Friday, September 28, 2012

Review: 172 Hours on the Moon

172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad
Translated by Tara F. Chace
Publication Date: April 17, 2012 (first published September 15, 2008)
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Hardcover: 355 pages

Synopsis from Goodreads:
It's been decades since anyone set foot on the moon. Now three ordinary teenagers, the winners of NASA's unprecedented, worldwide lottery, are about to become the first young people in space--and change their lives forever.
Mia, from Norway, hopes this will be her punk band's ticket to fame and fortune.
Midori believes it's her way out of her restrained life in Japan.
Antoine, from France, just wants to get as far away from his ex-girlfriend as possible.
It's the opportunity of a lifetime, but little do the teenagers know that something sinister is waiting for them on the desolate surface of the moon. And in the black vacuum of space... no one is coming to save them.
In this chilling adventure set in the most brutal landscape known to man, highly acclaimed Norwegian novelist Johan Harstad creates a vivid and frightening world of possibilities we can only hope never come true.

Mini-summary: Three teenagers, who are the winners of a global lottery, are sent to the moon by NASA in this YA horror novel. What they encounter on the moon will make your skin crawl.  172 Hours on the Moon is a refreshingly sinister tale.

Why I read this book:  Have you seen the gorgeous (and creepy) cover??  The black-eyed creeper on the cover and the title alone (I'm a little obsessed with titles) made me snatch up this book.

172 Hours on the Moon is a YA horror novel told from the perspective of several different characters in the year 2019.  In this way, the reader is able to see glimpses of the main characters as well as some minor characters.

The public's interest, and NASA's budget, have fained over the years.  Space exploration is no longer the revolutionary venture of decades past.  For reasons identified at the beginning of the book, NASA intends to announce that there will be another moon landing but with a caveat - a global lottery will be held and three lucky teenagers selected to accompany the astronauts to the moon.  This is capitalization at its finest, folks.

And the winners are....

Midori, a sixteen-year-old girl from Japan who dreams of life in New York, far away from the cultural expectations of becoming an obediant and devoted Japanese wife.

Antoine, a French boy languishing over the girl who broke his heart, hopes to escape Paris and the memories of his romance.  He enters the lottery, seemingly on a whim, to put as much distance from his ex-girlfriend Simone as possible.

Mia, a sixteen-year-old from Norway who is entered in the lottery by her parents - against her wishes  - ends up going to the moon in hopes of attaining international recognition and eventual stardom for her band.

It takes the first half of the book to establish the main characters and for the training to place, along with a few suspicuous events days before the launch.  Once the three teens are on the moon with the crew, the desolation and realization of their whereabouts is kicked into overdrive.  It's from this point that the book really takes off.  I was somewhat disappointed that there wasn't more of the delicious horror the book offered up only towards the very end. 

And the ending!  The ending is amazing. I loved it. The plot is believeable and the horror aspect wonderfully twisted.  I do wish at points that there could have been a first person POV snippet at the end, to gain more insight into the mindset and actions of some of the characters.  The last few pages wrapped up so quickly - and in a very detached sort of way - that really made me wish the author had slowed the plot a little, to let the reader relish and enjoy the ending.  And while I would have liked to have been more invested in the characters, the horror aspect once everyone was on the moon is what ended up winning me over. 

Rating: 4

Memorable Quotes
 "The odds of being attacked by a great white shark: 11,500,000 to 1.
The odds of being killed in a plane crash: 354,319 to 1.
The odds of being killed by parts falling from a plane: 10,000,000 to 1.
The odds winning an Oscar: 11,500 to 1.
The odds of becoming president: 10,000,000 to 1.
The odds of hooking up with a supermodel: 88,000 to 1.
The odds of winning an Olympic gold medal: 88,000 to 1.
The odds of seriously injuring yourself shaving: 685,000 to 1.
The odds of being killed by a meteor landing specifically on YOUR house: 182,128,880,000,000 to 1.
     The last one was basically the only one that was less likely than his getting to go to the moon.   
     Antoine sat there looking at the numbers for a minute.  Then he leaned over his keyboard and entered his name, birth date, phone number, and address. 
     He thought about it one last time. 
     Then he hit send."

