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The Compulsive Reader: December 2011

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Best Books of 2011

Another year is done! I hope that you will have a fun and safe New Year's Eve, and that next year is full of great books. But before we move on to 2012, I thought it'd be fun to go back over the past year and pick out the best books of 2011. These are, of course, only my opinions, but they were surprisingly easy to pick out because these ten books were jsut so outstanding. If you haven't read any of them, then I highly encourage you to do so!

Here are the ten best books of 2011, in no particular order: 


This one is a no-brainer. Taylor's writing is beautiful and magical, and the plot of this gorgeous book is so full of twists and turns and unexpected developments. I can honestly say that I didn't anticipate a single thing in this book--Taylor surprised me every step of the way. This book is an excellent blend of fantasy, reality, and forbidden love.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

I've come to love everything that Stiefvater writes, but I was especially charmed by the little island of Thisby and main characters Sean and Puck. This is such an imaginative and mystical book, similar to the world we know, yet apart from it at the same time. I was completely transported.

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

Sara Zarr's latest book really hit home for me. The story of two very different teen girls, connected by one unborn baby, is just so real and complicated and human. I loved how they struggled to let go of grief, searced for a place where they belong, and strve to do the right thing. How to Save a Life is a book that is as affecting and powerful as its deceptively simple title.
 

I am a huge fantasy fan, and Rae Carson's debut novel is one of the best fantasy books I've come across since I fell in love with Tamora Pierce and discovered Kristin Cashore. The heroine goes through a spectacular transformation from a shy, overweight, and dubious girl to a young woman who is strong and finds her courage. It's an excellent start to a trilogy, and I can't wait for the next book in 2012!

Stay by Deb Caletti

I'm a rather new fan of Deb Caletti's, and earlier this year I was completely taken with her latest book, Stay. The heroine, Clara, is very lost at the beginning of the book but she is resilient and strong. I loved Caletti's message in this book; sometimes we mess up, sometimes we lose our way. That doesn't mean that something is wrong with you, or that you can't move beyond your issues. As always, Caletti is inspiring without being preachy.

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

Asher and Mackler get a gold star for this awesome, awesome premise. But what makes this book really great is the relationship between main characters Emma and Josh, and the lessons they learn about the danger of trying to change a future that is uncertain and not taking advantage of today. This is a funny and optimistic book about learning to deal with things you can control and letting go of the things you have no power over.

 
Divergent by Veronica Roth

Out of all of the books that have been published since dystopia became popular in YA, Divergent is the only one that measures up to The Hunger Games. Roth's fascinating and dangerous post-apocalyptic Chicago is an amazing setting, and the characters' journies are absorbing. I wasn't able to put this one down!
 
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Bray's books are kind of hit and miss with me, but oh my word, I LOVED Beauty Queens. It's such a hilarious allegory of the modern teenage culture. It's all about girl power without being preachy or cheesy, and there are pirates, explosives, and sparkly items. I dare you to try to put it down.
 
All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin

The title hooked me immediately with this book, and the premise--a girl living in 2083 NYC where coffee and chocolate are prohibited--sealed the deal. Main character Anya Balanchine wants nothing to do with the mob delaigns of her extended family, but she'll find that it's not so easy to avoid, especially when her past is already so intertwined with illegal dealings and violence. Zevin has written a fascinating and unique book here, and I can't wait for the sequel!


King is known for writing books that are different and a little wacky. I loved her last two books, The Dust of 100 Dogs and Please Ignore Vera Dietz, but I wasn't really sure abotu Everybody Sees the Ants. I am so, so glad I read it. It's such a real and personal book about a teen guy who has been bullied for half his life, and how he finds his courage in the most unlikely of places. Every teen should read this (and King's other books).

What are your favorite books of 2011?

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder

Campbell has cancer, and she's tried every treatment. Now her doctor has told her there's nothing more to do but wait for the end. So Cam's mother does the only thing she can—she packs Cam and her younger sister up and heads for Promise, Maine. Miracles happen there--every day ones, and even bigger ones, yet Cam doesn't really believe in them. But she's not done living yet, and she sets out to get the most out of the last summer of her life.

The Probability of Miracles is a very quirky novel that is surprisingly humorous and poignant. Cam is such an interesting and complex character—you may not agree with her beliefs or her rather frank view of her own impending death, but she does have a vibrant personality and her antics in crossing off the things on her Flamingo List (what she calls her bucket list) are memorable and humorous. The eccentricities of Promise are everything you could hope for in a miraculous town—magical and curious with intriguing characters rooted in reality. Everything comes together nicely in Maine—Cam's endeavors to live fully, how she deals with heartbreak, her romance with Asher, a boy from Promise with his own issues, and even the happiness of Cam's mother and sister. On the surface, this book is deceptively simple—it seems to be about learning to believe in miracles. But in between uproariously funny lines and highly emotional ones that will catch you off guard (like Cam's sudden epiphany that "she'd be spending the rest of her short life making other people feel better about the prospect of losing her"), you will find that this is more than a silly pink book about miracles, but one about the probability of faith, love, heartache, forgiveness, acceptance, and learning to let go. Wunder proves that miracles aren't found in life, but in living.

Cover Comments: I actually really like the vivid pink of this cover and and the feather cut out--it's pretty cool. The font is also very awesome, and I think it fits the story well.

ARC provided by publisher.

Click here to check out my interview with Wendy Wunder and read an excerpt!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Cover Talk: Melissa Walker's New Book!

I've really enjoyed Melissa Walker's work, especially her latest, Small Town Sinners! I think each book of hers just gets better and better. I've been hearing snatches about her new book here and there, so I was really excited to see that it now has a beautiful cover!


I absolutely adore it! I love the ocean and the sky, and how the girl is sitting on the edge of the boat. I love the pink and the heart and fonts. I am in love with the title. Even if I had no idea what this book was about, I would buy it and read it!

What do you think?


