Guest Post: Telemachus: Its Origins by Peter Gray

Bizarrely, the seed for this idea came one summer’s day, back in the mid Nineties.  I had just said goodbye to my mother-in-law when I noticed a blob of jelly at my feet in our back garden.  It was a breathing blob with tiny eyes and a miniature beak; perhaps a hint of some very primitive feathers.  Being an animal person, I couldn’t just let it die, so, with my two daughters, we constructed a nest and wondered about how we might feed this tiny creature -presuming it to be a baby housemartin.  There was a broken nest overhead after a violent storm the previous night – one of a whole colony of nests that clutched to every corner of our house.  And we had to assume there were anxious parents watching somewhere from surrounding trees.

Anyway, we were successful.  For weeks, the girls knocked on neighbours’ doors, initially asking if they had any flies we could feed to ‘George’ (as this little creature became known) – not that we had any idea of it’s sex, simply decided it was a boy.  As it grew into the family, George came for drives in the car and, when tired of watching TV in the evenings, would climb up under my shirt collar and go to sleep.

We fed it cat food with surgical forceps – not very popular with Clouseau, the cat.  Then it started to fly.  As it wasn’t growing very well, we had to keep it in the hot press at night for added heat.  Then, when it got stronger, we took it outside for flying practice; but, one day, it spotted an open window in the kitchen – and was gone.

Bereft, we searched our valley for hours on end, calling, crying out, pleading for it to come back – but we never got a glimpse of George again.

Telemachus was my attempt to trace its path in life, but it became a lot more than that.  From a simple story of adventure, it became a construction of society, a search for ideals, a questioning of all that we humans have and, perhaps, abuse.

“This is my son, mine own Telemachus,

To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle, -.”

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

My Telemachus is a different kind of fish, a relic of the scary stories we were told as kids, intended to frighten us in primitive times – when there was no electricity and the world was haunted by things that moved in the night.

About Peter Gray

I was born in Dublin, a long time ago, at the tail end of a very large family.  My father was a Commandant in the Irish Army; my mother, who was only 4’ 10”, had a burning desire to produce sons – with a hope that one would become a priest.  Sadly, she was disappointed in that.

We were a whole range of individuals, all with different tastes, talents and careers.  The eldest, May, had a Masters in chemistry, but got married young and never worked again.  The next, Ned, was called to the Bar, but went into the Civil Service and had a sparkling career that ended prematurely when the plane he was traveling in went down in London in 1972.

Ned loved everything classical, also loved rugby, but was un-athletic.  Mick loved jazz, Patsy loved ballet and opera.  So, being a tail-ender, I was bathed in all of that; and the love of literature came really from the atmosphere they all created as well as some excellent lay teachers I met at school.

The decision to study veterinary medicine was probably in the genes, as there was farming in the blood for generations.  As a kid, I was farmed out to farmer relatives for all of my youthful holidays.  Apparently, I was too active for those at home and had to be got rid of.

And that’s been my life: my first career was on the sports’ fields of Dublin; my next among Thoroughbred breeding stock and racehorses; my next with a pen and computer.

I’ve loved every minute and have been blessed with a wonderful wife and some very exceptional children.

From Sara: Make sure you check out Peter’s book Telemachus here!

Not Every Girl and Unexpected Rewards (Jane McGarry)

I received free copies of Not Every Girl and Unexpected Rewards in exchange for an honest review. This did not change my opinions of the books.

In the small kingdom of Stewartsland, Olivia trains with the squires and longs to become a knight. She knows that as a woman, this hope is in vain, but she clings to it regardless. When she disguises herself as a boy to go along on a mission, things do not go exactly to plan. Instead, Olivia finds herself in the middle of a plot against the king with the haughty Price Liam as her unexpected partner. It will take every bit of her courage and fortitude to guide her through the challenges ahead of them.

Unexpected Rewards find Olivia in a most unusual situation for her. She has been appointed as a lady-in-waiting to Queen Helen. Living in the palace proves to be awkward and confusing, but Olivia is determined to prove that she belongs in this world.

First, let me say, I’m sorry my summary for Unexpected Rewards is so vague. I don’t want to give too much away for you if you haven’t read Not Every Girl. And you should read it, but I’ll get back to that.

Secondly, these books made me eat my words. Both are published by Clean Reads. Many of you know me, I tend to like my books… well… less than virtuous, I suppose. When I first heard of this particular publisher I said I wanted nothing to do with their books. I’m very glad I made an exception. Most likely I will keep reading their books.

