Thursday, March 14, 2013

Thursday Thirteen - 270 - 13 Reasons to Read SPEAK OF THE DEVIL by Shawna Romkey

Three writers' retreats ago, newest Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada member Shawna Romkey joined us for an intensive weekend of writing among a group of women who'd known each other for years. That might have put some folks off, wading into a cottage filled with old friends in an atmosphere of focused creative intention.

But I knew I'd met a kindred spirit when she put on her Xena Warrior Princess pajamas that first night. On the final day, she was in my brainstorming group with Tara MacQueen -- a glorious moment for all three of us.

It's my very great pleasure today to be part of Shawna's debut release blog tour. 

1 - SPEAK OF THE DEVIL is a 2013 Crescent Moon Press release. Shawna's debut novel packs Young Adult yearning for love with the paranormal powerhouse of angels and demons duking it out for earthly souls. Remember when you were a senior in high school and everything felt as if the world would end if this didn't happen or that thing did happen? For main character Lily, it's not about outfits that don't pull together. It's about the war in heaven ending up as her school newspaper assignment.  

2 - Before we go any farther, feast your eyes and ears on Shawna's book trailer by Rachel Firasek, with selected angel photography by Cher Fields.

3 - If it seems like Shawna is all over the blogosphere these days, her 32-stop blog tour may have something to do with that. Celebrating her dream-come-true brings us to today's book review, which is one of 20 starred stops on the tour.

A starred stop means there is a hidden Easter egg somewhere in the post. The SPEAK OF THE DEVIL Easter eggs are letters that stand out in some way. For a full list of Shawna's blog tour stops, visit her web site home page and scroll to the bottom:


"If you find them and decipher the passcode, you can win a signed copy of SPEAK OF THE DEVIL, a swag pack and a $25 Amazon gift card! Once you've found the eggs in each post [including Shawna's own blog posts] put them together to find the secret passcode.

Tweet the code, including @sromkey #speakofthedevil

Hint 1 - The letters are in order

Hint 2 - The passcode will look like this: (--- --- - ---- -- -- -----)

One winner will be chosen from the entries on Easter, March 31st! Good luck!" - Shawna Romkey  

4 - SPEAK OF THE DEVIL brings readers to contemporary Missouri, where teen heroine Lily tries to navigate her way clear of the rockier aspects of adolescence. She's carved a way through her parents' divorce, yet the attentions of her friend Mike leave her reflexively pushing him back to arms' length. 

5 - Before she can open herself to begin more than a flirtation with him, a fatal car accident rips Lily's friends from her life forever. Struggling with survivor's guilt, Lily discovers all the sights, sounds and smells of their shared hometown hold her frozen in grief. Reaching out to her dad and his new family, Lily moves to Kansas City and tries to move on with the life that was spared--hers.  

6 - Shawna's voice is perfect for the YA genre, capturing Lily's defensive tone with wry observations about life as only an intrepid student reporter can make:

"I took a seat near the front with my camera. High school theater was my beat, so I did my duty. I'd seen several high school performances, and even to other high schoolers they were usually pretty bad. Teenagers are so tied up in their developing self-esteems to be 'in the moment' and uninhibited, which helps with acting. (I know this from watching a lot of Bravo.)"

7 - SPEAK OF THE DEVIL pits two love interests against Lily's wounded heart. Will it be Luc, he of the time-stands-still gaze and mega-watt charisma? Or will more accessible Mo who makes her laugh and forget be the one to find the chink in her armor? 

8 - Shawna's romantic tension is taut and filled with wonderfully identifiable moments, yet that only encompasses one part of her YA paranormal debut. As a dark fantasy/vampire author myself, and a Supernatural devotee, it's a joy to report that Shawna's heavenly skirmishes are filled with unnerving details like watching nubby demon horns emerge. If a book is set in a paranormal world, I like to feel somewhat spooked by what's going on.  

9 - Plus, there's a lot of questioning faith as a result of so much random loss. If there's a serious desire to ask 'what's it all about?' then I'm hooked.

10 - Shawna really knows how to end each chapter with a hook. Like this, for example:

" 'Are you okay to drive?' he asked.

Oh, good one, knowing my history and about my friends. I thought it was a low blow though.

'Go to hell,' I said. This, for some reason, brought out a burst of laughter from Sean, who again, I believed to be completely sober.

I just shook my head and got in my car. Mo stood there looking hopeless while I drove off.

I looked back in the rear view as I was pulling out of the parking lot. Sean had parked the van and the four of them were headed inside. Rehearsal I imagined. I drove down the road for a few minutes then thought, I'm not grounded. I don't have to be home. And I really wanted to see what these people were up to,  so I turned around and parked in the front parking lot, where the teachers parked since after all it was after school hours. I took my phone, put it on silent, and headed down to where I was sure they'd all be, the theater." 

11 - For anyone heading to the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention in Kansas City, Missouri - setting for SPEAK OF THE DEVIL - Shawna will be at the Giant Book Fair on Sat, May 4th from 11:00 - 2:00, Sheraton Kansas City Hotel at Crown Center.

12 - You can find Shawna on Facebook

and on Twitter @sromkey

13 - I leave you with an excerpt. Enjoy!

"Julie fumbled with the wipers while I pulled the sun visor down to check my face in its little rectangular mirror, even though I'd only left my vanity like five minutes ago. The lights on either side lit up the interior of the car. I reached into my tiny party purse to find my lip gloss, which was easy to locate since I'd only packed the essentials in my bag: phone, some cash, and make-up. As I glanced at myself, I saw Mike in the reflection, smiling at me from the back seat. I stuck my tongue out at him, making him laugh, and put on the lip-gloss, fully aware of how flirty I acted.

The windshield wipers couldn't keep up with the sudden downpour. The pitter-patter turned to thumping. Hail came down in gumball-sized pellets. 'Damn.' Julie jerked the steering wheel to keep The Whale off the curb.

'Slow down, Jules.' Mike gripped Julie's headrest. 'We can pull over until it passes.'

 'Yeah.' She squinted to see the road before her.

I pressed my lips together to smooth out the gloss. 'Damn is right. I didn't bring a jacket.'

The Whale swerved to the right crunching along the gravel on the side of the road. I braced myself in my seat. Julie leaned up to the steering wheel and peered over it as my grandmother sometimes did when she drove. I squinted because of the stupid light up visor mirror. I slammed it shut, but Julie panicked and over corrected, pulling The Whale to the left and careening over the yellow dotted line in the middle of the street.

'Julie!' Mike shouted.

Time slowed and ticked out in heart beats.

Ba bum.

Julie cringed, her hands moving up to shield her face. Her head turned away from the highway.

Ba bum.

Mike reached protectively from the back seat.

Ba bum.

The headlights illuminated the rail of the overpass.

 Ba bum.

The car hit the rail on the opposite side of the road with a hard thud.

Ba bum.

Crap. We're going over the bridge.

Ba bum.

The Whale's nose pointed down toward the water.

Ba bum.

