The Compulsive Reader: March 2014

Monday, March 31, 2014

Summer on the Short Bus by Bethany Crandell

Cricket has grown up in a rich, privileged bubble, so when her misbehavior pushes her father’s limits, he sends her to Camp I Can to be the counselor to a group of special-needs teenagers. Cricket is horrified once she realizes what has happened, and tries to find a way home, convinced that there’s nothing worth sticking around for—except maybe a certain cute fellow counselor. But as her attempts to leave are continually thwarted, Cricket discovers some surprisingly compelling reasons to stick it out.

Summer on the Short Bus is a zany, unpredictable novel that isn’t concerned with being politically correct or making a statement about how differently-abled people are treated, but realistically portrays Cricket’s emotional journey as she exposed to a very different world than the one she is used to. Cricket’s behavior and her thoughts are completely transparent to the reader through the first person narration, and her reactions to the campers are harsh but believable coming from someone who grew up the way she did. The characters and events of the novel believably bring about Cricket’s change of perspective, and Crandell’s subplot about Cricket’s family ties to the camp gives Cricket an extra motivation for character growth. Crandell’s heavy use of pop culture, banter, and humor fit seamlessly into the story, making Summer on the Short Bus as entertaining as it is heartfelt.

Cover Comments: I love this cover! I like the yellow and the the illustrations are fantastic, yet the title treatment does a good job at conveying that this is a YA book. Fantastic.

ARC borrowed from Cori McCarthy.

This book is out tomorrow!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Nearly Gone Blog Tour

Welcome to the NEARLY GONE blog tour. We at Penguin are especially excited about Elle Cosimano’s smart, but scary debut (caution: avoid reading this one before bedtime!). Over the next three weeks, Elle will share the secrets behind NEARLY GONE on a Monday/Wednesday/Friday basis, so be sure to be on the lookout for new posts!

Here's Elle!

Reece Whelan isn’t the unrepentant bad boy he appears to be. He’s a confidential informant (also referred to as a CI – a rat, snitch, or narc) selling out drug dealers to the police. Informants are often embedded within a criminal network, or involved in illegal activities, giving them access to privileged information that might not be otherwise accessible to police. But just because they cooperate with law enforcement doesn’t necessarily make them one of the good guys.

According to a deputy I interviewed while researching the story, CI’s typically become informants for two reasons: 1) they need money, and 2) they need to get out of trouble. Which meant Reece needed a pretty complicated (and criminal) backstory. And herein was my biggest challenge in creating his character. How could I make this guy likeable? What was it about him that would make him attractive to a discerning strong heroine? In Reece’s case, there had to be a third compelling reason he was narcing… Redemption.

He had to regret his past. He had to be making up for some terrible mistake that rattled him to his core. One that indebted his conscience to a dangerous future and made him re-evaluate who he wanted to be. He needed to be redeemable in Nearly’s eyes, but also in the eyes of the reader. And yet, to the rest of the world, he still had to fit in to the subversive life he wanted to escape from. To blend in, he’d have to look like a dealer and act like a criminal, which meant he wouldn’t be the kind of person Nearly would fall for easily.

I built Reece’s character around Nearly’s, at first. I knew I needed him to be very different from her – someone she would never choose to spend time with, or even be attracted to, if circumstances weren’t pushing them together. Where she was very rigid and cautious, I needed him to be fluid and reckless. Where she tried to be unseen, Reece needed to draw attention. I knew he wore tattoos and piercings, and I knew his name. When I began searching for the perfect tattoo for his character, I found the legend of the thistle, and his backstory evolved from that metaphor.

The story of Reece’s thistle – who he was and what he did -- is one you’ll have to unravel on your own.
About Nearly Gone:

Nearly Boswell knows how to keep secrets. Living in a DC trailer park, she knows better than to share anything that would make her a target with her classmates. Like her mother's job as an exotic dancer, her obsession with the personal ads, and especially the emotions she can taste when she brushes against someone's skin. But when a serial killer goes on a killing spree and starts attacking students, leaving cryptic ads in the newspaper that only Nearly can decipher, she confides in the one person she shouldn't trust: the new guy at school--a reformed bad boy working undercover for the police, doing surveillance. . . on her.

Nearly might be the one person who can put all the clues together, and if she doesn't figure it all out soon--she'll be next.

