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review 2017-09-04 06:05
Better than I remembered
The Drawing of the Three - Stephen King

Second volume of this saga is sooo much better. Better than the first volume and better on second read.

Better than the first because it felt more grounded somehow. Despite the whole "magic doorway" thing, it was way less surreal than "The Gunslinger". The writing was more rounded too, and I connected better with the characters.

Better on second read because there was a dimension of meaning and character growth I could not appreciate first time around (having read it as a stand-alone), and because I'm older, and no matter how mature you think you are, there is a lot you can't really understand when you are a teen.

Despite remembering almost everything, I was not bored. At all. I actually sped through 3/4 of it before my brain revolted clamoring for sleep. That's a "good stuff" stamp, if there is ever one.

I'm full on board of this train now, and will be reading the next install soon.

 

 

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review 2017-08-30 22:26
A post-apocalyptic story of a Britain that is so familiar it is truly scary.
Tipping Point (Project Renova Book 1) - Terry Tyler

This book is a post-apocalyptic novel set in the near future (2024 to be precise) in the UK. Although some of the specific locations are fictional, the author explains in a note at the end where the original inspiration for some of them came from, and indeed, some are real. The setting is one of the great achievements of the novel. For those of us who live in the UK, it is all too real and familiar (with the shops, facilities, political and social organisation, TV programmes, food, language, and even typical behaviours of the population) and that makes it, in many ways, scarier than novels that are set either in imaginary locations, or in vague settings, that in their attempt at representing everywhere sometimes become too unfamiliar and alienating. Another one of the things that differentiate this novel from others in the genre (and I’m aware that the author writes in many different genres and is mostly interested in the stories rather than the labels attached to them) is its attention to characters. Whilst many post-apocalyptic novels spend a lot of the time, either on the cause and the development of the said apocalypse or on descriptions of the new world and post-apocalyptic society, sometimes the characters are little more than superheroes that had not discovered yet they had special survival skills, and spend most of the novel demonstrating us their awesomeness. Although I am not an expert in post-apocalyptic novels, I have read some (the one I best remember in recent times is Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel) and I’d dare to say that some readers who might not usually read novels in this genre would enjoy this one.

The time frame of the story is somewhat fragmented. The novel starts plunging us in the middle of the action, as the two main characters, Vicky and her teenage daughter Lottie, are escaping from their town and the enforced isolation and transportation its inhabitants face due to the epidemic. The novel (mostly narrated in the first person by Vicky) then goes back to explain how the situation reached the ‘tipping point’ of the title. The first person narration makes us experience the story close and personal, whilst at the same time limiting the amount of information we get to what Vicky can get hold of. Although her partner, Dex, was well-informed and had been warning her about the world governments attempts at gathering information about the population through social media with shady intent, she always dismissed his concerns and now realises he might have been right all along. (As I have included the description of the novel and want to avoid spoilers, I won’t discuss the whole plot in detail, but let’s say population control is taken to the extreme).

 As I have commented more than once regarding first-person narrations, there are readers who like them more than others, and often it depends on how we feel about the narrator. I must confess that on many occasions I found Vicky very annoying, especially at the beginning of the story. She refuses to believe anything that falls outside of her comfort zone, as if she was wearing blinkers; she is uncritical of official versions of the truth, despite her partner’s attempts at enlightening her. She has little confidence in herself (even when she acknowledges that she has brought up her daughter alone and has achieved much despite her difficult circumstances), and places a lot of responsibility and trust in Dex (although she does not share his ideas or even listen to him at times), her partner for the last six years. He is a fair bit older than her, savvier, and seems to be the one who has to make the decisions and who is expected to come up with answers and solutions to all the problems. (I thought the fact that when they moved they only kept a car, and now he’s the only one to drive and she has lost confidence in her driving seems to encapsulate their relationship). Of course, we do not know him directly, as we only have Vicky’s memories of him, and we learn later those might have been rose-tinted. From the little snippets we get, I found their relationship a bit difficult to understand, as they don’t seem to have much in common (as some of the other characters note, including her daughter) and we learn that she was quite naïve about him.  But she grows and matures through the novel, and although, thankfully, she does not become Wonder Woman, she proves herself resourceful and capable, she dares to try new things and does whatever is necessary to ensure her survival and that of her daughter. I am curious to see how the character will develop in the coming books and also to find out what role she will ultimately end up playing (as the narration seems to be addressed at the readers at times, rather than just being something she is writing exclusively for herself).

I really liked Lottie. She is a credible teenager, determined where her mother is hesitant, flexible and adaptable while remaining a teenager, naïve at times, eager to discover who she is and what she likes, and to fight for her individuality and independence. She brings much of the humour to the story and the relationship mother-daughter is a joy to read (apocalypse or not).

There are some chapters told in the third-person by an omniscient narrator who gets into the head of different characters, some that will evidently play a part in future instalments of the series, and others that provide a clearer background and explanation of how and why everything developed.

The writing is fluid and flows well. The first-person narration is convincing and the reported speech patterns of the different characters are distinctive and help create a clear picture in the reader’s mind. The pacing is steady, at times faster (especially when there is an acute threat to deal with) but at others it slows down to allow for some moments of contemplation and reflection.

Although I said before that the story is not focused on the science behind the illness or on a blow-by-blow account of the spread of the epidemic, that does not mean we do not gain insight into the destruction the virus causes or how it results in a collapse of the usual niceties of civilisation, but rather that we see these on a small scale and from a human-sized perspective, that, if anything, makes it scarier, as it is easier to visualise how this could happen around us. And, as quite a few readers have commented, one feels very tempted to withdraw completely from social media after reading this book, so convincing its plot is.

