Monthly Archives: March 2013

Review: The Passage

The Passage
The Passage by Justin Cronin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Addendum to review: I really loved this book. But after writing my review, I read some of the others, and found a large spread, which leads to an overall rating of about 4.0. Reading them, I was struck by the different expectations of the reviewers/readers. Some objected to it’s length, over 700 pages, and some found it dull at times, or with uneven pacing. Let me clear this up with my thoughts on it. This book is not guts and glory, blood and gore (although that’s not such a bad thing at times). It is not your typical vampire/zombie book. It is the journey of the intertwining lives of several people, over a space of time and place. At first it starts out with how. Then moves on to the journey they take, and then the why. You don’t have to believe in God, I don’t, but I think it helps if you believe in some uniting thing, like humanity, “the Force,” or simply cosmic threads that interweave – the Butterfly Effect, or even Kismet, fate, etc. It is both a metaphysical journey in places as well as the personal journeys of these people. Its companion book, “The Twelve,” both a prequel and sequel combined, says on the back that it was a top ten book for 2010 for Time and Library Journal, as well as one of the best books of the year by the Washington Post, Esquire, U.S. News and World Reports, NPR, etc. So my stance on it is in good company. But if you are cautious about exploring new avenues, I encourage you to read the other reviews as well, to get a feel for the divergent views on this book, ranging from 1 star to 5. Since they all balance out to 4 stars, I’d say the majority gave it a high rating.

This over 700 page book took me 5 days to read – a rec ord, since I read for hours each night. But it was worth it. A tour de force, in a undead-vampire hybrid book. It starts out with the story of a military experiment gone awry, which quickly escalates into chaos that collapses the U.S. and possibly the world. Left are at least one pocket of survivors. Most of the book focuses on the group – how it came to be, and some central characters, strongly delineated, that stood at the heart of the book – ones that wanted to know, not just survive. Among them was “Amy” a young girl, maybe 13, who arrived at the Colony walls one day, about 100 years after the virus came and wiped out most of the population. Where she came from, how she got there, how she survived was a question she couldn’t answer. She didn’t speak. But some realized that she was different – that she radiated a power and a peace about her, and were determined to protect her at all costs. This led to a dangerous journey from southern California to Colorado – to the heart of where it all began, and finally down south to Texas. Sweeping, majestic, full of hope, human triumphs and failure, it is the most upbeat book on a world of chaos, which is why I didn’t classify it as “dystopian,” even though things are not rosy. Much is gone and most are barely hanging on, knowledge lost. But throughout the book, the message is clear – that if you open your mind and heart, answers will come, and things will get better. It delves deeply into each of the twelve that started out – with complex interpersonal relations, secrets, and yet abiding deep friendships. A must-read. Not sure how I missed this book that graced a large number of best books lists of 2010.

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Review: The Passage

The Passage
The Passage by Justin Cronin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This over 700 page book took me 5 days to read – a rec ord, since I read for hours each night. But it was worth it. A tour de force, in a undead-vampire hybrid book. It starts out with the story of a military experiment gone awry, which quickly escalates into chaos that collapses the U.S. and possibly the world. Left are at least one pocket of survivors. Most of the book focuses on the group – how it came to be, and some central characters, strongly delineated, that stood at the heart of the book – ones that wanted to know, not just survive. Among them was “Amy” a young girl, maybe 13, who arrived at the Colony walls one day, about 100 years after the virus came and wiped out most of the population. Where she came from, how she got there, how she survived was a question she couldn’t answer. She didn’t speak. But some realized that she was different – that she radiated a power and a peace about her, and were determined to protect her at all costs. This led to a dangerous journey from southern California to Colorado – to the heart of where it all began, and finally down south to Texas. Sweeping, majestic, full of hope, human triumphs and failure, it is the most upbeat book on a world of chaos, which is why I didn’t classify it as “dystopian,” even though things are not rosy. Much is gone and most are barely hanging on, knowledge lost. But throughout the book, the message is clear – that if you open your mind and heart, answers will come, and things will get better. It delves deeply into each of the twelve that started out – with complex interpersonal relations, secrets, and yet abiding deep friendships. A must-read. Not sure how I missed this book that graced a large number of best books lists of 2010.

