Champion

Champion is the final book in Marie Lu’s Legend trilogy told in alternating chapters by June and Day. In the first book June got to be a kick ass female in the style of Katniss, Buffy, Tris and others who paved the way, but in this book the battles she fights are all political or emotional and I miss the old June. The same problem exists with Day in this story. Granted, the former experimentation performed on him has left him weak, perhaps fatally so, and he has been separated from June for nearly a year seeking treatment for himself and his brother Eden, one of the Republic’s last experiments. It just doesn’t seem true to character that June wouldn’t hunt down her man and that Day would be able to survive so long without her in his life.

When a plague virus is the cause of the Colonies declaring war on the Republic, Anden and June reach out to Day, the people’s hero for help, but what they ask of him is too big a sacrifice and Anden and June head to Antarctica to request help. June is shocked to discover their superior technology, how their society works and how backward and isolated the Republic is now compared to other nations.
Returning unsuccessful in their mission, the pair arrive back to find they are under attack from enemies within and without. Captain Jameson and Thomas who were due to shortly be executed have escaped and the Colonies have attacked saying they won’t stop unless a cure for the plague is handed over by the Republic. Surprising support comes from Tess and the remnants of the former Patriots who have decided that even a flawed Republic is better than none at all.

Day’s part in fighting against the Colonies just doesn’t ring true; he goes from episodes where he is hovering on the verge of death, to taking part in his old shenanigans, whilst June uses almost none of her superior fighting skills, strange for someone referred to as the Prodigy. I just felt that this final book was waaaay too Harlequin Romance novels for my taste…the romantic triangle between June, Anden and Day, the stoic suffering of Day, and June’s overdramatic sacrifice near the end of the story. I am not against a little emotion or romance in this genre, but it just felt like it was the whole focus of this story and has been done better or more realistically in other books. For example, the attraction between Anden and June wasn’t as strongly developed as the Chemical Garden series where Rhine feels something for Linden despite her love for Gabriel, the love triangle was more developed in the Matched trilogy, and the heartbreak and maturation worked better in Dust & Decay.

None of this is to say that this wasn’t a good read, I just wasn’t comfortable with the change in direction this book took from the previous and the drawn out angst over action. Still, I will keep an eye out for further books from Ms. Lu to follow how her work as an author develops with her next stories.

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Not A Drop To Drink

I have been thinking about water.  I didn’t use to think much about water, here in the western world we tend to take it for granted, you turn the faucet on and it simply comes out, and it’s clean.  However, a number of years ago I started to read about water issues around the world at the same time I was researching what stocks to buy in my IRA that year.  I found a natural energy stock that deals in water companies, no not fancy bottled water companies, but other types of water companies.  The stock has done very poorly, but I have held onto it as I still felt confident that water is a commodity that is becoming scarcer. A couple of years ago I even watched a documentary Flow: For Love of Water on World Water Day, a holiday I never knew existed.  It solidified this growing notion I have that water, like oil, might well be the cause of future violence or even wars.

So I was excited when I found out that my Goodreads group, YA Apocalyptic and Dystopian Fiction, had chosen as their book of the month an apocalyptic book where water was the trigger of the story, Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis. The pacing of this story was very different than a lot of books of this genre these days, most books contain a high level of action, whether it’s running from a natural disaster to seek safety, or fighting violently against a dystopian society trying to control the main characters.  Not A Drop to Drink’s pacing is very slow, and I liked that about it, in fact, I think that is the book’s strength.  The book is like an exhale of breath among building tension, something that is harder to pull off than constant action.

Although the setting takes place in the Midwest, it seemed more like a Western, as the two strong female characters, Lynn and her mother, have the same grit and determination as pioneer women.  The sparse dialogue also was reminiscent of female southern writers such as Eudora Welty, much is said in few words.  I think the fierce love Lynn’s mother has for her is shown by the survival techniques she teaches her daughter, not by what she says, which is interesting because before the apocalyptic event of the story the mother had majored in English Lit.  Therefore, she went from a world of words, to a world of action.

In the not too distant future, water is a precious commodity and Lynn and her Mother guard their source of water via their sharpshooting skills, each of them killing in order to protect it.  Lynn doesn’t seem to be troubled by what she has had to do, but then again she has lived a completely isolated life, so not knowing anyone other than her mother means it’s probably easier to not think of her targets as people, just objects that want to get in the way of her and her mother’s survival.

