Goodreads: Not a Drop to Drink
Published: September 24, 2013
Lynn knows every threat to her pond: drought, a snowless winter, coyotes, and, most importantly, people looking for a drink. She makes sure anyone who comes near the pond leaves thirsty, or doesn’t leave at all.
Confident in her own abilities, Lynn has no use for the world beyond the nearby fields and forest. Having a life means dedicating it to survival, and the constant work of gathering wood and water. Having a pond requires the fortitude to protect it, something Mother taught her well during their quiet hours on the rooftop, rifles in hand.
But wisps of smoke on the horizon mean one thing: strangers. The mysterious footprints by the pond, nighttime threats, and gunshots make it all too clear Lynn has exactly what they want, and they won’t stop until they get it….
Mindy McGinnis builds a harsh, barren world in her post-apocalyptic novel Not a Drop to Drink. Lynn and her mother live alone, guarding their pond with their guns. They have nothing but each other—no other family, no friends, and no purpose besides protecting the water so they can live another day. Somewhat unusually for a book of this genre, they appear to have no hope for the future either. They never think that somewhere there are people who are living better, or that one day they, or their grandchildren, will know a world where water is anything but scarce. These characters are not fighting for any far-reaching cause. They live on autopilot, surviving just to survive. That makes them dangerous to trespassers, and incredibly intriguing to readers.
Lynn is not particularly emotional. In part, she is flat because of her lifestyle. For most of her life, she has known one person. Her only education is the bits of poetry her mother, an English major in her past life, likes to quote. She knows little besides lying on her roof with her rifle, shooting anyone who comes close enough for her to see. Her only other tasks all focus on survival: gardening, hunting, chopping wood. In some respects, Lynn and her mother are machines, looking only a few steps ahead, doing only what they must to live. They have no time or need for sentiment.
Yet Lynn’s apparent callousness can make her almost immediately appealing as a character. Perhaps she will not be likeable or relatable to many readers—but she is undeniably different. She is a character readers will want to watch, just to see what she does next, just to see someone do things they can never imagine doing themselves.
Her emotional isolation also becomes thematically interesting, once some plot events lead her to begin experiencing character growth. Lynn’s transformation from an unquestioning sniper to someone with a conscience suggests that a sense of morality is something innate to humans, not something socially constructed and taught. This could be a great discussion topic for readers.
Lynn’s emotional barriers are a small downfall in regards to the novel’s romance, however. While the romantic scenes are well-written, touching with a hint of swoon, the actual relationship Lynn experiences could have been more moving. She meets a nice guy, no mistake—someone who is kind, hard-working, and apparently good-looking. Unfortunately, readers are not given much a sense why the two characters are attracted to each other. If given a guess, I would they bond simply because they are not acquainted with anyone else.
In contrast, the setting of the story is richly imagined—bleak with reminders of a ruined past. It is incredibly effective. The world-building is also generally well-done. McGinnis offers a fairly complete timeline explaining how Lynn’s world came to be. The only fact missing might be the most important: How, exactly, did the world come to lack fresh water? Readers will never know.
Often, the mark of a great dystopian or post-apocalyptic world is its believability, the sense that something in our current world could lead it to become like the world in the book (ex. Obsession with physical appearance could lead us to a world like Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies). Personally, I am not aware of any worries over the Earth’s water supply, and Not a Drop to Drink does not introduce me to any, so the novel fails that test. The execution of McGinnis’s idea seems plausible, but its cause is nowhere to be found. I am not afraid of my future looking like Lynn’s reality.
The plot may not be exciting (this is no war novel, no epic dystopian battle against a corrupt government), but it is very satisfying, and it tends to move along at a nice pace. Readers are unlikely to feel stuck, even though the action occurs within a very limited area. Ironically, however, the weakest part of the novel may be the climax. Things get crazier—but the feel does not match the rest of the book. Also, the wrong characters die; other characters would have been a greater loss, from a literary standpoint. The epilogue is worse, as it is unintentionally bland. I did not feel that anything had concluded, or changed much even though it was clear things had. On Goodreads, I docked a star from my rating primarily because of the ending.
Yet overall Not a Drop to Drink is a good read—tightly written, carefully planned, and just incredibly interesting. In a world beginning to fill with post-apocalyptic literature, it feels original. Recommended to fans of the genre and those looking for stark, realistic settings.
Content Note: Implied rape.
Goodreads: The Dead-Tossed Waves
Series: The Forest of Hands and Teeth #2
All her life Gabry has lived in the safety of the village of Vista, protected from the ravenous Mudo by the Barrier and the militia. Then her friends dare her to climb the Barrier and explore the old amusement park, and everything changes. An unexpected zombie attack leaves her friends either infected or arrested, and she is left alone to brave the outside world in search of the one boy who got away.
