The Compulsive Reader

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Why You Should Really Write YA, A Response to That Bustle Article, With Tweets and Annotations

Today I got onto Twitter, which is always a dangerous game, and saw tweets about this article on Bustle, on why you should write a YA novel. It's not a surprise in this tech-y/DIY/instant gratification age that the idea that anyone can write (and publish) a book is perpetuated around every corner, but I clicked on the link despite the warning bells that were tinkling at the back of my mind. Because, you know, I do that YA writing thing, which is why this blog doesn't get as much time and loving attention as it used to. (Writing novels is hard, yo.)

But this article... I think I'll let my tweets (with annotations) say the rest. (Also, sorry for the swears, Mom.)
(To be fair, Young Adult is a super fascinating movie and not bad, per se. But I don't think it realistically depicts the life of any YA writer. Okay, maybe two. But not any that I know. And I know a LOT of YA writers. And I am one. So there.)

(We could go round after round about YA tropes, and storytelling techniques, strategies, and narrative styles that exist under the umbrella of YA. There are certainly some things that are more typical of YA than others, but there are ALWAYS outliers and exceptions. And I'd argue that high emotion should be characteristic of any good novel, most of what we call cliffhangers in YA aren't actual cliffhangers but unresolved endings, and short chapters? Seriously? Have you read a Rainbow Rowell novel?

If you want to talk more about YA and writing styles, drop me a line. We can go to coffee and I'll bring my MFA hood.)

(Look, I have two friends with film agents/movie options. If they got movies eventually, we'd all be ecstatic. But they'll also be the first to tell you that they would be shocked if that happened. Frankly, they're just kind of baffled and happy to have made it this far, but they don't expect much more even if we are all hoping for movies and multi-million dollar franchises. And without having hard numbers, I'd also say that most YA writers don't have film agents, let alone interest.)

 (ALSO, not every YA writer even wants to be involved in the process of making a film from their novels. I think films take a lot of time make, maybe, and that'd be time away from writing, which doesn't sound appealing to me or to many writers.)

 (I mean, really.)

(Enrolling in an MFA program in Writing for Children & Young Adults is a really great way of submerging yourself into a community of like-interested adults. We also throw some hella good parties.)

(I have lots of social media followers. You're probably one of them. If they all gave me a dollar, I could pay off my student loans, but that's stupid because I don't want your dollars. I just want to hang out and chat and favorite--I'm sorry, LIKE--your funny tweets and maybe have intense feelings about books with you. The idea of social media audience = sales or profit of any kind is kinda silly.)

(Quickest, time-wise. Books take a lot of time! Books should take a lot of time because so much goes into them. This is a very important point--editing, copy editing, formatting, design, marketing, publicity, sales. These are all broad stroke points in a huge process. And I can tell you honestly, as a bookseller, you need to do your due diligence and make it all professional as can be, or readers won't give you much attention.)

(Seems like an unrealistic expectation? Past Tirzah was so polite. It IS an unrealistic expectation. Unbelievably unrealistic.)

(Nothing is guaranteed: Also a good life motto.)

(Personal anecdote: When I was younger, I used to imagine selling the book I was writing. I would get $300,000 for it and its two sequels. I don't know why $300,000, it seemed like a nice round number. I would be flush! I would pay off my car! I'd buy a couch! You wanna know how far this fancy daydream got me? Nowhere, in the middle of nowhere.

Now, I'm not saying that I don't still fantasize about what life might look like after publication, but I actively try not to because that shit is like a tiny innocent snowball that goes rolling down a very large mountain and turns into a boulder of snowy doom before its halfway down, crushing all motivation and focus on the actual work. And funny thing, if you want to be published, you need to do the work.

These days, I fantasize about getting a piece of dialogue right, or writing a metaphor that will make people say, "Huh, good one, Price." Also, chocolate for every 1,000 words I write.)

(Don't even go there.)

(Mmm, pie.)

(Now, I wouldn't argue if anyone wanted to pay off my student debts, but believe me, there are far easier and much more profitable ways of doing that than spending three hours every morning writing. I could wait tables, write ad copy, tutor a teen, open an etsy shop...and I can't think of any more skills I possess. But they'd all make me more money than I am earning or will hope to earn on anything I write between the last two years of my life and the next five.

