Giveaway and Cover Reveal: Heart of the Guardian by Desiree Williams

It’s finally here – the cover reveal for Heart of the Guardian, the final installment of Desiree Williams’ Heart Song trilogy! As beautiful as the covers of Heart Song and Shifter’s Heart were, Heart of the Guardian is hands down my favorite; in fact, it’s probably one of the most stunning covers I’ve seen this year.  In addition to this great reveal, I’ve also got an excerpt for you from Heart of the Guardian, as well as the chance to win an awesome giveaway courtesy of the author herself. Cheers!

About Heart of the Guardian

The time has come. The war ends now…

Syrina’s inner energy has not been the same since the Guardian Alanna saved her that day in the market. A burning need to help others drives her to seek permission to join the caravan headed to the Rebels camp. Lady Alanna and Prince Jerric have given Syrina and her mother so much, and in return, Syrina wants to spread that kindness to the Guardian’s army in any way she can.

It was supposed to be another easy plan. Until an amber-eyed stranger flipped her life around, throwing her into the strange world of Guardians and Warriors. Now, Syrina faces challenges she’s never even dreamed of as the missing piece in the War on the Lands is found.

New enemies and allies surface in this never ending war. Syrina and the Guardians lock onto the measure of goodness they’ve been given while evil threatens to rip it from their hands.

When the battle hits home, nothing will be the same.

And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for…the big reveal!

Book cover for Heart of the Guardian by Desiree Williams

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Excerpt from Heart of the Guardian

“Do you need your energy back?”

Syrina jumped at how close his voice came. Whipping around, she found Emer a few feet from her. She hadn’t expected him to address her again, or to close the distance between them. She swallowed, unable to look away from those amber eyes. “Excuse me?”

He pointed to the barrier still around him. “You energy? Do you want to pull it back?”

“Oh, um, you can hang on to it, if you’d like. The barrier will continue to move with you, and once you’re finished just stretch your arms past the border. The edges will dissolve and the energy dissipate into the air.”

Syrina opted for a friendly tone, but her response made Emer’s frown deepen—if that were possible. He crossed his arms, watching her until she wanted to squirm.

“What did you do to him?” He pointed his chin toward Janson, who was now in a jovial mood, showing off the wares he’d transported from Aldonnia.

She shrugged a shoulder. Syrina had no idea how she’d done it, so it wasn’t like she could explain it. Not that it would be wise to tell this Rebel anyhow. “Not sure I know what you mean.”

Her heart skipped several beats before a small half-grin pulled at Emer’s mouth. She couldn’t stop herself from wondering what he’d look like if he truly smiled.

“You can keep your secrets, Miss Syrina. You’ll find we all have a trove full of them.” He strode past her, saying, “Welcome to the Rebels’ camp.”

Author Bio

Photo of Heart Song author Desiree WilliamsDesiree Williams is a dreamer by day and chocoholic by night. She lives in the beautiful state of Kentucky with her husband and daughter, where she juggles life as a wannabe supermom. Desiree is a lover of food and avoider of dirty dishes. She delights in making people laugh and strives to bring hope and love with her wherever she goes.

You can find out more about Desiree and her books at www.desireewilliamsbooks.blogspot.com.

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Giveaway

This is one giveaway you don’t want to miss – a lucky winner will receive a gorgeous rose gold heart pendant necklace, a $15 Amazon gift card, and Heart Song trilogy bookmarks. For a chance to win, enter the giveaway below. The winner will be announced on Desiree’s blog, Facebook, and Twitter account the morning of August 11.

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Review: Shifter’s Heart by Desiree Williams

Shifter's Heart Book Cover Shifter's Heart
Desiree Williams

As the flames of Varkadon spread, war rips through the Shifter Territory…

With the Aldonnian kingdom celebrating the news of her brother’s soul bonding, Laelynn seizes every opportunity to drive herself to the brink of exhaustion. If her body is worn, then her brain would be too tired to dream. Laelynn knew the men who’d captured her were gone from this world, but that didn’t stop the haunting images from plaguing her mind. Not even the pesky thorn-in-her-side Shifter Prince could keep the dreams at bay. Though Dustan’s commentary through their mental bond had kept a lingering smile on her lips, despite the battles that rage within her.