Sometimes I reflect on the all the time I wasted listening to The Dead-Tossed Waves on audiobook and I regret my life choices. Sure, it was sometimes unintentionally funny and the possibility of the zombie apocalypse ending the sickening love triangle filled me with naïve hope, but otherwise the book has nothing to recommend it. An annoying protagonist; terrible prose; bizarre logic; and repetition of scenes, thoughts, and phrases are the most striking aspects of the work.
Ryan clearly wishes to establish Gabry as a different character from her mother Mary. Mary had definite thoughts about things and acted decisively on most occasions. Gabry, however, spends her days overanalyzing not only her own thoughts and actions, but also the words and actions of every person around her. She talks incessantly about how she fears everything and has a strange habit of blaming herself for the actions and fates of others. She actually thinks things like, “If only I had kissed him, he would not have fallen off that cliff!” Seeing as the guy was walking down a path in the dark, I assume he would have fallen off regardless.
Gabry’s obsession with herself leads her to use other people to make herself feel good. Like her mother, she finds herself involved in a weird love triangle. She keeps both boys dangling on the string, so to speak, as she makes out with one, then the other, depending on who’s available and how they currently feel toward her. She clearly needs physical contact to feel loved, which is not necessarily a bad thing. However, it does lead her to do things like forcing a guy to kiss her when he’s weak from lack of sleep, lack of food, and a zombie-inflicted injury. She says she wants to “make him feel alive,” but his subsequent rejection of her leads to nothing more than a reflection on how he used to make her feel special. The whole time I wanted to shout, “Wouldn’t feeding him and bandaging him also make him feel more alive?!” She would rather feel sorry for herself than potentially save his life—and she calls that love.
These things were annoying, but the annoyance was multiplied according to how often they were repeated. Gabry has to stop to think about her fear and her sadness all the time—just about after every plot-significant episode. She typically does so in the same words. Sentences like “Everything was happening too fast” and general reflections on how she doesn’t know who she is anymore, how she doesn’t know her mother, how she wants safety occur again…and again…and again…. Once the audiobook skipped back a couple of chapters by accident and though I recognized the passage, I did not stop to look at where it was because I assumed the book was reusing scenes and sentences as usual.
The weird logic used in the book also bothered me. Initially I thought just Gabry was a little obsessive about blaming herself for things and overanalyzed everything too much. Then she started doing things like blaming herself for someone getting bitten by a zombie and others agreed. Perhaps they were just scared and angry, I thought. Then she blamed her mother for leaving her friends in the forest. Anyone who has read the first book might assume that it is understandable one would not race through a zombie-infested wood to find people who are probably dead by now. But her mother agreed. Then she blamed someone for tearing her past from her because they had saved her from zombies when she was a child. The person agreed. Clearly I had entered another dimension where what constitutes rationality has a different meaning.
I only read this book because I was hoping to learn more about the zombies. Since it was only another crazy love triangle and the third book seems to be the same, I intend to leave the trilogy uncompleted.
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Goodreads: The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Series: The Forest of Hands and Teeth #1
Mary’s village lies in the middle of a forest encircled by a fence through which no one ever leaves. Outside, the Unconsecrated prowl, hungering for human flesh. Only the wisdom of the Sisterhood and the vigilance of the Guardians keeps the village safe. Most people believe things have always been this way. Mary’s mother, however, has told her stories of the ocean, stories of a world that used to be free. Mary wants to find that world, but the Sisterhood harbors secrets and they will do just about anything to keep those secrets safe.
The Forest of Hands and Teeth sounds like a zombie dystopia story. Mary lives in a village cut off from the rest of the world by a gate that also keeps the people safe from the undead whose bites and scratches will infect them, turning them into more zombies to wreak destruction upon their friends and family. An organization named the Sisterhood rules over the village, controlling the history, religion, and social mores they learn. The Sisterhood, however, knows more than they tell. Everything about the plot seems calculated to provide action, excitement, and suspense. Except it doesn’t.
Though the page count lies just about 300, The Forest of Hands and Teeth does not read like a full-length novel, but rather the introduction to one. Very little happens in terms of plot. As expected, Mary starts to question the values of the Sisterhood and discovers that they sometimes lie. As expected, (I really don’t consider this a spoiler), she finds her way out of the village. Not as expected, that’s it. The rest of the book is all Mary’s longings for the oceans and her love affair (highly physical) with a boy betrothed to another woman. Not just another woman. (This is a real spoiler. Highlight after the parentheses to read.) Her best friend.
