Three Books: The Vast Strength of Women When We Work Together

Though I am fine-tuning my new young adult manuscript, a process alternately frustrating and satisfying, I continue to read voraciously, because--and thank everything that's holy--more fabulous books come to my attention everyday, and every discovery leads to a new cherished author. I've recently had the pleasure (and sadness) to finish two exceedingly different but equally well-done novels, The Divorce Papers by Susan Reiger and Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. Each alternates points of view, but again, each does it so distinctly. More importantly, each celebrates the unique relationships which women forge to support one another in times of adversity and darkness.

The Divorce Papers, a modern-day epistolary saga of Mia and Sophie, a scorned woman and her reluctant lawyer, told through legal memoranda, email, letter, newspaper article, and even floral arrangement card, lets their words speak for them and their actions follow. Lawyer and client both grow and bloom, despite heavy, often hilarious, sometimes heart-wrenching obstacles. I cheered.

Code Name Verity alternates the voices of Maddie and Queenie, two women best friends and active participants in the English war effort during World War II, and had more surprises--and casualties--than I was in any way prepared for, though of course ultimately neither were they. The supporting cast of family, friends, superiors, allies, and enemies paled beside the grit and daring of the pilot and the spy and their real-time selves, too. I cried. Hard. 

You can see my ratings at Goodreads. I rate every book I read. 

And now back to Lala, Vero, and Gracie, the trio of sister heroines at the heart of my next book set deep in the rural upstate and full of bogeymen. The girls have several family secrets on their side, including Gracie herself, who sees more than even she knows.


Whatcha reading? Rooms by Lauren Oliver

I'm not sure if I'm ever going to have the privilege of reading a better Lauren Oliver book than Before I Fall, but Rooms is a trip. The distance between reality and paranormal is whisper thin, as it should be but almost never is. There are ghosts around every corner of, in every pore of, in every breath taken in this family house where the family has departed (until they return with the father's death).

This could be YA, like Oliver's previous work, because she nails the viewpoints of the school-aged son, his twitchy cute neighbor, and his beckoning sprite of a visitor offering dark promises indeed. However, Oliver bills this as her first adult book, but her adults in name only--the severely alcoholic mom, the bitter grasping daughter, the better off dead father, and the two ghostly, bickering lingerers--often act less maturely than her teens. 

The real star of the show though is the remote house itself as it begrudgingly reveals its secrets and begs for the ultimate mercy with a roar.

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Whatcha reading? Where'd you go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Does it ever happen to you that the way someone sees something is so antithetical to the way that you see it that you literally can't understand how it is possible that the other person sees it that way? No, this is not going to become a political screed about abortion or guns or some other political hot topic. Rather, it is my attempt to understand why Bernadette's husband and child think that she is so great while to me she appears a selfish, whiny, egomaniacal, antisocial bitch. 

Now Bee I love. Talk about a kid who has survived every obstacle that life has thrown at her—being born blue with a massive heart defect, having a father who works every minute of every day, having a best friend who isn't much of a friend, attending a school where each person is nuttier than the last, and did I mention, having a terrible mother—yet who cheerfully accepts each day's challenges as another kid might enjoy a trip to the amusement park or destination of choice. When Bee decides that what she wants as a prize for her report card is a family trip to Antarctica, I thought of course that is what she would want.

Her father? A Microsoft guru who wants to make life easier for disabled veterans but can't see that his own daughter needs a father, that his wife may be just left of sane and sound at this point, and that it isn't normal to live in a house where the gardener has to weed-whack inside isn't much of a guru in my book. He at least is enthusiastic about the trip, unlike Bernadette.

The Galer Street School interactions made me laugh out loud (though if you want to laugh until you cry read Maria Semple's piece in The New Yorker entitled "Dear Mountain Room Parents"). Bernadette's fellow parents Audrey Griffin and Soo-Lin Lee-Segal would try the patience of any saint going, yet Bee has thrived here. It is Bernadette who is unable to cope—with anything besides dropping and running, even if a fellow parent's foot might or might not be in the way.

Another aspect which I enjoy is my difficulty in classifying this book. I have written before about how I think genres hurt as often as they help readers find books right for them. In this case it's hard to say whether it's YA contemporary (since it is written in Bee's voice), coming of age fiction (ditto), or simply contemporary fiction (given its modern structure of interspersed text, dialogue, letters, emails, sticky notes, official documents, and more). The structure is clever, witty, engaging, and of today in every way. But will the absent Bernadette grow on me?

