The Compulsive Reader: July 2014

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

The Darkling has taken control of Ravka, but the Sun Summoner has not forfeited. With the entire nation regarding her as a Saint, Alina must be extra careful about her next moves and discretely reunite with Nikolai to find the last of the amplifiers to finally face the Darkling where it all began—in the blackness of the Fold.

The final book in the Grisha trilogy is tightly structured; Bardugo’s characters are driven to make very tough decisions with devastating consequences, propelled along by the nonstop threat of the Darkling, his army, and his terrible power. These consequences bring the characters closer than ever, but Bardugo eases the tension of the plot with stolen moments of humor and easy banter. These moments of levity balance out the emotional crises and also make the difficult consequences easier to read as they build up to an explosive climax. Although the resolution of the trilogy may be unexpected in some aspects, the ending has emotional resonance that will satisfy ever reader.

Cover Comments: Another fantastic cover--I love how it has the phoenix rising out of the title treatment.

Book borrowed from a friend.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

Alina and Mal have finally escaped Ravka, but they can’t leave behind the Darkling and Alina’s monumental power. The Darkling is determined to collect all of the amplifiers for Alina, but Alina has some unexpected allies in high places helping her work against the Darkling. As Alina is drawn back to court and darkness settles over Ravka, Alina will have to learn who can be trusted and just how much darkness the Sun Summoner is capable of.

Although the exposition of this second novel in the Grisha trilogy leans more towards the telling end of the writing spectrum and the characters stumble into danger rather quickly, Bardugo keeps the tension building throughout this novel by constantly pushing Alina and Mal towards internal and physical conflicts. The introduction of a risk-taking, powerful character who relies heavily on banter and humor to communicate shakes up the narrative in places where it tends to get heavy or dark, and challenges Alina’s moral purposes. The expanded cast, heightened stakes, and complicated emotional attachments make this story sizzle with betrayals and battles, and the heart-pounding ending will have readers grasping for the third book. Siege and Storm is a well-crafted novel, a rarity for a second book in a trilogy these days.

Cover Comments: I am sort of in love with the covers of these books. I think they give just enough of  the Russian cultural influence feel, balanced with some awesome fantasy title art. This is fantastic, and I love the icy blues in this cover particularly.

Book purchased from my indie.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Cover Talk: All the Truth That's in Me

Last fall I read All the Truth That's in Me, Julie Berry's latest book. It stunned me. It's compelling voice and odd setting and spine-tingling mystery kept me turning pages well into the night, and I couldn't get enough. I had major issues with the marketing of the book and the cover--mainly, they gave no indication that the book is historical fiction. That sort of information is a HUGE draw to me, but I suppose I could understand why that might be a deterrent for some readers. (And to those readers, I say--what's wrong with you?? Historical fiction is the best.)

Anyway, the paperback is coming out this next month (hooray!) and while I was preparing August's new books order for YA and MG at the bookstore, I noticed that All the Truth That's in Me got a new cover! Here'e the original:

Okay, so it's not horrible. It just makes the girl on the cover look like a ghost (this is not a ghost story). And she's a little too made-up for historical fiction, but whatever. I actually love the slash through the cover, and how it's positioned directly over the girl's mouth--so symbolic! Fantastic!

Here'e the new paperback cover!


I do like the black background and the color of the flower and font. They didn't go for the obvious choice in red, and the orange-ish color is still striking. I also really appreciate that this cover looks like it could fit in next to a bunch of literary fiction novels in a bookstore because I think that this is a book that could appeal to a wider audience of adult readers. But that cover! It's so boring!

What do you think of the cover change? Please don't let any cover feelings get in the way of reading this book because it is OH MY GOD I CAN'T BELIEVE THAT JUST HAPPENED WHAT IS GOING ON NOW AMAZING.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Homeroom Diaries + The Happiness Project Giveaway!

 James Patterson has a new book out this month for teens, written with Lisa Papademetriou (who is a VCFA grad, whoo!). It's called The Homeroom Diaries and it is out today! To celebrate, I'm giving away the Happiness Project prize pack--copies of The Homeroom Diaries, First Love, Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment, and Confessions of a Murder Suspect. Because winning books makes everyone very, very happy.