So why do I write? Short answer: Because YA books saved my life as a teen, gave me guidance when I felt lost, and made me feel less alone. I have some stories in me that I hope will someday do the same for at least one teen. I write because I can't not.)

(Some words on the fancy degree, because I know there are people out there who might want to pick at this one point and while I am proud of my MFA, I don't want it to sound like I'm elevating myself above the MFA-less: You do not need an MFA to write and publish excellent books for teens--aka YA. You DO still need to do all the work, though. For me, an MFA was perfect because it gave me guidance, a structure, and access to amazing faculty members, all published and successful in their own rights, who offered me feedback on my work. As an added bonus, it expanded my mind--yay education!--and it gave me a built-in community I know I'll have for life. I highly recommend it. If you can't swing an MFA, then find the non-MFA equivalent of that! You'll need friends and a community and support that is all about that craft for when the market stuff gets depressing.)

 And, encore! My friend compiled a thing and it is great:

 Thoughts, ideas, etc. welcome. Please no tomato throwing. Comment or tweet at me.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Calvin by Martine Leavitt

Seventeen-year-old Calvin has always felt a special affinity to the Calvin & Hobbes comic strip. He was born on the day the last strip was published, he had a stuffed tiger named Hobbes when he was little, and he even once had a best friend named Susie. Now that he's seventeen, Hobbes has returned--as a talking tiger with a mind of his own--and Calvin has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Calvin desperately wants to be normal, so he figures that if he can just meet Bill Watterson and convince him to draw one last Calvin & Hobbes strip, depicting Calvin as grown up and okay, then he'll be okay, too. And so he sets off for Ohio, walking across a frozen Lake Erie, with one not-real tiger and one maybe-real Susie, determined to find Bill.

I love, love, love this book. Whether or not you know and love Calvin & Hobbes (and if you've never read Calvin & Hobbes, you need to!), this is a story that will resonate with you. Calvin is an unreliable narrator, but delightfully so. Because of his schizophrenia, even he isn't able to tell you for sure what's real and what isn't, but he is determined to see his only solution through, even if it's what others might call crazy. And that's a brilliant source of tension in the novel--as the stakes grow, the question of whether or not Susie is real becomes imperative, for her sake if she's real and for Calvin's if she's not. The Hobbes character is downright delightful, which makes it rather tragic that he's this frustratingly, damagingly fictive element of Calvin's mind.

When we're kids, we talk about things that are real and aren't real in such distinct terms, even though the lines are often blurred. (Santa Claus is real, by a faraway country or an animal never before seen in person may not be.) I think a common misconception about growing up is that we are better able tell what's real and what's not. But if anything, I think it becomes trickier. And Martine Leavitt addresses this brilliantly--are our feelings real, are our fears valid, does this belief hold weight, will this relationship withstand the trials of life? How do we know when something is real in all the ways that matter? All this, and more in this novel. Calvin is a brilliant little book, bursting with beauty and life.

ARC provided by publisher.

Monday, November 9, 2015

A Few of My Favorite YA Short Stories

I've been making a point to read more short fiction in the past year, especially YA short fiction. I think that there is a misconception that there isn't much of a market for YA short stories, and it certainly is a less visible than adult short fiction, but once I committed to reading more short stories, I found that there is a lot out there. You just might have to dig a little! I've got an anthology round up post in the works, but for now: Here are some of my favorite YA short stories!

"The Summer People" by Kelly Link
Where to read it:  Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories, or Link's newest collection, Get In Trouble

"The Lady and the Fox" by Kelly Link
Where to read it: My True Love Gave to Me, edited by Stephanie Perkins

When it comes to YA short stories, I don't think you can find better than Kelly Link. Her stories are brilliant, beautiful, and eclectic. She has a few collections in both the adult and YA markets, and she's edited a few anthologies, so she's someone you might have read and not realized. "The Summer People" exemplifies what I love about her work: relatable teen characters in a real-world setting that slowly becomes more unsettled with each page. And "The Lady and the Fox" is lovely and strange and just the right combination of magic and heartbreak.

"The Last Ride of the Glory Girls" by Libba Bray
Where to read it: Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories ed. Kelly Link

I first read this short story in preparation for my first VCFA residency. Margaret Bechard was giving a lecture on science fiction, and asked us to read it in advance. The world that Bray builds, the string of moments that shape the protagonist, and the decision she's left with all completely entranced me. This is one of the best short stories I've ever read, and it's makes buying the entire Steampunk anthology 100% worth it.

