The Compulsive Reader

Monday, October 24, 2016

10 years

November marks ten years since I created The Compulsive Reader.

In so many ways, writing this blog was the first step in my exploration of who I was and I wanted to be. I'd always defined myself as a Reader, and blogging was my first real outlet for my love of books and story and YA. It also led me to a community that's pretty amazing and has expanded to include some of my very best friends. So many of the bloggers I met back when I first started are now amazing booksellers, teachers, librarians, editors, and publicists and I am so incredibly proud to see how far we've come. We were a mostly teenaged crew of book fanatics who've grown up and have started to take over the book world and I know that we're going to do amazing things because we've already shown that we have the passion and the work ethic and the insane love for YA and its readers.

That said, I think it's been pretty evident for a while now that I am not really the book blogger I used to be. That change really began in 2013, when I entered into the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults program at VCFA. Believe me, if there is anything that could pull me away from blogging, I'm so glad that it's doing what I dreamed of ten years ago when I started this blog: writing my own YA books. I love writing. I take it very seriously. Much more seriously than I've taken this blog. Which is why I think I need to stop hesitating and just admit that this is no longer the book blog it used to be. It's still my blog, and I am happy to keep it around occasionally update it as a YA writer, but I won't be posting frequent reviews anymore. I'll still talk about the books I love, though! And you can always find my writing over at Book Riot (here's my author link). A lot of my former blog-writing energies have gone to producing content over there, simply because I get paid to write for Book Riot, and while this blog has always heaped wonderful and sometimes unexpected rewards, cold hard cash was very, very rarely one of them.

In addition to Book Riot and occasional updates here, you can also find me on on Twitter at @tirzahprice, and you can follow my in-the-moment reading escapades on Litsy at Tirzah.Price!

And finally, I'll end with my most exciting news of the last week--I'm now represented by Taylor Martindale Kean of Full Circle Literary! The dream has become a little more real, and I'm really excited to see what the future brings. Thanks so much for reading.


Monday, October 17, 2016

Some TCR Reading for You on Book Riot!

I've been busy over on Book Riot! Most recently, I wrote a follow-up to my popular TCR post "Lesbian Hands Are a Thing" for National Coming Out Day, which was October 11th. It's called "Out and Proud vs. Hiding in Plain Sight: The Evolution of YA Book Covers." If you remembered the original lesbian hands post, I argued that we need more covers that are out and proud. In the new post, I examine the pros and cons of that argument, and how book covers today attract and deflect queer teen readers.

I also have a 100 Must-Read list of Historical YA Novels and a separate list for YA Historical Fantasy Novels. Because they both deserve their own lists, and because there are SO MANY GREAT BOOKS.

October is my most favorite month of the year, so I curated a (non-horror!) reading list, and it's not too late to start reading!

And here are the top 5 Fictional Libraries I'd Love to Visit IRL.

If you're a YA super fan, see if you can match these taglines to their YA novels in the quiz I wrote! Good luck, and may the odds be ever in your favor!

And finally, do you #bujo? If yes, then I have some cool bookish bullet journal ideas for you!

Thanks for reading and following along!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Leaping for Joy for Kate Beasley's debut Gertie's Leap to Greatness!

 Next Tuesday is the release date for of my favorite middle grade books of 2016! Gertie's Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley features a bold, lovable, and intelligent protagonist who is just as memorable as Ramona Quimby or Matilda or Gilly Hopkins.

The novel follows Gertie, who goes on a mission to become the best fifth grader ever in order to prove to her estranged mother that she doesn't her one bit. Gertie's methods are anything but conventional, and it doesn't help that she's thwarted at every turn by a real life Mary Sue. Everyone thinks Mary Sue is great, even Gertie's best friends. In order to be the best, Gertie is going to have to take drastic measures.

