The aliens have arrived.
Now mankind is on the verge of extinction, and Cassie is alone, having lost her family and escaped to the forests outside Dayton, Ohio. She can't trust anyone, even other humans, because she's convinced that some of them work for the aliens.
But Cassie has a purpose beyond simple survival: her five-year-old brother Sam was taken to a camp where he'd supposedly be safe. She wasn't allowed to go with him, but promises she'll find him no matter what.
From the start of THE 5TH WAVE, the author Rick Yancey creates a tone of lingering terror as he builds the setting and Cassie's story with vivid detail. She's camped out in the forest outside of town, but is afraid of lighting a fire and being seen, she sleeps with an M16 and her brother Sam's teddy bear, and has learned that staying away from other people is what will keep her alive.
We learn bit by bit about the waves of destruction: a worldwide EMP, coastal flooding, a plague, and then being hunted by drones. We also learn about how Caseei's life has irrevocably changed from the awkward high school girl she was mere months ago. She's is a great heroine with an engaging voice, who somehow retains her humanity despite the horrors she's faced. We also see Sam's PoV, which, while interesting to see the apocalypse from a child's perspective, he is really only a kid and as a result lacks depth. Then there's Zombie, the third PoV, another high-schooler who is rounded up with other youth and taken to a military training camp to teach the children how to fight back. We learn his tragic backstory and find him endearing by how he can be kind-hearted despite his situation.
Yancey's prose is fantastic, especially compared to most YA novels I've read. The imagery and emotions draw readers into the immediacy of the story. The pacing is excellent despite several flashbacks at the beginning of the book, Yancey handling them quite seamlessly. We're carried along from event to event as Cassie tries to find her brother, as Zombie struggles with boot camp, as Sam attempts to adjust to his new life--and we want to know what's going to happen to these people we've become attached to.
After I finished THE 5TH WAVE I set it aside and thought about it. It was a compelling read with an exciting conclusion and I finished it quickly. But there was something holding me back from giving it a love rating and unfortunately it wasn't a small problem:
The plot is highly contrived.
I'm guessing that the main reason why is because we're limited to human PoVs and therefore we aren't able to learn much about the aliens. Except we do learn a little, like how they've been watching us for thousands of years and know everything about us...so they decide to take over Earth with gimmicky "waves" that don't make much logical sense. The events are random and ineffective methods of destruction, especially considering that the aliens are an advanced race. So what's the point of the waves then? Maybe the aliens have a flair for the dramatic. Heck if I know.
Also, while I'm a girl who digs a love story, Cassie's relationship with Evan was strange and really creepy. The vibe was just off. It was sometimes sweet and at first I liked it, but as things progressed I had a hard time understanding Evan's motivations and Cassie's willingness to put up with his odd behavior. The whole thing felt pointless other than Cassie having a helper to find and save Sam. Again, contrived.
Plot holes galore, an impossible climax, unbelievable aliens, a bizarre love story...it was all too much. Despite compelling characters and excellent prose, too many questions were left unanswered, making the story feel forced and incomplete. Perhaps your teen will like it anyway.
Recommended Age: Similar in tone and reading level to THE HUNGER GAMES, but more violence is on screen, so 13+
Language: A fair amount of all varieties from euphemisms to a handful of the stronger variety
Violence: Teens shooting people, blood, some gore
Sex: Teenage hormones and innuendo, but no scenes
Find this book here:
THE 5TH WAVE
If you like THE 5TH WAVE and want to try some classic (and more logical) alien invasion books try CHILDHOOD'S END (EBR review here) and WAR OF THE WORLDS. They may not have Yancey's finesse with words, but at least they had the right idea.
I don't get as much time to read books these days as I'd like to, so I've widened my available reading time by opening up to the wonderful world of audiobooks. I found myself with a long drive ahead of me and nothing picked out to read, so I went to my library and checked out a digital audiobook. Time was short, so I didn't have much of a chance to research what I wanted to read.
Which is a long way of saying I wasn't quite sure of what I was going to get when I picked out Maggie Stiefvater's THE RAVEN BOYS.
Going into it, details were sketchy. I knew it had a 4.05 on Goodreads--with over 22,000 reviews--so clearly it had some appeal. I knew it was about a girl and some boys, and that's all I really had time for before I downloaded it and started listening.