When her mother dies, Lynn is forced for the first time to connect with others, including the distant figure of Stebbs, their longtime neighbor.  She is pushed further toward her humanity when she and Stebbs come upon a small group of cityfolk who will not survive without help.  Reluctantly, Lynn takes a little girl, Lucy, back home with her and Lucy begins to fill a void Lynn doesn’t even realize is there, though it’s not without a struggle.  Lynn is torn between not wanting anyone to need or depend on her and needing something even she can’t begin to name. Her emotions are further complicated by Lucy’s uncle, Eli.  Despite her growing emotional evolution, there is much about Lynn that remains a Shane type of figure, protecting the weak and dealing out justice, even if that means going up against an unexpected family member.

When people think of future struggles or even apocalyptic scenarios, access to safe and clean water doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s radar, yet the devastation that would ensue would affect us all.  Not A Drop To Drink not only puts the spotlight on a real issue, but it’s a mighty fine story to boot.

Allegiant

Normally I write posts reviewing books as a way to encourage people to consider whether they want to read them or not.  Less often I write my posts geared  towards those who have already read the book I am talking about and I try to raise some questions for reflection on what was read.  This post is going to definitely be one of the latter.  In fact, please DON’T read further is you have not yet read Allegiant by Veronica Roth, as this will contain the mother of all spoilers.

This last book of the trilogy felt like a long time coming, even though Divergent and Insurgent were two of my faves, I had started to forget the storyline a bit when I started on this.   I felt a little like someone with amnesia who had to relearn all the important people in their life.  So to say the choice that author Veronica Roth made was shocking is an understatement.  I should mention that I typically avoid reading other book reviews because I want to not be influenced by others’ thoughts and impressions, my hope it to raise some reactions, points, questions that other’s have not.  I realize that saying something original might be a difficult role to achieve.  For once, I am tempted to read what others have said about how Roth decided to end this book, but the pain, and yes bitterness, over a beloved character has to fade before I can.

Did Roth make the right choice?  If nothing else, I have to applaud her bravery.  We live in a world where in books, TV and movies a character is killed off to heighten the action or tension of the story, but it’s usually a second banana.  Roth had already killed off some strong secondary characters from various factions in the previous stories, so I guess it might have been a choice of “go big, or go home.” 

Really, killing major characters is so rarely done, it’s basically taboo.  I mean we follow a main character as they grow and evolve.  We empathize, admire, or even grow to love these characters over time.  To kill one of them is to kill the myth of a happy ending, what we were raised to believe and hope every day to be true.  How many main characters were killed off can you name that have been killed in books, TV shows or movie?  Until Allegiant I can only name The Angels are the Reapers in this book genre.  In TV shows, I am struggling.  Oh there have been close calls, lots of main characters supposedly killed, but then brought back through some magic plot device such as Bobby Ewing on Dallas. Movies?  Yes, Thelma& Louise, but that was a choice, not something or someone else killing them.  

It’s a road not often traveled for many reasons.  Readers trust a storyteller not to guide us to fall in love and then kill off the source of that feeling.  This may seem somewhat ironic in this genre of book where by the very nature of being a dystopic or apocalyptic book it’s a known fact that there will be violence, suffering and deaths.   Maybe that’s what makes it all the more shocking, already immersed in all of those, the main character provides the one ray of hope and symbolizes survival.  To remove that forces a strong reaction and potential backlash.   One could argue that a writer who does that is just being realistic, but who wants to be that realistic?  In so many ways inside we are all still those little kids hiding under the covers who don’t want to see the scary monsters out there.  We crave the warm reassurance of people who use the phrase, “everything will be alright.”   How can we ever fool ourselves again about that when our sense of the world being alright was aided by the knowledge that this character was in the world?

I could go out on a limb and argue how could this story have ended in any other way?  Four might have had more sheer physical strength, but Tris was always the stronger one, in spirit and will.   How could Roth have been true to the character if Tris had allowed her brother Caleb to die for her and the others? Killing Four would have been the easier choice, though would have pissed many readers off, it would have been less disturbing.  After all, Four has made multiple mistakes, including one with serious consequences in this book.  He is a damaged soul and it might have almost seemed a moment of grace to let him go.

As much as many readers may have felt betrayed by the fate of Tris, for Tris to not make the choice she did would have been a betrayal of all we feel like we have grown to know about who she is.  Is it a mark of respect that Roth felt that we and she were strong enough to handle this?  Or is it like that famous line, “You can’t handle the truth” and because we aren’t as strong as we thought we were that this ending made us angry?   I wonder if Hollywood will be strong enough to handle the truth, after all the first book in Roth’s trilogy, Divergent, is about to be released as a movie. I can make a pretty good guess that they bought the rights to the series before Allegiant was finished.  In the CA zone where everything is superficial and made pretty, what will they do with this truth, change it?

