The Compulsive Reader: February 2015

Friday, February 27, 2015

Kick the Tires, Light the Fires!: Breaking Sky by Cori McCarthy

Almost three years ago, I met a writer in a coffee shop. She looked very writer-ly. She had a Jane Eyre t-shirt, a blonde faux hawk, lots of pens, and a single-minded focus on her Mac. That writer was Cori McCarthy, and she was drafting a novel that was then called Nyx. Then it was called Redline. Then it was called some other things. I knew only a few things about this story: It was near futuristic, it had a Starbuck-esque protagonist, and there were teenage fighter pilots.

I tried to control my excitement.

(We weren't really good friends yet, so my demands that I MUST read the manuscript RIGHT THAT SECOND might have come off as a bit weird.)

Fast forward three years and I'm now thrilled that Nyx/Redline/Sex & Jets is Breaking Sky, Cori's phenomenal second novel, our Mach 10th. She's worked hard on this novel, and it shows--it's thrumming with action and emotion, and it's the sort of story that sticks with you. And!!! Today it was announced that Sony has optioned Breaking Sky and is developing it for film! Sexy near-future YA Top Gun, anyone?

Breaking Sky opens with Chase Harcourt, call sign Nyx. Chase is an excellent pilot, but a careless person. Her love for speed pushes her to take risks, and she's constantly turning her back on an unpleasant childhood, the uncomfortable reality of her parentage. On a routine flight, Chase sees something that shouldn't be possible, and in her relentless investigation, she blows open a huge military secret that has the potential to push America from a Cold War with Asia to World War III.

This novel has so much energy--and not just in the flight scenes, which are written so well. Chase is a character who does things, who goes after what she wants, and can't sit still. I admire her for that, even though she's not exactly a nice person. Chase is actually not nice most of the time, but she's achingly real. McCarthy slowly peels back her many layers to reveal what makes Chase tick, and what drives her to search for speed. Once you see who Chase really is, you can't help but feel for her, and feel deeply.

The supporting characters are also excellent; Chase's tortured RIO Pippin, headstrong and domineering (in a lovable way) Sylph, and steady Tristan, who might just be the only pilot as talented as Chase. The tensions between them all pull you in, and McCarthy balances their interpersonal drama with the high stakes international politics and war games brilliantly.

And stakes--they are high! McCarthy's plotting is tight, the consequences are massive (and devastating). This is a book that will get your adrenaline pumping; the action is eerily realistic, and the emotions are true. This book is funny, sexy, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful. You should get a copy ASAP.

Also, that cover? Iconic.

You can get a signed copy if you order from our local indie! Cori will sign and personalize it, and I will ship it to you! Check it out here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Very Tardy Merry Everything: My True Love Gave to Me, Ed. Stephanie Perkins

I'm going to make a confession: I'm about two months behind on blogging my reading. This is really shameful, and I have no explanation other than the Vermont residency and school. You all probably would have never noticed anything except, I'm going to talk about My True Love Gave to Me, a Christmas anthology, which I finished just two days before Christmas. However, I'm one of those obnoxiously cheery people who believes that a good Christmas anthology is perfect for any month of the year, so let's forge ahead, shall we?

The first thing that smacks you in the face: This is an all-star cast. Seriously. Stephanie Perkins, Rainbow Rowell, Holly Black, Kelly Link, Jenny Han, Matt de la Peña, David Levithan, Kiersten White, Myra McEntire, Ally Carter, Gayle Forman, Laini Taylor...and yes, I did just try to sing all of those author's names out loud to the tune of The 12 Days of Christmas.

It's difficult to talk about anthologies because I think short stories are more subjective to taste than novels are, and with twelve short stories, there are a lot of variables in this book. However, I've read quite a few anthologies this past year, and this one is put together very nicely, with a good balance between contemporary realistic fiction and speculative fiction. Every contributor is a great writer. For the most part, each writer sticks to the same genre as the novels they've published.

Let's break it down:

The Fantastical

Kelly Link's "The Lady and the Fox" is brilliant. It shines a little brighter than the rest, and it is possibly my favorite short story by her yet. Holly Black made me love her even more with her short story based on Krampus (think demon Santa, only Holly Black style!). Laini Taylor's short story about poverty and ancient magic is a little floaty, a bit meandering, but she can string beautiful words together like no one else.

