Review: Half Lives by Sara Grant

Half Lives Half Lives
by Sara Grant

ISBN-13: 9-780316-194938
Publication: July 2013 from Little, Brown BYR
Source: Hachette Book Group Canada
Rating: 5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I loved it!
Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

Seventeen-year-old Icie’s parents have given her $10,000 in cash, a map of a top-secret bunker, and instructions to get there by any means necessary. They have news of an imminent viral attack and know that the bunker is Icie’s only hope for survival. Along with three other teens, she lives locked away for months, not knowing what’s happening in the outside world or who has survived. But one day, Icie discovers a shocking secret deep in the bunker. Are they safe there after all?

Generations in the future, a mysterious cult worships the very mountain where Icie’s secret bunker was built. They never leave the mountain, they’re ruled by a teenager…and they have surprising ties to Icie.

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Where to start with Half Lives by Sara Grant. I can honestly tell you I had very little idea what to expect from this book, but I was hopeful, and it surpassed any expectation I could, or did, have. I was stunned and crying by the end of the book, and amazed at how Sara Grant managed to blend together two completely separate yet intricately linked story lines.

Icie narrates a good half of the book, telling her story of how she is given cash and supplies and told by her parents to find a mountain outside Las Vegas where an abandoned toxic waste bunker that was never used will hopefully keep her safe from an imminent viral attack. On the way, she encounters a cheerleader, Marissa; a twelve-year-old wanna be rockstar, Tate; and mysterious Chaske. Together in the bunker, with no idea how the outside world is faring from the attack, Icie and the others try to survive. Icie is so much stronger than she thinks. She goes through crazy heartache and horror while trying to keep herself and the others alive, and wait for her Mum and Dad to come find her as they said they would. And while she may be terrified and has no clue what she’s doing, she keeps it together and survives as best she can.

The other half of the book is narrated generations in the future, primarily by Beckett, the teenage leader of a society that lives on the mountain that Icie fled to, but also by a few other characters who help flesh out the action and Beckett’s story. Surviving on the mountain, Beckett’s people fear the terrorists of the outside world, the broken city they call Vega just on the horizon both helping them survive and a source of worry. Beckett is the direct link to their god, the Great I AM, who once walked the mountain and gave the society their Just Sayings, their Facebooks and the hope of one day that Mumanda will come to save them all. The chapters are interspersed with each other and I was always so excited to see something that Icie and the others did become the direct influence of the language and culture of Beckett’s society. By the end of the book I was a mess of tears at all the pain Icie, Beckett, Marissa, Tate and everyone went through, but also because of revelations that Beckett has that nearly broke my heart, and the hope Icie still held. I am just in awe of how the two story lines blended together, and how much I came to care about these characters.

5 heart

Half Lives by Sara Grant is a book about one girl’s journey to save herself in the face of impending disaster, and how choices she makes affect the lives of hundreds throughout the coming generations. It’s about finding strength in yourself to continue on, about making the hard decisions but also the right decisions, about confronting your fears and believing in your faith (whatever it may be). It’s about love, and sacrifice, about realizing what matters in the long run and discovering yourself through hardship. Half Lives is also about the threats we face every day through fear, weapons, secrets and lies. It’s about change and growth and the human need to survive and live. All tinged with an innate humour of how culture and language can change and reflect a caricature of words, phrases and things that what we have today in our society. Guys, I want nothing more than to dive right back in to Half Lives and live it again. I love this book like crazy, and I hope you do too.

ARC provided from Hachette Book Group Canada in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!

Review: For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

For Darkness Shows the Stars small For Darkness Shows the Stars
by Diana Peterfreund

ISBN-13: 9-780062-006141
Publication: June 2012 from Balzer + Bray
Source: BEA 2012
Rating: 5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I loved it!
Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

It’s been several generations since a genetic experiment gone wrong caused the Reduction, decimating humanity and giving rise to a Luddite nobility who outlawed most technology.

