The 5th Wave: This ain’t no PG E.T. feel good alien invasion story

5thWow, I am not usually into the post-apocalyptic/alien invasion/large humanity die-off genre because, frankly, I’d rather not think about aliens killing us off or our world as we know it being completely destroyed, but I received a chapter sampler of The 5th Wave with another book and decided to add it to my to-read list. And I am sure glad I did.

Rick Yancey has created one helluva story. Basically, aliens invade earth in waves, using five different waves to kill off 7 billion humans, and what’s left are the fighters, the survivors, the ones who still have something left worth fighting for or, in some cases, worth dying for, the ones with a reason to continue being.

I liked Cassie short for Cassiopeia right from the start. She kind of restored my faith in heroines. Lately, I’ve had some bad luck with female protagonists. They were getting too whiny, too damsel-y and too irritating. I’d actually started avoiding books where the main character was a girl/woman. But I am glad I didn’t avoid Cassie. She is strong, fierce, brave, smart, and funny. The comments that came out of her mouth made me laugh even at times when the whole world was going to hell or, more accurately, to the aliens. I liked seeing the action from different points of view and thought Yancey did a great moving the action along for each character while showing the impact of loss and change that each one goes through and the revelations that are made, like Zombie who realizes that Armageddon levels the playing field, makes possessions immaterial:

“There’s my big takeaway from the Arrival. By killing us off, they showed us the idiocy of stuff. The guy who owned this BMW? He’s in the same place as the woman who owned that Kia.”

My only complaint isn’t really a complaint, more like lamenting. Lamenting the fact that book two isn’t due out until September, and we’re all going to have to wait to see how it all ends, who survives, and who wins? Us or the aliens? Personally, I think Cassie is going to kick some serious extraterrestrial ass!

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Donna of the Dead – the most fun you can have during a zombie apocalypse

I had my doubts about starting a zombie book. I have never managed to get through one before for several reasons:

1) Of all paranormal species, zombies are my least favorite

2) Yes, I hate them even more than werewolves and shifters

3) I hold all zombie stories up to an unattainable, impassable standard – you guessed it – Shaun of the Dead. No zombie story, no matter how awesome, can ever surpass that movie in my opinion. It is by far, the funniest, best orchestrated zombie horror comedy of all time.

So it was with lots of reservations that I requested Donna of the Dead on Netgalley. But it did come recommended by a great author, so I knew I had to give it a chance. And I was not disappointed. I am not sure what your average zombie YA book is like (since I’ve never read one before), but I am willing to bet that most aren’t like Donna of the Dead. This book is hilarious. So many lines that had me laughing out loud, like this one:

            “I’m a sixteen-year-old unlicensed, inexperienced driver with a reanimated corpse blocking my view. Crazy is the only way I can drive.”

Donna is both a typical teenage girl and a completely untypical teenage girl. She’s self-centered, crushing on a boy who doesn’t notice her, and spends most of her time texting and giggling with her BFF. She has also has bizarre silver eyes and hears voices in her head whenever she’s in danger. Those voices go into overdrive when the zombie apocalypse begins. Like most young people facing a crisis, Donna is forced to take a good, hard look at herself and decide what kind of person she wants to be, a damsel or a fighter, a coward or a protector. It’s not an easy, instant decision, and I enjoyed that about her.

Kemper also brings up a lot of good points about zombie apocalypses. Like, no new music because musicians would be mindless zombies. Protect your iPods, people! And what’s the perfect vehicle for a zombie attack? A bookmobile. How perfect is that? Hell, if you can’t outrun them, you can hurl books at them:

More books sail out of the back doors of the vehicle.

“Big ones,” someone says. “Grab the big ones!”

“Throw Moby Dick. I hated that one.”

“Where’s Twilight?”

“No,” Tara squeals. “Don’t throw Twilight!”

Hahaha! I would have hurled that series with abandon! And if your aim stinks, then at least you die reading a good book. Is there really any better way to leave this world? I doubt it.

Donna of the Dead is a fast-paced, fun, highly recommended read.

Grace and the Guiltless, a dull disappointment

Grace and the Guiltess by Erin Johnson

Reviewed for Netgalley

Tombstone, where part of this story takes place, was a real western town so lawless it was called “the town too tough to die.” Grace Milton should have taken a lesson from the town and the people in it because she is the most un-western, un-tough, none-too-bright heroine I have come across in a long time. Growing up in the west was perilous. There were outlaws, warring Native Americans, dangerous predators, poisonous snakes, droughts, and plenty more ways to die. So one would think that Grace would be able to take care of herself or that her parents would have taught her a thing or two about surviving in such an unforgiving land, yet she stumbles from one near death experience to another. Somehow, despite being in a desert, then in the uninhabited mountains, some stranger always comes along just in time to rescue her. How convenient. And completely unlikely.

