The Compulsive Reader: June 2015

Monday, June 29, 2015

This just in...

...The Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta will blow your mind.

I know, I know. I'm like, so late to the game. I've read all of Melina's contemporary books and they're all so incredible, every single one. I was waiting to read Finnikin of the Rock, though. I was waiting because everyone told me that it was incredible, and so was Froi of the Exiles, and Quintana of Charyn, and even though those names stumbled around on my tongue, I trusted the people who told me I would be blown away and I wanted to love them and I wanted to time to read them and love them. And that meant waiting until grad school was (mostly) done.

But now I've read them, and I don't know what to say, except, READ THEM. I feel like Melina Marchetta has just shot me in the face with the full range of human emotions. I want to throw a temper tantrum because there isn't MORE.

I don't know why, but the books that hit me the hardest like this tend to be fantasy novels. I don't think it's the genre, per se. I think it's what the author manages to accomplish within the genre. A full world, brilliantly plotted and depicted. Characters--not just main characters but secondary characters and even tertiary characters--that I adore. Plotting that is complex and brilliant. And above all, an emotional arc that is so strong it demands to be felt deeply.

I live for these types of books.

And if you do too, go pick up Finnikin of the Rock. (And do yourself a favor and have Froi of the Exiles and Quintana of Charyn on hand. Ignore the questionable covers. If ever there were a time to place your trust in me, it's now, my friend. You can thank me later.)

Now excuse me while I go plot a way to convince Melina to write more fantasy.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

(YA) Love Wins!

We've been celebrating like mad since the SCOTUS announced their ruling yesterday that marriage is for ALL couples. I went to work and promptly dismantled the YA endcap so I could put this up in its place:

Excuse the slightly dark photo--there's no decent way to get a shot that's not backlit by the windows!

I always strive to buy a diverse range of books, but this is the first time I've put all of my LGBTQ YA/MG books together and it makes my heart swell to see how many we have in one place. Plus, it's missing at least three titles (Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley, Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour, and Two Boys Kissing by David Levitathan) because I sold them! Huzzah!

This is a momentous occasion and cause for so much celebration and love. But we still have a long ways to go, and I am confident that through literature we are changing the world. #WeNeedDiverseBooks because readers are diverse and multi-faceted and everyone deserves to see themselves in the books they read.

But this week, #LoveWins!

What are your favorite LGBTQ books or characters?

Friday, June 26, 2015

Rags & Bones: New Twists on Timeless Tales

In the past year or so, I've really gotten into short story anthologies. I really love the interesting concepts and themes of a lot of the YA short story collections that are out there, broad or very precise, and how writers tie their stories into the themes in unique and unexpected ways. Rags & Bones: New Twists on Timeless Tales, edited by Melissa Marr and Tim Pratt, is a book I picked up solely because of the subtitle. 

Retellings are an endless source of fascination to me, whether they're retellings or fairy tales, classic pieces of literature, or grand oral traditions. I think they offer some interesting insights into how people interpret the original stories and it's surprising and cool to see what resonates with the re-teller when it appears in the retold form. It's like catching a glimpse into the brain of the re-teller, which I really like since I am a nosy person.

Rags & Bones includes stories from the editors Pratt and Marr, and Neil Gaiman, Holly Black, Carry Ryan, Kami Garcia, Margaret Stohl, Rick Yancey, Saladin Ahmed, Kelley Armstrong, Gene Wolff, and Garth Nix, plus six illustrations by Charles Vess. The design of this book is lovely, and it's all about looking at classic tales through new and surprising lenses. The Post-Apocalyptic/Futuristic seems to be the most popular lens in this collection (no big surprise), but Neil Gaiman's "The Sleeper and the Spindle," a gender-bending (and fairy tale bending) take on Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, has all of the classic trappings of fairy tales, and it's gorgeous and surprising and probably (no, definitely) my favorite in the collection and makes this book worth purchasing, in my opinion.

I also enjoyed Garcia's retelling of Rumpelstiltskin, set in gang culture. Combining gritty, brutal realism with just an edge of magic was super fascinating, and she pulled it off magnificently. The fairy tale retellings weren't my only favorites: Pratt's version of The Jolly Corner was haunting and nostalgic, and Yancey's version of Hawthorne's "The Birth-Mark" was weird and tragic. I love that the writers aren't afraid to explore tragedy and hubris and unhappy endings--something that we see a little less of in YA novels.

This is probably not the most read-able anthology of YA fiction out there, but it is one of the more literary, interesting ones. It's one that you might not be able to power through, but will enjoy sifting through slowly. Even the illustrations offer playful twists on known tales and legends, making it a great one for teens who are interested in literature. You don't have to know every tale that is retold here, but it might inspire you to seek out a few. If you enjoyed The Curiosities by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff, this is a book for you!

