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The Compulsive Reader: September 2010

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Whatever You Do, Don't Read These Books

We all know that there are many, many dirty books out there. They talk about nasty things that no one should ever read about, and many people have worked to get them off of shelves so that they don't taint our youth. These are some of those books.

The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot

You may think that this is about a nice, average teenage girl who finds out she's really a princess of a small country in Europe, but be careful. This nice, average girl will talk about condoms. And boys. And...she even talks about playing with a diaphragm!

Looking For Alaska by John Green

This is a terrible, terrible book that parents stood up against when an eleventh grade English class decided to read it. They didn't actually have kids in that class, but they wanted to protect everyone nonetheless. You know what they say about one bad apple. They labeled it as pornographic. And what does the ALA do? They go ahead an give it the highest honor they can. What were they thinking? And then it won the Printz Award! Deplorable!

Crank, Glass, Tricks, and pretty much anything Ellen Hopkins writes

These books are ALL horrifying because they show real life teenagers struggling to deal with terrible things. Hopkins' characters have sex and do drugs and cut and drink too much alcohol. They give our kids terrible ideas and show them how to fail at life. Who wants that?

The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson

Maureen Johnson shows kids how two best friends can become lesbians--oh, the horror! There's also so much drinking and talk about sex! It's simply radical!

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

This is about a freshman in high school and how she mopes all year long because of what happened to her and talks about how high school is all about sex and drinking. Wesley Scroggins calls it filthy!

Oh, and be sure you stay away from these books as well! It's all just so terrible.

Happy Banned Books Week, everyone.

Cover Talk: The Forever Cover

Maggie Stiefvater's covers for her Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy are almost as tantalizingly romantic and beautiful as the prose itself. The cover for Shiver took my breath away. When I saw the Linger cover, I was delighted that Scholastic could come up with something that can easily stand beside Shiver. We all waited eagerly and impatiently for the Forever cover, debating the cover, who would be on it, what color it would be, and how that little red splotch would be incorporated.

And now we can see it all in its glorious beauty!

                                                                                  

I will admit, I looked forward to the release of the cover almost at much as for the book itself! The red, for me anyway, was a little unexpected (I always favored the rumor of a deep purple color scheme), but I think very fitting considering the recent developments in Linger. I like that we get (what I'm assuming is) human Sam on the cover! 

And, my huge fear (I'm not kidding) was that they'd leave out that signature red splotch that was so striking on Shiver. They haven't! Yay!

What do you all think?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Interview with Nancy Werlin and a Contest!

Nancy Werlin is the author of the recently released Extraordinary (read my review here)! Besides being an utterly charming and magical and thoughtful book, it was also an Amazon.com Best Book of the Month! She has also written Impossible, another book I adored! (Read my review of that one here!)

Nancy was kind enough to swing by and answer a few of my questions!

TCR: What led you to incorporate the Rothschild family into your story?

NW: The answer to this question begins with my decision to make Phoebe, the heroine of Extraordinary, Jewish. Of course, Jewish characters are not exactly plentiful in fantasy fiction. Originally, all I was thinking about was making some room at the table for readers who, like me as a teenager, loved reading fantasy but sometimes wondered why there was never anyone like them in it.

But then, as I worked on the book, I discovered that the decision had put me into a strange place of vulnerability and fear. And so a second and thoroughly emotional choice quickly followed: “I’ll not only make Phoebe Jewish, I’ll make her a Rothschild! I’ll make her a member of the most storied Jewish family in modern history!”

I wanted to protect her, I now see. It was pure instinct, because she was going where Jews didn’t go, and where they were—it seemed to my subconscious, which was suddenly demanding to be in charge—not known, not understood, and not welcome. I felt as if I could protect her somewhat, by making her a member of such a powerful, real family. Little did I know how this decision would change the entire shape of the novel, leading me into the family history of the Rothschild family and the discovery of the extraordinary/ordinary theme.

TCR: Was the internal struggle that Phoebe has between ordinary and extraordinary something you planned out at the beginning, or did it take shape as you wrote?

NW: The extraordinary/ordinary theme took shape during my first draft. For better or worse, I am not the kind of writer who does a lot of planning in advance. I throw ingredients that interest me into my first draft – in this case, faeries, Phoebe being Jewish and a Rothschild, a powerful and emotional friendship between two girls – and then I see what happens as I write forward.

It fascinates me how reliably something interesting does happen. In this case, an important strand of the novel ended up revolving around Phoebe’s feelings about her extraordinary family, and whether she rightfully belonged among them. Self-esteem issues popped up everywhere.

TCR: What was the hardest part about writing Extraordinary?

