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Deadline by Mira Grant

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Or as I like to call it Bloggers YAY! Security Theater BOO! If only the bloggers in this book wrote anything the least bit interesting in their blog interludes. I find it baffling that I’m supposed to believe these are some of the most popular bloggers in the world. So, on to the spoilers.

Pretty much the first thing I want to say is the worldbuilding in this book is painfully bad on pretty much every level.

I arrived to find James on duty at the guard station, his feet propped on the desk next to monitor and the latest issue of Playboy open on his knees.[p.33]

Really? There has been a worldwide zombie outbreak and I’m supposed to believe that people are still going off and logging trees to make paper for a magazine that’s going to be replaced in a month?

Grant says that everyone wants to work at home but there’s no lack of packaged goods (especially medical tests), no lack of groceries, no problems with electricity, water or sewage treatment. Gas is plentiful despite the US having abandoned Alaska. Solar, wind and other alternate forms of energy seem pretty nonexistent, but when there’s large sections of the country just abandoned, do you really want to have to depend on the infrastructure? Luckily, it seems to be perfectly reliable.

The entire Indian subcontinent has been abandoned for 30 years. Ok, what have the zombies been eating for all that time? Surely they must have run out of food sources pretty quickly and died? It’s not like they will go fishing or raise some rice.

And then there’s the smaller stupid things like when Grant has the narrator explain that building tunnels in California is dangerous. Um, no. Actually it’s that building tunnels is expensive, that’s why they aren’t common replacements for sidewalks. (And I guess we can add construction workers to the list of professions still adequately staffed.)

Then there’s the bit about how Avon’s Skin so Soft is the best insect repellent. You have the mad scientist doctor writing:

If you must go outside while the sun is down, wear long sleeves and bug spray. I recommend Avon Skin-So-Soft. It’s a bath product. It smells like someone fed a Disney Princess through a juicer, but it works better than anything else on the market.[p. 533]

Wow, they still have Avon ladies in the zombipocalypse and no one has heard of Deet, which is much better insect repellent. Avon ought to send Grant a check for the endorsement.

It just doesn’t work for me. I don’t think Grant has ever been through an airlock or seen a BSL-4 laboratory, and for 30 years in the future, the overall feel is basically the present, with added security check points.

And the most important question: Where are the ZOMBIE WHALES? This reader demands a zombie whale cameo.

There’s a lot of running around from crisis to crisis and everyone is out to get our noble team of bloggers. They are:

Shaun: the leader whom everyone loves despite him being an abusive prick (and dangerously unstable.)
Georgia: Shaun’s sister. Dead. (or is she???)
Becks: In love with Shaun for reasons unfathomable.
Alaric: Got a crush on Becks. The new kid.
Dave: Loves Maggie. Doomed.
Maggie: Loves Dave. Is the richest girl in the world.
Mahir: Loved Georgia. Married someone else.

You might think this book is a thriller, but it’s not. It’s a soap opera. I figured that out about the time there was surprise incest. (A neat trick since one of the characters is dead.)

Remember that time on General Hospital when Elizabeth Taylor’s husband was holding the world hostage by threatening to freeze the world with his weather machine? Yeah, the plot of Deadline is a bit like that.

Apparently the evil CDC has been killing people who develop a partial immunity to the zombie virus.

Once it’s been normalized, once it conforms, we can finally get to work on a virus that does what we want it to do, that follows our orders, not anyone else’s. We’ll save the world the way we want to, in our own time, and we’ll get proper credit. [p.446]

Oh, come on! Who talks like that? And what sort of crappy plan is that? You want to kill people for becoming immune in a way you didn’t plan?

Anyway, the CDC has it in for our noble bloggers and in an effort to keep their break-in and escape from the Memphis CDC quiet they start the Second Rising (Apparently no one in the CDC ever saw Jurassic Park or watches the weather channel or has the least lick of common sense.)

For a middle book in a series, it’s basically accessible though it does rather suffer from middle book syndrome. It ends with a huge cliffhanger to distract the reader from the fact that not a thing gets resolved in this book. The entire book is setting us up for the big showdown which I assume will occur in book three.

It’s campily fun, but the poor worldbuilding and the cartoonish motivations of the villains pretty much dooms it.

Is it one of the best books of the year? I think you know the answer to that question.

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Written by Chance

June 4, 2012 at 2:50 pm

Posted in Mira Grant, novel

Divergent by Veronica Roth

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There seems to be a flood of YA dystopian novels these days centered around teens needing to make a decision (or having a decision thrust upon them) when they turn sixteen(ish). As teens of that age are deep into the whole college application hysteria and the sense that the whole rest of your life hinges on this one thing has to be a large part of why books of this type are so popular.[1]

In Matched by Ally Condie people find out their soul mate. In Delirium by Lauren Oliver, people get their ability to love removed. In Enclave by Ann Aguirre, it’s getting a name and learning her career. I could go on and on.

