Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (Published by Random House, July 10, 2012)

Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty's anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.
Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen's Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.
In her exquisitely written fantasy debut, Rachel Hartman creates a rich, complex, and utterly original world. Seraphina's tortuous journey to self-acceptance is one readers will remember long after they've turned the final page.

I can't wait to read this book! I wish there were more YA high fantasy books. And this one has dragons! It sounds so awesome.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

In My Mailbox - 12/24/11

Credit goes to The Story Siren for creating and hosting the In My Mailbox feature.

I just got one book this week. I won it from a contest and I am super excited to read it.

Gilt by Katherine Longshore

In the Tudor age, ambition, power and charismatic allure are essential and Catherine Howard has plenty of all three. Not to mention her loyal best friend, Kitty Tylney, to help cover her tracks. Kitty, the abandoned youngest daughter of minor aristocracy, owes everything to Cat – where she is, what she is, even who she is. Friend, flirt, and self-proclaimed Queen of Misrule, Cat reigns supreme in a loyal court of girls under the none-too-watchful eye of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk.
When Cat worms her way into the heart of Henry VIII and becomes Queen of England, Kitty is thrown into the intoxicating Tudor Court. It’s a world of glittering jewels and elegant costumes, of gossip and deception. As the Queen’s right-hand-woman, Kitty goes from the girl nobody noticed to being caught between two men – the object of her affection and the object of her desire.
But the atmosphere of the court turns from dazzling to deadly, and Kitty is forced to learn the difference between trust and loyalty, love and lust, secrets and treason. And to accept the consequences when some lessons are learned too late.

Friday, December 23, 2011

My post for the 2012 YA/MG Fantasy Challenge

I wasn't really planning to join anymore 2012 reading challenges, but I came across the YA/MG Fantasy Challenge hosted by The Book Cellar. And I decided to give it a try, because I'd love to read more fantasy. The goal is to read 10 YA or MG fantasy novels published in 2012.

Books I have read so far:
1. Dragonswood by Janet Lee Carey
2. Princess of the Wild Swans by Diane Zahler
3. A Temptation of Angels by Michelle Zink
4. Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
5. Eye of the Sword by Karen Henley
6. Spell Sisters: Sophia the Flame Sister by Amber Castle
7. Spell Sisters: Lily the Forest Sister by Amber Castle

Here is the list of books I will possibly read for the challenge. Books in italics I already have an ARC or other copy of:

Wings of the Wicked by Courtney Allison Moulton
Of Poseidon by Anna Banks
Enchanted by Alethea Kontis
Daughter of the Centaurs by Kate Klimo
When the Sea is Rising Red by Cat Hellisen
Incarnate by Jodi Meadows
Queen of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
Crown of Embers by Rae Carson (need to read book 1 before book 2 is published)
Above by Lea Bobet
Shadowell by Juliet Marrillier
Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes
Shadows Cast By Stars by Cathering Knutsson
The Princess of Trelian by Michelle Knudsos
Defiance by C.J. Redwine
Allegience by Cayla Kluver
Daughters of the Sea: Lucy by Kathryn Lasky
Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen
Stolen Away by Alyxandra Harvey
The Grave Robber's Apprentice by Allan Stratton
Warrior Princess: Caradoc of the North Wind by Frewin Jones

End of year wrap-up post for 2011 reading challenges

For the first time, I decided to do a post for the end of the year to write about how I did on my 2011 reading challenges. I tried for three different reading challenges. One was my general reading challenge on Goodreads. I also participated in the Young Adult Historical Fiction Challenge and the Debut Author Challenge.

For the Goodreads challenge, I started with a goal of 75 books, which I later downsized to 55 books. As of today, December 23, I have read 56 books. I'll probably read a couple more and end at 57-59. So I didn't make my original goal, but read slightly more than my revised goal.

The second challenge I participated in was the Young Adult Historical Fiction Challenge. My goal was 15 books (the highest level) and I ended up reading 45. So most of what I read this year was either historical fiction or historical fantasy.

