The Compulsive Reader

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Well, this is embarrassing.

I don't think I've ever gone almost two months without posting since I first started this blog nearly ten (10!!!) years ago. Chalk it up to very busy, very exciting things happening over on my end. First, I finished draft #6 of my YA in progress--the book I've been working on for about two years! It's been a long road, but I'm feeling great about it.

Second, I went back to Vermont! I was the grad assistant at my lovely alma mater, Vermont College of Fine Arts. Residencies are always inspiring and overwhelming, and full of laughter and learning and late nights singing Hamilton songs and so. much. book. talk. I was so grateful for the chance to go back and see all my wonderful friends, make some brand new friends, and see the Themepunks graduate.

Third, I've been pretty focused on pulling together the next print issue of Hunger Mountain, the VCFA journal of the arts. It's the only literary journal that accepts children's and YA lit for publication, and our deadline is September 15th! So if you or someone you know would like to submit, get on that! We want to read your work!

Finally, I've been pretty focused on starting the next book and gaining some momentum on that. After spending so much time with one project and a very specific cast of characters, the changeover is a little jarring but I'm getting more and more into it every day!

I'm hoping to start posting again a bit more frequently, but in the meantime here are some great books I've read recently:

Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older

Daniel is one of the newest faculty members at VCFA, so I was super excited to read this urban fantasy novel about Sierra, a shadowshaper who has the ability to infuse her artwork with the spirits of the dead, and must learn how to control her ability to prevent a dark presence from taking over in her Brooklyn neighborhood. It was exciting and smart, and I highly recommend it.

Lumberjanes Vol. 4: Out of Time

I've talked about how much I adore the Lumberjanes before, so I'll just say that this volume delighted me because it furthers the mystery of the Lumberjanes organization, answering some questions that only give us...more questions. We get to see a little bit of the camp's history, and we discover something startling about the girls' experience there. Plus, there are Frozen jokes.

Paper Girls, Vol. 1

I didn't quite know what to expect with this new series, but salty twelve year old paper delivery girls solving a crazy alien invasion mystery with time travel completely blew me away. If you're a fan of the show Stranger Things, pick this one up! Trust me!

The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

Maggie Stiefvater was the visiting writer at this summer's VCFA residency, so I had to finish the Raven Cycle! I re-read the first two books, and then got into the third and fourth for the first time. It's quite a rollercoaster ride experience reading all four in order. I really enjoyed immersing myself into that world and I think I was able to enjoy the connectivity of her writing a little bit better when I was reading them back to back rather as the books came out.

Plus, Maggie was awesome! Here's a photo of all of the grad assistants with her!

The Last Star by Rick Yancey

Finally got to the end of this trilogy! It was an intense read, and while it did have a plot, I felt like the characters' desires got a bit muddied in the middle of this. There was lots of angst and feelings and explosions. The ending was fairly surprising, but in a good way? I'm glad I pushed through to the end, and I'm curious to hear what others think!

On the adult side of things, I read Out by Kirino Natsuo and I can safely say it was the most disturbing mystery I've ever read! But the writing was so great, and I loved the setting (Japan), so I'll definitely be looking for more of her books. I also read one of the Jane Eyre retellings on my to-read list, Re Jane by Patricia Park. In this novel, Jane is a Korean American orphan working at her uncle's grocery store after college when she takes a nannying job. It follows the Jane Eyre story pretty well, with some interesting divergences--first, the "crazy wife in the attic" is very present from the first day that Jane takes the nanny job, and second, it's not a romance. I found it to be a fascinating story about identity and multi-culturism in the early 2000's.

Of course, I still have articles going up on Book Riot on a more frequent basis, so definitely check over there for great bookish content! Today I have two posts up: where to start with the books of Melina Marchetta, aka one of my favorite authors ever, and how to make your bullet journals more bookish! You can see everything I've written for Book Riot here!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies by Lindsay Ribar

Aspen Quick is born into a strange family, with very strange and very important powers. They have the ability to reach--into objects, into people--and take things. Memories, thoughts, emotions, even physical characteristics. They use this ability as a part of an old ritual to keep the cliff overlooking their small New England town from tumbling down and crushing everything. But Aspen uses his ability outside of this ritual, and he's never given it a second thought...until the summer after his cousin's mysterious death, when he meets Leah, who is a little too curious about his family's strange legacy.

