Blog Tour Stop #1

The Angelhood blog tour has begun! Stop by Ginny Marie’s blog Lemon Drop Pie to see what she had to say after reading my book.

Here’s a sampling of her review: “Cattapan deftly weaves Nanette’s story into despair and back into the light; it is a story that will capture your imagination and keep it captive until the very end.”

Click here to read the rest.

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WANTED: TEENS WHO LOVE YA BOOKS!

Are you a teen who loves to read? Or do you know a teen who’s passionate about YA books?

I’m looking for teens to join my Angelhood Street Team. What’s involved and what do you get by being a member?

Angelhood 2 1400x2100

To be a member of the Angelhood Street Team, you must . . .

  1. be a teenager (ages 13-19)
  2. follow me on Instagram.
  3. come up with at least two ways you’ll help me spread excitement about my upcoming young adult book Angelhood.

What will you get in return?

Five bookmarks to share with your friends!

Five bookmarks to share with your friends!

  1. five of my awesome bookmarks
  2. entries into special exclusive drawings only for Street Team members (we’re talking autographed books, iTunes gift cards, cool book swag, etc.)
  3. the ability to brag that you were on my original Street Team before I become the next cool young adult author a la J.K. Rowling, Veronica Roth, or Suzanne Collins. :)

How do you become a member of the Angelhood Street Team?

Simply contact me and send me your mailing address (so I can mail you the bookmarks) and then tell me at least two (or more!) ways you will help me spread excitement about my book.

Will you . . .

  • post a pic of you with the Angelhood bookmarks on your Instagram account?
  • tell all your friends (via Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) that they must attend my awesome Facebook launch party on April 30?
  • post a youtube video talking about how excited you are about the book?
  • read the book and then post reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads?
  • create a book trailer for Angelhood?
  • get all your friends to follow me on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook?
  • interview me for your school newspaper?
  • come up with something even more creative????

And remember, I’m an English teacher, so the more specific you are about exactly what, how, when, and where you will help me build excitement, the better! If your ideas sound really fantastic, I’ll even throw in some extra bookmarks for you. :)

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Blog Tour for Angelhood

We’re getting really close to the launch of my young adult novel Angelhood, so it’s time to start looking at all the blogs that are taking part in my blog tour.

What’s a blog tour? A chance for an author to “tour” around on different blogs to talk about her upcoming book. Often these include interview questions, guest posts, and behind-the-scenes info about the book. There are also many giveaways, so be sure to check out these blogs in the near future!

 

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One month until Angelhood releases!

Only one month until my young adult novel, Angelhood, releases from Vinspire Publishing! What’s on the horizon?

Angelhood 2 1400x2100Lots of blog tours. I’m lining up a series of blog interviews, guests posts, and even some recipe sharing. I’ll also have some podcast interviews for you to listen to. Many of these will have giveaways attached, so be sure to stay tuned and check them out.

Also, on the official release day (April 30, 2015), we’ll be having an online launch party on Facebook. We’ll have lots of fun games and giveaways!

Then on May 17, we’ll have the in-person launch party. If you’ll be in the Chicago area, you can check out the details for that party here.

Looking forward to sharing all this fun with you!

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Gotta Guatemala Days 9 and 10

Day 9 started with an hour and a half boat tour around Lake Atitlan. We left from the dock at our hotel. As I’ve said before, Lake Atilan is reminiscent of Lake Como in Italy. The beautiful blue lake is surrounded by green mountains and three volcanoes. Some people (clearly relatively wealthy) have built some beautiful homes along the lakefront. Due to the steep mountain slopes, some of these homes are only accessible via boat. No traversable road could be built through, around, and/or down the mountain to reach them.

An expensive home along the lake

An expensive home along the lake

Some of the more typical Guatemalan homes on Lake Atitlan

Some of the more typical Guatemalan homes on Lake Atitlan

One interesting story our tour guide told us during this boat ride is that the author of the French book The Little Prince once stayed at Lake Atitlan. If you’ve read The Little Prince, you might remember that the boy kept showing people a drawing that everyone claimed was a drawing of a hat. However, someone finally told him it wasn’t a hat. It was a snake that swallowed an elephant. That shape was inspired by a hill that the author saw while visiting Lake Atitlan.