I think I was supposed to find this forbidden affair not only romantic, but also noble and brave, an attempt to fight back against the village’s strict rules governing the place of everyone in society. (Men and women are expected to marry to raise families, not because they feel passion for one another.) Ryan inserts a lot of dialogue about the importance of love versus the expectation of commitment (as if love somehow is opposed to commitment and does not entail it). She also portrays duty as something ugly and twisted. The other characters’ dedication to doing what is good for the village rather than what they personally desire (an understandable sentiment in light of their belief that they are the last remnants of humanity about to be overrrun by zombies) makes them seem like zealots devoid of all emotion. In fact, when people talk about this duty, their personalities even change. People who seem sweet, caring, and maybe even admirable suddenly turn into psychotic terrors when they talk about duty. Perhaps Ryan wants to show that constantly denying one’s feelings is unhealthy, but she goes too far.
Despite the heavy-handed messages delivered by the book, however, I was not remotely enchanted by this love affair. By making out with a man engaged to another woman, Mary was deluding herself, hurting the other woman, and driving a wedge into that couple’s future marriage. She talks about love, but what she was doing seems a lot like lust. She is physically attracted to the guy, so they make out. She later admits that she does not even know much about him–what he likes and dislikes, his hopes and his fears. She was just using his body to make herself feel better when she felt rejected by the rest of the village.
Mary’s own hopes and dreams are also apparently supposed to make her likable, but they too make her seem selfish. All she ever does is think about the ocean. She’s obsessed. She thinks it exists and she wants to go there, no matter what it costs. She is willing to leave friends and family behind if she has to. She is willing to sacrifice them to the Unconsecrated if she has to. This all seems very unreasonable. Unlike in other dystopias where the government is hiding something, the Sisterhood so far seems fairly innocuous. Yes, they have secret rooms and stuff and have not revealed their whole history to the village, but the fact remains that the outside world is actually overrun by zombies who will relentlessly pursue you to feast on your flesh. The Sisterhood has not lied about that. So why Mary thinks that the ocean is still a zombie-free paradise that she can skip on over to if she can just get past the fence remains a mystery.
Frankly, I do not understand why this book became a bestseller. The promises the plot makes about zombies and secrets all fall through. The romance is not romantic and the protagonist is not likable. The other characters are likable on occasion, but their personalities tend to change to fit the necessities of the plot. If I read the second book at all, it will only be to find out if the Sisterhood actually did have some deep, horrible secret and why the zombie apocalypse started in the first place.
Series: Pure #2
Published: February 1, 2013
We want our son returned. This girl is proof that we can save you all. If you ignore our plea, we will kill our hostages one at a time.
To be a Pure is to be perfect, untouched by Detonations that scarred the earth and sheltered inside the paradise that is the Dome. But Partridge escaped to the outside world, where Wretches struggle to survive amid smoke and ash. Now, at the command of Partridge’s father, the Dome is unleashing nightmare after nightmare upon the Wretches in an effort to get him back.
At Partridge’s side is a small band of those united against the Dome: Lyda, the warrior; Bradwell, the revolutionary; El Capitan, the guard; and Pressia, the young woman whose mysterious past ties her to Partridge in way she never could have imagined. Long ago a plan was hatched that could mean the earth’s ultimate doom. Now only Partridge and Pressia can set things right.
To save millions of innocent lives, Partridge must risk his own by returning to the Dome and facing his most terrifying challenge. And Pressia, armed only with a mysterious Black Box, containing a set of cryptic clues, must travel to the very ends of the earth, to a place where no map can guide her. If they succeed, the world will be saved. But should they fail, humankind will pay a terrible price..
In the sequel to Pure, Julianna Baggott once again immerses readers into her richly imagined dystopian world, one that is equal parts beauty and darkness. As Pressia, Partridge, and their companions race to take down the Dome, they travel farther than anyone has before, taking readers with them beyond the Dustlands. The broad scope of the geography in Fuse and the glimpses of history before the Detonations give Baggott’s world astonishing range and depth and mark the author as a master creator. The setting alone makes this book work reading.
However, has also raised the stakes of the plot in Fuse. Typical of dystopian novels, the protagonists have discovered some awful secret about their government and are planning to rebel against the corrupt societal system. Yet the standard dystopian plot elements stop there. Baggott’s plot is wild, unique, and unpredictable. Just when the characters think they have everything figured out, new evidence comes to light and new factors into play. Because the characters are so well-rounded and are continually developing as their journeys change them, they even surprise themselves sometimes, with the actions they are willing to take.
Baggott continues her method of writing every chapter in a different character’s point of view, choosing the character who has the most investment in the scene. The lack of order of the multiple POVs can be initially disorienting, but ultimately the approach works and gives readers valuable insights into every character’s thought process and personality.
