Book Review: Heartmender by V. Romas Burton

“I needed to be scared and broken to be able to see my choice to the end.” – Heartmender by V. Romas Burton

OMGoodness, y’all – there’s a reason why Heartmender is an award winning book! Published by Monster Ivy Publishing, I purchased a copy of Heartmender due to bookstagram, and I am so glad I did – it is a story that will stay with you long after you turn the last page.

Set in the fictional world of Barracks, little Addie accompanies her older brother and caretaker, Lyle, to Heart Reign, an event where citizens trade their most valuable possession – their heart. One important thing to note: the average person’s heart is gray and pretty lifeless. While at Heart Reign, a mysterious man, Schism, offers traders a choice – two red doors where the destination is unknown. Despite her pleas, Lyle trades his gray heart and walks through one of the red doors, accepting an unknown fate. For seven years, Lyle has been missing, and for seven years, Addie has despised Heart Reign. When she is of age, she endures her Extraction but finds that her heart is red and beating with life. She is warned to run, and run is what she does – straight through Schism’s door to find her brother. However, the destination is worse than one could imagine and Addie is faced with choice after choice – will she find Lyle alive and, if so, will she be able to save him or will she succumb to the dark temptations and tricks around her?

Each choice Addie faces represents one of the seven deadly sins: sloth, greed, wrath, lust, gluttony, envy, and pride. What I love about Addie is even though her heart is pure and it is in the right place – she is still tempted with each choice. She is still human and flawed. She is skeptical of the existence of the Mender, a man who can heal missing and broken hearts – but she has hope. Burton’s story reminds readers that there is always hope because of Jesus Christ and that light always comes after darkness. I opened this post with my favorite quote from the book, “I needed to be scared and broken to be able to see my choice to the end.” I think that is so relevant to real life – often I have found that in my most broken, is when I lean on God and find the strength to make the right choices – even if the right choice is tough. And I think that sometimes we may question our choices, but if we make a choice for the right reasons, then it was the right choice.

Burton’s allegory is beautifully woven and her world is intricately crafted. I highly recommend Heartmender to lovers of clean YA fantasy, and I cannot wait to read the sequel!

Purchase your copy of Heartmender today here!

Book Review: Into the Unknown

Thank you to Daphne Self for providing me a copy of the science fiction anthology Into the Unknown, published by Ambassador International, in exchange for an honest review!

This science fiction anthology contains 7 stories of faith and bravery including the following:

Astro Missionary by Daniel Peyton
Rookie by Eric Landfried
Haven by Lauren Smyth
The Fate of Transport 80-14 by Allen Steadham
The Interview of Malachi Jones by Daphne Self
Safeship by P.S. Patton
A Free Man by Jake Tyson

Astro Missionary begins the anthology. What happens when a simple mission to collect data goes awry and a scientist named Tony and his security lose their signal to the main ship? A story about redemption through God’s love no matter who you are, this story will remind readers how God always leads you where you are meant to be. Though it starts out a bit slow, I ended up loving this story with my whole heart. The last line resonates with me in my current season in life: “God leads us to places we never expect. He takes us into the unknown.”

Rookie follows suit, and the fast-paced story does not disappoint. Private Kalen Richardson is on a mission to find a rogue cleric, but before the mission can begin fully the ship explodes! Kalen is one of the few survivors – what happens when he comes face-to-face with the very rogue cleric he was hunting? And what if what he’s been told about him, isn’t true? A story that continues to highlight the theme of being led where God needs you, this story will resonate with readers searching for their purpose: “Our purposes are rarely clear until after those purposes have been served. I believe the
Lord makes it that way so we will learn to trust Him. He will reveal His purpose for you in time, my friend.”

The third story, Haven, focuses on Ozero who is counting down the days until his contract with Kickstart Biology, Inc. is up and he can leave the planet in which he is the only living soul – that is until someone crash lands and knocks on his door. What will Ozero do when he realizes that Kem, the one who crash landed, is someone who wronged him years ago? Will he seek revenge or will he choose justice? Will he be able to forgive Kem, and, maybe, even more importantly, will he be able to stop blaming himself? A story about forgiveness, this story will remind readers to be grateful for God’s grace: “God can save anyone if they’re humble enough to admit they can’t save themselves.”

Next, The Fate of Transport 80-14 follows Karen Liviana, the Second Chief of Food Preparation. Years ago, she had another title, that of Commander. What happens when horrible circumstances force Karen in a role she had long ago traded in for a different life? This story reminds readers that miracles do happen because God does hear our prayers. “She knew that God had made it possible….”

