The Compulsive Reader

Saturday, February 13, 2016

A Year in Review (Copies)

Hey everyone--I've thought long and hard about how to write this blog post without sounding like an entitled asshole. Many thanks to Kelly Jensen for assuring me I am not. I hope that's true, and that we can continue to have open discussion about review copies and how they can best be used in the online YA community.

In 2015 I did something that my organization-loving self had never before attempted: I recorded and kept track of every review copy that I received during the year. It was partly because I always say I receive more books than I can read, and I wanted hard numbers to back me up, and partly because I keep track of books I own, books I read, books I want, and books I have to read, so it just made sense that I'd take a stab at keeping track of the books I receive for review. (Also, Kelly gave me the idea. Thanks, Kelly, for a year's worth of excuses to procrastinate!)

First, I created a simple word document, and then I brainstormed every possible way I could organize this document. I wanted to keep it as simple as possible, but I also wanted to keep track of more than just the title, for purposes I'll get into later. I ended up dividing the document into two sections--solicited and unsolicited. This is the biggest divide when it comes to my book mail in general, and I should note a rather new development in the history of YA blogging--publishers have more recently started asking us what exactly we want to receive, which I personally think is awesome. At the beginning of 2015, I figured that 60% of the books I receive would be those that I request via response forms attached to catalogs, and the remaining 40% would be random books that get sent to me and show up like little surprises on my doorstep (which can also be good, because sometimes these surprises are books I never would have picked up otherwise, and I end up loving them).

Spoiler alert: Those percentages were actually reversed. That's right--40% solicited, 60& unsolicited.

I also color-coded the titles, to indicate finished copy vs. ARC or bound manuscript. I assumed most books came to me directly from their publisher, but I also annotated if they came to me via independent publicist, through my workplace, or if they were passed along "unofficially" by a friend or colleague. I had a little annotation to indicate if I received a book from the author, but I only used it once, when my close friend gave me an ARC of her new book--as most bloggers know, authors rarely have extra ARCs or review copies to pass along, so don't even bother asking. In parentheses after the title, I also recorded if the book arrived with any freebies/goodies/swag other than bookmarks or postcards.

So how did the numbers stack up?

In 2015, I received 138 different titles for review, and 139 books total (one title was accidentally duplicated).

Of those books, 86 were unsolicited and 52 were solicited or received in conjunction with a blog feature. Of those, 4 copies were unsolicited duplicates (finished copies following ARCs).

Of those books, 72 were ARCS, and 67 were new, finished copies. 

I received the majority of the books from the publishers directly, but 15 were received from independent publicists. I received 3 ARCs from friends/colleagues, 1 ARC via my workplace, and 1 bound manuscript from an agent for blurbing purposes.

Overall, 9 books arrived with swag or goodies. These goodies ranged from journals, luggage tags, tea, hot chocolate, travel mugs and cups, temporary tattoos, nail polish, magnetic poetry, cookies or candy, buttons, posters, calendars, and gift cards to coffee shops. Interestingly, the swag arrived with unsolicited books only--all part of a larger marketing plan, I'm sure. My favorite extra to receive this year was the magnetic poetry--it's on my fridge and it makes me smile every time I see it.

And here is the number that I think you will find most shocking: Of all of the books received this year, I only read 12 of them.

That's right, 12. I wish it were higher. I really, really do. And I only read 105 books in 2015, total. To be completely fair, something like 20 of those 138 books hit my mailbox in the month of December, and many are 2016 releases that I hope to/definitely plan on getting to. (And as of writing this, I have read 2 of them in 2016! Which is pretty good considering most of my January was eaten up by a Harry Potter re-read.) If it seems unfair that I received 138 books last year, but read less than 10% of them...well, I agree. Completely. I wish I could tell you that I plan on doing better in 2016, but "read more of the books I receive for review" isn't one of my New Year's resolutions, and I'm happy to share why that is.

When I started reviewing, I was (and still am) baffled and grateful to receive review copies. There were years when I had the energy (and the drive!) to read every single review copy I received, but it left room for absolutely nothing else. And while I still love getting in on the hype for new books and discovering upcoming releases, I've diversified my tastes. In the last three years, I discovered a love for middle grade, dark adult murder mysteries, and an appreciation for nonfiction. I currently have a modest TBR stack of adult books at all times. None of this is because I don't love YA, but because I've grown as a reader.

