The Compulsive Reader: November 2010

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Matched by Ally Condie

Today is the release day of Ally Condie's stunning first novel, Matched! Read it, seriously!

Cassia's entire world is ordered and precise: everyone is guided and instructed by the Society so that they may live a perfect, happy, and healthy life, and no one has ever questioned the Society's ways. But Cassia's life is changed forever when, after her Matching ceremony, she sees Ky Markham's face on a screen as her match, instead of Xander’s—her true match.

The Society tells her this is just a rare computer malfunction, and Cassia knows she should be happy--Xander is her best friend, and there isn't anyone else she would want to be Matched with. But things are changing, and now Cassia isn't so certain about her life. She is intrigued by Ky and his past, and by the events that formed the Society. But her curiosity will come at a price, and as Cassia learns more, she will be forced to make a decision that could cost her everything she values.

Matched is a spectacular debut. Condie's world is detailed and comprehensive, leaving little of mundane tasks and processes for the reader to wonder about, though Condie keeps you on edge by building little mysteries into many elements of the story and asking many small, yet probing questions. (For example, what is the purpose of the third pill everyone is required to carry at all times? How far does the Society stretch?) Readers who are fans of dystopian novels may even recognize tidbits of The Giver, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451 in Matched, but despite that, Condie's novel is truly in a league of its own.

Cassia is a perfect narrator: she's smart, curious, and observant, and she can think things through, but most importantly, she’s just a normal teenager. The evolution of her thinking, from trust and complacency in the Society, to determination in discovering truth and answers, is the most remarkable and entertaining aspect of the novel. Before he dies, Cassia's grandfather imparts a basic and powerful lesson to her: it is all right to wonder, the main propulsion of the plot. And Cassia does just that, through many strange occurrences and tiny bits of forbidden poetry she discovers, until she is able to see the Society for what it is and, for the first time in her life, form her own opinions and decisions.

Blurring definitive lines between right and wrong and good and bad, Matched is an unparalleled and spellbinding read that is as beautiful and enthralling as it is powerful and galvanizing.

Cover Comments: I love how symbolic this cover is: Cassia really is trapped within her own bubble of ignorance and complacency, though as the story progresses, she does test the boundaries and try to escape. The colors and the otherwise simplistic nature of the cover are a good choice, and make for a very striking package!

ARC received from publisher.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Three Black Swans by Caroline B. Cooney

Claire and Missy are not only cousins, but best friends. Despite living in separate towns, they are as close as can be, despite their parents' protests that they need to branch out. When Missy's science class discusses hoaxes, Missy is inspired to put on one of her own: she convinces Claire to come to her school and pretend to be her long-lost twin sister, and surprisingly, thanks to the family resemblance, they pull it off. But when the story hits YouTube, both girls begin to feel guilty...and then they start to question their past. There are secrets their parents are keeping, but the truth may be more surprising, complicated, and hurtful than they expected.

As always, Cooney has churned out yet another thought-provoking, surprising mystery with a good pace and probing questions about identity, nurture vs. nature, and birth. Cooney does an excellent job at defining each girl and her emotions surrounding the realization that they have a past they don't know or remember, and everything they knew about their families might be a lie. The fact that these epiphanies began with and are perpetuated by the idea of a hoax adds just the right amount of irony into the story, and turns up the tension. The suspense will have you eagerly flipping through the pages, and then just when you think you've got it figured out, Cooney throws in a twist. Three Black Swans is a smart, fast-paced, and tense pick for reluctant readers or those in need of a quick escape.

Cover Comments: I like the use of color and shading in this cover, and how two of the swans are forming a heart. It's all very symbolic.

Review copy provided by publisher.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma

Thanks to their neglectful alcoholic mother, Maya and Lochan are more than just siblings, but best friends. Together, they raise their three younger siblings and try get by as best as they can, with only occasional appearances from mum. As they weather their brother's rebellion and the stress of taking care of three young children, pay bills, and dodge social services, they find that their feelings for each other go beyond just love, but to need and lust. Maya and Lochan know that what they feel for each other is something that no one else will understand, but yet they are determined to stay together, no matter what life throws their way, no matter what the consequences.