The fifth story, The Interview of Malachi Jones, is centered around Cleric Malachi Jones who has been captured after years on the run – running after being faced with an impossible choice. He shares the truth of what happened, but that doesn’t change his fate. A story that reminds one to let God guide them rather than let fear overcome will long be in the hearts and minds of readers after it ends.

Next is Safeship which follows a thief. Following a botched heist, Upper Thief Bhirus finds an escape through a safeship, but the crew isn’t who they seem. Bhirus learns quickly that he isn’t safe, and must act quickly or die for his crimes. A story about consequences of sin, this story may make one uncomfortable; however, as Proverbs 5:22 notes: “The evil deeds of the wicked ensnare them; the cords of their sins hold them fast.”

Lastly, A Free Man concludes the anthology. Wil Freeman’s name is ironic – he’s been incarcerated for the last 10 years, but he has a chance to earn his freedom. Will he go through with his deal with the Federation and betray his own family to make space safer for all? Or will he choose family? A story that reminds readers that growth is real, A Free Man is a good, action-packed close to this science fiction collection.

My favorite story from this anthology is Astro Missionary. The lesson from it and Rookie both resonated with me greatly. I also greatly enjoyed Daphne Self’s writing style in The Interview of Malachi Jones. To be honest, I’m still turning the stories over in my mind, especially Safeship. I desperately wish Bhirus had been given a chance for redemption…I understand the message the story is sharing, but my heart hurts from the sequence of events.

Overall, I give this anthology 4 stars. I enjoyed it, and I might would re-read given the time. I will happily read more stories by the authors featured, and I am especially excited for Daphne Self’s upcoming book When Legends Rise. I do recommend Into the Unknown to fans of science fiction. Readers who are looking for stories of faith, bravery, and purpose, will enjoy these stories.

Order your copy here today!

Image provided by Daphne Self.

Self-Promo Saturday

Hi friends!

I want to try something interactive today. If you’re not already following my blog, give it a follow. Then, comment with a fun fact about yourself/your blog and a recent blog post you would like to share. Come back to the comments and visit other blog posts and show the bloggers some love on their posts (and if you love their content, be sure to give them a follow too)!

My name is Kayla also known as The Unicorn Writer. My blog focuses on book reviews, author interviews, and bookish shop features! I look forward to getting to know you all! 🙂

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Book Review: Romanov by Nadine Brandes

I had heard so many good things about Romanov by Nadine Brandes on Bookstagram – I was a bit hesitant to start because the last Bookstagram recommendation greatly disappointed me (The Cruel Prince by Holly Black), but Romanov truly lived up to the hype!

Romanov is a historical fantasy based on the real-life Romanov family of Russia. Brandes’ story follows Anastasia “Nastya” Romanov as she is given a task to smuggle a magical matryoshka doll to her family as they are moved cities during their exile. But magic and spells are outlawed under the new Bolshevik regime and the leader of the Bolsheviks is determined to possess the matryoshka doll himself – he needs it to locate to best spell master in Russia who will be forced to join the Red Army or be killed. But Nastya’s papa told her the doll was key to the family’s survival – she can’t let the Bolsheviks take it from her.

As Nastya tries to save her family, she becomes acquainted with a handsome Bolshevik soldier, Zash. Zash seems different, but she can’t have feelings for the enemy – can she?

This story is of heartbreak, suffering, second chances, and healing. I really appreciated the religious themes woven throughout. Nastya and her family read the Bible and prayers are said often. When times are difficult, the Romanov family relies on Jesus. Forgiveness and compassion are two major themes within the pages.

I loved the relationship Nastya had with her father, sisters, and especially her younger brother Alexi. I also loved the presence of dogs, especially the spaniel Joy! The romance was a believable enemies to lovers (PG) and clean.

Note, there is violence, murder, and blood in the book, but nothing too terribly gory or graphic.

Overall, I give Romanov 4.5 stars! I did listen to the audiobook in spurts – if I were to read it all the way through in physical book form, I can see my rating possibly going up. But in the audiobook format I felt the first couple of chapters were a little long and dragging. But that quickly changed once Nastya, Maria, and Alexi are moved to join the rest of their family in exile!

I recommend this book for fans of historical retellings, strong family bonds, and magic.

Book Cover.

Request Romanov at your local library OR order your own copy here!