The third and final challenge was the Debut Author Challenge. I'm not sure how many books I was supposed to read, but I read four 2011 debuts in 2011. I also read 4 in 2010 (ARCs or foreign editions) that I couldn't count, and I read an ARC of one book that got delayed to a 2012 release date, so I can't use that for either the 2011 or 2012 challenge now. So I don't think I did that well. I am trying again and hope to do better with this challenge next year.

How did everyone else do on their 2011 reading challenges?

Book review: Dear America: Behind the Masks by Susan Patron

Dear America: Behind the Masks by Susan Patron (Published by Scholastic, January 1, 2012)

Fourteen-year-old Angeline Reddy lives in the wild mining town of Bodie, California, in 1880. Her father is a famous criminal defense lawyer who is known for having never lost a case. But when he is presumed murdered, Angie doesn't believe it, and neither does her mother. Many people could have wanted her father dead, but Angie is sure he is alive and in hiding.

Angie is determined to solve the mystery of what happened to her father, but it will be difficult. Bodie is wild and dangerous, and a gang of vigilantes is causing trouble in town. On top of everything else, her mother is ill, and there seems to be a ghost haunting their house. Can Angie, with the help of her friends, solve the mystery in time?

Behind the Masks is a bit different than other books in the Dear America series. It's still written in the usual diary format, but instead of being about just the daily life of a young girl from an important place or time in American history, this particular book has a strong central plot, which is Angie solving the mystery of what happened to her father. As a result, it didn't seem as much like a "real" diary, since the diary entries are really long (since it's a 300 page book set over about four weeks). I still really enjoyed the book, and recommend it to readers who love historical fiction set in the Old West, but at times it didn't seem much like a Dear America book.

My top ten new releases I am looking forward to in 2012

There are lots of great books I am looking forward to in the upcoming year, so I thought I'd make a list of the ten I want to read the most, to go along with my list of my ten favorite books I read in 2011. These are in no particular order, since I couldn't decide how to rank them - it was hard enough to pick just ten! All links go to Goodreads, if you would like to find out more about each book.

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diane Peterfreund

Why I can't wait to read it: It's a dystopian retelling of a Jane Austen novel. And it's a standalone. I am so tired of everything being a series. YA needs more standalones!

Courtship and Curses by Marissa Doyle

Why I can't wait to read it: I loved Marissa Doyle's first two books, Bewitching Season and Betraying Season, so I can't wait to read her third book. I think this one is a prequel to the other two books.

Magic Under Stone by Jaclyn Dolamore

Why I can't wait to read it: I loved book one, Magic Under Glass, as well as the author's standalone novel, Between the Sea and Sky. So I can't wait to find out what happens to the characters!

The Academie by Susanne Dunlap

Why I can't wait to read it: I love Susanne Dunlap's YA historical fiction. The characters, settings, and stories are always great!

The Girl in the Mask by Marie-Louise Jensen

Why I can't wait to read it: Marie-Louise Jensen is another one of my favorite YA historical fiction authors. She always picks wonderful historical settings for her stories, and I love the characters and romance.

Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen

Why I can't wait to read it: It's about a girl thief designed as a boy who joins up with Robin Hood and his band. Sounds awesome!

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

It's a YA high fantasy. With dragons. And magic and castles and royalty. And did I mention dragons? Enough said.

Wentworth Hall by Abby Grahame

Why I can't wait to read it: It sounds a lot like the Luxe series by Anna Godbersen, which I loved. Plus it's set in England in 1912, which makes it even better!

Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard

Why I can't wait to read it: Because it's a YA historical with zombies. Am I totally geeky for thinking that sounds completely awesome?

The Legacy of Trill: Soulbound by Heather Brewer

Why I can't wait to read it: It's a YA fantasy that actually sounds original and is set in a fantasy world instead of the usual urban fantasy with werewolves or vampires.

So those are the ten new books I'm most looking forward to reading in 2012. What upcoming releases are you eager to read?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

My top ten favorite books of 2011

Just like last year, I read a lot of great books in 2011, so I had a hard time choosing my ten favorites, but here they are. They are in a random order, it was hard enough picking ten, so I decided not to rank them.