When I read the blurb, I thought, wow, a tough heroine in a western themed book. Having grown up reading and watching westerns, I thought this book ought to be interesting. Instead, this damsel in distress really annoyed me. Frankly, were this not a Netgalley book, it would have failed my 50 pages rule (as in, if I am not completely hooked by page 50, I toss the book aside and reach for another one). Instead, I kept reading despite doing a lot of skimming. The story felt as if it dragged in some places and then rushed through important moments. Grace failed to ever beomce a heroine in my eyes. The supporting cast, even the outlaw gang, felt like clichés. And the Guiltless Gang? Seriously, what a terrible name for an outlaw gang.

Very disappointing start to the series. I won’t be reading additional books in it.

Switch Press; expected publication August 1, 2014.

The Johnstown Girls – an incredible story of survival and longevity

JG

Woah, I kind of feel like I’ve been tossed around on a mattress riding through the floodwaters of this novel. Don’t jump to conclusions, though. This is not a negative review. I actually really liked this book despite having a devil of a time getting into it and getting interested in it. From the beginning, I disliked the distant, impersonal narration. Third person present. It seemed such an odd way to tell the story. I got used to it, but I also didn’t like Ben or Nina, so it was hard to get started and become invested in the book. However, that finally happened when the book became more about the lives of Ellen and Anna than about the journalists. The lives led by Ellen and Anna are different, yet the same, and both are fascinating. Both were forward thinking women for their time, which led them to have long, meaningful lives. As Nina points out, these women lived through four wars, the changing from horse-drawn transportation to automobiles, from candles to electric. They watched the entire world change in the span of their 100+ years.

As the book jumped from Ellen and Anna’s lives back to the journalists, I slowly began to like Nina. She was a Johnstown girl, a fighter, a survivor. Finding her way without help and support. Learning to identify, then follow her instincts. She blossomed into her own person and learned what she wanted, both personally and professionally. To me, however, Ben remained a wet noodle throughout the novel. He seemed a man who either didn’t know what he wanted or didn’t have the guts to go get what he wanted. Either way, I could never muster any sympathy for him, despite his awkward, difficult situation.

Kathleen George’s style of blending truth (the Johnstown flood really was a natural disaster that devastated the town in 1889) with fiction was well done and very appealing. Her story of Ellen and Mary riding through the flood gives the reader a sense of what the disaster was like for the real people who survived it. The inclusion of actual photos from the flood and its aftermath heightened the devastation described in the novel and added to the overall sense of loss and attitude of perseverance and survival.

Give this novel a chance. You won’t be disappointed.

University of Pittsburgh Press – April 1st 2014

The Poor Man’s Guide to Suicide is not as hopeless and depressing as it sounds

poor manWesley is a depressed prison guard who has lost all enthusiasm for living. A twice divorced  33-year old father of two, he sees his kids every other weekend, lives in a rotting dive, and watches all his money disappear in child support payments. Once a social, educated, cultured young man, now he feels like a loser who can only help himself by paying an inmate to kill him so that his loved ones can inherit his life insurance.

Andrew Armacost delves into the male psyche in this novel, investigating feelings of failure and hopelessness in men through the character of Wesley Weimer. It was a different read for me, perhaps because I am a woman or perhaps because I’ve never considered how a male divorcee might feel upon losing his wives and his kids to other men; how it must feel to be an outsider in a family that was once your own; how empty it leaves you to have children who are almost strangers to you and who connect more with their step dads than with their actual dad.

Wesley’s pathetic existence can make any reader’s own life seem better. We’ve all hated jobs, felt alone or unloved, been dissatisfied with our living situations, but, hopefully and unlike Wesley, not all at once. He is a man so unhappy with life and himself that he has cut himself off from everyone and everything: news, sports, entertainment, the very things that form small talk and the basis of connecting with coworkers, strangers, acquaintances. Wesley has become so isolated that he can’t even hold a conversation with the people in his life. It’s a form of social suicide when one can’t “swim in the common soup, to speak the commercial language of modern society. These things are important. The only alternative is loneliness, isolation, despair.”