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Author Interview: AJ Skelly

Last week, I shared my review on the urban/paranormal fantasy First Shift. This week, I have the privilege of speaking with the wonderful author AJ Skelly! Skelly is a mid-westerner, born and bred, and she currently resides in Ohio with her family. She spends most of her free time writing, but she also enjoys reading, watching movies, and shopping. When asked about a fun fact about herself, Skelly replied, “Um…my fight response is generally stronger than my flight response.  It is not wise to jump out from a dark room or behind a door at me…LOL.” Read more of our interview below to learn more!

Author AJ Skelly (photo provided by the author).

Q)  How long have you been writing? 

A) I’ve always loved the idea of writing stories, and I think I’ve always kind of played at concocting them.  I got a little more serious about writing in college, but I only really buckled down and decided I was going to write in earnest in 2019.

Q) Why do you write?

A) I love it.  And it’s still fun, so I’m still doing it. 🙂

Q) What are your top three favorite books and why?

A) Gracious…top three…Among my top three are Karen Hancock’s Legends of the Guardian King series, Shari L. Tapscott’s Pippa of Lauramore, and Joan Bauer’s Squashed. ❤

Q) Describe yourself in three words. 

A) Driven.  Steadfast.  SlightlyInsane. That’s like three words, right? 😉

Q) What song would be your life’s theme song?

A) Right now, there are two songs that resonate most with me that sum up my adult life pretty well.  We’ve had our fair share of ups and downs, sadness and loss, and ongoing difficulties with health concerns for our son, but two songs really define a lot of what I believe and what keeps me functioning:  Rebecca St. James’ “In the Middle of the Fire” and Skillet’s “Stars.” ❤

Q) Who is someone that inspires you?

A) I’ve been very blessed to have lots of good, healthy roll models throughout my life that have offered wisdom, encouragement, and inspiration along the journey.  My parents are probably one of my biggest sources of inspiration.  They do their best to practice what they preach.  And that’s kind of rare.

Q) What inspired First Shift?

A) There are quite a few factors that went into the inspiration of First Shift, as I wrote it over the course of nearly a decade. LOL. My first two years teaching were at the height of the Twilight craze (now that I’m dating myself).  A handful of students started a rumor that I was a werewolf.  And it stuck.  It became a “thing” and was just something hilariously special that came out of those early years teaching–you can check the dedication page of First Shift. 😉 Additionally, I love YA paranormal romance.  But there’s a lot of crap out there.  A lot of those sorts of books (especially at the time I was reading, about ten years ago), had these glorified toxic relationships, and a disregard for any kind of wisdom or responsibility.  And it set my teeth on edge.  I wanted to write something that presented “healthy” characters and relationships.  Not that my characters are perfect or untouchable, but I wanted something that wasn’t what I was reading.

Q) I really liked your take on werewolves. What reading and/or lore helped you create your world? 

A) I’m so glad you enjoyed my world of wolves!  I’ve always loved wolves–they’re such fascinating, beautiful, dangerous creatures.  Spinning off of that, I’ve always been a little fascinated with werewolves and their legends, too.  I had a few really wild werewolf dreams while I was pregnant with my son (anyone who has had pregnancy dreams knows how crazy vivid those can be!), that sparked the characters of Sam and Megan.  I’m a character-driven writer.  Once I got to know them, they just kind of told me their story. 😀

Q) Megan’s grandfather is so wise – the theme that love is a choice really resonated with me as a reader. Was this a theme you wanted to include in your book or did it develop as the story did? 

A) When I started dabbling with writing Sam and Megan’s story, I knew I wanted that voice of wisdom, and that healthy relationship aspect.  Grandpa and the situation that Sam and Megan found themselves in presented the perfect opportunity.  And I believe it.  Love is a choice. 🙂 The grass gets green where it’s watered.  😉

Q) Can you give readers a hint to what they can expect in Rogue Shift, book 2 in the Wolves of Rock Falls series?

A) Ooooh…I’m SO excited for Rogue Shift‘s release this October!!!  If you’ve read First Shift, you know that Sam and Megan’s story comes to a conclusion, but not the threat against the pack.  Rogue Shift picks up the story right where First Shift leaves off, but from Rachel and Kyp’s perspectives. 

Q) I know you are working with I Smell Books Book Box regarding Rogue Shift – can you tell readers more about the special edition book box?

A) I am literally frothing in excitement about this I Smell Books Box!  I Smell Books is officially one year old in October, and for their anniversary book box, they chose Rogue Shift (they carried First Shift in March).  I’ve had just a tiny sneak peek at some of the stuff going into this box…it’s going to be AMAZING.  Snatch one up while they’re available!  There will be exclusive goodies! (Link to I Smell Books Anniversary Box.)

