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An Excerpt from The Uncertainty of Fire

A repentant heart begs not to be turned away, but unforgiveness fights to have the final say in a young woman’s heart.

Join me for an exciting excerpt from Stephanie Daniels’ upcoming novel, The Uncertainty of Fire.

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I push the door open and trudge toward the bed.  His gray eyes—usually hard as steel, now like calm waters—meet mine. His hyena-featured face repels me as ever. Smells of leather and vinegar used to staunch the bleeding cause my eyes to water.  Instinct compels me to wipe my eyes, but I stop. Tears might help with my ruse.  I concentrate on commanding my twitching facial muscles from scowling. 

           He holds out a trembling hand.  No. I’d held his hand once through his pain and his unconsciousness. I’ll not do it again. I pick up the glass of water at his bedside and shove it in his hand pretending to believe that is what he wants.  His brow wrinkles in confusion, but struggling, he lifts the glass to his lips. I straighten the coverlet, unwilling to aid him in his task.

           He props up on his elbows, the empty glass in his hand poised on the bed. “Whimsy.”

           I freeze at his use of my true name, as nettling as leeches on bare skin. 

  “I didn’t think you’d come.  Did Colin convince you?  I’m a changed man. I can’t believe God can forgive me for all I done.  For what I done to Co–“

           He chokes on his words and grunts in pain, then he grips the bandage on his side. His body goes rigid then quakes and seizes. His features twist, then relax.

I thought I’d be happy to see him brought low. To be humbled as he had often humbled me.

           “For what I done to you.” Wheezing breaths follow his finished statement.

           My pounding heartbeat thuds in my ears. Maybe it will block out his words. But I stand defiant, waiting to say my part and never face him again.

           “God’s forgiven me. Colin’s forgiven me,” Mattie rasps.

            I cast my gaze downward. 

“I can die in peace now.  Well, almost. I know I’ve done wrong. And it must be hard to listen to me say this.” 

           He has something right at least.

            “But if you can. Please. Forgive me.”  

           The pallor of his face pales, as if the effort of his words drains the life from him. I raise my gaze as slowly as a hoisted flag. My fists clench then I shove them behind my back, out of his sight. I can’t risk his thinking I’ve not forgiven him and in one last moment, he reveal it to the Bradshaws.  He’ll not ruin another day of my life.  I’ll not be thrown back to the streets because of him.

           My nod is so small, I’m not sure he sees it. Will I need to say the words? I forgive you. Because I’m sure I can’t. Even if I don’t mean them.  But slight color suffuses his face, and his head drops back onto the pillow. 

“Thank you. Thank you.”  His eyes close and a tear slides down the side of his face.

           A battle as mighty as The War of the Rebellion rages inside me. Is Mattie truly a reformed man?  Had he really asked God’s forgiveness? Does he genuinely want mine? The brawling liquor-filled boy that invades my dreams doesn’t resemble the still form in the bed. The features are the same. But the hardness in the jaw has relaxed. Not a flutter behind his eyelids. Even the horse flare of the nostrils had ceased. 

             Should I forget the day he’d made a pyre of my hiding spot at the top of a lumber pile? Should I push aside the memory of his boot thrust into my back or my cheek bruised from his brutal beating?  How day after dreary day I’d dreaded how I’d sidestep his aggression? 

           No.  I will not. I cannot. God cannot expect this of me, even if Colin did.

           Mattie’s breathing slows. His face flushes as hot as the irons I’ve left on the cook-stove.

  I creep from the room, ridding my features of any trace of anger in case Colin waits on the other side of the door. Which of course, he does. 

           Clicking the door shut behind me, Colin steps close, peering down into my face. “How was he?  Did you do it?”

           My eyes still damp from the medicinal smells, I glance at Colin and muster my sweetest smile. “Yes.” 

           Better not to say too much in case my anger spills over.  Anger at tending to that man. Anger at Colin and the Bradshaws for requiring this of me. To hold my security and peace of mind ransom so that the brute in that bedroom could die unburdened before his Creator?

