The Compulsive Reader: February 2011

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Timeless by Alexandra Monir

When Michele’s mother dies suddenly, she’s left without any family except for the grandparents her mother ran away from before Michele was born. Forced to leave her hometown of Los Angeles and live in her mother's stately childhood home in New York with strangers, Michele feels conspicuously out of place until a mysterious key somehow takes her back in time to her family home in 1910. There she meets Philip, the only person who is able to wake her up from the fog of grief she's been under since her mother died. Though she doesn't understand why or how it works, Michele continues to travel through the past, trying to protect Philip from a sad future and inadvertently uncovering a hidden mystery about her own past.

Timeless is a romantic, enchanting, and lyrical read that twists through time and history. Monir does such an excellent job of balancing the past and present and Michele's adventures in every time period she visits, from the Gilded Age and the Roaring Twenties to New York auditoriums of the 1940's. The time periods are all gorgeously described and vibrant, and the many characters Michele meets throughout time are wonderfully depicted. Michele's romance with Philip is rings true, and the music they share and make together is very sweet and emotional and makes the book more meaningful than other romantic reads. The pace of Timeless is excellent: just as Michele finds love and begins to open up again, she discovers hints and clues that indicate that more of her life and past are involved with time travel than she ever imagined, and this mystery lends itself to a few head-spinning mysteries and journeys through time that will draw you even further into the book. Monir beautifully captures Michele's emotions and her feelings of being caught up in a time in which she doesn't belong, and her yearning to be with the one who makes her feel like she's where she's meant to be—something that readers will be able to instantly identify with. Timeless will break your heart, take your breath away, and give you hope.

Cover Comments: I really like the blue of the cover, and the mist in the background. It does give the cover a "timeless" feel that is very romantic and mysterious. Beautiful!

Review copy provided by publisher.

One really awesome thing about this book is that Alexandra Monir, who is also a singer and a songwriter, produced the two songs that her main character "writes" in the book, "Bring the Color Back" and "Chasing Time"! You can find them in iTunes, and I definitely recommend looking them up and downloading them! They're gorgeous!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Guest Post from Sarwat Chadda!

Sarwat Chadda is the author of Devil's Kiss and it's recently released sequel, Dark Goddess. Both books are about the Knight's Templar and its youngest member, Billi. Today, Sarwat is here to discuss the use of religion in his books.

"Going Mythic"

I’ve always been fascinated by religion and mythology. I remember devouring the Greek myths when I was a kid, drawing Theseus fighting the minotaur, or Jason shooting arrows or Achilles duelling with Hector. I read about the Norse gods, the inescapable Ragnarok and the trickster Loki. Celtic myths followed with the dreaded Morrigan and then there was Indian mythology, the Arabian Nights, Egyptian, the list goes on and on.

What’s weird is after leaving my childhood soo far behind, those are the stories I still love.
The second interest, passion, is about religion. Not any specific, but all of them. Now I was brought up as a Muslim in a predominately Christian country so those are the two I’m most familiar with, and hence draw upon most heavily.

And you know what? They ain’t so different.

The more you discover stories, the more you realise they’ve been repeated elsewhere. Islam, Christianity claim a common Jewish origin which itself borrows heavily from earlier Middle-Eastern mythologies and histories. There’s been more than one baby found in the bull rushes and the December 25th is a popular birthday for various gods.

What’s interested me is the commonality between faiths. There’s enough noise going around about how different we all are, but I just don’t see it.

The Knights Templar were fanatical Christian warriors, but were betrayed and destroyed by the Church itself. Fellow Christians did to them what Saladin himself could not.

Hence Billi SanGreal, brought up as a Muslim and as a Christian. There’s more in common between the two religions than most people think, or perhaps would like to believe.

Mythology is stronger than history. The stories we believe about ourselves are more powerful than the proof that is lain before us. For better or for worse, we are creatures of stories, not so rational after all. We want to world to fill us with wonder, with the not-knowing. How stale it would all be if we understood it all.

So, when I decided to write Devil’s Kiss and Dark Goddess, I wanted the stories themselves to have a larger than life, mythic quality to them. Billi and her fellow knights live in a world of high stakes and of heroic proportions, I make no apologies about that. It’s what I love reading, so that’s what I love writing.

So, if you’ve read enough high-school dramas and stories set in small towns, and are looking for something mythic, something epic, I may have just that something for you.