Forbidden is an extremely well written novel; the tension, the feelings, and the drama are all perfectly described and compelling. Suzuma manages to suck the reader so completely into the romantic tension between Lochan and Maya that you almost forget that they are siblings, and you almost want them to find a way to stay together forever. The story alternates between Maya and Lochan's perspectives, allowing the reader to really get into their heads and discover the motivations behind their feelings for each other, but also revealing the stress and loneliness they feel at their mother's abandonment. Their mother's character is fairly despicable on her own, though most of the time the reader only finds out about her actions secondhand through Lochan's recollections. The ending of Forbidden is jarring, tragic, but a little unbelievable in some aspects (for instance, the children are able to completely cover up their mother's shortcomings). Nonetheless, Forbidden is a raw, frank, and uncensored look at the lives of these teens, and it becomes apparent that the real tragedy of this story isn't the incest, but the fact that Maya and Lochan never received the help they desperately needed.

Cover Comments: I like the simplicity of this cover; the barbed wire heart is fitting considering the nature of the romantic relationship. It's very eye-catching!

Forbidden is available now in the UK, but the US edition will be released on June 28th, 2011!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cover Talk: Exile Cover, FINALLY!

So, a couple of summers ago, I stumbled upon a book called Aurelia by Anne Osterlund. And being the person I am, I wanted to read it immediately based solely on the beautiful cover. Well, then I got it and I actually did read it and I realized that not only did it have an awesome cover, but it was a pretty kick-butt book and its author, Anne Osterlund, is pretty talented. She released a second book, Academy 7, which was (dare I say it?) even better than Aurelia, but...she left us hanging with her first book.

So now, I am ecstatic to post that the sequel, Exile, not only exists, but has a cover...and how awesome is it?

I just love the feel of both of these covers so much...and I'm curious to see how the key is going to come into play in Exile!  We have to wait until April 28th, 2011 to find out, unfortunately...but! That gives you plenty of time to read Aurelia and Academy 7! And scroll down to the bottom of this page and click on the Anne Osterlund banner to find out more about these books!

Click here to read my review of Aurelia.
Click here to read my review of Academy 7.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Books Worth Buying: Paper Towns by John Green

So, I like the book Paper Towns quite a bit. It's probably my favorite one by John Green, and I feel it is my duty to inform everyone that they need to go buy this book and read it because yes, IT IS AWESOME.

And seeing as how you are going to be buying books for everyone you know for Christmas (right?), it's only fair of me to let you know that the nice, shiny, happy Margo/sad Margo hardcover version of the book is on sale for only $7.

Here's an excerpt, in case you aren't convinced (what's wrong with you?) and a link to buy the Kindle version if you just can't wait for the hard copy to ship.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Interview with Ally Condie!

Ally Condie is the author of the most excellent book Matched (read my review here), which is coming out later this month. It is definitely one of my favorite books this year, so please do check it out!

To celebrate its release, I got the chance to ask Ally a few questions...check it out!

TCR: How did the idea for Matched evolve?

AC: It all started with an idea—what if people didn’t get to choose who they wanted to marry?-and then past experiences of mine came into play. (Chaperoning a high school prom, participating in a very strange “matching” dance myself in middle school, etc.) And my present experiences—especially the all-consuming one of being a parent—-were also part of the evolution of the story as I considered the ideas of choice and accountability, the importance of wanting to keep the ones you love safe but not suffocating them, etc.

TCR: You use some excellent poems to help propel the plot in Matched; how did you go about choosing the poems, and why did you pick them?

AC: I chose the main Thomas poem fairly early on. It’s one of my all-time favorites and it’s a poem that almost everyone responds to instantly. I chose the Tennyson poem soon after, as I wanted a companion piece for the first one and I’ve always loved it as well. Poem in October, also by Thomas, was a recent discovery, and one I chose specifically for the book because of its mention of the word “birthday.”

TCR: Can you tell us anything about your next book(s)?

AC: Yes! My next two books will be the other two books in the Matched trilogy. The second one will begin very near the place in the story where Matched leaves off and will have two narrators. And I can’t say anything more than that.

TCR: What was the hardest part about writing Matched? The easiest?

AC: The hardest part about writing Matched was tying everything together. There are a few twists in the book, but I didn’t want them to feel like twists, if that makes sense. I wanted them to be surprising but also ring true, as if they didn’t come completely out of left field. The easiest part of writing Matched was the first draft, the basic story. I’ve never had so much fun writing a book.

TCR: Have you read any excellent books lately you'd like to recommend to your readers?

AC: Yes! I am completely and utterly delighted by Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, a lovely story that works on many different levels and for many different ages. My seven-year-old couldn’t put it down and neither could I. He loved the action and excitement of the main character’s journey, and I wept at the beauty of it. Lin is a fantastic writer.

I’ve also been reading (to my utter delight) Alan Bradley’s excellent Flavia de Luce mysteries. They are written, clever, and fun, and Flavia is one of my favorite characters of all time.

