Station Eleven

By Emily St. John Mandel

An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur’s chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.

Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten’s arm is a line from Star Trek: “Because survival is insufficient.” But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.

Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

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I first acquired this one when it came out and it was very buzz-worthy. I didn’t read it until recently when I was sick with a very bad cold. Not exactly the best conditions for reading a book about a terrible flu pandemic that kills tons and tons of people around the world. Still, I enjoyed this book and couldn’t put it down. Even the leaps in time weren’t enough to shake my enthusiasm. Every character was so richly drawn and engaging. The author seemed equally at home whether the setting was in Canada, Hollywood, an airport, on stage, or this dark, brave new world she’s crafted. Her prose was of the quality of literary fiction, which is beautiful to read. I loved the way everyone was connected to each other and everything in the end. The world after the flu was as bleak and dark a place as any dystopian world of recent years. And Station Eleven, which actually refers to a comic book, is something I wish existed in our world.

The book makes a reference to The Passage by Justin Cronin, which is one of my favorite books and to which this book draws a lot of comparisons. The Passage tells the story of a vampire apocalypse and of the survivors in the years afterward. It’s of the same ilk as Station Eleven: a work of literary fiction that happens to be dabbling in the world of the blockbuster. And in non-literary references, this book will appeal to people who liked Contagion, the movie that came out a few years ago about a worldwide epidemic and starred Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, and a bunch of other famous actors.

The author has written a few other books which I’ll be checking out. I think the others are squarely literary fiction and not this literary fiction-dystopian hybrid, but just the same, I love her style.

Red Rising

By Pierce Brown

Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations.

Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children.

But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity already reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet. Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.

Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity’s overlords struggle for power. He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society’s ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies… even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.

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Since I live in San Diego, last year I went down to Comic-Con to see what free stuff I could do or pick up. Not much, really. But as I was walking, someone handed me a free book from a box. This book in fact. I accepted it, but figured it was some badly-written indie book I’d end up donating. Lo and behold, when I got home I discovered it was this amazing best-seller!

Red Rising was awesome! I’ve been describing it as Hunger Games meets Game of Thrones meets The Martian. I’m sure there are better comparisons out there, but this is what I’m working with.

After about 50 pages in, this book had me hooked and didn’t let go. I started this book the night before I got sick and spent the next day on the couch sick and reading this book. It’s a long one so I probably read 75% that day and then the rest the following day.

It’s gripping, it’s expansive, it’s exciting, it’s violent, it’s heartbreaking, it’s imaginative, it’s a hell of a good time.

I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the second book, Golden Son soon.

And I sincerely hope a movie or tv show is in the works for this series.

Red Queen

By Victoria Aveyard

This is a world divided by blood – red or silver.

The Reds are commoners, ruled by a Silver elite in possession of god-like superpowers. And to Mare Barrow, a seventeen-year-old Red girl from the poverty-stricken Stilts, it seems like nothing will ever change.

That is, until she finds herself working in the Silver Palace. Here, surrounded by the people she hates the most, Mare discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy the balance of power.

Fearful of Mare’s potential, the Silvers hide her in plain view, declaring her a long-lost Silver princess, now engaged to a Silver prince. Despite knowing that one misstep would mean her death, Mare works silently to help the Red Guard, a militant resistance group, and bring down the Silver regime.

But this is a world of betrayal and lies, and Mare has entered a dangerous dance – Reds against Silvers, prince against prince, and Mare against her own heart …

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I. Could. Not. Stop. Reading. This.

The kind of book that makes you stay up late two nights in a row to finish. The kind of book that makes you totally ignorant to people speaking to you, even when they call your name. The kind of book that makes you wish you could magically make books two and three appear in your hands.

Fast-paced, engaging, with plenty of plot twists and mind-blowing secrets.

Oh and Victoria if you’re reading this, let’s be BFF’s because, girlfriend, you’re kind of living my dream life. International best-seller at 26, debuting at #1 on the NYT best-sellers list, three-book deal, international book tour, and movie in production. Oh and your hair is amazeballs. Yup, let’s talk.

Acceptance

By Jeff VanderMeer

It is winter in Area X, the mysterious wilderness that has defied explanation for thirty years, rebuffing expedition after expedition, refusing to reveal its secrets. As Area X expands, the agency tasked with investigating and overseeing it–the Southern Reach–has collapsed on itself in confusion. Now one last, desperate team crosses the border, determined to reach a remote island that may hold the answers they’ve been seeking. If they fail, the outer world is in peril.

Meanwhile, Acceptance tunnels ever deeper into the circumstances surrounding the creation of Area X–what initiated this unnatural upheaval? Among the many who have tried, who has gotten close to understanding Area X–and who may have been corrupted by it?

In this last installment of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, the mysteries of Area X may be solved, but their consequences and implications are no less profound–or terrifying.

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As I mentioned on my other two reviews, I’m so grateful that when I started to read this series all these books were out. I couldn’t have handled it if I had to wait months or years for the rest of the story.

Acceptance brings The Southern Reach trilogy to a close. Some answers are revealed, but in true VanderMeer form, we get more questions that don’t have ready answers.

The form of this book was quite a bit different than Annihilation and Authority. We jump from character to character as well as backwards and forwards in time. We hear from Control, Ghost Bird, the old Director of the Southern Reach, and Saul, the lighthouse keeper. So many different viewpoints means a lot of the questions and clues were either filled in completely or at least partly elucidated upon.

Finally, we begin to see inside the final days of the Coast and the birth of Area X. We learn a bit more about The Southern Reach and its shadowy controllers and employees. Control’s questions about the old Director get some explanation. And Control and Ghost Bird plunge into Area X, one final time.

I think this was my favorite of the three book. More answers, less secrets, but not all the answers. For those of you who remembered me being so scared while reading Annihilation, this book is not any creepier than that was.

Just go read it already. If you’ve come this far in the series, you might as well finish it!

The Infinite Sea

By Rick Yancey

How do you rid the Earth of seven billion humans? Rid the humans of their humanity.

Surviving the first four waves was nearly impossible. Now Cassie Sullivan finds herself in a new world, a world in which the fundamental trust that binds us together is gone. As the 5th Wave rolls across the landscape, Cassie, Ben, and Ringer are forced to confront the Others’ ultimate goal: the extermination of the human race.

Cassie and her friends haven’t seen the depths to which the Others will sink, nor have the Others seen the heights to which humanity will rise, in the ultimate battle between life and death, hope and despair, love and hate.

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As soon as I finished reading The 5th Wave, I started the sequel, The Infinite Sea.

While this book was as beautiful, moving, and action-packed as the others, we got to meet new point of view characters, like Ringer. Though I missed hearing as much from Cassie. And I don’t think Ben had any point of view parts this time around.

We got to learn even more about what the aliens want and why they’ve done what they’ve done, while simultaneously raising even more questions.

“Why not just throw a very big rock?”

Why not indeed. I wish I could tell you that The Infinite Sea answers this question, but it doesn’t and so we go onward to The Last Star.

Here’s a few great quotes from The Infinite Sea:

“The world ended once. It will end again. The world ends, then the world comes back. The world always comes back.”

“Some things, down to the smallest of things, are worth the sum of all things.”

“No hope without faith, no faith without hope, no love without trust, no trust without love. Remove one and the entire human house of cards collapses.”

“The world is a clock and the clock winds down, and their coming had nothing to do with that. The world has always been a clock. Even the stars will wink out one by one and there will be no light or heat, and this is the war, the endless, futile war against the lightless, heatless void rushing toward us.”

The 5th Wave

By Rick Yancey

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After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother–or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

I’m almost a broken record at this point…. Book sat on my shelf forever, never started, then I did, and Holy Crap I Loved It!

You can go home now.

Just kidding. I actually did write a review.

Enter Cassie, last woman on Earth. Or so it would seem. Cassie on an impossible journey to keep an impossible promise. A promise that is the only thing that matters as trust has eroded in the wake of a faceless enemy.

Damn, talk about a dark book. Dark, dark, dark. Nothing like an alien apocalypse to make you feel hopeless.

There are other narrators too, but Cassie was my favorite. I can’t talk much about the others without spoiling anything. But Cassie was awesome. Ass-kicking all the way through, in the tradition of Katniss or Triss.

Action packed from start to finish. There were some wonderful, wonderful lines in this book. Quotes like:

“How do you rid the Earth of humans? Rid the humans of their humanity.”

“Because we will die, but at least we will die unbroken.”

“I thought I knew what loneliness was before he found me, but I had no clue. You don’t know what real loneliness is until you’ve known the opposite.”

“But if I’m it, the last of my kind, the last page of human history, like hell I’m going to let the story end this way. I may be the last one, but I am the one still standing. I am the one turning to face the faceless hunter in the woods on an abandoned highway. I am the one not running but facing. Because if I am the last one, then I am humanity. And if this is humanity’s last war, then I am the battlefield.”

“The minute we decide that one person doesn´t matter anymore, they´ve won.”

“Do you know how to tell who the enemy is, Cassie?”

This book also brought Robert Frost’s poem, Fire and Ice, to my mind:

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

I have the second book, The Infinite Wave, on my shelf, which I may start right away. The 5th Wave movie is due in theaters soon and the third book in the trilogy is coming out this spring.

While I may have waited forever to start this series, it seems like now is a great time to become a fan of The 5th Wave series.

Here is the trailer for The 5th Wave movie:

Crashed

By Robin Wasserman

Before the accident, Lia Kahn was happy.

Before the accident, Lia Kahn was loved.

Before, Lia was a lot of things: Normal. Alive.

Human.

Lia no longer believes in before. Six months after the crash that killed her, six months after being reborn, Lia has finally accepted her new reality. She is a machine, a mech, and she belongs with her own kind. It’s a wild, carefree life, without rules and without fear. Because there’s nothing to fear when you have nothing left to lose.

But when a voice from her past cries out for revenge, everything changes. Lia is forced to choose between her old life and her new one. Between humans and mechs. Between sacrificing the girl she used to be and saving the boy she used to love.

Even if it means he’ll hate her forever.

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This series might hold my personal record for “longest time elapsed between reading sequels”. I read the first book, Skinned, in the spring of 2009. And I just read the second book six years later. Sad part is? I’ve had Crashed for the whole six years. I knew I would read it someday and I did. Are you listening boyfriend? All those books on the shelf will get read someday. Promise.

So while I only barely remembered what the first book was about, I was still able to follow Crashed. What I like most about this series is the world-building. I can’t remember if they explained how the world got into the state it’s in the first book or it’s just merely hinted at, but in any case, this is as dystopian a society as I’ve ever seen. The wealthy people stay wealthy and benefit from everything, including the science. The majority of people either live in the lawless cities or labor in the Corptowns. Not a pretty picture, by any means.

This is definitely a book that forces you to think whether you want to or not. It seems like on every other page, someone is talking about the difference between being human and being a machine, a mech. Or talking about souls. Etc. It feels a little redundant after awhile, but hey I guess when you can’t die, what else do you really have to think about.

As in most sci-fi books, I enjoyed the religious questions that seem to inevitably arise. This time the questions are more direct: a religious group wants to get rid of the mechs and take away any of the rights they currently have. Even more room for thinking in that plot-point and drawing parallels to our present world.

Most of the characters feel a little cold and not too fun, but it is a dark, sour world they live in and this group, the mechs, have had the worst of it. Still, I didn’t find it too troublesome and read this book quickly. There’s a lot of action and drama to keep things moving along despite the doom and gloom of the main characters.

I’m looking forward to reading the third book in the series, Wired, which I will be ordering soon (and starting!) so another six years doesn’t go by before I read it and finish this series.