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Review: The Selection

The Selection
The Selection by Kiera Cass
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to admit being skeptical about this book, even as I was drawn to the cover, and took my time about putting it to the top of my library TBR pile. But it came up, and I started it, and was hooked. A simple story of a future, not too far removed from ours in terms of technology and clothing, etc., which was my one sticking point. For all that happened politically, wars, rebuilding society, etc., it must have happened in a short time, since nothing else really changed. But it is a YA book, and as such, can be forgiven for glossing over some technical details. That said, it is a charming tale, the first of a series, about a society, in a future America that is now a Kingdom. The Ruler is just, but vast social and financial inequities exist. At the start of the kingdom several generations ago, it was determined that whatever skills you had were the “caste” into which you and subsequent family members were born, and they would retain the same trade or skill set in succeeding ones. The lowest the caste, an 8, was reserved for the poor, the outcasts, and others who ignored the rules set down. You could marry between castes, although it was not encouraged. America Singer belongs to a family of artisans, level 4, which enables them to live in a decent house, and usually have enough on the table but not for treats and luxuries. She is a singer, her brother is an artist, etc. They work by commissions from wealthier families to perform at events, etc.

The king’s daughters, and for the generations before, are usually married off to neighboring kingdoms for alliances and strategic purposes, but for the prince, Maxon, he must, as princes before him, select a girl from his own country in a process known as The Selection. Each girl over the age of 18 and still of marriageable age, is invited to fill out an application, be interviewed, and from that, 36 are chosen to represent the best contenders from various provinces. After that, they are whisked of the the palace to begin a “Bachelor” style series of dates with the prince, being suitably coiffed and dressed, and appearing in TV segments with interviews, and glimpses into their lives. They are filmed whenever they are out and about inside the castle. They can not leave, unless the Prince asks them to. They develop a fan base on the outside, and the opinions of the people are kept in consideration. Meanwhile, the families of those selected, usually from level 5 and up, are compensated, and America knows her family needs the money. In addition, after a contender is rejected she becomes a 3, a high level of caste, since she will have become accustomed to the style of living in the palace. If she is chosen by the Prince, she is automatically in the royal family and a one. But the catch is that America has already fallen in love with a six, a day laborer, who often does odd jobs around their house, and for others. They have been meeting secretly, since such meetings after curfew, and unsupervised, are forbidden, and are harshly punished. He feels guilty about her higher status and what she would give to be his wife, and encourages her to apply. Things get out of hand, and he breaks it off. Heartbroken, she goes through the selection process and becomes one of the 36. But she is outspoken, and honest, and lets the Prince know right off the bat that her heart is given to another, but hopes that he will allow her to stay for the sake of her family. They become friends, and his interest in her grows. Will he keep her? Will she renounce him for her love back home? Not all is revealed by the end of the book, as more is to come. A fun, easy to read, light-hearted book that is charming and enjoyable.