The latest hot book of this type is Divergent by Veronica Roth. In this particular world, the population has divided itself up into five sects which each focus on a single virtue: Amity, Abnegation, Candor, Dauntless, Erudite. There’s also the sectless – the fringes (and downtrodden) of society who failed their initiation into one of the five sects.

Beatrice was born as part of Abnegation, the sect which favors selflessness. She’s not terribly successful at it and yearns to join one of the other sects. During her testing it turns out that she doesn’t have a natural affinity for one of the sects – rather she what’s known as “Divergent” and those in power fear the Divergent as they are free thinkers who are unpredictable.

Tris (as she renames herself) ends up choosing the Dauntless and for most of the book it reminded me a fair amount of Ender’s Game with its pointless competitions and brutality. There is also the obligatory love interest thing where Tris becomes involved with her initiation instructor. (He’s only two years older so it is less creepy than it might be.)

For the most part, I enjoyed this portion of the book – while a number of the kids might as well have “evil” stamped on their heads, there are some interesting interactions among the new initiates. (In particular, when Tris realizes that her friends are much more friendly when they can perceive her as small and weak, but once she excels their feelings change – one to the point that he assists in an attempt to kill her.) Plus, they abseil off the Sears Tower.

I had just about convinced myself that the book would basically end with the initiation – I assumed there would be another attempt on her life/a big standoff where she kicks the ass of the biggest of the bullies.

What I got instead was whiplash. There is a sudden shift to a revolution where all the Dauntless are mind-controlled by the Erudite and attack the Abnegation. In quick succession Tris’s Mom and Dad both die, along with a number of her initiation mates and former friends in the Abnegation. She is able to steal the code for the simulation and at the end she and her boyfriend are on the run.

This whole sequence felt like it almost could have been its own novel and I definitely thought it deserved more space than was devoted to it. (Especially since the pacing in the first half of the novel is rather lackadaisical.) This rush job of a revolution really didn’t work for me.

[1] I assume wasn’t just me who felt like this.

Written by Chance

June 5, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Wings by Aprilynne Pike

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Wings is the sort of book that doesn’t need to exist. I don’t mean that in the “wow, this book is horrible[1]” way but in the “if only the characters had acted like any rational person, the plot would have been about three pages long” way.

So the question I put to you is if you had piles of riches hanging around[2] (and magic powers) and you really wanted a plot of land not to be sold to potential evildoers, what would your crafty plan be:

a) offer some of those riches to the current owner of the property in exchange for said property.

b) Decide that the best way to gain control of the property is to leave a small child on the owner’s doorstep in hopes that they will adopt the child and some day the child will inherit it.

Please note, the owners have been dying to sell the property and the people with the piles of riches have been brainwiping the prospective buyers so they forget they were interested.

I bet you can guess which choice Pike made.

Anyway, Laurel was left on her parents’ doorstep when she was three and the happy adoption plan worked but now she is sixteen and just starting a new school. She is (of course) totally beautiful (because one of the messages of this book is that ugly people trolls ugly people are evil) and immediately the hottest guy in town wants her.

In a shocking reversal from Twilight, she is the supernatural one, though she doesn’t know it yet. She finds this out when a big flower blooms on her back indicating that she’s ready to birth some offspring. (She’s a fairy and apparently fairies are plants despite looking just like people. They also eat and breath and fuck like people though sex is the safest around because they can’t get preggers. Oh, and in case you might think she was a regular fairy, of course she is one of the rare and super special ones.)

While she’s back on the special land where she grew up she runs into another fairy because none of these books is complete without a rival love interest of unsurpassable hottness, who can also infodump some important history to her.

Anyway, her parents are selling the magic patch of dirt to someone evil (i.e., ugly.) And the evil guy made her dad really ill (ok, that is pretty evil) for reasons that are about as logical as the whole fairy changeling plot since they were already selling the magic dirt to him.

Do you care why the dirt is magical? No, me either. Anyway, I’m sure you will not be surprised to hear that eventually some fairy who is not a total idiot realizes that if they give her parents money they won’t sell the magic dirt. Also, have a free cure for your dad.

But wait! Did I say there was a supernatural love interest? I bet you were wondering if he is a creepy stalker. All signs point to yes:

“I’ve watched you for years. Watched you grow from a little girl to a full grown faerie. We were best friends when we were little, and I’ve been with you almost every day for the last five years. Is it so unreasonable for me to have fallen in love with you?”

[…]

“You’ve waited for me this long?” she asked in a whisper.

