The Compulsive Reader: December 2014

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Merry, Merry and Happy New Year

As 2014 winds down (and my New Year's Eve drink gets a little emptier), I'm finding myself getting a tad bit sentimental. This year was probably the lightest year for blog activity, and that makes me a little bit sad. But it was also a big year for things not blog related--I wrote and finished and submitted a Masters' thesis on the features and functions of banter in YA novels. I wrote an entire first draft of a YA novel. (A disaster draft that needs revisions, but still!) I read more widely than I ever have before. I visited new cities, ate good food, went to lovely Vermont twice, and wrote wrote wrote like mad. So 2014 ought not be judged solely by blog activity.

One of my little habits (or neuroses, you choose) is recording the titles of books as I finish them, along with the date. I've been doing this since 2010, and frankly, I'm shocked that I've managed to keep doing this it for so long, and that I haven't lost this little notebook yet:

I've learned in 2014 that it's important to take a moment and appreciate the small things.

So on New Year's Eve, after I finish the last book of the year (this year it was Waistcoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger, whose writing is delightful and madcap and smart, as usual), I tally up the numbers and compare them to last year's. I've given up on making any specific reading goals for myself at the beginning of the year, mostly because that seems like setting myself up for failure, but also because I've definitely become a bit more of an eccentric reader. While the bulk of my reading continues to be YA, I've also expanded into new forms and genres, and it's been a lot of fun. Sometimes you don't know what you need to read until you're at that moment. And the nice thing about books is that they wait for you, until you're at that moment.

So, if anyone's interested, here's the break down for 2014:

112 books read (1 more than in 2013!)
65 YA novels
11 adult books (must work on bringing that number up...)
33 middle grade books (a huge leap for me this year, hoping to read more!)
9 graphic novels (ha, up from the 0 graphic novels read in 2013)
4 non-fiction (actually down from last year...need to work on that!)
3 anthologies
1 book of poetry (but many individual poems were read!)

Of those numbers, only one was an e-book. I've all but abandoned by e-readers at this point--I just prefer paper. And nine of those books were re-reads. I love re-reading old favorites, and a lot of these are due to re-reading books multiple times for my thesis research. I really hope I can keep up the reading momentum and continue to expand my reading horizons in 2015. Already I can sense a huge shift in my habits--I used to read most of my books as they came out, but now that I'm in school, I'm reading a lot of backlist titles and as a result, missing some newer titles. This means that when I do get around to newer series or authors, I can often read entire trilogies or multiple books at a time in a row. Binge-reading a series is SO MUCH FUN. I probably haven't properly done so since I was a young teen and would plow through series at my library.

Another thing I'm really proud of (although it sounds silly to say I'm proud of this)--but I've used the library a lot more this year than I ever have before. My library was renovated and re-opened this summer, and it's sort of sad that it took a beautiful new interior to entice me back more regularly, but I'm thrilled to go every time. Also, I usually return books a few days late (sorry, I'm terrible), so gradually they are making a lot of money off of my patronage. Everyone wins!

My hope for you all is that you have a lovely, wonderful year full of good books, good friends, happiness, and strength to make it through all of the tough stuff in between. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Favorite Books of 2014

There once was a time when I was very particular about curating an end of the year list of books that I read and loved. It seemed vitally important to me that you, my dear blog readers, knew exactly which books I loved and thought best. It was a hard job, but I HAD to narrow it down to 10 books. (An arbitrary number, I know.)

Then I got older and wiser (or lazier, you choose), and realized that the end of the year list of best books was stupid. Because my best books might not be your best books. So I changed it to my favorite books of the year, and I let myself choose 12 books.

Well this year, I am throwing all sense to the wind! No limits! No order! This is just going to me a modge podge of things I read and loved in 2014 (so not necessarily books that came out in 2014--another one of those stupid limitations I gave myself). That's the only limit. Here we go.

In the category of YA fiction, because this is technically a YA blog, although those lines are getting squishy...