"Paper Cuts Scissors" by Holly Black
Where to read it: The Poison Eaters and Other Stories by Holly Black

There's so much to love in this story: books, characters who come to life, a mysterious basement, and magic. I first read it years ago, but I go back to it every now and then and get something new from it every time. And the rest of Holly Black's collection (actually, anything she writes) is excellent as well!

"Resurrection Bay" by Neal Shusterman
Where to read it: As a digital download from HarperImpulse

I downloaded this one in a whim and read it on my iPhone (sadly, it doesn't look like it's available in print anywhere), and I was thoroughly creeped out and completely enamored with this book. If you want a short story with a memorable setting and a creepy twist, this is a perfect pick.

"The Game of Boys & Monsters" by Rachel M. Wilson
Where to read it: As a digital download from HarperImpulse

Rachel Wilson's short story takes a recent YA trope--monster boyfriends--and explores the dark underside of romance and danger. This is a sharp, unsettling, and beautifully written short story. I read it on my phone (it's only available as a digital download), but reading it made me feel like I ought to be wrapped up in a blanket on a window seat, reading the words in a leather-bound book.

"The Bus" by Maggie Lehrman
Where to read it: On the Hunger Mountain website, direct link here

You probably recognize Maggie Lehrman as the author of The Cost of All Things. This short story isn't magical (except for the writing), but it is a brilliant exploration of how a single moment can change everything. I think I held my breath while reading the majority of this story--Maggie layers tension and emotion and suspense brilliantly.

"Tilt-a-Whirl" by Rachel Furey (the 2015 Katherine Paterson Prize winner!)
Where to read it: On the Hunger Mountain website, direct link here

Everything about this story invites the reader in: the second person narration, the detail, the setting. This is a beautiful and deft piece that explores a moment of grief and connection in such a memorable way.

"Stupid Perfect World" by Scott Westerfeld
Where to read it: As a digital download from HarperImpulse, or in the Love is Hell anthology

I read this years ago, and the concept has always stayed with me: two teens in the far-future have to experience a "hardship" from the past for the Scarcity class. They choose adolescent hormones and sleep, and find that the surprising benefits far outweigh the inconveniences that their society has chosen to erase. I still really love this story for all that it does to challenge readers to think about what's really important in life.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Half Wild by Sally Green

Hey, have you read Half Bad yet? If not, then you probably should stop reading this post and read this one first!

Half Wild picks up not long after Half Bad ends off, with Nathan reckoning with his new gifts and a brief encounter with his famous father. Nathan's gift is that same as his father's--the ability to turn into a beast. His inability to control his gift add to his conflicting feelings about his own identity as White or Black Witch, especially as Nathan and Gabriel are caught up in a rebel movement to fight the corrupt White Witches. The story takes them all over Europe, from allies to enemies, and culminating in a devastating betrayal.

I'm not going to lie, you guys. Me reading this book as mostly just shipping Gabriel and Nathan. And then tweeting about my feelings.

The evidence:
Because even though we don't know what happens to Gabriel at the end of Half Bad, of course he's fine. OF COURSE. Because Sally Green can't kill off Gabriel any more than she can write a convincingly romantic scene between Nathan and Annalise, who, by the way, is the worst. And that's not a spoiler, it's just a fact.

The book is full of action, and lots of moving around and emotional angst. Nathan still hasn't really figured himself out in this book, and is still working off of questionable personal motives and allowing himself to be manipulated by people who might be good, might be bad, we can't be sure. Because the characters are constantly moving around and their goals change a lot, the story doesn't feel quite as tight as the first book, but the tension between Nathan and Gabriel more than make up for it all. And along the way, we meet up with some favorite characters from the first book and learn some more about Nathan's parents' past.

The ending was quick and violent and emotionally shocking, but really perfect because it sets up some beautiful conflict and its aftereffects are sure to force Nathan to finally make some very important decisions in the third (and final, I believe?) book, which will be out March 27th, 2016. (And yes, I plan on live-tweeting my reactions at Kristin and making liberal use of the hashtag #natriel. Mark your calendars.)

Book purchased from my indie.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner

Standish Treadwell lives in a cruel world where the Motherland rules all. He has missing parents and a rebel grandfather and one friend named Hector. One day, Hector goes over the wall--the wall that is hiding all of the Motherland's secrets. Standish decides to go after him, but doing so puts Standish, Hector, and everyone in the Motherland at great risk.

