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The Compulsive Reader: December 2015

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

My Favorite Books of 2015

The more I read, the more I resist the idea of "best of year" book lists. First of all, picking just a few books to represent a year of reading 100+ books? How is that even possible? It's not. Second, it's all so subjective. The reasons why I like a book and why I put it on my list might not be the same for you, so I'm left feeling like I need to justify my reasoning. I've also been reading my back-list titles, re-reading titles, and taking forever to get around to books, so the books I loved and read might not necessarily ones that came out in the year that I read them in. So for the past year or so, I've gone rogue with my "best of" lists. Enjoy.

Favorite Sequel

Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

I think I said it best in my review: "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." I stand by this. It was a delightful sequel that had me bouncing in my seat as I read it. It was worth the wait, even if that wait was difficult!

Favorite Contemporary Realistic Novel

My Best Everything by Sarah Tomp

I called this the Breaking Bad of YA--girl cooks up a plan to make moonshine to pay for college--only significantly less profane. I think Tomp did amazing things with her world-building, and I loved that this book felt very real and grounded alongside the high stakes and danger.

Favorite Magical Realism Novels

Apparently 2015 was the year of magical realism novels! I read three that I absolutely adored:

I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

I knooooooooow, I'm so late to the game here. I loved this book. I thought it was beautifully written and I adored the characters. I spent serious time trying to figure out who I loved more, Jude or Noah. I came to no conclusions. I love them so much, and their story was beautiful and heartbreaking. Read it read it read it.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

I don't know how to talk about this book--it's so different from anything I've ever read before. It spans three generations of women, all with strange powers and gifts. They experience heartache and happiness (but mostly heartache). Their stories and experiences lead to narrator Ava Lavender's story in the present day, tragic and magical. The writing is exquisite. The story is captivating. And that cover! I loved it.

The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle

This books pretty much appealed to me at first glance--that cover! That title! And the premise--a family experiences what they call "the accident season" every October. It starts with small accidents, and escalates into larger tragedies as the month goes on. This accident season is different--worse. It exceeded my expectations! The Irish setting was also beautifully realized! This is an amazing debut, and an author to watch!

The Emperor of Any Place by Tim Wynne-Jones

It's true that I am inclined to love this book because I've heard bits and pieces read at VCFA residencies over the past two years and they were all great, but this entire novel delivers. It weaves two stories, separated by continents and generations but delicately linked, beautifully. This book reminds me of one of my favorites, Jellicoe Road, and it is brilliant in its own right. I can't recommend it highly enough!

Favorite Speculative Fiction

Walk On Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

I've been waiting for this book for what sees like forever--magical historical gold rush book!!! Not only is it a wonderful bit of historical fiction, with diverse representation, but the magical bits add great mystery and stakes. The wait for book two is gonna kill me.

Shadows of Sherwood: A Robyn Hoodlum Adventure by Kekla Magoon

Imagine Robin Hood as a young fugitive girl in a futuristic society in the midst of violent coup. Do I need to say anymore? No, I didn't think so! This is technically a middle grade novel, but it's upper MG, and I think a great YA crossover title. It pays homage to the original tale in clever ways, but it's also a wonderfully unique story on its own. I hope there are lots of Robyn Hoodlum books!

The Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta: Finnikin of the Rock, Froi of the Exiles, and Quintana of Charyn

I KNEW these books were going to be spectacular because my friends have been on my case to read them for a while, but I don't think I was fully prepared for how amazing these books are. They have topped my list of all-time favorite fantasy novels. The world, the characters, the story--all unbelievably amazing. Just talking about them makes me want to re-read them all at once. It was a magical two weeks of reading this July...

Favorite Graphic Novels

Roller Girls by Victoria Jamieson

This story is so unapologetically charming and fun. I loved that it explored the world of roller derby and frankly shows that loving something isn't enough--you have to work hard for it. It also showed complicated friendship dynamics without falling into familiar narrative ruts. It's my number-one recommendation, and I've sold it to people of all ages. Such perfection!

Lumberjanes (Volumes 1 & 2) by Stevenson, Ellis, Waters, Allen

Lumberjanes is a wonderful, witty, and fun comic series about a group of girls at a supernatural Girl Scouts-esque summer camp. It's smart and sharp and empowering, and the stories are so solid. The first two volumes are out, and sadly the third and fourth volumes are slow to follow, but they are coming in 2016! (And hopefully more to follow!)

