The Compulsive Reader

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!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Half Lost by Sally Green (Team #Natriel 4Ever)

Half Lost, the final book in Sally Green's Half Bad trilogy is out now! Cue all of the Team #Natriel feelings!

As you may have gleaned from my posts about Half Bad and Half Wild, I've been eagerly awaiting the conclusion of this trilogy for a few months. I was fortunate to score an ARC (thanks, Penguin Teen!!) and so I have read it, and I think I'm still processing. Just a heads up, this post is going to get spoilerific!

Half Lost picks up after Annalise betrays Nathan and the Alliance fighters (GASP! But come on, we saw this one coming, right?), forcing Nathan to kill his father, eat his heart, and absorb all of his powers. So basically, all of Nathan's worst fears, right? At the beginning of the third book, Nathan and Gabriel are in the woods, being all broody (mostly Nathan) and avoiding other humans because of the danger (Nathan, once again). The Alliance knows of a secret weapon that just might help them to defeat the evil white witches, but only Nathan can retrieve it. Nathan isn't as interested in defeating the white witches as he is in exacting revenge from Annalise. As his death count rises, Nathan begins receiving visions of defeat and death, making him wonder if there'll ever be any end to the violence.

My friend Sara found this great photo that really captures the tenor of the entire book:

Pretty accurate.

What I loved about this book: Gabriel. He's perfection. Not just because he's this calming influence on Nathan and he tries to convince Nathan to just run away with him and start a new life together, but because he also gets kind of frustrated with Nathan's stabby emotional issues, yet he doesn't give up on him. These two are just too adorable, and let me just say that I got halfway through the book and was VERY pleased with the state of Team #Natriel.

The plot was pretty predictable--Nathan has to be convinced to go retrieve the weapon, he does so and of course it's not what he expected. He returns to the Alliance, and they make plans to finally take on the white witches, which they do...at devastating lost.

This is the point in the book where I started to get scowly. Because, ahem, the BEST PART ABOUT THIS TRILOGY dies. The book ends on a really depressing, yet weirdly romantic note that had me simultaneously crying and huffing in anger. I suppose it had to end this way--after everything that goes down in this trilogy, all of the violence, this book has actually a sort of peaceful ending. Super depressing, but peaceful. I can't say as I loved it, but I acknowledge that finding an alternative ending that was believable and also happily ever after would have been...difficult. But I like happily ever after. In human form. Not I'm-now-a-tree-so-I-can-spiritually-be-with-my-one-true-love happily ever after.

Yeah, that was a spoiler. I did warn you.

This trilogy has a lot going on, some of which worked for me, a lot that did not, but the chemistry between Nathan and Gabriel is something that Sally Green always did really well, and I envy that ability. It kept me reading through three entire books! I'll be very curious to see what she writes next!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley

I've been a big fan of John Corey Whaley's novels since my first semester of grad school, when my roommate told me that Where Things Come Back was one of the best books she'd ever read. I picked it up on her recommendation and fell in love. I also really loved the off-the-wall poignancy of Noggin.

Highly Illogical Behavior combines my favorite parts of Whaley's first two novels--the strong emotional pull of Where Things Come Back, and the fantastic humor of Noggin. It's about Solomon, an agoraphobic with anxiety issues, who hasn't left the house in years, and Lisa, the ambitious yet misguided girl who wants to "cure" him so she can get into a psychology program, and ends up becoming his friend. Along the way, Lisa's boyfriend Clark befriends Solomon as well, and soon the three of them are closer than ever. But as they each question their own feelings and perceptions of what each other wants, their pursuit of honesty threatens their friendship.

I fell in love with this book on the first page. Whaley sets up Solomon and his life so perfectly and succinctly, he was never a character I pitied. I worried about him, sure, and I hoped that he would get what he wanted and needed (friends, some bit of control over his anxiety, the ability to walk outside to swim in his pool), but Solomon is not a character you look down on. He may not have much say in whether he can leave the house, but he has autonomy. One of my favorite parts of the entire book was when Lisa and Solomon meet for the first time, and Solomon seemingly opens up to Lisa, and in the process shocks her. Then he looks at her and says, "Lisa, I'm fucking with you."

I laughed so hard I nearly cried.

Lisa, on the other hand, is a bit more complicated. She's motivated to help Solomon, but she's not a bad person, either. Her naivety and willful ignorance of the fact that what she's doing could potentially cause more harm than good is troublesome at first, but the more you get to know her, the more you like her. She and Solomon are great friends, and she is excellent at getting him to open up. As the story progresses and she introduces Solomon to Clark, it becomes apparent that Lisa is looking to fill a void in her own life, and she struggling to make sense of a lot things she can't understand.