TCR: Thanks, Ally! (And I totally agree with you about Flavia!)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Wonderful, Wonderful World of Tortall

One of my absolute favorite series in the world is Tamora Pierce's Song of the Lioness Quartet. I discovered it when my grandmother promised to buy me a book at the Hallmark store, and was able to only find the first book in the series, Alanna: The First Adventure. Sounds cheesy, I know...but, I can say with absolute certainty that they are some of my favorite books of all time, and probably of my most-read books. I wish I could climb into a wardrobe and come out in Tortall. (Not to say Narnia isn't cool...I'd take it as a second choice, for sure.)

Lucky for eleven-year-old me and my insatiable book appetite, Pierce had three more books about Alanna, and then two more quartets, a duet, and a trilogy all centered around the fantastical land of Tortall. I devoured and adored them all and I am quick to recommend them to everyone looking for great fantasy books with strong heroines, complicated plots, and some breathtaking adventure.

However...if you're a stickler for order (like I totally am), getting into Pierce's books can be a bit hard. Not only do the books in the series have an order, but the series themselves have an order as well. So, here is your comprehensive guide to Tamora Pierce's Tortall books...enjoy!

Song of the Lioness Quartet

This series was Pierce's first, and the closest to my heart (and yes, that sounds extremely cheesy, I know) and it tells the story of Alanna, who dreams of becoming the first woman knight in Tortall. The first book is Alanna: The First Adventure (I know, not the best title, what whatever. The book is amazing), and is followed by In the Hand of the Goddess. The third book is The Woman Who Rides Like a Man, and finally, Lioness Rampant. It's an amazing, powerful series that has long been held as the epitome of YA fantasy in my mind. The covers are getting re-vamped and will be released next month (just in time for Christmas!), and I think this is the first time I have really liked any of them! So far only the first one has been revealed, and I am looking forward to seeing the rest.

The Immortals Quartet

This series picks up a few years after Lioness Rampant leaves off, and introduces a whole new set of characters. Daine, the protagonist, is a young mage with strange powers and the ability to speak to animals. Though it is definitely its own unique series, Alanna and the characters from her series do make quite a few appearances! The first book is Wild Magic, then Wolf-Speaker. In the third book, Emperor Mage, Daine and her friends explore some of the lands beyond Tortall. The final book in this quartet is In the Realms of the Gods.

The Protector of the Small Quartet

Picking up some years after The Immortals, this quartet is all about Kel and her dream to become like her heroine, Alanna, and become a knight. But her journey comes with its own set of unique challenges far different from Alanna's. Once again, characters from the previous two quartets also make an appearance! The books are First Test, Page, Squire, and Lady Knight.

Trickster's Duet

These two books are different from the previous three series in that they are longer books, and they don't take place in Tortall. However, they follow Aly, Alanna's daughter, and her misadventures as she becomes a spy. These are, in my opinion, Pierce's best books thus far. However, if you don't like spoilers, seriously...read Alanna's books first! The first is Trickster's Choice, and the second Trickster's Queen.

The Legend of Beka Cooper Trilogy

Pierce's first Tortall trilogy is also different from her previous books in that it is actually set in Tortall 200 years before Alanna's time. You don't necessarily have to read any of the above books before enjoying these books, but I read these later, and I prefer this order. They are about Beka Cooper, a peacekeeper in the capital of Tortall, and trials and struggles. Fun fact--Beka is an ancestor to a very important character in the Tortall books! The first one is Terrier, the second one Bloodhound (just came out in paperback, I believe), and the third one has yet to be released, but it will be titled Mastiff!

Also, soon to be released is Tortall and Other Lands: A Collection of Stories. As I understand it, it's like an anthology of all of Pierce's Tortall stories in one place, which will fill in gaps of time and such. I am very excited for this one--I haven't ever read a short story set in Tortall, and I am eager to see what will be in it.

Pierce is also writing more Tortall series, yet to be released. The next one will be about Numair, Daine's tutor in The Immortals Quartet, and his youth. He's a very itnerestiong character, and I am eager to learn more about him. Later, Pierce will also release an untitled series about a character, Maura, in the second book of The Immortals. She was a fun character, and I am eager to learn more about her!

So...there you have it. If you love fantasy, you are set when it comes to Tamora Pierce. I hope this guide helped you a bit. Keep in mind that these are only maybe a little over half of Pierce's books though...she has a whole other series set in another fictitious world and I've barely brushed the surface of that one! Enjoy!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Zombies vs. Unicorns, Edited by Justine Larbalestier and Holly Black

Vampires, fairies, and werewolves become sadly lackluster the minute you crack open the Zombies vs. Unicorns anthology, edited by the most esteemed YA authors Justine Larbalestier and Holly Black, zombie and unicorn advocates respectively. The book begins with an introduction that chronicles the genesis of this project, complete with many humorous jabs and the two editors drawing the proverbial line in the sand between the sides and their accompanying authors. The seriousness in which each editor presents her own argument is quite entertaining (though Larbalestier tends to be a little less mature about her assertation of zombie superiority).