Tamani nodded.” And I’ll wait longer. Someday you’ll come to Avalon and when that time comes, I’ll show you what I have to offer you in my world, our world. You’ll choose me. You’ll come home with me

OR ELSE. (ok, he doesn’t actually say that last bit. But you know creepy stalker fairy is thinking it.)

You too can read this book for free if you click the link. I’m not actually suggesting you do so.

[1]Mind you, I’m not actually saying the book is good. Because it is not.

[2] “It’s such a perfect piece of earth that nature is not the only abundant resource there. Gold and diamonds are as common as sticks and stones

[3] I call this the “Goblet of Fire” syndrome – because of course you need a really complicated plan to kidnap Harry Potter rather than just kidnapping any of the nine million other times you have him alone once you’ve had your agent replace Mad Eye Moody.

Written by Chance

April 17, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Posted in aprilynne pike, novel

Going Bovine by Libba Bray

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This story takes place in an Alternate Universe[1] where MTV and Carson Daly are Yo!TV and Parker Day, Star Wars has become the clearly inferior Star Fighter, but mostly things are pretty much exactly the same.

And Cameron pretty much your every day pot-smoking, non-achieving, feels-like-he-only-has-relationship-with-his-dad’s-back sort of teen. Oh, with the perfect sister who is everything he is not – popular, gets good grades, a cheerleader who is dating the former quarterback.

And the whole situation annoys the hell out of him. He’s got a great snarky voice that make reading the first few chapters a delight.

Then the plot kicks in – Cameron finds out that he has Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease and Bray neatly satirizes some of the typical reactions, like the girl who couldn’t stand him getting all weepy and the school holding a pep rally for Cameron.

It’s like now that I am checking out, I actually matter. Ad for some reason, this demands cute baskets loaded with kiwi animals and apples carved into flowers. Calhoun High School has gone into overdrive for me. Rumor has it that the school board fears a lawsuit and they had people in sci-fi-worthy suits tearing apart the cafeteria in case that’s where the BSE came from. I hear the new menu features a lot of tofu. But to make up for the gosh-darn inconvenience of my having a terminal disease, they have organized a pep rally in my honor.

Cameron then embarks on a Don Quixotesque quest from Texas to New Orleans and then to Florida accompanied by his sidekick Gonzo (a hypochondriac gay dwarf) and the spirit of Baldur who has been trapped in a garden gnome. Bray makes allusions to Don Quixote a bit too much for my taste and honestly, I liked the story best when it was felt like it was a road trip, not a quest, with a lot of bickering and bantering and the three guys becoming friends.

Bray doesn’t ever let you forget that this trip is most likely happening all in Cameron’s head but having him hear bits of dialogue from the hospital. Though since there is an infinity of alternate universes there could be one where that’s the form Cameron’s hallucinations take. Bray never closes that door either. The ending is surprisingly satisfying and much less of a downer than I expected.

[1] I always feel like that should be capitalized even though that’s ridiculous. I may be catching random capital letter disease.(tm)

Written by Chance

February 5, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Posted in Libba Bray, novel

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

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I’m really quite behind on my blogging – there has been lots of reading of books by women, but much less in the way of writing about them – I’ve got stacks of things from Christmas break still to write about.

This book is a gem. Rather than being the story of the ugly duckling who grew up over the summer and gets a boyfriend… Well, ok, it starts off as that story, but it’s mainly the story of Frankie refusing to be a doormat.

Frankie comes back to school and immediately starts dating her crush from freshman year. Her boyfriend (a senior, natch) isn’t all that into her (he likes her, but he’s not interested in her friends or her life – he treats her as an accessory to his life.) She’ll never mean as much to him as his friends and she’s jealous of the bond they share. She’s not happy about it, and decides to get even.

And the best way to get even is to have your boyfriend (and his pals in the secret society) do pranks for you by pretending to be your boyfriend’s best friend. (It’s by email! Not a disguise – it makes perfect sense in the book.) Not only does she outwit the boys, her pranks are strong on social commentary and genuinely funny. (She even shames the administration into including actual fresh vegetables in the salad bar.)

At times, the book veers a bit into the preachy mode – where you feel like the author is telling you how you ought to feel rather than how Frankie does feel, but it’s a minor complaint, and I’m not sure that teens don’t need the sledgehammer approach. (I’m sure I did.)

I totally have a crush on Frankie.

Written by Chance

January 23, 2011 at 7:24 pm

Posted in E. Lockhart, novel

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

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One day you may wake up and realize that your parents don’t love each other and that your mom is painfully unhappy. In Rose’s case, this happens while eating her a slice of birthday cake her mother made from scratch.

