Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey

Plot: The first wave: lights out. The second wave: surf's up. The third wave: pestilence. The fourth wave: Silencer. Now the fifth wave dawns, and Cassie is alone on an empty stretch of highway, running from the Others. She has long since learned the lesson: trust no one, because They look human. But she might be the only real human left.

First Line: "Aliens are stupid." This line really doesn't start you off on the right track for the rest of the book. I was unimpressed.

Comments: Before I begin, I should mention that I read an advance reader copy of The Fifth Wave, and therefore there may be changes between what I read and the final copy. I'm guessing there won't be any major plot shifts or complete chapter overhauls, though, so for the most part this review should be accurate.

I wasn't immediately engrossed in this book. The more I read, though, the more I liked it, and by the end I was pretty captivated. I'd recommend you give it a chance through the first several chapters.

One thing I didn't like was the author's way of introducing facts and then taking them back. The book is a first-person point of view, and while I wouldn't call the narrator unreliable, I began to find it difficult to trust what they said - they would state a fact and then immediately backpedal and clarify a totally different meaning. For example, the first lines: "Aliens are stupid. I'm not talking about real aliens. The Others aren't stupid. ... No, I'm talking about the aliens inside our own heads." Now, this tactic is fine, but it got on my nerves when it happened again and again. I would accept the narrator's statement as fact (you have to, with a post-apocalyptic setting, if you're ever going to understand what this unfamiliar world is like) only to discover that it wasn't true. It just got annoying.

Another aspect I didn't like was that the point of view changed without warning. The book starts off from Cassie's perspective, and based on this and the plot synopsis, I expected it to stay that way. When the narrator switched part way through, it wasn't obvious until several pages later, by which time I was completely confused. The book continued to hop perspectives periodically without ever mentioning who was the new narrator. Now, that said, it was effective to watch the plot unfold from several different places. That added a depth of understanding to the whole situation.

Next: the characters. Like the book in general, I grew to like the characters more as I continued to read. Cassie was tough, but also realistically imperfect in terms of survival skills and stoicism. I couldn't really decide how I felt about Evan, which was fitting given Cassie's similar inability to understand his motives. Zombie was a bit of a flat character, I felt, lacking a consistent purpose beyond what the plot needed at a given time, and Ringer was total cardboard. Sammy was just a convenient plot piece, but maybe his age prevented him from being a particularly well-rounded character. Many minor characters were given a few characteristics and stuck to them.

The plot itself was interesting and constantly shifting. Just like the characters, the reader isn't ever completely certain of what's really going on - just when you finally figure something out, a new detail emerges and plunges you back into uncertainty. This effectively gives the reader an idea of what the characters are feeling as they struggle to make the right choices in a disorienting, deadly world. This is partly why I kept reading: I wanted to know the truth.

As the book progressed, I enjoyed the bits of amusement scattered in with the harsh reality and graphic violence. Sarcastic comments and black humor lightened the mood and prevented the book from being totally depressing. Did I mention the mass deaths, the constant tragedy, the child soldiers? No? Well, I am now. The book is about survival, and survival isn't pretty. It often comes down to you or them, and the characters have to live with their decisions. It's grim.

Of course, the book ended abruptly right after the climax (why does there always have to be a sequel?). It's not exactly a cliffhanger, but neither are you left with all your questions answered. It's a mild annoyance.

Rating: I rate The Fifth Wave an eight out of ten. It was a good read, exciting and fast-paced, and it explored the idea of humanity and what we're willing to do to survive.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Every Other Day by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

First Line: "The decision to make hellhounds an endangered species was beyond asinine, but I expected nothing less from a government that had bankrolled not one, but two, endowed chairs in preternatural biology (one of them my father's) at the University That Shall Not Be Named."

Plot: "Every other day, Kali D’Angelo is a normal sixteen-year-old girl. She goes to public high school. She argues with her father. She’s human. And then every day in between . . . she’s something else entirely. Though she still looks like herself, every twenty-four hours predatory instincts take over and Kali becomes a feared demon-hunter with the undeniable urge to hunt, trap, and kill zombies, hellhounds, and other supernatural creatures. Kali has no idea why she is the way she is, but she gives in to instinct anyway. Even though the government considers it environmental terrorism. When Kali notices a mark on the lower back of a popular girl at school, she knows instantly that the girl is marked for death by one of these creatures. Kali has twenty-four hours to save her, and unfortunately she’ll have to do it as a human. With the help of a few new friends, Kali takes a risk that her human body might not survive . . . and learns the secrets of her mysterious condition in the process." - from GoodReads

Comments: The concept was interesting but the characters weren't very well-formed, I felt. They didn't have a lot of depth to them, just a few characteristics that remained the same all the way through. And Kali was not particularly likable.

The plot was a great idea, but the characters and the unrealistic results kind of ruined it for me. I won't be reading the rest of the books.

Sorry for the very short review. I'm trying to recall my opinions from reading this months ago. I just remember that overall I didn't really like any characters and the plot didn't make up for that fact.

Rating: I rate Every Other Day a six out of ten.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

First Line: "When the lights went off the accompanist kissed her."

Plot: Somewhere in South America, a lavish birthday party is thrown for the powerful businessman Mr. Hosokawa. Guests are mesmerized by the talent of the famous opera soprano Roxanne Coss. But then a group of terrorists bursts in and takes the entire party hostage. Slowly, the tense situation evolves into something very different, with music and love drawing everyone together despite their differences in language and intentions.

Comments: A very interesting novel with an unusual plot. It's not a story about a hostage situation so much as it's a story about very different people growing to coexist in a beautiful way. The plot is slow, meandering - Bel Canto is not a thriller or a fast-paced action novel. Rather, the poetry of the words and the intricate detail into many characters' lives quietly catch and hold the reader's interest. It's perfect for reading in bits and pieces: setting it down when the lack of action grows too tiring, and picking it back up when you're ready again for subtle storytelling.

The slow pace of the book was boring at times, but then suddenly Patchett would introduce a new subplot or delve deeply into the background of someone who had only been a minor character. I loved the detail behind every person and grew very attached to a few. The characters and their relationships with each other were what made the whole novel so intriguing. I liked the characters for different reasons, which is fitting because they were all very different people. Every character had flaws but also something beautiful. For me, the point was that everyone is beautiful in their own way.

The way Patchett writes is, as said previously, poetic. The style of writing is beautiful by itself, with simple descriptions and smoothly flowing words. I spoke every word in my head as I read, which is not something I normally do.

The ending was not surprising, but I must admit I would have liked a happier one. I'd grown to care for the characters and it's always hard when they don't live happily ever after. Still, it was fitting to the story, I felt.

Overall, this was a wonderfully written novel with a slow, subtle, and beautiful plot. It's about human interaction and relationships, and about what happens when people are given a new life to explore. It's about ignoring language boundaries to create friendship and love. it's quiet, but it creeps into your head and touches you unexpectedly.

Rating: I rate Bel Canto a nine out of ten.