The FitzOsbornes in Exile by Michelle Cooper

Sophie FitzOsborne and her family are forced to leave their island kingdom of Montmaray, the only home they've ever known, when the Nazis attack. Now living with their Aunt Charlotte in England, Sophie, Veronica, Toby, and Henry must adjust to a life that is the complete opposite of what they're used to. Henry is expected to act like girl, Veronica is expected to stay away from politics and snag a husband, and Toby—their king—is expected to finish school. Sophie, meanwhile, isn't sure of what she's supposed to do, but desperately wants to enlist help on getting Montmaray back from the Nazis. But getting anyone to pay attention to the FitzOsbornes—from the English government to the League of Nations—will turn out to be the greatest challenge yet. Who cares about a tiny island kingdom when the entire world is on the brink of war?

The FitzOsbornes in Exile has the same eccentric and lovable characters and humorous narrative as its prequel, but it is a bit more serious than A Brief History of Montmaray. Sophie and her family now know the danger of politics and the evil that the Germans are capable of, even before the rest of Europe fully realizes it. But that doesn't deter them from their goals, or cause them to lose their sense of humor. Sophie's account of their time spent in England, stretched out over two years in this deliciously thick book, is full of witty observations and social misadventures as well as more serious matters. Veronica is politically active, which gains her a reputation, enemies, and an assassination attempt. Toby is unwilling to study and learn what it takes to be a good king. The FitzOsbornes must figure out what they need to do with Simon, and Henry tests her governesses (and Aunt Charlotte) to their limits. There is also a great deal of politics in the novel, which may be a little confusing at first to the reader without any knowledge of the causes of World War II, but Cooper handles it well and keeps the confusion to a minimum while doing an excellent job at educating her readers about the political tensions in Europe, the Spanish Civil War, and other important events. For those readers who enjoyed the action of the prequel, there are a few good heart-pounding moments throughout the book, and a tense, dangerous, but ultimately triumphant ending. Cooper leaves the characters at a good place, but will have readers begging for the inevitable sequel. The FitzOsbornes in Exile is a quirky, charming, insightful, and poignant book, and Sophie is a smart, plucky heroine whose coming-of-age is a delight to read about.

Cover Comments: I just love the contrast of the pale colors with the red of the model's sash and lips. The title font is fabulous as well! To me, this cover conveys the model's apparent boredom well, which gives another meaning to the word "exile" in the title. Splendid cover!

The FitzOsbornes in Exile will be available on April 5th, 2011!

If you haven't read A Brief History of Montmaray, you can snag a hardcover copy here for only $6!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Reading Rants: Tea, Parasols, and Wit...What's Not to Love?

I usually try to keep this blog pretty YA focused, but every so often I read an "adult" book that I just love so much or is just too good not to share. And in this case, it's three books, all by the lovely and charming Gail Carriger. Her Parasol Protectorate books are simply divine. I ranted about the first book, Soulless, back last fall, and I loved it so much that I immediately shelled out the money for book two, Changeless.

Well, then a sad thing occurred. Life got in my way and refused to let me read it, being generally obnoxious as life sometimes is. I made lots of excuses and kept promising myself to read it. Yes, someday. Someday soon, because Ms. Carriger really is too funny for words. But Changeless sat there and sat there until finally I was in a reading slump and the back cover made me laugh so hard I (quite indelicately) inhaled my tea, and that was that.

All I have to say is, praise God for Amazon.com Student Program. And free two-day shipping. Because despite anticipating the time at which I would finish Changeless, I still did not order Blameless fast enough. And that was an ugly, sad day and a half, let me tell you.

Basically, Alexia Tarabotti is one of the most engaging, entertaining, and delightful heroines I've ever read. Ms. Carriger has this amazing talent for maintaining such a proper and polite tone throughout all of her books, no matter what is happening, but yet it's almost as if you never stop laughing for a single moment. For those of you who haven't had a chance to check out the books before, the series is about a (young) spinster, Alexia Tarabotti, living in 1870's steampunk London. She is very unfortunate socially because she is part Italian and soulless, which means she can render any supernatural being mortal by simply touching them. This makes her very fascinating to the vampires and scientists of her world, and very frustrating to Lord Maccoon, a werewolf and head of the Crown's supernatural agency.

The books are undoubtedly "adult", yet I can see where many YA readers can and have enjoyed them. (For anyone worried about content out there, when I say they are "adult", I mean that the characters are all adults and there is some sex. Not tons--I hate books in which the romance and sex dominates everything, but there is a little in each book.) Soulless could do very well standing on its own, but they story continues in Changeless and Blameless quite well, and doesn't get bogged down with the romance. There's an excellent plot and eccentric characters in each book, and the overall series continues to develop quite well. The only thing that's making me sad about the whole series is that book four, Heartless, doesn't come out until June, and then the final book, Timeless, won't arrive until 2012.

