Book: “Atonement” (Cerenia Chronicles 3) by Angela Howes
Publishing Info: Fine Tuned Editing, January 2021
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from the author.
Book Description:They stopped Absalom. They saved the city. But what if recovery isn’t quite so easy? What if there are more monsters lurking inside the city walls? What if the true monster is one of them? In the much-anticipated conclusion to the Phoebe Ray series, Phoebe, Sky, Noah, and the gang must face a new kind of villain, make amends with the past, and learn what it means to truly belong.
Review: Thank you to Angela Howes for sending me an eARC of this novel!
There is a song by The Who called “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, which has the line ‘meet the new boss, same as the old boss’. While I wouldn’t say that it’s an anti-revolutionary ditty, I do think that it brings up a good point of you can’t always know that those you back who have lofty promises of change can be trusted to follow through. I also kind of liken it to how the French Revolution ultimately ended up with Napoleon in charge after all was said and done. In any case, whenever you hear Roger Daltrey yell “YEAAAAAAAAH”, it’s almost guaranteed that it’s from this song, and it’s legendary.
I was thinking a lot about that song as I read “Atonement” by Angela Howes, the final story in the Cerenia Chronicles. After all, at the end of the previous book, “Containment”, our protagonist Phoebe had helped end the dictatorship that was run by Absalom, and Cerenia was on the cusp of a new dawn, as the system of Ones and Twos was finally to be done away with, and Phoebe was going to help rebuild society into something better. But as we soon learn, if only it were THAT easy.
We left “Containment” with Phoebe, boyfriend Sky, ex boyfriend Noah, and her other friends and family dealing with the fallout from Abasalom, the previous leader, being thrown in prison. “Atonement” decides to focus on how Phoebe is trying to change society from within the confines of its power structure, and that is already an interesting take that I haven’t encountered in my YA dystopia literature. Phoebe is confident that she and the Council can rebuild, but it’s pretty clear that it’s not going to be that easy, and that someone else in power likes the idea of a power grab. Our narrative focuses on Phoebe trying to keep everything together, as well as balancing out her relationships, the safety of those she loves, and trying to figure out the best way to rebuild a society that has a lot of damage and long lasting effects that can’t just be done away with so easily. I loved this focus, and I loved seeing her have to see how damn hard it is to fix things even after the corruption is gone. She has to make hard decisions that others don’t necessarily understand, and it gave her more depth and complexity.
Our perspectives expand once again from the last book to this one. While we still have the three main lines of Phoebe, Sky, and Noah, other characters like Phoebe’s sister Violet, fellow councilmember Roderick, and others have been added to the shuffle. I can’t really decide what I think about all the new perspectives, as on one hand I liked having more insight into how all of these other people are adjusting, some of them just felt a little superfluous. I was still mostly interested in Phoebe as she tries to weed out corruption, but it was Sky’s that brought the next most interesting themes, as he is clearly dealing with trauma and PTSD after the events in the previous book. Given that Sky and Phoebe are my favorite characters and I’m invested in their relationship, I was happy(?) to see that one of the central conflicts coming between them wasn’t Noah. Not that trauma is something I WANT for a couple as a hurdle, but it felt more realistic than trotting out a love triangle just for the sake of the drama.
And in terms of plot and pacing, the action and suspense in this book builds slowly and then really amps up the stakes as the story goes on. When things start to spiral, the action just increases, and I found myself very on edge about what was going to happen. There were a good number of twists thrown in too, and throw backs to previous plot points that all come back together for the grand finale. All in all, I was quite satisfied with how things shook out, for better or for worse.
“Atonement” went in a direction that I wasn’t expecting, and I think that it was better for it. We may not see as much dystopian fiction in YA these days, but The Cerenia Chronicles is definitely a worthy series to add to the selection.
Rating 8: A satisfying ending to an enjoyable series.
Where Did I Get This Book: I was sent a copy by the publisher.
Book Description:Beyond the walls of the small village of Mythen Rood lies an unrecognizable world. A world where overgrown forests are filled with choker trees and deadly vines and seeds that will kill you where you stand. And if they don’t get you, one of the dangerous shunned men will.
Koli has lived in Mythen Rood his entire life. He knows the first rule of survival is that you don’t venture beyond the walls.
What he doesn’t know is – what happens when you aren’t given a choice?
The first in a gripping new trilogy, The Book of Koli charts the journey of one unforgettable young boy struggling to find his place in a chilling post-apocalyptic world. Perfect for readers of Station Eleven and Annihilation.
Review: Thanks to Orbit for sending me a copy of this novel!
I requested to read “The Book of Koli” in early March. The plot of a post-apocalyptic ravaged world overrun by killer plants sounded both wholly unique and super intriguing, Given that, in general, post-apocalyptic wasteland dystopias are my jam, I was excited to get a book not only about that very subject, but by M.R. Carey, whose works I have mostly enjoyed.
And then the COVID-19 shit hit the fan and it started to feel like we were living in an actual precursor to a post-apocalyptic world.
I honestly cannot get on board the ‘let’s read all the apocalyptic fiction!’ train that I’ve seen as of late. My husband joked about starting to read our baby “The Stand” and I pretty much yelled at him that he wasn’t and has never been funny. So yeah, the idea of reading this book had me a bit wound up. Anxieties off the charts, I knew that I needed to read this book so I jumped in trying not to think of the doom and gloom of the real world. And what happened next was not at all “The Book of Koli”‘s fault. Extenuating circumstances like whoa made it so I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I thought I would.