About the Author
Johan Harstad is a 31-year-old Norwegian author, graphic designer, playwright, drummer, and international sensation. He is the winner of the 2008 Brage Award (Brageprisen), previously won by Per Petterson, and his books have been published in over 11 countries. In 2009, he was named the first ever in-house playwright at the National Theatre in Oslo. His first novel Buzz Aldrin, What Happened To You In All The Confusion, originally published in Norway by Gyldendal in 2005, was made into a TV series in 2009 starring The Wire’s Chad Coleman. Harstad lives in Oslo and is working on his next novel.

Website / Barnes and Noble / Amazon

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday: Destroy Me

 "Waiting On Wednesday" is a weekly event, originally started by Jill at Breaking the Spine, which highlights upcoming book releases everyone is waiting on. 

Destroy Me (Shatter Me #1.5)
by Tahereh Mafi.
Publication date: October 2, 2012

Goodreads Summary
Perfect for the fans of Shatter Me who are desperately awaiting the release of Unravel Me, this novella-length digital original will bridge the gap between these two novels from the perspective of the villain we all love to hate, Warner, the ruthless leader of Sector 45.

In Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me, Juliette escaped from The Reestablishment by seducing Warner—and then putting a bullet in his shoulder. But as she’ll learn in Destroy Me, Warner is not that easy to get rid of. . .

Back at the base and recovering from his near-fatal wound, Warner must do everything in his power to keep his soldiers in check and suppress any mention of a rebellion in the sector. Still as obsessed with Juliette as ever, his first priority is to find her, bring her back, and dispose of Adam and Kenji, the two traitors who helped her escape. But when Warner’s father, The Supreme Commander of The Reestablishment, arrives to correct his son’s mistakes, it’s clear that he has much different plans for Juliette. Plans Warner simply cannot allow.

Set after Shatter Me and before its forthcoming sequel, Unravel Me, Destroy Me is a novella told from the perspective of Warner, the ruthless leader of Sector 45.

This book will help satisfy cravings while we wait for Tahereh Mafi's second installment in the Shatter Me series, Unravel Me, which is set for release in February 2013.  Also of note, this book is only available for purchase via e-book.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Review: World War Z

World War Z by Max Brooks
Publication Date: September 12, 2006
Published by Crown
Hardcover: 342 pages

Synopsis from Goodreads:
The Zombie War came unthinkably close to eradicating humanity. Max Brooks, driven by the urgency of preserving the acid-etched first-hand experiences of the survivors from those apocalyptic years, traveled across the United States of America and throughout the world, from decimated cities that once teemed with upwards of thirty million souls to the most remote and inhospitable areas of the planet. He recorded the testimony of men, women, and sometimes children who came face-to-face with the living, or at least the undead, hell of that dreadful time. World War Z is the result. Never before have we had access to a document that so powerfully conveys the depth of fear and horror, and also the ineradicable spirit of resistance, that gripped human society through the plague years.

 Ranging from the now infamous village of New Dachang in the United Federation of China, where the epidemiological trail began with the twelve-year-old Patient Zero, to the unnamed northern forests where untold numbers sought a terrible and temporary refuge in the cold, to the United States of Southern Africa, where the Redeker Plan provided hope for humanity at an unspeakable price, to the west-of-the-Rockies redoubt where the North American tide finally started to turn, this invaluable chronicle reflects the full scope and duration of the Zombie War.

Mini-summary: This book is not at all what I expected. World War Z is a collection of interviews of first hand accounts of interactions with zombies ten years after the outbreak which nearly wiped out mankind.

Why I read this book:  This book has been lost in my to-reads pile for a while now. Really it just comes down to a good old fashioned love of zombies.

