Category Archives: Dystopian fiction

Guest Review: The Islands at the End of the World by Austin Aslan

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books (August 5, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780385744027
  • Source: Publisher

Sixteen-year-old Leilani and her father travel from their small island town to the Big Island of Hawaii to Oahu to seek medical treatment for her epilepsy.  When the President of the United States goes missing for several hours, they think nothing of it, assuming the media is rushing to assumptions.  Once they arrive on the Big Island, however, a series of meteor strikes causes all electronics to fail, preventing them from communicating with their family back home. The meteor storms also bring on the appearance of a celestial being, dubbed the Green Orchid due to its flower-like appearance.

Unable to complete her medical tests, Leilani and her father are desperate to return home. Commercial flights are cancelled and a return by sea is far too dangerous.  The added stress causes an increase in Leilani’s seizures, during which she experiences otherworldly connections to the past. As a food shortage becomes eminent, citizens begin to loot, forcing the military to become involved. Leilani and her father, attempting to find their own means of returning home, become just two of the many citizens forced into military camps.  As their hopes of returning home dwindle, Leilani begins to wonder if somehow she is connected to the entity that looms over them.  A terrifying and devastating future is before them.  Will they be able to return home before it’s too late?

I was thrilled to accept this book for review because I felt it was a book that my teen son and I could read and discuss together.  He’s currently quite fond of dystopian fiction and it seemed to be the kind of book he’d adore.  Initially, it was. Unfortunately it took an unexpected turn…and not necessarily for the good. Here are his thoughts.  Warning: there are some spoilers below. Typically, we don’t include spoilers in our review but they were necessary in order for John to fully explain his feelings about the book.

I’ve always wanted to visit Hawaii. My parents went when I was two and since then I’ve been begging my parents to take me. So when my Mom gave this book to me, I was really excited. It blended together survival fiction (I’m a big fan!) and a beautiful setting. Sure to be a success, right? Unfortunately no. It’s actually very difficult for me to write this review because I’m still rather upset at the shift the book made. It started out like any other dystopian fiction. Something happens to cause the world as we know it to go haywire. Yep, I’m sold. Initially, they claimed it was due to this meteor storm. Ok, that’s plausible. Then, in a complete shift, this thing in the sky is an alien being and Leilani is connected to it somehow. Ok, where the heck did that come from?  This dramatic shift really irritated me. I felt tricked, somehow. I was really enjoying the book, I was going to recommend it to all my friends. And then this.  Making things worse is the “to be continued….” at the end. So this is going to be a series now?  I’m all about cliffhanger endings but this one left me mad.  My mom says I should not rush to judgement and wait until the next book comes out, but I don’t know if I have the patience to do so.

I’m trying to be a responsible and respectful reader and finding the benefits to this book. I do agree that it is an excellent survival story.  I like how Leilani and her father were brought together due to the challenges they were faced, rather than giving up and fighting all the time. But that shift in the storyline. I don’t know if I can get over it.

So, I’ll do what my Mom suggests and I’ll read the next book. I’ll be more guarded about my feelings and trust, however.

I guess I can recommend this novel to fans of survivalist fiction and if you read this review you know about the thing that changed my feelings about this book. Looking at other reviews, people seemed to love it. Perhaps I am alone in my feelings, perhaps I’m the only one who chose to state them. So, I’m not going to tell you not to read this book. I’ll just warn you in advance. That’s the best I can do!

There you have it.  Now that John and I have discussed the book, he somewhat understands the author’s motives and is a little more forgiving of what transpired. I understand his feelings; this is probably the first time he’s felt so strongly about a book in a not so positive way.  Take John’s experiences as you may; I’ll be interested to read others reviews of this title!

Review: A Better World by Marcus Sakey

  • Series: The Brilliance Saga, Book Two (Book 2)
  • Paperback: 390 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas & Mercer (June 17, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9781477823941
  • Source: Publisher

The world first became aware of the brilliants in 1980. Approximately 1% of the world’s population were born with gifts that set them apart from everyone else. At a young age, children are tested for special abilities. If found to be gifted, they are sent off to an institution where their powers are fine-tuned. For the last three decades, tension has been growing between the brilliants and the “norms.”  A battle is raging. A terrorist led by the brilliants cripples shipments to three major cities. Without power and the most basic of supplies, citizens are scared and confused. Barricades prevent them from seeking refuge elsewhere.