The Compound

With all the bad winter weather across the country the last few days, I am sure there are a lot of people dealing with cabin fever. Maybe those people should download a copy of The Compound by S.A. Bodeen about a family who is trapped inside a space for 2,190 in the setting of the story. A Gates type tech billionaire, Rex Yanakakis, is an expert on weapons of mass destruction and has spent some of his money on The Compound, an underground bunker made to not only withstand a nuclear attack, but to sustain his family for the fifteen years it would take before it is safe to emerge.

Despite all of his planning, when the attack comes, one of his twin boys and the kid’s maternal grandmother do not make it into the compound in time. The rest of the survivors are fortunate that no expense was spared to outfit the compound with luxury, this is not a cobwebbed fallout shelter from the 1960’s. There are generators, hydroponic and water systems, an infirmary. In addition, the compound has been built to mimic the family’s Seattle mansion with luxurious furnishings and an extensive music, movie, and book library as well as a professional kitchen and gym. However, it’s a gilded cage to Eli, the son who lost his twin. Always somewhat troubled compared to his sunny twin Eddy he retreats further into himself. He always felt that his brother was the more well liked and better person and his way of dealing with the loss of Eddy and the halt to his normal life means he has developing some odd tics. The rest of his family is also trying to cope with their new life. His youngest sister Terese has adopted a British accent after self-soothing by watching Mary Poppins over and over. Oldest sister Lexie refuses to interact with Eli, and his parents’ marriage has become quite tense.

Although they have about the best bunker anyone could hope for in the case of a disaster, it’s not perfect. Early on their livestock died off, there is a limited amount of grow bulbs left to nurture their vegetable garden, and some of the food is expiring. Therefore, the father has come up with a plan, a plan that is kept behind yellow doors that Eli never visits. Eli’sfather has always been controlling, but Eli begins to wonder about all the time he spends in his locked office. So for all those trapped inside, it might make you feel better to read about a family with dysfunctions and secrets who are stuck together inside for an extended period of time, it will make your brief sojoun inside due to the weather seem like a picnic.

Infinity

How did this happen?  I feel incredibly foolish.  How did I pick up and read Infinity by Rachel Ward without realizing it was part of a trilogy.  Not just a part of the trilogy, but the LAST book in a trilogy! I truly am kicking myself because it doesn’t seem to make sense to go back and read the two previous books now that I know how it all ends, would you? 

It’s a shame as the book was a breath of fresh air, a new concept in a genre that often seems to repeat variations on the same themes, though at least those themes are exciting ones.  Somewhere I read a brief blurb about this book and was also mistaken in thinking it wasn’t a dystopian or apocalyptic novel, yes I occasionally actually read some outside this genre, though that’s becoming more and more rare.   I just had the idea that this book was like the Greek myth about the Fates, who know by the spinning of a thread how long someone’s life is as the blurb talked about a character who could see peoples’ numbers, the numbers of their death.

After reading several books in a row with female heroines, don’t get me wrong I love a kick ass rebel female character as much as anyone, it was an interesting change to read a book in which the main character was male, a teen named Adam.   Adam is special due to his ability.   The book alludes to his past, when he was able because of his ability to predict the end of the world, well the end of the modern world as we know it.  He appeared on TV warning of a giant quake that created the Chaos, a hardscrabble new world where technology is gone and people spend each day camped outside trying to survive the devastation.  Among those people are not just Adam, but his pregnant girlfriend Sarah, their daughter Mia, and Sarah’s two brothers. 

Mia’s different too.  Adam sees more than just her unearthly beauty when he looks at her; he also sees her death date, the one that used to belong to his Nan who raised him until she died.  Somehow Mia ended up with her date and her ability, though it’s a different ability than what Adam has.  Adam has spent the last couple of years trying to lay low as before he made the predication about the end of everything, he was in prison.  He’s not sure what’s worse, people remembering the crime he was accused of, and worrying that somehow he might be sent back despite the fact that organized government and life appears to be largely gone, or people remembering him for his warning.  The latter want to thank him for saving lives, but being near other people is painful for someone who can’t make eye contact without seeing their date.

One day someone appears in the camp where he and his little family have been staying, and the encounter with this man who reveals some things about what he calls Adam’s gift, changes the lives of Adam, Sarah and his girls forever.

If anyone who reads this post has read the whole trilogy, let me know if you think it’s still worth reading the first two books after I have already read the last…