Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Interview with B.R.A.G Medallion Honoree Vincent LoCoco

Please join me in welcoming B.R.A.G Medallion Honoree Vincent LoCoco to A Literary Vacation!! His first novel, Tempesta's Dream - A Story of Love, Friendship and Opera, became an Amazon bestselling novel and was awarded the 2014 Pinnacle Achievement Award in Historical Fiction. Amazon also has named his book as a Top Rated Novel in Italian Historical Fiction.

His most recent novel, A Song for Bellafortuna, was shortlisted in the William Faulkner - William Wisdom Competition and was named a Best Reads for 2015 and was awarded the prestigious B.R.A.G. Medallion Award in Historical Fiction. He is an estate planning attorney in New Orleans, where he lives with his wife and two children.

Hello, Vincent, and welcome to A Literary Vacation! To start off with, please tell us a little about your book, A Song for Bellafortuna?

Thanks for inviting me to discuss my novel, A Song for Bellafortuna. The story is set in the beautiful Sicilian hills. Bellafortuna is a small village and a great producer of wine and olive oil. The entire village prospers. However, after the arrival of the Vasaio family, production dwindles and the villagers soon find themselves in crushing debt to the Vasaios. Only the Sanguinetti family remains outside the control of the Vasaios, but the reason haunts Antonio Sanguinetti every day of his life, and he offers financial and emotional support to his fellow villagers. When Antonio's only son, Giuseppe, discovers his family's past, he becomes determined to take on the Vasaios and remove them from power. Led by the young Giuseppe, a plan is hatched that could result in either complete freedom for the villagers, or if it fails, forever solidify the Vasaios' control.

What drew you to tell this particular story?

I live in New Orleans. After Hurricane Katrina devastated my city, I knew I wanted to write a story of rebirth and redemption. Somehow, that story transformed into the story that I told. Like New Orleans, Bellafortuna enjoyed its own rebirth.

What sort of research went into writing A Song for Bellafortuna? Did you do any traveling as part of your research?

I did a lot of research on Sicilian life at the turn of the century. I read a lot of travel type books on Sicily to get a good feeling of the country and its people. I did not travel there specifically for the novel, but had traveled to Italy a few times in the past and recalled my memories form those trips.

Was there anything you discovered as part of your research that you found surprising or shocking? Was there anything you wanted to incorporate into the story but had to cut for whatever reason?


The poverty of the Sicilian people at the turn of the century really surprised me. Luckily, there was nothing that I wanted to incorporate in the story but left out. Everything I had to say is in the story.

I would imagine that there is a lot of reading involved in the process of researching and writing a novel. Did you come across any books you would recommend for those that have read A Song for Bellafortuna and that want to read more about the settings and situations discussed?

I really have only one recommendation as it is the best book on the Sicily. On Persephone's Island, A book by Mary Taylor Simet.

Historical fiction happens to be my all-time favorite genre and I find myself going back and forth between what periods of history are my favorite to read about. Do you have a favorite time period to write and/or read about, or do you enjoy jumping around as I do? 

I like to jump around as well. I joke with my friends all the time that I must hate cell phones, as being a historical fiction writer means I never have to write about cell phones, email or faxes. A much slower paced life.

What does a typical day (if there is one) look like for you? How do you balance writing and the rest of your life?

I am an attorney, so all of my writing takes place either late at night or first thing in the morning – usually at a coffee shop for an hour before work.

What drew you to independently publish A Song for Bellafortuna as opposed to seeking traditional publishing?

I loved the element of control afforded by self-publishing.

How did you discover indieBRAG and what does it mean to you to have A Song for Bellafortuna awarded the BRAG Medallion?

Some other novels in my genre were winners. It means so much to be awarded a B.R.A.G. Award as the process is very selective and it means that a few readers fell in love with the story and thought it worthy of being named an award winner.

Thank you so much, Vincent, for answering my questions!

You can learn more about Vincent and his books on his website and connect with him Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads. You can  purchase a copy of A Song for Bellafortuna at  Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Audible.

A Message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Colleen has chosen to interview Vincent LoCoco, who is the author of A Song for Bellafortuna, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion ® , a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as A Song for Bellafortuna merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Release Day Review: To Capture What We Cannot Keep by Beatrice Colin

Publisher: Flatiron Books
Pub. Date: November 29th, 2016
Pages: 304

Genre: Historical Fiction/ French History / Historical Romance


Set against the construction of the Eiffel Tower, this novel charts the relationship between a young Scottish widow and a French engineer who, despite constraints of class and wealth, fall in love.

In February 1887, Caitriona Wallace and Émile Nouguier meet in a hot air balloon, floating high above Paris, France--a moment of pure possibility. But back on firm ground, their vastly different social strata become clear. Cait is a widow who because of her precarious financial situation is forced to chaperone two wealthy Scottish charges. Émile is expected to take on the bourgeois stability of his family's business and choose a suitable wife. As the Eiffel Tower rises, a marvel of steel and air and light, the subject of extreme controversy and a symbol of the future, Cait and Émile must decide what their love is worth.

Seamlessly weaving historical detail and vivid invention, Beatrice Colin evokes the revolutionary time in which Cait and Émile live--one of corsets and secret trysts, duels and Bohemian independence, strict tradition and Impressionist experimentation. To Capture What We Cannot Keep, stylish, provocative, and shimmering, raises probing questions about a woman's place in that world, the overarching reach of class distinctions, and the sacrifices love requires of us all.

What Did I Think About the Story?

