Thursday, September 14, 2017

Crown of Souls by Ronie Kendig | Re:View

Riveting and thrilling, Ronie Kendig delivers a truly epic adventure with Crown of Souls.


I eagerly awaited this book after finishing Conspiracy of Silence and I was definitely not disappointed!

I really enjoyed this second installment of the Tox Files and getting to know more about Cole “Tox” Russell. I think one of my favorite things was the fact that we got to see a bit more of the depth of his character in this book. He was already a fully-fleshed character in Conspiracy of Silence but even more so in this book you could see sides of him that he’d kept hidden in book one.

I also loved the blossoming and deepening of his relationship with Haven, whom I love. She's such a sweet and steady character and creates a perfect foil to Tox's internal turmoil. I loved that there was still a lot of tension present as well as a greater depth that can only be found in the midst of dire circumstances.

Ronie is so good at creating emotionally charged situations as well as increasing the intensity of any (and all) relationships whether that be romantic or those based on the brotherhood of the team. We see a lot of this in Crown of Souls, but in the context of an overarching plot that barely lets you breathe. It all makes for a wild and thrilling ride.

Speaking of wild and thrilling, the search for the Crown of Souls artifact is so fantastic. It was such a intriguing yet complex idea (very Indiana Jones) which made for a lot of questions asked and guesses made leading to a good bit of misdirection. I felt like I was on the edge of my seat through the whole book, just waiting for something else to happen – which it always did!

I highly recommend this book to any and all who love suspense, thrillers, military action, tension-filled romance, and excellent writing!

My rating: 5*
Purchase: Crown of Souls

Book Description 
(from Amazon)
Six months after stopping a deadly plague, Cole "Tox" Russell and his team are enjoying a little rest. That peace is short-lived when a sniper shot hits Tox. The enemy is discovered to be one of their own, a rogue Special Forces team operator.

Alec King is perhaps the only person as skilled as Tox, and he's out for justice. Furious with orders that got his men killed, he intends to make those responsible pay. And he insists Tox join him, believing they are the same breed of soldier.

Afraid his old friend is right, Tox battles a growing darkness within himself as he and his team engage in another deadly encounter with antiquity. It appears Alec is cheating--he's using a mysterious artifact, a crown that history has linked to some of the worst slaughters in humanity. Racing to stop Alec before his vengeance is unleashed, Tox must fight the monster without becoming one.
I received this book for free but was under no obligation to post a review. I do so under my own motivation and the opinions I have expressed in this review are honest and entirely my own.  

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Shelly Roark {Writer Wednesday}

A little bit about Shelly...

Hello! My name is Shelly Roark—wife, mom, sweet tea aficionado, lover of old wives’ tales and writer. My husband Geoff and I have been married 26 years. We have three kiddos—all teens now. Katie is 17, Ethan is 15, and Gracie is 13. Our family also includes a black lab named Rosie and a kitten named Tigger.

Connect with Shelly...


Purchase: The Bubble Who Would Not POP! 

Get to know Shelly...

You and Writing

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your writing…

I loved writing stories as a child. But when I joined the newspaper staff in high school, I was hooked! Out of college, I worked for a local newspaper. After about 10 years, I began writing for ministries and nonprofits. I have been blessed to share the stories of so many absolutely incredible ministries that feed the hungry, save babies, shelter children, distribute Bibles and more. Today, I’m a senior writer for Focus on the Family. I absolutely love telling stories of people and for people . . . people are so interesting!

Your Writing

Tell us a little bit about your book…

My debut children’s book combines two of my loves—storytelling and children’s ministry. The Bubble Who Would Not POP! was originally written to share a simple message about prayer with kids in children’s church. I told it to my own children when they were very young before I even wrote it down. Some of the parts I made up as I went along. When all three were still, quiet and paying attention during the story, I knew it was a winner! I quickly wrote the early version down before I forgot it!

