Saturday, October 24, 2015

Becoming Nikki (Book Review)

Becoming Nikki
By: Ashley Elliot
Rating: 4.5 stars 
Ages: 12 and up

From the back cover: 

"What would you do if you were given the opportunity to rebuild a broken relationship?

Alec and Nikki Scott are the perfect ice dancing duo, executing flawless technique and brilliant performance abillities each time they compete. No one doubts their camaraderie, not even their closest friends.

But looks can be deceiving. Off the ice, their relationship is in shambles. Ice dancing is the only thing they have in common anymore...and Alec wants to quit. 

Just as Nikki feels like their relationship can't get any worse, an unexpected tragedy crashes into her life. She's left struggling with a difficult choice as her opinion of her brother slowly starts to change.

Whatever she decides, she knows her life will never be the same."

Becoming Nikki is a fantastic book. It's one of the best I've read this year. I highly enjoyed the plot, and the message, and really just the unfolding of the whole story. 

Starting out, I wasn't super interested... I had bought three books, so I decided to hop into another one. Little did I know that this book was going to be so good! (And was it, indeed!)

Once I started reading again, I was pretty much hooked. It didn't take long for everything to start rolling. And I finished it the next day. (Yes, I did finish two books in two days...) ;)

I really, really liked the plot. I know I mentioned this above, but it's worth mentioning twice. Ice dancing? it's a really unique take to a book, especially since anything with ice dancing is normally in movie form. But it was really well done. I could tell that the author took the time to do some research. Though, most of the time I generally had no clue what move the two main characters were performing, the way Elliot describes it makes it seem much more authentic. I also thought it was rather cool that Becoming Nikki was inspired by Charlie White and Meryl Davis. 

I loved the unfolding of Alec and Nikki's relationship. Elliot did a really great job with this. Things progressed realistically. It was paced well, too. You get to see some of what their relationship is like before the accident, and then flashbacks tell more later on in the story. (The accident was nicely done, too!)

Their relationship was really so adorable. It was really nice to find a book that was not a romance - it was just a story about a  brother and sister. I really enjoyed all of the special moments between Alec and Nikki, like when they play the football game at the family get-together and he chooses her first. Or when he takes her to lunch and then on a surprise visit to the fair. (And Natalie and Bennett and Dylan show up. And Bennett is seriously goofy. And Dylan was great. Natalie? I have a feeling I'd probably be her in this book...) ;)

Overall, I can't describe Becoming Nikki well enough. This book is really good. It was well done, incredibly realistic, and just a whole lot of fun, along with having a much-needed message included about treasuring our relationships with our siblings. 

(AND I normally don't go for Contemporary fiction, but this was way better than most!) 

Job well-done, Ashley Elliot! This book comes recommended. :)

Friday, October 23, 2015

Secret of the Lost Settlement: The Duty of Warriors (Book Review)

Secret of the Lost Settlement: The Duty of Warriors
By: John J. Horn
Rating: 4 stars
Ages: 13/14 and up (for violence, mention of disturbing Roman practices, and overall mature themes)

As most of you probably know by now, John J. Horn is my favorite author. He's an incredible writer, and I'm a huge fan. Brothers at Arms? Easily my favorite fictional book. Each of his novels weave together adventure, heart-pounding action, humor, and a whole lot of great story-telling, along with Christian morals and faith messages.

But Secret of the Lost Settlement was so completely different than his last two books. The message was bold and John didn't shy away from delving into it. The message is what this book is all about. The duty of warriors? This is it.

I think that's sort of what I loved about it.

I cried, I laughed, and I hurt. Both times I've read it I've been entwined into the character's lives and the story. Horn has an amazing writing style - he knows how to craft a well-told tale. All of his books are adrenaline-pumping adventures set in exotic locations.

You know what, I'll take a detour and talk about locations for a sec. (Random? Maybe a little.)

All three books in this series have really amazing settings - the jungles of Peru, the frozen steppes of Siberia, and the icy mountain ranges of Greenland. (Now, whenever I hear someone talking about Peru or Siberia, I perk up...haha!) I love the settings!

Back to Secret

The characters? Almost all of them are back - with a few new additions, of course. Colonel Nobody, ever his super-serious self, is even more so in this book - but for a reason. All of the trials that Noble goes through in this novel he deals with incredibly well. He stands strong, and in the midst of it all he still is gallant and brave. 

Now, Law: he is so different in this book! He's matured. There's a part near the end where he steps up to save Pacarina, and he fights Roman soldiers by himself. He fights soldiers. If you guys have read Brothers at Arms, then you'll know why this is so cool.