The Eiffel Tower is such an iconic symbol of architectural and artistic innovation. I've long been fascinated by it and visiting - and climbing! - it are high up on my bucket list. The gorgeous cover showcasing this remarkable feat of engineering drew me right in and had me requesting a copy of To Capture What We Cannot Keep for review even before reading the synopsis. Even with it's heavy emphasis on the romance between these characters, which isn't typically a big draw for me, I was really looking forward to seeing how the author tackled the ever-changing world of Paris during this time and how the characters and the building of the Eiffel Tower would fit into that world. While I do think the author did a remarkable job of bringing this world to life, I had a few issues with the story that kept this from being a runaway hit for me.

Let's start with the positive. I'm still in a little bit of awe over how vividly Beatrice Colin brought Paris and the building of the tower to life. She shows it all, from the glamour and beauty of the rich and artistic all the way down to the poor, disabled, and desperate. We see the gritty streets and building sites and the opulent artist's salons, and this goes a long way to explaining the pretty hard drawn lines between the various social classes of the characters. The descriptions of the actual building of the tower were my favorite of the whole book and the reader gets to experience it all down to the tiniest girder bar through to the opening. There's a scene towards the end of the story when Cait is climbing the tower in search of Emile when she is overcome with a terrible panic attack due to the height and I will admit to becoming a little uncomfortable myself when reading it...all while I'm safely sitting on my couch! This is just one example of the expressive writing style the author displayed throughout the whole story.

I also very much enjoyed learning more about Gustave Eiffel himself as well as his involvement in the French attempt to build the Panama Canal and the ensuing scandal and bankruptcy. Eiffel is portrayed for much of the story as this whirlwind of a man, one that's kind yet highly ambitious and hardworking, and I'm now determined to read more about him after getting this small taste. This need for more information brought about by an author's presentation is always the sign for me of great writing.

What I did not enjoy as much was the character development of all other characters. I wanted to like these characters, especially Cait and Emile, but I just found something lacking in nearly all of them. The constant back and forth between Cait and Emile became quite irritating, and I couldn't help but continuously wonder why, if they actually loved each other as they internally claimed (because I don't believe they ever outwardly stated it and, if they did, I missed it), they didn't do whatever it took to be together even if that meant going against what was expected of them. It was probably the most non-romantic romance I've encountered. The other characters weren't much better and I especially disliked Cait's two Scottish charges as they were incredibly selfish and vapid. The only other character I liked (other than Eiffel) was Gabrielle, the drug-addicted artist's wife who's Emile's mistress at the beginning of the novel, and I enjoyed her mainly for her ability to ruffle up the other characters and bring some actual spice to the story.   

It's been a while since I've read a story that had me so divided on the likes and dislikes within it. I absolutely adored the descriptions of Paris and the building of the tower and would have happily spent the entire book reading more about that. However, the characters left so much to be desired that I just couldn't love the story overall. There is just so little romance going on within that I think those that enjoy those sorts of story will likely be disappointed. However, if you can look past that aspect and just enjoy the dynamic and multilayered world the author places these characters in, there is still much that can be enjoyed here.

What Did I Think About the Cover?

It's GORGEOUS!! As I said above the cover is actually what drew me to pick this book up in the first place. I love the idea of reading a novel about the building of the Eiffel Tower and the coloring, with the snow-dappled filminess and golden framing, is classically beautiful. Wonderful job done by whoever picked this cover!

My Rating: 3.0/5.0

I received a copy of To Capture What We Cannot Keep from Netgalley and Flatiron Books. All opinions are my own. You can find more information, including other reviews and where to purchase a copy, on Goodreads.

I read To Capture What We Cannot Keep as a buddy read with some blogger friends and will link to their reviews below as they become available. Be sure to check them out!

Layered Pages 

The Maiden's Court

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Tip of My Wish List - 'Tis the Season!

To change things up this year, I've decided to do a monthly post on 5 books from my insane wish list that I am most excited about getting to. Some might be new, some old and some out of wish list has it all! I'll pick a theme each month and share my wish list post on the last Friday of the month. I know a number of excellent bloggers who will be doing similar posts and I'll be sure to link to their posts as well so you can see all the goodies we're excited about and, hopefully, add a few new books to your own wish list.

Even though I live in Florida and you wouldn't know it wasn't Summer unless you looked on a calendar, I am always ready for all things holiday once Halloween has come and gone. That means lots of baking, putting up decorations, and reading and watching a ton of Christmas movies! Because my brain is completely zoned towards Christmas at this point, I've decided this month to share 5 books that I want to read that take place around the holiday season.

  I'll link the titles to Goodreads where you can read reviews and find the various ways to purchase a copy of the books if they sound like your style. I really hope you enjoy and let me know if you've read any of these or have others you would add to the list.
Generations of believers in hope and goodwill have made Valentine Davies’ Miracle on 34th Street a treasured part of their holiday traditions. Millions of copies of this award-winning story have sold since its first publication in 1947, delighting readers of all ages. A facsimile edition of the book is now faithfully re-created, offering a new generation--and fans of the original--the beauty of the classic 1940s design. Details of how the book came to be written, and made into a beloved film, are included in a brief historical note.
Every child knows about Santa Claus, the jolly man who brings gifts to all on Christmas. There are many stories that tell of his life, but the delightful version relayed in The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus is by far the most charming and original of all. Only L. Frank Baum, the man who created the wonderful land of Oz, could have told Santa's tale in such rich and imaginative detail.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

‘Be prepared to perform what you promised, Gawain;
Seek faithfully till you find me …’

A New Year’s feast at King Arthur’s court is interrupted by the appearance of a gigantic Green Knight, resplendent on horseback. He challenges any one of Arthur’s men to behead him, provided that if he survives he can return the blow a year later. Sir Gawain accepts the challenge and decapitates the knight – but the mysterious warrior cheats death and vanishes, bearing his head with him. The following winter Gawain sets out to find the Knight in the wild Northern lands and to keep his side of the bargain. One of the great masterpieces of Middle English poetry, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight magically combines elements of fairy tale and heroic sagas with the pageantry, chivalry and courtly love of medieval Romance. Brian Stone’s evocative translation is accompanied by an introduction that examines the Romance genre, and the poem’s epic and pagan sources. This edition also includes essays discussing the central characters and themes, theories about authorship and Arthurian legends, and suggestions for further reading and notes.