Shadows by Robin McKinley

When it comes to McKinley, I like Sunshine much more than say, Beauty. And Shadows is much more in the vein of Sunshine (which needs a sequel in my humble opinion). The thing about McKinley's writing is that it is neither brief nor sparse. I mean, she can go on and on and on and it's all beautifully written but you're like, "Okay, get to the good story parts!" even though you're laughing at the years of descriptions, until suddenly things start moving again and when they move! They move. So the frustration is all part of the appeal. And the fun. And also, we need a sequel to Shadows. Though I might die before we get it.

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

This is a companion novel to Code Name Verity, which made an appearance on a stricter version of this list in a previous year. I don't know what to say except for that it's beautiful in all of the horror of WWII that it documents. I cried a lot. The poetry--phenomenal. Seriously. If Rose Justice were a real person, I have a feeling I would have studied her in my Modern American Literature class in college.

Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan

Loved this one so much that I wrote it into my thesis. Also, it has spectacular banter. Pretty much an all around perfect, fun, fantastic YA contemporary novel. I recommend it to people who loved Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell because the humor and the coming of age stories have similar vibes.

Strange Sweet Song by Adi Rule

There are many things I love about this book--the mythology, the characters, the setting, the fact that it's a standalone...but the writing is outstanding. I mean, take a deep breath, push the technology aside, grip the book tighter, and smile sort of outstanding. It's one of the most unique fantasies I've ever read.

Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour

Sure, we can talk about the many ways that this book is groundbreaking--we have a lesbian protagonist and a love story that's not about coming out or how hard it is to be gay. We just have a love story. And what a love story it is. I loved the LA setting, the fact that the characters worked in the industry, but weren't consumed by the Hollywood glare and glamour. The whole story was just so genuine and interesting, and it had stakes that felt important to the characters and the reader. I loved it.

Empress of the World by Sara Ryan

I don't know what it is about this book that just speaks to me--perhaps Nic, and her tendency to read people, read into them, imagine their entire life story. I get that, and her story is told with such a light touch, written so well, so true. It's an older book, but it needs to stick around!

Saving Francesca and Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta

This year could be dubbed the Year of Melina Marchetta. I read some of her first novels, and adored them. Marches writes stories about family and searching for identity so well. I am completely enthralled by her talent. I wrote Francesca into my thesis as well.

In the middle grade category, slightly shorter but most certainly no less important...

Harriet the Spy by Louise FitHugh

Can you believe I'd never read this book before this year? It's true. And when I did, I fell in love with Harriet, FitzHigh's writing, the subversive nature of the entire book. It's one that I know I would have loved as a kid and I think it holds up years later.

See You at Harry's by Jo Knowles

I liked this one so much, I read it twice this year. (Seriously.) Knowles writes about a loving, dysfunctional family dealing and not dealing with disappointment, heartache, tragedy, and joy. I cannot recommend it enough!

Hope is a Ferris Wheel by Robin Herrera

Star is the protagonist, and she stole my heart. Really. The writing is lovely, full of questions and observations and hope. And I really enjoyed how Herrera gave Star a rich family life, full of complications and love. This is one of my go-to books that I recommend in MG at work.

In the category of graphic novels, which I'm only beginning to read but love nonetheless...
This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki

The Tamaki cousins make a formidable team. Their graphic novels are so powerful--beautiful and elegant, and full of rich subtext. This One Summer is just the sort of graphic novel that I want to hand young readers for the awkward transition between middle grade and young adult.

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

These stories are dark, compelling, and full of clever twists. I don't know how she does it, but Carroll makes her stories feel like timeless fairy tales, with an appealing modern bent. And the art is chillingly beautiful! It's a fantastic book.

In the category of "adult" fiction, aka books not written for kids or teens...

I continued my love for Tana French by making In the Woods my first book of 2014. I read The Likeness this past summer on my break between semesters, and I devoured The Secret Place the week it came out this fall. French's characters are complex and real, and she has this talent for making the smallest details endless fascinating. Now I'm looking for mysteries that will satisfy my Tana French void.