Favorite Adult Books

Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart

Stewart does amazing things with a true account about the first female deputy in the U.S. Constance Kopp is an unconventional woman in 1915 who refuses to back down when a criminal runs into her buggy. The consequences put her and her two younger sisters in danger, but she chooses to fight back and finds an unexpected calling. This fictionalized account is witty and engrossing. I am so excited that Stewart has turned to writing fiction, and I can't wait for more of her novels!

The Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacot Books by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling): The Cuckoo's Calling, The Silkworm, and Career of Evil

First off, I think J.K. Rowling is an amazing writer. Not only did she create a brilliant children's series, but she can write brilliant (and dark!) mysteries. Her characters Cormoran and Robin are wonderful, and the mysteries they investigate are twisty and fascinating. I tore through all three books this fall, and I can't keep them in stock at the bookstore because I keep selling them. I know Rowling is probably super duper busy, but I am dying for book four!

What are some of your favorite books read this year?


Friday, December 18, 2015

Bookselling in December

I love the Christmas season. When I was a kid, it seemed to stretch out for ages and ages, and the only thing to do was just relish it. Now that I'm older, it zips by merrily and I'm often left wishing for an extra week of merriment and baking and Christmas music and at least three more viewing of A Christmas Story and always more time to read. I've been busy working on novel revisions each morning, and working extra long hours at the bookstore, which leaves very little time for reading (and blogging) but requires lots of talking about books and stories, which is my second favorite thing ever.

I think of the Christmas season Bookselling Olympics. It warms my heart to see so many people flood the bookstore looking for gifts, and every year my Christmas spirit is bolstered by so many people who still want to give and receive books for the holiday. For me, Christmas and new books have always gone hand in hand. Books are one of the few gifts that really endure, and I still have many of my Christmas books from childhood. As a friend recently exclaimed at a birthday party--"That's a forever present!"

I love it when people come in with lists and I get to go pull things from the shelves, but more often than not I see customers who don't know exactly what they're looking for. This is fine--hand-selling is my jam. I love telling other people what to read. But how successfully I can hand-sell a book depends on how much a customer is willing to tell me about themselves or the person they're buying for, and how willing they are to trust me. I love a person who is open to suggestions but honest with their feedback. When looking for a new book, this is not a time to spare my feelings. I'm tough. I can take it. I might go fume a bit after you leave if you tell me that Melina Marchetta's book was less than brilliant, but I will not let my emotion show during our interaction. I am a professional. This is not about me.

People who hold back a little trickier to hand-sell to, but I'm always happy to rise to a challenge. However, this Christmas season has seen an unprecedented number of people who reject my book suggestions for inscrutable reasons. Reasons that leave me standing in the middle of the store with a politely confused expression while my mind scratches out static. Observe four of my most puzzling interactions:

1. Customer presents herself at the counter, asking for recommendations for her fifteen-year-old granddaughter who enjoys horror, but grandma doesn't want to buy anything too gory. Understandable. Grandparents are tricky to sell to because 83% of them know nothing about YA, and the chances are good that they think their grandchildren should either be reading Nancy Drew or Homer, no middle ground. Forget genre fiction.

But I got this! I pull Gretchen McNeil, Libba Bray, Kendare Blake, Holly Black. The grandmother looks on in mild horror and I realize I've overwhelmed her. I try to dial it back. Too late. She looks like she's about to flee. I start pushing books back on the shelf, but she picks up the slimmest paperback I've pulled. She weighs it in her hand. "I'm just afraid..."

Yep, I've overwhelmed her. I've let my zeal for YA ruin another customer interaction. When will I ever learn?

"I'm just worried that it'll be too big for her," the customer continues. "My granddaughter is just a tiny little thing."

She holds up her hand to indicate how short her granddaughter is. Very, very short.

"She's tiny and I just think these will all be too heavy for her to carry around."

I sag with relief. My tastes are not off.

"Do you have anything smaller? Or lighter? Not as many pages?"

