The Compulsive Reader

Monday, April 21, 2014

Hope is a Ferris Wheel by Robin Herrera

I don't often post reviews of middle grade books, but this one was too fantastic not to review. Read on!

Ten-year-old Star Mackey is the only girl in her class that lives in a trailer park, and she’s sure if she can show her new classmates that living in a trailer park isn’t all that bad, she can make friends. But the kids who show up to her ill-fated Trailer Park Club aren’t exactly who Star was hoping to make friends with, until her club takes a different direction and Star is introduced to Emily Dickinson’s poetry and the meaning of friendship and hope.

Hope is a Ferris Wheel is charming and heartfelt, written in Star’s clever and humorous voice. Through weekly vocabulary lists, poetry, Star’s relationship with her teenage sister, and various attempts at launching clubs at school, Herrera explores Star’s life and her self-identity. Herrera handles the issue of poverty in Star’s story particularly well. It’s not a tragic element or a reason for Star to doubt herself, but a fact of life that illustrates how Star relates differently to her peers. Star is particularly resourceful and thoughtful as she discovers her creative voice, learns how hopes connect to dreams, and as she comes to terms with the complicated fabric of her family life. This is a fantastic middle grade debut, honest and entertaining.

Cover Comments: I love this cover--it's beautiful and bright and just has a lot of fun shapes and colors.

Book purchased from my local indie.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan

When Josie’s older sister Kate brings home her fiancĂ© for the first time, Josie is horrified. Stephen Geoffrey Brill is not the person for Kate, and Josie is going to prove it to her. Josie isn’t very good at communicating with people who aren’t Kate or her best friend Stu, so her attempts at figuring out how to prove what love really looks like are continually thwarted, until Josie has to face that she might not be able to fully grasp the intricacies of love and relationships.

Love and Other Foreign Words is a genuinely funny and clever book about learning to relate and communicate in a very confusing world. Josie’s attempt to understand her world and her relationships through the unstable constructs of words and their many meanings is more complicated than she first expects, and McCahan creates some great tension through the bantering that Josie engages in with others who don’t speak her language. Through awkward dates, exhilarating crushes, bursts of sibling rivalry, and declarations of love, Josie is always a humorous, curious, and insightful character. Her offbeat and loving family round out Josie’s story nicely and help Josie understand the most important aspect of love: unconditional support and understanding. McCahan’s second book is the most excellent sort—Josie comes alive on these pages, and her story will make you laugh and cry and want to hug the pages to your chest, even after the final page.

Cover Comments: I like this cover a lot--the dark blue is pretty and I like the title font. It's cute and pretty, but not too cute.

This book will be out May 1st!

ARC provided by publisher.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

VCFA Day in Ann Arbor 2014

This past weekend was momentous.

First, I had the weekend off for the first time in...many, many months. Actually, probably since I went to residency in January, which doesn't count because that's school (fun school, but still--I'm lucky if I get six hours of sleep while I'm in Vermont) and before Vermont I hadn't gotten a weekend off since before Christmas, so the point is, I HAD THE WEEKEND OFF. And it was glorious.

I also turned in my third packet of school work. Which was glorious, but also mildly terrifying.

But the best part about this weekend? I went to Ann Arbor for VCFA Day, orchestrated by the fantastic Debbie Gonzalez and sponsored by my beloved VCFA. I'm down for any sort of VCFA get-together, even if it is in a 7/11 in the middle of the desert, but Ann Arbor was truly a lovely place for this shindig. It is the land of indie bookstores, great food, and fantastic people (re: Debbie Gonzalez!).

The best part about VCFA Day is that it is for everyone! Truly. Alumni, current students (shout-out to LoriGoe Perez Nowack who was my fellow current student, soon-to-be-alumna there), prospective students, writers who just love kid lit and want to learn more about the craft. It was an event for all and I loved meeting everyone. We had about 25 people show up, and the majority of the people there weren't VCFA, so we had the great pleasure of witnessing to them the Gospel of Vermont. But we also just got to hang out and talk about writing and learn from Coe Booth and Marion Dane Bauer and wow, what an experience.

