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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

❤back to the books giveaway hop!

the season ❤ I don't know if school's started in the States yet, but I'm already a month into my semester abroad here in sunny South Korea! Not that this is particularly exciting... in fact, I think I hate school. But September is precisely the time we go back -- whether or not it's school we are going back to -- to the good old times; the nostalgic fresh start, the scent of eraser shavings, the pleasantly sporadic butterflies in the stomach. This school year's probably my busiest yet, and though you may hear me complain about it on a regular basis (or not... as I've been MIA from the blogosphere for quite some time -- I'm sorry, I'm sorry!), knowing each new school year brings a new experience makes it all the more worthwhile.
the hop The Back to the Books Giveaway Hop, hosted by Kathy at I Am A Reader, Not A Writer and Buried in Books, works like this: each participating blog hosts a giveaway and then we link up together allowing our followers to hop easily from one giveaway to another.  For followers, it means lots of chances to win free books. For blogs hosting giveaways, it means lots of new visitors and followers. It's a win-win! The Back to the Books Giveaway Hop is scheduled from September 1st at 12.01 AM until September 7th at 11:59 PM (your time).
the prizes  I've noticed most of us have "wishlist" books everywhere: on Amazon, Paperbackswap, and even Goodreads! In honor of this, one lucky winner will receive some books on their wishlist! If you are chosen as the winner, I'm email you and you send me your top ten choices of books you'd like to read. And according to the prices (I'm not made of money!), I'll buy you as much as my student budget allows :) If you're in the US, I can guarantee this will be at least three books (unless you want a ridiculous special edition hardcover with author's autograph crap book that costs more than my monthly rent).
If you're international, and provided Book Depository ships to you, you will receive one wishlisted book (under 10 USD). Yay to wishes being fulfilled!
the rules ❤  Since this is a follower hop, I will have to make (+1) following my blog a mandatory entry (on your left). For additional entries, you can (+2) follow me on Twitter (@lovestephaniexx) and (+2) fill out this little opinion survey. It's just a form that asks for your thoughts about my blog; I want honest opinions! AND you should give it a whirl because all submissions are entered for a chance to win a $25 gift card to Amazon or Barnes & Noble :) That's up to five entries total.

Leave a comment on this post saying you follow (include GFC name), along with your email address. Let me know if you have any additional entries, too (include Twitter handle and/or form submission email). No GFC name or Twitter name or Email = No entries!

So for example, if I am entering the giveaway, I would leave a comment saying:

+1 Follow your blog! (GFC name: ❤Stephanie)
+2 Follow you on Twitter! (Twitter name: @lovestephaniexx)
+2 Filled out the form! (Email: thestephanieloves at gmail dot com)
And that would give me five entries.
the small print I'm not saying this because I'm a complete bitch who wants to make your life a living hell, but because I've noticed something going on with a lot of follower hops. The point of them is not to temporarily follow that blog and unfollow as soon as the giveaway is over. The point of the follower hops is for the blogs generously offering giveaway prizes to gain more readers and followers -- in return, participants receive the opportunity to win great prizes such as books, gift cards, and swag. I'm not just speaking on behalf of myself, because seriously, I'm so grateful for the followship I have (love every each and one of you!), but I know for a fact this happens with lots of other blogs as well. Being part of the blogging community, I just want to let my two cents be heard. And not to sound cheeky, but a lot of us bloggers use Qwitter, which is an app that tells us exactly who unfollows us on Twitter, so we're not as oblivious as you think. If you are so inclined as to read more about how I feel on this subject matter, please refer to this blog post.
the end Sorry my rant was a little anal. I'm not trying to be mean. YOU KNOW I LOVE YOU so don't even go there, darling. Be sure to enter all of the other giveaways going on for this hop; there are so many great prizes being given away!

xo and always!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

❤author: Sandra Byrd Interview and Giveaway!

 Thanks to Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, I've gotten the opportunity to feature author, Sandra Byrd, at the blog today. She's here to tell us about her promoted release, To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn, and will be ending with a lovely giveaway, so stay tuned!