World War Z is a collection of interviews of first-hand experiences of the almost zombie apocalypse.  Far from the typical zombie novel, author Max Brooks explores global politics, terrorism and rethinking the role government plays in people's lives, under the guise of a pandemic of the living dead.  As the interviews take place ten years after the zombie outbreak, interactions with the zombies are recounted by survivors, from high ranking military officials and members of political prominence to villagers from remote countries.  Without the immediacy of how to survive in an anarchical world - devoid of electricity and readily available food and medicine - the flesh-eating zombies are a mostly invisible threat.  While certainly the driving force behind the individual and collective reactions in the book, the zombies themselves are relagated to the equivalent of background noise.

As the zombie virus spreads in the first half of the book, becoming more and more of a global threat to mankind, the inevitable collapse of government ensues, leaving the masses of people (the living ones) in an every-man-for-himself dilemma. There are, of course, individuals and organizations whose research and attempts to warn the general population are quelled before the fall out.  Mankind loses faith in the ability of the government to effectively protect them and chaos spreads throughout the globe.  Some interviews captured my interest more than others, but the collection as whole really serve to depict the event on a global scale.

Not surprisingly, the people living in remote villages, already acutely familiar with the struggle to survive, were able to best adapt to a zombie-filled world.  The Americans were another matter entirely.  If not for the blue-collar folks, whose skills of metallurgy, plumbing, carpentry, construction, etc. were now being taught to individuals without a critical skill, the United States may very well have disappeared completely.  And oh the the lengths of denial people achieved to hold on to how things used to be were indeed humorous.  Clutching to their cars, iPods and laptops, as if they would magically turn on at any moment.  This, of course, only applies to those that didn't flee to Canada hoping the harsh winter would freeze the undead into zombie popsicles, but didn't think about the lengths they'd need to go in order to survive the elements themselves.

While definitely not what I expected, World War Z asks questions like, Who would I sacrifice to save the people I love?  Ten? One hundred?  Five hundred?  And, What happens after the zombies are gone?  Thinking about it now, for all of the zombie movies I've watched (and believe me, there've been a lot)  I haven't come across any that actually look at what happens after they are gone.  If you can stomach the politics, World War Z is a different spin on the zombie scene and recommended for those who enjoy post-apocalyptic novels.  If however, you're looking for blood, guts and "brainnnnsss!!", this book may not be for you.

Rating: 3.5

Memorable Quotes
“This is the only time for high ideals because those ideals are all that we have. We aren't just fighting for our physical survival, but for the survival of our civilization. We don't have the luxury of old-world pillars. We don't have a common heritage, we don't have a millennia of history. All we have are the dreams and promises that bind us together. All we what we want to be.”

“Most people don't believe something can happen until it already has. That's not stupidity or weakness, that's just human nature.” 

“Lies are neither bad nor good. Like a fire they can either keep you warm or burn you to death, depending on how they're used.” 

Author's Info
Max Brooks is the New York Times bestselling author of The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z.  He has been called, "the Studs Terkel of zombie journalism."

For Purchase:  Barnes and Noble / Amazon

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Review: My Life Next Door

My Life Next Door by Huntley Fizpatrick
Publication Date: June 14, 2012
Published by Dial Books for Young Readers
Hardcover: 395 pages

Synopsis from Goodreads:
The Garretts are everything the Reeds are not.  Loud, numerous, messy, affectionate.  And every day from her balcony perch, seventeen-year-old Samantha Reed wishes she were one of them...until one summer evening when Jase Garrett climbs her terrace and changes everything.  As the two fall fiercely in love, Jase's family makes Samantha one of their own.  Then in an instant, the bottom drops out of her world and she is suddenly faced with an impossible decision.  Which perfect family will save her?  Or is it time she saved herself?

A dreamy summer read, full of characters who will stay with you long after the story is over.

