The Compulsive Reader

Monday, August 3, 2015

Monday morning enabling

Hi. Does your wishlist need to be plumped up a little? Of course it does. Here, add these two books to it:

Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend by Alan Cumyn

"Prepare to be blown away—or rather, carried away on huge muscular wings—by this blissfully outlandish, bracingly-smart, tour de force about a teen who has to come to terms with relinquishing control for the first time as she falls for the hot new…pterodactyl…at school. After all, everybody wants him! 
Sheils is very pleased with her perfectly controlled life (controlling others while she’s at it). She’s smart, powerful, the Student Body Chair, and she even has a loving boyfriend. What more could a girl ask for? 
But everything changes when the first-ever interspecies transfer student, a pterodactyl named Pyke, enrolls at her school. There’s something about him—something primal—that causes the students to lose control whenever he’s around. Even Sheils, the seemingly perfect self-confident girl that she is, can’t keep her mind off of him, despite her doting boyfriend and despite the fact that Pyke immediately starts dating Jocelyn, the school’s fastest runner who Sheils has always discounted as a nobody. 
Pyke, hugely popular in a school whose motto is to embrace differences, is asked to join a band, and when his band plays at the Autumn Whirl dance, his preternatural shrieking music sends everyone into a literal frenzy. No one can remember what happened the next day, but Shiels learns that she danced far too long with Pyke, her nose has turned purple, and she may have done something with her boyfriend that she shouldn’t have. Who’s in control now? 
Hilarious and relatable (despite the dinosaur), Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend is about a teen who must come to terms with not being in control of all things at all times, break free of her mundane life, discover who her true self is, and, oh, finding out that going primal isn’t always a bad thing."
So I know right now you're probably thinking that this is a joke, or that this is a parody novel, not a real novel. Nope and nope. This is the latest book from Alan Cumyn (who also happens to be faculty chair at VCFA) and you guys, it is hysterical. At every VCFA residency, faculty are given the opportunity to read from their latest work or their works in progress. It's this really cool moment in the schedule where we can just sort of relax and soak in the brilliance and get all inspired. Or just laugh and laugh and laugh. I think that Alan read from Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend every single residency I was in the program, without fail. And every single time we all roared with laughter (because it is supposed to be funny!) and were also struck by just how good this novel is. 

It's already got some haters on Goodreads, but all I can do is implore you to just roll with it. It'll surprise you. I promise.

The Secret Twin by Adi Rule

"For eighteen years, Redwing has lived in hiding in a city of hissing pipes and curving temples perched on the side of Mol, the great volcano. Her father hoped she would grow up to be a real human girl and not a wicked creature out of mythology, so he secretly spared her life as an infant. 
But when two priests track her down and attack, she calls forth fire to protect herself, and her secret is out. Redwing soon catches the attention of a cult with a thousand year-old grudge, a group of underground rebels, and the son of the Empress. And when Redwing’s sister goes missing, she uncovers a greater plot to awaken Mol and bring his lava down upon them all. 
Now, Redwing must draw a line between myth and history and prove herself more than a monster if she is to save both her sister and her home."
Adi is the author of Strange Sweet Song, which I love love love love and I recommend it to fans of Daughter of Smoke and Bone every chance I get. You can read my review here, but know that Adi is the kind of writer to watch. Her writing is strong and brilliant and lovely and deep, and I cannot wait to get my hands on this novel.

And yeah, both of those books are by VCFA authors, what of it? I promise you that this blog is not turning into a VCFA parade, but hey, a lot of great writers and books come out of that program. And if you are interested in a VCFA parade, check out their official kidlit and YA blog The Launchpad!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Why I Love Lumberjanes and Why I Think You Will, Too

I first heard about Lumberjanes from Robin Herrera (author of Hope is a Ferris Wheel and editor of comics), who is super cool and my graphic novel sensei ever since I started reading graphic fiction a year and a half ago and buying a lot it for the bookstore. She dropped the title in this casual way, like, "Oh, and there's this comic that's awesome and volume one is coming out in a few months and you might like it, it's called Lumberjanes..." So I pre-ordered volume one, only it didn't come for weeks and weeks and weeks even after the release date because it was busy being on backorder for being so amazingly awesome. And then when I did get it, my sixteen-year-old brother totally snatched it away from me!