Welcome to ¡Miraculous!, Sandra! Will you please share a short bio with us?

Absolutely! I've published more than three dozen books in the fiction and non-fiction markets, including this one, To Die For. Which is a dream come true for me! I've also shared many of the writing secrets and skills I've learned with the new writers I edit, mentor, and coach. I live in the Seattle, Washington area with my husband and two children. For more Tudor tidbits, please visit my Tudor-themed website!

 A pleasure to have you! Tell us about your books.

This series, Ladies in Waiting, is a series of three books in Tudor England, each story being told from the point of view of one of the Queen's closest friends. From a young age, we women are wired for friendship. Little girls link arms in exclusivity with one another on the playground. The most devastating betrayals during our middle and high school years often come not from boys but from the friends we thought loved us and in whom we'd trusted. I have several friends with whom I've been close for more than twenty years and know they have my back, and I, theirs, no matter what. So when I began to write novels set in the Tudor period I wondered, who were these Queens' real friends, those who would remain true in a treacherous court? Ovid wrote, "While you are fortunate you will number many friends, when the skies grow dark you will be alone."

I began with Anne Boleyn and her close friend, Meg Wyatt.

To set the stage as it were, your readers might like to visit my blog to find some delicious Renaissance recipes or learn more about knights and ladies. Or take a walk through the Castles and Palaces page on my site, or visit the Tudor Hall.

 That's such a fascination premise to begin historical stories upon! When and why did you begin writing?

I knew that I wanted to be a writer at six years old, as soon as I'd learned to read the Bobbsey Twins books. Really! When I was a kid, I wanted three careers: to be a hair stylist, to be a waitress, and to be an author. After I mohawked my Barbie I knew I wasn’t cut out for the hairstylist career. I actually was a waitress in a Jewish deli when I was a teenager, and I worked for a caterer. Writing, however, was the real passion. And it stuck.

What inspired you to write your first book, and then how did you get published? Tell us your call story.

I think because I loved reading so much as a girl, and because I know that the 8-12 years are critical to cementing a love of books in a kid's heart, I started with tween books. I have written several tween series and still love writing for that age. The girls are so hopeful, so full of life, burdened, certainly, with the problems of adolescence but they mostly feel as though they can overcome. I wrote up the first book in the first series and had a published friend read it over for me. After corrections, I sent it out. And sent it out. And sent it out. I garnered thirteen rejections before I found a house that was interested. But then, once started, I was off and running.

 How much of your actual life gets written into your fictional stories?

I think there is a little part of me in nearly every character, perhaps every female character,
anyway. I think most writers draw upon their own emotional experiences and perhaps life
experiences though nothing is completely autobiographical. Probably the most influence from my own life comes from the characters and subjects I write about. You have to spend long hours researching and reading about and thinking about your characters, so you need to set the books in a time and place, and with people, that you really like. Otherwise, you just won't want to spend time with them. And if the writer doesn't want to spend time with them, the readers won't, either! So I often write about London, and Paris, both of which I love.

 That rings true to every writer, to some extent. What are your biggest motivations for writing?

Deadlines. :) No, really, I love to disappear into a good book and my way of, hopefully, giving back is to provide good books that other people can disappear into, too.

 Can you honestly say being an author is your ideal job? Do you ever sometimes wish you hadn't begun a writing career or had gone down a different path?

It is the best job in the world! It is also a very hard one, because you put yourself out there to be criticized. I never wish I hadn't begun a writing career. I love it too much for that, but getting reviews can be hard. The best part is getting feedback from the readers. That makes it all worth it.

 How would you describe your writing style/tone?

I love first person because it's intimate, and I read a book to disappear into someone's life, so I hope to write that way, too. I hope I'm honest with my characters and I like to add humor and wit when I can. I try to write people three dimensionally: physical, mental, and spiritual, because we are all made up of those elements in real life.

 That's so insightful! 
What's next for you?