Writing the scenes in which Ryland undermines Phoebe’s self-confidence and self-esteem, trying to get her to admit that she is ordinary . . . that she is nothing . . . This was so hard to write, both emotionally and technically. I had to understand in my bones exactly how, step by step, it happened.

And I do understand. The most uncomfortable thing about being undermined in a relationship is how the very things we have to do to make a relationship work (compromise, meet the other party halfway) give the other person a claim on our psyches. Everyone gives away a bit of themselves, in order to keep a relationship going. You *have* to, in order to be close to other people. In a healthy relationship, this is an exchange, and this is what Phoebe expects. But because Ryland is Ryland, instead he uses what she gives to undermine her. (Readers who pick up Extraordinary and initially see Ryland as a romantic figure will certainly be shell-shocked by what happens at this point.)

But I had to allow the reader to feel really uncomfortable; to feel how beaten down Phoebe is; to feel the reality of it. I did my best to illustrate exactly how this process can work on an inexperienced young girl.
The response some people have to abuse is that if you have it all together, it can't happen to you. The flip side of that attitude, of course, is that if it *does* happens to you, it's your own fault, you’re weak, you should be ashamed. This attitude lets people dismiss the uncomfortable idea that abuse can be complicated and insidious.

It’s been a bit of a shock for me to realize that some readers blame Phoebe for what happens, and call her weak. And it’s also been interesting. I find myself thinking about the news stories about the singer Rihanna, and how many teenagers said they thought she somehow “deserved” to have her boyfriend beat her. The dynamic is similar, isn’t it?

TCR: What was the easiest part about writing Extraordinary?

NW: I so very much enjoyed writing about the landscape of Faerie, figuring out what my faeries looked like, mapping out their connection with nature, and then trying to describe all of it as luxuriously as possible.
And while it was not easy, exactly, I enjoyed writing about the friendship between Phoebe and Mallory. It’s the heart of the book, of course, because Extraordinary is in the end a story of friendship, not a story of romance. Or rather, it is friendship-romance, not romantic-romance.

TCR: Are you planning on writing more books similar to Impossible and Extraordinary?

NW: Yes, I am. I’m working on Unbreakable right now.

TCR: What are some books you read recently you'd like to recommend to your readers?

NW: For realistic YA, I just read and enjoyed The Beautiful Between by Alyssa Sheinmel, and All Unquiet Things by Anna Jarzab. For adult fiction, I am among those who loved Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. For nonfiction, I was riveted by Michael Lewis’s The Big Short. Of course I read Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins just as fast as ever I could. And I just reread Sunshine by Robin McKinley, which is an vampire favorite of mine from a few years ago.

TCR: I loved Sunshine! I read it for the first time this past summer. (Click here to read my review!) Thank you very much, Nancy!

And...if you haven't already picked up this book (what are you waiting for?), here is a chance to win your own copy! Two winners will each receive a copy of Extraordinary--just fill out the form below!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Cool New Books from Bloomsbury

Here are a few books that I think look good that are coming out from Bloomsbury this fall!

Where the Truth Lies by Jessica Warman

On the surface, Emily Meckler leads the perfect life. She has three best friends, two loving parents, and the ideal setup at the Connecticut prep school where her father is the headmaster. But Emily also suffers from devastating nightmares about fire and water, and nobody knows why. Then the enigmatic Del Sugar enters her life, and Emily is immediately swept away—but her passionate relationship with Del is just the first of many things that aren't quite what they seem in Emily's life. As the lies she's been told start to unravel, Emily must set out to discover the truth regarding her nightmare; on a journey that will lead her to question everything she thought she knew about love, family, and her own idyllic past.

This companion novel to Warman's critically acclaimed Breathless proves that sometimes the biggest lies are told to the people you love the most.

Hush by Eishes Chayil

Inside the closed community of Borough Park, where most Chassidim live, the rules of life are very clear, determined by an ancient script written thousands of years before down to the last detail—and abuse has never been a part of it. But when thirteen-year-old Gittel learns of the abuse her best friend has suffered at the hands of her own family member, the adults in her community try to persuade Gittel, and themselves, that nothing happened. Forced to remain silent, Gittel begins to question everything she was raised to believe.

A richly detailed and nuanced book, one of both humor and depth, understanding and horror, this story explains a complex world that remains an echo of its past, and illuminates the conflict between yesterday's traditions and today's reality.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Cover Talk: Fins Are Forever Reveal

Hey everyone! I've been not-so-subtly dropping hints that today would be the day that Tera Lynn Childs and a bunch of bloggers will be revealing the cover to Fins Are Forever, the sequel to the super cute and romantic and fun lovely mermaid-y goodness that is Forgive My Fins. And, I am happy to deliver:


Commence the cheering! You all know about my love for mermaids, right? And I just loved Forgive My Fins because there is romance and humor and lots of mermaids (read my review here). When I first saw the cover, it was like, "Whoa, hello COLOR!" But, I grew to like it a lot, and besides--those snapshots of underwater life near coral reefs are just exploding with color, so the cover seemed perfect.