Nick Cooper is a brilliant, his ability to read a person’s mannerisms to predict their actions has given him a high-level position with a secretive government agency that eradicates violent brilliants.  In a new role as advisor to the President of the United States. Cooper has a difficult time gauging which side he should belong to. Individuals he was once fighting against have proven themselves to be adversaries. Unfortunately, there is little time to devote to proving one’s allegiance; a group of radical brilliants known as the Children of Darwin are attempting to take down the US government.  Nick Cooper is one of the select few who can put a stop to the chaos and prevent the third World War from commencing.

Let me start off by saying that I don’t review titles published by Amazon. I just don’t. It’s a personal preference that I really don’t sway from. Except in the case of Marcus Sakey. Known by many as a truly talented crime fiction author, Sakey shocked hundreds of readers by leaping into the world of science fiction. Admittedly, I was quite wary of this decision. Yet when Brilliance was released, I was knocked into stunned silence.

Sakey has managed to create a truly brilliant (no pun intended), wholly unique series. Other reviewers have likened the world that Sakey has created to that of X-men, yet I tend to believe it is far more terrorizing. The brilliants Sakey has created are far more plausible and believable than any comic book creation.

In A Better World, the story picks up right at the end of the previous novel. A battle is raging between the brilliants and the norms. It’s hard not to pick up on the social commentary Sakey has weaved into this series. Individuals, born different than others, torn away from their parents’ arms at a young age to be raised in an institution? It isn’t difficult to find parallels in the history of our country.

The intensity of this novel hits you from the start, unrelenting through nearly 400 pages. Like the characters, readers will question whose side they should take, questioning everything they’ve learned so far. Ending with a powerful cliffhanger, Sakey leaves readers with a quick tease as to what is yet to come.

As this is the second book in a series, I do recommend that you start at the beginning with Brilliance. While Sakey does provide a bit of backstory, new readers will have a difficult time catching up with all that transpires. Trust me, it’s well worth the read!

Bottom line: the Brilliance series is a must read for readers of all varieties, from science fiction to thriller to dystopian. You’ll devour the books in no time, counting down the days until the next book is released. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon (Audiobook)

  • Listening Length: 16 hours and 23 minutes
  • Version: Unabridged
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc. (April 8, 2014)
  • Source: Publisher (via Audiobook Jukebox)

The death of print is eminent. Books, magazines and newspapers have been replaced by Memes, handheld devices that are not only communication tools but sensitive enough to sense our every want. It is also connected to a virtual marketplace called the Word Exchange that allows people to create and sell language.

Anana Johnson and her father, Doug, work at the North American Dictionary of the English Language (NADEL). Doug’s passion has always been the written word, refusing to embrace technology. His latest project is the last print edition of the dictionary to publish.  His passion is so great that, when he disappears, Anana is immediately concerned. The only evidence Doug leaves behind is a code word he and Anana would use when one another was in danger: Alice. As Anana begins her hunt for her father, a “word flu” has begun to devastate the population.  This illness forces people to speak in gibberish, spreading quickly with devastating results. When her closest ally in her search, her colleague Bart, becomes infected, Anana is even more determined to locate her father, certain that locating him will provide the answers to her unending questions.

The Word Exchange is a brilliantly executed cautionary tale about the dangers of technology. Set in the not-too-distant future, Graedon has created a world in which everyone is connected, virtually, long-ago abandoning the very thing we should hold near and dear to our hearts: the written word. Citizens were repeatedly warned of the potential consequences of such technology, yet these warnings went ignored. The conveniences of such devices far outweighed any consequences.  The fate of humankind is now at risk, the damage irreparable.

Alternating in points of view, readers get a glimpse of what transpires through the eyes of Anana and Bart. As Bart declines due to illness, his slips in language are made obvious in his dialogue. Listening to the audiobook, at first I assumed the narrator had misspoken, quickly realizing this was an intended point of confusion, further detailing the impact of the word flu.

This novel was recommended to me after I read and adored The Lexicon by Max Berry. Both books are tremendous feats of the written language that will force readers to reflect upon the very thing that ties us all together: language.  Devastating in its plausibility, there is no doubt that readers will contemplate putting away their electronic devices, stepping away from the computer, in favor of embracing the print word.

A note on the audio production:
This title was narrated by Tavia Gilbert and Paul Michael Garcia.  Overall, this was an outstanding audio performance. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for Garcia to intentionally slip up in word usage, using completely incorrect, or in some cases, gibberish words, to replace normal speech.