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Reading Rants: Adult Books I've Enjoyed Recently

You know I'm all about the YA, but expanding your TBR list to include a little diversity is good, too, and I've read a lot of very, very interesting non-YA books lately that I think you all will enjoy too!
The Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned these books on the blog before--they are downright hilarious! It's a very fun steampunk series about Alexia Tarabotti, a spinster and half-Italian (two very unfavorable things for a young lady of London to be) who also happens to be soulless. This tends to be tricky when it comes to being around werewolves and vampires and the like. There are five books in the series (and I wish there were MORE) and they are: Soulless, Changeless, Blameless, Heartless, and Timeless (to be released in 2012). I just finished Heartless, and it was so, so good.

This is an excellent crossover series, so I definitely encourage you YA readers to pick it up, even if it is technically an adult series. Plus, there's at least one perk--as a mass market paperback, the books are only $7.99 each!

Flavia de Luce mysteries by Allan Bradley

This is another series with delightful characters (and equally delightful titles) that I think many, many people will enjoy. It's published under an adult imprint, but the series is narrated by a brilliant and humorous 11-year-old girl named Flavia de Luce. She is the youngest daughter of a British family living in a crumbling family manor in 1950, and she is an avid chemist. When a dead body turns up on her family's property, it's the most interesting thing that has ever happened to her, and she sets out to help solve the mystery.

My high school English teacher (also the same lovely lady I now work with at the bookstore) introduced me to the books about 2 and a half years ago, and both my mother and I fell in love with them. The first book is called The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. The second is The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag, then A Red Herring Without Mustard, and just released, I Am Half-Sick of Shadows. I read on an ARC that there will be 6 books in the series, so yay! I just got caught up with the second and third books, and I got my mother the fourth for Christmas. Now she needs to hurry up and finish it so I can read it as well!

Sookie Stackhouse books 1-3 by Charlaine Harris

So...about this series. So not what I normally read. But for the first few weeks that I worked at the bookstore, it felt like every time I turned around, someone was either asking me my opinion of the books, or telling me that they were really good. Since I knew basically nothing about the books except for what I've seen of the sexy (and bloody) stills from the show True Blood, I decided to see what it's all about. It doesn't seem very fair to judge a series by their on screen adaptation.

All reviews I have read have said that the books are all about blood and sex. I didn't really see that in the first book, Dead Until Dark. In fact, I thought DUD was funny, sweet, a little scary, and a really good start to a series. So after I finished I took myself over to the library and got books 2 and 3. As I delved into Living Dead in Dallas...whoa. I could see where the reviewers were coming from on their previous statements. I don't object to sex in books, but I just wasn't getting into the book at all. I felt like the plot was being driven entirely my lust, sex, and orgies. But, I finished and resolved to give Sookie one more try in Club Dead. Unfortunately, I hit my requisite 50 pages and couldn't do it anymore. I ended up returning it to the library unread and pretty disappointed, because I really liked Sookie's character. I just wasn't grabbed. 

If only all of the books could have been like Dead Until Dark...

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

This one was a Shelf Discovery post a few weeks ago, and I'd been hearing such good things about it, I couldn't wait to read it! I started reading it one day at the bookstore, but then our copies all sold (which is so good but so frustrating) and I ran to the library for it. Miracle upon miracles, it was available! I got right back into it.

Here's the thing about The Night Circus: It's beautifully written, but not very linear. Non-linear books are NOT bad books, but I didn't expect it to be so all over the place. I thought that the constant jumping around would settle down after about 50 pages, when the scene was set, but it didn't. It continued throughout the entire book. Marco and Celia may be made out to be the main characters in the summary, but they aren't, not really. There are many other characters who get just about the same amount of page time as they do--the two magicians just happen to be at the center of all of the drama.

At first, I was really disappointed about all of this. I wanted an unfolding story, not brief glimpses into the lives and major events of all of these people spanning 30 years. However, the closer I got to the end, the more I liked it. It was a beautiful, magical, unreal book that really transports you, and I think that the narrative only aided in creating that atmosphere. I definitely recommend it!

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

This was another Shelf Discovery post--read here to see what it's about and how I discovered it! 

So, a dystopia retelling of The Scarlet Letter is something I am ALL over. I found that the Kindle price on this book was $3.28, and I couldn't resist. I devoured it in a day (right before exams...not smart) and I absolutely loved it.

Jordan does such an excellent job at creating this society that is so eerily similar to our own, yet contains processes and laws and customs that are really terrifying. It does follow the original story in its major events pretty well--you can most definitely see The Scarlet Letter in When She Woke. However, this one has what Nathaniel Hawthorne's story lacks--action! There is a lot of danger, suspense, fear, and complicated emotions here. Hannah Payne goes through s much, and she comes out on the other side much more different. The upside to this one is that the ending isn't so final and clear, leaving room for the potential of hope and happiness. I was completely enthralled, and I highly recommend this book!

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

I admit, I had never heard of Bill Bryson before I started working at the bookstore. His books are everywhere there--in travel memoirs, writing reference, nonfiction. I probably wouldn't have even picked up one of his books though if his A Walk in the Woods hadn't appeared on my reading list for my Lit 401 class next semester. 

A Walk in the Woods is about Bryson's decision to walk the Appalachian Trail upon his return to the US after living abroad in England for many years. He has hiked before, but never backpacked. He is not in the best of shape. But he plows on, and begins in Georgia in the spring with the intention of reaching Maine in August. Accompanying him is his childhood friend Katz, who is in even worse shape than Bryson, and offers all of the comedic relief in this memoir. It is a very funny, very informative book about the history of the Appalachian Trail, its challenges, and how to avoid a bear. It's a great one to read if you aren't too sure about reading nonfiction and want to give it a try, and it's very, very funny.

What non-YA books have you been enjoying lately?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Legend by Marie Lu

On the surface, Day and June appear to be complete opposites. Day is wanted by the Republic for his criminal acts and June is a military prodigy. When June's brother is murdered and Day is the only suspect, June is promoted and tasked to hunt him down when no one else has been able to do so. She doesn't stop to think about why she has been assigned to the task or how the evidence doesn't match up until she's gotten close enough to hand Day in. Only then does June realize that someone else has been playing them both.