           I push past Colin, escaping downstairs away from his praise and relief before my face clouds with emotions he’ll read all too well.

            I duck into the butler’s pantry, grabbing an unused apron to swab the real tears I’d tamped down. I breathe in, then expel a shuddering breath that causes the silver to sway and tinkle. This heavy iron cauldron in my chest is Mattie’s fault. I’m sure it is. But Mattie is near to death, unable to harm me. And his sorrow, much to my dismay, seems real, unfeigned, genuine, despite my doubts.  Why then, did the heaviness continue?  Why does my chest burn like I’m unable to breathe? Can it be that Mattie isn’t the only one that carries a burden in need of release?

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Be sure to join Stephanie for all the exciting writing adventures to come! You can follow her on Instagram and her blog!

Thank you to all of the wonderful authors who have joined me so far this month! It has been an absolute joy to share your stories 🙂

Next week, Erica Richardson is joining us for an interview and exciting giveaway of her book, Luna’s Rescue, the first installment of The Cottonwood Chronicles! You won’t want to miss it!

I’ll meet you back here then!

Alexandria

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An Interview With Stephanie Daniels

Welcome to our newest author interview!

This week, I have the pleasure of featuring YA historical fiction author Stephanie Daniels! She shares more about her current work-in-progress, The Uncertainty of Fire (excerpt coming this Thursday!), her passion for the historical, and advice for aspiring authors!

Read on and follow along on Stephanie’s writing journey below!

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Tell us about your current work in progress!

 First of all, thank you so much for inviting me to your blog.  I’m so happy we’ve been able to connect over on Instagram and I’m really looking forward to reading your work. My current finished manuscript is entitled The Uncertainty of Fire.  It is the first book in my planned trilogy called The Uncertain Riches series. It’s a Christian YA historical (with romance) that takes place during the Great Chicago Fire.  My main character, Whimsy Greathart, has lived a privileged life. But her heart is tender toward those who have not had her advantages. Throughout the book she learns to deal with the choices she makes. Sometimes those choices are in good faith, even with good will, but because she makes them in her own strength and her own wisdom, God teaches her some things. And sometimes those lessons stem from heartbreaking circumstances.

What do you think makes YA fiction such an important and necessary genre?

Young people are bombarded with far more challenges than I ever had as a teen and college-aged adult.  And I feel like I saw and dealt with a lot.  But in all areas of the arts, it is becoming more difficult for young people to find characters that believe as they do.  And that can be a lonely place. I think the popularity and rise of faith-based films and television programs is evidence that young people want those mirrors–characters who face the same decisions and trials they do.  But I think we may be failing them in our books.  Parents and young people are reaching back to the classics because of the faith and morals those books embodied. Those same things are lacking in today’s books. We have plenty of faith-based books that are clean and may have some element of faith. But I’d like to see more. More characters committed to their faith. I believe readers want to reach forward and find those faith and moral elements in today’s books.  Even though my story takes place in a historical setting, the themes of forgiveness, not trusting our own heart, trying to understand God’s plan, are still timeless themes.

You’ve spoken on social media about your love for the antique and the historic. What sparked your interest and how did both become part of your writing?

I’m not sure when my love for history and antiques really began.  I didn’t even like history much in school–until I went to college and had some professors who made Bible history come alive for me.  I was fortunate to live in places where history was all around me.  Washington D.C., Italy, Hawaii (not far from Pearl Harbor), Fairfax County, Virginia. I remember as a child exploring the replica ships at Fort McHenry, visiting Pompeii and Rome, and touring Mount Vernon so many times I could probably have been a guide. My parents thought it was important for us to see these places even though most of the time I never made the historical connection of what occurred in those places. And then I loved books.  Since we moved around a lot, I think my fictional friends sometimes became a comfort to me. I’m not complaining about the fact that I was able to live in so many amazing places, but I was shy, and making friends every time we moved could be a challenge. Maybe I began to like old things because of the roots they represented.  My roots have always been family-based, not place-based. Even now, when people ask me where I’m from, I always struggle to form an answer. I’m from a lot of places.  And they’ve all made me who I am. 