To be honest, I'm not sure what I can say about Maggot Moon without giving away too much. So much of the appeal of this book the mystery of the characters and the setting, and how the narrator Standish reveals his world through fragmented, puzzle-piece chapters that skip around in time. Standish's voice is powerful and his fascinating perspective on the bleak world that he lives in draws readers into the story quickly.

The artwork (by Julian Crouch) that unfolds across the chapters like a twisted little flip book also helps to set a dark tone to the whole book. Coupled with the narrative, you can't help but get a sense of action and consequences and inevitability to the story, even as Standish's tale tilts towards tragedy. And even though story swells to a satisfyingly large conclusion, I can't help but wish there had been more to this strange story to grasp on to. It definitely warrants multiple readings and discussions.

Overall, Maggot Moon is a fascinating, intelligent, and chilling read, with bizarre layers and a strong emotional undercurrent. I highly recommend you read it (and then come find me so we can talk).

Friday, October 16, 2015

Cover Reveal: Two Summers by Aimee Friedman

Today I'm thrilled to host the cover reveal of Aimee Friedman's new book, Two Summers! Aimee is also the author of Sea Change, The Year My Sister Got Lucky, and many other YA and MG novels, and she's an editor for children's and teens books.

Here's what it's all about:
ONE SUMMER in the French countryside, among sun-kissed fields of lavender...

ANOTHER SUMMER in upstate New York, along familiar roads that lead to surprises...

When Summer Everett makes a split-second decision, her summer divides into two parallel worlds. In one, she travels to France, where she's dreamed of going: a land of cafes, handsome boys, and art museums. In the other, she remains home, in her ordinary suburb, where she expects her ordinary life to continue - but nothing is as it seems.

In both summers, she will fall in love and discover new sides of herself. What may break her, though, is a terrible family secret, one she can't hide from anywhere. In the end, it might just be the truth she needs the most.

From New York Times bestselling author Aimee Friedman comes an irresistible, inventive novel that takes readers around the world and back again, and asks us what matters more: the journey or the destination.
And here it is!

I love the vibrant blue and poppy reds of this cover--they're so eye-catching! 

Aimee was kind enough to answer a few questions:

TCR: If you had to describe Two Summers in ten words or less, what would they be?

AF: Parallel worlds, France, home, secrets, kisses, big questions, ice cream.

TCR: I love the concept of a split narrative and playing around with the question of "what if..." Was it challenging to plot out the two storylines?

AF: Absolutely. From the seed of this idea until I completed the final manuscript, it took me about three years and many drafts, long talks with my editor, and lots of mapping out timelines. It was essentially like writing two books in one. But it was also an amazing experience and I learned so much in the process, both about writing and about myself and my characters!

TCR: Did you have any ideas for the cover as you were working on the book?

AF: I knew I wanted the cover to in some way get across the two-stories-at-the-same-time trope while also conveying the bright colors and juiciness of summer. And I’m thrilled with what the incredible design team at Scholastic put together!

TCR: Where can we stay up to date on your bookish news between now and the release date?

AF: Follow me on Facebook (facebook.com/aimeefriedman), Twitter (@aimeefriedman), and Instagram (@aimeefriedmanbooks), and also on my website: aimeefriedmanbooks.com

Thanks so much, Aimee! Two Summers will be hitting shelves on April 26th, 2016! Add it to your wish lists!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

25 Random Things About Sherri L. Smith, Author of The Toymaker's Apprentice

I'm a big, big fan of any stories that take on Christmas myths, stories, or traditions, and so I'm very excited to see that author Sherri L. Smith has a new book out this week that does just that--The Toymaker's Apprentice! It's a middle grade novel about the famous Nutcracker story, but with a very clever twist...
Young Stefan Drosselmeyer is a reluctant apprentice to his toymaker father, and he wants nothing more than to escape the family business. That is until the day Stefan’s world is turned upside down when his father is kidnapped by a mice army. Matters only gets worse when he is enlisted by his mysterious cousin, Christian, to find a mythical nut called the krakatook in another world and to cure the Mouse Queen's curse.

