ARC Review: Paradigm by Ceri A. Lowe

ParadigmTitle: Paradigm

Author: Ceri A. Lowe

Genre: Dystopian, Speculative, YA, Literary fiction

Publisher: Bookouture

Publication Date: June 13, 2014

e-book: 1,382 pages (Goodreads says this is how many pages will be in the paperback edition)

Stand alone or series: First in a trilogy

How did I get this book: NetGalley

NOTE: I was provided with an e-ARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Bookouture for letting me read this.

Let’s start with a brief synopsis:

What if the end of the world was just the beginning?

Alice Davenport awakens from a fever to find her mother gone and the city she lives in ravaged by storms – with few survivors.

When Alice is finally rescued, she is taken to a huge underground bunker owned by the mysterious Paradigm Industries. As the storms worsen, the hatches close.

87 years later, amidst the ruins of London, the survivors of the Storms have reinvented society. The Model maintains a perfect balance – with inhabitants routinely frozen until they are needed by the Industry.

Fifteen-year-old Carter Warren knows his time has come. Awoken from the catacombs as a contender for the role of Controller General, it is his destiny to succeed – where his parents failed.

But Carter soon discovers that the world has changed, in ways that make him begin to question everything that he believes in. As Carter is forced to fight for those he loves and even for his life, it seems that the key to the future lies in the secrets of the past…

What I thought:

I’ll admit: I was first drawn to this title on NetGalley by its cover’s similarity to that of the Divergent series (though it is kind of a rip-off, isn’t it?). Then I read the summary. It sounded fascinating, like a unique and interesting take on dystopian fiction. I was really excited when I was granted access to the e-ARC.

I wasn’t disappointed in the book, but I think my hopes were a little too high for it. There were things I liked and things I didn’t like.

The things I liked:

-The novel alternates between chapters set in 2015, with Alice, right before and after the Storms ravaged London, and 87 years later, with Carter, as he is awoken from his slumber (is that the right word? I don’t know), his time in the Catacombs where he has been in stasis for the last fifteen years. This was very cool because, at the same time, we got to see how the Community was formed, how life got to be the way it was for Carter, and then how he saw it change and become something else entirely. I thought that switching between the two of them was a perfect way to have both a prequel and a sequel, if that makes sense (though I will comment later on how I preferred one character more than the other).

-The novel had some very beautiful descriptions, for both the emotions of the characters and the atmosphere/setting. Here’s an example:

What was the point, thought Alice, of that headstone now? She imagined it anchored under acres of water-sky, sitting alongside supermarket trolleys and broken glass with her father flying high in his coffin, floating amongst the clouds made of buildings.

I was able to completely picture the scene with this description. And “water-sky”? I don’t know, I just really liked this. Another example:

She felt the weight of the earth and the world and the stars melt from her shoulders and rise upwards to meet a cloud-shaped like the moon in the sky of the canteen ceiling.

-The idea behind the novel is just fascinating: Storms have ravaged London (we don’t actually hear anything about the rest of the world, though it’s probably safe to say the same fate has befallen the whole world) and a company called Paradigm Industries was already fully prepared. Alice, and many other survivors, are taken down into their underground bunker where they live for the next five years as the Storms continue to rage. Carter, who lives 87 years in the future, was raised as a Contender for the leader of the Community. In the Community, some people are frozen, put in stasis, for a time so that others may live. The Model, a computer program, decides when certain people are needed based on their knowledge and skills. I mean, how cool is that? Also, I seriously hope that we learn more about how the Model works; how has it been programmed to know when people are needed? I loved the idea. And overall, I thought it was really well-developed, and we get a good idea for how the Community is formed, though we should learn more about this in subsequent books. I thought Lowe’s dystopian novel was so unique because we actually got to see how the dystopian society was formed and exactly why it was dystopian; the problems were so very evident for the reader.

-I honestly don’t know how this makes sense, but as I have sat here and written this much of the review, I have realized just how much I liked this book. Though there were several parts that I just didn’t enjoy while I was reading, I realize now that I liked it A LOT. Weird.

