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The Compulsive Reader: September 2008

Monday, September 29, 2008

Cool New Site

I just wanted to let you all know about a cool new author site that has come to my attention. Jordanna Fraiberg, author of In Your Room, has got her site up and it is very cool and interactive! Check it out! And be sure to put In Your Room on your wishlist...we'll be hearing a lot more about it and the author very soon!

Please Accept My Sincerest Apologies


I apologize for my absence...life got in the way! Will you please forgive me? No? Will this review of Let It Snow help any? Hm, I thought so.


Let It Snow by Maureen Johnson, John Green, and Lauren Myracle


It's Christmas Eve, and one of the biggest storms in memory has hit, isolating tiny Gracetown, Virginia. For Jubilee, Tobin, and Addie the storm will bring them together in the most unconventional of ways. Jubilee, on her way to Florida, is stranded outside of Gracetown when her train gets stuck in the snow. Rather than endure Christmas Eve night on the train with a mass of perky cheerleaders, she ventures out and heads to the nearby Waffle House, where she encounters Stuart, who is still nursing a broken heart.

Tobin and his friends JP and the Duke are enjoying their Christmas Eve holed up at Tobin's house and watching a James Bond movie marathon when they are enticed out into the night to the local Waffle House. What should be a twenty minute drive on a clear night turns into a crazy race to get there before the intimidating Reston twins...but when they get there things don’t go quite how they planned.

For Addie, the holidays have been filled with misery since she and her boyfriend Jeb broke up. But this year she'll gain some perspective (and possibly more) during one very long and very snowy shift at Starbucks the day after Christmas.

All three stories are cleverly woven together, along with each author's inimitable style and brand of humor. The wholly unique, ironic, witty, intelligent, and heartfelt plots that Myracle, Johnson, and Green have become well known for is strongly present in Let It Snow. The varying and colorful characters are authentic and highly realistic, allowing for the book to appeal to a wide range of reader interests. The dialogue, the jokes, the slang, and actions are all pitch perfect to this generation, and wildly appealing, even as they push the limits of reality. But even so, most readers will be more than willing to hold on tight and enjoy the ride as this sweet and sarcastically funny holiday read unravels.
Let It Snow will be released from Penguin Group USA on October 2nd, 2008.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

September Book of the Month: A Sneak Peek of Impossible

Thanks for tagging along with us all month long. I sincerely hope that you have picked up a copy if Impossible by now, or you plan to. A big thank you to Nancy who has been so kind and eager to work with me this month. It's been a blast!



For those of you who are still unsure about Impossible...here's the trailer. Try resisting the book after watching it, I dare you!








Do your stories come to you in random bits that you strong together, or do they come in order, like a movie?

My stories usually come in order, but they come on the page as I'm writing. In other words, I get the ideas and scenes that I need while I'm actively working on a book, not abstractly in my head before writing. (With the exception of the "inciting idea(s)" that spark a new book, that is.)

I don't outline in advance in any way, shape, or form. Once I have enough of an idea (again, the "inciting idea") to get started, I'll simply sit down and try to think of a scene that I will need at the beginning, and I begin to write, experimenting with what "feels" right, until I have enough to go on to the next scene. Each scene builds on the one before it, and I learn my characters and their story as I write about them. And so, I grope my way forward in this way, rather haphazardly, until I have a complete first draft.

Then all bets are off, and I am free to work in a more random order, depending on what parts of the story need to be changed and revisioned in subsequent drafts, of which there are generally a minimum of three.

Usually, I'll start again at the beginning in draft two, and work my way completely through the story making changes, but because at this point I have a better idea of what I'm doing, I am more confident and can skip around if I need to.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Witch High by Various Authors


For most teens, high school is hard enough without the added stress of magical elements thrown into the mix. But the teens at Salem Public High School #4 not only have to deal with the ins and outs of normal class work, but the additional studying that comes with being a witch as well. You think you can barely stand regular chemistry? Try taking Elemental Chemistry when you can even control your own powers. Not enough time in the day to study for those pesky midterms? Why, there's a spell for that. Don't like the cafeteria's food? Go ahead and transform it—at your own detriment. In a place where nearly anything is possible, a lively time is sure to be had.
Witch High is an absorbing anthology full of fourteen short stories that range from humorous to foreboding, and snarky to heart wrenching. Each story depicts the life of a different person, most of them students, with a couple members of the faculty and staff, and each vary widely. Many of the stories are quite short, giving the reader a slightly rushed impression, and those with an attention for details may be bothered by the occasional contradiction of facts and details between stories. However, if readers can get past those minor faults, they're in for a fun and candid glimpse into an exciting and magical world.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Winners!

I nearly forgot to announce the winners of the Author Spotlight Contest! Thanks so much to all who entered!

The grand prize winner of a copy The Juliet Club, The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney, and a Juliet Club tank, is Catalina A.!

The three second prize winners, who will each receive a Juliet Club tank, are Chelsie L., Lisette C., and Yan L.!

Congratulations, everyone!

Masquerade by Melissa de la Cruz


Everyone in the Blue Blood community is shaken by the attack on Cordelia Van Allen, and the deaths of young Blue Bloods across the city. Schuyler knows that the Silver Bloods are behind it, but no one will tell her anything about them—the adults either refuse to acknowledge their existence, or are too frightened to. So she sets off to Venice with Oliver to search for her grandfather, Lawrence Van Allen, who supposedly has the answers she seeks. Meanwhile, back in New York, Bliss is devastated at Dylan's death and refuses to accept the fact that he is dead, and Mimi is slowly realizing that Jack might not be hers for very long unless she does something. And that something may involve conspiring with the one person who is determined to obliterate them all.