The unusual POV switches add to the overall memorability of Baggott’s writing. She has a gift for writing beautiful descriptions and phrases that prompt readers to think about the world in different ways. Her voice is confident yet pensive, and she always writes as if she believes her readers are bright and strong enough to handle anything she throws at them.
Essentially, Fuse is the perfect follow-up to Pure. It includes all the most brilliant elements of Pure and intensifies them. Fuse has complex world-building, a strong plot, and memorable characters. A recommended read for those who like their books both smart and exciting.
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Goodreads: Monument 14
Series: Monument 14 #1
Source: Macmillan (Twitter giveaway)
Your mother hollers that you’re going to miss the bus. She can see it coming down the street. You don’t stop and hug her and tell her you love her. You don’t thank her for being a good, kind, patient mother. Of course not—you launch yourself down the stairs and make a run for the corner.
Only, if it’s the last time you’ll ever see your mother, you sort of start to wish you’d stopped and did those things. Maybe even missed the bus.
But the bus was barreling down our street, so I ran.
Fourteen kids. One superstore. A million things that go wrong.
In Emmy Laybourne’s action-packed debut novel Monument 14, six high school kids (some popular, some not), two eighth graders (one a tech genius), and six little kids trapped together in a chain superstore build a refuge for themselves inside. While outside, a series of escalating disasters, beginning with a monster hailstorm and ending with a chemical weapons spill, seems to be tearing the world—as they know it—apart.
With a group of children sheltering in a locked superstore while the world outside falls apart, Monument 14 promises to be a thrilling read. Unfortunately, the poor writing often distracts the reader from enjoying the plot or characters. The book is narrated by teenager Dean, and his voice is oddly stilted. He, and most of the characters, use contractions only sporadically, making their dialogue sound unnatural. Additionally, Dean is the type of first-person narrator who would be more believable as a third person narrator. He is strangely omniscient and observant, even for a character who is supposed to be a writer. It is difficult to imagine a teenaged boy who says things like “I did not really save the best for last because Batiste, the lone second grader, was a real handful” (paperback 29) or “I felt gray. Washed out. Like a stone” (paperback 35). I found the writing style painful enough I was ready to DNF at page 29, but I powered through to see what the rest of the book would bring.
From the beginning, I was ready to compare Monument 14 to Danya Lorentz’s No Safety In Numbers, as both books feature groups of children trapped in stores and facing disasters. The differences between the two quickly became clear, however. Laybourne writes about a small group of children, ranging from kindergarteners to high schools, who are in a superstore riding out natural diasters. Lorentz writes about a group of teenagers stuck in a mall with a large number of other people, all of whom want to get out because the danger is inside. The dynamics are distinct in each case, as the characters must face different dangers and different fears. In common: both groups have just about everything they need to survive, ready for the picking from the stores.
In Monument 14, this convenience is actually something of a detriment on Day 1 of the children’s lock-down. At this point, the children believe they will be in the store for only an hour or so. Their school bus has crashed during a hailstorm, and several students died in the accident, but the survivors are ready to return home. As they wait for aid to arrive (again, in literally an hour), they illogically start raiding the store. Anything they want, they take (believing their parents will have to pay) and they even break into the pizza restaurant and start baking themselves pie for lunch—at their adult bus driver’s advice. I may be in the minority, but this would not be my course of action in such an emergency.
The children’s sense of logic proceeds to fluctuate wildly throughout the remainder of the book. The kindergartners will seem abnormally wise and aware, until Laybourne seems to remember their age and sends them off to suck their thumbs in a corner and cry. The older children also behave very maturely for their ages. One does expect this in a post-apocalyptic novel, where children must grow up fast, but it would be nice if they encountered more difficulties solving their numerous challenges. No water? No problem. Someone has a solution to the hygiene problem in the next paragraph and begins building the necessary structures. One boy is a boy scout, but his troop could not have prepared him with a quick solution to literally every problem he might face in a post-apocalyptic world.
Beyond the universal gift of quick-thinking, the characters range in skills and personality: the average Joe narrator, the unattainable girl he loves, the jocks, the too-young girl trying to be sexy, the generally interchangeable kindergarteners. I personally felt no connection with any them, did not like any of them, and was not particularly interested in their fates. (I had a similar reaction to No Safety in Numbers, so perhaps I just don’t like teens stuck in stores.) Laybourne tries to give most of them moving backstories, but they often seem like things that are constructed by the author and then tacked on, rather than things are actually true about the characters.
The plot is not entirely lackluster and, in fact, features an ever-growing list of catastrophes that the children must face and solve. However, the writing is off-putting enough that I did not care for the novel and will not be reading the sequel. Many other readers, of course, have much more complimentary opinions of the series.
Content Note: Light language. Mature themes including sex and attempted rape.
Discuss! If you were stuck in a superstore, what area of the store would you raid first?