I love the character Billy Bubble—he’s brave and shows compassion toward the little girl who asks him to take her prayer up to God in heaven. He faces challenges but learns some very important lessons about the power of prayer on his journey, including that God ALWAYS hears our prayers. In fact, God knows our needs before we even pray about them! We are never told what the prayer need of the little girl is in the story . . . but it doesn’t really matter. I didn’t want to put boundaries on what children might need to pray about and thought the kiddos might just insert their own needs into the story. God hears our prayers no matter what they are. Now, that doesn’t mean that we always get the answer we want when we pray for something. But the first step in living a life of prayer is to believe that God will hear you when you talk to Him. He really does! It is as simple as that. One of the Scriptures that inspired this simple lesson is “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24 NIV).


Let’s talk about your writing life…

How long did you write before you got published? 
I’ve been writing since I was a kid. But, professionally, I’ve written for about 26 years. The first decade, I wrote for a newspaper. Since then, I’ve been a ghostwriter for nonprofits and ministries. I write fund-raising copy, newsletters, articles, and even some books. For much of that time, I’ve helped out with children’s ministry at church just for fun. In that capacity, I’ve written little stories here and there, puppet scripts, skits, etc. One day a friend of mine encouraged me to send one of my kid stories to a new publisher. I did and God took it from there!

What’s your encouragement for younger writers aside from “keep writing”? 
From a faith perspective, just know that God has your plan. He knows the desires of your heart, your giftings and talents . . . He gave them to you! So, be patient with His timing. Maybe you need to have some specific life experiences before He gives the green flag on your writing career in order to share lessons and encouragement with others. Just keep following your heart, ask His guidance and He will work out the details.

What does your writing process look like? 
The writing process for a children’s book is a little different than for an adult book I think. The message, setting and plot must be simple and easy to digest. They must work together with the visual to capture and keep small attention spans. So . . . when I get a thought, I let it bounce around in my head for a while before I write it out. I start with a simple lesson that I want to share and try to imagine it from a child’s point of view. It is also fun to start with a silly title and work from there.

Do you listen to music when you write? If so, have a favorite artist or playlist to share? 
I do love to listen to music when I write . . . especially Christmas music. I listen to Christmas music off and on all year long!

What advice would you give to aspiring authors for writing and/or publishing?
Hmmmm. Well, something I’ve learned is that a great story doesn’t go very far if no one knows about it! Ha! Because I’ve always been a ghostwriter, I had no audience of my own to talk to . . . it’s been a little challenging to try and cultivate that. I would recommend anyone who wants to be published eventually to start developing a social media presence now by blogging/posting/tweeting.


September is Classical Music Month (who knew?). In keeping with that theme, do you have a favorite character from a classical novel?
Since we are talking about children’s books, can I use The Grinch? It is from a classic children’s book. Hee! Hee! OR, Winnie the Pooh . . . love that little round bear!

What is your favorite fall snack food? 
This sounds so typical, but I LOVE anything pumpkin-flavored or cinnamon-flavored in the fall—pumpkin break, pumpkin muffins, spice bread, pumpkin-flavored coffee.

What are you currently reading? 
Well, my daughter just got Wuthering Heights to read. I haven’t read it since high school so I told her I would read it with her. It’s great because I have forgotten a lot of it (or maybe I just didn’t read it very thoroughly at the time).

Shelly has graciously offered up a copy of her book to one lucky winner! Enter below: 

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Friday, September 8, 2017

Jeanne M. Dickson {Writer Friday}

A little bit about Jeanne...

Jeanne M. Dickson was born into an Irish American family, the only girl surrounded by four brothers. Her grandmother lived with them and was a constant source of stories about life in Ireland and the saints and ancestors long gone from this earth. She credits her mother, her aunts, and her grandmother with her love of storytelling.

Connect with Jeanne...

Purchase: Grounded Hearts

Get to know Jeanne...

You and Writing

Tell us a little bit about yourself and writing...

