Required Reading: July

Hello, July! Hello second half of the year! :)

I owe several reviews on this blog but I’m sort of pressed for time with work and other things recently, so reviewing has kind of taken a back seat. I figure a post should suffice now so you know I’m still alive, and I’m not off doing some funeral planning checklist or you know, not reading. I am, I’m just terribly slow! But right now I just happened to be caught in the rain and waiting for it to stop so I can go to work, so I had the time to squeeze in a quick blog entry. Then I remembered that I haven’t made a Required Reading post yet and it’s already the 3rd day of the new month. So here we go!

From the quite dismal reading month that is May, I had a pretty good reading month for June! And I’m particularly proud of this June accomplishment because the two books from my list aren’t exactly the easiest books to read. So yay, recap!

  • A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (4/5)
  • Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien (5/5)
  • The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May and June by Robin Benway (3/5)

Plus, I managed to quit being lazy and interviewed Maria for my What I Read post. So even if I didn’t really have an active reviewing month, I think had a pretty good reading and blogging month. :)

Required Reading: July

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The Reapers are the Angels

The Reapers are the Angels by Alden BellThe Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell
Publisher: Holt
Number of pages: 225
My copy: paperback, ordered from Book Depository

Zombies have infested a fallen America. A young girl named Temple is on the run. Haunted by her past and pursued by a killer, Temple is surrounded by death and danger, hoping to be set free.

For twenty-five years, civilization has survived in meager enclaves, guarded against a plague of the dead. Temple wanders this blighted landscape, keeping to herself and keeping her demons inside her heart. She can’t remember a time before the zombies, but she does remember an old man who took her in and the younger brother she cared for until the tragedy that set her on a personal journey toward redemption. Moving back and forth between the insulated remnants of society and the brutal frontier beyond, Temple must decide where ultimately to make a home and find the salvation she seeks.

* * *

I’ve been wanting to get The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell during the time I was so crazy for zombies in fiction, and that’s one of the reasons why I got this from Book Depository in the first place. I wanted to add every single book that had zombies in it, until it became a little bit too mainstream for my taste. That’s probably why I made this book languish in my TBR for a while, almost forgetting that I had this book with me until lately. Because you know, sometimes you have to dig through your TBR just to get some books out and get that number down.

The Reapers are the Angels introduces a world that is full of zombies, the kind that steel garages don’t really stop. There’s nothing really new about that, but then here comes Temple, a fifteen year old girl who’s turned herself into a vagabond after something happened in her past. She runs into a small community of survivors who take her in, but when she accidentally kills a man who tried to take advantage of her, she is back on the run now that his brother is after her. On her journey, she meets a group of hunters who take on a new way of survival, picks up a mentally challenged man who becomes her unwanted ward, stays with a rich family who refuses to acknowledge the state of the world and gets caught by a horrifically mutated group of people whose loyalty to each other leads them to kill. All this time, Temple fights the evil she thinks is in her while running away from the man who wants to kill her.

Or perhaps running away isn’t the right term. As the story goes on, it doesn’t really feel that Temple was running away — perhaps there was something else. It was almost like this chase gave her some kind of purpose, and it was interesting to read about that. Temple is a different girl and we know it right from the start. Why she chose to be alone is a mystery, and how she seemed to unafraid later on as she travels is another question. Her character makes this initially simple and typical zombie story come more alive. The Reapers are the Angels isn’t a story of zombies or the fallen world but a story of a person wrestling with her past and trying to atone for this. Temple’s brokenness makes her who she is — the hard, no-nonsense girl with awesome fighting skills — but it doesn’t lessen her compassion for others who need her help, even if she doesn’t really want to help at all. I found her unlikely “friendship” with Maury, the mentally challenged guy she helps and “adopts”, quite endearing and possibly my favorite part in the entire story.

But this book isn’t really an easy read. The lush writing helped a lot in making me want to read this, but this is a bleak book — not quite as hopeless as The Forest of Hands and Teeth and also not quite as action packed as The Enemy, but still pretty, well, not cheerful. There were also lots of philosophical talk, which makes this book really a story of survival and how humanity carries on after an apocalypse. I think what makes this book a little harder for me to read was the gross-out factor — like I said, I may have gone soft, and there were some scenes in this book that made me stop reading for a bit just so my stomach would stop churning. Oh Tina, what do you expect of a zombie book, anyway? Just…don’t read this while eating, especially for some parts.

Even so, I find that I loved The Reapers are the Angels, especially for how it ended. Sigh. –> That will be my one and only clue for you. I think The Reapers are the Angels is a beautifully sad but deep book, and I was a very satisfied reader when I finished the book. It’s not at the level of how much I loved Mira Grant’s Feed, my favorite zombie book of all time, but Alden Bell’s creation has made it into the list of zombie books I will recommend to people who want to read about them. This is a good one, folks — gross scenes aside, this is a zombie book that lived up to my expectations, and I hope it lives up to yours, too.

See, God is a slick god. He makes it so you don’t miss out on nothing you’re supposed to witness firsthand.

