alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 59: Endless Knight by Kresley Cole

“Evie has fully come into her powers as the Tarot Empress, and Jack was there to see it all. She now knows that the teens who’ve been reincarnated as the Tarot are in the throes of an epic battle. It’s kill or be killed, and the future of mankind hangs in the balance.

With threats lurking around every corner, Evie is forced to trust her newfound alliance. Together they must fight not only other Arcana, but also Bagmen zombies, post-apocalyptic storms, and cannibals.

When Evie meets Death, things get even more complicated. Though falling for Jack, she’s drawn to the dangerous Endless Knight as well. Somehow the Empress and Death share a history, one that Evie can’t remember—but Death can’t forget.”

Despite kind of hating a lot of Poison Princess, the first book in this series, I decided to read the sequel, since PP ended with a bang and gave me enough confidence to soldier on. I’m glad I did, because this book had a lot more of the parts of the first that I liked: action, expansion of the cool Tarot concept, Evie not being a complete muppet. Oh, also, there are probably spoilers for PP in this review, so tread with caution. Despite it being a slight stretch of the imagination that Evie went from having literally no idea what she was capable of to suddenly displaying a massive show of power, it was kind of fun that we didn’t have to trudge through a literary training montage. In a fluffy book like this, sometimes it’s just more fun to accept that her magic is natural to her and she just needed to unlock it.

I was also curious to meet Death (the guy doing his best Spike impression up there on the cover) since I wasn’t a huge fan of Jackson, the first point of the love triangle. Kresley Cole, having quite a formidable background in PNR (just ask Malin and Mrs. Julien!) draws on traditional archetypes to set these guys up against each other. Jackson is definitely a rogueish Protector, while Death is a romantic Tortured Soul who initially lashes out at Evie because he’s all Damaged like that. It’s an interesting study in contrast, because while both have moments with her where they alternatively treat her like dirt then do something intended to be completely swoon-worthy, their actions come from decidedly different places. I guess it’s just up to readers to pick their favorite type of hero, because neither one is obviously a better choice in my opinion.

This series is meant to be Cole’s foray into YA, by virtue of having younger protagonists and fewer love scenes that are also slightly less explicit. More interestingly, writing for the YA set gave Cole an opportunity to really flex her high-concept plot muscles, which is something I think she’s done well at. She may even be better at this than traditional PNR, since in that area she comes across as having creative ideas that are weighed down with genre tropes like weird gender issues and gratuitous rough sex. And I’m not saying gratuitous rough sex doesn’t have a place in PNR, but I’ve gotten the sense from her that she almost enjoys building new worlds more than writing love scenes (see as evidence: her many sprawling high concept series for which she seems to never run out of ideas, but sex scenes that are mostly the same when you really get down to it. SEE WHAT I DID THERE) Anyway, read if you’re curious, a fan of Cole, the genre, etc.

Ashlie’s #CBR5 Review #35: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Notes from 2011:

LOVED. THIS. SERIES. I am recommending it to everyone I know. I think it was well written, compelling, entertaining, and simply wonderful, and I am sure I will read it again in the future. I was worried I would be let down by the final installment, but I wouldn’t have changed a thing. All Hail Suzanne Collins!

Notes from Thanksgiving 2013:

Again, I sped through this one. It’s the day after Thanksgiving and I got up, got some pumpkin dip leftovers, and read this book cover to cover. I stand by both decisions.

I’ve heard conflicting opinions on the third installment of the series from friends. They felt it was uneven, and could have stood more editing and had a lot of unnecessary exposition. I couldn’t disagree more! It was different than the first two installments, but I stand behind it, and it in fact might be my favorite. It is bittersweet, and I can’t imagine how they are going to film done parts of it, but I found it to be a solid, if not surprising, end to this great trilogy.

Ashlie’s #CBR5 Review # 33 Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

I waited to read this book because it was on reserve at the library: that was terrible because I couldn’t wait for it after the first. I wasn’t disappointed by this one either. Collins did a great job of continuing to flush out the characters and paint a clear vision of her world. It is action-filled, exciting, and compelling. Can’t wait to read the last in the trilogy!