I enjoyed the narration and the voice Aramcost created with this character. It felt very honest. The despair and utter lack of hope rang true. I did think the story bogged down a bit in the middle. A bit too much digression, too much of a comparison between humans and cattle sent to slaughter, and I felt the end wrapped up very quickly, a reflection on the past that left some things – not so much unresolved, but with a feeling of being skimmed over or too lightly touched on. Overall, however, I liked the story and the character. And one quote that really stuck out to me and that I think anyone can relate to:

“Repetition erodes life, chips away at it until hardly anything is left because one day or week is interchangeable with any other, as if the days were coming off the assembly line ready made, identical, and therefore pointless.”

Wesley had let his life become repetitive to the point that he felt it was no longer worth living. So, readers, spice it up and keep life interesting. And give The Poor Man’s Guide to Suicide a read.

Moonshine Cove Publishing, 2014

Second Star puts quite a spin on the Peter Pan we grew up with

After second starreading this book in a single afternoon (just couldn’t put I down), I feel like I have been tossed off my surfboard while riding a maverick, pinned to the bottom of the ocean, pummeled by thousands of gallons of seawater and eventually spit out soaking wet and exhausted on the sandy shore.

I really hate to put spoilers in my reviews. I do my best to avoid them, but I am not quite sure how to talk about this book without including spoilers. I’ll try my best….

So, Second Star is a modern spin on the tale of Peter Pan with a love triangle between Peter, Wendy, and Captain Hook where Wendy is desperately trying to find her missing brothers. In the beginning, I found myself asking just how serious Wendy is about finding her brothers because she certainly gets distracted easily. First, there’s guy #1, then there’s learning to surf, then there’s her adopted family, then there’s guy #2. Focus, Wendy, focus. And that led me to think, maybe Kensington is supposed to be like Neverland where if you stay long enough you eventually forget what and who really matters to you. Except that didn’t quite hold up because despite getting sidetracked, she did remember her search for her missing brothers.

Next, I started to question the validity of the narrator. Was Wendy being honest or was she just taking us readers on a ride on her surfboard? She tells us her brothers have been missing for nine months and are believed to be dead by everyone except her. She thinks they’ve run away to chase big waves. But seriously, who would do that to their family? Who would disappear for all that time and leave their parents and sister in anguish and uncertainty? I just couldn’t buy that.

And then there’s Pete and Jas or Peter and Captain Hook, if you will. In Peter Pan stories, whether it be the book or the numerous movie versions, I always found myself rooting for Peter but detesting Hook. However, in Sheinmel’s retelling, I found myself liking Jas (which considering the things he is guilty of really makes me question my taste in fictional guys) and distrusting Pete. There was just something about Pete that I didn’t care for. I felt like he was always lying by omission. And considering that both these guys can be partially blamed for the disappearance of her brothers, I really questioned Wendy’s judgment, which again made me question the narrator since the story is told from her point of view. (If you’ve read my blog before, you know I have issues with dishonest narrators).

In the end, when the story wrapped up, I did like it. Some of my questions were answered, some weren’t, but overall I enjoyed the story and the characters. When you can’t put a book down then the author is doing something right. And that is all I can say without unleashing spoilers, but I will say this: There was a point near the end where I exclaimed, “Oh, this is just like that episode of Buffy!” and if you were a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan and if you read this book, you’ll know exactly which episode I mean. And that’s the only hint you’re getting out of me.

Release Date: May 13, 2014 by Farrar Straus Giroux Publishing

One Man Guy is a great coming of age and coming out tale

My request for this on Netgalley went unanswered for so long that I began to worry it was going to be denied, but I am soooo glad it wasn’t! I thoroughly enjoyed this book. One Man GuOMGy is such a great coming of age and coming out story. Michael Barakiva has done a fantastic job showing how difficult it is for teenagers (gay or straight) raised in a traditional family (no matter what those traditions might be) to forge their own path without alienating their loved ones.

While the blurb touts this as a humorous tale not unlike My Big Fat Greek Wedding or any of the works of David Sedaris, I did not read it that way. I felt the story was much more serious than that. To me, Alek was very relatable because his family traditions and his parents’ expectations were very suffocating and restrictive. He was a boy who couldn’t even discover himself because of the limitations his family put on his freedoms, whether they were academic, extracurricular or self-expression. He had no room to grow.

Watching Alek come into himself was like watching a flower denied sun for too long finally blooming and spreading its petals to the world around it. Barakiva really captured the imperfections of one’s first serious relationship: the awkwardness and fights, the mistakes and making up. Alek fumbled his way through his emotions and his misperceptions just like anyone finding love for the first time would do. Everything about his relationship with Ethan rang true. I really enjoyed this read and look forward to more from Michael Barakiva.

Farrar Strauss Giroux Publishing – May 27, 2014