So what this all means is that something has got to give. (Cue Fleetwood Mac, "You Can Go Your Own Way.") And that means I've stopped trying to keep up with every single new YA release and write the sort of blog that always covers new, trending YA novels. If admitting this aloud means I get taken off some lists or don't get sent ARCs anymore, that's okay with me. Send the ARCs to people who will read them, and I am happy to buy, beg, or borrow (but never steal!) the books I really want to read when they come out. I am going to continue to do my best here on the blog, and I've even enjoyed some of the surprise ARCs this year! But sometime in the middle of 2015 I had a small panic attack when I fully realized how many books I don't end up getting to, and I had to remember that reading is something I do for me, not for the blog or anyone else. And that reminder has been really empowering--it led me to make time for a Harry Potter re-read, and inspired my to explore Emma Donoghue's backlist, both top notch reading decisions so far this year.

If you've managed to stick with the blog through the last two tumultuous years of erratic posts and weird ramblings about deadlines, then I'm sure this is cool by you. I could write a pretty speech about how blogging has changed in the past decade, but I'm not really nostalgic for the good 'ole days. I'm grateful for them, but insanely happy to be where I am now--which is catching up on a few of last year's releases, planning reviews of a few upcoming releases and backlist titles, and scheming about which backlist books I want to read (and re-read) to fill in the gaps! (Hint: I've decided that 2016 shall be the Year of the Re-read, and I've got two great series I loved in middle school on deck!)

Oh, and in case you're saying, "Okay, Tirzah, but what do you do with all those books you don't even read?!?!"--don't worry! The finished copies go to my under-funded local library, where they are loved by the community and where I can visit them frequently, and the ARCs get sent to my book industry colleagues and writer & teacher friends, where I know they'll be loved and talked about. I think this is the best solution for everyone.

And no, I'm not keeping track of my book mail in 2016. It was the most wonderful terrible I idea I ever had, and I'm never doing it again.

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Ada, unloved and deemed worthless by her mother because of her club foot, has never left her one-room flat in London. Her entire world consists of what she can see from her window, what her younger brother Jamie tells her of outside, and her mother's cruelty. But when the threat of German bombs sends the children of London to the countryside, Ada cleverly sneaks away with them, and discovers a big world that's full of all kinds of uncertainties, including love and heartbreak.

This novel reminded me a bit of Music of the Dolphins in the way that it is told from Ada's ignorant perspective. Her entire life has been constrained to one room, and when it suddenly opens up, Ada and the reader are both overwhelmed with details that most people would take for granted--the unevenness of a London street, or the shock of seeing one's own face in the mirror for the first time. The story is filtered through Ada's unique perspective, which presents its own challenges (such as Ada's inability to trust and her stubbornness when it comes to education), but also some beautiful moments of exploration as Ada learns to ride, and starts on a path towards emotional healing.

The emotional arc of this story is strong, and beautifully rendered. Ada and her brother Jamie both carry the effects of their mother's ill treatment, but they find love and refuge with Susan, a single woman who is still grieving from the loss of her best friend (and I presume partner) three years earlier. Despite Susan's many bumbles and Ada and Jamie's trauma, they create a life together amidst the uncertainty of wartime. The love they find may not be enough to stop the atrocities of war from reaching their lives, but it is enough to save their lives. This is a beautiful novel about hope and resilience through trauma, where the characters find fulfillment not in fixing their bodies or changing their stations, but in the relationships they create.

Book purchased from my indie! This is a Newbery Honor book, too--so well deserved.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child!

Brace yourselves.

We knew Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was opening as a play in London this summer, which is amazing and exciting and so very cool, but also...kind of sucky for those of us who cannot get themselves to London this summer. We hoped that the play would be recorded, broadcast in theaters, eventually made available for those of elsewhere, something, but it still kind of sucked. And even though I fully believe J.K. Rowling when she said this story had to be told on stage, I was just sad because books are uniquely portable magic, and we all want that Harry Potter magic.

