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Welcome to my self-indulgent location for the stories (good and bad) that I can't prevent myself from writing. All comments and criticisms welcome. I post on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Review of MONARCH by Michelle Davidson Argyle and Contest Winner!

My first ARC came in the mail a few months ago, before my move and my new job and everything else that caused social upheaval in my life. "Giddy" doesn't have enough force behind it to describe how I felt when I tore open the package and found my very own copy of the novel in my hands.

And it only got better from there. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The Blurb (from Goodreads): Nick's life as a CIA spy should be fulfilling, but it has only given him unhappiness, a wife who committed suicide, and two daughters who resent everything he has become. Now, stuck in the Amazon on the last mission of his career, he must track down Matheus Ferreira, a drug lord and terrorist the United States has tried to bring down for years. If he succeeds, he'll have the chance to start his life over again. Just when he's on the brink of catching Ferreira, he's framed for a murder that turns his world upside down. His only chance of survival lies in West Virginia, where Lilian Love, a woman from his past, owns the secluded Monarch Inn. He's safe, but not for long.


Okay, let me try to explain my experience with this book. You know how, when little kids get a piece of candy that they love, they eat it and swallow it so quickly that an observer isn't even sure they tasted it? They didn't savor the gooey chocolate or the refined nugget core. But the love of it just inspired them to INHALE the candy.

*cough*

Yes, this was me with MONARCH. Not because I knew I would like it before it landed in my hands, but because with every page, I enjoyed it more. It grew to the point where I couldn't stop reading. It became compulsive. And like all good things, it was soon over. Maybe 48 hours later? Too soon, that's for sure.

And after having devoured the novel, I remembered, "Oh, right. I agreed to write a review."

So, in order to write something of more substance than "Dude, this novel ROCKED!", I decided to read it again. Not a hard decision, really, seeing as I enjoyed it so much the first time. And guess what happened.

Yup, I devoured it again.

So, clearly, this says something in its own right about MONARCH: it's a fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat thriller that is unput-downable. All of the characters went straight to my heart as soon as I opened the cover, and all I wanted was for everyone to survive. Davidson Argyle weaves tension like an expert loomist, with almost every scene inspiring nail-biting reactions. "Real" time and flashback move seamlessly back and forth, creating a vivid full picture.

On top of it being a great story, I think I can learn things from Davidson Argyle's writing as well. If you read my interview with her from last week, you may remember my asking her about a group scene at the climax of the novel. I have rarely read a scene with so many characters that so flawlessly came together. I had a clear image in my mind of where everyone was and what they were doing during each moment of the tense scene, while the tension never abated. It's just one example of the skill Davidson Argyle brings to the craft.

So, would I recommend this book? What do you think?

YES! Holy cow! Read. This. Book.

Thank you so much for Michelle for letting me participate in her book tour, getting me my first ARC, and writing such a great book.

And one lucky person from last week will receive a copy of MONARCH. Random.org chose number 7, which led to:

S. P. BOWERS

Congratulations! Please email me soon at rlconnolly01 [at] gmail.com so we can get your copy to you.

Didn't win? Do you want to read it, too? There are several other ways you can read the book.

Direct from Rhemelda Publishers (they're having a sale right now on their recently published books).

Or from Amazon below:

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Interview with Michelle Davidson Argyle and MONARCH Giveaway!

I can't begin to tell you how excited I was when I signed up for my first ARC—a copy of Michelle Davidson Argyle's debut novel MONARCH. When it came in the mail, I was giddy with excitement. And, honestly, since then I've read the novel twice because I enjoyed it so much (come back next Wednesday for my full review). So, to be able to interview Michelle as well is a great, exciting honor for me.

Also, because this novel is so fabulously amazing, it HAS to be shared. Want to read it? Keep reading below for more information on how YOU could win a copy of MONARCH!

For those of you who don't know her, let's start with a brief introduction:

Photo and biography courtesy
of the author's website
Michelle graduated from Utah Valley University with a Bachelor's Degree in English/Creative Writing in 2002. Her short fiction has been published in the University of New Mexico's national literary journal, Scribendi, 2002, the Rose & Thorn Journal, 2010, Suspense Magazine, June 2011, and Stories for Sendai Anthology, 2011. She served as the editor-in-chief of Utah Valley University's literary magazine and has won awards for her short stories. She is also an editor/publisher of “The Literary Lab Presents…” series of anthologies.

Michelle is a mother, artist, and writer who lives in the Rocky Mountains with her sword-wielding husband and energetic daughter. She writes contemporary, literary, and fantasy fiction. Cinders and Monarch are two of her published novels. The Breakaway will be released in 2012 by Rhemalda Publishing, and Bonded (which includes Cinders) will be released in 2013 by Rhemalda Publishing, as well.

Michelle likes peanut butter and tomato sandwiches. And cheese. Lots and lots of good cheese.

(Can I just say, me too! You can never have enough cheese!)

So a warm welcome to Michelle. *applause*


Rosie: First, congratulations on the release of MONARCH. It's a wonderful novel.

MDA: Thank you! And thank you for interviewing me today.

Rosie: So much of MONARCH is influenced by monarch butterflies, and there's even information at the beginning of the book on how the reader can learn more about them. Is this a personal interest that you've had for awhile, or something that developed while writing the novel?

