The Compulsive Reader: October 2015

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Half Wild by Sally Green

Hey, have you read Half Bad yet? If not, then you probably should stop reading this post and read this one first!

Half Wild picks up not long after Half Bad ends off, with Nathan reckoning with his new gifts and a brief encounter with his famous father. Nathan's gift is that same as his father's--the ability to turn into a beast. His inability to control his gift add to his conflicting feelings about his own identity as White or Black Witch, especially as Nathan and Gabriel are caught up in a rebel movement to fight the corrupt White Witches. The story takes them all over Europe, from allies to enemies, and culminating in a devastating betrayal.

I'm not going to lie, you guys. Me reading this book as mostly just shipping Gabriel and Nathan. And then tweeting about my feelings.

The evidence:
Because even though we don't know what happens to Gabriel at the end of Half Bad, of course he's fine. OF COURSE. Because Sally Green can't kill off Gabriel any more than she can write a convincingly romantic scene between Nathan and Annalise, who, by the way, is the worst. And that's not a spoiler, it's just a fact.

The book is full of action, and lots of moving around and emotional angst. Nathan still hasn't really figured himself out in this book, and is still working off of questionable personal motives and allowing himself to be manipulated by people who might be good, might be bad, we can't be sure. Because the characters are constantly moving around and their goals change a lot, the story doesn't feel quite as tight as the first book, but the tension between Nathan and Gabriel more than make up for it all. And along the way, we meet up with some favorite characters from the first book and learn some more about Nathan's parents' past.

The ending was quick and violent and emotionally shocking, but really perfect because it sets up some beautiful conflict and its aftereffects are sure to force Nathan to finally make some very important decisions in the third (and final, I believe?) book, which will be out March 27th, 2016. (And yes, I plan on live-tweeting my reactions at Kristin and making liberal use of the hashtag #natriel. Mark your calendars.)

Book purchased from my indie.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner

Standish Treadwell lives in a cruel world where the Motherland rules all. He has missing parents and a rebel grandfather and one friend named Hector. One day, Hector goes over the wall--the wall that is hiding all of the Motherland's secrets. Standish decides to go after him, but doing so puts Standish, Hector, and everyone in the Motherland at great risk.

To be honest, I'm not sure what I can say about Maggot Moon without giving away too much. So much of the appeal of this book the mystery of the characters and the setting, and how the narrator Standish reveals his world through fragmented, puzzle-piece chapters that skip around in time. Standish's voice is powerful and his fascinating perspective on the bleak world that he lives in draws readers into the story quickly.

The artwork (by Julian Crouch) that unfolds across the chapters like a twisted little flip book also helps to set a dark tone to the whole book. Coupled with the narrative, you can't help but get a sense of action and consequences and inevitability to the story, even as Standish's tale tilts towards tragedy. And even though story swells to a satisfyingly large conclusion, I can't help but wish there had been more to this strange story to grasp on to. It definitely warrants multiple readings and discussions.

Overall, Maggot Moon is a fascinating, intelligent, and chilling read, with bizarre layers and a strong emotional undercurrent. I highly recommend you read it (and then come find me so we can talk).

Friday, October 16, 2015

Cover Reveal: Two Summers by Aimee Friedman

Today I'm thrilled to host the cover reveal of Aimee Friedman's new book, Two Summers! Aimee is also the author of Sea Change, The Year My Sister Got Lucky, and many other YA and MG novels, and she's an editor for children's and teens books.

Here's what it's all about:
ONE SUMMER in the French countryside, among sun-kissed fields of lavender...

ANOTHER SUMMER in upstate New York, along familiar roads that lead to surprises...

When Summer Everett makes a split-second decision, her summer divides into two parallel worlds. In one, she travels to France, where she's dreamed of going: a land of cafes, handsome boys, and art museums. In the other, she remains home, in her ordinary suburb, where she expects her ordinary life to continue - but nothing is as it seems.

In both summers, she will fall in love and discover new sides of herself. What may break her, though, is a terrible family secret, one she can't hide from anywhere. In the end, it might just be the truth she needs the most.

From New York Times bestselling author Aimee Friedman comes an irresistible, inventive novel that takes readers around the world and back again, and asks us what matters more: the journey or the destination.
And here it is!

I love the vibrant blue and poppy reds of this cover--they're so eye-catching! 

Aimee was kind enough to answer a few questions:

TCR: If you had to describe Two Summers in ten words or less, what would they be?

AF: Parallel worlds, France, home, secrets, kisses, big questions, ice cream.

TCR: I love the concept of a split narrative and playing around with the question of "what if..." Was it challenging to plot out the two storylines?