That said, there was something in the quality of the audio recording that irritated me. At times, it seemed as though excerpts of the book were edited in for the tone and quality of the narrator’s voice shifted into an almost hollow sounding tone, as if they were speaking from a hole or through a long tube. So obvious, this shift in quality, it would take me a few seconds to recover and become once again attentive to the narration.

At first, I thought perhaps this was just me, but when I played segments for others they experience this shift as well. So, while the narrators did an an outstanding job, something in the editing of the overall performance elicited a less than stellar listening experience. My personal recommendation would be to skp the audio, embrace the print version of this novel instead.

Bottom line: The Word Exchange is a must read for fans of the written word. Thought-provoking and lasting in message. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: World of Trouble (Last Policeman #03) by Ben Winters

  • Series: Last Policeman (Book 3)
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Quirk Books (July 15, 2014)
  • ISBN: 978159474685
  • Source: Publisher

*Warning: This is a review for the third book in a trilogy. There will be spoilers in this review, so if you have not read the previous two books please do not continue.*

The clock is ticking away; the asteroid on a path to Earth is getting closer. The end is imminent. Everyone has responded to the devastating reality in a different way: committing crime, stealing in order to get supplies to survive the last few days, and, in many cases, ending their own lives so they didn’t have to face the horrific end. Detective Hank Palace could be doing what everyone else is, settling down to ride out his last few days on Earth. Instead, he continues his search for his sister, Nico. The last he heard, she’d joined a group that apparently had a solution to destroy the asteroid before it struck the planet.

His search takes him to an abandoned police station in Ohio. His sidekicks on this journey are his ever faithful dog, Houdini, and Cortez, a former criminal.  At the police station it seems as if the world has already ceased to function. Officers either fled their posts when they heard news of the asteroid or were killed protecting what modicum of society still existed. There, they find a young woman on the brink of death, her throat slit in a failed attempt at her life. Palace knows his sister is some how tied to this police station. As they wait for the young woman to regain consciousness, they discover evidence that may indicate Nico and her group are buried in a bunker beneath the police station. Time is not their friend. While Palace may not be able to stop the end of life as they know it, but when the end does come he wants to be with Nico.

What Place and Cortez discover, however, is more haunting and chilling than they could have imagined.

It goes without saying that this novel is bleak. The end of the world is imminent, nothing can be done to stop it. Society as we know it has already ceased to exist, people robbing and killing one another to scrape together supplies to ride out to the end.  There is no time for fluff in this storytelling; Winters shells it out to readers without sugar-coating it.  No happy rainbows or butterflies; the world is ending.  Yet rather than being depressing, I found myself to be moved emotionally by Palace’s journey to find his sister.

What makes this novel, and the entire trilogy, stand out as a whole is the superb storytelling. Winters is a genius; mixing dry humor and bits of hope by way of Palace’s character.  Although we know the world is ending, readers will root for him, crossing our fingers in hope that he will track down Nico before the asteroid hits.  As Winters ties together loose ends, wrapping up story lines and answering questions that came about in the previous books, readers are inundated with revelation after revelation, leaving one in a stunned silence until they can fully comprehend what they just read.

As I read, I was wary of how the book was going to end.  I must say, I couldn’t have imagined it any other way. A truly expert piece of storytelling, this trilogy is a must-read.  While I’m sad that it has come to a conclusion, I can’t wait to pick up the first book and start it over again, knowing now what I didn’t know then.  Highly, highly recommended.


Check out my reviews of the first two books in the trilogy:

The Last Policeman
Countdown City

Review: Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (July 8, 2014)
  • ISBN: 978-0385534833
  • Source: Publisher (egalley)

Emily Shepard is a sixteen year-old only child of parents who work at a nuclear plant in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. She has her fair share of struggles: her parents have been alcoholics most of her life.  This isn’t a secret; everyone knows of Emily’s plight. When a meltdown at the nuclear plant occurs, her father, the chief administrator, is blamed. Both he and Emily’s mother, a communications director, are declared missing after the meltdown, assumed dead.

Emily is certain that others will blame her for her parents’ actions. Lives have been lost, property destroyed, a community devastated all at her parents’ hands. Rather than seeking refuge and safety with others, she lives on the streets, surviving by selling her body. She has a passion for Emily Dickinson novels, and takes the name of one of Dickinson’s friends, Abby Bliss, as her own.

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is told from Emily’s standpoint. This isn’t your typical post-disaster novel, for rather than following the saga post-disaster, readers follow Emily through her journey through self-destruction and survival.  She alternates between past and present, the reader playing witness to two seemingly very different characters.  One Emily is strong, caring, and considerate. The other, more destructive Emily, cuts herself, abuses drugs, and has no qualms in giving up her body in order to survive.