Everything about this story is charming--the Alabama setting, Gertie's worldview, her friends (and enemies), and her funny (and sometimes heartbreaking) methods to demonstrate her greatness. The kids act convincingly, the adults are just clueless enough about the characters' interior lives and politics, but also pretty astute, too. Under hijinks and laughs, Gertie is a character who's been hurt, but she's got a great support system and people who love her, showing readers that unfair things happen even to the greatest kids, but love and acceptance can come from unlikely places. 

I love Gertie because she's bold, and she's not afraid to defend herself (or the ones she loves), even when she knows that she might be ostracized for it. One of the most heartbreaking scenes in the book is when Mary Sue's mom makes an impassioned speech against oil rigs to Gertie's class, and Gertie marches up to the front and defends the rigs because it's where her father works. It creates some great tension that punctuates the rest of the book, and offers young readers a really great opportunity to grapple with big issues in an age-appropriate manner. 

(Oh, and did I mention that the book is illustrated by Jillian Tamaki!? Because it is, and she does a brilliant job.)

I highly recommend picking up a copy for yourself and a kid you know and love, because Gertie will not fail to delight! And if I can't convince you, then perhaps this photo of Kate and her sister Cassie (author of Circus Mirandus!) leaping for Gertie will!

How can you not go out and buy the book now? I mean, really.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Writing Under the (Childhood) Influence by Bruce Hale

 Today we have Bruce Hale on the blog! He is the author of multiple books for kids, most recently The Curse of the Were-Hyena!

During author visits around the globe, I’ve given all kinds of answers to the author’s most-asked question, “Where do you get your ideas?” I’ve said it’s a mystery (true), that they come from paying attention and asking questions (also true), and that they’re manufactured for me by a gnome called Guido who lives in my backyard (I’ll let you guess about that one).

However, it would be just as true to say that often my story ideas have their roots in my childhood. A reluctant reader at first, I was nevertheless a big fan of monster movies and comic books. Then, on a tragic day my family still calls The Day the TV Broke, my parents began reading aloud to us. The Tarzan stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs were what turned me into a reader, and I find that his influence still lingers.

For instance, about eight years ago, I wrote a hybrid graphic novel series called Underwhere about these kids who discovered a world beneath us. Not until after it had been published did I recognize echoes of Burroughs’ Pellucidar books in my wacky tales.

Flash back to little kid time: After we finally got a new TV, I used to love watching old Humphrey Bogart movies with my dad. The rat-a-tat dialog and tough-guy attitudes enthralled me, and the plots intrigued me. Years later, this influence came out in my Chet Gecko mysteries, which borrowed heavily from film noir. In fact, that hardboiled voice came so easily, I had to make a conscious effort to move away from it for other books.

But though I’d once been a huge fan of monster movies— particularly the Universal Pictures classics like Frankenstein, The Mummy and The Wolf-Man—I’d never tackled a horror story before. Until now. The Curse of the Were-Hyena draws directly from that childhood love. Just like my boyhood friend Billy and I, the book’s two heroes love comic books and are obsessed with monsters. In fact, even the series title, The Monstertown Mysteries, comes from a book I wrote in second grade, The Two Brothers at Monstertown.

I felt a certain comfort and familiarity writing about a subject and characters so close to home. That’s one of the joys of returning to a childhood influence. And yet there was a freshness to the process as well. Unlike me, the book’s narrator is Latino; and unlike those Universal movies, the monster is a made-up one: a were-hyena. Something old, something new.

As I grow more aware of my early influences, I feel freer to stray from them, to play with them, to mix them up with other notions. That’s what the creative process is about, after all. But I know they’ll always be there, informing my writing and providing a wellspring of ideas. In case, you know, Guido the gnome ever gets tired of churning it out.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Pasadena by Sherri L. Smith + Giveaway

Jude is on the other side of the country when she receives the worst possible news: Her best friend Maggie Cho has drowned in her swimming pool. She rushes home to Pasadena, and tries to unravel the tangled web of Maggie's last days. Maggie was Jude's best friend, but Maggie had lots of friends who confided their secrets in her, met her in secret, kept her secrets...and had motivation to kill her. The deeper Jude digs, the more convinced she becomes that Maggie didn't just drown--she was murdered.

