Tag Archives: Dystopia

Book Love: The Girl With All the Gifts

The Girl With All the GiftsThe Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First of all, this cover is eye catching and definitely had me interested from the get-go. Second, this mysterious title is intriguing. Who is this girl? What are all these gifts she possesses?

I have to commend M.R. Carey on coming up with yet another word for zombies. Understandably, at this point the word “zombie” in itself should be avoided at all costs in zombie literature/movies/TV, but this new name is spot on. Zombies have plagued (see what I did there?) our airways lately, and although you may think zombies have had their allotted time in the spotlight, Carey has somehow managed to spin the situation while coming up with a few of his own original rules for his zombie-infested post-apocalyptic world. “Hungries” is how readers of The Girl With All the Gifts came to know the familiar violently dead creatures, but Carey’s rules about their movements and mannerisms are what made his world so uniquely satisfying. Carey’s premises are both logical and worth the read, avoiding many of the all too common clichés.

Another compliment I have to this novel is the voice of our narrator, Melanie, who is about 10 years old. Melanie is not your ordinary 10-year-old girl, although she would like to be. Captured in the wild several years before the book begins, she now lives on a military base and is one of several subjects being studied. In many ways she is extremely normal, craving attention, full of a desire for learning, and infatuated with her favorite schoolteacher, but it is her gifts that separate her from other kids her age. Her voice is paramount to the success of this story, because without it, it would just be another zombie text. Instead of giving us a huge infodump at the beginning of the book, Carey uses Melanie as a filter for his world, allowing us to only learn as she does. Like us, society outside of the military base is new to Melanie, which enables us to react according to Melanie’s reception alone.

Survival is usually the driving factor in a world full of zombies, but The Girl With All the Gifts manages to avoid that as well, focusing instead on scientific exploration and objectivity. He uses his other characters, a crazed over-involved scientist, a tough military official, and Melanie’s loving schoolteacher, to contrast one another on the subject of our connection to our work. He suggests that no one can come into an observation situation without being a little biased, our prior experiences affecting us whether we’re conscious of them or not. As you can imagine, a zombie apocalypse is full of death. The Walking Dead among others have shown us what it’s like to live with death, and The Girl With All the Gifts is no different in that respect. If there was anything this book taught me, it was that we are all victims of our experiences. Our past determines who we are more than most of us would like to admit, driving us to act out subconscious desires. While some of us are looking for redemption, others want to make a difference in the world, especially one as ugly as this. It wasn’t what it taught me about zombies that will stick with me; it was what I learned about how humans treat other humans that I’ll remember. Our perspective of the world has a lot to do with how we react to each and every situation, and often it is our lack of awareness of this perspective that causes us to not love other humans the way we are meant to.

All in all, Carey offers a refreshing change to a genre that has been bogged down with sameness.

Goodreads Rating: 3.91
Recommended for: Zombie Fans

Book Love: Annihilation

Annihilation (Southern Reach, #1)Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As I’ve previously stated, I’m a sucker for an unreliable narrator. Annihilation is short, vague, and contradictory, yet captivating. With less than 200 pages, it feels more like a prologue than a prequel.

Annihilation takes an intricate look into reality and our perceptions of the realities we choose to live in. Told from an unnamed female protagonist’s perspective who is a biologist on expedition, we are able to view a mind clouded in uncertainties. This limited range of view is vital to the telling of the story, and although I knew I couldn’t trust this woman entirely, I wanted to all the same. She gave a perfectly vague account of an unpopulated area shrouded in mystery, and I found myself wanting to travel there to witness it firsthand, even if I might not come back from it.

Area X is beyond civilization’s border, and the only people allowed to cross the mysterious boundary into its wilderness have been specially chosen purely for research purposes. The people venturing into this unknown wasteland are well-trained in their skill sets and are used as variables to explore the constant that is the “uncharted” territory. Accompanying our biologist there is also a linguist, psychologist, surveyor, and an anthropologist. All women; all serving a distinct purpose on their mission. Each of these women have done away with their birth names before setting out, thus attempting to rid themselves of their identities before meeting their awaited fate in Area X.

The biologist, as she had been trained to, observed her surroundings, looking for trends and trusting her senses to tell her the truth about this area that no one seems to ever really come back from. The biologist recently lost her husband to a previous expedition in Area X, lacks emotions. Even when talking about her lost husband, she doesn’t seem all that sad. This lack of character development is honestly my only issue with the first part of this trilogy. The main character was not relatable, and anytime this happens, it’s a problem. Despite that, I enjoyed reading Annihilation.

