiful way.

Two more tiny comments: I first expected the relationship between Braxton and Eliza to work out to be a friendship-turned romance, and it kind of was, but it caught me off guard at times by being so much more. Wonderfully so. And, as noted on retailer sites in book 1’s description, this series should be considered PG-13 due to its sometimes dark (though not graphic) scenes (I would recommend it for teens +). It is still, very much, a Christian Fiction series.

Thank you to the author and SLB tours for the review copies. This is my honest review.

About the Author

jennifer-rodewald_4_origJ. Rodes lives on the wide plains somewhere near the middle of Nowhere. A coffee addict, pickleball enthusiast, and storyteller, she also wears the hats of mom, teacher, and friend. Mostly, she loves Jesus and wants to see the kids she’s honored to teach fall in love with Him too.

GOODREADS | FACEBOOK | TWITTER | INSTAGRAM | WEBSITE

Tour Schedule

January 8-Soulfully Romantic
January 9-Smiling Book Reviews
January 10-Book by Book | Flowers of Quiet Happiness
January 11-Just Commonly 
January 12-Remembrancy
January 13-The Green Mockingbird
January 15-amandainpa
January 16-Fiction Aficionado | A Baker’s Perspective
Janaury 17-Singing Librarain Books
January 18-Henry Happens
January 19-Reader’s Cozy Corner
January 20-Pause for Tales

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Review + Blog Tour: Unraveling by Sara Ella

Welcome to the:

Thomas Nelson’s Young Adult Summer
of 2017 Feature

It’s a blog post today all about the stunning contemporary YA/Fantasy sophomore novel from Sara Ella: Unraveling. Read on for my review, a book excerpt, and GIVEAWAY info! Or, you could just take my word for it and preorder this book now. It’s not one to be missed!

Unraveling Tour Banner Sm

About the Book
Title:  Unraveling
Series: Unblemished, Book 2
Author:  Sarah Ella

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Release Date:  July 11, 2017

Genre: Young Adult Fiction / Fantasy

In the second installment of the Unblemished Trilogy, YA author Sara Ella asks, “What happens when happily ever after starts to unravel?”

Eliyana Ember doesn’t believe in true love. Not anymore. After capturing the Void and saving the Second Reflection, El only trusts what’s right in front of her. The tangible. The real. Not some unexplained Kiss of Infinity she once shared with the ghost of a boy she’s trying to forget. She has more important things to worry about—like becoming queen of the Second Reflection, a role she is so not prepared to fill.

With the Verity intertwined with her soul and Joshua finally by her side, El is ready to learn more about her mysterious birth land, the land she now rules. So why does she feel like something—or someone—is missing?

When the thresholds begin to drain and the Callings, those powerful magical gifts, begin to fail, El wonders if her connection with Ky Rhyen may have something to do with it. For light and darkness cannot coexist. She needs answers before the Callings disappear altogether. Can El find a way to sever her connection to Ky and save the Reflections—and keep herself from falling for him in the process?

Find it on: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | CBD | Goodreads

Review

Where do I even begin?! This book is such an adventure from page 1, with multiple twists I didn’t see coming (especially the one at about the 30% mark). Continuing with themes of sacrifice, self-confidence, and even the power of true love, Unraveling delves deeper into the story world and deeper into the characters as they face unforeseen challenges to their world. The world-building alone is fascinating as we learn even more about these parallel worlds with Eliyana.

Side note: I think this book could be read out of sequence, but it would be best to start with book 1, Unblemished.

The hold-on-to-your-seat adventure contained in this story is amped up by the constant, elusive battle between good and evil and the soul-deep ties Eliyana has to the people surrounding her. Contrasting the serious themes, though, are pop culture references aplenty. They are included in a manner which makes the contemporary setting of the story shine brightly against the castle and pirate ship locations(!!!). The Disney references make me happy inside — from straight-up mentions to clever plays on words, chapter titles, or similar themes. And, the MUSIC and movie references are a bonus. (The Count of Monte Cristo or Shania Twain, anyone?)

This book progresses the romantic storyline just enough, building on the (very-plausible-because-fantasy-reasons) love triangle established in book one. It still serves as a usable plot device because it contrasts the battle between good and evil in oneself, and the way opinion is influenced by individuals. I appreciate that Eliyana is not a back-and-forth, I-love-both person, yet a genuine individual who knows her choices have an impact on many people, including her choice of a confidant and romantic interest. By story’s end, I think the direction this situation will take is firmly in place, and I’m totally happy with it. But Sara IS known to throw surprises at us readers! The waiting will be agony (insert Into the Woods musical number here).