I didn't love this book, but if I'd started a relationship with it, I would have given it the "It's not you, it's me" talk. Because I'm not the target audience, I soon discovered. This is very much a teen fantasy romance novel, and . . . I'm far from a teen fantasy romance reader. Despite this fact, I still finished the book, mainly because there were some fantasy elements in it that were strong enough to get me through the lovey-dovey stuff.
Blue Sargent comes from a family of psychics, and for as long as she can remember, her family has been telling her that if she ever kisses her true love, he'll die. Interesting premise. Add to that a plot of a rich teenage boy hunting the grave of a long lost Welch king, some cool fantasy world building, and well-drawn characters, and you've got a recipe for success on your hands.
Just not a book that I'm going to love.
There were long swathes of girls and boys thinking and yearning and debating who to kiss. Intense descriptions of hand holding and whispers that tickle ears and touches filled with electricity and desire. If that sounds like something you'd like, allow me to point you in the direction of this fine novel. If not, then you're probably better served looking elsewhere.
Even for you romance fans out there, I have a few caveats. First up is the fact that this is very much the first book in a series. I'm not going to spoil anything in this review, but be aware that there are some major plot points that aren't going to be tied up by the final page. Disappointingly so. I like my main plots taken care of, and I felt like Stiefvater promised some things that weren't followed through on. It's a literary bait and switch, and I don't like the technique.
Then again, maybe if I were a big romance fantasy fan, I'd be all aflutter with the thought of more pages with Blue and the Raven Boys. I have the ARC for the second book, but I don't think I'll be reading it.
In the end, it's a great book for what it's trying to be. Just not a great book for me.
Recommended Age: 16+ (with caveats about the language)
Language: Yes. A few f-bombs peppered throughout the text
Violence: A brawl here or there, but nothing beyond punching and some pointed guns.
Still want to give this a try? Here's your link:
THE RAVEN BOYS
I recently re-watched Back to the Future. A good movie, if I do say so myself. (And I do.) Though when it came time for Doc Brown's monologue about how he'd measured the distance from the “starting line” to the hanging wire he'd previously strung that Marty would need to start from at exactly the right time, so that at the precise moment that Marty's car reached 88 miles per hour, the lightning bolt would hit the clock tower, travel down the electrical line the doc had hung, through the long hook extending from Marty's car, and directly into the flux capacitor to send Marty back to the future...I had to take a moment to ask myself if I honestly cared that so much of the plot was based on ridiculously stupid timing and outright luck. And you know what I found? I didn't care. Not a lick.
THE LAZARUS MACHINE by Paul Crilley is the beginning of what appears to be a new series in the vein of Mark Hodder's Burton and Swinburne books, with an alternate England, historical figures of prominence, and gloriously fast paced. The difference in LAZARUS, however, is that Crilley's version of the England we know comes about because of the success of Charles Babbage (and his computing machine) and Nikolai Tesla (and his disbursement of electrical power), and the interesting science behind being able to capture the human soul and use it for various purposes.
Sebastian Tweed is the hero of the story. He's a seventeen-year-old con man who works with his father to bring the bereaved citizens of London happy messages from their recently passed dead, and perhaps more than just a few coppers to their own pockets. Sebastian is not happy with the situation, but the point quickly becomes moot when a mysterious group of individuals, supposedly headed by none other than the nefarious Professor Moriarty, kidnaps his father. From this point, all due chaos ensues as Sebastian employs every trick in his shallow bag to not only find out where his father has been taken, but why he's been taken at all. And, oh, you noticed the Moriarty bit? Yeah. Sherlock and Moriarty are also real characters in this story. So, it's not just historical figures. There are also some purely fictional ones added to the mix.
The chapters are written in the thriller style. For the most part, they're short, fast, and usually have a hook at the end to pull you into the next. Characterization is fairly light, with the greatest amount of time being given to the main character, Sebastian. World-building was really rough for me. Instead of being varied and nuanced like I enjoy seeing, nearly everything seemed to stem from Babbage machines and Tesla power. Even then, the “alternate” in this alternate history felt very light and almost more window dressing than anything of note or import. The main speculative element, the capturing of souls, had little to no explanation at all--it was just something that could be done.
