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Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

Not a Drop to Drink Premise: Society has crumbled and the government has become a fragmented array of city-states, but the reason for this is a lack of resources. More specifically: there is a lack of water. For Lynn, it’s not as much of an issue, since she and her mother live on a rural farm with a pond. The biggest problems are outbreaks of cholera that require them to treat their water before they drink it, hunting for food that takes them away from their guard duties on the roof of their house, and now the signs of smoke that say that there are others nearby that are a threat to their supply. Shooting people who encroach on their land hasn’t been much of a question for Lynn and Mother; it’s a matter of life and death.

But when things go terribly wrong and with winter approaching, the neighbor that has never been a threat to them is now their closest ally. With strangers roaming close to their property, Lynn must make decisions that go against everything Mother taught her: giving away supplies to others will only lead you closer to death. But what if those people can’t fend for themselves?

Not a Drop to Drink examines the ability to survive with limited resources and the lengths to which people are willing to protect them. When someone is in dire need of help, who can you trust when there are thieves and killers about? A drink of water may be all someone is asking for, and it might just be the one thing that can keep them alive.

Themes: Survival is incredibly difficult when resources are limited. Even with their stockpile of water in the form of their pond, gathering, treating, and storing make everyday tasks become a burden. Imagine trying to survive without a store of water, food, weapons or shelter. Learning basic skills becomes essential, like making shelter, fire, hunting, treating wounds.

Mother has taught Lynn not to trust anybody, which has led Lynn to shoot people in defense of their water, even as a child. Lynn is so used to considering every single person a threat, overcoming what is ingrained in her to help others makes compassion an underdeveloped emotion for her. Even Stebbs, who has lived near them as far back as Lynn can remember, is really a stranger to her. When people enter her life that have no survival skills and are in dire need of help, the decision to help is incredibly difficult for Lynn.

When society has crumbled, what shreds of decency are left when those around us are in need? How much of our humanity are we willing to sacrifice for our own survival? Or does helping someone in need benefit us when we do so?

Pros: Not a Drop to Drink really highlights the difficulty and drudgery of survival without modern amenities. It brings out how the most common of minor injuries can be debilitating or even deadly without medical treatments available to us every day. Even with the grim subject matter in a free-for-all frontier full of scavenging, injury, sickness, and death, it is refreshing to be such a fairly clean young adult novel mostly free of sex and profanity. McGinnis manages to effectively describe terrible things with sparse language, merely hinting at humanity’s ugliness through the reality of survival. The characters are pretty realistic, even the one-dimensional “bad guys” we see later in the story. We get to watch some real change in heart for Lynn through different stages of the story.

Cons: It is interesting how quickly Lynn goes from never speaking to another human to cuddling in bed with a guy, especially with the limited amount of time she knows him. I thought the plot twist reveal toward the end was an attempt to up the stakes for Lynn, but it felt unnecessary for this story. I understand the philosophical implications of fighting your past and becoming a new person, but these things were already happening with how Lynn treated people compared to what Mother had ingrained in her. With limited action, some readers might find Not a Drop to Drink to be boring.

Recommendations: Not a Drop to Drink is a chilling, gut-wrenching vision of an all too realistic future with limited resources. It is a sad yet beautiful debut novel that makes the reader think about what they would willing to do when placed in a survival situation, while simultaneously examining how much they would be willing to help someone else in need. Be ready for some intense scenes that contain deeply real emotions. While not overly flashy and action-packed, Not a Drop to Drink pushes toward redemption for a broken world through small deeds by normal folks.

Mindy McGinnis’ website
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I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2013 in Science Fiction, Young Adult

 

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What God Hath Joined by Mike Lewis

Premise: The zombie apocalypse has hit, but Mike and his wife Samantha are prepared. They have fortified their home, stockpiled resources, and are well-armed against both threats of humans and undead. They are faring better than most.

When strangers are being chased by hungry zombies, Mike’s only option is to let them into his secure world. When he introduces these new people to his wife, their colliding worlds end in simultaneous hope and tragedy, depending on whose perspective you take. It is in Mike’s nature to help those in need, but his faith in God and his vows to his wife are of utmost importance to him, promises that he takes seriously.

Themes: Mike’s marriage to his wife takes on the key theme in What God Hath Joined, especially how he cares for Samantha through the horrible circumstances they are under and the things he must do for her.