Q) Can you tell readers about your current WIP (Writing in Progress)? I’ve seen you post about The Troll Queen and I am intrigued to learn more!

A) I’m so delighted you’re intrigued! 😀 So, The Troll Queen is the book I just finished writing.  It’s actually book two in the Tales of Sugar and Spice trilogy.  The first book, The Rat King, is with my agent now.  It’s a loose YA retelling of The Nutcracker.  Honestly, it might be the best thing I’ve ever written so far. LOL. I’m really, really excited to someday share the magical world of the Land of Sweets (and the Land of Spices!) with readers. ❤

Q) What goals do you have for your writing? 

A) Gosh, goals?  I mean, I think every writer secretly or not-so-secretly wants to hit the major best seller lists. LOL. I wouldn’t say no to that, but as for general goals, I want to write stories that offer a different perspective.  Something good, something right, something healthy.  Something at least mildly entertaining.  🙂 I want my stories to resonate in some way with my readers.

Q) You are an indie published author. Will you tell us a little about your experience?

A) First Shift (and all consequent The Wolves of Rock Falls books) is published with The Wild Rose Press.  I’ve had a fantastic experience with them.  They move freakishly fast according to publishing industry standards, and really put a nice emphasis on open communication.  They’ve been a wonderful introduction into the publishing world.  I’ve heard from quite a few other authors that haven’t had nearly as nice an experience as I have.  I feel very blessed and grateful that things have gone so smoothly, and that my publisher has been so gracious.

Q) What advice would you offer aspiring authors?

A) Keep writing.  It’s okay if your first draft is a pile of dragon dung.  First drafts are always messy. 😉 All the magic happens in the edits.

Q) Is there anything else you would like to add?

A) I love to hear from readers!  Like, seriously, it makes my day. 😉 My email is aj@ajskelly.com.  I respond to every email.  🙂  Additionally, if you want a signed copy of First Shift, I have a few left!  Those and other delightful bookish merch can be found on my website (www.ajskelly.com) or in my Etsy shop, BooksandWhimsy (https://www.etsy.com/shop/BooksandWhimsy?ref=seller-platform-mcnav).  If you want to sign up for my (very infrequent) newsletter, I’ll be sending out a free Rock Falls cookbook with recipes that Megan and Rachel make in the books near the release of Rogue Shift. 😉

Be sure to follow AJ Skelly on social media to stay up to date with her and her writing! Her instagram is: https://www.instagram.com/a.j.skelly and she has just started a FB readers group here!

Also, remember to leave a review for First Shift once you read it – those reviews really help authors out! ❤

Book Review: First Shift by AJ Skelly

If you are looking for your new favorite love story, then look no further than the Wolves of Rock Falls series – First Shift by AJ Skelly is a wonderfully delightful love story full of delicious homemade goodies, werewolves, and – my all time favorite romance trope – fake dating.

Sam Wolfe has been in love with Megan Carmichael for years, but he can’t do anything about it where she is human and he is a werewolf. However, in a moment of weakness he thinks about kissing Meg. But something unthinkable happens as someone trips into him – he accidentally bites her! Being in human form, Sam is hopeful that she won’t change, but that is wishful thinking. Meg’s life is completely altered as she is thrown into a world she never knew existed; yet, there is a chance that she can return to being human after the next full moon. In the meantime, she marries Sam (in name only) and moves into his cabin for his protection. But, with their close proximity and fake dating at school, can she develop true feelings for him?

I highly recommend this book for fans of werewolves and romance. I greatly anticipate book two’s release this fall – there are some unanswered questions I need answers for! And I just love the characters and Skelly’s approach to werewolves. Overall, I give this book 5 out of 5 stars! I cannot explain my main reason for loving this book so much without a major spoiler, so read ahead at your own discretion!


Oh. My. Goodness. Have you ever been going through personal issues and a good – no great – book allows you to have a revelation or a breakthrough? Watching Meg fall in love with Sam, and her realization that love is a choice was eye-opening for me in so many ways. Even when life gets hard, you choose to love the person you have chosen to spend forever with. I absolutely adored this message as well as the character of Meg’s grandfather who bestowed this wisdom onto Meg.

Photo by @theunicornwriter93 featuring a copy of First Shift and a pin hoop by Book Nook Sleeves.

Request a copy of First Shift at your library today OR order your own copy here. You can also pre-order the I Smell Books Anniversary Book Box featuring book 2 of the Wolves of Rock Falls series – Rogue Shifthere!