Nonetheless, if you are a fan of dry humor, tea, the paranormal, and steampunk, you really, really need to read these books!

(Plus, they're cheap paperbacks, and if you buy off of Amazon.com, they're eligible for the 4-for-3 promotion...which means you can buy the first three and get the fourth book for free when it comes out!)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Demonglass by Rachel Hawkins

Next Tuesday is the release day of Racehl Hawkins' Demonglass, the sequel to Hex Hall!

Sophie Mercer has always had troubles controlling her powers, and when she was forced to Hex Hall, she found out why: she's not a witch like she thought, but rather a demon. Now she's determined to remove her powers so that she won't run the risk of losing control and hurting anyone, but her father (and the only other demon in the world) intervenes. He demands that Sophie spend the summer with him in England before making up her mind. Without a say in the matter, Sophie heads to England with Jenna and Cal, only to make a few shocking discoveries about the Council and find that someone is raising demons. Meanwhile, The Eye and Archer Cross are still hunting for Sophie, forcing her to make some difficult--and potentially deadly--choices.

Rachel Hawkins has delivered a sharp and witty sequel that is even better than Hex Hall, and will generate as much laughter as it will suspense. Sophie's voice is hilarious, and her constant sarcasm, even in the face of danger and disaster, makes this series stand out. But all humor aside, another great part about this book is that Sophie is given the chance to start a genuine, meaningful relationship with her father, and once she gives him a chance, he doesn't turn out to be as odd or horrid as she initially suspected. Some other elements that keep Demonglass interesting are an unwelcome ghost, an unexpected betrothal, a pair of enigmatic new characters, and of course, the continuing tension between Sophie and Archer Cross, made even more dramatic by the revelation of Archer's true alliances. Hawkins raises the stakes as Sophie learns more about her demon powers and the political struggles among the Council, and there is plenty of drama leading to a climatic betrayal and showdown. Readers will be left squirming for a third book, especially when they discover the final twist Hawkins plants in the last pages--Demonglass is a whirlwind of mystery, magic, romance, and fun.

Cover Comments: I love the way this cover is similar to its prequel's. It's very British-looking, and the fire is very fitting, as readers will find out for themselves. Very cool!

ARC borrowed from the ever-fabulous Shanyn of chickloveslit.com!

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Dust of 100 Dogs by A.S. King

Emer Morrisey was a fierce pirate of the 17th century, feared by the Spanish ships she regularly plundered. But when she finally finds her true love, her life is cut short and she's cursed to live one hundred lifetimes as a dog. And so the centuries pass by, until she is born Saffron Adams, a human at last with all of her memories intact. She grows up incredibly smart, but always driven to take off the minute she turns eighteen and graduates so she can head to Jamaica and claim the loot she buried there before her death. But her family is maddeningly dependent on her, relying on Saffron's brains to lift them to a higher social and economic status. And when she does finally escape them, her memories and feelings blend with Emer's, and question is raised: is history fated to repeat itself?

The Dust of 100 Dogs is one of the most innovative and unexpected books in the YA genre. King realistically portrays the good and ugly sides of life for both Emer and Saffron, jumping back and forth between the two time periods. Emer's life was rough, and King doesn't withhold the gritty details of life for the Irish in the seventeenth century or the dangers a young woman alone in the world faced. Saffron's life isn't always pleasant either, despite living in the relative comfort of the twentieth century. Her family has high hopes for her and expects her to go to college, become a doctor, and support them financially. Saffron copes with her general frustration with life and people who irritate her by imagining torturing them in brutal ways. It's a bit of a morbid mannerism, but it is believable in her, and solidifies her character. The book is especially gripping towards the end as Saffron faces long-time enemies and grapples with her identity and her memories, and what they mean for her now, in the present. The ending, like the entire book, may be a tad bit unexpected, but it really is perfect. King is a talented, impeccable writer who manages to make the most unlikely of connections between her characters and reader—don't miss The Dust of 100 Dogs!

Cover Comments: Ah, this cover is so perfect! I love the color scheme, the title font, the skull, the girl...what's not to love?

Digital copy purchased--this one is cheap on Kindle!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Courtney's Launch!

I've been to a lot of awesome events during my years as a blogger and have met many awesome people, but Courtney Allison Moulton's launch party has been one of the most fun and well-attended of signings I've been to!

