Thursday, August 21, 2014

Storm Siren Blog Tour + Review


http://craftybooksheeps.blogspot.com/2014/08/blog-tour-kick-off-schedule-storm-siren.html


Here's a description of the book:

“I raise my chin as the buyers stare. Yes. Look. You don’t want me. Because, eventually, accidentally, I will destroy you.” 

In a world at war, a slave girl’s lethal curse could become one kingdom’s weapon of salvation. If the curse—and the girl—can be controlled.

As a slave in the war-weary kingdom of Faelen, seventeen-year-old Nym isn’t merely devoid of rights, her Elemental kind are only born male and always killed at birth—meaning, she shouldn’t even exist.

Standing on the auction block beneath smoke-drenched mountains, Nym faces her fifteenth sell. But when her hood is removed and her storm-summoning killing curse revealed, Nym is snatched up by a court advisor and given a choice: be trained as the weapon Faelen needs to win the war, or be killed.

Choosing the former, Nym is unleashed into a world of politics, bizarre parties, and rumors of an evil more sinister than she’s being prepared to fight . . . not to mention the handsome trainer whose dark secrets lie behind a mysterious ability to calm every lightning strike she summons.

But what if she doesn’t want to be the weapon they’ve all been waiting for?

Set in a beautifully eclectic world of suspicion, super abilities, and monsters, Storm Siren is a story of power. And whoever controls that power will win.
 

Book Trailer



My Rating

Fall

My Review

In a word (or three): Interesting—very interesting.

As far as holding the reader's attention goes, Storm Siren has plenty of action, romantic tension, mysterious characters, revelations, and drama to keep the story moving. I got through the story fairly quickly because I wanted to know what would happen, what choices Nym would make, and how the romance would play out. To that I say, bravo!

As for the setting, situations, and motivations, I confess I'm torn. I certainly appreciate the creativity involved. Tackling fantasy world-building—complete with battles and politics—is no easy feat. I liked that the "powers" involve nature but are unique in that they go beyond strict elements. (For example, instead of fire, water, earth, and air, Nym can control storms and all the varying aspects of them, like lightning, wind, and rain.) On the other hand, I really didn't feel that I got enough history and back story to firmly grasp Nym's world and why certain people have these powers.

Now, this is the first book in a series (so more explanations could be coming in future installments), and with fantasy, I know you sometimes just have to accept that this is the way the author wanted it to be, so it is. But building from that slight disconnect with Nym's world was a disconnect between me and Nym herself, as well as the other characters. It was intriguing viewing their stories from a distance, but I didn't feel emotionally invested. Lots of deaths. Lots of injuries. Lots of pain and hurts. All sad, certainly, but I just never quite got into the hearts and minds of the characters.

Other things that bothered me: The not-quite swearing. (The characters use made-up words common to their own world/language, but the slang vibe and real-world parallels annoyed me.) The slightly uncomfortable romance due to awkward (not necessarily inappropriate) touching, apparently necessary to the plot. (Plus, the hero's secrets and ever-changing attitude wore thin for me.) Weird villains and societal norms. Ambiguity regarding the religious element and some of the plot points. The characters' attitudes in general.

For those who enjoy some of the more mainstream YA (young adult) fantasy and dystopian stories, this is an interesting crossover book that has some hints of inspirational fiction in it, but leaves that side of things sort of vague and "mystical." I found it to be an entertaining read with its fantasy setting, peril, and trust quandaries. But I personally didn't find it to be overly compelling. There is, however, a contemporary angle to Nym's character with those marks on her arms that might have a more profound effect on other readers.

*With thanks to Thomas Nelson, NetGalley, and Crafty Booksheeps for providing me with an e-copy of the book in exchange for my honest opinion.*

About the Author

Mary Weber is a ridiculously uncoordinated girl plotting to take over make-believe worlds through books, handstands, and imaginary throwing knives. In her spare time, she feeds unicorns, sings 80's hairband songs to her three muggle children, and ogles her husband who looks strikingly like Wolverine. They live in California, which is perfect for stalking L.A. bands, Joss Whedon, and the ocean.