Book purchased at Bear Pond Books, the most charming bookstore in Montpelier, VT.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Come One, Come All: Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley

Some stories are so magical that they sparkle in your mind for a long time after you first hear them. Cassie Beasley's graduate reading at Vermont College of Fine Arts during my first residency almost two years ago was magical, and I'm beyond thrilled that the story she read from is now in a book-shaped package that you can all read: Circus Mirandus!

Micah believes in magic and the stories of the magical Circus Mirandus that his grandpa Ephraim tells him. But Grandpa Ephraim is sick, and great-aunt Gertrudis has come to take care of Ephraim and Micah. Aunt Gertrudis does not believe in magic, and she doesn't like Micah at all. When Micah discovers that The Lightbender from Circus Mirandus owes Grandpa Ephraim a miracle, he sets out with his new friend Jenny Mendoza to track down Circus Mirandus and ask the Lightbender to give Grandpa Ephraim his miracle--before it's too late.

Circus Mirandus is a hypnotic read. I loved Micah from the very beginning. His devotion to his grandfather, his strong faith in magic, and his struggles with great-aunt Gertrudis make for an instantly compelling story. Although this is Micah's story, Cassie brilliantly weaves in Ephraim's story as a young boy, his first encounter with Circus Mirandus, and the stories of various members of the circus. There are a few surprising twists and turns, plenty of delightful magic, and a beautiful emotional story about love, loss, and faith. The story is always surprising, and the ending especially is unexpectedly perfect. Pick up this book if you love magical middle grade novels with big hearts and beautiful writing!

The cover is beautiful, and so is the design of this book. Everything from the dust jacket, the actual book underneath, the end papers, and the magical illustrations. This is one you definitely want to own and hold because a digital file will not do this lovely story justice!

Book provided by publisher!

Monday, June 15, 2015

COVER REVEAL: Charlotte Cuts it Out by K.A. Barson

K.A. Barson is the author of 45 Pounds (More or Less), which is a fantastic contemporary novel that you NEED to read. I've been beyond excited for Kelly's next book, Charlotte Cuts It Out, and I'm thrilled to be able to reveal the cover here!

About the book:
Lydia and I were in eighth grade when we came up with our Grand Plan to go to cosmetology school and get jobs to build our clientele while we earned business degrees. Then we’d open our own salon . . .

Now Charlotte and Lydia are juniors, in a Cosmetology Arts program where they’ll get on-the-job training and college credits at the same time. The Grand Plan is right on schedule. 
Which means it’s time for Step Two: Win the Winter Style Showcase, where Cos Arts and Fashion Design teams team up to dazzle the judges with their skills. 
Charlotte is sure that she and Lydia have it locked up—so sure, in fact, that she makes a life-changing bet with her mother, who wants her to give up cos for college.

And that’s when things start going off the rails.

As the clock ticks down to the night of the Showcase, Charlotte has her hands full. Design divas. Models who refuse to be styled. Unexpectedly stiff competition. And then, worst of all, Lydia—her BFF and Partner in Cos—turns out to have a slightly different Grand Plan . .

Like 45 Pounds (More or Less), K.A. Barson’s Charlotte Cuts it Out is a funny, relatable story set in the heart of the Midwest, just right for girls who have big dreams of their own.
Charlotte Cuts it Out will be available April 5th, 2016! Put it on your wish lists!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Cast Off: The Strange Adventures of Petra de Winter and Bram Boen by Eve Yohalem

When I was in middle school, I devoured the Bloody Jack series and True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi. In high school I continued to follow the Bloody Jack books (Oh, Jacky Faber! Stay irascible!) and I discovered Pirates! by Celia Rees and The Dust of 100 Dogs by A.S. King. My point is--there's nothing like a good historical sea-faring adventure! (Except Moby-Dick.)

 Cast Off by Eve Yohalem fits the bill! Petra de Winter escapes an abusive father by stowing away on a Dutch merchant vessel and enlists the help of Bram Boen. Both stand to lose a lot if Petra is discovered, and Yohalem doesn't shy away from the some-times brutal aspects of life abroad a ship in the 17th century.

The writing is full of little historical quirks that bring the time period and the characters to life without overwhelming the reader. The two voices play off of each other well, and the story is twisty and exciting. Yohalem doesn't shy away from big issues, either--sexism and discrimination are explored within the historical context in interesting ways. This is most definitely an excellent book for fans of Charlotte Doyle, and the friendship between Petra and Bram is excellent.

Cast Off is out now!

Eve Yohalem's first book was ESCAPE UNDER THE FOREVER SKY, which Booklist called “riveting.” She lives with her family in New York City. To learn more, and download a free curriculum guide for CAST OFF, visit her website: eveyohalem.com.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/eyohalem

Fill out the form below to win a copy! And follow the book tour--tomorrow's stop is at thechildrensbookreview.com!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Change is hard

First up, major thanks to all of you for understanding when I took some time last month to finish my final packet. It's in, the feedback has been received and processed, and now I'm thoroughly immersed in my end-of-semester paperwork which is awful and terrible and sad because it means the semester is very nearly over.