Breathtaking action and suspense dominates Melissa de la Cruz's second book in the Blue Bloods trilogy. The plot steers away from the rich and luxurious lifestyle slightly, and focuses a bit more on the silent war between the Blue Bloods and Silver Bloods, and dark secrets that have been kept among the Blue Bloods, making for a more convoluted and fascinating plot. More information is given on Blue Blood powers and weaknesses, and it seems that just as de la Cruz cleverly ties up one mystery, she open up two more. Schuyler and Bliss's characters are more fully realized in masquerade, especially as they begin to mature as Blue Bloods. Schuyler is also forced to deal with her feelings for both Oliver and Jack, leaving readers even more torn than ever. All of these many elements combined will only further draw readers into the glitzy and edgy Blue Blood world, and invoke some strong feelings of anticipation for the solutions to many puzzling mysteries. This highly creative and absorbing book will thrill readers.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

September Book of the Month: The Music of Impossible

Which version of the song do you think is most true to the song depicted in Impossible?

There's no straightforward answer to this; I was influenced by parts of many versions.

At the same time, though, I was initially very taken with the Simon and Garfunkel version that I grew up with. In this version, the man makes three impossible demands of the woman, and she replies not at all; she has no defense (she is silent) and so seems to be the party at fault.

That version tells us little about the man. To gain the information that he is an unearthly being, I went back to the Child ballad string of versions. In particular, readers might be interested in Version I, "The Deil's Courting," which includes this: "'I will ask ye questions three; Resolve them, or ye'll gang wi [going with] me." See the full set of verse here:

http://www.contemplator.com/child/variant2.html#G

Note, in this version, that the girl replies to the Elf and defends herself, by demanding tasks in her turn. ("'I will ask ye questions three; Resolve them, or ye'll neer [never] get me.")

This influenced the joint version of the song that Lucy and Zach come up with together, later in the book.

If you read other versions, you'll see this motif -- the counterdemands from the womann that nullify the Elf's demands and protect her -- repeated in several of them.

A whole set of versions are available here:

http://www.contemplator.com/child/variant2.html

_____________

Thanks, Nancy!

P.S. Impossible comes out TODAY! So go get your copy now!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

So Tell Me What You Want, What You Really, Really Want...

Besides wanting me to shut up, that is.

No my darling book buddies, I will not quote old pop songs at you. It's been a little while since I've gotten nice and up and close and personal with ya'll, so here's a confession I have to make: I have a tendency to get rather caught up in rankings and ratings. It's a very bad habit, I know. I'm trying to break it, I PROMISE. But in the meantime, Amazon.com has become my enabler, what with their reviewer rankings. And recently, my nifty little helpful percentage dropped a percent (Oh, I know what you're thinking, "Oooh, big deal! Not."), and it got me thinking about what readers really want in reviews.

I might have mentioned this before, but I really don't like reading reviews. It's true (although that's NOT the reson I'm behind on my GoogleReader posts, I SWEAR). I'm such a hypocrite, I know. I even hate reading the little reviews under the product descriptions on Amazon (don't read the one for Magic Lessons by Justine Larbalestier! Blatant spoiler alert!). So, I guess I am kinda shooting in the dark when it comes to writing reviews, even though I've been doing it on the public blog for almost a year. (Whoa, a year? Wow. It just hit me. Like a heavy hard drive.)

So what do you want to know? As most of you know, I'm pretty formal (no personal pronouns, no crazed fangirl moments, etc.) to avoid sounding like another teen ranting and raving. Do you like the product summaries? Wanna know if the characters were believable? Is the plot unique? What's one thing (or you can tell me about more than one thing) that you want to know about a book when you read a review? Or do want me to not change? I'm here to serve you.

Also! I may or may not have totally lost my cool and flipped out about a certain series by PC and Kristen Cast back in July... Anyways, as most of you should know, seeing as it's currently number two on this month's poll, UNTAMED, the fourth book in the series comes out in less than a week! If any of you are like me, you are dying of anticipation. But I have something that will help! Click here. You are welcome. Also, isn't it pretty? And it's very complex! Complex enough to sustain us til HUNTED, which comes out in March!

I think that's it...except, I am sorry about the sloooow updates. That would be due to the malignant Calcu-Beast. You guys don't realize how lucky you are that you have me to keep it at bay with my handy-dandy graphing calculator and nifty purple pencil. I'm just saying...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz


Something weird is happening to Schuyler Van Allen and some of the students at the elite Duchesne School...they start to experience blackouts, strange and terrifying nightmares, and mystifying feelings of deja vu. Blue lines appear on their skin where their veins should be. Their parents and some of their friends seem to know what is going on, but remain tight-lipped. It takes the death of a fellow student for them to learn the truth—they are Blue Bloods, a race of ancient vampires who are reincarnated into a new body every generation.

Though Schuyler is new to the vampire world, she and her friends Oliver, Dylan, and fellow Blue Blood Bliss are able to see what the mature vampires refuse to acknowledge—something is after the supposedly immortal Blue Bloods, something that is bent on killing them. The only problem is, can Schuyler and her friends get everyone to see the truth before it's too late?

Melissa de la Cruz has combined history, religious elements, supernatural intrigue, and a taste of the upper class to create a modern, sharp, and wholly unique take on the tired vampire story that will compel and intrigue readers. Her characters are varied and grounded, and even as vampires they are not so glittering and unreachable that readers cannot empathize with them.

For the most part, the multitudes of tiny details that comes with many main characters, flash backs, and an ever changing point of view are kept in check, but some minor explanations slip through the cracks, leaving you wondering about such things as when Schuyler found the time to learn the Sacred Language, and other finer points of being a Blue Blood. However, de la Cruz packs the pages full of engaging social dynamics, lively bits of history, and some practical solutions to the world's mysteries, such as the true fate of the missing Roanoke colony and how so many models really stay skinny. The wonderfully innovative ideas and plot twists in Blue Bloods mightily overshadow minor flaws and will capture the imagination.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston


Kelley is a young actress, trying to make ends meet working as a stage hand and understudy in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream in New York City. One night while practicing her lines in Central Park, she meets Sonny, who, unbeknownst to the mortal world, guards the Samhain Gate to the Otherworld and protects the city from the beings that would try to cross over and cause chaos.