And now this!

I'm delighted. I'm also ridiculously happy that I re-read all of the Harry Potter books last month. I've been thinking about another re-read, so maybe this release gives me another excuse? Now that I know I can get through them all in 23 days? July can just be Harry Potter month.

Now, off to work to figure out how soon I can pre-order my copy...

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Blog Tour: Where Futures End Character Boards

Perfect for fans of innovative storytelling, like Marcus Sedgwick's The Ghosts of Heavenand David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks, Where Futures End is a collection of five time-spanning, interconnected novellas that weave a subtly science-fictional web stretching out from the present into the future, presenting eerily plausible possibilities for social media, corporate sponsorship, and humanity, as our world collides with a mysterious alternate universe. 
Five teens, five futures. Dylan develops a sixth sense that allows him to glimpse another world. Brixney must escape a debtor colony by finding a way to increase the number of hits on her social media feed so she’ll attract corporate sponsorship. Epony goes “High Concept” and poses as an otherworldly being to recapture her boyfriend’s attention. Reef struggles to survive in a city turned virtual gameboard. And Quinn uncovers the alarming secret that links them all.

These are stories about a world that is destroying itself, and about the alternate world that might be its savior. Unless it’s just the opposite.

Welcome to the WHERE FUTURES END blog tour! For this stop, author Parker Peevyhouse has put together character image boards for each of her five protagonists, along with some other fun details...

Name: Dylan
Age: 16
Location: Seattle
Job: works in his mom’s pawnshop
Hobbies: reading fantasy novels (Narnia, Harry Potter) and watching science fiction movies (Blade Runner, Inception)
Special Skill: seeing things others can’t see, controlling what others see
Biggest Failure: getting kicked out of private school for cheating on a final exam
Biggest Secret: he’s falling for his brother’s girlfriend
Recently Found: a gold cuff that might be from another world (the Other Place)

Name: Brixney
Age: 17
Location: Washington State (10 years in the future)
Job: waits tables at Flavor Foam, a restaurant full of video cameras
Hobbies: trying to collect ad revenue from her online feed
Favorite food: banana flavor foam with crushed graham crackers
Worst Moment: getting dumped on-camera by her boyfriend
Best Friend: her brother, who’s trapped in a debtors’ colony
Recently found: a notebook full of stories about the Other Place, belonging to someone named Dylan

Name: Epony
Age: 17
Location: Iowa, Chicago, Los Angeles (30 years in the future)
Job: singer in a high-concept group
Hobbies: watching movies about the Other Place, dodging cameras
Special Skill: pretending to be from another world
Boyfriend: Cole, although it’s hard for Epony to tell whether that’s just part of their high-concept act
Biggest Secret: she once met someone who might have been from another world
Recently Found: a map with mysterious marks all over it

Name: Reef
Age: 18
Location: Seattle (60 years in the future)
Job: sells rare virtual items from a video game based on the Other Place
Hobbies: researching conspiracy theories about cyber war
Special Skill: cleaning up malware for a government bounty
Favorite Food: potato and tabasco soup
Best Friend: Olly, a fellow gamer
Recently Found: an ad for someone willing to help him get past the video game’s paywall—for a price

Name: Quinn
Age: ~16
Location: Southwest Canada (100+ years in the future)
Job: searches for passage to the Other Place
Hobbies: collecting bark and other ingredients for medicines
Special Skill: knows all the stories about the Other Place
Favorite Food: wild berries
Biggest Fear: failing her coming-of-age task

Recently Found: a scepter with dubious powers

Friday, January 29, 2016


I'm slowly coming out of my post-Harry Potter re-read induced depression, but Pottermore has been extremely helpful! I'm happy to report that I have been re-sorted into Ravenclaw, which was my original house to begin with, and I am very happy. (Although, I would have been cool with Hufflepuff. Everyone's so nice and I like growing things, and also sleeping near kitchens.)