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Books Into Movies and why are some so terrible?

I finally watched the second installment of The Hobbit: Or There and Back Again movies. First why, oh, why, did they make it into three movies? Duh, because it will make more money that way, but still, why turn a marvelous gem of a book into a sprawling war epic so vast it morphed, bloated, into CGI-generated video game territory and rarely returned to life-sized? This was doubly discouraging because though Peter Jackson masterfully and painstakingly hand-carried The Lord of Rings from page to screen--ah! perhaps the answer is that he did hand-carry, rather than relying on so much CGI--this trilogy falls flat, tripping over itself all the way.  A few glimmers reminded me of the book I love (the naming of Sting, the hopscotching through Esgaroth, the knocking of the thrush) but most lay stomped upon, victim to too loud and too much, kin to the absurd volume of gold under this Lonely Mountain. Even the dragon, Smaug, for whom I had actually watched the movie since he enthralled me as a reader with his wily wickedness, caricatured himself, too much "I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house down," shame on you, Benedict Cumberbatch, a usual favorite of mine in another excellent page to screen transition as Sherlock Holmes, all-time favorite The Hound of the Baskervilles, and so doubly disappointing.

Now, dragons, if you want real dragons as well as real characters who rise above (and below) the frequent large and small battle scenes, head on over to HBO's Game of Thrones. Perhaps it helps that the author helms the show as well, though I can't say for sure because I haven't read the book(s) yet. Back to the TV dragons, which I adore!, and which live and breathe and fly and love and hate and feast and sulk just as dragons should. I got pulled into this show resisting all the way, fearing the violence, the weekly deaths which breathlessly enthrall the water-cooler crowd, but once I sat down and beheld Khaleesi Daenerys Targaryen and her brood, well, now I wait restlessly for season 5 like everyone else. I rarely do this, watch first, read later, but we will see how it turns out this time.

For me the real answer? Make me care about what I see the way I cared about what I read, and then it will be a great adaptation.

I rate every book I read on Goodreads.



Whatcha reading? All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Teen suicide is a hot topic in YA literature and in the news; this confluence practically guarantees an author of a new novel involving suicide a spot on the Banned Books lists, as happened to Jay Asher, author of the bestselling Thirteen Reasons Why. (Cynics might point out that this designation is more likely to sell books in our current social media-rabid society than not.) Why the immediate attention? Some studies say that suicide is contagious, that once one teen in a town does it, others likely will follow, seeing the attention that follows as glamorous and desirable, and perhaps most importantly, more than s/he would ever get alive. In Massachusetts for example, look at Scituate in 2011. Look at Newton in 2014. Type "teen suicide contagious" into any search engine, and you will find a plethora of reports of the spread of suicide through families, through schools, and through communities. Yet here in Jennifer Niven's newest novel and first YA, one teen thinks he wants to die because he can't see how to live; another thinks she wants to live but feels guilty because she didn't die. With seven billion people in the world and counting, some might say, who cares? We could all do with fewer people sucking up the world's resources; if they don't or don't want to live, so be it. But we all have people we want to live, "our" people, if you will, and when one of them is threatened, everything looks different.

Finch and Violet: their names are twee, and yet I like them immediately. What I don't like is how I feel manipulated, how I feel I should like them, should believe in them, should root for them. A nagging feeling tells me that the real problem is not buying it, not buying them, that they would ever be more to each other than too-bold stares on his part and too-meek head-ducking on her part. Even in fiction, especially in fiction, I'd like to believe that he would take her on as a project and she would let that happen. But I don't. And I like my fiction to be truer than true, if you know what I mean. It can be as fantastical as all get out, but it must make sense within the universe. My bottom of stomach dread: Jennifer Niven's high school universe wouldn't allow for Finch + Violet the way that Rainbow Rowell's did for Eleanor + Park.

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Whatcha reading? The Program by Suzanne Young

I am tearing through this one as if someone might take it from me if I put it down. The premise shocks with it utter plausibility: teenage suicide has become epidemic, and those in charge have developed The Program to combat it, essentially erasing the negative, difficult, conflicted parts of teens' brains so that they can "reenter" society cleansed. They can't remember huge chunks of their lives, but they live. If you think for a moment that this sounds absurd, I read an article about this very topic recently in Wired, and the possibility, the drug, already exists.