Marie Lu's debut novel will definitely appeal to readers of all sorts who are fans of the dystopia trend in books now. Legend is a well written, action-driven book that never slows down. The dual perspectives help to keep things exciting and the different personalities of Day and June will help reach a lot of readers. The characters do seem a little young and not quite as brilliant as they're made out to be by other characters, but there's no denying the cleverness of the plot, missions, or escapes. Lu does a great job at drawing out suspense with a constant race against time; Day must find a cure for the disease his brother is plagued with before it's too late, and June must decide which side she stands on before any freedom of choice is taken away from her. The bigger picture of the government's conflict with the eastern Colonies is a little vague, but it will hopefully be an issue that is expounded upon more in the second book. Legend is an absorbing and smart read and a good choice for those who want something to read after The Hunger Games, but it doesn't surpass it.

Cover Comments: I like the silver and gold of the cover, though the isignia doesn't really have any significance within the book--it just looks cool. This cover seems to be trying to imitate other big dystopian sellers like The Hunger Games and Divergent, so I'm not really impressed.

I would definitely recommend buying this one in print over e-book--the insides are gorgeous and have a lot of cool details with gold and silver ink.

ARC provided by publisher.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Here's to a very Merry Christmas to you all! I hope that you all have a wonderful day with your families!

If you want to read about what some authors like Maggie Stiefvater like to give and get for the holidays when it comes to books, click here!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Big Deal

Amazon is offering a HUGE sale on tons of e-books from now until December 23rd! There are some really awesome YA books under $3.99. If you have an e-reader and are looking for something to occupy your time until Christmas or are looking for an inexpensive gift, these books are great! Or, if you know you are going to be getting an e-reader, you can purchase them now and download them Christmas morning! Yay, deals!

(ETA: Though the deal ends the 23rd, some of these books are remaining on sale longer!)
Here are a few of the good ones in no particular order:

Ten Things We Did (and probably shouldn't have) by Sarah Mlynowski - Only $0.99!

Tangled by Carolyn Mackler - Only $1.99!

StarCrossed by Elizabeth C. Bunce - Only $2.99!

Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin - Only $2.99!

This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel - Only $1.99!

Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker - Only $2.99!

Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith - Only $3.99!

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale - Only $2.24!

Austenland by Shannon Hale - Only $2.50!

Jenna and Jonah's Fauxmance by Emily Franklin - Only $2.50!

Bumped by Megan McCafferty - Only $0.99!

Entwined by Heather Dixon - Only $0.99!

Unearthly by Cynthia Hand - Only $0.99!

Hereafter by Tara Hudson - Only $0.99!

Vesper by Jeff Sampson - Only $0.99!

Happy reading!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Interview with Wendy Wunder!



Wendy Wunder is the author of the recently released book The Possibility of Miracles. It's funny and sad and quirky, and I loved it (review coming soon!). Wendy was kind enough to answer a couple of my questions recently--check them out!

TCR: I like how Cam grew up at Disney World--have you spent a lot of time at Disney?

WW: I have visited at different stages of my life, so I feel like I’ve grown up with Disney. Unlike Cam in the beginning, I actually Love it. I have definitely felt the magic of the Magic Kingdom whenever I have visited. I have never worked there though and a lot of the scenes were born strictly out of my imagination. I thought putting Cam in a place like Disney when she was sick and miserable would set up an interesting juxtaposition. (My favorite ride: Space Mountain. Favorite attraction: That Jungle ride with the antiquated animatronic animals and the sarcastic boat drivers. Do they still have the hall of Presidents?)

TCR: Have you ever written your own Flamingo List?

WW: You know. I don’t think I have. I’m not really good at planning ahead. And for a while I wasn’t good at knowing what I wanted. But I had a lot of fun in my twenties so I feel like I checked off a lot of things. I’ve lived in New York, San Francisco and Boston. I’ve traveled through Europe a couple of times. I’ve driven across the country. I learned another language. I’ve fallen in love. Started a family and now I’ve written a book, which was probably secretly number one on the list the whole time. So now anything else that comes along is just gravy! I’m pretty lucky and very grateful. And yet, still, a little poor. So maybe I should put saving money on that Flamingo List!

TCR: What was the hardest part about writing The Probability of Miracles? The easiest?

WW: Hardest part: description. Easiest part: dialogue. I get swept up in the pace of the dialogue and I have trouble slowing down and describing where people are while they’re talking. It’s okay though. I just hand in a draft that looks like a script and then fill in details later.

TCR: What was your reaction when you first saw the cover?

WW: I Love the cover. I’m not normally a Pink kind of gal. In fact when my daughter was born I dressed her in a lot of purple to avoid being inundated in pinkness. The manager at our local grocery store still calls her “Violetta” because she was always dressed in purple. But I think the pink works. And the feather is cool. And the model on the cover is beautiful. AND the font is Perfect. I love it.

TCR: What are you working on now?

WW: A couple of things, but one is a teenage Thelma and Louise road story about the power of friendship and the mysteries of the universe…Stay tuned!

Thanks so much, Wendy!

Stay tuned for my review of this awesome book!

Not convinced that you need to pick this one up? Then read a free excerpt and watch the book trailer below!

The Probability of Miracles - Chapters 1 - 5




Monday, December 19, 2011

Q&A 3: The Reviews

This one is all about reviews and the functions of this blog:

Q: How many reviews have you written?

A: About 590.

Q: Do you review every single book you read?

A: No, but I do review the majority. I try to cover every YA book I read on the blog, and those MG or adult books that I think would be of interest to my readers. A lot of non-YA books I don't review, but I do mention them in the Classics Corner feature, or in my Adult Books I've Enjoyed posts.

Q: Why are your reviews so formal?

A: It's just the way I write them. I don't consider them formal--I just try to write a review that I would want to read myself. If that calls for neatly formed sentences, a slightly elevated tone, literary terms, and some critical assessments, then so be it. I know it's not for everyone, but that's okay. Book blogs are kinda like books--you're not going to like every one.