Yet when Dustan distances himself Laelynn questions the connection between them. Those fears rise when her own talents begin to morph and grow into the unexpected. Torn between love and faith, Laelynn strives to find the purpose behind the evolving gifts. What she discovers is far more than she ever imagined.

As tragedy befalls the Shifter Territory and brother battles against brother, Laelynn knows what must be done. Face her demons and triumph, or she’ll never claim the song of her heart.

Review:

If you’re in search of a tender romance that also contains action and humor, you need look no further than Shifter’s Heart, the second book in the Heart Song trilogy by Desiree Williams. If Heart Song was a good book, then Shifter’s Heart is a great one. Williams really steps up her game in this installment, bringing to the table excellent descriptions, sweet but steamy relationships, and plenty of banter to keep you laughing even in the midst of a battle between good and evil.

The war that began in Heart Song between Aldonnia and the evil Varkadons continues in Shifter’s Heart. Alanna, Jerric, and their friends and family must rally their forces and hone their magical abilities if they have any hope of defeating the Varkadons and stopping their enemies’ reign of terror. This mission is a compelling one, but I found I was less interested in the fight to overcome the Varkadons than I was in the love story developing between Laelynn, Jerric’s sister, and Dustan, High Prince of the Shifters.

Dustan and Laelynn were my two favorite characters in Heart Song, so I was overjoyed when I realized they were going to be taking center stage in Shifter’s Heart. I’m gaga over Dustan – the mischievous shape-shifter is thoughtful, romantic, and hilarious, with a flair for drama and a talent for playing pranks and stirring up trouble. The margins of my ARC were filled with comments like “Geez, I love Dustan!” and “Oh, Dustan – you crack me up!” Laelynn is a gem, too. She’s loving and kind, but she has enough spunk and attitude to make her feel human and relatable.

Laelynn and Dustan make a great pair – I adored them as a couple. The physical relationships in the book are limited to kissing and cuddling, but Williams somehow manages to make the romance steamy AND sweet. You can feel the attraction between the characters, and it’s enticing without getting out of hand. I had a big grin on my face for much of the book, mostly due to this very fact.

There’s a lot more humor and banter in Shifter’s Heart than there was in Heart Song, something that I loved. Both Dustan and Laelynn cracked me up, and I loved how they interacted together. The teasing, joking, and sarcasm between them never gets old, and it made me laugh out loud at several points in the book. Here’s a scene where Laelynn (who can control plants) is playfully arguing with Dustan:

“You’re insufferable, you know that?”

“It’s what you love most about me.” Dustan nuzzled Laelynn’s cheek, pressing his nose along her jaw line while she fought to shove him off. Vines leapt from nearby plants, tangling around Dustan’s waist, lifting him off the ground.

His gray eyes glowed silver at being captured, and a slow smile tipped the corners of his mouth. “Contain yourself, beloved. You’re only supposed to tie me up when we’re–”

A large leaf smacked over Dustan’s mouth, muffling the remaining words.

The only thing thing I wasn’t crazy about in Shifter’s Heart was something that also bothered me in Heart Song, and it’s more personal preference than anything else. Although I love romance, I’m not wild about books that read like romance novels; the language tends to be a little too cheesy. There are times when Shifter’s Heart skirts romance-novel-language territory, like when characters’ souls are supposedly calling out to one another or when eyes are constantly described as “blazing with love.” Still, this sort of thing is minor compared to all the other, beautiful aspects of the love story.

In addition to writing a compelling romance, Williams also excels at writing beautiful descriptions and poignant, hopeful scenes. I have several passages underlined in my ARC simply because I loved how they were worded. The chapters set in the Shifter territory are particularly lovely:

The trees broke apart to reveal a small clearing ahead. Dustan dropped her hand as he waded alone into the waist-high grass dotted with orange and yellow wildflowers. A gust of wind stirred the long stems, their fragrance swirling around her in a welcoming embrace, beckoning her to enter the field.

Isn’t that just gorgeous? And it’s just one of many exquisitely-written scenes!

All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a better sequel to Heart Song. Williams has really grown as an author, presenting a delightful novel that will make its readers laugh, cry, and swoon in turns. I can’t wait to read the final installment to find out what new joys Williams has in store!