Skipping Christmas
Imagine a year without Christmas. No crowded malls, no corny office parties, no fruitcakes, no unwanted presents. That’s just what Luther and Nora Krank have in mind when they decide that, just this once, they’ll skip the holiday altogether. Theirs will be the only house on Hemlock Street without a rooftop Frosty; they won’t be hosting their annual Christmas Eve bash; they aren’t even going to have a tree. They won’t need one, because come December 25 they’re setting sail on a Caribbean cruise. But, as this weary couple is about to discover, skipping Christmas brings enormous consequences–and isn’t half as easy as they’d imagined.

A classic tale for modern times, Skipping Christmas offers a hilarious look at the chaos and frenzy that have become part of our holiday tradition.

The Little Match Girl

Fearful of returning home to a violent father without having sold enough matches for the day, the Little Match Girl remains on the street resigned to warming herself by lighting matches. With each match, she sees a vision—a warm stove, a table laden with hot food, a beautiful Christmas tree decorated with lights leading up to the sky, so high that one becomes a shooting star. According to her grandmother, each shooting star is a person who had recently passed on and is now heading to heaven. Her next strike brings a vision of her grandmother—the only person in the world who ever loved the Little Match Girl—who takes her away in her warm embrace to heaven. The classic ending is intact here and accompanied by gentle, sensitive illustrations—children will return to this stirring tale often to understand its tragedy and the valuable lessons within.
Check out these lovely blogs for more books to add to your wish list:
Heather at The Maiden's Court is sharing 5 non-fiction books she's excited to read HERE.

Erin at Flashlight Commentary has a delicious group of winter-themed stories HERE.

Stephanie at Layered Pages is sharing a little of this and a little of that HERE.

Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede has 5 crime novels she's excited to read HERE.

Holly at 2 Kids and Tired has 5 more Christmas books to share with everyone HERE.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Publisher: Riverhead Books
Pub. Date: January 13th, 2015
Pages: 336

Genre: Contemporary Mystery/Thriller



Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. Jess and Jason, she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.


And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel goes to the police. But is she really as unreliable as they say? Soon she is deeply entangled not only in the investigation but in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?  

What Did I Think About the Story?

I went into reading The Girl on the Train with some trepidation. So many people have read this book and lauded it as the "next Gone Girl", a book I really enjoyed, so I was prepared to be disappointed. I also read a number of reviews stating the characters were just horrible and not worth caring about, so I wasn't really sure what to expect. I'm so glad I set my concerns aside and picked up the book because I absolutely loved following along with Rachel as she tried to decipher her memories and figure out what really happened to the "Jess" girl she had been watching from the train.

The set up of the novel was great, with each chapter going back and forth in time and being told from the point of view of one of three characters: Rachel, a sad alcoholic with a tendency to not only make up fantasies within her own head but black out and lose whole stretches of time; Megan, the girl Rachel sees from the train that goes missing one day; and  Anna, the new wife of Rachel's ex-husband and neighbor of Megan. Each character's point of view gives us bits and pieces of what has happened not only currently (with Megan's disappearance) but in each of their pasts. This sort of tentative release of information built a delicious anticipation, and this combined with seeing Rachel's lost memories of the night Megan goes missing slowly resurface, made for a wonderful whodunit.

While I will agree that there are no "innocent" characters in this story, whether that be these three women or the men in their lives, I never felt like I didn't care what happened to them. This is especially true with Rachel, who I couldn't help but root for and hope she would get the  help she  needed to stop drinking and move on from the dreams of her past "happy life". I've never been one to discount a whole story based solely on unsympathetic characters and I loved how complicated and real (if highly dysfunctional) the characters in The Girl on the Train were.

Now, the big mystery regarding Megan's disappearance. I'll admit I somehow guessed what really happened and who was involved pretty early on. With so many characters having a myriad of issues and dislikeable characteristics I channeled my inner Scooby Doo and went with the character I thought seemed the least likely and, lo and behold, I was right! Even with guessing the inevitable outcome I still very much enjoyed watching how the story would unfold and how the various clues would eventually fall into place. And there were still some elements I didn't even think about that make the ending that much more interesting.

I found The Girl on the Train to be a quick and enjoyably twisty tale. I can definitely see why this has been compared so often to Gone Girl as our main character and her memories are about as unreliable as they come. After finishing this one I've definitely been put in the mood for more mysteries like this, and I'm now on high alert for the next book by the author.


What Did I Think About the Cover?

It's okay. It definitely represents the book in a couple of ways, most obviously being the view from a fast moving train. However, for me, it also can represent the hazy view Rachel has in general, both due to her alcoholism and her tendency towards creating her own fantasies about her life and those around her in her head, as well as the hazy nature of her memories of the events discussed in the book. Not necessarily eye catching but still a well represented cover.

My Rating: 4.5/5.0

I purchased a copy of The Girl on the Train for my own library and all opinions expressed above are my own. You can find more information about the book, including other reviews and links to where you can purchase a copy, on Goodreads.

* I read The Girl on the Train as a buddy read with some other blogger friends of mine. Please find links to their reviews below *

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Audiobook Review: The Tale of Halcyon Crane by Wendy Webb

Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Pub. Date: March 30th, 2010
Length: 9 hours, 50 minutes

Genres: Mystery/ Fiction/ Paranormal


A young woman travels alone to a remote island to uncover a past she never knew was hers in this thrilling modern ghost story

When a mysterious letter lands in Hallie James's mailbox, her life is upended. Hallie was raised by her loving father, having been told her mother died in a fire decades earlier. But it turns out that her mother, Madlyn, was alive until very recently. Why would Hallie's father have taken her away from Madlyn? What really happened to her family thirty years ago?