AF: Absolutely. From the seed of this idea until I completed the final manuscript, it took me about three years and many drafts, long talks with my editor, and lots of mapping out timelines. It was essentially like writing two books in one. But it was also an amazing experience and I learned so much in the process, both about writing and about myself and my characters!

TCR: Did you have any ideas for the cover as you were working on the book?

AF: I knew I wanted the cover to in some way get across the two-stories-at-the-same-time trope while also conveying the bright colors and juiciness of summer. And I’m thrilled with what the incredible design team at Scholastic put together!

TCR: Where can we stay up to date on your bookish news between now and the release date?

AF: Follow me on Facebook (facebook.com/aimeefriedman), Twitter (@aimeefriedman), and Instagram (@aimeefriedmanbooks), and also on my website: aimeefriedmanbooks.com

Thanks so much, Aimee! Two Summers will be hitting shelves on April 26th, 2016! Add it to your wish lists!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

25 Random Things About Sherri L. Smith, Author of The Toymaker's Apprentice

I'm a big, big fan of any stories that take on Christmas myths, stories, or traditions, and so I'm very excited to see that author Sherri L. Smith has a new book out this week that does just that--The Toymaker's Apprentice! It's a middle grade novel about the famous Nutcracker story, but with a very clever twist...
Young Stefan Drosselmeyer is a reluctant apprentice to his toymaker father, and he wants nothing more than to escape the family business. That is until the day Stefan’s world is turned upside down when his father is kidnapped by a mice army. Matters only gets worse when he is enlisted by his mysterious cousin, Christian, to find a mythical nut called the krakatook in another world and to cure the Mouse Queen's curse.

Embarking on a wild adventure through Germany and beyond, Stefan must save Boldavia's princess and his own father from the fanatical Mouse Queen and her violent, erratic seven-headed Mouse Prince. Based on The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E.T.A. Hoffmann and The Nutcracker ballet, this fascinating journey through a world of toymaking, magical curses, clockmaking guilds, talking mice, and erudite squirrels will have readers on the edge of their seats until the very last page.
To celebrate the release, Sherri is touring the blogosphere. Today, she's revealing 25 random things about herself:
  1. I am passionate about chocolate chip cookies. In fact I am eating them right now. In my opinion, Ghirardelli 60% bittersweet chips are the only way to go!
  2. I am allergic to California (Palm trees? Check! Native grasses? Check! Traffic? Check!), but I live here anyway.
  3. I rode English and Western horseback as a child.
  4. I took bellydance for three years, culminating in my one and only solo performance to celebrate my birthday.
  5. I took hula for two years, culminating in a big finale at a community center show. We followed the toddler ballet class. They won for cuteness. We never tripped once.
  6. I played flute for half a year in high school just so I could play the part of “Greensleeves” that I knew. This was inspired by Susan Cooper’s the Dark is Rising series, in which a character I had a crush on plays…” Greensleeves” on the flute. See the heights reading can inspire you to attain?
  7. When I was a sophomore, I won second place in a German poetry recitation competition. The poem was “So einer war auch er!” by Arno Holz
  8. I was on an adult kickball team with my husband. Four words still enrage me: Chuck Norris Delta Force. The meanest team we ever played.
  9. E.B. White’s The Trumpet of the Swan gave me the courage to tell my mother I didn’t like mayonnaise when I was a kid. I never liked mayonnaise on my sandwiches, but didn’t know how to say why, until Louis the swan said he didn’t like it either. 
  10. I drink an awful lot of tea. Ginger Peach was my favorite herbal for years, Irish Breakfast is my go to for black. I find peace in the ritual of boiling water and choosing a tea from my cabinet. I have several mugs, but my Donald Duck is designated for mornings, and my Fiesta Ware for evening tea.
  11. I am torn between allowing pots to “soak”—meaning I can avoid them until morning—and actually just washing them right now.
  12. I was in ski club in 7th grade. I have only skied once since then, but I did enjoy it.
  13. I tore my ACL (a ligament in the knee) while dodging a zombie during an obstacle course. I had to have surgery, and my ligament was replaced with a donor tendon. For two years I liked to say I had used the zombie for spare parts, or that I was a little dead inside. But now, my doctors say the new part is all me, the cells replaced with my own. It’s like a tiny resurrection. I’m alive, ALIVE!!!
  14. I talk to myself. A lot. Out loud. Some people find this annoying. Some find it charming. I think it’s hereditary (thanks, Mom).
  15. I once did an aerial cartwheel. That’s “no handsies” for you non-gymnastic folks. Only once, though. It was kind of an accident and I couldn’t repeat it for overthinking the whole impossibility of it all. Kind of like Wile E. Coyote falling out of the sky only when he realizes there is no ground beneath him. Yep. That’s me.
  16. When I was four years old, my favorite food was day old spaghetti, chopped up and reheated in a pot. Delicious.
  17. I also peeled my hot dogs at that age, and refused to eat them without karate chopping them in half, a la Miss Piggy. Ha. Kids. Weird.
  18. My dog had two middle names but my cat does not.
  19. I would like to be two inches taller. For many years, I thought I was. But it turns out my school friends were two inches shorter than they thought, too. It was all a matter of scale.
  20. I think Prague looks like a fairy tale city, all spires and castles and bridges and astronomical clocks. Of course, there are hot dog stands and apartment blocks, too. It is, after all, a real city. But you can squint and just see the magic.
  21. I once sang a French song made famous by a nun in front of a full house in the assembly room of a church and somehow didn’t die of fright, or screw up the song, which was in too high of a key for me. Phew!
  22. I like roasted Brussel sprouts, tomatoes and broccoli, but not necessarily together.
  23. Inspired by a cooking magazine, I once deboned an entire chicken and made a galatine, which is layers of vegetables inside the bird. I trussed the bird back into shape and roasted it for dinner, much to the surprise of my brother, who talks about “the boneless bird” to this day.
  24. I find it strange that some people are bothered by bones in their meat. It’s meat. It has bones. Unless it’s a hot dog. In which case you chop it in half with your hand, just to be sure.
  25. I think Virginia Woolf is simply amazing. Even writing nonsense, she makes sense, like a narrator from a dream.
Thanks so much, Sherri! The Toymaker's Apprentice is out now! Put it on your Christmas lists!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Four Great MG & YA Graphic Novels

