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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: Old Man’s War by John Scalzi (Series, #1)

September 12, 2014 3 comments

A line of spaceships head toward a planet.Summary:
John Perry joined the Colonial Defense Force on his 75th birthday.  Americans aren’t allowed to be colonists in outer space, but they can defend the colonies in the outer space army.  Old folks join for many reasons from boredom to having always wanted to see outer space, even though details of what goes on out there are kept secret from Earth.  In spite of all the secrecy, the rumor is that those who join the CDF get to be young again, and who wouldn’t want a second chance at life?

Review:
Multiple friends have read this book and loved it, and of course I found the idea intriguing, who wouldn’t?  So when a friend offered to loan me his copy, I took him up on it right away.  I was not disappointed in the world Scalzi has created, it is endlessly fascinating, but the main character’s arc failed to be quite so interesting to me.

I can’t imagine how anyone would not find the basic premise of this book interesting.  Outer space colonies that are kept a mystery from Earth.  Only certain countries allowed to colonize (primarily those suffering from population overload). Top it off with a colonial army made entirely up of old people who supposedly get to be young again?  Completely. Fascinating.  And Scalzi really comes through on the science of all of this, the politics, and manages to have some surprises in there, in spite of the what seems to be very straight-forward book summary.  And the world beyond the soldiers and the colonists is utterly fascinating as well.  The aliens are incredibly creatively imagined, not just in their looks but in their cultures.  They feel real.  And that extends to the battles and spaceships as well.  The worldbuilding here is phenomenal.  It is an example of how scifi worlds should be built.

The main character, though, as well as his character development arc, fail to live up to the incredible worldbuilding.  John Perry, from early on, is talented at war, in spite of having only been an advertising slogan writer for his whole life.  He has no real life experience that would make one think he would be good at war. Additionally, even when he is doing battle, he’s kind of flat on the page.  He doesn’t jump off as the leader he supposedly is supposed to naturally be.  Other characters feel that way, but not John.  In fact, I frequently found myself far more interested in the secondary characters around John than in John himself.  I was willing to give this a bit of a pass since, well, the character has to live for us to continue to see the wars he’s fighting, and maybe Scalzi has a thing for unlikely heroes.  But his character arc takes an odd turn at the end that really bothered me.

*spoiler warning*
John meets a special forces woman who is in his dead wife’s body.  Basically, his dead wife’s DNA was used as a base to build a genetically enhanced body. Ok, I’m fine with that, even if it seems unnecessary. But then John becomes obsessed with her, and she with him, even though she is very clearly NOT his wife.  Then at the end, he asks her to move to a colonial farm with him when they retire. And she says yes. Whaaaaat?! This isn’t romance; this is gross! The special forces woman has as much in common with John’s wife as her sister would at this point, since they have messed with the DNA so much.  This is like John pursuing his dead wife’s sister, who is emotionally only 6, since she was put into a fully adult body 6 years ago and had no life prior to that.  It’s gross. It is not romantic.  And I really think the reader is supposed to see it as romantic, when instead it squicked me out far more than any of the aliens in the book, including the ones with slimy appendages or the ones who eat humans.
*end spoilers*

Overall, this is an utterly fascinating scifi world with a bit of a ho-hum main character.  The ending may disappoint some readers, and Scalzi’s politics can come through a bit obviously sometimes.  However, those at all intrigued by the plot summary or interested in high quality scifi world building should check it out.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Borrowed

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Book Review: Acacia: The War With the Mein by David Anthony Durham (Series, #1) (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

Acacia tree against a sunset.Summary:
The Akarans have ruled the Known World for twenty-two generations, but the wrongfully exiled Meins have a bit of a problem with that.  They enact a take-over plot whose first action is assassinating the king.  Suddenly his four children are flung to different parts of the Known World in exile where they will need to come to terms with who they are, who the Mein are, and the wrongs past generations of Akarans committed in order to help the Known World make a change for the better.

Review:
I have a big announcement to make. Huge even.  THIS IS THE FIRST HIGH FANTASY BOOK I HAVE LOVED.  There. I said it!  And it’s true.