I was wondering where HarperTeen would go with this cover, and I am very happy to see that there is tons of color and lots of fun little details. I can't wait to read it!

What do you all think?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Guest Blog from Clare Dunkle

 Clare Dunkle is the author of the book The House of Dead Maids, which chronicles the story of young Tabby, who becomes a nursemaid to the boy that will become Heathcliffe in the classic story of Wuthering Heights. Tabby's job isn't easy, as their home of Seldom House is haunted by many dead maids, and a great evil force is at work.

Here is Clare Dunkle on the natures of her two main characters:


"When the story of my new novel, The House of Dead Maids, first came to mind, it was like a spooky dream: gray, eyeless ghosts gathering in dim stone hallways, storm clouds sweeping over weedy, overgrown gardens, and through it all, a little boy playing happily, unworried in the midst of horror. That little boy, called Himself in my book, becomes Heathcliff in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. In that classic, Heathcliff rarely gets to be happy because he brings conflict into the book with him, so I wanted to create a story where he could feel at home.


How can a child feel at home when he is surrounded by evil ghosts? Himself (later Heathcliff) has two advantages. First, even before the beginning of my book, he has survived almost unimaginable trauma, and he has grown used to violence and grisly scenes. And second, I’ve given him a guardian angel for this story: an eleven-year-old nursemaid named Tabby. While Tabby hasn’t witnessed much violence, she is a survivor too, as tough in her way as Himself is in his. He trusts her to look after him, and so he can play while she worries about both of their futures.


I drew inspiration for Tabby from strong narrators in two Brontë classics: Nelly Dean, the housekeeper in Wuthering Heights, and Jane Eyre, the protagonist of her own novel. These are women who feel that they can rely on themselves, and they speak frankly to the reader because they have a strong sense of self-worth. Both of them are telling stories from the comfortable perspective of maturity: they are looking back over a lifetime of difficult decisions, and they feel few regrets. This adds to the power of their narrative voice.


My narrator, too, is looking back from a comfortable distance to tell the story of The House of Dead Maids—she tells us this in the very first sentence of the book. Every now and then, Tabby contrasts her younger, inexperienced self with the wisdom she has gained since, but for the most part, she lets us know that she is who she is. Whatever others think of her—that she is ugly or odd-looking or unintelligent or meddling—doesn’t do much to upset Tabby’s self-esteem. Instead, she congratulates herself on having a good conscience, and she works hard to keep it that way.


Tabby derives her strength from an unshakeable belief in the strict rules of her day: the rich do what they please, the servants work, the bad go to hell, and the good go to heaven. Himself derives his strength, both in my book and in Emily Brontë’s classic, from his refusal to believe anything of the sort. Children or not, two such strong characters are a force to be reckoned with, and in The House of Dead Maids, they deal with ghosts, mobs, and murderers, and both make it through to new chapters of their own. What neither Tabby nor Himself manages to do, at the end of the day, is to change one another. Their adventure only cements their conflicting attitudes."

Thanks, Clare!

Also, here is a Special Brontë-themed giveaway!

One Grand Prize winner will receive The House of Dead Maids, a gorgeous Brontë sisters pocket mirror, and the HarperTeen edition of Wuthering Heights! Two lucky runners-up will receive the two books. To enter, send an email to DeadMaidsBook@gmail.com with your name, email address, and shipping address (if you're under 13, submit a parent's name and email address). One entry per person and prizes will only be shipped to US or Canadian addresses. Entries must be received by midnight (PDT) on October 31. Winners will be selected in a random drawing on November 1 and notified via email.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Speak LOUDLY!


I see so, so, so many terrible cases of censorship as a book blogger. It's almost always the same story: a disgruntled parent complains to a librarian or school official, a book gets pulled without the proper (or any) consideration, people get riled up, authors are hurt, sometimes a librarian gets fired, and readers and authors spearhead a campaign to do right by readers and get the book reinstated. Sometimes, it works. Most times it doesn't. The ignorant and the narrow-minded win.

It gets disheartening. Almost so much that I don't feel motivated to blog about it. The stupid voice in the back of my head goes, "It's not worth it."

But, it is. SPEAK LOUDLY.

Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak has recently come under fire by a professor at Missouri State University, Wesley Scroggins, wrote a piece called "Filthy books demeaning to Republic education". My problem is not with his religious views, or his opinion that the YA books in question are filthy. We're all entitled to our own opinions. My MAJOR, MAJOR, MAJOR issue with his statement that books like Speak are classified as "soft pornography" because Anderson's book contains "two rape scenes".

Honestly, you have to wonder about the sense of someone who considers rape soft pornography. I can't find the words to express how horrifying I find it that someone would view rape as something "designed to stimulate sexual excitement" (direct quote from the definition of pornography).

And to apply such labels to Speak, of all books...Speak does not condone sex or encourage it. It's not pornography or anything of the sort. I read it when I was in eighth grade, and for a while, it eluded me. I couldn't understand why Melinda was the way she was. As a less mature reader and more innocent of the subject, I was stunned by the book and its ending. Not because of the sex, or the rape in it, but by Melinda's resilience and the raw power of the message. It helped me mature, and it in no way damaged me. If I had moved on to high school, ignorant of that story, there is a chance that I too could have been taken advantage of--despite my parochial school education and my family's (and my) strong Christian faith.

Speak isn't a pretty book. It's not entirely happy. But it sheds a light on an important issue that needs to be addressed, especially to teen girls as they grow up and head into a world that isn't as innocent as they may be. For some, this may be a hard book to grasp. That's why it is so imperative that parents get involved with what their kids read and use books like Speak as a learning tool.

To Wesley Scroggins: you are entitled to your personal opinion, and you can raise your kids any way that you see fit. You can network with other like-minded parents and people. You can write articles about your views. But be careful with your words. Don't call a book pornographic because it talks about rape. Don't impose your views on people who may not share them. Don't deprive teens of a monumentally important book by attempting to ban or remove it--this book has the power to save teens from the pain that Melinda experiences. Don't take that away from them.

ETA: I would like to know what books Mr. Scroggins deigns appropriate and fitting for the education of teenagers. Because according to his standards, over half of the required reading I was assigned in high school contained rape and sex and therefore (according to him) would be pornographic. I'm talking Jane Smiley, John Steinbeck, J.M. Coetzee, Toni Morrison, and much, much, much more... And this coming from a high school situated in an area that is predominantly Republican!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Twin's Daughter by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Lucy Sexton's life is perfectly ordinary until the day she answers her front door, only to find a bedraggled and gaunt version of her mother. Her entire household is shocked to find that Aliese Sexton has a twin sister, separated at birth, and raised in a much coarser manner than Lucy's mother. And so the Sextons conspire to keep Helen a secret, training her and making her into a proper, cultured woman. Lucy is delighted--it's like having an older sister. But then both Aliese and Helen start acting oddly, and a few times even Lucy has a hard time telling them apart. And then one day, she stumbles upon the scene of a vicious murder, leaving one twin dead and one alive...but who? And who is the murderer and why did they only kill one of them?

The Twin's Daughter is a clever and dark new historical fiction from Lauren Baratz Logsted. She takes a slightly far-fetched plot and winds it into an engaging and atmospheric psychological thriller. Though the book starts out lightly with Lucy being young and naive, growing up, and making friends with boy-next-door Kit, there are hints at darker plots and hidden agendas from the very beginning in Helen's dissatisfaction at her treatment, her untrustworthiness, and how she delights in Lucy's father's company and being mistaken for Aliese. The book becomes more ominous after the murder and Lucy is forced to grow up quickly. However, she doesn't start to question the identity of the surviving twin until another death occurs, and then it's a whirlwind of unveiled secrets and surprise twists that lead to a dramatic end. The Twin's Daughter is not without humor or its light bits, but it is mysterious and suspenseful novel about mistaken identity, revenge, passion, and love that will surprise you.

Cover Comments: I like the image within an image effect of this cover! It's very neat, and I think it lends itself well to the tricky nature of the story. Very nice!

The Twin's Daughter is available now!

ARC received from publisher.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Reading Rants: The Great Big Post of Mer

When I was a little compulsive reader, my wonderful mother would take me to the library each week so that I could work at my quest of reading every book in sight, a mission that would often have me perusing the shelves for far longer than anyone's patience extended, and checking out upwards of a about 10 books. On one such visit, I found a mermaid book that I fell in love with.

For the longest time, I couldn't remember the name of the mermaid book, but I could recall random passages down to the minutest detail. I remembered the main characters's first name, what the covers looked like, and how the trilogy ends. But. Not. The. Title. The librarians at my library had no clue what I was talking about when I asked, and I combed through the shelves and databases one day, but to no avail.