Book Review: Alex & Eliza by Melissa de la Cruz

An American princess. A man who has no name, no fortune. When they first meet it is under unfavorable circumstances, but years later when their paths cross once again, will it be a match made in Heaven, or will the dislike of one party grow even greater?

Of course we know that Alexander Hamilton married Elizabeth Schuyler – she helped to tell his story after his early demise. Yet, Melissa de la Cruz does an excellent job crafting this historical romance to keep readers turning the page.

The love story between Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler, as told by de la Cruz, opens with a grand ball put on by Catherine, Eliza’s mother. Eliza is adamant that she will not wear a fancy, frivolous dress when American soldiers go without while defending the newborn country, much to her mother’s dismay.

While at the ball, Eliza first meets Alex, but it is not love at first sight – far from it for Eliza. In fact, she overhears Alex issuing a letter announcing that her father will be court-martialed! Eliza, with the aid of her sisters Angelica and Peggy, corner Alex and put him in his place. Both seem to move on after the night, but neither can forget the other party entirely.

Two years later, their paths cross once again. Will Eliza forgive Alex for his part in her father’s court-martial? Can these two, in the midst of a war, find true love with one another? And then, will Eliza’s parents allow it?

Overall, I give this book 3.5/5 stars. The suspense is wonderful. The characters endearing. And the love story sweet. I liked how there was no cliffhanger, though I am curious how de la Cruz continues their story in the series. I do recommend this book to lovers of clean romance.

Now excuse me, please, while I go watch Hamilton for the umpteenth time.

You can read your local library’s copy of Alex & Eliza or order your own copy here!

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Book Review: Legend of the Rainbow Eater by Kristiana Sfirlea

Have you had a chance to read Legend of the Storm Sneezer yet? Well, you need to finish that wonderful book so you can continue the adventures of Rose and Marek in The Stormwatch Diaries in book number 2 Legend of the Rainbow Eater!!!!

Wow – four exclamation points? I must be really excited! And I am! I’m so excited to share my thoughts of this whimsically brilliant middle grade read with you! But first, read my review of Legend of the Storm Sneezer here and read an interview with the talented author here!

All caught up? Great! Now, what are Rose and Marek up to in book 2? Well, Rose – remember she wants to be a part of the Blackouts – finally gets to go on a mission! She and the rest of the team find themselves in the town of Mapleton and “sticky situations abound.” The Blackouts discover prowling hellhound gypsies whose motives are mysterious, giant squonks (you know, mutated squirrels), missing bodies from the local funeral parlor, and giant automaton teddy bears with a taste for bodily harm! The connection between all this? The will-o’-the-wisps, and Boss Man Ragnar wants the Wishing Mist wished out of existence! But remember book 1? The will-o’-the-wisps are what brought Rose and Marek together. Will Rose and Marek be able to figure out what is really happening in Mapleton? Will the legend of the Wishing Mist cease to exist or is there some way, any way, to save both people and the legend itself?

Wow wow wow! My brain is still processing this wonderfully whimsical story! And I really want some ice cream (The funeral parlor in the book has an ice cream parlor next door). I loved the twists and turns, but most of all I adored the themes of friendships, grace, second chances, and faith. Sfirlea does an excellent job of weaving the lessons into her story beautifully – you learn the themes without realizing you’ve been taught something and that’s talented writing. I truly cannot wait for more from The Stormwatch Diaries!

Photo by @theunicornwriter93 on Instagram.

If you still need to read Legend of the Storm Sneezer, you can order it here (or request it from your local library)! Once you are ready, you can order Legend of the Rainbow Eater here (or request it at your local library)! Remember to leave a review for each book (those reviews help authors out tremendously)!

Bookish Shop Feature: Fablebands

Happy Saturday! This morning I have the pleasure of sharing an interview with one of my favorite shops: Fablebands! Fablebands is a shop providing people with beautiful bookish headbands and scrunchies! See my interview below with the shop owner, Mylene to learn more.

Mylene with the Fablebandits inspired faux knot headband.

Q) What inspired you to create your small business, Fablebands?

A) I’ve always liked headbands. When my second child was born, my hair in the front (baby hair) started growing again and I needed something  quick to hide those short hairs on days when I didn’t have time to fix it. I also needed some type of distraction, so I sewed my own headband. I had been in bookstagram for a few years and I thought it’d be cute to wear headbands based on books; the rest, you all know it 🙂

Q) What goals do you have for your business?

