A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen

I was so excited to get this since I loved his time travel book. However, my name came up on the hold list with remarkably bad timing-I read this book just as the Coronavirus began to have confirmed cases outside of China, with ever more cases in China and cruise ships being quarantined, travel restrictions put in place. The fictional story opens with a pandemic in the present day (literally, 2020) and frankly it mirrors real life. So I had a bit of a time reading this story because while normally I like to imagine things in stories happening in real life, I really had to actively NOT think about it. Because we could very well be in the same situation as in this story. Most of the story, though, takes place six years later. What I liked about this (found scary about this) was that it really focused on not a Mad Max style post apocalyptic scene (for the most part), but on what the remaining 30% of the population would be like. Everyone would have experienced loss. Everyone would be scarred and stunned. (sort of like the opening of Avengers End Game.) So there is a real sadness woven into the story as the world and people try to figure out how to continue on.

I actually preferred the small details and moments in the story, rather than the main plot action, but still a good book.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

What a great book to kick off the year! I cannot believe I had not read it before. It was wonderful, 5 stars, and I really enjoyed taking my time reading it because I didn’t want it to end, and I’m still thinking about it a lot.

So, this is a post-apocalyptic novel, one where the apocalyptic event was a pandemic. This particular pandemic was very fast and killed approximately 99% of the population. Here’s the thing I can’t stop thinking about. In the 20 years after the even world there are lots of the usual post apocalyptic things you might expect–no cars, electricity, people have scavenged, formed little towns, there are cuckoo and violent prophets, and the generation that has grown up in that 20 years don’t have any concept of air travel, internet, smart phones, etc. even though the older people do. And what’s kind of crazy is-it’s not like those things ceased to exist. There wasn’t an EMP. It’s just that without people to keep things going, they don’t keep going on their own. Who will run the power station? Of the few people left alive, do any happen to be scientists or robotics engineers or diesel mechanics or oil rig operators or what have you? The human knowledge of the world didn’t exactly go away-it was still in books. But it was no longer applicable. I really can’t stop thinking about that.
What I thought was great about this was the way the story was put together. All starting with an aging actor’s final performance in King Lear. His death curiously ends up bringing together a variety of people in the post apocalyptic world many years later. I liked it that the characters we followed all had some connection to him. Between King Lear and the Traveling Symphony and the Station Eleven comic book, it is nice to see the arts stubbornly sticking around even in humanity’s darkest times.
There were so many parts of this book that I found just deeply sad. They weren’t flashy bits, no dramatic deaths, just all very realistic and intensely sad things to think about. I found myself today thinking that if there was a pandemic I don’t think I want to be the brave survivor-I’d rather be the person who quickly dies in a couple hours.
This was a 5 star book to start the year!

Dry by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman

I love me some Neal Shusterman but this one took me a while to get through. And not because it wasn’t good–because it was WAY TOO TERRIFYINGLY REAL.

The premise of this apocalyptic story is that in a region of California suddenly one day all the water is turned off–the Tap Out they end up calling it. This is told from the point of view of Alyssa and Garrett (Brother and sister), Jacqui (a tough street girl on her own), Henry (an obnoxious rich kid), and Kelton-the saving grace for everyone because he comes from a weird doomsday prepper family. Make fun of those families until you need them, right? Kelton goes to school with Alyssa and has had a crush on her, so is inclined to latch on to her and help her out. Kelton’s family is serious survivalist ready and his father has taught him that it takes just 3 days for people to become basically wild animals.  A statement which proves horribly true and if anything is actually a generous estimate.

Without water civility disappears and there are some fairly typical post apocalyptic responses-trashed stores, abandoned cars on highways, enclaves of helpful people, desperate people willing to do terrible things. If all that seems pretty typical for this type of story it is, but this story truly was terrifyingly real to me. It’s not decades in the future and it seems connected to current climate change catastrophes. I think one of the scariest things was the times it was mentioned that FEMA was unable to respond appropriately because they were busy with yet another hurricane. And that other parts of the country were probably holding bottled water drives, but really none of that mattered because people were about to kill each other over a cup of water and also die of dehydration.