Like with the first book, I am intrigued by the symbolism showcasing the battle of good vs. evil, or the Verity and Void, as it’s termed in this series. When this story is examined closely, an observant reader will see detailed Biblical parallels with elements of faith, the power of light to overcome darkness, and even a mirror of the creation story and Eden. I think this book raises important questions about choices and human nature — how much of our life is defined by our own choices or free will? How much because of other people’s influence? Will you choose to embrace the Source of light and truth or “feed” an evil nature?

From dimension-travel to pirate ships and deserts, Unraveling covers the bases of adventure and the young adult genre while still maintaining an overarching plot with elements of faith. I haven’t even mentioned the fun and mysterious secondary characters OR the fairies! And the troll. This is one stunning, well-developed story that should appeal to fans of YA, fantasy, adventure, Disney fairytales, or even contemporary YA romance. I seriously can’t WAIT to find out what happens in the conclusion of the series come book 3!

Thank you to the publisher, Thomas Nelson, for the review copy of this book for the purpose of this tour. This is my honest review. 
Excerpt
Taken from “Unraveling” by Sara Ella Copyright © 2017 by Sara E. Larson. Used by permission of http://www.thomasnelson.com/.

Prelude

I’m not ready for this.My shoulder is going to rip from its socket. My bicep is a torch, igniting my forearm. His fingers are sliding from mine, and I can’t hold on any longer. All I see is the gorge below, the beads of sweat dewing his temples.

He shouts, “Hold on!”

But the cliff crumbles with each passing blink. If we remain this way, we’ll both be swallowed by the chasm below.

I loosen my grip, my clammy palm slipping.

His eyes plead. Beg. Implore. “Don’t!” His cry echoes.

The river crashes and curls. Waiting to swallow. Devour. Obliterate anything entering its territory. But it isn’t the river I’m afraid of. It’s the black hole beyond it. The beginning of the end.

I know if we disconnect he might be lost forever. “I love you” is what I want to say. Instead I ask him, “Find me?”

His expression corkscrews, a mask of raw emotion. “Always.” His voice is weak, his energy drained. He’s not strong enough. Because of me.

So my fingers splay.

I let go.

About the Author

Sara Ella is the author of Unblemished, book one of the Unblemished Trilogy. Once upon a time, Sara dreamed she would marry a prince and live in a castle, and she did work for Disney! Now she spends her days throwing living room dance parties for her two princesses and conquering realms of her own imaginings. She believes “Happily Ever After is Never Far Away.”

 
CONNECT WITH SARA:  website ⎸facebook ⎸twitter ⎸pinterest ⎸instagram ⎸youtube
 
 
Giveaway

(3) Winners will each win a finished hard copy of Unraveling by Sara Ella, courtesy of the publisher, Thomas Nelson Publishers. Giveaway ends June 2, 2017 at 11:59 PM EST.

Tour Schedule

5/22 – Melony Teague (Author Interview)

5/23 – Thorn & Vine (review) & Between the Pages of This Bookish Life (Spotlight)

5/24 – A Baker’s Perspective (review), Singing Librarian Books (Spotlight) & YA Book Divas (Spotlight & Excerpt)

5/25 – My So Called Chaos (review) & Thinking Thoughts (Spotlight)

5/26 – Reading is My SuperPower (review)

5/27 – The Green Mockingbird (review)

5/28 – Bookworm Mama (Spotlight)

5/29 – Just Commonly (review)

Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 Books on my Spring TBR

It’s another Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by  The Broke and the Bookish

Top Ten Tuesday at The Green Mockingbird

Today’s TTT topic is all about that growing, towering, To-Be-Read pile, shelf, island, or whatever shape it may be. Mine seems to be ever-increasing with new releases happening ALL THE TIME, lovely reviews from other book bloggers, and recommendations from friends. It’s a delightful problem.

These are the top 10 books on my Spring TBR. More like the top 10 books I’d like to read next. The first 5 will be conquered because they are review copies from generous authors or publishers (Ya’ll are awesome for keeping me in books! Thank you.).

Top 10 Books on my Spring TBR

(Book titles linked to Goodreads)

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Shoes to Fill by Lynne Gentry

Long Time Gone by Mary Connealy

Long Time Gone by Mary Connealy

The White Feather Murders by Rachel McMillan

The White Feather Murders by Rachel McMillan

With Love, Wherever You Are

With Love, Wherever You Are by Dandi Daley Mackall

second-impressions


Love at First LaughSecond Impressions
by Pepper Basham (and the rest of the Love at First
Laugh
novella collection)

Close To You

Close To You by Kara Isaac

To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Sweet Surrenders

Sweet Surrenders by Rachel Fallin

Edenbrooke

Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson

Sway by Amy Matayo

Sway by Amy Matayo

What is on your Spring TBR?

