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Audiobook Review: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey (Series, #1) (Audiobook narrated by Brandon Espinoza and Phoebe Strole)

March 7, 2016 3 comments

Audiobook Review: The 5th Wave by Rick yancey (Series, #1) (Audiobook narrated by Brandon Espinoza and Phoebe Strole)Summary:
When a giant spaceship showed up above Earth that wasn’t ours, Cassie and everyone else expected contact. What they didn’t expect was waves of attacks, everything from EMP to disease. Now, she’s at a refugee camp with her father and little brother wondering what the 5th wave of the attack might be. When it comes, will they even know?

Review:
I really enjoyed Rick Yancey’s other series (The Monstrumologist, series review). I must admit to being surprised that this is the series that got picked up into a movie. I didn’t find the blurb nearly as intriguing as that of The Monstrumologist. But since I liked the other series so much, I figured I’d give it a shot. While I can see why it’s taken off, I don’t find it to be as well-constructed or nearly as unique as Yancey’s other series.

The beginning of the book is very slow-paced. Cassie is off hiding in the woods on her own and through her diary where she tries to deal with what has happened the reader learns about the waves of the alien invasion. I like a diary book, but the slow pacing just really didn’t work for a book about an alien invasion.

At a certain point, this narration switches for one chapter to that of the perspective of an alien. Then it switches to the perspective of a boy from Cassie’s high school she had a crush on and his experiences with the alien invasion. Later it flips back to Cassie, only it’s now no longer her diary. Her diary just sort of gets dropped. While I can enjoy multiple narrators, I don’t think these are handled as well as they could have been. The chapter from the alien’s perspective ruins any tension or mystery that had been building around a certain event, in particular. Often switching between Cassie and Ben just feels like it’s convenient for world building and not adding very much to the plot. That said, I do like that the “star” position of this YA action is shared between a boy and a girl fairly equally.

The plot, although slow-moving, starts out strong. There is a plot twist that made me roll my eyes and that I think makes this less unique in YA literature than it started out.

Initially it appears that there will be no love triangle but there ends up being one. I can’t go into the details without some big spoilers but I will say that you make it through most of the book without a love triangle, and then there ends up being one in the last bit. It was disappointing, as I thought something more unique was being done (something akin to a crush turning into a real friendship…but that’s not what happens).

Ultimately the book ends up feeling less about aliens and more about the horrors of child soldiers and war stealing childhood. I definitely think scifi can bring a current issue such as this to people’s attention, but I also think the narration and various irritating and/or confusing plot points ultimately weakens the point. I doubt when I was a teen that such a book would have made me think about child soldiers. Instead I would have felt misled by the title and blurb and been irritated about that, distracting from the point.

All of that said, if a YA reader is looking for an apocalyptic setting featuring dual leads instead of one hero, this is a book that will fit that bill. Just be sure the reader is ok with some surprisingly slow-moving portions for a book with an action-packed blurb. However, I would suggest that a YA reader looking for something truly different check out Yancey’s other YA series: The Monstrumologist.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Book Review: The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (Series, #1)

March 10, 2011 16 comments

Road against an orange sky.Summary:
Todd grew up on New World knowing only the constant Noise of other men’s thoughts all around him.  He’s never known a world where a boy couldn’t hear his dog talk or where women weren’t all killed off by a horrible plague.  Now, mere days before his 13th birthday when he will become a man, his world is turned upside down when his adoptive parents, Ben and Cillian, tell him to run.  Run past the swamp.  Run and find another settlement.  A settlement he never knew existed on New World.  He runs with his dog, Manchee, and on the way, they find a creature.  A creature whose thoughts they cannot hear.

Review:
This book came recommended to me by three different friends, and I can see based on the summary why they would do so.  It’s a dystopia on another planet with talking animals and a narrator who speaks in a mix of rural Americana and British English.  The fact is though, I wound up not enjoying this book, and it probably would have been a “did not finish” if I’d had a print copy I could re-sell instead of an ebook I couldn’t.  So what’s wrong with it?

