The Infects

Are you the kind of reader who immediately knows whether the book you are reading is good?  In a reader version of Name That Tune I can tell whether I like what I am reading in the first chapter, first page or even, “I can name whether I like a book in one line.”

Well, that’s what I have thought anyway.  I wasn’t excited by the first line of The Infects by Sean Beaudoin.  After the first page I was still ho-hum.  After the first chapter things hadn’t much improved.  Yet I inexplicably stuck with it.  Maybe there is some profound life lesson in there….don’t give up, perservere, don’t judge a book by its cover, etc.  I don’t know why, but for some reason I kept reading.

Up to a certain point the book was like being in a dark cave…it was cramped, uncomfortable and I didn’t know where I was going.  Then by Chapter 5 I suddenly emerged out of the cave and could breathe fresh air, and stretch, and suddenly the world looked expansive.

Nick is a teenage boy who after his parents divorce and his Dad’s firing is expected to go out and bring home the bacon for his slacker Dad and his possibly autistic younger sister Amanda.  He gets a job butchering chickens at his Dad’s former employer, Rebozzo.    The only good thing about his job is being in proximity to Petal, his coworker and school classmate, whom he seriously crushes on though he can’t work up the nerve to do much about it.

Unexpectedly he is offered a promotion at work and things appear to be looking up until one day a workplace incident happens which lands Nick in a boot camp for juvenile delinquents.  This is where the story really began to jell for me.  The dialogue of a bunch of sarcastic hormonal male juvenile delinquents made me laugh.  Nick, given the tag Nero by the camp counselors, is determined to keep his head down until the van catches up to the van of female juvenile delinquents and he spots – Petal. 

However, it’s not Petal, but a girl given the handle Swann, who is transferred to the boy’s van and gives the puffed up boys a lesson in badassery.  The offenders are marched deep into the woods to pitch camp and that’s where things start to really go wrong.  During the zombie apocalypse, Nick/Nero, becomes a leader though the boys might not be so eager to follow him if they knew he was determined to find Petal. 

The actions builds and the book was growing on me more and more, I was particularly taken with the tidbits of wisdom gained called Zombrules scattered throughout the chapters.  Then I got to the final few chapters and it all started falling apart.  I don’t know if the issue was that the author was struggling to find a way to end the story or whether he fell into the temptation to use his book to make some kind of social commentary…there were references to consumerism, corporate malfeasance, the individual vs. group think, militias, etc.  Basically, it was a case of ‘kitchen soup’ at the end, a little bit of this and a little bit of that were all thrown in at a rush toward the end.  However, my biggest was that after a few hundred pages you start to feel like you understand the main character and who they are, yet the author ended the book by having Nick/Nero do a complete 180 that didn’t correspond with anything I thought I knew about him.  I was actually pretty annoyed at what felt like being led on.  The only saving grace was reading the arresting officers ‘notes’ at the very end explaining the offense each of the boys had committed that landed them in the boot camp.

 

 

How I Live Now Being Made Into A Movie

I am not a fan of most young actors and actresses these days who appear big on looks and short on talent.  However, I am a fan of Saoirse Ronan who has great acting chops, even though I cannot pronounce her name!   Anyway, she will be starring in How I Live Now which I recently wrote a book review about on this blog.

http://movies.yahoo.com/news/saoirse-ronan-thriller-live-now-nabbed-magnolia-fall-213216616.html

Human.4

Human.4 by Mike A. Lancaster is a great easy read that I finished in a just a couple of hours.  Kyle Straker is a typical British teen, mooning over his best friend’s girl, teasing his nerdy friend Danny and worrying about his parent’s marriage troubles.  Kyle lives in a small British town that moves at a slow pace and is so bumpkin that there isn’t great cell or Internet connection.  Therefore, the townspeople tend toward more old fashioned entertainment such as the traditional town talent show going strong for over a hundred years.

Kyle isn’t too crazy about the show after his own comedy act bombed years ago, but he goes to support his friend and when Danny calls for volunteers to be hypnotized, he surprisingly finds himself raising his hand, along with his best friend’s girl Lilly, and two adults from the town.

Instead of the usual hypnotist act of making people bark like a dog or telling them they have an uncontrollable itch, this turns out to be an act the like of which has never been seen before.  Kyle opens his eyes to find the audience frozen.    At first Kyle and the other three think the jokes on them and that when they were hypnotized Danny suggested to the audience they pretend to freeze, but they quickly realize it is not a joke.  Unable to rouse any of their friends or family in the audience, Kyle, Lilly and the adult woman Kate set off into town to get help only to find that the mysterious phenomena isn’t limited to the site of the talent show.   Just when the groups’ speculation takes a dark turn, they spot the townspeople returning home. 