Chester is ever his impetuous, fun-loving self. And he gets an upgrade on The Eyesore, much to Lawrence's chagrin. (Love it!) Chester is such a great character.

Jacques and O'Malley? Well, I can safely say they haven't changed much, even in the midst of being outlawed. Jacques doesn't take to Chester very well (but then he finds out who the Stonings are in relation to his beloved Colonel Nobody, and things quickly turn in the opposite direction). 

John handles his themes well, never going into so much detail you would want to put the book down. There are much more mature elements in this book because of the Romans and their horrid practices, but again, they're handled pretty well. 

I must admit I was a little disappointed that the series suddenly became much more serious overall in this novel. I suppose I was expecting something different. There's the always-present humor that I love about John's novels, but it feels heavier, was a bit darker.  It's not my favorite of the series, but it was still good, still John's improbable type of plot and story.

(The improbability is one of my favorite things about his novels.)

Why I Recommend This:

The message; the characters; the story. The message...of doing the right thing, making the right choice, even when the outcome isn't what you'd hoped it would be. The characters...who stand strong when the odds seem impossible. They don't give up. They fight for the right and for the innocent and for the just cause. The story...which will most likely touch you deeply and leave you in tears. 

It's a historical, adventurous, God-honoring, sometimes nerve-racking ride that you won't soon forget.  

Buy the book here, on Amazon Kindle.

Happy reading,


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Brothers at Arms: Treasure and Treachery in the Amazon (Book Review)

Brothers at Arms: Treasure and Treachery in the Amazon
By: John J. Horn
Rating: 5 stars (because I love this book even after reading it four times)
Ages: 12/13 and up (for mild violence and some description of deaths)

This book is amazing, for more reasons than one. This is John Horn at his best. 

Brothers at Arms: Treasure and Treachery in the Amazon is my favorite fictional novel. It combines action, adventure, multi-dimensional (and undercover) villains, suspense, God-honoring principles, and even the smallest bit of clean romance.

The twins, Law and Chester Stoning, are so fun. They've become two of my favorite characters. Law's studious and charming (in his own sort of way); Chester is gallant and brave and has a bit of impetuosity in him. Working together, they beat seemingly impossible odds - with Lawrence's knack for planning escapes and Chester's mastery of gun and dagger. I love it - that Law plans, and Chester does the actual fighting part. (But Law gets better.) And I love how their relationship changes over the course of the story - from being brothers who don't get along to friends and true comrades. I love the unique way Chester talks and the brothers' dialogue with each other throughout the book. And the Eyesore? That's just fantastic!

The plot and writing are simply amazing. I really enjoyed the setting changes - from England to the steaming jungles of Peru. John has chosen unique settings for each of his books, and they're big parts of the story itself. It makes the series a lot of fun.

It's funny to think that after having read this three times already, the last time I read it (being time #4), I still noticed something I hadn't before. I think sometimes I read too fast, so I miss fun details. Like the scene in the cave when the villain (I won't mention a name, just so I don't spoil anything) tosses the heroine, Pacarina, to the side, and Law catches her and hugs her. I mean, I hadn't even known that was there! It was a really sweet moment that I fortunately caught the fourth time around. 

(Let this be a lesson to me to read slower and enjoy the detailing in all stories!) ;)

And the epilogue? It's such a great part of the book! I am really very happy that John included that! :)

The thing about the Men of Grit series, but particularly Brothers at Arms, that I love so much is the adventure - it's fast-paced, heart-pounding, and just plain fun to read. And Horn always adds a bit of humor. (Which is also incredibly fun.)

Law and Chester learn lessons in this book. They change and grow. They face trials, but they overcome them, all the while being chivalrous and brave. This book is what the world needs more of, honestly. It's exciting and funny and has a bunch of action scenes...

In the end, all of my rambling can't to do this incredible book justice. It will most likely forever hold a favorites spot on my ever-growing shelf of books read. My advice? By this book. Read it. Marvel at the amazing-ness. Then go get the next two books. I bet you won't regret it. 

(I sure haven't! Buying The Boy Colonel was one of the best book-choices I have ever made. Ever.) ;)
For a limited time (it's up tomorrow!) you can get Brothers at Arms FREE! Get the book right here, on Amazon

And, you can learn more about the author, what he writes, and check out special concept art at John Horn's website,

Happy reading,


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Men of Grit Series on Kindle!