This is also a story about faith in God and how that colors how you live your life, helping others and fulfilling promises. The problem is such beliefs are challenged when one conflicts with the other.

Pros: The ending is a bit of a surprise, though the protagonist’s motives make it more believable. The setting is laid out well in such a brief story. All the characters felt like they were behaving realistically in a zombie apocalypse setting, with panic and wariness of strangers, but also with a bit of thankfulness for the human interaction. There is a big challenge to the reader to examine your own beliefs and consider how you might act under the circumstances. The Christian beliefs of the protagonist come across as genuine.

Cons: The dialogue felt stilted, especially as Mike verbalizes his motives. Though it is a short story, cutting out some of the infodumping dialogue of the protagonist and changing it to internal monologue or more natural conversation would probably have helped shape the character personalities and made the whole thing flow a little better. The ending is good, if not abrupt, and apparently there is electricity to watch movies and for an automatic garage door.

Recommendations: A Christian audience might overlook a story like this because of its content, but with it Mike may have single-handedly created a new sub-genre: Christian zombie fiction. But it isn’t overly preachy. What God Hath Joined is a surprisingly fun zombie short story with serious implications for faithfulness to religious beliefs and marital promises. Give it a shot with an open mind about your own beliefs, but you might end up liking it just because it’s a good story.

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I received a copy from the author to write this honest review. He’s also my brother.

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2013 in Horror, Short Story, Theology

 

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Countdown City by Ben H. Winters

Countdown City (The Last Policeman, #2)Premise: It is now seventy-seven days until an asteroid will collide with Earth, and society has continued to break down. Hank Palace is no longer a detective, now that the U.S. Department of Justice police state has been put into place anticipating the coming apocalypse. People continue to die or go missing, but for some strange reason Hank has agreed to go in search of Brett Cavatone, the husband of Hank’s old babysitter. Brett has disappeared and there is no way of knowing where he is. There are still people leaving behind everything they have in order to spend their last days however they want, and there are also those who want to see the end on their own terms.

With the aid of Nico, his sister, and his police friends still on the force, along with the unlikeliest of helpers, Hank learns where Brett might have gone, but it still doesn’t mean he is alive. Even if he is, does Brett want to go back? And as the impact date approaches, Hank learns of a plot to potentially change the outcome of the world. But there are those who would have it another way.

Themes: In a world facing the end of existence, Countdown City takes a sweeping look at how people respond to disaster, but in the context of living in a world with other people. It zooms in on various reactions to the circumstances as humanity copes with impending doom. Most importantly, it posits revealing shades of how people treat each other, especially in times of crisis.

Even though he is no longer a cop, Hank Palace continues to do what he knows when he agrees to attempt solving a mystery. He has no obligation to anyone at this point, yet he still is willing to use his last days risking his life and helping out someone from his past. If anything, it helps him keep his own identity and humanity as he does what he can to help others keep a shred of their own.

Pros: The outstanding part of Countdown City is the question it asks about human nature and how we treat each other. Hank Palace is a good guy in the truest sense of the word, while some of the characters he runs across are less than reputable, including some of those that help him. But even though Hank is a white hat in a world of black hats, he still flawed and makes mistakes that threaten his own life. I felt even more immediacy in this story than the first book, especially as the drop dead date approaches and society continues to crumble exponentially. Ben H. Winters again masterfully pieces together a mystery that leaves you guessing until the end.

Cons: Again, as in The Last Policeman, there is little to look forward to in the long term for these characters, as the end is nigh for all of them. As such, Countdown City contains plenty of language, violence, sex and drug use in a world left with no rules. When there are murmurs about how the crisis might be averted, I was reminded of cheesy Hollywood movies about asteroids heading toward Earth.

Recommendations: Countdown City does exactly what the first book did, giving us a spectrum of visceral human reactions to the end of existence. The majority of people act with haste and selfishness by going “bucket list” and doing whatever they want regardless of any potential repercussions, while some few continue to do what they always have: serving coffee at the cafe, keeping the peace, or, in Hank Palace’s case, solving mysteries. Search yourself as you encounter the different characters to see how you might react under the circumstance. Start the series with The Last Policeman, but don’t stop there. See the end of the world out to the end by continuing with Countdown City. The end could come quickly, or there might be more to come.