Not the world-building.  That was truly excellent.  The wordle-like clouds of Noise that Todd can hear really bring that aspect of New World to life.  Similarly, what the animals say are appropriate to their various evolutionary levels, from Manchee’s partial toddler-like sentences to the herd of elephants who simply say “here” over and over to keep the herd together.  Every single scene on New World is easily imaginable in spite of it being quite a foreign location from the buildings to the presence of Noise.

The plot itself isn’t bad but also isn’t amazing.  There’s a secret in Todd’s village that we discover at the end of the book that, frankly, did not live up to the build-up.  However, that in and of itself doesn’t make me dislike a book.  The plot was enough to keep me intrigued, which is the important part, even if in the end it is a bit disappointing.

After much thought I’ve realized that it’s the characters that kept me from enjoying the book, particularly Todd who is also the narrator.  I just cannot relate to him at all.  I’ve managed to relate to first person narrators ranging from lunatics to serial killers to girly girls to devout Catholics, but Todd is utterly unrelatable to me.  He is just so incredibly fucking stupid.  Not stupid in the mentally handicapped way.  Stupid in the willfully ignorant way that makes me just want to slap him upside the head.  For instance, he has this book the whole journey that Ben tells him will explain everything, yet he never sits down to read it.  He takes forever to admit he struggles with reading and ask someone else to read it.  This is information he needs, and yet he persists in willfully ignoring it.  He reminds me of the kids in highschool who wouldn’t do their homework because it wasn’t “cool.”  Similarly, I’m sorry, but he’s kind of a pussy, and that irks me.  He is fighting not just for himself but for the safety of his dog and another person, but he refuses to man up.  I found myself siding with the villains in this regard, and I’m sure that’s not what the author wanted.  Similarly, I do not understand why it takes him so long to come around to appreciating Manchee even though he can hear his thoughts from day one and knows that Manchee loves him unconditionally.  What the hell, Todd?  How are you such an unfeeling idiot, eh?  In the end, I simply could not enjoy the book, because although I felt appropriate loathing for the villains, I also loathed the hero and just could not bring myself to care about his plight.  The only character I was rooting for at all was Manchee, and that’s not enough to carry a dystopian adventure.

I’m sure there are people out there who can either identify with Todd or empathize with him.  For those people who can do so and also enjoy a dystopian adventure, I recommend this book.  Anyone who thinks they’ll be even remotely irritated by Todd should stay far away though.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Book Review: It by Stephen King

February 3, 2011 2 comments

Creepy looking clown.

Summary:
In the late 1950s in the small town of Derry, Maine, children are being mysteriously murdered.  Seven misfit and outcast kids band together to face It, and they think they’ve beaten it, but 27 years later, the murders return.  Vaguely remembering a promise they all made, the now adults return to their hometown of Derry to face It again.

Review:
This tale is largely known in the States as “that scary clown story,” so for years I avoided it.  I’ve been terrified of clowns for as long as I can remember.  My parents tell me that the first time I ever saw one, I screamed uncontrollably.  My only encounter with Stephen King’s It (as it’s known in the States) was with a diorama of the clown from the movie in a haunted house I went through in Salem, MA.  It scared the crap out of me, so I was a bit nervous to read this book.  However, having read the Dark Tower series, I wanted to read all of the other stories that King lists as taking place in the same general universe, and It was one of them.  So I manned up and read it, and boy am I ever glad I did.

This is not a cheesy scary clown story.  What it is is first a character study and second a commentary on growing up.  The dual horror of being a kid and being excited and afraid to grow up and being an adult and being excited and concerned that you are grown up and may have lost a part of yourself in childhood.  King very clearly demonstrates that being a kid isn’t all fun and games–most of the kids in the group of 7 have bad home lives–but there is an essential hope that children have that is hard to reclaim as an adult.  A child is able to have a horrible experience with a shape-shifting werewolf or a bunch of bullies and then walk a couple of blocks and forget about it and be excited to see American Bandstand that night.  Children are incredibly resilient, and King demonstrates that.