Embarking on a wild adventure through Germany and beyond, Stefan must save Boldavia's princess and his own father from the fanatical Mouse Queen and her violent, erratic seven-headed Mouse Prince. Based on The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E.T.A. Hoffmann and The Nutcracker ballet, this fascinating journey through a world of toymaking, magical curses, clockmaking guilds, talking mice, and erudite squirrels will have readers on the edge of their seats until the very last page.
To celebrate the release, Sherri is touring the blogosphere. Today, she's revealing 25 random things about herself:
  1. I am passionate about chocolate chip cookies. In fact I am eating them right now. In my opinion, Ghirardelli 60% bittersweet chips are the only way to go!
  2. I am allergic to California (Palm trees? Check! Native grasses? Check! Traffic? Check!), but I live here anyway.
  3. I rode English and Western horseback as a child.
  4. I took bellydance for three years, culminating in my one and only solo performance to celebrate my birthday.
  5. I took hula for two years, culminating in a big finale at a community center show. We followed the toddler ballet class. They won for cuteness. We never tripped once.
  6. I played flute for half a year in high school just so I could play the part of “Greensleeves” that I knew. This was inspired by Susan Cooper’s the Dark is Rising series, in which a character I had a crush on plays…” Greensleeves” on the flute. See the heights reading can inspire you to attain?
  7. When I was a sophomore, I won second place in a German poetry recitation competition. The poem was “So einer war auch er!” by Arno Holz
  8. I was on an adult kickball team with my husband. Four words still enrage me: Chuck Norris Delta Force. The meanest team we ever played.
  9. E.B. White’s The Trumpet of the Swan gave me the courage to tell my mother I didn’t like mayonnaise when I was a kid. I never liked mayonnaise on my sandwiches, but didn’t know how to say why, until Louis the swan said he didn’t like it either. 
  10. I drink an awful lot of tea. Ginger Peach was my favorite herbal for years, Irish Breakfast is my go to for black. I find peace in the ritual of boiling water and choosing a tea from my cabinet. I have several mugs, but my Donald Duck is designated for mornings, and my Fiesta Ware for evening tea.
  11. I am torn between allowing pots to “soak”—meaning I can avoid them until morning—and actually just washing them right now.
  12. I was in ski club in 7th grade. I have only skied once since then, but I did enjoy it.
  13. I tore my ACL (a ligament in the knee) while dodging a zombie during an obstacle course. I had to have surgery, and my ligament was replaced with a donor tendon. For two years I liked to say I had used the zombie for spare parts, or that I was a little dead inside. But now, my doctors say the new part is all me, the cells replaced with my own. It’s like a tiny resurrection. I’m alive, ALIVE!!!
  14. I talk to myself. A lot. Out loud. Some people find this annoying. Some find it charming. I think it’s hereditary (thanks, Mom).
  15. I once did an aerial cartwheel. That’s “no handsies” for you non-gymnastic folks. Only once, though. It was kind of an accident and I couldn’t repeat it for overthinking the whole impossibility of it all. Kind of like Wile E. Coyote falling out of the sky only when he realizes there is no ground beneath him. Yep. That’s me.
  16. When I was four years old, my favorite food was day old spaghetti, chopped up and reheated in a pot. Delicious.
  17. I also peeled my hot dogs at that age, and refused to eat them without karate chopping them in half, a la Miss Piggy. Ha. Kids. Weird.
  18. My dog had two middle names but my cat does not.
  19. I would like to be two inches taller. For many years, I thought I was. But it turns out my school friends were two inches shorter than they thought, too. It was all a matter of scale.
  20. I think Prague looks like a fairy tale city, all spires and castles and bridges and astronomical clocks. Of course, there are hot dog stands and apartment blocks, too. It is, after all, a real city. But you can squint and just see the magic.
  21. I once sang a French song made famous by a nun in front of a full house in the assembly room of a church and somehow didn’t die of fright, or screw up the song, which was in too high of a key for me. Phew!
  22. I like roasted Brussel sprouts, tomatoes and broccoli, but not necessarily together.
  23. Inspired by a cooking magazine, I once deboned an entire chicken and made a galatine, which is layers of vegetables inside the bird. I trussed the bird back into shape and roasted it for dinner, much to the surprise of my brother, who talks about “the boneless bird” to this day.
  24. I find it strange that some people are bothered by bones in their meat. It’s meat. It has bones. Unless it’s a hot dog. In which case you chop it in half with your hand, just to be sure.
  25. I think Virginia Woolf is simply amazing. Even writing nonsense, she makes sense, like a narrator from a dream.
Thanks so much, Sherri! The Toymaker's Apprentice is out now! Put it on your Christmas lists!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Four Great MG & YA Graphic Novels

This almost feels like a cop-out post, highlighting four graphic novels instead of giving them each their own post. But I'm woefully behind on covering my reading, and hey, graphic novels are like potatoes chips. You can never have just one. You should always have at least four ready to go, right? Right.