Do you have any advice and/or encouragement for aspiring authors who are daunted by the publishing process, whether they go traditional or indie? What keeps you going when faced with discouragement?

As someone who is still deciding between the two, make sure you pray a lot.  And surround yourself with writing friends at all stages of the journey.  You need your unpublished friends who understand where you are because they are going through it too. If you have the chance to find a mentor, someone who has published and can weigh in on the wisdom they’ve gained, take advantage of that.  I feel like I really started viewing myself as a writer when I joined the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers). If there is a professional local group you can join (Word Weavers is another good organization), do it as soon as you can. Veteran writers have a lot to offer. And if you’re willing to learn from them, it will help grow your craft exponentially. But always remember that this gift God has given is uniquely yours.  Don’t fret about an idea that’s already been done. Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes that there is nothing new under the sun.  So that brilliant idea you came up with has been done before. But it has not been said the way you can uniquely say it.  Because there is only one person in this whole world that has your exact unique viewpoint. Discouragement and feeling like giving up, bad reviews, unfavorable feedback are all the hard parts of this journey. But if you can remember why you felt God led you to your story, it can help buoy you through those disappointments and keep you committed to the task He has set before you.

Do you have any books by indie authors that you’d love to recommend?

I wish I could say I had a long list, but because I’d always planned to traditionally publish, I have usually read traditionally published books.  But I have been reading more indie authors lately and have made some wonderful friends in the indie author community.  I’ll concentrate on YA authors in the Christian market, since that’s the genre I write.  Amanda Tero is an indie author who has written in many genres but concentrates on Christian historicals for YA. If you would enjoy fairy-tale retellings without romance, you will want to check out her Tales of Faith series. And her latest novella, A Strand of Hope, a Depression-era historical, released last summer. I’m privileged to be on two launch teams for two indie YA authors. Careena Campbell has just written a 17th century Christian YA historical entitled Free. I’ll be reading it in the coming week. Another author I’ve come to know is H.A. Pruitt who has written a Christian YA fantasy entitled Anathalien. Her sequel to the series is called Earth Quaking and will be coming out in the next few months. I’m looking forward to forming friendships with more indie authors and reading their books. And it may just be that God is leading me to publish indie too. We shall see.

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Thank you so much, Stephanie, for doing this interview!

You can follow Stephanie on Instagram and on her blog!

And don’t miss the excerpt from her upcoming novel, The Uncertainty of Fire, coming this Thursday!

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May your week be full of good books!

Alexandria

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An Interview with Careena Campbell

Happy release day to Free, a YA Christian historical fiction novel by Careena Campbell!

To celebrate, I have the pleasure of sharing my interview with Careena, where she shares what led her to write YA historical fiction, tips for authors curious about cover design, and what she hopes readers will get out of reading her debut novel!

Enjoy 🙂

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Tell us a little bit about your journey to becoming a writer and published author! What first inspired you to pick up the pen? 

As a little girl, a pen was just another outlet for my ever-active imagination. As I got older, I wanted to write so I could create the kinds of books I had always wanted to read–books full of adventure that featured main characters that would set a good example of character to me. I wanted young people like me to go on wild adventures that inspired them to live closer to Jesus. 

Of all the genres you could write in, what drew you to YA historical fiction?

I have always been fascinated by the past. The way people lived, how they thought, and how it was similar or different to me always filled me with wonder and curiosity. I chose YA because I was the same age as YA protagonists. I will soon be beyond the YA age myself, but I still have a special place in my heart for teen readers. Adolescence is such a moldable time, and teen minds are like a sponge. I want to give them good, wholesome stories that they can “soak up” with excitement, that also help build their character into that of strong adults. 

Top three tips to help cure writer’s block! Go! 🙂

I feel like this is cheating because I actually did a YouTube video on this topic a while back. I’ll try not to quote it though! My best two tips are taking a break or reevaluating your outline. If you feel void of any inspiration on what to do next, a short break can help. If that doesn’t work, there may be a piece of the story missing from your outline. Of course, not everyone uses an outline to plan their story, but I personally find it a great way to avoid getting “stuck”!