But the day was darkening outside, and as I finished that first bite, as that first impression faded, I felt a subtle shift inside, an unexpected reaction As if a sensor, so buried deep inside me, raised its scope to alert my mouth to something new. Because the goodness of the ingredients–the fine chocolate, the freshest lemons–seemed like a cover over something larger and darker, and the taste of what was underneath was threatening to push up from the bite. I could absolutely taste the chocolate, but in drifts and traces, in an unfurling, or an opening, it seemed that my mouth was also filling with the taste of smallness, the sensation of shrinking, of upset, tasting a distance I somehow knew was connected to my mother, tasting a sense of her thinking, a spiral, like I could almost taste the grit in her jaw that had created the headache that meant she had to take as many aspirin as were necessary, a white dotted line of them in a row on the nightstand like an ellipsis in her comment: I’m just going to lie down …None of it was a bad taste, so much, but there was a kind of lack of wholeness to the flavors that made it taste hollow, like the lemon and chocolate were just surrounding a hollowness.

Now unlocked, Rose finds that she can feel all the emotions of everyone who contributed to the cake – primarily her mother who baked it, but the ones who picked the lemons, ground the flour – everything and everyone, and the hollowness she feels after eating it threatens to overwhelm her. And with every meal she feels everything that contributes to it. Eating has become a horror.

Rose Edlestein doesn’t live in a happy family, but not one that’s obviously unhappy from the outside either. Her father is distant, uncomfortable with his children and doesn’t know how to connect with them, but does love them. Her mother is the opposite. Intense and focused, and her attention threatens to overwhelm her children, like full sunlight on shade loving trees. She fell in love because she thought there was a sign that her marriage was meant to be, and she never really recovers when she finds out during the best man’s toast at her wedding that “the magical incident” was engineered by her husband. Rose’s brother is shy and uncomfortable with rare moments of affection.

And then there’s Rose, unable to hide from the family secrets that threaten to overwhelm her – her mother’s hollow life, and then guilt and euphoria when she takes a lover, and her bother Joseph’s misery that doesn’t seem to have any obvious cause.

At one point Rose shouts her pain and horror and tries to get her family to recognize what’s gone wrong with them, but her mother denies her problems and they implicitly ask her to maintain face – if no one talks about it, then there’s nothing wrong.

Bender is playful and creative in her writing – you can almost feel her pleasure in crafting the words of the story. At the same time, this book is depressing as hell.

There is a classic strain of family misery story (often very successfully in American literature – think The Corrections), stories that make you thankful that your family is not like this (or makes you weep because it is) and while Bender uses magic realism to illuminate the heart of the despair of an unhappy family, this fits firmly in the tradition.

There is no great healing, and the story is at best bittersweet, but in the end, Rose begins to make peace with her special powers and her family. Her brother is not so lucky, and it’s hard not to wonder that Joseph might have survived better if only his family had been more open with him, and how they struggled with similar things. But, this is family, so maybe not.

Written by Chance

January 22, 2011 at 7:35 pm

Posted in aimee bender, novel

Matched by Ally Condie

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Dystopias have been all the rage in the last few years (we needed something to counterbalance all the supernatural romance which is the other rage).

Latest on the best selling block is Matched by Ally Condie. It’s the sort of book that has a great elevator pitch. You’ve just been presented with your ideal match? What if you fall in love with someone else?

Matched could be the child of The Giver and Twilight – it adds a love triangle in the dystopia mix (as there was in The Hunger Games) but it is of the truly tepid sort – there’s not a second of mystery about who Cassia is going to fall in love with. It’s not going to be her perfect match Xander (aka Doormat), but her other perfect match, Ky (aka, not-so-Rebel).

My biggest problem with this book is the fact that it’s not a full story. It’s more like the first third of a book incredibly inflated in word count. By the time we reach the end, I feel like we’ve reached the first turning point plotwise and that simply is not enough to support the page length

Cassia is blandly self-centered (a la Bella) but it’s pretty impossible for me to imagine someone wanting to be on team Ky or team Xander since neither of them is terribly interesting.

The one thing I did like about this story was the restraint in the worldbuilding. They live in a world where everything has been streamlined. People all wear the same color clothes, eat the blandest of food. Even songs and poems have been stripped down to a bare 100, all for the population to better appreciate them.

It’s the sort of place where the cracks in the allegedly utopian society are apparent straight from the get go. Which makes it all the more annoying that Cassia is so complacently content at the start of the story. Really the only character I didn’t want to shake was Cassia’s grandfather.

I try to understand why a book might sell well even when it doesn’t work for me, but I have to admit I’m pretty baffled here.

Written by Chance

January 2, 2011 at 1:16 pm

Posted in ally condie, novel