There really is something for everyone in this collection of stories as well, outside of your preferences of zombies or unicorns. This absolutely stellar cast of authors has written very diverse and intelligent stories; everything from witty to serious and thought-provoking to just plain fun is included. Some favorites include Meg Cabot's hilarious and modern 'Princess Prettypants', Carrie Ryan's 'Bougainvillea', set in the same world as her novels The Forest of Hands and Teeth and The Dead-Tossed Waves, 'Purity Test' by Naomi Novick, about a very reluctant heroine and a rather cynical unicorn, and Maureen Johnson's funny yet chilling 'The Children of the Revolution'. It's hard to choose sides with such great stories, and even harder to pick a favorite among them, but thankfully there is no shortage of great entertainment among these pages, and it is guaranteed to be a great conversation starter. This is such an excellent concept that I wouldn't be opposed to another anthology along the same lines, hopefully with stories from the editors themselves.

Cover Comments: I absolutely love this entire package! The epic battle scene is fantastic, and the simple silhouettes are a great look, especially considering how they don't necessarily buy into the stereotypical look of each creature. It's a very eye-catching book, both inside and out.

ARC provided by publisher.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Her and Me and You by Lauren Strasnick

Alex doesn't have a lot to be happy about: Her father had an affair that dissolved her parents' marriage and forced her to move to a completely new town with her mother, who can barely get out of bed. She's far away from her best friend, and the distance is causing them to fight. She doesn't make any new friends...until she meets Fred and his enigmatic twin sister Adina. Alex likes Fred and is drawn to him and his peculiar life with Adina, despite the warnings from almost everyone around her to stay away. She has to know them…

Her and Me and You is a very absorbing book, and Lauren Strasnick's style is both entrancing and slightly unsettling. Her short, yet extremely effective, prose is attention-grabbing and probing, and has an even balance between being descriptive and concise and to the point. There are a lot of parallels between Alex's relationship with the twins, the many relationships between various secondary characters, and her parents that won't go unnoticed, all of which illustrate an interesting message about romance and the nature of love. Fred and Adina are very interesting characters; eccentric, puzzling, yet they have a certain vulnerability that will intrigue the reader as much as it does Alex. While Strasnick's book may be one that some readers may leave feeling a little confused, it is a unique one that will have you musing after the final page.

Cover Comments: I really like the colors and the depth of this cover...my only issue is: does anyone actually carry an umbrella when it's snowing?

ARC provided by publisher.

Lauren Strasnick is also the author Nothing Like You.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Crescendo by Becca Fitzpatrick

Nora thought that most of her problems were over with Jules' death. She has Patch, who is her guardian angel, and now her boyfriend. But her happiness is short-lived—before long, Patch is pulling away from Nora, and hanging out with Marcie Millar of all people. At first Nora s just confused, but then she's hurt and angry. She becomes determined to figure out all of Patch's secrets, and those surrounding her father's murder. But each step takes her deeper into the world of the Nephilim and fallen angels, and will uncover secrets, supernatural and otherwise, that she may regret knowing.

Crescendo, as far as sequels go, is unexpected. Nora's relationship troubles with Patch, while frustrating for the reader, are realistic considering what the characters are going through, and it's refreshing to have a heroine that continues to struggle with romance and love, even after a fairy tale-esque ending in Hush, Hush, and who can stand on her own and figure things out without the help of a supernatural boyfriend. Nora’s best friend Vee continues to play a strong role in the book, and her rebellious, irreverent nature adds a lot of humor throughout the novel, and it's good to see that Fitzpatrick really includes Vee--she's not just a sidekick. There are plenty little details and mysteries to keep track of in the book, though the plot did feel rather meandering and vague at times. The timeline wasn't clearly defined, and some scenes were repetitive, leaving some unanswered questions. However, the culmination of the mysteries and the revelation of the true killer are both dramatic and tense, and will have readers clamoring for the final book, Silence.

Cover Comments: One of my favorite things about this cover is the shimmery paper it's printed on--very neat! The girl standing in the rain, looking back is dramatic, and I like the way the shading is used. I don't like it as well as the Hush, Hush cover, but it's still very neat.

Review copy provided by publisher.