Elliot North has always known her place in this world. Four years ago Elliot refused to run away with her childhood sweetheart, the servant Kai, choosing duty to her family’s estate over love. Since then the world has changed: a new class of Post-Reductionists is jumpstarting the wheel of progress, and Elliot’s estate is foundering, forcing her to rent land to the mysterious Cloud Fleet, a group of shipbuilders that includes renowned explorer Captain Malakai Wentforth – an almost unrecognizable Kai. And while Elliot wonders if this could be their second chance, Kai seems determined to show Elliot exactly what she gave up when she let him go.

But Elliot soon discovers her old friend carries a secret – one that could change their society…or bring it to its knees. And again, she’s faced with a choice: cling to what she’s been raised to believe, or cast her lot with the only boy she’s ever loved, even if she’s lost him forever.

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For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund smashed all my expectations to pieces. I obviously underestimated how much I should hope to love this book, because all I could do when I finished it was stare at the last page with that silly little grin you get when you’ve just been immersed in an amazing fictional world and now find yourself back in reality – but you don’t care because your time away was amazing and you know you’ll visit again.

Instead of a straight narrative, the regular chapters in For Darkness Shows the Stars are interspersed with letters back and forth from our two main characters, Elliot and Kai. And they are not in chronological order, either. Rather, the letters jump about in time (four years ago, one year ago, ten years ago, etc.) as they help explain the plot in current time. The letters give the background to Elliot and Kai’s relationship, Elliot’s life and even how this new society works. And speaking of new society, the world Diana Peterfreund has created is one in the future, after Earth and its population have been devastated by what seems to be a disease of some sort, brought on by human genetic tinkering. It’s intriguing in the fact that though we learn about the world as the story progresses, it’s still very incomplete. We only find out as much about it as the characters think or talk about, and I liked that. It was very real.

While it’s mostly Elliot and her relationship with Kai that is the focus of the story, there are numerous secondary characters that are wonderfully fleshed out. Elliot’s father is a real piece of work, very controlling and quite mean. Her sister is better, but still fairly awful. I enjoyed the other members of Cloud Fleet, and Elliot of course. She’s quite a strong character, though she has her doubts and insecurities. She makes the best out of what she has to work with, and honestly cares for the people around her. It is through Elliot that we the reader question how the Luddite society is run. Her letters to Kai highlight her curious nature and the events that unfold really take Elliot through a change of not only ideals, but her very faith.

5 heart

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund is such a unique sci-fi in the fact that it doesn’t play out like what you would expect of a traditional science fiction story…no outer space, no cyborgs, no flying cars. Just a very interesting farming estate society with an underground idea and past of genetic modification and the experimenting that caused it to all change. The technology present is interesting and captivating, as is the slow burn reacquaintance romance between Elliot and Kai, the questions Elliot possesses about society and what is right, and whether or not humanity should play with genetics. It’s an intense, amazing read that I highly recommend to anyone.

Hardcover copy obtained at BEA 2012 through author signing.

Review: This Is Not A Test by Courtney Summers

This is not a Test This Is Not a Test
by Courtney Summers

ISBN-13: 9-780312-656744
Publication: June 2012 from St. Martin’s Griffin
Source: purchased
Rating: 4.5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I really liked it
Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

What do you do when the line between the living and the dead is blurred?

It’s the end of the world. Six students have taken cover in Cortege High, but shelter is little comfort when the dead outside won’t stop pounding on the doors.

Now seems like the perfect time to give up…

For Sloane Price, the end has never been something to fear. Six months ago, her world collapsed, and since then, she’s failed to find a reason to keep going.

When everything is gone, what do you hold on to?

As the days crawl by, and the motivations for survival change, the group’s fate is determined less and less by what’s happening outside and more and more by the unpredictable and violent bids for life – and death – inside.

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This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers is a beautiful showcase of humanity persevering through the apocalypse. The zombie apocalypse. With a memorable and complex cast of characters, Courtney Summers delivers a gripping story of one girls struggle with wanting to live or die.

The character introduction of Sloane in the beginning of the novel is wonderful. The reader immediately gets the sense of her home life, and that she’s a little bit broken – but tough. The time jumps from the beginning of the zombie outbreak to when Sloane and the rest of the group she’s traveling with find relative safety in their high school help speed the plot and yet still give glimpses into this newly infected world. The cast of characters is diverse; each one having their own issues, insecurities, strengths, hang-ups and interests. The actual interactions with zombies are few and far between – This Is Not a Test is definitely a character piece – but the attacks we see are intense and terrifying. As the future becomes more uncertain, their stronghold is breached, members of the group fight amongst themselves and Sloane’s apparent death wish is noticed, the tension and fear escalates. And then the dying starts.