Q: I want to review books too, but I don't know what to talk about. How do you know what to say in your reviews?

I'd say it's 80% knowing what you think it's important to know about a book as a reader, and 20% practice and experience. When I started "reviewing," I basically just said what I liked about a book, and it all tumbled out in something that was semi-cohesive. After time, my structure and syntax  got a lot better, but one thing that didn't change was the fact that I focused on what it was that stood out to me. This may be hard to do, so here's what I recommend:

  • Take notes. I now it sounds academic and un-fun, but it does help. I do review notes on every book I review. I grab a couple of note cards and whenever I feel like it, I write down comments and thoughts about the book I'm reading, especially if something sticks out to me. This also helps if I don't get a chance to write my review right away.
  • Ask yourself what you'd want to know about a particular book before starting it.
  • Ask yourself why you liked (or disliked) a book, and then think about those elements that made the book work (or hindered it).
  • Don't be afraid to explore a topic brought up in the book (like suicide, drug use, academic stress, etc.).
  • Remember that writing reviews isn't always easy. You can write 590 of them and still struggle as if it were the first time.
Q: I noticed that you summarize the book in your own words instead of posting the summary from Amazon. Should I do this in my reviews?

A: I'd say it doesn't really matter what you do, but if you're going to re-post an official summary, it's probably a good idea to note where you got it from.

Q: I noticed that you haven't been writing as many reviews lately. Why?

A: Busy, busy, busy. Sorry. I'm a senior in college.

Q: Should I post "bad" reviews?

A: Poorly written reviews should not be left alone on the internet.

But, you mean negative reviews of books, right?

In that case, I'd say it depends on your approach. When it comes to my reviews, I like to maintain a snark-free zone (Twilight and everything else is fair game). The reason for this is that if I don't like a book, I stop reading it. Life is too short to waste on books you have to force yourself to read. (Unless, of course, your grade depends on it. Then you better suck it up.) Hence, anything that I finish and review, I've done so because there was SOMETHING worthwhile to get me through the book, and I'd prefer to focus on that something than about how terrible the dialogue was. I'm not going to ignore it--I want to be honest with you all--but I'm not going to obsess over it. So, if your reviews are going to be negative, but politely so, go ahead and post them. I think they benefit the internet and readers for a few reasons:
  1. Publicists might want to know if they're off when it comes to a trend, and they won't be able to figure that out as easily if everyone's awkwardly complimenting the book.
  2. I've heard that some authors have learned something from constructive criticism. (Hey, it's a rumor--don't shoot the messenger!)
  3. Disagreement can spark some good conversations.
  4. It's okay if you're not cookie-cutter. Admitting that you don't like something isn't wrong. Sometimes it makes you connect with readers even better.
It's okay to not like a book. The only thing NOT okay is being rude about disliking it.


Do you have a question about reviews or just this blog in general? Shoot me an email at thecompulsivereader@gmail.com, or leave a question in the comments.



Sunday, December 18, 2011

Shelf Discovery: Circle Nine by Anne Heltzel

Shelf Discovery is a feature in which I highlight one book that I have found while prowling the shelves of the independent bookstore I work at it. These books aren't necessarily YA books; they're books that have discovered and find interesting or unique. I hope you do too.

I stumbled upon Circle Nine by Anne Heltzel (which is a YA book) the other day. I was surprised that I hadn't heard of it before, and it totally intrigued me! Here's what it's about:

"When your whole life has vanished and only one person knows who you are . . . don't you have to believe him? 
Abby doesn't remember what happened the night she woke up in soot-stained clothes, lying next to a burning building with an unfamiliar boy at her side. But her connection with Sam is immediate and intense. And she has no one else: no family, no home, not even a last name. 
She and Sam start a new life, just the two of them, and Abby's deliriously happy. Until memories from her past begin to haunt her and suddenly everything she's learned to love turns sinister. It's only a matter of time before her reality cracks apart."

Has anyone read this one? What did you think about it?

What have you discovered recently? 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Emma Carlson Berne and Still Waters!

Emma Carlson Berne is the author of Still Waters, which I reviewed earlier this month here. It's a great romantic thriller that you can easily get lost in, and it's out on Tuesday! So while it might be a little late to add it to your Christmas list, it will definitely be out and ready for gift card spending!

To celebrate the release, Emma was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about writing and her next book!

TCR: What inspired the lake house setting in Still Waters?

ECB: Well, I’ve always been very drawn to nature. We spent a lot of time camping in Kentucky and in the Rockies when I was growing up. One of the main family activities as a child was walking in the woods. Looking at grasses, different kinds of berries, picking up interesting stones—these things always come naturally to me. So it’s easy for me to envision all sorts of stories set in striking natural environments.

When I was about eighteen, I drove north with my friend to visit her family’s lakeside home in Michigan. This place was all piney woods, creaky screen doors and musty couch cushions. I loved it—making jam with her grandmother, going for walks to the old cemetery (sound familiar?), sunbathing in the rowboat on the lake—yes, there was a rowboat too. I didn’t really expect the trip to make any lasting impressions, but when I poked around in my brain for compelling settings for the story, up floated the old lake house.

TCR: What is it that draws you to writing thrillers?

ECB: I’m basically just a macabre person at heart. Seriously, in seventh grade, when we all had to do a social studies report on an important world event, I chose the Black Death. I’m a lifelong Stephen King fan and one of my favorite artists is the cartoonist Edward Gorey, who does intricate, creepy little drawings set in the Edwardian age. One of my favorite movies of all time is the Blair Witch Project (I still haven’t gotten up the nerve to watch Paranormal Activity, though. I think I might have to see it at like ten am on a weekday morning or something.) It’s all pretty funny because I’m actually the cheerful suburban mom of a toddler. Writing lets me indulge my darker side.