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Goodreads: The 5th Wave
Series: The 5th Wave #1
Official Summary: After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.
Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother—or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.
Review: In a world that has lost the majority of its population in a matter of months, children learn to be tough. Yancey introduces readers to a few of these survivors of the first, second, third, and fourth waves of alien attacks, whose lives unexpectedly interlock as they brace themselves for the fifth wave.
The book switches among multiple points of views, giving readers an intimate look at the lives and thoughts of each of the children. Often, particularly when a new POV is introduced, it is not clear until several pages into the chapter who is talking, creating a sense of disorientation that must be a less intense version of what the characters have felt since the aliens’ Arrival. The voices of these POVs do not sound incredibly distinct, but Yancey gives each character a few buzz words and thoughts so they seem unique enough for readers to believe each chapter is narrated by a different person.
Each person is focused first and foremost on survival, but the obstacles they face vary. Everyone has the problem of whom to trust: it is impossible to tell the difference between an alien and a human with the naked eye. Cassie, however, must also fight for her brother’s survival, and her promise to find him after he is taken from her carries her throughout the book. If she cannot keep her word, if she cannot find one person to care about when it seems everyone is going to die anyway, she is afraid she might lose her humanity completely. She is accompanied on her journey by Bear, her brother’s stuffed teddy to whom she grows particularly attached, in a way that might remind readers of Pressia’s symbolic attachment and clinging to the innocence of childhood in Julianna Baggott’s Pure. Other major characters include Evan, who wants to be responsible for Cassie’s survival, and Zombie, who wants to save another young child to atone for being unable to save his own baby sister. All have to navigate their prejudices and doubts and decide whether banding together, whether trusting, is one’s humanity’s strengths or flaws.
The plot, as one might expect, is incredibly tense. At any moment readers will expect an alien to round a corner and end it all for one of the protagonists; the protagonists expect this, too. Yancey also manages to maintain a high level of suspense far into the book. As he introduces new characters—both adult and children—he makes it difficult for readers to determine their motives. Just like the characters, readers have no idea whom to trust, who is human, and who is just pretending to be. The 5th Wave tests readers’ imaginations and critical thinking, asking them to run through the same calculations the characters must to survive: This person is either human or alien. If he is human, how would he act? If he were alien, how would he act? If he is not human, could he have any possible motive not to kill me? Should I kill him first?
Thematically, one can see that the book is incredibly interested in what being human even means. When everyone who looks like a human cannot be guaranteed to be one, characters start asking what other characteristics are essential. Problematically, the aliens seem to have far too many answers to that question, and are able to predict human behavior accurately enough to plot their attacks on the Earth to maximize human deaths. Recognizing the aliens’ knowledge, characters start searching deeper and try to discover what attributes they have that the aliens do not know about or do not have themselves. Can they be surprising enough to defeat the invaders?
The novel also takes an intimate look at death. I read The 5th Wave about the time I read Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich, a recognized classic on the subject. The 5th Wave interestingly has rather similar thoughts when touching upon issues like what death means, how humans react to it, how they should react to it, and how much they think about it, The discussion might be a little dark, but the characters find it all too relevant. We always assume death will come for others but not for us. But as one character observes, it turns out there are only the past-dead and the future-dead. Death will come for all of us. We can only try to make the most of our lives and then go out the way we think best.
I am not, in general, an avid consumer of alien novels or movies. The only titles that come immediately to mind are E.T. and H. G. Well’s The War of the Worlds (both alluded to, along with a number of other science fiction works, in The 5th Wave). Yancey’s book, however, has opened me up to the possibilities of the genre. The writing is tight and exciting, the characters encounter drastic situations that push them to the limits of their abilities, and the plot explores what is means for us to be human at all. A highly recommended read.
Published: May 2013
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Series: Pure #1
Official Summary: We know you are here, our brothers and sisters . . .
Pressia barely remembers the Detonations or much about life during the Before. In her sleeping cabinet behind the rubble of an old barbershop where she lives with her grandfather, she thinks about what is lost-how the world went from amusement parks, movie theaters, birthday parties, fathers and mothers . . . to ash and dust, scars, permanent burns, and fused, damaged bodies. And now, at an age when everyone is required to turn themselves over to the militia to either be trained as a soldier or, if they are too damaged and weak, to be used as live targets, Pressia can no longer pretend to be small. Pressia is on the run.
Burn a Pure and Breathe the Ash . . .
There are those who escaped the apocalypse unmarked. Pures. They are tucked safely inside the Dome that protects their healthy, superior bodies. Yet Partridge, whose father is one of the most influential men in the Dome, feels isolated and lonely. Different. He thinks about loss-maybe just because his family is broken; his father is emotionally distant; his brother killed himself; and his mother never made it inside their shelter. Or maybe it’s his claustrophobia: his feeling that this Dome has become a swaddling of intensely rigid order. So when a slipped phrase suggests his mother might still be alive, Partridge risks his life to leave the Dome to find her.