Book Two, which releases next year and is called The Secret Keeper, is about Kateryn Parr and one of her maids of honor. The third book will be set in the Elizabethan Court...

 Where can you be found on the web?

Facebook | Twitter | Website | Purchase Book

I hope your readers will also sign up for my e-postcards (where I am also giving away two Kindles) so I can keep in touch!

 Before we conclude this interview, is there anything you’d like to say to our readers?

First, I'd like to thank them for their time in reading this interview and considering my book! Secondly, as an author, I always like to know: What keeps you deep in a book, and what about a particular author's work brings you back to his or her next book?

 Thank you for being here today, Sandra! It was a pleasure getting to know you and your books better :)

Thank you for inviting me to your blog "home"!

❤  Sandra has generously offered a print copy of To Die For for one lucky reader! Leave a comment answering Sandra's question, and you're entered!

Giveaway runs through September 6th, 2011 at 11.59 pm (your time) and is open to US, Canada, UK, Australia, and New Zealand readers only.
Please make sure you properly answer the giveaway question for your entry to count.
Include your email in your comment so I know who to contact as the winner.
As a reminder, you do
not have to follow my blog to enter, though it is always very much appreciated :)
Good luck!

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥: Always the Vampire by Nancy Haddock

Always the Vampire (Oldest City Vampire #3)
Nancy Haddock

Release Date: May 3rd, 2011
Publisher: Berkley (Penguin)
Page Count: 342
Source: From publisher, via Romancing the Bookfor review


It might seem like I'm slacking on my duties as a vampire princess, but you can bet your fangs that I'm going to be the best maid of honor ever for Maggie's Victorian wedding. I want everything to be perfect, even if I have to wear a bustle. But when my mostly human honey, Saber, falls ill due to a magical construct called the Void, I know I'll have to go beyond the call of bridesmaid duty...

The Void is affecting every supernatural being in my afterlife, including my shape-shifter ex, Triton. To counter the Void's reign of terror, I'll need to activate ancient amulets and fully summon my vampire powers—two moves that may lead to my own doom.

With a lot more than a wedding party to worry about, it's time to show undying love and save them all—and save myself...
What Stephanie Thinks: Though Always the Vampire is book three of the Oldest City Vampire series, it makes for a pretty entertaining stand-alone novel that both douses in the contemporary romance and urban fantasy genres.

Though it's technically "paranormal romance", I can't get myself to call it that because the actual paranormal elements are extremely minor, if at all, important. Cesca Marinelli is pushing 228, but she does not display any vampirely characteristics. Passersby recognize her on the streets as the town vampire, which is both unrealistically casual and hard to believe. Haddock creates an urban fantasy world that's so modern and chic, but just difficult to relate to.

As a whole, this novel is satisfying, though I must say it's very anticlimactic. The rising action is all of titillating, but the story peaks at a disappointment. Also, the moment I finished it, I couldn't help but wonder, How is this even a vampire story? It just isn't "magical" enough—or engrossing enough, for that matter—for me to really consider it paranormal.

The characters, however, particularly the two male protagonists, Saber (Cesca's hunky boyfriend) and Triton (Cesca's hunky ex), make me weak in the knees. ♥♥. Just yumSaber and Cesca's undying (literally...) romance will sweep you off your feet.

Not anything marvelous overall, but it's a fair read for me. The "sexiness" of Cesca's humor and so-called wit (or lack thereof) falls flat, but the plot is suspenseful, and the characters determined, which should count for something.

Stephanie Loves: "'In [Triton's] younger days, he was a bit of a player. Now? I don't think so, but he is a guy. Men can be too exasperating to be worth the trouble.' 
'Or wonderful enough to wait a lifetime for,' Lia said from behind us."

Radical Rating: 7 hearts: Not without flaws, but overall enjoyable. ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥: What Happens in Vegas by Natasha Deen

Release Date: August 17th, 2011
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Page Count: 125
Source: Complimentary copy provided by author, via Partners in Crime Toursin exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you!)