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Review: Extinction

Extinction
Extinction by Mark Alpert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A really great Crichtonesque novel of AIs reaching Singularity in the not too distant future. Jim Pierce, an ex-military designer of robotic bio-enhanced prostheses for veterans, is estranged from his hacker daughter Layla, but a Chinese assassin shows up at his lab, looking for information on her, and Jim knows that she needs his help. Enlisting help along the way from various people from his past, and a new “partner,” Kirsten Chan, from the NSA, he goes looking for Layla. It turns out that the Chinese, working with others, have created an AI called “Supreme Harmony,” a self-aware, self replicating bio interface with swarm intelligence that plans to take the earth from man. Utilizing swarm technology, and drones the size of flies, as well as human/machine hybrids, Supreme Harmony plans to make it look like the US is behind some recent attacks on China, thus escalating a global war. Pierce, with his super enhanced bionic arm, is able to hunt down and find Layla, and work to dismantle the group. All in all, it’s fun, readable, and moves along swiftly. While I thought Suarez’s Daemon was better in terms of AI, that was in a different form, and this is pure bioengineering, the true Singularity. From the author’s website: “All the technologies described in Extinction are real. [The novel’s author is a contributing editor at Scientific American, which has reported on the recent advances in brain-machine interfaces.] In one form or another, our machines will eventually replace us. Extinction tells the story of how it could happen tomorrow.” Since first introduced in Crichton’s Nano, and later in his newer Micro (finished by Robert Preston), this one dovetailed neatly into that genre, and, with plenty of action, is worth a read.

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Review: Reached

Reached
Reached by Ally Condie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This final book in the Matched trilogy again follows the paths of Xander, the boy next door turned physic and a member of the Rising, a resistance group to the Society, which rules all; Ky, an Aberration, someone who’s gene pattern is not quite right for society, or whose behavior doesn’t fit in, or because he is a relative of troublemakers, and who would normally be shipped to the outer colonies, but managed to escape that through his parents and aunt/uncle; and Cassia, a girl who was originally mistakenly matched with Ky, but it turned out that Xander was her “real” match, but she loves Ky, and he loves her, and Xander loves Cassia. Some new characters, notably Lei, another medic, are added, and many minor ones, and we finally get to meet the Pilot, the star of the Rising.

*****POSSIBLE SPOILERS*****

This book opens with Xander being assigned to a medic position in one of the outer cities, Cassia to be a trader with the Archivists in the central city, someone who finds things, goods from the old times, and trades them for other things. For example, since the Society had decided long ago to only keep 100 paintings in their collection available to the public, and 100 songs, and no poetry as I recall, anything written (the people of the society don’t know how to hand write anything – they can read, but not write, and all data terminals are monitored, so poems, like the Dylan Thomas and Tennyson fragments she has, are particularly prized. She has a collection of poems her grandfather hid for her, that he gave her secretly at the time of his mandatory final banquet, before he would be terminated and stored as a bit of DNA, to supposedly be revived at a later date.

But a plague is coming – supposedly from the Rising, in an attempt to show the members of the Society that there government can’t cope with large scale events, and to allow the Rising to come in and give them the Cure. Ky is a pilot, along with Indie, and they fly missions for the Pilot. After the plague starts spreading fast, they fly in shipments into the walled compounds that the Society has erected to keep the pubic from knowing just how many are sick from the “Still,” an illness that puts people into a coma, and from which they will not awake without a cure of some kind.

And it follows Xander’s trip to the Stone Villages – far outposts of people who were rejected by the Society for being Aberrations or Anomalies, and who have carved out a life in the harsh wilderness. They have a natural immunity, and have agreed to help the Rising with the Cure when the Plague mutates, in exchange for transport to the Outerlands, a mysterious place that is supposed to be a land of milk and honey, but from which no one has ever returned.

All in all, a good book to end the trilogy, as it ties a lot of loose ends, explains many missing areas, and helps the reader understand the importance of the Rising, and of Tennyson’s poem, and its relationship to what the citizens must go through in their life journeys. My one complaint is that we never find out what is in the Outerlands – are they that great, or does no one return, not because they don’t want to, but because they can’t. And I think that it ties off Xander in a fast and too convenient way. Not enough time is spent developing his ultimate relationship. But still, the trilogy was worth the read.