While interesting and decently written, there really wasn't anything that grabbed my attention overly much. I wasn't very enamored with any of the characters. The typical shady-government scheming didn't surprise me. In this case, the inclusion of Moriarty and Holmes actually worked against the story, because seeing them made my expectations of the book so much higher. Thus, when I approached the climax of the book and things started getting ridiculous (like, for example, punch-card driven computers that could be accessed remotely, retinal scans and voice prints as security measures, or jumping out of the top of a building that dwarfs Big Ben into a river...and not being instantly killed) I really noticed them. Unlike my nostalgic viewing of Back to the Future, I wasn't so buried in the story that I could look past them.
That being said, if you find that you are easily sucked into fast-paced, thriller-type books, and can overlook some of Crilley's more over-the-top inclusions, it would be fairly easy to enjoy this read. I mean, loads of people like Dan Brown's books, and they seem to have many of the same characteristics as this one. If it were me though, on your side of this book-review equation, I'd appreciate the suggestion of a pass for this story. There's lots better out there. Mark Hodder's books for example. If, by some horrible twist of fate, I've failed to mention him to you before... you should try them. Ah, the goodness that is out there to be had. Unfortunately though, this one didn't fit the bill.
Recommended Age: 15+, though mostly just because of the age of the main character
Language: Very little, very mild
Violence: A few fight scenes
Sex: Essentially none
Link: The Lazarus Machine
I first met Eff Rothmer in THIRTEENTH CHILD, where she lives in the frontier border town of Mill City with her family. She's the thirteenth child of a seventh son, and her twin brother Lan is the seventh son of a seventh son, making him a naturally strong magician. Some consider a thirteenth child as unlucky. Stir those expectations around and the result is that poor Eff has trouble learning the magic that comes naturally to her family. But despite her rocky start, Eff discovers that how you use your magic is often more important than how strong your magic is.
In the sequel, ACROSS THE GREAT BARRIER, Eff grows into a young woman, whose experiences with magic, working with the animals at the college menagerie, and finding the right mentors all lead her on an unexpected path to an adventure in the Far West.
In the final book of the trilogy, THE FAR WEST, Eff's experiences from the first two books prepare her for the dangerous wilderness beyond Mill City and the Great Barrier.
Patricia C. Wrede is no newcomer to fantasy or YA. In her Frontier Magic trilogy she explores a new and exciting world called Columbia (mid-1800s U.S.) where magic is a part of everyday life and as a result the settling of the continent looks much different than what we're familiar with: mammoths still walk the earth, ice dragons must be fought off from the towns by magicians, and many other untold dangers in unsettled territory.
Told from Eff's pragmatic PoV, we watch as she learns about the different kinds of magic in the world, along with her observations of that magic in action. It was enlightening to watch her knowledge of magic build from each book to finally reach a critical understanding by the climax of THE FAR WEST. She stumbles as she learns because her understanding of magic isn't the result of university study like her brother Lan, but she learns by observing and then contemplating. Eff often thinks before she acts, which means she finds solutions to problems that don't occur to others. I liked seeing this different approach in a YA main character, especially considering our current school culture that seems to reward outgoing/extroverted girls. There will be plenty of book-loving YA readers who will relate to Eff.
We also grow to love the people surrounding Eff. Of course Lan plays a big part of it, but there's also her best friend William, her teacher Miss Ochiba, her mentors Wash Morris and Professor Torgeson, and others. Wrede paints a varied and complex cast who move in and out of Eff's life. Eff understands these people and their foibles and loves them as they are. They see in her a reliable, level-headed, intelligent young woman.
As a result of the setting/plot the pacing can feel slow. But a bigger reason why the pace is slow is because of the PoV character's personality and the growth and learning required from the passage of time--she starts as a young teen in book one and is 22 by book three. So many things have to happen before there can be action (i.e., the practicality of frontier life, politics, an era of limited technology), and even then the action is infrequent and brief. Do not let this deter you. Fortunately Wrede's prose is succinct in its detail, and every scene has meaning to the greater story as a whole.
If you or your YA readers like Shannon Hale or Mercedes Lackey, don't miss out on Patricia C. Wrede.