The From Aways by C.J. Hauser has a deceptively chick lit-esque cover that I kind of despise, but the book is so good. This book, about two young women who each arrive in a small Maine town searching for something, is so enthralling. I loved the characters, I empathized with them and their struggles, and I was in awe of the elegant and insanely readable writing. Since I read it this summer, it's quickly become my favorite go-to book when hand selling adult fiction.

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyemi caught my eye in BookPage this spring, and it was a total impulse buy when I was at Literati Bookstore (a fantastic and oh-so-lovely indie bookstore in downtown Ann Arbor, you should go visit them if you're in the area!), partly because it was so pretty, partly because the premise so intrigued me. It's wonderfully written, of course, and it's a re-telling of Snow White set in the 1950's that deals with race, passing, gender, and sexuality in very interesting ways. I highly recommend it.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

I finally read it! It's been on my to-read list for years. I went into it expecting a charming, lovely read and was surprised (and frankly, equally heartbroken and thrilled) to find it more bittersweet than happily charming. This book has imprinted itself on my subconscious in the way Rebecca settled into my head when I was 13. I can't imagine never heaving read it. Also, TOPAZ.

In the category of nonfiction, which I should definitely read more of...

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Because Roxane Gay is awesome. And she speaks the truth. And she is so wise. I loved every single one of these essays, and I have a lot of respect for Gay. Also, follow her on Twitter because she is just the best and calls the world out on its shit.

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

I started out the year not having a Netflix account, so when everyone was FREAKING OUT about Orange is the New Black the TV show, I picked up the memoir. I am so glad I did, and one thought stands out at the end of the year (after having binge watched the two seasons of the show)--I wish everyone who has seen the TV show would read this memoir. It's very well-written, thoughtful, challenging, and not at all selfish or begging for sympathy. I have an immense amount of respect for Piper Kerman, and it's almost disheartening that her TV character comes off so wishy washy when the real Piper is such a strong and levelheaded person.

In the category of 2015 releases I read advanced copies of and think you need to pre-order RIGHT THIS MINUTE...

Unmade by Amy Rose Capetta

This is the second (and final!) book in the Entangled duet and it's even better than Capetta's first book! Stakes and danger and action and love abound! This is perhaps the most heart-stompingly romantic action book I've ever, and the romance never detracts from the action. There are two romantic couple you will love to root for in this book (*coughtherearelesbiansinspacecough*) and the ending is well worth the wait! But not for long, because it's out January 13th!

Breaking Sky by Cori McCarthy

Four words: HOT FIGHTER JET PILOTS. This book has everything you could want--danger, real stakes, complicated emotions, funny comebacks, snappy dialogue, romance, and fast jets. It's one hell of a book. It's out March 3rd.

WHEW. Okay, what were some of your favorites in 2014?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Can't Read Just One: YA Contemporary Novels That I Wish Had Sequels

Have you ever noticed how YA books with sequels or series tend to be speculative fiction? Not always, certainly, but it is my un-scientific opinion that if one were to undertake a massive survey of YA lit in recent years (hahaha), one would find that most series and sequels are not realistic contemporary fiction, but supernatural, dystopian, science fiction, fantasy, etc. I know part of that has to do with trends and sales and a whole bunch of uninteresting (to me) factors, but sometimes I really long for realistic contemporary series, like what I read as a teen--The Princess Diaries or The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, or the Georgia Nicolson books. (Oh my God, did I just date myself? I'm super young, I swear.)

There are some really good contemporary books with companions and sequels--Jenny Han's Summer trilogy, for instance, and Maureen Johnson's Suite Scarlett series (although only two books were ever released). And writers like Sarah Dessen and Deb Caletti and Stephanie Perkins and A.S. King write contemporary books where the characters are (loosely) connected and you can find cameos from book to book. 