I was born into an Irish-American family. I have four brothers and no sisters. My Irish grandmother lived with us, and she had a way of telling stories that could either make us laugh or scare the daylights out of us. I started writing in sixth grade because I was so angry with my brothers that I wanted to kill them off in a murder mystery. It only took one page. But it was satisfying.

After a brief career as a ballet dancer, I returned to college and earned an undergraduate and masters degree in business administration. I worked in the high-tech industry until I got the writing bug. Once I started my family, I put writing on hold to enjoy motherhood—actually, I was too done-in at the end of the day to write. I admire women who can do both! Once the girls were in grade school, I started working on my writing again. And here I am, finally a published writer.

Your Writing

Tell us a little bit about your book...

Why did you write it?
My father was stationed in England during WWII. Issued with a weekend pass, he decided to fly to the U.S. Army base in Northern Ireland, and then visit family who lived nearby. Once there, he borrowed a bicycle and peddled across the border into Eire, “Free Ireland.” A few minutes into his ride, a member of the Garda, the Irish National Police, stopped him. The officer told him to turn his army jacket inside out, or he’d have to arrest him as a combatant and send him to the K-Lines internment camp. My father did as directed and continued on his way without further incident, which was fortunate because 240 soldiers from both sides of the conflict faced internment in Ireland during the war.

Remembering the story, I started the “what if” game. The more I researched the period the Irish called “The Emergency,” the more fascinated I became, and a WWII romance between a downed RAF pilot and a feisty midwife emerged.

What is one take-away from your book that you hope readers identify with?
When we receive forgiveness from God for our sins, we need to accept His amazing grace and not keep punishing ourselves.

Was there a passage of scripture you came across or used while writing it that you’d like to share?
You have turned my mourning into dance. Psalms 30:11. When my heroine Nan opened the door to flyboy Dutch, she had no idea he would help her escape her mourning.

What made you choose the setting for the book?
There are many books set in Ireland, but not many set during WWII. It was a fascinating time for a newly formed country.


Let’s talk about your writing life...

What’s your encouragement for younger writers aside from “keep writing”? We hear this a lot, but dig deeper. Is there something else that helped you?
Connect with other writers. Find a supportive writing community. Other writers know what you’re going through. I write romance, so I joined RWA and ACFW. Both organizations proved a place to learn and meet wonderful mentors and lifelong friends.

Go to conferences. Listen to what agents and editors are seeking for their lists, and then ask questions. Meet authors and hear their stories.

Above all, learn your craft and trust in the Lord.

How many rejection letters did you get before being accepted by a publisher?
I lost count after twenty. It took me seven full manuscripts before I sold Grounded Hearts. I was in for the long game.

What does your writing process look like?
In my first draft, I allow myself to write junk. I’m the only one who will see it (thank goodness). My second draft is the hardest. It’s where I narrow down character arcs and emotions and plot points, and then I start refining the writing. The next drafts—there can be up to six—I continue to refine and define and improve how the story flows.

Where do you find inspiration for your story/characters?
Family stories and research, plus photographs of people and places.

Do you listen to music when you write? If so, have a favorite artist or playlist to share?

I usually need music in the background so that I can concentrate on writing. Instrumentals only though or I’ll start listening to the words. My go-to is Yo-Yo Ma’s Bach: Unaccompanied Cello Suites.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors for writing and/or publishing?
Besides finding a writing community and going to conferences, enter writing contests. It’s a thrill to final and/or win, plus the comments will toughen you up. There’s a lot of rejection in the writing world. Set a goal that’s realistic such as “I’ll finish this scene” or “I’ll write 1,000 words.” Don’t set yourself up for failure with goals that are impossible to meet or you’ll give up and get discouraged.

Are there any books or resources you could recommend to younger writers looking to grow in their craft?
Join RWA and ACFW. Both organizations offer online classes and depending on where you live, these organizations have chapters that meet on a regular basis with outstanding speakers.

How do you grow in your writing craft?