Jenny Han's story about Santa's daughter and the elves was extremely clever and surprisingly heartfelt. Kirsten White's story has just a hint of elusive Christmas magic and sweetness under sharp humor and perfectly deployed sarcasm. And while there isn't any magic in Ally Carter's story, it is a bit fantastical--a girl runs away from her life and discovers family and meaning at someone else's Christmas celebration.

The Realistic

Matt de la Peña's story about a college freshman spending the holidays alone because he can't afford to go home was a surprising story about trust and relationships. Gayle Forman's story about first impressions, misconceptions, and making the best of a less-than-ideal situation made me laugh and think. And Stephanie Perkins's story about celebrating Christmas after your life has been upended was simultaneously heartbreaking and re-affirming.

David Levithan writes about Christmas traditions and the lengths we go to to help others believe in magic. Myra McEntire's centers around the grand tradition of Nativity plays and how they can go wrong, yet turn out right. And Rainbow Rowell's absurdly adorable story about a friendship told through a series of New Year's Eves parties was both swoony and smart.

That's a lot to take in, but there is so much about this anthology that will appeal to readers. It's a nuanced look at the holiday season, with all of its highs and lows and the expectations people hold for that particular time of the year. It was such fun to read a story every night in December, and it's a book that I'm definitely going to give as a gift for next Christmas. If you pick it up, just know that you might have 12 new favorite authors by the time you finish!

Plus, how adorable is that cover? I want to hang it on my wall.

Book purchased at my indie!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Getting in Trouble

This past Friday, I went to Ann Arbor with Amy Rose Capetta for Kelly Link's reading and signing at Literati Bookstore. I love Kelly Link's work. My first encounter with her short stories was Pretty Monsters a few years back, and I was hooked. Her work has appeared in a lot of YA anthologies--Steampunk!, My True Love Gave to Me, Monstrous Affections--and I've always picked up a book with her name on it. Her latest collection is Get in Trouble. I'm three stories in and already in deep, intense, writerly love. And that title! It's the best.

The event was fantastic! Literati Bookstore is a very shiny indie in downtown Ann Arbor with a really well curated selection of books, and a cool personality. (I think bookstores have personalities--it's hard to articulate, but you can feel it when you're there.) The event was in their upstairs space, which they share with The Espresso Bar, and the entire floor was packed for the reading. We met up with fellow VCFA-ers Deb and LoriGoe, and between the four of us we bought a fairly ridiculous number of books and tried not to melt at the awesomeness that is the mind of Kelly Link.

Kelly read from one of her stories and took questions, and the highlight of that whole segment was when she revealed that she had an idea for a YA trilogy. Amy Rose and I gasped in tandem and tried to hold ourselves together because a Kelly Link YA trilogy would just about be the highlight of this decade. Unfortunately, it sounds like we'll all have to be patient for a while still.

The VCFA contingent.
The next day Amy Rose and I headed to Detroit with LoriGoe, where she took us to John K. King Books, Michigan's largest used and rare books bookstore. It was heaven. Old and dusty, with four levels of packed, cramped shelves overflowing with books. We got lost for hours, and emerged with a staggering number of books. I'm adding mine to the already teetering stack.

If you ever get a chance to visit either Literati or John K King Books, do so! They're both very different stores, but so much fun. And read Kelly Link. See her in person if at all possible. Don't like, stalk her or anything. But check out her events.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Let's Save the Universe!: Unmade by Amy Rose Capetta

One of my favorite, favorite books of 2015 is Unmade by Amy Rose Capetta. She wrote the prequel, Entangled, and yes, you should definitely read Entangled before Unmade. (Because, um, why not? It's awesome! Also, spoiler-y reasons.)

Re-cap: Entangled is the story of a rocker girl named Cade who thinks she's alone in the universe until she discovers that she is atomically entangled with another human on the other end of the universe, and in order to save him she has to go way, way out of her comfort zone and travel with a band of smugglers to get to him. Before you ask, no, she's not in love with him. That'd be far too easy.

Unmade picks up where Entangled left off, with Cade determined to find her mother using her talent for hearing other people's songs. Unfortunately, the nasty Unmakers aren't too keen on humanity surviving much longer, and the universe becomes very dangerous for humans. Cade, Renna & Rennik, Lee, Ayumi, Gori, and newcomer Mira team up to execute a daring plan to save what's left of the human race--and find a new home for them all before they succumb to space-sickness.

