Scion of the Fox Blog Tour: Guest Post and Giveaway

Blog tour graphic_Scion

Hi all! Today I get the opportunity to participate in a blog tour for Scion of the Fox, and I have to say, I am really excited about that! Below you will find a guest post by the author, S.M. Beiko, info on the book and the instructions and link for the giveaway.

S.M. Beiko is here to talk to us about her writing process!

Author photo_credit Teri Hofford Photography

Hey, you know what’s not stressful at all? Leaving things to the last minute! Put off today what can be done tomorrow! I do my best work on the fly! The purest writing comes from the moment. I’ll know what happens in the story when I get there!

Just writing that gave me a migraine.

But this is how I used to be. Laissez-faire, the work will do itself attitude. Know what that got me? A bunch of unfinished, unrealized projects, the years flying by and dust collecting on ‘books in the drawer’. I worked organically—only when the ‘inspiration’ struck, working things out in my head instead of having a plan. Never making the time to write, only ‘getting around to it’ with months between writing bouts, a few words at a time.

We call this approach pantsing—when you’re even writing, that is. For some people it works, but only with discipline. You’ve got to throw yourself into the bit if you’re going to get that cart to the finish line.

I’ve only been seriously writing for maybe twelve years. I never took an objective look at what worked for me, writing-wise; I pursued a career in publishing, spending about seven of those twelve years helping others massage their own work for publication. Focusing on my own was never a priority. So just shrugging my way through seemed an okay approach.

But all that changed, rather quickly, and rather recently. A three book deal is a definite boon and has its benefits, but there are schedules. Deadlines. You can’t just shrug when your publisher says, “Hey, it’s April, but can you hand in your sequel mid-May? Even though Book 1 won’t publish ‘till October.” You know what you say? “Oh sure!” Even though inside your procrastinator soul is writhing over the house fire of your own making.

I’d written the first 10,000 words of Children of the Bloodlands, but its prequel Scion of the Fox was 127,000 words. Could I get there in thirty days when Scion took me a year and a half? I was about to find out.

I had a vague idea of plot, themes, character arcs. There was already a lot to juggle, and I knew I had strengths as a pantser, but I had to invert those for plotting. I didn’t use any special software—a lot of people love Scrivner but I haven’t tried it yet. I just got out pen and paper, and wrote down what I ‘knew’ of the plot. Longhand, essay-style like a book report. After I had this down, I already felt better. Then I grabbed note cards, wrote down fake chapter titles. Scion of the Fox was split into 5 parts, so I emulated this format, named each part, and wrote the events of each chapter on the back of the cards. I moved them around on the living room floor manically while my dog looked on with concern.

After that, I got to work.

I had word count goals per day. I got up early to meet them so I could do my day job at the same time. In the end, Children of the Bloodlands is a 130,000 word behemoth, complete, and is currently being edited. It took discipline, time management, and planning. Having a deadline was a good incentive, but I learned a lot about myself as a writer that’s for sure. I was open with myself about my strengths and my process, didn’t put too much pressure on making it perfect (because the first draft is never what the final published version is!) and kept reminding myself to enjoy the ride.

Most of all, knowing I’m capable of finishing projects has changed my creative perspective entirely. The motto I’d like to shout from the rooftops is FINISHED NOT PERFECT—Past Sam would’ve definitely benefitted from that. See? Migraine alleviated.

Since then, I’ve finished drafts on three other novel projects using these simple methods—this year alone. Plotting gives you a map to refer to when you’re stuck, which is key when you don’t have time to be stuck.

Do I still procrastinate my own stuff? Oh yes. Old habits and all that, and I’ve still got that day job. But now that I’ve got the confidence to buoy me forward, I think I’m a plotter ‘till all the stories in my well dry up…which, happily, won’t be any time soon.

Interested in what Scion of the Fox is all about? (Yes, you should be!)

Cover image

Scion of the Fox By S.M. Beiko

The Realms of Ancient, Book 1 

Available: October 17

Buy links:


Barnes & Noble



About the book: Roan Harken considers herself a typical high school student — dead parents, an infected eyeball, and living in the house of her estranged, currently comatose grandmother (well, maybe not so typical) — but she’s uncovering the depth of the secrets her family left behind. Saved from the grasp of Death itself by a powerful fox spirit named Sil, Roan must harness mysterious ancient power . . . and quickly. A snake-monster called Zabor lies in wait in the bed of the frozen Assiniboine River, hungry for the sacrifice of spirit-blood in exchange for keeping the flood waters at bay. Thrust onto an ancient battlefield, Roan soon realizes that to maintain the balance of the world, she will have to sacrifice more than her life in order to take her place as Scion of the Fox.

American Gods meets Princess Mononoke in this powerful first installment of a trilogy sure to capture readers’ imaginations everywhere.