A jolt forward and my forehead slammed into the dashboard.

Ba bum.

The Whale flipped in the air. I'm upside down.

Ba bum.


Ba bum.

Did my mom say goodbye when I left?"

- Shawna Romkey, 2013

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Thursday Thirteen - 150 - 13 Reasons to Read McShannon's Chance by Jennie Marsland

Jennie Marsland belongs to my writers' group, Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada. During the business part of our monthly meeting, we have a segment called Member News, where we share writing developments. Jennie was only with us a short time when her member news was 'I sold my first book!'

1 - McShannon's Chance is a Romance from BlueWood Publishing. It released last October in both E-book and print formats.

2 - Jennie takes us out to the Colorado of 1870, and as Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote about Oklahoma Territory:

Territory folks should stick together
Territory folks should all be pals
Cowboys dance with the farmer's daughters
Farmers dance with the ranchers' gals

This is the West of big skies, ranches carved from stands of lonesome pines, Civil War vets remaking their lives and women taking their chances with life on their own terms.

3 - We meet E.M. Underhill, an emerging Philadelphia painter whose work suggests something of the Impressionist movement making inroads in France. Masking her name with initials helps Beth's work to be taken seriously, but her cousin and guardian takes her least seriously of all. His attempts to marry her off send her instead to a barely-formed Colorado town. She steps off the stagecoach wondering if she'll regret her decision to accept a husband through an agency. But for Beth, it's a husband on her own terms, or none at all.

4 - Trey McShannon grew up on the edges of antebellum society, refusing to fight for the Confederacy when it finally came down to it. But he fought all the same - for the Union army. Now, with the war only raging in his nightmares, he carves a new life for himself outside Wallace Flats. A respectable homestead, good neighbors. All of it only makes the solitary days and nights that much worse. Writing to an agency for a wife seems like the practical approach, and Trey certainly has too much work taking up his time to go a-courtin'.

5 - This romance doesn't follow genre convention. It's much more like the 1989 mini-series Lonesome Dove, with Tommy Lee Jones, or 90's series Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, with Jane Seymour and Joe Lando. We're introduced to a wider cast of characters than most romances allow. We follow two secondary couples, and meet many of the folk who make up the town of Wallace Flats.

6 - Where this novel excels as a romance are the scenes between Beth and Trey as they begin their relationship with an endpoint - an arranged partnership - and work backwards through their courtship. Jennie has written a 3D-High Definition cowboy in Trey McShannon. No mistaking who's talking when he and Beth are together. He's a man of few words, of unwavering gazes that size Beth up. And Beth, true to form as a woman ahead of her time, is not feisty so much as sassy as she teases Trey with delightful zingers.

7 - I really enjoyed the artist subplot with Beth's sketching as a counterpoint of expertise as she flounders in the day-to-day work of running a homestead. Her refusal to give up is a truly endearing quality - the unending chores don't dissuade her, the Old Boys Club of the art world doesn't intimidate her, and Trey's obvious war demons don't keep her at a safer distance.

8 - As I mentioned in my review of Anna Campbell's Captive of Sin - see the top menu bar for the link to my book reviews - a tortured hero is my favorite character, bar none. If there's the promise of a reveal as to why the hero is so tortured, don't lead me on - let me have it, right between the eyes.

Jennie delivers, with a poignant scene to which Trey's nightmares have led us in gradual but unrelenting steps.

9 - If you're used to the slicker pace of commercial romantic fiction, why not let the slower build-up of McShannon's Chance take you off the beaten track? The scenery is always more breathtaking when you take the backroads. Jennie's story takes its pace from the iconic lone cowboy making his way across an immense landscape. Why wear out your horse when there's so much ground to cover, mister?

10 - Jennie really knows how to end each chapter with a hook. Like this, for example:

" 'Have it your way, Philadelphia. And you might as well call me Trey.' Another smug grin, followed by a measuring look. 'What are you doing here, anyway? Were you bored in town?'

Beth crisply gave him the plain, unvarnished facts.

While she spoke, Trey's angry look softened to something that might be curiosity. 'Why didn't you go to your cousin's?'

Beth decided to be honest. 'I didn't want to sit in Graham's house and wait for him to find an acceptable man to take me off his hands - acceptable to
him.' She looked Trey in the eye again. 'When I wrote, I told you I didn't know much about housekeeping. What did you think you were getting?'

'That's not the point. I can't expect you to be content out here.'

Now he sounded embarrassed. Beth shrugged. 'Mr. McShannon, I'm a big girl. I thought from your letter that you'd give me credit for being able to make up my own mind.'

Trey's heavy brows lifted as he gave her another measuring glance. 'Oh, I'll bet you're an expert at that.' Then he turned his attention back to the road and urged the team into a faster trot."

11 - As well as an art world subplot that addresses bringing the authentic self into a relationship, rather than trying to deny that person, there is a wonderful undercurrent of the horse world, not surprising in a Colorado homestead story. But Jennie's masterful handling of the horse characters shows a real affinity for the world of the cowboy. Her love of Zane Grey and Louis L'Amour provides the backdrop for Jennie's romantic flare to paint a new west. In this one, the charged banter between Trey and Beth is the fuel for their attraction, not simply the way Trey wears a Stetson, or the way Beth pretties herself up for the Wallace Flats social.

12 - Here's the book trailer:

13 - I leave you with an excerpt. Enjoy!

"Trey got the blanket he kept tied to the back of his saddle, stretched out on it and closed his eyes.

The bright sun beat down on him, soothing tired muscles and unclogging his mind. He laid a forearm over his eyes and took in a breath laden with the scent of warm earth. Another...three...four...

The acrid reek of burning brush, combined with the odors of sweaty horse and his own unwashed body stung his throat. The last two days fighting had taken place over a burning landscape, set ablaze by artillery fire. A pale, smoke-hazed moon hung above him in the night sky.

Cloud stumbled and nearly fell to his knees. Dizzy with fatigue, Trey pulled him up. Sheer instinct kept him in the saddle. He no longer cared if he fell. He only knew they couldn't stop, not with troops from both sides moving through the darkness.

The screams of the wounded they hadn't been able to save from the flames that day still rang in Trey's mind, drowning out the subtle night sounds around him. Sounds he shouldn't have ignored.

He looked back to check on the rest of his patrol, but they blended into the darkness. In another minute, he'd be turning the corner he could barely see up ahead. His pulse hammered in his ears.

He rounded the bend in the road, heard a shout from the darkness of a stand of trees. Metal flashed in the moonlight. Trey pulled his rifle and fired in one smooth motion.

Trey dismounted and walked toward the still figure, knowing what he'd see. He turned the body over and looked into the face of the man he'd shot.

The darkness broke up and gave way to sunlight again, the cool, smokey night to the warmth of Beth's arms.

'Trey, it's alright. It's over.' Her voice barely reached him through the remains of the nightmare. Stomach heaving, muscles frozen, he clung to Beth while she stroked his hair and murmured soothing nonsense. Long, humiliating seconds passed before he regained enough control to pull away. Beth clasped her hands around her knees and waited while he gathered what was left of his dignity.