We started Friday night with a reception and then visited one of Ann Arbor's many indie bookstores, Nicola's Books, for a book event with Coe and Marion that was open to the public. The coolest part about that was that afterwards, we had an alumni/current student reading! And I had forgotten about it completely because I still had deadline brain! But I pulled something up on my phone and I didn't get booed off the microphone, so hooray. I love, love VCFA readings. Not only are they super supportive and fun, but I'm always surprised and thrilled by hearing my people stand up and read. The versatility and diversity of the readings are breathtaking and inspirational and so exciting. It's also completely awesome to know that in a few years I'll get to say stuck-up things like, "Oh, yes, I heard her read from that a few years when it was just a draft! Why yes, we are close friends." (But seriously. It takes a lot of courage to get up and read from a work in progress and my VCFA community is crazy courageous. I love it.)

The next day was an all-day writer's extravaganza. Coe's and Marion's lectures and workshops were fantastic, as expected. They picked great topics that really appealed to the wide range of writers in attendance--from picture books to YA--and were insanely useful and helpful. I think I speak for everyone when I say that we all left energized and excited about getting back to work and with some new insights about how approach whatever we're writing. Me, I realized that I had to flesh out another character before I could write the scene I really, really, really want to write because I think it'll be fun and cool and smart. But. Not yet. And it's okay. This is writing.

And in true VCFA fashion, we finished the evening off with another get-together where we had our own cave in the basement of this cool restaurant, which sounds super shady, but it was actually quite awesome and there was a guy who kept bringing us platters of tacos and goat cheese, so basically it was a cave of food happiness. And bookish talk and fun. With some amazing writers.

Thanks so much to Debbie Gonzalez for organizing the event and for Vermont College of Fine Arts and Kelley Bordeleau-Lamb for bringing a bit of Vermont to Ann Arbor!

(And on a side note, I also visited Literati Books in downtown A2 and...beautiful. It's a lovely new indie, so if you're in Ann Arbor, make time to go there! The books are carefully selected and the service is excellent and they have typewriters!)

See you all next year? *wink wink nudge nudge*

Friday, April 11, 2014

Cover Talk: Ashes to Ashes

I've been following (and loving) Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian's Burn for Burn trilogy, and I'm excited for the conclusion headed our way this fall! It's also been a lot of fun anticipating the covers of these books, and the cover for Ashes to Ashes is finally here!

First, Burn for Burn and Fire with Fire:

Prepare yourself, Ashes to Ashes is slightly different...

When Burn for Burn first came out, I read an interview with Han and Vivian about the covers. They said that the publisher held a cover shoot for the cover art of all three books, with the idea that the design for the entire trilogy had been decided on. I remembered thinking, "Hallelujah, this is a trilogy where all of the books will match!" Well, not quite. I don't mind the chance in the fonts, and to be honest, I sort of like that we can see more of the girls. But I sort of miss the cool filters that the first two books had. It made them look really ethereal. This is slightly more mundane, but I do love that each girl is looking out in this cover.

Of course, the authors look so fabulous in this photo, they could probably go on a cover themselves:

What do you think?

Ashes to Ashes will be out on September 16th, 2014!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Ring and the Crown Giveaway!

The Ring and the Crown by Melissa de la Cruz is out now, and I'm giving away a copy here!

If you like Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore, then you will like The Ring and the Crown by Melissa de la Cruz!

Why: Royalty, political intrigue, and magic abound! Like Bitterblue, The Ring and the Crown is full of complicated plots twists and high stakes--not just for the characters, but for the entire kingdom. It has a large cast of characters and great world building.

About the book:
Magic is power, and power is magic… 
Once they were inseparable, just two little girls playing games in a mighty castle. Now Princess Marie-Victoria, heir to the mightiest empire in the world, and Aelwyn Myrddyn, a bastard mage, face vastly different futures. 
Quiet and gentle, Marie has never lived up to the ambitions of her mother, Queen Eleanor the Second. With the help of her Merlin, Eleanor has maintained a stranglehold on the world’s only source of magic. While the enchanters faithfully serve the crown, the sun will never set on the Franco-British Empire. 
As the annual London Season begins, the great and noble families across the globe flaunt their wealth and magic at parties, teas, and, of course, the lavish Bal du Drap d’Or, the Ball of the Gold Cloth. 
But the talk of the season is Ronan Astor, a social-climbing American with only her dazzling beauty to recommend her. Ronan is determined to make a good match to save her family’s position. But when she falls for a handsome rogue on the voyage over, her lofty plans are imperiled by her desires. 
Meanwhile, Isabelle of Orleans, daughter of the displaced French royal family, finds herself cast aside by Leopold, heir to the Prussian crown, in favor of a political marriage to Marie-Victoria. Isabelle arrives in the city bent on reclaiming what is hers. But Marie doesn’t even want Leopold-she has lost her heart to a boy the future queen would never be allowed to marry. 
When Marie comes to Aelwyn, desperate to escape a life without love, the girls form a perilous plan that endangers not only the entire kingdom but the fate of the monarchy.