About the author: S.M. Beiko has been writing and drawing strange, fantastical things since before she can remember. She currently works as a freelance editor, graphic designer, and consultant and is the co-publisher of ChiZine Publications and ChiGraphic. Her first novel, The Lake and the Library, was nominated for the Manitoba Book Award for Best First Book as well as the 2014 Aurora Award. Scion of the Fox is the first book of the Realms of Ancient trilogy. Samantha lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

 Social networking links:



Twitter: @SMBeiko

 Praise for Scion of the Fox:

“A thrilling tale underscored by excellent, deep, and unique world-building.” — Kelley Armstrong, #1 New York Times bestselling author

“A smart, complex, animal-based fantasy.” — Kirkus Reviews

“S.M. Beiko’s Scion of the Fox is the thrilling first installment in what will surely be an exceptionally imaginative trilogy. Roan Harken is an instantly relatable heroine, a girl with guts and moxie in spades, and Beiko moves her story from hilarious to heartbreaking with true literary grace. Evocative prose and crisp, crackling dialogue perfectly define this rich fantasy world. I can’t wait for Book Two!” — Charlene Challenger, author of The Voices in Between and The Myth in Distance

“In Scion of the Fox, S.M. Beiko introduces us to Roan, a wry, fierce young woman whose world changes in the blink of an infected eye. She’s more than she has ever imagined, and there’s enchantment everywhere — flying, running, and swimming around her — transforming everything and everyone she has ever known. Beiko’s magic-steeped Winnipeg is a marvel, and Roan is a delight. I look forward to following her into her next adventure.” — Caitlin Sweet, author of The Pattern Scars. 


 Want to win a copy of the book, Scion of the Fox and this signed Print? Click here! The contest ends on OCTOBER 21!!!!



Always Shine!




Blog Tour Review with a Giveaway: Ban This Book by Alan Gratz


Ban This Book


Ban This Book by Alan Gratz

September 5, 2017 -Starscape

5 Stars 

I was given a copy of this book, free, in exchange for my honest opinion. 


An inspiring tale of a fourth-grader who fights back when her favorite book is banned from the school library–by starting her own illegal locker library!

It all started the day Amy Anne Ollinger tried to check out her favorite book in the whole world, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, from the school library. That’s when Mrs. Jones, the librarian, told her the bad news: her favorite book was banned! All because a classmate’s mom thought the book wasn’t appropriate for kids to read.

Amy Anne decides to fight back by starting a secret banned books library out of her locker. Soon, she finds herself on the front line of an unexpected battle over book banning, censorship, and who has the right to decide what she and her fellow students can read.

Reminiscent of the classic novel Frindle by Andrew Clements for its inspiring message, Ban This Book is a love letter to the written word and its power to give kids a voice.

My Thoughts:
I really liked this book. It was a pretty quick read, but it held so much. Amy Anne is quiet, and does what is asked of her (regardless of how she feels). She sticks to herself and dives into books.  But when her favorite book is banned from her school library,  Amy Anne comes out of her shell and soon learns to let the world see her as she truly is.
 Yes, this is about banned books. But there is more as Amy Anne, along with friends, finds ways to fight back against the books being banned. It is not easy and it is not comfortable. Amy Anne stands up to the challenge and grows into a much different person. It’s because of this that makes this such an awesome book. There is also the discussion about the right way and wrong way to protest. Amy Anne learns this because their are her consequences for what she does.One of the other things that I liked is that Amy Anne has the opportunity to get revenge on her enemy (the mom getting all of the books banned), but she doesn’t take it. When she finally stands up for herself and what she believes in, she does it with compassion and respect.
Alan Gratz

Alan Gratz‘s first novel, Samurai Shortstop, was named one of the ALA’s 2007 Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults. His second novel, Something Rotten, was a 2008 ALA Quick Pick for Young Adult Readers, and was followed by a sequel, Something Wicked, in October 2008. His first middle grade novel, The Brooklyn Nine, was one of the ALA’s Top Ten Sports Books for Youth and Top Ten Historical Books for Youth, and his middle grade Holocaust novel Prisoner B-3087 was one of YALSA’s 2014 Best Fiction for Young Readers and has won seven state awards. His latest novels are the YA thriller Code of Honor, a YALSA 2016 Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers, and The Monster War, the third book in his middle grade steampunk League of Seven trilogy.

Alan’s short fiction has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, online at, and in the anthologies Half-Minute Horrors and Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction, which benefitted victims of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami.

As the first Artist in Residence at the American School in Japan in 2010, Alan spent six weeks teaching historical fiction-writing to middle school students in Tokyo, and he was the Thurber House Children’s Writer in Residence in 2011, living and writing in James Thurber’s attic for a month while working with young writers from all around the Columbus, Ohio area.

