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!

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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!

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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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