I will admit, starting out I was a little unsure about Not Every Girl. Strangely, it was the characters’ names that gave me pause. They all seemed so ordinary, not all that unusual or epic. I hadn’t realized how much I had come to expect out of the ordinary names in my young adult fiction. It did not take long for none of that to matter any more to me. In the end, my biggest complaint is that it isn’t long enough. While I don’t feel like anything was really left out, I would have liked to have seen some scene extended just a bit more. I particularly would have liked to have seen more of Athos.

With Unexpected Rewards I didn’t have that same feeling. While the books are roughly the same length, this one seemed more evenly paced to me. While they are very different books as far a story, they still mesh well. I think out of the two, I definitely enjoyed this one more. By the end I had a ridiculous grin on my face.

I’m definitely ready to read more of Olivia’s adventures. She’s headstrong and more than a little stubborn, but brave and even her tendency to blurt out her feelings is strangely charming. While at times I found myself frustrated at her for being such a teenager, she still ends up totally likeable.

For those of you who are fans of YA books, Jane McGarry has two winners here that you should definitely check out.

Hannah’s Moon (John A Heldt)

I received a free copy of Hannah’s Moon in exchange for an honest review. This did not change my opinion of the book.

Claire and Rob Rasmussen have decided that they want to adopt a child, but between red tape and money, they face a discouraging road. After hearing from Claire’s distant aunt and uncle, Geoffrey and Jeanette Bell, they decide to travel to a place with plenty of adoptable children and little red tape: 1945. Along with Claire’s brother David, they travel to 1940’s Chattanooga where they meet little Hannah and fall in love. But, it’s not a straightforward trip back to 2017 for them; after something unexpected occurs, the family finds themselves much more entangled the  1940’s than they ever expected to be.

This book definitely starts with an emotional punch to the gut. It was heartbreaking, but so powerful. It was definitely one of the most compelling first chapters I have ever read. I had to set my Kindle down for a minute and process. It could not have been written better.

Many of the issues I had with the previous book in the series that I read (Indiana Belle) were not issues here. There was more than one twist that kept me on the edge of my seat. I was surprised at the direction things were going more than once and by the last 100 pages or so I was practically chewing my nails in anticipation. While the characters were sometimes just too perfect, it wasn’t so much that I stopped liking them. They often seemed to nice to be real and a few more flaws would have made them seem more real to me.

The ending is somewhat bittersweet, but certainly sparks interest in the other books in the series if you haven’t read them already. I haven’t, but I didn’t feel like I was missing too much information to make it all make sense. Like Indiana Belle, Hannah’s Moon has plenty to offer for fans of history and is just very enjoyable all around.

My Top 5 Spring Reads (And Cocktail Recommendations)

It’s that time again. While it’s pretty much felt like spring here since February, all the trees now have leaves coming in and the weather is tolerable more often than not.

With the temperatures warming up, what better time to venture outside with a book and maybe a refreshing adult beverage? I have some suggestions:

1.The Queen of Babble series by Meg Cabot

I’m sure I have mentioned more than once how much I love Meg Cabot’s books. I doubt this will be the last time I recommend them.. Lizzie Nichols is a sweet girl with an unfortunately tendency to let her mouth get her into trouble. When she finds herself at loose ends after walking out on her visit to her boyfriend in England, Lizzie finds herself on a gorgeous French estate with the equally gorgeous Jean-Luc.

Cocktail: A Kir Royale. You’ll see why when Lizzie gets to France.

2.  The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

The legends of King Arthur are classic for a reason. This is another take on the King Arthur stories, told primarily from the point of view of the women in his life. True, it’s a pretty long book, but it’s a different angle on the story and has managed to hold my interest through more than one reading.

Cocktail: A Lady of the Lake, for Viviane and Morgaine. And it sounds like an absolutely perfect drink for spring.

3. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Mongomery

While Anne herself is famously fond of the fall, this book has always had a very spring feel for me. And now is a perfect time to pick it up and reread as the new Netflix series based on the book comes out next month. If you haven’t read it before… what are you waiting for? It’s a classic.

Cocktail: You could go for currant wine, or, even better, have a Raspberry Cordial Martini. As Anne says, “I love bright red drinks, don’t you? They taste twice as good as any other color.”

4. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Not only is this another classic that everyone should read, it’s chock full of themes with rebirth and renewal- perfect for spring.

Cocktail: How about a fruity and flowery Secret Garden Romance cocktail?

5. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Admittedly, there are some issues with this book that are less than desirable, but ultimately, I think it still earns a place on the list. Just remember, this is totally fiction people. After being “adopted” from her ill and aging parents, Chiyo and her sister find themselves sold into slavery. Separated from her sister, Chiyo enters the glittering (and often very dark) world of the geisha, but not without some rather big bumps in the road.