In search of answers, Hallie travels to the place where her mother lived, a remote island in the middle of the Great Lakes. The stiff islanders fix her first with icy stares and then unabashed amazement as they recognize why she looks so familiar, and Hallie quickly realizes her family's dark secrets are enmeshed in the history of this strange place. But not everyone greets her with such a chilly reception―a coffee-shop owner and the family's lawyer both warm to Hallie, and the possibility of romance blooms. And then there's the grand Victorian house bequeathed to her―maybe it's the eerie atmosphere or maybe it's the prim, elderly maid who used to work for her mother, but Hallie just can't shake the feeling that strange things are starting to happen . . .

In The Tale of Halcyon Crane, Wendy Webb has created a haunting story full of delicious thrills, vibrant characters, and family secrets.

What Did I Think About the Story?

This is the third novel I've read/listened to by Wendy Webb (I've also read The Vanishing and The Fate of Mercy Alban) and what I've really come to appreciate about her novels is her utter ability to spook me. She has this way of using bumps and creaks and whispers to raise the hair on the back of my neck and I just find that so delicious! She has this innate ability with descriptions to completely wrap the reader/listener into the story, which can be a little unnerving given the author's propensity for thrills and chills. Before beginning any of her books I know, from the descriptions and past experience, that I'm in for a treat, and The Tale of Halcyon Crane was no exception.

I actually purchased a paperwork copy of the book years ago, but already having three (!) paperback books I'm reading right now, as well as an eBook, I thought I'd have a better chance of getting to The Tale of Halcyon Crane more quickly if I listened to it on my commute. The narrator, Cassandra Campbell, was exceptional and hit all the qualities that I've come to love in an audiobook narrator. She was able to keep the tension taut when the story required it, but also give levity and humor to the descriptions and dialogue when needed. I think my absolute favorite part of her narration, which is partly her skill and partly Wendy Webb's wonderful writing, was her depictions of the giggling and whispering ghosts, and, most of all, their spooky, slightly sinister, singing. I am not ashamed to admit that there were a few times I got a slight shiver when listening to those portions of the narration.

As you can tell from the book synopsis, there are quite a few family mysteries for our main character, Hallie, to discover and work through during the story. Being that there are quite a few paranormal elements involved, I wasn't able to successfully guess where the story would take me, which I very much enjoyed. I just sat back, went along for the ride, and delighted in learning about the inhabitants of this isolated island, both in the present and the past, and how so many of them connected in unexpected ways. I think the author did a remarkable job of fleshing out all the characters we come across, both with vivid descriptions and through the various paranormal gifts Hallie and her family members possess, as well as completely immersing the reader in this somewhat confining, claustrophobic environment.

The Tale of Halcyon Crane is a wonderfully spooky story about learning who  you really are, coming to terms with your past, and laying old ghosts (both figuratively and literally) to rest. I was already a big fan of Wendy Webb's writing and continue to be so, but more than anything else I am so excited to have found an audiobook narrator that I love. I'll definitely be reading and listening more to both of these women in the future.

What Did I Think About the Cover?

I like it, although I'm not really sure who the girl on the front is supposed to be. Hallie was very young when her father took her away from the island, so I don't think that's her. It could be one of the myriad of ghosts that inhabit her family home, but I'm not sure which one would most fit that figure. However, no matter who it is supposed to be, the ghostly eeriness is evident and I think it fits the overall feel of the novel very well.

My Rating: 5.0/5.0

I borrowed a copy of the audiobook of The Tale of Halcyon Crane from my local library using the Overdrive app. All opinions are my own. You can find out more information about the book, including other reviews and where you can purchase your own copy, on Goodreads.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Interview with Sherry Christie, Author of Roma Amor: A Novel of Caligula's Rome + Tour-Wide Giveaway!

Thank you so much, Sherry, for taking the time to stop by A Literary Vacation! One of my favorite aspects of interacting with authors is finding out what inspires them to write the novels that they do. Every author seems to have their own unique approach to their craft and learning that process really helps me, as a reader, get a better appreciation for the end result. So I can’t wait to learn more about your process!


Thank you, Colleen, for inviting me to share some behind-the-scenes insights into Roma Amor: A Novel of Caligula’s Rome, my new historical about everyone’s favorite mad, bad Emperor!
The political intrigue, warring allegiances, and fascinating real-life participants of the early Roman Empire gives plenty of interesting factors for a writer to explore. What led you to write this particular story?


Good question! I think many of us who read historical fiction secretly imagine how we would have changed history (despite Claire and Jamie’s failure). The early Roman Empire is one of those precarious times when a nudge could have altered the future. It intrigued me to explore how Marcus Carinna, a young man believing in the old Roman virtues of duty and honor, would act in a new era that prioritized stability at all costs. It’s an issue that America as a country still faces today: should we act according to our principles, or our political interests?

The backstory to Roma Amor is that after Julius Caesar’s murder, there were 14 years of bloody civil war until Augustus defeated everyone else to become Rome’s First Chosen (Princeps). He tried to name a successor based on ability and experience, but fate left him only his stepson, Tiberius. Though reluctant, Tiberius did a good job of keeping the peace throughout the Empire. When he died, it was assumed that another of Augustus’s descendants should inherit his powers in order to maintain political stability. However, the paranoid Tiberius had whittled away his relatives so successfully that there were only three males left: 46-year-old Claudius, sneered at as weak and infirm; teenage Gemellus, whose mother had murdered his father; and 24-year-old Caligula, a hero’s son thought to be meek and submissive. Guess which one the Senate (including Marcus’s ambitious father) liked best?