Emily’s character, while not admirable at all, is quite dynamic.  Not only has she survived the loss of her parents and family dog, but every scrap of normalcy. She is surrounded by destruction and devastation, reflecting on the calm, yet stark beauty of Dickinson poems to sustain her.  Her choices aren’t always the best, yet despite any evidence pointing toward self-destruction, Emily wants to live. On her own terms, after finding her own answers, she does want to live. She craves a normal life and forgiveness for all the damage her parents have done.

I know I’m not shocking anyone when I mention the talent of Chris Bohjalian. A fan of all of his sixteen novels, I know when I pick up on of Chris’s books that I’m going to be surrendering my heart and soul to that book. This is certainly the case with Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands.  Bohjalian captures Emily with such eloquence that it haunts me. Obvious suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Emily not only captures the reaction of one teen girl in this particular incident, but of the response of anyone after a devastating incident.

For this reason, an obvious one in my belief, Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is, in a large part, a dark and difficult book to read.  Yet this is just another piece of evidence of Bohjalian’s brilliant and talented writing. He’s not going to sugar-coat real life, loss and devastation. He expresses it realistically, not covering it with a shroud of happiness and hope.  That’s not to say that this is a novel devoid of hope; for at the end of Emily’s difficult journey readers are granted a feeling of hope, of a future.

The feeling I experienced while reading this novel were bittersweet. The darkness I felt was reminiscent of feelings experienced after many of the devastating acts that have befallen our country, like 9/11 and others. This is Bohjalian’s intent…the title has direct ties to a very recent horror our country faced. I won’t give it away, for that revelation is a turning point that each reader must experience themselves.

While the main character of this novel is a teen girl, I would in no way classify this as a young adult novel. The tone, language, etc. are definitely that of an adult novel. That’s not to say that more mature teens should avoid this, but with the understanding there are some rather mature scenes and language throughout the book.

It goes without saying that I highly, highly recommend this book. It is one with a lasting message, one that will haunt you long after you finish the last pages. You’ll close the book and want to recommended it to someone, just so you can have the shared experience in discussing it. Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is a book you will hear a lot about this summer, one that you should not miss.

Review: The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Orbit; First Edition edition (June 10, 2014)
  • ISBN: 0316278157
  • Source: Publisher

Melanie is a unique girl. She spends most of her day locked in a cell. When she is moved, she is restrained in a wheelchair, her arms and legs shackled to hinder movement. She looks forward to going to “school” and, in particular, her teacher Miss Justineau. She has hopes for her future and life as an adult; unfortunately Melanie cannot comprehend why that will never happen. Like any child her age, she craves attention and affection, both of which are forbidden.

There are other children similar to Melanie, studied by a doctor at the facility. Some leave and never return.  Melanie seems to be the only one of the children who contemplates this; the others seem oblivious and go on with their routine.  Then…something happens, throwing off this routine and sending Melanie’s world into an uncontrollable spiral of change.

Set in a post-apocalyptic society, The Girl with All the Gifts alludes to something not quite being right in the world. Rather than being unveiled immediately, small tidbits of information are relayed to the reader as the characters themselves experience it.  This review is intentionally vague because the reader must experience the revelations on their own, free of spoilers or hints of what is to come.

Melanie, the main character, is a truly unique young girl. This novel is a coming-of-age of sorts, as Melanie undergoes quite a transformation mentally and emotionally as she learns what makes her different from those around her. It is impossible not to feel sympathy for her as she undergoes these revelations.  It will tear at readers heartstrings, for Carey so eloquently portrays the feelings Melanie is experiencing in her “transformation.”

The secondary characters are highly involved in Melanie’s transformation, from Miss Justineau, her sympathetic and caring teacher to Dr. Caldwell, who sees the children as merely test subjects, and finally the guards around her. As they each experience Melanie outside the confines of the facility, they each form a better understanding of what, and who, she really is.

The world the author builds is dark and chilling, difficult to fathom at times but chillingly realistic at others.  I have no doubt that this novel stands on its own as a truly unique spin on a seemingly common storyline.  The cover makes the tone of the book apparent; there is no avoiding the fact that this is a taut, intense thriller.

The Girl with All the Gifts is a must-read for fans of post-apocalyptic fiction, particularly those novels that force you to contemplate your own situation, or your response to the situation at hand.  While this review is so vague as to what transpires, trust me to know that the anticipation and revelation will make it well worth it in the end. Highly, highly recommended.