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

ECB: Oy, the hardest. Probably the agonizing hours and hours and HOURS of drafting. Just pulling the story out by brute force, even when the last thing in the world I wanted to do was plant my rear down at that desk and write. I had days when I hated every word I wrote. These aren’t uncommon for me and they don’t always mean I actually wrote bad stuff that day. Drafting is absolutely my least favorite part of writing, even though it feels sort of bad to say that. Lots of writers just love it, but I’ll take revisions over drafting any day.

The easiest part was surprisingly, conceiving of the idea and selling it to my editor. Usually this is also agonizing and requires a huge amount of work, back and forth, rejecting of ideas, revising of ideas (in my case, at least). But for this one, the gods were smiling on me—I thought, “hey, what about a book about this?” My agent said, “Good idea!” He showed it to a few editors, one of whom said, “I like it!” And just like that, the book was sold. It was a nice experience and since I’m a fatalist, I’m convinced it’ll never happen again.

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

ECB: Yes! CLOSER (which may soon have a new title), will be out in Fall 2012. It’s a pretty dark story about a twisted love triangle, and is set on a small farm in rural Ohio. This one’s a tad more violent than STILL WATERS, and—I think—a whole lot of fun.

TCR: What books have you enjoyed reading recently?

ECB: Well, since I’m a huge nerd, I just loved A Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer—all about everything people ate, wore, listened to, etc. back in the fourteenth century. I passed it on to my mom, since we usually like the same books. And I also recently read Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson, which was a fantastically creepy thriller about memory—a subject I’m pretty interested in. And actually right now, I’m in the middle of my one hundred millionth re-reading of Little Women. How can I stay away? I have to read it at least twice a year.

Thanks so much, Emma!

Be sure to pick up Still Waters when it comes out next week!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Cover Talk: Rosebush by Michele Jaffe

Last year around this time, I was super excited about Rosebush by Michele Jaffe. It's a great thriller that really grabbed me (you can read my review here) and I loved the awesome cover. So, I was a bit disappointed that it changed when the paperback came out in October.

First off, here is the original cover:


And here is what I had to say about it in my Cover Comments after my review:


And I still agree with my original assessment--the roses tie in nicely with the cover, and it is eye-catching and intriguing without being cheesy.

Here is the new paperback cover:


Just...meh. I don't care for the model's face in the background at all. The title treatment and the roses are fine, but the picture in the background just makes this cover look like a cheesy romance, which is definitely is NOT.

Which cover do you prefer?


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Truth by Julia Karr

Nina Oberon's life was turned upside down when her mother was murdered and the secrets about her family's involvement with the Resistance were revealed. The anonymous challenging of her little sister's custody case sets off a string of events that put Nina in a very precarious position with the Governing Council and underground resistance, where the stakes are higher than ever. No matter what happens, Nina will have to fight to stand by the truth.

Julia Karr's sequel to her debut novel, XVI, is full of conflict, suspense, and strong themes of fighting for the truth. The custody issue and its subsequent consequences were drawn out well, leading Nina and Dee to seeking shelter with the Jenkins family. Nina is shocked at how quickly things can change, but she still stays determined to help the resistance in any way possible, even if it's just by saving Joan, a broken character first introduced in XVI. However, her relationship with her boyfriend Sal does suffer—are they really in love, or even on the same page? The issue of what's happening to their relationship when he's gone throughout most of the book (and eyed by another girl in the resistance), coupled with Nina's growing attraction to Wei's brother, make for some interesting angst. The book picks up towards the end as Wei, Nina, and friends engineer a risky escape plan for Joan that goes wrong, taking Nina to places she didn't expect to go. While some of the dialogue feels a little awkward, the story is quite solid. There are a lot of questions that go unanswered in Truth that will leave readers wondering, and the open ending indicates a third book that will hopefully clear things up and find Nina is a better place than where she's left off.

Cover Comments: I like how this cover is a little bit lighter than its prequel--you can see the title and the image a lot better. Very nice.

This one will be available on January 19th, 2012!

ARC provided by publisher.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Q&A 2

Q: 



A: Yes, I post my reviews on Amazon (Barnes and Noble's interface frustrates me). I do my best and try to put an accurate star rating on it (since Amazon requires it). Most of my reviews end up being 4 star because it seems like a happy medium ground between love and tepid admiration.

Q: I've been blogging for a really long time and I don't know what to do to get publishers to notice me or my blog. I don't have money to go to conferences but I really love doing this and my blog just isn't getting any attention. What should I do?

A: First off, what is "a really long time"? Is it two months? Six months? A year? Because I hate to say it, but these days new bloggers have a WAY harder time building their readership. There are just so many people doing it already.

I don't want to come off as a dark cloud, though. The fact that there are so many people passionate about YA and reading is AWESOME! It means more books and more people to talk about them with. But, being a blogger isn't something you do because you want free books, and it isn't an hour a week commitment. I'd say that if you are passionate about YA (because that's what it takes, passion), and you are blogging regularly and you aren't snarky and mean and an all-around downer, then you'll get there. Sometimes you just need time to develop your voice and your niche. As a blogger, you don't have to do every meme or review the popular books in order to gain readers--you need to have something to say that grabs readers' attention (and not something bitchy and snarky about every book you read--we've seen those blogs rise quickly and fall even faster).

So, here's what I recommend you do:

  • Get a Twitter account and follow publishers, authors, publicists, and other blogger. Stay up to date on news and ideas.
  • Develop a feature or meme that you came up with all on your own (but be careful not to plagiarize). This is hard, I know, but it will be something that's yours that is interesting and different and get people to keep coming back.
  • Experiment with your "voice." Try writing a review in a different style, write about a trend you've noticed, comment on something that's in the news that may not be directly related to YA books. Generate discussion!
  • Keep at it. 

I've been doing this for 5 years, and one thing I've noticed is that the bloggers who have large reader bases is that they are the ones who are passionate, creative, and unique. They realize it's not about the contacts and the books, but about the connections between stories and readers--keep focused on that and you'll be all right.

Q: How do you say your name?

A: It's Tirzah, pronounced teer-zuh.

Q: What's your favorite non-YA book?