Rating:

Required Reading: February

Other reviews:
The Book Smugglers
Good Books and Good Wine

The Enemy

The Enemy by Charlie HigsonThe Enemy by Charlie Higson
The Enemy # 1
Publisher: Hyperion Books
Number of pages: 448
My copy: hardbound, borrowed from Aaron

In the wake of a devastating disease, everyone sixteen and older is either dead or a decomposing, brainless creature with a ravenous appetite for flesh. Teens have barricaded themselves in buildings throughout London and venture outside only when they need to scavenge for food. The group of kids living a Waitrose supermarket is beginning to run out of options. When a mysterious traveler arrives and offers them safe haven at Buckingham Palace, they begin a harrowing journey across London. But their fight is far from over–the threat from within the palace is as real as the one outside it.

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It’s been a long time since I last read a zombie book, so I knew I was in for a bit of an adjustment when I decided to read my stocked zombie books for my February challenge. The Enemy by Charlie Higson has been languishing on my shelf since 2010, after my friend Aaron lent it to me for my YA-D2 challenge for that year. Obviously I never read it for that, and I don’t think I would have unearthed this now if I didn’t choose to read it for this month.

Besides, a borrowed book on my shelf for a year feels wrong.

In The Enemy, all people aged sixteen and above have succumbed to a disease that turns them into flesh-eating monsters. Only the children are left and several have made it into some safehouses, banding together using their own abilities to survive in a bleak world. One of these groups of kids were the Waitrose kids, led by Arran and Maxie, who has lived in an abandoned grocery in the last few months. Food and important resources are already scarce, and the kids are already losing hope. Until one day, a kid in a colorful coat (made from contemporary fabrics and the like) comes and invites them to join him to Buckingham Palace, where another group of kids are living and are successful in creating a new life for themselves. The kids decided to go with him, but will their lives really change for the better once they get to the palace?

The Enemy starts of with action and doesn’t really leave that kind of mode until the end. Which is good, because it kept me on my toes and had me biting my fingernails for whatever else could happen to these kids. Other people warned me not to get attached to any of the characters in the book because the author kills them — and it is true. Boy how true is that. This makes for a very gripping read because you just never know who would die and how, and you never know who are the bad guys really are.

I also really liked Small Sam’s story — I think I was rooting for him the most! I like how his story paralleled the others, and where he got to. The subway (or to be appropriate, the tube) scene in the dark reminded me of a similar scene in The Dark and Hollow Places, and it truly got me worried for him and how he would get out of it. There’s also a hint of cannibalism in the story and I have to admit that it got my stomach churning uncomfortably there.

With all these positive things, though, I have to admit that I wasn’t that invested in the story. That, and I was partly grossed out for some reason. Maybe I’ve turned soft and my stomach isn’t as adept as handling zombie gore anymore. There were several times I felt like gagging while reading the book, and I couldn’t handle reading it while eating. With that, I didn’t really feel like I was glued to the pages. True, the story had all sorts of action and it made me fear for the characters, but my overall feeling in the end was, “Okay, finally that was done.” I only really wanted to see how it ended, but I didn’t care that much as compared to the other zombie novels I read and loved. My friends who have read this all sang praises to this…but I’m afraid I’m more on the lukewarm side.

Now that I think about it…maybe I have turned soft. :O

Nevertheless, The Enemy is still one of the better written zombie novels out there, and it’s a good read especially for those who like more gore than the usual. If you want to read a book about survival, a bit of politics and the undead, then his Higson book is for you. What’s more: its sequel, The Dead, is already out so you won’t have to wait too long to know what Charlie Higson had in mind when he thought of a post-apocalyptic world.

Rating:

Required Reading: FebruaryMy copy: borrowed from Aaron

Other reviews:
The Book Smugglers
I Am Pinoy Peter Pan
Attack of the Book

The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Maze Runner # 1
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Number of pages:  375
My copy: paperback, gift from Ace

When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. His memory is blank. But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade—a large, open expanse surrounded by stone walls.

Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night they’ve closed tight. And every 30 days a new boy has been delivered in the lift.

Thomas was expected. But the next day, a girl is sent up—the first girl to ever arrive in the Glade. And more surprising yet is the message she delivers.

Thomas might be more important than he could ever guess. If only he could unlock the dark secrets buried within his mind.

* * *

I have seen The Maze Runner in bookstores and blogs for a while now, but I never got around to picking it up because I wasn’t very enticed to get it. I honestly thought the summary was kind of bleak, and that’s already coming from me who likes dystopia. I would not have bumped this book up in my TBR if it wasn’t for my friend Ace, who gave me his paperback copy after upgrading his to hardbound and if he didn’t post a glowing review of the book with special mention to me. How can I not read it, right? (And this means I am an easily swayed person :p )

Most of The Maze Runner‘s strengths lie in its pace and plotting. This is the type of book that will keep you guessing and will keep you on your literary feet. The world of the Glade and the maze that they need to stolve added to the creepiness factor of the book, with the closing doors and the scary half-machine, half-something Grievers, and the community that the boys have created inside the Glade to keep them going. The amount of detail written about the Glade, the boys’ dialect and their own “government” and social designations made it very believable, and at the back of my mind, I wondered if this mirrored the world outside of the Glade, or if there was even a world outside at all. The author levels it up with the book’s pacing, and he did a very, very good job in keeping the readers in the dark even all the way up to the end. I was kept at the edge of my seat for most of the book. Even if answers were given, other questions come up, and in the end (which was a total cliffhanger, by the way), there were more questions than answers, leading readers wanting to pick up the next book immediately.