Mini-summary:  My Life Next Door is a stunning contemporary YA novel which surprised me.  It's well written, poignant and heartbreaking.

Why I read this book:  This one was almost entirely due to the gorgeous cover.  I mean, look at it?  I'd never heard of the author, but I loved her first name - Huntley - and decided to give it a try.

Never underestimate the power of an enticing book cover.  While perusing the shelves at my local library, I came across My Life Next Door and immediately thought it was a book for me.  The cover is gorgeous and the writing just as lovely.  This book is why I read YA.  Finding treasures like My Life Next Door makes all of the so-so reads worthwhile.

Samantha "Sam" Reed is the daughter of Senator Grace Reed, a woman who gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, "a place for everything and everything in its place."  Sam has been afforded a privileged life - complete with trust funds and private schools - but that doesn't stop her from working two jobs in the summer before her senior year of high school.  While certainly sheltered, Sam is also sensible and doesn't mind a little hard work.  Given her upbringing, Sam's work ethic is refreshing.

Due to her mother's position as a Senator, everything and everyone in the Reed household is held at a level of perfection impossible to maintain - never stepping out of line, having the perfect GPA and NOT associating with people like the Garrett's who live next door.  Sam has made a hobby over the years of watching the Garretts - a family with both parents (which Sam doesn't have) and eight children (compared to the Reed's two with Sam and her older sister Tracey) - and longing for the wonderful chaos and affection in their world.  I say world, because they really are from two different worlds according to Senator Reed, who always has a snide comment about the unkept yard, noise at all hours, and generally reproachful attitude towards anyone dreaming of having so many children.

All that changes when one of the Garrett boys, Jase, climbs onto Sam's balcony and the two soon become much more than friends.  Their relationship is at first innocent and also dangerous - as Sam keeps her whereabouts and Jase a secret to everyone around her - and full of touching moments as they fall fiercely in love.  Even more touching, is that Sam is welcomed with open arms into Jase's sprawling family.  And George!  Jase's younger, inquisitive brother George is wonderful.  I want George to be the little brother I never had. I want to wake up everyday and learn new (and often bizarre) facts about the world.

There are some adult situations as Sam and Jase begin exploring their relationship and each other.  At this, Huntley Fitzpatrick is an expert.  The hot and heavy scenes are light on the graphic stuff and heavy on emotion and very much set in reality.  It's not a magical unicorns and rainbows, they are awkward and clumsy, but it's perfect.  And while Sam and Jase do fall in love quickly, it's believable and I'm right there with them, rooting for them to make it.  Jase is actually a GOOD person.  Not a bad boy or a jock, Jase helps his family out by watching the kids whenever it's needed, working at his dad's hardware store and just genuinely being the good guy.  It's nice to see one of the good guys getting a chance for a change.

There are definitely some ups and major downs that took me on a roller coaster of emotions in the best sort of way.  I didn't cry, but I did find myself yelling (out loud!) at a few characters decisions.  This book is what I want to remember about being in love for the first time, when everything is new and so visceral.

My Life Next Door is a stand out contemporary debut novel, with characters (main and supporting) I just couldn't get enough of.  The chemistry between Sam and Jase never feels forced and the unexpected comic relief offsets some of the more serious themes in the book.  I will definitely be checking out Huntley Fitzpatrick's next work and highly recommend My Life Next Door.

Rating: 4

Memorable Quotes
"The Garretts were my bedtime story, long before I ever thought I'd be part of the story myself."

"They say you never know what you would do in a hypothetical situation.  We'd all like to think we'd be one of the people who gave up their lifejackets and waved a stoic good-bye from the slanting deck of the titanic, someone who jumped in front of a bullet for a stranger, or turned and raced back up the stairs of one of the towers, in search of someone who needed help rather than our own security.  But you just don't know for sure if, when things fall apart, you'll think safety first, or if safety will be the last thing on your mind."

"Our house contains all that's high-end and high-tech and shiny clean.  And three people who would rather be somewhere else."