Jen K’s #CBR5 Review #97: Shift by Hugh Howey

While I ended up liking this novel, or collection of three novellas, it didn’t grab me in the same way that its predecessor, Wool, did.  The three stories combined tell the story from the beginning of the silos, and take the reader up to the end of Wool, where Silo 18 has become aware of at least part of what is going on.

Complete Review.

alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 53: Wool by Hugh Howey

Goodreads: In a ruined and toxic landscape, a community exists in a giant silo underground, hundreds of stories deep. There, men and women live in a society full of regulations they believe are meant to protect them. Sheriff Holston, who has unwaveringly upheld the silo’s rules for years, unexpectedly breaks the greatest taboo of all: He asks to go outside.

His fateful decision unleashes a drastic series of events. An unlikely candidate is appointed to replace him: Juliette, a mechanic with no training in law, whose special knack is fixing machines. Now Juliette is about to be entrusted with fixing her silo, and she will soon learn just how badly her world is broken. The silo is about to confront what its history has only hinted about and its inhabitants have never dared to whisper. Uprising.

I got into the game very late with this one, but in the case of this book, better late than never — this was a fantastic novel that I really enjoyed and can’t wait to keep going with the series. I love the story behind the publication of Wool, as well: that a truly talented author saw success based on the merit of his once little-known story.

Since Wool has already been pretty acclaimed amongst Cannonballers, I won’t really go on at length about it. I do want to, in particular, praise the characterization and that Howey’s gradual introductions of new character POVs didn’t ever feel overwhelming or excessive. Each added POV rounded out the developing story by providing insight into the different factions within the silo. Regarding his stories, Howey has said: “A theme in my books is the celebration of overcoming odds and of not allowing the cruelty of the universe to change who you are in the process.” Indeed, his characters are imbued with different backgrounds and motivations that inform their actions, but even within the context of uprising, class warfare, and “choosing sides,” the main players have an individual light that makes them more compelling and human than simply a rote war drone or even the stock iconoclast rebel.

Looking forward to Shift and eventually Dust.

Sophia’s #CBR5 Review #47: “The Dog Stars” by Peter Heller

The Dog StarsA cover that reminded me of Alaska, comparisons to The Road, and constant displays in the bookstore were enough for me to pick up The Dog Stars (2013) by Peter Heller. Before delving in, I knew only that the story was post apocalyptic and involved a plane. When I began, I was surprised to find out that the main character, Hig, lived in my hometown of Denver.

Suddenly I was reading about my neighborhood and my favorite bookstore. And it wasn’t until I read the descriptions of Hig flying his small plane over the area, that I e-mailed my friend–my friend who loves flying and took me up in his small plane one afternoon. I thought he’d enjoy a book that involved flying around the Denver-Metro area in small planes. His response to me was: “I’ve read Peter’s book because he’s a good friend of mine.” Now, this really shouldn’t make much of a difference to me, it’s not like I know the guy. But I’ve never been only one degree of separation from a bestselling author. I peppered my friend with questions about how much was made up and how much was based on the author’s life–which he didn’t bother answering. In fact, I kind of wish I hadn’t learned about this connection until I’d finished reading the book because I found it kind of distracting.

Anyway, about the book: Hig is probably in his 40’s and lives with his dog at a small airport in Eerie, Colorado. One older man, a survivalist gun expert, stays with him. Although they have drastically different philosophies and styles, the two have formed a symbiotic relationship that helps them to survive. A combination of disease and ecological disasters have devastated the world. The few people not wasting away by sickness are scavanging murderously about the country. The trout are gone and hotter weather continues unabated. The story revolves around Hig, focusing primarily on his thoughts, his emotions, and his observations of the world around him. On the whole, it’s a quiet story, requiring patience and careful reading, punctuated by small periods of sheer terror when danger approaches.

Read the rest here.

Lollygagger’s #CBR5 Review #27: One Second After by William R. Forstchen

Are we a pampered country? Are we full of wimps who wouldn’t know what to do if our iPhones and MacBooks stopped working?