When Pressia meets Partridge, their worlds shatter all over again.
Review: Pure is a highly imaginative and thoughtful novel that will appeal to readers of all ages. The book is focused on issues that will resonate with many children and teens, but does not have a “young” voice or approach to its difficult subject matter. Baggott assumes her readers are intelligent and prepared to face the issues that Pressia and Partridge do. She leads readers through a wild, unique world and asks them to think deeply about life, mortality, childhood, and truth.
Pressia and Patridge are both richly developed characters who must adapt quickly to the circumstances of their broken world. They must define and redefine survival, strength, and trust. Each grows tremendously throughout the book and will doubtless continue to do so through the series. Readers are treated to chapters in both of their point of views, as well as two other characters’. Although the POV switches can be surprising at first, as there is no pattern, Baggott thoughtfully explained in a talk that I attended that she writes each chapter from the point of view of the character with the most at stake in the scene. So far, I think this approach is working well and adds a level of intensity to the novel that might not otherwise be present.
The prose of Pure is haunting and beautiful, and it also helps make the story palatable—at least to readers like me. I shied away from Pure for awhile, thinking myself too squeamish to handle a novel where characters are fused to objects, animals, and even other characters. A man with birds embedded in his back? Gross. However, Baggott writes the story in a way that these events seem about as natural as they must have become to the characters. It may be disturbing, but it is possible to overcome repulsion and move on with life. One gets the sense from Pure that perseverance like this is one of humanity’s greatest strengths.
One of my most highly recommended reads of 2013.
Goodreads: Black City
Series: Black City #1
Goodreads Summary: A dark and tender post-apocalyptic love story set in the aftermath of a bloody war.
In a city where humans and Darklings are now separated by a high wall and tensions between the two races still simmer after a terrible war, sixteen-year-olds Ash Fisher, a half-blood Darkling, and Natalie Buchanan, a human and the daughter of the Emissary, meet and do the unthinkable—they fall in love. Bonded by a mysterious connection that causes Ash’s long-dormant heart to beat, Ash and Natalie first deny and then struggle to fight their forbidden feelings for each other, knowing if they’re caught, they’ll be executed—but their feelings are too strong.
When Ash and Natalie then find themselves at the center of a deadly conspiracy that threatens to pull the humans and Darklings back into war, they must make hard choices that could result in both their deaths.
Review: Black City has an attention-grabbing premise. It is set in a seemingly post-apocalyptic world where Darklings (*coughvampirescough*) are segregated from humans because of their race. The two main characters, obviously, must first recognize their prejudices and then work to overcome the injustices and cruelty enacted by the government of their world. Deep themes and some kick-ass action? It sounds like the ultimate YA read. Unfortunately, it fails to deliver, and generally gives the impression of Twlight in a more interesting setting.
One major parallel between Twilight and Black City is the problematic romance. It is insta-love. There is a love triangle (albeit an unbelievable one). Ash is not as good of a boyfriend as Natalie blindly believes. The first two statements barely need elaboration. The third will need some defense.
(Minor spoilers in this paragraph about their relationship.) Ash is a drug dealer. That alone should send Natalie running. Instead, however, she rationalizes and defends it. She states that she is willing to accept the bad of Ash’s character with his good because she loves him. Now, recognizing that your boyfriend is human (er, half-human) and therefore flawed is one thing, a good thing. Expecting perfection is also bad for relationships. Yet suggesting he need not change major bad habits is dangerous. Couples, recognizing that neither of them is perfect, should help each other to become the best people they can be, instead of excusing negative qualities entirely. Natalie is setting a poor example for teens. Also, in case this was unclear, Ash deals drugs!
(Minor spoilers in this paragraph about their relationship). If that is not enough, Ash is sort of a cheater. He sees one other girl, recognizes he has a physical attraction to her, and is ready to run to her. How…endearing? Richards seems to be attempting to portray some inner struggle that Ash endures (which is clear once you read the book), but she fails. Ash does not struggle. He never tries to push the other girl away at all, but instead welcomes her touch in the name of “discovering which girl he is really attracted to.” It seems to be his opinion that your soul mate is whichever person you have the best time kissing, with her personality being irrelevant. This philosophy gets in the way of my personal interpretation of Ash’s being a kind person and a good boyfriend.