4.5 heart

This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers is one of those books – zombie or otherwise – that has you holding your breath for the majority of the story, hoping that the characters you’ve come to care about make it through to the end. The development of the characters, especially Sloane, throughout the course of the book is staggering and a testament to Courtney Summers phenomenal writing. There are so many questions and uncertainty at the end of the novel, and yet…there should be. It’s a zombie book, after all, and those tales are not so easily wrapped up. There is hope, though. And who could ask for more than that.

Review: Breathe by Sarah Crossan

Breathe
by Sarah Crossan

ISBN-13: 9-780062-118691
Publication: October 2012 from Greenwillow
Rating: 4 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I really liked it
Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

Inhale. Exhale. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe…

The world is dead.

A glass dome houses the survivors of the Switch, the period when oxygen levels plunged and the green world withered. A state lottery meant a lucky few won safety, while the rest suffocated in the thin air. Now Alina, Quinn, and Bea are leaving the dome, walking straight into the heart of danger. They have only two days’ worth of oxygen in their tanks. What will happen on the third day?

Breathe by Sarah Crossan is a book that immediately grabs your attention with its unique, terrifying premise – what if the trees were gone? How would humanity survive, and would we be able to right our wrongs? Breathe takes the basic, learned-early knowledge that trees provide oxygen to a whole new post-apocalyptic level. Told through three points of view, the reader goes on a journey outside of the Pod (the domed city where the population who survived now live) and into the harsh landscape that our world has become. There are conspiracies, plots, battles and rebellion to be had.

Our three characters are Quinn (privileged son of a high government official), Bea (low-class, best friends with Quinn), and Alina (low-class, member of the rebellion). Through them we experience all aspects of life in the Pod and slowly learn the truth about the company Breathe and how/why they are running the Pod the way they are. The action and mystery start immediately and continue right up to the end of the story, and revelations come hard and fast for some of the characters. The outside world is bleak and Sarah Crossan does an amazing job with description and detail. The two leaders of the opposing factions in Breathe – the Pod Minsters and Petra, leader of the rebels – could not be more opposite. I found the Pod Minster to be a bit of a joke, and can’t help wondering what it is that keeps him in power – he’s drunk on both booze and power and I’m hoping his rise to power and continued rule is explained in the next book. And Petra I found incredibly intense to the point of harshness and brutality. The action scenes are very well done and Quinn has to make some tough choices in the end in regards to his loyalty to his father and family, or his sense of right from wrong (and what he would do for Bea, too). There was a moment of disbelief regarding the character of Jazz near the end (if you’ve read the book, or decide to read it, you’ll understand) that threw me out of the story for a bit, but other awesome elements to the story made up for it.

Breathe by Sarah Crossan is an entertaining and interesting book that will keep you reading from cover to cover. With relateable and well developed characters, no love triangle (at least not yet, and I hope never!) but a sweet friends-to-couple romance, and a disturbing concept for a dystopian/post-apocalyptic world Breathe is a very well done debut. Moments in the story will have you trying to catch your breath along with the characters, and wondering how everything will work out in the end when things seem so lost. Well worth the read!

ARC received at Book Expo America through author signing.

Review: Son by Lois Lowry

Son
by Lois Lowry

ISBN-13: 9-780547-887203
Publication: October 2012 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Series: book 4 in The Giver
Rating: 5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I loved it!
Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

“They called her Water Claire.”

When she washed up on their shore, no one knew she had been a Vessel. That she had carried a Product. That it had been carved from her belly. Stolen.

Claire had had a son.

She was supposed to forget him, but that was impossible. And when he was taken from their community, she knew she had to follow. In the years that pass, Claire knows she will stop at nothing to find her child…even if it means trading her own life.

Son by Lois Lowry is the final book in the series that started with The Giver and I am full of all kinds of feelings. I finished the book, and had to do that big happy/sad sigh where you clutch the book close and then proceed to rave about it to anyone close by. It’s no secret that The Giver is one of my favourite books, and I couldn’t be happier with the conclusion to the story. Son delivers everything and more. Since the story is written in three parts, this review will also be in three parts, a little differently than the way I usually do things.