Ben H. Winters’ website
Countdown City on Goodreads
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I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2013 in Mystery, Science Fiction

 

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Virus Thirteen by Joshua Alan Parry

Virus ThirteenPremise: In a future suffering from global warming storms and government-mandated health requirements, scientists James Logan and his wife, Linda, work at GeneFirm, the world’s leading biotech company. It is there that so much of the world’s vaccines are developed and where genetic research has essentially eliminated most diseases.

When a bioterrorist attack spreads a super-flu virus around the world, GeneFirm is tapped to come up with a vaccine. The problem is that Linda is the head of the research team developing the vaccine and her team ends up in lockdown in the underground labs at GeneFirm.

After he collapses from a supposed brain tumor, James goes looking for answers. He is supposed to be immune to cancer because of the preventative genetic alterations most people have done to themselves, but in his search he learns the flu virus attack is more than it seems. When he discovers the reasons for the attack, his life and those he loves are in danger, but the worldwide ramifications are much greater.

Themes: Current scientific issues are the primary theme of Virus Thirteen. We are shown one idea of the after-effects of global warming. Most diseases are eliminated through vaccines and genetic manipulation. The ramifications of curing some of those diseases are what is really at issue. What happens when curing a disease is worse than letting it continue to exist?

Government-controlled health care is an issue that is covered. Because most diseases have a cure in Virus Thirteen, vaccines and genetic alterations are mandated, though some people shirk the government and have free births. Heart disease prevention is enforced through government agencies who track down overweight people and force them into grueling and controlled exercise and eating programs.

Pros: Virus Thirteen has a quick tempo with short chapters, making it pretty readable and easy to consume. The premise is interesting as a future pandemic postulation in spite of the rough execution. The highly-technical scientific subjects are made surprisingly easy to understand thanks to a knowledgeable author.

Cons: One major problem with Virus Thirteen is the lack of setting. It is set in the future, but with no explanation of exactly when or where these events are taking place apart from a couple mentions of Austin, Texas. The metaphor and simile use is awful, and that’s not the worst part of the prose. With the amount of flippant profanity, sex, and inane humor I felt like I was reading the polished work of a high school student, complete with insults about overweight people with fat and poop jokes. On top of this, I sensed a political agenda with the focus on global warming and genetic manipulation, with an antagonism toward children because of a perceived overpopulation on the planet.

Recommendations: If you have a juvenile sense of humor and are looking for a quick read about the near future that touches on scientific ethics, politics, and genetic manipulation, by all means give Virus Thirteen a shot. These also happen to be its biggest faults, trying too hard to be unsuccessfully funny in places and with a disregard to giving the reader a true sense of setting. This lack of place or time made the global warming and genetic science of Virus Thirteen weaker, to the point where the story suffers from a lack in believability or plausible objectivity. Virus Thirteen is fast-paced and about as lighthearted as a global pandemic can be, but there are also so many other better executed post-apocalyptic novels out there.

Virus Thirteen on Goodreads
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I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on March 31, 2013 in Mystery, Science Fiction

 

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The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

The Last PolicemanPremise: When asteroid 2011GV1 came into view, the likelihood of its impact with the Earth eventually grew to a certainty. From that point on, people reacted in different ways. Some cashed in their retirements and moved to exotic locations to spend the rest of their lives (six months) to the fullest or to indulge themselves into dangerous or illegal behavior, while some turned to God or sought other meaning. Others fell into despair and gave up, beating the asteroid to the punch by committing suicide. Concord, New Hampshire has become one of those places rife with suicides, and Peter Zell is just another on the list when he is found dangling from a belt in a McDonald’s bathroom. Hank Palace doesn’t think it’s a suicide. The real problem is no one else cares, including the cops he works with.

Due to a lack of personnel, Hank Palace has been put on the fast track from beat cop to detective. Since being a detective is always what he wanted to be, he takes his job seriously, even with the limited amount of time he has left to do it. He is about the only one who still wants to do his job, so he follows the Peter Zell trail to those who last knew of his whereabouts. As he pieces the clues together, he believes more and more this was a murder, even when the medical examiner also rules it a suicide.