We started out the day by going out to lunch at a nearby restaurant. The hostess got a bit of a panicked look on her face when Shanyn (chickloveslit.com) told her we'd have 15 coming, but they put all of us bloggers (and authors Leah Clifford, who wrote A Touch Mortal, and Scott Tracey, who wrote Witch Eyes) up at two tables and we had loads of fun talking and making little paper hats (Courtney) and laughing and generally being that one table that the rest of the patrons always look at.

Courtney reading!
Then it was party time!

There were a couple of huge towers of copies of Angelfire around the store--a total of 95 copies. And...the store sold out completely! Woooooo! That is totally awesome for Courtney, especially since she is a debut novelist!

From left to right: Aimee, Erica, Kristi, Alex, and DJ!
The signing area was standing room only for us! Shanyn, Kristi (thestorysiren.com), Sara (thehidingspot.blogspot.com), Katie (sophistikatied.blogspot.com), Erica (thebookcellar.blogspot.com), Chelsea (thepageflipper.blogspot.com), Stacey (pageturners.com), Scott, Leah, Devyn Burton, and I all stood/sat on the floor in the very back while Courtney gave her talk, answered questions, and read from a scene in Angelfire in which Ellie kicks some major butt!

Courtney and I!
After that, root beer floats were served (which were very appropriate considering that they're the favorite of a certain character in Angelfire...) and the signing line formed, which was looooooong! We also caught up with a couple of other bloggers and authors, including Amy Huntley (who wrote The Everafter and told us she's working on something else too!), Aimée Carter (who wrote The Goddess Test, which comes out in April), and blogger/writer DJ, who has a book coming out in August! It was surprising how many different authors and bloggers came out to support Courtney, but totally awesome too. Today was one of those days in which the awesome-ness of the YA community really shone through.

Shanyn and Courtney!
We had a lot of time while waiting in line for Courtney, but it was great because it gave us a chance to talk and really get to know each other. And then, of course, there was the book shopping. Browsing through a bookstore is just so much fun if you have 10+ book bloggers and YA authors around to talk with...but it does make it a little hard to decide on what to get!

And...a group shot! This isn't even all of the bloggers that came out, I think we're missing a couple!

Group shot!

Now, go buy Angelfire!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Join the Party!

Hey all,

Just a quick reminder that Courtney Allison Moulton's launch party for her debut book, Angelfire, is TODAY! If you live in the Lansing, MI area, come out to Schuler's Book and Music and join the fun! There's going to be a TON of us bloggers, authors, and readers there to support her! So, don't be lame, come listen to Courtney speak, get your book signed, and grab a root beer float! The party starts at 2!

See you there!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Guest Blog from Clare Dunkle!

I really like reading about werewolves. They've always been a little creepy to me before they became popular in literature, and I love seeing what authors do with them in their books. Clare Dunkle (The House of Dead Maids), for instance, has taken werewolves and given them a very interesting twist with her unique setting: the Scottish highlands. By These Ten Bones is an atmospheric and tangible read, full of history, lore, and superstition and I highly recommend it.

Clare was nice enough to stop by and tell us a bit more about her research and writing process!

When I first puzzled out the plot of my werewolf story, BY THESE TEN BONES, I knew that I wanted to have a witch trial, and I wanted one of the characters to remember a friend who had been burned at the stake for heresy. Now, witch trials were, by and large, a Protestant phenomenon, while the burning of heretics was commonly associated with the Catholic church. But when I started doing research, I discovered that these two plot details presented a very big problem. The century in which these details could overlap was a time of bloody warfare between the two religions. The only place I could find that was peaceful enough for these two plot elements to coexist was the medieval Highlands of Scotland.

A book set in the Highlands. When I was a teenager, I had read books set in the Highlands. They were cheap paperbacks, and they stood in wire racks in the old Fultz’s store on the town square. There on the covers were the Highlanders, swathed in bright plaid, clutching fainting women in their well-muscled arms. From what I remembered, those books didn’t have much to do with Scottish history, although they did manage to work the word “bonny” into conversation from time to time.

This memory soured me on my new manuscript. As a young teen, I had enjoyed reading these books. But as an adult, I REALLY didn’t want to write one.

So I set out to learn about the real Highlanders. I read as much about them as I could. And the more I read, the more I realized that this was in fact the perfect place to set a dangerous werewolf romance. The real medieval Highlanders were every bit as daring, courageous, clever, and ardent as those cheap paperbacks had made them out to be. But even better, they were immensely superstitious.Medieval Highlanders believed that theyshared the earth with angels, devils, monsters, Fair Folk, and ancient demigods. Records indicate that the Scottish courts processed three thousand accusations of witchcraft. What better place could there be for a werewolf?

