Monday, July 30, 2018

Together Forever- Jody Hedlund

My Rating: 4 Stars

Description: Will the mistakes of their past cost them a chance at love?

Determined to find her lost younger sister, Marianne Neumann takes a job as a placing agent with the Children's Aid Society in 1858 New York. She not only hopes to offer children a better life, but prays she'll be able to discover whether Sophie ended up leaving the city on an orphan train so they can finally be reunited.

Andrew Brady, her fellow agent on her first placing-out trip, is a former schoolteacher who has an easy way with children, firm but tender and friendly. Underneath his charm and handsome looks, though, he seems to linger a grief that won't go away--and a secret from his past that he keeps hidden.

As the two team up, placing orphans in the small railroad towns of Illinois, they find themselves growing ever closer . . . until a shocking tragedy threatens to upend all their work and change one of their lives forever.

My Thoughts: I thought this book was fun, despite some of the darker aspects. Drew was a man who knew that he was interested in Marianne and wasn't afraid to show it. And those are the kind of heroes I like, men who are confident in themselves and who make the heroine feel confident in his affection for her. That said, I wasn't a huge fan of his continuing to flirt with her even after he determined that he wasn't worthy of her and that theirs could never be more than a friendship. However, since she had also determined that she wasn't worthy of him and had flirted right back, it didn't feel as much like either used the other, but that they were too people fighting a mutual interest.

And this interest was the fun part. It kept me turning pages despite the unbelievablity of a certain portion of the plot <spoiler> when they got engaged because they both dared the other to prove they were the marrying type </spoiler>, and a moment of selfishness <spoiler> when they called this dare as a way to show a boy that he was wanted and that they would adopt him, even though both intended to wiggle their way out of the dare at first </spoiler>, up until both finally pulled through and did the right thing.

As I mentioned, there were some dark parts. Though there is a lot of humor with Drew and Marianne's banter, there are also some difficult moments to read regarding the orphans they work with. Since these draw on the actual horrors many kids did, and still do, go through especially as orphans, it was grounding for an otherwise lighthearted read. Yet I thought these moments were handled well and am interested in where Hedlund takes this series from here.

I have provided an honest review after having received a copy of the book from the publisher.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Realm Makers 2018- A Personal Summary- Part 1 of 2 (maybe)

This was my third time going to Realm Makers. For those who do not know, this is a conference intended for Christian authors of speculative fiction. It attracts authors like Jill Williamson, Nadine Brandes, and this year's keynote speaker, Mary Weber.

Me (left), Kendall (right)
It seems like I am only ever able to attend every other year (so we will see what happens next year), but this time I really didn't want to go alone as I had in the past. 

Cue finding out that my younger sister is wanting to get into writing and illustrating graphic novels (you can check out her instagram here). And Realm Makers just so happened to have a class on graphic novels this year! So, I convinced my sister (I really should call her by her actual name, which is Kendall by the way) to come with me.

It didn't take much convincing once I told her about the graphic novel class, as well as the costume dinner.

Beyond having someone to go with me, this year was so different from every other. First, I have taken a job since the last RM I attended, which requires me to travel a lot. So now I am used to driving 9+ hrs every couple of weeks (by myself) and know exactly how often I need to stop and what things I need to take with me. I've also gotten a lot better at following my GPS, though I did have to make a U-Turn once in the middle of St. Louis.

But this time, I had also been to St. Louis before and, since Kendall and I were arriving a day early, I knew cool places to visit on Thursday before the Keynote. And that meant stopping for BBQ at Bogart's Smoke House and then visiting Cahokia, the largest Indian burial mound in the US. It was an exciting visit for me because it is an amazing example of the kind of work I do (I'm an archaeologist, to clarify) and I got to share that with my sister, along with the conference, which is a great example of the writing community which I love. And honestly, sharing that with her was the best part of this trip.

Us with the main Cahokia mound in the background.

Thursday afternoon, we enjoyed Weber's keynote as well as the Splickety Session. Nadine Brandes sat down five seats away from me at the Keynote, so as soon as it was over, I got her to sign my copy of Fawkes!

Friday, after waking up and driving back to the conference (we stayed at a cheaper hotel about five minutes down the road), we enjoyed our first full day sitting in classes and getting to know people. For me, the highlight of that day was Sharon Hinck's continuing session on Faith-Infused and Faith-Fueled Fiction. It was great to hear her stories of faith and explanations as to why she wrote the books she did, novels which I have been reading since I was in middle school even though I wasn't exactly the readership in mind for a tale about a stay-at-home-mom who saves the world. 

For Kendall, the best part of Friday was the costume dinner, where she wore her Edward Elric from Full Metal Alchemist costume for the first time. I came as woman with blue color power, a Fawkes cosplay. But Kendall certainly didn't care what I was dressed as (she hasn't read the book), she only cared about the two people who came dressed as characters from her absolute favorite anime (which of course I don't remember the name of). And to those two people, I say thank you, because you made her day.

However, I just now realize that I have way more to say about this event that I had previously thought. And I know that you guys probably don't want to read through it all at once, so I will leave you for now and come back with Part 2 next week. See you then!

Have you attended Realm Makers this year or any other? If so, what was your favorite part? And if not, what is you favorite book related memory?

Monday, July 23, 2018

Fawkes Freak Out!!

So have you picked up a copy of Fawkes by Nadine Brandes yet? I know I have. And I dressed up as a woman with color powers for the Realm Makers Award dinner, where I was able to pose with the fantastic Nadine Brandes, who came as Trelawney.

Nadine also signed my copy of Fawkes with a really sweet note, which was super awesome of her to take the time to do with all the other fangirls wanting to talk to her. And if you are interested in reading more about this event where I met Nadine, as well as some other amazing authors, I will be writing a post sharing more later this week. Until then, you can read my review of Fawkes below.

My Review: When I found out that this was based on historical events, I decided that I did not want to research those events beforehand. For me, it was a rare occurrence where the historical events and characters were ones which I had never heard of, even in passing, and I wanted to see how well the story held up if I did not already have some background knowledge to fill in the gaps. Which, when it came to a fantasy version of events, might not have been the best approach. As a history lover, I spent a good portion of the novel trying to figure out who the Igniters and Keepers correlated with in real life and whether or not the author was unwittingly or otherwise making some sort of political or religious statement cloaked in magic.

Or then again, maybe the author just took an interesting historical event and decided to make the survivors her good guys (is that a spoiler? I don't know, I guess is depends on how much you know about the actual Gunpowder Plot).

That said, I do believe that there was a religious backdrop to Nadine's magic system and the way that her characters approached the use of it. And it was an interesting magic system. I cannot think of many other novels, and certainly none that I have read, where color was the bases for how the magic worked. It allowed for a new way of interaction with the characters' sensory input when the colors had sounds and personalities that even someone who is blind could utilize. Also, the reliance on their masks in order to call upon these colors kept the magic system from being overly powerful. Yet there were some holes in how the magic worked and the logic with which many of the characters approached it. I think what bothered me the most with this was how the Keepers insisted that the White Light would guide them, but also that they could not speak with it because it was a force that would pollute their minds and cause them to lust after power.

Outside of the magic, Nadine presents a cast of characters which is welcomely diverse. The main character, you find out in the first couple pages, is blinded in one eye from a plague that would leave him a social outcast if found out. Along with that, there is also a heroine who stands strong on her own without needing to rely on the hero. Coupled with this are a number of minority characters, one of whom plays a significant role.

What probably makes Fawkes stand out from most of the other books I have read recently is simply the sheer amount that I found to be worth discussing after reading it. Normally, a review of mine would have ended two paragraphs ago, and I still feel like there is more that I could have mentioned from this novel. While I definitely still see the holes, Nadine's work has pushed on subjects and taken chances that few novels traditionally published in the CBA market ever have. And though books published under the Blink imprint are far from explicit with their Christian content, I think that Nadine did a great job of weaving it into her story.

