The Compulsive Reader: May 2016

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

Hermione Winters is at the top of her game: she's cheerleading co-captain with her best friend Polly, and they're about to have the best-ever cheer camp before launching their final season. Their team has been cursed for the past few years with losing a member, and Hermione is determined to break that curse through hard work and teamwork. But her carefully-constructed plans are derailed one night at camp, when something is slipped into her drink. She wakes up the next morning in the hospital, unable to remember the sexual assault that occurred after everything went black. In the weeks that follow, Hermione deals with the aftermath of the assault, resisting the stigma of being a victim while at the same time attempting to make peace with the fact that she may never know what happened that night.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear is a bold re-imaging of A Winter's Tale that takes an unflinching look at the aftermath of an assault and how Hermione forges ahead. The nature of the subject matter is emotional, enraging, heartbreaking, usually within the space of a page, but I have a fierce admiration for Johnston in that Hermione's story never once felt exploitative, and that it didn't gratuitously linger in the awfulness of what Hermione experienced. Hermione is tough and determined, but she doesn't muscle her way through this experience on her own. She has an incredible support system in her parents, her coach, her best friend Polly, and some of her cheerleading teammates. This network and how Hermione assembles her team of people to help get her through this--and her acknowledgement of her vulnerabilities and need for help is what makes her truly strong.

As much as this book is about the aftermath of a life-changing assault, it's also not. It's about growing up, being on the brink of something new and unseeable and scary and exciting, and it's about making decisions about an uncertain future. It's about learning learning to value your established relationships even as you grow into new ones. This is what makes Exit, Pursued by a Bear stand out to me--the simple fact that it's about positive healing and a support system makes it unusual and remarkable to me. On one hand, I feel a tiny bit sad that this idea is so revolutionary to me, but mostly I am just so grateful that Johnston has given us a book that will help influence and change the narrative about healing from sexual assault. Hermione's story is not everyone's story, and her journey isn't easy or magical, or even solved simply, but it shows readers another positive way towards healing. It reaffirms that that sexual assault isn't the beginning or ending of a person. That's a story that will always be important.

And, okay, switching gears here--how amazing is that cover? if you're going to have a cheerleader on your book cover, it better be that cheerleader. Such a kick-ass cover. It's perfect for this story.

Book purchased via indie Brilliant Books!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood

Jessica Spotswood is the author of the Cahill Witch trilogy, which I read and loved about two years ago. (The books are Born Wicked, Star Cursed, and Sisters' Fate!) She's also the editor of the fantastic A Tyranny of Petticoats anthology. Wild Swans is a little different from these previous books, but no less enjoyable!

Ivy Milbourn has always felt the weight of her family's legacy. Milbourn women are extraordinary: Her great-grandmother was a famous poet, her grandmother a talented painter, and her mother was a beautiful singer--right before she abandoned Ivy with her granddad. Ivy's spent most of her life looking for her great talent, and she's finally managed to secure a summer free of art lessons and college classes. She plans to swim and hang out with friends, just have fun. Then her mother shows up for the first time in years--with two more daughters Ivy didn't even know existed, complicating Ivy's previously held ideas about the Milbourn legacy.

I'm going to admit upfront that I am a sucker for the estranged parent/surprise sibling trope. Perhaps it's because I spent so many hours imagining that I had a long-lost sibling as a kid (weird, I know--but hey, I was an only child for a long time, and I watched a LOT of Parent Trap). The drama of the story appealed to me immediately, and Spotswood takes it up another notch (and genuinely surprised me) when Ivy discovers that her mom has told her little sisters that Ivy is their aunt, not their sister. Crazy, right? The family dynamics are so fraught and interesting at the same time and Spotswood does a really great job exploring the nuances of the tiny dramas alongside the big ones.

Ivy's intense family dynamics and the expectations placed on her are balanced with a pretty swoon-worthy romance with her granddad's literature student, Connor. Connor is pretty much perfect, but his presence creates some interesting tension in Ivy's life. Her long-time friend Alex is hurt when Ivy starts dating him, and Ivy works to keep her relationship with Connor secret from her family--her mother is looking to exploit and evidence of Ivy being reckless, and Connor is Grandad's student. Add this romantic drama to how Ivy navigates her relationships with her two best friends, each with issues and family problems of their own, and there's more than enough interesting threads to fill the novel while Ivy grapples with her own feelings of inadequacy as a Milbourn girl. The plot is pretty tame compared to the plots of Spotswood's earlier books, but this standalone is just as emotionally hefty and breathlessly romantic.

Book purchased from my indie!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Summer Days and Summer Nights Blog Tour

One of the most fun anthologies I've read in recent years was Stephanie Perkins' My True Love Gave to Me, a Christmas/holiday-themed collection of short stories by a great range of YA authors. What could possibly top that? A new anthology, called Summer Days and Summer Nights, featuring (you guessed it) summer-y stories!