The story centers around two teens, Sloane and James, who have suffered huge personal loss already in the form of her brother Brady's suicide, since he was James's best friend as well. These two swear to love and support one another and keep depression at bay, but each slips a little daily. When yet another friend succumbs, you know their time is near. You know that The Program will come for each of them any day now, and of course it does, him first, and then her, but only after she has had to absorb that he doesn't remember her when he becomes a "reenterer." We see nothing of James's time in The Program, but Sloane's arrival on the ward, and the gang of misfits she finds there, echoes It's Kind of a Funny Story, which truly was quite funny but ultimately bleak and sad in its veracity. Of course Michael, who goes by his last name of Realm and is Sloane's immediate new best friend, is too good to be true, but as Sloane's memories of James drop away one by one, she readily falls for Realm's mind games.

I haven't really engaged with Sloane, she doesn't affect me despite her losses, but ooo, James radiates warmth and care and smolder. I desperately want him to survive intact, not as a zombie without memories. His humanity vibrates through his every interaction, and so if he loves Sloane, and he does, then I guess I have to love Sloane. The "us against the world" vibe reminds me of the brilliant Never Let Me Go, though I can't believe the ultimate horror will be that absolute. The only way to find out is onward.

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Indie Love the First and the Latest

Giveaways at the end!

Here is where it all began, for me and for many others interested in the "new" world of independent publishing, the one that doesn't involve paying your own printing costs and stockpiling inventory in your garage or the back of your car, Wool, the story of a tiny community living underground in a silo because all the rest of the world lies decimated by disaster. Or does it? I think about Holston, the sheriff of the silo, sitting at the "window" looking at the remains he believes are his wife every time I pass a silo. I got this tiny book, almost a pamphlet really, from the library after I heard about it in an article I can't find again about the rise of dystopian literature. Dystopian literature isn't new at all, of course, just ask George Orwell or Aldous Huxley or Ray Bradbury or the current slew of best-selling women dystopian authors, but it has exploded in recent years, excuse the pun, perhaps in the face of recent and ever-mounting real-world environmental disaster scenarios. These beg the question of how to survive, and dystopian literature offers one route for doing just that, usually dominated by the individual. Similarly, independent publishing offers the individual author a route to survival and empowerment in an time increasingly controlled by the mass-market, celebrity mindset. Sometimes, even today, the "little guy" wins.


For my latest indie read, Everett, author Jenifer Ruff takes the small press route, in this day and age nearly as independent as self-publishing, since World Castle Publishing, LLC is not a part of the Big Five, the five publishing conglomerates left in the US who effectively rule "mainstream traditional" publishing. As my title states in my Amazon review, this main character is One Dark Chick. You can read the full Goodreads review here. I'll be reading the sequel Rothaker shortly. Go Indies!

If you want to see my ratings once I finish, you can follow me on Goodreads. I rate every book I read.

I'll be selecting one random winner for a signed copy of my first YA novel, No Alligators in Sight, AND one random winner for a signed copy of Everett from those who comment below. When I select the winners on February 21, I'll reply to their comments, asking them to let me know their preferred mailing address via email.


Whatcha reading? His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

This is one of those that I have meant to read for so long that I almost thought that I had. I started it one winter's day when the library was closed and I had run out of books and there it was winking at me from the shelf. A book I haven't read on my shelves is rare indeed; another glance shows me that the only other immediate contender is Wiring 1-2-3, and that, my friends, is no contender at all, since I will never read that and cannot imagine how it even came to be on my shelves. In any case here I am knee-deep in Lyra's world, and wow, do I love the polar bear Iorek Byrnison and his soul of armour and the fact that he has both a first and a last name. I am a sucker for polar bears in general, as I have discussed, and would dearly love to see one in the wild but had best get a serious move-on before the remaining ones drown, thanks to us. I digress.