Black City also suffers from the quality of its writing. Individual sentences are fine; Richards clearly does have a wonderful command of the English writing. The overall construction of the novel, however, is flawed. Richards attempts to cram a lot of action into Black City—but very little of it is particularly exciting. In the first place, nothing unexpected happens. Even minor details click into place exactly the way a reader would envision them. There is not an excessive amount of foreshadowing that enables readers to predict plot events, but once plot events do occur, the immediate reaction is not surprise but a shrugged Yeah, that would happen. Secondly, so much happens that none of it is given the time it deserves in build-up, event, or aftermath. In Chapter 17 alone I made note of a sudden romance, a sudden fight, and a sudden death. This was anomaly in that usually each “major” occurrence—such as a dramatic rift between friends—lasts for one or two whole chapters.
The world behind all this events does not fare much better. Black City sounds like a fascinating place, but its history is unclear. To start, whether this novel is set in a future version of our world or in some alternate universe where there is also a United (Sentry) States is unclear. (In Nameless by Lili St. Crow, for example, there are vampiric creatures who suddenly appeared in what was previously our world. The same could be true of Black City, but it is a mystery.) Next, the history of the Darklings is underdeveloped. Readers do learn that the enforced segregation is very recent, having occurred during Natalie’s lifetime. But how did Darklings and humans live together before then? Richards implies it was fairly peaceful—but then later states that if segregation were to end, Darklings would need to find a way to eat besides drugging and feeding on humans. I dislike sounding as if I would be on the racist government’s side in this novel, but if the modus operandi for Darklings had always been to attack, drug, and drain humans, I understand their dislike and fear. In minor details, the word “fragg” as a curse can be annoying (I dislike invented profanity in general, so no offense to Black City), and the fact that Ash’s fangs tend to throb whenever he is angry or amorous is funny and maybe unnecessary. The parallel drawn to male genitals here made me mildly uncomfortable, especially for something that served little purpose.
I dislike having to write such a negative for Black City. I very honestly believed it had potential, first from the summary and second from the fact that Penguin had decided to publish it even though the vampire trend is very close to dead. I trust editors, and they clearly see something special and innovative about Black City. In the end, I just did not see it, too. However, there are a lot of very positive reviews for this book, and if paranormal romance and vampires is something you as a reader really love, this book could work for you. If you like Twilight, especially, I think this has many of the same characteristics—but better.
Published: November 13, 2012
Goodreads: Eden’s Root
Series: Eden’s Root Trilogy #1
Source: Received from author
Summary: Before his death, thirteen-year-old Fi Kelly’s father warns her of an impending global crisis and encourages her to train so that she and her family can survive. Faced with a food shortage and the knowledge that one of her family has already contracted the deadly Sickness, Fi strikes out into the wilderness in a desperate attempt to lead those she loves to safety. The world, however, has descended into chaos and it will take all of Fi’s resourcefulness and strength to ensure her family arrives.
Review: Though Eden’s Root is based on the premise of a global food shortage caused by the irresponsible application of science, the story spends little time on this aspect, choosing instead to focus on the characters and their relationships. Each member of Fi’s family proves both lovable and likeable, and the way they consciously make an effort to interact with each other respectfully and meaningfully sets this book apart from other angsty offerings. The characters drive the story and a desire to see their fates will keep readers turning pages.
Initially the amount of caring people left in a world literally falling apart before their eyes seems implausible. Cold logic, after all, suggests that the majority would place their own needs before those of others. Even Fi’s father leaves his girl with directions to learn to lie, steal, and fight if she wants to stay alive. He makes her promise she will save no one but her mother and sister. However, Fisher reminds readers that tragedy sometimes brings out the best in people. Although violence and panic predictably erupt when the world population realizes a catastrophe has occurred, many of the survivors recognize that they truly need each other. They put aside their differences sometimes to work together, sometimes simply because they are tired of the bloodshed. Fisher balances expertly between pessimism and optimism in her characterization, offering a world that is diverse and real.
The main characters exemplify this commitment to diversity as Fisher collects a group varied in age, race, and ability. She notes how each person contributes to the family and is valued, even if they do not possess the same skills. Though a post-apocalyptic world might seem to favor the young and the fit, especially those able to fight, the family celebrates all talents and contributions. Older members who cannot hunt or raid offer knowledge, childcare, or simply the rare ability to keep peace in a large, weary group. Younger members might know how to orienteer or they might simply offer a cheerful disposition. The family recognizes the intrinsic value of each person even as they ironically enact Food Laws allotting more sustenance to those they believe have the greater likelihood of surviving.
The one main flaw in characterization turns out to be the protagonist Fi. Her father entrusts her with the incredible responsibility of leading her family across the wilderness during post-apocalyptic madness when she is only thirteen. Fortunately, Fi proves an expert in martial arts and marksmanship and has a natural capacity for directing others that persuades a large group including adults to place themselves unquestioningly into her care. Quite simply, I didn’t buy it. Increasing Fi’s age by a few years and giving her some more time to train would make all the difference. Some tension over the family leadership when the journey becomes rough would also make the story more realistic.