I've also taken all this wallowing time to make a ranking of my favorite Harry Potter books, because these things are important. It goes as follows:

  1. Prisoner of Azkaban
  2. Order of the Phoenix
  3. Goblet of Fire
  4. Half-Blood Prince (it made quite the jump!)
  5. Deathly Hallows
  6. Sorcerer's Stone
  7. Chamber of Secrets

My little brother just saw this and said, "So, Chamber of Secrets is your least favorite?" and technically yes, but actually no because Harry Potter is my favorite and they're all great, and I don't know why I decided to subject myself to a re-read in the first place, what was I thinking, maybe one day I won't be feeling so lost and forlorn without a Harry Potter book to read. Maybe I'll go read a grown-up book. Maybe I should read the Cormoran Strike books again...

J.K. Rowling, master of of my soul.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Great Harry Potter Re-Readathon 2016, Day 25

I honestly thought that it would take me all month to get through these books, but it seems like the further along I went, the faster I had to read. And now that I'm at the end, I'm just as emotionally drained as I was the first time I finished the series.

Here's another confession: Before this month, I only read Deathly Hallows once! I've gone back to bits and pieces of it, but never straight through. Finales are difficult. Beloved characters die, and things get dark for Harry. A lot of this book is about shattering the illusion that Harry and about Dumbledore's goodness and might, and seeing him for what he is, and in the process, Harry has to seriously confront the fact that he is very likely going to die, and probably fail to kill Voldemort as well. Dark stuff.

I also was seriously frustrated by the fact that there is NOT ENOUGH GINNY in this book. I know she's underage, and she had to go back to Hogwarts because it's the law, but I also felt like she was constantly sidelined in the book, even at the end when she did join the fight. At this point, Ginny is so beloved that I wanted her to be as important as Ron and Hermione. And speaking of Ron, there is that dark point where he leaves and doesn't come back for pages and pages and pages and just, ugh, but once he's back, the story does get back on track. And I was very impressed with the plotting, and how everything weaved together at the very end.

The truth is, no matter how many times you read it, this book will gut you. The epilogue will not be enough. Luckily for us, we live in the age of the Internet and Pottermore and you can go read about the characters and what happens to them afterwards, but it still doesn't feel like enough. I feel vaguely tricked, like I thought I could read through this series and just feel all the happy feelings, and not the crushing sadness of finishing an amazing series and having to leave a world that I would gladly live in forever and ever. Damn it, Rowling. You got me.

I could go on and on about every line, all my favorite scenes, favorite moments, but I should cut myself off before this just gets pathetic. I'm going to go wallow a bit and re-activate my Pottermore account. Resist the urge to start the first book. Again.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Great Harry Potter Re-Readathon 2016, Day 23

I'm going to be real honest with you all...I've always thought of The Half-Blood Prince as my least-favorite Harry Potter book. I'll be fair and admit that 90% of this has to do with the fact that on the release day, when I picked up my copy for the first time, my immediate reaction was, "WHY IS THIS BOOK 200 PAGES SHORTER THAN THE LAST ONE?"

Because when you wait 2+ years for a new Harry Potter book that you will in all likelihood consume in less than two days, these are important considerations.

There are other craft reasons that I found Half-Blood Prince difficult, too. There aren't very many action scenes until the very end, Draco is being mysterious and absent, even Quidditch is vaguely disappointing, and there's a lot of flashbacks to Voldemort's past, which is interesting, but not exactly super exciting as say, Harry forming Dumbledore's Army.

Confunded anyone lately?
So all of this was swirling around in my mind when I went into Half-Blood Prince, not to mention my reluctance for the terrible inevitable ending. I thought, "Just get through it!" But rather than just getting through it, I was really surprised to find how much I enjoyed the sixth year. Maybe the absolute comedy of everyone hooking up and making hilarious romantic decisions completely went over my head at age 13, but I adored it all at age 23. (Oh, Won-Won!) Plus, some really hilarious moments as Hermione becomes a little bit of a rule-breaker. And how could I have forgotten that this was the book where Harry and Ginny date? The magnificence of their first kiss all came rushing back, and it just made me the happiest.