"Maybe it's the long, lazy days, or maybe it's the heat making everyone a little bit crazy. Whatever the reason, summer is the perfect time for love to bloom. 
Summer Days and Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories, written by twelve bestselling young adult writers and edited by the international bestselling Stephanie Perkins, will have you dreaming of sunset strolls by the lake. So set out your beach chair and grab your sunglasses. You have twelve reasons this summer to soak up the sun and fall in love." 
Authors in the anthology include Leigh Bardugo, Francesca Lia Block, Libba bray, Cassandra Clare, Brandy Colbert, Tim Federle, Lev Grossman, Nina LaCour, Veronica Roth, Jon Skovron, Jennifer E. Smith, and of course Stephanie Perkins!

As the editor, Stephanie was kind enough to answer a few questions here about summer reading!

TCR: Which do you prefer--poolside or beachside summer reading?

SP: Beachside! Ocean waves are the perfect white noise to a delicious book.

TCR: Do you have any go-to summer books you like to re-read summer after summer?

SP: I’ll recommend one of my mother’s favorite summer reads: Sarah Dessen’s Keeping the Moon. It might be my favorite Dessen novel, too.

TCR: If you had to pair Summer Days and Summer Nights with a summer-y drink, what would it be?

SP: Watermelon juice. It’s so simple—it’s just watermelon that’s been put into a blender, but it’s heaven.
Summer Days and Summer Nights is out now!

Monday, May 16, 2016

On Book Riot: How to Up Your Book Browsing Game in 5 Easy Steps!

I love bookselling, but I am only human and sometimes I have pet peeves regarding my job. The biggest of these is when customers pronounce "tarot" like carrot, but the next one is regarding people who don't/can't properly browse, which is why I wrote this post on Book Riot on how to be a better browser. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Headed to BEA!

Hey all, I'm headed to BEA in Chicago today, where I plan on reconnecting with friends, having heated conversations about books, and attempting to resist the lure of a bajillion ARCs (wish me luck on that last one). I'll also be at BloggerCon in somewhat official capacity--I'm leading a round table in the afternoon discussing business and monetization, about which I have many thoughts! Come talk with me if you're registered for BookCon! Otherwise, say hi if you see me wandering the exhibit hall! Let's all have a nice, safe, happy BEA and that means no biting while going for an ARC pile, okay?

Monday, May 9, 2016

Newt's Emerald by Garth Nix

You know how some books are just made for you? You read the description and it has all your favorite elements and you just know before you even pick it up that it's totally going to be your jam? Newt's Emerald by Garth Nix was that book for me.

I haven't read a Garth Nix book since roughly 2004, when I discovered the Abhorsen trilogy at my local library. My memory of this experience was that the books were totally weird and I was totally into them. (And they are also totally on my to-read list this summer!) But Newt's Emerald is not at all like the Abhorsen trilogy! It is a Regency-era romance, with magic! Basically, it did what it could to fill the Gail Carriger sized hole in my heart.

Lady Truthful Newington (Newt for short) is very eager to turn eighteen and come out to London society. She's pretty, smart, passable at magic, and eager for her adult life to begin. On the evening of her birthday, her father presents the Newington Emerald, a magical gem that will one day be Newt's...only to have it stolen right from under their noses. With her father in hysterics and her cousins quite incapable of rescuing it, Newt heads to London to track down the emerald herself. Unfortunately, she can only do so much as a lady. So she gamely dons a male disguise and entreats the help of one Major Harnett. Together they uncover an insidious plot decades in the making...and an attraction to each other that is threatened by the secrets they both keep.

Garth Nix writes this fantastical romance with charm and plenty of humor. The story unfolds and flows easily, and contains many delightful surprises and twists. The characters are all top-notch--from Newt's indulgent but clueless father, her passel of Newington boy cousins, her mysterious and resourceful aunt Lady Badgery, and even Major Harnett himself, who is not at all what he seems. I love Newt because while she does not entertain any great fantasies of adventure or heroics, she is capable and willing to do what she must for her family and doesn't let anything stand in her way. The delightfully ridiculous plot promises a great tour of the Regency era, taking characters from slum warehouses to ballrooms, across London, the countryside, and to sea. Throughout it all, Newt's energy, good humor, and clever thinking continually save the day, making for a fun pseudo-historical and feminist book.

Book purchased from my local indie! The cover and packaging were too pretty to resist!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

On Book Riot Today!

My guest post "Lord, Show Me How to Say No to This: 30 Thoughts Booksellers Have When in Bookstores Not There Own" went live on Book Riot today! Click here to check it out!