It’s not that Binda Morningstar’s an idiot—the girl’s got more degrees than a thermometer—but there’s something about a crisis that makes her lose her mind... and accidentally injure anyone within a ten foot radius. But if she’s going to rescue her boss from a cursed jewel, she’s going to have to keep it together. Unfortunately for her, the cop on the case, Corin Hawthorne, has her losing her mind and her heart…and if he gets anymore drool worthy, she’s going to lose her inhibitions, too.

To save her boss and win her man, she’s got to outrun a mobster, outwit the yiffs at a sex fetish convention, and outthink an ex-wife—and she’s got to do it all without breaking an arm or inadvertently hitting anyone with pepper spray... it’s all got Binda hoping that what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.
What Stephanie Thinks: A cursed gem keeps its promises; fortunately for Binda and her dreamy, swoon-worthy cop-turned-partner, Corin, its robber doesn't know about the infamous jinx on the precious stone, which, in turn, ends up favorably for them.

The mystery of this entertaining sleuth story is
predictable and its suspense very short-lived and weak. The "danger" presented doesn't have me biting my nails or shivering, and for the most part, I think the crime is clean; I'd consider What Happens in Vegas a cozy mystery because all the horrific blood, guts, and violence remains bated. The plot moves quickly, so even some of the bland scenes are still enjoyable. And of course, there's the humor.

Oh, yes—the humor. I would classify this book as "comedy fiction" before I consider it a "mystery" because of Deen's outrageously hysterical characters. While at times, Binda's humor dims the suspense of the situation (for instance, when she's held at gunpoint, she continues to crack jokes), it for the most part, is hilarious. Deen brings Binda's personality alive through her inevitable clumsiness (sounds like me, to be honest!) and self-deprecating sense of humor. The other characters are just as lovable (I could just EAT Corin... mmm) and  are drawn out well.

My only problem is how the funny scenes are elaborated upon too much. In my opinion, comedy shouldn't have to be picked apart, explained, and then refuted. It should just be left as is; that's what makes it funny in the first place. Despite this, Deen's clever, well-developed story is amusing and difficult not to finish; not because I want to know what happens in the end, but because I want to know what happens next. There's a slight difference, but wanting to know what occurs on the next page eventually leads me to the last page, and it has me thinking Damn. That was a fun book.

Stephanie Loves: "Holy crap. Pass me the fruit dip, don't worry about the fork, and let me dive in. The man had a deep, rich voice that left me licking my lips."

Radical Rating: 8 hearts: An engaging read; highly recommended. ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Friday, August 12, 2011

♥♥♥♥♥♥: Rhapsody for Lessons Learned or Remembered by Georgia Ann Banks-Martin

Rhapsody for Lessons Learned or Remembered
Georgia Ann Banks-Martin

Release Date: November 1st, 2010
Publisher: Plain View
Page Count: 66
Source:  NURTURE Virtual BOOK Tourz™  for review, as part of the Rhapsody for Lessons Learned or Remembered virtual book tour

Georgia Banks-Martin walks us through an art gallery. We view art, which she has processed and questioned, through her lens: Lawrence, Monet, Van Gogh, Beardon, Sargent, Degas, to name a few of the artists. She challenges the reader to face slavery, grief and joy, to feel the weight the South bears, to examine art across centuries for lessons. These poems revive what has been omitted in our history books-individual life stories. She uses sound, music and voice to make imagery pulse in these ekphrastic poems. In her poem "Railroad Station," after a Jacob Lawrence: "Those leaving the towns where father and mother/labored in fields without being offered a yard of thread spun/from the cotton they pulled, have assembled./Packed: Hopes of work, three bedroom homes/water heated in water tanks, classrooms." As memories populate her poems, so does the theme of hope permeate her book; in "Death Dancing" after a Max Slevogt: "I wish memories could be buried as easily as bodies." . . . a book to remember as you stand face to face with art.
What Stephanie Thinks: Art fanatics will delight in Banks-Martin's collection of poetry based off inspiring, memorable masterpieces. Though I am not familiar with many of the paintings she references in her verses, her vague, nostalgic prose flows to make me imagine them. The poems don't all fit together in any way, which sort of confused me at first. Though well-written with strong, vivid imagery, the inconsistency of the poems, and the fact that I couldn't gather the subject of her writing, had me weary by the first few pages.