But there is something about a contemporary series of books that is intriguing to me right now. Maybe it's because I read a lot of series when I was a kid, maybe it's because I'm feeling nostalgic, maybe it's because I'm at a place now, as a writer, where I'm really interested in understanding how a writer can pull off a series of contemporary books... I want to read a really well-written series that sticks with one character (or set of closely related characters) through a series of events. I've been thinking about it a lot lately, and I've compiled a list of contemporary books that I would love to see sequels to. Not necessarily just because I love the characters and want more of them, but because the world building and the character arcs are so well-depicted and vast that they just left room for more stories.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Cath came a LONG way in Fangirl, and I was thrilled to read every single moment of her journey. I also feel like a second year of college would be brimming with more stories, more mishaps, more adventures, more words, more LEVI. Please, Rainbow. More Fangirl

Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan

Josie is so smart and sassy and fun. I love her banter, and I loved reading about her pursuit in the understanding of love. McCahan has so many interesting characters, particularly Stu, and after the super quick, memorable ending, I'd love to see where Josie goes next and how she navigates the ups and downs of her first (serious) romantic relationship.

45 Pounds (More or Less) by K.A. Barson

Ann is a girl whose story, I think, will only get more and more interesting the older she gets. She's a smart, funny, lovable girl who has a lot going for her by the end of the book, and I loved seeing her get to a happy place, but I also feel like her rich family life could give us more stories!

Blaze, Or Love in the Time of Supervillains by Laurie Boyle Crompton

Let this novel PLEASE just be Blaze's origin story, the beginning of an epic saga about an epically hilarious and smart and fantastic heroine whom I ADORE. Plus, I will always want more of the comic book store guy. And clearly there was not enough of him in this book. A sequel, PLEASE.

Ask the Passengers by A.S. King

I will always maintain that this book is a piece of art--damn near perfect. The ending, I feel, leaves the reader and Astrid in just the right place. However. However, I think seeing how Astrid goes forward in her life, what she makes of things, especially leaving her small town, would make for such a fascinating second novel.

If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

Spoiler alert--the ending of this book is a sort of fast-forward for our protagonist to a place where she is beginning to feel more comfortable opening up about herself and making new friends. While I was thrilled that Farizan ended on that note, I'd love to read more--I can only imagine what's in store for her next as she goes to college and pursues her identity and finds love.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth

Okay, maybe this is cheating since I actually read an interview with danforth where she said she's actually written more of Cameron's story and knows what happens to her after the close of this novel, but...I WANT MORE. I want to read it! I want more of Cameron and more of danforth's beautiful, evocative writing. 

What are some of your favorite contemporary YA novels (or series)? Any that you wish had sequels?

Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, Inspired by Siobhan Dowd

Conor has been having the same nightmare for weeks. When a monster calls on him in the middle of the night, Conor isn’t afraid—this monster is better than his nightmares. The monster, however, has plans for Conor: he’ll tell him three stories, and when he’s done, Conor will tell the monster about his nightmares.

Early on in the book, it’s easy to see where this story is headed—Conor’s mother is dying, and it is obvious to the reader that the monster is supposed to help Conor confront the inevitable. This may see overtly manipulative, except for two things: Conor does not fear this monster, and the stories that the monster tells are unpredictable, puzzling, and challenging. Conor grapples with his emotions, with physical and mental consequences, and the monster’s awful stories push him to finally confront his own awful truth. This novel is like a punch in the gut, but only because the emotions are so genuine. A Monster Calls is a quick and painfully beautiful read.

Cover Comments: The illustrations on the cover and inside the book are striking--dark and mysterious and beautifully rendered. This is a lovely book, one that definitely ought to be purchased in print.

Book borrowed from the library.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Guest Post: Romina Russell, Author of Zodiac

Zodiac is a new sci-fi novel with twelve worlds, each affiliated with a different house based off of the Zodiac. When one of the planets is compromised, sixteen-year-old Rho must become a leader in order to figure out how to save the Zodiac galaxy.

Author Romina Russell is here on the blog today to talk more about the world (universe) building that went into her first novel (and the upcoming sequels)!

The absolute best part of penning the ZODIAC series is the chance to invent new worlds. The reason I write is so I can spend more hours of the day in my imagination than anywhere else—and getting to make up new planets with varied customs, governances, technologies, topographies, wild life, and so on, has been indescribably fun.

Besides adding color to the story, the world building is the foundation of the whole series, plot- and character-wise. In the Zodiac universe, just as in our own, people aren’t born into their worlds—they’re born from them. A person’s House affiliation informs much of their identity and development, everything from its geography to its politics and culture—just as on Earth, our nationality, race, socioeconomic status, physical appearance, and so on, determine much about us.