About Elle Cosimano:

Elle Cosimano grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC, the daughter of a prison warden and an elementary school teacher who rides a Harley. She majored in psychology at St. Mary's College, Maryland, and set aside a successful real-estate career to pursue writing. She lives with her husband and two sons. Nearly Gone is her first novel.

Nearly Gone is out now!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

My First Graphic Novels

In the spirit of school and education and learning (and also peer pressure), I did something I've never done before. I went to the library and checked out two graphic novels. And then I read them.

I know, I know. Crazy.

I've been very stubborn when it comes to graphic novels. I like the way they look. I know a lot of comic book characters and story arcs really well and I like the stories. Just, when I sat down to actually read one, I found myself getting flustered. I became genuinely anxious over the conundrum of where to look first. What do I look at? Pictures first, then words? Words, then take in the pictures? What if I accidentally skip a panel? What if I miss something in the corner of a panel because I am too busy looking at other things?

These were legitimate concerns that kept me from ever reading and enjoying any comic book or graphic novel. And then when I was at residency this past January, I thought, "Well, this is ridiculous. I am going to do this." And I went to Jim Hill's lecture on graphic novels, which was smart and fascinating and enlightening to a graphic novel newbie like me. (And Jim is in general a very smart guy and hilarious writer, and you should remember his name because you'll want to read his books.) And that solidified my determination. Graphic novels. I'm going to read them.

First up was Anya's Ghosts by Vera Brosgol:

This is a book that we have in stock in the store, and I really liked the cover. It's clever and it reminded me of the original Sisters Red cover by Jackson Pearce. I've paged through it before, but when I saw it on the shelves at my library, I snatched it up.

While the bare bones of the story--girl falls down a well, meets a ghost she can't shake, ghost helps her out with things like school and boys, everything is going great...or is it?--weren't completely shocking or innovative, I liked Anya's character a lot, and I loved how Brosgol framed the ghost story within Anya's trouble to fit in and not be seen as the immigrant. This was a lot of fun and I was really into it by the end.

So, I read Anya's Ghost, I liked it, I was feeling pretty proud of myself. The next book I picked up was the only middle grade graphic novel I knew of--Smile by Raina Telgemeier. I saw Raina at the Scholastic part in New York in 2012, and just my luck that my library had a copy of Smile on the shelves.

Smile is an autobiographical account of Raina's dental drama when she knocks out her two front teeth in middle school. It's funny and colorful and I really enjoyed how Raina talks about the struggle she had with being a good sport about her dental issues and the jokes that would ensue, and knowing the difference between good-natured teasing and subtle bullying. It's a fine line sometimes, and she handled the subject with grace.

When I proudly told my advisor that I had read two graphic novels (yes, I was very, very proud of myself), I was told that I had better read a bunch more. And MANGA. Manga scares me a little bit, because if I was worried about missing something and how to read graphic novels, then manga goes and makes it even worse by reversing EVERYTHING. However, I am excited to rise to the occasion. My wonderful friend Amy Rose graciously let me borrow Blankets by Craig Thompson and Robot Dreams by Sara Varon, which I'm excited to read. My friend Cori told me to read the graphic novel about the poor Russian stray that goes to space, but I know the ending of that one and I declined. (She'll likely wear me down eventually.)

But I welcome any graphic novel suggestions and any manga suggestions and tips, especially since I am a beginner! What do you like?

(Something that totally just occurred to me right now--now that I know I like graphic novels, I can get seriously excited about the Rainbow Rowell graphic novels!!)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Huntress by Malinda Lo

Kaede and Taisin’s fates are linked when they join with the crown prince on a journey to Tainili, the land of the fay, to discover why an endless winter has settled over their kingdom. Their journey is perilous, and as their travel companions begin to fall victim to the darkness that stalks them along the way, Kaede and Taisin must overcome their fears and learn to trust each other if they are to survive.

Huntress is a dark and atmospheric fantasy, beautifully written and carefully imagined. Lo draws the reader in immediately with Taisin’s puzzling visions of the future and holds a steady pace to the story as the group sets out on their journey. As the trip becomes more dangerous, Kaede and Taisin turn to each other to find strength to continue—facing demons, spirits, the deaths of their companions—and their increased trust draws out their romantic feelings for each other, while at the same time heightening the stakes of the novel. The romance is sweet and yet Lo never loses focus on the girls’ mission—to restore balance in their world. The ending for this fairy tale-like story is not exactly happily-ever-after, but like most great journey stories, it isn’t the destination that matters but how the characters got there.