Reading and listening to audio books, I attend workshops from the masters. Margie Lawson comes to mind along with James Scott Bell. And writing is like any other art form. Practice, practice, practice—I show up. Breakthroughs only come to those who work.


Have you ever attended a writer’s conference? If so, which one(s) and what were most helpful about it?

I’ve attended many conferences, but two stand out-- Romance Writers of America and American Christian Fiction Writers. Both conferences offer excellent opportunities to meet editors and agents, learn more about the craft of writing, and how to tackle social media. Plus, it’s fun to meet up with fellow writers.

Apparently August 15th is National Lemon Meringue Pie Day (who knew). What is your favorite dessert?
I’m going to pull a Californian reply—Acai Roots Sorbet. See you in yoga class.

What are you currently reading?
I’m listening to In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen. I’m reading When Tides Turn by Sarah Sundin.

Emilie here: Thank you so much for being on my blog again Jeanne! Reader friends, don't miss out on getting to know Jeanne better in her Author Chat interview as well. You can read it here. 

PLUS the Kindle edition of Grounded Hearts is currently on SALE for just $1.99 for the month of September! 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Out on Epic Adventures

Hello friends! I am, as the title suggests, about to head out on epic adventures! I just packed up everything (all my books *sad face*) and just said "see ya later" to the trailer hauling all of my stuff to California. What now? Well,  I'm headed on one massively epic road trip!

I've been so blessed by my time here in Ohio. My church, Apex, welcomed me with open arms and I am SO thankful for the Springhill House Church for taking me in and making feel like family immediately. I will miss them all so much!

I wish I had time to tell you all of the amazing ways I've seen God work in my life here in Ohio, but for now, I'll share one of the things I've learned:

God is a trustworthy God. 

He is faithful. Always. In any circumstance, whether good or bad, He will see me (and you) through. I've had both good and bad times here in Dayton, and the same can be said for the rest of my life, but ultimately--no matter what happens--I know He will be with me.

All my stuff!
I'll try and keep you all updated here (along with my regular blog posts) but make sure to check out my Instagram stories (in the app under @createexploreread) to follow my adventrues. I promise to share silly faces and random things!

Prayers appreciated for my travels - they are rather extensive and take me through Texas!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A Cheer for Series! by Valerie Comer | Guest Post

Hands up if you love reading a series!

Me, me! My hand is sky high. Although I admit I sometimes don’t read the books in quick succession, and then I get confused about which backstory character is which. It’s just that authors are so slow! They might take anywhere from two months to a year to pop out another story in that series, and I don’t have time to reread the previous books to catch back up. But neither do I want a recap of the previous story lines dumped into the first chapter.

So what’s an author to do?

Well, let’s start with what kind of a series it is. There are genres where one complete story arc often spans several books. This is often the case in speculative fiction or action-adventure. There are genres where all the books are about one m character, but they can really be read in any order. Like sleuth or police procedurals, for instance.

And then there are the kind I’m most familiar with, namely romance series. Readers expect each book to end in a happily-ever-after, or HEA, and they don’t take too kindly if the author comes back in book two and rips that couple apart and puts them back together. Do it a third time and, my guess is, your career is over.

So, if having an arc that covers several books is a no-no, then what?

Popular series can be created out of a group of siblings or friends, in which upcoming characters play the role of secondary characters in earlier books, while the previous heroes and heroines continue to cameo in later stories. Readers love to catch glimpses of earlier characters’ weddings and babies!

My first series, the Farm Fresh Romance series, was set on a farm in northern Idaho. Each new couple met, worked, and settled right there. The problem was, I’d set it up communally, so they worked together, they ate together, and they interfered with each other. All. The. Time. By book six, I had so many secondary characters I needed to send some of them away on vacations (hard on the budget, I tell ya!) just to narrow down the number of people involved in each scene.

Check out the first book, Raspberries and Vinegar, if you’re curious. It’s free on all retailers.