I'm very happy to announce that John J. Horn's amazing Men of Grit series is again available...on Kindle! This is really exciting - even to me, someone who currently owns all three novels in paperback already. Yes, I love this series that much. ;)

And today is the perfect time to read Brothers at Arms:Treasure and Treachery in the Amazon, the first book in the Men of Grit series, because for three days only (the 21st-23rd) it's FREE on Amazon! Download it here.

Isn't that cool!?

Okay, so, yes, I am a huge fan. (If you didn't already know.)

Brothers at Arms: Treasure and Treachery in the Amazon (Book 1)

"Long ago, these hills were Inca land." She slowly swept her right hand over the hills behind us. "All authority lay in the ruler, the Inca. They said he was divine. All gold belonged to him."

She looked toward the coast, a dim blue mist on the horizon. "The Spaniards came. They wanted gold. They got gold. But not all the gold."

Lawrence and Chester Stoning are twins, but like Jacob and Esau of old they have little else in common. Lawrence is a realist, fascinated by the study of science, mathematics, and history, while Chester longs for the knightly adventures of chivalrous times past - hard-fought battles, gold-filled caves, damsels in distress.

When Chester's impetuosity engages the unlikely pair as bodyguards to a Spaniard and his beautiful ward Pacarina, the twins quickly realize that the 19th century calls for a chivalry of its own. Protecting Pacarina's secret leads all of them into the steaming jungles and dizzying mountains of Peru, a foreboding territory made all the more dangerous by Lawrence and Chester's strivings against each other.

Can the twins learn to trust God and work together before it's too late? Or will they fall prey to the mysterious schemes of Pacarina's enemy - an enemy they know nothing about?

Download Brothers at Arms.

The Boy Colonel: A Soldier Without a Name (Book 2)

"Edmund, do you understand, this is not what I want! I was born for war, I have lived my life in war, and I will very likely die in war. But," his voice lifted in the clear air, passion swelling his tones, "I do not intend it to be this war!"

The year is 1836. A mysterious young English colonel commands a crack regiment in the snowy wastes of Siberia. No one knows his history. No one knows his name. The Cossacks want him dead - but are they the only ones? It seems his worst enemy may wear an English uniform. 

The Boy Colonel strives to perform his duty, but when that duty becomes mixed he must decided which sovereign is greater - the king of England, or the God of the Bible. Treachery, intimidation, and deceit block his path. His choice of allegiance may mean the difference between life and death. Is he prepared to risk all to protect his loved ones?

Buy The Boy Colonel. 

Secret of the Lost Settlement: The Duty of Warriors (Book 3)

"Noble, leave me!" Edmund said.

"We stick - 'til death."

"No! Find the Miriam. It's my only chance." 

Edmund's fingers went slack.

Colonel Nobody (The Boy Colonel) and the Stoning twins (Brothers at Arms) are back!

Outlawed for a crime he did not commit, the "Boy Colonel" must seek pardon by finding witnesses to his supposed crime in the whaling fleet off Greenland's coast. But his plans go awry when his search amidst the fjords and shifting ice-mountains leads him into a hidden valley peopled by descendants of a Roman expedition lost during Nero's reign.

When twins Lawrence and Chester Stoning arrive with news of Queen Victoria's ultimatum, Colonel Nobody must decide whether to stay and protect the colony's persecuted Christians or venture to escape with the proof needed to save his best friend from hanging. Or will he survive the settlement's horrors long enough to do either?

Buy Secret of the Lost Settlement.

AND, because of the awesome news of release on Kindle, I've decided now is the perfect time to re-review probably the whole series - and if not, #1 and #3 for sure. (Those are the ones I most recently reread.) So, be on the lookout for that! :)

Learn more about the author of the series, what he writes (and doesn't), and view exclusive concept art at John's website,

And don't forget to pick up Brothers at Arms while it's FREE!

Happy reading,


Monday, October 19, 2015

Bold Messages (Why I Like Them)


I love reading. I love stories. I love characters. I think the simple (yet amazingly complex) idea of writing a novel is really incredible. I mean, how awesome is it that we can use the grey matter in our skulls to come up with a whole world!? Yes. Amazing indeed. ;)

So, the amazing-ness of stories leads to me another point. Messages. Christian fiction should be filled with messages that uplift, encourage, and inspire those walking the Way to keep up the good fight. And sometimes books in this genre are filled with those things...and sometimes they aren't. Sometimes the characters are just Christians, so the book is under the Christian genre. And that's okay, but...

I love finding a book with a bold message. I've been realizing that lately.

Some people think bold messages can be preachy. And they can, especially if they're not well done. But when an author is interweaving a little peace of their raw faith into a story, it can be so amazing. 