A: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Don't be fooled by the romance novel-esque cover. The Hitchcock movie with Laurence Olivier is also magnificent.

Q: Do you have an e-reader?

A: I have a Kindle 3G + Wifi with Keyboard, and I absolutely love it. The Pearl  Ink technology is absolutely amazing. I recommend going to a Staples and checking it out.

Have a question for me? Leave it in the comments or email me at thecompulsivereader@gmail.com!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Shelf Discovery: South of Superior by Ellen Airgood

Shelf Discovery is a feature in which I highlight one book that I have found while prowling the shelves of the independent bookstore I work at it. These books aren't necessarily YA books; they're books that have discovered and find interesting or unique. I hope you do too.

One book that caught my eye a few weeks ago is South of Superior by Ellen Airgood. It's a relatively new release, and it's written by a Michigan author and set in Michigan, so we've had it on the front display in the bookstore where I've been able to ogle it on a daily basis. I've been meaning to start it, especially since I read Airgood's Modern Love column in the New York Times. Also, I just really enjoy books with small town Michigan settings.

Here's what it's about:
"When Madeline Stone walks away from Chicago and moves five hundred miles north to the coast of Lake Superior, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, she isn't prepared for how much her life will change.

Charged with caring for an aging family friend, Madeline finds herself in the middle of beautiful nowhere with Gladys and Arbutus, two octogenarian sisters-one sharp and stubborn, the other sweeter than sunshine. As Madeline begins to experience the ways of the small, tight-knit town, she is drawn into the lives and dramas of its residents. It's a place where times are tough and debts run deep, but friendship, community, and compassion run deeper. As the story hurtles along-featuring a lost child, a dashed love, a car accident, a wedding, a fire, and a romantic reunion-Gladys, Arbutus, and the rest of the town teach Madeline more about life, love, and goodwill than she's learned in a lifetime.

A heartwarming novel, South of Superior explores the deep reward in caring for others, and shows how one who is poor in pocket can be rich in so many other ways, and how little it often takes to make someone happy."
I just think it sounds so charming! And I adore the cover--it's very sweet and colorful and welcoming.

What have you discovered lately?


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Why We Broke Up Project

Have you heard of Why We Broke Up? It's the latest book from Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman, and it is the story of why Min Green and Ed Slaterton broke up. It's told with some pretty cool pictures (by Kalman), and is a pretty funny/bittersweet book thus far.

To celebrate the release on December 27th, Little, Brown is sponsoring the Why We Broke Up project. Share your break-up story, heal your heart.

 




I submitted one, and it was kinda fun when Daniel Handler responded to it on the tumblr. I love his humor, and these stories are funny, if not a little sad sometimes. Misery enjoys company after all...

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick

When Chris Van Allsburg came out with The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, he intrigued all who read it and inspired countless readers to imagine and create magical stories. While we'll probably never know much more about the "original" Burdick stories, this lovely book is a fun glimpse into the minds of many famous authors as they imagine what the pictures might mean, and how the captions play into the story.

This book is lovely--they quality of the paper, binding, and illustrations is superb, and it contains all of the original artwork, captions, and even the original introduction from Chris Van Allsburg. It's like an enhanced version of the original with a new and charming introduction from Lemony Snicket, fun and fascinating stories, and author biographies. I especially loved "The Seven Chairs" and Stephen King's finale piece--both are memorable and fun, but totally different from what I had imagined in my head.

And perhaps that's the best part about this book--you get more than a collection of good stories when you read it. You get a little glimpse into the minds of these fourteen amazing authors. Every person who has ever read The Mysteries of Harris Burdick instantly forms an idea, vague or concrete, about the circumstances surrounding the pictures. Reading these stories is a mere extension of them, another glimpse at their many lives. I would gladly welcome a second volume!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Reading Rants: Bad Parents

I read an essay in the New York Times the other day about parents in YA fiction that I wanted to share with you all. I found it interesting because it takes the angle that certain types of parents have become the "bad guys" in a lot of popular YA books.

What makes a bad parent in YA? I can think of two books off the top of my head with parents that just make me cringe--Say the Word by Jeanine Garsee and North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley. In both, the main character has a father who is downright terrible. Garsee's father is vindictive and cold, and is bent on getting revenge on his ex-wife after death, dragging the narrator through it all. The father in Headley's book is suffering from a career failure and micromanages his family's lives--to the extent that his wife overeats rather than stand up to him.

Then of course there is the classic example of the absent parent in YA, forcing the main character to grow up quickly, raise themselves (and any other siblings hanging around), and make their own way. These absent parents seem to be more ubiquitous in fiction coming out now (perhaps because it's more convenient for the story?), and I see less and less YA characters with good relationships with their parents.

I know that a good relationship isn't always realistic--parents can be frustrating and overbearing, and it is true that not everyone is a good parents, which can cause some friction. But, I've always had a great relationship with my parents, and sometimes I'd like to see books that reflect that a little more often--books like The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott.

So, what do you think of parental protrayal in YA fiction? Are bad parents believable? What makes good parents believeable?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Still Waters by Emma Carlson Berne

Hannah and Colin have been together a long time and have never had any problems. But now that Colin is heading off to college, Hannah knows their relationship is going to be tested. He can't stop telling her how much he loves her, and Hannah is having a hard time saying it back. She's convinced that all they need is some time to enjoy being with each other before school starts. She's elated when she discovers Colin's family's old lake house, and proposes a weekend getaway. But Colin isn't so receptive, and once they arrive he can't stop acting weird. At first, Hannah shakes it off. But as the weekend goes by and Colin's behavior becomes more and more erratic, Hannah begins to fear for her own safety.