I will definitely read the Southern Reach Trilogy, however, I am in no hurry. Because of the writing style, it was not a fast read or easy read. I think to enjoy this one you really have to be in the right mood, and it caught me at just the right time.

4.5 Stars

Goodreads Rating: 3.62
Recommended for: Unreliable Narrator Lovers, Explorers, Reality Escapers
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Book Review: Sand

Sand Omnibus (Sand, #1-5)Sand by Hugh Howey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wanted to bury this book in a dune somewhere because it’s just not worth the coin. I thought I would enjoy this like I did Wool, but it was about as easy to read as it is to run a mile on the beach. It was slow going, and I felt little motivation to complete it.

Sand is about family, justifying the things we do for our families to earn a living and also to keep ourselves afloat in the midst of all life blows our way. It’s about how we cope after an unexpected loss and always hoping there’s something better out there for us.

Out of all the problematic worlds I’ve read about, Hugh Howey has managed to create the one I would most likely not be able to tolerate. I might survive the world of Sand, but my sanity would not. Sand isn’t horrible because of a ferocious government, corrupted societal laws, or a declining ecosystem, though. I could not live in this world because of all the freaking sand everywhere. Always in my mouth, in my shoes, in my house, and forever sweeping and shoveling just for the wind to inevitably bring it back to me. No thanks.

Howey let loose in Sand with a mass of explicit vocabulary and not much, but just enough graphic imagery of bodies horrifically mangled, leaving plenty of unwanted images in my mind. I don’t mind a little language here and there or things of graphic nature when I’m anticipating it, but the way it leaped of the pages so unexpectedly left me in a state of shock.

I never felt tied to the characters, and I had trouble easing into the flow of this whole world. On a more positive note, there were a few good things I noted:
1. It was not predictable. No shocking endings or anything crazy, but there was not much of a basis to predict anything from. This could have been from the lack of foundation we had, though.
2. I’ve never read anything like it. The first section of the omnibus seemed like it was going to be just like Wool, too, which would have upset me. His world was not based off of any dystopian formula I’ve seen before, so we can commend him for that.
3. His ideas were clever. And honestly, they weren’t poorly constructed. Scuba diving through sand as one would through water made sense. I thought having the characters scavenge beneath their town for buried cities was probably the coolest thing about this book.
4. There are nuggets of universal wisdom scattered everywhere. “Witnessing the aftermath of the destruction made the danger…real. Fear required precedents.” I love being able to dismantle a quote from the text and be able to apply it to life in general.

I can’t say I haven’t learned anything from reading Sand, but my time spent reading it could have easily been better spent. I did not enjoy it, and for that I had to give it a 3/5. One thing I hope all who have read it or decide not to read it based on this review take away is we are all just grains of sand, helpless to where the wind takes us, drifting from one dune to the next. We are spit out, shaken from boots, and brushed off from shoulders, but we are the foundation of society.

Goodreads Rating: 3.96
Recommended for: Dystopian Lovers, Scuba Divers, Beach-Goers
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Book Review: Legend

15753977Legend by Marie Lu

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Legend attempts to shed light on what would happen if we had socialized medicine, relied on family history or test scores to determine our future (ha!), and did not put a cap on how many terms an elected official could serve as leader of our nation. In Legend, America is divided in two ways: Colonies vs. Republic and rich vs. poor.

Legend is told from two different perspectives, which seems to be happening more often in literature. June and Day come from two different parts of the same world and are featured with similar intelligence and skills. I favored June’s actions over Day’s, however, both characters were annoying and the plot was abrupt. The text would be flowing smoothly for awhile, useful imagery scattered here and there…and then Day would say something to provoke an eye roll from me. If it hadn’t been such a fast-paced read, I would have put it down. I want to like Day, and I appreciate what he stands for. Although he’s revolutionary, which is what the world in Legend needs, I only like him when his mouth his shut. His overconfidence in his abilities and in his looks are his hubris, and overconfidence is not something I find attractive in a character.

June I am much more on board with. With her upbringing and family status, she was born to be a government agent, but according to the government she works for, she asks too many questions. She causes too much trouble. This is why we, the readers, love her, though. June’s character saves the book for me. Although she was born into the Republic and expected for it to be perfect, she gets a shock early into the book that causes her to refocus. Maybe her perfect, cozy world is not as it seems. As June learns about the destructive power the Republic holds, her perspective helps the reader to understand Lu’s simple dystopian society a little more.

One major problem I had with this series is we’re thrust directly into the action of the novel without much knowledge of the world in which the plot takes place. We know it’s divided and is completely unfair, but that’s about it. Lu does not construct enough of her world before the action ensues, and for this and for her annoying characters, I had to give it a 3/5. There were too many rough patches for me to issue a higher rating, but about halfway through, where most books tend to fall apart, Legend picked up and came together some. Had this not happened, I was more than prepared to give it a 2/5.