Do you see the snake that swallowed the elephant?

Do you see the snake that swallowed the elephant?

During our boat ride, I tried to find the cables for the zip lines, but we were unable to spot them.

I ziplined somewhere along this mountainside.

I ziplined somewhere along this mountainside.

After the boat ride, we got in the bus for the three-hour ride back to Guatemala City, stopping once for a lunch break. When we arrived at our hotel, we found several workers making one of those colored sawdust “carpets” for Holy Week.

A gorgeous Holy Week "carpet" in our hotel

A gorgeous Holy Week “carpet” in our hotel

We had time at our hotel to rest for a while before the farewell dinner. I have to say that we had a really nice tour group. You never really know what you’re going to get when you sign up for a group tour. However, I think one of the benefits of going to a place like Guatemala is that you don’t get newbie travelers. Everyone in this group was a seasoned world traveler. We were never waiting on the bus for someone who was late. In fact, we were almost always at least five minutes early. Nobody complained. Nobody snubbed their noses at witnessing a different way of living. Everyone was appreciative of the lovely scenery and the good people we got to meet.

Day 10 was just a long travel day home with nothing too exciting to report, so I’ll just share with you a few final thoughts on my travels and what I learned on this trip.

1. Caravan is an excellent tour company. We were very well taken care of. Basically, we paid about $120 a day, and that covered hotel, transportation, museum entrances, tips for bellboys, a very knowledgeable tour guide, musical performances, and three yummy meals a day. And the hotels were top-rate (they are listed at running from $150-250 a night!).

2. Travel reminds me that experience really is the best teacher.

3. God created something large and beautiful and awe-inspiring when He made the world. I’m so blessed to have seen the few parts I’ve been to. I am even more blessed to have met the people from those places.

4. We may come from different lands with different climates, cultures, and languages, but we’re really not as different as you might think. Most of us believe we were created by a higher power. Most of us want to please that higher power. And we all just want to feed our families and enjoy good times with the ones we love.

And finally . . .

5. If you enjoy a springlike climate and want an exotic-type vacation that will make you feel a little like Indiana Jones, well then . . . you “Gotta Gautemala”!

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Gotta Guatemala Days 7 and 8

Day 7:

This morning we left our hotel in Antigua and took a short bus drive to a coffee plantation.

imageVeronica took us through the whole coffee-producing process, which is a lot like the chocolate-making process–at least in the early stages with the roasting and shelling.

Two interesting things I learned:

1. The coffee bean is actually red when it’s ripe. When it’s green, it’s not ripe yet. The inside of the bean is a pale parchment color. This outer skin is shelled. Then the inner most part of the bean is roasted until it’s that brown color we’re used to.

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2. It takes one whole coffee tree to make one pound of coffee!

3. One pound of coffee used to make 40 cups of coffee in America, but thanks to Starbucks, we’ve grown a taste for darker, richer coffee, so now one pound of coffee only makes 32 cups of coffee in America. In Europe, they only get about 15 cups of coffee out of one pound.

They have to keep changing this display based on our changing taste in coffee.

They have to keep changing this display based on our changing taste in coffee.

On the same site as the coffee plantation is a museum for the music native to this land. The Maya used turtle shells and seashells to make music. They also had wood and percussion instruments, but there were no string instruments until the Spanish colonists arrived.

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We had a yummy lunch with a Guatemalan stew, vegetables, stuffed peppers and fresh guacamole and tortillas on the plantation/museum grounds. Then three native men performed traditional songs on instruments they made themselves because to be a musician here means to make your own instrument.

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We had a little time to shop and then headed back on the bus for a three-hour ride to Lake Atitlan. This lake is kind of the Lake Como of Guatemala. Our hotel is right on the lake, which is surrounded by mountains. We arrived in time to take a little stroll through the gorgeous botanical garden that is on the hotel’s property before we had dinner.