Giveaway!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Winner and the Lighthouse

Thank you all so much for your enthusiasm for my latest cover reveal! I'm so excited by the feedback for both the cover and the premise/blurb of How a Star Falls. I'm having a grand time writing the beginning by hand here and there, and I'm looking forward to completing the story and sharing it with you all in this next season.

Now, to wrap up the cover reveal:


Chickie B!

Congratulations, Chickie, on winning the $10 Amazon.com gift card! I've sent you an email, so be sure to check your inbox. And thank you again to everyone who posted about the cover and entered the giveaway! *group hug*

* * *

Since these winner posts are kind of short and only really exciting to the actual winner(s), I thought I'd take the time to add a few pics from my recent on-a-whim, afternoon outing to the coast.

How a Star Falls takes place on the coast - but back in my home county of Northern California instead of Oregon. Here in this pic, though, you can see part of Highway 101 (at least, I believe that bridge I drove over is part of it...). So if you followed that highway south a while, you'd eventually wind up passing the towns featured in my WIP. ;)

To clarify, these pictures were taken at Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint. It's a gorgeous spot, and this past weekend was my first time visiting the place. 
 
And here's the lighthouse itself! I spent several minutes sitting on a bench nearby, writing a few lines for How a Star Falls. They didn't have to do with a lighthouse...but just being near the sea is inspiring, and a reminder of home. :)

Here's a parting shot of the lighthouse. Can you see it on the bluff there? The location is incredible, and I enjoyed the brief hike. Beautiful day, beautiful memory.

What are you currently working on? Where do you find inspiration?

Saturday, August 9, 2014

How a Star Falls Cover Reveal + Giveaway!



My fabulous friend and cover designer, Lena Goldfinch (Stone Lily Design), created this cover last November - back when I had an inkling of a story idea that had to do with dancing and stars. (Not Dancing with the Stars, though!) My brainstorming has taken some different routes since then, but I've held onto the design all these months, awaiting the day when I could finally share "my precious" with you. ;) That day has finally come!

In case you missed it, I shared about where I am in my author life on The Heart's Spring the other day. The unfortunate news is that I'm postponing the publication of Morning Glory, Book 3 in "The Heart's Spring" series... But the good news is that, if you're a fan of clean new-adult (NA) contemporary romance, I'm planning to focus on How a Star Falls and *hopefully* publish it next!

A Cover Story

I won't go into the details regarding the inspiration behind this story - at least not yet! Let's just say that a very vague, poetic sort of idea flitted through my mind last fall, and of course I turned to Lena in my enthusiasm. She very graciously got on board - literally, as we started pinning stock pictures to one of our secret Pinterest boards.

If I'm remembering correctly, I believe we stumbled across the model fairly quickly. We looked at a few different poses, but Lena has a great eye for seeing how a pose can work well with a particular concept. I may not see it at first, but once she puts together a comp (a mock cover), I'm always impressed by how everything can come together!

As for the background, I pinned several starry-skies images, then shared a more "fantasy" style one on a whim. I noted that it looked kind of fake, but maybe it could work. Lena latched onto it because she thought it would fit well with what I'd told her of my premise, then she put together a mock cover that I really liked. There were just two issues: 1) The title, and  2) I wanted a tweak in the way the stars looked toward the bottom of the cover.


You would totally laugh at my original working title for this story. Seriously, it was pretty bad. (I feel like I should hang onto it to use as a weird "fun fact" in a future post...) I loved the way I could play around with one of the words through the theme of the story, but Lena ever so gently nudged me to go with something different. The title that ended up on the mock cover was Catch a Falling Star (as you can see above), which I thought would mirror too many other works out there, but Lena also suggested When a Star Fell and When a Star Falls. I ran with that and suggested How a Star Falls, so I could add a subtle season element ("fall") and use the title to direct the theme and all of its layers. Lena liked it, so away we went!

As for the stars, I wanted to portray a particular constellation element on the cover in some way. So Lena rearranged the stars behind the title, and this beauty was born:


What I Love: Where do I begin? Lena is not only a talented designer on a technical level, but she also has the additional skill of being able to embed the author's style and heart into a design while also guiding the author in a new direction. The covers Lena has designed for me have inspired me, and I believe you can see that in my writing. (For example, in the scene I added to Bleeding Heart to match the scene on the cover.)