I wish I had some vague idea of how this ended up on my TBR pile.  The only clue I have is that I acquired it via PaperBackSwap, so I know I got it very intentionally after reading a review or something somewhere.  But where? And why?  Who knows!  It was entirely out of my comfort zone, took me much longer than my norm to read (over two weeks according to GoodReads), and yet. I loved every moment of it.

A momentous occasion such as this obviously leaves me asking why.  Why when I generally am irritated by most high fantasy did this one not just not bug me but worm its way into my heart?  This is a key question, because it’s something that helps stories cross genres.  I do have an answer, but of course it has many elements.

First, although this primarily depicts a war, no side is depicted as pure evil or good.  Both sides have good points and flaws.  Good people work for both.  Bad people work for both.  The Akaran king isn’t a bad guy per se, but he’s allowing things to happen under his rule that are bad.  The Meins have a just cause, but they do horrible things in the process of achieving that cause.  This realistic complexity is something that I have found to be sorely missing in other fantasy.  The Known World is its own fantastical place with its own cultures and history, but it is realistic in the fact that everything is complex and nothing is clear-cut.

Second, the female characters are incredibly well-written.  They are well-rounded, strong and yet vulnerable.  Beautiful and yet terrifying.  They are innately a part of the world depicted, not just princesses in a tall tower or the girl at the side of the field whose beauty inspires the men.  Women are historically a part of the Akaran army, and the two Akaran princesses have strengths and flaws of PEOPLE.  They are not “female flaws.”  They are people who happen to have vaginas.  It is some of the best writing of women I’ve seen from a male writer in a while.

Third, the Known World is complex and eloquently imagined, yet clear and easy to understand.  It is its own thing, but it is similar enough to our own real world that I wasn’t left grasping for straws trying to understand things.  People in cold climates are pale, and people in deserts are dark.  The animals range from recognizable horses and monkeys to fantastical creatures that are a mix of rhinoceroses and pigs.  It is creative yet fathomable.

Finally, the storyline is complex.  I could not predict what was going to happen next at any moment, really.  The ending caught me completely by surprise, and I am baffled as to what Durham will be doing with the middle book of the trilogy.  Baffled and impatient.

My god. I love a fantasy story.

Overall, this is now the book I will hold up when people ask me what is good fantasy.  It is what leaves me with hope for the genre that it can be more than pasty white men wishing for a patriarchal past of quivering ladies in waiting and knights fighting dragons.  Fantasy can imagine a world where some things are better than ours, and yet other things are worse.  It can be a reflection of our own world through a carnival mirror.  Something that makes us think hard while getting lost.  I highly recommend it to anyone looking for those things in their reading.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Book Review: The Walking Dead, Book Four by Robert Kirkman (Series, #4) (Graphic Novel)

December 29, 2011 3 comments

Pregnant woman in yellow surrounded by zombies.Summary:
After escaping the horrors of Woodbury with two new additions to the group in tow, Rick, Michonne, and Glenn high-tail it back to the prison where they warn the other survivors and start prepping to defend their turf.  Meanwhile daily life goes on, including a birth, more missing limbs, and a wedding.

Review:
This entry in the series is mind-blowingly awesome.  Kirkman demonstrates that he not only is full of surprises, but also pulls no punches.  Our group of survivors have their world torn completely apart. And it’s delicious.

First, we have the return of The Governor, and not as a zombie as I’m sure I wasn’t the only one suspecting.  He is back missing an arm, an eye, and (I think it’s safe to assume) a dick.  This all just makes him even more ferocious and terrifying than before, although that comes as no surprise considering that he is now the man with no penis.  But yes, the full-page shot of him arriving at the prison in top of a tank? Fucking. Awesome.

There’s also a lot more zombie action this time around, although I do wonder why it is in pretty much every post-apocalyptic zombie books, no one calls them what they are?  The prison folks say roamers, and the Woodbury folks say biters. Um, hello? They are zombies. Be realistic, people. Distancing yourself from your fears won’t help any.  In any case, those of us who are huge fans of zombies are pleasantly greeted with many more and varied drawings of them, as well as attacks on people.  Zombie gnawing on a dude’s leg? Yes, please.