But first, about The Homeroom Diaries!

In James Patterson's first highly illustrated "diary fiction" story for teens, the mega-bestselling author's most endearing and original teen heroine ever proves that everyone can use a helping hand once in a while.

Margaret "Cuckoo" Clarke recently had a brief stay in a mental institution following an emotional breakdown, but she's turning over a new leaf with her "Happiness Project". She's determined to beat down the bad vibes of the Haters, the Terror Teachers, and all of the trials and tribulations of high school by writing and drawing in her diary. And when life gets really tough, she works through her own moments of uncertainty through imaginary conversations with her favorite literary characters.

Cuckoo's also got a nearly impossible mission: she, along with her misfit band of self-deprecating friends (who call themselves "the Freakshow") decide to bridge the gap between warring cliques and "bring the Nations together". Not everyone is so willing to join hands and get along, but Cuckoo never stops smiling...until one of her closest friends, pushed to desperation by a Hater prank, decides that enough is enough.

About James Patterson:

In January, 2010, The New York Times Magazine featured James Patterson on its cover and hailed him as having "transformed book publishing." Time magazine named him "The Man Who Can't Miss," and he is a two-time Children's Choice Book Award "Author of the Year" nominee, a designation decided on by more than 15,000 children and teen readers.

In the past three years, James Patterson has sold more books than any other author (according to Bookscan), and in total, James's books have sold an estimated 260 million copies worldwide. Since 2006, one out of every seventeen hardcover fiction books sold was a Patterson title. He is the first author to have #1 new titles simultaneously on The New York Times adult and children's bestsellers lists and is the only author to have five new hardcover novels debut at #1 on the list in one year—a record-breaking feat he's accomplished every year since 2005. To date, James Patterson has had nineteen consecutive #1 New York Times bestselling novels, and holds the New York Times record for most Hardcover Fiction bestselling titles by a single author (76 total), which is also a Guinness World Record.

From his James Patterson Pageturner Awards (which rewarded groups and individuals for creative and effective ways of spreading the joy of reading) to his website ReadKiddoRead.com (which helps adults find books that kids are sure to love) to his regular donations of thousands of books to troops overseas, Patterson is a lifelong champion of books and reading. His critically acclaimed Maximum Ride series debuted on the New York Times bestsellers list at #1 and remained there for twelve straight weeks. The series has so far made ninety-four cumulative appearances on The New York Times bestsellers lists, proving that kids of all ages love page turners. He captured the attention of boy readers with Daniel X series, and his third series for readers of all ages debuted in December 2009 with Witch & Wizard, which spent five consecutive weeks atop the New York Times bestsellers list.

Patterson is the creator of the top-selling new detective series of the past dozen years, featuring Alex Cross and including the Hollywood-adapted "Along Came a Spider" and "Kiss the Girls," starring Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman. He is also the creator of the #1 new detective series of the past five years, featuring Lindsay Boxer and the Women's Murder Club, from which the ABC television drama series was adapted. He has authored books behind six films on the Hollywood fast-track, including the upcoming Maximum Ride movie forthcoming from Avi Arad, the producer of X-Men and Spiderman.

He is the author of novels — from The Thomas Berryman Number (1976) to Honeymoon (2005) — that have won awards including the Edgar, the BCA Mystery Guild's Thriller of the Year, the International Thriller of the Year award, and the Reader's Digest Reader's Choice Award. And, he has won a Children's Choice Book Council's Children's Choice Awards "Author of the Year" award (2010).

One of Forbes magazine's Celebrity 100, James made a guest appearance on the popular FOX TV show "The Simpsons" in March, 2007.

To enter to win, fill out the form below!