A free ARC of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Idolism by Marcus Herzig

Idolism Book Cover Idolism
Marcus Herzig

Seventeen-year-old Julian Monk never expected to be a famous singer, but when opportunity strikes, he strikes back and throws himself headfirst into that new, exciting world of record deals, TV interviews and screaming fan girls.

His band mates are rather less enthusiastic about that new life they never really asked for. Dealing with their newly acquired fame and fortune is one thing; dealing with Julian is quite another. His sudden and unexpected metamorphosis from the shy and timid creature they have known all their lives into a surprisingly charismatic public speaker and global superstar takes everyone aback, and when Julian sets off on a very public crusade to replace faith and bigotry with reason and compassion, he raises more than just a few eyebrows. He raises hell, and his friends are no longer having any of it.

Meanwhile at the Vatican, a former televangelist is elected Pope. Hell-bent on transforming the Church into a modern, ‘hip’ institution, Pius XIII is giving his PR advisor a headache or two. Intrigued by Julian’s radical way of inspiring some people while antagonizing others – including his own friends – simply by preaching love and understanding, the new pope can’t help but wonder where he heard that storyline before. They say God has a plan for every man, but this man has a plan of his own - and it involves a teenage atheist pop star.

Review:

My enjoyment of Idolism depends on how I choose to view it. If I look at it as a book about a band’s sudden rise to fame and fortune and how their friendships and relationships change as a result, I really like it. If I look at it as a book about a young man’s religious revolution, it leaves something to be desired.

The book focuses on four British teenagers – Julian, Ginger, Tummy, and Michael – whose amateur band Puerity is selected to play at their school’s anniversary ceremony. Shortly before the gig, the teens uncover a secret government plan to mandate religious education classes in public schools. Julian uses the anniversary ceremony as an opportunity to unmask and oppose the plan, and scandal erupts, drawing media attention and thrusting Julian and the rest of Puerity into the public eye.

The band’s musical talent and Julian’s penchant for making dramatic speeches catapults Puerity into the spotlight, making them famous practically overnight. As you might imagine, this unexpected lifestyle change requires some adjustments for the band members. As iTunes sales soar, tours are scheduled, and bank accounts fill, the dynamic among the band mates noticeably shifts.

Julian, aware that his newfound fame gives him the means to make his voice heard on the subject of religion, takes full advantage of the spotlight. Tirelessly touring, making TV appearances, and staging incendiary music videos, Julian uses his music as a platform to speak out against what he refers to as the dangers of religion. He considers it a hindrance to humanity, standing in the way of true decency and enlightenment, and he won’t rest until he sets the world free from these supposedly harmful paradigms.

Julian’s approach makes his friends a little uneasy. They aren’t completely comfortable with Julian’s provocative methods of spreading his beliefs and stirring people up. They never expected – or wanted – to become famous rock stars, and the fact that this fame comes with the transformation of their normally shy, awkward friend into someone unrecognizable makes them even more wary. Add to this the many complications of fame, such as never-ending scrutiny, lack of privacy, and familial differences of opinion, and you’ve got the recipe for drama.

This is the aspect of the book that really appealed to me. I enjoyed watching how the teens’ lives were transformed by their sudden stardom. It was interesting to see how each individual handled fame differently, with secret relationships, family tension, and even time in an Italian jail all figuring into the plot.

Another strength of Idolism is that it features some great wording and humor. At one point, Ginger is aghast at her concert outfit, which consists of a purple satin jacket with feathers growing out of the pocket. She describes herself as “looking like a prostitute walking Sesame Street,” which amused me to no end. Another sentence I found particularly wonderful was, “You’re a deer in the headlights of enlightenment, wisdom, and reason; startled and scared.” These are just a couple of examples of Herzig’s great wit and descriptive abilities, which pleased me greatly.

As much as I appreciated Idolism’s positive elements, though, I had a big problem with one aspect of the book: I just couldn’t get behind Julian as a character. For one thing, he’s awkward and strange. As Ginger puts it, “On a normal day Julian displayed all the regular mental and emotional features of your average seven-year-old[…].” Although he’s highly intelligent, Julian’s not great at interacting with people and is described in several situations as being almost retarded. He gets so caught up in his own head that he becomes blind to those around him. He can ramble on about a given topic for hours, becoming so enrapt in his speech that he doesn’t even notice when his audience sneaks out of the room. He simply continues to prattle on, obliviously preaching to an empty room.

