The Compulsive Reader: March 2016

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Half Lost by Sally Green (Team #Natriel 4Ever)

Half Lost, the final book in Sally Green's Half Bad trilogy is out now! Cue all of the Team #Natriel feelings!

As you may have gleaned from my posts about Half Bad and Half Wild, I've been eagerly awaiting the conclusion of this trilogy for a few months. I was fortunate to score an ARC (thanks, Penguin Teen!!) and so I have read it, and I think I'm still processing. Just a heads up, this post is going to get spoilerific!

Half Lost picks up after Annalise betrays Nathan and the Alliance fighters (GASP! But come on, we saw this one coming, right?), forcing Nathan to kill his father, eat his heart, and absorb all of his powers. So basically, all of Nathan's worst fears, right? At the beginning of the third book, Nathan and Gabriel are in the woods, being all broody (mostly Nathan) and avoiding other humans because of the danger (Nathan, once again). The Alliance knows of a secret weapon that just might help them to defeat the evil white witches, but only Nathan can retrieve it. Nathan isn't as interested in defeating the white witches as he is in exacting revenge from Annalise. As his death count rises, Nathan begins receiving visions of defeat and death, making him wonder if there'll ever be any end to the violence.

My friend Sara found this great photo that really captures the tenor of the entire book:

Pretty accurate.

What I loved about this book: Gabriel. He's perfection. Not just because he's this calming influence on Nathan and he tries to convince Nathan to just run away with him and start a new life together, but because he also gets kind of frustrated with Nathan's stabby emotional issues, yet he doesn't give up on him. These two are just too adorable, and let me just say that I got halfway through the book and was VERY pleased with the state of Team #Natriel.

The plot was pretty predictable--Nathan has to be convinced to go retrieve the weapon, he does so and of course it's not what he expected. He returns to the Alliance, and they make plans to finally take on the white witches, which they do...at devastating lost.

This is the point in the book where I started to get scowly. Because, ahem, the BEST PART ABOUT THIS TRILOGY dies. The book ends on a really depressing, yet weirdly romantic note that had me simultaneously crying and huffing in anger. I suppose it had to end this way--after everything that goes down in this trilogy, all of the violence, this book has actually a sort of peaceful ending. Super depressing, but peaceful. I can't say as I loved it, but I acknowledge that finding an alternative ending that was believable and also happily ever after would have been...difficult. But I like happily ever after. In human form. Not I'm-now-a-tree-so-I-can-spiritually-be-with-my-one-true-love happily ever after.

Yeah, that was a spoiler. I did warn you.

This trilogy has a lot going on, some of which worked for me, a lot that did not, but the chemistry between Nathan and Gabriel is something that Sally Green always did really well, and I envy that ability. It kept me reading through three entire books! I'll be very curious to see what she writes next!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley

I've been a big fan of John Corey Whaley's novels since my first semester of grad school, when my roommate told me that Where Things Come Back was one of the best books she'd ever read. I picked it up on her recommendation and fell in love. I also really loved the off-the-wall poignancy of Noggin.

Highly Illogical Behavior combines my favorite parts of Whaley's first two novels--the strong emotional pull of Where Things Come Back, and the fantastic humor of Noggin. It's about Solomon, an agoraphobic with anxiety issues, who hasn't left the house in years, and Lisa, the ambitious yet misguided girl who wants to "cure" him so she can get into a psychology program, and ends up becoming his friend. Along the way, Lisa's boyfriend Clark befriends Solomon as well, and soon the three of them are closer than ever. But as they each question their own feelings and perceptions of what each other wants, their pursuit of honesty threatens their friendship.

I fell in love with this book on the first page. Whaley sets up Solomon and his life so perfectly and succinctly, he was never a character I pitied. I worried about him, sure, and I hoped that he would get what he wanted and needed (friends, some bit of control over his anxiety, the ability to walk outside to swim in his pool), but Solomon is not a character you look down on. He may not have much say in whether he can leave the house, but he has autonomy. One of my favorite parts of the entire book was when Lisa and Solomon meet for the first time, and Solomon seemingly opens up to Lisa, and in the process shocks her. Then he looks at her and says, "Lisa, I'm fucking with you."

I laughed so hard I nearly cried.

Lisa, on the other hand, is a bit more complicated. She's motivated to help Solomon, but she's not a bad person, either. Her naivety and willful ignorance of the fact that what she's doing could potentially cause more harm than good is troublesome at first, but the more you get to know her, the more you like her. She and Solomon are great friends, and she is excellent at getting him to open up. As the story progresses and she introduces Solomon to Clark, it becomes apparent that Lisa is looking to fill a void in her own life, and she struggling to make sense of a lot things she can't understand.