Although he is very relieved at first, it doesn’t take long for Kyle to notice that his parents are getting along unusually well for two parents whose marriage has been on the rocks.  While he wants to hope for the best, he starts to notice other clues that his parents have changed.  When he pours out his story about what he experienced during the talent show, it isn’t long before the town doctor shows up.   Sensing that he is in some danger, Kyle pretends not to remember anything when the doctor questions him and he knows he needs to escape his house to find the others and see what has happened to them. 

I won’t divulge more of the plot beyond that for those who haven’t read the book.  I will say that one of my favorite writing devices was the fact that the book is supposedly based on the tapes that Kyle made and have been found in the future and have been the source of much debate among scholars, scientists and anthropologists.   Throughout the book there are ‘Editor’s Notes’ where these people from a future time try to define or explain some of the references Kyle makes, word choice and slang, pop culture, and speculation on Kyle’s feelings and what ultimately happened to him.   At the end of The Handmaid’s Tale, the main character’s diary was found and was used to tell the story of what had happened to the world, but that was only at the end of the story.  I enjoyed the way the Editor Notes in Human.4 spotlighted some of the things about our culture that makes sense until looked at from a different time and point of view.

The Forsaken

The Forsaken by Lisa M. Stasse will appeal to people who enjoyed The Maze Runner, Quarantine, Variant, and Lockdown.    The Forsaken has similar Lord of the Flies aspects and even elements of the TV series Lost with its mysterious island and unnatural enemies. 

Alenna Shawcross is only ten when her parents are snatched in the night by the secret police of the UNA and orphaned.  Even before their abduction, Alenna’s world has been turned upside down.  The UNA, or United Northern Alliance was formed just a few years earlier uniting Canada, the U.S. and Mexico after a global economic meltdown caused food shortages and violent crime waves in an effort to restore order.  However, the citizens of the united countries were not happy about the alliance resulting in first demonstrations, then riots, then armed rebellions until a four-star general appointed himself prime minister for life and closed the national borders and snatched away all freedoms including cell phones, computers and the Internet.

All high school juniors must take the GPPT, a test that determines potential future criminals, people with a propensity for violence and psychopaths.  Anyone who fails is designated an “unanchored soul” and shipped to a desolate prison island where the average life expectancy is only eighteen years of age.

The day before her test, Alenna’s class visits a museum where the students can view live footage of the island via cameras placed there.  When a blue-eyed boy appears desperately trying to communicate, Alenna feels a strange connection to him before he is attacked by a monstrous hooded figure and the camera malfunctions.

Confident that she has obeyed all rules, studied hard and doesn’t stand out in any way from her peers, Alenna takes her test – and fails, waking up on the island near a boy named David from her city.  Attacked by drones, the island psychopaths, a warrior girl appears to help them, though only Alenna and the girl manage to get away from the drones.  Alenna is taken to the girl’s village where she learns more about how the island is divided into sectors, which includes the mysterious gray sector that just might hold the key to getting off the island IF she can survive the drone attacks and the mysterious sickness affecting many of the teens.

 

Exodus

The novel Exodus by Julie Bertagna reminded me of the book Skylark due to its mix of apocalyptic, mystical and sci fi elements.

After man’s poor treatment of the environment, the polar ice caps melted flooding the Earth and the protagonist Mara lives on an island where the sea has been creeping up for years.  Tain, one of the island’s oldest residents who knew the world before it completely flooded, has urged the island’s inhabitants that they must leave before it’s too late.  The islanders want to stick their heads in the sand until the combination of a terrible storm wiping out homes on the lower slopes, and a startling piece of information that Mara shares, convinces them they must go.

Mara has found information on the New Cities which were built to withstand the waves before the biggest floods happened.  She, and what’s left of her people, form a flotilla of boats to head off to find one of these cities.  However, the journey starts off inauspiciously when Mara is separated from the rest of her family who are all on a different boat. 

Eventually some of the refugees reach the New City only to find that it’s not the safe haven they hoped it would be.   After a tragedy, Mara feels responsible for leading her people to this place and is on the verge of suicide but is rescued by some strange feral children who have spent so much time in the water that they have taken on some aquatic characteristics.  The strange urchins are not the only inhabitants of the land underneath the towering new cities, the Treenesters have their own odd characteristics.  Upon meeting Mara, they are convinced that she is part of a legend that will save them.