But there is a lot that this book has going for it, and I’m going to really focus on that. Because the fact this book didn’t connect as much with me at this moment in time probably has very little to do with the actual content. The first thing that struck me was how Carey was toying with the idea of language, and how the language in this world (a future set England) has changed and evolved over time. It’s not as slang driven as “A Clockwork Orange” does with it’s dystopia, but it tweaks things enough that it’s slightly off, but you know what the characters are trying to say. There is also a bit of toying with the idea of technology and what can happen when it is lost to us, which is implied to have happened with the plants (genetically altered and then out of control) overtook civilization and drove humanity into heavily protected clusters (and allowed some to consolidate power). The first half of this book is the heavy world building to create this world, and to let us as readers get to know Koli as a character and who he is as a character. After he snags some tech from the Ramparts (aka those in charge of the tech) in the town he lives in, he meets Monono Aware, the AI within the tech he takes. Monono and Koli have a fun banter, and through him meeting her he discovers that tech can be wielded by anyone… which would be bad for the Ramparts if that secret got out. Sometimes this section dragged, but overall Carey used his time very well to show us what kind of society/dystopia we are dealing with. And I liked Monono a lot, even if she sometimes felt a little twee.
The second half of the book is after Koli has been banished into the wilderness, in danger of being killed by either killer plants, or roving bands of ‘shunned men’. This is where the book really started to build upon the action and the tension, and this was the part that I enjoyed most even if it was the part that stressed me out the most as well. Carey is no stranger to post-apocalyptic scenarios, and this one feels like he’s thinking outside of the box. He creates enough here that I can definitely see how he’s going to be able to pull enough material from this world and its characters to make a complex and well paced trilogy. I especially liked Ursala, a doctor who Koli meets while he’s still at Mythen Rood. She is the key to Koli starting to learn the truth of things, and her place in the story becomes even more apparent once Koli is out in the wilderness.
As I mentioned above, I had a hard time dealing with a post-apocalyptic story when it feels like we are at the start of our own. I think that it’s really just a matter of timing, as were we not in the middle of COVID-19 I truly believe that I would have been able to get into this story more. So while “The Book of Koli” didn’t connect with me as much as I thought I would, I really do think that that’s on me and not on Carey at all. So if you are one of those people who has been reading “The Stand” or watching “Contagion” in these trying times, and you also like dystopian fiction, “The Book of Koli” will fit the bill SO well. Once all of this is over, I will probably go on to the next book in the series, as I recognize that any of my apprehensions are solely on me during a literal global traumatic event.
Rating 7: While I had a hard time enjoying it as much as I could have in the moment of global pandemic, “The Book of Koli” is fresh and deep dystopic fiction.
Book: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.10): One More Time” by Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson (Ill.), & Rodney Ramos (Ill.)
Publishing Info: Vertigo, June 2004
Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.
Book Description:The final volume in the saga of outlaw journalist Spider Jerusalem written by comics superstar Warren Ellis. At last, it’s the final showdown between Spider and the absolutely corrupt President of the United States in this new printing of the finale to the classic dystopian saga from Vertigo.
Review:It was a re-read almost four years in the making. Ten volumes, two awful presidents, two awesome lady assistants, one literally two faced cat, and numerous bowel disruptor guns later, and I have finally reached the end of Spider Jerusalem’s return to Gonzo reporting in a dystopian cyberpunk future. My re-read of “Transmetropolitan” has been wild to say the least. And if you remember from the end of my last review, I was a little worried that it had ended in a way that feels a little dated given recent political shenanigans. But let’s jump on into “One More Time” and begin our fond farewell.
The good news is that “One More Time” immediately assuaged the fears I had at the end of “The Cure”. It wasn’t going to be so easy as a sex scandal to bring down The Smiler, much as it didn’t do much of anything in our own present reality. But Spider, Yelena, and Channon weren’t going to give up so easily, and the beginning of the final confrontation between Spider and The Smiler is underway. What that means for Spider and his assistants is a bit murkier. Warren Ellis is known for brash and over the top themes as well as a dark cynicism, and we find both of those things in abundance. But there is also a whole lot of hope in this last volume, and that hope is something that I myself am clinging to. Again, you don’t know how things are going to completely shake out, but as Ellis unfolds everything and makes it all come together, reaching far far back in the series to do so, we go back to other storylines and other characters from the past who all have their parts to play, and it makes you wonder if Ellis had known from early on where they were going to end up. It works that well. In terms of the final confrontation, I was of two minds when it came to how impactful I found it. On one hand, it felt a little rushed and neat and underwhelming. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll be vague, but it just kind of ended with less of a bang and more of a pop. I certainly wouldn’t call it a whimper. But it wasn’t the big to do that perhaps one would expect. But on the other hand, maybe that’s how this kind of thing would have to end. Maybe it does have to be more muted, because that shows that the monster who causes so much grief and havoc is really just pathetic and fallible. So while I had wanted more, less may be more appropriate.
It’s the ultimate message of this story that truly resonated with me and made “One More Time” a satisfying end to a series that I still love. And that is that the truth is the most important thing above all else, and that the true heroes are the ones that sacrifice and give their all to make sure that it comes out. Spider Jerusalem is violent, grumpy, antagonistic, and a bit of a jerk. But he is devoted to making sure that the world knows the truth of how things are, and he will fight tooth and nail and to his own detriment to make sure that it all gets out. And along with him we get Channon and Yelena, two ladies who have tenacity, brashness, brains, and the drive to help him get that truth out as well as pursue their own goals. This trio is by far one of the best in comics, even if they aren’t exactly the most likable, because they are entertaining and chaotic and filled with hope. “Transmetropolitan” is teeming with hope. And as someone who has at times felt hopeless in our own political and social climate, this was a true antidote to that hopelessness. At least for now. But if there’s one thing you should take from “Transmetropolitan”, it’s to keep fighting that good fight. I don’t know what the next election will hold. I don’t know if we’re stuck with our own Beast/Smiler for another four years or not. But I know that we can learn something from Spider, Yelena, and Channon.
I am going to miss The City. I’m going to miss The Filthy Assistants. I’m going to miss Spider. At least until I decide to re-read again. Until that time, “One More Time” was a fabulous end to a fabulous series.
Rating 9: A great end to a great series, “Transmetropolitan (Vol.10): One More Time” perfectly wraps up Spider’s story and gives this reader hope.
Book: “Transmetropolitan (Vol. 9): The Cure” by Warren Ellis & Darick Robertson (Ill.)