I know historical fiction is typically a combination of real facts from history and fiction added to fill in the gaps no longer known. Can you tell us a little bit about the facts in Roma Amor: A Novel of Caligula’s Rome and where/why you added the fiction?

Other than Marcus Carinna’s family and the Germanic priestess Aurima and her people, just about everyone in Roma Amor is a real historical entity. But there’s a lot about what they thought and did that we can’t be sure of, because most histories written at the time didn’t survive. Much of what has come down to us was penned by two historians, Suetonius and Dio Cassius, a hundred years or more after Caligula’s death. For a sense of Caligula’s real personality, I read everything I could find about his environment, his parents, his upbringing, and what he was factually known to have done. Then I painted a person who could have existed with all these touchpoints. I also tried to suggest how some of the scandalous rumors reported by Suetonius may have arisen. (BTW, Suetonius’s “history” inspired the treachery and mayhem in the BBC production of Robert Graves’s novel I, Claudius.)

I see that Roma Amor: A Novel of Caligula’s Rome is just the first installment of a saga. Where can we expect your upcoming novels in the saga to take us?


 There are 30 more years of dysfunctional Caesars in the offing! Marcus may play a role in Caligula’s downfall, the reign (and disastrous marriages) of Claudius, and the rise of Nero—who will make his uncle Caligula look like a model of moderation.

Historical fiction happens to be my all-time favorite genre and I find myself going back and forth between what periods of history are my favorite to read about. Do you have a favorite time period or location to write and/or read about, or do you enjoy jumping around as I do?
To me, a good historical novel is rich in understanding of its time and place, and I have huge admiration for authors who can create that kind of setting and situate believable characters in it. My favorite periods tend to be turbulent: the Norman Conquest (I love James Aitcheson’s Sworn Sword trilogy and Hilary Rhodes’s quartet of novels about William); anything about Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine; Sara Poole’s and Kate Quinn’s Borgias; Giles Kristian’s Vikings; C.J. Sansom’s Shardlake series set in Henry VIII’s reign; and the Greek wars against the Persians (Christian Cameron’s series about Arimnestos of Plataea is excellent). The two historical novels that have most deeply engaged my emotions are both set in ancient Greece: Steven Pressfield’s Gates of Fire, about the Spartans’ battle at Thermopylae, and Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles, told by the hero’s lover, Patroclus. I guess I’m fond of doom.

What does a typical day (if there is one) look like for you? How do you balance writing and the rest of your life?

I usually write every day, but without a routine. As a professional financial copywriter, I typically spend 20-25 hours a week writing about money or money psychology (psychotherapist Olivia Mellan and I have collaborated on five books so far). That, plus being happily married and helping to keep the home fires burning, means it can be hard to find time and energy for fiction. What saves me is taking chunks of time—3 to 4 weeks at least once a year—for a novel-writing retreat. La Muse, in southwestern France, is my favorite place for this.
A lot of authors have become huge on social media, not only promoting their work but interacting with their readers and offering up giveaways, book recommendations, etc. Are you a big proponent of using social media in this way? How do you prefer to interact with your fans?

Although I’m a relative newbie on social media, I enjoy seeing what my “tribe” is up to on Twitter. I love the idea of having more interaction with fans—just wish I had more time! I can always be reached through
I’ve noticed that a lot of authors are also big readers. When you have time for leisure reading what sorts of books do you gravitate towards? Have you read anything good lately?

My two favorite genres are historical fiction (naturally) and suspense/detective fiction. I’ll read anything by Tana French, Michael Robotham, Adrian McKinty, or Giles Blunt. A novel I just finished and highly recommend is Carolyn Hougan’s The Romeo Flag, a thriller about a trunkful of deadly information from wartime Shanghai that puts a present-day single mom in danger.
Can you tell us anything about the book(s) you’re working on now?

In Lost Eagles, the sequel to Roma Amor, Marcus will grapple with the treachery of Romans and Germanic tribesmen as he tries to restore his honor and find the love of his life, Aurima, who has disappeared in the wilderness beyond the Danube.

Thanks again for letting me visit with you, Colleen (and for your great questions)! If you’ll allow me to sneak in a quick plug, Roma Amor: A Novel of Caligula’s Rome is just $2.99 now in the Kindle store—or followers of “A Literary Vacation” can enter below for a chance to win one of two free print copies. Enjoy!

Thank you so much, Sherry, for stopping by my blog today and answering my questions! It has been a delight and I'm very excited to follow along on Marcus's journey!  Everyone, please continue below for  more information on the book, it's lovely author, the rest of the blog tour, and how you can enter the giveaway to win your very own copy of Roma Amor!

Publication Date: April 15, 2016
Bexley House Books
Paperback; 496 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

Marcus Carinna hears a voice whisper, “Your turn,” as he rides past his family tomb. An unseen presence also startles the Germanic priestess Aurima, whom he is bringing to Rome. But hardheaded Romans scoff at ghosts, and Marcus can’t believe it’s a warning from his brother, who killed himself three years earlier.

37 AD: To great acclaim, 25-year-old Caligula Caesar has become Rome’s new master. No one is more pleased than Senator Titus Carinna, who helped him succeed to the throne. It’s a shame the Senator’s older son–Caligula’s closest friend–committed suicide after being charged with treason. But that still leaves Marcus, his second son.

Headstrong and hot-tempered, Marcus would rather prove his courage by leading legions against Rome’s enemies than take his brother’s place. Yet when his father orders him to befriend Caligula, he has no choice.

Caught in a web of deceit, conspiracy, and betrayal, he will uncover a secret that threatens his family, the woman he desires, even his life… and may bring chaos to the young Roman Empire.