'Maddy told me she and Logan asked you to stay with them your first winter here. I think I know now why you didn't.'

Still sick and shaky, Trey wiped his face with his sleeve and looked out over the river. 'Yeah, I guess so.'

'How often does this happen?'

'Not often, now. Not for a year, until...'

'Until I came.' Beth reached for his hand.

Trey pulled his hand back. He'd rather have Beth's contempt than her pity, but then he glanced at her and realized she wasn't offering him pity.

'There's no point, Beth. Some memories aren't worth sharing. It wouldn't do anyone any good.'

Trey picked up a rock and tossed it in the river. The ripples it made spread and vanished with the current."

- Jennie Marsland, 2009

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Thursday Thirteen - 145 - 13 Reasons to Read Captive of Sin by Anna Campbell

I met Anna Campbell online through Christine Wells, when Christine used to be a co-contributor to my group blog, Popculturedivas.

Anna and Christine contribute to their group blog, Romance Bandits.

I quickly noticed that whenever Anna posted, the comments section immediately turned into a party and the comment numbers shot up into the 100-200 mark. No exaggeration.

This didn't happen only at the Romance Bandits - no. Whenever Anna posted at her other group blogs or did a guest post, the comment numbers shot up there, too. It's not like I was stalking her or anything. But I did follow her around slavishly to all her blog posts in the hopes of winning a copy of Captive of Sin - which I finally did! Woo hoo! Yeah, baby.

Check out a few of her bloggy gems:

The Sex is Never Just About the Sex guesting @ Vauxhall Vixens
Dust Never Sleeps @ the Romance Bandits
Christmas Reading Bonanza @ Tote Bags 'n' Blogs

1 - Captive of Sin is an Avon Historical Romance imprint from HarperCollins. It released last November in North America and more recently in Australia, Anna's home and native land.

2 - Captive of Sin is Anna's fourth book. She has also published:

Claiming the Courtesan
Tempt the Devil

Upcoming in June:

My Reckless Surrender

3 - Anna takes us into the world of Regency Noir. A phrase coined by Stephanie Laurens in a quote for Claiming the Courtesan, Regency Noir has since become a subgenre that gives the normally light Regency period a Gothic undertone, for those of us who love our heroes to be tortured.


4 - We meet Lady Charis Weston, who gives a false name to the man who discovers her cowering in the inn stables after she escapes a brutal beating at the hands of her fortune-hunting step-brothers. Being a wealthy heiress has its advantages. But Charis has yet to experience any of them, and now doubts she will live the few weeks till she reaches her majority, when her funds will finally be at her disposal.

5 - Sir Gideon Trevithick returns from India a national hero, having survived capture as a spy and imprisonment under intolerable conditions. Named 'the bravest fellow in the empire' by Wellington and knighted by the king, all Gideon wants to do is return to his family's seat in Cornwall - and forget.

But the battered young woman he coaxes from her hiding place in the stables brings his own torment rushing to the surface.

6 - Those who know me, know I love a tortured hero. It has been ever so. As a child I was wildly attracted to the animated sight of Sleeping Beauty's Prince Philip chained up by Maleficent.

He doesn't flinch from fighting off the dragon version of the evil fairy, even when her enormous size and strength dwarfs him as he takes refuge under his shield. But Prince Philip never loses his grip on his courage or his sword, and I know he's the archetype of all of my favorite romance heroes.

Including Gideon, who was awarded the 2009 KISS Award (Knight in Shining Silver) from Romantic Times

7 - Publisher's Weekly named Captive of Sin one of their top 100 books of 2009: "Gideon tries to fight their growing attraction, believing the beautiful and warm Charis deserves better than a man so damaged by trauma and survivor's guilt, but Charis's clever plan to heal his wounded soul reveals delightful insight and leads to luscious love scenes."

8 - Remember the noir in Regency Noir. I like my characters to truly suffer on their way to a happy ending. I love to feel my heart crush in my chest in sympathy with the hero and heroine. I love brushing tears away when my heart springs back to life, just when I thought there was no possible way it could ever work out for them.

As I read about Anna's book, and as I pursued my copy with the hope-hope-hope that it would come to me, I felt the wild dream burn in my heart that a truly gutsy story with the perfect hero was waiting for me between those pages.

Once I got to the reveal about Gideon's past, I was truly impressed by the nightmare of his imprisonment. Many stories promise tortured heroes, but few actually deliver. For a woman like me who can't resist Joe Harmon from A Town Like Alice, Edmond Dantes from The Count of Monte Cristo or Anton Gorodetsky from Night Watch and Day Watch, Gideon lives up to every expectation and then takes me even deeper into Noirsville.

9 - Something that really shines about this book is the youth of the heroine. In fact, I'm certain this love story is only possible because the heroine is young enough to truly believe in the healing power of her love for Gideon. A more seasoned woman would be put off by the warnings of Gideon's post traumatic stress disorder. Despite that youth, Charis, having been put through the mill herself by her own relations, has that essential common ground to answer Gideon's litany of reasons as to why she should forget him.

10 - Anna really knows how to end each chapter with a hook. Like this, for example:

"Wheels clattered on cobblestones. A moving carriage forced people out of the way.

'Come on. Run. And keep your head down.'

She scuttled at his side, floundering to keep up with a man who made no allowance for her shorter legs or her injuries.

Akash flung open the carriage door and tossed her inside. She landed against the seat with a jolt that sent pain slicing through her. Ignoring her discomfort, she slid across the seat to press her face to the carriage window.

Through the joyful hordes, Akash pushed his way toward his friend. Gideon retained that frozen, remote expression, but he didn't break away from his devotees.

She couldn't hear what Akash said to Gideon over the hubbub. She saw Gideon turn and head with jerkily precise movements toward the carriage. With visible reluctance, the crowd parted before him. Voracious hands stretched out to pluck at his clothing, delay his departure, compel his attention. Doggedly he continued his automaton-like progress.

He climbed in and sat opposite. He didn't speak. He didn't look at her. He didn't appear to know she was there at all.

Akash slammed the door on them. There was a burst of patriotic cheering outside. Someone started to sing
God Save the King.

The celebrity straightened and shot Akash an angry glare. 'For Christ's sake, let us go.'

'God keep you, my friend. I'll see you soon.' He stepped back and sent Charis an elegant bow. 'Miss Watson. Your servant.'

Before Charis could respond, Tulliver whipped the horses to a pace dangerous in town streets. She clutched at the strap and stared bewildered at her companion.

He looked ill. As though he suffered intolerable pain. With a shock, she realized the set expression was endurance, not distain.

Automatically, she stretched out to take his gloved hand. 'Sir Gideon...'

'Curse you, don't touch me!'

He wrenched out of reach. But not before she felt his desperate, uncontrollable shaking."