I loved Entangled because it rang with the charm and strangeness of Firefly, but I adore Unmade because it thrums with the danger and urgency of Battlestar Galactica. (Hey-o, nerd alert!) Everything about this book is fast, adventurous, and dangerous, and the stakes couldn't be higher. But while our beloved characters are saving the universe, they're also dealing with shifting relationships, falling in love, learning how to trust one another, grieving and celebrating, and figuring out what's right. The quiet moments of connection are just as breathtaking as the action sequences, and that's what makes this novel stand out.

I'm so proud of Cade and how far she's come in this novel. She's the same, lovable, tough girl she was in chapter one of Entangled, but now she channels that anger and those feelings into doing something that matters, into being brave, and into saving the universe. '

Because I know what you're wondering--yes, Unmade is even swoonier than Entangled! We don't just have one couple, but TWO to sigh over. I love Cade and Rennik. I love Lee and Ayumi. I love all the kissing (and more) that's in this book. It's not inappropriate or gratuitous. It's just RIGHT.

My final verdict: Unmade is worth the read. It's worth re-reading. (I read it twice!) It's worth buying. It's worth buying in hardcover. It's a very shiny book, and I mean that in more ways than one.

Book purchased at my local indie, which just so happens to sell signed (and personalized) copies of Entangled and Unmade!

Friday, February 13, 2015

To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han

If you're looking for a book that's all about the angst and excitement of love this weekend, consider To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han. I first fell in love with Jenny Han's writing when I read The Summer I Turned Pretty (also a good pick for some Valentine's Day reading). Han has a graceful writing style that encapsulates the emotions of love and heartbreak.

To All the Boys I've Loved Before may sound like a mouthful at first, but the title is a great hook for this story. Lara Jean loves deeply, but she's never been quite brave enough to reveal her feelings for any of the boys she's loved. Instead, she devotes herself to being a good sister and substitute mother. She bottles up her feelings and writes a letter to each of her crushes, seals it, and hides it away, convincing herself that she is then "over" her feelings. Lara Jean's carefully ordered life begins to fall apart when those letters are sent without her knowledge, and suddenly she finds herself pretending to date Peter, a guy she no longer likes, as a decoy against the guy she really does like--Josh. Her older sister's ex-boyfriend.

Han navigates these twisty plot developments with soft humor and lots of yearning. Lara Jean struggles to mold an identity for herself now that she's no longer in the shadow of her older sister, one that is independent of the caretaker role she has always assumed, but not completely separate. Her faux-relationship with Peter has all of the trappings of clichéd teenage drama, but Lara Jean doesn't succumb to the pitfalls. She's her own person, she asserts her will, and she doesn't do what everyone expects of her if she doesn't want to. Her clashes with Peter have an undercurrent of romantic tension that Lara Jean is blind to as first, and even though their relationship is unconventional, they do become genuine friends. This new level of emotional intimacy in their friendship is what drives the story to the climax, where everything that can go wrong does, the truth comes out, feelings are hurt, and intentions are misconstrued. Nothing is tidy in this book, but Han has done an excellent job at portraying convincing teenage relationships, with some swoony moments and painful growth.

Some aspects of the plot seem a bit too contrived to be totally believable, but these parts are easy enough to ignore. This is a fast, fun read, and there is a sequel, P.S. I Still Love You, coming out later this year!

Cover Comments: I love the blend of Sharpie title and soft pinks and whites in the background. It works--pretty with a surprising, bold twist.

ARC provided by publisher.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

An Epic Giveaway: Steelheart and Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

Hey Brandon Sanderson fans (and future Brandon Sanderson fans)--have you read Steelheart and Firefight yet? Steelheart is now out in paperback and Firefight was just released last month. I'm giving away a copy of each book this week, so read on for details!

About the books:

Brandon Sanderson is back with a vengeance in FIREFIGHT, the follow up to the #1 New York Times bestselling Steelheart. In the book that Kirkus Reviews is calling a “rare middle volume that keeps the throttle open,” Sanderson takes readers on another a thrill ride and “presents a Marvel Comics-style mix of violently destructive battles, fabulous feats and ongoing inner wrestling over morality and identity.”