About Melissa:

Melissa de la Cruz (www.melissa-delacruz.com) is the author of many best-selling novels, including all the books in the Blue Bloods series: Blue Bloods, Masquerade, Revelations, The Van Alen Legacy, Keys to the Repository, Misguided Angel, Bloody Valentine, Lost in Time, and Gates of Paradise. She lives in Los Angeles, California with her husband and daughter.

Just fill out the form below to win a copy of the book and a ring!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Underdogs--Markus Zusak's First Book(s)

This past month has been a bit of a whirlwind--I'm not sure why March left in such a hurry, and I'm trying to figure out where the first week of April went. The lack of blogging has been due to the crazy, crazy, crazy busy workload I've taken on in the past month--a real tough month for school (but, midterms next week!) and an increased work schedule. I'm now almost full-time at the bookstore, which is fun and rewarding, but it also means that I've been struggling to fit in schoolwork, never mind blogging. Mix in the fact that I had to buy a new computer in the middle of all of this, and it's amazing that I even can navigate myself to this blog page.

But, one book I did pick up during the past month that I am dying to talk about is Underdogs by Markus Zusak. It's an omnibus edition of his Wolfe Brothers trilogy--The Underdog, Fighting Ruben Wolfe, and Getting the Girl. I read the first two novels (I'm hoping to squeeze the third one in before it's due at the library!) and I really liked them.

The novels follow Cameron and Ruben Wolfe, the youngest Wolfe brothers. Their family isn't rich, just on the brink of being dead-broke, and the brothers don't have a sense of purpose like their older siblings do, but they're fiercely loyal to their family. From concocting schemes about holding up a dentist's office to joining an underground boxing ring, the brothers do everything together.

I really liked that the reader can trace the evolution of Zusak's writing style in these two books. The Underdog is his first novel and it's relatively short. Cameron narrates both books and he says at the beginning of The Underdog "it was a normal year." Yet Zusak goes on to write about what seems like a normal year to Cameron is actually the beginning of an awareness--of himself, his family, and the person he wants to be, a lot of which is exposed in his strange dreams. I suppose "quiet" would be the word that would be used to describe the first book, but "quiet" always seems like a euphemism for "dull" and Zusak's writing is anything but dull.

Fighting Ruben Wolfe is set a few months after the end of The Underdog, and it is a little more sophisticated, a bit more engaging as it follows the brothers to an underground boxing ring where Cameron is the underdog who rarely wins and Ruben is the star, undefeated. And yet, Ruben doesn't fight with heart--he's just a winner, nothing more. The emotional journey of the brothers as they learn what it means to win and what it means to fight is really quite brilliant. And at the heart of the story is Cameron and Ruben's relationship and all of the messy rivalries and loyalties that they share.

I highly recommend picking up Zusak's first books--they're quite different from The Book Thief, but still deeply engrossing and funny and just very probing novels that make you think.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Giveaway: Legend and Prodigy by Marie Lu

To celebrate the paperback release of Prodigy, the second book in Marie Lu's Legend trilogy, Penguin Group is giving away paperback copies of Legend and Prodigy on the blog! Hooray and thank you!

You can check out my review of Legend here, and keep reading to learn more about the books and Marie!

About Legend:

What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic's wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic's highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country's most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths - until the day June's brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family's survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias's death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.

About Prodigy:

June and Day arrive in Vegas just as the unthinkable happens: the Elector Primo dies, and his son Anden takes his place. With the Republic edging closer to chaos, the two join a group of Patriot rebels eager to help Day rescue his brother and offer passage to the Colonies. They have only one request—June and Day must assassinate the new Elector.

It’s their chance to change the nation, to give voice to a people silenced for too long.

