The Compulsive Reader

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood

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

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

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

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

Book purchased from my indie!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Summer Days and Summer Nights Blog Tour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 16, 2016

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

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

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Headed to BEA!

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

Monday, May 9, 2016

Newt's Emerald by Garth Nix

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

On Book Riot Today!

My guest post "Lord, Show Me How to Say No to This: 30 Thoughts Booksellers Have When in Bookstores Not There Own" went live on Book Riot today! Click here to check it out!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Wildlife by Fiona Wood

If you haven't read Six Impossible Things, click over here. If you don't care about book chronology (and I won't hold that against you, much), then keep reading!

Wildlife is Fiona Wood's second book, but the first one published here in the U.S. Set during a tumultuous term at their school's wilderness campus, this story follows two very different girls who are both somewhat lost, confused, and searching for their true selves. Sibylla has never been the center of attention, but in a strange twist of fate she ends up as the one-time model for a popular ad-campaign, fanning the flames of her best friend Holly's long-held jealousy. Lou is the mysterious, quiet new girl who's not interested in fitting in or being liked. Tensions, rivalries, and emotions run high as the wilderness term tests everyone's limits.

Wildlife trades perspective between Sib and Lou, who are two very different narrators. They barely know each other at the beginning of the novel, and at first it seems like a semester in the woods is the only thing that they share in common. Lou is still reeling from the death of her boyfriend and first love, and her chapters are meandering, occasionally short and abrupt with her grief. Sib is more relaxed and cheerful, and her worries don't seem to be any heavier than wondering where she stands with the cute boy she kissed at a party, but she's struggling to understand and define herself and lets other people influence her in the meanwhile. On their own, each of the voices might become exhausting, but Wood balances them out brilliantly. Lou's quiet observations complement Sib's social interactions, and the two characters slowly start to come together via Michael, who is very much (secretly) in love with Sib, and as a result of Holly's increasingly cruel manipulations.

Wood's writing submerges the reader into the minutiae of the girls' daily lives and their social circles, and even though the plot isn't terribly dramatic, the shifting relationships are all fascinating. The inner lives of Lou and Sib and how they slowly open up to the world are what drive this book, and their experiences and revelations make for a beautiful, deceptively complex novel about the nature of friendship, loss, and the importance of honesty. Fiona Wood is now officially on my Author Watch List, which sounds way creepier than it really is.

Book received as a gift! At Christmas. I know. But hey, I finished all of my Christmas books before June! That has to be a record.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood

Fiona Wood is an Australian author whose first U.S. publication was Wildlife. Given my sometimes alarming adoration for Aussie YA lit, it went on my wishlist in about two seconds flat. Then, Wood's novel Six Impossible Things was released in the U.S. I acquired a copy immediately, but did not read it for inane reasons (I am weird about my TBR list and I wanted to read Wildlife first).

Well, friends, I am here to tell you that this was a MISTAKE. Because months after receiving it for Christmas, I finally read Wildlife, adored it, and then discovered that *gasp* Six Impossible Things is actually Wood's first novel. And it has characters from Wildlife! And it takes place before Wildlife! And American publishing had duped me! And by letting my crazy personal TBR rules take over, I had actually committed the cardinal reading sin of reading books out of chronological order.

I know that there are just as many others out there who care about chronology and avoiding spoilers as much as I do, so consider this your word of warning. READ SIX IMPOSSIBLE THINGS FIRST! DO IT AND AVOID A HEARTBREAKING SPOILER.

Okay, now that we've got that out of the way, I can safely tell you that both books are awesome, and they aren't direct sequels, just companions with shared characters but still. And a third book by Wood is coming out in the U.S. this fall, and yes, the main characters are secondary characters in Wildlife, so to all my fellow reading sticklers, don't even think about reading Cloudwish until you've read Six Impossible Things and then Wildlife.

So, Six Impossible Things! It's the story of Dan Cereil, whose life is not fantastic at the start of the story. His dad has just declared bankruptcy, left his mom, and come out as gay. Dan and his mom are pretty much broke, and they end up living in a very large, very old house that great-aunt Adelaide left them. The only think that makes life bearable for Dan is Estelle, the girl next door. He's hopelessly in love with her, and he knows for a fact they'd be perfect for each other--only they've never met. And if Estelle ever finds out the reason why Dan knows they'd be perfect together...well, she'd definitely hate him.

