Book Review: The Twelve (The Passage #2) by Justin Cronin

The Twelve (The Passage, #2)The Twelve by Justin Cronin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary:  In the present day, as the man-made apocalypse unfolds, three strangers navigate the chaos. Lila, a doctor and an expectant mother, is so shattered by the spread of violence and infection that she continues to plan for her child’s arrival even as society dissolves around her. Kittridge, known to the world as “Last Stand in Denver,” has been forced to flee his stronghold and is now on the road, dodging the infected, armed but alone and well aware that a tank of gas will get him only so far. April is a teenager fighting to guide her little brother safely through a landscape of death and ruin. These three will learn that they have not been fully abandoned—and that in connection lies hope, even on the darkest of nights.

One hundred years in the future, Amy and the others fight on for humankind’s salvation . . . unaware that the rules have changed. The enemy has evolved, and a dark new order has arisen with a vision of the future infinitely more horrifying than man’s extinction. If the Twelve are to fall, one of those united to vanquish them will have to pay the ultimate price.

A heart-stopping thriller rendered with masterful literary skill, The Twelve is a grand and gripping tale of sacrifice and survival.

One of my favorite things about The Passage was the scientific experiment bend that was all things government program gone pear shaped and gave us our vampires. The Twelve takes a much more mystical/spiritual/religious bend and I'll be honest, I was a little let down, at first. This meant a lot of talking between characters and not a lot of action and that killed the horror bit of this story but it did lend itself to characters' individual journies. Now that I've finished it, I appreciate having both parts pulling on the story... but I'm still disappointed.

I have this in ebook form but decided to buy the audiobook & partially listen to it. All I can say is that read or listened to, Cronin has a way of keeping me on the edge of my seat, waiting & on the world he's created. I could've sworn the hunt would be on in earnest for the remaining virals from The Passage but alas, I was wrong. A lot of characters in various times appear but there's hardly any sighting, save two of the twelve (now eleven) let alone a massive hunt underway. There's a fix for that as it happens in the back third of the book and it's laid so bare in simplicity, I had a hard time believing it. I literally stopped reading & said "That's it? That's just really it?" and re-read to make sure. Still, I have to admit that I enjoyed reading hoe events unfurled in the stadium. It was possibly the most exciting part of the book (followed closely by Kitteridge making his escape of Denver and how everything went down at the refugee camp (can anyone tell me what the exactly happened to Danny after that plunge into a pile of virals?! I know April survived but what. about. Danny?!).

It was nice to see Alicia was still doing the warrior against the virals thing because Amy was angsting and hanging out with the nuns & orphans making soup, along with some weird romance thing with Peter. I'm still not sure where that came from. She basically dropped out of the action and I kind of feel that her character was quite diminished. I can't even begin to discuss the heinous things Alicia had to endure but I'm hoping there's some transformative reason in the last book because it was harrowing.

While I thought some of this was overlong and really low on action, it is a middle book in a trilogy and it seems those often suffer. I think about a third of this in the middle could have been edited out to streamline it to a nice, taut story leading into the finale. I definitely think the very last 40 pages or so were very well done. Even while on another plane, it was nice to see some characters finding peace or getting close to it.

Recommended for fans of the first book but if you skip it, you'll live. And if you really are getting bogged down in the middle, jump to the final third and just satisfy yourself.

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Book Review: Doubting Abbey by Samantha Tonge

Doubting Abbey (Doubting Abbey, #1)Doubting Abbey by Samantha Tonge
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary: Look up the phrase ordinary girl and you’ll see a picture of me, Gemma Goodwin – I only look half-decent after applying the entire contents of my make-up bag, and my dating track-record includes a man who treated me to dinner…at a kebab shop. No joke! 

The only extraordinary thing about me is that I look EXACTLY like my BFF, Abbey Croxley. Oh, and that for reasons I can’t explain, I’ve agreed to swap identities and pretend be her to star in the TV show about her aristocratic family’s country estate, Million Dollar Mansion. 

So now it’s not just my tan I’m faking – it’s Kate Middleton style demure hemlines and lady-like manners too. And amongst the hundreds of fusty etiquette rules I’m trying to cram into my head, there are two I really must remember; 1) No-one can ever find out that I’m just Gemma, who’d be more at home in the servants quarters. And 2) There can be absolutely no flirting with Abbey’s dishy but buttoned-up cousin, Lord Edward.

Aaargh, this is going to be harder than I thought…

I picked this up because I have the sequel on my tablet and have been wanting to read it but since I tend to be an orderly reader, I needed to start at the beginning. I thought it'd be a quicker read so was completely surprised that I was able to put this down. Repeatedly. Some of it had to do with character quirks (I never want to read "mega" or "amazin'" again in life.) and some had to do with situational tedium. Still, I picked it back up and after about chapter 10 this really was a charming read (and moved along much more quickly.

I quite loved Edward's blog posts (this was where the real wit in the writing shone). I'll definitely read the next book & am sure that now that I know where Abbey ended up, I'll enjoy where she's going. Recommended for fans of Brit Chick-lit.

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Book Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station ElevenStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary:  An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization's collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur's chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.

Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten's arm is a line from Star Trek: "Because survival is insufficient." But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.

Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

I enjoyed this one though it felt a bit slow just after the beginning. Janeev Chaudhary & his brother Frank were most interesting to me. Clark, friend of departed Arthur recounting life in an airport terminal where the Museum of Civilization exists. Elizabeth & Tyler (ex-wfe of Arthur & his son) and their path to marauding cult religion after the fall. Kirsten, expert knife wielder and actress in the Symphony. All these people had a connection to Arthur and the threads of their scattered lives are somehow tethered in the after. The comic book of Miranda another of Arthur's ex-wives, figures heavily in the after as copies survive and so does the penchant to name a dog, Luli.

The bit with Clark & Garrett chatting about long dead corporate-speak was well done. How would people with no knowledge of the present decipher our documents in the future? Seeking Alpha. Low hanging fruit. In the mix. Interfacing. Actioninzing new opportunities. Shoot an email. Touch base. Reach out. Circle back. By contrast, we're shown that via the Travelling Symphony, Shakespeare & music are alive, understandable and very much relevant to people in the after.

I almost gave up about a quarter way in because there was so much focus on Kirsten & the Symphony group & so much of Arthur's life as a celebrity & actor, but I'm glad I stuck it out. The back half of the book pulled me along, totally hooked. Definitely recommended.

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