Still Waters is a very creepy, very quick read that grabs you from the very beginning. Berne doesn't reveal a lot about any other characters besides Hannah and Colin, but their relationship is intense and their time at the lake house full of tension. It's evident that something is off about the lake house the moment Hannah discovers it: Colin won't talk about it, his dysfunctional parents are checked out, and no one is very forthcoming about it. Hannah is undeterred and goes to great lengths to distract her mother to get away before heading out with Colin, who gets more and more anxious the closer they get. Berne does a wonderful job at building up the suspense and intrigue when the couple arrives at the house, only to find it falling into disrepair, but its everyday contents strewn about and abandoned. Hannah does seem to put up with the creepiness and Colin's bad behavior for longer than she ought to—love is blind in this case. The novel builds up to a taut cat-and-mouse chase with a shocking revelation that, rather than tests Hannah and Colin's relationship, reaffirms it. Berne leaves the reader with some loose ends that will be haunting, and ensures that Still Waters isn't easily forgettable.

Cover Comments: I love this cover--the blues are gorgeous. I like how it makes you wonder: Is the girl just floating, or is she dead? it's the perfect balance of pretty and creepy.

This one will be released on December 20th, 2011!

ARC provided by publisher.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Wolf Springs Chronicles & Nancy Hold and Debbie Viguie


Writers Nancy Holder and Debbie Viguie have a brand new paranormal series that just came out last week called the Wolf Springs Chronicles. The first book is called Unleashed! Check it out:
"Katelyn McBride’s life changed in an instant when her mother died. Uprooted from her California home, Katelyn was shipped to the middle of nowhere, Arkansas, to her only living relative, her grandfather. And now she has to start over in Wolf Springs, a tiny village in the Ozark Mountains. Like any small town, Wolf Springs has secrets. But the secrets hidden here are more sinister than Katelyn could ever imagine. It’s a town with a history that reaches back centuries, spans continents, and conceals terrifying truths. And Katelyn McBride is about to change everything.

Broken families, ageless grudges, forced alliances, and love that blooms in the darkest night—welcome to Wolf Springs."
To celebrate the release, Nancy and Debbie answered a couple of questions about working together on this book!

TCR: What was the easiest and hardest part about writing this book?

Debbie - The easiest part was writing the first draft, which we both took a great deal of joy in. The hardest part came when we realized that the book was about 25,000 words longer than it was supposed to be and we had to start deciding what to cut completely and what to push into a later book. Some of those decisions were heartbreaking and there are some great scenes that we just had to get rid of entirely.

Nancy – Oh, must you bring that up, Deb? LOL. Easiest: I got to write part of it in a beautiful colonial inn in Maine while it was snowing. I had a fireplace in my suite. I wrote large chunks of the second draft on the couch.

Hardest: We know so much about werewolves that we wanted to weave these grand histories into the first book. But we just didn’t have room. So yes, we had to kill our darlings, as Faulkner used to say.

TCR: What was the easiest and hardest part about working on it together?

Debbie - Working with Nancy is always easy and a pleasure! We compliment each other’s skills and talents extremely well. The hardest part was deciding how much of the overall plot to reveal in this book and how much to save for the next one.

Nancy – It’s always easy to work with Debbie. We don’t argue about anything except tipping in restaurants and the occasional disagreement on dog training (Deb’s mom used to raise dogs.) We’ve been writing together for a long time and we know each other very well. So working on Unleashed was really fun as we figured out how to go about revealing the story of Katelyn McBride.

The hardest part came at the end, when we were polishing the last draft, after our cuts. I flew to Florida, where Debbie lives, to work on it with her, and we were tempted to rush it so we could go to Disney World together. We’re both Disney geeks and there it was, so close! But we stuck to our guns and worked, me on my laptop in Deb’s kitchen or the guest room, and Deb either in her alcove workspace or upstairs. We didn’t have a lot of time left after we sent the draft in, but we definitely made the most of it and partied hard at Disney as only Viguié and Holder can do!

Thank you so much, ladies!

If you need any more convincing, check out the trailer!


Monday, December 5, 2011

Q&A

When it comes down to the end of the semester, I tend to accomplish amazing feats in procrastination. My task of choice is cleaning, which is good, because otherwise I'd probably never see any flat surfaces.

So, here's a bit of electronic housekeeping for you: commonly asked questions.

Q: Why don't you do star ratings on your reviews?

A: Because I'm indecisive, and star ratings are hard. I feel as if they serve two purposes: to shock you (WHOA, she gave that book only one star?!) and to allow readers to make quick, snap judgement without reading reviews. I spend a lot of time on my reviews, and I'd like for you to read them (but if you just want to look at cover pictures, that's totally cool, too), instead of just seeing my star rating and then going, "Oh, okay, three stars. I won't bother."

Ratings are also so subjective. What may be a deal breaker for me in a book might not necessarily bother you. It's hard to quantify the amount of "like" I have for a book (well, sometimes it isn't). I want you to know why I like a book, not how much I like it.

Q: I just started a blog and I reviewed [insert book title here], too! I was wondering, could you give me the publicist's email so I can send her my review, too?

A: No.

Q: Wow, you're mean.

A: I'm really not. But I just don't think it's appropriate for me to be passing out personal information that's not mine to give.

Q: Will you be doing more Classics Corner posts?

A:


Yes.

Q: How long have you been doing this?

A: I started reviewing books for HarperTeen's FirstLook program (which I don't think exists anymore), BookDivas, and TeensReadToo in 2005. I started the blog in 2007.

Q: Can I have your books?

A: All of them? Because I have about 2,000. Are you prepared for that many? Are you going to come pick them up, or should I ship them out and bill you for the cost?

Oh, you mean just one? No, sorry. I do give away a lot of surplus ARCs for free (just pay shipping), but you just have to watch my Twitter page for that, and I only give to librarians and bloggers. If that's not you, sorry. Buy the book when it comes out, or go to your library. If they don't have it, try inter-library loan.

Have a question? Drop it in the comments or email me at thecompulsivereader@gmail.com.



Sunday, December 4, 2011

Shelf Discovery: When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

Shelf Discovery is a feature in which I highlight one book that I have found while prowling the shelves of the independent bookstore I work at it. These books aren't necessarily YA books; they're books that have discovered and find interesting or unique. I hope you do too.