Fateful by Claudia Gray

I love books set on the Titanic, but I wasn't sure what to think about the premise of werewolves on the Titanic. But I ending up loving Fateful - it's probably my favorite paranormal romance *ever.* The romance between Tess and Alec, the two main characters, was adorable and I loved the setting on the Titanic. (reviewed here)

Dear America: Cannons at Dawn by Kristiana Gregory

The Winter of Red Snow was one of the first books I read in the Dear America series, and one of my favorites from the entire series. So I was very excited to read the sequel, and I was not disappointed. Cannons at Dawn has now joined the first book about Abigail on my list of favorites from the Dear America series. (reviewed here)

The Merchant's Daughter by Melanie Dickerson

A retelling of Beauty and the Beast, set in Medieval England. I enjoyed this book even more than the author's first book, The Healer's Apprentice, which was on my top ten favorites list last year. (reviewed here)

Between the Sea and Sky by Jaclyn Dolamore

This very original YA fantasy tells the story of the romance between a mermaid and a winged boy, who must find a way to be together despite their very different worlds. (reviewed here)

Darker Still by Leanna Renee Heiber

Another very original YA fantasy, this book is set in 19th century New York City and is about a young woman named Natalie, who has been mute since her mother's death when she was a little girl. She falls in love with a mysterious young man who is trapped in a painting. (reviewed here)

The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell

This book is one of my favorite fairy tale retellings ever. It is a retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses story, set in Medieval Romania. Reveka, the main character, is a delightful and entertaining narrator, and I loved the unique historical setting. (reviewed here)

Forgiven by Janet Fox

Kula has had a hard life and dreams of something more. So she travels to San Francisco in 1906, wanting a better life. She finds adventure, romance, and mystery, but also learns some hard truths about life. (reviewed here)

In the Shadow of the Lamp by Susanne Dunlap

After she loses her job as a servant, sixteen-year-old Molly stows away to become a nurse with Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War. She must confront the harsh reality of war as she struggles with her feelings for two very different men. (reviewed here)

Sigrun's Secret by Marie-Louise Jensen

Marie-Louise Jensen is one of my favorite authors of YA historical fiction, and her most recent book is no exception. Her books always have great characters and interesting historical settings. Sigrun's Secret is set in Iceland and Jorvik (now York, England) in the 9th century. (reviewed here)

Small Acts of Amazing Courage by Gloria Whelan

I started reading Gloria Whelan's historical fiction when I was a child, and many years later I still enjoy her new books. This book is the story of fifteen-year-old Rosalind, a girl who has grown up in Indian with her British parents during the time of World War I. She longs to make a difference in the world, but her parents don't understand and force her to visit England to live for a while with her aunts. (reviewed here)

So that's my top ten favorite books of 2011! If you also posted about your favorite books from this year, feel free to share a link in a comment - I'd love to take a look!

My 2012 YA Historical fiction challenge post

I completed this challenge last year and really enjoyed it (since historical fiction is my favorite genre), so I am glad YA Bliss is hosting it again. You can read more about the challenge and sign up here.

Once again, I am going for level 3, which is to read at least 15 YA & MG historical fiction books. This year, I think I read around 40, maybe I'll get 50 next year! Here is my list of books read as well as a tenative list of some of the books I hope to read, I split it into books I already have a copy of, and upcoming releases I am looking forward to. It's a long list but I hope to read a lot of these. Most of these are historical fiction, but a few are historical fantasy.

1. Dragonswood by Janet Lee Carey
2. The Pirate Captain's Daughter by Eve Bunting
3. My Story: No Way Back by Valerie Wilding
4. A Temptation of Angels by Michelle Zink
5. Gilt by Katherine Longshore
6. Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
7. Making Bombs for Hitler by Marsha Forchuk Skypruch
8. Dear Canada: Torn Apart by Susan Aihoshi
9. Our Australian Girl: Meet Nellie by Penny Matthews
10. The Last Song by Eva Wiseman
11. The Gathering Storm by Robin Bridges
12. The Hidden Gold: A Marie-Grace Mystery by Sarah Masters Buckey
13. My Story: Wartime Princess by Valerie Wilding
14. Forget Me Not by Sue Reid
15. Sisters of Glass by Stephanie Hemphill

And the books I hope to read:

Books I already have:
Beautiful Days by Anna Godbersen
The Wild Queen by Carolyn Meyer
The Springsweet by Saundra Mitchell
Ladies in Waiting by Laura Sullivan
Farmer Boy Goes West by Heather Williams
A Forest of Gold by Courtney Maika
Vice and Virtue by Veronica Bennett
The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coates
The Watch That Ends the Night by Allan Wolf
Just a Girl by Jane Caro
Promise the Night by Michaela MacColl
Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood
The Traitor's Kiss by Pauline Francis
The Rogue's Princess by Eve Edwards
Lights on the Nile by Donna Jo Napoli
River of Time series by Lisa Tawn Bergren
Velvet by Mary Hooper
Bracelet of Bones by Kevin Crossley Holland
The Faerie Ring by Tiki Hamilton
Cleopatra's Moon by Vicky Alvear Shecter
Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury
The Lost Crown by Sarah Miller
Crusade by Linda Press Wulf
Cleopatra Confesses by Carolyn Meyer
Secret Letters by Leah Scheier
Scarlet by AC Gaughen
The Mastermind Plot by Angie Frazier
The Academie by Susanne Dunlap
Daughters of the Sea: Lucy by Kathryn Lasky
The Girl in the Mask by Marie-Louise Jensen
Courtship and Curses by Marissa Doyle
My Story: Berlin Olympics by Vince Cross
Pendragon Legacy: Sword of Light by Katherine Roberts
All Fall Down by Sally Nicholls
Violins of Autumn by Amy McAuley

Upcoming releases:
Victoria Rebels by Carolyn Meyer
Witchstruck by Victoria Lamb
Changeling by Philippa Gregory YA novel
Seeking Eden by Ann Turnbull
The Lucky Ones by Anna Godbersen
Odette's Secrets by Maryann MacDonald
Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl
My Story: Lady Jane Grey by Sue Reid
My Story: Nowhere to Run by Carol Drinkwater
Wentworth Hall by Abby Grahame
Spy for the Queen of Scots by Theresa Breslin
Venom by Fiona Paul
Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard
Voyage of the Sea Wolf by Eve Bunting

Book review: May B. by Caroline Starr Rose

May B. by Caroline Starr Rose (Published by Schwartze & Wade, January 10, 2012)

Twelve-year-old May lives on the Kansas prairie in the 1870s. She wants to be a teacher when she is old enough, but she has trouble reading. She understands the lessons, but when she tries to read, the words get all mixed up. Her parents have decided that to help out the family, May has to go work for the Oblingers, a married couple who live nearby, for a few months. She will have to leave school and not see her family that whole time.

Shortly after arriving, Mrs. Oblinger, who came from back east and hates the prairie, decides to leave her husband and return home. Her husband goes to follow her, and never returns. May is left all alone in the Oblingers' soddy. When they never reutrn, she doesn't know what to do, because it would take an entire day to walk home and she is afraid she will get lost. So she decides to try and survive on her own until her father comes for her. But then winter comes early, and May must find a way to survive, trapped in the middle of nowhere with dwindling supplies of fuel and food.

This novel is written in verse format. I haven't read many verse novels, but I think the format fit this story well, particularly when May described her struggles with reading (although the condition was not known at the time, May had dyslexia). Because of the format, this was a very quick read, and I wish it had been a bit longer, because I wanted to read more about what happened to May. However, I did really enjoy the book, and would recommend it to readers who enjoyed the Little House on the Prairie and Dear America series.

Disclosure: Review copy provided by publisher.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Courtship and Curses by Marissa Doyle

Courtship and Curses by Marissa Doyle (Published by Henry Holt, August 7, 2012)

Sophie’s entrance into London society isn’t what she thought it would be: Mama isn’t there to guide her, Papa is buried in his work fighting Napoleon, and Sophie’s newly acquired limp keeps her from dancing at any of those glittering balls. If it weren’t for her shopping escapades with her new French friend Amélie and a flirtation with the dashing Lord Woodbridge, she would think this season a complete disaster.
But when someone uses magic to attack Papa the night of Sophie’s first ball, her problems escalate, especially when it becomes clear that all the members of the War Cabinet are being targeted. Can she catch the culprit and keep her own magic powers hidden long enough to win herself a match?