Day 8:

This morning we got to sleep in. That meant we had more time to observe the amazing birds and gardens at the hotel.

imageThen I walked down to the dock to take a photo of the helipads that the hotel has. After I took the photo, I turned toward the lake and spotted a helicopter flying over it. Suddenly, I realized it was probably headed right toward me! I mean, how manny helipads could there be on this lake? I ran back down the dock and got far enough away to take a couple photos, but I could feel the breeze from those helicopter blades.

Helicopter landing at hotel

Helicopter landing at hotel

A short bus drive after breakfast took us to the town of Panajachel. We had three hours here to shop. All the shops were mainly on the same main street, and it’s exactly what you’d expect a town of indigenous people to be like. Lots of stalls with natives in their brilliantly colored and intricately woven clothes, some of whom follow you down the street trying to make a deal with you. I bought a few small things (including some things I’ll use as giveaways. Watch my Facebook page for details.)

At 12:30, we headed back to the hotel for a delicious lunch of traditional Guatemalan food.

We had the afternoon at leisure. My friend decided to go swimming at the hotel pool (no surprise to those who know her). I went with two other ladies in our group to go ziplining. It was my first time. We had to walk a ways down the street from the hotel. I thought it might be in the nature preserve, but my two companions thought it was fuather down the road. Long story short, it was in the nature preserve. When we got there, it was 2:00. The girl at the counter, who spoke only a little English, said that the next tour was at 3:00. There were two courses: the long and the short one. One of the women I was with had already been ziplining and had done a short course, so we decided on the long.

The girl told us that there was a half-hour walk up to the long course. We decided to start our trek right away to give us plenty of time to find it. So we started climbing up the jungle terrain of the mountain side. Soon we came across a suspension bridge.

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Feeling like “Indiana Jane” here.

Then another suspension bridge.

Really long suspension bridge!

Then another one. Then a huge waterfall. Then another suspension bridge. Around the fifth suspension bridge, I said, “This really is my Indiana Jones vacation.”

After almost a half hour, we found we had traveled in a circle. We headed back to a spot where they had a bathroom and a reception desk. The guy behind this counter didn’t speak much English either. He said something about the butterflies and pointed to the left. So we followed a path marked by a butterfly sign This brought us to .. . a butterfly garden. Did we need to walk through it? It turns out that brought us in a circle, too!

So we headed back to the guy at the reception desk. It was now about 2:35. How would we make it to the meeting point by 3:00? Turns out we were already at the meeting point. We think the guy was just suggesting we visit the butterflies to help pass the time while we wait. But we were so determined to get to the meeting point, we never even took pictures of the butterflies!

Finally, we met our tour guides. They helped us put on our gear and then do a short (20 feet) practice cable, so we could practice stopping. I didn’t stop fast enough and was told to pull down harder on the brake.

The practice finished, we began to climb up the mountain. Right back up the path we had been on with the suspension bridges and the giant waterfall! One of our group members was suffering from asthma, so we had to stop periodically. I was worried for a bit that she wouldn’t make it, but eventually (after over an hour of climbing) we made it to the top. There were six of us doing the long course: my two new friends, myself, and three young people on a mission trip.

We had seven lines to zip down. The first was fairly short, but still felt kind of long to me. I was okay getting started, but as soon as the treetops dropped away from below me, and I was flying over the canyon, I thought, “What am I doing?” But before long, I made it safely to the stop.

Then we hiked up a bit more. Now we were going to be on a long cable. This was very high up on the mountain, and the cable went over a very steep part of the valley. Almost immediately, I was out in the open. It was very windy up there, and I began to flow sideways. My feet were pushed toward the lake, and I was nearly perpendicular to the cable line. Finally, I could see the tour guide at the end of the line. We were told to hit the break when we saw him wave his red flag. Was he waving it now? Remembering how I hadn’t braked hard enough in the practice run, I began to put on the brake, but I was slowing down and still had a long way to go. I released the brake. Before long, I stopped moving. Completely stopped. Right over the canyon, which was hundreds of feet below me.