Since the plot of book one is pretty speedy, we don’t get to spend a whole lot of time on the first few Houses we visit, so there’s plenty I couldn’t include about each world. For instance, Gemini has two planets, and the one we don’t get to see (yet) has a fantastical city built deep within its rocky mines. We get to visit Virgo’s main planet, Tethys, but not its twelve minor planetoids, which are so small that their days are twelve hours long instead of twenty-four, so Virgos don’t live there year-round—they only come seasonally to grow grain. On Aries, they have the Everblaze—a huge fire with thirty-foot flames that has never gone out. When Arieans die, their bodies are cremated in the Everblaze so their souls can rise to Helios.

And, of course, we barely get to see House Cancer before it’s destroyed—but it was a beautiful world. The planet was ninety-eight percent water, and from Space it looked like a ball colored every shade of blue, streaked with barely perceptible slices of green. Hundreds of low-lying islands were scattered across the globe, while Cancer’s cities were built on massive pods that floated calmly on the sea’s surface, like giant, half-submerged anemones. The largest structures—buildings, commercial centers, schools—were secured with anchors. The pod cities used to light the horizon with their gleaming, cascading buildings and sun-bleached streets.

Book two’s structure allows us to spend more time on each House we visit, so I’m definitely getting to include more details in the sequel, which has been so much fun. For more ZODIAC world building, check out the descriptions of each House on the site, www.ZodiacBooks.com.

About the book:
At the dawn of time, there were 13 Houses in the Zodiac Galaxy. Now only 12 remain…. 
Rhoma Grace is a 16-year-old student from House Cancer with an unusual way of reading the stars. While her classmates use measurements to make accurate astrological predictions, Rho can’t solve for ‘x’ to save her life—so instead, she looks up at the night sky and makes up stories. 
When a violent blast strikes the moons of Cancer, sending its ocean planet off-kilter and killing thousands of citizens—including its beloved Guardian—Rho is more surprised than anyone when she is named the House’s new leader. But, a true Cancrian who loves her home fiercely and will protect her people no matter what, Rho accepts. 
Then, when more Houses fall victim to freak weather catastrophes, Rho starts seeing a pattern in the stars. She suspects Ophiuchus—the exiled 13th Guardian of Zodiac legend—has returned to exact his revenge across the Galaxy. Now Rho—along with Hysan Dax, a young envoy from House Libra, and Mathias, her guide and a member of her Royal Guard—must travel through the Zodiac to warn the other Guardians. 
But who will believe anything this young novice says? Whom can Rho trust in a universe defined by differences? And how can she convince twelve worlds to unite as one Zodiac?
Embark on a dazzling journey with ZODIAC, the first novel in an epic sci-fi-meets-high-fantasy series set in a galaxy inspired by the astrological signs.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson

I have to work a little harder to find middle grade novels I enjoy, but when it came to The Great Greene Heist, I knew that I had found a winner. I fell in love on page 2. This book is my number one go-to when it comes to recommending middle grade books this holiday season.

Jackson Greene is a mostly reformed prankster and con artist still suffering the consequences of his last job going wrong—his best friend Gabriella will no longer talk to him. But when news that a corrupt student threatens Gabriella’s campaign for student council president, he slides back into his old ways to pull together a crew for his biggest, most complicated heist yet.

The Great Greene Heist is pure fun. The novel has a semi-serious tone that really works for the story, building suspense and mystery. The characters take their roles very seriously, but they’re also not afraid to have fun. One of Jackson’s rules, “If you’re going to pull a con, know how to pull a con in style” is felt on ever page, from the dramatic dialogue to the complicate maneuvering and surprise double-crossings. Johnson writes the nuances of middle school interactions and dramas well, and the emotional heart of the characters is what makes this far-fetched and hilarious book so easy and fun to read. The Great Greene Heist is an Ocean’s Eleven for the middle grade set, and one can only hope that it’s not the last heist Jackson will pull.