The friendship between the three of these characters was the best. I so loved reading about their antics, and their banter is both hilarious and profound. This is a friendship story to beat all other friendship stories, and I would read it again in an instant just for the scenes in which those three teens hang out. At a certain point, I wasn't sure how this story would resolve itself, which was pretty exciting. It seems perfectly fitting then that what causes these friends to unravel a bit is Lisa's tendency to overanalyze relationships and assume things. This leads to the inevitable revelation of the truth, but there were still enough surprises and twists in the last fifty pages that I was surprised and delighted at how Whaley wrapped everything up.

Bonus points: Solomon's parents and his grandmother were FANTASTIC characters.

A++, all the stars, will read this one again. Multiple times.

Thanks to Penguin Group for the ARC!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood by Liesl Shurtliff Blog Tour

Welcome to the RED blog tour!

When I first started my MFA program at VCFA, one of the very first middle grade books I read was Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin. I loved the fun, humorous, and very clever twist on the Rumpelstiltskin story, and that book has been one of my favorite books to recommend at the bookstore. She followed up with Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk, and I'm so thrilled that her third book has circled back around to Red, whom we first met in Rump!

Red's grandmother is a powerful witch, and Red has inherited her abilities. But magic is tricky and sly, and one very big magical mistake has Red fearful of what could happen if she continues to use her magic. So she sets it aside and ignores it--until one day Granny falls sick and no simple cure will help her get better. Red sets off into The Woods in search of a magical solution that will help Granny, accompanied by a nosy girl named Goldie. Together, Red and Goldie are stalked by a wolf, meet a huntsman on a mission, encounter dwarves, bears, beasts, and a whole lot of magic.

Like in her previous two books, Shurtliff plays with bits and pieces of fairy tales to cobble together a truly delightful story about magic and fear, and finding the courage to face the unknown future with a few good friends at your side. Red is a prickly character who is on a mission, and doesn't want to take time to get to know the characters that surround her. Luckily for her, Goldie is persistent and is on a mission of her own. As the two girls travel through The Woods and encounter various enchantments that prevent people from ever dying, they also discover that such magic comes at a terrible price. As they overcome each obstacle, they learn that magic in itself isn't entirely bad, but magic driven by fear tends to be dangerous. This journey gives Red the knowledge and the courage to realize her own magical destiny, save her friends and herself, and face the future.

Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood will be available on April 12th! In the meantime, catch up by reading Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin and Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk, and enter to win a copy of Red below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

You Were Here by Cori McCarthy

Happy YOU WERE HERE day!

Today is the release of my friend Cori McCarthy's newest book, You Were Here! You Were Here is a beautifully written book about grief, urban exploring, heartbreak, and love.

The story centers around Jaycee Strangelove, who lost her brother Jake five years ago after a dared stunt that went terribly wrong. Now Jaycee has just graduated from high school and she's haunted by the fact that she's older than her brother will ever be. When she finds a list of abandoned places in Jake's room, she sets out to visit each of them in the hopes that she'll feel closer to her brother. She's joined by Natalie, her uptight ex-best friend who is haunted by her own actions and memories; Zach, the jock who's afraid to grow up; Bishop, the poet who can't stop mourning girl who broke his heart; and Mik--Jake's friend, selectively mute, and hopelessly in love with Jaycee.

You Were Here is told from each character's perspective, which shows impressive skill on the part of the author. Jaycee's chapter are told in first-person, Natalie and Zach's in third, Bishop's perspective shines through in his poetry and the street art he creates, and Mik's is told through graphic novel panels. The mixed media blends together beautifully as the five teens traipse across Ohio to various abandoned places and deal with the emotional wreckage of their past and present.

One of the coolest things about this book (besides the beautiful artwork, which is done by Sonia Liao), is that each of the five places the characters visit are actual places. The Ridges is an old insane asylum that still stands, Manville Tunnel is an abandoned railroad tunnel in the woods, The Gates of Hell is a creepy-looking old drain, Randall Park Mall really was a mall that was abandoned and stood empty for a while (and has since been torn down), and Geauga Lake was once the world's largest amusement park. These places really come to life through Cori's vivid storytelling and Sonia's artwork.

This is a darkly funny, surprisingly sexy, and highly emotional story you don't want to miss! You can even order a signed copy from my local indie by clicking here!