The last three times I poured over the end-of-semester paperwork, I cried and then consoled myself first with Ben & Jerry's, and then with the fact that I was headed to Vermont in a month, and I got to do the whole crazy thing all over again. (And it is crazy.) There would be more workshops, more packets, more feedback letters (more glasses of whisky), and more end-of-semester paperwork. But now it's the last semester, and I'm reaching. WHAT ELSE IS THERE?

I still have to practice my lecture. And figure out how KeyNote works. (Seriously, how does KeyNote work?) And then I have to pick out a piece from my manuscript to read. And then practice. And read workshop submissions. And have my final advisor meeting. And buy my plane ticket. And actually, you know, go to Vermont. And attend workshops. And listen to lectures. And deliver my lecture and reading.

And then when residency is over, I have to do one more round of revisions on the manuscript. One round at least. Likely more. Because Chapter Eleven is a godawful hot mess.

And then start something new, a story idea that has been swirling around in my head for the past year.

As hard as it is to face the change, I'm strangely reassured by this endless litany of things I still have to do. Even though I'm leaving the structure of VCFA's incredible program, I'm still piling items on my to-do list. It's not over, it's never over. It makes the change no less hard, but a smidgen less frightening.

One of those to-do list items is going to be to turn my attention back on this blog. I can't say what this blog will look like post-July. I started with a very rigid idea of what this blog would be and adhered to it pretty well for 5+ years, but after the craziness of the last two years, I'm saying to heck with it. I'm going to read books and write books and talk about that here, okay? We'll see what happens.

So I may be done with semester work, but I'm never done with the work.

I leave you with two pictures of my to-read stacks. One contains proof of my eagerness to binge hard on fantasy novels (also, research). The other is my guilt stack--all the not-kidlit books that I've pretended I've read in the past two years when hand-selling books at work. (I've read the first chapters, and my mom said they were good, so it's not like a complete lie.) (Right?) (RIGHT?)

Fantasy ambitions.

"Oh yeah, great book! Doesn't the premise sound fascinating?"

Now excuse me, I have to figure out how to insert a video into a slide without blowing up the rest of my presentation.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Blog Tour: Deadly Design by Debra Dockter

Deadly Design by Debra Dockter is a new YA sci-fi out tomorrow! Deadly Design is about a genetically modified set of twins, Kyle and Connor, who were born two years apart. When Connor's heart stops on his eighteenth birthday, Kyle discovers that other genetically modified teens are dying when they reach eighteen, too. He's spurred into action, not just to discover why his twin died, but to save his own life. 

Debra is here today to talk about villains!

Villains! Where would our characters be without them?

Any fan of Marvel or DC comics knows the importance of good villains. Indeed, any reader of fiction knows that without a good antagonist, a protagonist is about as interesting as watching a relative taking a nap. Without action and danger and those moments of heart-stopping conflict, a story would be…pointless.

As readers, we want to step out of the ordinary, day to day, of our lives. We want to know who the enemy is and we want to bite our nails while the good guy tries to defeat whoever is standing in the way of him getting the happiness he deserves.

Kyle, the main character in Deadly Design, is an exceptional sixteen-year-old. When the protagonist has a lot going for him, he needs to have at least that much – if not more – going against him. Enter the mysterious Dr. Mueller. Mueller is part mad scientist, part psychopath, and part twisted humanitarian. He’s also part artist, only instead of painting on a canvas, he creates in a laboratory by manipulating genes. That’s how he created Kyle and the other superior beings from New Genesis.

The doctor may be evil and crazy, but as readers get to know Kyle, his twin brother, Connor, and the other teens designed by Mueller, I doubt they can stop themselves from admiring Mueller’s handy-work at least a little. Villains should have some redeeming qualities, and the truth is, no matter how evil he is, Mueller is very good at creating human beings the readers will hopefully come to love.

Besides his brilliance in genetic manipulation, Mueller is a compelling villain in that he believes in his cause. Most psychopaths don’t have causes. They have desires to hurt and maim, manipulate and kill, but they usually don’t aspire to winning a Nobel Peace Prize. It’s this difference that makes him so creepy! He believes in his work. He regrets nothing.

There’s a scene in the book, one of my favorites, where Kyle finally gets to meet his arch nemesis. Kyle is funny, smart, and exceptionally good looking. He basically has qualities rivaling those of any Greek demi-god. In that moment in the book (no spoiler alerts), it’s like Leonardo Da Vinci being reunited with his masterpiece, the Mona Lisa. He treasures his creation – his art – but he’s fine with the idea of dousing it in gasoline and lighting a match.

Dr. Mueller is a chilling, intelligent villain – the perfect foe for Kyle to try to defeat. But how do you defeat DNA? How to you crack the code to your own body’s chemical make up? But Kyle has to find a way or he and the others created in the New Genesis labs won’t survive past their eighteenth birthdays.

And just in case you’re thinking this is a story about a battle between a sixteen-year-old boy and a mad scientist, you might want to think again. After all, what’s a story without some unexpected twists and turns?

Deadly Design is out tomorrow!