I also realized how obvious it was from the second chapter that Snape was going to have to kill Voldemort. (Okay, so thirteen-year-old me was a little dense when it came to story structure.) It still works, I think, because at this point Harry still doesn't understand Snape's motivations or loyalties. I'm still caught between feeling like Dumbledore was smart for withholding so much from Harry (because so much depends on him figuring things out on his own, and acting according to his character and moral compass), and getting so angry at Dumbledore because didn't we just learn that godfathers die when we withhold crucial information for no good reason? But Dumbledore's actions do hold with his character, and they underscore the fact that he's not a perfect, always-wise person. And I suppose Harry wouldn't be able to defeat Voldemort until he could see Dumbledore as the flawed person he is.

I'm not going to declare Half-Blood Prince my favorite book in the series, but I will have to bump it up above Chamber of Secrets. And now, on to the final book! I thought I knew what I was getting myself into, reading these books again. But now I'm feeling all sorts of feelings and it's overwhelming! Damn it, Harry Potter! (Just kidding, I really love it.)

Friday, January 22, 2016

Friday Barnes Blog Tour & Giveaway!

Imagine if Sherlock Holmes was an eleven-year-old girl! 
When Friday Barnes, girl genius, solves a bank robbery, she uses the reward money to send herself to Highcrest Academy, the most exclusive boarding school in the country―and discovers it's a hotbed of crime! 
Soon she's investigating everything from disappearing homework to the terrifying Yeti haunting the school swamp. But the biggest mystery yet is Ian Wainscott, the handsomest (and most arrogant) boy in school who inexplicably hates her. Will the homework be found? Can they ever track down the Yeti? And why is Ian out to ruin her? 
With black-and-white art throughout, Friday Barnes, Girl Detective is the launch of an exciting new mystery series that "will keep readers laughing from start to finish." (Publishers Weekly)

Welcome to the Friday Barnes blog tour! Each stop of the blog tour will feature a "puzzle" piece of original art from the book’s illustrator, Phil Gosier. Go to the Mac Kids Tumblr on January 24th to see the full image with all the pieces!

Here's this stop's image!

Friday Barnes is out NOW, so pick up a copy, or enter the giveaway!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Great Harry Potter Re-Readathon 2016, Day 21

Also pictured: My Hermione's Everyday Socks in Wizard Green.
I haven't blogged, because I read Order of the Phoenix in one ginormous gulp. It's probably the book I've read the most out of the entire series and although it's not my favorite, I think it is the best. Harry grapples with such a broad spectrum of issues--friend drama, potential romantic relationships, guilt and fear over what happened to Cedric and Voldemort's return, new information about his dad and Snape, and isolation from the rest of the Wizarding community, even from people who care for him. And of course, UMBRIDGE. It's a huge emotional maelstrom, and for most of the book Harry is packing those emotions down tight. Sometimes, it almost seems too packed down...

I think the single most maddening thing in the entire book was and still is when Umbridge gives Harry detention and she gives him that blood pen and he has to write "I will not tell lies" into his hand over and over and over. It's visceral and cruel and of course so wrong, and I cringe and squirm every time. It's an even worse punishment than being banned from Quidditch. So when Harry doesn't go to McGonagall or even Dumbledore about it, who would put an immediate end to that punishment, I seethe. I don't think I ever saw why he didn't speak up about it until I read the book this time around--in this installment, he's holding so much in, it's his MO, his only way to keep moving forward.

But, of course, you can't do that forever. And when Harry finally lets all of his frustration and anger and fear out in the very end, in Dumbledore's office, it felt like such a cathartic moment for him, and for the reader. I was so relieved that Rowling gave him this moment of losing control, of having a temper tantrum, or being able to scream that it wasn't fair. Because it's not, it's terrible and awful and why does it have to be Harry anyway? It sets things up perfectly for the next book, in which Harry has to grapple with this "Chosen One" nonsense and actually study and learn how to defeat Voldemort. And it lets Harry behave like an actual teenager with actual anger, which I so appreciate.

I also greatly enjoyed how everyone's hormones seem to explode onto the scene in this book. An alternate title for this book could be Hermione Explains Feelings to Harry & Ron, and it's so entertaining to read. It balances out the darker aspects Umbridge being awful and so unbelievably unfair. I also loved Dumbledore's Army. Because of course.