11 - The interwoven elements of impending doom turn the stakes up as high as they can go. Charis is pursued by her dangerous step-brothers as she fights to free Gideon from his personal demons. The genteel distresses of Regency stories turning on misheard phrases or undeserved reputations, and whether or not the heroine will be invited to the soiree, are laid aside in favor of cruel gender politics, psychological character study and personal redemption.

12 - Yet Gideon, for all of his haunted agony, is not called the Hero of Rangapindhi for nothing. His compassion for Charis and his assured offer of sanctuary when they come under physical attack sets Gideon squarely in the pantheon of great romantic heroes. Gideon has made many readers' Top Hero lists, and easily makes a place for himself on mine - right next to Jo Beverley's Rothgar.

13 - I leave you with an excerpt. Enjoy!

"Half an hour ago she'd left him in the parlor. He'd been drinking brandy, and the bleakness in his eyes had made her want to weep. The desolation had always been there, but now she knew his past, it cut her to the bone.

She looked up from her troubled thoughts to see Gideon standing in the doorway. She hadn't heard him arrive. He always moved like a cat, so that was hardly surprising. His hair was ruffled, and one gloved hand negligently encircled a glass. He'd removed his neckcloth, and his shirt was open, giving her shadowy glimpses of his hard chest.

He didn't advance into the room.

She licked lips dry with nerves. His gaze fastened feverishly on the movement. His gloved hand tautened on his brandy. The warm air swirled with sudden sensual turbulence.

He cleared his throat and shifted his gaze above her head. 'I'm sleeping in the parlor. I think...I think it's best.'

With unsteady hands, she grabbed a shawl and slid out of bed. Ignoring the resistance in his face, she stepped close enough to read ravaging torment in his dark eyes. 'Don't be ridiculous, Gideon. It's cold and uncomfortable.'

He looked at her. 'After Rangapindhi, it's the height of luxury.'

'Oh, my dear, Rangapindhi is over,' she said in a low voice. It seemed a sign of progress that he mentioned his captivity without prompting. She extended one hand toward him, then let it drop to her side. 'You're free.'

His smile held no amusement. 'I'll never be free.'

This acceptance of his fate angered her. 'If you don't fight, you won't.'

His tall, lean body vibrating resentment, he stalked across to the fireplace. He tossed back his brandy and set the glass down sharply on the mantel. He focused a furious glare on her. 'Don't talk about what you don't understand.'

Her mind filled with a sudden memory of the stark desire in his face as he'd looked at her last night. Had she nerve to use that weapon to break him?

'I understand you've decided to wallow in self-pity for the remainder of your days,' she said, knowing she wasn't fair. But this wasn't about fairness.

'You have no right to say that.' A muscle jerked erratically in his cheek. He was close to losing patience. He turned away and closed his eyes as if he couldn't bear to look at her. 'I won't forgive you if you make this more a nightmare than it already is.' He flung his head up and glared at her like he hated her. His furious black eyes threatened to incinerate her where she stood. 'Damn it, Charis, I hurt you.'

'It doesn't have to be like that,' she said in a ghost of her usual voice.

'For us, it does.' He sounded heartbreakingly sure.

'I'm not giving up, Gideon.'

His mouth thinned with anger, but when he spoke, his voice was frigid. 'You will. This is a war you can't win.'

She spread her hands in helpless bewilderment. He had so much strength. Why didn't he enlist it in his own cause? 'Don't you want a real life?'

His short laugh was so harsh, it flayed like flying shards of glass. 'Of course I do.'

She fought the impulse to retreat. She'd known when she chose this path that her greatest enemy would be Gideon himself. 'Your memories aren't always in control,' she said hoarsely. 'I saw you in Portsmouth. You knocked down any man within reach. You weren't afraid to touch people then.'

'Yes, I find relief in violence.' His voice roughened into sarcasm. 'Are you suggesting I beat you?' "

- Anna Campbell, 2009

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Thursday Thirteen - 144 - 13 Reasons to Read Dark Harmony by Lilly Cain

Dark Harmony is the debut novel from Lilly Cain, one of the amazing women from my writers' group, Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada.

She's been to the writers' retreats I so adore, and at the latest one this past fall we all celebrated along with her when she received confirmation of Dark Harmony's release date.

1 - Dark Harmony is part of Red Sage's Action & Adventure/Contemporary/Vampire categories, and is an erotica eBook romance.

2 - We meet Helena Townsend, who loves to feel the pulsing energy of the club crowd as she dances to live music. One night she's uncharacteristically drawn to a gorgeous man who parts the dance floor like a mist to draw her to him. Twenty years later, Lena has escaped the cruel dominance of that man from the club - no man, but a vampire pack leader who made her life both a living hell and a confusing passionate release.

3 - Richard Heron is a music journalist covering trends for Rolling Stone, still not recovered from the violent death of his sexually-submissive wife at the hands of an unknown dom. Richard is entranced by Lena, a beautiful woman he meets in an Irish bar, her face glowing with the energy and vibe of the band and the crowd, as though she's fed somehow by live musical performance.

4 - Before his wife died, Richard had supplemented his journalism by opening a club where sexual fantasies could be revealed and pursued. His own dominant tendencies initially scare off a once-bitten-twice-shy Lena. The same instincts which led him to open his club in the first place serve him well when he rises to the challenge of re-introducing Lena to the authentic lover inside her.

5 - I found this story's BDSM subplot very touching. What is dominance and submission if not the symbolic surrender to a lover? The very fact that Lena has vampiric strength that could break any bedroom bondage puts her scenes with Richard into a different realm, which Lilly writes with accomplished emotional depth.

6 - Lilly Cain handles the reactions of the human characters to the shock of vampires entering their world with wry realism. Her scenes take us from the contemporary world into the paranormal with the jolt one would expect from such a revelation, and she doesn't shy away from the horror aspects of traditional vampire stories. These characters aren't simply bad boy characters - they are chilling killers. As a lover of traditional vampire stories, I'm very grateful for that.

7 - I really enjoyed the black humor peppered throughout the story. This part made me laugh out loud in the midst of a high-tension vampire attack scene:

Glimpses of the men and women surrounding her flashed in the available light. Gleaming eyes, soft lips, long hair, they were beautiful, and they laughed at her. What the hell was wrong with her? She was being molested by a group of psychotic fashion models, and she should be screaming.

When Richard realizes he's been bitten twice by his vampire lover, he says 'So why are you following me? And does being marked mean that you have some sort of power over me? Will I start eating bugs?' He smiled weakly, but the questions were serious.

8 - Lena has made an interesting decision by the time we meet up with her again, twenty years after her turning. She rejects the truths her maker Darien told her about what it takes to live as a vampire. I enjoyed this original concept toward alternatives to the taking of human life.

9 - In order to survive against the vampire pack she left behind, Lena has become an adept martial arts fighter. As a huge fan of the Kill Bill films, I also relished this aspect of Dark Harmony, which leads to some exciting fight sequences.