Aspen is a surprising, not-exactly-reliable, and privileged narrator. He makes terrible decisions, but his confidence is engaging, and the flashbacks that Ribar sprinkles in among the present-day drama add depth and complexity to his character. The premise of this story and Aspen's family history is fascinating and fresh, especially as the consequences to their actions become more apparent and nuanced as the story progresses. Aspen starts out confident in his abilities and what he thinks he knows about his family, proud of what he can do and secretly hurting over is mother's abandonment. But as he gets to know Leah, who inexplicably knows about his abilities and his family's legacies, he begins to question what he thought was true about his family. This development is drawn out realistically, a result of Leah's new information and Aspen's own poor decisions pushing him closer to the truth. The somewhat serious story is balanced out by terrific sarcastic humor and banter between Aspen and his friends, and great flashbacks. Like its excellent title, this novel may appear flippant at first, but it's a lot darker, a lot more complicated than it seems.

ARC provided by publisher.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

On Book Riot: Mysteries for Fans of Tana French

One of my favorite non-kidlit authors is Tana French. I adore her dark and atmospheric mysteries, and I am super excited for the sixth book in her Dublin Murder Squad series, The Trespasser. On Book Riot, I wrote an article with four mystery recommendations for people who love Tana French, just to tide you over until The Trespasser releases!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Giveaway: Return to the Isle of the Lost

Hey, Descendants fans! Thanks to the awesome generosity of Disney Hyperion, I'm giving away a copy of Isle of the Lost and the sequel, Return to the Isle of the Lost, both by Melissa de la Cruz! Return to the Isle of the Lost is the latest book in the Descendants series, and it is out now!

About Return to the Isle of the Lost:
Mal’s an expert at intimidating her enemies, but she’s broken the habit since leaving her villainous roots behind. So when she and her friends Evie, Carlos, and Jay all receive threatening messages demanding they return home, Mal can’t believe it. Sure, she’s King Ben’s girlfriend now, and she’s usually nice to her classmates, but she still didn’t think anyone would be silly enough to try to push her around.

The thing is, it kind of worked. Especially since she and her friends have a sneaking suspicion that their villainous parents are behind the messages. And when Evie looks into her Magic Mirror, what she sees only confirms their fears. Maleficent’s just a tiny lizard after her run-in with Mal at Ben’s Coronation, but she’s the worst villain in the land for a reason. Could she have found a way to escape? Whatever’s going on, Mal, Evie, Carlos, and Jay know they have to sneak back to the Isle and get to the bottom of it.

Without its infamous leader, the island’s even worse than when they left it, but the comforts of home—even a home as gloomy as the Isle of the Lost—can be hard to resist for recently reformed villains. Will the kids be able to beat the evil bubbling at the Isle’s wicked core, or will the plot to destroy Auradon succeed?

To enter, fill out the form below!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

Hermione Winters is at the top of her game: she's cheerleading co-captain with her best friend Polly, and they're about to have the best-ever cheer camp before launching their final season. Their team has been cursed for the past few years with losing a member, and Hermione is determined to break that curse through hard work and teamwork. But her carefully-constructed plans are derailed one night at camp, when something is slipped into her drink. She wakes up the next morning in the hospital, unable to remember the sexual assault that occurred after everything went black. In the weeks that follow, Hermione deals with the aftermath of the assault, resisting the stigma of being a victim while at the same time attempting to make peace with the fact that she may never know what happened that night.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear is a bold re-imaging of A Winter's Tale that takes an unflinching look at the aftermath of an assault and how Hermione forges ahead. The nature of the subject matter is emotional, enraging, heartbreaking, usually within the space of a page, but I have a fierce admiration for Johnston in that Hermione's story never once felt exploitative, and that it didn't gratuitously linger in the awfulness of what Hermione experienced. Hermione is tough and determined, but she doesn't muscle her way through this experience on her own. She has an incredible support system in her parents, her coach, her best friend Polly, and some of her cheerleading teammates. This network and how Hermione assembles her team of people to help get her through this--and her acknowledgement of her vulnerabilities and need for help is what makes her truly strong.