First up, the beginning. Claire. When Claire was twelve, she was chosen as Birth Mother. Now giving birth to her first “product”, something doesn’t go as planned and Claire is returned to the main Community. It’s as this first section progresses that we realize Claire is little baby Gabe’s mother. I was ecstatic to see parts of Jonas’ story in The Giver from a different point of view. Claire’s observations and feelings help bring back everything from that first book, and even though Claire never mentions his name, we know that the Caretaker for baby Gabe is Jonas’ dad even before he tells Claire his son’s name. And Claire – she’s wonderful. So confused by everything she’s feeling, and all that’s happening to her now, she is still quietly rebelling against the rules of her Community, defying everything she knows for this new feeling – love. Though only around fourteen years old, Claire is so strong and intelligent. When she realizes Gabe is gone, she doesn’t hesitate to leave. Lois Lowry’s writing in this section is wonderful. You really get a clear sense of Claire’s desperation, fear, longing and love.

During the second section, when Claire has escape the community, we get a sense of books two and three, Gathering Blue and Messenger. A different community, new rules, new beliefs. Claire’s experiences in this village really help showcase and outline what was missing from Claire’s Community. Any of those subtle details you may have missed when reading The Giver – like the lack of colour, different weather, feelings and animals – are mentioned and wondered at. Claire does a lot of growing and maturing during this period and proves that a mother’s love knows no bounds. She’ll do anything to get Gabe back, even make a deal with a devil.

Part three is my favourite. It’s all Gabe. I loved seeing Jonas and Kira again, and getting to experience a grown up Gabe. This section really fills in the missing links and final pieces of the puzzle. While The Giver was an unsettling book due to the dystopian nature of the Community, Gathering Blue and Messenger slowly added in the elements of good vs. evil that Son embraces and runs with. Gabe has a huge part to play in ridding his village of ultimate evil in the form of the Trademaster – the man that Claire made the deal with to find her missing son. I had good goosebumps when reading about Claire and Jonas talking and reminiscing; no one else knows of their Community and understands what they dealt with there. Claire and Gabe meeting was tear inducing, and Gabe’s conviction to fight evil and know his mother heartbreaking and heartwarming all at the same time. His battle is maybe not the most epic of fights, but it is so important, and Lois Lowry really knows how to convey emotion and detail in such a way that you are transfixed and absorbed by the story.

Son by Lois Lowry is beautifully written and realized – reading it was like visiting an old friend. Ultimately about the love of a mother for a son, and a son for a mother, Son tackles that age old problem of good vs. evil, and how far we’d go to protect those we love most. There’s a scene and line at the end of the book that had me smiling through tears, and it’s a perfect end to the story. An ultimately happy ending, all those loose threads and questions from the previous books have been gathered and answered as much as they possibly can. Anything left to wonder about will have to be satisfied by the reader’s own imagination.

ARC received from Children’s Author Breakfast at Book Expo America.

Review: The Infects by Sean Beaudoin

The Infects
by Sean Beaudoin

ISBN-13: 9-780763-659479
Publication: September 2012 from Candlewick
Rating: 3 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I liked it

Zombrule #4: Survival is for the ruthless. Everyone else is a hippie poet.

Stuck in the wilderness with a bunch of other juvenile delinquents on an “Inward Trek,” it doesn’t seem that things could get worse for seventeen-year-old Nick “Nero” Sole. But they do. Overnight, Nero’s counselors have turned into flesh-eating maniacs and are now chowing down on his fellow miscreants – like a monster movie comes to life. And as in any classic monster flick worth its salted popcorn, colossal carnage sends survivors rabbiting into the woods while the mindless horde of “infects” shambles, moans, and drools behind. These kids have seen the movies; they know the rules. Unfortunately, knowing the rules isn’t going to be enough.

The Infects by Sean Beaudoin is one of the more interesting takes on the zombie apocalypse that I’ve read lately. It definitely has the most unique beginnings to the outbreak that I’ve read yet!