I took a big break halfway through to read some other titles and then came back to this and quickly read the rest. While it was very unsettling, it was a good book and I did like it. That said, hurry up Mr. Shusterman and finish that Scythe trilogy! That’s what I really want to read!

The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey

yanceyI’ll give it three stars, but this was a huge disappointment to me. It felt very convoluted and frankly I barely even care for the characters (who I couldn’t keep straight) anymore. Picking up (I think?!) where the first book left off, but it was actually pretty hard for me to remember who was who and what was going on. The beginning did a pretty good job of recapping that, and I was initially delighted that right away on page 8 a main character called someone out on what I considered a flaw in the first book(spoiler : if the aliens are so pure and have no bodies, what do they need with Earth?)  But I felt like that was still never fully resolved. The entire writing style of this book seemed different too. Different sections tell different points of view, there seems to be a lot more stream of consciousness, and again sort of vague theories and “explanations.”  The villains are definitely villainous and the action and fighting scenes seemed straight of Tomorrow When the War Began, which is good. Overall, though I am annoyed that I opted to pay 20 cents a day to keep it out so I could read it, and I was very excited about it, but it just did not live up to what I thought it should be.

After the End by Amy Plum

end2Oh my God, did I love this. A girl lives in remote Alaska in her village that relies on old-fashioned survival ways, even though it’s the current time.  The elders of the clan moved there in 1984, at the outset of World War 3.  They’ve lived peacefully and successfully there, despite assuming that probably some other survivors roam the outside world.  When Juneau returns from a hunting trip to discover her entire clan vanished she is determined to track them down. And when she does she finds out that there never was a WWIII-the outside world is exactly as it is right now for you and me!! So first you’ve got that wonderful time-travel/culture clash of discovering modern and contemporary society (cell phones, skyscrapers, etc.).  Everything she knows about the world comes from a 1983 edition of Encyclopedia Britannica, so wandering Seattle in her furs and buckskin pants is quite shocking.  Not to mention finding out that apparently she’s been lied to her entire life.
Now, on to the other interesting bits. Like all the children in her clan Juneau has a gold starburst in her eye.  It shows how at one with the Yara she is. The Yara is basically every thing in the world-plants, flowers, animals, humans, nature.  She can connect to it and find out things, and even make things happen. This mystical element seems so at odd with modern society, but it is very real.  An oracle tells her she must find a certain boy to guide her-it turns out that the boy is the son of a man who is determined to get Juneau.  But to what end? It’s an exciting mystery with crazy turns of events that find this book ending in a very different way than it began.  Her starburst and mystical abilities made me think for a bit of Firestarter, though fortunately Juneau doesn’t use her Yara abilities for bad.  I absolutely cannot wait for book #2 as this really left you hanging.

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

5thThere was a lot of hype about this book and after some personal recommendations I decided to get in on reading it. Honestly I had it sitting around the house for a while before I even picked it up but once I did I could hardly put it down and had to stay up very late to finish it a couple nights ago. This book is post apocalyptic and covering all the bases: emp, pandemic, natural disaster, savage looters, formerly ordinary teens becoming capable of hand to hand combat, and aliens. Plus you can throw in some YA stuff like attraction to a boy who is too dreamy to be true and family loyalties.

Cassie believes she may be the only human left on the planet.  In just a few short months everything on Earth has changed and most of the population has been obliterated. It all started when an alien spaceship arrived, but refused to communicate. The 1st wave of attack is an electromagnetic pulse (emp). All electrical/technological things immediately are wiped out and stop working. This means planes fall from the sky.  The 2nd wave of attack is a tsunami that wipes out all coastal cities.  The 3rd wave is an avian born pandemic.  The 4th wave is finally some direct alien presence coming in and picking off the remaining humans.  These waves are not the bulk of the story, rather they are described by Cassie as a neat summary of events.  Cassie is desperate to stay alive, she hopes her little brother is still alive and vows to find him.  She finally meets another person and despite everyone’s instincts to not trust anyone she is so pleased to have company (and that of a cute boy, to boot!) and someone who might help her find her little brother.