In addition to writing plays, magazine articles, and a few episodes of A&E’s City Confidential, Alan has taught catapult-building to middle-schoolers, written more than 6,000 radio commercials, sold other people’s books, lectured at a Czech university, and traveled the galaxy as a space ranger. (One of these, it should be pointed out, is not true.)
Alan was born and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee, home of the 1982 World’s Fair. After a carefree but humid childhood, Alan attended the University of Tennessee, where he earned a College Scholars degree with a specialization in creative writing, and, later, a Master’s degree in English education. He now lives with his wife Wendi and his daughter Jo in the high country of Western North Carolina, where he enjoys playing games, eating pizza, and, perhaps not too surprisingly, reading books.

Photo Credit: Wes Stitt

The Giveaway: Click here to enter!
Always Shine!

Blog Stop: Ferocious by Paula Stokes with a Giveaway


Ferocious by Paula Stokes 

Vicarious #2

August 15, 2017 – Tor

4 stars 

I was given a copy of this title, free, in exchange for my honest opinion. 

The Link for the giveaway is at the end of the post.  Do you like book trailers? You’re in luck, there a Book Trailer for FerociousBook Trailer for Ferocious!

Today is my stop for the blog tour, if you want to check out other stops click here!


Paula Stokes returns to the world of Vicarious in this sequel, a high-action psychological thriller with a protagonist out for vengeance.

When Winter Kim finds out that her sister is dead and that she has a brother she never knew about, only two things matter―finding what’s left of her family and killing the man who destroyed her life. Her mission leads her from St. Louis to Los Angeles back to South Korea, where she grew up.

Things get increasingly dangerous once Winter arrives in Seoul. Aided by her friends Jesse and Sebastian, Winter attempts to infiltrate an international corporation to get close to her target, a nefarious businessman named Kyung. But keeping her last remaining loved ones out of the line of fire proves difficult, and when all seems to be lost, Winter must face one last devastating decision: is revenge worth sacrificing everything for? Or can she find a spark of hope in the darkness that threatens to engulf her?

Praise for VICARIOUS

“Combining elements of sci-fi and mystery, Vicarious is an expert blend from an author gifted with the ability to jump genres and stick the landing every time.” ―Paste Magazine

“A total mind-bending thrill ride, with a heroine who’s as smart as she is strong. Readers will love Winter!” ―Lindsay Cummings, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Zenith and The Murder Complex

“Reading Vicarious is like tiptoeing across a field of landmines. Blindfolded. Stokes delivers enough adrenaline to make readers beg for mercy.” ―Victoria Scott, author of Titans and Fire & Flood“An action-packed thriller that will keep you guessing until the very end–I couldn’t put it down!” ―Kristi Helvig, author of Burn Out and Strange Skies

“Vicarious by Paula Stokes is a fast-paced thriller that grabs your attention on page one and doesn’t let go. The main character is a fresh take on the usual heroine in YA novels.” ―Julie Bond, Sales &Marketing Manager/YA Specialist, Read Booksellers

“This is the thrill ride you’ve been waiting for all summer.” ―PopCrush

“Pulse-pounding adventures and high-tech blend masterfully with romance, intrigue, and current issues, making this book completely captivating for any audience.” ―VOYA, starred review

“Stokes delivers fans of suspense a story full of twists and turns…The author admirably handles graphic and disturbing material in a subtle way.” ―School Library Journal

“A powerful kick-ass girl caught up in a high-tech, twisty mystery…Buckle up, this thrill ride travels at breakneck speed.” ―Justine Magazine

“Smart twists and turns…smart sci-fi worldbuilding. Complementing the mystery is a slow-burn love story between Winter and Mexican-American Jesse Ramirez, a fellow stunt artist. Their relationship is tender and complicated, with enough tension to sustain itself and enough heat to pop when things pay off.” ―Kirkus Reviews

My Thoughts:
I am not sure what I was expecting or hoping would happen. But, I can say that I got more than I expected.  And I am not sure what I can talk about without giving anything away.  So, I will do my best to be as thorough as possible, but really you should check this series out.
Book 2 picks up right where the first book left off. Winter is still trying to deal with everything that happened and all of the new information that she got-literally pages from the end of the first book. So, I am very glad that I already had the second book and could jump right in.  This new information takes her from St. Louis to Los Angeles to Seoul.  Along the way Baz and Jesse join her, and offer her their assistance in her mission.
Man, it so much harder to not give things away than I thought that it would be. I enjoyed this book so much more than the first one. The stakes were raised immediately from the beginning and that tension was well-maintained throughout the story. I like Winter in this one, she is more real. She struggles trying to figure out who she is in this world now that she knows that what she thought was true isn’t. The attraction between her and Jesse is cheesy at times, but for the most part it is stuttering and awkward -as it should be.
Thought the content of the books make it weird to say that I enjoyed it, I did. And I will be keeping my eye out for more from Stokes.
Always Shine!