Sonny senses immediately that there is something different about Kelley, but is unable to pinpoint what it is. He is inexplicably drawn to her, much to her dismay, and Kelley refuses to believe his ridiculous claims that she is not of this world. Soon the truth comes comes out though, putting Kelley and Sonny into more danger than they could have ever foreseen...

Wondrous Strange is a beguiling read. It combines the excitement of stage life, the diversity of New York City, and the thrill of magic to pull insistently at the reader until they fully succumb to this romantic and dangerous read. Kelley is your likable, average heroine who's just trying to get by on her own, and her practicality and wit punctuate the story with a modern and full-of-attitude flair.

The plot is well drawn out, and the balance between the fantastical elements and moments of reality is perfect. Some more critical readers might feel as though Kelley's acceptance of her role in the Otherworld is a bit rushed, but Livingston's convincing voice and attitude-filled characters will quickly overwhelm any lingering doubtful feelings. Wondrous Strange is a stirring and adventurous book with wry humor, colorful and expressive characters, and an unbelievably addictive quality.

Wondrous Strange will be available from HarperTeen on December 23, 2008, so get cracking on those Chrsitmas wishlists by putting Wondrous Strange at the very tip top!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Nick of Time by Ted Bell


Nick McIver and his sister Kate live a happy life on an island off the coast of England, spending their days exploring and sailing as the children of the lighthouse keeper. But it's turbulent times in 1939, and Nick's father has been engaged by Winston Churchill himself to watch the waters of the English Channel for prowling Nazi U-boats, and Nick and Katie are eager to help. But one day the discovery of an old sea chest containing a time machine, the sighting of a high-tech U-boat, and the arrival of some unsavory characters launch Nick and Kate into the adventure of their lives and they’ll struggle to protect their beloved home from enemies all around them.

From the very beginning of Nick of Time, author Ted Bell enraptures the reader with fast paced and riveting action. The story is constructed with younger readers in mind, but will appeal to older teens and adults as well who don't mind reading about younger protagonists—although the adventure never lets up long enough for them to mind! Some younger, less experienced readers may find it hard to wade through all of the nautical jargon and the two different time periods, but Bell's themes of honesty, loyalty, and courage, wrapped up in fierce determination to do what's right, will hit home with any reader. Historical, exciting, humorous, and suspenseful, Nick of Time has the makings of a classic.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

September Book of the Month: The Scarborough Family Tree


In Impossible, the protaganist, Lucy, carries a curse that reaches back many generation--all the wayback to the 17th century. As an added bonus, Nancy Werlin created a family tree so we could get to know the Scarborough girls a little better.

(Note: The family tree does not contain any spoilers!)


The Scarborough Girls
A Family Tree
By Nancy Werlin

Fenella, b. 1610 in Wexford, Ireland. Her family (headed by her merchant father) moved to Scarborough in England when she was four. At this time, the famous Scarborough Fair was in abeyance. At seventeen, Fenella, who was pretty and clever, already had a lover (her intended husband, Robert Ennis). But she caught the eye of The Elfin Knight, who attempted to court her. Fenella’s attempt to elude the Knight caused him to curse her and her daughters, creating a curse-variant of an old ballad that Fenella knew.

Bronagh, b. 1628. Her father, Robert Ennis, died four days before he was to marry her mother, Fenella, and Fenella herself disappeared shortly after Bronagh’s birth. Bronagh was raised by Robert’s sister, Agnes. She was a dark-haired girl of quiet temperament, much loved by her aunt.

Elizabeth, b. 1646. Also raised by her great-aunt Agnes, Elizabeth resembled her grandmother in her lively wits and clever tongue. However, the misfortunes of both her mother and grandmother had already caused talk and superstition, and she was isolated in childhood. Her pregnancy (by a married man who denied all responsibility) was a scandal. When Elizabeth disappeared in her turn following the birth of her daughter, Agnes died and the baby was fostered away.

Marjory, b. 1664. Marjory ran away to London at the age of twelve. No other information is available.

Barbara, b. 1682. No other information is available.

Dorothea, b. 1700. At the age of 14, intelligent Dorothea indentured herself as a servant for seven years and was sent to Virginia in the New World, where she worked for the family of Kenneth Lee in Westmoreland County.

Bridget, b. 1718. Bridget was brought up by the Thomas Lee family (Thomas was the son of Kenneth Lee) after the disappearance of her mother. Raised as a companion to a daughter of the house, Bridget was treated well until at seventeen she became pregnant and accused a neighbor of having raped her. She was disbelieved, called “a harlot like her mother,” and ran away to Philadelphia.

Pamela, b. 1737. Born in Philadelphia, Pamela was a devout member of the Quaker community. She said not a word to anyone about her pregnancy, behaving as if it were not occurring and remaining completely unresponsive to enquiries about it. Many thought her mad before she actually became so.

Katherine, called Kate, b. 1755. Beautiful Kate married a British lieutenant at fifteen, against the advice of the Quaker community to which she belonged after her mother’s disappearance. Her husband was a younger son of a noble family and repudiated his pretty American wife when he returned home, claiming that he was not the father of the child she was bearing. Kate returned to her original surname, and to her Quaker family and faith. Her obsession with spinning cloth during her pregnancy was accepted by her community as both harmless and useful.

Harriet, b. 1773. Red-headed, hot-tempered Harriet was considered to be trouble from the day of her birth, even before her mother Kate disappeared. At sixteen, Harriet stole money from her adoptive parents and took a ship for London, leaving a letter behind that said she was going to find her noble father in England and lead a life of wealth and leisure.
Marianna, b. 1791. No other information is available.

Julia, b. 1809. Julia grew up as a street child, scavenging for scraps in London. No other information is available.

Anne, b. 1827. Anne also grew up parentless on the streets of London but shows up in records in Dublin during the potato famine. How and why she ended up in Ireland is unclear, but she apparently believed she had an Irish father. In 1844, she crowded onto a ship for America, arriving in Boston only to find high anti-Irish sentiments, including riots. She disappeared during one such riot, a church burning, after her daughter was born.