Publishing Info: Vertigo, November 2003
Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.
Book Description:The forces of darkness are closing in on outlaw journalist Spider Jerusalem and his merry, filthy band, but now they’ve got their own rope around the neck of corrupt President Callahan, and it’s time to start tightening the noose. TRANSMETROPOLITAN: THE CURE is the ninth volume reprinting the acclaimed series written by Warren Ellis (PLANETARY, RED) with art by Darick Robertson (The Boys). Jerusalem and his cohorts step up their investigation into Callahan’s misdeeds and turn up some startling evidence…not to mention a sole surviving witness to the President’s depravity. The problem, as always, will be getting the word out before the massive forces of the Executive Branch black out everything, and everyone, involved.
Review: I can’t believe that my re-read of “Transmetropolitan” took me this long, but I also can’t believe that it’s almost over. I’ve been reminded during my revisit that Spider Jerusalem is one of the best comic characters of the past twenty years, and that while this story is outlandish and crude it still has so much to say about the world we live in. I opened up “The Cure”, the penultimate volume, ready to be blown away by how it all turned out and totally ready to move on to the last volume, hyped and pumped up. And that didn’t QUITE happen. I am definitely ready to move on to the last and to enjoy wrapping up this series for a second time. But it didn’t hit me the way that I’d hoped it would, but honestly, that isn’t any fault of this story. It’s more the fault of the world we live in now. Somehow, “Transmetropolitan” feels, dare I say, naive.
Overall I am still totally loving this story, though, so we’re definitely going to start with The Good and save the spoilery Not So Good for a bit. I like how Ellis is pulling the final threads all together as the starts to wrap up his story. Spider, Yelena, and Channon are outlaw journalists now, and as they are starting to finish up their final gambit in an effort to take down The Smiler, we’re revisiting old characters and seeing how they still have roles to play in this story. We get to see Fred Christ, the despicable and wormy leader of the Transient movement, and how this character from way back when is connected to our final storyline (and boy, was it really cathartic seeing how Spider finally got to take him down). I loved seeing Royce again, the somewhat cowardly but ultimately loyal former Editor that Spider used to work for. And what I really loved about this volume is that we once again got to see Spider at his very best, trying to protect a source, trying to make her feel comfortable, and showing the empathy that he has deep down, as any good journalist should have when it comes to some of the more complicated and sensitive stories. Channon and Yelena didn’t shine as much in this one, but since Spider’s health is really deteriorating and therefore his downfall is inevitable I am okay with letting the spotlight be on him this time around as he tries to pull out all the stops to bring down The Smiler.
So here is that part that didn’t work for me as much, and since I need to talk about nitty gritty plot points to really address it, consider this your
We end this volume with the first strike of the final battle between Spider and The Smiler, in which Spider gets the goods on The Smiler and brings out information that will start the snowball that will theoretically lead to his downfall. I’ve talked about how “Transmetropolitan” has managed to stay relevant in spite of the fact that it’s been out for almost twenty years, and that Ellis has been able to make it feel timeless in regards to our political climate. But what was that first blow of the final takedown? Spider reveals that The Smiler has been having sex with Transient sex workers. It’s used as a HUGE moment and for the first time you see The Smiler’s facade crack, and that he looks genuinely scared that this is going to be the scandal that will take his power away. There are two problems with this for me. The first is that in a world where we are to believe that society has become so degenerative and scummy, I have a hard time believing that a sex scandal like this, even if it involves people who have purposely hybrided (that’s not a word but I can’t think of better way to describe it) themselves with Alien DNA, would actually affect the greater opinion of this culture. I think it would have been more effective if the Big Reveal was somehow getting evidence that The Smiler had set up the murder of martyred Vita Severn, or even that of his own immediate family. And the next thing is that, as we now know, in our CURRENT society the President being revealed to have an affair with a sex worker DIDN’T MEAN JACK SHIT. It kind of takes away the timelessness. That isn’t “Transmetropolitan”‘s fault, and shame on me for projecting my frustrations in this regard to this book, but it did take me out of it.
That aside, I’m very excited to go on to the next and final volume of “Transmetropolitan”. I kind of remember how it ends, but the details are fuzzy. No matter how it susses out, Warren Ellis has created a fantastic world that is still relatable when you look past the very outlandish aspects of it.
Rating 7: We start to wrap up the story of Spider Jerusalem, his filthy assistants, and The City, and while the pieces of the puzzle are seamlessly coming together, it doesn’t hold up as well anymore.
Book Description:After the events of TRANSMETROPOLITAN: SPIDER’S THRASH, outlaw journalist Spider Jerusalem has lost his press credentials and has been forced underground by the President of the United States. Now with a sniper loose in the Print District, Spider is the only man who can expose the conspiracy behind the destruction of the City and the simultaneous disappearance of its police force. Unfortunately, Spider is currently suffering through blackouts and episodes of mental confusion and may never bring the truth to the masses again.
Review: As 2020 continues on and my anxiety about the upcoming election skyrockets into the stratosphere, Spider Jerusalem is giving me solace. I’m going to be wrapping up my series re-read of “Transmetropolitan” soon, given that after this volume we only have two left. Which means that the stakes are on the rise, as the final confrontation between Spider and The Smiler (and possibly Spider and his own mortality) is going to be here before we know it. And, like most epic stories, it had to get darker before the dawn. “Dirge” goes dark.
It starts with a case of Blue Flu, in which the police in The City have all called in under guise of illness. It just so happens that this occurs the day that a sniper starts to murder people in the Print District. Spider, Yelena, and Channon, down and out without press credentials but still eager to catch the story, are on the case, but find themselves in the middle of a conspiracy that, at this point, the reader saw coming from a mile away. But that doesn’t matter, because the important point that “Dirge” is trying to make is that of COURSE the establishment has become entrenched in these kinds of tactics. These are the tactics that The Smiler thrives upon and uses to consolidate his power. This is what Spider has known for awhile now, ever since Vita Severn was murdered by her own campaign colleagues to boost the approval ratings of her boss. The issue now isn’t that this is what The Smiler does. I feel like at this point, Ellis wants the reader to be completely overwhelmed with the lack of hope, and to feel that The Smiler (who in this volume takes his Vita Severn tactic and does something even more horrific) is so unstoppable that the apathy and despair is the only way a society would be able to react as he slowly destroys everything just to make himself all powerful. God DAMMIT does this continue to feel all too real.