Paula Stokes is the author of several novels, most recently Vicarious and Girl Against the Universe. Her writing has been translated into eleven foreign languages. Paula loves kayaking, hiking, reading, and seeking out new adventures in faraway lands. She also loves interacting with readers. Find her online at or on twitter as @pstokesbooks.

Photo Content from Paula Stokes

Giveaway is open to International. | Must be 13+ to Enter

– 10 Winners will receive a Copy of FEROCIOUS by Paula Stokes.



Tour Stop for The Graveyard Shift by Michael F. Haspil + giveaway

I am a tour stop for The Graveyard Shift by Michael F. Haspil. Jean Book Nerd has organized this tour and you can this website for other tour stops.

Graveyard Shift

The Graveyard Shift by Michael F. Haspil 


Police procedurals go supernatural in this gritty urban fantasy debut 

Alex Menkaure, former pharaoh and mummy, and his vampire partner, Marcus, who was born in ancient Rome, once hunted evil vampires for UMBRA, a super-secret unit of the NSA. That was before the discovery of a blood substitute and a Supreme Court ruling allowed thousands of vampires to integrate into society.

Now, Alex and Marcus are vice cops in a special police unit. They fight to keep the streets safe from criminal vampires, shape-shifters, blood-dealers, and anti-vampire vigilantes.

When someone starts poisoning the artificial blood, race relations between vampires and humans deteriorate to the brink of anarchy. While the city threatens to tear itself apart, Alex and Marcus must form an unnatural alliance with a vigilante gang and a shape-shifter woman in a desperate battle against an ancient vampire conspiracy.

If they succeed, they’ll be pariahs, hunted by everyone. If they fail, the result will be a race-war bloodierthan any the world has ever seen.

I was given a copy of this title, free, in exchange for my honest opinion.
My Thoughts:                                              3 Stars ***

I believe that this is Tor’s first foray into urban fantasy, and that this is Haspil’s debut novel. And to both I say good job. While this may not have been the absolute best UF that I’ve read, it was still pretty decent. It makes me optimistic about any future projects that Tor or Haspil undertakes in UF.

The premise of the story was very original, and immortal pharaoh with a story that I definitely want to know more about and an ancient vampire that is cloaked in mystery. They are sent off to investigate the causes behind vampires going into a blood frenzy, but are distracted into several smaller cases that are in need of their attention. If you are familiar with the urban fantasy genre, then you know that the smaller issues all tie into a much bigger plot point. And if it is the beginning of a series then you know that the bigger plot point only leads to something much bigger at play.  And Graveyard Shift follows this formula, and for the most part not in a bad way.

This story is told from multiple viewpoints, and this is only confusing in one scene. It works to give the bigger picture of the world, the key players and how they all connect. Because we don’t know the characters very well, and some we don’t know until the make a formal entrance into the story (even though they are at work behind the scenes), it is hard to see how all of the pieces fit together. At times the pacing is a bit off, and the action sequences don’t carry enough of a punch-for me. Other times I am fully engaged in the action and I’m able to see how it all works together.

Overall, I did enjoy the story and I am looking forward to the next one.


Always Shine!

Michael F. Haspil

Michael F. Haspil is a geeky engineer and nerdy artist. A veteran of the U.S. Air Force, he had the opportunities to serve as an ICBM crew commander and as a launch director at Cape Canaveral. The art of storytelling called to him from a young age and he has plied his craft over many years and through diverse media. He has written original stories for as long as he can remember and has dabbled in many genres. However, Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror have whispered directly to his soul.

When he isn’t writing, you can find him sharing stories with his role-playing group, cosplaying, computer gaming, or collecting and creating replica movie props. Lately, he devotes the bulk of his hobby time to assembling and painting miniatures for his tabletop wargaming addiction.
Michael is represented by Sara Megibow of the KT Literary Agency and Adrian Garcia of the Paradigm Talent Agency.

He has collected and made replica movie props for over twenty years and enjoys the way a particular collectible lets an individual connect with a meaningful story.

He spends entirely too much time gaming or thinking (some might say ‘scheming’) about strategies and tactics in all kinds of gaming be it board games, computer games, or his passion, tabletop wargaming. He devotes the largest share of the gaming pie to Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 tabletop game. He has collected and played Grey Knights, Space Marines, Tyranids, Dark Eldar, Necrons, and Space Wolves. Michael is a regular contributor to “The Long War” a premiere podcast and webcast dedicated to tabletop gaming, but especially to Warhammer 40,000.