In a world that is about to end, with people committing suicide left and right, why bother investigating it as a murder? Everyone is trying to cope in their own way, and maybe this is just Hank’s way of coping. Or maybe he just wants to do his job right. Whatever reasons he has for investigating the death or reasons someone would have to kill a man this close to the end, Hank Palace knows that even if he does find a killer, it might not even ultimately matter.

Themes: A mystery presents itself and new detective Hank Palace wants to take it seriously, even though no one else does. Seeking justice for a dead man doesn’t make sense when the world is probably coming to an end, but that is exactly what Hank plans on doing. Hank goes on a trail for clues to solve the mystery and digs up just what he needs piece by piece. He knows he must be on the right trail when his own life is threatened.

With the survival (or lack of survival) scenario, The Last Policeman presents a “how would you respond?” question to all readers. It gives a macro level look at the human race and the vast range of responses to such a scenario.

The Last Policeman also zooms in on what people are willing to do for their family, even in the worst circumstances, such as putting their jobs in danger, risking their own lives, or even committing crimes including murder. It looks at what people will do to help their family through tough times and also what people are willing to do to protect those they love.

Pros: The pacing of The Last Policeman was wonderful, plodding along in despair at times, and spinning out of control at others. I enjoyed the characters and the dialogue, especially in the face of the Earth’s demise. Clues are doled out right when they are needed with nothing wasted or overdone. The first person present tense punctuates the immediacy of the situation and the urgency of every moment. It poses valid questions with realistic answers under the worst of scenarios and exemplifies the vast array of human reactions to those circumstances. I think it is this display of humanity that had the most impact on me.

Cons: This was difficult for me since I liked The Last Policeman so much. Some readers might find the story somewhat depressing, though there are glimpses of hope throughout. There is some language and violence you will find in most cop novels. The story might start too slow for impatient readers who give up too easily and stop reading, but the reward is great for those who persevere in finishing.

Recommendations: The Last Policeman is one of those books that just grabbed me from the beginning and got better as it progressed. Everything about it seemed to work, from the dialogue to the gradual reveals in the mystery all the way to the foreshadowed revelations when Hank finally solves the mystery. Ben H. Winters has set out a police mystery in an apocalyptic setting that manages to display optimism under gloomy circumstances. As a mystery, cop drama, or as a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel, The Last Policeman has something to offer for everyone. With its exploration of human nature, The Last Policeman poses thoughtful questions everyone should ask themselves. Plus it’s just plain good writing. It’s also the first in a trilogy, for which I am not angry.

Ben H. Winters’ website
The Last Policeman on Goodreads
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Posted by on September 20, 2012 in Mystery, Science Fiction

 

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Article 5 by Kristen Simmons

Article 5 (Article 5, #1)Premise: The Unites States has been ravaged by war and major cities have been abandoned. The Constitution is no longer in effect. Instead, there are now the Moral Statutes, put in place by the Federal Bureau of Reformation. Moral behavior has now been legislated by these statutes and those who break them are rounded up and punished severely.

Ember Miller’s very existence is in jeopardy since she is the child of a single mother who reads unapproved books and secretly thumbs her nose at the system. After the government finally tracks down her mother, Ember does whatever it takes to find and rescue her. The only problem is the boy she loves, Chase Jennings, is the person who arrested her mother, and now Ember will have to be sent off to be rehabilitated into compliance.

Ember must go under the radar, deal with curfews, escape from imprisonment, and face death to find her mother. She will have to decide whether or not she trusts Chase and find out if there is any hope of throwing off the oppression of the FBR. Will compliance with the statutes be enough to keep the people complacent or will they eventually rise up?

Themes: The importance of separation of church and state came to mind as a theme when I first read the cover blurb. I’m not sure it was intentional, but the first half of the book puts that forward, while the rest of the book reinforces it. Can we legislate morality?

Survival comes to the forefront as Ember and her mother, along with other rehab girls and everyone else living under the oppression of the FBR, attempt to make ends meet by accepting the meager supplies doled out to them by the government. All of this is done while attempting to secretly hang onto the former freedoms they used to enjoy.

The changes that happen to people in the throes of war become relevant as Ember learns of the transformation that Chase has undergone after enlisting as a soldier and joining with the “Moral Militia” to hunt down the non-compliant. The horrible things that people see while in battle can be too much to handle for some.