You designed your own cover for Free. Do you have any advice for other independent writers who are looking to venture into the world of cover design?

Look at lots of different book covers. While it’s good to pay special attention to those of a similar genre to your own, look at other genres too. You might see a useful design element that was less common in the genre you had previously been looking at. Also, don’t be afraid of creating “mock-up” book covers by collaging a bunch of pictures together. I’ve lost count of the exact number, but I created at least five different versions of the book cover for Free. While you don’t want to use Pinterest and similar sites for your final cover, they can be very useful for finding images to practice with. I searched for and downloaded ocean and person pictures so I could practice getting the right layout. 

Today is release day for Free! Congratulations! What do you most hope readers get out of reading this story?

I want to remind readers of their identity in Christ–that, no matter the circumstances, if we remember Whose we are, there is an unlimited spring of hope and courage available to us. We are free to shine for the Lord, no matter what may happen, and free to celebrate our identity in Him. 

What are some of the books you’ve recently read and enjoyed?

I know I’m behind on the classics, but in January I finished Pride and Prejudice! I thoroughly enjoyed the worlds Austen created and can’t wait to explore more of them. Her characters were so funny, lovable, and–at times–embarrassing, they felt like they might really be your neighbors in the next manor over. I also recently enjoyed the Tales of Faith series by Amanda Tero. It consisted of three novelettes, each a Christian retelling of a different fairy tale. They were so clean and uplifting, and yet at the same time riveting and full of adventure. I will certainly be reading more of her books in the future!

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You can order Free on Amazon and follow along on all of Careena’s adventures on Instagram and her website, The Anchored Writer!

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Next week, an adventure begins. Chip and the Book of Rose Leaves publishes this spring, and the Kickstarter officially opens next week! My heart is overflowing with expectation for how God is going to restore our reassurance in His heart and His intent, listening ear for our prayers.

I hope you’ll join me in the next chapter of 21:25 Books’ story. It’s my greatest desire to fill the world with books about Him and the good things He does, and I hope I get to continue doing just that all of my days.

Until tomorrow,

Alexandria

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Free: Book Review and Excerpt!

Today is an exciting day in the bookish world!

I had the pleasure of being on the launch team for Careena Campbell’s debut novel, Free.

If you’re looking for an adventure on the high seas, full of hope and the promise of true freedom, this YA Christian historical fiction novel is the perfect book for you!

Read my full review below, and get swept up in the adventure for yourself in a special excerpt of the story 😊

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Very few books allow you to encounter freedom, and Free is certainly one of them.

As the book opens, readers are introduced to a young woman named Ruth, who is forced into service on a merchant ship. Fearful and confused, she still manages to bring a pure heart and joyful spirit to every trial and adventure she faces on the high seas.

Still, despite her abundance of both kindness and patience, the men remain resistant, confused by her unwavering faith and uncommon humility towards those who have treated her so unfairly.

But freedom can come to the hardest of hearts, and hope remains that, one day, Ruth will find herself in the company of those who know they are wholeheartedly free.

Careena Campbell has penned an exceptional tale, full of adventure, high stakes on storm-tossed waves, and, above all, the longing for freedom and a place to belong.

With characters rich in faith, internal struggles, perseverance, and humility, Careena has crafted a book perfectly suited to lovers of YA historical fiction, and, at the same time, produced that rare thing: a story that leaves readers with hearts wide open to the miraculous and full of faith that they, too, can be free.

Read an excerpt from Free below:

Ruth limped the few short steps to the edge of the ship. Her hands floated up to the railing as she gazed upwards. The night sky was encrusted with millions of brilliant stars, each twinkling one after the other. They stretched out all the way to the horizon, where they cast their reflections over the ocean. The sea, like a great blue blanket covered with shining sapphires, rocked back and forth as the wind gently caressed its water. The waves seemed to sigh in contentment, as if they were settling down to sleep, as they softly swooshed over each other.