Even though Goblet of Fire was the turning point in the series, from high-stakes adventure to just high-stakes life and death, battle for good and evil, I think that Order of the Phoenix really is another turning point, too. (Lots of turns!) After this book, there is definitely lots of fear, the danger isn't something Harry goes looking for but just is there, around every turn. I read the rest of the books with excitement, but also dread for all the sadness that is coming. The intellectual part of me knows that in order to tell good stories, stakes should be high and bad things need to happen, but it's sort of nice to just wallow in the middle of the Order of the Phoenix, where there's danger and sadness and struggle, but nothing is irreparably damaged and the deaths aren't too personal.

Nevertheless, we press onwards...

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Horcruxes of My Childhood

This is a "between books" post! As anyone who grew up loving and reading Harry Potter, I have lots of memories where the Harry Potter books play a big role. To me, they were never just a series of books, they were markers of my childhood.

My mom decided to read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone before allowing me to read it, because I went to a parochial school that disapproved of the books. I was about eight or nine, and I thought my mom was taking too long, so while at my older brother's basketball tournament, I lied and told my mom I wasn't feeling well and I wanted to go out to the car and try to take a nap. She let me, not knowing that what I really intended on doing was starting the book she had left in the front seat...

I didn't tell my Mom I did this until I was 23 and she was shocked, then highly amused at my deception. Needless to say, Harry Potter passed the mom test, and a few years later the parochial school I attended decided that Harry Potter was going to be a losing battle, although I had many school friends who weren't allowed to touch those books for years and years.

I received Prisoner of Azkaban for Christmas. I finished it in a day and cried. My brothers were disgusted with me. "It's just a book," they said.

Goblet of Fire was the first book I got in hardcover because my mom got sick of telling me to wait for the paperback. She bought it for me on Easter weekend. It took me three days to finish and I was immensely proud of myself for finishing a book of that length in only three days.

By the time Order of the Phoenix rolled around, I was wise about hardcover vs. paperback release dates, and I had no intention of waiting around for the paperback, nor did I want a long, drawn-out battle with my parents about whether or not I should wait for the paperback. I figured I'd start prepping my parents early with the notion that they would be forking over money for a hardcover, and they'd be doing it on release day, too. I promised I'd do extra chores, good behavior, anything. And they still refused to buy it for me! Not since Harry was forced into the cupboard under the stairs has a child experienced more unjust treatment. About a week after the release, on the day we were to leave town to go camping, a box arrived for me. Inside, it contained...the Order of the Phoenix! My dear aunt in Colorado had wanted to surprise me with the book, which is why my parents had so unjustly refused to buy it for me! I was overjoyed!

I put on my headphones, plugged them into my portable CD player, and read Order of the Phoenix in the car--much to the disgust of my brothers and our friends, who wanted to talk and hang out. Things were going so well, until around the Michigan-Indiana border, when I realized something very, very dire: pages were missing. PAGES. WERE. MISSING. Eighty-two, to be precise. I let loose a scream that very nearly sent us careening off the highway, and insisted that we pull over at the next exit to find a replacement copy, ASAP. My parents heeded my wishes, whether in sympathy or in fear that I'd go ballistic, Carrie-style, I don't know. We ended up swapping it out at a Sam's Club, and I spent the entire weekend reading and ignoring my parents when they suggested that I put the book down for a minute and go fishing or something. Whatever. HARRY POTTER. The weekend ended with me crying ugly tear over Sirius and everyone ignoring me. My brothers thought I got what I deserved.

When the final Harry Potter book came out, I spent months in anxious excitement. I was in high school when it came out, and the week before I spent a week at a summer camp. It was biotechnology summer camp, and that only seems important to mention because the only teens who go to a summer biotechnology summer camp are uber nerds. And uber nerds read Harry Potter. Our group shared a dorm with a boys' high school hockey camp, and so every evening would find us in the same situation: the nerds sitting cross legged in a circle, cradling our copies of Half-Blood Prince and discussing theories, while the hockey boys would pelt past us, hurling expletives and insults. We would scream back "Sectumsempra!" and they would laugh. We passed every evening like this until camp dispersed and we all went home and then straight to a midnight release party. I read the seventh book in one day and wound up sobbing for an entire evening. I have read bits and pieces of the book again, but never straight through...until this month!