The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue (Mackenzi Lee)

As Henry “Monty” Montague prepares to set out on his Grand Tour with his best friend (and secret crush) Percy, he fears his days of pleasure are fast approaching an end. He is expected to return from the trip more mature and ready to learn how to take over the family estate. On his trip Monty’s father expects him to be on his best behavior or disinheritance looms. Monty has different ideas and plans to drink, party and flirt with Percy the whole way across Europe. When their trip takes a sudden dangerous turn, Monty will find himself calling everything about his life into question.

I first discovered The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue a few months ago. One of the many bookish sites I follow on Facebook was advertising the first four chapters of a new YA novel. Why not? I thought to myself. I was in love before I finished the first chapter and the next several months of waiting were absolute torture.

Completely worth it. Mackenzi Lee certainly did not disappoint. This book was fresh, fun, fabulous and full of heart. It’s not often that I can say a book genuinely had me laughing out loud at points, tense with anticipation at others and in tears at the end. When it first arrived I was surprised at it’s length and was a little worried about finishing it within the deadline I set for myself. Turns out, there was no need to be concerned. I finished it in just slightly over 24 hours. It would have been faster, but I still have to go to work.

If there is anything I like in a historical fiction book, it’s a rakehell, and I was not left wanting. Monty is the lovable kind of rake that warms my heart. Percy is dreamy and sweet while Monty’s sister Felicity is sharp and sarcastic. All in all, a group that suits each other and the story well.

The 18th century has long held my interest (I have a BA in art history with a focus in 18th century painting, super useful, but that’s another story…). Art related to the Grand Tour was definitely something I studied, but it was honestly a little dry. This brought it to full, dramatic life. While Monty, Percy and Felicity’s Tour was certainly out of the ordinary and full of danger, it was still a fun romp through 18th century Europe.

I can’t recommend this book enough. I finished it less than an hour before writing this and I already am looking forward to reading it again. Read it. Read it now. It’s witty and fast-paced, certainly a book to devour.


A Singular Baptism (Carlos J. Server)

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

Calling Lucía’s family unusual would be an understatement.  With all of them gathered on the beautiful island of El Hierro for the baptism of her son, Agrimiro, she has her hands full. Between juggling not only her own family, but her husband’s, Lucía also must try to figure out if her suspicions about her son’s paternity are real or just a misunderstanding. It all adds up to a weekend that is destined to be unforgettable.

As with his previous novel, A Lucky Day (see my review here), Carlos J. Server once again delivers a cast of fun, quirky characters in somewhat unusual situations. While they were definitely fun to read about, I was certainly left thinking that at least my family isn’t that nuts. Well… most of the time.

While there were a few times where it veered close to just flat crazy, overall it was a lighthearted take on a stressful situation. Think of your favorite rom-com, but less sappy. One particularly notable scene introduced me to a barraquito. This is something I’m going to have to try very soon. Googling “barraquito” also led me down the rabbit hole where I discovered the Spanish really seem to have this coffee thing down. I need to research more in person. Someday. But I digress…

A Singular Baptism, is, as it’s title suggests, unusual and definitely great fun. If you have wacky relatives of your own, you are sure to find yourself right at home among Lucía’s family. As we are entering the sweltering days of summer, it is the perfect book to kick back in the AC, pour a drink and imagine yourself on the gorgeous El Hierro… with or without your family.

Title & Cover Reveal: Unsanctioned Eyes by Brianna Merritt

Her death was just the beginning.

Quinn Rogers doesn’t exist. There are no records of her name. Her DNA has no match. She is a ghost. A phantom killer no one can trace. The perfect assassin. Or so she thinks.

At the top of her game, Quinn’s no longer looking over her shoulder. Her master will protect her, save her, like he always has. But there are forces at work neither of them suspect.

Can Quinn find the truth in a world of lies? Or will her unsanctioned past catch up to her in the end?

Now, you all know I’m a sucker for a good cover. Isn’t this one great?!? Unsanctioned Eyes not only sounds amazing, but it looks fantastic too. Check out Brianna at one of the links below for more information!!

Author Bio:

Brianna grew up in a small town in Oklahoma learning the language of the wind and trying to survive the heat of summer. She fell in love with all things literary at an early age and the journey from reader to writer followed. With the help of One Year Adventure Novel, she finished her first novel in 2012 and hasn’t been able to stop creating new worlds and adventures since.

As well as writing, Brianna is addicted to tea, chocolate, and music. When she isn’t reading or writing, Brianna teaches Ballet and Jazz.

She lives in Virginia with her family and spoiled Dalmatian, Valentine.








Lord of Shadows Giveaway!

So… because its a holiday weekend (and because I somehow managed to pre-order two copies) I think it’s time for a giveaway. Last year I fell in love with Cassandra Clare’s books, so I’m happy to continue that obsession into this year.

If you haven’t read them yet, there are now three series featuring the Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments, The Infernal Devices and now The Dark Artifices. There are also several other books that relate to the series: The Bane Chronicles, Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy, The Shadowhunter Codex, a coloring book and probably some other things I have forgotten to mention.

Lord of Shadows is the second book in The Dark Artifices series.