I'll admit it...my reading experience with The Scarlet Letter wasn't so pleasant, and I was confused for most of the book. (I blogged about it all here.) I like to think of it as that one time when I went brain dead for seventeen chapters (it was probably right after NH used the word "ignominious" for the tenth time in the second chapter), but I never ended up hating it or anything. If anything, my Chapter 17 epiphany was what made me love the book and really get into it in the end.

So, I walked into work the other day, and a co-worker asked me, "Did you ever get a copy of that futuristic Scarlet Letter book?"

I love my job.

We stood around for two minutes as she tried to remember the title (there really ought to be a database for searching for books by their covers) and then eventually found it on good 'ole Amazon. I read the first line, and I was hooked.

When She Woke is set in the future, and is about a woman, Hannah Payne, whose skin is genetically modified to turn a bright red in punishment for the abortion of her child. The child is a result of an affair with a well-known man she is determined to protect.

"When she woke, she was red."

Basically, I need this book. Now, please. One more week of classes, two days of finals, and then I am doing nothing but reading for a month, and this book will be at the top of my list.

ETA: Amazon has a special where they're offering the Kindle edition for only $3! That's a steal! And those deals usually don't last long...

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Cover Talk: Mockingbirds and Rivals Cover Facelift

Last year, Daisy Whitney's debut novel, The Mockingbirds, was released. I liked it a lot because it was all about standing up for yourself and demanding justice when the current system in place isn't doing the job. Plus, it borrowed from To Kill a Mockingbird in some very clever and fun ways. I picked up the sequel, The Rivals, at BEA. I haven't gotten to it yet, but the ARC shared the same cool, graphic style of the hardcover of The Mockingbirds.

Well, not surprisingly, I stumbled upon new covers for the series a couple of weeks ago. This is a rather annoying reality to the book business: a series will start with perfectly fine covers, only to get a facelift with book two or three. It's all about marketing, I suppose.

Here are the covers in the original style:


What I like the best about these ones is that they incorporate the graphic tree and leaves style that was featured on the first edition cover of To Kill a Mockingbird. And the little animals and font is really cool.

Here are the new covers:


I definitely like these, but for different reasons. They are a lot more modern and striking. The red is bright and would be a bit much, but there is the blue to temper it out a bit. I guess they give the books a more feminine feel, but I like them nevertheless. (The "dead" bird on the cover of the The Rivals is especially cool.)

Which set of covers do you prefer?


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Flat-Out Love by Jessica Park

I've recently taken to testing the waters of the self-published books on Amazon. I didn't have much interest until I read Helper12 by Jack Blaine (read my review here). I then went on to read The Boyfriend Thief by Shana Norris, which I enjoyed a lot (once again, my review here). I was browsing Amazon and found Flat-Out Love, which has over 200 reviews on Amazon and an average of 4 stars. I downloaded the free sample, was charmed, and read the rest in a day! Here's my review!


Julie manages to escape her boring Ohio hometown for college in Boston only to discover that the apartment she rented was a scam, and she has nowhere to live. Her mother calls in a favor from her college roommate, and Julie moves in with the Watkins family. They're an eccentric bunch--Mr. Watkins is always traveling, Mrs. Watkins is a workaholic, and their son Matt is junior at MIT and a genius. Then, there's Celeste: a socially inept but brilliant teenager who hauls a cardboard cut-out of her oldest brother, Finn, wherever she goes. Finn, Julie is told, is backpacking abroad, and it's his room that she's occupying. As the weeks slide by, Julie becomes more and more involved in life with the Watkins, and begins an online friendship with Finn. Soon she begins to fall for the absentee Watkins, and she realizes that something isn't quite right in this household.

Jessica Park will hook readers in immediately with her quick humor and spunky heroine. Julie is a very fun, upbeat, and witty protagonist and her descriptions of her misadventures and experiences living with a family she's only just met are very entertaining. For the most part, she's a very realistic character; she's happy to finally be free of her hometown, she loves learning, she's self-deprecating as she stumbles through her first year in college, and she has a big heart. However, sometimes Park does give Julie an attitude when it comes to appearing smart; Julie claims it isn't cool, and avoids it at times while reveling in her nerdiness at others. This imbalance is a little frustrating (seeming to be embarrassed at your own intelligence is so passé) but it does temper as you get further into the book. The Watkins household is quirky to say the least; their antics and peculiar habits are charmingly eccentric at first, and with Celeste and Matt as new friends and Finn as a cyber-friend, Julie is able to overlook the obvious underlying problems the family has with a bit of humor. But as she begins to fall for Finn, it becomes apparent to the reader what exactly has happened—even if Julie doesn't figure it out for herself until the end.

Despite its copious amounts of witty repartee and tongue-in-cheek Facebook status updates, at its core Flat-Out Love is a serious book about growing up, learning to deal with responsibility, facing painful truths, and finding a way to keep living life. The romance in this book builds slowly, but it is powerful. Despite the small dialogue inconsistencies and the slight stretch of imagination required to get into the story, this is a very enjoyable book full of a lot of humor and heart.

Cover Comments: UPDATE--I replaced the image with the new cover, which is a VAST improvement over the old one. I love the font, the colors, and the depth of each letter. Awesome move to change it!

I purchased this one from Amazon, where it's available for $2.99! Don't have a Kindle? You can download the free app to almost any device--computer, phone, iPod, whatever!

December Monthly Commenter Contest: The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

The Future of Us came out a couple of weeks, and if you don't already have it, put it on your Christmas wishlists right now! It is AMAZING. I didn't so much read it as I devoured it last month. The concept, the dialogue, the characters, the relationship dramas are all jsut so real and engaging! I knew that there wasn't any other book I could possible choose as the prize for December's Monthly Commenter Contest!

How to win: Every time you post a significant comment that contributes to the conversation, I give you an entry into the contest! The more you comment, the more you entries you get! Only comments on posts from December 2011 are eligible, so keep coming back for more posts and more chances to comment. For all of the details, click here.

To read my review of the book, click here!

I loved this book so much, and I sincerely hope that you do as well! Enter away!