And head to your local indie, library, or indiebound.org to get a copy now!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Lies My Girlfriend Told Me by Julie Anne Peters

Alix is devastated when her girlfriend Swanee dies suddenly. Overcome with grief, she seeks solace in Swanee’s bedroom and makes a shocking discovery—text messages on Swanee’s phone that imply that Alix wasn’t Swanee’s only girlfriend. Alix begins to investigate, uncovering Swanee’s double life and her relationship with Liana, a girl who was misled just like Alix. Alix wants to hate Liana, but once Alix meets her, she realizes that Liana is the only one who understands Swanee’s betrayal, and Alix’s grief.

Lies My Girlfriend Told Me is a dramatic and twisting read, full of as many secrets and painful discoveries as it is of surprising connections and unexpected moments of compassion. Alix is emotionally crippled from grief at the beginning of the book, but her sensitivity to Liana’s plight and her complex feelings of betrayal and retribution lead the girls to develop a friendship, and the possibility of love opens up as they learn more about each other and confront Swanee’s lies together. Peters captures the intense highs and lows of grief and the emotion of first love in this novel, and even though Alix isn’t always particularly likable, her emotional journey from grief to healing and acknowledging that Swanee’s influence on her was not always positive is ultimately satisfying. Lies My Girlfriend Told Me is a quick and absorbing book, with just the right amount of romance thrown in.

Cover Comments: This cover is actually mildly terrifying--it looks like it belongs on the cover of a horror novel. 

Book purchased from local indie.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Scan Blog Tour: Walter Jury Talks Influences and Inspiration

Welcome to the SCAN blog tour! Scan is a new science-fiction novel by Walter Jury and Sarah Fine. Today, co-author Walter Jury will be talking about his influences for Scan! Here's Walter!
"SCAN is definitely inspired by my love for action (can you tell?) and for strong characters being tested to their limits in a coming of age story.

In terms of action and storytelling, I didn't want to tell a dystopian story, but I think that the best of the recent dystopian genre influenced me. From the HUNGER GAMES and DIVERGENT trilogies, I took away the possibility of creating a dynamic and explosive world that didn't need any supernatural elements—they remained grounded in reality but still kept the twists and turns of a more hyper-real thriller. The books of Patrick Lee and David Morrell are also influential in my work. I love FIRST BLOOD, the book and the film, as it's a classic man-on-the-run story, but has a very strong protagonist whose suppressed voice is something the audience can root for being heard. Likewise, RUNNER by Patrick Lee is a spectacular man-on-the-run story with a grounded sci-fi bend. Patrick is able to keep the focus on characters and keep the suspension of disbelief to truly minuscule levels—no small task in a blockbuster action story. 
For films, I would call ENEMY OF THE STATE, THE FUGITIVE, and the BOURNE series as influences. BOURNE provides opportunities for the hero to use his skills in highly inventive ways—ways that he doesn't even know are possible. Our protagonist, Tate, faces a back story where he doesn't understand why he is being trained with such unwavering discipline for so many different skill sets. ENEMY OF THE STATE and THE FUGITIVE both combine a fast-paced action heavy energy with problem-solving mystery elements that really push their respective protagonists to the limit. In both films, the protagonists are basically at the end of the line by the time they are able to find resolution. Without providing any spoilers, we can say that Tate is certainly challenged throughout and to the very end of our journey with him."
About Scan:

Tate and his father don’t exactly get along. As Tate sees it, his father has unreasonably high expectations for Tate to be the best—at everything. Tate finally learns what he’s being prepared for when he steals one of his dad’s odd tech inventions and mercenaries ambush his school, killing his father and sending Tate on the run from aliens who look just like humans.

All Tate knows—like how to make weapons out of oranges and lighter fluid—may not be enough to save him as he’s plunged into a secret interspecies conflict that’s been going on for centuries. Aided only by his girlfriend and his estranged mother, with powerful enemies closing in on all sides, Tate races to puzzle out the secret behind his father’s invention and why so many are willing to kill for it.