But I finally read it this past weekend and...just, all the hearts. Lumberjanes smashes up so many things that I love--hardcore lady types, summer camp, friendship (to the max!), a sense of adventure, sharp humor, wacky supernatural creatures, and an ace ensemble cast. Like, Buffy the Vampire Slayer mixed with your favorite summertime novel. It's about the members of Cabin Roanoke, five super curious and hilarious and hardcore Lumberjanes (think Girl Scouts with a Joss Whedon twist) who are discovering that there is a lot more going at their summer camp than they could imagine. They encounter yeti in the woods, weird foxes, river monsters, and a super strange boys' camp in their quest to figure out what exactly is going on this summer, and they're not going to let anything stop them from having the best time ever.

The first volume contains four chapters/episodes/issues (or whatever the terminology is, I'm a comics noob, relatively speaking) that sets up the weirdness of the camp and the mystery terrifically. Strange creatures abound, the adults are being all mysterious, but once the girls have latched onto the mystery of the Kitten Holy not even their hovering camp counselor will be able to keep them from investigating. The clever twists on language keep it fresh--puns abound, their favorite "swears" are "What the junk?" and "What in the Joan Jett?" which made me cackle every single time. And can I say how amazingly awesome it is to read a genuinely funny and amusing story about girls who are being awesome and working together and living out believable relationships and tensions? It shouldn't be so revolutionary (insert obligatory grumbling about patriarchy) but it's just crazy cool awesome. And genuinely entertaining. And I love it. And I think you would, too. And your friends. And your kids. (Seriously, it's super entertaining as a YA, but it's even appropriate for MG-aged readers!) Basically, it's for everyone.

Volume One, Beware the Kitten Holy, is out now, Volume Two is out in October, and Volume Three will be out sometime next spring. Also, it looks like a live-action move adaptation is in the works! Fingers crossed!

Lumberjanes was purchased from my indie!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

So I wrote earlier this week about how I graduated with my MFA (confetti!) in Vermont. Those ten-day residencies in Vermont can get intense. We go for twelve+ hours a day, and it's nonstop. By the time I was ready to fly home (with a layover in LaGuardia, sob), I needed something really light and fun for my plane reading.

Cue Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda!

My friend Amy Rose read this one a little while ago and said she stayed up super late to finish it in one night. This is high praise from Amy Rose, and I added it to my list immediately. Since then, multiple people on the internet and at residency have proclaimed their love for this book to me, to the point where this book was actually starting to guilt trip me. A tiny part of me was afraid to read it, though--surely it can't be a great as everyone is making it out to be?

Oh, but it was.

Simon Spier knows he's gay, and he knows his family and friends will probably be okay with it, but he's in no hurry to make a grand coming-out proclamation and deal with the drama that comes with it. Besides, he's perfectly happy with the secret online flirtation he has going on with Blue, a boy who goes to his school. But when Simon's emails to Blue are discovered, Simon is blackmailed into helping classmate Martin get closer to his friend Abby...and suddenly things get very, very messy for Simon.

Becky Albertalli completely nails Simon's voice in this book. It came through loud and clear in the first two sentences of this book, and it stayed wonderfully funny and consistent throughout the entire novel. I loved everything about Simon--his quick wit and good humor in the face of sucky situations, how assured he was at times, his love for his family and friends, his exhilaration at his relationship with Blue, and even his vulnerabilities.