MDA: I’ve always loved butterflies, but the idea to include them as the main theme in a novel came about when I was reading Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. She has a section in there all about the monarch butterflies, and it’s absolutely brilliant and beautiful and it touched me in a way that really stuck. I got the idea to include monarchs in a novel, and of course I decided to include spies into the mix because I like to shake things up like that.

Rosie: One of the main characters, Nick, has worked as an undercover CIA agent in Brazil. How much research did you put into living the CIA undercover life?

MDA: I did quite a bit of research on the CIA, but there’s only so much you can find out about the CIA online! They’re kind of secretive about some things. So I turned to some biographies from former CIA officers. I loved one in particular – Blowing My Cover: My Life as a CIA Spy by Lindsay Moran because it was personal and entertaining, but full of some really great information.

Rosie: MONARCH is an edge-of-your-seat thriller, and I couldn't put it down. This doesn't happen to me very often. Unless it's a secret you'd rather not reveal, how long did it take you to write MONARCH, and how many rounds of revisions did you go through to get it to its current (amazing) state?

MDA: From conception to publication, Monarch took me seven years to complete. Actual writing time, however, is probably more like a year. I began the book in November of 2008 for National Novel Writing Month and submitted it to Rhemalda Publishing in October of 2010. That’s two years, but a good portion of that was also spent writing and self-publishing my novella, Cinders. Monarch  then went through edits with my publisher. I must say, however, that Monarch was a bit of a challenge for me. It was a complete disaster after I finished it in 2008. After a few revisions I chucked it all and rewrote the entire book from scratch. I’ve learned a lot from writing Monarch!

Rosie: One of the suggestions to writers seen around the internet these days is to write scenes that contain no more than 4 people. However, your climax scene not only has several important players, but it's also done so well that it doesn't feel crowded or confusing. Do you have any tips on writing group scenes?

MDA: As I always like to say, I don’t believe in rules like only including four people in a group scene (although I can understand that from a new writer’s perspective). Still, talk about limiting your storyline and storytelling skills. I tell the story how it needs to be told and the scene you are talking about in Monarch that meant including more than four people. It wouldn’t have worked otherwise because the entire point was to bring everyone together for that climax.

If I have any tips on group scenes I’d have to say plan everything out in every possible way you can imagine. For this group scene I drew out a picture of where everyone was, where they moved during the scene, and where they are at the end. I then had my husband help me figure out the fighting sequence (yes, I had to make it more complicated with fighting, hah!). I also told the scene from three different points of view over the course of several chapters, but that was what I had done for the entire book, so it worked.

These kinds of things in writing are completely dependent on the author’s skills, the point-of-view of the storytelling, the style of the novel, and other such factors. I don’t think there’s any magic formula for it except for practice and experience.

Rosie: What authors and/or books would you consider your strongest influences?

MDA: I adore The Awakening by Kate Chopin, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and I also like Dostoevsky, Virginia Woolf, and Flannery O’Conner. Those are the classics I love that have influenced me. As far as contemporary, I’d say Marilynn Robinson, Tom Clancy and John Grisham. I’m kind of eclectic, can you tell? I’ve slowly been opening my door to more fantasy and I hope to add some of those to my favorites list.

Rosie: This is your first novel with Rhemelda Publishing. Can you talk a little bit about how you came to work with them?

MDA: I found Rhemalda Publishing when one of their authors, J.S. Chancellor, contacted me about reviewing my novella, Cinders, soon after it was released in 2010. She adored the book and when I looked up more about her I found her publisher and decided they might be a good fit for Monarch. After some intense revisions I submitted the book in October of 2010 and voila! Here I am. If only it was as quick and easy as I make it sound. *laughs*

Rosie: What upcoming projects do you have in the pipeline?

MDA: My young adult/new adult novel, The Breakaway, will be coming out next year (2012) from Rhemalda — hopefully late spring. It’s the story of a girl kidnapped by a family of jewel thieves. In 2013 my novella collection, Bonded, will be released by Rhemalda Publishing. This collection contains my novella, Cinders and two other fairy-tale inspired stories – Thirds and Scales. After that, I’m not sure. I currently have an idea for a young adult historical (possibly considered paranormal) novel set in Scotland. I don’t stick in one genre, can you tell? I hope that this project will release late 2013 or early 2014.

Rosie: And a random question to keep you on your toes: If the all the world were set up like Pangaea and all you could road trip anywhere, where would you go and why?

MDA: If all the world were set up like Pangaea I’d have to choose to visit anywhere by the coast! I dearly love the ocean.


Thank you so much to Michelle for letting me interview her. Once again, I'm very excited about MONARCH, and I want everyone to read it. Of course, giving away a copy to everyone would be an incredible (or incredibly expensive) feat. But, I can at least offer one copy for a lucky reader to win.

Want to win a copy of MONARCH for your very own? Leave a comment below. Want to be eligible for more entries? Tweet, Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn links will all give you one extra entry toward winning. Just be sure to leave me links in the comments section, and feel free to tag me in any posts.

Entries close at 8PM EST (US) time on Tuesday, October 11. The winner will be announced here on October 12.

Good luck :)
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