I normally love poetry, and had looked forward to understanding the "lessons learned and remembered" in this book, but unfortunately, that was difficult for me. I wish they had been connected more thoroughly, rather than including random tidbits of Banks's life.

For anyone with a background in art—those timeless treasures we keep cherished through years of evolution—Rhapsody for Lessons Learned or Remembered will no doubt, be a refreshing and consuming read.

Stephanie Loves: "Soon star-like buds will appear / on the fence born of a vine that during / the first week of fall had continued climbing / hoping the sun wouldn't turn its back, / the wind would only stroke still green leaves, / allowing them a few more hours, / before rain, twisting, tearing, / tumbling through unpaved alleys— / the shedding of seeds." —from "Remembering an Autumn Day".

Radical Rating: 6 hearts: Satisfying for a first read, but I'm not going back. ♥♥♥♥♥♥

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

❤author: T. P. Boje Interview and Giveaway!

 I'm thrilled to welcome author YA and fantasy author, T.P. Boje, to the blog today. Welcome to ¡Miraculous!, T.P.! Will you please share a short bio with us?

I am a Danish writer currently living in Florida. I have written three mystery-novels in Danish that are published in Scandinavia and Germany. I have also written two books in English. One is a mystery novel and the other is a YA fantasy novel. I am a mother of two, a "bonus mother" of another two and a huge family person. I love anything that causes me to use my imagination.

 Tell us about your new release, The Eye of the Crystal Ball.

It is a fantasy novel for teens and young adults, but I really think that anyone who likes to use their imagination would enjoy it. I know I enjoyed writing it.

Here is the official synopsis:

When Sara was newborn, her parents left her at the doorstep at Mr. and Mrs. Schneider’s house.

When Sara was ten, she discovered she was telekinetic. She began to move stuff around when she got angry just by her will alone.

When Sara was twelve, her real parents came for her and took her with them to live like the Gypsy that she was -- or Romani as they like to call themselves. They told her she was going to fulfill a prophesy. That it was once said that out of the Romani people the greatest sorceress who had ever lived would be born.

When Sara was thirteen, she had a baby brother and when she was fourteen, he got very sick with a strange illness.

To save her baby-brother Sara sets off on a quest to find his cure -- well-knowing that it will cost her dearly.

Soon, Sara finds herself going through the Singing Cave, crossing Wild Witches Valley, talking to a ten foot giant snail, rescuing the Beads of Souls from the Hell-hounds, escaping a spell in Vamila, the Forest of Vanity, visiting the king at the City of Lights before she finally reaches the Black Castle where she is told the Eye of the Crystal Ball can tell her how to cure her brother’s strange illness.

But nothing is free in this world -- and as Sara soon will know -- everything has a price.

 Sounds intriguing! When and why did you begin writing?

I have always told stories to whoever would listen. In school, I remember sitting in class during recess and telling stories to my friends, making them forget that they were about to go out and play. Even my teacher would often listen in as well. Later he asked me to start writing the stories down and he would read them and comment on them. But it wasn't until I was 31 that I had my first novel published.

 So it was talent to begin with! What inspired you to write your first book, and then how did you get published? Tell us your call story.

After high school, I went to a nuniversity and became a journalist -- and I worked for several years at a Danish TV station. One day, I was sent to Poland to do a story about a Danish truck driver that had been found dead there. When I got there and followed the police investigation, I thought, This would make a great mystery-novel. Two years later, it did. I sent the manuscript to a publisher and she loved it right away and after editing it for about another year, it was published.

 Based a little bit off reality then, huh? How much of your actual life gets written into your fictional stories?