I loved the other two books by this author (Bewitching Season & Betraying Season) so I can't wait to read book three!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

In My Mailbox - 12/17/11

Credit goes to The Story Siren for creating and hosting the In My Mailbox feature.

This is actually a few weeks of books. I haven't posted an IMM in a while because I've pretty much been sick since Thanksgiving. I got a lot of books this week, so I decided to finally post another IMM.

Eye of the Sword by Karyn Henley

Where angels walk the ground and the future is told in song, does a man of low rank have a chance at love with a princess?
In Camrithia, a land of shadows and mystical secrets, Trevin lives to serve King Laetham. But his heart belongs to the princess, Melaia. When the King sends Trevin on on a dangerous quest to find the missing comains—captains in the king’s army—he must leave Melaia to the advances of a swaggering Dregmoorian prince.
Challenged to prove his worth, Trevin throws himself into his quest. Striving to prove his love, Trevin undertakes a second mission—find the harps Melaia seeks in order to restore the stairway to heaven. Through fire caves, rogue winds, and murderous threats, Trevin remains steadfastly dedicated to his quest—even when he is falsely accused of a heinous crime. As Trevin’s time runs out, he realizes he must face the shame and horror of his own past and the nightmare that has come to life. Will he have the courage to finish what he has started?

May B. by Caroline Starr Rose

I've known it since last night:
It's been too long to expect them to return.
Something's happened.

May is helping out on a neighbor's Kansas prairie homestead—just until Christmas, says Pa. She wants to contribute, but it's hard to be separated from her family by 15 long, unfamiliar miles. Then the unthinkable happens: May is abandoned. Trapped in a tiny snow-covered sod house, isolated from family and neighbors, May must prepare for the oncoming winter. While fighting to survive, May's memories of her struggles with reading at school come back to haunt her. But she's determined to find her way home again. Caroline Starr Rose's fast-paced novel, written in beautiful and riveting verse, gives readers a strong new heroine to love.

Struck by Jennifer Bosworth

Mia Price is a lightning addict. She’s survived countless strikes, but her craving to connect to the energy in storms endangers her life and the lives of those around her.
Los Angeles, where lightning rarely strikes, is one of the few places Mia feels safe from her addiction. But when an earthquake devastates the city, her haven is transformed into a minefield of chaos and danger. The beaches become massive tent cities. Downtown is a crumbling wasteland, where a traveling party moves to a different empty building each night, the revelers drawn to the destruction by a force they cannot deny. Two warring cults rise to power, and both see Mia as the key to their opposing doomsday prophecies. They believe she has a connection to the freak electrical storm that caused the quake, and to the far more devastating storm that is yet to come.
Mia wants to trust the enigmatic and alluring Jeremy when he promises to protect her, but she fears he isn’t who he claims to be. In the end, the passion and power that brought them together could be their downfall. When the final disaster strikes, Mia must risk unleashing the full horror of her strength to save the people she loves, or lose everything.

Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne

Fourteen kids. One superstore. A million things that go wrong.
A huge store isn’t the worst place to be stranded. There’s food and water, bedding and books. But what if it’s not safe to leave? Emmy Laybourne had us from the get-go with her utterly fresh and fast-paced debut.
Six high school kids (some popular, some not), two eighth graders (one a tech genius), and six little kids are trapped together in a chain superstore. Together they build a refuge for themselves inside, while outside, a series of escalating disasters, beginning with a monster hailstorm and ending with a chemical weapon spill, seems to be tearing the world—as they know it—apart.

Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama

Fierce, seductive mermaid Syrenka falls in love with Ezra, a young naturalist. When she abandons her life underwater for a chance at happiness on land, she is unaware that this decision comes with horrific and deadly consequences. Almost one hundred forty years later, seventeen-year-old Hester meets a mysterious stranger named Ezra and feels overwhelmingly, inexplicably drawn to him. For generations, love has resulted in death for the women in her family. Is it an undiagnosed genetic defect . . . or a curse? With Ezra’s help, Hester investigates her family’s strange, sad history. The answers she seeks are waiting in the graveyard, the crypt, and at the bottom of the ocean—but powerful forces will do anything to keep her from uncovering her connection to Syrenka and to the tragedy of so long ago.