I got wiser when I planned a spin-off series. How about a community with a group of friends? That way there were more logical breaks. Not everyone is everyone else’s best friend, roommate, or work buddy. Toss in a community church, a community garden, a community bakery (are you sensing a theme yet?), and populate the set with families and characters of all ages, not just young singles.

What did I get? The fictional neighborhood of Bridgeview, set in Spokane, Washington, a city I’m quite familiar with. I’ve walked the streets of the area I transformed and taken hundreds of photos, smelling its air, feeling its breezes, and absorbing its vibe. I imagined the people I’d populate it with and how they knew each other, whether they’d grown up here or were transplants.

Secrets of Sunbeams, the first in the Urban Farm Fresh Romance series, launched last summer. Recently Memories of Mist, the third novel in this series, released. It’s definitely a stand-alone within the scope of the series, the only one so far about a single mom with school-aged kids whose life revolves around PTA projects, which was a total change from the single twenty-something vibe from the earlier stories. Still, the life of the community moves forward, and readers will enjoy seeing Adriana, whom they’ve already come to love, get her happily-ever-after.

Also (sneak peek!), Adriana’s relationship with her sister, Alaina, is introduced here… and Alaina is the heroine of Rooted in Love from another one of my series, Arcadia Valley Romance, and Adriana reciprocates in that story, which releases in November. So not only can characters cameo in other books of the same series, but can cross over. How much fun is that?


Valerie Comer’s life on a small farm in western Canada provides the seed for stories of contemporary Christian romance. Like many of her characters, Valerie grows much of her own food and is active in the local foods movement as well as her church. She only hopes her imaginary friends enjoy their happily-ever-afters as much as she does hers, shared with her husband, adult kids, and adorable granddaughters. Valerie is a USA Today bestselling author and a two-time Word Award winner. She writes engaging characters, strong communities, and deep faith into her green clean romances.
Connect with Valerie on her website:

As memories linger in the past,
so dreams stretch toward the future.

Single mom Adriana Diaz isn’t about to let the new teacher derail the PTA’s hard work in securing a greenhouse and garden area for Bridgeview Elementary School, but taking matters into her own hands turns awkward when she realizes her attraction to the teacher.

Pro-level conflict-avoider Myles Sheridan finds himself against an entire community with his reluctance to incorporate gardening into his classes. The only thing that could make his situation worse is falling in love with the ringleader, whose child is his most difficult student and whose husband had died a hero.

How can Myles compete with the man from Adriana’s memories? He’s not the material champions are made of. Or is he?

Purchase: Memories of Mist 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Get In The Show | Adventures in Odyssey

It's no secret that I love Adventures in Odyssey. I post about the show frequently and have been a LONG time listener. Like...since I was a kid and now I'm...well, that's not really important, is it?

Anyway, they are have a super cool event that I had to share with you all. Check this out:
You have a chance to make history happen during the Get in the Show Finale Event in Colorado Springs. With an exclusive digital pass, you'll have access to 4 hours of behind the scenes, backstage coverage that will surprise and delight fans before the event even begins. Plus the Finale Event, emceed by comedian Bob Smiley, features live performances by the top 3 Get in the Show finalists along with the voice actors of Adventures in Odyssey characters Whit, Connie and Jules. And you can vote for the grand prize winner. Be part of this history making event Saturday, August 12 from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Mountain Time.
(from AIO website)

Register now:

What is something you used to enjoy as a kid that you still enjoy now?  

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Heidi Chiavaroli {Writer Wednesday}

A little bit about Heidi...

Heidi Chiavaroli is a writer, runner, and grace-clinger who could spend hours exploring Boston's Freedom Trail. She writes Women's Fiction and won the 2014 ACFW Genesis contest in the historical category. She makes her home in Massachusetts with her husband, two sons, and Howie, her standard poodle.

Connect with Heidi...

Purchase: Freedom's Ring

Get to know Heidi...