This almost feels like a cop-out post, highlighting four graphic novels instead of giving them each their own post. But I'm woefully behind on covering my reading, and hey, graphic novels are like potatoes chips. You can never have just one. You should always have at least four ready to go, right? Right.

So here are four graphic novels I've read recently (ish).

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

I love, love, love this book. It's about twelve-year-old Astrid who, after seeing a roller derby match, decides that she and her best friend Nicole need to enroll in roller derby summer camp. But Nicole isn't as into roller derby as Astrid, and she decides to go to dance camp instead. Astrid feels betrayed, but she's stuck with roller derby--and roller derby is hard. And unfortunately, Astrid isn't anywhere near as good as she hoped she would be. But she hangs in there, with some encouragement from a new friend and her roller derby hero, Rainbow Bite, and learns a few things about honesty and being a good friend.

What makes this story really stand out for me is that it's about a girl who has to learn to deal with the consequences of reality not living up to her expectations, and how to face disappointment. Astrid has a lot of obstacles--her friend "abandoning" her, roller derby is much more difficult than she thought it'd be, and other people succeed much more quickly than she does. There are times when she wants to give up, but she has to learn the hard way that the only way to achieve her dreams is through a lot of hard work--and that failure isn't the end of the journey. Plus, the roller derby came setting is SO MUCH FUN. Overall, this is a really charming and funny story with strong characters and an even stronger voice.

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer and Matthew Holm

When Sunny is sent to live with her grandpa in Florida for the summer, she's excited--Florida is where Disney World is! But Grandpa lives in a retirement community, where Sunny is the only kid. Until she meets Buzz, and they stumble into a lucrative business finding missing cats and golf balls and spending their reward money on comic books. But the whole summer, everyone is avoiding talking about the real reason Sunny is in Florida for the summer.

Sunny Side Up is a funny and mostly upbeat graphic novel that dances around the troubles Sunny has at home, before the start of the novel. The characters are what make this book compelling--Sunny, her grandfather, Buzz, the eclectic older ladies in the retirement community, and Sunny's troubled older brother. Because the major thrust of the story comes through flashbacks to the previous year, the present story is pretty light and the action feels a bit distant, but the message about dealing with secrets and uncertainty is something that younger readers will definitely be able to relate to.

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Nimona, longlisted for the National Book Award, has certainly gotten lots of great attention. I'm not sure what else I can add to the discussion, except to say that I enjoyed it a great deal. It's about a villain, Lord Ballister Blackheart who has a vendetta against Sir Ambrosias Goldenloin and is committed to proving that Ambrosia and the kingdom are not heroic and perfect. When a shapeshifter named Nimona comes to town, determined to help Ballister, Ballister finds his hands full diffusing the tension caused by Nimona's mischief--especially when it escalates dramatically. Who is she, really? And what does she want?