The things I didn’t like:

-Carter. This is the note I wrote after I finished the book: “What the hell with Carter? Carter’s boring until about ¾ of the way through. Then really good. Then boring. Then interesting.” Haha. I found myself pretty bored with him for most of the middle section of the book. I kept reading his parts really fast so that I could get back to Alice, whose chapters I really, really enjoyed. Then about ¾ of the way through, his chapters got super cool and I was reading them fast for a completely different reason. Then, his chapters were kind of boring, but his last couple of chapters were interesting. I don’t know. I had mixed feelings about him.

-Although the novel had some very beautiful and wonderfully descriptive parts, it also had several that had me rolling my eyes or questioning if this was even the same author. Seriously. Some parts/sentences were almost juvenile in their descriptions. Though I will say that it helped the prettier parts stand out even more in their stark contrast.

-The cover art. Now that I have read the novel, I’m actually really disappointed with the choice for the cover. It is an obvious attempt to attract readers, specifically teens, I think, that read and loved the Divergent series. This novel is so unlike Divergent, and many other recent dystopian novels, and I think giving it a cover like that doesn’t actually do the content of the book justice. This is a pretty adult book in that it asks a lot of hard questions about what we, as a society and as individuals, focus on; we care so much about materialistic things that we don’t realize that we are ignoring our planet. Alice says, “Instead of doing something about the planet, about wars, about the madness, people just hoped things would improve.” Of course, things didn’t, and won’t, improve. This novel was a lot more serious than I thought it’d be. It is less action-packed, less focused on the romance than several dystopian novels recently published. I thought Paradigm was actually more like literary fiction with a dystopian plot thrown in. So, yeah, bad cover choice.

What these things mean:

I want to say that I didn’t really realize that I really liked Paradigm until after I’d finished it and started my review, so I don’t know what that has to say about the book; it’s probably good that I was still thinking about it and considering exactly what it was trying to say after I was finished. Alice was so compelling. She is an 11-year-old girl who lives with her mother, a prostitute, in council housing. She’s gone through a lot in her short life, and, therefore, doesn’t feel much in the way of emotions and favors logic over everything else. She was actually a little off-putting at first because of how unemotional she was through everything; I mean, she’s 11 and she doesn’t cry when she realizes her mother is probably dead and she is completely alone. I suppose she has always been alone. I was pulled into her story right from the start.

The bottom line:

While there were some parts that I thought were a little boring and unnecessary, overall, I really liked Paradigm. I’m looking forward to the next in the trilogy to see what becomes of both Alice and Carter and how their lives are even more interwoven than they though.

Rating: 7 – pretty good

If you are interested in reading Paradigm, it is available for pre-order on Amazon.

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Book Review: Rivers by Michael Farris Smith

Rivers by Michael Farris SmithTitle: Rivers

Author: Michael Farris Smith

Genre: Apocalyptic, Speculative fiction

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Publication Date: September 2013

Hardback: 333 pages

Stand alone or series: Stand alone

How did I get this book: Bought

Before I start, I just want to say that I know the author of this book. He was actually one of my professors at my undergraduate university, Mississippi University for Women. I will also say that I read his previously published novella, The Hands of Strangers, and I was not a fan (I’m sorry, Dr. Smith! Don’t hate me!). I wanted to say this so that if you were aware I knew the author, you did not think that my review had been swayed in any way.

So let’s start with a brief synopsis:

In a frightening, realistic, and apocalyptic future, the Gulf Coast has been battered and destroyed by a series of unrelenting hurricanes. Given up on the future of the region, the US Government has drawn “The Line”, a geographical boundary 90 miles inland that cuts off the coast from the rest of the country. Residents were warned that once the line was drawn, all laws, protection, and any rights of the residents in the region would be lost. Staying would be done at your own risk.

Cohen stayed. Somehow he is able to make a sort of life for himself, along with his dog and horse, in the home where he and his now-dead wife lived. While returning after a trip for supplies, he is carjacked and his Jeep and supplies are stolen by two teenagers, one boy and one girl. When he returns home, he sees that the same fate has befallen his house, obviously by the two who’d tried to kill him earlier. They’ve invaded the part of his house he’d blocked off: the room he’d shared with his wife and the room they’d been using to store the clothes and toys for their unborn child. He feels extremely violated and sets off to find the teenagers and get back what is his.