About co-authors Walter Jury and Sarah Fine:

Walter Jury was born in London and has a background in the film industry. He is a big enthusiast of Jamba Juice’s Protein Berry Workout smoothie, only with soy, never whey. Sarah Fine was born on the West Coast, raised in the Midwest, and is now firmly entrenched on the East Coast, where she lives with her husband and two children. She is the author of several young adult books, and when she's not writing, she’s working as a child psychologist.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Riverman by Aaron Starmer

Alistair is the type of person who can keep secrets. He’s observant and quiet. Smart. When his neighbor Fiona Loomis asks him to write her biography, he reluctantly agrees. Fiona tells him a story of portals and fantastic worlds, where kids can slip away and be the rulers of their own kingdoms. But Fiona also tells Alistair about the Riverman, who is stealing kids’ souls and making them disappear in the real world. At first Alistair thinks Fiona is crazy…but what if her story is a cry for help? Or, more impossibly, what if it’s true?

The Riverman is a sharply written, imaginative novel of friendship and trust. Alistair is a thoughtful and sensitive kid, and his observations about family, friends, and neighbors are keen for someone his age. Starmer has a knack for description, and the neighborhood setting that Alistair and Fiona inhabit is just as wonderfully described as the many realms of Aquavania. As Alistair’s story unfolds and Fiona reveals more and more Aquavania, Alistair is torn between the dangers of reality and the inexorable pull of fantasy. Determining which is which isn’t easy, especially as he begins to discover that it doesn’t exactly matter if Fiona is crazy or not—the questions she forces him to face are just as important either way. The Riverman is a creepy, compelling, and fantastically written mystery.

Cover Comments: I love this cover--the dark blues and the many tiny details in the drawings are beautiful--they just pull you in!

Book borrowed from a friend.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Middle Grade Favorites

I've had a really fun time discovering middle grade fiction this past year (click here to see my list of middle grade favorites from my first semester of grad school), and I had even more fun branching out this semester. Here are some of the favorites:

See You at Harry's by Jo Knowles

I loved this book so much, I read it twice. And then wrote a paper on it. It's that good, people. Please go pick up a copy from your nearest bookstore or library.

Harriet the Spy by Louise FitzHugh

I never read this book as a kid, and you know...I think I am okay with that. I don't know if I would have liked it. As an adult, I loved it so, so much. It felt like it was speaking to the kid that's still in me. I cried a little when I gave my copy back to the library. Must find and acquire a copy of my very own.

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Smile was among the first books I read in my foray into graphic novels, and I liked it a lot! Very upbeat and a bit quirky, with lots of heart.

Kissing Tennessee and Other Stories from the Stardust Dance by Kathi Appelt

I am so impressed by the range and depth of these stories, which all all very loosely connected by the annual Stardust dance. Kathi Appelt is a beautiful and masterful writer, and this collection of short stories should definitely be on your reading list!

There's a Boy in the Girl's Bathroom by Louis Sachar

I do remember this one sitting on the shelves of classroom library when I was a kid. I think it grossed me out because I envisioned voyeuristic little boys when I saw it and I already had four brothers, so no thank you. My advisor strongly encouraged (i.e. directed) me to try it, and I so enjoyed it. Sachar really has a way with point of view! (But also, what is wrong with that boy's face?)

Hope is a Ferris Wheel by Robin Herrera

Of course I've already reviewed this book here, but it bears repeating: THIS BOOK IS AWESOME. I loved it so much. Funny and sad and sweet, with full characters beyond just the wonderfully smart and brave protagonist Star. It's truly quite good.

On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer

I met Marion Dane Bauer at VCFA Day Ann Arbor in April and picked up this book. It's a quick read, but it's packed with intense emotion and impossible questions. I'm in awe that Bauer was able to write about such a tragedy in so few, perfect, and powerful words. I highly encourage you to pick it up.

Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows

Although this is more of an early-reader than a middle grade book, I'm definitely including it in my list of favorites! I loved this dynamic duo of characters and how they completely subvert expectations while having a lot of fun.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

Okay, I can't say as this is a favorite, because I found so many things about this book that I wanted to argue, but it fascinated me. It's a longer novel, which is generally all right, except it takes a while for the reader to find the plot of this novel--well over 50 pages. And even then, the desires and emotional arcs are tangled and murky until the last 50 pages or so. And yet, everything about the time period and setting is exciting to me--1899 Texas. I wanted to like this book so much, so I gave it a lot of passes, but in all honesty, it obviously reads like a book that an adult thinks a child might like to read, not what a kid would actually want to read. I suppose I like this book because I see what it could have been if it had gone through a few more rounds of revision.