Photo Content from Michael F. Haspil

You know you want a copy of the book… click here to enter the  Giveaway!
Giveaway is open to International. | Must be 13+ to Enter

– 5 Winners will receive a Copy of GRAVEYARD SHIFT by Michael F. Haspil

Blog Tour: Firebrand by A.J. Hartley + GIVEAWAY

I am glad to say that I am joining Jean Book Nerd for this Blog Tour of Firebrand.   I enjoyed both of these books, and you will find my reviews of both  at the end of the promo and BEFORE the link for the giveaway!



New York Times bestselling author A. J. Hartley returns to his intriguing, 19th-century South African-inspired fantasy world in another adrenaline-pounding adventure

Once a steeplejack, Anglet Sutonga is used to scaling the heights of Bar-Selehm. Nowadays she assists politician Josiah Willinghouse behind the scenes of Parliament. The latest threat to the city-state: Government plans for a secret weapon are stolen and feared to be sold to the rival nation of Grappoli. The investigation leads right to the doorsteps of Elitus, one of the most exclusive social clubs in the city. In order to catch the thief, Ang must pretend to be a foreign princess and infiltrate Elitus. But Ang is far from royal material, so Willinghouse enlists help from the exacting Madam Nahreem.

Yet Ang has other things on her mind. Refugees are trickling into the city, fleeing Grappoli-fueled conflicts in the north. A demagogue in Parliament is proposing extreme measures to get rid of them, and she soon discovers that one theft could spark a conflagration of conspiracy that threatens the most vulnerable of Bar-Selehm. Unless she can stop it.

Praise for FIREBRAND

Hartley creates a world so analogous to our ownit hardly seems like a fantasy….Anglet has blossomed in this sequel, releasing her previously restrained sharp tongue and expanding her emotional range. Even as she learnsto put on a neutral face to be a more effective spy, her empathy for those whoare suffering and her relentless search for the truth are her most laudable attributes. Readers who come for the tightly plotted mystery will stay for the heroine who does all she can to resist.” ― Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“The well-crafted adventures of this feisty, diverse protagonist continue in thisworthy sequel to Steeplejack (2016), evoking Sherlock Holmes with its Victorian-esquesetting, and James Bond in its espionage-laced plot. Hartley has composed another electrifying fantasy that buzzeswith intrigue and timely political and social issues, making this a must-have additionto any collection.” ― Booklist, starred review

“Expertly written, never preaching or pointing fingers, but subtly applying pressure toexamine race issues, gender inequalities, microaggressions, and socio-economicproblems in our culture…. Teens will see themselves in the tough, realistic, and fierce yet vulnerable protagonist. The multicultural worldbuilding will draw in readers of many ages and backgrounds, while the well-crafted mystery and action will keep them wanting more….A delightful follow-up to the explosive first novel from an established author who clearly knows his craft.” ―VOYA

Hartley‘s story succeeds in building a detailed world of bothfamiliar (charging hippos) and unfamiliar (a precious mineral, luxorite, usedby the rich) elements while also tackling a wide range of complicated social issues….Most impressive is the genre-blending; the author adeptlymerges a political thriller with action, adventure, and mystery. Will have strong appeal to a wide range of readers, particularly those looking for complex novels that reflect a diverse world.”―School Library Journal


“A richly realized world, an intensely likable character, and a mystery to die for.” ―Cory Doctorow, New York Times-bestselling author

“A thought-provoking blend of action and intrigue, with a competent and ethical heroine in Ang and a fully imagined setting whose atmosphere and cultural cues also play important roles. The result is an unforgettable page-turner built on surprises and full of potential.”―Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Skillful writing, masterful pacing, and a capable and quite likable female detective are just a few of the things to love about this fantasy-adventure….In addition to the detective angle, Hartley thoughtfully explores issues such as race relations, both inter- and intra-racial, as Anglet deals with the censure of her own community, and class issues, as she attempts to work outside the political system to solve the murder. This one won’t stay on the shelf for long.” ―Booklist, starred review

“Smart political intrigue wrapped in all the twists and turns of a good detective story makes for a rip-roaring series opener.” ― Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“With its unique South African-inspired setting, richly-drawn and diverse cast of characters, and unstoppable plot, readers of any age won’t be able to put Steeplejack down!” ―Carrie Ryan, New York Times bestselling author

“With Steeplejack, A.J. Hartley introduces a dynamic, complex and likeable new heroine who combines wits, skill and courage to face deadly challenges in an exotic world. Teens and adults will love this book and want more, more, more!” ―Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of Rot & Ruin and The Orphan Army.