He finds them, Mariposa and Evan, but is shocked to find that they are being kept by an evil man who believes he is doing them, and the other women he’s locked up there, a favor by providing them shelter and food. Aggie, the man who has declared himself their savior, keeps them in trailers locked from the outside, and Evan, along with his younger brother Briscoe, are the only other males there. You can probably assume what Aggie wants with them (hint: there are two pregnant women).

Now that Cohen is there though, everything will change. A monster storm is coming and it’s the worst one yet.

What I thought:

Holy shit. Excuse my language, but holy shit. Be prepared to set the next few hours aside once you start reading Rivers, because it’ll suck you in with the first page and it won’t want to let you out until you’re done. Much like the storms that have ravaged the Gulf in the book, Rivers will be relentless in its hold on you.

Smith’s writing (it was really hard to not put a Dr. in front of that. Old habits and all that) is just beautiful. The prose is winding and bleak and haunting. The words wrap you up in them and force you to feel the desolation, loss, hunger, and pain that everyone in the book feels. Yes, there is a lot of “and this and that and that happened”, which sounds like it would be quite annoying, but it isn’t. His prose has a rhythm and a cadence to the sentences that make it practically impossible not to keep reading. There’s a lot of really lovely yet haunting descriptions, and you really feel and sympathize with what the characters are going through. One of my favorite sentences:

For two hours they had been moving back toward the coast, the hurricane forceful and gathering strength and the endless black night and the pounding of the rain and the wind and the twisting and turning across the beaten land and all he could think about was how alone he felt and it hurt like a broken bone. –Rivers, page 300

There were several lines that I reread a few times because I just loved the way they were phrased and how they almost felt like music. I will say, however, that a couple of times, the long sentences and multiple descriptions were a little much. It made it hard to read at my natural pace. The book is also, as I’m sure you can guess, rather depressing and it felt heavy in my mind.

On the other hand, because of this, the reader can feel the characters’ discomfort and their pain. Through Smith’s words, you feel waterlogged and filthy and all that they experience. The prose is just as brutal to the reader as Mother Nature has been to these characters. All of the characters are just so absolutely human, which I think is one of the reasons it was so hard to read. I don’t mean that I didn’t like it; I mean that you can relate so well to the emotions of each of these characters that it was difficult to see. I hope that makes sense.

The novel is so haunting, at least to me, because it feels like something that could actually happen. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy (though that wasn’t in the South), it is easy to see a future in which the storms just don’t stop. Rivers creates a realistic and terrifying future for the Gulf Coast.

The bottom line:

I think you probably get the picture, but just in case: I LOVED Rivers. The future it has created is frightening, extremely well-written, and haunting. You will find it difficult to put this book down until you turn the last page. But even then, I doubt this one will leave you.

Rating: 9 – Practically Perfect (I would have given it a 10 but for those parts when it was just so heavy)

You can find out more about Michael Farris Smith on his website or follow him on Twitter.

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Book Review: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Title: The Maze Runner

Author: James Dashner


Genre: Dystopian, Sci-Fi, Speculative Fiction, Young Adult

Publisher: Delacorte Books

Publication Date: October 2009

Paperback: 375 pages

Stand alone or series: First book in a series

How did I get this book: Bought

Do you ever have a book on your to-read list for a long time, but you just never seem to get to it? Well, for me, that was The Maze Runner. I have heard great things about the series and have wanted to read the books for years, and yet I always had other books to read. I think it was the impending approach of the release of the movie based on the first book in the series that pushed me into finally buying them.

I wish I’d done it sooner.

Let’s start with a brief synopsis:

The book begins when a boy awakens in a darkened elevator, ascending into the unknown. He is unable to remember anything about himself or where he is from except for his name – Thomas. When he reaches the top, he is brought into the Glade – a giant courtyard that includes a farm, a slaughterhouse, and a homestead where a large group of teenage boys lives, all of different ages and sizes. These boys are like Thomas: they were sent to the Glade with no memory of themselves but their names. The Glade is surrounded by a giant labyrinth, called the Maze, the walls of which move every night after the doors leading into it close. Most of the group of boys tends to the Glade each day, farming, cleaning, killing. But there is a small group of boys that head into the Maze every day to try to solve it, making maps of what they find. They believe that if they solve it, they will find the way out. Only the fastest and smartest boys are able to be Runners, because they must be quick and get back before the doors close lest they fall victim to the monsters that roam the Maze, the Grievers – large, blubbery, half-mechanical beasts that can sting you with their various metal arms.