From a kid’s perspective, I can see this book holding a higher weight, but for me, it does not live up to the hype. Most likely, I will still complete the series despite the lack of joy this book gave me. It was entertaining enough, and I am anxious to see how Lu’s world crumbles in Prodigy. I also tend to favor the middle book in any series, so I’m hoping for more from book two.

Goodreads Rating: 4.19
Recommended for: Dystopian Lovers, The Politically Minded, Action Packers
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Book Love: Uglies

Uglies (Uglies, #1)Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Uglies is a noteworthy novel set in future America, and it is targeted at young readers, specifically teenage girls. Understanding this, I changed my original 3 star rating to 4/5 stars. Its target is for people who are the characters’ ages, but it has been a satisfying read regardless of its lack of sophisticated writing and vocabulary. It was a little too cut and dry for me, and for some reason Westerfield felt the need to spell all of his character’s consequences out in black white, giving the reader no time to think about them or make their own analysis of what was going on. This may prove to be frustrating for more advanced readers, but I think most young people have something to gain from reading this. In the early chapters there is a little humor, but as the book goes on we encounter some romance, too. With beauty as the topic, romance was something I was expecting, so it didn’t bother me as much as it usually does.

At the ripe age of 15, Tally Youngblood’s world is simple. You are ugly until you become pretty. Scott Westerfield’s dystopian society values beauty above everything else. Everyone is taught at a young age to understand the way biology works and what our human species has found most attractive throughout our lives on this earth. It is a normality to put one’s self and others down with verbal abuse based on looks, and modifying one’s face and body through facial recognition software is no trickier than searching Google. The young uglies (12-16 year-olds) live together apart from their parents until they are old enough to receive the operation, keeping them away from all that teen angst and a lot of important familial emotions.

Westerfield’s world parallels the joy of turning 16 amd attaining the freedom to drive with the accomplishment of having an operation to become perfectly pretty and without physical flaws. His world is high-tech, complete with hoverboards, hovering buildings, and interface rings, which allows voice command to be directed to the technology surrounding his characters (similar to Siri). When we meet Tally, she is an impressionable young trickster a few months away from her surgery. She has been brainwashed by her city and education system, never thinking anything her world hasn’t wanted her to think and anticipating her upcoming operation more than anything else before. She resembles most 16-year-olds in that she is passive to society’s influence on her. She is not stupid, however, she is not a freethinking person either. Until Shay comes along.

Shay’s radical ideas are what invokes her flight from Uglyville into the Smoke, a place outside the city where most people would never dream of venturing. Her leaving causes the local authorities to question Tally about Shay’s disappearance. Tally tries to protect Shay’s choices like she promised, but the authorities threaten her with her long awaited operation. Tally thought she was playing it safe by not following Shay into the Smoke, but Shay’s plans to run away have made more of an impact on Tally’s life than she ever expected. Now Tally is faced with a life-changing decision: break her promise to Shay and become a new pretty or remain an ugly for life.

This may seem like a simple decision to some, but within these choices lie heavy consequences. There are secrets to be revealed, real people living their lives happily in the Smoke, and important themes about beauty within the pages of Uglies. Insecurities about one’s looks and changing body plague the thoughts of teens and young adults alike, making this an indispensable novel in the YA genre. Although major facial reconstruction is not something most people pursue today, we are accustomed to fitting our young children with braces, pinning back ears, and teaching girls how to reach a higher standard of beauty with makeup. True, these modifications aren’t nearly as life-altering as turning into a pretty, but they show our society isn’t immune to the anxiety that comes with how the world sees us.

Tally’s high-tech world presents an unrealistic standard of mass-produced beauty that’s hard to match with real natural beauty’s inconsistencies, and as the story opens up, Westerfield’s community in the Smoke proves to be worthy competition. He shows her what natural maturity looks like and forces her to take the world more seriously. The Smoke isn’t the extreme opposite of Uglyville, but it does provide her with a sense of what real problems look like and the rewards hard work and sincere relationships can bring. Going into the wild, Tally was more than ready to reveal the Smoke’s location so she could have her operation, but where she was looking to become pretty and party it up in New Pretty Town, she begins to appreciate the hard work and beauty of nature. Making a decision about whether to become pretty or not becomes harder as the book goes on, and up until the last page, I was still unsure of what Tally’s fate would be.

Goodreads Rating: 3.87
Recommended for: Young Adult Readers, Girls, Dystopian Lovers
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Reading Recs for 2014-2015 School Year: 3rd 9 Weeks

I’m finally onto the 3rd and probably my favorite segment of what I read this past year. My 3rd 9 weeks’ reading list began during Christmas Break, which allowed me to squeeze an extra two weeks of reading onto my reading log. I read some of my favorite books during this 11 weeks, and it’s also when this blog was spoken into existence. I believe during this time I became more intentional about what I was reading, giving my literary life purpose and spontaneity at the same time. From January to March I read more pages, began seriously reading comics, read a couple classics, and read what is now my all-time favorite book, which I will post about at the end of this list of recommendations. Take notes and enjoy!

The Maze Runner (Maze Runner, #1)  The Scorch Trials (Maze Runner, #2)  The Death Cure (Maze Runner, #3)

The Maze Runner series is one that gained publicity this year by earning its own movie. The cover art for the series was appealing to a young audience, and the plot was intriguing to students who desired adventure with a little mystery attached. This series was so popular in my classroom I couldn’t get my hands on it long enough to see what I thought about it. No one checked it out for Christmas break, so it made its way to the top of my list. It was a quick and enjoyable read despite some of my issues with Dashner’s writing style. It was fast-paced, which is great for young readers, but the plot’s intensity and shocking events are what drove the novel. The writing is slightly jarring, and at times it’s way too obvious it was written with kids in mind, which makes it hard for older readers to enjoy it, too. The first book was the best in the series, although I haven’t read The Kill Order yet. The Scorch Trials and The Death Cure seemed to both lag at times with frustrating plot twists and character choices. Regardless of the problems I had with the series, it was a fun read, and I found I was unable to put it down once I’d started.

The 5th Wave (The 5th Wave, #1)  The Infinite Sea (The 5th Wave, #2)

The 5th Wave took me all of 24 hours to read and left me of the edge on my seat all the while. I was entranced by its cover art and more and more curious about what the 5th wave actually was the more I read it. The series opens up with Cassie Walker alone in her tent clutching her gun, thinking about her little brother, who she willingly sent away with Them. Earth has been invaded by Them, who sent several different waves down in rapid succession to take over the planet. The first three waves were easy to understand, but these last few waves have left the remaining human inhabitants alone, able to trust no one. Cassie is haunted by the lives she’s been forced to take and the knowledge her brother’s rescue may be impossible. She finds herself injured and in the care of Evan Walker, and although she can no longer be trusting of anyone, she finds she must trust him to survive. The series is told from many perspectives, giving the story a wholeness and a certain omniscience about it that is encapsulating. Both Cassie and the reader discover what the 5th wave is together, forcing them to survive through the shock and continue on Yancey’s thoughtfully designed journey. The first book has been my favorite so far because of the perspective we get to experience, but both have earned a deserved 4 stars or higher on Goodreads and in my gradebook. The third book is set to come out May 2016, and I will be preordering it. I’ve recommended this book to anyone who enjoys a good sci-fi read, and although it a Young Adult book, it is targeted for a more mature audience (early 20s).

Batgirl #35

Batgirl, like many other DC heroes, got herself a fun and modern reboot last year. I have loved reading Barbara Gordon’s story so far and will likely keep up with it for a long time. Her outfit, lifestyle, and the technological aspect of Batgirl’s crime fighting is relatable to my generation, and the first volume of the new Batgirl of Burnside has a despicable villain that came as a shock to me and many other readers. If you haven’t kept up with Batgirl until issue 35, no worries. Cameron Stewart has completely remade Barbara. She has flaws, personality, and flair, and I can’t wait to read more of her this year.

Winger (Winger, #1)

Ryan Dean’s life at private school is for mature readers only. Because he is two years younger than his fellow classmates, he is picked on and envied by others for his intelligence and constantly being placed in the friend zone by his best friend, Annie. As a junior in a private school for rich kids, Ryan Dean finds himself in trouble most of the time, and although he/s often extremely witty despite his unfortunate situations, the novel ends on an unexpectedly sad note. Andrew Smith has written many other wonderful books, and Winger’s sequel will soon be published. It’s titled Stand-off and is expected to be available this September. Despite its size, it’s a fast read, and you will find yourself in tears from laughing and from its shocking conclusion.

The Martian

Soon after it became a bestseller, Andy Weir’s debut novel, The Martian, got itself a movie contract with leading man Matt Damon playing our protagonist Mark Watney. This book is one we’ve already written a full review for earlier on Tome Raiders, but I feel the need to promote it again for good measure. Yes, it has a ton of technical jargon, but it is easy to overlook, and I know this novel will transfer well to the big screen. It’s easily one of my favorite book covers of all time, and the trailer for the movie looks A+. If you’d like to watch the trailer first, here it is for your viewing pleasure: The Martian Movie Trailer

Ready Player One

We’ve finally reached the end of the 3rd 9 weeks’ reading list, and I can’t think of a better way to finish this post than with my favorite, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. This is another one we’ve already reviewed here on Tome Raiders. A movie directed by Spielberg is already in the works, and I can promise you you will not be disappointed in this one. It’s futuristic and modern all at once, it has a striking cast of characters, and it explores themes that face the youth of today. Can we be the same people we are online and in real life? Does technology provide us with better opportunities or are we losing ourselves to it? Can the power of goodness and friendship overcome the power of money and corporation? I’ve been tempted to reread this since putting it down, and I am looking forward to Cline’s next novel, Armada, which I think was written with a hint of Ender’s Game in mind. I can’t say enough good things about RPO or Ernest Cline, and my review barely does the book justice. Cline has come up with a piece of perfection that I feel obligated to pass on to everyone I know.

Please let me know which of these reviews you found helpful and what you’d like to see more of on the blog. If you have a recommendation for us here at Tome Raiders, we’d love to hear it. We’re constantly look for new books to read and review.

Book Review: The Darkest Minds

The Darkest Minds (The Darkest Minds, #1)The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lately, the fourth graders at Ruby’s school have been dropping like flies from a rapidly spreading “disease” labeled as Idiopathic Adolescent Acute Neurodegeneration (IAAN). As Ruby begins to lose more and more classmates, her parents start to become more aware of just how many lives this disease has been taking, and they are extra careful with Ruby. When one of her classmates dies in front of her, the effects of this disease become more real for the young girl. Like most children would be, Ruby was afraid of contracting IAAN because of what had happened to most of her friends, but ironically, the rest of the world was afraid of Ruby and the other children who lived.

On the morning of her tenth birthday, Ruby expected to waltz into the kitchen to the smell of blueberry pancakes, but instead she was shoved into the garage by her parents, who seemed to be terrified of her. Ruby didn’t understand the reason at the time, but she soon realized what she’d done. She also realized she couldn’t take it back, which she tries to right for the remainder of the book.

From this point in the story, Ruby is shipped off to Thurmond, a prison/rehabilitation camp, with many other kids who have freakishly abnormal and uncontrollable abilities. Ruby is there for six years until fate intervenes.

The Darkest Minds is not the type of book I would typically read, even though it is considered to be dystopian. Psychic abilities never really interested me, so I feel like I went into this book with a slight bias to begin with. From its description and ratings, I really thought I would enjoy it, and honestly, the plot was not horrible. Predictable, but not horrible.

The main thing that caused frustration for me was Bracken’s writing style. To put it nicely, The Darkest Minds was a cheesefest. The longer I read it, the more I rolled my eyes at her word usage. Had I read it in junior high, I don’t think I would have even noticed. If you’re someone who doesn’t mind when a book is a little corny, go ahead and ignore me here. The fact is, though, Ruby’s conversations and inner thoughts were way overdone.

Speaking of Ruby, the protagonist, I want to talk about a few of her best qualities:
1.
2.
3.

None.

It was told from her perspective, but I never came across any redeeming characteristics in this 16-year-old girl. It’s not news, but typically the characters we’re meant to root for must have some upstanding traits. Sometimes it seems like she’s trying to be unselfish, but then she does something equally selfish to counteract the goodness she was about to attempt. Frustration is a good word for how I felt all through the novel.

I know I’m being hard on the girl, but I didn’t hate everything. The plot was decent and would have been enjoyable with a different style and protagonist. If it had been written from Zu or Liam’s perspective, I like to think I would have finished it with a smile, but who knows? Bracken’s predictability also made it a slow read for me. When I know something is going to happen for 200 pages, I don’t feel like reading anymore. Bracken hinted way too hard at what I think was meant to be a big revelation near the middle of the book, which caused a couple eye rolls from me.

So, overall it wasn’t so bad that I questioned its ratings. I could see my middle schoolers being attracted to this book for many reasons:
1. Psychic abilities
2. Dystopia
3. Simple cover design
4. Darkness and mystery

I’ve further realized “dark” books like this absolutely aren’t for me, so it’s likely I won’t be finishing the series. Just because it’s not for me doesn’t mean it’s not for you, though. Take my considerations in and make the decision for yourself.

Goodreads Rating: 4.31
Recommended for: Young Adult Readers, Fans of Red Queen, Dystopian Lovers
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