A) My goal is to grow Fablebands enough that I’m able to run it full time. That will allow me to spend more time with my family at home. 

Q) How long has Fablebands been in operation?

A) I officially opened the shop September 2019.

Q) How long have you been sewing/creating?

A) I grew up with my great-grandmother who loved to sew, and I was always very happy to help her since I was able to handle scissors (about 9 y/o?). She used to make me skirts, and with fabric scraps I would hand sew clothes for my dolls. Fast forward many years, I started making my own laundry baskets, a very comfy bed for my dog Max, makeup bags for my friends, bibs and burp cloths for my children, and now Fablebands for you all.

Q) What would you say are some of your biggest achievements?

A) Coming up with the idea of Fablebands while my youngest child was 5 months old, and being focused and committed enough to create and sew while on a crazy sleeping schedule and a full time engineering job. 

Q) Who is someone that inspires you?

A) My great grandmother, she would do anything with a grain of sugar. Nothing was challenging enough for her not to do it.

Q) Do you have a favorite design to date?

A) hmmm…. That’s difficult.. But I can say that the Strong Badass Mama is the one I wear the most 🙂

Q) What would you say is your favorite color?

A) Pink!

Q) How do you come up with the designs for your products?

A) The Fablebands community is the number one source of ideas! We have a team of Fablebandits that are always bringing ideas for future designs. 

Q) What is your favorite genre to read?

A) Romance! 

Q) What inspired the Fablebands Read Along? Will that take place every month moving forward?

A) We are always talking about reading books together, but we didn’t have an organized way of doing it.  By creating the Book Club, we have a better opportunity to chat about the books we love. It’s also a great opportunity to promote diverse and latinx authors.

Q) Can you give readers any “sneaks” for future designs yet to be released? Can customers submit ideas they have?

A) Well, I can say we’ll have all the Sailor Scouts scheduled to be released this year!

Q) What is the most rewarding thing about running your own small business?

A) The love that I receive from everyone that tries Fablebands is so rewarding! Having the opportunity to provide for my family while working on what I’m truly passionate about: all things handmade.

Q) What advice would you give someone who wants to open up their own small business?

A) Focus on what you love, on a product that brings you joy. Never compare to other shops that are well established and feel less. Listen to your audience. Accept constructive criticism. Be patient and enjoy the process. Always keep trying! Family always comes first.

Q) Tell us a little about you, the heart and soul of Fablebands (ie. what do you do when you aren’t working? What three words best describe you? What’s your favorite song/movie/animal/etc. — anything you want to share with readers).

A) Mother. Optimistic. Traveler.  When I’m not working on Fablebands or doing something for/with my children and husband, you can most certainly find me planning our next vacation. There’s something about that planning stage that makes me really happy. I also love to listen to latinx music (mainly salsa and merengue) and Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, there’s so much joy captured there!  My favorite animals are butterflies, they’re so delicate, yet so strong and imprescindible! My favorite movies are Amadeus and Pretty Woman. MY favorite books of all times are “La Catedral del Mar” and Pride and Prejudice (also the first book I read in English).

Q) Is there anything else you would like to add?

A) I’d like to thank with all the strength and power of my heart every person that has supported Fablebands in any way! Your support means the world to me and my family and for that I’ll be forever thankful! 

Visit Fablebands online here and be sure to follow Fablebands on Instagram here!

Book Review: Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalo

So far this year, my reviews have centered around fantasy and Biblical fiction. This week, I am changing things up by sharing a review of the The #1 New York Times Bestseller YA Mystery Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalo.

I was excited to read this because of all the hype it received, but, to be perfectly honest, I was also hesitant. I’ve never been a huge James Patterson fan – but to be fair, it has been a few years since I read once of his books (Along Came a Spider just wasn’t my cup of tea). However, despite my hesitancies, this book did not disappoint.

Audrey Rose Wadsworth is a respectable lady of polite society – or so her father wishes. In truth, Audrey Rose spends her time with her uncle dissecting cadavers and studying science (how dreadful) in secret – activity not suitable for her delicate feminine disposition. Yet, Audrey Rose becomes more focused than ever on her scientific work when mayhem strikes the streets of London in the form of ghastly murders. Things become more complicated as Audrey Rose develops feelings for her fellow apprentice Thomas Cresswell, and even more complicated still when her uncle is accused of the very murders he is attempting to solve. Will Audrey Rose be able to separate her emotion from fact as her search for Jack the Ripper creeps closer and closer to home?