10 - Lilly really knows how to end each chapter with a hook. Like this, for example:

"Her eyes flicked to the other man, one she really, really didn’t want to recognize. Her fear grew, oh, so much worse. He snarled in anger. Darien. He had yet to move in her direction, but the threat he exuded could not be ignored. He could be her death. Sweat drenched her in a quick flood. The noise in the bar faded, and people near her backed away as her terror brushed against them.

Time to run. The sounds of the bar flooded back into her senses. She grabbed her satchel and left the table. Her body swayed in tempo with those around her as she passed through the crowd. Some wouldn’t step aside for her and she shoved them, hard, and headed for the back.


She heard him call, her ex-lover, her ex-master, his voice harsh with anger and, perhaps, longing. Both emotions had her heart pounding.
There, a fire door. Forcing it open, she ignored the shrill burst from the fire alarm and fled the area as quickly as possible.

Not quick enough. As she entered the alley, she caught the sickly scent of cooling blood."

11 - As someone who also writes about vampires, I really enjoyed Lilly's scenes involving practical problems such as dealing with the oncoming sunrise. Very nice world-building here.

12 - The three-pronged sai, Lena's weapon of choice, is a good symbol for the flavors of this story. The vampire aspect is the central blade, with action/adventure and dominance/submission running alongside like the two outside blades.

13 - I leave you with an excerpt. Enjoy!

"He walked to the mirror hanging over the dressing table. Those few steps made him dizzy again. He clutched the panties in his fist. Great sex was one thing, but this weakness, that was another. He looked pale in the mirror, and tired. A soft green bruise bloomed on his inner thigh, and on his wrist a darker mark had formed. He looked at his arm and shuddered. There were two tiny scabs in the middle of the bruise.

'Lena?' he called again.

She had to be in the bathroom. Was she embarrassed by their impulsive night? Or feeling like him, sick as a dog?

He pounded against the bathroom door. 'Lena, are you okay?'

The door was locked.

Despite his screaming skull, he knocked louder.

'Lena! Are you all right? Let me in.'

What if she isn’t okay? He dropped her underwear and threw his weight against the door.


Lena's dream changed. She bared her fangs and hissed a feral warning. The demon threw agonizing beams of light at her. Her eyes streamed as the light pierced them, and she threw up her arm to protect herself.

Then it was gone. All was quiet. She lapsed back into complete unconsciousness. The dark had returned so her slumber deepened. A part of her sighed for the lost dream.


'Holy shit!' Richard panted as he slammed the door between him and the creature in the bathroom.

'Jesus Christ!' He scrambled backward and stared at the door, expecting at any moment to be faced with the spitting cat-creature he’d awoken in the tub. It couldn’t be Lena. It couldn’t.
What the fuck was that?

The lights had been off. He’d seen a figure wrapped in blankets lying in the tub. Odd, but perhaps she was shy about sleeping in front of a man who, although they had shared the most intimate of moments, barely knew her.

He’d called her name and flicked on the lights. He’d reached in to shake her shoulder. And then—

Richard shuddered and wiped at the sweat beading on his forehead. The bathroom door remained closed. Everything was quiet. Still, he couldn’t move.

As the bathroom light had flickered on, she changed. It had been Lena, he was sure now. But with the light her face grew furious, and she snarled and hissed at him. And her mouth, her mouth stretched wide to bare those gleaming white fangs, so long—

He checked his wrist. The bruise seemed lighter but the marks were still there.
Jesus, she bit me!"

- Lilly Cain, 2010

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Thursday Thirteen - 128 - 13 Reasons to Read Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

The year is barrelling along and I've only got three months to complete my Dewey Book Challenge. Considering it's October and I'm finishing the third of six books, you can see my concern.

However, I shall persevere.

All of you avid readers out there who gobble up books like cups of coffee must wonder what it's like to find six books in one year a challenge. Well, I bump whatever I'm reading for myself when a new release comes out that I want to review. Those ones I get to in a hurry.

Also, there's the whole reading-on-the-bus thing. That's pretty much the only time I read. But reading almost always gets bumped for sleep. And during the work week, I average four hours of sleep a night, because I'm a night owl and I'm buzzing with creative energy all the way to midnight. Then I have to wind down and get ready for sleep. 2:00 am comes along and my head hits the pillow. 6:00 am comes and the alarm goes off. The only way I catch the 7:00 bus is by promising myself I can go back to sleep once I get on the bus.

I snooze for an hour with my book unopened in my purse. I blog on my break and during my lunch hour. I read while I wait for the bus on the way home. I even begin the trip reading. But my eyes quickly get heavy, the book goes back in my purse and I manufacture more ZZZs, as a character from today's book would say.

1 - Everything is Illuminated is the third book I'm reviewing for the Dewey Book Challenge.

For those who are new to this challenge, it came about as a way to honor the memory of a book blogger who passed away last December. The challenge asked readers to choose six books from her six-year archive of book reviews. I decided to pick one book from each of the six years she blogged and reviewed, from 2003 to 2008. But I didn't let the year of release decide my reading schedule for me. I began with the book I was most burning to read, which was March by Geraldine Brooks.

Next I simply had to read the other Geraldine Brooks novel I'd chosen - Year of Wonders.

2 - The yellow cover pictured above is the edition I own. It's an Olive Edition, an imprint of HarperCollins.

The original HarperCollins release cover is pictured at left. Both versions were there at the book store. I was just drawn to the smaller, thicker Olive Edition. I liked the sparse cover art.

Once I was into the story, I realized the blue and yellow text cover of the regular version echoes the colors of the Ukrainian flag. The Ukraine provides most of the setting for the book.

3 - As many of you know, I'm a certified Russophile (one who loves Russia and Russians.) That was the main draw for choosing this novel for the challenge.

So why wasn't it the first one that I read? Well, history trumps contemporary for me, so Geraldine Brooks' two historical novels had to come first. But the Ukraine-set story was hot on the heels of the first two.

4 - We meet Alex, the main first-person narrator of the book. He's in his early twenties and living at home with his parents, his grandfather and his younger brother Igor. Alex has crystal-clear plans for his future. He's saving currency in order to move himself and Little Igor to America, where he will become a first-rate accountant and buy an impressive car.

5 - Before this can materialize, however - and Alex has already stashed away a sizable amount in a cookie jar - Alex must act as the translator for Jonathan Safran Foer, a young New York Jew touring the Ukraine in order to track down the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis. This fictional character carries the identical name of the book's author, but is portrayed at arms' length, either through Alex's POV, or through the account he writes of his Ukrainian-Jewish ancestors.

6 - The novel jumps back and forth through time. It begins with Alex in present-day Odessa, but alternates between the fictional Jonathan's story of his great-great-great-great-great-grandmother and the early life of the town he's come to Ukraine to find: Trachimbrod. It also leaps into the more recent past to cover Jonathan's immigrant grandfather's story before he arrived in America.

The form of the novel also alternates between Alex's direct address of the reader; his letters written to Jonathan from the not-too-distant future once Jonathan has returned to New York; examples of documentation from Trachimbrod's past such as poems, plays and journals; the normal format of a novel; a stylistic alteration of that form to include huge sections without breaks for new paragraphs; empty space on the page; and numerous self-reflexive devices which treat the characters in the story as the fictional beings they are.