One of Julian’s favorite topics about which to speak is religion. He vehemently opposes any and all forms of religion, eschewing believers as ignorant and cowardly. He views religion as a tool wielded by authorities to control the masses and keep people compliant and tractable. He also disagrees with faith and prayer, seeing them as excuses for people to absolve themselves of all responsibility, instead relying on a non-existent god to solve their problems for them.

Although I consider myself a Christian, I was surprisingly not bothered much by Julian’s ideology. There are one or two passages in the book that did offend me, but for the most part I was able to tolerate Julian’s disdain for religion. If anything, it inspired me to more carefully examine my own beliefs. Am I a Christian simply because I was raised that way, or because I actually believe in Christ and what He stands for? Do I have valid reasons for being defensive towards Julian’s statements, or is my frustration simply a knee-jerk reaction not backed up by a logical argument? In this way, reading Idolism was a very helpful exercise in self-awareness.

So, if Julian’s beliefs aren’t necessarily what bothered me, what was my problem with him? I think what rubbed me the wrong way was that I saw no evidence that Julian practiced what he preached. Ginger, Tummy, and Michael refer to Julian as heroic and glorious and wise, campaigning for love and kindness over bigotry and hypocrisy. They consider him a role model, fighting for a better world, but I just couldn’t see him that way.

Julian talks a big game, but I never once witnessed him doing anything that could be considered loving or kind. This is the kid who laughed when an old man fell down the stairs and died, which doesn’t strike me as being particularly compassionate. He supposedly loves all of mankind, so I expected him to try to help the downtrodden, such as feeding the hungry, providing aid, donating money, etc. This never happened, though. For all that Julian talks about how people should be like Jesus – who he saw as a good example of love and kindness, if not as the son of God – he sure doesn’t follow his own advice. Jesus fed the hungry, healed the lame and blind, and provided comfort to the outcasts of the world; Julian can’t even be bothered to donate any of his vast, newly acquired rock-star wealth to charity.

All in all, I just wasn’t a fan of Julian, which is what kept Idolism from earning a 4- or 5-star rating. Still, I definitely enjoyed the other, non-Julian elements of the book, such as the relationships between the other band members and the whole televangelist-turned-media-mogul-turned-Pope twist. And so, my final recommendation? It’s worth reading, as long as you’re not particularly sensitive about religion.

A free copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Review: The Fairest Beauty by Melanie Dickerson

The Fairest Beauty Book Cover The Fairest Beauty
Melanie Dickerson

Sophie desperately wants to get away from her stepmother’s jealousy and believes escape is her only chance to be happy. Then a young man named Gabe arrives from Hagenheim Castle, claiming she is betrothed to his older brother, and everything twists upside down. This could be Sophie’s one chance at freedom – but can she trust another person to keep her safe?

Gabe defied his parents, Rose and Wilhelm, by going to find Sophie, and now he believes they had a right to worry: the girl’s inner and outer beauty has enchanted him. Though romance is impossible – she is his brother’s future wife, and Gabe himself is betrothed to someone else – he promises himself he will see the mission through, no matter what.

When the pair flee to the Cottage of the Seven, they find help – but also find their feelings for each other have grown. Now both must not only protect each other from the dangers around them – they must also protect their hearts.

Review:

I’m usually a huge fan of fairy tale retellings, but this version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves left me underwhelmed. The characters lack depth and realism, and the entire tale is a little too bland for my taste.

The most surprising thing about The Fairest Beauty is that although it’s certainly recognizable as a Snow White story, many of the elements of the original tale are conspicuously absent. Magic has no presence at all in Dickerson’s story, meaning there’s no magic mirror, no enchanted kiss, etc.

Instead, Dickerson seems to have replaced all fairy tale elements with a hearty helping of religion. There’s a lot of prayer, Scripture reading, and holy contemplation. The protagonist, Sophie, treasures a scrap of her family’s Bible as her most prized possession, and her idea of fun is reciting parables from the New Testament.

Sophie is the main reason I wasn’t wild about The Fairest Beauty. She’s a lovely girl, inside and out, but her constant sweetness gets to be kind of grating after a while. No matter what the situation, Sophie responds with kindness and aplomb. Even when her stepmother regularly throws her in the dungeon, withholds food, and heaps chores upon her, Sophie bears all of the humiliation and injustice heaped upon her with patience and grace. It’s just too much – a little sweetness is good, but a lot will give you a stomach ache. And cavities.