Ruth’s heart beat fast as she was overtaken with the beauty and the majesty of God’s creation. She could not resist praising and thanking the Creator of this breathtaking scene, and her awe bubbled over in soft song. 

“This is my Father’s world, 

and to my list’ning ears,

All nature sings and round me rings

 The music of the spheres…”

The nearby sailors turned, surprised to hear the gentle strains of a song floating from the ship’s edge. 

  “…This is my Father’s world, 

I rest me in the thought,

  Of rocks and trees of skies and seas—

  His hand the wonders wrought…”

For a moment, they watched the maiden fairly sing. Why was she so calm? Didn’t she understand the danger they were facing? 

But Ruth, for once, did not even notice them. She was swept up in the beauty of God’s peace. 

She reflected on her own situation as she sang the final verse:

  “This is my Father’s world; 

O let me ne’er forget

  That though the wrong seems oft so strong,

  God is the ruler yet. 

  “This is my Father’s world! 

The battle is not done!

  Jesus who died shall be satisfied, 

  And earth and heav’n be one.

“Yes,” Ruth thought. “The battle is not done. God isn’t finished with me, and He’s not finished with the sailors, either. I will press on. I know He is still working!” 

Ruth’s heart swelled with joy and contentment. Leaning out over the ship’s railing, she folded her hands to pray. “Lord,” she whispered, “please bless the sailors and help them to come to know You. And help me to be brave even when things aren’t this peaceful. Amen.” 

Ruth straightened up and smiled as she returned to her room for the night. Now she felt she could face her future, for God had reminded her of His presence. 

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Free releases this Thursday, March 11th! You can help Careena celebrate release day by pre-ordering Free and adding it on Goodreads!

You can learn more about Careena and connect with her on The Anchored Writer.

And don’t miss my interview with Careena this Thursday!

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Lots of exciting new things are beginning on 21:25 Books! Watch for announcements on Instagram 📖🌹

Wishing you happy reads,

Alexandria

Book Review: Esme’s Wish

Happy Thursday, book lovers!

Today, I’m so excited to share with you a new-to-me book, Esme’s Wish by Elizabeth Foster.

What a wild, adventurous ride this book turned out to be! You can read my full review below.

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Have you ever wished for something lost to be found?

Esme is a young girl, full of unwavering hope, who has continued to wish for the same thing: that her mother, Ariane, lost at sea many years ago, is still alive and will return home. Long after everyone else has given up, Esme still believes that her mother’s return is possible.

But the search for her mother takes an unexpected turn as headaches and visions from the past begin to plague Esme, all of them leading her to a land that she thought only existed in Ariane’s stories.

Aeolia.

Could the stories be more than just that?

Soon enough, Esme discovers how very real Aeolia is when she unexpectedly discovers it as she walks along the beach. Suddenly, she is plunged into a land full of magic, sirens, and mysterious Gifts that allow Aeolia’s residents to give shape to water and sing impossible things into existence.

But all is not well. Full of wonder as this world might be, people’s Gifts are failing and the land is wracked by earthquakes that threaten to reduce Aeolia to rubble. Still, there is hope. Clues abound in Ariane’s paintings, and Esme and her friends bravely follow them, determined to uncover the mystery of her mother’s disappearance and Aeolia’s failing magic.

Elizabeth Foster has handcrafted a fantastic world that will long remain in the memories of all who are willing to explore it. Every description seems like paint swept across canvas, creating vivid images of Aeolia that leave readers wondering if it just might be real. But perhaps the most stunning thing of all is that Esme’s Wish reminds us that having hope isn’t childish at all; it is bravery at its finest and we should all take hold of it as fiercely as Esme, the young woman courageous enough to go in search of lost things.

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You can connect with Elizabeth Foster on Facebook

Esme’s Wish is available on Books-A-Million and Barnes & Noble.

What are you currently reading? This is a space to celebrate our love for books, so be sure to share in the comments!

Until next time,

Alexandria