Category Archives: genre

Review: The Road

The Road
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Road, make no mistake, is very bleak. It begins bleak; it ends bleak. The world Cormac McCarthy thrusts us into is a world where civilization has ceased to exist. Its last gasps, living solely as memories and habits in the few people remaining, are snuffed out one by one, steadily hurtling the planet’s surface into a state of total desolation.

Our main characters are never named. The boy and the man (whom we know as Papa) are walking towards something – towards somewhere. They don’t even know where it is they’re going or if they’ll even recognize it when they get there, but they have to keep moving, all the way to the end.

As I read this book, I am filled with deep anxiety. The reviews I have read have been a mix of highest praise and profound criticism, but I can’t say anything without first mentioning how deeply uncomfortable I feel when reading this book. This book succeeds at painting the ashen, grey tasting their hubris for centuries past. Who the hell do we think we are, anyway? We think we know and that we can control it, and this book is a good example of what it might feel like when you’re reminded, quite brutally, that you’re just along for the ride.

We aren’t sure how the apocalypse came about in The Road, and I find it best as the details of the how/why/when don’t clutter up the gaping maw of the impending eternal extinction of the human race. But the boy and the man travel through the lands battered insidiously by ash. Ash permeates absolutely everything. Their hair, the rain, the atmosphere, their breath… It can’t be avoided. Sunlight can’t break through the ash in the air, and the rain will try its best to clean what it can, but never to any significant degree.

I read and I find myself wondering how the characters are going to find the golden island of freedom, far from these harsh elements and living conditions. No hope of long-lasting amnesty in sight, page after page, encounter after encounter, night after night. There are little bites and sips of mercy, but nothing permanent, and each day feels like a half step forward only to slide back 200 steps soon after.

Bleak. So bleak. Coughing. Lungs infiltrated by the guck. The man knows he’ll have to make a choice whether or not to allow the boy to be alone in this world without him after he’s gone. The hard choices have to be made whether to hold on to the human condition of hope for a better day or to exercise mercy from a world that wants to hammer you down for daring to have hope in the first place?

I finished this book both depressed as hell (tho really glad it was over) and impressed by the totality of blackness enveloping me. I’m going to be haunted by this for a while. Better go find something light and airy to follow up with.

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Book Review: The Shell Collector by Hugh Howey

The Shell Collector
The Shell Collector by Hugh Howey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve just finished this book, and as always I’m digesting my feelings on it. I love how Hugh Howey writes regardless of whether or not I love the story itself. I have gone from “holy crap” to “meh” and hit every emotion in between while reading his works, so I feel comfortable giving a lukewarm review on this one.

Part of my struggle with this story is my inability to really sync up with the premise of shells being so rare and coveted that there’s a market for them, let alone high value placed on top notch specimens. I can go along with the idea of global warming and the effects that has on the Earth pretty well, but the fallout from that was hard for me to sink my teeth into. And that, really, was the build-up in the first half of the book. I felt very disconnected from Maya and Ness because I didn’t care about either of their plights.

I appreciated that Hugh spent time building up the relationship between these two. By the time they finally hopped on over into romance land, I felt like the tension was sufficient, and that alone takes talent.

The layout of this story is very very formulaic, and other reviews have done an excellent job in expounding upon that. It was easy to see what was coming and how the romance would crash down before it would rebound back to the resolution long before it happened. I don’t want to say it was predictable, but it was definitely made clear in the text leading up to it.

Maya’s behaviors were maddening at times. I didn’t find her particularly clever or inspiring. I found her to be kind of annoying and immature. Calling up the FBI following her night at the Bahamas house was really weird, and I really expected someone in that position to have struggled a LOT with decisions like that. She seemed on one hand to be completely blown away by her feelings for him and on the other hand to consider them unimportant. I wanted more inner conflict for Maya than I saw when it came to her relationship with Ness and how it affected her outward decisions.

Overall, I started feeling interested in this book around the 50% mark – about the time that they went SCUBA diving. Before that point I had to force myself to keep reading. Following that point the story flowed much easier. I liked Ness exponentially more than I liked Maya. I felt mildly preached-to about the environment. Hugh Howey writes his face off, and any of his books can and should be read for the quality of prose alone.

