Tag Archives: Apocalypse

Review #43 Divergent by Veronica Roth

Every so often a novel comes along that shatters the mold of its genre and pushes the boundaries of what you expected.  In the slew of Dystopian novels I’ve read as part of the CannonballRead#4 challenge, Divergent stands out as the most unique and captivating first novel I’ve read since I bought a copy of The Hunger Games at a SCBWI conference in New York  in 2009.  My family devoured the book and knew long before the series became so popular that it was a story that stood apart from others.

Divergent is as unique a novel in its own way and perhaps even more captivating.  The plot has been summarized countless times but here are the barest facts for those who still have not heard about this story. It is set in a dystopian version of Chicago where society has been divided into 5 distinct Factions; Candor (who prize honesty), Abnegation (who embrace selflessness), Dauntless (who embody bravery), Amity (who seek Peace), and Erudite (who strive for knowledge).  Regardless of which Faction they grow up in, on the appointed  day of their 16th year, after special testing, each young person must publicly choose which Faction they will belong to or become one of the Factionless who live in abject poverty and squalor. The only problem is that a few special people can belong to more than one faction… their personalities are unique enough that they can be hunted.  Right before she has to choose, Beatrice Prior discovers that she is different… that she is Divergent.  Revealing that could endanger her new life as she leaves her Abnegation family and Faction behind… that is if the training to be accepted as a full member of the Dauntless Faction doesn’t kill her first.

Divergent took my breath away. This is the single most impressive book I’ve discovered in the past few years.  I found myself riveted by the struggles of the main character to define herself against all of the rules and philosophies that she had grown up with.  It was as empowering a tale as it was captivating, challenging readers of any age to be true to themselves and who they really are, even as it kept them glued to the pages with a futuristic, breathlessly vivid and suspenseful story. I truly admire a new writer that can keep me guessing  as to where the story is headed!  Divergent was as powerful a read for me at 46 as it was for my 17 and 13 year old daughters.  All of us inhaled this book and then fought over who would read the sequel next.  Since I am the Mom (and I bought Insurgent)… I won!

Paperback format, 487 pages, published in 2012 by Harper Collins


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Review #41 Svaha by Charles de Lint

There are books that you read which change how you think about the world.  There are also books that write about subject matter and issues far ahead of the trends.  Svaha by Charles de Lint is both of those for me… altering the way I think about our environment and a true dystopian tale written some 20 years ahead of the current bandwagon.

Svaha, a Native word for the moment between seeing the lightning and hearing it’s thunder or the waiting for promises to be fulfilled, is an incredible tale set not to far into our own future.  Thanks to the fame and fortune of a single Native American musician in the 1990s who invested in the education of his People, the “Clavers” as they are called by the rest of the world, became the most technologically savvy race on the planet and withdrew into Enclaves of their own design after New York and Lost Angeles were destroyed by terrorist warheads and the rest of society began to crumble. By the time the Food Riots hit Europe, Russia and the United States had collapsed after a limited nuclear exchange and Japan had claimed Canada, there were 12 Enclaves across North America, two in South America, two in Australia, one in Africa and one in Siberia as well as 3 space stations owned by the  Native Nations.  These united tribes withdrew from the Outer Lands to preserve what they could of Mother Earth while everything else fell into chaos and a huge gulf between what the rich and the poor could afford emerged.

The story begins in the endless sprawl of the Toronto-Quebec Corridor where the “plexes” offer safety to the wealthy and the squats are the home of those who are just struggling to get by.  Beyond this tenuous hold on civilization lie the Wastes where bands of radiation poisoned humans prey on whatever or whoever are foolish enough to wander into the barren territories.  Gahzee has been sent on a one-way mission from his Enclave to find out why one of their flyers has gone missing and to ensure that the computer chip with its advanced technology and closely guarded secrets, does not fall into the wrong hands.  Along the way, he discovers that perhaps Dreamtime and Realtime are not as far apart as they once seemed.  Can the ancient knowledge of his people reach out to those in need of hope?  Will he find a new tribe among these strangers or a new band of enemies against which to fight?

Svaha is one of the most amazing books I have ever read.  I made the mistake of loaning my original copy to a friend after it was Out-of-Print.  When this edition was released in 2000, I bought it the minute I saw it to fill the void on my shelves.  After reading it again as part of this challenge, I made my oldest daughter read it to compare to the current slew of dystopian novels we’ve been devouring.  Like me, she found it hard to put down, engrossing and thought-provoking to read and satisfying in how well the story ended.  The blend of Japanese culture and language with the Native philosophy was even more appreciated since our visit to Tokyo last year.

If you have never read this incredible book, it should be on your bucket list!  I hope that some of the younger readers out there will discover there are tales told over 20 years ago that deserve as much attention as the “newest” ones they read right now.

Paperback format, 300 pages, originally published in 1989 by Ace Books.