The friendship between the three of these characters was the best. I so loved reading about their antics, and their banter is both hilarious and profound. This is a friendship story to beat all other friendship stories, and I would read it again in an instant just for the scenes in which those three teens hang out. At a certain point, I wasn't sure how this story would resolve itself, which was pretty exciting. It seems perfectly fitting then that what causes these friends to unravel a bit is Lisa's tendency to overanalyze relationships and assume things. This leads to the inevitable revelation of the truth, but there were still enough surprises and twists in the last fifty pages that I was surprised and delighted at how Whaley wrapped everything up.

Bonus points: Solomon's parents and his grandmother were FANTASTIC characters.

A++, all the stars, will read this one again. Multiple times.

Thanks to Penguin Group for the ARC!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood by Liesl Shurtliff Blog Tour

Welcome to the RED blog tour!

When I first started my MFA program at VCFA, one of the very first middle grade books I read was Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin. I loved the fun, humorous, and very clever twist on the Rumpelstiltskin story, and that book has been one of my favorite books to recommend at the bookstore. She followed up with Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk, and I'm so thrilled that her third book has circled back around to Red, whom we first met in Rump!

Red's grandmother is a powerful witch, and Red has inherited her abilities. But magic is tricky and sly, and one very big magical mistake has Red fearful of what could happen if she continues to use her magic. So she sets it aside and ignores it--until one day Granny falls sick and no simple cure will help her get better. Red sets off into The Woods in search of a magical solution that will help Granny, accompanied by a nosy girl named Goldie. Together, Red and Goldie are stalked by a wolf, meet a huntsman on a mission, encounter dwarves, bears, beasts, and a whole lot of magic.

Like in her previous two books, Shurtliff plays with bits and pieces of fairy tales to cobble together a truly delightful story about magic and fear, and finding the courage to face the unknown future with a few good friends at your side. Red is a prickly character who is on a mission, and doesn't want to take time to get to know the characters that surround her. Luckily for her, Goldie is persistent and is on a mission of her own. As the two girls travel through The Woods and encounter various enchantments that prevent people from ever dying, they also discover that such magic comes at a terrible price. As they overcome each obstacle, they learn that magic in itself isn't entirely bad, but magic driven by fear tends to be dangerous. This journey gives Red the knowledge and the courage to realize her own magical destiny, save her friends and herself, and face the future.

Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood will be available on April 12th! In the meantime, catch up by reading Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin and Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk, and enter to win a copy of Red below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

You Were Here by Cori McCarthy

Happy YOU WERE HERE day!

Today is the release of my friend Cori McCarthy's newest book, You Were Here! You Were Here is a beautifully written book about grief, urban exploring, heartbreak, and love.

The story centers around Jaycee Strangelove, who lost her brother Jake five years ago after a dared stunt that went terribly wrong. Now Jaycee has just graduated from high school and she's haunted by the fact that she's older than her brother will ever be. When she finds a list of abandoned places in Jake's room, she sets out to visit each of them in the hopes that she'll feel closer to her brother. She's joined by Natalie, her uptight ex-best friend who is haunted by her own actions and memories; Zach, the jock who's afraid to grow up; Bishop, the poet who can't stop mourning girl who broke his heart; and Mik--Jake's friend, selectively mute, and hopelessly in love with Jaycee.

You Were Here is told from each character's perspective, which shows impressive skill on the part of the author. Jaycee's chapter are told in first-person, Natalie and Zach's in third, Bishop's perspective shines through in his poetry and the street art he creates, and Mik's is told through graphic novel panels. The mixed media blends together beautifully as the five teens traipse across Ohio to various abandoned places and deal with the emotional wreckage of their past and present.

One of the coolest things about this book (besides the beautiful artwork, which is done by Sonia Liao), is that each of the five places the characters visit are actual places. The Ridges is an old insane asylum that still stands, Manville Tunnel is an abandoned railroad tunnel in the woods, The Gates of Hell is a creepy-looking old drain, Randall Park Mall really was a mall that was abandoned and stood empty for a while (and has since been torn down), and Geauga Lake was once the world's largest amusement park. These places really come to life through Cori's vivid storytelling and Sonia's artwork.

This is a darkly funny, surprisingly sexy, and highly emotional story you don't want to miss! You can even order a signed copy from my local indie by clicking here!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Manners & Mutiny by Gail Carriger

Oh, the final Finishing School book at last! It's such a bittersweet feeling. I adore Sophronia, and I want to keep reading about her, but I was also so excited to see how Carriger would wrap up the series.

With a very tremendous bang, that's how.