The best part about Nimona is perhaps the world that Stevenson very skillfully creates, a fun mash-up of medieval fantasy and mad science. The characters and the situations are delightfully over the top, but not without compelling emotional stories. This is an excellent story about friendship and learning to trust, with epic stakes and confrontations. The story genuinely surprised and excited me with its twists, and it manages to be laugh-outloud funny and unexpectedly touching at the same time. Definitely a winner.

Mercury by Hope Larson

Set in Nova Scotia, this graphic novel offers a compelling split narrative united by setting and family. In 1859, Josey's family welcomes a stranger into their home who shows them that their homestead contains gold and promises them riches. In present day, Tara's old house has burned down and her family has split up. Rumors of gold will spell out tragedy for one girl, and perhaps offer salvation for another.

The contrasts between the stories, and the question of gold, gives Mercury a good amount of tension. The historical story is taut with hints of supernatural and tinged with superstition--ghosts, visions, curses. Josey is hopeful and willfully ignores the subtle warnings. Meanwhile, Tara's story plays out against a very normal, almost banal modern backdrop. She's already lost a lot of hope for the future, but she is continually drawn to the rumors of her family's past and what happened in 1859, and the necklace that unites the two stories. Larson doesn't answer all of the readers' questions about the story, but the climax certainly delivers on all that it promises. Mercury is subtly creepy and memorable.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Walk On Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

Leah Westfall lives with her parents on their farm in Georgia, and is not the average young lady. Due to her father's failing health, she has taken on much of the work of farming and hunting and providing for her family. But Lee also has a secret--she has the ability to sense gold, and the gold she finds has saved her family from destitution more than once. Unfortunately, it's also given her family a "lucky" reputation that has made more than a few people suspicious.

One day Lee comes home to find her father murdered, her family's hidden gold stolen, and her mother telling her to run with her dying breath. Lee is reluctant to leave her family home and everything they've worked for, but it quickly becomes clear that her parents' killer knows about her ability and wants to use her. So Lee follows her best friend Jefferson west to California, where gold has recently been discovered, hoping to find freedom--and gold, of course.

I love this historical novel with a fantasy twist, and the characters in this novel are positively vibrant in Rae Carson's very capable hands. Leah is strong-willed and independent, enlightened and intelligent, but still a product of her own time period. When she's forced to flee, she disguises herself as a boy and works extra hard to avoid suspicion or detection. The lengths she goes to in order to avoid detection are very revealing of the times, and how women were overlooked and viewed as commodities, not people.

Carson has clearly done extensive research to make Lee and Jefferson's journey west vivid and heartbreakingly real, but the story never feels too rigid with extra research or superfluous information. The time period comes across in expressive details and through the perspective and actions of many different characters. Racism and bigotry are very real challenges that the characters face, along with disease, lack of water, exhaustion, and poor health care and treatment of injuries. In some ways, this book feel less like a fantasy novel and more like a very well-written historical fiction novel that just happens to have a fantasy element, but that's okay--the real challenges and injustices of the journey west, and the politics of the group that Lee travels with, are every bit as compelling as Lee's ability to divine gold.

And Carson does lay the groundwork for more action as a result of Lee's ability. She questions where the ability comes from, hints at Lee's obscured family history, and uses Lee's gold-seeking talents to help advance Lee's inner character growth as she learns to trust people with all of her secrets and identifies her own found family.

If I have any complaints, it's that the book ends far too quickly, with Lee and gang arriving in California, a land full of possibility. Luckily for us, this is only the first in a planned trilogy. Unluckily, we might have to wait a while for book two. That's okay, though--Walk on Earth a Stranger is more than worthy of multiple re-reads in the meantime!

Book purchased at my indie.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Books That Will Send a Shiver Down Your Spine

October is undoubtedly my favorite time of year. To paraphrase Rainbow Rowell, I was born in May but I come alive in October. The leaves, the cool air, the SWEATERS! (I have a thing for sweaters, okay?) And the creepy books and stories. I have never been a horror movie girl, but I am all about reading creepy sinister suspenseful books with characters that have a bit of darkness in them and  whose stories have bloody, murderous, and terrible endings. Yes, please.

That's not weird or anything, right?

And since those sorts of stories and October just go together, here's a highlight of some of the best books for your October reading!

If you want subtly creepy, atmospheric, magical realism...

The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle

Every October is the accident season in Cara Morris's family. The accidents start small and escalate into deadly, and this year might just be the worst accident season yet.

If you want a fairy tale with a dark twist...