Some editing to fix various grammar mistakes and to streamline the plot would improve the story immensely. Overall, however, Eden’s Root presents itself as a careful and professional work. The intriguing premised combined with the likeable characters will make readers eager to get their hands on the next installment.
Series: The Chemical Garden #1
Goodreads Summary: By age sixteen, Rhine Ellery has four years left to live. She can thank modern science for this genetic time bomb. A botched effort to create a perfect race has left all males with a lifespan of 25 years, and females with a lifespan of 20 years. Geneticists are seeking a miracle antidote to restore the human race, desperate orphans crowd the population, crime and poverty have skyrocketed, and young girls are being kidnapped and sold as polygamous brides to bear more children. When Rhine is kidnapped and sold as a bride, she vows to do all she can to escape. Her husband, Linden, is hopelessly in love with her, and Rhine can’t bring herself to hate him as much as she’d like to. He opens her to a magical world of wealth and illusion she never thought existed, and it almost makes it possible to ignore the clock ticking away her short life. But Rhine quickly learns that not everything in her new husband’s strange world is what it seems. Her father-in-law, an eccentric doctor bent on finding the antidote, is hoarding corpses in the basement. Her fellow sister wives are to be trusted one day and feared the next, and Rhine is desperate to communicate to her twin brother that she is safe and alive. Will Rhine be able to escape–before her time runs out? Together with one of Linden’s servants, Gabriel, Rhine attempts to escape just before her seventeenth birthday. But in a world that continues to spiral into anarchy, is there any hope for freedom?
Review: The story of Wither is built around an intriguing, disturbing premise. In the future, people die, without fail, in their early twenties, and humanity is left in a desperate race to find a cure before the entire population disappears. Readers will be drawn in from the first pages, wondering how the scenario will play out.
Most of the story, however, is not focused on this search for a miracle. Instead, it closely follows protagonist Rhine as she is sucked into the alien world of the wealthy, who are eager to spend fortunes on stunning home illusions and parties in an attempt to enjoy their lives while they last. DeStefano’s depiction of the luxurious world is imaginative and captivating, as tempting to readers as it is to Rhine. She must continuously struggle against the life that has been forced upon her, always remember that beyond the endless gardens and orange grove and course for miniature gulf, that she once had a different home, one with family if without wealth.
She begins to find, however, that it may be possible to build a different sort of family. One with her sister wives and the servants, if not with the House Governor, her husband, whom she is determined to hate. The relationships that develop between the girls are complex, sometimes strained but sometimes moving. The fact that they are in a polygamous relationship can occasionally escape the reader’s memory because they spend so much time together trying to be friends. This is doubtless the result of a concerted effort by DeStefano to soften an incredibly creepy plot aspect. Her other main endeavor to make the polygamy palatable is evident in Rhine’s consistent refusal to actually have intercourse with her husband. Nonetheless, their strange sister wife relationship to each other and to their husband is disturbing.
It may honestly be the most disturbing facet of the book. In many ways, DeStefano fails to deliver on her dystopian/post apocalyptic ideas, and her world ends up inconsistent. For instance, readers may wonder why, if women are in such high demand, they are frequently murdered. Or why women must be kidnapped to be brides. Or why only the upper classes are eager to reproduce. Or why no one bothers with education anymore if they really want to find a cure. Or even what purpose it serves to the plot for North America to be the only continent left in existence. (Perhaps this is supposed to be an easy solution to the question of how everyone in the world, including very poor countries, would have all turned to genetic engineering so quickly?) Answers are not forthcoming, and the lack of explanations makes Wither less believable and therefore less powerful.
The level of potential fear is also diminished by the fact that there is absolutely no hint as to what evil deeds Rhine’s father-in-law is supposedly up to in the basement. He is doing something—he is murderous and controlling and has corpses he of people he claims had been cremated—but without an idea of what his experiments are (besides the fact that they must evil), readers cannot be overly concerned about them. One can only imagine that the whole mystery will be cleared up later in the series, but by the ending of the Wither, it seems though an interesting plot turn will have to occur for that reveal even to happen.
Wither is unique and rather fascinating. It is filled with a cast of strong and unforgettable characters. Its most obvious characteristic, however, is its failure to live up to its own potential. The plotline, concept, and relationships are enough to lead readers to the sequel Fever—after all, who wants to leave a story without discovering whether the human race survives?—but there are so many ways by which readers could have been made even more eager to find out what happens.
*Posted for the Catch Wither Fever event hosted by The Overstuffed Bookcase and The Daily Bookmark.