“One Second After” is a book about life in a small North Carolina town in the days and months after a suspected electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack. It’s an interesting premise – possibly similar to “Revolution,” which I believe was a TV show about a world without electricity – told from the perspective of the protagonist John, a widowed former military colonel with two daughters (12 and 16), an ever-present mother-in-law and two dogs. He is a professor at the local Christian college, and a respected man around town.

The first chapter sets up the town, daily life, and provides some glimpses into John’s background. What is initially thought to be a temporary power outage proves far worse as the vast majority of cars immediately stop working, radios fail and back-up generators will not turn on. If you’re unfamiliar with an EMP, read more here:

Once I got past the silly forward by Newt Gingrich (who, as an aside, makes mention of how grateful we all should be that the U.S. prevented a Big Brother-type state. Ahem.), the book itself was a quick read. My copy was about 350 pages long but I read it in two days. That was a function both of the quality of writing and the fact that it is too hot to function right now. When it is 87 degrees in my bedroom at 9:30 at night, all I want to do is read a book in front of a fan.

Speaking of fans, we rely on technology for a lot – not just the creature comforts of a warm shower or an iPod, but for the preservation of life for many people. One of the best components of this book is the description of all the things that would not be available once an EMP hit. Cars would stop working unless they were built before computer components were incorporated into the design. Jets would drop from the sky. Our means of distribution would stop (trucks, railway), so some areas of the country would have rotting crops with no way to transport them to the starving people in deserts. Tradesmen and hobbyists would be hot commodities as they might be able to get a steam engine working to provide some power to the nursing home full of Alzheimer’s patients.

This is all fascinating and the author does a great job with his descriptions. I do, however, have some issues with the narrative choices he made. First, while there are some strong women in the book, they are all strong in traditionally female ways. John’s mother-in-law is clearly a steel magnolia, but she’s primarily relegated to child care. John makes a new friend with a female ‘outsider’ (someone stuck in the town but not from there) who is in a medical profession, but is a nurse, not a doctor. There’s nothing wrong with being a nurse, but there is such a stereotype of women in the nursing profession that this could have been an easy chance to break away from that trope. The town mayor is a woman, but the public safety and former military men make all the decisions. Would it have been so difficult for the author to have made the mayor a man and one of the major public safety figures a woman? Just to mix it up to try to avoid making the story hyper-masculine?

Additionally, there is a lot of writing focused on these military people patting themselves on the back, and a whole lot of denigration of pacifists. As you can imagine for a book that has a forward by Newt Gingrich, there is a heavy military overtone that is not just limited to wanting to fight whoever is responsible for setting off the EMP. There are the ‘outsiders,’ along with bands of criminal elements desperate for food and happy to make life miserable for others. One conversation is focused on the ‘hippies’ who are useless and wouldn’t survive without the military folks, apparently attempting to prove that it’s definitely not worth being true to your values and ethics when the times get difficult. I cannot agree with that sentiment as presented in this book.

There is also a disturbingly ableist tone to much of the book, especially when the town doctor is discussing the challenges the town will face when mental health medications – antidepressants, antipsychotics – are no longer available. The dismissive tone – that so many people are just ‘coddled’ being on these medicines, and the ones who really need it are ‘wackos’ – was deeply disappointing. Especially when such a tone was not struck when discussing John’s daughter’s need for insulin. I appreciated that there were frank discussions about triage and the ethics of using medication on someone who was going to die soon anyway when it could be used on others who have a chance to live, but there was clearly a bias prevalent suggesting that physical ailments were real, and mental health ones either were not, or were only important in how they impacted to town, not the individuals suffering.

With those caveats, I can still recommend this book primarily for much of the human story and some of the details and reminders of what technology does for so many of us on a daily basis. The militaristic feel is a bit much for me, but it is not a deal breaker.

alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 29: Poison Princess by Kresley Cole

Goodreads: Sixteen year old Evangeline “Evie” Greene leads a charmed life, until she begins experiencing horrifying hallucinations. When an apocalyptic event decimates her Louisiana hometown, Evie realizes her hallucinations were actually visions of the future—and they’re still happening. Fighting for her life and desperate for answers, she must turn to her wrong-side-of-the-bayou classmate: Jack Deveaux.