Cover Comments: I love this cover; the colors match the darkness of the story, but the purple keeps the grey sky and snow from being too gloomy. The girl on the cover looks strong and very similar to how I pictured Kaede. Kudos to the art department at Little, Brown for not sticking a sword on this cover and calling it good.

Copy of book purchased.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Siblings and YA

I've not been a very good blogger lately, I know.

This is what I'm working on right now:

What do these books have in common?

Sibling relationships.

I'm working on my third packet of grad work for my semester, and I really am interested in writing about sibling relationships. The idea was sparked when I read See You at Harry's by Jo Knowles a couple of months ago. I loved how Fern and her siblings interacted through trials and tragedy, and it got me thinking about the importance of siblings in YA. Siblings have a really large effect on our lives, even if we don't want to admit it when we're teens.

I want to look at books with bigger families (i.e. the protagonist has more than one sibling), and so I went to my shelf and pulled the books that I remembered as having protagonist siblings playing more than a minimal role in the book. I came up with this stack. I especially remembered the sibling dynamic in Crash by Lisa McMann--it was so memorable that I made a point of mentioning it in my review.

Love and Other Foreign Words is on my to-read list, but from the description and what others have been saying, I can't help but think it will fit in nicely with this stack. And an added bonus is that Erin McCahan is a fantastic writer whose first book, I Now Pronounce You Someone Else, was one I loved.

I'm also on a mission today to grab Heather Demetrios' debut, Something Real, when I'm at work. It is about a girl from a big family, and I know from firsthand experience that you can't have that many siblings in your life and not have them affect you in some way.

I'm not really interested in "sister books" for this paper (although I love them and made this list a little while ago), but stories about families with more than two kids, preferably a mix of genders. Do you have any favorites that fit this description? What am I missing?

(And hopefully I'll jump back into a more normal blog schedule once again!)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

Rose Justice is an American ATA pilot who spends her days ferrying planes to troops across Britain and composing poetry, not quite believing what she thinks is anti-German propaganda about the horrors of occupied Europe. When she is captured by German forces and sent to Ravensbruck, a notorious women’s concentration camp, she discovers that the rumors about prisoner treatment are not only true, but mild compared to the reality she faces. Rose cannot simply just endure her imprisonment, but she must find a way to fight back if she and her new friends are to survive.

Like she did with Code Name Verity, Wein tells Rose’s harrowing story through journals, letters, and other written accounts. The novel begins when Rose starts her journal, detailing her day-to-day tasks as an auxiliary pilot and abruptly stops when she is captured, only to begin again months later when she has been rescued. Rose’s narrative is interjected with letters from friends and her own beautiful and heartbreaking poetry. Oftentimes with epistolary novels readers must suspend a certain amount of disbelief at how the story unfolds, yet Wein manages to build beautiful characters through Rose’s impassioned memories of her friends, she creates tension and suspense as Rose struggles to put her story to paper after her escape, and above all she tells a magnificent story that makes you forget that you are not reading primary documents. Wein’s unconventional choices regarding narrative and viewpoint pay off in big ways as they not only tell a story of survival, but address the difficulties the concentration camp survivors faced after the war in telling their stories, obtaining justice, and learning to live again. Do not miss this book.

Cover Comments: This cover is pretty in a foreboding way. I love that it has a glimpse of the sky and the airplanes, as that is actually significant to the story.

Book received as a gift!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Cover Talk: The Lucy Variations

Yesterday at work I tackled one of my favorite tasks: compiling an order of new releases. I was working on polishing off May's list when I saw that The Lucy Variations by Saza Zarr is coming out in paperback (yay!) and that it has a new cover.

The original cover fits the book so well, so I was a little surprised and sad to see the new cover.

If you've read the book (or my review), then you can see why this cover (and the title!) fit the book so well! Lucy is pianist who is struggling with how she wants to use her talents and how she feels about her family's legacy. The fingers on the keys fit.

Here is the paperback cover:

I didn't want to like it at first, not at all. But...there is something just so joyful about this cover, and Lucy's love of life and freedom and her happiness when she isn't being told how or why to play the piano is what made me really like The Lucy Variations. I wouldn't say that this book is a happy or sad book--those labels wouldn't do the book justice--but it has some really intense happiness between these pages, and  think that the paperback cover captures that. I also really like the title font.