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Review: Afraid

Afraid
Afraid by Jack Kilborn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While I might have given this a lower rating, since it was somewhat run-of-the mill, it was just enough up my alley that I wanted to try others that he has written. So I may change it down if I don’t like the others. Set in a small Wisconsin town (remind me NOT to go into a small wooded Wisconsin town with only one entrance even though I am from Minnesota), and full of enough blood and guts to last a long while. The four main characters are Sheriff Streng, about to retire, Fran a waitress at the local diner, her son Duncan, and an old friend Josh, an EMT, are faced with unmentionable horror after a helicopter crashes in the woods near town. Surrounded and cut-off, with army barricades at the only entrance into the town, situated in a end in the lake, they must fight off a terrifying force capable of ripping off a man’s head. More along the lines of a SyFy Saturday night movie of the week, there isn’t much character development, and the government conspiracy plot has been done many times, but still it rolls along nicely, and the suspense is well-plotted in. Taking a sort of wait and see approach on this one.

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Review: Iced

Iced
Iced by Karen Marie Moning
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I couldn’t even finish this book, although the plot looked interesting. In a time when the wall between the Fey world and the human world came crashing down, in Ireland, young Dani O’Malley, who has partial fey powers (it wasn’t explained yet by the time I put it down), is stuck being a sort of go-between. What bothered me about the book was that she was fourteen, although the book wasn’t labelled as juvenile, nor did it seem to fit in it, as the author is known for her steamy historical/paranormal romances. But it was the tone and backhanded, slang filled conversational style of the primadonna, full of herself heroine that got me. There wasn’t anything likeable about her. I tried for a few chapters, thinking that maybe something would pop up in her past that would explain her cockiness and utter disregard for others. But none came. Maybe there will later, but I found her so distasteful that I couldn’t wait that long. Books that are “too” cutesy regarding the teen attitudes just aren’t realistic to me. Having raised two daughters through teenhood, I never saw or heard them talk or act that way. It seemed forced and contrived. Enter heroine, defined as brash, full of herself, and then add dialogue to fit. Not for me.

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Review: Fuse

Fuse
Fuse by Julianna Baggott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In this second book in the trilogy that began with Pure, Pressia, the wretch with a doll’s head for a hand, Patridge, her half-brother, who is a Pure that escaped from the dome (meaning he was not exposed to the blast radiation that killed, maimed and mutilated so many), Bramwell, Pressia’s friend and perhaps someday lover, who is also a wretch, as he as fused with some birds that were flying and they live as part of his back. El Capitan, and his brother Helmut, who is fused to his back – once leaders of a vicious gang that killed targeted groups, he has been rehabilitated by Pressia, and has learned the value of friendship, and even love, and Lyda, also a Pure, who was sent out of the dome in an attempt to lure out Partridge, but she is becoming attached to this new world, where nothing is sterile, everything, how ever awful, is real, and you can do and say what you please. Lyda is taken up by a militant group of mothers who have their children fused to their chest, legs, back – in whatever position they were when the blast hit. They feel they have been abandoned by men and have a strong dislike of them, whom they call “Deaths.” They want to lead a revolt on the Dome.

Pressia is following clues, assisted by Partridge, Bramwell, El Capitan, and Lyda for a while, trying to piece together who she is, who her parents were, what connection they had to the Dome originally, and what is the secret that has been buried all this time? Will it be a cure for the fused, whose genetic makeup has been altered so even children born after the blast by them are mutated in some way. Only Pures have “perfect” children, and those are tightly monitored and controlled by the Dome. A truly great book that not only has a fascinating dystopian, post apocalyptic theme, but interesting characters that struggle wit their flaws and desires – on Pressia’s part, the desire to have a real hand again. Some are happy with their current self – have learned to accept that this is what they are. The land itself is full of traps, people that were fused into the dirt, and reach up to grab unwary people walking in the wastelands, and other strange hybrids. At once terrifying, but satisfying, it is a testament to the will of people to live on, despite horrific conditions – the indomitable human spirit, and the need for everyone on some level to feel free to make choices, and accept the risks involved with that. Meanwhile, the leader of the Dome has plans for his son Patridge, that do not include the wretches, and may spell his doom.

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