Sophie does have some redeeming qualities. She can occasionally be feisty, and she has no problem taking care of herself. It also helps that she’s just as susceptible to a cute and dashing hero as the rest of us, even if she does resist temptation better than I might.

Said cute and dashing hero, Gabe, didn’t completely wow me at first, but he eventually grew on me. He initially comes across as immature and dimwitted, but he does grow up over the course of the story.

I’m always happy to have another fairy tale retelling under my belt, but I don’t see myself rereading The Fairest Beauty. I need more entertaining, less squeaky-clean.

Review: Audacious by Gabrielle Prendergast

Audacious Book Cover Audacious
Gabrielle Prendergast

Wrong hair. Wrong body. Wrong clothes. Wrong attitude.

Nothing is simple for Ella. Not family. Not friends. Not school. And especially not romance. Ella can’t do anything right, except draw. But even her art is wrong – and more dangerous than she could have imagined.

Review:

Audacious literally has me pulling at my hair in frustration right now. I’ve written and rewritten this review half a dozen times, and I still can’t get my thoughts organized. There was a lot about this book that I liked, but in the end it left me feeling dissatisfied, and I’m having trouble articulating why.

The novel begins with our protagonist, Raphaelle, moving to a new town for her father’s job. Raphaelle decides to use the move to start fresh: she will no longer be the girl who shows up at a black-and-white formal in a hot-pink dress or draws pictures of a “naked and well endowed” Christ on the board at her Catholic school. Instead, she decides to reinvent herself as “Ella,” a nice, normal girl who doesn’t spit in the face of convention just to watch people squirm.

In spite of this resolution, Ella just can’t stifle her provocateur nature. When her art teacher asks her to submit a piece in the school art show, Raphaelle reemerges to create a work of art so daring it sets off a chain reaction of consequences, including criminal charges and expulsion from the school.

Amidst the fallout from the art show, Raphaelle must also navigate her relationship with her quasi-boyfriend Samir. Raphaelle is a vehement atheist, and Samir is Muslim. As you can guess, this causes all sorts of tension, which I found to be the most compelling aspect of the story.

So far, this probably sounds pretty good. At the very least, it doesn’t sound bad, right? So what’s with the hair pulling and frustration I mentioned in the beginning of this review?

The closest I can come to an explanation is that Raphaelle pisses me off. She’s too set in her ways, too focused on shocking people and putting up walls between herself and others. I don’t have a whole lot of patience for people who do or say things for no other reason than to cause an uproar. Controversy for the sake of something you believe in or are passionate about is courageous; controversy just to stir the proverbial pot is childish and stupid.

Raphaelle uses being a misfit as an excuse to keep from getting close to people, and when she does develop a relationship with someone, she refuses to give an inch in anything. There is a fine line between being true to yourself and being too proud to compromise, and Raphaelle crosses that line. I felt like she was trying to sabotage her own happiness, making stupid decisions in a sadistic effort to root all of the good out of her life. This was especially true of the ending, which I absolutely HATED. I don’t want to share any spoilers, but I will say that the ending is a large part of why I didn’t like this book as much as I could have. It was unnecessary and pointless and sums up everything I didn’t like about Raphaelle.

As frustrated as Audacious made me, though, I would still recommend it. It has interesting themes – censorship, family tragedy, faith and religion – and it would be a shame to miss out on them simply because the heroine is flawed.

There’s also the bonus that Prendergast wrote Audacious in verse. There are times when the rhymes sound a bit corny or contrived, but there are also sections that are lyrical and insightful. My favorite is a stanza that talks about Raphaelle’s infant brother, who lived for only three minutes after his birth, and the effect that the baby’s death had on the family:

“Darling Gabriel,
Whose only task on earth
Was to break my mother’s heart.
It took him his whole life.”

I also liked this verse:

“Strong as time and
Tenacious as space but
If love is never to be tested
Or challenged then it is worth
Nothing.”

In the end, I’m glad I read Audacious, even if it did leave me angry and dissatisfied. If you’re a fan of writers like Ellen Hopkins, and if you can accept a less-than-happy ending, Audacious might be a book for you.