Review: “Unblemished” by Sara Ella

I would consider myself an occasional YA (or young adult) reader, enjoying the lighter side this genre can present or a rare “popular” series (in the dystopian sub-genre). I’m also a fan of fairytale-esque stories, whether they be retellings or stories with underlying themes similar to happily-ever-after adventures. When I read raving reviews for Booktuber and author Sara Ella’s debut, Unblemished, and heard it was a combination of a fantasy-fairytale adventure with a modern twist, I was eager to experience this story world for myself. Especially when a review opportunity presented itself. What I discovered surpassed my expectations, sweeping me away in Eliyana’s journey of discovery and her newfound world of mystery.

About the Book

Eliyana has always recoiled from her own reflection in the mirror. But what if that were only one Reflection—one world? What if another world existed where her blemish could become her strength?

Unblemished.jpgEliyana is used to the shadows. With a hideous birthmark covering half her face, she just hopes to graduate high school unscathed. That is, until Joshua hops a fence and changes her perspective. No one, aside from her mother, has ever treated her as normal. Maybe even beautiful. Because of Joshua, Eliyana finally begins to believe she could be loved.

But one night her mother doesn’t come home, and that’s when everything gets weird.

Now Joshua is her new, and rather reluctant, legal Guardian. Add a hooded stalker and a Central Park battle to the mix and you’ve gone from weird to otherworldly.

Eliyana soon finds herself in a world much larger and more complicated than she’s ever known. A world enslaved by a powerful and vile man. And Eliyana holds the answer to defeating him. How can an ordinary girl, a blemished girl, become a savior when she can’t even save herself?

Review

My first thought when I finished this book was WOW. I’m still stunned by the genius of this story and all its complexity. One of the many things that stood out to me was the way the setting was established throughout. At first, it is an authentic and real feeling New York City. As the story picks up pace, the “reflection world” is a place of clever design, utilizing urban elements of NYC and an enchanted-forest-world, if you will, to create a vast backdrop for all the scenes.

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I wish you all could see the hard copy of this book! It has a beautiful, pearl-like paper finish that just makes the purple “pop”.

Another thing I really loved was the symbolism of sacrifice and a good vs evil, dark vs light element. As the secrets of the power figures in the reflection world are revealed –and then, PLOT TWIST! — revealed a little more, a battle for every heart’s allegiance is clearly at the center. Though completely a fantasy story, it mirrors a spiritual battle and a grand design that allows for free will and the sacrifice of a savior figure. I noticed and appreciated subtle threads of Biblical truths (though not expressly said) which would make this story a great conversation starter and topic of God’s divine plan of redemption.

This story employs a bit of a love triangle, not usually my favorite device. BUT, it works very well because it builds more complexity into the story. Forces outside of El and the two leading love interest figures influence and manipulate the situation, too. The story wouldn’t be as cleverly complicated without the triangle because it raises deep questions of purpose and destiny. And, it left me with plenty of lingering questions and theories concerning the next book in the series! (If you’ve read the book, I’m #TeamKy. Let me know your choice in the comments!)

Unblemished is a story of beauty and brave actions, emphasizing that life is not about the surface, but the heart. Add to this message a plethora of pop culture and music references, a bit of sarcasm on Eliyana’s part, two opposite and fascinating possible love interests, controlling figures and mystery surrounding this new world, plus a few surprises and major plot twists, and you have a great start to promising series.

Thank you to Thomas Nelson Fiction Guild for the complimentary review copy. This review is my honest opinion.

To learn more about author Sara Ella, visit her WEBSITE.

What is your favorite YA novel? Or favorite fantasy? I’d love to hear your thoughts and recommendations! (And, if you’ve read this book, I’m ready to discuss!)

Mini Review: “This Quiet Sky” by Joanne Bischof

Ya’ll might remember my recent longish review of The Lady and the Lionheart by Joanne Bischof. Well, I just needed another helping of her writing so I turned to a novella I’ve had waiting on my ereader for a while, This Quiet Sky. It’s a historical YA romance, though not your typical coming of age or first love type story. Read on for my mini review!

This Quiet SkyThis Quiet Sky by Joanne Bischof (click title for Goodreads page)

Poignant and beautiful! This novella begins as a story of a young woman finding new friendship in a new town and progresses into a story about the enduring strength of love. Sarah and Tucker just melt my heart! The story had its ups and downs, moments of fun and romance, and a few tear-inducing scenes (for me!), but it ended in a good place of peace. It really illustrated a unique picture of true love, all of which pointed to God’s sovereignty and purpose.