Recommended Age: 10+
Violence: Peril and fighting with wild animals, scientific study of dead animals
Find this wonderful series here:
ACROSS THE GREAT BARRIER
THE FAR WEST
I was blown away by RANGE OF GHOSTS (EBR review here) last year, and was so excited to receive SHATTERED PILLARS in the mail, the second installment of Elizabeth Bear's The Eternal Sky trilogy. But before I start the review, if you haven't read GHOSTS, stop and read it before you continue. PILLARS will not make sense if you read them out of order.
With that out of the way, the question I'm sure you're wondering about is if the second is a good as the first. The short answer is: No, but only barely. However, PILLARS is still an excellent book in its own right.
Let's start with the good stuff. All the things I loved about GHOSTS was evident in PILLARS: an imaginative setting, interesting characters, epic good vs evil story. Bear's consistency across the books is excellent, including but not limited to the tone, pacing, and continuing build-up of the story and characterization. As before, her prose is astounding in its detail and stimulation of the senses, her observations on situational irony amusing counterpoints to the usually serious tone of the story. The dialogue and character interaction is particularly well done--it is crisp, insightful, and propels the story forward.
Bear expands the world even more in PILLARS, showing us the differing sensibilities between the cultures and their traditions, as well as the wizards of Tsarepheth in their element, and how dangerous the old magics are. The same characters you grew to know and love have experienced hardship and as a result are different people. After the events of GHOSTS, they can now stop, think, and begin to make choices that will impact their future: Will Temur decide to oppose his uncle? Will Samarkar follow Temur as he attempts to save his lover? What is al-Sepehr's next move and can they stop him?
It is these things that make PILLARS an excellent book. But it unfortunately still suffers a little from middle book syndrome. While Bear does well tying up plotlines and weaving new ones, the story still feels like a continuation/build-up/act 2, making it less the cohesive story it needs to be in its own right. It doesn't help that the climax feels less like a culmination of the novel and more like another big event. It is this reality that will make newcomers to the series hard to persuade to continue reading to book three, because without having read GHOSTS, PILLARS will lack meaning to them, they won't connect with the characters, and they will be lost in the setting.
There are some inconsistencies with setting/plot that weren't clear to me, particularly Edene's storyline. Is Bear attempting a mythological feel? Will she explain more later? Also, there are much more switches back and forth between characters than in the first book, as well as more PoV characters. In a recent review of a different novel I complained about those very things (that review is here), and while Bear does it with much more finesse and a better sense of timing, it did get overwhelming sometimes, making it harder for me to absorb the story as a whole.
Still, Bear is painting a beautiful story in an exotic and foreign land with the kinds of people we want to see succeed. GHOSTS and PILLARS are written in the epic fantasy tradition, but Bear tells a timeless story with a fresh perspective. I can't wait til book three.
Recommended Age: 16+
Language: Maybe one instance
Violence: There's fighting (not as much as book 1) with some gore; a plague with resulting gory descriptions of deaths and surgeries
Sex: Scenes referenced with minimal detail
Find this book here:
And the first book:
RANGE OF GHOSTS
IN THUNDER FORGED is the first novel set in the Warmachine world, which is known for tabletop war games, and several RPG releases. Created by Privateer Press, and published by Pyr SF&F, the novel takes place in a war-torn, steam-powered fantasy world, and IN THUNDER FORGED is a strange breed of Military Thriller, Espionage and Heroic Fantasy. I've been playing the tabletop game for several years now, and I'm (what I consider) pretty familiar with the world and setting. A series of tie in novels was not something I approached without trepidation. I've never read an Ari Marmell book before, so I wasn't sure what to expect.
First thing I noticed was the size of the book. At 320 pages, it's not promising a literary extravaganza that will take hours of devouring (I was able to finish it in about 3 hours, without a lot of effort). But any concerns I was harboring about content were swiftly dispelled by the cover art. Several of the main characters in the cast show on the cover, and while it wasn't a terribly action packed cover, I was immediately intrigued (girls with electro-spear-thingys in steam armor tend to catch my attention).
The basic premise of the plot revolves around the simple conceit of a nation attempting to secure a weapon they were at risk of losing to an invading rival nation. So a team of commandos, a spy and some others go to retrieve the thing. The plot is simple but well-crafted, with a few unexpected twists and turns that kept me wondering how Marmell would resolve some of the plots he was spinning in such a short page count. The ensemble cast was too large for my tastes for such a short novel. Only a few of the characters got developed to the point where I felt invested in their fates.