But the biggest blow in this volume is the reveal about Spider’s memory lapses and health issues, and how his role as the voice of truth to the people is almost assuredly coming to an end sooner rather than later. Spoilers here, but it doesn’t really ruin anything and it’s going to come to my larger point: Spider has been exposed to an agent that is eating away at his cognitive functions. His mind is slowly slipping away, and in the end he will be a vessel ravaged by dementia before he ultimately dies from it. Spider has always been the beacon of hope in this series, the one who will bring the truth in any way, shape, of form, and can be the one to spell it all out for the masses so that they can see the ways they are being lied to. And that’s about to come to an end. Reading it the first time I was definitely bummed out. But reading it now, in the context of a press under attack and a time of misinformation, or in some cases people who just don’t care to know the truth, this plot point is devastating. Ellis is taking a risk here, as it’s always a bit ballsy to hobble a character with something debilitating. But that just gives more time for Yelena and Channon to shine, as they are determined to help Spider carry on his work, no matter what. Their identity as a team has come to full bloom, and seeing their character development get to this point is incredibly satisfying.
Warren Ellis is sure to bring the hope to this story, as while Spider, Yelena, and Channon are all hot messes and incredibly crude and rude, you know that they have the greater good in their intentions. And while Spider may be dying, he is still determined and ready to expose The Smiler and his violent, horrendous bullshit so that good can triumph over evil. These days I wonder if this is a naive fantasy. But “Transmetropolitan” is so earnest and dripping with the hope that this can be achieved, that I still want to believe in Spider. I want to believe that information and truth will shine a light on lies, and deception, and that the corrupt will lose in the end. “Dirge” is the point that I feel we are at. We can all take a lesson from Spider. He’s the hero we need. And I hope, I REALLY hope, that we can follow in his footsteps and not give up.
Up next is the penultimate collection: “The Cure”.
Rating 8: One of the darker entires to this fantastic comic, “Transmetropolitan (Vol. 8): Dirge” goes bleak, but once again lets a little bit of hope shine through.
Book: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.7): Spider’s Thrash” by Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson (Ill.), and Rodney Ramos (Ill.)
Publishing Info: Vertigo, November 2002
Where Did I Get This Book: I own it!
Book Description:The hammer has come down on him but outlaw journalist Spider Jerusalem has managed to stay one step ahead of his detractors – I.e. the President of the United States and his authoritarian lackeys in publishing and law enforcement. After losing his byline, bank account, and apartment, Jerusalem and his Filthy Assistants have legged it underground, the better to implement his plan. What plan, you say? Why, the plan to bring down the President of course!
Review: Back in 2016, in the wake of the devastation of the Presidential election I decided to start a re-read of “Transmetropolitan”, the dystopian cyberpunk comic about corruption in Government and society and the tenacious and bonkers reporter who wants to take it all down. Then I let it fall to the wayside for reasons I can’t really figure out, outside of having so much to read and so little time. But now it’s 2020, our Government keeps pulling awful bullshit, and I’m getting very scared about what the next Presidential election could possibly bring. So, I decided to pick back up with Spider Jerusalem, his filthy assistants, and The City.
Spider Jerusalem had made a quasi comeback after being silenced by the incredibly evil President Callahan, aka The Smiler in Volume 6. In Volume 7, he has moved beyond his own personal voice and has once again found a publication that will take him on, even if it’s a small press with perhaps not as much reach as before. But once Spider has a platform again (which is the first part of this volume), he starts to use his voice for causes that until now we haven’t seen much of within these pages. True, Warren Ellis has always been very political in the “Transmetropolitan” stories, but in “Spider’s Thrash” we get to see direct parallels to our own grievous political decisions in the late 20th century, laid out in The City and a cyberpunk dystopia. Spider’s aim isn’t directly at The Smiler and his administration, rather it’s at the callous policies it has quietly started implementing. One of the most glaring is that more and more mentally ill people have started ending up on the streets, and have become more and more relegated to dangerous and impoverished areas. The Smiler has decided that spending money on mental health social services isn’t his problem and that he trusts citizens to take care of the less fortunate rather than having any social safety nets in place for them through the Government. Gee, where have we heard this before?
But along with the upsetting and biting social commentary that is reflective of past and present political quagmires (as the press is still being stifled and vilified, with Spider having a target on his head), “Spider’s Thrash” also starts to peel back some character truths that are harbingers of more issues down the line. Most importantly, Yelena, Spider’s personal assistant and reluctant confidant, has started to notice that Spider may not be doing well, physically. This is when the series takes a heartbreaking turn, for multiple reasons. The first is that Yelena (and Channon to a lesser extent) has always acted as though her affiliation with Spider is burdensome and frustrating, and that she’s there just to make sure he doesn’t totally fuck up and/or kill himself and her in the process. But when there is the possibility that he could be sick or dying it becomes clear that they mean so much to each other. Channon, too, is worried about Spider, but right now this is Yelena’s beast of burden, as the possibility of losing Spider is too much for her to think about. The other reason that this is a bit sad in hindsight is because Spider Jerusalem is very clearly based on Hunter S. Thompson, whose own ailing health and medical problems are thought to have played a role in his suicide in 2005.
But Spider can’t be kept down. And by the end of this volume, we have started hurtling towards a final showdown between Spider and The Smiler. 2020 is the year that this country is going to have to once again choose who is going to run our country, and what direction we want that choice to take us. God I wish we had Spider here to help us. I’m not leaving him by the wayside again, because he may be the only thing that gets me through this uncertain and terrifying future.
Rating 8: After a far too long break I’ve once again been reminded that Spider Jerusalem is incredibly relevant to today’s society.
