The Compulsive Reader: April 2015

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Let's Steal a Train: Waistcoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger

I love, love, love Gail Carriger's books, and so it's to my great dismay that it took me so very long to read the third in the Finishing School novels, Waistcoats & Weaponry. Sophronia has spunk and a talent for getting herself into trouble, and I love her for it. In this third installment, she and Dimity concoct a plan to jump ship (so to speak) and escape from Finishing School to discover what it is that has terribly upset their friend Siddheag about her werewolf family.

They hijack a train with a few male companions in tow (Sophronia seems to have attracted the attention of two boys--how frustrating! She doesn't have time for their drama!) and they get themselves into a tad bit more trouble than they anticipate in an attempt to get Siddheag back to her pack. In order to get out of it, Sophronia will have to do some very quick thinking--but it comes at a hefty price.

Gail Carriger may be known for her lovably ridiculous characters and their outrageous antics, but what I really love about her books is the character growth. Her characters evolve as secrets are revealed and mysteries are investigated, and each book changes them in little ways, but they still stay true to the core of their characters. It's what made the Parasol Protectorate books so, so good and it's what makes her one of those authors I trust--I'll always buy her books, no questions asked.

This book is probably the most "serious" of the series (and I use that word liberally) because at the end, the consequences are much more dire than those in previous books. Sophronia gets in way over her head, and she has some impossibly difficult, life-or-death decisions to make. For once, she can't charm her way out of a pickle, and we see her take on responsibility for her actions. She grows up a little. In some ways, it's sad to read because her life is never going to be the same, but the story-lover in me is ridiculously delighted because I can't wait to see what happens to her next! And of course, there are manners and mayhem, and sweet first romance and many jokes.

Sadly, the next book will be the last. Manners & Mutiny is out in November, but you better believe it's already on my wishlist.

Book purchased from my indie.

The Remedy Giveaway

If you're a fan of The Program by Suzanne Young, then you're in luck--out last week is The Remedy, a book that takes place before The Program and The Treatment! I'm giving away a copy of The Remedy to one lucky winner, plus copies of The Program and The Treatment! Read on for more info!

About The Remedy:
Can one girl take on so many identities without losing her own? Find out in this riveting companion to The Program and the New York Times bestselling The Treatment.
In a world before The Program… 
Quinlan McKee is a closer. Since the age of seven, Quinn has held the responsibility of providing closure to grieving families with a special skill—she can “become” anyone. 
Recommended by grief counselors, Quinn is hired by families to take on the short-term role of a deceased loved one between the ages of fifteen and twenty. She’s not an exact copy, of course, but she wears their clothes and changes her hair, studies them through pictures and videos, and soon, Quinn can act like them, smell like them, and be them for all intents and purposes. But to do her job successfully, she can’t get attached. 
Now seventeen, Quinn is deft at recreating herself, sometimes confusing her own past with those of the people she’s portrayed. When she’s given her longest assignment, playing the role of Catalina Barnes, Quinn begins to bond with the deceased girl’s boyfriend. But that’s only the beginning of the complications, especially when Quinn finds out the truth about Catalina’s death. And the epidemic it could start.

About Suzanne:

Suzanne Young is the New York Times bestselling author of The Program series. Originally from Utica, New York, Suzanne moved to Arizona to pursue her dream of not freezing to death. She is a novelist and an English teacher, but not always in that order. Suzanne is the author of The Program, The Treatment, The Remedy, and A Need So Beautiful.

Fill out the form below to enter to win!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Isle of the Lost Giveaway!

The Isle of the Lost is a new novel from Melissa de la Cruz about the teens of Disney's most infamous villains, and it's the prequel to the Disney Channel movie "Descendants," which premieres this summer!

If you're into fairy tale retellings and reading old stories from new perspectives, then you're going to want this Meet the Descendants prize pack, generously provided by Disney Publishing!

About the book:
Evil tree. Bad Apple?

Twenty years ago, all the evil villains were banished from the kingdom of Auradon to the Isle of the Lost--a dark and dreary place protected by a force field that makes it impossible for them to leave. Stripped of their magical powers, the villains now live in total isolation, forgotten by the world.

Mal learns from her mother, Maleficent, that the key to true darkness, the Dragon's Eye, is located inside her scepter in the forbidden fortress on the far side of the island. The eye is cursed, and whoever retrieves it will be knocked into a deep sleep for a thousand years. But Mal has a plan to capture it. She'll just need a little help from her "friends." In their quest for the Dragon's Eye, these four kids begin to realize that just because you come from an evil family tree, being good ain't so bad.