Short Review: The Way We Fall & The Lives We Lost by Megan Crewe

Following are short reviews/commentary on two of the books I read during the readathon!

The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe

  • Age Range: 12 – 18 years
  • Series: Fallen World (Book 1)
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Disney-Hyperion (February 5, 2013)

After a virus hits the small island that is home to sixteen-year-old Kaelyn, the government establishes a quarantine, isolating them from the rest of the country.  The survivors, with very little information, react in two ways: they survive as only they can, by building up a stronghold in their homes or, the more unfortunate, to form rogue gangs that will stop at nothing to get their hands on items necessary for survival. Told using a series of journal entries to Kaelyn’s best friend (away at school and not trapped on the island), this first in a trilogy details Kaelyn’s growth from a floundering and socially awkward teen to a strong and determined young woman.

The Lives We Lost by Megan Crewe

  • Age Range: 12 – 18 years
  • Series: The Fallen World trilogy (Book 2)
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Disney-Hyperion (February 12, 2013)

In this second book in the trilogy, Kaelyn has discovered samples of a vaccine in her father’s abandoned lab.  She knows she must track down someone to replicate and disperse the cure. Unfortunately, that person isn’t on the island.  Forced onto the mainland after her home is destroyed, Kaelyn is disturbed to see that the virus has spread far beyond her island home and there are groups of survivors who will stop at nothing to get their hands on it. An excellent second book in a trilogy, this one has evaded any fears of a sophomore slump. Kaelyn has continued to grow as a budding leader, putting everything at risk to save humanity.

This is a trilogy I just happened to come across in a chain bookstore while on vacation. My oldest son pointed them out to me and, unfortunately, I quickly forgot their titles. Apparently, I was meant to read them for days later a tweet from the publisher reminded me! I intended for my fourteen year old son to read them first but, come readathon time, I couldn’t resist!

I do highly recommend this trilogy to fans of young adult apocalyptic fiction. The characters are genuine and well developed, the pacing spot-on with enough intensity to keep readers captivated. I’m glad I requested all three books from my library at once; I can’t wait to start in on the third title!

Review: Above by Isla Morley

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery Books (March 4, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 1476731527
  • Source: Publisher

At just sixteen years old, Blythe Hallowell is abducted by a survivalist, kept prisoner in an abandoned missile silo. She tries without success to escape, he captor spouting stories about the the end of the world. He believes that the two of them alone are humankind’s salvation, destined to repopulate the world after the apocalypse.  Slowly, reluctantly, Blythe understands there is no hope for her escape and she has a sudden realization about the bleakness of her situation.

It isn’t until she is expected to raise a child in confinement that she has some sense of hope.  She is determined that he have the life that was stolen from her.  It isn’t until, years later, when Blythe is able to step outside that she realizes the enormity of what has transpired since she was taken, the vast differences in the world she had in the silo, down deep in the earth, and the strange, unknown world above.

So. I am intentionally being very very vague with my synopsis of this novel!  Going in, all the reader needs to know is that this young woman, carefree and young, is abducted by a man who has been obsessed with her for most of her life. Everything that happens after that must be discovered by the reader, and the reader alone.  What happens while Blythe is held captive in that silo is bleak, it is dark, it is depressing.  Your heart will be broken. You will cry. You will yell. You will utter expletives. And then…something happens that totally changes the outlook of this book. And you will shout more expletives, but you will want to hug the author for the sheer brilliance of this novel.  For Above is a novel that I will be shouting about from the rooftops, a novel that is impossible to categorize into just one genre.  It is a novel like none other; I can’t even begin to think of a book to compare it to for it is wholly unique.

Readers of all ages, from young adult to adult will find a connection with Blythe. She starts out as a young, carefree teen and we follow her as the cruelty of being held captive wears away at her soul and willpower. Then we see her, determination regained, when she becomes responsible for another life.  And then, Morely stuns her readers as she reveals that Above is not only a novel about Blythe’s situation, but what has been transpiring in the world above, around her. It’s simply brilliant. I’m getting goosebumps thinking about it again.

I guarantee that this is a novel that people will be talking about. I’m predicting a wide range of opinions and emotions for it is a novel that induces that sort of reaction in its readers.

So…I implore you to give this book a try. When you do, come back and share your thoughts here. I haven’t seen a lot of prepublication buzz on this one and I’m dying to hear other opinions of this dynamic, truly memorable read. Highly, highly recommended.