This was super exciting, fast paced, and full of terrific surprises. The story is not told entirely from Cassie’s point of view-it varies between her and a few other key characters. This totally adds to the suspense as the story is pieced together. Even though I knew certain things were likely suspicious and not quite what they seemed, I couldn’t exactly figure it out until it was told to me, which I liked very much.  My only quibbles are… I’m going to need to give some stuff away that is a wonderful surprise, so don’t read below the spoiler alert unless you have already read the book, really don’t mind a surprise being spoiled, or are never going to read it. And I’ll sum up here by saying overall I really liked this, wish it wasn’t a trilogy, but am certainly looking forward to book #2! OK, so stop here if you want to read the book!





My only quibbles are: if the aliens are so advanced that they’ve long ago left their bodies behind, then why do they need use of the planet Earth at all??? Also, I kind of felt like it was a not-uncommon author cop-out to just say things like “it was an incredible warmth I can’t really describe” when describing the alien mind meld.  It was like he backed himself into a corner trying to come up with some amazing alien thing but then couldn’t quite pin it down so went with a “beyond description” description.  I hope that book 2 can describe the aliens and their “pure spirit” or mind essence, or whatever it’s called, a bit better. How do they have personalities? Thoughts? Organization? And, again, if they are simply essence then why do they need a planet and to much around with human beings??

This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer

worldI feel like someone just punched me in the heart.  This is the third and final book Pfeffer has written about a world where the moon is knocked closer to the Earth, wreaking havoc. The first book, Life As We Knew It, remains one of my favorite post-apocalyptic books. I just think it’s stellar. And when combined with her second book, The Dead and The Gone, which takes place same time and circumstances, but different characters, well it’s just great.  And now there is a third book in which the characters of the first and second come together. It was wonderfully written, but holy cow depressing. I could handle a pandemic or societal breakdown, but events like this just seem hopeless.  I felt the same way about Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker.  It’s a testament to their writing skills and our belief in human nature to hope even during the depths of despair that there is any hope or goodwill at all during the book.  I’m feeling horribly depressed just from reading it! Because unlike societal breakdown or pandemics where you could create a new society, the event in this book has basically made the Earth uninhabitable and it’s not going to get better. How could it? Nothing will grow. So basically humankind is like the dinosaurs dying out. Except people continue to try to hope, survive, keep family together, fall in love, and carry on.

I thought this was a really worthy conclusion, although I found myself really disliking Alex-who was the main character of The Dead and Gone.  I don’t recall disliking him when I read that book, so I don’t know if I just don’t remember or a different point of view (Miranda’s) reveals him to be inflexible and controlling.  There is also talk in this book of hidden “safe cities.” I don’t remember them being mentioned in the previous books and would like to know more about them.  They claim they have electricity, hospitals, schools, and so on. How can that be?

Honestly, it seems like the luckiest people in that world were the ones who believed that life after death would be peaceful and happy, free of hunger and fear.  Horribly sad, but a good conclusion, and honestly I think a realistic one in the circumstances the author has created. Let’s all hope that the moon stays exactly where it should!!

p.s. If you visit often you probably know that I really like post apocalyptic books (even though they make me so sad!).  Check out a post I did recently on The Hub called All I Needed to Know About Surviving Post Hurricane Sandy I Learned from Post Apocalyptic Novels. I’ll add this one to improving my arsenal of knowledge. Pro Tip: if possible stock up on cases of power bars. They would come in handy.

Outpost by Ann Aguirre

Lately this is very unusual for me to say about the second book in a trilogy, but–I liked this one better than the first! It was so good! I finished it mere moments ago and am trying to be better about getting my posts up while I still I remember a book. [Spoilers for book 1 are about to happen, so don’t keep reading if you haven’t read the first.]   Continue reading

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

This book has been getting a lot of hype and publicity, but I knew I had to get on board and read it too since it is about a girl living in a world where the earth suddenly slows down its rotation.  Julia lives with her mom and dad in southern California in a standard suburban development.  Just about to turn 12 she’s got enough on her plate with worrying about changing friendships, loneliness, and becoming more aware of her parents as adults with secrets and a not perfect relationship.  The story is told from a future point of view and Julia often remarks on these things and how she can’t help but wonder how they were affected by the slowing-would things have been that way anyway? It seems, for the most part, yes.  Sure her friend Hanna’s family’s sudden departure to Utah was because of the slowing, but based on Hanna’s treatment of her when she returns it seems like even if the Earth had continued to spin as normal Hanna was the type of girl who would indeed abruptly change allegiances during middle school.  It’s this aspect of the book that has been most touted in the reviews-that it’s a good adolescent story regardless of the framework of the crazy disaster going on.  But that, of course, is the part that was of the most interest to me, so let’s talk about that.