Isle of the Lost is the spell-binding prequel to Disney Descendants, A Disney Channel Original Movie Event this summer!

About Melissa de la Cruz:

Melissa de la Cruz is the author of many best-selling novels, including all the books in the Blue Bloods series: Blue Bloods, Masquerade, Revelations, The Van Alen Legacy, Keys to the Repository, Misguided Angel, Bloody Valentine, Lost in Time, and Gates of Paradise. She lives in Los Angeles, California with her husband and daughter.

To enter to win, fill out the form below!

Good luck!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

All the Rage Blog Tour

Today's stop on the All the Rage blog tour features a quote from the novel:

About All the Rage:

The sheriff's son, Kellan Turner, is not the golden boy everyone thinks he is, and Romy Grey knows that for a fact. Because no one wants to believe a girl from the wrong side of town, the truth about him has cost her everything-friends, family, and her community. Branded a liar and bullied relentlessly by a group of kids she used to hang out with, Romy's only refuge is the diner where she works outside of town. No one knows her name or her past there; she can finally be anonymous. But when a girl with ties to both Romy and Kellan goes missing after a party, and news of him assaulting another girl in a town close by gets out, Romy must decide whether she wants to fight or carry the burden of knowing more girls could get hurt if she doesn't speak up. Nobody believed her the first time-and they certainly won't now-but the cost of her silence might be more than she can bear.

With a shocking conclusion and writing that will absolutely knock you out, All the Rage examines the shame and silence inflicted upon young women in a culture that refuses to protect them.

About Courtney Summers:

Courtney Summers lives and writes in Canada, where she divides most of her time between a camera, a piano and a word processing program. She is also the author of What Goes Around, This is Not a Test, Fall for Anything, Some Girls Are, Cracked Up to Be, and Please Remain Calm. 

All the Rage is available now.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The "Breaking Bad" of YA: My Best Everything by Sarah Tomp

Sarah Tomp's debut novel has a very Breaking Bad-esque premise, only minus the drugs, violence, and profanity. The content may be YA, but the emotions and danger are just as serious. Making moonshine may not be quite as serious as cooking meth, but both are illegal and potentially dangerous...

Our character is Lulu Mendez and she is all set to head off to San Diego in the fall and start college, leave her small Virginia town far behind...until her father reveals that he's lost all of her tuition money in a business venture that didn't pan out. Devastated, Lulu cooks up a scheme with her best friends and local bad boy Mason to "borrow" a still and make moonshine to fund her first year of college. (See, my Breaking Bad comparison isn't crazy!) But this plan is anything but straightforward (or legal). Mason may have all of the knowledge and connections to help get their still up and running and bring in top dollar for their shine, but he's haunted by mistakes of the past and hounded by his former connections. As Mason and Lulu begin to fall for each other, Lulu questions how far she's willing to go for a chance to leave town, and what she might be leaving behind for an uncertain future.

I love this book. I've been enamored by this story since I first heard Sarah read an excerpt almost two years ago in Vermont. The premise is intriguing and dangerous, but the characters are what will really hook you. Lulu, her best friend Roni, Roni's boyfriend Bucky, and Mason are all vividly portrayed and endlessly interesting characters. Their dynamics shift over the course of the novel as Lulu grapples with doubt and feelings of entrapment, Roni discovers a new passion, Bucky is faced with an unexpected change in plans, and Mason tries to stay levelheaded throughout a heady summer of illegal activities.

The story is told from Lulu's perspective, as she recounts the events of the summer to Mason, promising to go back and examine the events and find out if there is still hope for the two of them. It's an unconventional choice that works extremely well for Lulu's lyrical, honest voice, and it focuses the story not on the moonshine, but on Lulu and her evolving perspective on her hometown of Dale and Mason, who inspired her change of perspective. I love that Lulu grapples with big issues of money and privilege, and Tomp's depiction of small town life is carefully and affectionately written.

There's romance and action and risk in My Best Everything, but the story is full of big ideas about expectations, family legacy, and striking out on your own while honoring your upbringing. The ending is tense, heartbreaking, believable--but also hopeful. This is a contemporary novel unlike any I've read in YA. I can't wait to see what Sarah comes up with next!

Book purchased from my indie!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

Jam has had a rough year. Reeling from the loss of her boyfriend, Reeve, her parents send her to a boarding school in Vermont for emotionally vulnerable teenagers. There, she's inexplicably placed in a special topics in English class. Her roommate is insanely jealous, but Jam is indifferent--what's so special about reading nothing by Sylvia Plath all semester long?