So here are four graphic novels I've read recently (ish).

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

I love, love, love this book. It's about twelve-year-old Astrid who, after seeing a roller derby match, decides that she and her best friend Nicole need to enroll in roller derby summer camp. But Nicole isn't as into roller derby as Astrid, and she decides to go to dance camp instead. Astrid feels betrayed, but she's stuck with roller derby--and roller derby is hard. And unfortunately, Astrid isn't anywhere near as good as she hoped she would be. But she hangs in there, with some encouragement from a new friend and her roller derby hero, Rainbow Bite, and learns a few things about honesty and being a good friend.

What makes this story really stand out for me is that it's about a girl who has to learn to deal with the consequences of reality not living up to her expectations, and how to face disappointment. Astrid has a lot of obstacles--her friend "abandoning" her, roller derby is much more difficult than she thought it'd be, and other people succeed much more quickly than she does. There are times when she wants to give up, but she has to learn the hard way that the only way to achieve her dreams is through a lot of hard work--and that failure isn't the end of the journey. Plus, the roller derby came setting is SO MUCH FUN. Overall, this is a really charming and funny story with strong characters and an even stronger voice.

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer and Matthew Holm

When Sunny is sent to live with her grandpa in Florida for the summer, she's excited--Florida is where Disney World is! But Grandpa lives in a retirement community, where Sunny is the only kid. Until she meets Buzz, and they stumble into a lucrative business finding missing cats and golf balls and spending their reward money on comic books. But the whole summer, everyone is avoiding talking about the real reason Sunny is in Florida for the summer.

Sunny Side Up is a funny and mostly upbeat graphic novel that dances around the troubles Sunny has at home, before the start of the novel. The characters are what make this book compelling--Sunny, her grandfather, Buzz, the eclectic older ladies in the retirement community, and Sunny's troubled older brother. Because the major thrust of the story comes through flashbacks to the previous year, the present story is pretty light and the action feels a bit distant, but the message about dealing with secrets and uncertainty is something that younger readers will definitely be able to relate to.

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Nimona, longlisted for the National Book Award, has certainly gotten lots of great attention. I'm not sure what else I can add to the discussion, except to say that I enjoyed it a great deal. It's about a villain, Lord Ballister Blackheart who has a vendetta against Sir Ambrosias Goldenloin and is committed to proving that Ambrosia and the kingdom are not heroic and perfect. When a shapeshifter named Nimona comes to town, determined to help Ballister, Ballister finds his hands full diffusing the tension caused by Nimona's mischief--especially when it escalates dramatically. Who is she, really? And what does she want?

The best part about Nimona is perhaps the world that Stevenson very skillfully creates, a fun mash-up of medieval fantasy and mad science. The characters and the situations are delightfully over the top, but not without compelling emotional stories. This is an excellent story about friendship and learning to trust, with epic stakes and confrontations. The story genuinely surprised and excited me with its twists, and it manages to be laugh-outloud funny and unexpectedly touching at the same time. Definitely a winner.

Mercury by Hope Larson

Set in Nova Scotia, this graphic novel offers a compelling split narrative united by setting and family. In 1859, Josey's family welcomes a stranger into their home who shows them that their homestead contains gold and promises them riches. In present day, Tara's old house has burned down and her family has split up. Rumors of gold will spell out tragedy for one girl, and perhaps offer salvation for another.