Dust. Somehow the whole book seems to be a quest for Dust, yes, with a capital D, and everyone from the least Scholar to the highest member of the Church has something to say about Dust. But what is it? Does it fall from the Aurora Borealis? Does it bring on puberty? Is that a bad thing? Why is everyone intent on killing children in its pursuit? The great news is that I have hundreds of pages left to solve all of these mysteries and many more. In the meantime I am wondering if this was on the banned books lists at any point, as it seems that someone always makes a ruckus whenever the Bible is mentioned, and so I look it up. And no wonder at all, I find that this book was the eighth most banned or condemned book of 2008-2009, which I'm guessing thrilled Philip Pullman to no end. He clearly has his issues with Christianity and the creation story.

What I find I most want, however, is what some of the bears want, which is to have a daemon of my own. Every person in this universe has one, attached by some unknowable tether, and can read each other's minds and comfort one another in the darkest and most despicable of situations, of which there are plenty. How awesome is that? Again until puberty the daemon can take on any animal form at will, and s/he (almost always the opposite sex from the person) can only go so far away, a few yards, it seems, until each feels terrible pain and loss. Most awesomely? No one else can touch your daemon; it's all yours, as you are all his/hers. Look! There's a test to find out your daemon!

If you want to see my rating once I finish, you can follow me on Goodreads. I rate every book I read.



How about that NA? One Tiny Lie by K.A. Tucker

You might remember my wee bit of discomfort reading Ten Tiny Breaths, which I had thought was YA when I added it to my TBR list. If you've looked at my reading lists, I read many different types of books, not just YA by any means, but I was startled by the level of sexiness even as I was quickly drawn to the characters, especially Storm, and their dilemmas. This discomfort didn't stop me from continuing to read it, or from ultimately really enjoying this book (and wanting to read all the sequels immediately), but it did make me do a little research. That's what I do when something confuses me or startles me or surprises me; I research it until I understand it better. I found out that Ten Tiny Breaths is NA, or New Adult for the newly initiated, as I was until I read Sarah Pekkanen's These Girls and saw that it was called NA. At first I had thought this meant Not Applicable. Or Not Allowed. Or what? It didn't make sense. Then I looked it up and learned about this "new" genre, and it turns out to mean New Adult, as in college-aged characters or so, and probably more sex than in your average YA, but maybe not as much as in adult lit, but not Adult lit. Got it? Clear as mud, right? Well, These Girls is no Ten Tiny Breaths, at least on the sexiness level, though I can see other similarities, such as age, of course.

You might also remember that I am not a big fan of genres in general, since I think it limits people's reading choices as often as it guides them, e.g. "I'm too old for YA," or "I don't do chick lit." Take Margaret Atwood, for example, a true favorite of mine, and her work can and has been easily categorized as: science fiction, dystopian fiction, feminist literature, thriller, chick lit, and mystery, all in the very same book. So my discomfort. I don't read erotica. I have, but I don't. I prefer to read other things. And no, I haven't and don't plan to read Fifty Shades of anything, though seemingly everyone else on the planet has. Thanks but no. And Ten Tiny Breaths was a little closer to erotica (as far as I know) than my usual comfort zone, and somehow this makes it NA. Whatever it is, on I went to the sequel as quickly as my library could get it for me.

Which brings us to One Tiny Lie, or Livie's Trip to Princeton Because That's What Her Father Would Have Wanted. I think this is an interesting direction for a sequel, to move on almost entirely to another character who featured much less majorly in the first book and spin out her story. I realized on the first page how little I really knew about Livie or what Livie thought of anything, other than that she loved her family and was good at school and with little kids. What quickly becomes apparent is how little Livie knows about Livie; cue the ever-present family shrink who "cured" Kacey and maybe Trent in the first book. Add in a wacky roommate and a super-hot meet-cute and a little trouble in school for the first time, and it all sounds so formulaic, except somehow it isn't. This one is sexy, too, but somehow more innocently sexy, since Livie knows nothing yet attracts everything, and I'm pretty sure I know how it will all turn out, but none of that matters. I care about Livie and want to know every little thing about her. Just like Ashton. Uh huh, just friendly-like.

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Whatcha reading? [On the] Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

I started this one right after Miss Timmins' School for Girls, set in a boarding school in India, and here we are at a boarding school in Australia but co-ed, run by the state instead of by missionaries, and definitely a step down the dark scale, shades of Lord of the Flies. In classic YA fashion many orphans and abandoned children and teens live on their own here, flouting the school rules and even governing the Houses (dorms). I’m on page 64 and have had hardly a glimpse of an adult, other than the elusive Hannah, who might care about our main character, Taylor Markham, more than she lets on and for reasons unknown. Taylor herself has lived at the school for much of her life, abandoned by her mother, and now finds herself unwilling leader of the underground student movement, much to the other House leaders' upset, at war with the Townies and the seasonal military trainees (Cadets) for everything: territory, respect, air time, and possibly, life itself.