Praise for Roma Amor: A Novel of Caligula's Rome

“The first installment in a page-turning saga that revisits the heroes and villains of the grandest city of the ancient world…. Comes alive with the long gone characters who were its lifeblood” -Kirkus Reviews

‘‘Combines current political concerns, the wide lens of the serious historical novel, and emotional maturity and realism with an utterly splendid grasp of what it must have been like to live in Rome under Caligula’s reign.” -Sarah Smith, Agatha Award winner and New York Times Notable author

Buy the Book



About the Author

After earning a Phi Beta Kappa creative award in college for an early draft about a nobly born charioteer, Sherry Christie spent many years of research and revision developing ROMA AMOR into the story about fathers and sons that it wanted to be. It’s a joy to immerse myself in the lives of first-century Romans–and a distinct change from my day job as a . In addition to writing, Sherry is a professional copywriter. She lives on the coast of Maine with a native-born Viking and two cats.

For more information, please visit Sherry Christie’s website. You can also connect with her on Twitter, and Goodreads.

It's Giveaway Time!!

To win a paperback copy of Roma Amor: A Novel of Caligula’s Rome by Sherry Christie, please enter via the Gleam form HERE. 2 copies are up for grabs!
– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on November 11th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to US residents only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.
Good Luck!


Roma Amor Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, October 24

Kick Off at Passages to the Past

Tuesday, October 25

Review at Historical Fiction Obsession
Guest Post at Let Them Read Books

Wednesday, October 26

Review at Kinx’s Book Nook

Friday, October 28

Guest Post at What Is That Book About

Monday, October 31

Spotlight at Just One More Chapter

Tuesday, November 1

Review at Bookfever

Wednesday, November 2

Review at Book Lovers Paradise

Friday, November 4

Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views

Monday, November 7

Interview at Jorie Loves a Story

Wednesday, November 9

Review at Bookramblings
Review at The Book Junkie Reads

Thursday, November 10

Interview at The Book Junkie Reads

Friday, November 11

Review at Beth’s Book Nook
Review at Jorie Loves a Story
Guest Post at The True Book Addict

Wednesday, November 16th

Interview at A Literary Vacation


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Review: Essie's Roses by Michelle Muriel

Publisher: Little Cabin Books, LLC
Pub. Date: March 23rd, 2015
Pages: 346


*Readers' Favorite Silver Medal Winner Southern Fiction

Growing up in the Deep South during the years leading to the Civil War, two young girls find freedom on a hillside overlooking Westland, an Alabama plantation. Essie Mae, an intuitive, intelligent slave girl, and Evie Winthrop, the sheltered, imaginative dreamer and planter’s daughter, strike up a secret friendship that thrives amidst the shadows of abuse.

Told from the viewpoint of four women: Katherine Winthrop, kind mistress and unexpected heiress to her father’s small, cotton plantation; Delly, her sassy and beloved house slave; Essie Mae, her slave girl; and Evie Winthrop, Katherine’s only child, Essie’s Roses tells of forbidden relationships flourishing in secret behind Westland’s protective trees and treasured roses.

After scandal befalls Westland, Evie and Essie, aged nineteen, travel to Richmond, Virginia, to escape their abusive pasts. There, they face the gross indecencies and divisions leading to the War Between the States. Though the horrors of slavery and discrimination prompt action, Evie and Essie’s struggles lie within. The secrets they hold and the pain of the past lead them away from one another and back home again.

A story about a black slave who frees a white woman, Essie’s Roses reveals the diverse meanings of freedom, the significance of a dream, and the power of love. In their efforts to save each other, will the women of Westland find the true freedom they desire?

What Did I Think About the Story?

I have to admit from the first sentence of this review that I have been just the worst reader ever! The lovely author of Essie's Roses, Michelle Muriel, sent me a copy almost a year ago, and I have just recently finished reading it. I started the book back in December 2015 (yes, you read that correctly) and at first attempt I just wasn't in the proper mood for a slowly unwinding story, as beautiful as it turned out to be. So it kept getting relegated to the bottom of my TBR pile, me stealing snippets of the story between other books. Then I resolved to buckle down and devote the time the book deserved to finish it, and I'm so glad I did. Essie's Rose's is a heartbreaking, heart mending look at the true meanings of love, family, and hope told in a unique and beautiful way.

The descriptions of Westland, the plantation much of the story takes place on, are absolutely stunning. This is not a story to be rushed as you really need to read it slowly and absorb all the imagery the author gives to the reader. So much of the story is taken up with building this background and the development of the characters, and their relationships, against it that you'll miss some of the key joy of the reading if you try and hurry through. This is especially true for the first part of the story, where not a lot of action happens but, instead, the reader is able to build a true understanding of and appreciation for the characters they'll be seeing go through some tremendously difficult times. Westland is both a salvation and a prison for these characters and it's only by the author's skill that this fact is fully realized.

And oh the characters you'll meet! I was really impressed with how the author gave wholly unique voices to our four main female characters. Each chapter begins with the name of the woman who's point of view we'll be seeing the story through in that chapter and each is written in that woman's voice, as you'd hear it in her own words. I have to admit that, because of this, it took me a little bit of time to get into the rhythm of speech of some of the characters, especially Delly, but once I got used to it the story flowed. There is so much that bonds these women and it was really interesting, if sad, seeing how each was living in her own personal prison and dealing with her own set of abuses, regardless of her skin color, age, or opportunities (or lack thereof) for a better future.  These women help each other in a myriad of ways, especially Evie and Essie Mae, and it is only when they are fully honest with each other that they can support each other to try and  move on from the horrors of the past.    