Moira, b. 1845. Moira was raised in a Catholic charity orphanage in Boston and employed as a maidservant at thirteen. She left her employment as the Civil War broke out. No further information is available.

Minnie, b. 1863. Ambitious Minnie at seventeen was accepted into the nurses’ training program at the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston, which had begun educating female nurses in the year of her birth. Her pregnancy forced her to leave the program and she disappeared.

Jennie, b. 1881. No other information is available.

Mary, b. 1899. A pregnant Mary arrived in Peterborough, New Hampshire, masquerading as a war widow and looking for work. She was taken in by a young, well-to-do farmer’s wife who was at a similar stage of pregnancy and who subsequently raised Mary’s daughter.

Ruth, b. 1917. Ruth attended high school in Peterborough, New Hampshire, where she was a member of the girls’ choir and was also a home-room representative and a homecoming princess. What happened to her after the birth of her daughter is unknown.

Joanne, b. 1935. Joanne also attended high school in Peterborough, New Hampshire. She belonged to no clubs or groups at school at all, and was failing most of her classes when she dropped out of school due to her pregnancy. She was sent to a maternity home for teenage girls in Lowell, Massachusetts, from which she tried twice to run away, claiming that she needed to be nearer to the ocean.

Deirdre, b. 1954. Raised in a home for motherless girls, at fifteen, Deirdre ran away with three other girls to attend a concert in Woodstock, NY, and was next seen in Berkeley, California. Why she returned to her birthplace of Lowell for the birth of her daughter is a mystery.

Miranda, b. 1972. Miranda’s story is recounted in the book Impossible.

Lucinda, called Lucy, b. 1990. Lucy’s story is fully recounted in the book Impossible.


Four Questions with Nancy Werlin, Part II

What sort of research went into creating the Scarborough family tree?

Heavens, that was a fun project! I created the family tree after the novel was finished. It was my idea to do this, when Penguin asked me if I could think of any "extras" for the novel that they could put on a promotional DVD and website.

I knew, at the start of the work, that the first Scarborough woman was named Fenella, but I had no dates for her life, nor did I know more than the bare fact that she'd rejected the Elfin Knight, which started all the trouble. Also, I knew the names of Lucy's mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.

But the terms of the Scarborough Family Curse made it easy to get to work. I went back 18 years for each generation, picked an appropriate name for the times, and then did a little thinking and research into what was happening in the world during that ancestress's lifetime, so that I could make each Scarborough Girl a woman of her age.

It's important to note that in real life, the kind of genealogical details present in my family tree would be impossible to locate via research. But as this is fiction, I tried to come up with a realistic nugget for most of the Scarborough Girls, so that we could get a sense of how each one had struggled in her turn.


Check back next week for more on the music that inspired Impossible!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Author Spotlight: The Secret Life of Suzanne Harper


Why did you choose to write about ghosts and mediums in The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney?


I’ve always been fascinated with ghosts, ever since I was young. In the course of my journalism career, I’ve written several magazine articles about researchers who study the paranormal. As an editor, I’ve edited magazine sections on the topic. “The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney” began on an airplane ride. I was doodling in my journal and I found myself writing, “It was three minutes after midnight and the dead wouldn’t leave me alone.” I was intrigued by that line, so I just kept writing! Because of my interest in ghosts, I had read a non-fiction book called “Lily Dale: The True Story of the Town that Talks to the Dead” a year or so earlier. As Sparrow’s voice became clearer to me, I started thinking about where her story would be set and I remembered Lily Dale.


Have you ever had a supernatural experience yourself?


The closest thing I’ve had (and it could have been just the result of an overactive imagination) was when I was a teen. My family visited Ohio every summer to see relatives. On one trips, we all went out to a lake. Across the road was a cemetery. One half had older graves from the Civil War; many of the people buried there were soldiers who had died in battle. On the other side of the cemetery, there were newer graves. I love history, so I, of course, went over to look at the Civil War headstones. After a few minutes, I started feeling woozy and light-headed and I heard what sounded a lot like cannon booming in the distance. I thought it might be thunder, but the sky was clear and cloudless. I was a little freaked out, so I walked over to the new side of the cemetery. As soon as I got there, I felt fine and I didn’t hear any booming. After awhile, I decided that I had just been imagining things, so I went back to look at the Civil War headstones again…and the exact same thing happened! I felt faint and heard cannon — so I left the cemetery in a hurry! Years later, I interviewed a parapsychologist who studies ghosts and he quite matter-of-factly said that I might have been psychically picking up on some sort of “vibration.” I don’t know if that’s true or not, but since that’s the closest I’ve come to a ghostly encounter, I choose to believe it!


Have you ever visited Lily Dale?


Yes, I visited as I was working on the revision of my first draft. Lily Dale is only open to tourists during the summer and I sold the book in September, so I wrote the first draft based on reading the book I mentioned earlier and doing Internet research. I was actually glad in the end that I hadn’t visited before I wrote my first draft, since it gave me the freedom to make things up. However, I really wanted to see the town before I turned in my second draft, so I spent a few days there. I did have to rewrite a few scenes as a result. For one thing, the town was smaller than I had imagined, so the scene where Sparrow and Jack go to the museum had to be revised quite a bit. I was also able to add many details that helped bring the place to life. I also attended message services and had mediums “come to me” several times when I was there to pass on messages from spirits. The most interesting happened on a day when I had been putting off doing any work on the novel (I took my laptop with me). A particularly no-nonsense medium told me that the spirits were saying that I had put a book aside and needed to get back to work. Of course, I went back to my hotel and did just that! You don’t argue with a message from Beyond.


What sort of research did you do to write The Juliet Club?