Albertalli also does a really great job at balancing a large cast of characters. Between Simon's family, his close group of friends, and his wider group of friends from theater, there are a lot of people in this novel. Part of the focus of the novel is about Simon learning to negotiate the expectations that the various people in his life have of him while still trying to form his own identity without outside pressure, and the conflicts that Simon faces are believable. The larger cast also helps create the mystery surrounding Blue's true identity--is he someone Simon knows, and just how close is he? These questions and the resulting tensions pull the reader through the novel quickly. I laughed so hard while reading it that I woke up the woman next to me, and when I finished it somewhere over Lake Ontario, I was a little depressed.

Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a genuinely funny, sweet, and smart book, and it is a delight to read. I would read twelve more volumes of Simon Spier stories if they existed. So get writing, Albertalli.

Book purchased from the incredible indie Bear Pond Books in Montpelier, VT!

Thursday, July 23, 2015


In 2013, fresh out of college, I enrolled in the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. It's a low-residency program that allows you to work one-on-one with an advisor, but requires twice a year trips to the Green Mountain State for ten-day residencies. My first day at residency was full of equal parts wild excitement (finally, I found a way to Hogwarts!) and absolute terror. What had I gotten myself into? Back then, 2015 and graduation seemed impossibly far away, but the last two years actually seemed to zoom by.

Last weekend, I graduated! Look, I even have photographic evidence:

Reading my creative thesis and trying not to pass out:

Delivering my graduate lecture on the function of banter in YA novels and how writers can use banter to achieve emotional resonance:

Celebrating with my FANTASTIC class, The Crafttographers! (Yes, we are in costume, and yes, we are all adults.)

And finally, in our gowns and with our hoods and diplomas! We're official!

Attending VCFA has been life-changing in the best, most magical way. Over the last two years, I've read over 300 books, written fifteen critical essays and one verrrrrrrrry long critical thesis. I wrote pages and pages and pages of creative work for three different novels. I wrote a first full draft of a novel one semester, and then I completely re-wrote it the next semester. I attended five different workshops, and I got to work with many wonderfully wise, patient, and talented writer mentors. The program blew my mind wide open--to new literature, new forms, new ideas, and new perspectives. And along the way, I met some of the best people and writers living on this Earth. I'm very grateful, and right now a little teary.

Many people have asked me, "What's next?" The answer isn't terribly exciting--more writing, more working, and always more reading. The program teaches you to be a writer in the "real world" of jobs and families and busy schedules, and I'm excited to see what will happen next. Right after I finish unpacking and laundry and go grocery shopping and...

If you're considering VCFA or taking your writing to the next level, feel free to email me! I really mean that. I love VCFA, and I will talk about the program for daaaaayyysssss...because it really is Hogwarts in real life!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Paper Towns Giveaway Extravaganza!

Raise your hands if your weekend plans include seeing Paper Towns in theaters!

I'm looking forward to this one because it'll be a John Green movie adaptation that I won't ugly cry along with in theaters (not that ugly crying stopped me from seeing The Fault in Our Stars in public...twice...) and because Nat Wolfe totally stole the show in TFIOS. When he was smashing the trophies? The best.

To celebrate the release, I'll be giving away one copy of the book with the movie tie-in cover (Nat Wolfe is on the cover! And Cara Delevingne's mad eyebrow game!), a set of three awesome Paper Towns pins, and a $25 Visa gift card so you can go see the movie with a friend!

(Or just go by yourself and totally go to town at the concessions stand. And if that's how you roll, respect.)

Check out the buttons:

I also have this cool video with John Green about the Paper Towns movie to share with you all:

To enter to win, fill out the form below!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Rainbow Boxes Change Lives!

This post has to be a quick one as I am currently sitting in LaGuardia waiting for my flight to Vermont for my final (!) residency at Vermont College of Fine Arts!

My dear friends and amazing YA authors Cori McCarthy and Amy Rose Capetta have been working very hard for months on an exciting new charitable initiative called Rainbow Boxes that was unveiled on Monday! They were inspired by the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement and decided to think up a way to connect LGBTQIA YA fiction with the teens who need those books the most!

