Tag Archives: survival

The Nest by Kenneth Oppel

The Nest by Kenneth Oppelthenest

If any book should be called Unsettling and Disturbing, this one is a prime candidate.  The last third of the tale got not only extremely dark and dangerous, it is also filled with vividly described, horror film worthy scenes and imageries.  Expertly done.  I probably would have truly loved the entire book if I wasn’t taken out of the narrative flow a number of times when Steve uses highly literary words and phrases that I thought uncharacteristically older than the character’s age and not quite in keeping with the rest of the tone of the very straightforward and effective telling.  I was hoping and fearing a truly dark ending and was slightly disappointed (because of the very twisted-minded adult reader in me) and very relieved and pleased that there’s some hope and a lot of growth for both the hero and the reader. And what a complex and admirable hero we have in Steve!

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Life As We Knew It

lifeasweknewit by Susan Beth Pfeffer

I went into this book with a lot of trepidation — believe it or not, drastic gravitational changes to Earth by the altered distance between Moon and Earth was one of my all time environmental fears, probably from when I used to watch Twilight Zone as a kid. Pfeffer managed to tell the story with a pretty tame disaster setting: the town our heroine lived in has faced much milder impacts and although you hear about quite a bit of “the rest of world is disappearing and people have died everywhere,” you only experience her personal (and none of the immediate family members) losses a few times and the heroine’s reactions do not make the readers feel completely devastated. I thoroughly appreciated the author’s ability to show the shifting in priorities, attitudes, and family relationships as the story progresses.

This is a survival story that I can feel quite comfortable giving to 5th or 6th grade students, especially those who enjoy Hatchet.

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The Dead


by Charlie Higson

I am not an aficionado of zombie stories.  Yes, I’ve had a few books and movies under my belt: thoroughly enjoyed World War Z and Zombieland.  But I am in no urgent need for yellow pus, green liquidy drippings, splattered red blood, or all sorts of creatively severed  body parts — any time, anywhere.  I did greatly appreciate the first book in Higson’s zombie series, The Enemy.  And finally got around to read the second installment, a prequel, a “history,” of The Enemy. 

I cannot be more pleased by The Dead.  There is everything I love: exploration of loyalty, what makes someone a leader or a follower, what gives people courage, survival strategies — all told in a highly realized, logically plausible setting and string of events.  Tension and surprises keep the reader incredibly involved and the passages describing the mind deterioration of some characters are simply brilliant.

In a few weeks, I know I’ll be ready for book 3 – The Fear. 



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Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

I absolutely enjoyed the many separate pieces in the book — thinking that each chapter can be treated as a short story since there is always a beginning and an end and not too much set up is needed to comprehend most of them. There are some really intensely gory and cringe-inducing scenes and a couple tales border on horror. Some are heart-warming, too.

One thing that I couldn’t quite get over, though, was the unevenness in keeping to the rules that the author set up for himself: That, supposedly, each piece in the book is a “translation” of something the “narrator” gathered from a massive electronic archive with audio, video, text, etc. — recorded history of various participants in the Robot Uprising and the global warfare afterwards. However, instead of using a 3rd person, observational tone, Wilson chose to tell many of these heroes’ stories from a first person point of view — EVEN if the recordings themselves are from an exterior angle. (And I just noticed that the first few stories are more in keeping with this framework — some stories are from a third person viewpoint while others are supposedly “narrated” by the participants themselves as interviewees or writers, etc. — but that consistency gradually fell apart and at the end there is a lot of “I” and how “I” felt even though the gathered records couldn’t have provided those perspectives.) And some of the voices are not quite in keeping with the characters themselves — or at least, not quite distinctive to be discernibly different from each other, even though some of these characters are drastically different in backgrounds and should probably have different tones. — Although I guess I can accept it because many of them are told from the reporter/archivist’s “voice.” (However, then why are they told from the “I” perspective?)

Still, I can see many readers enjoying the stories and gobbling up the scenes with relish!  And, I am so enamored with the cover design!

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Days Gone By: #1 of The Walking Dead

Days Gone Bye (The Walking Dead, #1)by Robert Kirkman

The first installment in the long series focuses mostly on the relationships of the living with the backdrop of extreme hardship of the zombie plague. I imagine that that will be the flavor for the rest of the series. The author does a great job capturing the characters’ traits and presenting the interplays between characters with conflicting interests. The tension is high, the dialog realistic, and the artwork is well executed. Now I have to read the rest of the series!