“A.J. Hartley has created an exquisite, explosive, nail-biting, tear-rousing masterpiece, in a world so realistic it might be right around the corner.” ―Faith Hunter, New York Times bestselling author

“What a world Hartley has created! Enough twists and surprises to keep the pages turning long into the night.” ―R.L. Stine

“A unique epic adventure set in a richly imagined world; lush, exotic and masterfully written. It’s Sherlock Holmes, Oliver Twist, and Indiana Jones rolled into one.” ―Lissa Price, internationally bestselling author of Starters and Enders

“Smart and socially-aware, this fabulous debut adds to the growing library of multicultural fantasy and is a loudly resounding success.” ―Nisi Shawl, Tiptree Award-winning author of Everfair

“With Steeplejack, A.J. Hartley creates a world as complex as its heroine, and a mystery that spans class, race and geography. You can feel the grit and glory of Bar-Selehm, a many-spired city teetering on the edge of the savannah, and the verge of war. The perfect setting for a street-smart young woman who is caught between three cultures, yet refuses to be trapped by them.” ―Sherri L. Smith, award-winning author of Flygirls and Orleans

Hartley has created a world so gritty and real I could taste the soot.” ―Maurice Broaddus, author of the Knights of Breton Court trilogy

“Steeplejack combines a lively and intelligent plot with an intriguing and well-drawn world, and caps all this goodness with a determined and indefatigable heroine.” ―Kate Elliott, author of Court of Fives and Black Wolves

“A rich, atmospheric tale of adventure, morality and consequence, Steeplejack will linger with you long after you read the last page.” ―Kady Cross, author of the Steampunk Chronicles and Sisters of Blood and Spirit series

“Elegant prose, a cracking good mystery, lots of action, and characters to fall in love with and root for. I read it cover to cover in no time at all. In fact, I did so twice! And I was on the edge of my seat both times.” ―D.B. Jackson, author of the Thieftaker series

“I was completely hooked from page one. Ang is a hero to cheer for heart and soul. A thrilling, clever, meaningful read.” ―Leanna Renee Hieber, award-winning author of Strangely Beautiful and The Eterna Files

“An exquisitely built mystery set in a lush, vibrant world. I was loath to leave Ang and Bar-Selehm behind at the end of it. Definitely a book to be revisited again and again.” ―Kat Zhang, author of What’s Left of Me

A.J. Hartley
Author A.J. Hartley is the bestselling writer of mystery/thriller, fantasy, historical fiction, and young adult novels.

He was born in northern England, but has lived in many places including Japan, and is currently the Robinson Professor of Shakespeare studies at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, where he specializes in the performance history, theory and criticism of Renaissance English drama, and works as a director and dramaturg.

He has more hobbies than is good for anyone, all of which you can learn more about by friending him (odious word) on Facebook, by following his blog and by checking in on the What’s Going On blog page. He is represented by Stacey Glick of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management for books, and by Eddie Gamarra of the Gotham Group for film and television. And check out A.J.’s Amazon author page.

Photo Credit: Wade Bruton


Firebrand by A.J. Hartley

Alternative Detective #2

June 6, 2017 – Tor Teen

4 Stars

I was given a copy of this title, free, in exchange for my honest opinion.

Anglet is back with another mystery. This time she is chasing after a thief that stole the plans for a secret weapon. In the midst of this mysterious theft Bar-Selehm is going through their own refugee crisis. This mystery takes Ang deeper into the social elite of Bar-Selehm, places that even her benefactor cannot go. She must learn to become, not just pretend, that she is someone other than herself. The deeper that the mystery takes Ang, the more intertwined the events between the refugees and the theft becomes. Ang finds that her wit, connections and sheer determination is not enough for this case. She must become something that is foreign to herself, and she realizes that this is not easily done.

I enjoyed book #2 in this series a slightly bit better than the first. In the first installment, there were things that often pulled me out of the story, either by not being completely necessary for the story at hand or the blur between the familiar and the unknown. These elements were not present in this book. While the various races and cultures are constantly talked about in this one, the mystery is tied directly to the case that Ang is working on.  The political climate is charged and tense because no one can agree on what the right response to the surge of refugees flooding their shores. The timeliness of this mystery works very much in its favor.

I like the changes that are happening to Ang. She is growing as a character. She has been kicked out of the Drowning, not being the type of Lani that belongs there. She is no longer part of the Seventh Street gang, even after the leader who tormented and attempted to rape her is gone.  Though she is still dependent on the skills learned and perfected, she is also no longer a steeplejack. But she is so much more than all these things, and she has always been more. This is the time where she is learning this for herself.  She is not very good at staying in her place because she is so much bigger than the place that’s been allotted to her. We are also able to see how her friendships grow deeper as she goes about this mystery, a few of them turning into a newfound family.

Again. Hartley fills his book with a lot of things that are going on. Initially, they appear to be separate things but as the mystery unravels the connections are uncovered. I am not sure how long this series is supposed to be, but I’m going to see it through.

Giveaway is open to International. | Must be 13+ to Enter

– 2 Winners will receive a Set Copy of the Alternative Detective Series, Steeplejack and Firebrand by A.J. Hartley.
Check out my previous post to read my thoughts about Steeplejack!
Always Shine!