7 - The journey to find Trachimbrod also belongs to Grandfather, sent by Alex's father to be the driver for Odessa Heritage Tours. Since the death of his wife, Grandfather insists he's blind, although he's not. The fourth member of the road trip crew is Sammy Davis, Junior Junior, Grandfather's seeing-eye bitch and named for his favorite Negro.

8 - An unending source of delight and many, many laughs is Alex's spastic grasp of English. Check out this conversation between Alex and Jonathan in the kooky little Russian car:

" 'Are there Negro accountants?' 'There are African-American accountants. You don't want to use that word, though, Alex.' 'And homosexual accountants?' 'There are homosexual everythings. There are homosexual garbage men.' 'How much currency would a Negro homosexual accountant receive?' 'You shouldn't use that word.' 'Which word?' 'The one before homosexual.' 'What?' 'The n-word. Well, it's not the n-word, but-' 'Negro?' 'Shh.' 'I dig Negroes.' 'You really shouldn't say that.' 'But I dig them all the way. They are premium people.' "

9 - The language in this book is all over the place, from Alex's hilarious word choices to Safran Foer's poetic gems sprinkled throughout the many narratives. Here are a few gems:

"4:513-The dream of angels dreaming of men. It was during an afternoon nap that I dreamt of a ladder. Angels were sleepwalking up and down the rungs, their eyes closed, their breath heavy and dull, their wings hanging limp at the sides. I bumped into an old angel as I passed him, waking and startling him. He looked like my grandfather did before he passed away last year, when he would pray each night to die in his sleep. Oh, the angel said to me, I was just dreaming of you."

"If we are to be such nomads with the truth, why do we not make the story more premium than life? It seems to me that we are making the story even inferior. We often make ourselves appear as though we are foolish people, and we make our voyage, which was an ennobled voyage, appear very normal and second rate. We could give your grandfather two arms, and could make him high-fidelity. We could give Brod what she deserves instead of what she gets. Grandfather and I could embrace, and it could be perfect and beautiful, and funny, and usefully sad, as you say."

10 - Mr. Safran Foer really knows how to end each chapter with a hook. Like this, for example:

"Grandfather and I viewed television for several hours after Father reposed. We are both people who remain conscious very tardy. We viewed an American television program that had the words in Russian at the bottom of the screen. It was about a Chinaman who was resourceful with a bazooka. We also viewed the weather report. The weatherman said that the weather would be very abnormal the next day, but that the next day after that would be normal. Amid Grandfather and I was a silence you could cut with a scimitar. The only time that either of us spoke was when he rotated to me during an advertisement for McDonald's McPorkburgers and said, 'I do not want to drive ten hours to an ugly city to attend to a very spoiled Jew.' "

11 - The tone of the book changes on a dime between laugh-out-loud funny and catch-in-your-throat poignant. There are affectionate portrayals of 18th-century shtetl life and blistering scenes lifting the lid on hushed-up wartime decimations of whole histories. Of course, my favorite sections revolved around Alex and his enthusiastic use of words like premium, the hero (referring to Jonathan,) 'I exhibited Little Igor a smutty magazine three days yore', and 'I do not have any additional luminous remarks, because I must possess more of the novel in order to lumin.'

12 - As most of you know by now, I always prefer the film version of any story. It's the film school grad in me. I asked my husband to bring the DVD home even before I'd finished the book, because I simply had to hear Alex's voice. The actor who played him said everything exactly the way I heard it in my head.

This beautifully-done indie film, directed by actor Liev Schreiber, has now instantaneously become one of my all-time favorite films.

13 - I leave you with an excerpt. Keep in mind the author plays around with form and structure. The text appears here just as it does in the novel. Enjoy!

"We became very busy talking. When I rotated back to Grandfather, I saw that he was examining Augustine again. There was a sadness amid him and the photograph, and nothing in the world frightened me more. 'We will eat,' I told him. 'Good,' he said, holding the photograph very near to his face. Sammy Davis, Junior Junior was persisting to cry. 'One thing, though,' the hero said. 'What?' 'You should know...' 'Yes?' 'I am to say this...' 'What?' 'I'm a...' 'You are very hungry, yes?' 'I'm a vegetarian.' 'I do not understand.' 'I don't eat meat.' 'Why not?' 'I just don't.' 'He does not eat meat,' I told Grandfather. 'Yes he does,' he informed me. 'Yes you do,' I likewise informed the hero. 'No. I don't.' 'Why not?' I inquired him again. 'I just don't. No meat.' 'Pork?' 'No.' 'Meat?' 'No meat.' 'Steak?' 'Nope.' 'Chickens?' 'No.' 'Do you eat veal?' 'Oh, God. Absolutely no veal.' 'What about sausage?' 'No sausage either.' I told Grandfather this, and he presented me a very bothered look. 'What is wrong with him?' he asked. 'What is wrong with you?' I asked him. 'It's just the way I am.' 'Hamburger?' 'No.' 'What did he say is wrong with him?' Grandfather asked. 'It is just the way he is.' 'Does he eat sausage?' 'No.' 'No sausage!' 'No. He says he does not eat sausage.' 'In truth?' 'That is what he says.' 'But sausage...' 'I know.' 'In truth you do not eat sausage?' 'No sausage.' 'No sausage,' I told Grandfather. He closed his eyes and tried to put his arms around his stomach, but there was not room because of the wheel. It appeared like he was becoming sick because the hero would not eat sausage. 'Well, let him deduce what he is going to eat. We will go to the most proximal restaurant.'

'What do you mean he does not eat meat?' the waitress asked, and Grandfather put his head in his hands. 'What is wrong with him?' she asked. 'It is only the way that he is.' The hero asked what we were talking about. 'They do not have anything without meat,' I informed him. 'He does not eat any meat at all?' she inquired me again. 'It is merely the way he is,' I told her. 'Sausage?' 'No sausage,' Grandfather answered to the waitress, rotating his head from here to there. 'Maybe you could eat some meat,' I suggested to the hero, 'because they do not have anything that is not meat.' 'Don't they have potatoes or something?' he asked. 'Do you have potatoes?' I asked the waitress. 'You only receive a potato with the meat,' she said. I told the hero. 'Couldn't I just get a plate of potatoes?' I asked the waitress, and she said she would go to the chef and inquire him. 'Ask him if he eats liver,' Grandfather said."

- Jonathan Safran Foer, 2002

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Thursday Thirteen - 125 - 13 Reasons to Read Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

Deeply-missed book blogger Dewey passed away 10 months ago. For awhile, her blog remained for us to click onto and once again read her insightful reviews of fabulous books.

Recently I've discovered that the link to her blog no longer connects. I guess it's time to let go of some things.