It seems a bit obvious to say, but I find post-apocalyptic books sooooo sad and hopeless. So, quite suddenly one day, scientists announce to the world that the Earth’s rotation is slowing down. What does this mean? The days will keep getting longer.  Now, here was my first issue-they announce it on a Saturday and on Sunday the day is 1 1/2 hours longer. How did the scientists discover this if it hadn’t been happening gradually? It was just weird that suddenly they announced it and then the day immediately lengthened.  The slowing happens quite dramatically and with more and more consequences.  Plants can’t grow without light and as the days lengthen that means periods of 30 or more hours of sunlight followed by the same amount of darkness. Without plants how can animals be fed? What crops and native plants will disappear? Tides are tremendously affected and houses are washed away and thousands of whales get stranded and die. Gravity is changed too. Here’s what was so appealing (and horrifying) to me about this story-thinking of all the ways these things changed life.  Life on Earth as we know it relies on that 24 hour rotation.  When it changes life cannot exist the same way, if at all.  From basic survival-plants won’t grow, people can’t eat.  To the frivolous-gravity makes playing sports hard, so I imagine professional sports would cease.  To inbetween-can planes even fly anymore?? Birds are dropping out of the air.  There is simply no way to fix it and I found it amazing that people even continued to try to live because at some point, possibly soon, the planet would be inhabitable.
Another surprise effect is what happens when people agree to remain on “clock time”-sticking to the 24 hour clock.  Many people choose instead to be “real timers” and live with the light and dark, adjusting their inner clocks to the natural change of light.  I spent a lot of time thinking which would I choose? What was interesting was the hatred the clock time people had for the real timers-vandalizing their homes and driving them our of their neighborhoods.  Would you really care so much how someone else lived their day?  Or is it just in the face of disaster banding together against that which is different?

As I mentioned the story is told from some point of view, but you don’t know how far ahead, so I was super curious throughout about whether everything would explode, or was she telling the story as last person alive? or living sort of normally? on another planet? dying?

It was horrific to imagine in a way very different from other end-of-the-world books and I enjoyed it (while also finding it hopeless and sad.)

Daybreak by Brian Ralph

#25! I did it! I completed the YALSA Best of the Best reading challenge.  Now, I have to admit that this morning I wrote about #24, which was Scorpio Games, and I was fully prepared to read right up until the final day (Saturday) The Notorious Benedict Arnold.  It seemed a fitting ending-a book I wouldn’t normally read, but one that I expected would surprise me with its fascinating insight into American history’s popular punchline. But then I picked up another one of the books on the list that I’d gotten, Daybreak, and saw that it was much shorter, as well as a practically wordless graphic novel.  So obviously I read that. In the time it took for Paul to read the kids their bedtime stories.  It feels like cheating, but it’s on the list, so it counts. And hey, maybe I’ll read about Benedict Arnold after all (but not until I finish Divergent, which I read all of 5 pages of at lunch today and am hooked on.)

So, Daybreak.  For someone who really hates zombie stuff, I seem to be reading a lot of zombie books lately.  One of the things I dislike about them is how they are so relentless and humanity will never win and so I feel that all zombie stories are, from the outset, hopeless.  In Daybreak you feel a little tricked-there’s a cute dog, a helpful one-armed fellow-hey, maybe this post-apocalyptic zombie world won’t be so bad! But of course, it is.
What is so interesting about this book is that you, the reader, are placed in the position of being one of the characters. The other two characters talk to you, and when you move what you see changes.  It’s most effective (and a bit disconcerting.)  I did have a little difficulty following some of the frames-trying to “see” in the dark and trying to distinguish differences between panels. The gore was very minimal, for which I was grateful. The color palette was actually really effective-not black and white, more like a dark sepia.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t dislike this, but I didn’t love it.