Cocktail: Sit back and imagine the cherry blossoms with a cherry green tea cocktail.

The Dragonfly (Kate Dunn)

I received a free copy of The Dragonfly in exchange for an honest review. This did not change my opinion of the book.

After learning that his estranged son has been brought up on murder charges in France, Colin takes his boat, The Dragonfly across the channel to see if he can help. Once there he meets his granddaughter, Delphine for the first time. Together, Colin and Delphine travel down the French canals learning about each other and uncovering secrets along the way. Will Colin be able to save his son?

If there is one thing I have learned from reading Kate Dunn’s books, is that even if the story doesn’t sound like it will be of interest to me, it is well worth my time to read anyway. She has a very beautiful, almost poetical use of words and it makes it a true pleasure to read her books. This makes it incredibly easy to fall into The Dragonfly and difficult to put down.

Despite her occasional brattiness, it was impossible not to fall in love with Delphine. There was a lovely charm about her. She was at once childish and extremely mature, really just a fabulously well written character. While I did not totally connect with Colin, it was easy to understand his growing affection for her.

The Dragonfly also really, really made me want to go back to France. I get horrifically seasick, but even with the hardships that Colin and Delphine faced, there was something undeniably appealing about the idea of exploring France via boat.

Overall, The Dragonfly is extremely interesting with a little mystery. It is absolutely brimming with emotion. Even if, like me, you are a little unsure about the story, give it a try. I really don’t think you will be disappointed. There is so much there to enjoy.

The Witchfinder’s Sister (Beth Underdown)

I received a free copy of The Witchfinder’s Sister in exchange for an honest review. This did not change my opinion of the book.

Image via Penguin Random House

It’s 1645 when Alice Hopkins is forced to return to her brother’s house, widowed and pregnant. It’s been years since she has spoken to Matthew, after having an argument about her marriage. It doesn’t take long after her arrival to see that something is very wrong. Soon, Alice is drawn into helping helping her brother interrogate supposed witches throughout the area. Alice puts her own life in jeopardy to try to put a stop to the madness threatening innocent lives.

First of all, let me say this is a solidly, well written historical novel. I know, this makes it sound dry. It isn’t dry, but honestly, it is very, very bleak. There is a really fantastic ending, but I certainly wouldn’t consider it a happy one. As a reader of historical novels, I enjoyed it, just don’t go in expecting sunshine and roses. You will be sorely disappointed.

It is very clear from the beginning that this is not going to be a happy tale. I think if it was possible I would have read most of the book while peeking beneath my fingers. You just KNEW nothing warm and fuzzy was coming. More than once I found myself talking to Alice, telling her to just get out, get out now!! Alas, it did not work for me.

I did love that the book contained just the barest whiff of the paranormal. I mean, I absolutely love books just crawling with the paranormal, but in an otherwise straightforward historical, it added a delightful tingle. Although there were a few times that I wasn’t sure I liked the book at all, I quickly came back around every time. I definitely recommend this for fans of historical fiction or paranormal books, I can’t see either coming away disappointed with The Witchfinder’s Sister.

And make sure you go visit Beth Underdown here.

 

 

Guest Post: Drawing Inspiration From Romantic Settings by Hannah Fielding

Today I’m featuring a guest post from the amazing Hannah Fielding! Read and make sure you give her a shout out at one of the links below! ~Sara

Places and sights have always been a rich source of inspiration for me in my writing. I was lucky enough to grow up in a house with a view of the Mediterranean, and even as a young child I remember staring out at the sparkling blue and dreaming up romantic fairy-tales. Then, as a young woman, I began travelling, and a whole world of romance opened up to me.

First Kenya – wild, colourful, exotic – which would become the setting of my debut romance novel, Burning Embers. Time spent in Italy informed my next novel, The Echoes of Love, set in Venice and Tuscany; and when I travelled to Spain and so fell in love with the region of Andalucía that I wrote not one but three books set in this land of fiery passion: Indiscretion, Masquerade and Legacy. There have been so many other fantastic trips, not to mention travels within the various countries I have lived, and with all this wonderful fodder for the imagination, I could just write and write…

And I do – every day, I sit down and write. But exactly where I write is of paramount importance to get me in the mindset to write evocative, vivid, passionate romance. I can’t write it in a cold, dark, soulless office. I can’t write it with a view of a brick wall. I can write when my surroundings are in themselves romantic.

My husband and I split our time between two homes, one in Kent, England, and the other on the Côte d’Azur, France. Both homes were carefully chosen for their inspirational and beautiful architecture, the lands that surround them and their views – views are very important for a writer, I believe.