But Jam and her classmates soon discover that it's not the author they study that makes the class so special, but their teacher Mrs. Quenell and the journals she passes out at the beginning of the semester. When Jam writes in her journal, she is transported to a place where she and Reeve are together and happy. Each student experiences something different with their journals, but they form a bond based on the impossibility of their experiences. They call their journal place Belzhar, after Sylvia Plath's Bell Jar and meet weekly to discuss what they see when they go there. Their friendship is only shadowed by one looming question--what happens when the journals are full?

Belzhar is a deeply compelling novel with a fascinating premise. I loved Jam's intelligent voice from the first page. She's completely aware of why she is being sent to Vermont, but she's deeply hurt by Reeve's absence and she can't seem to get past her pain. She's apathetic and a little naive at first, just putting herself through the motions. Mrs. Quenell's class presents Jam with a little mystery to entice her out of her own memories and thoughts: Who is Mrs. Q? What's so important about her classes? Why is she retiring at the end of the year? And where did she get the journals she hands out every semester? Eventually her questions lead her to her classmates.

The friendship between the members of the small English class is lovely and odd. Mrs. Quenell asks them to look after each other, and they come together slowly, tentatively. They form fast bonds, but they're also lopsided and imperfect friendships. Jam's friendship (and eventual romance) with Griffin is a lovely thing to watch, although it does seem to push aside her potential to deepen her friendships with her other classmates. All of the students learn the dangers of dwelling in the past, and they're forced to face their losses head-on until they come to a painful decision: move forward, or stay in the past. The revelation of Jam's entire story is surprising and inevitable, but her truth is overshadowed by the larger drama of her classmate's reaction to her own truth. The magical realism elements beautifully illustrate the painful reality of how we must deal with loss and life, and give the story much higher stakes. Belzhar is a little strange, very thoughtful, and emotionally hefty.

Book borrowed from the library.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Stealing From Reality: A Guest Post from Trina St. Jean

Trina St. Jean is the author of Blank, a novel about a girl who wakes up from a coma to find that all of her memories have disappeared. She's here today to talk about stealing from reality to write fiction!

First, about Blank:

All Jessica knows is what she’s been told: she’s fifteen, and thanks to a run-in with a bison bull she is stuck with a brain injury. The rest of her life is a blank her brain no longer fills in. The doctors send her to home to piece together her shattered life, but no matter how hard she tries, she can’t be the old Jessie everyone misses so much. When a new friend comes along with an alternative to staying in her old life, Jessica must face the reality of what it means to truly leave her past behind.