I had a vague idea for the novel somewhere around 2000, when I first read about the real Juliet Club. Shortly after that, I went to Italy for business and managed to stay an extra two days to visit Verona. I met with members of the Juliet Club, who were extremely gracious. They answered all my questions and made copies of letters they had received from teens. Flash forward to 2006, when I got the contract to write the book. Again, I wrote the first draft without re-visiting Verona, although I did a great deal of research. I read many travel books about Italy and commentaries on Shakespeare’s plays, plus I re-read the plays themselves. Other research including taking Italian lessons. I also had a choreographer friend teach me how to do an Elizabethan dance and another friend, who is a stage director, teach me stage sword fighting! Then I finally returned to Verona for four days. I think I walked every inch of that town and it was so helpful to see the places I had read about on the Internet and had been using as inspiration for the book. For example, the gardens behind Francesca Marchese’s villa are loosely based on the Giardi Gardens. I was also caught in a torrential rainstorm, an experience I used for the scene where Kate runs away from Giacomo near the end of the book.


Did you ever experience a trip similar to Kate's?


No, I wish! If a real Shakespeare Seminar were ever offered, I would be the first person to apply. By the way, I did find a few programs for young people interested in Shakespeare, which I listed on my web site and blog:


Camp Shakespeare, part of the University of Texas Shakespeare at Winedale Program


The Folger Shakespeare Library High School Programs


The Oregon Shakespeare Festival summer seminar for high school juniors


The Utah Shakespearean Festival — various programs


Which characters, Kate or Sparrow, do you think that you can relate to the most?


Probably Kate. I’m not like Sparrow; if I had a fabulous, unique talent, I would NOT want to hide it! And, like Kate, I tend to intellectualize things a bit and to go overboard when it comes to my work (see the answer above about the research I did for the book!).


What's your writing process like?


Every morning, I go to Starbucks, have a coffee and write in my journal (a Moleskine notebook with unlined paper). This may just be superstition on my part, since I started doing this when I was working on my first novel. However, I find that writing by hand somehow activates my imagination in a way that writing on a computer doesn’t. I jot down ideas for characters and plot points. Even on days when I feel dull and uninspired, ideas will pop into my head if I do this. (And I’m sure the coffee helps.) Unless I have other appointments, I then take my laptop to the New York Public Library to write. I find that it helps me to get out of my apartment and write in the company of other people who are writing or doing research. They all seem very serious and focused, and the unspoken peer pressure helps!


Are there any other novels in the works?


Yes, I’m working on a historical fantasy tentatively titled “The Player King.”


What were some of your favorite books as a teen?


I loved “The Sherwood Ring” and “The Perilous Gard,” by Elizabeth Marie Pope.


If you had an autobiography or memoir, what would it be called?
Great question! Maybe something like “Adventures Inside My Head,” because I’ve lived as much in my imagination as in real life.


What's one thing that makes you laugh? cry? angry? excited?


Laugh: Just talking with friends, mostly! Plus…. Books: P.G. Wodehouse, “Life Among the Savages” and “Raising Demons” by Shirley Jackson, “My Family and Other Animals” by Gerald Durrell. TV: “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “The Daily Show” Oh, and Eddie Izzard’s stand-up comedy routines.


Cry: The nightly news, sappy commercials that shouldn’t make me cry but do, inspirational stories of people overcoming hardship.


Angry: Cruelty, from the large (unjust wars) to the small (schoolyard bullying or teasing)


Excited: Learning something new, creating something new.



Thanks, Suzanne!


Now here's your chance to win copies of Suzanne's books, The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney and The Juliet Club, and a pink Juliet Club tank top!


Send your name, address, and email to thecompulsivereader@gmail.com with AS CONTEST in the subject heading, and your name wil be thrown in the hat. 1 winner will receive a copy of each book and a tank, and three winners will each receive a tank top. I'll take entries until next Wednesday night, the 17th, at midnight!


Good luck, and thanks for reading!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Beth Fehlbaum Guest Blog!


Hi, I'm Beth Fehlbaum, and my debut novel, Courage in Patience, a story of hope for those who have endured abuse, released September 1, 2008, from Kunati Books. I was asked today to discuss themes in the novel. The best way to do that, I think, is to share with you the overview, because it outlines the themes quite nicely:


Ashley Nicole Asher’s life changes forever on the night her mother, Cheryl, meets Charlie Baker. Within a year of her mother’s marriage to Charlie, typical eight-year-old Ashley’s life becomes a nightmare of sexual abuse and emotional neglect. Bundling her body in blankets and sleeping in her closet to try to avoid Charlie's nighttime assaults, she is driven by rage at age 14 to to tell her mother, in spite of the threats Charlie has used to keep Ashley silent. Believing that telling will make Charlie go away, instead it reveals to Ashley where she lies on her mother's list of priorities.


“We’re just going to move on now,” Cheryl tells Ashley. “Go to your room.” Ashley's psyche splinters into shards of glass, and she desperately tries to figure a way out, while at the same time battling numbness and an inability to remember what happened when she blacked out after Charlie tackled her. She knew that when she awoke her clothes were disheveled and the lower-half of her body was covered in bright red blood-- but she has only a blank spot in the "video" of her memory.


When Ashley’s friend, Lisa, sees a note from Cheryl telling Ashley that Charlie would never “do those things to her,” and insisting that she apologize for accusing him of molesting her, Lisa forces dazed Ashley to make an outcry to her teacher, Mrs. Chapman.


By the end of the day, Ashley’s father, David, who has not seen Ashley since she was three months old, is standing in the offices of Child and Family Services. He brings her home to the small East Texas town of Patience, where he lives with his wife, Beverly, their son, Ben, and works with his brother, Frank. Its neighboring town, Six Shooter City, is so quirky, it's practically on the cusp of an alternate universe; a trip to the Wal-Mart reveals to visitors that "there's either something in the water..or family trees around here don't fork."