Rainbow Boxes is hoping to raise $26,000 to buy 1,500 books for LGBT youth shelters, GSA's, or underfunded libraries throughout the country. That's 100 boxes--two per state! They need a lot of help and so far they've had amazing success--they raised nearly $5,000 in just two days! That's 20 boxes! But they still have a ways to go.

Please consider donating to this fantastic cause! Check out the video below, which reveals which books they've chosen to send out into the world and 15 reasons why the world needs Rainbow Boxes! And if you can't donate, please spread the word--share, ask someone you know who might be able to give a few dollars, tell the world! I believe that stories can change the world and offer hope, and what we can do will directly impact the lives of many, many teens!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire

Egg & Spoon, Egg & Spoon, Egg & Spoon. What do I say about this book? Do you want to know how hard I worked to get my hands on a copy? I'm talking repeatedly looking it up, stalking the library, hopping in my car and driving like mad, sneaking between shelves, sweet-talking and pleading, and then once it finally got to me I had to leave it alone for two weeks while on a trip and when I got back, I had exactly four days to read it before it was due.

Oh, Egg & Spoon.

I'm not the most knowledgable person on Russian mythology but my favorite classes in college were the two semesters of Russian history that I took in my first year, much to the horror of my faculty adviser ("You're an English major!" she scolded, like that's an explanation). But I feel like the spirit of Imperial Russia has been captured beautifully in this book. I think one of the things that Maguire does particularly well is write the contrast between total poverty and overwhelming wealth in a very authentic manner, and then uses it to his advantage when it comes to the magic and mythos of the story. The story is about two girls, Elena and Ekaterina. Elena is poor, Ekaterina is very wealthy. When her personal train rolls through Elena's village and the girls happen to switch places, they set off a bizarre string of events that unveil all of Russia's mystery and magic.

For Elena, sudden transportation to luxury is its own form of magic. All the food and creature comforts she can wish for and provided, but the only thing she wants is to save her mother. So she plans to entreat the tsar--a figure as formidable and mythical as the firebird in her mind.

Ekaterina is dumbfounded to find her circumstances so humbled, and she in her pursuit of her lost train, she stumbles upon real magic. Baba Yaga, her house on chicken legs, and a very sassy cat. As Ekaterina and Baba Yaga head off in pursuit of Elena, they find themselves walking into an even more complicated quest that takes them to the firebird and ice dragon, all to save Russia.

The story is told from the point of view of a slightly intrusive yet strangely omniscient imprisoned monk. It's not until deep into the book that we discover his connection to the characters, but that's the brilliance of Maguire's plotting--everything is connected, everything moves quickly, and strange, quirky characters delight. Baba Yaga steals the show! She's irreverent and anachronistic and a little spoiled and completely entertaining. I loved her.

Also, the cover is a thing of beauty. Definitely worth purchasing as a hardcover!

Book borrowed from the library!

Monday, June 29, 2015

This just in...

...The Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta will blow your mind.

I know, I know. I'm like, so late to the game. I've read all of Melina's contemporary books and they're all so incredible, every single one. I was waiting to read Finnikin of the Rock, though. I was waiting because everyone told me that it was incredible, and so was Froi of the Exiles, and Quintana of Charyn, and even though those names stumbled around on my tongue, I trusted the people who told me I would be blown away and I wanted to love them and I wanted to time to read them and love them. And that meant waiting until grad school was (mostly) done.

But now I've read them, and I don't know what to say, except, READ THEM. I feel like Melina Marchetta has just shot me in the face with the full range of human emotions. I want to throw a temper tantrum because there isn't MORE.

I don't know why, but the books that hit me the hardest like this tend to be fantasy novels. I don't think it's the genre, per se. I think it's what the author manages to accomplish within the genre. A full world, brilliantly plotted and depicted. Characters--not just main characters but secondary characters and even tertiary characters--that I adore. Plotting that is complex and brilliant. And above all, an emotional arc that is so strong it demands to be felt deeply.