2. Customer presents himself at the counter. He looks vaguely familiar, like I've seen him around in the bookstore before, which is likely. He asks for some mystery recommendations. I enthusiastically show him the section and babble on and on about Robert Galbraith and Tana French. He nods as he scans the shelves, half-listening, like I'm just pleasant background noise to his book-browsing experience.

He picks up The Cuckoo's Calling, cracks it open, examines a page. Turns the page. Turns another page. And another and another, faster and faster now. I match the tempo of my spiel to the rate at which he turns the pages until he smacks the book shut, looks at me and says, "There are a lot of quotation marks in this book. On almost every page."

"Yeah..."

"I hate quotation marks. Does this book come in an edition without them?"

"I'm afraid not."

Disappointed sighing ensues. From both of us.

3. "Oh yeah, that sounds good, definitely sounds like something my brother would like. He likes weird stuff, but he's smart too. He's a professor."

I glow with pride as I hold out The Bone Clocks. "Great! Do you want me to set this on the counter for you?"

"The only thing is..."

Glowing dims.

"Is this the only copy you have?"

"Yes."

"Does it come in any other cover?"

"No, the covers were the same for the paperback and hardcover editions."

"Oh...that won't work. My brother doesn't like the color blue. And I don't want to give him a blue book, you know? Because it's a Christmas gift. You know what I mean?"

I don't, but I nod enthusiastically.

4. "And, Umberto Eco does have a new one! It's called Numero Zero!" I pull a copy off the shelf and proffer it to the customer.

"Hm." He examines it, then hands it back to me. "How much?"

"Twenty-four dollars."

"How many pages is it?"

I flip to the end. "Looks like...204? 205? A little better than 200."

Customer pulls out his iPhone, brings up calculator, punches in numbers. Looks up from iPhone. "I'll pass. I don't buy books that cost more than ten cents a page to read."



And with that, I leave you. I'm due at the bookstore.





Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray

Those of you who have been with this series since the release of The Diviners understand a little something about waiting. We've been waiting for Lair of Dreams for years. Many times we would check Amazon for the release date, get excited, and become disappointed when it was inevitably pushed back by months (okay, three times by my count). But we waited, because we knew Libba Bray would make our wait worthwhile. And how.

It's a little difficult to summarize this monster of a book (it's over 600 pages and bigger than most bookends), but here we go: The sleeping sickness hinted at in The Diviners has started to take over the city, and no one knows where it's coming from or how to cure it, not even the Diviners. Henry, a sleepwalker, meets Ling, a girl from Chinatown with the impressive ability to commune with the dead through her dreams. They're searching for different things, but they team up to explore the magical, dangerous dream world.

Meanwhile, Evie has risen to stardom, but she's more self-destructive than ever. When a little lie puts her in cahoots with Sam, she finds herself venturing back into the darker corners of the Diviner world and none too happy about it. Meanwhile, Jericho is doing all he can to save the Museum of the Creepy Crawlies while Will is on a research trip, and trying not to think about Evie. And things are going great between Theta and Memphis, except...Theta is still keeping secrets and Memphis is struggling to deal with the return of his own abilities.

There's a lot going on in this book, but Henry and Ling's exploration of the dreamworld and their developing friendship takes center stage. Bray skillfully sets up a sinister force, giving the sleeping sickness a persona and dark desires that are near impossible to break free from, and its origins are tangled with the history of New York City and Diviner lore.

And let's talk about Diviner lore for a moment: Bray does a brilliant job at weaving in the history of Diviners with American mysticism and other folklore around the world. (Guys. There's even a Gemma Doyle cameo!) Not only does it make the magic of this book that much more authentic, but it makes the history and culture of the 1920's just pop off the page. This book is so meticulously researched; the historical details aren't just interesting signposts, but essential to the heart of the story.

The balancing of the characters and the action is impressive, and I think it does flow more quickly and smoothly in this installment than it did in The Diviners. Like The Diviners, Lair of Dreams does offer a full arc, with a mystery, conflict, and resolution, but it does reveal a little more about the larger mystery of why the Diviners are important and what exactly is happening in their world, with very few answered questions. Which means that we are in for another long wait. I don't mind. I'll likely be in my thirties before this series is finished. I know it'll be worth it.

Book purchased at indie!