There was adequate tension and suspense throughout, and I absolutely adored the banter between Audrey Rose and Thomas. I also adored Audrey Rose’s cousin, Liza. Though she only made a brief appearance, she stated one of my favorite quotes in the book: “Let them think they rule the world. It’s a queen who sits on that throne.”

Another quote that has stayed with me since turning the final page is, “Science never abandoned me the way religion had that night.” You see, Audrey Rose has turned away from religion since the death of her mother because her prayers failed to save her mother. But how can one doubt the God they blame for their suffering? Just food for thought here; I digress from the review.

I do feel that there were parts that were grotesque due to the sensitive nature of autopsies and murder scenes, and sometimes forgot I was reading a novel intended for YA readers – I would suggest the book for older YA readers (at least 15, if not 16).

Overall, I enjoyed the book and do plan to read Hunting Prince Dracula – the next book in the series – at some point (my to be read pile is never-ending), and I give the book a 3.5 star rating.

Photo from @theunicornwriter93.

You can read Stalking Jack the Ripper from your local library (as I did), or order your own copy here.

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Author Interview: Kristiana Sfirlea

Last week I shared my review of the whimsical Middle Grade fantasy Legend of the Storm Sneezer. Today I have the honor of interviewing the talented author Kristiana Sfirlea! Sfirlea resides in Michigan. A fun fact about her is that she is double jointed and can walk on top of her toes (like on the knuckles)! She also told me she can do a killer Gollum impression…I really want to see that! Read the full interview below!

Author Kristiana Sfirlea.

Q)  What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

A) Most of my hobbies are book-related in some way, from the 50 or so books I read a year to Bookstagram! Funky socks, tulle, and Beanie Babies—I love creating Instagram posts that promote my favorite books. Another way I support the authors I enjoy and their stories is through my bimonthly blog series called “Bite-Size Book Reviews,” which also supports gastroparesis awareness, a rare and serious digestive disease that I struggle with. I also have a variety of crafts that I like doing, from creating duct tape rose pens to storm cloud hats and storm cloud squishies. These are all related to my novel Legend of the Storm Sneezer, and I sell some of them at book signings and Comic Con events, which are more ways I like to spend my free time.

Q)  How long have you been writing?

A) I’ve been seriously writing for 10 years now, but I started writing for fun (fanfiction) when I was 8 or 9.

Q) Why do you write?

A) I write because I fell in love with the beauty of creating and how it helps me process everything that is going on in my life. I love putting words and characters to my passions and convictions. Somehow fiction makes them more real to me.

Q) What is your favorite genre?

A) My favorite genre to read is fantasy. But not just any fantasy. Fantasy that pops with humor and banter like Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant. Fantasy that is shivering with spooks like Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood & Co. Fantasy that tries daring new storytelling formats like James Riley’s Story Thieves. Fantasy that is driven by special relationships like Sophie and Monster in Sarah Beth Durst’s The Girl Who Could Not Dream. And if you mix all of these together? Well, you might just have a book like Legend of the Storm Sneezer.

Q) Describe yourself in three words.

A) Passionate, funny, perfectionist.

Q) What song would be your life’s theme song?

A) Either Superchick’s “It’s On” or Children 18:3’s “Bravo.” The first is a powerful anthem to pressing on and the second is a poignant reminder to do my best for the only audience that matters: my heavenly Father. I’m easily discouraged sometimes, and music—Christian rock music, especially—has a way of giving me the perspective I need to get back up and try again.

Q) What inspired Legend of the Storm Sneezer

A) I started writing this book a decade ago, and the inspiration came in big and little things all along the way. I think it started with a love for thunderstorms, but the sneezing and Stormy didn’t come till years later. I get that question a lot: “How did you come up with sneezing a magical storm cloud?” And the truth? Not a clue. It just came to me one day, as most of my ideas do. When I’m coming up with story ideas, I’ll often ask myself, “What’s the most random, creative thing I can do in this situation?” And then I run with it.

Q) Rose was such an energetic and refreshing character to read! If Rose was to describe herself, what would she say? What about if Marek was to describe Rose?  

A) Rose would describe herself as a loveable, formidable goofball with a penchant for bringing out the best in the worst. Marek would describe Rose as a girl after his own heart, full of compassion, faith, and good humor.  

Q) Can you give readers a hint to what they can expect in book 2? 

A) Readers can look forward to some fun Five Nights at Freddy’s vibes. I had a fantastic time playing with my childhood phobia of animatronics, and there are a couple seriously creeptacular automatons in this book. Also, get ready for all the Rose-and-Marek feels! These two are a joy to write, and their unshakable friendship kicks it up a notch in Legend of the Rainbow Eater!