Essie's Roses deals with a lot of very difficult topics (slavery, abuse, rape) but does so in a very tender and sensitive way. The story, for me, became more about the bonds of these women and how they truly loved each other enough to push each other to get past the hurt of the past and have hope for a better future than anything else. It took some time for me to really get into the book, but this might have more to do with the sort of book that was drawing my attention at the time than about this one itself. It's a beautifully rendered story and one that deserves to be felt and not just read.

What Did I Think About the Cover?

I think the cover represents Westland very well, which is important for this story as Westland comes to represent so much to these characters. I will say that the roses shown aren't what I tend to think of as a rose garden (I think my image is of an English rose garden) but as these roses seem to be more wild and tangled it does fit the story better.

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

Thank you to author Michelle Muriel for providing me with a free copy of Essie's Roses in exchange for a honest review. All opinions are solely my own. You can find more reviews of Essie's Roses and links to where you can purchase your own copy on Goodreads.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Release Day Blitz: Laura Barnard's Christmas Novella - Adventurous Proposal

Publisher: Laura Barnard
Pub. Date: November 14th, 2016
Pages: 164

Genre: Novella/Contemporary Women's Fiction

After a string of bad dates, Florence Gray is so over online dating. So much so, that if she has to survive another guy standing her up she might just do something crazy ... like accept the first proposal she gets.

So when she finds herself alone in the bar, again, Florence can hardly believe her eyes-or ears-when Hugh Humphreys swoops in and presents her with an proposal so adventurous she can't believe she's actually considering saying yes.

Because, after all, twenty five days to plan a wedding is some feat and that’s while getting to know your fiancée, their disapproving Mother and dealing with a jealous ex. Throw in the small matter of where they should live and you have Florence wondering what the hell she's gotten herself into.

Can you really countdown to a wedding like an advent calendar? Fall in love with a stranger and make them your husband? Because if she's going to make it down the aisle Christmas morning, Florence has to find out and fast.

Buy the Book

About the Author

Laura Barnard lives in Hertfordshire, UK and writes romantic comedy or 'chick lit' as its so often described. In her spare time she enjoys drinking her body weight in tea, indulging in cupcakes the size of her face and drooling over hunks like Jamie Dornan, Ryan Gosling and Leo Dicaprio.

She enjoys wearing yoga pants and reading fitness magazines while sitting on the sofa eating chocolate. She's a real fan of the power nap, loves setting her friends up together and of course READING!

She writes not to get rich or famous, but because she LOVES writing. Even if one person tells her they enjoyed her book it makes the midnight typing worth it!

Find out more about Laura on her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Spotllight on The Apocalypse Fire by Dominic Selwood

Publisher: Canelo
Pub. Date: October 31st, 2016
Pages: 408


Archaeologist and former spy Ava Curzon’s world is transformed after the violent theft of the Turin Shroud pits her in a desperate struggle against a fanatical apocalyptic Russian cult. The trail leads her and her team around the globe - from London to the Vatican, Paris, and Jerusalem. They’re quickly plunged into a chaotic whirlwind of Christian extremism and biblical manuscripts in a desperate bid to unravel the mysteries of an ancient icon belonging to the shadowy Order of Malta.

However, time is running out, as military violence breaks out across the Middle East. Ava finds herself pulled into a terrifying climax amid mountaintop ruins where once medieval Christian fundamentalists burned themselves alive. It’s more than just her life at stake – the safety of the world hangs in the balance.

Expertly paced and filled with explosive action, The Apocalypse Fire is the follow up to Dominic Selwood’s The Sword of Moses, which sold over 65,000 copies.

Praise for The Sword of Moses

"Rollercoaster crypto-thriller… A ride that thrills and educates… Move over Lara Croft!" - Daily Express 

"The plot moves so quickly the reader is at times left gasping for breath … combines the daring and resolve of the Hollywood archaeologist with the razor-sharp mental agility of a Conan Doyle super sleuth" - Oxford Times

Buy the Book

**The Apocalypse Fire by Dominic Selwood is out now from Canelo, priced £1.99 at Amazon UK! **

About the Author

Dominic Selwood is passionate about everything historical, and writes on history for the Daily
Telegraph, as well as contributing to the Spectator and other national and international magazines. He is an elected Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, a former criminal barrister, and has lived in Europe and the Middle East. He now lives in London with his wife and two children.

Find out more about Dominic on his website, and connect with him on Twitter.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Audiobook Review: The Cryptic Lines by Richard Storry

Author: Richard Storry
Narrator: Jake Urry
Publisher: Richard Alan Storry
Length: 4 hours and 13 minutes (unabridged)

Audio Release Date: March 16, 2016

Genre: Mystery


Set in a sprawling gothic mansion in a remote coastal location, somewhere in the British Isles, the elderly recluse Lord Alfred Willoughby is deciding what is to become of his vast fortune after his death. Whilst his head is telling him to leave nothing at all to his wastrel son, Matthew, his heart is speaking differently. After much deliberation, in a last-ditch attempt to try and show to his son the importance of applying himself to a task and staying with it to the end, he devises a series of enigmatic puzzles cunningly concealed within the lines of a poem – the cryptic lines. If he completes the task successfully and solves the puzzles he will inherit the entire estate; but if he fails he will receive nothing. However, from Lord Alfred’s Will it emerges that Matthew is not the only interested party. The mysterious old house holds many secrets, and nothing is as it first appears…

What Did I Think About the Story?

Every year when the seasons begin to move towards longer nights and cooler weather, my reading and listening mood starts shifting more and more towards the scary, dark, and mysterious. When I saw this cover and read the synopsis I thought it sounded like the perfect eerie mystery to listen to on my commute to and from work. I just can't get enough of gothic mansions and hidden secrets! While the story wasn't necessarily as "spooky" as I anticipated, it did present an exciting and twisty adventure that was full of family drama and revelations.