I live for these types of books.

And if you do too, go pick up Finnikin of the Rock. (And do yourself a favor and have Froi of the Exiles and Quintana of Charyn on hand. Ignore the questionable covers. If ever there were a time to place your trust in me, it's now, my friend. You can thank me later.)

Now excuse me while I go plot a way to convince Melina to write more fantasy.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

(YA) Love Wins!

We've been celebrating like mad since the SCOTUS announced their ruling yesterday that marriage is for ALL couples. I went to work and promptly dismantled the YA endcap so I could put this up in its place:

Excuse the slightly dark photo--there's no decent way to get a shot that's not backlit by the windows!

I always strive to buy a diverse range of books, but this is the first time I've put all of my LGBTQ YA/MG books together and it makes my heart swell to see how many we have in one place. Plus, it's missing at least three titles (Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley, Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour, and Two Boys Kissing by David Levitathan) because I sold them! Huzzah!

This is a momentous occasion and cause for so much celebration and love. But we still have a long ways to go, and I am confident that through literature we are changing the world. #WeNeedDiverseBooks because readers are diverse and multi-faceted and everyone deserves to see themselves in the books they read.

But this week, #LoveWins!

What are your favorite LGBTQ books or characters?

Friday, June 26, 2015

Rags & Bones: New Twists on Timeless Tales

In the past year or so, I've really gotten into short story anthologies. I really love the interesting concepts and themes of a lot of the YA short story collections that are out there, broad or very precise, and how writers tie their stories into the themes in unique and unexpected ways. Rags & Bones: New Twists on Timeless Tales, edited by Melissa Marr and Tim Pratt, is a book I picked up solely because of the subtitle. 

Retellings are an endless source of fascination to me, whether they're retellings or fairy tales, classic pieces of literature, or grand oral traditions. I think they offer some interesting insights into how people interpret the original stories and it's surprising and cool to see what resonates with the re-teller when it appears in the retold form. It's like catching a glimpse into the brain of the re-teller, which I really like since I am a nosy person.

Rags & Bones includes stories from the editors Pratt and Marr, and Neil Gaiman, Holly Black, Carry Ryan, Kami Garcia, Margaret Stohl, Rick Yancey, Saladin Ahmed, Kelley Armstrong, Gene Wolff, and Garth Nix, plus six illustrations by Charles Vess. The design of this book is lovely, and it's all about looking at classic tales through new and surprising lenses. The Post-Apocalyptic/Futuristic seems to be the most popular lens in this collection (no big surprise), but Neil Gaiman's "The Sleeper and the Spindle," a gender-bending (and fairy tale bending) take on Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, has all of the classic trappings of fairy tales, and it's gorgeous and surprising and probably (no, definitely) my favorite in the collection and makes this book worth purchasing, in my opinion.

I also enjoyed Garcia's retelling of Rumpelstiltskin, set in gang culture. Combining gritty, brutal realism with just an edge of magic was super fascinating, and she pulled it off magnificently. The fairy tale retellings weren't my only favorites: Pratt's version of The Jolly Corner was haunting and nostalgic, and Yancey's version of Hawthorne's "The Birth-Mark" was weird and tragic. I love that the writers aren't afraid to explore tragedy and hubris and unhappy endings--something that we see a little less of in YA novels.

This is probably not the most read-able anthology of YA fiction out there, but it is one of the more literary, interesting ones. It's one that you might not be able to power through, but will enjoy sifting through slowly. Even the illustrations offer playful twists on known tales and legends, making it a great one for teens who are interested in literature. You don't have to know every tale that is retold here, but it might inspire you to seek out a few. If you enjoyed The Curiosities by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff, this is a book for you!

Book purchased at Bear Pond Books, the most charming bookstore in Montpelier, VT.