Review: The Hound at the Gate by Darby Karchut

The Hound at the Gate (The Adventures of Finn MacCullen, #3)

The Hound At the Gate by Darby Karchut

The Adventures of Finn MacCullen #3

January 13, 2015 – Spencer Hill Press

272 Pages -Young Adult, Middle Grade, Fantasy, Fiction

Source: The author

A copy of this book was given to me, free, in exchange for my honest opinion. 

Goodreads: Autumn: the season of endings. And beginnings.
Especially for one young apprentice.
At the annual Festival of the Hunt, thirteen-year-old apprentice goblin hunter Finn MacCullen and his master, Gideon Lir, join other Tuatha De Danaan to honor their people’s heritage. But Finn soon realizes that there are some who denounce his right to attend due to his half-human bloodline.
As he struggles to keep his place by his master’s side, he finds himself embroiled in a decades-old grudge between Gideon and another Knight, bewildered (and beguiled) by a female apprentice with a temper as explosive as his own, and battling a pack of goblins determined to wipe out the entire camp in a surprise attack.
It’s going to take some fancy knife work, the help of a female Knight with a lethal bow, and one old pick up truck to defeat the goblins and prove to his people that Finn’s blood runs true-blue Tuatha De Danaan.

My Thoughts:

What can I say? I am in love with Finn, he is like the little brother that I didn’t know I always wanted. Again, I am really impressed with Darby, and she has proved once again why I say she is a D.E.A.R. author. But I don’t want to spend too much time on her, just take my word for it, she is awesome.

This is the third book in the series, and there is so much that I like about it. First it is rich with Celtic tradition and mythology. But, more than that, it is rich with family and growth. If you are just hearing about this series, and this title let me tell you what you find. There is humor and sarcasm, Finn and Gideon are such a pair, and I have to remind myself that they have not always been together. Lochlan and Finn run into the same trouble that young boys often do. There’s fighting-lots of fighting. I wish that the fight between Gideon and Tully had not been cut short, maybe that would have prevented the damaged he caused at the end, but probably not. The Amandan are out in bold numbers, and trying new and bolder moves. They have gotten stronger, forcing the knights to remind the creatures why the knights should be feared.  The festival brings them all together and introduces us to a few new characters, and I am looking forward to seeing more of them.

For those who have read the first two books and want to know what’s different in this book–There is a good side to Martin O’Neill. I think I spent most of my time like Lochlan, not really liking Martin (Lochlan’s dad) but also not completely understanding him. It may take forever but in the end Martin redeems himself a bit, and things happen (another character’s insight) that makes me understand his nature. I hope that this continues into the next book, so we can see more.

On the flip side, Ennis, Finn’s cousin, also shows  progress. While, I can’t say having a horrible master is an excuse for such bitterness, I am avid believer in we manifest in us whatever is encouraged and cajoled out of us. Ennis is an example of that. But, events that happen at the festival shows me two things. Ennis is really a strong leader, when given the opportunity and he would shine on the light side if he was an apprentice to a master that didn’t feed his negative side so much.

Finn. My boyo, also has some growth in this adventure. He is turning out to be such a swell lad. Even though I have never been a Tween boy, I remember what it was like in middle school and how everything seems to be changing so fast and in ways that leaves you spinning in confusion. I think that this transition is captured accurately with Finn, and that makes him a hero that boys can relate to.

Finn and Gideon’s relationship is tested in this book. The bond between them is growing, and you can see this not just at the end when they be separated, but throughout the whole book.

5 stars *****

I cannot stress this enough, if you have not started this series you must! If you have a boy that is middle school aged-he will love this series. If you are a middle school teacher, this book is definitely a must have for your classroom library.

Sadly, we must wait another year for the final book in the series. Darby, if you are reading this, I want you to know that when I told Henry that we wouldn’t be able to get the next book until next year he started crying. He flailed his arms and kicked his feet in protest. He was none too happy about that.

Always Shine!

Blog Tour and Guest Post: The Hound at the Gate by Darby Karchut

Yes folks! She is back! This time Darby comes to us with The Hound at the Gate, the third book in The Adventures of Finn MacCullen series. Have you not started this series? Shame on you, Go. Read. Now. Wondering what the first two books were like? Check out  my previous reviews here.

Darby was nice enough to stop by here for a guest post, which follows the book information. Than come back later today for my review. I have to tell you that Finn has made his way into my heart just as Griffin did. ( And if you don’t know who Griffin is, then that means you need to go ahead and get your hands on Darby’s other series, which starts with Griffin Rising. Again, Go. Read. Now.)