First Orb edition by Tom Doherty Associates November 2000  ISBN 0-312-87650-5

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Review #30 Wither by Lauren Destefano

Yet another dystopian novel jumps on the bandwagon, hoping somehow to snare a portion of the reading audience so enchanted by Hunger Games.  Like Matched and a few of the other novels I have been reviewing as part of this challenge, Wither makes a brave attempt to carve its own place among the competition.

The marketing campaign behind this series is brilliant and certainly has its pulse on where the next generation goes to create a buzz.  The website for the trilogy is slick and the trailer on YouTube feels almost like a movie trailer aiming to entice a techno-savvy generation into reading this novel.

The basic premise of the Chemical Garden series is simple yet disturbing.  Thanks to the meddling of science and the attempts to eliminate diseases, a plague has affected all of the younger generations of humanity.  Men now die at the age of 25 and women at the age of 20 from the virus that plagues civilization.  The gap between rich and poor has widened to the point where the wealthy are now able to entice or kidnap multiple brides for their young sons to breed successive generations or find a cure before they themselves (the untouched older generation) perish wither and die.

Wither opens with plenty of action. 16 year old Rhine Ellery is captured by the “Gatherers” and sold along with 2 other girls to become new brides for a wealthy young man named Linden Ashby of Florida while the rest of the captured girls are brutally slaughtered.  After being drugged and transported to closed compound of the Ashby manor, Rhine and her “sister brides”, Jenna and Cecily begin a life of captivity and privilege. Rose, the love of Linden’s life is dying from the virus and they are to be her replacements.

Wither was one of the most disturbing books that I’ve read in a long time.  It reminded me of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaids Tale or Sheri S. Tepper’s The Gate to Women’s Country.  When 13 year old Cecily becomes pregnant and carries Linden’s child to term or 18 year old Jenna uses sex  as a weapon, it  felt like promoting teenage exploitation.  The fact that Rhine somehow manages to escape consummating her marriage for the entire novel, despite Linden sleeping next to her many nights in her room, is not only improbable, it may give young women a false sense of their own safety.  When the heroine falls in love with a young servant in the house, she pretends to be more compliant in order to earn the privileges that come along with being a “First Wife”.  The rest of the novel deals with her challenges as she tries to avoid arousing the suspicions of Linden’s demented scientist father, Housemaster Vaughn. What twisted experiments is he conducting in order to find a cure?  Does he mean for Cecily’s son to be Linden’s malleable heir if a cure cannot be found in time?

Two novels remain in this series and I may eventually read both of them to satisfy my curiosity of how the story turns out… but I find the mercenary, dismal, objectifying overtones of this first book will certainly keep me from recommending Wither to friends with daughters and my own youngest daughter.

Hardcover format, 358 pages, published in 2011 by Simon & Schuster

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Review #26 Climate of Change

Climate of Change by Piers Anthony

I’ve read most of the books that Piers Anthony has written, having devoured the first three books of the Xanth series early in my teens.  Climate of Change is the latest in his Geodyssey series that began with Isle of Woman in 1993.  The Geodyssey series is historical and anthropological fiction as each book takes on a series of characters that recur in various permutations and incarnations across the span of human history.  Each section features a different time period and geological age, but a common theme runs through the book along with the characters.  These links have grown more complex along the way from Isle of Woman, which featured two main characters, to Climate of Change, which features two separate families and seven characters that intermingle in various combinations as the tales unfold across the ages.

This series has always been very graphic and sexual in nature, partly due to the anthropological elements of studying how humans formed relationships, tribes and ultimately civilizations.  Climate of Change is no different from the other 4 books that came before it, except for one thematic undercurrent which runs throughout the entire novel, whether it actually occurs or is merely a risk in each different story.  While Rape is indeed a part of our human history, the graphic way in which it is portrayed over and over again, or implied as something about to happen to one of the teenage characters “right on the verge of womanhood” was intensely disturbing to me as a female reader. Descriptions of how the young women showed their flesh to entice a man, distract them or inadvertently cause their discomfort and arousal reminded me all to sadly of the “she was asking for it” argument one often hears.

Most of Piers Anthony’s novels are sensitive and empathetic… but this one just left me feeling slightly sick at heart. Perhaps I am more sensitive to this as I try to raise two grounded daughters in this era of overt sexuality.  The questions raised about how our planet needs to adapt to survive and the intriguing glimpses into other cultures and other eras are both valid and captivating.  Unfortunately, Climate of Change made me feel as if I was reading someone’s forbidden pornographic fantasies instead of watching history come alive through the words of the talented writer I know Piers Anthony to be.

Hardcover format, 446 pages, published in 2010 by Tor

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Review #23 Sunburst by Phyllis Gotlieb

My favourite book of all time was written the year before I was even born. My copy of Sunburst is yellow with age and bears the astonishing price of 40 cents on the cover.  Some of the pages are starting to rip, so I read it each time with the utmost reverence and the shiver of apprehension that someday the book will fall completely apart.