Q)  Can you tell readers about your current WIP (Writing in Progress)? 

A) I am currently working on Book 3 of The Stormwatch Diaries, and it’s a doozy. There isn’t much to tell yet, but I will say that before writing each of my books, I try to set a challenge for myself, a way to stretch and grow as a writer. For this book, I decided my challenge would be writing dual POVs, something I’ve never done before. It’s been, well, a challenge! Rose is, of course, still the main character who takes up most of the narrating, but she is now teaching her good friend Sephone how to write in her and Marek’s special diary. These two girls are so opposite each other, and I think it makes for a really engaging story!

Q) What goals do you have for your writing?

A) To make readers laugh. To inspire faith. To tell stories in a way that no one has ever read before.

Q)  You are an indie published author. Will you tell us a little about your experience?

A) I didn’t set out to be with an indie publisher, but now that I am, I’m grateful for all the perks that come with it, like a personal relationship with my publisher (the ladies at Monster Ivy Publishing are the sweetest!) and having so much say in the editing process and things like cover art. One of the best things about being with an indie publisher, I think, is how daring and creative they allow me to be with my stories. They aren’t concerned so much with appealing to the masses as they are serving their niche well. And for that, I am so happy to be an indie author.

Q) May I ask how your religion and your writing intersect? 

A) My faith and relationship with God are the most important things to me, and I knew going into my career as a writer that I wanted my stories to bring truth to life in the lives and relationships of my characters. I love exploring the questions I have through the voice of Rose, and Marek always seems to have the answers that God is whispering in my heart. When I was first coming up with their soul signias (magical powers), I wanted to take a different approach to the tired light vs. dark, sun vs. storm tropes. Because of the hard things I’ve experienced in my own life (more on that below) and knowing the beauty that God has brought out of those circumstances, I wanted my two main characters to have shadows and storms as their soul signias, even though those particular powers usually represent evil. To me, this symbolizes how God uses the hardest, most painful parts of our lives for our good and His glory. While I fully believe that both Christian and non-Christian readers can enjoy my books, my prayer is still to spark faith in my readers as they dive into the lives of two protagonists whose faith in each other fills the pages.

Q) Will you tell us a little about your own faith journey? 

A) Absolutely! I grew up in a Christian home, and my parents and siblings really modeled their faith to me through a lot of hard stuff my family went through—namely, a car accident that injured my mom and turned our world upside down. I was also very sick for most of my childhood and teenage years, going from doctor to doctor trying to figure out an unknown illness that was becoming progressively worse. There was so much fear, anxiety, and uncertainty, and I really feel this was where my faith and my relationship with Jesus became real to me. I was finally diagnosed at age 18 with a very rare digestive disorder known as gastroparesis—a paralyzed stomach. I am now on a kind of tube nutrition that bypasses my digestive system completely, and I rely on God’s grace every day. This disease, which is one of the worst things in my life is also one of the best because, if I let the Holy Spirit have His way with me, it brings me close to my Savior through the struggle.

Q) What advice would you offer aspiring authors? 

A) I’ve answered this question multiple ways since becoming a published author, but I think I have my new and perhaps final answer: Don’t follow every bit of writing advice you hear. In fact, you can ignore this writing advice if you’d like, except by ignoring it you’ll be following it, and…did I mention I write paradoxes for a living? 😉

But seriously. Every writer is unique, and writing advice is not a “one size fits all.” Listen to the authors you respect and consider what they have to say. But in the end, only you can know what works for you. Don’t try to be something you’re not just because it works for someone else. You be you. The most important part of being an author in community is not our similarities but in the way we cheer each other on!

Q) Is there anything else you would like to add? 

A) Book 2 of The Stormwatch Diaries, Legend of the Rainbow Eater, is coming out August 3rd this year! It’s available for preorder on Amazon and almost anywhere books are sold. Feel free to reach out to me on my website, www.KristianasQuill.com, or on social media @KristianasQuill on Instagram and Twitter and @KristianasQuillBooks on Facebook. I’d love to hear from you!

And thank you, Kayla, for having me on your wonderful blog. ❤

Be sure to follow Sfirlea on social media!

Remember to request copies of Sfirlea’s books at your local library, and if you want your own copy of Legend of the Storm Sneezer you can order it here. If you want your own copy of Legend of the Rainbow Eater you can pre-order it here.

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