Life at Madame Geraldine's has been ever so dull since Soap, the sootie sweet on Sophronia, became a werewolf and took up residency on land. But that doesn't mean Sophronia hasn't been ever-vigilant...she suspects the Picklemen of a very large-scale plot to take over the school for its incredible technology. Unfortunately for her, no one believes it. But when the social event of the year goes terribly awry, Sophronia is ready to put all of her hard-learned skills to the test.

Like all of Gail Carriger's books, Manners & Mutiny is stuffed with hilarity, daring plots, ingenious twists, and proper manners. This final book moves quite quickly as Carriger wraps up all of the burning questions the series raises and Sophronia cleverly acts to save the flying airship. There are twists and turns and dangerous encounters, unlikely alliances, and a fair number of explosions. But also romance! Since the romantic elements have been light in the past three books, it was easy to forget how well Carriger can write sweet and sexy scenes between two characters with excellent chemistry, and she puts those skills to work in this final installment!

Carriger also gives Sophronia's mission emotional depth as she must grapple with whom to trust amidst an ever shifting landscape of politics and personal loyalties, and put her faith in precisely the right people in order to save the British Empire. It's the sort of high-stakes, action-packed ending where (almost) all is finally revealed and of course Sophronia saves the day is spectacular fashion. Carriger also cleverly sets up readers for the next adventures in her world--the Parasol Protectorate--with a few (more) delightful cameos from the Alexia novels.

A friend recently asked for recommendations for "brain candy" books, and I immediately thought of the Finishing School series. There's nothing quite as sweet and fun, but just as likely to pack a very large punch, as a good Gail Carriger novel, and this book finished off the series perfectly.

Book received as a gift.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk by Liesl Shurtliff

Jack has always loved hearing the tales his papa tells him of giants who live in the sky, and his great-great grandfather Jack the Giant Killer, whom he is named for. Jack believes in the stories more than anyone, and when strange thefts occur, he's quick to point the finger at the giants. But no one believes him--not even when the giants come down and steal his paper in front of his very eyes. So it's up to Jack to plant and climb a magical beanstalk and go and rescue his papa himself.

Liesl Shurtliff's book is fun and full of adventure and danger. She draws upon two different stories, Jack and the Beanstalk and Jack the Giant Killer, to tell her own story. The two different inspiration texts also inspire get tension in her retelling. Are the giants inherently evil? Is Jack destined to be a giant killer like his ancestor, or a rescuer of his own kind? Jack grapples with these questions as his quest for his papa takes him all over the giant kingdom, where he discovers that other just like him (called elves by the giants) have been enslaved by the greedy giant king. In a fun twist, the giant king turns out to be the gold-loving king from Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin, and it's Jack who discovers a way to save the kingdom from ruin at the hands of the greedy king by his constant meddling and curiosity. This retelling is smart and fast-paced, with just the right balance of silly and sweet.

Book purchased at my indie.

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Smell of Other People's Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

This book has a title that makes you stop and feel. As someone who has trouble titling things, I was intensely jealous when I first saw it. I knew I'd read the book before I even knew what it was about, but I'm happy to report that the story more than lives up to the amazing title. (Also, look at that BEAUTIFUL cover!)

The Smell of Other People's Houses is told from four different perspectives over the course of one year--1970--in Alaska. Ruth's storyline begins the novel, when her father dies in a tragic plane crash and her mother is unable to care for her and her little sister, sending them to live with their grandmother in Fairbanks. As a teen, Ruth seeks comfort from the sadness in her life wherever she can, unprepared for the consequences. Dora's own sad family history has sent her seeking shelter with her best friend's family, but she still doesn't feel safe, even when things go well for her. Alyce is terrified of change, and so she adheres to old routines and denies her own desires for a future outside of Alaska. Hank is prepared to do whatever it takes to keep his brothers safe, but when one of them goes missing, Hank must risk asking for help.

The mystery of other people's lives and the uncertainty of the future is the driving force behind this beautifully-written debut novel. Hitchcock digs deep into each character--their histories, their desires, and their emotions--to explore their individual stories of fear and hope. The power of this novel doesn't come from plot (which is pretty light), but from the characters and how their choices, both large and small, slowly bring them all together in the very end. They pay off isn't something grand and dramatic, but something more subtle, more realistic, and more poignant.

I also adored the Alaskan setting, partly because it's one that we don't often read about in YA, but mostly because Hitchcock does a brilliant job at making this particular time and place come to life on the page. The setting has just as much presence as any of the four POV characters, and I was completely entranced. By highlighting shared histories and memories, Hitchcock portrays a diverse community surviving and thriving on the edge of wilderness.

This is one book I feel as though I can confidently recommend to any reader, teen or adult. It has a timeless pull to it that transcends YA/adult categorization. It's one of my favorite reads of 2016 so far.

Review copy provided by publisher! Many thanks!