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

This is a re-read from my childhood. The style of children's books written in the early and mid-twentieth century seems to be a collection of short, episodic chapters with a unifying character, but whereas that drove me insane with Mary Poppins, Lindgren made it work with Pippi. She has charm and grit, and she's surprisingly vulnerable, and it was a lot of fun reading about her again.

The Riverman by Aaron Starmer

This book. I've picked it up again and again at work, intrigued by the cover and the premise. I finally read it (and review will be forthcoming!) and I was impressed. Halfway through, three-quarters of the way through, I had no idea what would happen and how it would end. It's very much about the collision of childhood and adulthood, and how to deal with the questions and problems one faces as they grow up.

The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes

I found this short novel about second-grader Billy Miller very charming and true. This one would be a fun read-aloud for the second grade class I subbed for this past school year. Henkes explores Billy's relationships with the people in his life, and shows how Billy's confidence grows throughout one school year.

I didn't read quite as many middle grade books this semester as last, but I've got a stack of books I'm excited about diving into for next semester! The list includes A Crooked Kind of Perfect, The Battle of Darcy Lane, The Glass Sentence, The Hidden Summer, The Great Greene Heist, and more!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie

One book I read this past semester that I had never read before (gasp) was The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie. I picked it up because (honestly), it was the first on a stack of MUST-READ books that teeters precariously in the corner of my bedroom. It was an ARC. Yes, I still have ARCs from 2007 in my to-read. This makes me feel marginally better about all of the other ARCs I keep holding on to--SOME DAY, I will read them. (Hopefully.)


The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian

When Junior decides to leave his reservation school to attend the all-white high school in a nearby town, he’s faced with tremendous backlash—from his new classmates and his reservation community. Junior has always been picked on for being different, but he’s certain that this action is the only way he can create a future for himself.

This novel/graphic novel hybrid is unexpectedly perceptive and extremely funny, even in its moments of tragedy. The unconventional structure seems messy and off-putting at first—chapters read like vignettes or short stories, Junior often goes off on tangents, and the reader doesn’t realize how the events are connected—or even chronologically placed—except in retrospect. Yet, the conversational tone and stunning insights oppression and humanity just make it all work. Alexie also uses humor in the most heartbreaking and unexpected ways to deconstruct the racism and abuse Junior faces. His use of humor and irony makes his story a little easier to read about (though not much), but it also provides an access point between Alexie and the reader, a way for the reader to develop empathy for Junior. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian should be on everyone’s reading list.

ARC provided by publisher, many years ago.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Curiosities by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff

For sporadic periods of time a few years ago, I would follow the Merry Sisters of Fate blog of short stories, written by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff. They took turns posting a new short story every week. Not only was it exciting to get little glimpses into these writers’ brains in each story, but it was impressive to see their bravery in posting these stories, raw and unedited, for the whole world to see.

The Curiosities is billed as a collection of these short stories from the Merry Sisters of Fate, but more than half could be more accurately described as vignettes. They all vary in theme, style, length, and genre, but most are speculative fiction. The authors’ introduction is open about the fact that the stories were experimental and used as learning tools to explore different writing skill sets and to teach each other about craft. The stories feature hand-written comments and notes by each of the sisters, pointing out craft lessons or just general background information. This would be an average collection of mostly average stories if not for these notes; they show awareness for form and the attempts that the authors make to learn from each other and their own mistakes in writing. Though not a craft book, The Curiosities is an interesting study in how playfulness, experimentation, and connection with other like-minded writers can be an important step in the process of learning craft.

If you’re a fan of these writers, pick up The Curiosities for an intimate look into the writing processes—in some cases you can see how short works and certain characters have evolved and made their ways into the writers’ published novels. But even if you haven’t read anything by Stiefvater, Gratton, or Yovanoff, if you are a writer, this is an interesting collection that you’ll want to wander through.

Book purchased from my indie.