But as June realizes this Elector is nothing like his father, she’s haunted by the choice ahead. What if Anden is a new beginning? What if revolution must be more than loss and vengeance, anger and blood—what if the Patriots are wrong?

In this highly-anticipated sequel to the New York Times bestseller Legend, Lu delivers a breathtaking thriller with high stakes and cinematic action.

About Marie Lu:

New York Times bestselling author Marie Lu (www.marielu.org) graduated from the University of Southern California and jumped into the video game industry, working for Disney Interactive Studios as a Flash artist. Now a full-time writer, she spends her spare time reading, drawing, playing Assassin’s Creed, and getting stuck in traffic. She lives in Los Angeles, California (see above: traffic), with one boyfriend, one Chihuahua mix, and two Pembroke Welsh corgis.

Fill out the form to enter to win!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Summer on the Short Bus by Bethany Crandell

Cricket has grown up in a rich, privileged bubble, so when her misbehavior pushes her father’s limits, he sends her to Camp I Can to be the counselor to a group of special-needs teenagers. Cricket is horrified once she realizes what has happened, and tries to find a way home, convinced that there’s nothing worth sticking around for—except maybe a certain cute fellow counselor. But as her attempts to leave are continually thwarted, Cricket discovers some surprisingly compelling reasons to stick it out.

Summer on the Short Bus is a zany, unpredictable novel that isn’t concerned with being politically correct or making a statement about how differently-abled people are treated, but realistically portrays Cricket’s emotional journey as she exposed to a very different world than the one she is used to. Cricket’s behavior and her thoughts are completely transparent to the reader through the first person narration, and her reactions to the campers are harsh but believable coming from someone who grew up the way she did. The characters and events of the novel believably bring about Cricket’s change of perspective, and Crandell’s subplot about Cricket’s family ties to the camp gives Cricket an extra motivation for character growth. Crandell’s heavy use of pop culture, banter, and humor fit seamlessly into the story, making Summer on the Short Bus as entertaining as it is heartfelt.

Cover Comments: I love this cover! I like the yellow and the the illustrations are fantastic, yet the title treatment does a good job at conveying that this is a YA book. Fantastic.

ARC borrowed from Cori McCarthy.

This book is out tomorrow!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Nearly Gone Blog Tour

Welcome to the NEARLY GONE blog tour. We at Penguin are especially excited about Elle Cosimano’s smart, but scary debut (caution: avoid reading this one before bedtime!). Over the next three weeks, Elle will share the secrets behind NEARLY GONE on a Monday/Wednesday/Friday basis, so be sure to be on the lookout for new posts!

Here's Elle!

Reece Whelan isn’t the unrepentant bad boy he appears to be. He’s a confidential informant (also referred to as a CI – a rat, snitch, or narc) selling out drug dealers to the police. Informants are often embedded within a criminal network, or involved in illegal activities, giving them access to privileged information that might not be otherwise accessible to police. But just because they cooperate with law enforcement doesn’t necessarily make them one of the good guys.

According to a deputy I interviewed while researching the story, CI’s typically become informants for two reasons: 1) they need money, and 2) they need to get out of trouble. Which meant Reece needed a pretty complicated (and criminal) backstory. And herein was my biggest challenge in creating his character. How could I make this guy likeable? What was it about him that would make him attractive to a discerning strong heroine? In Reece’s case, there had to be a third compelling reason he was narcing… Redemption.

He had to regret his past. He had to be making up for some terrible mistake that rattled him to his core. One that indebted his conscience to a dangerous future and made him re-evaluate who he wanted to be. He needed to be redeemable in Nearly’s eyes, but also in the eyes of the reader. And yet, to the rest of the world, he still had to fit in to the subversive life he wanted to escape from. To blend in, he’d have to look like a dealer and act like a criminal, which meant he wouldn’t be the kind of person Nearly would fall for easily.

I built Reece’s character around Nearly’s, at first. I knew I needed him to be very different from her – someone she would never choose to spend time with, or even be attracted to, if circumstances weren’t pushing them together. Where she was very rigid and cautious, I needed him to be fluid and reckless. Where she tried to be unseen, Reece needed to draw attention. I knew he wore tattoos and piercings, and I knew his name. When I began searching for the perfect tattoo for his character, I found the legend of the thistle, and his backstory evolved from that metaphor.