But it didn't take me long to get into the series. The opening sequence grabbed me by my (non-existent) lapels, and pulled me into the book. When I started reading the novel, I was in the middle of moving. All the packing and unpacking I was doing had to take a 3 hour hold, because there was no way I was getting out of my chair before I finished reading. The action was paced well, the characters were consistent (a bit two-dimensional, but there was a fairly large cast), and the setting was delivered well with appropriate amounts of explanation for the new initiates to the world. The military action was concise, believable, and to my limited experience, fairly accurate to what I would have imagined in such situations. It blended nicely into the spy-thriller sub-plot and delivered several moments that I flat-out cheered at.
The dialogue was a bit out of place in a few points (some modern nomenclature made it's way in that jarred me), but wheeeew, when some of the characters showed up that had been established in the tabletop, I was ecstatic to see that Marmell had captured them in a very similar way that my imagination had. It was a great action-packed spy thriller ride up to the end.
But the ending left me feeling...unsatisfied. Not with with the immediate resolution, which made sense. Not with any part of the protagonists' decisions, which made sense. But there was a sense of deus ex machina keeping the disparate main characters intertwined in spite of the logical consistency of the resolution. Some of the decisions the antagonists made broke their established behaviors, and flat out contradicted what had been said earlier. Separately, breaking the mold and showing characters behaving outside of expectations is bad, but during the resolution of the story? It invalidated some of the driving premises behind the plot.
I'd still reread it, and recommend it. If you like steampunk, military/espionage thrillers, or interesting new fantasy worlds, then you'd better read it. If you like quick, fun, well-delivered reads, you can't go wrong on IN THUNDER FORGED.
Recommended Age: 14+ for military violence.
Language: Nothing you wouldn't hear at 7 PM on basic televisions.
Violence: Yes. A lot of military conflict takes place, but most of it isn't described in great detail until near the end, and even at the end, the details aren't stated too deliberately.
Want to give it a try? Here's your link:
IN THUNDER FORGED
Sometimes it's difficult to keep up in the reviewing world. It seems like no matter how many books you read, there are always three more that show up for every one you get through. As such, there are times when I go to reach for that next book and my hand gravitates toward those that are the thinnest. I can't help myself. It's a choice of simple economics. This was one of those choices.
THE DOCTOR AND THE ROUGH RIDER is the third in the series of Weird West tales written by Mike Resnick and published by Pyr. For the most part, they revolve around “Doc” Holliday and his buddies in a Old Wild West that is a bit more “weird” than you remember. For Thomas Edison and Ned Buntline, two prominent geniuses of the wide world, spend their days and nights constructing inventions to make life better and easier than it would otherwise be out there amongst the dust and tumbleweeds. Running adjacent to that idea is that the American Indians hold sway over powerful magics that are significantly more influential than those of a more honest history. (For after all, fiction is really just a bunch of lies we tell ourselves, isn't it?)
In this volume, the barrier that the indian's magic has constructed to keep the United States from fulfilling their dream of Manifest Destiny and expanding all the way to the Pacific Ocean, has been given a chance to fail. Geronimo, the wisest and most powerful of the indian chieftans holding the barrier spell in place has seen the inevitability of the white man's expansionist dreams, and has decided to drop the spell in hopes of buying some mercy for his people on that future day. None of the other magic-wielding chiefs, however, are very excited about this decision. Thus they band their magics together to create a demonic beast that is so powerful that it will be able to destroy both Geronimo and the white man that he has chosen to deal with in this endeavor: Theodore Roosevelt.
The story revolves mostly around Theodore (Not Teddy) Roosevelt and his choices surrounding the deal with Geronimo. Roosevelt is a very strong-willed, influential, successful, go-get-em kind of man that has no qualms against riding off after this demonic indian beast and taking a swing at him. “Doc” Holiday also plays a role, although his part in it is decidedly smaller and less influential. He ends up being more of a gopher-boy for Geronimo than anything else, but fills the spaces between errands by shooting a few people, gambling a load, drinking more than his share of whiskey, and riding around in the sun.
Honestly, I really wanted to like this book more than I did the last one, and there were definitely portions of it that I did. In those, ROUGH RIDER reminded me of the first book in the series, The Buntline Special, that I liked so much. Unfortunately, so much of the fantastical elements were left completely out of this book. The world building was even more sparse than in the previous books, with only a few (I can almost say “few”, as in three, literally here) references to anything “weird” about the West this time around. It was completely lacking in that department. Instead, what we get is more conversation-driven plot, disappointing simplicity, and a push-button ending that left me feeling quite parched and in need of a stiff drink.