This first novel in the Renova trilogy sets up the characters and the background situation for the rest of the series. I am intrigued by the number of diverse characters who are set to come together at Lindisfarne. Holy Island, a place I have visited, is fascinating, but not very large for such a crew of people, and it is not somewhere where one can easily hide or even escape from. The confluence of so many people with such different expectations and agendas is bound to be explosive, and I can’t wait for the next book, that luckily should be out in September 2017.

I recommend this novel not only to readers of post-apocalyptic literature, but also to those who enjoy stories that question our beliefs, our society, our values, and that are interested in people, their relationships, and the way they see themselves and others.  I am sure this series will go from strength to strength and I look forward to the next two books.

 

Thanks to the author who kindly offered me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

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review 2017-08-28 20:56
Great Use of Building Tension
Bird Box - Josh Malerman

There are a few flaws with "Bird Box". Some of the chapters drag here and there, and the going back and forth to the present, past, and recent past didn't always work. But the book as a whole really works.

 

The book begins with a young woman being worried about what is outside the windows that she can't see. She is scared to leave a house she is living in with the children that she calls Boy and Girl. We don't know what is going on exactly, but the woman realizes that today she is going to have to finally leave the safe haven that has been created if she wants to make sure that the children have any type of life.


From there the book moves into what I call a very nice tension filled book. Not all of the blanks get filled in for you at once (which I liked). Instead, you start to get pieces told to you. You find out the woman's name is Malorie. That she lives in Michigan and that she misses her sister and someone named Tom. You don't know what happened to these people yet, but you start to find out that something has started to drive the world mad. 

 

We only stay with Malorie for the majority of the book though we do get a man's POV in this one named Tom. We over a course of chapters figure out who Tom is and how/why he is important to Malorie. 


I think that Malerman did a very good job in a short amount of time spelling out the main characteristics with each character we meet. Heck, I even got a sense of who Boy and Girl were too. 

 

The writing was good. I didn't feel talked down to or had things being overly explained. I thought it was great that we got to see Malorie's POV in three different time periods and at one point we get Tom's POV. I wish that Malerman had thought to go to Tom's POV at an important point in the book. That would have made things stronger to me. I do like how the book really focuses on noise a lot. I would love to listen to this via audiobook, I am sure it is an experience. I was tense the entire time I was reading. 


The flow was good, though I would say that maybe Malerman would have been better served if he pointed out what time period we are in as readers. I quickly guessed though based on where we left Malorie, Boy, and Girl and then figured things out when we had Malorie talking about things here and there. 

 

I do like that we never get an idea of what the fearsome creatures/monsters are that can drive a person insane with a single look. I found it much better to just sit and imagine what it could be. I personally imagine it had something to do with clowns because clowns are my personal nightmare on Earth. 

 

The ending had one more horror filled moment, that I wish had lasted longer. But then again I am a sucker for a really good straight up horror book. I did enjoy how this one ended. 

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text 2017-08-14 03:11
Book 44/100: Through the Evernight by Veronica Rossi
Through the Ever Night - Veronica Rossi

I didn't go back and read my review of the first book in this series, but I'm pretty sure whatever I said there probably applies here, too. This is not an impressive dystopia -- it relies on  its love story because the world-building is only so-s0, but unfortunately the love story is only so-so as well. I just don't feel invested in Aria and Perry's relationship, so it was hard to really care when a bit of a love triangle (or love square? It was hard to tell whether there was supposed to be something romancy happening between two of the characters) that developed here, especially since it was more-or-less devoid of any real tension because the other love interest was not fully developed or compelling in any way, although she had the feeling of a character that was created by trying too hard to do something interesting.

There were some moments when Perry just seemed dumb, like in allowing his clanmates to tattoo Aria in a ceremony with the potential to be dangerous even though he knew a bunch of them hated her -- I could have seen the way that would turn out, so why couldn't he? He might be a little too naive to make a good clan leader. There were also parts of this audiobook I had to listen to more than once because I lost interest and then lost the thread of the story; there were other places where that happened and I decided it just wasn't worth it to go back and catch myself up.

This book wasn't horrible, hence the ubiquitous three-star rating, but you won't miss much if you skip it, either. I'm certainly not going to bother reading the final installment in the trilogy.

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review 2017-08-09 23:17
Book 41/100: California by Edan Lupecki
California - Edan Lepucki

This felt more like a novel about a cult that happened to take place in a post-apocalyptic world than a post-apocalyptic novel.

That was OK with me. I like science fiction and fantasy that veers toward the literary, and that is definitely what "California" has going on, using the setting as a backdrop to explore complex human relationships, particularly between the married couple protagonists and the wife's charismatic brother. Still, this was not the sort of "meditation on marriage" that I've heard other reviewers call it; something about Frida and Cal's relationship always felt a little bit flat to me -- I was never fully invested in it. I was far more invested in the relationship between Frida, Cal, and Mikey, the charismatic leader of the community they find themselves attempting to be a part of after they have lived on their own in the wilderness for a couple years.

Frida's pregnancy, the inciting incident that convinces her they need to seek a wider community, raised interesting questions about what it means to parent and to plan for a future in a world that is dangerous and uncertain. The resolution to this question was not wholly satisfying. I also could have done with stronger world-building -- I got a sense of what the world was like post-apocalypse, but not exactly what had precipitated it, except something about an oil crisis? But I guess that's par for the course in "literary" science fiction -- it tends to leave the hardcore world-building to the hardcore genre writers.

So that's a fair amount of criticism for a book that I ultimately still gave four stars, but the book, the world, and the character dynamics did hold my interest from beginning to end. Wasn't thrilled with the narration, though, so probably wouldn't recommend the audio version.

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