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Review: California by Edan Lepucki

California
California by Edan Lepucki
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Wow, where do I begin?

I was excited to see the blurb for this book in Netgalley’s list of offerings. Dystopia is just about my favorite genre, especially post-apocalyptic dystopia. I’m a fan of the quiet (or not-so-quiet) desperation associated with end-of-the-world scenarios where humanity fights like hell to survive.

California didn’t have that, though.

Let me back up a second… The premise of the story is about a married couple, Cal(vin) and Frida who are living in “The Afterlife” which is just an area they’ve coined with a cute nickname. The world as we know it went away with a whimper (not a bang) and the life we’ve grown accustomed to just faded away. Now this couple lives alone with a couple neighbors near-ish by and a traveling dude who brings them goods now and again.

By the way, I don’t know of any Vicodin pills that come at a 750mg dose. Pretty sure that’d put someone down for a very long time. Details. Anyway.

Frida’s brother died a long time ago by blowing himself up to prove a point, and her parents are MIA. Cal’s family was in the midwest and died when it got crazy-cold where they lived. These two are all alone. They have nearby neighbors, though they aren’t around long in the book.

Cal and Frida go on a bit of a search for life beyond The Afterlife. They find it.

I half-read it and half-listened via audiobook. If I were to have rated this book by audiobook performance alone, the whole she-bang would have received 0.5 stars. That narration was BAD. It made the book, which is hard to give a crap about to begin with, loathsome. I wanted to quit 650 times per chapter while listening along with the audiobook compared to wanting to quit reading a mere 225 times per chapter while letting my eyes do the work.

Now for spoilers….

Her brother isn’t dead. He’s the sort-of Governor of Woodbury (TWD fans will recognize). Seemingly magnanimous and the hero to all, but actually kind of slimy and not someone we should trust.

The pregnancy was deeply annoying throughout the whole book and, aside from being the catalyst for their leaving The Land, was nothing but a complete waste of time.

The whole story about Micah (brother) getting rid of all the kids of The Land is incomprehensible to me. The parents just let the kids be taken away to another city? This doesn’t make sense. It defies parental logic, which, even in the post-apocalypse probably follows similar trajectories.

The “fear of the color red” and its manifestation when there was blood, or a shirt’s color, etc, and that fear being based on the fact that Pirates have red belts/sashes was silly. PTSD doesn’t quite work that way.

Anika’s reaction (and extended to the whole town’s instant change of heart) to Frida’s declaration of pregnancy was stupid. To act so broken and betrayed really pushed the limits of “reasonable human behavior”.

The prose of the story was very difficult to follow. The writing phased in and out of current narration and flashbacks, and there was NOTHING to delineate between the two. I found myself unsure when a transition took place, and I’d have to re-read to try to discern what the author meant to be happening. IF (and only if) the author intended to demonstrate how life was a meandering switching back and forth between past and present until the duo arrived to The Land … she was successful. Any other purpose for that kind of writing is just to confuse the reader.

So many things about this book were bizarre, unnecessary, unexplored… It’s filled with loose ends that very much felt like time-wasters. Words to fill a quota less than words to tell a coherent story.

Finally, the ending blew my mind. Suddenly, following the announcement of the pregnancy to the people of The Land, Cal and Frida are exiled yet sent to live in another Community called the Pines where everything is shiny and new and there are comforts of the world before everything went to hell, and they’re all available to everyone. What? And they were there much longer than they were at The Land, too.

I don’t know. I walked away from this book completely disappointed. I don’t care that Colbert said it rocked; it made no sense and left me with questions that will never get answered.

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#Review: Lexicon by @MaxBarry – Word salad punctures impenetrable walls? (3.5 stars)

Lexicon
Lexicon by Max Barry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My emotions while reading this book ran the gamut from engrossed to utterly confused to painfully bored and back to engrossed. I spent most of the time somewhere solidly in the middle, and thus rate Lexicon somewhere between 3 and 4 stars.