Lena captured a magical, thoughtful mood in this cover, and I think it's simply perfect. You might notice that the title font is familiar - it's the same font used on the covers for all of "The Heart's Spring" books, so Lena's helping me to continue my brand in that way. The font for my name is more "space-y," in that the letters are spaced farther apart, and the style fits an outer-space look. I like it a lot! The contrasts in shades and colors are very eye-catching and mysterious, and the model's expression is one of curiosity, focus, and contemplation, which should work well with what I plan for the story. I love how a piece of the sky seems to be flowing from the light she's holding - Lena had quite a challenge with incorporating the model into this sort of background, but she did it so creatively and effortlessly!

And the special touch? That would be the stars in the lower half of the cover. Can you guess which constellation I wanted Lena to incorporate?

About the Book

How does a star fall? 
Quickly. Completely. Unexpectedly. 

Derrick Knolane escapes to Trinidad Head most evenings, avoiding his apartment and planning for the day he’ll break free of Humboldt County. Working in a music store might be fine for a while, but it’s far from the goal he had in mind when he got his college degree. Not to mention the fact that his roommate is a jerk and his family won’t stop trying to run his life.

Then Brielle falls into his world.

She claims to be a star. Not from Hollywood, but from heaven. He thinks she’s crazy. Certainly delusional. Yet, he can’t just leave her alone on the cliffs. So he takes her home.

And his whole world falls apart.

A heartfelt and fanciful contemporary romance novella, How a Star Falls explores the uncertain season of new adulthood and shows that sometimes the worst inconveniences make for the best miracles of all.

NA Contemporary Romance Novella, Coming Fall 2014


A Little Giveaway

A cover reveal is always an exciting occasion, so we've got to celebrate in some way, right? I'm giving away a $10 Amazon.com gift card, and you can enter using the Rafflecopter form below!

Cover Reveal Participants

I'm always grateful for the wonderful blogging friends who share my enthusiasm and help me spread the word about my books! I recently put together a street team (Amber's Gems), and most of these bloggers are involved in that. If you'd like to join up so you can stay in the loop and opt into my future blog tours and cover reveals, please feel free to sign up HERE.

http://seasonsofastory.blogspot.com/p/blog-page_29.html 

Here's a list of the awesome bloggers participating in today's cover reveal:
You should be able to read a bit more about Lena and I on their blogs, as well as learn others' thoughts on the cover, so I do hope you'll visit them!

What are your thoughts on the cover? Does this sort of book appeal to you?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Cedar Fort Blog Tour: One Dirty Bowl (Review + Recipe + Pictures)


http://blog.cedarfort.com/blog-tour-one-dirty-bowl/

Here's a description of the book from Cedar Fort:

Create delicious desserts without making a mess! One Dirty Bowl indulges your sweet tooth while getting you out of the kitchen in no time. Whip up showstopping desserts like --White Chocolate and Strawberry Cupcakes --Very Vanilla Brownies --Hazelnut Puffs --3X Chocolate Cookies. From Christina Dymock, author of Young Chefs and The Hungry Family Slow Cooker Cookbook, this cookbook will impress your guests and satisfy any craving. And these quick, tasty desserts only dirty one bowl, which means more time with your family and friends at the table. Fast desserts, faster cleanup—grab a bowl and get ready to bake!

My Review

One Dirty Bowl...but a wide variety of desserts! I enjoyed browsing through the bright, color-coded sections of this cookbook and peeking at the tasty-looking pictures scattered in between the recipes. The layout is simple and helpful: the ingredients are listed in an easy-to-see fashion, the amount each recipe will make is clearly noted under the dessert titles, and the writing itself is fun and flows well.

Some of the recipes require more ingredients and effort than what I'd probably invest at this particular stage in my life, but they still seem fairly simple, and something to try someday! (Maybe when I visit home and have access to my mom's fridge and dishes? *wink*)

What's missing: Well, I'd love for there to be pictures of all the recipes, and a little conclusion to wrap things up at the end would be nice. Otherwise (having tried one recipe so far, which was super easy and tasty), I think it's great, and there are even helpful measuring equivalents and an index in the back. Sweet!

*With thanks to Cedar Fort for providing me with a PDF copy of the book in exchange for my honest opinion.*

Now available on Amazon (hard copy and Kindle ebook) and Barnes & Noble (hard copy and Nook ebook)! 

My Cooking Adventure

I decided that in order to give an authentic review of a cookbook, I ought to try one of the recipes (and the author gave me permission to share one with you all). I picked something pretty simple that would be easy on the budget and on my time (not to mention the fact that it's chocolate - that seems like a no-brainer, right?). So here it is, with my comments in blue...

Chocolate Crispy Bars

Ingredients:
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 25 large marshmallows
  • 4 cups crispy rice cereal
Crisp Rice Cereal from Trader Joe's and chocolate chips and marshmallows from Target

Instructions:

Spray a 9 x 9 baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.

Amber: I went with a larger pan. I think it's 13 x 9, but don't quote me on that. The reason I used it? My 8 x 8 still holds some brownies, and I'm working on building up my cooking resources, so I don't have a ton of baking pans just yet.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over low heat.

Amber: I can do this! LOL.


Add the chocolate chips and marshmallows and stir well.


Continue stirring until the marshmallows are melted and the mixture is smooth.

Amber: I turned up the heat just a bit to speed up the process. I stayed in the medium-low range. It still took a few minutes, but not so bad!


Add the crispy rice cereal and stir to coat.



Pour the mixture into the pan and spread it out evenly. You can spray your hands with nonstick cooking spray to press the mixture into the pan if needed. Allow to set before cutting.

Amber: I didn't have to spray my hands - the mixture spread without much struggle on my part.


The recipe is supposed to make 9 servings, but I guess I'm getting more (albeit thinner) bars this way. 

And the verdict? Yum! I confess I like how thin these are - I think it makes them easier to eat. Mine didn't turn out super sticky, and they came out of the pan nice and easy. I really like the texture, and - of course - the chocolatey goodness! 

And guess what? Besides the utensils/measuring cups and the baking pan, it only took one dirty bowl. *wink*


About the Author

Christina Dymock graduated from the University of Utah with a B.S. in Public Relations. She has been published in Woman’s World Magazine and several Chicken Soup for the Soul books, and she is the author of 101 Things to do With Popcorn. She resides in Central Utah with her husband and four children. You can follow their cooking adventures at teachingyoungchefs.blogspot.com.

Monday, August 4, 2014

"I Have Confidence in Me"

My dad nailed it when he told me the one thing that might hold me back in my new job is confidence - or the lack thereof. I'm at the point where I've got a full plate, with a number of exciting possibilities and responsibilities...but I have the tendency to keep seeking approval on every little step instead of moving forward in strong strides. Can you relate?

Then this song and these notes of advice are for you, as well as for me! (Snippets of lyrics from "I Have Confidence" by Rodgers & Hammerstein are in italics.)



Oh, I must stop these doubts, all these worries....

I must dream of the things I am seeking: 
I am seeking the courage I lack -

The courage to serve them with reliance;
Face my mistakes without defiance;
Show them I'm worthy, and while I show them,
I'll show me!

Note to Self #1:

You're going to make mistakes. You're young, you're new - and you're not perfect. Be humble enough to face them and be better for them. Remember what your coworkers and supervisors have told you: Some things just aren't worth sweating over. Let the little things go so you can focus your energy on all those exciting projects you have to tackle.

*

So let them bring on all their problems - 
I'll do better than my best.
I have confidence they'll put me to the test,
But I'll make them see I have confidence in me.

Somehow I will impress them....

Note to Self #2:

You were hired for a reason. This is what you've studied and warmed up for. And your supervisors believe in you, as they've said in both their words and the very fact that they've hired you. So have confidence! You're where you need to be, with the skills and grace and support you need to do your very best.

The longer you work here, the more they'll "put you to the test." What sort of place would it be without room to grow and improve - not only yourself, but also as part of the company? Don't get overwhelmed. Stay organized, and do "better than your best" because you're grateful to be here and you're excited to be doing what you love. Don't forget that!

*

With each step I am more certain,
Everything will turn out fine.
I have confidence the world can all be mine.
They'll have to agree I have confidence in me!