Through the summer school English class/ Quest for Truth taught by Beverly, an "outside-the-box" high school English teacher whose passion for teaching comes second only to her insistence upon authenticity, Ashley comes to know Roxanne Blake, a girl scarred outwardly by a horrific auto crash and inwardly by the belief that she is "Dr. Frankenstein's little experiment";


Wilbur "Dub" White, a fast-talking smart mouth whose stepfather is a white supremacist who nearly kills a man while Dub watches from the shadows, forcing Dub to realize that he cannot live with the person that he is, any longer;


Zaquoiah “Z.Z.” Freeman, one of the few African-Americans in Patience, whose targeted-for-extinction family inherited the estate of one of Patience’s founding families and has been given the charge to "turn this godforsaken town on its head";


Hector "Junior" Alvarez, a father at sixteen whose own father was killed in prison, who works two jobs and is fueled by the determination to "do it right" for his son, "3", and his girlfriend, Moreyma;


T.W. Griffin, whose football-coach father expects him to be Number One at everything, and whose mother naively believes that he is too young to think about sex; and


Kevin Cooper, a not-so-bright football player with a heart of gold, whose mother, Trini, a reporter for the local paper, is instrumental in exposing the ugliness that is censorship.


Every person in the class is confronted with a challenge that they must face head-on. The choices they make will not be easy—but they will be life-altering. With the exception of her mother and step-father, Ashley is surrounded by people who overcome their fear to embrace authenticity and truth-- the only way to freedom. But will Ashley have the inner-fortitude to survive the journey to recovery and the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? Will Ashley find her voice, speak up for herself, and break the bondage of her abusive past?


Realizing "she's gonna need a lot more than we have," David and Bev enlist the help of Scott "Dr. Matt" Matthews, an experienced, slightly unconventional therapist who insists that Ashley can and must come out hiding in the closet in her mind.


The Chris Crutcher novel, Ironman, is taught by Beverly Asher in the summer school class. When T.W.’s overbearing parents read the book, they decide that the book should be censored, and they involve the pastor of Patience’s largest, most conservative church to lead the fight through the Purify Patience organization. Its mission is to cleanse Patience of Profanity, Promiscuity, and Parent-Bashing Pedagogy—all complaints the group has about the novel, Ironman. Its hidden agenda, however, is to return Patience to a time when "Patience was 100% white", "women knew their place","everyone had plenty of money", and "Christian values were taught in school."


The censoring, pseudo-Christian, white-supremacist, misogynist organization is exposed for what it is in a courageous move by one of its own (well..his mother threatens to twist his ear off if he doesn't speak up), isolating the pastor and causing most of his “flock” to deny they ever knew him. National and world press attention shine speculation on the dirty little secrets hidden in Patience, and its inhabitants are forced to examine their own values and beliefs.


Alone in the dark, Ashley must face her worst fears in a pivotal scene between her, Charlie, and her mother. Will Ashley, like her friends, find courage in Patience?


I hope you'll read Courage in Patience and let me know what you think of it. Contact me at beth@bethfehlbaum.com, and tell me!


Thank you, The Compulsive Reader, for hosting me on my blog tour!

Monday, September 8, 2008

In the News and a Call for Reccomendations

Just a few things in the news today...

Here's the PW announcement of Sarah Dessen's ninth book, Along for the Ride, which is set to come out in June. It seems like such a long time away, doesn't it?

Also, have you guys heard about the new clause Random House is sticking in their contracts with children's authors? It's called a morality clause, and basically what means is that if you do anything damaging to your rep as a children's author, they have the right to withdraw your advance and terminate the contract! Can you believe that? Sure, no one really likes to hear about children's authors doing something that you wouldn't want their readers to know about, but for heaven's sake! They can't control authors like that! What do you think?

Since we're on the subject of kids books...a middle school teacher from a parochial school (my alma mater, actually) asked for reccomendations for her tween (fifth and sixth grade) girls. One of them was reading a Clique book (It's Not Easy being Mean), and the teacher felt that it wasn't appropriate for this particular school's settings. What I need from you guys: reccomendations of books that would be appropriate for these girls, not to baby-ish, and not too mature, but anything from any genre that they would enjoy. They are smart girls, but some just aren't mature enough for the raw emotion of a lot of young adult books. Also, while I we have nothing against books like the Clique series, they're just not what I'm looking for. On the other hand, I personally wouldn't hesistate to reccomend Mary Hogan's Susanna series to them.

Any reccomendations would be welcome! Thanks a bunch!

TCR

Magic or Madness by Justine Larbalestier


Reason Cansino has been brought up to believe that magic is not real, and that her grandmother, a believer of magic and practitioner of dark rituals, is evil. So in order to evade her, Reason and her mother Sarafina have lived on the run all over Australia. All that changes when Sarafina goes mad when Reason is fifteen years old and Reason is sent to live with the wicked witch herself.

But Reason didn't spend a lifetime with her mother without learning anything—she's got a plan of escape. But that plan involves walking out of the back door of her grandmother's house—out of a door she doesn't know will take her to a completely different world far different from Sydney, Australia—New York City.

Magic or Madness is a completely unique take on magic and urban fantasy from a very talented author. Reason's background and her abhorrence of magic are thoroughly explained, and her loyalty and spunk are to be admired. Throughout the course of the novel, the exact workings of magic aren't explained, which may cause some impatience for readers, and the plot does drag slightly towards the middle of the book, but picks up again after the introduction of a new character, and after Reason and her new friend Jay-Tee realize the danger of another. Larbalestier exposes readers to a tantalizing and dangerous version of magic that comes with hard truths and some deadly consequences, but is engaging and appealing nevertheless. The book leaves off with an open ending and some slightly under developed characters that will inspire excitement for the next book in the trilogy, Magic Lessons.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Frostbite by Richelle Mead


It's the holiday season at St. Vladimir's Academy, an elite school for Moroi and Dhampir. But for Dhampir Rose Hathaway, the approach of Christmas hasn't been very restful. Her mentor and secret crush Dimitri has been preparing her for a test with another widely respected guardian. But instead of meeting him, they stumble across the aftermath of a brutal Strigoi attack. The attack strikes fear in the Moroi community, and instead of splitting up for the holidays, all Moroi arrange to meet at secluded and high class ski resort—including Rose's formidable and detached mother. Sparks will fly as the two clash, and tension mounts as the threat of the Strigoi creeps closer and closer.

Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy series takes a darker turn in Frostbite as Rose matures and is exposed to more and more danger, and finds herself taking higher risks. Though there is less interaction between Rose and Lissa, it's believable as Lissa is preoccupied with a new boyfriend, Christian. Readers learn more about the Moroi and their magic in Frostbite as Christian begins campaigning for lessons in self defense by using his magic, adding the twist of political tensions between the Moroi.

The addition of a lecherous and preying older Moroi and a beautiful and scarred Moroi woman that gives Rose some competition for Dimitri's heart add a nice balance to the novel, and enable Rose to cause more chaos. But the ultimate ordeal at the end of the book will test Rose to her limits and give her a dose the responsibilities that will be required of her once she graduates…can she prove herself worthy to become her best friend's guardian?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead


Rosemary Hathaway and her best friend Lissa, a Moroi—the good type of vampires, have been on the run for two years now. Relying on Lissa's magical ability of compulsion and Rose's training as a Dhampir—half human, half Moroi guardians whose duty is to protect Moroi from the Strigoi, the evil and immortal vampires—they've managed to elude the guardians of St. Vladimir's Academy for young Moroi and Dhampir. Rose took Lissa away from St. Vladimir's when strange and dangerous circumstances threatened Lissa's safety...but now, the guardians have caught up with them, whisking the girls back to St. Vlad's.

There, they are regarded with contempt and suspicion. Rose is ordered to stay away from Lissa, and because she is behind in her training, is assigned additional training with the enigmatic Dimitri Belikov. But Rose is not one to take punishment lightly, especially if it means that she is no longer responsible for Lissa's protection. And now that they are back at St. Vladimir's the very reasons they fled come creeping back to haunt them...along with new dangers as well.

Richelle Mead has crafted an edgy, dark, and tantalizing world in Vampire Academy, in which she has embedded the perfect heroine. Rose is charismatic, yet tough and snarky, whose attitude is empowering and appealing, even as her faults become known to the reader. Mead's varied types of vampires will satisfy every reader's preferences, and those who thirst for an action packed, suspenseful, and unflinching paranormal romance will be glad to drink up Vampire Academy.
The mystery behind Rose and Lissa's escape is carefully concealed and let out gradually, which builds up suspense nicely, but may cause some impatience as readers try to piece together that puzzling clues. Rose's sporadic flashbacks to sophomore year and her encounters with a mysterious teacher blend nicely into the novel's many subplots and twists. Though there is a lack of drama as Rose recounts the night she and Lissa ran away, the slight let down is offset by the shocking climax of the book, making Vampire Academy an intoxicating and intriguing foray into a fully developed and very compelling world where danger lurks around every corner.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

September Book of the Month: Impossible by Nancy Werlin



September already! I can feel the weather getting cooler as I sit here typing this! Not to get too cheesy, but I've got the perfect book to warm up your cold days, and to perk up those monotonous school days!

I'm especially excited this month to have award winning author Nancy Werlin here at The Compulsive Reader to talk about her new book, Impossible. I asked her four questions about Impossible, and her answers were very good--long and thoughtful, so you have one to look forward to every Thursday. But first, a review:

Impossible

For generations the Scarborough women have been doomed to live eighteen years in sanity, until the birth of their first and only daughter, and then continue the rest of their lives in madness. Their only hope in avoiding insanity is to solve three tasks laid out for them in the Ballad of Scarborough Fair. None of the women have ever come close to solving them.

Until Lucy. Unlike her ancestors, she possesses a loving foster family, and Zach, her childhood friend who has loved her from afar for years. When she finds herself seventeen and pregnant, her unconventional family will band together, with the aid of Lucy's mother's diary pages from before insanity overtook her, and find a way break their curse once and for all—Lucy's future, and those of her mother and unborn daughter, depend upon it.

The haunting and mysterious words of the Ballad of Scarborough Fair take on new meaning in Impossible as Lucy, a young, determined, and modern heroine is faced with insurmountable odds. Werlin's prose is wonderfully magnetic; a pervading mix of magic, romance, and apprehension. Suspense is skillfully built throughout the book, and is sure to make readers squirm in excitement. Further knowledge of Lucy's ancestors might have added some appeal and interest to the story, but the lack of information on them does not detract from the story in any way. Werlin proves not only to be a captivating writer in Impossible, but also a uniquely clever and sensitive one as well as this unusual, romantic, and enchanting novel unfolds.

Four Questions with Nancy Werlin

What came to you first, the characters or the song?

Over ten years ago, it occurred to me that the puzzle embedded in the ancient ballad Scarborough Fair might make the framework for a novel, but without characters, that thought took me nowhere. It was many years before the appropriate set of characters came to me (and of course, I didn't know if they ever would). But then that vital part of the process happened all in a rush during winter and spring, 2006. This was a time in my life when I needed to believe in love, in counteracting malevolence, and in healing, a need that had everything to do with writing IMPOSSIBLE.

The first character to come was Padraig Seeley, the Elfin Knight and the novel's antagonist. Next came Lucy Scarborough, the heroine. Then, one after another, Lucy's mother, Miranda -- her foster parents, Soledad and Leo Markowitz-- and finally, far from least, Zach Greenfield, the true love.

Lucy's friend Sarah was a late addition, but I always do like to give my main characters a friend, and I realized at some point that having a true love didn't change one whit Lucy's need for a true friend.

By the way, early on in my YA career, I remember being told the truisms that "your characters have to solve their problems alone" and "get rid of the parents." Almost all YA novels treat these precepts like gospel. But I knew from the start that in IMPOSSIBLE I was going to smash those rules (which had always troubled me) as comprehensively and deliberately as if I'd gone after them with an axe.

(An essay that I wrote for Booklist about this, in the late 1990s, is here: http://archive.ala.org/
booklist/v95/youth/jul/55yatalk.html
)

But to return to your question -- the song inspired the characters, then, except for the quibble that MY version of the song (as distinct from the historic versions) came much later in the cycle, during the final draft in October 2007. I didn't have the specific verses until author and friend Franny Billingsley, bless her, who is talented for such things, helped me write the lyrics so that they actually would scan and could be sung.