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Beauty Queens

Beauty Queensby Libba Bray

It’s not easy to categorize this book. There is a little bit of everything — actually, there are A LOT of everything, and almost every “disadvantaged” group of characters: a transgendered former boy band member, a hearing-impaired dancer, a mechanically talented lesbian, a second generation South East Asian overachiever, an African American overachiever, a dumb blond, a sex-maniac teen, a die-heart beauty queen – and a host of other supporting characters and villains. There lies the strength and the weakness of the book: it covers many possible grounds and actually treats all these characters sensitively and with depth; and it loses focus sometimes because all the varied characters and their back stories are told alternatively and at times the readers are pulled into the past when we want to move forward with the plot. It feels too much like the subject (reality TV and mass media) that the author set out to mock. Again, that could be a strength, if one views it and appreciates the intent; or it could be a distraction — at times, the readers might feel completely overloaded by the bombardment of so much farcical humor. I might have loved the book a bit more if some parts are better pruned. I am trying to understand the conceit of the book being published by The Corporation while it paints quite truthfully all the evil dealings the Cooperation sponsored. Perhaps, it is fitting: since the Cooperation only cares about profit margin and a Tell-it-All probably generates the highest monetary return, they don’t even care that it makes the Cooperation the arch-villain in the telling.

Very meta.

Just an aside: as a native of Republic of China – ROC, every time I see the Republic of ChaCha – ROC, with its grotesque dictator on display, I had the visceral cringing reaction. But, that’s just me.

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Mockingjay Delivers!

Mockingjayby Suzanne Collins

The story of my obtaining the book first:

I was distraught when I realized that I would be vacationing on a cruise in Bermuda on the release day of Mockingjay. I searched the Internet and found a bookstore (The Bermuda Bookstore). I emailed them an order for the book. A week ago, they emailed me back and informed me that the book was already available in the store. But, of course, I couldn’t get the book until this past Wednesday when we docked. We docked in Hamilton. The bookstore is 3 blocks away and lovely! Due to the no-tax Bermudian law, I paid $18.00 for the book! (No surcharges for pre-order or overseas order.)

Since the moment I got the book, I carried it everywhere and tried to read as much as I could: at the beach, on the boat taking the family to dive and to the coral studded ocean floor, in the dining area when everyone else was lounging or eating their meals…. (And the book took a little dip in the wading pool when I slipped and fell into the shallow water – but banging my head against the hard tiled floor…)

Finally, before coming home, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, hundreds of miles south east of New York City, I finished the book last night. Here are just a brief summary of my reactions:

I truly appreciated how Collins carefully planned and fluidly executed this emotionally authentic conclusion of the trilogy. Loved the surprises and the turns of events. (Although, I definitely predicted the final event from quite a while back, I wonder if young readers who are less jaded would have seen it coming… I hope this comes to them as a true surprise and satisfyingly so!)

I was really afraid of a heightened romantic element hyped by the Team-Peeta/Team-Gale promotion that could potentially spoil the story, which, to me, is much more about how humans and humans with powers function in our society, and much less about just whom Katniss would wind up with! Collins weaves the love-triangle side-tale and the relationships into the thematic structure of narrative beautifully and I am completely pleased with how the events of these three characters unfold and end.

I only wish that there had been more interesting and inventive technologies and strategies that were so prominent and make for a more exciting SciFi read. But that is only a slight dissatisfaction from a SciFi junky.

Here are some other things I really loved about the book:

Those little word plays and allusions in the book: Like Coin’s name. She is the “other side of the same coin” as Snow. Or Katniss’s squadron is 451 and things BURN and she burns…

I thought the “real/not real” game is a very clever symbol for the whole trilogy: the dichotomy of what real life is and what is captured on screen and of what the leaders of District 13 says they are working toward and the reality of how they carry out their goals. And of course, it works so beautifully at the end when Katniss and Peeta chatted about their lives and life together.

This book, as many have stated, feels different than book 1 and 2, because it is a book of revelations, especially Katniss’s revelations about herself and her world. I like her as a character so much more in this installment. I’d say that Mockingjay delivers!