Cover Comments: I love this cover--very bright and it completely coveys the playful, sneaky, clever tone of the book.

Book borrowed from the library.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Gathering Darkness Giveaway

I love epic fantasy series. I love binge reading epic fantasy series even more. If you're like me, this blog post is for you.

I'm giving away the Falling Kingdoms series. Right here, right now. Let's do this.

In the three kingdoms of Mytica, magic has long been forgotten. And while hard-won peace has reigned for centuries, a deadly unrest is simmering.

As the rulers of each kingdom grapple for power, the lives of their subjects are brutally transformed…and four key players, royals and rebels alike, find their fates forever intertwined. Cleo, Jonas, Lucia, and Magnus are caught in a dizzying world of treacherous betrayals, shocking murders, secret alliances, and even love.
In AURANOS, privileged Princess Cleo is forced to confront violence for the first time in her life when a shocking murder sets her kingdom on a path to collapse.

In LIMEROS, the king’s son, Magnus, must plan each footstep with shrewd, sharp guile if he is to earn his powerful father’s trust, while his sister, Lucia, discovers a terrifying family secret about her birth that will change everything.

In PAELSIA, rebellious Jonas lashes out against the forces of oppression that have kept his country cruelly impoverished—and finds himself the leader of a people’s revolution centuries in the making.

Witches, if four, are put to death, and Watchers, immortal beings who take the shape of hawks to visit the human world, have been almost entirely forgotten. A vicious power struggle quickly escalates to war, and these four young people collide against each other and the rise of elementia, the magic that can topple kingdoms and crown a ruler in the same day.
The first books, Falling Kingdoms and Rebel Spring, are available now in paperback! The third books, Gathering Darkness, is out today! Check them out on Facebook.

About Gathering Darkness:
The seeds of revolution have been sown…but in Mytica the lust for power reigns supreme.

THE REBELS forge ahead. Princess Cleo slays with sweetness—and a secret that might control Lucia’s magic—as she and vengeful Jonas lead the hunt for the all-powerful Kindred.

THE KRAESHIANS join the fray. Ashur and Amara, the royal siblings from the vast kingdom across the Silver Sea, prove to be just as ruthless as they are charming as they manipulate their way to victory.

THE WATCHERS follow Melenia out of the Sanctuary. They ally, in the flesh, with King Gaius, who vows to use Lucia’spowers to unveil the Kindred.

And which side will Prince Magnus choose, now that he’s been betrayed by everyone he’s ever loved?
Click here to read an excerpt!

In addition to winning Gathering Darkness, Falling Kingdoms, and Rebel Spring, you'll also be entered to win a Falling Kingdoms dartboard! Many thanks to Penguin Young Readers for the giveaway!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Like No Other by Una LaMarche

Devorah, a Hasidic Jew, and Jaxon, son of West Indian immigrants, meet in a Brooklyn elevator during a hurricane. They’re trapped for over an hour when the electricity goes out and the connection they form takes them both by surprise. When they learn that they live very close to each other, they risk their social statuses and their families’ trust in order to be together.

It would be a stretch to call Devorah and Jaxon star-crossed lovers as they barely know each other, and their story unfolds in the course of one month, but LaMarche certainly captures the urgency and excitement of first love, and the wonder of a whole new world opening up beyond every day life. The story is told in alternating first person, and while Jaxon’s sections are smooth and easily readable, Devorah’s often get bogged down with awkward first-person explanations of her lifestyle and family rituals. Her life is interesting and she is a sympathetic character, but her narrative feels jerky and uneven. Because the timeline is so compressed, tensions are high and drama is easily created, but the story doesn’t have much room to breathe and all of the plot points feel very carefully contrived. Like No Other is a fascinating glimpse at a world that is likely unfamiliar to most teen readers with a romance that they’ll want to root for.

Cover Comments: This is a nice cover. I like the colors. I feel bad because it looks so much like the Eleanor & Park cover that the comparison is inevitable.

ARC provided by publisher.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

This Is What Censorship Sounds Like

This is what censorship sounds like.

Fat Angie was one of my favorite books of 2013. Click here to read more about the issue.