I looked toward the guide. He was still 200 feet from me. How was I going to make it the remaining 200 feet to the ledge? Did this happen to other people? I tried to remain calm. Surely, there had to be a way to get down. I used my gloved hands to start pushing myself along while trying not to think about the fact that there was nothing below me for hundreds of feet. Before I could get far, the guide at the end came zipping toward me. I don’t know how he did it, but he got to me, hooked us together, and brought us back to the landing.

The next couple of people made it all the way. But the next guy, who had a horrible fear of heights, got stuck out even further than I did! Back out went our tour guide to rescue him.

This is the other guy getting rescued. Obviously, I don't have a photo if my own rescue. :)

This is the other guy getting rescued. Obviously, I don’t have a photo of my own rescue. :)

The third cable was even longer than the second, but it was at more of an incline, so it went faster. Again the wind pushed my feet toward the lake, and I had to hold my hands far enough away from the cable to avoid my arms getting burned. I made it almost all the way to the end of this one. Luckily, there was enough ground coverage for the finally forty feet or so, so the guide only had to run out and grab my legs to pull me the rest of the way.

After that, all the other cables (there were four more) were short and easy. Most of those had us flying through trees, so they were less scary than the first three, which had us flying over the valley below us. In fact, by the time I finished the fourth line, I was feeling like a pro. I got my brake timing down perfectly and was able to stop right where I needed to. I was actually sad when we finished the last one.

At the end of the lines was an optional, short ropes course, which I did, but my two friends from the tour skipped.

We came back to the hotel victorious (with diplomas!) with almost an hour to spare before dinner.

One last day of adventure tomorrow and then the journey home.

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Gotta Guatemala Days 5-6

Day 5:

This was mostly a traveling day. We had to head all the way from Tikal in the north back south past Guatemala City to Antigua. This city used to be the old capital until it was ruined by earthquakes one too many times back in 1773, and they decided to just move the capital somewhere else. That somewhere else, of course, being Guatemala City.

Since we were basically driving on the same path we took two days ago, we didn’t have any sight seeing stops this time. We just drove all day with one lunch break and three quick bathroom breaks.

Mango tree near our lunch stop

Mango tree near our lunch stop

Even without any side trips, we didn’t get to Antigua until 5:23.

Our hotel is very, very nice. It’s a spa actually. We were greeted at the door with some kind of fruity drink in a champagne glass. My traveling friend said the drink reminded her of a Bellini without the alcohol.

Towel swan that greeted us at our hotel

Towel swan that greeted us at our hotel

The two of us did a quick walk around the neighboring blocks for a half hour.  We saw a lot of kids in school uniforms, so we wondered if a local Catholic high school had just gotten out. Maybe they have a long school day here.

Back at the hotel, we had a lovely dinner with lots of yummy dessert choices.

Thank goodness the desserts are small so we can try them all!

Thank goodness the desserts are small so we can try them all!

Day  6:

Oh my gosh! What a lovely day in Antigua today. The weather was perfect, in the 70s and mostly sunny. We started at 9:00 a.m. with a three-hour walking tour of the city led by our very own Veronica, who continues to be filled with valuable knowledge and entertaining stories. For example, did you know that they built corner windows in their houses here in Antigua during the Spanish colonial times because the higher class women were not supposed to move around outside their homes by themselves. They spent most of their days indoors doing embroidery or staring out the windows–hence, the corner windows to give them more to look at!

Also, the carpenters that they had were used to building ships instead of houses, so when they had to make a roof they basically built a ship’s hull and then turned it upside down.

Notice that the roof looks like an upside-down ship's hull.

Notice that the roof looks like an upside-down ship’s hull.

On our walk, we visited the main cathedral near the town square. It is much smaller than it used to be because most of it was ruined during earthquakes.

The cathedral

The cathedral

Inside the cathedral

Inside the cathedral

Holy Week is a big deal down here, and preparations have already begun, including this beautiful “carpet” made of colored sand.*

Can you believe this is colored sand?

Can you believe this is colored sand?

Our group stopped near the Central Park, but Veronica instructed my friend and I to make a little detour.