What do you think? The paperback is out May 27th, 2014!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Salvage by Alexandra Duncan

Ava has grown up on a merchant space vessel ruled by patriarchy. She is smart and wishes for more of a future than a simple role as a wife and caretaker—she wants to learn to read, to repair technology. When Ava’s ambitions and a chance to marry someone who promises to her more freedom lead her to make irreparable mistakes, her crewe sentences her to death. Suddenly Ava has no choice but to flee to Earth—the very place that she has been taught to fear her entire life.

Salvage is a unique, engaging story about one girl’s journey from complete reliance on an oppressive society to independence in a very large universe full of infinite possibilities. Ava’s physical journey is full of action as she constantly faces new threats and challenges and the Earth settings are refreshingly not North American. Instead, Duncan paints a realistic future Earth with settlements on floating trash barges in the Pacific and where Mumbai is the center of education and travel. Cultures and races have evolved in interesting and unexpected ways, but humanity still struggles with oppression and injustice--just in different ways. Ava’s journey is perhaps a bit predictable in its twists, and even though her emotional and intellectual growth is obvious throughout the novel, Duncan tends to show only Ava’s surface-level emotions; her fear and confusion, anger and pride, and her reluctance to trust others. Salvage is a hefty book, weighing in at over 500 pages, but for all of that Ava’s character falls a little flat. The endless action keeps readers turning the pages and the skillful world building never ceases to be fascinating, but readers will no doubt feel relief when Ava’s decisions at the end of Salvage bring her a bit of peace and don’t hint at a drawn-out series arc.

Cover Comments: Oh, this cover is just terrible. I like the large-scale planets, but the girl on the beach in that dress? You can't see me, but I'm cringing.

ARC picked up at the Heartland Fall Forum.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Tsarina Blog Tour + Giveaway

J. Nelle Patrick is the author of Tsarina, a novel set during the decline of Imperial Russia that came out last week, and she's on the blog today to talk about Rasputin!

Grigori Rasputin: Russian Player

In TSARINA, Rasputin is a major character— even though he never actually appears on screen. Rasputin is the one who created the Faberge egg that Natalya is so desperate to find. He’s one of those historical figures who, even in his lifetime, was something of an enigma. I mean, look at him. Does this look like someone you want in your house?

No. If you spy this man through the peephole on your door, lock it and then arm yourself with whatever is convenient.

And yet, the Tsar and Tsarina, the most powerful people in Russia, allowed him full access to their home and children. How did he do it? Was he really a mystic? A prophet? A holy man? Or was he just a crazy drunk?

Let’s think on this together.

Rasputin was born in Siberia. He had a pretty rough childhood (Siberia isn’t exactly the easiest place to live)— he never had a formal education, and his siblings, Maria and Dmitri, both died when he was young (Dmitri’s death was especially hard on Rasputin— Dmitri fell through some ice into a river. Rasputin saved him from drowning, but Dmitri later died of pneumonia). He was always sort of the weird kid— he shook and sometimes spoke strangely— but he wound up getting married and having three children of his own(two of whom he named after his lost brother and sister).

On day, Rasputin sort of just wandered away from home, leaving his wife and children behind. He trekked around for a while, sort of sampling different religious places and people and things, not so much in a scholarly way, but kind of in a vagrant way. Somewhere in the midst of all this wandering, he managed to get a reputation for being a religious healer.

The Tsarina, Alexandra, heard about Rasputin through some friends— a holy man who had the power to heal. Her son and the heir to the Russian throne, Alexei, had hemophilia, and was a very, very sick kid— he would get a bruise and nearly die on a pretty regular basis. The Tsarina was desperate to help Alexei, so she called up Rasputin.

Rasputin looked like a creeper. Let’s just admit it. He had those freaky eyes, and he drank a lot, and he smelled, and he had no real sense of personal boundaries. But the Tsarina really, really wanted this whole healing-the-tsarevich thing to work out, so she looked past all that, and convinced her husband to as well. She invited Rasputin into the Winter Palace to heal her son.

And you know, it actually seemed to work! Alexei did improve when Rasputin was around. There’s a lot of speculation as to why this is— some people think he hypnotized the boy, others think it was divine intervention…what it probably was, however, is that doctors at the time were really big on giving Alexei aspirin. Aspirin was new and fancy at the time, but it’s also a blood thinner. Giving someone with a bleeding disorder a blood thinner? Not such a great idea. So, when Rasputin would tell the doctors to get out and leave Alexei alone, it would actually give Alexei time to get the aspirin out of his system, relax, and heal.

(Rasputin, a drunk vagrant, hanging out with the heir to Russia, LIKE YOU DO.)