David Charleston still can’t believe it. Steelheart is dead, and he died by David’s own hand. Even the Reckoners had never killed a High Epic, but the invincible has fallen and now Newcago is free. Despite attaining revenge for the murder of his father and living his dream as a team member of the most elite Reckoners cell, David finds he has more questions than ever before, and he won’t find the answers in his home city.

Babylon Restored, the city formerly known as Manhattan, could hold the key. Ruled by the mysterious and ambivalent High Epic Regalia, Babylon Restored is a place flooded with water and painted in neon, where the inhabitants spend most of their days lounging and nights partying. David can’t seem to understand the complacency of the city and its residents, but what he does understand is that being positioned here, risky as it may be, could lead him to the answers he so desperately seeks. Because there is an emptiness in him, one left behind after killing Steelheart, that was filled unexpectedly by Firefight, who is just plain Megan to him. And David will stop at nothing to find a way to understand Epics and bring her back to him. Hopefully for good this time.

The second book in the Reckoners series and follow up to the highly acclaimed Steelheart, which Publishers Weeklycalled “an absolute page-turner,” FIREFIGHT is filled with spine-tingling adventure and heart-racing action that promises to satisfy fans both new and old.

Read an excerpt here, keep up with Brandon's books here, and follow him on Twitter.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey

The Infinite Sea is the sequel to The 5th Wave, which I talked about last week here. The 5th Wave was not a book I planned on reading, so naturally I was not prepared for the feelings of shock, angst, and utter panic when I finished it and didn't have The Infinite Sea ready to rock. After much maneuvering and a rather embarrassing day spent at work stalking our shipments every two seconds, I got the book and retreated home to begin, slightly dismayed at the slender package in my hands. It wasn't just a tiny bit thinner. It was like 100+ pages thinner!

The Infinite Sea is shorter, it's true, but it contains the characters you love and more stand-out writing. Cassie, Sam, Ben, Ringer, survived the destruction of the previous book's ending and are holed up in an old motel, trying to figure out what to do next. They decide their best chance for survival is to split up and try to find a new place to hide out (yeah, when has that ever worked for anyone ever?), but the landscape is riddled with enemies looking to hunt them down, and there's no way to tell whose side the strangers are on.

What worked shockingly well in The 5th Wave--the shifting narrative--doesn't quite cut it for me in The Infinite Sea. I need you all to understand that I feel like a terrible person for saying this. The writing, on the line level, is excellent. The emotions are vivid and real. The danger and tension are palpable. But there is not as much action as I would have liked, and I don't think that's necessarily the story's fault, but the fault of the structure.

To be fair to Yancey, he's got a lot of characters to juggle, one intriguing mystery to uphold (we still don't know what the aliens want with Earth!), and a lot wild cards in this novel. The characters do whatever the hell they want and don't bend to any prescribed plot, which is awesome, but that does provide some challenges for the telling of the story. Ringer's chapters specifically are very engaging, and I love getting her perspective, but with Ringer's perspective Yancey breaks this unity of time that he brilliantly maintained in the first book, and that disappointed me somewhat. Yeah, yeah, I know I can't have everything. Each part of the novel had its own story arc, but the (only) problem with The Infinite Sea is that all of the parts didn't work together to tell a larger story arc, and I'm afraid that means that this felt like the dreaded second book--a bridge between book one and book three.

So I'm left feeling conflicted because this book was well-written and interesting and I love the characters, but it was also jumpy and compressed and did not have as much action. Which, to be fair, might be due to the fact that everyone is still half-dead from surviving the last book.

I'm still pre-ordering the third book and I plan on loving it.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

What If You Could Live Forever? Celebrating 40 Years of Tuck Everlasting

This year marks 40 years of the amazing little book Tuck Everlasting. When I first heard that it was the 40th anniversary, I was a little shocked. The book always seemed so timeless to me. I read it as a kid, but I hadn't understood how long it had been around, and how it affected so many people.

I recently re-read the book, and it was so interesting to see how my memories of the book stacked up next to the re-read. I would say that Tuck Everlasting is one of the more memorable books from my childhood. I remembered Winnie, Jesse, Mae, the everlasting Tucks, the overbearing Foster family. I remembered a mysterious, shadowy stranger who threatened everything. The plot was ingrained in my mind. I chalked the strength of my memory up to a strong, distinctive story.