With his mile-long rap sheet, wicked grin, and bad attitude, Jack is like no boy Evie has ever known. Even though he once scorned her and everything she represented, he agrees to protect Evie on her quest. She knows she can’t totally depend on Jack. If he ever cast that wicked grin her way, could she possibly resist him?

As Jack and Evie race to find the source of her visions, they meet others who have gotten the same call. An ancient prophesy is being played out, and Evie is not the only one with special powers. A group of twenty-two teens has been chosen to reenact the ultimate battle between good and evil. But it’s not always clear who is on which side…

I’m going to plagiarize myself here, because I left a comment that ended up being a short review over on the Vaginal Fantasy discussion board for this book (yes, this was another VF selection.) So, here is that, slightly expanded:

This book was really problematic for me in a lot of ways. I had a really hard time getting behind the romance: I get it, they were lusty for each other, but otherwise they both treated each other pretty badly and I don’t understand why that’s supposed to be hot. Like, here is an actual quote from the male hero: “Hell, Evie, you’re probably the last girl on earth for me. Would it kill you to put out?”

I mean, *SWOON*, right?

For her part, Evie has a lot of icky class-based issues with regards to Jackson. She doesn’t explicitly express these thoughts to him, other than calling him “Cajun,” but she’s supposed to be one of the wealthier town residents before the apocalypse, and he’s very poor and wrong-side-of-the-bayou and all that, so despite her physical attraction to him, she initially views him as wrong for her just based on the money issue.

I also thought way too much of the book was spent recounting her high school angst in excruciating detail. At least a third of the book was spent in this retrospective, which is, specifically, the week leading up to the apocalypse (here it’s called the Flash.) Cole’s motivations, here, were probably two-fold. First, she needed to set up the relationship with Jackson, and how they were attracted to each other but ultimately “all wrong for each other” in the high school scenario. She also probably wanted to paint a picture of what Evie felt was her declining sanity, but I think all of that could have been done much more concisely. What I felt like we ended up with, as the reader, was a lot of obnoxious brand-name dropping and class-based snobbery to establish Evie’s queen-bee credentials, and a lot of contrived exposition about gothic drawings and Evie trying to re-assure her peers she is totally fine, didn’t just come out from the mental ward, etc.

I was irritated because Cole was working with such a cool idea here — kids/young adults having powers based on the Tarot, leading up to an epic battle — but I felt like she just threw out a bunch of post-apocalytic cliches at us in lieu of actual world-building. All at once, after the apocalypse, we find out that there are zombies for some reason, and that basically all men have gone rotten because there aren’t enough women, and there are cannibals, and we’re all supposed to go “Oh, okay, that sounds about right for the end of the world,” except that none of these things really make sense given the context of what actually happened during the apocalypse (solar flares maybe? parts of the earth scorched, people burned up immediately, no one really knows) and we’re not given any kind of explanation as to why they evolved. All of the time spent in the high school part could have been used toward fleshing out this new world.

I was, fortunately, reeled back in toward the end for spoilery reasons. I’m the kind of person that will put aside a lot of crap I don’t like if the plot is a page-turner, which, frankly, this was. So even considering all of my gripes above, I’d still be interested in picking up the sequel(s) because I’m still interested in how this story resolves itself. I can let go of my world-building issue, but I think that if Cole wants Jackson and Evie’s romance to be a main draw, she needs to put a lot of work into making these people more likeable as a couple, because right now, I have no patience for two people who snipe back and forth at each other so crassly but are supposed to be in love. I happened to catch a sneak peek of the cover for the sequel, and Evie is posing with a different guy (from my understanding, it’s the guy who represents Death in the Tarot.) So, love triangle! I’ve gotta say — the guy hasn’t even really been properly introduced yet, only hinted at, but I’m already kind of rooting for him, because I really don’t like Jackson at all. Anyway, I’d recommend this maybe for people who are like me: you don’t mind spending a few hours reading something that is ultimately fun, despite being pretty problematic.

2.5 stars