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Incarceron (Chapter 32 – Gasp and Tears)

by Catherine Fisher

This is indeed a book worthy of note, worthy of passion, and worthy of thought. It amazed me how I could only guess at the truth about Incarceron as I read and when ALL the truth is unveiled, there are still many many things I want to know and now am eager to read the next installment.

I really want to know more about each major character and really need to know how things are going to turn out for both the INside and the Outside. I even feel sorry for the Prison — the synthetic se…more This is indeed a book worthy of note, worthy of passion, and worthy of thought. It amazed me how I could only guess at the truth about Incarceron as I read and when ALL the truth is unveiled, there are still many many things I want to know and now am eager to read the next installment.

I really want to know more about each major character and really need to know how things are going to turn out for both the INside and the Outside. I even feel sorry for the Prison — the synthetic sentient being that can never escape itself. SOOOO good :) *sigh* *content*

The title of this post records my reaction to the revelation that’s hidden from the readers (although a lot of clues that made me think of this possibility and that Jared and Claudia already discovered some shocking evidence by then) for most of the book (34 chapters in all.)  Reading these passages (on pages 411 and 412 in the 2010 Dial HD edition) made me shudder and brought involuntary tears to my eyes.  Brilliant and horrifying and unfathomable… but so believable once you’ve lived through the book as its faithful reader.

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The Enemy

Enemy, theby Charlie Higson
(This cover is the British version.)

It was a gripping read, to say the least. Really enjoyed how there are multiple story-lines and view points from several key characters. A bit surprised (and slightly let-down?) at the ending where things are left really open and is a set-up for a sequel without truly wrapping up the tale at hand. Now I am itching to read the next installment and feel a bit cheated by this dangling bait of a last chapter. The number of times where the adult zombies are described in gruesome details seems a bit on the excessive side — after the 10th vivid Enemy, I kind of had enough — so the subsequent drools, flabby skin, boils, rotten flesh, green ooze, etc. were simply skimmed over by this reader who was more interested in the next plot twist and how the children dealing with situations than visualizing the various lumbering decayed semi-corpses.Moments of the book made me think: “Whoa, Lord of the Flies crossed with The Animal Farm.” Especially when David (the self-proclaimed leader) keeps promising that he is not there to “rule” but to “sort things out” for others while schemes to suppress any opposition, with force and even with death of other kids.All in all — an entertaining read for those who are not disturbed by such violence and gore.

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February 2005 Reads

A Stir of Bones
by  Nina Kiriki Hoffman

horror (5th and up)

This book is just creepy enough, just romantic enough, just complex and simple enough, for pre-teen and early teens. I LOVE the descriptions of the consciousness of the HOUSE and Susan’s relationships with the House, her friends, and Nathan, the ghost boy. When Susan leaves her shell (body) behind and travels in a magical new exterior, the imagery is so vivid that even a non-visual/graphic reader like me can visualize the pictures. It is also interesting that there is no real “pay off” of the sub-plot of the father situation — that Susan’s father is not quite “punished” at the end. (I would have LOVED to see that…) It makes the story more real. This was a Bram Stoker horror fiction for young reader nominee. It lost to the 5th Harry Potter… hmm…. I disagree.

Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods
by Suzanne Collins

fantasy, adventures, survival, series (4th-7th)

After a somewhat slow and not exciting beginning (um… for at least 1/3 of the book,) the book got really fast-paced and interesting. The “turn” of the events was suprising, and as the two books before in this series, no easy solutions were offered. I liked the somewhat cliff-hanging ending, too. Weaker than the first two, plot-wise, but definitely will keep me reading the last two titles.

To Be A Slave
by Julius Lester

highly recommended
nonfiction (7th and up)

This Newbery Honor, 1968 book was done superbly. Lester’s collecting, re-working, and threading of the slave narratives is careful and powerful. It kept me reading into dark nights, giving up sleep. The only troublesome selection, in my view, was the last entry — in which a former slave claims that there will NEVER be equality between the two races. No explanation or mentioning of any social progress accompanying this entry. Of course, at the time, Lester probably felt that was the case; he might still feel this way, even now, given the condition of this country and its people. It’s just that, it is such a downer ending and a child reader should have the opportunity to discuss this ending, and putting in the context of the last 30 odd years.

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