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Review: Lost Voices

Lost Voices by Sarah Porter
Publication Date: July 4, 2011
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Hardcover: 291 pages

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Fourteen-year-old Luce has had a tough life, but she reaches the depths of despair when she is assaulted and left on the cliffs outside of a grim, gray Alaskan fishing village. She expects to die when she tumbles into the icy waves below, but instead undergoes an astonishing transformation and becomes a mermaid. A tribe of mermaids finds Luce and welcomes her in—all of them, like her, lost girls who surrendered their humanity in the darkest moments of their lives. Luce is thrilled with her new life until she discovers the catch: the mermaids feel an uncontrollable desire to drown seafarers, using their enchanted voices to lure ships into the rocks. Luce possesses an extraordinary singing talent, which makes her important to the tribe—she may even have a shot at becoming their queen. However her struggle to retain her humanity puts her at odds with her new friends. Will Luce be pressured into committing mass murder? The first book in a trilogy, Lost Voices is a captivating and wildly original tale about finding a voice, the healing power of friendship, and the strength it takes to forgive.

Mini-summary:  Lost Voices is a debut YA fantasy novel about mermaids, which although the author posed an interesting spin on mermaids/sirens, ultimately I wasn't as invested in the characters/story as I'd hoped.

Why I read this book:  I'm a sucker for mermaid stories.  The Little Mermaid is still one of my all-time favorite Disney movies.

Isolation and abandonment is all fourteen-year-old Luce has ever known.  After being carted around the country with her father – a man with a talent for collecting felonies – Luce ends up in a small town in Alaska under the lack of care of her uncle.  Without friends or family to speak of, Luce’s main priority is being invisible to everyone around her – but mostly just to her alcoholic uncle whose drunken rants frequently turn violent.

Even the fishing village Luce lives in is a desolate and isolated place, surrounded by gray, icy water and drab houses battered by winter storms.  Still dealing with the loss of her father (whose death is still clouded in mystery), Luce endures a tragic encounter with her uncle.  These events act as the catalyst spurring Luce’s transformation into a mermaid.
Luce, a girl who didn’t belong anywhere to or anyone, soon discovers a tribe of mermaids ruled by their queen, Catalina.  Luce’s immediate sense of belonging and friendship initially overshadow the cruelty associated with being a mermaid – the compulsion to drown nearby humans with their enchanted voices.  Tough choices will be made and lines crossed as Luce faces the prospect losing her newly-acquired family and becoming an accomplice to mass murder.
Lost Voices, is a YA fantasy novel from debut author Sarah Porter.  I desperately wanted to love this novel; several aspects were, in fact, very appealing.  The author’s blending of the mermaid and siren folklore and means by which girls undergo the transformation peaked my interest – especially one of the transformation stories for a group of characters introduced after Luce becomes a mermaid.  The world-building and interaction between the mermaids and their environment were other aspects which kept me reading.
These fell short; however, because after the novel went underwater with Luce, I wasn’t as invested with the supporting characters (and ultimately Luce).  The characters felt flat and some of the conversation forced.  Relating to the emotions driving decisions the characters made became increasingly difficult.  Lack of investment with the characters and a slow moving plot made this book difficult to finish.  I kept waiting for something (anything) to happen to move the story forward, and when it finally did, the event had been danced around for so long, the crisis point lacked a sense of urgency and adrenaline. 
Another issue I have with Lost Voices is the writing felt forced in places to sound, for lack of a better word, writerly.  Too much poetic description and metaphors often detract (for me) from what is actually taking place in a novel, so much so, that I notice the writing itself and end up distracted from the story.  Lengthy passages depicting Luce’s voice and her song definitely fall into this category.
In short, the unique concept just wasn’t enough to overcome the slow-moving plot and flat characters to make it a novel I would readily recommend.  As of this review, I probably won’t be reading the sequel.

Rating: 1.5