The story of Reece’s thistle – who he was and what he did -- is one you’ll have to unravel on your own.
About Nearly Gone:

Nearly Boswell knows how to keep secrets. Living in a DC trailer park, she knows better than to share anything that would make her a target with her classmates. Like her mother's job as an exotic dancer, her obsession with the personal ads, and especially the emotions she can taste when she brushes against someone's skin. But when a serial killer goes on a killing spree and starts attacking students, leaving cryptic ads in the newspaper that only Nearly can decipher, she confides in the one person she shouldn't trust: the new guy at school--a reformed bad boy working undercover for the police, doing surveillance. . . on her.

Nearly might be the one person who can put all the clues together, and if she doesn't figure it all out soon--she'll be next.

About Elle Cosimano:

Elle Cosimano grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC, the daughter of a prison warden and an elementary school teacher who rides a Harley. She majored in psychology at St. Mary's College, Maryland, and set aside a successful real-estate career to pursue writing. She lives with her husband and two sons. Nearly Gone is her first novel.

Nearly Gone is out now!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

My First Graphic Novels

In the spirit of school and education and learning (and also peer pressure), I did something I've never done before. I went to the library and checked out two graphic novels. And then I read them.

I know, I know. Crazy.

I've been very stubborn when it comes to graphic novels. I like the way they look. I know a lot of comic book characters and story arcs really well and I like the stories. Just, when I sat down to actually read one, I found myself getting flustered. I became genuinely anxious over the conundrum of where to look first. What do I look at? Pictures first, then words? Words, then take in the pictures? What if I accidentally skip a panel? What if I miss something in the corner of a panel because I am too busy looking at other things?

These were legitimate concerns that kept me from ever reading and enjoying any comic book or graphic novel. And then when I was at residency this past January, I thought, "Well, this is ridiculous. I am going to do this." And I went to Jim Hill's lecture on graphic novels, which was smart and fascinating and enlightening to a graphic novel newbie like me. (And Jim is in general a very smart guy and hilarious writer, and you should remember his name because you'll want to read his books.) And that solidified my determination. Graphic novels. I'm going to read them.

First up was Anya's Ghosts by Vera Brosgol:

This is a book that we have in stock in the store, and I really liked the cover. It's clever and it reminded me of the original Sisters Red cover by Jackson Pearce. I've paged through it before, but when I saw it on the shelves at my library, I snatched it up.

While the bare bones of the story--girl falls down a well, meets a ghost she can't shake, ghost helps her out with things like school and boys, everything is going great...or is it?--weren't completely shocking or innovative, I liked Anya's character a lot, and I loved how Brosgol framed the ghost story within Anya's trouble to fit in and not be seen as the immigrant. This was a lot of fun and I was really into it by the end.

So, I read Anya's Ghost, I liked it, I was feeling pretty proud of myself. The next book I picked up was the only middle grade graphic novel I knew of--Smile by Raina Telgemeier. I saw Raina at the Scholastic part in New York in 2012, and just my luck that my library had a copy of Smile on the shelves.

Smile is an autobiographical account of Raina's dental drama when she knocks out her two front teeth in middle school. It's funny and colorful and I really enjoyed how Raina talks about the struggle she had with being a good sport about her dental issues and the jokes that would ensue, and knowing the difference between good-natured teasing and subtle bullying. It's a fine line sometimes, and she handled the subject with grace.

When I proudly told my advisor that I had read two graphic novels (yes, I was very, very proud of myself), I was told that I had better read a bunch more. And MANGA. Manga scares me a little bit, because if I was worried about missing something and how to read graphic novels, then manga goes and makes it even worse by reversing EVERYTHING. However, I am excited to rise to the occasion. My wonderful friend Amy Rose graciously let me borrow Blankets by Craig Thompson and Robot Dreams by Sara Varon, which I'm excited to read. My friend Cori told me to read the graphic novel about the poor Russian stray that goes to space, but I know the ending of that one and I declined. (She'll likely wear me down eventually.)

But I welcome any graphic novel suggestions and any manga suggestions and tips, especially since I am a beginner! What do you like?

(Something that totally just occurred to me right now--now that I know I like graphic novels, I can get seriously excited about the Rainbow Rowell graphic novels!!)