This contemporary novel evokes the eponymous setting through languorous descriptive passages. The slow-burning mystery with relentless questions keeps readers hooked as Jude slowly pulls back the layers of Maggie's lives and uncovers her secrets. The tone of the novel is reminiscent of classic noir stories, but her investigation techniques don't have the same panache as the other famous teen noir sleuth, Veronica Mars. Nevertheless, the twist of the mystery about what actually happened to Maggie more than makes up for the novel's unhurried pace, forcing Jude to finally come face to face with her own buried, ugly past. For a setting-rich YA mystery that explores twisted friendships rather than the criminal element, Pasadena is the perfect choice.

Thanks to the generosity of Penguin Group, I'm giving away a copy of Pasadena to a blog reader! Just fill out this form!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Happy 100th Birthday, Roald Dahl!

Well, 2016 is quite the hallmark year for children's writers. In April, Beverly Cleary turned 100 years old, and next week, on the 13th, would be Roald Dahl's 100th birthday. I don't know about you all, but when I found out that two legendary authors whose books were touchstones in my childhood were also born in the same year--it was a bit a surprise. Their lives and careers were both very different, I sort of imagined them as living in totally different times.

Most of us know and love Dahl's most popular books--Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, The BFG--but Dahl taught me a very important lesson when I was a young reader: if you like a book, go look up that author in the library because you might be surprised by an extensive backlist. It's safe to say that Roald Dahl's books were the first I ever binge-read. It was awesome, because all of his books are delightfully weird, but also because it then allowed me to be a young, smug reader who went around saying stuff like, "Oh, you like Dahl because you read the BFG? Well, have you read Danny the Champion of the World? Because that's where that story comes from!" I know, I know. I was terrible.

But Danny the Champion of the World sticks in my mind for some reason. I think it was perhaps because most of my peers tore through Dahl's books but I was the only one who read Danny. Maybe it's because the first few chapters contain the origin story of the BFG (it's a bedtime tale told to Danny by his father), and I was so charmed by the connection between books. Maybe it's because the plot is so odd. I recently re-read it for the first time since I was a smug little reader, and the entire time I couldn't help but marvel at the plot, which I think would be a hard sell in today's market. It's about Danny, who lives a charmingly humble life with his dad in a gypsy wagon at a filling station. Danny's dad is the best in the world--kind and humble and entertaining, and provides everything for Danny. They're poor, but happy. Then when Danny is nine, he learns his dad's deep, dark secret--he's an illegal poacher! He loaves to poach pheasant from the rich man's woods, and soon he starts taking Danny with him even though there is a legitimate chance that both Dad and Danny would be shot on sight. But the rich man is understandably awful, so it's okay. Danny comes up with the most excellent plan ever to poach all of the pheasants from this man that everyone hates, making him the champion of the world, and learns a lot about his community in the process.

Basically, the book is about breaking all of the rules and finding out that the adults are not only complicit, but encouraging of this. No wonder I loved this book as a kid.

But this new understanding of my childhood love of Danny made me think of a troubling trend I've encountered at work recently, where I'll suggest a children's book to a parent looking for reading material for their kid, and after explaining the premise, I'll get a variation of, "No, not that one. My kid is energetic/mischievous/has a history of getting into trouble, and I'm afraid that that book will give them ideas."

To which I always want to say, "Well, isn't that the point?"

Unpacking this issue would talk another post, but I think stories like Danny the Champion of the World--ridiculous, over the top stories about illegal poaching--are fine. I don't think any child is going to turn into a criminal after reading this book. I think kids are going to read it, and be inspired by Danny's bravery (even when he's scared) and delighted to find that he has so many adult supporters. I think this book will entertain and inspire and spark curiosity. Luckily, I don't need to hand-sell this book to any parent, because Dahl's name sells itself. And Danny isn't the only rule-breaker in Dahl's canon. I'm glad that these preposterous, delightful, mischievous stories are still finding their way to kids. It gives me hope--that kids will turn into readers, that they'll go to the library and look up the rest of Dahl's books, and that they'll keep on discovering stories about crazy, rule-breaking kids.