Perhaps the  lines from the first page drew me in… “She was still a very tall cranelike girl, rather sallow, with narrow torso in a navy sweatshirt and long bluejean legs like articulated stovepipes.”  It is Shandy Johnson’s thirteenth birthday at the beginning of the book.  I was the same age when I first opened the pages of Sunburst and 6’2” in my bare feet. I  fell head over heels into this adventure about a community outside Chicago that had been closed off from the rest of the world after a nuclear accident at their plant.  Years later, just as the danger seemed to be fading came the terrible and violent night that revealed the radiation had caused a deeper mutation in children of the plant workers.  Some of them had developed psi powers that allowed them to read minds, teleport, twist metal and more.  Their rage sweept through Sorrel Park, forming them into a pack of frustrated, delinquent teens who were stopped and ultimately placed in the only prison that will hold them… a place that became known as The Dump.

Sunburst opens 8 years later on the day of Shandy’s birthday when Jason Hemmer, the Dumper’s Peeper who patrols Sorrel Park looking for people with rogue psi powers, whistles at her because she has something even rarer… she is an Imper… impervious to having her mind read or even sometimes being noticed.  Shandy is brought in for observation unwillingly yet soon becomes embroiled in the lives of those trying to protect Sorrel Park.  She is swept along as she tries to figure out who she is becoming and how her own unique abilities will be able to help those she is beginning to care about.

Phyllis Gotlieb, Canadian science-fiction novelist and poet, passed away in 2009 at the age of 83.  Sunburst was her second novel and her Sunburst Award continues to recognize and honour one speculative fiction novel or book-length collection every year.

Sunburst is short by today’s book standards and yet it contains all of the key ingredients for a true classic: strong characters, a unique setting, captivating plot twists and a rich, satisfying ending that allows a reader to wander off imagining other possibilities.  Every time I read this book, I am ensnared by the tale. I remember the sensation of feeling different , like you don’t quite belong, that Shandy wrestles with and which Phyllis Gotlieb does such a wonderful job of expressing. That alone makes this story timeless and powerful for any teenager.

Paperback format, 160 pages, published in 1964 by Fawcett Publications

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Review #17 Burning Water

Burning Water by  Mercedes Lackey

While Mercedes Lackey may be best known for her Heralds of Valdemar Fantasy series, this prolific American author has a wealth of other books including two that border on the Suspense/Horror realm of fiction.  Burning Water is the first novel about Diana Tregarde, writer of Romance novels, Wiccan and undercover Paranormal Investigator.  When strange deaths begin occurring in Dallas, Texas,  Diana’s former college friend and police detective, Mark Valdez, calls her in to help.  It has been years since Mark was part of Tregarde’s Spook Squad, but both of them are soon embroiled in a tangled web of Occult powers, sinister attacks and grizzly death scenes as they race to uncover who or what is behind all these crimes.

The strength of Lackey’s stories lies in the richness of her characters.  They feel like real people, with all their virtues and failings.  Diana Tregarde is an intriguing, powerful female character who has a strong sense of self and a confidence with her life choices.  This book great reading for anyone who has ever wondered if they will ever fit in to “normal” society or anyone who has dreamed of something just beyond the ordinary.

Burning Water does contain fairly graphic descriptions of crime scenes and mutilations, which earned it the Tor Horror category designation, but it is no worse than any episode of CSI or crime show on television right now.  We’ve become a little less sensitive to violence in the last 23 years… which isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Paperback format, 314 pages, published in 1989 by Tor Books

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Review #11 – End of Days

 End of Days by Eric Walters

I picked End of Days up at a Scholastic Book Fair late this fall and tucked it away as a Christmas gift for my girls. My daughter in Grade 7 told me that many of her friends had read it and raved about it.  That was enough to pique my curiosity, so I put on my warm jammies last night as the temperature plunged to -17 Celsius and curled up in bed to read it.  If not for the grumbles of my husband, I might have stayed up to finish the book because it was VERY hard to put it down.

Imagine that one of the space probes sent from Earth to explore the galaxy suddenly appears to be returning to earth.  Scientists deduce that it has been captured by the gravitational force of something very, VERY large that is now heading towards Earth on a collision course that will impact with our planet 24 years in the future.  Suddenly, important scientists appear to be dying, but in reality they are being whisked away to a secret location to work on a plan to stop the asteroid.  Throw in other groups with different agendas, a brilliant narrative where some chapters begin with T-Minus 17 years, T-Minus 1 year etc. and it is easy to see why I had to finish the book this morning.  Getting other work out of the way so that I could write this review actually took longer.

Canadian author Eric Walters knows how to tell a story from many points of view without every having the narrative feel choppy or disjointed.  The combination of apocalypse and conspiracy theory themes makes this book a perfect one to recommend for the Cannonball Read IV challenge and a great addition to any library.  Classified as YA fiction, this book has enough action and intrigue to satisfy any adult reader who “borrows” it from their teenagers bookcase.  If you live outside Canada, I highly recommend buying this book from Amazon if you can’t find it at your local bookstore!

Paperback format, 316 pages, 2011 by Doubleday Canada

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