In this post, I’ll share with you my writing spaces, to give you a glimmer of what’s before my eyes when I’m dreaming up the first meeting of two people destined to be soulmates, or a first kiss shared on a moonlit beach, or a sunset framing lovers walking off into their happy-ever-after.

Kent, England

Dogs, paddocks and daffodils at my house in Kent.

I live in an old rectory, which my husband and I bought two decades ago and restored from a shell into a comfortably, cosy family home. There are several places here in which I love to write. In summer, when the weather is fine, I sit in the garden – on one of the benches under shady trees, or at a patio table in the gardens. The orangery is a retreat for when the sun is too fierce or clouds cool the skies. In winter, I love to write by the log fire in the main house.

If I need a break or inspiration, I take a walk around the grounds, enjoying the flowers, visiting the ducks on the pond, or wandering through the woods. I especially love it when snow blankets the ground; our village church, right by the house, is picture-postcard perfection then.

Ste Maxime, France

View of the Bay of St Tropez through umbrella trees from the garden of my French Mas.

My French mas is set on a hill that affords wonderful views over the bay of St Tropez. Here I draw my inspiration very much from the vivid colours of the house and the landscape around. Whether I am inside or outside writing, I am always positioned so that I can see the sea – the Mediterranean of my childhood. Here, I write in the drawing room and at my desk, which has the most beautiful view of the sea, and all around the grounds. I also spend a lot of time at the beach, sitting for hours dreaming and plotting, and in the many pavement cafes in nearby towns, where I can sip a café latté and people-watch to my heart’s content.

But the greatest inspiration for me at my French home is the sun. Here, I see the most breath-taking sunrises and sunsets imaginable. Every time I sit on the veranda and watch Nature play out its most magical show, I cannot fail to fall in love with the place, with the world, with the very notion of romance – and from there, the writing flows onto the page.

Here is a little more about Legacy and Hannah. You should definitely check them out!! And you all know how I feel about book covers… she has some seriously fabulous ones! I cannot wait to dive into the books themselves! P.S. What she doesn’t mention here, is that she is also a super nice person and you should definitely pick up her books! ~Sara

A troubled young journalist finds her loyalties tested when love and desire unearth dark secrets from the past.

Spring, 2010. When Luna Ward, a science journalist from New York, travels halfway across the world to work undercover at an alternative health clinic in Cadiz, her ordered life is thrown into turmoil.

The doctor she is to investigate, the controversial Rodrigo Rueda de Calderon, is not what she expected. With his wild gypsy looks and devilish sense of humour, he is intent upon drawing her to him. But how can she surrender to a passion that threatens all reason; and how could he ever learn to trust her when he discovers her true identity? Then Luna finds that Ruy is carrying a corrosive secret of his own…

Luna’s native Spanish blood begins to fire in this land of exotic legends, flamboyant gypsies and seductive flamenco guitars, as dazzling Cadiz weaves its own magic on her heart. Can Luna and Ruy’s love survive their families’ legacy of feuding and tragedy, and rise like the phoenix from the ashes of the past?

Legacy is a story of truth, dreams and desire. But in a world of secrets you need to be careful what you wish for…

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Legacy-Intrigue-Redemption-Scorching-Andalucian/dp/0993291732

https://www.amazon.com/Legacy-Intrigue-Redemption-Scorching-Andalucian/dp/0993291732

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/legacy-hannah-fielding/1124034331

 

Hannah Fielding

Hannah Fielding is an incurable romantic. The seeds for her writing career were sown in early childhood, spent in Egypt, when she came to an agreement with her governess Zula: for each fairy story Zula told, Hannah would invent and relate one of her own. Years later – following a degree in French literature, several years of travelling in Europe, falling in love with an Englishman, the arrival of two beautiful children and a career in property development – Hannah decided after so many years of yearning to write that the time was now. Today, she lives the dream: writing full time at her homes in Kent, England, and the South of France, where she dreams up romances overlooking breath-taking views of the Mediterranean.

Hannah is a multi-award-winning novelist, and to date she has published five novels: Burning Embers, ‘romance like Hollywood used to make’, set in Kenya; The Echoes of Love, ‘an epic love story that is beautifully told’ set in Italy; and the Andalusian Nights Trilogy Indiscretion, Masquerade and Legacy – her fieriest novels yet, set in sunny, sultry Spain.

You can find Hannah online at:
Website: www.hannahfielding.net
Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/fieldinghannah
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/fieldinghannah
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5333898.Hannah_Fielding

 

Away From Shore (Mary McCormack Deka)

I received a free copy of Away From Shore in exchange for an honest review. As always, this did not change my opinion of the book.