Book: “Containment” (The Cerenia Chronicles Book 2) by Angela Howes
Publishing Info: Fine Tuned Editing, January 2020
Where Did I Get This Book: The author provided me with a PDF copy.
Book Description:She made her choice. Now, she must live with the consequences. As Phoebe’s family and friends fight for their lives, she finds herself drawn further into the enigmatic world of the Council, caught in a struggle between lying low and inciting war. But as more allies emerge from the shadows, Phoebe must decide whether she has what it takes to lead a rebellion … especially when it could mean losing everything and everyone that matters to her.
Review: First I want to extend a special thank you to Angela Howes for reaching out and sending me a copy of this book!
YA dystopia seems to be mostly out of style, at least in the circles of YA enthusiasts that I associate with or follow. But given that I haven’t lost my interest in it, I was pretty excited when Angela Howes reached out to me with news that her second book in the Cerenia Chronicles, “Containment”, was coming out! Given that I enjoyed the first in the series, “Assignment”, I was eager to see where things were going to go for our protagonist Phoebe, her two suitors Sky and Noah, and the rest of the mild dictatorship of Cerenia. Especially since we left it on such a cliffhanger.
When we left off, Phoebe, Sky, and Noah had all achieved freedom by making it to The Jungle, where defectors and former prisoners of Cerenia have been building a rebellion. Phoebe decided to infiltrate the Cerenia Council in hopes of overthrowing the corruption. Unfortunately, Noah and Sky have ended up in captivity because of this, with Noah in prison and Sky in a Box, an almost guaranteed death sentence. The book flip flops between these three perspectives, with Phoebe hoping to outwit and influence the Council members, Sky hoping to escape his death sentence (and I mean, of course he does, mild spoiler alert but it happens pretty quick), and Noah hoping to get out of jail. Of all three perspectives, Phoebe’s was by far the most interesting. I liked watching her have to play 3D chess and having to make really difficult decisions, sometimes decisions that would be life or death, all to try and fit in in hopes of taking down corruption from the inside. I thought that her inner struggles and her ruthlessness meshed well together, and thought that it was a huge benefit to her characterization. Sometimes her calculations were cold and unnerving, and yet I believed that she would be making them. I also liked getting into Sky’s head as he has to rally the rebellion on the outside, all without knowing if he would ever see Phoebe, the love of his life again. Team Sky, all the way. His voice is fun and snarky, but he has enough sprinkles of vulnerability and self doubt that he doesn’t come off as an obnoxious trope.
But that leaves Noah’s narrative, which to me felt a bit superfluous if only because we don’t really have a reason to care about Noah. Or at least, I don’t have a reason to care about him. I mentioned before that I don’t like love triangles, but this particular point on this love triangle really doesn’t work for me, especially now. At this point, Phoebe has made her choice, and that choice is Sky. It’s also hard for me to let go of the fact that Noah was such a goddamn chickenshit in the first book that he was perfectly happy stringing along the girl he’d been matched with Darya, while having an affair with Phoebe, which put not only himself but Darya in danger. To me it feels like the love triangle has been resolved, and his backstory and characterization hasn’t been developed or built up enough for him to be a character we need to care about. Unless we’re going to get another love triangle plot in the third book, and boy oh boy am I hoping that isn’t the case.
There is indeed going to be a third book, as “Containment” ended on a cliffhanger. But with the way things ended this time, I’m even more interested to see where this goes this time around than I was last time around. I think we’re building to something that could be really unique, and I can’t wait to see what that may be.
Rating 7: The political intrigue and maneuvering is upped and the stakes continue to rise. “Containment” continues a solid dystopian narrative and explores the difficult decisions a person has to make for the greater good.
“Containment” isn’t on any Goodreads lists as of yet, but if you like books like “Divergent”, “Matched”, or “The Testing” you will probably find this one fun as well!
“Containment” isn’t in very many libraries as of now, but you can find it on Amazon.
We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is ‘Books On Our To Read Shelf’, where we pick books that we’ve been meaning to read but haven’t gotten to.
For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!
Book: “Gone” by Michael Grant
Publishing Info: Katherine Tegen Books, June 2008
Where Did We Get This Book: From the library!
Book Description:In the blink of an eye, everyone disappears. Gone. Except for the young.
There are teens, but not one single adult. Just as suddenly, there are no phones, no internet, no television. No way to get help. And no way to figure out what’s happened.
Hunger threatens. Bullies rule. A sinister creature lurks. Animals are mutating. And the teens themselves are changing, developing new talents—unimaginable, dangerous, deadly powers—that grow stronger by the day. It’s a terrifying new world. Sides are being chosen, a fight is shaping up. Townies against rich kids. Bullies against the weak. Powerful against powerless. And time is running out: On your 15th birthday, you disappear just like everyone else…
When I was in middle school I had already dived right into adult fiction. I would imagine that part of that was because when I was that age (totally dating myself a bit here) we were still a number of years off from the YA boom and I had already read horror and thrillers for teens by the time I had entered fifth grade. Because of this, I had a few preconceived notions about what to expect from “Gone” by Michael Grant. True, it was published in 2008, a time when the YA book dynamics had already started to change, but I thought that it was going to be straight forward and ‘kid gloved’. I was wrong. I was so wrong.
“Gone” is an imperfect YA end of world tale, with a lot of ideas, a lot of characters, and a lot of details that are building to something that has yet to be seen. It also has a lot of darkness within its pages, at least compared to other YA end of world thrillers that I’ve read. Nothing I can’t handle, of course, but damn, Michael Grant, you went all in. That said, I LIKED that he went all in, because it makes it seem like he trusts that his readers can handle whatever he tosses their way. And boy, does he toss some rough things their way. From grotesque wounds to spates of violence perpetrated against children to the very concept of very small children being left alone with no one to protect them, “Gone” was bleaker than I anticipated, but that made it all the more enjoyable.