Nick is your fairly normal teen – until sent to a camp for juvenile delinquents he worked at a chicken processing plant and looked after his eccentric father and Autistic sister. Even the Inward Trek starts out as a normal event in his life…until his fellow delinquents begin eating the others. Yupp, that puts a damper on everything. Nick is hard to get a grasp on, mostly because he has this voice in his head that sounds like the rock and you’re never quite sure if it’s Nick’s own ideas or the voice in his head that leads him to do everything he does throughout the course of the book. Most of the other characters are reminiscent of the “red shirts” of Star Trek fame, except for a few key plays – Swann, Petal and Estrada. Estrada because he lives, Petal because Nick’s is fairly in love with her, and Swann because she basically is the catalyst for the action that happens.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the writing in the book, but it began to grow on me after a while and was not a huge detractor to the story. There are a few scenes that had me fairly confused, though by the end they seem to make a bit more sense once everything that’s been going on has been explained (some scenes were still confusing, though, like a scene with Nick at a bar in this house they found to take shelter in. I still don’t know what that was about). I did find it a little weird that the outbreak managed to stay contained and none of the surrounding towns seemed to notice what had gone on. But, the zombies are sufficiently gruesome, the action scenes with the teens being chased by zombies, zombies eating people and the end with the army are amazingly detailed and bloody, and the concept is really intriguing. I liked the details near the end that had Nick and the other survivors, and some non-survivors, questioning everything about the outbreak, and if they were really zombies or something else. The whole conspiracy/experiment that is exposed is awesome.

The Infects by Sean Beaudoin is not just an intense zombie outbreak novel. With quite a bit of humour and a little bit of crazy, the story manages to be entertaining from beginning to end. While I wasn’t the biggest fan of the writing, and at times I found the story confusing, I really enjoyed the zombies, their cause and Nick’s own special brand of loopy. Also, the book manages to answers the question of why there’s a chicken on the cover, and I totally called it way in the beginning. I love when that happens.

ARC received from LibraryThing and Candlewick in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!

Review: Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

Pandemonium
by Lauren Oliver

ISBN-13: 9-780061-978067
Publication: February 2012 from Harper Teen
Series: book 2 in Delirium
Rating: 4.5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I really liked it!

I’m pushing aside the memory of my nightmare, pushing aside thoughts of Alex, pushing aside thoughts of Hana and my old school, push, push, push, like Raven taught me to do.

The old life is dead. But the old Lena is dead too. I buried her. I left her beyond a fence, behind a wall of smoke and flame.

SPOILERS FOR DELIRIUM!

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver is one of those sequels to a really great book that makes you glad it exists. Told in a then and now format rather than traditional chapters, the reader gets to experience both what happened immediately following Lena’s escape over the fence (then), and the more current situation where she is part of the Resistance and helping their cause (now).

The then and now format also helps to showcase the growth Lena goes through during the book. After being found by the Resistance and the early part of her time them, Lena is actually fairly unsure and a little wimpy. But she manages to showcase some courage and determination when it really comes down to it, and during the now sections we really get to see her display her intelligence and will to survive in order to make the best of some bad situations. She’s in a pretty bad place initially following her escape and Alex’s death, but she manages to overcome and grow into her ideals and beliefs. She copes admirably with all the crap she goes through in this book. Julian, the new male lead, is quite mysterious. You’re never really sure what he actually believes in, and though he seems incredibly trustworthy, it’s still up in the air as to whether you should like him or not.

The suspense and the unanswered questions in Pandemonium keep your attention glued to the pages and wondering what’s coming. There are so many things that require you to put the pieces together, and even then you’re not always sure if you’re right or will be proved wrong. There are some great twists, especially in how the Resistance, the Scavengers (like the Resistance, they’re uncured, but a little more intense in their opposition to the Cure), and the DFA (Deliria-Free America) all intertwine…since really, they shouldn’t intertwine at all. And of course the ending has the best twist of all, one I never saw coming and had to just stare at the last two sentences for a bit before it really sunk in.

In Pandemonium, Lauren Oliver has managed to wonderfully expand on the world she showed us in Delirium, bringing the reader deeper into the reasons behind the cure for love and the way society works, and yet still giving us more questions that need to be answered. I can’t wait to find out what happens next!