Pros: At first glance, I thought I would hate this book, but I actually started to get into it around the halfway point. I was surprised I finished the book and was glad I did. Article 5 gave me some things to think about as far as my own biases. Though rife with plot holes and gaping omissions of important details, the story is still fairly well-constructed as a whole.

Cons: The reason I thought I would hate this is because it sounded preachy. I hate to say I was right. It sets up the government as a “Christian” ruling body that enacts moral statutes, and enforces them by rounding people up and executing them. While I understand this is fiction, I tend to implicate authors’ views at least in some part into what they write. I don’t know if I’m even right on this count, but that’s what I came away with. I didn’t really like Ember because she was so whiny and could have solved so many of her problems by simply breaking out of her self-deprecating angst and actually talking to Chase. Finally, the ending is a non-ending that is either intended to lead you into the next book (something I hate) or is a vague glimpse of hope to overcome the clutches of an extremely nebulous theocracy.

Recommendations: In spite of its numerous flaws, I found myself liking Article 5 more than I thought I would. Even with its annoying protagonist and unclear ending, I enjoyed the journey of reading through it. If you like post-apocalyptic young adult (though this is labeled as “teen”) then you can probably find other better-executed stories out there. I might give book two a chance if it is written, but more likely I will move on to characters I care more about and stories with a premise less preachy.

Kristen Simmons’ website
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Posted by on June 19, 2012 in Science Fiction

 

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Arctic Rising by Tobias Buckell

Arctic RisingPremise: The world has succumbed to global warming and the polar ice caps have all but completely melted away, opening up the Arctic to previously inaccessible oil fields. Anika Duncan is on a routine patrol in her airship when she scans a ship and finds a radioactive signature. She goes in for a closer look but is shot down.

With her partner dead, assassins trying to kill her, the authorities constantly on her trail, and the threat of a nuclear weapon being set off, she doesn’t know who to trust. She goes on the run looking for answers and finds help in unlikely places: Roo, an agent-for-hire from the Caribbean, and Violet, a lesbian drug dealer that really likes Anika.

When Anika discovers there was something else on the ship of the people that shot her down, she realizes she is getting into the middle of a conflict that spans the globe but is quickly coming to a head in Thule, a city on the last chunk of ice in the Arctic, where leaders of the Gaia Corporation have plans for reversing the effects of global warming. The only problem is that it might just mean the beginning of another world war, with Anika right at its center.

Themes: Although Arctic Rising is science fiction, it is a political novel more than anything. In man’s lust for oil it has destroyed Earth through global warming. Power has shifted to oil companies and countries who have lower tax rates and move through open international waters. Gaia Corporation is an environmental group that has somehow gained power to the level of a powerful nation in spite of the destruction of the climate.

Though it is not a single incident we can point to, Arctic Rising is still a post-apocalyptic novel. Islands and coastlines have been devastated and destroyed, economies have shifted, the landscape of the world has been dramatically changed, and power has shifted between countries and corporations. Survival is a struggle as equatorial temperatures heat up and Arctic ice is turned to water.

This is also a story about trust, where Anika learns who she can trust even through such horrible global circumstances, but also must learn to trust on a personal level.

Pros: Arctic Rising is non-stop action with obvious nods to James Bond. Each of the characters have a voice of their own, and their interactions are believable and at times very visceral. While it seems impossible, the solution for fighting climate change was something new and curious, especially on the scale that Buckell puts forth here.

Cons: With its obvious environmental commentary, Arctic Rising was also fairly preachy in quite a few other topics, including global warming, politics, sexual orientation, and morality issues. Not only that, but it seems right around halfway through the book that the vulgarity was ramped up for no good reason, especially with swearing and sexual language. I also didn’t care for the description that was printed on the book itself because it simply gives too much away. Don’t put spoilers on the book!

Recommendations: In spite of the preachy messages in Arctic Rising, many with which I disagree, I still found myself enjoying the overall story. It should tell you something about the quality of the writing when someone who isn’t on board with the premise can still buy into the scientific speculation and recourse. I found Arctic Rising to be fast-paced, imaginative, and a surprising combination of action thriller and science fiction.

Tobias Buckell’s website
Arctic Rising on Goodreads
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Posted by on February 29, 2012 in Science Fiction

 

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