Lord of Shadows Giveaway

Time to Get Personal: It’s Fanfiction Time

Those of you that know me know that I am a huge fan of both the Labyrinth and its star, the late, great David Bowie.

Me rocking one of my Labyrinth shirts… just ignore my messy post workout hair.

Many of you also know that I have been trying to get serious about my own writing again lately. (Don’t worry… I’m still reading away!)

What, you might be asking yourself, do these things have in common?

Well, in order to sharpen up my rusty skills, I decided to write fanfiction. It was more comfortable for me to work with characters and within worlds that already existed while I “warmed up”, so to speak. So, I decided to write Labyrinth fanfiction. While on one hand, I’ve been fairly embarrassed about it, on the other, it has really kick-started my creativity, allowing me to finally start work on my own book. That project is still in it’s barest infancy, but I’m more committed than ever to crossing the finish line.

For anyone who is unfamiliar, fanfiction is exactly what it sounds like: a fan of a particular book, movie, TV show, etc., writing their own piece of fiction using the setting and/or characters from that world. There are tons of sub-genres within fanfiction itself, but I won’t get into that. Put more elegantly than I could:

“Fanfiction is what literature might look like if it were reinvented from scratch after a nuclear apocalypse by a band of brilliant pop-culture junkies trapped in a sealed bunker. They don’t do it for money. That’s not what it’s about. The writers write it and put it up online just for the satisfaction. They’re fans, but they’re not silent, couchbound consumers of media. The culture talks to them, and they talk back to the culture in its own language.”
Lev Grossman

It can also be surprisingly polarizing. Some artists embrace fic writers, while others, such as George R.R. Martin and Diana Gabaldon among many others absolutely hate it.

Like I mentioned above, I had been pretty embarrassed about my fanfiction, but because of my amazingly supportive and wonderful friends and family, I’ve decided to go ahead and share it with people I know. The first completed short story is Return of the Goblin King, followed by the in-progress sequel Legacy of the Labyrinth. Please, feel free to leave me feedback, good or bad, as long as it’s constructive. If you’re being a jerk, I’ll just delete it anyway.

Guest Post: Inspirations by Steve Catto

Apart from sitting with my mother from an early age looking at picture books and reading words like Cat and Dog, my first recollection of reading properly would be the Rupert Bear annuals. I was always fascinated by the way that the ordinary could be made extraordinary but yet still believable. A common theme was for Rupert to meet one of his friends, and then some magical or mystical adventure would develop, and of course, it always turned out right in the end.

I also remember the early Enid Byton collection of books very clearly, such as the Famous Five and especially The Enchanted Wood series. For those too young to remember, the Enchanted Wood was the home of what we would now describe as an ‘entity’ called The Magic Faraway Tree. The three main children were Jo, Bessie and Fanny. And before you say anything, yes, I’ve heard all the jokes – at that point in time we lived in a world where names like Dick and Fanny weren’t funny. They would climb the tree to discover a different land in the clouds at the top every day. They had many fantasy adventures there and had to get back to the hole before the land moved on. When I was young I found all these tales both fascinating and scary. I don’t believe that the Rupert Bear books have acquired quite the same notoriety and fame as the Enid Blyton ones, perhaps because they were, and still are, derived from a newspaper comic strip and therefore don’t have one associated author in the way that books do, but in my opinion they are every bit as good.
Then things changed.

There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture…

In 1963, at the age of seven, the world wanted to take us to The Outer Limits. People still say that they were frightened by the stories. I just found them fascinating, they told me of things I could never have imagined. Some of them I believed could be true, some of them were just stories, and even at that age, I knew they were just actors walking about in front of a camera. It wasn’t the things I saw and heard that interested me, it was the way they made me feel.

I also vividly recall sitting on the sofa in front of a flickering black and white screen one evening to watch the first episode of a new series called Doctor Who entitled ‘The Unearthly Child’. With eyes glued to the picture, which was really more a sort of dark grey and light grey rather than black and white, I was enthralled by this mysterious schoolgirl called Susan, who lived with her grandfather at 76 Totter’s Lane in London. On visiting the address her teachers discover that there is nothing there except a scrapyard… and a police telephone box. That is how a mystery begins.

In my teens I moved on to science fiction in the form of short stories by authors such as Philip K. Dick, Robert A. Heinlein and H. G. Wells. Their stories seemed to captivate me. Tales by other equally famous authors like Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke were, perhaps, more predictive of future events, but I always found the plots to be somewhat contrived.

Sadly, for me, not many of these early stories have stood the test of time. The stories somehow lack the descriptive visualisation of surroundings and emotions that authors put into modern works. Story writing has evolved from the simplicity of the early writers because the expectations of readers have changed and become more sophisticated.

The reality is there are not many new ideas in fiction and fantasy, and the old plots have been worked and re-worked. Modern writers have developed them in new and unexpected ways, but it is rare to find a plot or idea that doesn’t have its original roots in something from the past. You just have to be old enough to remember them.

I have grown up with imagery, with storytelling, with mystery, where the things I saw and read gave me ideas, and where I had to imagine them for myself. So that’s where my ideas come from, not from the Outer Limits, but from the inner mind.

…We now return control of your television set to you. Until next week, at the same time.

From Sara: And don’t forget to check out Steve’s book, Snowflakes is available now! You can check it out here.

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.