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The Compulsive Reader: February 2017

Sunday, February 26, 2017

What I've Been Reading Lately

If you don't follow me on Litsy, here's a round up of my February reads (so far)! It was a pleasant mix of new releases and books I've been meaning to read for literal years, so all in all, a good month!

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed

This book has such a compelling premise: Naila is a Pakistani-American teen who follows her parents rules and wishes in all things, except one--she's got a secret boyfriend, also Pakistani-American, named Saif. But Naila's parents don't approve, and when they find out about Saif they whisk Naila away to Pakistan to visit family for the summer. The stakes ratchet up when her parents force Naila into an arranged marriage, and she faces the possibility of being trapped in her new husband's house for the rest of her life. Whether or not Naila will risk everything--even her life--to escape is the driving force behind this tense story. I felt like I was going into a family drama about the crossroads between cultures and halfway through stumbled into a thriller, but despite the tone switch I was totally and completely into this book! I read about two hours past my bedtime and didn't even realize it, that's how caught up in Naila's fate I was!

Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

This is perhaps one of the most tightly plotted thrillers I've read in ages, and I haven't read an unreliable narrator so twisty since Merricat of We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Mary B. Addison allegedly killed a baby when she was nine, spent some time in prison, and now lives in a volatile group home. At sixteen, she's pregnant and much smarter than anyone gives her credit for. Motivated by a desire to keep her baby, Mary reluctantly re-opens her case in an attempt to prove once and for all that she didn't kill that baby--but that means revisiting that night, her relationship with her mother, and the hazy chain of events that led to her imprisonment. The pace is unrelenting and the timelines are twisty, but the story is put together so cleverly that I was tempted to re-read it from the very beginning only moments after finishing.

Reader, I Married Him, edited by Tracy Chevalier

I am a huge sucker for anything Jane Eyre, so I was slightly disappointed to find that these stories aren't necessarily inspired by that resilient heroine we all know and love, but by her iconic line "Reader, I married him." As a result, this collection of short stories was a little light on Jane inspiration, but heavy on relationship stories! It was worth procuring for the Emma Donoghue story alone, and it was delightful to read more of Patricia Park's writing (her novel Re Jane is excellent and a straight up retelling of JE, with Jane as a Korean American, living with her immigrant family in Queens!). Alas, this book is like most short story collections--a mixed bag of varying quality with some utterly forgettable pieces and a few good eggs. Oh, and there's a Lionel Shriver story in here and I didn't want to like it, but reader, I liked it. 

Also, since we brought up Jane Eyre, Ruth Wilson in the BBC miniseries is the best Jane ever. Fight me.

10 Things I Can See From Here by Carrie Mac

Sixteen-year-old Maeve suffers from severe anxiety that sometimes impairs her function, and never abates. The first fifteen pages or so just chronicle her every anxiety as she makes the trip from Seattle to Vancouver to live with her dad for six months while her mom volunteers in Haiti, and I worried that I wouldn't be able to handle an entire novel of her relentless anxious worries. But Mac quickly balances out Maeve's intense inner thoughts with outer actions and events, and Maeve's self awareness and humor offers some relief from the somewhat claustrophobic nature of anxiety. I wrote more the book when I interviewed Carrie Mac last week. Overall, I thought this was a wonderful book about complicated families and anxiety and falling in love for the first time!

Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, edited by Manjula Martin

This collection of essays and interviews with a variety of writers on writing and money was illuminating, oftentimes humorous, occasionally depressing, and expansive. I so appreciate these writers' candor and Martin's bravery in tackling a very personal and multi-faceted subject. While its appeal to writers is obvious, I think that this book is important for anyone who loves books and literature and wants to better understand how they are made and processed, and how writers live.

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

I'm a huge Nina LaCour fan, but even if that weren't already the case this slim book would've completely blown me away. Marin is a college freshman who is staying at school in New York for winter break, hiding from the tragedy that occurred over the summer. Mabel is her best friend from San Francisco, come to visit in an attempt to repair their broken relationship. The book unfolds in present and past tense, and slowly builds up to the explosive moment that sent Marin running. The language is lovely and intense, and while the plot isn't punchy, the quiet moments sit with you for a long while. The beauty of this story is found as Marin ever so slowly realizes that she is not alone, and she is going to be okay.

Jamaica Inn by Daphne DuMaurier

As a young teen, I loved Rebecca with such an intensity that I didn't even bother to seek out any of DuMaurier's other novels. Therefore, I am not ashamed to admit that what drove me to finally picking this up was discovering that Lady Sybil plays Mary Yellan in the 2014 BBC miniseries adaptation. Sold. DuMaurier's historical novel about the sordid history of Jamaica Inn and the smugglers who lived there is told from the perspective of Mary Yellan, a young woman who travels there to seek out her only remaining relative, Aunt Patience. Patience is married to a brute of a man and Mary quickly realizes that Jamaica Inn harbors terrible secrets. She stays in an attempt to rescue Patience, but finds herself quickly sucked into the mystery of the place and strange appeal of her uncle younger brother, Jem. Du Maurier has the maddening habit of writing over the racier aspects (basically all the kissing scenes and the actual murder-y bits), but nevertheless Jamaica Inn is a riveting and suspenseful mystery. Plus, the miniseries was gorgeous.