But I was unprepared for how distinctly I remembered Babbitt's use of language. The revelation of Mae not needing a mirror because she'd looked the same for 87 years. The wheel. The water. The stillness of the first week of August. All of those images were imprinted on my brain as clearly as the question Babbitt posed to her readers: What if you could live forever?

Regardless of what you believe about this world or the next, I think what makes Tuck Everlasting so powerful is that it emphasizes not the incredible idea of forever or time or what it means to be special, like the Tucks are, but what it is to live. Winnie lives. She takes action. And she can easily live with the consequences because she knows that she has done something, something right. I don't want to live forever, but if I were to live forever, I'd want to be like Winnie. I'd want to make choices and do good. It's like what Miles tells her: "People got to do something useful if they're going to take up space in the world."

If you haven't read Tuck Everlasting yet, I urge you to pick up a copy as soon as you possibly can. Even better--pick up the 40th Anniversary Edition, with a lovely introduction by Gregory Maguire. You won't regret it, I promise.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Cheers to the winners!

Today the ALA awards were announced, which always feels like the kid lit world's Oscars. A ton of deserving books won some great awards and I can't wait to catch up with the ones I haven't already read, but I want to give a shout out to the VCFA winners of the bunch:

Jandy Nelson, alumna, winner of the Printz and a Stonewall honor for I'll Give You the Sun

Kekla Magoon, alumna and faculty, who received a Coretta Scott King honor for How It Went Down

Jacqueline Woodson, former faculty, who received a Newbery Honor for Brown Girl Dreaming

Julie Berry, alumna, whose audio version of The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place received an Odyssey honor

Check out all of the winners here!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

We can safely file this book under the category "Books I Might Not Have Read If I Didn't Work at a Bookstore." I'm not old, but I am certainly old enough to know what I like, and I never have problems finding books that I want to read. I like to think of this as "reading confidence." It sometimes gets me stuck in a rut, though. That is where it's really nice to have someone (or a group of someones) who shake up reading habits. For me, it's usually my VCFA community or the group of teen readers I talk to at the bookstore. I knew about The 5th Wave, but I probably would have never picked it up if those teen readers hadn't bought copy after copy of it, and talked my ear off about it. So once I managed to get it back in stock, I picked it up and whoosh, I was sucked in.

The 5th Wave is about an alien invasion. Is it an invasion, or just an attack? Do we really know? What we do know is this: The aliens attack in waves. The first wave throws humanity into chaos by cutting all electricity. The second wave decimates all coastal cities with major typhoons. The third wave is an unknown epidemic that kills off most of the survivors. The fourth wave--perhaps the most frightening of all--is the revelation that the aliens are using humanity to pick each other off, one by one. The fifth wave is yet to come.

The books opens with Cassie, a teenage girl whose parents are dead. She's been separated from her little brother, but she's determined to find him. She feels like the last human alive as she travels across  the abandoned countryside, tracking her brother, unable to trust anyone, bracing herself for the 5th wave. Her new world has completely challenged everything she thought she knew--she can't relate to the person she was before, and she's not really sure of anything now, only that she must find her brother. She encounters another boy, Evan, who is just as alone as she is. She wants to trust him, but what will she be giving up if she does?

Yancey's novel is non-linear, and the sections jump from character to character, weaving back and forth through time. This definitely helps build tension from scene to scene, and adds to the mystery of what is really going on, who the aliens really are, who can be trusted, and the most pervasive question of all--what do they want?

What impressed me most about this novel is Yancey's eloquent language and sensitivity to the complex emotions that each character experiences. The language is poetic and brutal, and Cassie is forced to make decisions that have serious emotional implications throughout the book. She must look inside herself, and ask herself tough questions about why she keeps moving forward, what she values, and what she wants in order to make sense of her new world. Each character faces his or her own crises and must wrestle with themselves to keep moving forward. There are surprising connections and yawning mysteries to be faced. Chances must be taken, faith is tested.

Yancey gives readers answers that breed more questions, and keep the pages of this story turning fast. While the final action scene does push the boundaries of believability, every choice, consequence, victory, and failure in this novel feels earned. It's not often I read a fascinating high-concept story that is as action-packed as it is emotionally engaging. I'm so, so glad I picked up The 5th Wave and I urge you to do the same!

The 5th Wave is out in paperback this month, and a movie is in the works, set to be released this time next year! I'll follow up later this week with a post about the sequel, The Infinite Sea.