Note to Self #3:

Celebrate the victories, big and small. Let confidence breed confidence. Trust that God's taking care of you, and trust that He's caring for your coworkers and the company. As your supervisor said, this isn't life and death. (God's already got that covered.) So take charge of the tasks you've been given, and let your confidence shine. You and the company are going places!

*

Strength doesn't lie in numbers.
Strength doesn't like in wealth.
Strength lies in nights of peaceful slumbers....

Note to Self #4:

...get some sleep. You'll thank me in the morning.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Assorted Snack Size Reviews

Since early June I've read a handful of "just for fun" books that I haven't reviewed. I've debated a bit with myself on whether or not I should try writing snack size reviews for all of them, but I've decided to let them go and only focus on a few recent ones today. However, I will say that Full Steam Ahead by Karen Witemeyer, Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge, All She Wanted by Nicole Deese, and A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd are all reads that I greatly enjoyed for various reasons. If you want to check out my ratings for those books and others I've read, you're always welcome to check out my Shelfari or Goodreads shelves! (They generally contain the same books, but I've kept Shelfari because I like the looks and organization of it, while Goodreads provides a better social connection with other readers.)

Anywho, here are a few snack size reviews I wanted to share... Enjoy!

* * *

Thorn by Intisar Khanani

Rating: Summer

Currently $3.99 for Kindle

Thorn is a dark fairy tale that boldly addresses the evils of humanity while pinpointing the beautiful light of friendships, mercy, bravery, and love like stars in the night. The injustices and bouts of violence might leave you sick—and this read is probably not for everyone—but the moments of grace are exquisite, and the unflinching look at justice vs. revenge is thought-provoking. The heroine is both relatably imperfect and fearful, yet admirably kind, adaptable, and strong. The setting is so vivid as to be nearly tangible. And the romance is subtle, yet it's sweetness is pervasive. I didn't necessarily love every aspect of the plot, but the story as a whole swept me away.

The Bone Knife by Intisar Khanani (Short Story)

Rating: Spring


The Bone Knife is a follow-up short story that remains in the world of Thorn while establishing the beginning of a new series. The shorter length keeps the suspense and action to a minimum, but the endearing family dynamics completely won me over, and the creativity in the magical aspects as well as the symbolism of the title rounded out the reading experience in a positive way.

Pocket Your Dollars by Carrie Rocha

Currently $5.60 in paperback format

This book was recommended to me by a fellow blogger and friend (thank you, Rachelle Rea!), and I'm so grateful I decided to read it. The timing could not have been more perfect, as I'm settling into a new job and navigating the ins and outs of living on my own for the first time. And who knew a book on taking control of your financial situation could actually be enjoyable to read? Rocha's writing style flows effortlessly, her examples are understandable and real, and her advice completely resonated with me. There are some practical tips at the end, but most of the book is about learning how to change your attitudes about money—and the great part is, some of the skills she describes for changing those attitudes can also apply to other areas of life. Pocket Your Dollars is inspiring, encouraging, and extremely handy. I feel more confident and positive about my financial future, and that sort of reading outcome is invaluable!

Note: Thanks to Juju of Tales of Whimsy for the inspiration regarding mini reviews!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Writing Process Blog Tour

I'm honored to have been tagged for this writer-ly blog tour! Writers all over the blogosphere have been sharing about their unique approaches to the writing process, and today I'm posting about mine. But first, thank you to Allison Duke from Allie on Life for including me in this! I "met" Allison (@PinkDreamInk) through some fun #1k1hr sprints and #WritersRoad chats on Twitter. :) You can check out her heartfelt post for this tour HERE.

And now, here's a glimpse into my writing process...

* * * 

1) What am I working on? 

My primary project right now is Morning Glory (Book 3 in "The Heart's Spring" series; inspirational Western romance). Here's my current back cover copy (subject to tweaking before publication):

http://morningglorynovel.blogspot.com/

The depths of fear. The dawning of hope.

Summer 1887
 Felicity Lute's family is on the run from scandal and sorrow, but their "vacation" isn't bringing Felicity and her sister Helen together the way it should. Hope—or at least distraction—comes in the form of Myghal Tamblyn, a Cornish man wandering the West. When he joins them on their journey to Crater Lake, Felicity begins to believe her heart and her dreams will heal. Just as long as she and her two sisters can keep their secrets hidden.