Between the urchins, Treenesters, refugees and the inhabitants of the new cities, Mara has her hands full.  That’s all I will say so that readers can discover how the paths of all these new acquaintances diverge.  It will be interesting to see if the next book in the series will be similar to the second book in the sequels in the Matched series that continued the story with the separate adventures and points of view of the main characters…

 

How I Live Now

I didn’t start reading How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff with very high expectations.  The cover was kind of teen cheesy with flowers and butterflies and I took the small size and length to mean that it was going to be a lightweight of a story.  How I Live Now surprised me by writing in a voice that was both snarky worldly teen and wise and bittersweet at the same time. 

Typical New Yorker Daisy is sent to live with her aunt and cousins in the English countryside after her father’s new wife becomes pregnant exacerbating the already high tensions between Daisy and the woman she nicknamed Davina the Diabolical.  Her new family and life in the countryside couldn’t be further than her NY city lifestyle of shrinks, shopping, and food delivery places.  Her Aunt Penn’s home is a fantastically crumbling large country home filled with an assortment of animals and her fey cousins Piper, Edmond, Isaac and oldest brother Osbert.  She adapts to their idyllic pastimes and unconventional upbringing more easily than she could expect and doesn’t find it strange that Aunt Penn leaves all the kids to go off on a peace mission to Norway.   Aunt Penn’s work is very important as there is a war to avert.

One of the interesting things the author does is to never actually identify who the enemy is and what their motivations are, instead as seen through the eyes of 15 year old Daisy the actual details of a potential world changing event are not nearly as important as the kids’ daily activities and her growing relationship with Edmond.  Not long after Aunt Penn’s departure, war actually breaks out, but out in the countryside the little family feels distant from the news of bombs and poisoned water supplies.  The war is only finally made real to this family when military personnel show up and requisition the home to house a military unit and the cousins and animals are split up and sent to live in separate villages.  What happens in the war is both what we imagine happens in wartime and in other ways in not all what we expect in a war. 

When a tragic event happens, a determined Daisy and Piper set off to reunite with the others on a harrowing journey. 

Wars are grim affairs, but Daisy’s inner dialogue had me snorting with laughter.  There is none of the usual stilted teen dialogue in this book; instead her thoughts are funny, insightful, honest and heartbreakingly real.   Usually the concept and plot are what attracts me to dystopian fiction, but in this case the writing style of this beautifully told story won my heart and I would happily read any genre that Meg Rosoff chooses to write about. 

Memento Nora

Twelve years have gone by since 9/11 and I can still clearly remember the images of people jumping from the Towers rather than burn.  My memories are just from watching the endless news loops on TV, and I wonder about the people who were actually there, who heard the thump as the bodies hit the ground, and the recovery teams who dug through the rubble and smelled the smoke and all the bodies.  How often do those people have nightmares or flashbacks of this traumatic event?  And what about our military, vets from WWII, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan? So many struggling with PTSD… what if all of these people could just take a pill and erase not all their memories, but just their memory of traumatic events?  That is the premise of Memento Nora by Angie Smibert.

In a time not too distant in the future, teenage Nora witnesses a bombing attack while shopping with her mother in the city, unfortunately not a rare occurrence in the time she is living in.  However, people who experience such events are able to go to a Therapeutic Forgetting Clinic where swallowing a little pill makes them forget the pain of events.  However, like anything that may have started with good intentions, there is a danger of the scope being expanding outside the spirit of the initial purpose.

While waiting for her turn in the clinic, Nora makes a connection to skateboarder Micah and ends up only pretending to swallow her pill, a choice which leads her to start noticing some disturbing things about her family life and the city she lives in.  She teams up with Micah and his brilliant but disturbed friend Winter to create cartoons of the things they don’t want to forget.  This act of creating mementos sets off a chain of events that put the teens in danger by a world that wants to make sure they forget some of the memories they retain that will reveal some very dark truths.

This book was fairly short and a quick and easy read.  I liked the premise a lot and how it raised some ethical and moral questions.   I wonder about the parents of the students killed in Newton, the soldiers, the witnesses on 9/11, etc.  and what choice they would make if they could take a pill to forget what they had experienced?     In a society where there seems to be a pill for most anything, is this one pill we should never develop?  Do our experiences and memories, even the bad ones, make us who we are?