I dragged my family across the Highlands in a rental car, driving on the wrong side of the road and visiting living history museums. We bought as many books as our luggage could hold and soaked up local customs. My husband learned firsthand why it’s a bad idea to stand up straight inside a historic Highland “black house.” (The smoke is thickest by the ceiling, so the best chair in the house has the shortest legs.) You can see the photographs from that journey here:

By the time we went on our Highland tour, I had crammed so many facts about Scotland in my head that one museum docent thought I was a history professor. But that still wasn’t enough to wipe out my memory of those lusty Highland romance novels, so I got the bright idea to ask for a volunteer to help me check for my manuscript for errors. Imagine my anxiety whenone of the world’s foremost experts on the medieval Highlands agreed to read my werewolf tale. R. Ross Noble had spent decades guiding field studies and archeological preservation in the Highlands, and he had curated the Highland Folk Museum for twenty-five years. He had been asked to give expert advice on the movie “Braveheart,” too, and he told me with an air of gracious affability that he was not offended by the final result.

I thought,“If that’s the kindest thing he can find to say about my manuscript, I think I’ll slash my wrists.”

A weeklong panic followed, during which Mr. Noble emailed me cheerful little notes. I don't think I mentioned it,” read one, “but many years (decades!) ago I did my graduate dissertation in Scottish history on the Scottish Witch Trials.  So I will look at your ‘take’ on witches with particular interest.”

“I can’t believe I got myself into this!” I groaned to my longsuffering husband when I read that. “Green Day was right—I’m an American idiot!”But there was no way to bow out gracefully at that point. The manuscript was already in the mail.

To my immense relief, Mr. Noble loved BY THESE TEN BONES, and his contributions added to it greatly. At each reading I become more impressed with the work,” he wrote me. “I have felt on these recent readings that the book feels ‘Scottish’.  It has a cultural resonance which not even all Scottish authors manage to achieve.”

I walked on air for weeks after getting that letter. But then I started to worry. Cultural resonance hadn’t interested me when I was picking reading material as a teen. Why would it interest my readers?

So I arranged for another group of experts to help me out—a group of expert teens. A troop of Girl Scouts read my manuscript for me, and they enjoyed BY THESE TEN BONES too.

“It was like a Harry Potter book,” wrote one of the girls. “I couldn’t stop reading it.”

To a YA novelist, there is no higher praise.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Splendor by Anna Godbersen

It's been a tumultuous year for some of New York's most fashionable young ladies. To hide her delicate condition, Elizabeth Holland has married her father's business partner for security and protection from scandal. Her sister Diana has cut her hair and quit New York to go after her love, Henry, who was forced into an unhappy marriage with the duplicitous Penelope Hayes. Meanwhile, Carolina Broad is steadily moving towards her happily ever after...if the truth about her humble origins can stay hidden. But if there's anything that these ladies have learned, it’s that life doesn't go the way you plan, and getting everything you wanted isn't the same thing as happily ever after.

Like Godbersen's previous books, Splendor has glamour, drama, and intrigue, but really feels more like an extended conclusion than an actual story. Elizabeth seems to take a more passive role in the book, and compared to her previous escapades, her journey from learning the truth about her husband's death and her current marriage to when she actually takes control of her own life is a little anti-climatic. Readers who love to hate Penelope will be indignant at her behavior but will be happy to see her finally get what's coming to her, even if her fate isn't at all what they expected. Lina struggles with the truth, but readers will be pleased when she finally succumbs to it and reconciles with her sister. Her happy ending is also unexpected, but a good one. Diana continues to stand out in this book as an adventurous, smart, and fiercely independent young lady. She's truly a woman of a new era, unyielding when it comes to her ideals and strong when it comes to life's challenges. Splendor is a novel about growing up, suffering the consequences of your actions, figuring out the truth, and taking control of your life. It's unexpected but very appropriate ending will please fans of the series.

Cover Comments: As always these covers are just magnificent! I love the dresses, the colors, everything!

Read the other books in the series: The Luxe, Rumors, and Envy! And the boxed set is only $16!

Review copy purchased.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Cover Talk: Sweet Venom Reveal!

If you are a fan of Tera Lynn Childs (author of Oh. My. Gods. and Forgive My Fins), then you'll be happy to know that she's coming out with a brand new trilogy, and the first book is Sweet Venom. And here is the cover:

Pretty, no?

There's not too much info yet, but this one will be hitting stores in October. It is about three teenage descendants of Medusa, the once-beautiful gorgon maligned by myth, who must reunite and embrace their fates in a world where monsters lurk in plain sight.

So exciting! Put this one on your wishlist!