And here's Trina!
Psst. Come a little closer. 
Im a YA author with a secret. Some of the ideas in my debut novel Blank" are not completely original. I am a a thief. Or maybe pickpocket is a better word. 
No need to call in the legal team, Orca Book Publishers. I dont mean that I plagiarized or that I have someone chained in the basement writing novels for me. What I mean is that the details in the novel that add up to the big picture of plot, description, character and setting are scraps and snippets that I borrowed from different periods of my life to create the fictional world of my main character, Jessica. Some of the borrowing was subconscious; some of it was outright intentional. I believe that any writer, if they answered the question where do you get your ideas?, would make this same confession. 
Now that Ive gotten that off my chest, its time to come completely clean. Here is a list of some of the things I have pilfered: 
 1.     Names. I am terrible at coming up with names for characters. Every name I find in online lists seems too cutesy, too dull, or way too out there. So I steal from people Ive known. In "Blank", Jessicas last name is my mothers maiden name, Grenier. The rebellious friend she makes in the hospital, Tarin, is the letters of my name mixed up. The neuropsychologist Jessica sees for therapy, Dr. K., is named after a friend Tamara that I havent talked to in at least a decade.  She looks like her, too. (Hello, Tamara, howve you been? Surprise!
2.     Places. The town Jessica lives in is Winding Creek. I grew up in Wandering River. (I guess I could work on my subtlety.) Winding Creek is, however, a bit different from Wandering River: it has a high school, for example. It would have been much too inconvenient for my characters to drive an hour to another town for high school like people in Wandering River do, after all. Now that I think of it, I really should have taken the opportunity to jazz things up for the Wandering Riveran's who still live there. Like giving them a roller derby rink or something. 
3.     Meaningful objects and symbols. Jessica has a collection of mini-frog statues. One of my best friends, Shellie, has such a collection, one shes been gathering since childhood. I was always in awe of it, since I have never been able to maintain a decent collection of anything but dust bunnies. So I borrowed it for Jessica. So sorry, Shellie, that Jessica loses her temper, and well, a few frogs are injured. Some items Jessica studies to understand her pre-amnesia self, however, are my real-life childhood treasures, like a peacock feather and a brooch of my name made from twisted wire. 
4.     Experiences. One of my most creative friends growing up was Kim. One weekend in high school, she came up with the idea of tying kitchen knives to the ends of broomsticks to go spearfishing. (Yes, we have to create our own kind of crazy fun in the country.) Jessica has the same scheme in my novel. During the revision process, one reader questioned whether you could make spears that way. I had to laugh and admit, oh yes, that I knew you could, because I had done it. I cant remember frying up any delicious trout afterwards, mind you. Like Jessica, I have also been to parties in gravel pits and watched events where trucks with huge tires race through giant pits of mud. Like I said, in the country 
5.     Danger and Conflict. I have never been charged by a bison bull, thank goodness. But I can imagine how dangerous it would be, because my parents had 100 head of bison on their ranch about a decade ago. Believe it or not, this was a hobby they took up in retirement. These beasts amazed me. They are so strong and powerful looking, and if you can somehow get close enough to see their eyes, theres a genuine intelligence there. Whenever I visited home, my dad would take me on the tractor to drive into the pen and feed the bison hay bales. They snorted and pawed at the ground all around the tractor, giving me chills. They are not easily domesticated and cant be trusted. The alpha male, a bull named Mufasa, was a sight to behold. So when I began writing "Blank" in an urban Montreal apartment, as far-removed from my parents prairie home as possible, and I needed to put my main character in danger, guess who came trotting into my mind? Mufasa, waiting to cause trouble. I hated having to send poor Jessica off to deal with him, but you gotta do what you gotta do.
I could go on and on, adding to my list of crimes. Some of them, I dont even realize Ive committed. A friend of mine, for example, sent me an email while she was reading an earlier draft of "Blank" - Ha ha! she wrote. The sex-ed teacher is named after me. Too funny! I actually had to go back and check if she was right. Of course she was.
 Of course, there are many, many parts of Blank" that I created from scratch (like all writers do). I cant even pretend to know what its like to experience a brain injury or memory loss, for example, like Jessica does in my novel. Writers write to explore topics we are curious about just as readers read to delve into unknown territory. Its a journey were lucky to take together. 
 There you have it. I feel better now that the truth is out in the open: we writers have sticky fingers. Or minds, I should say. On behalf of all authors, thank you in advance for the things you say and do, names you give your children, your creative parties and events, and treasures and interesting pets. Keep the great material coming!
About Trina:

Trina St. Jean grew up in a small town in northern Alberta, Canada, but left in pursuit of degrees in psychology and education. During a decade out east, she picked up a husband with a cute accent and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College. She now lives in Calgary, where she teaches ESL and tries to stay out of trouble with her husband and two daughters. Blank is her first novel. You can pay Trina a visit at http://www.trinastjean.com or like Author Trina St. Jean on Facebook.
 Blank is out now!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Messy, Messy World of Dragon Politics: Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman was one of those wonderfully charming, wholly fascinating fantasy novels that caught my eye at work one day and would not leave me alone. This happens occasionally--I see a book in the flesh (in the pages?) and even though I've already talked myself into waiting until it comes out in paperback, or the library gets, or at least waiting until pay day, that's it. It must come home with me. Seraphina was that kind of book.

So I've been waiting and waiting and waiting for the follow-up (because the ending was so maddeningly, wonderfully wide open) for almost three years, and finally, it came. Shadow Scale. Finally.

Shadow Scale picks up only a few weeks after Seraphina left off. The dragon civil war has left the human populations in the Southlands feeling very uneasy, and Glisselda and Lucian fear that Goredd could suffer heavy collateral damage. They send Seraphina and Abdo south to find the rest of the halflings, using Seraphim's mental connection to locate them. Seraphina quickly discovers that her old enemy Jannoula has terrifying mental powers of her own, and she's using them to force each of the halflings to her will. Seraphina finds herself unable to fight Jannoula on her own, she she must turn to the rebel dragons and her own troubled past to discover the truth about her own nature and how to defeat Jannoula.

Shadow Scale does all of the things that a great fantasy sequel should do: expand the world on multiple levels, add depth to the protagonists, and make use of the many interesting, diverse supporting characters. Although the very beginning is a tad slow, as soon as Seraphina and Abdo have set off on their journey, the story moves quickly. Hartman takes readers to all of the three countries she only mentions in the first book--Ninys, Samsam, and Porphyry--and introduces all of the members of Seraphim's mental garden. There are plenty of twists and turns to keep the plot tilting and re-arranging, and the multitude of characters hold their own surprises and secrets.