I’ve not read anything by Max Barry before reading Lexicon, but I was honestly impressed by the readability of this book. The subject matter would not have been something I’d have been interested in by itself, but this writing held my attention (for the most part). I am interested in other books he’s written, hoping that maybe the subject matter is a bit more in line with my interests.

The basic story here is about a group of lyrical gangstas in our midst. They train together and work together, seek out new recruits to further their lineage, and educate them to the best of their ability. Language, they believe, has the ability to pierce the filters and walls of the human psyche. Every person alive is vulnerable to a specific subset of these “magical” words, depending on their personality “segment”. This segment must be identified by the poet, or the linguist expert who’ll be doing the compromising, and the education to do so is acquired at a special & secret Academy. Invitation-only.

In Lexicon, the focus shifts so much from character to character that you’ll find yourself a wee bit whiplash-ed in deciding who you’re rooting for. Emily? Wil? Eliot? Harry? You wouldn’t believe it, but Bronte, too. Never Yates, though.

My biggest complaint about the book is the timeline. The two timelines in the book jump around quite a lot, with the endpoint being their convergence. I found myself believing that the converging had already taken place a couple of times only to realize that we were still in the past. It was at that point the “boredom” piece of this puzzle clicked in. If I was misunderstanding the time, then I was completely misunderstanding the events that just took place. I checked out for a bit, mentally.

But I returned. I completed.

The book ends with a bit of an eye roller about the depth of love and the vulnerability it brings. By this point I was D-U-N with the book and a bit relieved it was over. I wished that the love story had been a bit more developed, or the characters a bit more human. A couple of tangents about a brain tumor and delegates threw me for a loop, but overall this book is an engaging read written very well and worth the investment of time.

Maybe keep a piece of paper handy to keep the timeline written in visual form so that it’s easier to follow.

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#Review: The Here and Now 3/5 stars

The Here and Now
The Here and Now by Ann Brashares
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve not read the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series and I’ve never seen the movies, so I’m very new to Ann Brashares.

To sum it up, I enjoyed this book up until about the 90% part. There were some things missing, a bunch of glaring plotholes, and unbelievable coinky-dinks, but whatever, it’s nice to have easy fiction now and again.

Basically, Prenna, a 14-year old girl from the future comes back in time with a group of contemporaries to escape an apocalyptic scenario unfolding in her native time. Mosquitoes bring and distribute the most devastating blood plague of all time, taking with it her two brothers – one a baby. She arrives in our present, attends high school, and aims to live as benign a life as possible. Three years pass and she’s now 17 and our story begins.

The rules of the Community are very specifically set so that the future group interacts with the present group as little as possible, NEVER falls in love with “time natives”, and has very little effect on the progress of time. How does that make sense, though? Shouldn’t the goal of this flavor of time travel be to change the future by having a gigantic effect on the past?

The pieces fall into place way too easily in this story. The hero is the hottest, super smart, a lab tech at a pivotal location in the book.. Fake phone calls are believed without suspicion.. The leaders of the Community pose NO resistance to Prenna’s Declaration of Independence… It’s all just way too utopian from the point of view of the teenage girl.

The real sour spot for me in this whole story was the ending. After building up the whole story in one singular direction, there’s a moment of epiphany and a sudden, unlabored unraveling that abruptly cuts the whole thing off. I was really put off by how quickly things changed then ended, and by reading other reviews, it appears I am not alone. I wish it had ended differently.

Overall, though, the first 90% of the book was really pleasant and built up pleasantly. I can’t recommend it because the ending kinda blows, but if you can hunker down and prepare for it from the get-go, you’ll be solid.

**This book was provided by the publisher free of charge in exchange for an honest review.
via NetGalley

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#Review: The Uninvited by Liz Jensen

The Uninvited
The Uninvited by Liz Jensen
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I really don’t know what happened here, but damn. This book was just bad. I didn’t enjoy 95% of it, and if it wasn’t for a NetGalley review, I would have put it down close to the beginning. The cover picture and the blurb set me up for a book I thought I’d really like. I did not.

A frightening phenomenon is occurring. Kids are killing grown-ups. The reason or the rhyme is not established until the very end in hurried fashion as if it were an afterthought. I’ve seen it called dystopian, but meh. It really isn’t. Some bizarre role-switching of the main child in the book, the story told through the eyes of someone with Asperger’s Syndrome, and a lot of boring in between.

I really disliked this book. It didn’t flow well at all.

NetGalley & the publisher provided the book and I provided my honest opinion.

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“The Transhumanist Wager” by @zoltan_istvan Provocative Storytelling

transhuman

 

The Transhumanist Wager
By Zoltan Istvan
300pps
Philosophy > Science Fiction

Copy furnished by the author
“The Transhumanist Wager” tells the provocative story of Jethro Knights and his participation in the Transhumanist Movement. The movement is based on a shared philosophy based on human enlightenment through extending one’s life through the use of science and technology (my layman interpretation). The Transhumanist Wager explores the philosophy more eloquently than I have given. Obviously.

Transhumanist Wager follows the rise of Jethro Knights from being a student from a prestigious university to circumnavigating the globe to becoming “leader” of the tranhumanist movement. However, the movement goes against God’s will and Reverend Belinas is not amused. At all. Man is meant to live and die all the while being in the service of God and not live forever.

“A transhumanist must safeguard one’s own existence above all else.” Jethro Knights is an extremist. Reverend Belinas is an extremist. Two opposing views to help drive the message of Transhumanism and to discuss the flaws of organized religion and how it limits human insight and growth. No shades of gray are presented in the novel. It’s because of these extreme views that it’s difficult to like Jethro Knights or to fully stand behind transhumanism. That’s not to say this was a terrible book. I enjoyed the writing itself. In fact I’m glad I read it because it allowed me to develop my own thoughts on the movement and religion and their roles in contemporary society. As I said early on; provocative.

 

“Red Rising” by @Pierce_Brown A fantastic genre bending “Hunger Games” meets “Lord of the Flies”

 

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Red Rising (The Red Rising Trilogy #1)
By Pierce Brown
401 pp
Sci-Fi > YA> Dystopian

The setting is Mars. The setting is bleak with the Reds mining for Helium-3, a necessary element for terraforming Mars as well as other planets. The Reds work hard knowing that what they do is for the greater good of mankind; that they’re sacrifices are not in vain and Mars will be habitable. That is until, 16 year old Darrow learns the truth. It’s with this discovery and what he does that brings the reader into a fantastic world as he attempts to rise up into the ranks and expose the truth for what it is.

 

I don’t read much YA-Sci Fi-Dystopian. Really, I don’t. I read “Hunger Games,” “Ender’s Game,” and “Ready Player One” (those last two may be a stretch to classify as Dystopian) and that was it. That said, reading “Red Rising” could be a mash-up of “Hunger Games,” “Ender’s Game,” and “Lord of the Flies,” with a smidgen of “Harry Potter…” and Roman structre and mythos.

 

As mentioned, Darrow rises into the ranks. He becomes a Gold. All is not easy as there are trials which he must pass once he is a Gold. Of the many trials, one needs to be victorious with his House in a “survival of the fittest” of sorts versus other Houses. Of course, the typical cliche with the powers that be intervening, this competition is no different with its obstacles that Darrow must face.

The writing itself had some minor issues as far as I was concerned. There were some “show don’t tell” moments concerning Darrow and how he’s “able to think outside the box” as well as towards the ending with his House vs some other Houses. In other words, rather than letting the reader learn of the traits of Darrow the reader is told, “It’s because of this reason that he’s that way.” The finale with the other Houses felt rushed; less setting up the scene and more of “this happened afterdwe caused that.” In the grand scheme of things I suppose that’s ok, but another hundred pages or so would have been more fulfilling.

Overall, I’m glad I chanced upon this book. For the avid reader of the genre, this will be a quick read. For the casual reader, I’d say the same. Mr. Brown hooks you into the world and doesn’t let go. Let’s hope the second installment does the same.