As much as this book is about the aftermath of a life-changing assault, it's also not. It's about growing up, being on the brink of something new and unseeable and scary and exciting, and it's about making decisions about an uncertain future. It's about learning learning to value your established relationships even as you grow into new ones. This is what makes Exit, Pursued by a Bear stand out to me--the simple fact that it's about positive healing and a support system makes it unusual and remarkable to me. On one hand, I feel a tiny bit sad that this idea is so revolutionary to me, but mostly I am just so grateful that Johnston has given us a book that will help influence and change the narrative about healing from sexual assault. Hermione's story is not everyone's story, and her journey isn't easy or magical, or even solved simply, but it shows readers another positive way towards healing. It reaffirms that that sexual assault isn't the beginning or ending of a person. That's a story that will always be important.

And, okay, switching gears here--how amazing is that cover? if you're going to have a cheerleader on your book cover, it better be that cheerleader. Such a kick-ass cover. It's perfect for this story.

Book purchased via indie Brilliant Books!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood

Jessica Spotswood is the author of the Cahill Witch trilogy, which I read and loved about two years ago. (The books are Born Wicked, Star Cursed, and Sisters' Fate!) She's also the editor of the fantastic A Tyranny of Petticoats anthology. Wild Swans is a little different from these previous books, but no less enjoyable!

Ivy Milbourn has always felt the weight of her family's legacy. Milbourn women are extraordinary: Her great-grandmother was a famous poet, her grandmother a talented painter, and her mother was a beautiful singer--right before she abandoned Ivy with her granddad. Ivy's spent most of her life looking for her great talent, and she's finally managed to secure a summer free of art lessons and college classes. She plans to swim and hang out with friends, just have fun. Then her mother shows up for the first time in years--with two more daughters Ivy didn't even know existed, complicating Ivy's previously held ideas about the Milbourn legacy.

I'm going to admit upfront that I am a sucker for the estranged parent/surprise sibling trope. Perhaps it's because I spent so many hours imagining that I had a long-lost sibling as a kid (weird, I know--but hey, I was an only child for a long time, and I watched a LOT of Parent Trap). The drama of the story appealed to me immediately, and Spotswood takes it up another notch (and genuinely surprised me) when Ivy discovers that her mom has told her little sisters that Ivy is their aunt, not their sister. Crazy, right? The family dynamics are so fraught and interesting at the same time and Spotswood does a really great job exploring the nuances of the tiny dramas alongside the big ones.

Ivy's intense family dynamics and the expectations placed on her are balanced with a pretty swoon-worthy romance with her granddad's literature student, Connor. Connor is pretty much perfect, but his presence creates some interesting tension in Ivy's life. Her long-time friend Alex is hurt when Ivy starts dating him, and Ivy works to keep her relationship with Connor secret from her family--her mother is looking to exploit and evidence of Ivy being reckless, and Connor is Grandad's student. Add this romantic drama to how Ivy navigates her relationships with her two best friends, each with issues and family problems of their own, and there's more than enough interesting threads to fill the novel while Ivy grapples with her own feelings of inadequacy as a Milbourn girl. The plot is pretty tame compared to the plots of Spotswood's earlier books, but this standalone is just as emotionally hefty and breathlessly romantic.

Book purchased from my indie!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Summer Days and Summer Nights Blog Tour

One of the most fun anthologies I've read in recent years was Stephanie Perkins' My True Love Gave to Me, a Christmas/holiday-themed collection of short stories by a great range of YA authors. What could possibly top that? A new anthology, called Summer Days and Summer Nights, featuring (you guessed it) summer-y stories!