The trajectory of the plot allows Hartman to really dig deep into the geography, history, politics, and theology of the various nations that made up the Southlands. She uses little details to make the cultures and cities come to life, and follows up on informations she first introduced in Seraphina. She layers new information and details about the history of both humans and dragons into the narrative, pointing to a surprising revelation about the history of humankind and the existence of the halflings.

There are no easy answers for Seraphina, and she runs up against obstacles at nearly every point in the story. Hartman isn't afraid to hurt her characters, but Seraphina doesn't give up easily. She learns that there are no answers to the challenges she faces, and that unless history is to (disastrously) repeat itself, it's up to her to find new solutions and connections between the human and dragon worlds.

Shadow Scale is diverse and compelling, and Hartman's writing is elegant and witty. Seraphina's delightfully charming voice holds steady throughout her trials, although by the end she has changed: she recognizes her own value despite her mistakes and makes great sacrifices for her people.

So now my only question is: Will there be a book three? I think yes. I have too many important questions about Seraphina's world for this to be the end, although I'm willing to give her a brief rest before her next adventure. After the events of Shadow Scale, she's earned it.

ARC provided by publisher.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Of Witches, Heartbreak, and Magical Showdowns: The Sisters' Fates by Jessica Spotswood

The Sisters' Fate is the conclusion to the Cahill Witch Chronicles (read about book one and book two). When we last left Cate, she was pretty devastated. Maura erased Finn's memory so he has no recollection of Cate, and the death of her godmother still weighs heavily on her conscience. To make matters worse, Cate is exposed as a witch and forced to go into hiding, making it even harder for her to protect Tess and keep Maura from executing a morally questionable plan to take over the Brotherhood. As the tension escalates, Cate begins to wonder if there is any hope of preventing the prophecy from running its course.

What I love about this book is that Spotswood explores the nuances of sexism and power through the sisters' different approaches at combatting the Brotherhood, and nothing is black and white in this world. Spotswood reveals the dangers of obtaining power at all costs through Maura's misguided attempts and Cate's struggle to balance the urgency of needing to save innocent people with her own ethics. This makes for some terrific tension and high stakes, and keeps the story moving quickly to a tumultuous ending.

Spotswood is magnificent at plot twists and turns that are surprising and inevitable, not contrived. Cate's character development shines through her reactions to these twists, and as secrets come to light and character motivations are revealed, the story takes interesting, heartbreaking turns. Spotswood is not afraid to hurt her characters, and while many readers will likely be screaming "NOOO!" at some plot points, they are what make this third installment an emotionally resonant story.

The ending is equal parts tragic and hopeful, and wholly deserved. The Sisters' Fate rounds out an unique, exciting, emotionally turbulent, and romantic trilogy that is worth reading and re-reading.

ARC provided by publisher.

Monday, April 6, 2015

This Song Will Save Your Life Blog Tour

Almost two years ago I read a book with a really awesome title that just stuck with me--the characters, the story, the setting were all incredibly memorable. This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales is out this month in paperback, so if you haven't read it, get a copy now! To celebrate the paperback release, I have Leila here to talk about one of the songs on the This Song Will Save Your Life playlist!

“Like a Friend,” by Pulp  
Pulp is one of my all-time favorite bands. A few years ago one of my best friends Kendra and I flew out to London for a long weekend to see them perform at Hyde Park. (Also we wanted to go to London, so this trip wasn’t JUST for Pulp. But Pulp was a big part of it.) Another time my I went on a music cruise to Jamaica because Pulp was headlining. Clearly, I take Pulp very seriously. 
“Like a Friend” is not my favorite Pulp song, but it is the one that has done the most to save my life. The protagonist of the song is a guy who is supposed to be hanging out with his ex as “friends,” but he doesn’t feel all that friendly to her, because he still harbors a lot of anger and sadness over their breakup. I think we’ve all been there at some point—I certainly have—and this song expresses the experience so beautifully. 
The line in it that I really love is: “I’ve done this before, and I will do it again.” It’s such a succinct way of putting heartbreak in perspective. It says that everyone goes through hard stuff, including you. And they make it through to the other side, and YOU have made it through to the other side, and you know you can be that strong now because you know you’ve been that strong in the past. As I said, there’s a lot of anger and sadness in this song, but there’s also the confidence of knowing that you DO know how to make it through the bad times. I find that really helpful.
What are some songs that have saved your life? Share them on social media with the hashtag #SongsThatSavedMe!

I'm also giving away two awesome things: A These Songs Will Save Your Life mix CD, and an ARC of Leila's next book, Tonight the Streets Are Ours! Two chances to win, so fill out the form below!