What makes the story though is the return to Derry 27 years later.  King puts a hope in adults that although they may not remember exactly what it is to be a resilient child, they can still repossess that power in later life.  Although the first inclination of kids to survive is to forget the bad, an adult can remember and still survive.  For at the beginning, the characters don’t want to remember what happened to them as kids.

Did he remember?  Just enough not to want to remember any more. (Location 1416)

Yet the characters are brave and face their childhoods.  Yes, King personifies both the childhood evils and the remembering of them as an adult with It, but that’s part of what makes the story powerful.  There’s a reason people refer to memories as personal demons.  That’s how they feel.  In the end, the way the characters grow and change and overcome is to find

A way to be people that had nothing to do with their parents’ fears, hopes, constant demands.  (Location5631)

Beyond the excellent symbolism and allegory for the experience of surviving bad things in your childhood and facing them again as an adult, the horror itself is wonderful.  It comes at just the right frequency so that the reader settles into a sense of security only to be blind-sided by a terrifically horrifying experience.  There were sections that literally had me jumping at the sound of my own phone ringing in the silence.  These are some of the better passages of creepy horror that I’ve read written by King.

Of course, the allusions to the universe of the Gunslinger are there.  It gave me chills to recognize them as I read.  Among just a few were the turtle, spiders, and other worlds than these.  One particular line that gave me chills of recognition that other fans of the Dark Tower series will be sure to appreciate is

Eddie had drawn his aspirator.  He looked like a crazed malnourished gunslinger with some weird pistol.  (Location 20760)

Combining everything from the horror to the allegory of facing childhood demons to the allusions to the Dark Tower series make Stephen King’s It a remarkable read.  I recommend it to fans of Stephen King, as well as anyone interested in the idea of childhood demons who feels they can handle passages of horror.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Movie Review: Saw (2004)

December 14, 2010 5 comments

Creepy, dirty foot and hand.Summary:
Two men wake to find themselves chained on opposite sides of a worn-down, underground bathroom, the newest victims of Jigsaw.  Jigsaw doesn’t actually commit murder himself, but instead puts people into situations where they have to make horrible choices in an attempt to save their own life.  These men are told the only way out is for one of them to kill the other, and as their time limit ticks on greater amounts of information are revealed about the men’s lives and Jigsaw’s previous victims.

Review:
My very first comment as the end credits rolled was, “Holy crap, I can see why this became a franchise.”  The story is sufficiently complex to hold interest.  Jigsaw is incredibly creepy as he uses a voice distorted puppet to communicate to his victims.  Puppets are always creepy.  Bottom line.  I love the concept of a serial kidnapper/torturer doing so presumably to teach people a lesson as opposed to just really enjoying gore.

Speaking of gore, it definitely exists in the film, but the most gut-wrenching moments take place just off-screen.  Apparently this was re-edited as the original cut showed those moments on-screen, and the MPAA required the cuts for it to receive an R rating.  Personally, I think given their low budget, it works better letting the audience’s imagination fill in the worst moments.

Also, Losties will be pleased to know that Michael Emerson, aka creeptastic Ben, has a rather significant role in the film.  I loved his acting so much in Lost, and his work here is just as good.  I may have squealed a bit every time he showed up on screen.  One casting negative, though, is Cary Elwes, who plays one of the men locked in the bathroom, has the worst fake American accent ever.  He repeatedly slips in and out of it.  I have no idea why they didn’t either just let him be British or hire an American actor for the part.  Very odd.

Overall, this horror movie primarily gives viewers chills from the whole idea of such a situation far more so than gore.  If horror movies are your thing, you definitely need to give the Saw franchise a shot.  It became a franchise for a reason.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

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