On a more serious note, the theme of this entry is war.  It’s war on a small scale, but it is still war.  This is actually quite cool, because it allows Kirkman to show the dangers of war and truthiness on an easier to understand, up-close-and-personal level.  The Governor is smart.  He manipulates his people (except those closest to him) into believing that those at the prison are the type of evil that he, in fact, is.  They thus go in hell-bent on murdering innocent people, who then have to shoot back to defend themselves.  The most powerful moment of this, of course, is when a woman from Woodbury realizes she has killed a baby and essentially loses her mind from the instantaneous guilt.  It’s a powerful lesson (or reminder) to readers presented in a unique package.  The distancing of the situation from reality by the presence of zombies only allows the clarity of the concept of an unjust war to really sink in.

This is absolutely the best entry in the series so far.  I cannot wait to find out what happens to the demolished survivors next.  Fans of the earlier books should pick this one up asap.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Public Library

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Previous Books in Series:
The Walking Dead, Book One (review)
The Walking Dead, Book Two (review)
The Walking Dead, Book Three (review)

Book Review: Rage by Jackie Morse Kessler (Series, #2)

June 13, 2011 2 comments

Red sword on cloudy background.Summary:
Melissa Miller is your typical 16 year old–mom, dad, annoying sister, a jerk of an ex-boyfriend–with one small difference.  She deals with her emotions by cutting herself.  She keeps a razor in a locked box in her closet and pulls it out when she gets overwhelmed.  One night she accidentally cuts too deep, and Death shows up with an option.  Either die now or become one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse–War.  Missy chooses the latter option, and as she gets to know the other Horsemen and her job as War, she starts to realize she needs to face the rage inside her.

Review:
Speaking as someone who knows a lot about mental illness, self-injury is one of the illnesses that people who don’t have it have the most difficulty understanding.  It seems bizarre to those who don’t self-injure, even as for the self-injurer those moments of cutting or burning or whatever chosen method are the best coping mechanism they can come up with.  It’s not easy for those who don’t self-injure to understand, which is why I am so impressed at how well Morse Kessler has grasped the inner workings of the self-injurer in order to write such a well-rounded, sympathetic character as Missy.

Missy is simultaneously relatable as a typical teenager, for instance she gets horribly embarrassed at a party one night, but she also has this deep, dark, misunderstood secret.  Gradually other teens find out and are either concerned or lash out at her due to their fear and lack of understanding, but Missy feels that she can’t confide in even the sympathetic ones.  In perhaps one of the most powerful passages, the reader gets to see exactly why Missy cuts, while she simultaneously explains why she can’t explain it to her sister.

She could tell her that she turned to the blade because she wanted to live and sometimes pain was the only thing that kept her alive. She could tell her that she was terrified of things she couldn’t even begin to name, that friends could be fickle and lovers could be false. She could try to explain all of that and more, and maybe her sister would understand. But trust was as fragile and cutting as a crystal sword. (page 100)

That is perhaps the most clear, succinct explanation of self-injury I’ve seen outside of nonfiction clinical books.  Missy’s reasons for cutting are clear, even as it becomes more and more evident to the reader that this coping mechanism is not truly addressing Missy’s real problems.

Of course, the fantasy element comes to play here again, and it works perhaps even better this time around.  Giving the fantasy personas for Missy to talk to and express herself to gives her a safe space to think out her emotions instead of cutting them out.  There are also a few cameos from Famine, which is fun to see after reading the first book.  The fantasy also works here because it  helps give the book a distance that makes it less triggering.  There are intense emotional moments, but then Death shows up with a humorous quip to lighten the situation.  It addresses the real problems without getting bogged down in over-emotionality.

This book will give self-injuring teens a way to see themselves reflected in literature and accepted and loved for who they are.  It will give them a chance to maybe address their own emotions and issues.  Similarly, non-self-injuring teens will hopefully become more empathetic to their peers who struggle with it.  It’s a book that is simultaneously enlightening but not preachy.  I highly recommend it to teens and those who work in mental health or with teenagers.

5 out of 5 stars

Source:  Amazon

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Previous Books in Series:
Hunger, review

Counts For:
Pile of books.