The Hound at the Gate (The Adventures of Finn MacCullen, #3)

The Hound At the Gate by Darby Karchut

The Adventures of Finn MacCullen #3

January 13, 2015 – Spencer Hill Press

272 Pages -Young Adult, Middle Grade, Fantasy, Fiction

Goodreads: Autumn: the season of endings. And beginnings.
Especially for one young apprentice.
At the annual Festival of the Hunt, thirteen-year-old apprentice goblin hunter Finn MacCullen and his master, Gideon Lir, join other Tuatha De Danaan to honor their people’s heritage. But Finn soon realizes that there are some who denounce his right to attend due to his half-human bloodline.
As he struggles to keep his place by his master’s side, he finds himself embroiled in a decades-old grudge between Gideon and another Knight, bewildered (and beguiled) by a female apprentice with a temper as explosive as his own, and battling a pack of goblins determined to wipe out the entire camp in a surprise attack.
It’s going to take some fancy knife work, the help of a female Knight with a lethal bow, and one old pick up truck to defeat the goblins and prove to his people that Finn’s blood runs true-blue Tuatha De Danaan.

You can’t tell me that this book doesn’t sound interesting. I know you’re resisting the urge to stop reading so you can go grab your copy. But wait, there’s a bit more. Interested in what inspired The Hound at the Gate?  Read on.

The Story behind THE HOUND AT THE GATE by Darby Karchut

For writers, inspiration often springs from a weird blend of images, obscure facts from history or current events, a random remark, and even from a verse in a song. The Hound at the Gate has such a mix.

For those of you who have read The Hound at the Gate, these references will jump right out at you. For you who haven’t yet cracked Hound’s spine, watch for these as you read:

Mountain Man Rendezvous

During the mid-1800’s, fur trappers and traders and other rugged individuals who lived in the Rocky Mountains would gather together to celebrate their way of life. Over several days or weeks, there would be all sorts of competitions, singing, feasting and drinking and trading. I took this event and shaped it into a Celtic version of a Rendezvous and renamed it The Festival of the Hunt.


The official sport of Ireland. The perfect sport to play at the Tuatha De Danaan’s Festival. Plus, it gave me a reason for Gideon to take off his shirt. You’re welcome.

The Legend of Cúchulain

Cúchulain, often called the Celtic Achilles, was a young, but formidable warrior of Bronze Age Irish mythology. While his birth name was Sétanta, he earned the name Cúchulain from a curious incident. He accidentally killed the guard dog of a local chieftain named Cullen. In payment, he offered to stand guard at the gates of Cullen’s fortress. Others then began calling him “Cullen’s Hound.” In Gaelic, it is Cú Chulain—the hound that guards the gate.

Curiously, young Cúchulain was also taken away, in his late teens, to be trained by warrior-goddess, one of them being the Scáthach.

Roles of Chieftains and Kings

Bronze Age Ireland was more of a tribal society, as opposed to have a central authority figure. While clans had their own leaders, and several clans might be under the rule of a chieftain, it was rare to have a king over all the clans. The High King, Brian Boru (who was a real person) was one such king, although he does not figure in Hound. (It was from the history of Brian Boru that the idea for a parallel series to the Finn MacCullen books was born. Thus: The Stag Lord and Unholy Blue. Bonus point for me to pimping my other series).


The scene with the pick up truck was inspired by Boudica, a chariot-riding warrior-queen who led her tribe of British Celts against the invading Romans. She would have loved Kel O’Shea.

The song “The Minstrel Boy”

The version performed by the band, Enter the Haggis, is the official theme song for the Finnegan series. There is a line in the song, “warrior bard” which resonates with me, and confirms how I view my Tuatha De Danaan: fierce warriors with the souls of bards.

* * *

So, why the Irish in the first place? I wish I could point to one thing or event, but I can’t. Like many Americans, I have Irish ancestry on my father’s side. In fact, “Darby” is an old family name, and yes, it really is my given name.

And, as a teen, I fell in love with the art in The Book of Kells. That led me to explore Celtic art. Which led me to explore Celtic mythology. Which led me to the Tuatha De Danaan, whom I first learned about when I read How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill. That was back in 2009.

By 2010, I had written the first drafts of both Finn Finnegan and Gideon’s Spear, but put them aside to focus on my Griffin series, a YA series about a teen guardian angel and his beloved master. (Again, pimping). Once those books were published, I went back to Finn’s story.

Now, here I am, sending Finn and Gideon off on another adventure. What’s next for my heroes? Well, the fourth and final book in The Adventures of Finn MacCullen, entitled The Burnt Bones, is currently in the editing stages. I’ll miss my wild Irish boys; I enjoyed every minute getting to know them.

I hope you do, too. Cheers!

Thank you Darby, for stopping by and sharing the inspiration behind the story. I am looking forward to The Burnt Bones, but I will also be preparing my farewells. Now, come back in a couple of hours so I can tell you how amazingly awesome the third book is!

Always Shine!