That said, there is a LOT going on in this book. It makes some sense, given that 1) Michael Grant used to work on the “Animorphs” books with Katherine Applegate and those had a lot of details and world building, and 2) it has six books in the entire run. But I think that the reason it didn’t really work for me was because so much was crammed in and only touched upon, and there were so many characters to address that a lot of them didn’t get a lot of attention or development. True, there are more books to flesh all of these things out, but, at the same time, there are MORE BOOKS TO FLESH THIS ALL OUT. In other words, I wish that Grant had saved some of the details and developments for later books, just because this story did feel bloated and there were multiple characters that I didn’t feel like we really got to know. Luckily, it was the villains who were the most interesting, which is what I like to see in books like this.
This is also a very 2008 book in terms of how it approaches a number of themes, and it didn’t age well in that regard. From an autistic character to the very clear gender roles of some of the girl characters, I totally see how these things wouldn’t have been seen as problematic back then, but are definitely a bit hard to read now. I’m not going to write this book off completely because of this, as it is very of the time and that’s just the reality of it. But I wanted to note it.
I don’t think that I will keep going in this series, but I was pleasantly surprised that “Gone” trusts its YA readers to be able to take on some bleak, bleak themes.
The timing of reading this book couldn’t really be better. I had just finished up my re-read of “Animorphs,” a middle grade science fiction series that Grant collaborated on with his partner, K.A. Applegate, and our bookclub theme (books on our TBR pile) gave me the perfect excuse to inflict it upon the entire group! “Inflict” being purely a dramatic term, as, while it was darker than some of our group preferred, it was still a quick, action-packed read. But oof, talk about dark.
From a non-“Animorphs” perspective, I agree with almost everything Kate said, especially about just how much is packed into this book. It didn’t really hit me until I was starting to write up questions for our bookclub discussion, but this book really through everything in at once. You have the post-apocalyptic setting with the adults suddenly gone, kids with powers, family drama, a mysterious nuclear power plant, mutated animals, some dark force potentially behind it all. There are a lot of cards on the table, and for a book that is quite obviously the beginning of the series, I do wonder if it would have been better served to introduce some of these mysteries in the next books. As it is, there is a lot to get done and I think some of the issues Kate highlighted with the characters could have been better served had they been given more time, no longer needing to fight for page time against the numerous mysteries being set up.’
The character stuff is what really struck me in this book, however, both in a good and bad way. Having read “Animorphs,” it is very easy to see bits and pieces of those characters here, and I think in some ways, these are almost better in that they are not, in fact, better people. Our main character, for example, is essentially the Jake of this story. Except that Jake accepted the call to action as a leader almost from the get go and fairly seamlessly fit into that role. There were some bumps along the way and he struggled with this role throughout, but he took up the mantle quite quickly and with little real conflict. Here, Sam is much more reluctant, and with his reluctance come real consequences. I mean, REAL. As in kids die because he backs off originally. And he knows it. This makes Sam in some ways a much more believable character than Jake. He messes up big time right off the bat because of a the very real reaction of any kid in that situation, not wanting to be the one responsible.
So that’s a good example of characters. Kate mentioned some of the negatives. To be honest, I have a hard time separating this book from Grant’s collaboration with Applegate on the “Animorphs” in this regard. Having read that series, which came first, it’s hard not to read this book through the lens of faith that some of the problematic character issues, most especially the women, will be resolved some how. If this book is of its time for handling some things poorly, “Animorphs” was way ahead of it by offering up a very diverse team and making its most badass character a girl. This makes it hard for me to reconcile the two together. I think I can objectively say that while a few things stuck out to me (there’s an unfortunate line about the autistic character, for sure), I still felt that there was enough groundwork laid in other areas to excuse some of the more gendered roles some female characters were given. For one thing, I think Diana, an enigmatic character on the bad side, was set up as one of the more complicated characters in the entire book. Does this make up for the fact that a girl is running the daycare and another the hospital while the boys duke it out for leadership? I’m not sure. But I feel like enough was done to make me want to read more and find out how everything plays out.
Where the book was definitely ahead of its time, however, was the way it treated its readers as capable of handling darker elements of the story. It almost made me wonder if YA has regressed a bit in this regard, as the stakes felt much higher and more real in this book than they have in other YA stories I’ve read recently where YA protagonists are leading armies and the fate of the world!!! yada yada. As hard as some of it was to read, this commitment to the harsh realities of what this situation would look like is probably one of the biggest reasons I want to keep reading. The next books is called “Hunger,” for heaven’s sake!
Kate’s Rating 7: A darker than I expected YA novel with lots of components, “Gone” is entertaining, a little much, and a good fit for YA readers who want more thrills than juvie fiction but aren’t necessarily ready for adult end of world sagas.
Serena’s Rating 8: This book takes it premise and goes full throttle, but its wackiness is quickly squashed beneath a serious, “Lord of the Flies”-like exploration of human nature. Also talking coyotes.
Book Club Questions
This book explore similar themes to “Lord of the Flies.” If you’ve read that, how does it compare? In what ways does this book tackle themes of power and civilization?
There are a lot of characters who perspectives are covered in this book. Which ones stood out to you and why?
If there was an element of the story that could have been explored more in this book, which one was it? Which element would you leave out (perhaps for the second book) to make room for this?
Some of the roles in this burgeoning civilization seem to be falling along traditionally gendered lines. Are there examples of the book challenging this? Particular failures that you struggled with and wish were changed?
We have several explanations offered up as to what caused this situation. Which one are you leaning towards?
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley
Book Description:A decadent rock star. A deeply religious radio host. A disgraced scientist. And a teenage girl who may be the world’s last hope. In the tradition of The Stand and Station Eleven comes a gripping saga that weaves an epic tapestry of humanity into an astonishing tale of survival.
Shana wakes up one morning to discover her little sister in the grip of a strange malady. She appears to be sleepwalking. She cannot talk and cannot be woken up. And she is heading with inexorable determination to a destination that only she knows. But Shana and are sister are not alone. Soon they are joined by a flock of sleepwalkers from across America, on the same mysterious journey. And like Shana, there are other “shepherds” who follow the flock to protect their friends and family on the long dark road ahead.