The story in The Eye of the Crystal Ball is inspired by stories my dad used to tell me. I have always had an interest in gypsies and loved the stories my dad would tell about their music, dancing, and fluttering skirts. Actually, I think Sara has been with me ever since I was a child. My parents used to tell me (for fun!) that I wasn't their child, that they had found me on their doorstep with a note, that I was probably a gypsy. That made me very interested in gypsies and I would always ask my dad about them. I didn't believe that I wasn't their child (they told my brother that they had bought him at the zoo -- from the monkey cage!). I knew they were joking and making me use my imagination, but I think some part of me wanted to be that special girl from a distant and exotic place and family. I think Sara is that child that I wanted to be.

 Oh gosh... the nostalgia. How did you arrive at writing fantasy and YA novels?

Actually, I have just started writing YA fantasy, but I do think this is where I belong. Mystery novels were usually what I wrote, and with them, I have always felt like the characters and the places were way too boring, because they had to be so realistic. I love adventure and making up strange and exotic places and creatures and now that I have started writing fantasy I am kind of surprised that I didn't think of it before. But I guess the right story just wasn't there.

 What are your biggest motivations for writing?

I can't stop. I get restless. I have to write. The stories pile up inside of me and at some point they just have to get out.

 Sounds like me, minus the writing part. I'm pretty much like that about everything! Do you ever sometimes wish you hadn't begun a writing career or had gone down a different path?

It is the best job in the world! It is also a very hard one, because you put yourself out there to be criticized. I never wish I hadn't begun a writing career. I love it too much for that, but getting reviews can be hard. The best part is getting feedback from the readers. That makes it all worth it.

 How would you describe your writing style/tone?

That is a hard one. I guess it is in a little "old fashioned fairytale" kind of way. I use humor as well.

 Give aspiring writers a piece of advice you wish you had known before getting published.

Receiving a bad review doesn't mean your book is bad. It just mean the one reviewing isn't your audience. The book is not for them.

 I am so relieved that you acknowledge that. Sometimes, authors and publishers get really defensive when I give negative reviews. Sorry, but this is a book REVIEW site, not a book worship site. Requesting reviews risks that sort of criticism, so it's a dumb thing to get upset over. Who are some authors you idolize?

Jules Verne. Tolkien. C. S. Lewis.

 A roundup of the world's most timeless fantasy authors. What's a question you always want to be asked during interviews? How would you answer it?

Do you think eBooks are the future?
I do. I love that they are so easy, but I also think people will keep buying real books, because nothing beats the feeling of holding a real book in your hands. I heard someone compare it to the lightbulbs vs. candles. We still buy both because we like candlelight, but lightbulbs are easier and cheaper.

 Holy wow. That's an incredible way to put it. What's the most interesting comment you've received about your books?

This one, I got just the other day from a reader: The character of Sara is so fine drawn and haunting, that I was stunned by the reality so smoothly mixed with fantasy. 

 What's next for you?

I am currently writing another fantasy novel that hopefully will be out in August. Then, I will begin the sequel to The Eye of the Crystal Ball.

 Where can you be found on the web?

 Before we conclude this interview, is there anything you’d like to say to our readers?

I would like to tell them that I really love writing and hope that everyone will enjoy my stories. I often think about how I used to sit in front of my friends at school and I now know that is what being a writer is all about. Spellbinding your audience so they will forget everything else around them.

 Thank you for being here today, T.P.! It was a pleasure getting to know you and your books better :)

❤  T.P. has generously offered an autographed copy of The Eye of the Crystal Ball for one lucky reader! To enter, tell me your favorite fantasy book and why. Not a fan of fantasy? Tell me your favorite book of all time (regardless of genre) and be sure to give a reason.

Giveaway runs through August 25th, 2011 at 11.59 pm (your time) and is open internationally!
Please make sure you properly answer the giveaway question for your entry to count.
Include your email in your comment so I know who to contact as the winner.
As a reminder, you do
not have to follow my blog to enter, though it is always very much appreciated :)
Can't wait to hear your favorite fantasy stories. Good luck!