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A Winter Tale of Wonder is Coming

A winter tale of wonder is coming, reader. The fire is crackling in the hearth and the melody of a winter carousel is softly playing as its frost-covered animals begin to turn. The tale invites you to set foot in the land of Ellura, but it begins on a snowy November night in London, where a young woman is holding tightly to wonder.

Here is the prologue for you to read and enjoy, and I hope you will join me for the whole adventure

Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel

Prologue

Penelope Grace was a remarkable girl.

Of course, that word – remarkable – can mean many different things, depending on whom you ask.

Upon entering the Saris household, you would first be taken to the kitchen for a warm cup of tea to fight off the early winter’s chill. There, Nurse Sasha – who oversaw everything – would happily offer you her opinion. She could hardly find it less than remarkable that a girl of sixteen could behave so like her nine-year-old brother as to be nearly indistinguishable.

Once welcomed and enlightened, you might continue to the living room and find a comfortable chair near Penelope’s mother, Mary, who is patiently mending the latest torn and dirt-stained dress. She would share with you how her daughter is remarkably and admirably unconcerned with what others think of her.

Over the years, her friends marveled to find that Penelope was just as likely to pick up an imaginary sword as an intricate piece of embroidery. Growing serious now, Mary would tell you of the many encouragements she has received to rein her daughter in.

But it is too rare a gift to see a child’s spirit endure into adulthood. As Penelope’s mother, she would ask, how could she do less than safeguard it?

But just then, young George would come bursting in, his great-uncle Alex not far behind, and insist on knowing what your conversation was about.

“Well, George,” Mary would ask with the warmest of smiles, “what do you think makes your sister remarkable?”

He would think hard about it for a minute or two but, his nose crinkling up as he grinned, would soon reply with a firm, “Two things.”

And then, leaning forward as if to share with you a very great secret, George would tell you a story. Just last week, Penelope had, remarkably, succeeded both in assembling an entire regiment of nutcracker soldiers in the foyer and in vanishing from sight before Nurse Sasha could certainly accuse her of having done it.

“And the second,” you would ask, sincerely eager to know.

“She is the only grown-up who isn’t only teasing me when she says she still believes in Father Christmas.”

Equally impressed by both these reasons, you might then turn to great-uncle Alex, whom you would find no less willing to join in the conversation.

He would have to say that Penelope was remarkable for her persistent delight in all things simple, yet extraordinary. Even now she remains as enchanted with his magic tricks as she was on the day he first arrived from Greece to share them with her.

But of all her family, acquaintances and friends, only her father, John – who has been listening by the crackling fire all the while – could tell you with absolute certainty what it was that made Penelope Grace genuinely remarkable:

“Wonder.”

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Join me for the carousel ride and the fight for wonder. Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel releases this November!

Alexandria

Featured

Book Review: Etania’s Calling

For Etania and the peoples of Tamnarae, a new danger is lurking. Jazel is bent on seeking revenge, and no one will be safe until she is defeated once and for all. Desperate to hunt her down, Etania’s father pleads for her assistance and Etania reluctantly agrees. Accompanied by her suitor, Keyel, and a charming young prince, the company sets out on a quest that will decide the fate of the land. But Etania is keeping a secret, and should she share it with the wrong person, it could derail their hunt for Jazel, fracture her relationships with those she loves most, and leave the fate of Tamnarae more uncertain than ever. Etania’s calling is certain, but her ability to trust the One who gave it to her is yet to be decided…

It’s not often that a main character’s journey so closely mirrors your own. Etania is fully aware of her calling, yet she struggles both to fully trust that it’s possible for her to live it out and to not try to do so in her own strength. At so many points, her strengths and weaknesses resonated with me, as a reader, in such a powerful way. The reason I don’t find this surprising is that one of M.H. Elrich’s greatest strengths as a writer is to weave realistic characters with flaws, eccentricities, and God-given gifts.

It is nearly impossible not to find pieces of yourself in Etania, Keyel, or even Zaden. The result is a powerful story of learning to surrender and trust, to fully embrace your God-given calling with your whole heart so that others can be inspired to do the very same. After reading Etania’s Calling, there is no doubt that M.H. Elrich has courageously embraced her own gift, and every reader who picks up this story is going to be better for having read it.

I’m very much looking forward to the Daughters of Tamnarae series continuing and am so grateful for the opportunity to read this book. I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book, which I received from the author. All views expressed are only my honest opinion.

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You can keep up with writing updates from M.H. Elrich on Instagram and Goodreads!

Etania’s Calling, as well as the first book in the series, Etania’s Worth, are available on Amazon.

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What books have you read and enjoyed lately? Share any recommendations in the comments! I’m always looking for new books to read. If you’re an author, please don’t be shy about suggesting your own stories!

Hoping your weekend is filled with good books,

Alexandria

Featured

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

Featured

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

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