 

 

 

Warm Bodies

Warm Bodies shakes up all the rules of zombie fiction by telling the story from the viewpoint of a zombie.  In most zombie books the zombies appear incapable of speech or thought and appear driven solely by an overwhelming hunger.  Isaac Marion turns those ideas upside down with his main character ‘R.’  He goes by R because as he explains it none of the zombies can remember something as identifying as their names, let along their pasts.  Although R might share that in common with his fellow shamblers, there is something different about him.   He may not be able to articulate more than a couple of words at a time, but inside his head he has the soul of a poet.  He also actively notices things about his surroundings and collects tokens of the former world when out on food forays.  Most importantly, he barely resembles a zombie as he is only a little decayed.  

It’s startling to be inside the head of any zombie and particularly R as he is both wry, thoughtful, and charming.  It’s not a stretch to believe that while out killing the Living to feed, he decides not to kill Julie and instead bring her back to his hive and keep her safe, a feat he accomplishes by smearing other zombies’ blood on her to disguise the smell of the life she pulses with.  Initially overwhelmed and terrified  Julie quickly realizes that there is something very different about this flesh eater and begins to develop a rapport with R who seems to know a lot about her (I won’t spoil the how) and she also finds it refreshing to have someone who is such a good listener, partially because he doesn’t talk in long sentences and partially because they seem to be on the same wavelength despite the tiny difference of one of the being alive and one of them being dead.  After all, what’s a tiny thing like not having a pulse matter when they both share a love of music, particularly Frank Sinatra?

Their burgeoning relationship grinds to a halt when Julie is discovered by the other dead and R rescues her and helps her return to the stadium where the surviving humans live.  However, like any smitten beau, he can’t seem to get over her and in classic movie scene style realizes he has to be with her.  Only instead of the typical scene of a someone racing through an airport to catch his love before she boards a flight, R’s plan to be with the woman he has fallen for involves some hilarious playacting from some fellow zombies who have begun to feel the effects of the relationship between R and Julie which is making them all a little less undead.

I really enjoyed R’s dialogue and actually found it plausible that someone could fall for someone who isn’t breathing.   My only criticism of the book is the ending which fell short in terms of how the zombies came to be in the first place and what happens to them in the end of the book.

 

The 5th Wave

What does it mean to be human?  That’s the central question of The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey.  Normally I like my apocalyptic fiction to focus on human characters, even if they have turned into zombies or somesuch.  However, I really enjoyed this book as it made me think about questions such as:  What does it mean to be human? Does trying to survive justify the means?  Are the people who survive apocalyptic events lucky or unlucky?  And what does it mean to love?

The main character Cassie amused me with the way she described the alien invasion and how it resembled nothing like the cuddly character of ET, nor the scary machines in Star Wars.  It’s funny that the media has such on influence on our modern society that people can only imagine the Others in terms of fictional works they are familiar with; these aliens will be both better and worse than anything imagined so far.

The title of the book refers to each event once the Others, aliens, appear in the sky.    Between the ship appearing on satellite images and the 1st Wave, there was time to prepare, yet in a swipe at our current government, no strategy was developed to deal with the arrival of the aliens.  The 1st Wave was a massive electromagnetic pulse that killed approximately 500,000 people, which in many ways seems like a massive loss of life, but when you compare it to the Earth’s population it is almost miniscule.   The 2nd Wave wiped out entire cities as the aliens manipulated the weather to cause weather disasters.  The 3rd Wave was a genetically altered virus which killed 97 out of a 100 people.  The 4th Wave is that the Others look and act like humans in order to hunt down their prey, which means what is left of the survivors of the other waves can’t band together for strength in numbers to survive without taking a big risk. 

Cassie knows that a 5th Wave is coming, she just hasn’t figured out what it will entail yet.  She has been too busy turning from a teen with a schoolgirl crush into a survivor, and she has made a promise to reunite with her little brother Sammy.  Her mission to find him is interrupted when she is shot by an Other and then rescued by a boy named Evan Walker who complicates Cassie’s way of thinking and plans, even while she fights her reaction to him.  Many romances in apocalyptic novels are a detour from the central plot, but it’s Cassie’s relationship with Evan that is the true heart of the story.

I enjoyed Cassie’s ‘voice’ throughout the story, the sarcasm as she describes how slow people were to grasp the new reality.  She is vulnerable and honest, scared, but brave.  This isn’t about a book about aliens, this is a book about what it is to be human, and Cassie exemplifies the struggle to really understand what that truly means. 

The way the book ended made me think this was a one novel story, it ends in a way that left me completely satisfied, so I have mixed feelings that I am reading online that this is a trilogy and one that has acquired movie rights.  I am not sure I want the answers to what happens next, nor do I want to see some Hollywood boy toy wooden actor cast in the role of Evan…