 

I cannot honestly claim to know very much about poetry. I don’t remember much that I learned about it in various English classes throughout school. Once upon a time, I was a fairly prolific poet myself. I have reams and reams of angsty (and exceptionally bad) poetry written through junior high and into high school. By no means does that in any way make me an expert.

However, that being said, I’ve always thought that poetry is a much more emotionally expressive art than straight prose. You definitely have more flexibility to play with language in interesting ways.

Away From Shore is definitely emotionally evocative. As you move through the poems you are taken from the highs of falling in love, the depths of despair after a relationship ends and into a place of healing.

Often, poetry can be dense, overlong and (let’s be honest) just plain boring. That certainly isn’t the case here. Mary McCormack Deka’s writing is light and lovely. She doesn’t drag anything out necessarily, everything is purposeful and elegant. Most of her poems are quite short. “Life” stood out to me as a particular favorite, although this is full of gems. Even as someone who considers themselves a poetry novice, I had no trouble devouring this book in one sitting.

I definitely recommend you check out Away From Shore and while you’re at it, you can read more about Mary herself here.

The Uncommoners #1: The Crooked Sixpence

I received a free copy of The Uncommoners #1: The Crooked Sixpence in exchange for an honest review. This did not change my opinion  of the book.

Image via Penguin Random House

When their grandmother Sylvie has an accident and is rushed to the hospital, Ivy Sparrow and her older brother, Seb, are worried, but have no idea about the adventure before them. When they arrive back at her house, the place has been ransacked. Soon, very strange and sinister policeman appears, armed with a toilet brush.

Before they know it, Ivy and Seb are beneath London in a hidden city called Lunidor where everyday objects have uncommon powers. Soon they discover that their family has a very deep connection to this world and it becomes a race against time to save their family, uncover a dark family secret and save a powerful uncommon object before it’s too late.

This book was very unusual, uncommon, if you will. (C’mon. Don’t pretend like you didn’t know where I was going with that.)

In all seriousness, what an absolute blast. You couldn’t always be quite sure where things were going next, so there was never a lack of excitement. I’ve made no secret of the fact that while YA books are my passion, middle grade books are really giving them a run lately. Middle grade reads definitely seem to have the “fun” factor going for them. YA can take itself pretty seriously so often and while that’s not always a bad thing, middle grade books, though they still have high stakes, definitely don’t weigh you down with all the solemnity.

Overall, great writing and a completely original world. Lunidor is whimsical and fascinating, certainly the kind of fantasy world that will make you wish you could visit for real. This is definitely a series I will be buying for my collection and cannot wait to read more. Check out the book trailer, info about the next book in there series (!!!!) and more here.

And I nearly forgot! The illustrations by Karl James Mountford are icing on an already awesome cake: fanciful and fun! Enjoy!

The Shadow Land (Elizabeth Kostova)

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This did not change my opinion of the book.

Image via http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/Penguin Random House

When Alexandria Boyd arrives in Sofia, Bulgaria she hopes that some time abroad will help heal the wounds from losing her brother. Shortly after arriving in the city, she helps an elderly couple into a cab and too late realizes that she has one of their bags in her possession. Inside the bag is ornately carved wooded box with the name Stoyan Lazarov engraved on the lid. When she peeks inside, she realizes that this is actually an urn. Along with the cab driver she befriends, Alexandria sets off through Bulgaria to return the urn to the family, an adventure that she soon learns is full of dangerous she couldn’t have imagined. Along the way she will learn about the talented musician who’s life was shattered by unthinkable political oppression.

I’m so happy Elizabeth Kostova chose to return to Eastern Europe for this book, because I really feel like her passion for it shows. The Shadow Land follows the typical format for her books, the modern mixed with history, moving back and forth through time. Somehow, it’s never disorienting. I find her books to be very satisfying, slowly unfolding mysteries, and The Shadow Land was no different for me.

It’s definitely a hefty tome and being way behind on my reading commitments, I was concerned about the time it would take to finish the book. I shouldn’t have worried. I started on a Saturday morning and had devoured the entire book by Sunday night.

It’s sad and beautiful and touching all wrapped together. While it definitely touches on some uncomfortable history (forced labor camps in Bulgaria after WWII), it’s still somehow beautiful. While it doesn’t have that paranormal angle that The Historian has, it still has a dark mysteriousness that I can’t resist.

If you are already a fan of Elizabeth Kostova, then I really don’t need to sell this. You know what kind of quality to expect. If you are not, I cannot recommend enough that you pick up this book and give yourself a thorough introduction. I really don’t think you will be disappointed.