If you're looking for something to fill the time, that'll probably make you chuckle a handful of times, and that you won't have to think very hard at all about, this is probably the book for you. For me, ROUGH RIDER just wallows around in the realm of mediocrity though. I'd love to see someone else try their hand at this kind of setting. In fact...I seem to recall someone doing just that. Oh yeah, this book. I almost forgot about it, and I even remember liking it well-enough. Dang it all. Why haven't I read the sequel for that one yet? Now I'll have to go find it. One more book for the stacks. Although, after reading this one, I can tell you that The Rise of Ransom City will be taking a hefty step toward the top of my TBR stack—short book or no.
Recommended Age: 15+
Language: Strong and infrequent, but considerably more than the previous two books.
Violence: Some shootings, and one biological explosion
Sex: A few references to the seemingly-ubiquitous robotic whores
And your easy-access links to the lot of em:
The Buntline Special
The Doctor and the Kid
The Doctor and the Rough Rider
Jake Lawton is a bouncer at a London club's goth night where nearly thirty people die of a drug overdose--one of them his ex-girlfriend. Not long later they all rise from the dead and begin a killing rampage, draining the blood from everyone they come in contact with. People refuse to believe it, but many call them vampires.
The drug Skarlet is the culprit and Jake is being framed for selling it to the clubbers. He's on a mission to clear his name, but as people rise from the dead and chaos ensues, Jake works to unravel the mystery of the cause and stop the evildoers from realizing their grand plan.
I'm gonna be real here: I did not like SKARLET. At all. This is not the kind of book I would buy, and if Steve sends me the sequel I'm going to send it right back. Why? It's the genre: horror-vampire-thriller mash-up with gore, blood, and various brutality. But, hey, maybe you like that kind of stuff so this is the kind of book for you.
That being said, the author is an experienced writer, and it's not a poorly written novel. The evil people are pure evil. There's a mythology associated with the vampires. The present-day London setting was clear and yet didn't clutter the narrative. The main characters are complex people. And the plot moves along with enough interesting twists and turns to keep readers engaged.
However, SKARLET has its share of issues, the most notable being the flow. Have you read Dan Brown? Did you notice that his chapters are really short? The chapters in this are like that. The scenes are short enough that there are constant cliffhangers--which is exhausting for me to read--and there are even some action sequences with scenes as short as one page. Plot events were circular, there was a lot of character movement, and with such a large cast it was difficult to follow the whys and wheres of everyone's comings and goings.
Couple short scenes with a multitude of PoVs and it's difficult to understand the characters with any real depth because you hardly have time to get into their heads before you're whisked along to the next character. This made it hard for me to really like any of the main characters or believe the motivations of the antagonists. Jake was fine enough as the protagonist, but the secondary characters, especially the women, are awkwardly and inconsistently drawn. For example, the gutsy reporter Christine starts out well enough, but I would have liked to see the qualities that made her such a hard-nosed reporter translate more consistently to the matter at hand.
Emson also liked adding scenes from the PoV of random people who die--I guess if you like the horror flavor of the concept you might enjoy this part of the book, but I had a hard time seeing the point. I would rather follow Jake as he attempts to discover the mystery behind the outbreak, but that part of the story drags out for the sake of sensationalizing the bloody violence of the vampires. Ultimately I saw that it did have a purpose to the plot, but not clear until the end when my frustration had nearly boiled over.
The mythology was...interesting, but the jury's still out on that one for me. Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar. Alexander the Great. Vampire demon trinities. Using mythology and science to bring about a new plague of vampires. I just don't know. I guess I could have believed it more if I had liked the characters, but it all seemed so shallow to me. And the vampires themselves were meh.
I may be lacking a fundamental understanding of the horror-vampire-thriller storytelling style, which may be the result of my dislike for this kind of book and therefore my dislike for SKARLET itself. But I'm not so sure.
Recommended Age: I recommend adults only
Language: Lots and lots
Violence: Blood is everywhere
Sex: Lots of references (including rape, prostitution, and incest) and a few scenes
Find this book here: