Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

"I stood looking over my damaged home and tried to forget the sweetness of life on Earth..."

The story starts during a staging of King Lear. Famous actor Arthur Leander has a heart attack during the production. He is attended to by a paramedic named Jeevan. Unfortunately, Arthur doesn't survive. Soon afterwards, civilization ends.

A very contagious flu has infected the world. Once infected, the victims die within days. Soon, the majority of the world's population is dead. Society collapses, and modern technology ceases to exist.

The Traveling Symphony (Motto: "Because survival is insufficient") is a group of musicians and actors. They visit cities and put on concerts and perform Shakespeare for other survivors. Kirsten had played one of King Lear's daughters so many years ago. Now, she performs with the Symphony, her only real family.

The Symphony revisits the city of St. Deborah By the Water. They hope to reconnect with members who stayed in the city, but they find the place has changed. A prophet has taken control, one of those maniacal religious leaders who inspires his followers to do anything he says, even kill. The Symphony leaves St. Deborah By the Water heading towards the Museum of Civilization at the former airport. As they travel, they are followed by the prophet and his men. A young girl stowed away on their caravan, a girl who was supposed to marry the prophet. He will not stop until he gets the girl back.

What is really cool about Station Eleven is how the characters are all connected. There are flashbacks that seem unrelated to the present, but it all circles back and links together. An example is how Arthur's ex-wife created a comic book series that she then published and gave to him, and he gave it to young Kirsten. Kirsten now cherishes the books, but she doesn't remember where they came from. There's more, but I'm going to leave that to you to discover.

Station Eleven was beautifully written and very well told. It was a little slow-moving for an apocalyptic book, but not boring. I initially wanted to read it because I saw rave reviews, and I was not disappointed.

I received my copy of Station Eleven from Edelweiss, courtesy of Knopf. It's available for purchase now.

Unhinged by A.G. Howard

You can read my review of the first book in this series, Splintered, here.

Splintered introduced us to Alyssa. She is a descendant of Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland. She fears becoming insane like her mother, who is living in a world of Lewis Carroll-inspired delusions in an asylum. It turns out that Alyssa's mother was never crazy, she was faking it to protect her. Wonderland is a real place, full of fantastic creatures and very real danger. Alyssa's old childhood friend, Morpheus, is one of the Netherlings (Magic creatures) who live in Wonderland, and he lures her down the rabbit hole. Unexpectedly, her friend (and secret crush) Jeb follows her. The trio participate in all kinds of Wonderland-inspired quests in order to defeat the Red Queen and save Wonderland.

At the beginning of Unhinged, everything seems great. Alyssa decided to remain a human rather than taking her place as Queen in Wonderland. Now, her mom is out of the asylum and back home. If only she would stop mothering Alyssa about her punk rock clothes, or her boyfriend. Alyssa and Jeb are now dating (He left the poorly named Taelor at the Prom as she was being crowned Prom Queen, kind of a jerky move, Jeb), and they hope to get an apartment together in England after Alyssa graduates. He has no memories of his time in Wonderland, which makes Alyssa feel as though she isn't being completely honest with him.

Despite everything, Wonderland is still on Alyssa's mind. She has unsettling dreams about it, and she has been creating disturbing mosaics with her blood, depicting ominous events yet to come. It seems as though Morpheus is up to his old tricks, especially when she hears about a new exchange student matching his description. When she finally talks to him, he refuses to admit to sending the dreams or the evil clown doll that attacks her. It turns out that something is rising in Wonderland, and it's spilling over into the real world. Alyssa won't be able to keep her family safe unless she deals with the threat.

Alyssa really bugged me in this book. It was the whining about her mother, jealousy when Jed gets a job to paint a rich heiress, and the Aria Montgomery-level alternative style outfits. I will always and forever love Morpheus, but I wasn't as into him either. He didn't even name any of his hats. Jed is kind of boring, but okay. The end of Ensnared set up some pretty amazing things for the third book, so I plan to keep reading when it comes out in January.

I received my copy of Ensnared from Netgalley, courtesy of Amulet Books. It's available for purchase now.

(Don't You) Forget About Me by Kate Karyus Quinn

"Your parade lacked those simple joys and sorrows, and four years later it still marches on inside me, advancing toward its inevitable ending..."

Here's the second book from Kate Karyus Quinn. I really liked the weirdness that was Another Little Piece. Of course, I was excited to try (Don't You) Forget About Me.

Lots of people want to go to Gardnerville. Once you live there, you are cured of illness and made well. Citizens of Gardnerville live well over a hundred years, maybe even several hundred years. However, nothing comes without its price. The teenagers are particularly volatile. Strange things end up happening. The weirdest and worst things happen during a fourth year.

During a fourth year, four years ago, Skylar's sister, Piper, led her classmates to jump off of a bridge. Sixteen of them died. Skylar tries her very best to forget everything, taking forget-me-not flowers that leaver her with long gaps in her memory. It's hard to figure out who is telling the truth, or even to figure out if Skylar is reliable. Everyone tells her that Piper is dead, but she doesn't believe it. She believes that Piper is in the reformatory at the edge of town, and it's up to Skylar to get her out.

Another weird part of Gardnerville is how some of the residents have powers. Skylar's father had the power to make people like him. Skylar can see secrets. The boy who Skylar becomes friendly with, Foote, absorbs injuries. High school teacher (And Piper's ex-boyfriend) Elton is using the forget-me-nots and other flower-based drugs to keep the teenagers docile. He is also using Skylar to see into their thoughts, sending anyone with problematic tendencies to the reformatory. The thing is that the reformatory may be hurting rather than helping. The reformatory feeds off the kids, feeding the town, and keeping Gardnerville going, which means keeping fourth years going. That is, unless Skylar stops the whole thing.

Basically, the book is us figuring out what exactly is going on along with Skylar. We know there is something happening with Piper, and while aspects of it are predictable, I still found the book to be compelling. I really like Quinn's writing, and her books are definitely unique.

I received my copy of (Don't You) Forget About Me from Edelweiss, courtesy of HarperTeen. It's available for purchase now.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Vicious by Sara Shepard

And then I came to the end! These books were a lot easier to hate read back when the Liars all sucked and everyone wore their bad idea jeans all the time. Now, everyone is hovering near likeable, and they actually use common sense at least some of the time. Anyways, on to the plot...

Spoilers for Toxic follow. When we last left our Liars, they were ensnared by Alison yet again. One should never follow a lead into a pool house. Next thing you know, there's blood and a tooth, and you get framed for murder. This right after being framed for murder the last time. And Ali isn't even dead!

The Liars are predictably upset about the situation. Alison wrote a journal that chronicled her time with Nick, painting herself as the victim. She also detailed how the Liars tortured her. There isn't much hope that the girls will get out of this one, even though there isn't actually a body.

They all react in different ways. Spencer amuses me by hiring a former convict to help improve her prison experience. She learns that prison is going to suck regardless, and gets the woman to help her disappear. Aria ends up evading arrest and going on the lam to Europe. Hanna decides to take advantage of the time she has left and marry her boyfriend Mike, Aria's younger brother. Emily has the most drastic reaction, but I won't talk about it because of spoilers.

Everything gets tied up neatly in the final book. The ending was okay, but I do wish there was more bang and drama. At least I am finally free from my self-induced Pretty Little Liars prison. Now, if only the TV show would give us some sort of closure.

In the End by Demitria Lunetta

You can read my review of the first book in this series, In the After, here.

There are some spoilers for In the After, so proceed with caution.

The first book was about a world ravaged by aliens. The aliens have super hearing and they eat people. Amy survived in her family's hippie compound house, scavenging the neighborhood and being very quiet. During one of her trips, she found a toddler who she called Baby. They became like sister, developing a crude sign language to communicate without alerting the aliens. The pair eventually trusted the wrong person and the house was taking. They ended up at a government compound where Amy finds out that her mom is still alive, and that the aliens are actually people. They turned into giant green flesh-eating monsters as a result of an experiment with plant DNA. This is why the aliens, called Floraes, are more active in the daytime and they are green because of chlorophyll. Also, when they bite people the person is infected and turned into a florae. Amy helps when a group of floraes are let into the compound, then she leaves to be on her own because there are people in the compound who want to kill her.

Now, Amy has been living on her own again. She still has some tech from New Hope: a scanner to repel florae, lightweight bodysuit so they can't bite her, and a headset for communication. One night she receives a message that the evil doctor took Baby. Baby, real name Hannah, had been bitten as part of the experiments. She never changed, so she is an important part of finding a cure. Amy immediately leaves her safe haven for Fort Black, the prison where she will find the man with information on Baby's whereabouts.

The fun thing that isn't fun about the prison is that it's being run by guards and inmates- horrible, rapey inmates. Amy no sooner enters the prison when she is almost raped. She is saved by a nice, non-rapey guy named Jacks (Short for Jackson). The second fun thing that isn't fun is that the women are treated terribly. In order to not be raped, women need to belong to a man and get a tattoo of the man's name on their arm. Of course, Amy isn't into that, but Jacks helps her out by pretending to be with her.

Things go from terrible to even worse at Fort Black. Amy's rapey nemesis targets her, planning to rape and murder her. As usual, Amy also uncovers some bad stuff going on behind the scenes that makes her a target, and lots of people end up dead. In the end, she has to return to New Hope to save Baby, a place where half the people want her dead.

In the End definitely made me angry. Fort Black and its misogynistic, rapey culture had me enraged. I like Amy because she is a strong and self sufficient female character, and she doesn't disappoint here. Jacks was the only decent male in Fort Black, and you can't help but hope that things work out with those two. The second book really deals more with the monsters that are post-disaster people rather than the actual monsters. I liked the first one more, but In the End was a pretty good conclusion to the series.

I received my copy of In the End from Edelweiss, courtesy of HarperTeen. It's available for purchase now.

Toxic by Sara Shepard

Here it is! Pretty Little Liars #15, the penultimate peril. Stuff gets crazy, as usual. The ending made me pretty angry, but I really knew it was coming. I read that it was going to happen, so I only have myself to blame.

*Spoilers for #14: Deadly*
The Liars were arrested for Tabitha's murder, that little accident that happened during their trip to Jamaica, after the first part of the series. The book ended with the girls tracking down Alison, who was NOT dead! She was being assisted by one Nick, whom all the girls knew from their own special adventures. The dastardly duo lock the fab four into a basement and turn on the gas. Thankfully, the police show up in time to save them. They captured Nick, but there was no sign of Ali.
*End spoilers*

Now, the Liars are trying to get over their latest trauma, almost going to prison for life. They haven't gotten any more A messages, so everyone feels a lot safer. It seems like everything is getting better. All four girls experience a change in fortune.

Emily receives a letter from Jordan, the preppy thief that she met on the eco cruise. Jordan no longer blames Emily for her capture. Emily visits the prison and gets more good news. Jordan's lawyer believes that she can get her case overturned, and she may be eligible for parole in a few months! Emily's family is no longer terrible, but even she admits that it probably won't last. Seriously, Fields family? You suck.

Aria painted a picture of present-day Alison, covered in burns and missing teeth. Her mom's gallery actually sells the painting to a major art collector for half a million dollars. The sale gets Aria interviews from art blogs, plus invitations for showcases. She meets a handsome young journalist named Harrison. He seems like the perfect guy to distract her from Noel, who is still keeping his distance.

Hanna is offered a small part in the new movie being filmed about their lives. She really loves the whole experience and befriends Hailey, the actress who will be playing her. The only bad part is that Hailey's acting is terrible. Hanna doesn't know how to tell her without hurting her feelings, so she doesn't say anything. Because that always works out so well for these girls.

Finally, Spencer has started a blog to help kids who have been bullied. She has gotten a lot of attention from the blog, and even has a woman calling about a book deal. The emails from the blog are mostly positive, such as a very supportive young man named Greg. There is one particular reader with the username DominickPhilly who constantly attacks her and her efforts. They both show up at a panel Spencer attends. DominickPhilly attacks her during a speech, and Greg swoops in to save her. Spencer told herself not to fall for an online guy again after last time, but she can't help herself.

Throughout the book, the girls have been telling everyone that Alison is still alive, but nobody believes them. She attacks Emily, but leaves no trace behind. They trace her to a nearby small town and start asking about her. Everyone who talks ends up dead. There is an online group called the Ali Cats who believe that Alison is unfairly attacked. The Liars don't know who is part of the group, or what they might do. Even harder to predict is Alison's plan. That girl is like a super villain, which is impressive considering she has maybe a 7th grade education.

It's hard to believe that there is only one book left. I wasn't a fan of the ending her. I am so sick of this stuff happening! Still, I am on board to find out how this whole thing ends. Just five more months and it will all be over!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Liv, Forever by Amy Talkington

Olivia "Liv" Bloom was thrilled when she won a scholarship to prestigious Wickham Hall. It meant an escape from foster care and time to make the art she loved. Most of Wickham's students are very rich, and they look down on scholarship students. The worst of the spoiled rich kids are the legacy students, called the Victors, the small group whose families have been attending the school for years.

Therefore, it's surprising that the most influential of the Victors, Malcolm Astor, takes a fancy to Liv. He's so different from the others, and he doesn't seem caught up in the strict formalities of Wickham Hall. Malcolm and Liv end up spending a lot of time together, making playlists, she draws on him (It's kind of hot). It all comes to an end when Liv is murdered.

Liv and Malcolm had arranged to meet after hours so that Malcolm can draw on Liv. They were interrupted and almost caught. To minimize the risk of getting kicked out, they split up to return to their dorms. Liv walked through the old cemetery. Someone hit her from behind, then everything went black, and she died. Liv is still stuck at Wickham, invisible to everyone...except for Gabe. Gabe is a fellow scholarship student, and her work study partner. They became so close that Gabe had confided in her that he could see dead people, that he sees them all over Wickham Hall. At the time, Liv thought that he was crazy. Now she knows that he was telling the truth.

Liv's first priority is telling Malcolm that she is still around. Now that she is dead, any interaction with the physical world makes her fade. She enlists Gabe to help contact Malcolm, which goes over as well as you would think when the weird kid at school tells you that he's been talking to your dead girlfriend. Eventually, Gabe and Liv get him to believe that Gabe is the ghost whisperer and is talking to Liv. The three then focus on solving Liv's murder.

What they encounter is a conspiracy that has been going on for decades. The dead girls all over Wickham were all victims of the conspiracy. They were all scholarship students, and the murders all trace back to the Victors.  

I very much enjoyed Liv, Forever. Liv was a cool girl, and I loved her and Malcolm together. They do get into Ghost-level stuff after she dies. It's a little bit romantic, but those sorts of things really bum me out more than anything else. I also liked how the ghost girls were given a little characterization. Each of them got a chapter from their perspective that told a little about them and how they were killed. The book was romantic, a little bit scary, and there was a bit of humor, and a large amount of bittersweet.  

I received my copy of Liv, Forever from the Goodreads First Reads Program and from Edelweiss, courtesy of Soho Teen. It's available for purchase now.