I'm a third of the way through my reading challenge based on books that Dewey reviewed. I recently found a review of another of 'Dewey's books' over at You Can Never Have Too Many Books, along with this wonderful sentiment from Susan:

"That last quote also reminded me of Dewey. It's been almost a year now since she passed away. I'm glad this was a book she loved and recommended. To you, Dewey."

1 - Year of Wonders is the second book I've read for the year-long Dewey Reading Challenge. Good thing for me that there are only six books on this challenge. I noticed that most of the avid readers who signed up for this had read their allotment by March.

The books I read for myself have a habit of getting bumped regularly by new releases which my incredibly-talented friends have written - books I like to review as close to their release date as possible, so I can spread the word. I finished reading Year of Wonders a few weeks ago, but I had three books to review that were hot off the presses first.

2 - Year of Wonders is a Penguin Books release. This debut novel for journalist Brooks became an international bestseller. Not a bad way to switch careers...

3 - The full title is actually Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague. Call me crazy, but that's the thing that grabbed me and made me special order it at the smaller bookstore near my office. I've been able to buy three of the six challenge books off the shelf at the large Chapters, but both of the Geraldine Brooks were special orders because I couldn't wait until I might be able to get to Chapters. I started my challenge with Brooks' March - you can read my review HERE - and I immediately plunged into Year of Wonders.

4 - We meet Anna Frith of Derbyshire, England, daughter of a brutish laborer, young widow of a miner and mother to two young sons. She works as a part-time servant at the manor house and takes in a boarder at her cottage to make ends meet.

5 - Michael Mompellion is the married rector of Anna's village. Young and charismatic, he sweeps his congregation up with the intensity of his gaze and seduces them with the magic of his voice. He rides his powerful stallion Anteros and ministers to his flock with large hands more like a working man's than a cleric's.

6 - The novel jumps back and forth through time. We meet Anna as she keeps house for Mr. Mompellion, in the desperate hush following their year of beating back the plague. Then it flashbacks to the time just preceding the arrival of the decimating disease. Eventually we catch up to the moment of the novel's beginning, where we then move beyond to the conclusion. It's an intriguing way to present the novel, as we assume that how we find the characters at the beginning is the way the novel will end.

But there is more.

7 - Sexual tension flares between Anna and the rector. Although he is passionately married to Elinor Mompellion, the attraction between him and Anna runs throughout all the horror of the plague year. Anna, Elinor and Michael create a love triangle of the most original kind. Anna idolizes Elinor, who teaches her to read and how to use plants to heal. But Anna doesn't realize until much later that part of her kinship with Elinor is her unconscious desire to be Elinor - because Elinor is Michael's wife.

8 - The story is told entirely through Anna's first-person voice. But this is not merely her story. A Novel of the Plague is a perfect indicator of the scope of this tale. We get to know an entire village and suffer along with each individual as the impossible decision is made. By shutting themselves off from the world, they heroically attempt to contain the plague.

9 - Geraldine Brooks' training as a journalist serves the villagers well. Multiple viewpoints and varied reactions to the collective decision are presented through Anna's eyes. Though we know Anna and her stalwart character, we still get vivid depictions of other people who aren't so brave, aren't so sure, who react to the horror in monstrous ways.

There are lots of gruesome images in this book - fair warning to the squeamish. But I found every part of it fascinating, compelling and so very heartrending. There were many times that I had started to read it on the bus, but had to tuck it back into my purse or else sit there crying.

10 - Ms. Brooks really knows how to end each chapter with a hook. Like this, for example:

"When the Mompellions came to where I stood, Elinor Mompellion held out both her hands and took mine tenderly as the rector spoke to me. 'And you, Anna?' he said. The intensity of his gaze was such that I had to look away from him. 'Tell us you will stay with us, for without you, Mrs. Mompellion and I would be ill set. Indeed, I do not know what we would do without you.' There was no turmoil within me, for I had made my decision. Still, I could not command my voice to give him a reply. When I nodded, Elinor Mompellion embraced me and held me to her for a long moment. The rector moved on, whispering quietly to Mary Hadfield, who was weeping and wringing her hands most piteously. By the time he mounted the steps again and faced us, he and Mr. Stanley between them had shored up every doubter. All of us in the church that day gave their oath to God that we would stay, and not flee, whatever might befall us.

All of us, that is, except the Bradfords. They had slipped out of the church unnoticed and were already at the Hall, packing for their flight to Oxford."

11 - The woman's face on the cover of the book couldn't be more perfect. Taken from a painting by Frederic Leighton - Amarilla - this depiction of Anna's endurance through all her suffering is exquisitely perfect.

12 - There are so many vivid images and scenes from this book that will always stay with me. First published eight years ago, I couldn't imagine why it hadn't been optioned to be filmed. Actually, to do it justice, it would have to be a miniseries - hopefully on HBO so the grisly aspects wouldn't be lost.

Now with the H1N1 virus making the rounds, wouldn't this be a perfect production for our times?

13 - I leave you with an excerpt. Enjoy!

"Mr. Mompellion laid his large hand tenderly upon Jakob Merrill's face. 'Hush now.' His voice was low and even. 'Do not dwell any more on things in the past that you cannot change. When God took your wife to Him, He crowned Maude Merrill with a crown of righteousness. He freed her from all toil and tiredness. God has already made provision for your children. Did he not send young Brand to you, and did you not take him in to your home in his need? Do you not see God's hand at work there?'

Jakob Merrill's hand tightened on the rector's, and his brow unknotted. He asked the rector then to help him make a last will to bind such an arrangement.

It was not for me to be reading Jakob Merrill's private will, and I doubt that Mr. Mompellion would have given it to me if he had known that I could read at all. Indeed, I did not propose to read the words; it was only that my eyes could not prevent me as I blotted the document and set it in the tin box that Merrill had pointed to. I warmed the child some caudle, instructed her how to complete the stew I had begun, and set out with the rector.

Elinor met us, her face creased with concern. Two more bodies awaited their graves. Mr. Mompellion sighed and shrugged off his coat. He did not wait even for some nourishment but went straight to the churchyard.

I let go my pride then, and took my courage into my hands instead. Without telling Elinor what I proposed, I trudged out to my father's croft, hoping that the day was young enough to find him sober still.

I noticed that Steven, their eldest boy, had an angry welt across his cheek, and I did not need to ask how it had come there. I carried some of the herbs we had been preparing and showed Aphra how to make them up into the tonic that Elinor and I had devised.

Speaking with a respectful deference that I did not feel, I explained the plight at the rectory, and, flattering my father about his great strength and fortitude, beseeched his help. As I had expected, he cursed and said he had more than enough work to lay his hand to, and that it would do my 'prating priest' a power of good to get his white hands dirty. So I offered him his choice of my lambs for that Sunday's dinner and another at the new moon. These were generous terms, and though my father cursed and haggled and thumped the table till the platters rattled, he and I eventually came to an agreement. And so I bought Mr. Mompellion a respite from the graveyard. At least, I told myself, my father's clemmed children might get a portion of the meat."