Take Secret of the Lost Settlement by John Horn, for instance. That book, while making me laugh and cry (both times I've read it), had a bold message. Incredibly bold. Mr. Horn didn't shy away from what he was trying to say...and that's kinda my favorite part about the book. I love that he did that. The duty of warriors and Christians? That's what Horn wrote about. He packed a definite punch! Sure, there's all that action and adventure and suspense that's the norm in a JJH book, but I think John was really trying to focus on the message. And he succeeded. It's a story that's stayed with me long after I've read it.

"There isn't always a good choice and a bad choice, but it's a Christian's duty to make the best choice, even if it hurts. That's the duty of Christians, and the duty of warriors." - Secret of the Lost Settlement

(That quote is basically the book in two sentences!) 

And that's what I want to do with the fiction that I'll write. Because I know how lovely it is to be reading and to stumble across a little bit of wisdom from a character, and to see the message of Jesus' undeserved grace playing out in different ways in different fictional people's lives. I want to be touched, to feel the hope within the story. 

Another book I want to mention is To Get to You by Joanne Bischof. I recently read this with my family, and we all enjoyed it (review to come!). I really like the message Joanne was weaving. To Get to You is a book about redemption, and grace, and second chances. It's a story of people changing and of God healing broken things. 

"...there are some things you can't go back from. You just lay the broken pieces down and then there's grace and it's glue, and in a strange way, you're more whole than before, because this time... This time it's not by your own doing." - Joanne Bischof, To Get to You

That's probably the best quote of the whole book right there! :)

Becoming Nikki had a message I liked, too! It was a story of a broken older brother-little sister relationship mending, and there was this one part where a character is talking about how he wishes he had a sibling. Then he goes on to say how precious those relationships with our brothers and sisters are. And it made me think. It made me want to put more effort into my sibling-relationships. 

When I take time to read books, I want to be getting something good out of them, because what you read stays with you for a long time (if not forever!). I want to find encouragement in my faith-walk within the pages of a novel! And that's what I want to do for others with my writing. 

What about you? Do you prefer messages boldly intertwined into stories, or more subtle messages that need a little digging to find?


Thursday, October 15, 2015

Wednesday Word Share

So, I decided to participate in Rachel Heffington's #wednesdaywordshare! (You can too...just use that hashtag!) I found this through Miss Emily Ann Putzke's blog, which you can check out at that link! 

sea green:
This is a snippet from my Civil War novel that I'm working on. Slowly. It'll come along sometime. :) For short I call it Trapped. That's a whole other story, though.

Anyways! I wrote part of this just the other day. Hope you enjoy!

I stood on deck, the salty wind playing with my hair. The soft sound of boots clumping behind me alerted me to the presence of – I turned. Wynn.
            He stopped next to me and looked off in the distance. “It’s beautiful out here, isn’t it?” he said softly.

            I nodded, turning my head to look at him. “It is.”

            He seemed content to remain silent after that, so I looked back at the water.  For some reason that I would never be able to explain, all I could think about when I saw the blue of the water was the Confederate uniform Teddy must be wearing right now. A sigh escaped me and I shifted my gaze to look down at wood of the bulwark.

            “Are you all right?” Wynn asked.


            Wynn glanced down at me and I met his eyes. He looked doubtful...and concerned.

            I looked back down. “If I were going to be completely honest,” I paused, awkwardly folding my arms in front of me, “then I would tell”

            Wynn nodded and looked off to the horizon again, and didn’t say anything for a few moments. I almost thought he wouldn’t say anything at all when his voice startled me.

“Madeline, I can’t know at all what you’re feeling…about your brother being off in war, but I do know that things,” he shifted towards me, “things don’t always go the way we planned.” A sad smile tilted one corner of his mouth upwards. “Often they don’t. But that’s not so much the problem as it is how we react to the change in plans. We can turn into a complaining, disgruntled person, or we can trust.” Wynn pointed one finger towards the sky. “Trust Him. He’s got it all worked out, and that’s a lot less scary than having everything in our palms.” He spread his hands wide, as if for emphasis. “God is good, Madeline. He doesn’t give us our wounds or our hurts or our trials. He's not like that. Sometimes things do come along that challenge us, but that isn't the point. The point is that He's there, He's in control, and He cares. And in the end we become a much better person for all of the heartache that might come with the challenge.” He turned to go, but paused, adding, “The war will end, Madeline. It will. Teddy is in God's hands."

And that's all, folk! (Yes, I said folk.) You will - hopefully - be hearing from me again soon! In a longer post, too. :)