The contrasts between the stories, and the question of gold, gives Mercury a good amount of tension. The historical story is taut with hints of supernatural and tinged with superstition--ghosts, visions, curses. Josey is hopeful and willfully ignores the subtle warnings. Meanwhile, Tara's story plays out against a very normal, almost banal modern backdrop. She's already lost a lot of hope for the future, but she is continually drawn to the rumors of her family's past and what happened in 1859, and the necklace that unites the two stories. Larson doesn't answer all of the readers' questions about the story, but the climax certainly delivers on all that it promises. Mercury is subtly creepy and memorable.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Walk On Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

Leah Westfall lives with her parents on their farm in Georgia, and is not the average young lady. Due to her father's failing health, she has taken on much of the work of farming and hunting and providing for her family. But Lee also has a secret--she has the ability to sense gold, and the gold she finds has saved her family from destitution more than once. Unfortunately, it's also given her family a "lucky" reputation that has made more than a few people suspicious.

One day Lee comes home to find her father murdered, her family's hidden gold stolen, and her mother telling her to run with her dying breath. Lee is reluctant to leave her family home and everything they've worked for, but it quickly becomes clear that her parents' killer knows about her ability and wants to use her. So Lee follows her best friend Jefferson west to California, where gold has recently been discovered, hoping to find freedom--and gold, of course.

I love this historical novel with a fantasy twist, and the characters in this novel are positively vibrant in Rae Carson's very capable hands. Leah is strong-willed and independent, enlightened and intelligent, but still a product of her own time period. When she's forced to flee, she disguises herself as a boy and works extra hard to avoid suspicion or detection. The lengths she goes to in order to avoid detection are very revealing of the times, and how women were overlooked and viewed as commodities, not people.

Carson has clearly done extensive research to make Lee and Jefferson's journey west vivid and heartbreakingly real, but the story never feels too rigid with extra research or superfluous information. The time period comes across in expressive details and through the perspective and actions of many different characters. Racism and bigotry are very real challenges that the characters face, along with disease, lack of water, exhaustion, and poor health care and treatment of injuries. In some ways, this book feel less like a fantasy novel and more like a very well-written historical fiction novel that just happens to have a fantasy element, but that's okay--the real challenges and injustices of the journey west, and the politics of the group that Lee travels with, are every bit as compelling as Lee's ability to divine gold.

And Carson does lay the groundwork for more action as a result of Lee's ability. She questions where the ability comes from, hints at Lee's obscured family history, and uses Lee's gold-seeking talents to help advance Lee's inner character growth as she learns to trust people with all of her secrets and identifies her own found family.

If I have any complaints, it's that the book ends far too quickly, with Lee and gang arriving in California, a land full of possibility. Luckily for us, this is only the first in a planned trilogy. Unluckily, we might have to wait a while for book two. That's okay, though--Walk on Earth a Stranger is more than worthy of multiple re-reads in the meantime!

Book purchased at my indie.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Books That Will Send a Shiver Down Your Spine

October is undoubtedly my favorite time of year. To paraphrase Rainbow Rowell, I was born in May but I come alive in October. The leaves, the cool air, the SWEATERS! (I have a thing for sweaters, okay?) And the creepy books and stories. I have never been a horror movie girl, but I am all about reading creepy sinister suspenseful books with characters that have a bit of darkness in them and  whose stories have bloody, murderous, and terrible endings. Yes, please.

That's not weird or anything, right?

And since those sorts of stories and October just go together, here's a highlight of some of the best books for your October reading!

If you want subtly creepy, atmospheric, magical realism...

The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle

Every October is the accident season in Cara Morris's family. The accidents start small and escalate into deadly, and this year might just be the worst accident season yet.

If you want a fairy tale with a dark twist...

Baba Yaga's Assistant by Marika McCoola and Emily Carroll

Masha runs away from home to be Baba Yaga's assistant, but first she has to pass three tests to prove that she has what it takes.

If you want an anthology of dark short stories...

Slasher Boys & Monster Girls, ed. by April Genevieve Tucholke

A collection of dark stories with plenty of bite from fourteen YA authors.

If you want witches and dark magic...

Half Bad by Sally Green

Nathan is half Black Witch and half White Witch. Whichever side of him prevails will determine his fate.

If you want unique magic and spells...

The Cost of All Things by Maggie Lehrman

In this twist on our world, hekamists can imbue food with spells, but with unanticipated consequences.

If you want creepy crawly in a historical setting...

Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray

I'm halfway through this dazzling and spooky sequel to The Diviners and it is perfect for this time of year!

If you want a middle grade novel with YA levels of darkness...

The Thickety: A Path Begins by J.A. White

Kara's mother was tried and hanged for being a witch seven years ago, and now twelve-year-old Kara may have found her grimoire.