Thanks for the great books, Roald Dahl, and happy 100th birthday!

Enter to win a full set of Roald Dahl's kids' books from Puffin!

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Illuminae, An Ember in the Ashes, and Other Books I Finally Read

There was once a time in my life when I was so on top of reading all the new releases right away, and that time lasted for about six months, and now I just live under piles and piles of books and sometimes read something the week it comes out and feel very proud of myself. Mostly, I note new books and add them to my list and only get around to them when my friends yell at me. That's how I ended up finally reading these books.

So, Illuminae is a giant book but it's a cool epistolary novel in the form of a massive dossier, so it reads super quickly. It's centered on Kady and Ezra, teens living on an illegal mining colony on a distant planet. The story begins with them breaking up, and then their planet is attacked by a rival corporation! Because that's how awful break up days are. In the madness of the evacuation and rescue, they get separated from each other and find themselves on different ships in the same small convoy headed for a distant space station, pursued by their attackers! When the AI on the battle ship Kady is on starts to go wonky, they realize that the battle isn't over--biological warfare, dangerously personal ulterior motives, and a possibly mutinous AI may kill them before they are rescued.

Basically, Battlestar Galactica with Reavers!

So, I really loved it. Kady and Ezra are sort of adorable in their post break-up funk, the stakes are incredibly high, and the AI is almost as fascinating/delightful/terrifying as Talis from The Scorpion Rules (another awesome sci-fi book that I read because my friend threw it at me, and I am SO GLAD I did). The identity of the person assembling the dossier is another really great mystery, and the narrative voice is very sardonic and fun. The story has a terrific inevitable twist, and a twist I didn't see coming. The find words of the story got my pulse pounding: Now run. I can't wait for the release of the sequel, Gemina, in October, which I am totally going to read right away and not six months from now.

An Ember in the Ashes has been recommended to me approximately ten million times by five million different customers, and I finally caved and read it because I was worried they'd stop liking me and maybe go elsewhere for their books. I'll be the first to admit that Roman Empire-inspired fantasy doesn't exactly get my pulse pounding, but I am super glad I caved to peer pressure! It's a dual POV, with Elias, a Mask (think elite warrior) and Laia, a Scholar slave who's actually a spy. They're both living at an elite academy where nefarious dealings are underfoot for power, and though it takes some time for their stories to intersect, they eventually do in a very exciting way. The rotating perspectives were really seamless, and the wordlbuilding was beautiful. Every time I thought that the stakes couldn't get any higher, they did. Plus, the story was full of really fantastic, really complicated characters. I have A Torch Against the Night on order already and I can't even imagine how things can get worse for these characters, but I'm sure Tahir will torture them (and her readers) appropriately!

I also read The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig because one day my friend asked if we could start a book club wherein we read the same book and discuss it over snacks, and although I am never one to turn down a good snack plate over book talk, I realized this suggestion for what it really was: a request for me to finally read this book so she could openly discuss spoilers. So I obliged. I love the cover, the tagline, the title, and the premise--a girl who lives aboard a time-traveling ship must try and stop her father from going back to the moment her mother died because doing so might unravel her own existence. This was an interesting book, very trippy and tangled in time. It might have been because I was coming off of two very action-packed speculative novels, but this one didn't keep me as riveted at Illuminae and Ember, but I liked all of the plot elements and the historical Hawaiian setting was so, so good! And I shall be very curious to see what the premise of book two, as well!

Maybe I can keep this trend going and finally read Six of Crows! I am an eternal optimist where my TBR stack is concerned.

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!