Review: The Sowing by K. Makansi

  • Paperback: 290 pages
  • Publisher: Layla Dog Press (August 14, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0989867110
  • Source: Publisher

After religious wars and subsequent famine destroyed much of the population, the society that remained formed an intricate set of farms all for the sake of  creating a food source that will sustain the population. Three years ago, a brutal massacre took place, fueling an even stronger divide among those who were originally part of “the Sector.”   These individuals fled authority and joined  the Resistance, a rogue group that doesn’t believe the story that’s been fed to them. Instead insistent that the population has been controlled and manipulated by the very food created to sustain them, they plot to destroy all the food storage facilities they can.  Those privileged enough to received these modified food packs are ignorant of the manual labor and oppression involved in producing them.

Remy fled the Sector after the massacre and, in the time that has passed, has become quite the hardened soldier. It’s difficult for her to see that those she left behind rising to power in the very organization she intended to bring down.  Valerian Orlean, her “almost boyfriend, ” is the son of two of the most powerful people in the Sector, has always led a privileged life. Now the leader of the very group assigned to bring down the Resistance.  When they are reunited, both are forced to rethink everything they’ve grown to know.  Vale must reevaluate those closest to him, his eyes opened to the lies that have been portrayed all this time. Remy is forced to decide whether or not she can trust Vale again.  She’s tired of all the fighting, still recovering from the loss after the massacre.  Together, Remy and Vale may be the society’s salvation or the very thing that brings it crumbling down to dust.

K. Makansi is a mother-daughter writing team made up of Kristina, Amira, and Elena Makansi and together have crafted a truly intense piece of  dystopian fiction. Their world-building is profound; the society they have created is both incredibly plausible at, because of this, wholly terrifying.  The science behind what transpires (and what may potentially be the society’s salvation) is truly profound.  The pacing was steady and my interest was piqued throughout, genuinely intrigued and connected with each of the characters and the future they were forced to endure.

This book is the first in a new trilogy and I can admit that I’m dying to read what transpires next.  I’ve been looking for a new dystopian series to grab my attention (I don’t dare mention the one that I found less than interesting) and The Sowing clearly exceeded all of my expectations. Highly, highly recommended.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to participate in this tour. Please be sure to check out the other stops along the way.

TSS: Review: Rivers by Michael Farris Smith

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (September 10, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 1451699425
  • Source: Publisher

After years of debilitating and destructive hurricanes in the Gulf coast, the United States government, unable to sustain or assist the depleted region, has drawn new boundary lines.  The new boundary, ninety miles north of the coastline, is referred to as the Line. Anyone south of it has signed their own death sentence for no government support, including resources, electricity, military support, shall be provided.

Cohen is one of these people.  His wife and unborn child were killed during evacuation.  He returned to bury them on their family land in Mississippi but has been unable to leave them behind. He is one of the few survivors who continues to live in their home, sustaining himself on a host of carefully collected supplies and food. That is all taken away from him when his home is ransacked, all of his food and supplies taken. Cohen is forced out of his home, determined to recover what has been taken from him.  He encounters a colony of survivors, led by Aggie, a fanatical preacher with horrific plans to repopulate the region. Cohen must come to a difficult decision: does he help the the people Aggie has been holding captive or does he continue his journey to the line…alone?  His decision is influenced by a secret that could be deadly to those individuals whose lives he is trying hard to protect.

Rivers is a novel that is both dark and devastating yet, beneath all the devastation, a semblance of hope remains.  Cohen’s character represents a sense of hope in an area so decimated by nature’s destruction.  His character, up until now, is unable to leave behind the life he once had.  It is only with his assistance that the survivors of Aggie’s “cult” can escape the dangerous region below the Line.

The setting Smith creates is bleak: imagine a South completely destroyed by hurricanes and flooding.  Rivers of water now exist where there were once roads and homes. Long gone are the semblances of a civilized life. What replaces it, a world in which pirate-like individuals brutally murder for a a few gallons of gas, is absolutely chilling.  Smith could have easily politicized this novel, turning it into a rant about our government and its response to devastation by hurricanes like Katrina. However, he does not. Instead, this novel is character-driven.  Their survival, the sense of love and hope that binds them, are what makes this novel excel.

I read this novel in two sittings. Smith’s rich and descriptive writing enveloped me, parts were so eloquently written that I had to pause and read it out loud.  A glimpse of humanity in the midst of devastation, this is a novel that will reside within me for months to come. Highly, highly recommended.