"Maybe it's the long, lazy days, or maybe it's the heat making everyone a little bit crazy. Whatever the reason, summer is the perfect time for love to bloom. 
Summer Days and Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories, written by twelve bestselling young adult writers and edited by the international bestselling Stephanie Perkins, will have you dreaming of sunset strolls by the lake. So set out your beach chair and grab your sunglasses. You have twelve reasons this summer to soak up the sun and fall in love." 
Authors in the anthology include Leigh Bardugo, Francesca Lia Block, Libba bray, Cassandra Clare, Brandy Colbert, Tim Federle, Lev Grossman, Nina LaCour, Veronica Roth, Jon Skovron, Jennifer E. Smith, and of course Stephanie Perkins!

As the editor, Stephanie was kind enough to answer a few questions here about summer reading!

TCR: Which do you prefer--poolside or beachside summer reading?

SP: Beachside! Ocean waves are the perfect white noise to a delicious book.

TCR: Do you have any go-to summer books you like to re-read summer after summer?

SP: I’ll recommend one of my mother’s favorite summer reads: Sarah Dessen’s Keeping the Moon. It might be my favorite Dessen novel, too.

TCR: If you had to pair Summer Days and Summer Nights with a summer-y drink, what would it be?

SP: Watermelon juice. It’s so simple—it’s just watermelon that’s been put into a blender, but it’s heaven.
Summer Days and Summer Nights is out now!

Monday, May 16, 2016

On Book Riot: How to Up Your Book Browsing Game in 5 Easy Steps!

I love bookselling, but I am only human and sometimes I have pet peeves regarding my job. The biggest of these is when customers pronounce "tarot" like carrot, but the next one is regarding people who don't/can't properly browse, which is why I wrote this post on Book Riot on how to be a better browser. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Headed to BEA!

Hey all, I'm headed to BEA in Chicago today, where I plan on reconnecting with friends, having heated conversations about books, and attempting to resist the lure of a bajillion ARCs (wish me luck on that last one). I'll also be at BloggerCon in somewhat official capacity--I'm leading a round table in the afternoon discussing business and monetization, about which I have many thoughts! Come talk with me if you're registered for BookCon! Otherwise, say hi if you see me wandering the exhibit hall! Let's all have a nice, safe, happy BEA and that means no biting while going for an ARC pile, okay?

Monday, May 9, 2016

Newt's Emerald by Garth Nix

You know how some books are just made for you? You read the description and it has all your favorite elements and you just know before you even pick it up that it's totally going to be your jam? Newt's Emerald by Garth Nix was that book for me.

I haven't read a Garth Nix book since roughly 2004, when I discovered the Abhorsen trilogy at my local library. My memory of this experience was that the books were totally weird and I was totally into them. (And they are also totally on my to-read list this summer!) But Newt's Emerald is not at all like the Abhorsen trilogy! It is a Regency-era romance, with magic! Basically, it did what it could to fill the Gail Carriger sized hole in my heart.

Lady Truthful Newington (Newt for short) is very eager to turn eighteen and come out to London society. She's pretty, smart, passable at magic, and eager for her adult life to begin. On the evening of her birthday, her father presents the Newington Emerald, a magical gem that will one day be Newt's...only to have it stolen right from under their noses. With her father in hysterics and her cousins quite incapable of rescuing it, Newt heads to London to track down the emerald herself. Unfortunately, she can only do so much as a lady. So she gamely dons a male disguise and entreats the help of one Major Harnett. Together they uncover an insidious plot decades in the making...and an attraction to each other that is threatened by the secrets they both keep.

Garth Nix writes this fantastical romance with charm and plenty of humor. The story unfolds and flows easily, and contains many delightful surprises and twists. The characters are all top-notch--from Newt's indulgent but clueless father, her passel of Newington boy cousins, her mysterious and resourceful aunt Lady Badgery, and even Major Harnett himself, who is not at all what he seems. I love Newt because while she does not entertain any great fantasies of adventure or heroics, she is capable and willing to do what she must for her family and doesn't let anything stand in her way. The delightfully ridiculous plot promises a great tour of the Regency era, taking characters from slum warehouses to ballrooms, across London, the countryside, and to sea. Throughout it all, Newt's energy, good humor, and clever thinking continually save the day, making for a fun pseudo-historical and feminist book.

Book purchased from my local indie! The cover and packaging were too pretty to resist!