Myghal has fallen in love—and been forced to let go of love—twice. He's intrigued by the flirtatious and flamboyant Felicity, but he's also wary of the obvious tension in her family, despite their welcome. An adventure with new friends might be just what his lonely heart needs, or it could be the path to a third and final heartbreak.


When tragedy plunges Felicity and Myghal into the very depths of their fears, will they find the strength they need to rise again?

My goal is to have it be around the same length as Forget Me Not, or between the length of Forget Me Not and Bleeding Heart. So...about 40- to 45,000 words, maybe? I call 40K and up a "novel," but some might consider it a novella. ;) I'm currently about 24K words in.

Click to view daily statistics

I did barely start on an entry for the Five Enchanted Roses contest a few weeks ago, but that will have to wait for a while longer. It's titled Arose, and we'll see if it ends up along the lines of my initial brainstorming...

What I really want to focus on after Morning Glory is How a Star Falls, an NA (new adult) contemporary romance. Right now I'm thinking it will be a novella, as my stories tend to run on the shorter end of the word-count spectrum, but a lot is still up in the air. The one thing that's pretty settled, though, is the awesome cover, designed by (you guessed it!) Lena Goldfinch of Stone Lily Design. Interested in helping to reveal the cover early next month? You can sign up at the Seasons of a Story Publishing site!

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Besides being short? Haha. Well, my work focuses on emotional journeys, so far paralleled by literal journeys my characters also take. I believe my stories are more atmospheric, setting poignant moods and describing the landscapes in such a way as to enhance that. I love nature and I love this western side of the U.S., and I think that shows in my writing. 

3) Why do I write what I do?

I write inspirational because it's who I am, what I believe. I want to impart hope - authentic hope, the kind that lasts even through the storms, the pain, the sorrow, the heartbreak of this life.

I write historical because stories of the past fascinate me, and the challenges and wild beauty of the West intrigue me. Even when I try my hand at contemporary, I hope to continue to convey my passion for the wonderful places I've lived and visited here on the West Coast.

I write romance because I'm an utter romantic at heart. I grew up watching movies and series like Anne of Green Gables and Road to Avonlea with my grandparents and uncle, and reading Christian romance books (starting in elementary school). I adore stories about love surviving and thriving in all sorts of situations and places.

4) How does my writing process work?

To be honest, I haven't completely figured out an actual, lasting method. In a vague sense, my writing process involves daydreaming, music, and the occasional bursts of productivity. I latch onto an idea and ruminate on it at different times, writing down thoughts and any research tidbits I learn in little notebooks. I've started compiling "soundtracks" for my books, and listening to the music or singing the lyrics can help me delve deeper into the emotions of my characters. As far as the stories actually making their way onto paper, well, that happens in fits and starts, when I'm feeling the inspiration or the pressure. Doing writing "sprints" with fellow author friends on Twitter has really been a huge help in motivating me to actually write!

You know, I should also add Pinterest to this list. Pinterest played a really big part in helping me brainstorm the specifics of Morning Glory, and I imagine it will continue to offer inspiration for future projects. Something about gathering visuals and having a "story board" really helps my mind make connections. :)

* * *

Next Monday (August 4th), some other writers are sharing about their own writing processes! Here are the two bloggers I tagged:

Jaye L. Knight is a homeschool graduated indie author with a passion for writing Christian fantasy and clean New Adult fiction. Armed with an active imagination and love for adventure, Jaye weaves stories of truth, faith, and courage with the message that even in the deepest darkness, God's love shines as a light to offer hope. She has been penning stories since the age of eight and resides in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. Visit Jaye at www.jayelknight.blogspot.com.

Meghan Gorecki is a twenty-something living a hundred or so miles from Gettysburg and a hundred or so years from the history that beckons her. So she goes there and elsewhere in heart, and on pages, to fulfill the calling of writer her Lord and Savior has placed on her heart.

Learn more about Meghan and check out her newly redesigned blog (A Northern Belle) at www.justasiam-meghan.com.