Of Poseidon by Anna Banks

Emma and her friend Chloe are spending vacation in Florida. When Emma (literally) runs into a hot guy named Galen on the beach, little does she know he’s a prince of the Syrena. Galen and Emma both feel something strange – is it attraction? – and Galen suspects that Emma might well be the girl he’s heard of – a human who can communicate with fish.
What follows is a deadly scene with a shark in which Galen witnesses Emma’s gifts. He must know more about her, and follows her back to New Jersey, and high school, to find out for sure if she’s the key to saving his kingdom. Soon, Emma can’t deny her feelings for him, but can’t explain them, either – and both she and Galen must learn more about where she comes from and what her powers are before they can trust one another and their feelings.

Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare

In the magical underworld of Victorian London, Tessa Gray has at last found safety with the Shadowhunters. But that safety proves fleeting when rogue forces in the Clave plot to see her protector, Charlotte, replaced as head of the Institute. If Charlotte loses her position, Tessa will be out on the street—and easy prey for the mysterious Magister, who wants to use Tessa’s powers for his own dark ends.
With the help of the handsome, self-destructive Will and the fiercely devoted Jem, Tessa discovers that the Magister’s war on the Shadowhunters is deeply personal. He blames them for a long-ago tragedy that shattered his life. To unravel the secrets of the past, the trio journeys from mist-shrouded Yorkshire to a manor house that holds untold horrors, from the slums of London to an enchanted ballroom where Tessa discovers that the truth of her parentage is more sinister than she had imagined. When they encounter a clockwork demon bearing a warning for Will, they realize that the Magister himself knows their every move—and that one of their own has betrayed them.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

My 2012 Debut Author Challenge post

I am going to try this challenge again this year. Last year I kind of failed and only read like six books or something like that from my list. Hopefully, this year I do better. I really want to read a lot of the books on my list, so I'm hoping to improve. The Debut Author Challenge is hosted by the Story Siren and you learn more and sign up for the challenge here.

Books read so far:
1. Gilt by Katherine Longshore
2. Dear Canada: Torn Apart by Susan Aihoshi
3. The Gathering Storm by Robin Bridges

Here's my tentative list of books I hope to read:

Incarnate by Jodi Meadows
Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen
Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi
Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood
The Selection by Kiera Cass
The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coates
Ripper by Amy Carol Reeves
Struck by Jennifer Bosworth
Of Poseidon by Anna Banks
Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard
Venom by Fiona Paul
Queen of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
Defiance by C.J. Redwine
Wentworth Hall by Abby Grahame
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Books in bold, I have already read. If I have reviewed the book, you can click the title for a link to my review.

Books in italic, I have a copy, but haven't read it yet.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Wentworth Hall by Abby Grahame

Wentworth Hall by Abby Grahame (Published by Simon & Schuster, May 1, 2012)

The Darlington family is among Edwardian Britain’s most revered,
but underneath this façade of respectability hides secrets that could mean their ruin. Lord and Lady Darlington’s seat at Wentworth Hall is one of England’s oldest estates, but the servants have been whispering about the lack of hands (and funds) for the upkeep of the grand manor. Are the Darlingtons hoping to find 18-year-old Maggie a wealthy husband? Is that why newly moneyed Teddy Fitzhugh, whose father recently drowned in the sinking of the Titanic, has been invited to stay? His visit-and the complete change in Maggie’s personality since her return from a year abroad in France-gives the ever-curious staff even more reason to gossip than usual. When scandalous satires start appearing in the newspaper with details suspiciously similar to the goings on of Wentworth Hall, the Darlingtons are determined to keep their secrets to themselves and their affairs (both private and public) in order. And the first order of business is finding the culprit. But where to start? Downstairs among the staff? Or should the Darlingtons look even closer to home . . .
Abby Grahame’s debut novel mixes the teen appeal of series like
Gossip Girl and The Luxe with the upper-class drama of the hit BBC series Downton Abbey.