I have provided an honest review after having received an eARC from the publisher through Netgalley. 

If you have not read this book, you really should. It is a lot of fun and has shown up on quiet a few different EpricReads lists as well as booktuber videos. You can even watch the author's release day vlog (which is pretty hilarious) here. And if you have read it, what are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments.

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Kremlin Conspiracy- Joel C. Rosenberg

My Rating: 3 Stars

Description: New York Times bestselling author Joel C. Rosenberg returns with a high-stakes political thriller set in Russia.

Everything he learned to protect the president, he must use to take out theirs.

With an American president distracted by growing tensions in North Korea and Iran, an ominous new threat is emerging in Moscow. A czar is rising in the Kremlin, a Russian president feverishly consolidating power, silencing his opposition, and plotting a brazen and lightning-fast military strike that could rupture the NATO alliance and bring Washington and Moscow to the brink of nuclear war. But in his blind spot is the former U.S. Secret Service agent, Marcus Ryker, trained to protect but ready to kill to save his country.

My Thoughts: Political thrillers are not my typical read, though I do like to pick them up from time to time for a change of pace. And usually, Rosenberg's novels are a good fit. I had read and really enjoyed The First Hostage, fully engaged with the action and suspense that was unfolding. The down side of that novel for me had been the main character, who was not as engaging as the rest of the story. And my critique this novel is much the same.

Both Marcus Ryker and Oleg Kraskin play leading roles in the book, taking most of the page space. They are nearly identical men, around the same age with similar families and life choices, which even the book points out. As with the character from The First Hostage, I did not feel any real connection with either character, particularly Marcus who is consistently emotionally detached from every action he makes other than the marriage to his wife. And, as with the other novel I mentioned above, this would have been a small issue if not for the fact that the story is largely structured around tracking these men from the catalyst of their careers onward.

The novel takes a long time to get into the actual thriller part of the story. The initial chapters are interesting, with the presumed terrorist attacks in Russia, but then quickly lose traction with years of  the two main characters' family lives and Russia's summarized political negotiations. There were moments that were interesting, normally involving explosions, but over all I felt like I was waiting for the story to start. Still, the story does pick up with Oleg finally stepping into the Russian president's full confidence and both main characters eventually meeting each other. It just took so long to get there.

I have provided an honest review after having received a copy of the book from the publisher.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Spice Bringer Cover Reveal!

Today is the cover reveal for Spice Bringer!! Check out all the information below as well as the links for preorder.

A deadly disease. A vanishing remedy. A breathless journey.

All her life, Niya's known she will die young from the fatal rasp. She survives only with the aid of vitrisar spice and a magical, curmudgeonly fire salamander named Alk. Then an ambitious princess burns down the vitrisar grove in an effort to steal Alk so she can claim her rightful throne. Joined by Jayesh, a disgraced monk, Niya and Alk must flee to the faraway Hidden Temple with the last vitrisar plant, or all who suffer from the rasp will perish.

But even as Niya’s frustration and banter with Jayesh deepen to affection, the rasp is stealing away her breath and life.

For a girl with limited time and a crippling quest, love may be more painful than death. 

Author Bio:

Born in a small town in north central Oregon, H. L. Burke spent most of her childhood around trees and farm animals and was always accompanied by a book. Growing up with epic heroes from Middle Earth and Narnia keeping her company, she also became an incurable romantic.

An addictive personality, she jumped from one fandom to another, being at times completely obsessed with various books, movies, or television series (Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Star Trek all took their turns), but she has grown to be what she considers a well-rounded connoisseur of geek culture.

Married to her high school crush who is now a US Marine, she has moved multiple times in her adult life but believes that home is wherever her husband, two daughters, and pets are.

Social Media Links

Preorder Links:

Barnes & Noble Nook:

Uncommon Universes Press – autographed paperback preorder:

Regularly 17.99, autographed paperback preorders are 14.99 with free shipping discount (free shipping to US locations only)