One aspect I found very well done was the attention given to building a truly ominous atmosphere around the mystery at the heart of the story. The setting being a dark, isolated, windswept mansion by the sea, slowly falling apart around its aging owner - a rich and eccentric sort of man - sets up the perfect backdrop in which to have characters skulking around corners and through family cemeteries. The house itself almost becomes it's own character with a sort of decrepit opulence and I absolutely loved following along as our two main characters, Lord Willoughby's son, Matthew, and his solicitor, Charles, explored it and the surrounding grounds. While it became clear pretty early on that this wasn't a ghost story, I did keep expecting to see something spectral pop up around every corner!

The grand hunt Lord Willoughby sets up for Matthew and Charles was also very well constructed. Setting the two on a task to find a sapphire, using clues with double meanings and a time limit in place to ensure they work quickly, the men must use all of their wits and resources to find the sapphire first. The man who finds the sapphire will inherit the Lord's entire fortune...the  man who comes in last gets nothing. And the clues left for them are anything but easy! Let's just say there are plenty of twists and turns, hidden passageways and secret rooms to discover and explore before the end is finally in sight.

What I really didn't expect, but still enjoyed, was how wrapped up in family this story and quest became. There's a lot of love and hurt, heartache and disappointment, floating around these characters and quite a few family secrets that are revealed by the end. I have to admit that I suspected the biggest reveal pretty early on but there were still a few that I never saw coming. There was also mention on and off about Charles's ex-fiancé and why she left him, but that plotline didn't seem to go anywhere and I'm not really sure it needed to be included. I'm also not sure I agree with all the choices the characters made, however the intentions and motivations behind these choices were easy to see.

I have to commend the narrator (Jake Urry) for his ability to keep the atmosphere tense and dramatic. I loved his voice for this sort of story (he sounded to me a lot like Vincent Price) and he kept things very low and ominous throughout most of the narrative. I was also impressed with his ability to keep the pace even and not rush or bog down the portions of the story that were more about the characters thinking about the clues then anything really happening. I would have possibly liked a little more variance between characters as it sometimes was hard to distinguish who was talking, but this was only a minor issue and I was really impressed overall.     

The Cryptic Lines was so much more than simply a chilling gothic mystery, although it did have a good bit of that as well. The mood and atmosphere was perfect for this time of year and I genuinely enjoyed trying to unravel the clues along with the characters. I recommend this for anyone who likes a quick, twisty tale about the lengths some people will go to for family.

What Did I Think About the Cover?

I think the cover is perfect for the story! It's got that dark and eerie vibe that hangs over the whole narrative. I love that the house, which is so essential to the plot, takes up such a large portion as almost gives off a haunted house feel, although that isn't actually part of the story. All in all it's definitely eye catching when you're looking for something mysterious or spooky!

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions. The tour is being sponsored by Jake Urry. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it. Continue on below for more information regarding the author, narrator, and the rest of the blog tour.

About the Author: Richard Storry


Richard is the author of four published novels, with his fifth “A Looming of Vultures” due for
publication in 2017. Prior to writing his first novel, “The Cryptic Lines” he was very busy in the theatrical world: He composed the incidental music to Chekhov’s Three Sisters, seen in London’s West End, starring Kristin Scott Thomas and Eric Sykes, and subsequently broadcast on BBC4 television. His musical adaptation of “The Brothers Lionheart” premiered at London’s Pleasance Theatre, followed by a successful run at the Edinburgh Festival where it was voted Best Childrens’ Play. “The Cryptic Lines” has now been adapted for both the stage and screen.

Learn more about Richard on his website, and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

About the Narrator: Jake Urry

Jake Urry is a British actor and audiobook narrator, and also co-founder of Just Some Theatre. Since
graduating from an Acting degree course in 2012 he’s toured with Just Some Theatre as an actor and producer, worked on a number of commercial voice over projects and most recently started producing Audiobooks. Jake has produced over 10 titles since March 2016 and has rapidly found himself at home narrating Thriller, Horror, Mystery and Suspense titles. His audiobook work includes dark psychological thrillers White is the Coldest Colour and Portraits of the Dead by John Nicholl, occult mystery series The Ulrich Files by Ambrose Ibsen, and gritty Sci-Fi novel Shadows of Tomorrow by Jessica Meats.
Learn more about Jake on his website, Voices, and Soundcloud, and connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

The Cryptic Lines Tour Schedule


Oct. 23: Dab of Darkness (Review & Interview)
Oct. 24: My World in Words and Pages (Review)
Oct. 25: To Read Or Not To Read (Audio Excerpt & Spotlight)
Oct. 26: He Said Books Or Me (Review)
Oct. 27: Maureen’s Books Blog (Review)
Oct. 28: Desert Bibliophile (Review, Audio Excerpt & Spotlight)
Oct. 29: Never 2 Many 2 Read (Review & Spotlight)
Oct. 30: Bookaholic Banter (Review, Audio Excerpt & Spotlight)
Oct. 31: The Paper Pilgrim (Review)
Nov. 1: My Book Fix (Review, Audio Excerpt & Spotlight)
Nov. 2: Bound 4 Escape (Spotlight)
Nov. 3: Totally Addicted to Reading (Audio Excerpt & Spotlight)
Nov. 4: Books Are My Way of Living (Audio Excerpt)
Nov. 5: Highway YA (Audio Excerpt & Spotlight)
Nov. 6: Jorie Loves A Story (Review & Interview)
Nov. 7: Bedtime Bookworm (Review & Audio Excerpt)
Nov. 8: ShannonBookishLife (Spotlight)
Nov. 9: Book Journey (Review & Audio Excerpt)
Nov. 10: A Literary Vacation (Review)
Nov. 11: Avid Book Collector (Review, Audio Excerpt & Spotlight)
Nov. 12: Brooke Blogs (Review & Audio Excerpt)