Central Park

Central Park

The night before she had told us about a chocolate museum (you know the cacao bean is big here) where we could take a class. Since I had told her we were interested, she instructed us to go right away and make our reservation for the class and then meet up with everyone else at the next stop on the walking tour. The chocolate museum (named Choco Museo) was only a couple blocks away. Unfortunately, it didn’t open until 10:00, and it was 9:57. So we waited. And waited. Finally, at 10:10 it opend. We quickly made our reservation for a 1:30 class and headed toward the “Las Capuchinas,” the convent for the Capuchin nuns. It was damaged in an earthquake in 1773, but has become basically a museum now.

Standing in the circular set of dormitories in the convent

Standing in the circular set of dormitories in the convent

 

Courtyard in the Capuchin Convent

Courtyard in the Capuchin Convent

 

After our walking tour, we had a nice (but somewhat salty) lunch with an onion and leek soup and then our choice of entrees. I had the tilapia, but there were also steak, chicken, and vegetarian options.

Lunch ended just in time for our chocolate class, which was awesome. Our instructor took us through the whole process from the cacao pod to the beans fermenting to drying the beans to roasting the beans to the separation of the shell from the bean to the crushing and pulverizing of the bean. We actually got to roast the beans and shell them. The shells are used to make cacao tea, which we got to drink. Then we grounded some of the beans to make two other drinks, the traditional Mayan drink (with chili, paprika, and honey) and then the Spanish version (with cardomon, anise, sugar, milk, and black pepper). It tasted a lot like a chocolate chai tea.

Time to grind the cacao beans!

Time to grind the cacao beans!

Then we finally got to the business of making chocolate candy! We had our choice of dark or milk chocolate. I chose milk, and my friend chose dark. We picked out molds, filled them with the chocolate, and then added things like sprinkles, coconut, macadamia nuts, orange peel, mango, ginger, almonds, and Oreo bits.

Filling my mold with chocolate!

Filling my mold with chocolate!

The chocolate needed one and a half hours to set, so we headed out to a jewelry store to do some shopping for jade.

Then we headed to the church of mercy (Iglesias de Nuestra Señora de la Mercidad). This is a very pretty church with intricate white scrollwork outside which makes it look a little like a wedding cake. We took a few minutes for prayer inside.

La Mercidad

La Mercidad

We also visited the museum at Santo Domingo before heading back to our hotel for another lovely dinner in our open-air restaurant.

Church inside Santo Domingo

Church inside Santo Domingo

One other cool thing we got to see while walking the streets today was a procession of Catholic school kids getting ready for Holy Week.

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*I was corrected later. They actually make those “carpets” with colored sawdust instead of sand. Either way, I’m totally impressed.

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Gotta Guatemala Day 4

Today we visited the Mayan ruins of Tikal, a place that will make you feel like Indiana Jones. But before we talk about Tikal, let’s talk about our hotel. This is, by far, the most exotic hotel I’ve ever stayed at. Everything is open air: the reception desk, the restaurant, the pool, the bar. I feel a little like I’m in the Bali scenes from Eat, Pray, Love.

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Bar area of hotel

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Hotel room with view of lake

 

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Lake at hotel

Our hotel is located in the middle of a nature preserve. There are howler monkeys, wild birds, and perhaps even a crocodile and a jaguar up in the jungle around us. The bad part is that we totally have to load up on mosquito repellent.

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Wild birds in our nature preserve

After breakfast this morning in our open-air restaurant, we headed out on the bus. An hour and a half later, we arrived at the national park that holds the Tikal ruins, where we were given several rules:

1. Don’t leave the group. The last person who got last in the jungle was gone for 11 days.

2. Don’t feed the animals!

3. Don’t fall.

Our whole group walked to the area of Temples I and II. Well, actually most of us walked it. A few people got on the back of a pickup truck. You can no longer walk up Temple I, but there are wooden stairs at the back of Temple II and you can climb those 103 steps.