Plenty of unknown here: What’s with the turf wars? Who put the kids in charge? How many kids are dead or missing? Why does no one seem to care? Where is the presence of the state, which supposedly runs this institution? Is it a school at all or actually an orphanage cum warehouse until the kids come of age? What happened to Taylor’s mother? Who is the Brigadier? What events gave Hannah the idea for her novel, or is it a memoir? Does Taylor ever smile? Or laugh? Or have any fun at all? (She is one serious girl.) Sometimes too many questions or confusions put me off, but in this case I just want to turn the pages faster. Something tells me that I will be reading this one over again immediately, as soon as I finish.

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Whatcha reading? Ten Tiny Breaths by K.A. Tucker

If you had asked me before I started this book, I would have definitely said I don’t read erotica. Or maybe I am a total prude, and this doesn’t even qualify as erotica, but still! I thought this was straight-up YA, contemporary YA with two orphans on the run heading to Miami in search of a better life for themselves, and it is that, but it is also s-t-e-a-m-y (and not just because it’s Miami).

Kacey and Livie Cleary want to escape the horror of the drunk-driving accident that claimed their parents as well as Kacey’s best friend and boyfriend; somehow they rent an apartment in Miami online from Michigan and relocate there, despite Livie being a minor. There have been a number of “somehows” so far, to my view anyway, but once I decided to look past them, I do enjoy the girls’ adventures in their new city, including their eclectic neighbors and assorted employments. One of said neighbors, Trent, is the hottest, nicest, most mysterious guy on the planet and unaccountably interested in Kacey the scowler; have you guessed the mystery yet? I’ll have to wait and see if I’m right, while I get another cold drink. And plug in a fan. And maybe hit the showers.

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Whatcha Reading? Miss Timmins’ School for Girls by Nayana Currimbhoy

The appeal here seems almost endless for my tastes: a coming of age tale, a school setting with a gaggle of impudent school girls in uniforms, a culture exotic to me but with a stiff-upper-lip British overlay, 70s counterculture experimentation, and for good measure a midnight murder mystery. The book takes place almost entirely in the rain, the monsoon season actually, and that sets the meandering, unsettling tone rather well. Charulata Apte (Charu), the new teacher and barely an adult herself, capers about in the rain as she always has, only to notice that not only the teachers but also the student body is slack-jawed at her free and easy, decidedly un-British approach to life. Charu finds herself at odds on all sides, in her family and the classroom and the staff room and even in town, whose name, Panchgani, for some reason was stuck in my head as Punch and Judy, go figure. And then she meets the Prince. Da da da dum.

What sets her apart, in her mind, and I firmly believe it is more in her mind that everyone else’s, is her blot. What’s that, you say? Her facial discoloration, which arose when she hit puberty, expands and contracts, changes color, and has sensations in response to Charu’s actions and feelings. I feel that the blot should count as a main character, if not actually THE main character. For me the blot blots out so much of what might have been Charu, such that she slinks along through the story as a shadow character. The blot, though, lives. Perhaps the blot will turn out to be the murderer? Not any time soon, but we shall see.

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What Will Take You There?

Where? Anywhere. That's the beauty of reading: you can do it anywhere, and if given the chance, it can and will take you anywhere you want to go. It doesn't discriminate by sex or income or race or education (beyond being able to read, that is). I came across this article recently, and though it's from 2012, it could be from today or twenty years ago, because it is timeless and combines my favorite things, education and kids and reading. Read to the end, the second to last sentence, to see my favorite line http://www.huffingtonpost.com/earl-martin-phalen/the-joy-of-reading-can-ta_b_1247801.html

New Year, new resolutions, new plans, but here's an easy one: read more. That could be the answer to many of the others, whether it's to travel (read travel guides first), to meet new people (join a book group with similar interests at your local library), to learn something new (read about hobbies and then try one), or even the perennial lose weight or start an exercise program (the cookbook section, the human biology section, or the self-help section are good places to start). As always, happy reading!

Oh, the Places You'll Go! by Dr. Suess