But with all those strengths, I think what didn’t really work for me in The Maze Runner was the characters. The Maze Runner is reminiscent of The Knife of Never Letting Go in terms of world building, but the latter had characters on its side. I found Thomas a bit Gary Stu-ish, with his messianic role in the story. Sure, it was his story, but it was just kind of hard to believe that the other boys inside the Glade never figured out the things that Thomas figured out in his stay there, especially if they were supposed to be smart. Teresa, the only girl, felt more like a distraction than an important part of the story. I couldn’t quite figure her out, as well as her relationship with Thomas — is there a romantic angle here? What is her use in the story except be a girl and talk to Thomas and be cuddly with him? I’m not quite sure I got it. I did like the other characters though, particularly Newt, Minho and Chuck, and they provided a good variety and even some comic relief with the bleak atmosphere of the book.

I must warn readers, though, that this is a very talky book — most of the exposition is done by telling, not showing, so this may be an issue for other people who like descriptions more than dialogue. Despite that and the slight falter in the main characters, I think The Maze Runner is still a good book. Its tight plot, good pacing and mysteries definitely makes this book deserving of its popularity among the dystopian ranks. I will definitely pick up its sequel, The Scorch Trials, to know what happens next…but I will not pick it up anytime soon, because frankly, the end of The Scorch Trials excerpt in my paperback copy really freaked me out. :-s

Rating:

Other Reviews:
The Book Smugglers
Steph Su Reads
Bart’s Bookshelf

Real or not real?

Mockingjay by Suzanne CollinsMockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Scholastic, 390 pages

“My name is Katniss Everdeen. Why am I not dead? I should be dead.”

Katniss Everdeen, girl on fire, has survived, even though her home has been destroyed. Gale has escaped. Katniss’s family is safe. Peeta has been captured by the Capitol. District 13 really does exist. There are rebels. There are new leaders. A revolution is unfolding.

It is by design that Katniss was rescued from the arena in the cruel and haunting Quarter Quell, and it is by design that she has long been part of the revolution without knowing it. District 13 has come out of the shadows and is plotting to overthrow the Capitol. Everyone, it seems, has had a hand in the carefully laid plans — except Katniss.

The success of the rebellion hinges on Katniss’s willingness to be a pawn, to accept responsibility for countless lives, and to change the course of the future of Panem. To do this, she must put aside her feelings of anger and distrust. She must become the rebels’ Mockingjay — no matter what the personal cost.

Suzanne CollinsMockingjay was probably the most anticipated release of 2010. Tens of thousands of fans all over the world eagerly awaited the conclusion of the bestselling Hunger Games series, a wait made that much more breathless after the cliffhanger ending of Catching Fire. The hype that surrounded this release was almost as if an eighth Harry Potter book had been released, with blog tours, interviews, predictions, midnight release parties and book launches happening across the world as the August 24 release date approached.

I was one of those excited fans. I remember feeling anxious as the week of the release arrived, exchanging predictions with other fans and jointly planning “Mockingjay Leaves” (the book release was on a weekday). I squealed with delight when I saw that the Kindle edition was available the day before the hardcover was released here, downloading the sample and devouring it so I could have an idea how the end would begin. When I finally received my copy I reserved the next few days to reading only Mockingjay.

If you haven’t read The Hunger Games or Catching Fire, the spoiler warning starts here.

“There is no District 12.” These were Gale’s last words in Catching Fire, which left readers wondering what exactly happened to Katniss’ home town. Mockingjay opens with Katniss staring at the ashes of her district, a month after she has been taken out of the arena and had been living in District 13. The rebellion against the Capitol has begun, but cannot go full scale because it’s missing one last ingredient: they need Katniss to be the Mockingjay, the symbol of the movement. Katniss, reluctant at first, eventually agrees. She finds herself smack in the center of a dangerous power play between her enemies and her so-called “allies,” most especially District 13’s President Coin. While she tries to fulfill her role as the Mockingjay, Katniss starts to question the motivations of the people around her – and her own motives as well – finding herself a pawn in a web of manipulation that could cost her life and the lives of the people she cares for.

Mockingjay takes its cue from its predecessors and comes out as another adrenaline pumping read. Collins’ writing is captivating from the start, sucking the readers deep into the even bleaker world that Panem has become, fleshing out the mysterious District 13. Mockingjay’s pacing leaves readers breathless at the end of each chapter as the author dishes out one cliffhanger after another. LA Times compared the action scenes to “a battlefield akin to Iraq” – even the innocent aren’t spared from the carnage and the brutality of war. Click here to read the rest of the review.

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This is a pretty late review, but better late than never. It’s pretty formal since I wrote it for The POC, so more opinions/comments and such right after the cut. Spoiler warning!

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