Six Impossible Things reminds me of a John Hughes movie, only if that movie were set in Melbourne, Australia, and not the suburbs of Chicago. Wood's novel is populated by weird and interesting and funny teens whose struggles and senses of humor are totally relatable, and they make some bad decisions, but sometimes they make some good decisions and it's all so entertaining and heartfelt. Dan's pursuit not only to win Estelle, but to figure out how to be a good person, is a struggle we all face and his misadventures are funny and heartfelt. It's really refreshing to read this kind of a story from a male perspective, and I enjoyed the characters all so well.

I also really appreciated how Wood explored the family's financial situation within the book. The sudden shift from financial security (and implied wealth) to nearly out on the streets broke is an interesting dynamic, and in some ways just as traumatic as a death. Money worries take up a lot of Dan's brain space, especially as he tries to keep his mom from sabotaging her own wedding cake business and find a job himself. Wood does a great job at showing how a lack of money can have a domino effect on teens' lives and bring about other challenges--Dan outgrows his clothes, can't buy a dance ticket, and he worries when he can't afford to take his dog to the vet. Wood writes with sensitivity and empathy that teens will appreciate.

Wood creates a world that readers will want to inhabit, with an ending that is just an convenient (but not less genuine) than a John Hughes movie ending, and easily twice as satisfying. Trust me, you'll run to the bookstore for Wildlife once you've finished.

ARC provided by publisher, like, ages ago. Thanks, guys. I'm sorry I'm seven months behind on everything.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Happy Birthday, Beverly Cleary!

Happy 100th birthday to a living legend, Beverly Cleary!

I have some vague memories of reading the Ramona books when I was a kid, but my best memory of her work was discovering Dear Mr. Henshaw in third grade. I am pretty sure it was the first epistolary novel I ever read, and I fell in love with the form. That book sent me along to many other books I came to adore (ahem, every Dear America novel ever written).

Ever since reading the most recent issue of the Horn Book, full of tributes to Beverly Cleary, I've been re-reading (and in some cases, reading for the first time) the Ramona books. As withs many great children's novels I've read as an adult, I wish I had read them all when I was little, because I know I would have adored them. But I'm grateful to have gotten to them eventually, even if I am no longer the target audience. They've awoken memories of being a kid, and memories of how I once viewed the world. And if anything, I'll be more than happy to pass them along to other kids I know.

So, happy birthday, Beverly Cleary! Thank you for everything.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Charlotte Cuts it Out by K.A. Barson

Happy book birthday to K.A. Barson and Charlotte Cuts it Out! Kelly is the author of 45 Pounds (More of Less), which I loved, and her new book has a lot in common with her first--same great setting, wonderfully complex characters, humor and heart--plus a few fun differences.

Charlotte Pringle and her best friend Lydia have a Grand Plan--go to cosmetology school, work while they earn their business degrees, open their own salon, and live happily ever after. With a mom who wants her to give up on cosmetology and go to a real college, the Grand Plan is especially important to Charlotte--and so is winning the Winter Style Showcase. But winning is not so easy when no one else shares your vision, your family has their own drama that demands attention, cute boys are distracting at every turn, and your best friend suddenly seems to have her own plan--one that she doesn't share.

I adore this book. It's smart and funny and sassy, and Charlotte is a girl who just does not give up. I love that we get to see a story about working teens, and teens who are still in high school but pursuing vocational training, and who love what they do. That was a nice change of pace from the books where the teenagers are taking AP everything and focused on tests and exams and what they're supposed to major in. The teens in this book are still worried about their futures, but seeing vocational schools and other training programs as another option alongside college was refreshing.

Charlotte's story is also pretty fast-paced, even though it spans a couple of months. She's driven to succeed, and she's very smart and talented. What trips her up isn't a lack of skill, but simply life. Sometimes the hardest lesson to learn is that no matter how talented we are or how solid our plans are, life gets in the way, and when that happens, we have to take a step back and re-adjust. At the beginning of the story, it's Charlotte's way or nothing, and over the course of the story she has to learn that other people's opinions, desires, and talents have value, and just because something doesn't go the way you expect it to doesn't mean the dream is over. Added in is a healthy balance of friendship, school, boy, and family drama, and the result is a story that many readers not only need, but will definitely relate to.

Also--how awesome is that cover? So pretty and flirty and sassy!

Charlotte Cuts it Out is out now! Thanks to the author for an advanced copy!