Until...the love Jaclyn Dolamore. She's the author of Magic Under Glass and the yet-to-be-released Between the Sea and Sky (a MERMAID BOOK!), and she held a contest that I won and sent me a box of books. I was stunned and ecstatic to find that this long-lost mermaid book of mine was included in the prize--book one of the Water trilogy by Kara Dalkey!



This was my first mermaid book (though I have loved mermaids ever since before I could read...and I'll confess to memorizing many...er, all...of the songs to Disney's The Little Mermaid at age four), and it solidified my love for all tales set under the sea. But, besides Dalkey's trilogy, here are a few other mermaid books I am fond of!

The Water Trilogy by Kara Dalkey

Beginning with Ascension, this trilogy tells the story of Nia, a young mermaid who lives in Atlantis, and dreams of becoming the next member, or Avatar, in the council that rules over the merpeople. But when she isn't chosen, a complicated and dangerous side to her government is revealed, taking Nia from the depths of the ocean to dry land in Reunion and back again in the conclusion, Transformation. Though it looks like new copies of the book are scarce (though there are plenty of used ones starting at a penny) this trilogy is very affordable in the Kindle and eBook edition!

Midnight Pearls by Debbie Viguie

This is a retelling of the classic story The Little Mermaid. Pearl has never known where she comes from, but she loves the sea and she knows she's not like other girls. But she has a friend in Prince James, and perhaps a chance at something more, if only nefarious plots against James and a strong curse don't tear the two apart.

Daughters of the Sea Quartet by Kathryn Lasky

Lasky's new quartet is a historical fiction/fantasy in which three mermaid sisters are separated at birth and lead three very different lives. You can read my review of the first book, Hannah, here. The second one, May, will be released next March!

Forgive My Fins by Tera Lynn Childs

This is a hilarious and fun modern twist on the mermaid legend in which Lily, princess of her underwater kingdom, Thalissinia, and half human, is on the lookout for her soul mate, and thinks she has found him...only, she ends up kissing the wrong boy, which lands her into a heap of trouble! This fun book also has a sequel, Fins Are Forever, which will be out sometime next year (and whose cover I am revealing here next Friday!). Read my review here.

Sea Change by Aimee Friedman

Though not quite as straightforward as the others I've mentioned, this book is definitely magical and unique--it has a merman rather than a mermaid! When Miranda travels to Selkie Island to help her mother close up her late grandmother's house, she meets Leo. He's wonderful in every way, but Miranda soon discovers there's something different about him. Read my review here.

And though this isn't a mermaid book, it's along the same line, and I'm sure you'll love it!

Seven Tears Into the Sea by Terri Farley

At the age of ten, Gwen Cooke had a strange encounter with a boy with dark, slightly tilted eyes. He came to her on the beach, whispered strange words in her ear, and then disappeared. Shortly thereafter, her family moved away from their seaside home and Gwen never saw the boy again.

Now seventeen, Gwen is returning to her childhood home. Her nana asked her to come. But Gwen knows it's time to go back for another reason: She yearns for the sea. Perhaps the sea itself is calling to her. Perhaps the memory of the boy and his haunting words are drawing her back to the place they met. Perhaps it's time for her to face her destiny.

And here are two forthcoming mermaid books I'm excited for!

Between the Sea and Sky by Jaclyn Dolamore

For as long as Esmerine can remember, she has longed to join her sister as a siren, the highest calling a mermaid can have. But when her sister runs away to the mainland, reportedly to elope with a human, Esmerine is sent to retrieve her.

Using magic to transform her tail into legs, she makes her way unsteadily through the streets of New Sweeling. There, she will come upon a friend she hasn't seen since childhood - Alandare, a boy, now a man, who belongs to a winged race of people. Together, Esmerine and Alandare put aside their differences to find her sister, and in the process discover a love that cannot be bound by land, sea, or air.

The Mermaid's Mirror by L.K. Madigan

Lena has lived her whole life near the beach – walking for miles up and down the shore and breathing the salty air, swimming in the cold water, and watching the surfers rule the waves – the problem is, she’s spent her whole life just watching.

As her sixteenth birthday approaches, Lena vows she will no longer watch from the sand: she will learn to surf.

But her father – a former surfer himself – refuses to allow her to take lessons. After a near drowning in his past, he can’t bear to let Lena take up the risky sport.

Yet something lures Lena to the water … an ancient, powerful magic. One morning Lena catches sight of this magic: a beautiful woman – with a silvery tail.

Nothing will keep Lena from seeking the mermaid, not even the dangerous waves at Magic Crescent Cove.
And soon … what she sees in the mermaid’s mirror will change her life …