This has been the way of the Maze and the Glade for two years. Until Thomas arrives. The day after he comes out of the elevator, what the Gladers call The Box, someone else comes up, something that shouldn’t happen for another month. But that is not the most shocking part to the Gladers; what is frightening is that it’s a girl. She brings with her a disturbing message – everything is going to change. Though they cannot explain it, Thomas and the girl are connected, and they believe that it is their responsibility to figure out the Maze and lead the Gladers to safety.

What I thought:

This book consumed me from the beginning. The world that Dashner has created is frightening, intense, and everything I look for in a dystopian novel. The characters are isolated and fighting for their lives, and there is basically non-stop action the entire book. There are a lot of questions to be asked in The Maze Runner, but each time one is answered, another, bigger question is left in its place. I have to say that I have read books that have done the same thing and it has irked me to no end. However, Thomas is in a similar situation as the reader; he cannot remember anything about his life, so he is asking all of the same questions that the reader wants to know the answer to. Thomas is a well-rounded, developed character. He is clever, curious, and brave, and he knows the questions to ask. As Dashner keeps us guessing, Thomas keeps asking, making this an effective, and not-at-all annoying device to keep readers just out of reach of the truth. I don’t want to say too much about the questions that Thomas is being forced to ask, but let’s just say that Dashner can write! His prose is crisp and irresistible, keeping you turning pages and unwilling to lay the book down.

As for the world, it’s terrifying. Somehow, from somewhere, this group of boys has been transported into the middle of a gigantic maze, which is miles across. Its walls are hundreds of feet high and look to have been there for hundreds of years. Weirdly, none of the boys can remember anything about their lives previous to their time coming up in The Box. The Maze’s walls change every night and there are huge, frightening creatures that roam inside it at night. The reader will be just as curious as the Gladers – have they been sent there for an experiment? Is there actually something outside the Maze, and if so, what is it? Is this a prison that these boys have been sent to for crimes they cannot remember? How was this place created? The Maze Runner keeps the reader guessing, keeps you turning the pages to find answers. But don’t worry; the questions are addressed. I think there is something to say about an author who confuses you constantly, but makes you want to keep reading anyway.

One of my favorite things about the novel is Dashner’s made up slang employed by the Gladers; they use words like “shank,” “greenie,” and “shuck.” It is somewhat strange at first, just as it is strange to Thomas, who has no idea what the other Gladers mean when they say these things. And these other Gladers are brilliant characters, each with their own distinct personality. There’s Newt, Minho, Chuck, Alby, and the hostile (though we’re not sure why at first), Gally. Some of these characters are leaders in the Glade, while others are relative newbies, giving Thomas and us a range of knowledge to be had in the ways of the world. Throughout the novel, these other characters are developed just as well as Thomas, and the reader connects with them and empathizes with their situation.

Then there’s Teresa, the girl who was sent up in The Box to deliver the ominous message that everything was about to change. We don’t get much of her in this book, as she’s in a coma for part of the book and then ostracized for much of the rest of the book. However, I can say that this is remedied in future books.

The novel takes us on a journey while Thomas, Teresa, and the Gladers work to solve the Maze and find their way to safety. I won’t give anything away, but I will say that you will continue to be surprised until the very end – watch out for that cliffhanger, guys!

The bottom line:

If you couldn’t tell, I LOVED The Maze Runner, and I flew through its pages on the edge of my seat. The fast-paced, thrilling plot, engaging characters, often confusing answers to questions, and Dashner’s brilliant writing makes for a very successful novel. Almost immediately after finishing Book One, I began reading Book Two, The Scorch Trials, as I couldn’t handle that cliffhanger and needed to know what happened next. I’ve currently read Books One – Three, and I’m reading the prequel to the series, The Kill Order. At the same time that I was wanting to read them even faster, I wanted to take the time to savor them. I would highly recommend this book, as well as the entire series, for anyone who likes post-apocalyptic, sci-fi, action packed, thrilling adventures, especially if you’re into series. They are unputdownably good.

Rating: 9 – Practically perfect

You can read an excerpt from the first chapter of the book HERE 

See more from James Dashner on his website 

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