American Street by Ibi Zoboi

Fabiola and her mother come from Port-au-Prince, Haiti to Detroit in the hope of finding "une belle vie" with her mother's sister and daughters. But when her mother is detained by customs, Fabiola must go on to Detroit alone. Fabiola struggles to learn a new culture, navigates complicated family dynamics, experiences a surprising romance, and discovers a dangerous situation, all while striving to live life on her own terms, within her belief system. Her voice is compelling, and the flavors of magical realism throughout the story are beautifully rendered. Ibi's writing is exquisite, through every heartbreak and triumph. 

I'm currently reading Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon (I know, like two years late), and I've got an enticing stack of spring and summer ARCs that I'll be working my way through after that! Plus, March may finally be the month I actually read And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie because, um, the BBC miniseries looks good. I spent a lot of time talking about BBC miniseries this month, huh? What can I say, the world is terrible and they bring me joy. Even (especially?) when they're murderous.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Q&A with Carrie Mac, Author of 10 Things I Can See From Here

One of the books I was most excited to get my hands on this month was an ARC of Carrie Mac's 10 Things I Can See From Here, a contemporary YA about Maeve, a girl dealing with severe anxiety. When her mom goes to Haiti for six months, Maeve is off to Vancouver to live with her dad, pregnant stepmom, and twin brothers. For Maeve, nearly every moment is wrought with fear and constant worry that she can't ever turn off, so when her dad starts messing up his sobriety and her stepmom wants to have a home birth and her little brothers are running wild, Maeve has no idea what to do. Then she meets Salix, a violinist who doesn't seem to be afraid of anything. Salix is cool and brave and she likes Maeve a lot, but having a girlfriend means that Maeve has to reveal just how crippling her anxiety can be--and somehow find a way to live with it.

I loved this book a lot--it's funny and upbeat, and the humor balances out the seriousness of Maeve's anxiety and her fear that her family may be falling apart. The story is both romantic and nuanced, and I liked that Mac shows that falling in love with Salix isn't a cure for Maeve's anxiety, but rather Salix is able to help Maeve make room in her life for it, and figure out ways to better manage it.

To celebrate the release, Carrie Mac was kind enough to answer a few of my questions!

TCR: I love how you cut through the more serious angst and emotional trauma that Maeve experiences with slices of humor. The obituaries were some of my favorite parts. How did those develop during the drafting process?

CM: I love obituaries. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve turned to them first in any newspaper. When I was a paramedic I always looked for obituaries for patients who died on my watch or were sure to shortly after.

I read obituaries start to finish, tedious lists of family members and good deeds and charities included. I’m always drawn to the obituaries of younger people who died, and especially and quite morbidly, the ones for children or babies. After that, the ones I’m most interested in are from fatalities that show up in the news. I like to check the obituary against them and see if there is any mention of the suicide or murder or freak accident at work. It fascinates me when there isn’t.

After that, I read all the elderly people’s obituaries and try to tease out something authentic from the carefully and respectfully composed words that condense a complex lifetime into a slim file of a few hundred words.

Truth be told, I write imaginary obituaries in my head all the time. Doesn’t everybody? I gave that habit to Maeve, because it is exactly something she would do.

TCR: What was the most challenging aspect to writing this book? The easiest?

CM: 10 Things needed to be the right balance between Maeve’s often crippling anxiety and the world outside of her. In various drafts, the scales would tip one way or the other, which was great because I got to know more about either her internal life or the ‘real’ world.’ I needed both those things—more of Maeve so that I could understand her better, but more of her world so that I could build it accurately and bring it to life to be as vibrant and compelling as Maeve’s interior world. Thankfully I love writing my books over and over again, and with each revision, Maeve’s internal world and external world became more fully realized until they complimented each other perfectly. Balance achieved.

Easiest? The twins. I love them. They were so easy to write that I had to cut out dozens of pages starring them because they don’t get to be my protagonists this time.

TCR: The issue of time and money aside, if you could write a story about any secondary character from this book, which one would you choose?

CM: Easy! The twins. Like I said above, I love them. And they were so easy to write. I’d love to write a middle grade series starring them and Gnomenville. Add a little magic realism to those kids and the possibilities would be endless. I want to read those books. I can’t stand it when I want to read a book that hasn’t been written.

I would also like to read a book about Dan, Maeve’s neighbor. I think he’s a very interesting character and I’d like to know more about him and how he ended up living in a cabin in the woods wearing a unicorn footy-jammies to bed and raising chickens. And I’d like it to be a quirky love story, so he’d end up with a lovely boyfriend. So I’d have to write it if I want to read it. Not enough writing hours in a lifetime to get to all the books I want to write!

10 Things I Can See From Here is out next week, February 28th!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Excerpt of Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones


Today is the release date of a fantasy novel that has been on my wishlist for ages because it hits all of my reading sweet spots--fantasy, winter, goblins, magic, music, winter, fantasy...Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones is definitely my kind of read!

To celebrate the release, I'm running an excerpt! Read on below for some delicious winter magic, then get thee to a bookstore!