Baba Yaga's Assistant by Marika McCoola and Emily Carroll

Masha runs away from home to be Baba Yaga's assistant, but first she has to pass three tests to prove that she has what it takes.

If you want an anthology of dark short stories...

Slasher Boys & Monster Girls, ed. by April Genevieve Tucholke

A collection of dark stories with plenty of bite from fourteen YA authors.

If you want witches and dark magic...

Half Bad by Sally Green

Nathan is half Black Witch and half White Witch. Whichever side of him prevails will determine his fate.

If you want unique magic and spells...

The Cost of All Things by Maggie Lehrman

In this twist on our world, hekamists can imbue food with spells, but with unanticipated consequences.

If you want creepy crawly in a historical setting...

Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray

I'm halfway through this dazzling and spooky sequel to The Diviners and it is perfect for this time of year!

If you want a middle grade novel with YA levels of darkness...

The Thickety: A Path Begins by J.A. White

Kara's mother was tried and hanged for being a witch seven years ago, and now twelve-year-old Kara may have found her grimoire.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Emperor of Any Place by Tim Wynne-Jones

I had a soft spot for this book before I even started reading it. It's by Tim Wynne-Jones, one of the amazing faculty members at VCFA, and since my very first residency in 2013 I've had the pleasure of hearing Tim read from this story during faculty readings. It was a radically different story the first time I heard it--I'm pretty sure the dad was still alive (don't worry, not a spoiler). I know Tim has worked incredibly hard on this novel, and no one was more excited than the VCFA community to hear that it was going to be published.

In the beginning of the novel, Evan's father has just passed away unexpectedly. Grief-stricken Evan finds a mysterious book in his dad's study, something that his dad was reading before he died. It's the journal of Japanese soldier Isamu Oshiro, who went missing during World War II, and the American soldier who finds him. Something about the book frightens Evan's estranged grandfather and only living relative, Griff, who shows up after his dad's death and begins searching for the book. Evan turns to the book and its origin to understand the the mysteries his father and grandfather guarded, and uncover the truth about what really happened to Isamu all those years ago.

The Emperor of Any Place is a brilliant blend of history and family dynamics and magical realism. Although the majority of the story is Evan's, Wynne-Jones goes back and forth between Evan's story and Isamu's, building suspense and a strong emotional connection between the two characters. Isamu's journal details the events that occur after he is marooned on a tiny Pacific island, and slowly realizes that he is not alone there. Isamu's fantastic story is contrasted against Evan's entirely realistic one, as Evan struggles to find understand what it is that haunts Griff. Griff is precise, commanding, and sometimes terrifying as Evan digs deeper into the mystery, but he's also intriguing and smart and not exactly the villain that Evan has always thought he was.

What I love about The Emperor of Any Place is how Wynne-Jones talks about war and its far-reaching effects through the interplay of these two storylines. Each character is vivid and real, and the novel highlights the surprising relationships that develop between the characters as enemy soldiers fight against the horrors of war to work together, and estranged relatives wade through years of hurt and animosity to find common ground. This book reminded me of one of my favorite novels, Jellicoe Road, and how consequences of terrible events ripple through generations. Like Jellicoe Road, the characters in this novel reckon with the past while looking for a path to the future, but The Emperor of Any Place has a wider scope and its message about war and violence and reconciliation is more deeply felt. This is an outstanding and engrossing novel with heartbreak and loss, and surprising moments of humor and compassion. I already want to re-read it.

The Emperor of Any Place is out October 13th!

ARC provided by publisher!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Illuminae Giveaway

Hey everyone, welcome to the Illuminae Blog tour. I've been hearing lots of great things about this book and its exciting format, and I'm sure you have, too! If you're wondering what all the hype is about, then here's the chance to find out--I'm giving away a copy of the book to a lucky blog reader (thanks to the generosity of Random House!).

But first, here's what the book is about:
This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do.

This afternoon, her planet was invaded.

The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto one of the evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But pursuit by battleship is the least of their worries. Their fleet’s artificial intelligence—which should be protecting them—may actually be an enemy. And a plague is slowly ravaging the fleet with terrifying consequences. As Kady plunges into a web of data hacking in search of the truth, she realizes that there’s only one boy who can help her bring everything to light . . . and of course, it’s her ex-boyfriend, Ezra.

Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—ILLUMINAE is a ground-breaking, edge-of-your-seat thrill ride that will draw teen and adult readers of James Dashner, Rick Yancey, and Veronica Roth yet stands on its own with Kaufman and Kristoff’s unique storytelling.
That sounds amazing, right? It also sounds like something that might fill the Battlestar Galatica void in my life. The book is out on October 20th! In the meantime...enter away!