- Geraldine Brooks, 2001

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Thursday Thirteen - 124 - 13 Reasons to Read The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker by Leanna Renee Hieber

Leanna Renee Hieber is a fellow blogger over at Popculturedivas. As she got set for that magical Release Day for her debut novel, I confess I was looking forward to it nearly as impatiently.

Alright, perhaps not quite as much as Leanna must have been.

But I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy. And as it turned out, Leanna embarked upon a mammoth promotional blog tour called the Haunted London Blog Tour, with loads of opportunity to win a copy of her book.

You guessed it - I received my autographed copy in the mail along with a cool little button that says Strangely Beautiful. Yay me!

1 - Treat yourself to this lovely book trailer -

2 - Now, about that Haunted London Blog Tour. With 14 stops, Leanna linked her tour with posts about real London haunted spaces. Included are the totally freaky Black Dog of the infamous Newgate Prison; Jack the Ripper victim Annie Chapman's haunting of a brewery boardroom which now stands on the site of her murder; and playwright Oliver Goldsmith's pesky disembodied head hauntings.

I was completely impressed with Leanna's blog tour. Carrying the theme along from blog to blog kept me coming back for more.

3 - Leanna is a co-founder of Lady Jane's Salon, "Manhattan’s first reading series devoted to romance fiction. Join them on the first Monday of every month at Madame X in Manhattan to hear your favorite authors read from their latest works."

4 - Before publishing her first novel, Leanna wrote one-act plays and a fantasy novella, Dark Nest. She's also a stage and television actress.

5 - The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker is a Leisure Historical Fantasy, an imprint of Dorchester Publishing's Romance category.

I've also seen it described as a Gothic Victorian paranormal, and a YA novel. All of the above categories would fit this unique story.

6 - We meet albino-pale Percy Parker as she enters the Athens Academy at the advanced age of eighteen. A convent-educated orphan, Percy is especially sensitive to the stares of others when they encounter her. She has the looks of a ghost made flesh, with an ability to see and hear the actual ghosts that stream to and fro unnoticed by most other Londoners.

7 - Professor Alexi Rychman is a dark, melancholic leader of a group of gifted men and women known as The Guard. They stand between the living and the dead, ensuring Darkness doesn't engulf the world. It's Alexi's longing-filled lot in life to await a lover fated to be the woman foretold by a vision, when The Guard were first assembled as children. Not only must he be absolutely certain she's the one - if The Guard guesses wrong, the universe as they know it will be forever breached by Darkness.

8 - Although marketed as a Leisure Romance, the love story goes at its own pace and remains highly Victorian in tone. The romance plays out on an almost purely emotional level. Definitely suited to a YA reader.

9 - Besides the developing relationship between the professor and Percy, the other five who make up The Guard are featured prominently, as well as various ghostly characters and otherwordly beings. This is a world well-populated and teeming with Gothic atmosphere.

10 - Leanna really knows how to end each chapter with a hook. Like this, for example:

"Alexi, exhausted, took one final moment to contemplate an alternate history where he might have become a renowned scientist instead of an academic who chased ghosts. But The Grand Work had its own agenda, and his mortal desires were in no way considered. Prophecy suggested, of course, that someday his empty heart would be warmed and refreshed, but until he could be sure, until she came forward and his divine goddess could again speak to him, everything, including Alexi, was holding its breath - and choking on it. A little girl on Fleet Street might be safe for the moment, but the rest of London was not.

Still...she was coming, wasn't she? She'd best show herself before the last of his hope died and he didn't recognize her at all."

11 - There are many instances of visions and dreams in this story. Leanna has a gift for turning these moments into cinematic flashes that are just as haunting for the reader as for Percy. Here's a taste:

"A wind swept the room, scattering papers and whipping his black hair across his forehead. Halos of fire surrounded Alexi's outstretched hands, crackling to be released.

The abomination leaned back on pulsing haunches and tilted a vague head, knowing that it had been commanded. Fire burst from Alexi's fingertips, and it yelped and retreated. Then, in a burst of frantic barking, the form shifted into a hundred doglike forms that disappeared like roaches from light, snorting as they vanished through the walls. Only barking lingered in the air."

12 - As an actress and playwright, Leanna truly has an ear for wonderful dialogue. The mannered banter of her Victorian setting is ever so exquisite, and most certainly is never modernized with out-of-place turns of phrase. Standing ovation from me, Leanna!

13 - I leave you with an excerpt. Enjoy!

"Miss Parker's elegant dress and elaborate coif were stunning. Her fine features had been painted with the softest rose blush, and her pale eyes flashed like diamonds. She was by far the most captivating thing ever seen at this silly event. He noted her talking to various young ladies who drifted past, strained into saying something polite. She was gracious and returned their trivial, polite conversation, but when she occasionally glanced away, he read her struggle and isolation. She alone, he was sure, understood why he dreaded this event every year. Such recognition was profound.

An enraptured young couple twirled past. As they did, they waved. Percy returned the gesture happily, then watched them twirl away, her warm smile fading. Something seized up deep inside Alexi. Perhaps she felt the weight of his stare, for she looked up. Eyes like snowcaps finally met his, and the rest of the world was muted.

'There you are - my favorite gargoyle!' came a taunting voice.

Alexi turned and saw Elijah Withersby leading a woman through one of the arched entrances and into the ballroom. Miss Linden. Having only seen her briefly, in the moonlight, Alexi was unprepared for what a well-lit room would do for her beauty. It was unparalleled.

'Here's the man of the hour at last.' Elijah removed the woman's hand from his arm and offered it to Alexi. 'Professor Rychman, here again is our dear Miss Lucille Linden.'

Alexi kissed the woman's gloved hand with solemn courtesy. 'A pleasure to see you, Miss Linden. I am sorry it has taken so long for our paths to again cross.'

'The pleasure is entirely mine, Professor Rychman. Lord Withersby has been kind, as has Miss Belledoux. I am forever in your debt. It is difficult to be a stranger in such a large place, and to feel safe when the world is coming apart at the seams...'

She possessed a magnetic intensity Alexi had never encountered. But then, just over the woman's perfect, bare shoulder, Alexi regarded the opal eyes of Miss Parker looking on in stricken sorrow. Her pale, heather-framed face quickly rallied into a hollow smile, and she tried to pretend she hadn't been staring. But eyes like hers could truly hide nothing; and when the music slowed, the couples parted and still no one came to speak with her, Percy rose from her chair and fled the room.

'Professor Rychman?' called a musical voice, jarring him from his reverie. 'Are you all right?'

Alexi faced Miss Linden. 'My apologies. Something caught my eye.'

'Ah, we interrupt his chaperoning, Miss Linden,' Elijah taunted.

Alexi looked sharply at his friend, but Miss Linden smiled and he felt her smooth gloved hand graze his. 'I admire gravity in a man.'

'If you wouldn't mind, Miss Linden...I am terribly sorry. It was a true pleasure to see you, but I must beg your leave. I believe someone requires my assistance. A student,' he added, staring at Withersby."

- Leanna Renee Hieber, 2009