Thanks, Nancy, and check back in with us next week to learn more about Lucy's ancestors!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

SLAM by Nick Hornby


Sam figures that his life is going pretty well. He's doing all right in school, he gets along with his mom, he has a great girlfriend, and is getting good at skateboarding. He has aspirations of attending college, unlike his mom, who had to drop out of school when she became pregnant with him. But all of his dreams come crashing down when his girlfriend Alicia tells him that she's pregnant...and she has no intention of getting rid of the baby.


Sam spooks. He goes into denial. When that doesn't work, he tries running away, physically and emotionally. And then, an unexplainable thing happens...while he dreams at night, he gets whizzed into the future and is shown an unexpected life that will force Sam to face the facts and take responsibility for his actions.


SLAM is a frank, vivid, and highly realistic take on teenage pregnancy from a point of view that is completely different from what many are accustomed to. Hornby doesn't waste time by working in lectures of the consequences of premarital sex, but instead gives us Sam, who is a little selfish, very scared, a bit ashamed, but ultimately a strong character who, through many trials and despite his own feelings, manages to pull himself together and attempt to be the best dad he can be--and is surprisingly good at it. The more unbelievable element of the story, Sam's visits to the future, gives the story just the right dash of unique appeal without seeming too implausible. Hornby does more than just give us an intriguing account of teen parenthood, but reveals each emotion, thought, and feeling with startling clarity and humor, until you understand and empathize with Sam. SLAM is a fascinating, compelling, and even poignant read that won't be soon forgotten.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Author Spotlight: Suzanne Harper


One thing that I’ve always admired in an author is their ability to stretch their writing talents and hop from genre to genre without losing their voice in the process. Suzanne Harper is such an author. Her first YA novel, The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney, is a modern day supernatural about a girl who can see ghosts, and in her second book, The Juliet Club, she does a 180 and writes a tangled love story that rivals the immortal tale of Romeo and Juliet. Either way, Suzanne Harper is a lively and entertaining author!

Suzanne Harper was born in Ohio, raised in Texas, and now lives in Manhattan. She is also the author of several non-fiction novels and plays, and two soon to be released Hannah Montana books.

The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney

Being the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter is no picnic for Sparrow Delaney, especially when her family resides in Lily Dale, a spiritualist community, and everyone in her family, from her grandmother to every one of her six older sisters, is a psychic. They all expect Sparrow to possess great powers too, but so far have remained disappointed. Unbeknownst to them though, Sparrow has actually been conversing with ghosts for ten years, and would give anything to make this certain gift go away.

So when given a chance to attend a large new high school in the next district, she eagerly grabs it, hoping to start fresh, where no one thinks she's odd. Things are going fine until she runs into Luke, a teenage ghost who insists that Sparrow help him. She refuses at first, unwilling to expose her secret. But as a ghost who has nothing to do but hang around forever, Luke will prove to be especially persistent...

Quirky, humorous, and full of tons of supernatural intrigue, The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney is a lively and entertaining read that carries across the message that being true to yourself is the only way to go. The spiritualistic aspect of the novel adds an engaging flair to the story and characters, and the plot moves at a good clip. Harper handles all the details and aspects of the story expertly, making them flow together seamlessly, giving the slightly overused plot a polished look. Fans of Meg Cabot’s The Mediator series will appreciate Sparrow and her adventures.


The Juliet Club

Kate Sanderson prides herself in being sensible. After an unfortunate romantic encounter that ended badly, she's resolved that no one needs romance until after they're out of school and have a career. Her friends despair of her ever falling in love, but for Kate, schoolwork is satisfying enough. So that's why when she wins a Shakespeare essay contest with an all expense paid trip to Verona, Italy to attend a seminar on the great Bard, the only thing she's got on her mind is enjoying her time there and working hard.
Kate is stunned to learn that rather that analyzing Shakespeare's text; she's expected to feel the meanings by acting it out with her classmates, and by answering letters seeking advice on love. This is hard enough without pompous Giacomo having to argue with her on everything. And when her other classmates conspire to play a prank on them, she'll have to work with him to outsmart them. But will the joke be on her?

The Juliet Club is a wonderfully fun and breezy read perfect for summertime. The trip of a lifetime comes alive in this cleverly constructed and formatted book that will ensure that readers devour it quickly. Though the first chapter is slightly awkward, but the numerous characters and their backgrounds make this novel appealing to everyone, and keep the story moving quickly. Throw in a few fun twists, Shakespearean sonnets, and a masquerade ball, and you have a light, funny, and uplifting romantic novel that won't soon be forgotten.


Check back in the next couple of days for an exclusive interview with Suzanne Harper, and a BIG contest with a chance to win copies of the books and other goodies!


Monday, September 1, 2008

Savvy Girl by Lynn Messina


Chrissy Gibbons plans on making it big, and has the perfect summer job to get her there: an internship at Savvy magazine, and a shot at becoming their first ever Savvy Girl columnist. Chrissy is ready to buckle down and endure some hard work, but is shocked and delighted when the legendary fashion editor and former model Jessica Cordero befriends her and invites her to all of the coolest parties. Caught up in the high of glamorous living, Chrissy begins to take risks to get what she wants—ones that could jeopardize her dreams, and alienate her friends.

Savvy Girl is a fresh and fun take on the magazine world that will delight girls seeking a light summer read that speaks to their aspirations and their way of life. Chrissy's world is one that many teen girls can relate to...one on the cusp of independence that's fraught with relationship and college preparation woes, the thrill of freedom, along with edgier elements of underage drinking.

While the idea of a fashion editor befriending a lowly intern is something that hasn't been explored very often, and offers a new and fun edge to the plot, all of the trademark elements of such books in this genre are present: the abandonment of friends, the fast paced routine, the inevitable crash and burn, and then the phoenix-like comeback. It makes the book a little predictable, but Messina has created Chrissy in such a way that girls won't but help love her despite the cliché. Savvy Girl is humorous and clever, and offers a message that between its covers that doesn't hurt to be repeated.