For on their journey, they will discover an America convulsed with terror and violence, where this apocalyptic epidemic proves less dangerous than the fear of it. As the rest of society collapses all around them–and an ultraviolent militia threatens to exterminate them–the fate of the sleepwalkers depends on unraveling the mystery behind the epidemic. The terrifying secret will either tear the nation apart–or bring the survivors together to remake a shattered world.
Review: Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!
I have been totally enthralled by post-apocalyptic fiction ever since my Dad handed me his copy of “The Stand” when I was thirteen years old and told me to read it. While I have a whole lot of anxieties about the potential ways that the world could end, the genre itself has always thrilled me, be it pandemic fiction, nuclear holocaust, zombies, or what have you. “The Stand” has always been the crown jewel of the genre for me, and so when I heard about “Wanderers” by Chuck Wendig, and saw that comparisons to that masterpiece, I requested an eARC from NetGalley and was lucky enough to be sent one. The comparisons were apparent straight away: not only is the book a story about a devastating pandemic, it’s also a deep character study of a huge cast, AND it’s a LONG book (though at 800 pages it’s still only roughly half as long as the uncut version of “the Stand”, which is a mighty beast unto itself). Having this comparison in my head did a weird thing, where it both made me enjoy “Wanderers” more, and also made me more critical than I think I would have been had it not been there. Buckle up, everyone. A long book means a lot of dissemination.
The pacing and content of the plot immediately sucked me in. It’s told when the ‘sleepwalker’ phenomenon starts, and then slowly builds and builds until we have met the big, actual threat, which is a fungal-based disease that has already infected enough people to take out the world population. We have a number of different perspectives we follow, all of which show different group factions as society starts to panic and slowly break down. My favorite perspective, both in terms of characters and approach, was that of Benji, a former CDC scientist whose brilliance was overshadowed by a scandal. I was deeply invested and interested in the science aspect of this novel, and being able to see Benji and his colleagues, which include access to an AI called Black Swan that has been predicting numerous outcomes to the various situations, kept me enthralled and interested as the pandemic began to unfold. Benji is complex and nuanced, and his determination mixed with his anxieties, be it regarding his past, the AI aspect, or the very real catastrophe unfolding, made him very appealing as a character.
I also liked seeing other consequences and cause and effects that you might see in this society as it starts to deteriorate, and especially liked Wendig’s take on how white supremacist and other racist nationalist movements prey on fear and uncertainty. While it did feel heavy handed at times, this plot was mostly seen through Matthew, a preacher in a small town who gets caught up with a charismatic, and incredibly dangerous, militia man named Ozark Stover. While the pandemic is the main driving conflict in this book, it’s Stover, his militia, and the ideas that they hold dear (which are being elevated by a far right and opportunistic Presidential Candidate) that were the scariest by far. Matthew tries to look past the way Stover, and the other right wing groups, use the Bible to promote fear and hate, and you see Matthew fall for his own elevated hype as he becomes a ‘moderate’ voice for their radical views, which in turn promotes violence against the ‘sleepwalkers’ and those around them. Apt and timely, these parts really kept me interested and on the edge of my seat. It was probably also a little heavy handed, but given how these groups and voices just seem to be getting louder and more violent I can’t really fault the non-subtle portrayals of them as dangerous and fanatical.
That said, in terms of characterization, Benji and those in his sections were really the only people I found myself caring about in this book. I wanted to like Shana, the teenage girl whose sister was the first ‘sleepwalker’, but I found her inability to see nuance in many situations to be frustrating, and it made me not care for her too much. I also wanted to like Pete Corey, a nearly has-been rock star who gets caught up in protecting the ‘sleepwalkers’ and their companions (aka shepherds) initially just to get attention for himself before making a true connection. But unfortunately he fit the trope of ‘he’s closeted and therefore pushes everyone away and embraces a hedonistic lifestyle’, and it’s well worn, almost overdone, territory now. And while I enjoyed and was invested in the content with Matthew and Ozark, I had a very hard time with Matthew as a person, and found no one in that arc very sympathetic either. And this is where the comparisons to “The Stand” hindered this book (and given that the narrative itself makes reference to “The Stand”, I feel that the door has been opened to compare the two). Say what you will about the ending of that book, but it is hard to deny that King really knows how to write a multitude of different characters, and to give all of them complex, multifaceted things to do within their character arcs. While some characters are definitely more black and white than others in that book, for the most part you get into the head and motivations of almost every member of that ensemble, for the good and the bad. In “Wanderers”, I felt that Wendig sometimes got lost with his balancing, and because of this the characterization suffered, and therefore so did my ability to care about them.
On top of all this, the ending (and I won’t go into why or how) had a big final ‘gotcha’ twist that felt unnecessary. Sure, it was set up in a way that I could track out and map, so it didn’t feel completely out of nowhere. But when it was revealed I did kind of wonder what it added to the overall story, outside of confirming other well-worn tropes that I had thought we’d left behind.