You and Writing 

How did you start writing?
I started writing in third grade. My first book was called I’d Cross the Desert for Milk. 😀 I wrote on and off growing up, but after I had my two boys and began reading Christian fiction, I knew I needed to write. I wanted to do what these authors were doing: sharing their faith with the power of story.

Why do you write?
I write because I can’t imagine not writing. I love creating through words. There’s something special about story, something magical. And when God shows up and walks with me as I create, it really is an awesome act of worship.

Your writing

What is one take-away from your book that you hope readers identify with?
That being weak, being inadequate, isn’t a bad thing. In fact, as soon as we think we’ve “gotten it right,” then we often stumble on our pride. We often think we can look to ourselves for strength. Or if not ourselves, then our great faith. But maybe it’s not how together we have it, or even how big our faith is. Maybe it’s who we put our faith in. Jesus is strong enough to take all our regrets and mess and make them into something beautiful.

What was a challenge you faced while writing your book?
It was so much fun to explore the same themes within the same story but along two different storylines. But it wasn’t an easy task, either. I wasn’t always confident the stories would merge together nicely. I was having one of those rough writing days when my husband came home and said, “Hey, did you see that they uncovered a time capsule in the State House buried by Sam Adams and Paul Revere?”


It was those times—when real life handed the inspiration to me, when the timing between reality and story just absolutely fit together so perfectly, that it seemed God was affirming the novel.

Then, all the headaches were totally worth it. 😁

What made you choose the setting for the book?
I’ve always been fascinated by Boston’s Revolutionary history and knew a story was waiting there for me. When the Boston Marathon bombing hit so close to home, it really shook me up. I realized around that time how much I was living in fear. So what does a writer do to work out her problems? She writes a book about them! I combined my love for a good historical story, grounded in another Boston tragedy almost 250 years earlier, and dove in with my characters, exploring the answer to my question, “How can I conquer fear?”


How long did you write before you got published?
It took me about eleven years from when I seriously began pursuing publication to get to the point of signing that beautiful contract. There were six manuscripts during that time, along with a lot of rejections, a lot of bad contest scores, a lot of, “God, are you sure this is what you want me to do?” But now that I’m here I can say every minute invested, every headache and rejection, were all worth it.

What does your writing process look like?
First, there is A LOT of brainstorming ideas, usually around tons of historical research. While I used to be a Pantser, plotting has definitely become more of my friend as deadlines loom. I never plot scene-by-scene because often my characters surprise me and I like to leave room for that. But it does help to hit the major plot points and have an idea where I’m going.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of the writing process?
My favorite part is the very beginning, when those ideas are just coming and the possibilities are endless. I love the research, and even that sometimes scary first blank page. My least favorite is probably the very beginning of edits. Sometimes the changes needed seem so insurmountable, I wonder if I can get it all done! But I do, mostly by reminding myself that I’ve put in so much work already and I want the book to be all it can be for my readers.


Have you ever attended a writer’s conference? If so, which one(s) and what were most helpful about it?
Oh yes! I love conferences! Though I’m not able to go every year, I love the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) conference. I’ve met some wonderful friends there (so great to meet those who have a passion for both Jesus and writing!). I also attend a retreat closer to my home, the reNew retreat for New England Writing, being held in October in Connecticut this year.

While I love all I learn at conferences, I think the most helpful thing (and what I appreciate most) is connecting with other writers and with those in the industry. Writing can be lonely, and at conferences you realize you are not alone. In fact, there are tons of people out there just like you—desiring to create with words, desiring to make a difference through story. It’s also wonderful to talk to those farther along on the journey, those who have the gift of encouragement.😊

Apparently August 15th is National Lemon Meringue Pie Day (who knew). What is your favorite dessert?
I do love Lemon Meringue Pie, but my absolute favorite is ice cream—either mint chocolate chip or some sort of coffee flavor depending on the day. 😀

What are you currently reading?
A Fragile Hope by Cynthia Ruchti. She is such a masterful storyteller—I’d highly recommend any of her books!

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