This book sounds a lot like the Luxe series but set in England (the publisher's summary even compares it to that series) so I can't wait to read it, since I loved those books.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Interview with Tracy Barrett, author of Dark of the Moon

Tracy Barrett is the author of Dark of the Moon, a retelling of the myth of the minotaur. I previously reviewed the book and you can read my review here. To learn more about Tracy and her books, you can also visit her website.

What inspired you to write a more "realistic" version of the myth of the minotaur?

The minotaur myth as we know it is a garbled retelling by Greek travelers (traders, sailors, whatever) of the religion of ancient Crete, an island that is now part of Greece but that in the Bronze Age was a foreign country to the mainland Greeks. The Cretans worshipped the moon, perhaps as a cow, and the sun in the form of a bull-god. The Greek travelers must have seen a ritual where a shaman or priest wearing a bull's-head mask ritually wed a priestess of the moon, and came back with a strange story of a half-man, half-bull that ate people (the Cretans might have practiced human sacrifice, but even if they didn't, it was in the best interests of the Greeks to cast their rivals, the Cretans, in the worst possible light).

The story we have is full of inconsistencies.

Why would you keep a man-eating monster in a labyrinth? The minotaur wasn't too bright but surely after years and years of confinement, he'd find his way out.
Why would Theseus sail home with a black sail on his ship, after telling his father that a black sail would mean that he had died? Would you really forget to hang a white sail?
Why would his father commit suicide upon seeing the black sail, when he had sent his son (whom he hadn't bothered to meet until he was a teenager) to certain death? Could he possibly have been surprised that he had supposedly died?

Why did Theseus take Ariadne, the minotaur's sister, away with him, and then dump her on the island of Naxos? If he didn't want her, why not just leave her on Crete?

And also, there are no motivations given for the actions of any of the characters in the story, except Theseus, whose motivation in killing the minotaur is to avoid getting eaten.

So I wanted to straighten out those inconsistencies, try to imagine a religion that could have given rise to the rituals that the Greeks so badly misunderstood, and make the characters in the drama more human by figuring out why they acted the way they did.

What kind of research did you do to try and make the characters and setting as accurate/realistic as possible?

I did lots and lots and lots of research! It helps that my major in college was Classics and that I've spent time on Crete. But I still had to look up a lot of things, and many facts that I found gave me ideas, and then I had to research those ideas.

I started with The White Goddess by Robert Graves. I checked out the six mammoth volumes of The Palace of Minos by Sir Arthur Evans, the archaeologist who did the first real excavations there, and studied them intensively. I mostly used books, but I also did a lot of on-line research, including Google Earth to see the places where the story takes place.

I loved how the novel was told from the alternating viewpoints of Theseus and Ariadne. Do you have a favorite of the two main characters, or did you like them both equally? Was it difficult to make their voices sound different from each other?

I originally planned to have the whole story told in Ariadne's voice, but I soon figured out that she had led such a sheltered life that she couldn't really comment on it; she knew nothing different so it wouldn't occur to her to discuss the palace, her brother, her religion. I needed a narrator who was clueless about Crete so someone could explain things to him, and thus to the reader. So I brought in Theseus.

I like them both, but I think I like Ariadne more. She's so courageous and loving, aware of her duty but also aware that the world is changing and that she'll have to change along with it.

It seemed natural for Ariadne, who is mired in the past, to use the past tense in her narration, and Theseus, who's eager for the future, to use the present tense. I noticed after I had finished the first draft that Ariadne is always questioning herself, her mother, her life, and Theseus rarely does. So I went through and took out the few times that Theseus questions himself, to make the contrast between the two of them even stronger.

What are some of your own favorite books and authors?

I'll limit myself to just a few: Linda Sue Park, M. T. Anderson, Philip Pullman, Katherine Paterson.

When you are not writing, how do you enjoy spending your time?

I don't have much time! I'm also a college professor, but I'm quitting in May (see my blog, Goodbye, Day Job!). Maybe I'll be able to answer this question better after that, but at this point I can list reading, reading, reading, and knitting. I used to be a skydiver, but that was long ago, and I don't plan to pick it up again after I retire!
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