Finally, there’s one more thing that I really need to address within this novel. This ties in with the HUGE content warning that I want to give it, AND along with that I’m going to be talking about plot points in no uncertain terms. Therefore, we are getting a
There are many characters within this book, and all of them touch upon certain themes such as bigotry, racism, white supremacy, and using religion as a weapon and how these things can all go hand in hand. Matthew, our preacher who lets his own ego get him caught up with a white supremacist movement, becomes friends with the aforementioned Ozark Stover. After Matthew stops towing the line for Stover and white supremacist Presidential Candidate Creel, Ozark beats him, tortures him, and locks him in his bunker on his property. He also violently rapes him. I had no idea that this was coming, and when it did I had to put the book down for awhile and go do something else. While I am never going to be a ‘fan’ of sexual violence in books I read, as how could one be, if I can see a reason behind it or if it’s done in a responsible way I can be more forgiving of that plot choice, even if I’m going to be upset about it. In “Wanderers”, I felt that there was absolutely no reason for it to be there outside of sensationalism. We already know that Ozark Stover is an evil motherfucker. He’s manipulative, he’s violent, he incites hatred and violent actions amongst his followers, and he’s a murderous, misogynistic white supremacist who uses religion as a way to froth up his following. WE KNOW HE IS HORRIBLE. It felt like this scene was just a ‘and how can we REALLY hit the point home that he’s a bad guy?’ when we have rounded the bases of badness MULTIPLE times. On top of that, I didn’t like the framing of it. Matthew is a piece of shit in his own way, and while I know that we were supposed to feel bad for him and see him as more ‘flawed’ than anything else, I personally couldn’t abide him. BUT ALL OF THAT SAID, making him a victim of a graphic and violent sexual assault made me feel sick, because to me it felt like a ‘and now you know why you never should have gotten tangled up with this guy in the first place’ moment, which to me is unnecessary. Like I’ve said, I am NEVER going to be fully on board with a scene like this, but I think that there are ways that it can be done with sensitivity and with responsibility. This felt like it was for shock value, and I didn’t like that.
Overall, “Wanderers” is definitely a worthy contribution to the ‘post-apocalyptic pandemic’ genre, and I think that it’s going to stand the test of time. There were aspects that I greatly enjoyed, and aspects that fell flat, but I definitely can see myself as recommending it to people who like this kind of thing. I am very curious to see what Wendig does next.
Rating 7: While the world building, pacing, and downfall of humanity ticked all my boxes, I had problems with some characterization, a final GOTCHA twist, and a scene of exploitative sexual violence.
Publishing Info: Fine Tuned Editing, December 2018
Where Did I Get This Book: The author provided me with a PDF copy.
Book Description:In a city divided between the workers who keep the economy going and the families who bolster the population, eighteen-year-old graduate Phoebe Ray is assigned to a solitary life as a newspaper delivery girl, forbidden from marrying, seeing her family more than twice a year, or ever having children.
But when childhood flame Noah and charming neighbor Sky enter the picture, Phoebe must decide whether a chance at love is worth risking imprisonment, banishment from society, and ultimately, death. And when a city-wide strike breaks out leaving everyone vulnerable, Phoebe has an even greater decision to make.
Should she turn her back on the fight to save her friends and family, or is it finally time to make a stand?
Review: First I want to extend a special thank you to Angela Howes for reaching out and sending me a copy of this book!
For better or for worse, my extensive list of not-so-guilty-reading-pleasures includes dystopic YA fiction. While I admittedly haven’t read the entire gamut, I’m always looking out for new titles. So when Angela Howes approached us and asked if we would be interesting in reading and featuring her book “Assignment” on the blog, I jumped at the chance.
The premise of “Assignment” is a fairly familiar one. A teenage girl named Phoebe lives in a society where people can be assigned to two facets of the community: you can be a One, who works and creates and keeps society and the economy going, or a Two, who doesn’t work but marries and reproduces to bolster the population. But what I liked about “Assignment” was that while the set up is familiar, I enjoyed the path that was taken for most of the narrative. Phoebe, who didn’t expect/ want to end up as a One, has to learn to adjust to a life she never saw coming. While you get the sense that things aren’t right in Cerenia, with the hints of corruption and strict, oppressive rules, most of this book is watching Phoebe start to find self-actualization, and how that eventually puts her in a place where she starts asking questions. I liked seeing her work her way up in her career, seeing her learn to take care of herself, and liked seeing her have to interact with people she wouldn’t necessarily interact with. Watching her character change and grow was a real fun treat, and I really liked how her path took her and where she ended up. Seeing the world she was in grow around her as the story went on was also enjoyable. The focus right now in the books is building the world, and I felt like we got a really good sense of why Cerenia has become the society that it is, and in turn how conflicts are handled within the society because of its core ethos. This is seen in a couple of ways. The first is the ‘strike’ that the Ones partake in, and how Phoebe and her fellow Ones become targets of violence, intimidation, and raids. This was a creative plot device, and it not only made the suspense fly high, it also laid out the stakes. But the second is far more personal to Phoebe, as her brother Milo became a One before she did, and now she’s having a hard time getting a hold of him. The question of where her brother is, and what it means that he’s seemingly disappeared, is every present and effective.
That said, there is one big trap that “Assignment” falls into, and this is perhaps based more in personal preference than anything else. We have The Love Triangle, a trope that I cannot stand. Our two players are pretty typical in their roles. There’s Noah, the boy that Phoebe has known since childhood and whom she has loved for a long time. They assumed they would both be Twos and get married and have a family. But since Ones and Twos cannot fraternize, their love in a star crossed one. The other is Sky, a One that Phoebe meets at the assignment ceremony and ends up being her neighbor. Noah is sweet and loyal, whereas Sky is cocky with a heart of gold. I’m just going to put out there I am Team Sky, because Noah not only has a lady friend named Darya he’s been matched up with who is super sweet and understanding, but he is a complete coward who wants to have his cake and eat it too. In this case, that means shacking up with Darya and fulfilling his responsibility with her, but sneaking around with Phoebe when she drops off his newspaper every day. PHOEBE, YOU CAN DO BETTER. I liked Sky because while he did checkbox a number of familiar bad boy tropes, I DID appreciate that he respected Phoebe’s wants and needs, so when she just wanted to be friends, he was satisfied with that. It’s a healthier love triangle moment to be sure. But it’s still going strong by the end of the book. On top of that, we get a very HUGE cliffhanger right at the end. I can handle a cliffhanger ending if it ends with ambiguity, but when it’s a smash cut in the middle of a scene or conversation, that’s a choice I don’t particularly care for.
Those qualms aside, I enjoyed “Assignment”! I will definitely be looking out for the next book in the series, because Phoebe has me fully invested at this point. Fans of dystopia romance should give it a whirl!
Rating 7: While love triangles aren’t my cup of tea and cliffhangers rankle me, “Assignment” was an addictive dystopia with some sound and well done world building, and likable characters!