Me at the top of Temple II with Temple I in the background

Me at the top of Temple II, with Temple I in the background

Only a couple of us climbed the giant stone steps up the necropolis. I really felt like Indiana Jones then. Those stone steps were a lot harder to crawl up than the wooden steps to the Temple.

Standing on top of the necropolis

Standing on top of the necropolis – Just call me Indiana Jane

 

A view of the necropolis from Temple II

A view of the necropolis from Temple II

Then our group split in two. The less hardy took a pickup truck back to the entrance and then the bus back to the hotel for lunch. The rest of us adventurers hiked deeper into the jungle.  We saw the Plaza of the Seven Temples, which was just excavated from 2004-2011, so they haven’t been letting people in for that long. Then we saw the Lost World and then we finally got to Temple IV. You climb Temple IV by a series of 196 wooden steps up the back. Amazingly, George Lucas shot a brief scene from the original Star Wars movie from the top of this temple–and I don’t think there were stairs then, which means they had to bring their camera equipment up by climbing the crumbling and very steep ancient stairs in the front.

Recognize this rebel base from Star Wars?

Recognize this rebel base from Star Wars?

After our arduous trek, we were rewarded with a yummy lunch with fresh gaucemole in an open-air restaurant within the park.

Back at the hotel, we had a quick dip in the pool before dinner. After dinner, we were treated to some traditional Guatemalan dances performed by some local teens and preteens. I even got asked to dance at the end by one of the boy dancers. You’ll have to wait for a photo of that because my friend took photos with her digital camera, and we don’t have a way to transfer those photos to my iPad.

Some of the older dancers

Some of the older dancers

 

A couple of the younger dancers. Isn't this girl cute?

A couple of the younger dancers. Isn’t this girl cute?

Not sure when my next blog post will be, depends on where we can get wifi!

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Monday Book Review: The Tomb by Stephanie Landsem

Normally, I review middle grade and young adult books, but today I am super excited to bring you The Tomb by Stephanie Landsem. This is the the third book in Landsem’s The Living Water series. I enjoyed the first book The Well, I adored the second book The Thief, and I’m absolutely in love with the third book The Tomb! Somehow Landsem’s books just keep getting better and better!

IMG_3483Title: The Tomb

Author: Stephanie Landsem

Genre: biblical fiction

Synopsis: Martha is the good girl. She follows all the laws, as is proper for the daughter of a respected Pharisee. However, it’s her sister Mary who gets to marry the man of her dreams, a poor man who makes her happy even though he has little to offer her. Martha is also in love with a poor man, but he’s a pagan, and there’s no way her father would ever consent to her marrying anyone other than a proper Jew. Even the righteous Simon can’t seem to convince Martha’s father to let him marry his eldest daughter. Martha is such a good cook and law-abiding woman, no man seems good enough to marry her. However, Martha is hiding a secret, a sin that could get her stoned in her hometown of Bethany. And to make matters worse, her brother Lazarus wants to run off and follow their cousin Jesus, whom many (but definitely not all) are claiming is the Messiah!

The back cover of the book gives away far more than I am in my synopsis, but I’d actually recommend not reading the back cover before you read the book. I didn’t, and I’m glad I skipped it. I enjoyed the many twists this story took along the way.

If you follow me on Facebook, you may already know that this story brought me to tears–several times, in fact. Landsem has a way of making Jesus so real. Any Christian is familiar with the story of Jesus coming to Martha and Mary’s house for dinner, and how Martha complains that her sister won’t help her with the food preparations. But what Landsem does is flesh out this scene for us, so that we get a clearer picture of what it might actually have been like. In doing so, she illuminates Jesus’s human nature. I think we tend to focus mostly on his divine nature, but it’s wonderful to spend some time thinking of Jesus as the guy who comes over for dinner and the children run to him and throw their arms around his legs.

I could go on and on about how much I liked this book, but I don’t want to spoil any of it for you. I highly recommend all of The Living Water series. You can read them in any order, but at the end of The Tomb, there is an epilogue where Landsem brings together characters from all three of her stories.

You can find the book on Amazon here and at Barnes & Noble here. You can also follow Stephanie on Facebook and Twitter or visit her website.

 

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