 

“Above” by Isla Morely. It’s so good it got two reviews on Twisted Sense! @GalleryBooks @NetGalley #bookreview

abovecover37391-small
“Above”
By Isla Morley
384 pp
Fiction > Thriller

ARC via NetGalley

“Above” by Isla Morley tells the story of 16 year old Blythe Hallowell, abducted by a survivalist for 17 years. Hidden in a missile silo in Eudora, Kansas, 16 year old Blythe is left isolated from the outside world with her abductor, Dobbs Hordin. It’s difficult for Blythe to believe Dobbs’ rhetoric concerning the upcoming end of days as well as what may or may not have happened during the 17 years of captivity but it’s also just as difficult after those 17 years in learning what’s happened while she was gone.

Ms. Morley’s novel, “Above”, tells the fantastic story of a resilient woman held against her will in a claustrophobic setting. At least for the first 17 years of captivity. And after those 17 years? It’s just as fantastic. Morley’s excellent prose allows you to be transported from the safety of your favorite reading spot to Blythe’s enclosed setting yearning for daylight and that next breath. What happens those first 17 years is for the reader to discover.

After the first 17 years begins another journey of discovery, in more ways than one. What happened after those first 17 years had me wondering what happened as I devoured each page. I found myself texting a friend that had recently completed the ARC copy of “Above” a lot of “what if” scenarios as I was reading. “If aliens…”; “If mutants…”; and then there was the reveal of what happened those 17 years Blythe was gone.

I enjoyed reading “Above” a lot. The world she transported me to was one I loved to read from the outside looking in. Put into Blythe’s situation? Fuck that noise. I wouldn’t be able to cope. And that’s what makes a terrific story teller; to transport you into another world where you succumb to the writer and let him/her take control of all your senses and emotions.

#Review: Above by Isla Morley – abduction thriller and more!

abovecover37391-small
Above by Isla Morley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

***THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS***

Lazy summer days, picnics in the park, squabbling among siblings, a racing heart caused by a promising young man… these are the types of things that are supposed to punctuate the young life of Blythe Hallowell. A 16-year old girl in Eudora, Kansas has her whole life ahead of her. That is until Dobbs Hordin, school librarian, tricks her into getting into his car. This decision will change the course of her life irreparably.

Dobbs squirrels Blythe away deep, deep into the earth contained securely in an abandoned missile silo. Outfitted with living quarters, rations, and sturdy locks on all the doors, Blythe finds herself in a living hell she desperately wishes to escape. Dobbs, coming and going as he pleases, talks incessantly about an apocalypse happening above, a world unrecognizable. Blythe, acutely aware of Dobbs’ tenuous grip on reality, finds she can do nothing but play along until freedom presents itself. In the meantime, she gives birth twice, plays Mom for a short time to a child Dobbs abducts from “Above”, and plays along to Dobbs’ fantasy as his wife. She bides her time expertly, never forgetting her family and her life above, but making the best with the worst situation.

Approximately halfway through the book, the story’s momentum is turned on its ear. We are thrust from abduction thriller to post-apocalyptic dystopian. The world as Blythe left it no longer exists. She must forge through this brand new world, though not alone, and figure out how she will survive.

Above had me from start to finish. I devoured this novel. The abduction and her life following was harrowing, suffocating, and heartbreaking. Moments of pure joy were marred by an undercurrent of constant terror, and I found myself needing to remember to breathe. The post-apocalyptic dystopian part caught me absolutely by surprise, and I found myself see-sawing between despair, hope, gratefulness, and trepidation for the future.

One really strange bit that kept pulling me out of the story: The way Ms. Morley writes the “before” portion of the book makes me feel like Blythe was a 16-year old in the 50s or 60s. I couldn’t shake it, and then when she wrote about someone in her teenage years talking on a cell phone, it shattered my illusion for a bit. There’s a bit of old-fashioned infused in the text.

Overall, I really enjoyed the pace of this book. I love the incredible spectrum of emotions I felt while reading. Some of the scenes after Blythe resurfaces were clunky, and one in particular I think was completely unnecessary (Blade taking them to the place with the bones), but I enjoyed this story nonetheless.

Thanks go to NetGalley & Gallery/Simon&Schuster for the ARC e-galley.

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