Rasputin was so successful that the Romanovs put him up in an place in St. Petersburg so he could stay close by. Eventually his daughter, Maria, came to live with him there. That sounds sweet of Rasputin— bringing his daughter to St. Petersburg to live the good life— until you hear about his…um…pastime.

Rasputin believed that sin was kind of like a poison inside you, and that you had to get it out. The only way to get the sin out was by committing sin. So…he had to get all the sin out by sleeping with the women of St. Petersburg and drinking vodka till he passed out. He didn’t want to! But he had to! To get the sin out!

(If you’re thinking that Rasputin might have been a little delusional, you’re not the only one.)

(If you’re thinking Maria Rasputin probably needed more than a little therapy, you’re not the only one.)

Given his love of getting all that sin out, it makes sense that a lot of the Russian public suspected that Rasputin was also getting freak with the Tsarina— after all, they were alone together an awful lot. There were even rumors that he was seducing the Grand Duchesses. However, there’s actually no evidence to support he was ever sexually involved with members of the royal family. The rumor alone was enough to make Rasputin pretty hated though, and the idea that the Tsarina of Russia was hooking up with a drunk womanizing mystic didn’t really help the Romanov’s reputation either. When Rasputin started giving political advice to the Tsarina while the Tsar was out of town, a group of nobles decided they’d had enough.

Rasputin had to get dead, fast.

A noble named Felix Yusupov— who was super interesting in his own right, so Google him— helped plan the whole thing. They lured Rasputin out of his house by telling him there was a really awesome party going on down the street, full of booze and Yusupov’s super hot wife. Being a fan of the booze and super hot wives, Rasputin followed (some stories say his daughter, Maria, suspected something was up and begged him not to go). At Yusupov’s house, Rasputin was first poisoned with cyanide. After a few hours, though, he was still alive, so they decided to get hardcore with this murder and shot him. He collapsed, and when they went to inspect his body, he leapt up and fought them off and ran out the door. They shot him a few more times, then Yusupov clubbed him for good measure. Then they chained up his body and threw him into the river.

They really wanted him dead.

Supposedly, when Rasputin’s body was finally recovered? His cause of death was drowning.

Now, to be entirely honest— there’s lots of evidence that the story of Rasputin’s death, which was largely told by Yusupov, has been exaggerated. Modern science suggests it was actually one of the gunshots that killed him, and there’s even some speculation that an undercover British intelligence officer was the one who actually made the kill shot, since the Brits weren’t big fans of Rasputin either.

Here’s the thing though— few figures have managed to be as legendary as Rasputin. Is he a villain? A hero? Crazy? Mystical?

Yes. Yes, to all of the above.

About Tsarina:

Imperial Russia swirls with rebellion.

The Reds are gaining ground, and the loyal Whites struggle to hold Saint Petersburg. But Natalya isn’t afraid. Wrapped in fur and tucked inside her lavish home, she feels safe. Alexei Romanov, heir to the Russian throne and her first love, has told her a secret: Hidden within the Winter Palace lies a Faberge Egg enchanted by the mystic Rasputin. With it, the Romanovs will never fall from power. The Reds will never take the country. And one day, Alexei will ascend the throne and Natalya will be beside him— the tsarina of Russia.

But when the Reds raid the Winter Palace, the egg vanishes and the Romanovs are captured. Natalya must find the egg to save Alexei, her way of life, and her royal future. To do so, she’s forced to ally herself with the enemy— a young Red named Leo who wants the egg for his own purposes. But as they brave a war-battered landscape of snow and magic, Natalya realizes that the world isn’t as simple as it seemed back in Saint Petersburg. Nothing– not friends, not politics, and not love– are as clear as Red and White.

About J. Nelle Patrick:

J. Nelle Patrick is the pseduonym for twenty-nine year old Jackson Pearce. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with a slightly cross-eyed cat and a lot of secondhand furniture. She graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in English and a minor in Philosophy. She auditioned for the circus once, but didn’t make it; other jobs she’s had include obituaries writer, biker bar waitress, and receptionist. She currently coaches a winterguard at a local high school.

Jackson began writing when she got angry that the school librarian couldn’t tell her of a book that contained a smart girl, horses, baby animals, and magic. Her solution was to write the book herself when she was twelve. Her parents thought it was cute at first, but have grown steadily more concerned for her ever since.

Jackson is also the author of a series of retold fairytales.

Want to win a copy of the book? Fill out this form!