Signal Boost by Alyssa Cole

Signal Boost (Off the Grid, #2)Signal Boost by Alyssa Cole
Published by Carina Press

After something happened to make all technology stop working, John and his family have survived the apocalypse in their safe cabin with plenty of food and water, at least for a while. When a random guy, Mikhail, is caught raiding their garden, John’s parents offer him food and shelter in their home, while John finds himself rapidly developing a crush on this mysterious stranger. Mikhail reveals he’s on his way to a nearby university to find a professor he knows who may have some answers about why the world seems to be ending, and John decides to take up the adventure and accompany him on his journey. As they walk, they get to know each other, and their secrets come out in ways that bring them closer but have the scary consequence of showing their true colors, amidst the terror that is the new world in which they are living.

Signal Boost is the second book in Cole’s Off the Grid series, the first being Radio Silence, which I REALLY liked. The series is post-apocalyptic romance, which each book focusing on a different character and his/her romantic life. The first book featured John’s best friend, Arden, as she falls in love with John’s older brother, Gabriel, as the world is ending all around them. Signal Boost was unfortunately less successful for me than the first book. It provided enough entertainment, but it wasn’t as fun or sexy as the first book and I didn’t even get all that excited or into the explanations the author began to provide for how and why the apocalypse was happening.

I think the issue for me was that the book felt very meandering and sort of boring, although I hate to say that. John and Mikhail’s relationship started off with a spark and developed from there, so that part I liked and it felt authentic to me. But it was kind of boring, to be honest. It took so long for them to really get to know each other and so much of the book just felt like a waiting game for that to happen. I also didn’t love John as a character and Mikhail was honestly kind of clueless – when they got to the university and they started dealing with Mikhail’s former professor, without getting into any spoilers, I have to say that the story really went off the rails for me at that point.

What did I like? The science stuff and the reasons for the apocalypse was a welcome addition to the book, even though by the time it got going I was sort of annoyed and wasn’t as excited about these explanations as I wanted to be. I loved the fact that within the same series, there is so far a hetero romance and a LGBT romance (not sure what the third book entails). I like Cole’s writing and the way that she writes sex scenes I think is fantastic. Overall, this was not a bad romance at all just not what I was expecting since I liked the first book so much. I may or may not read the third one at this point.


Radio Silence by Alyssa Cole

Radio Silence (Off the Grid, #1)Radio Silence by Alyssa Cole
Published by Carina Press

From the publisher:

Arden Highmore was living your average postgrad life in Rochester, New York, when someone flipped the “off” switch on the world. No cell phones, no power, no running water—and no one knows why. All she and her roommate, John, know for sure is that they have to get out, stat. His family’s cabin near the Canadian border seemed like the safest choice.

It turns out isolation doesn’t necessarily equal safety.

When scavengers attack, it’s John’s ridiculously handsome brother, Gabriel, who comes to the rescue. He saves Arden’s life, so he can’t be all bad…but he’s also a controlling jerk who treats her like an idiot. Now their parents are missing and it seems John, Gabriel, their kid sister, Maggie, and Arden are the only people left alive who aren’t bloodthirsty maniacs.

No one knows when—or if—the lights will come back on and, in the midst of all that, Arden and Gabriel are finding that there’s a fine line indeed between love and hate. How long can they expect to last in this terrifying new world, be it together or apart?

I’ve been wanting to explore romance novels for a while. I read one Sarah MacLean book a few years ago and really liked it, but haven’t known where to go from there. I picked this up on a recommendation from Gin Jenny (who gave me a few great recommendations in the genre, thank you!) and I’m really glad I did. Not only is Radio Silence a romance novel, but it’s almost thriller-like in its post-apocalypticness. Such a great combination.

As I said, I don’t read many romance novels so I can’t really compare the heat between Arden and Gabriel to a “good” sexytimes situation in other romance novels, but I thought they had great chemistry and very well-written, steamy sex scenes. I don’t love the trope where the guy has to act all possessive and controlling of the girl (actually I hate it) but luckily, in this novel that only lasted a short while. Eventually Gabriel came to his senses and realized that, duh, this girl is a smart, kick-ass lady who can be trusted to make her own decisions. Thank goodness for that or I would have been REALLY annoyed with him for the entire book.

One of the main reasons I wanted to read this book is because it sounded like what Gin Jenny has coined as a “process dystopia” – meaning the reader is along for the ride of how and why the planet actually fell apart, seeing the whole process of the apocalypse as it happens, instead of just the post-apocalyptic world. I expected to get that with Radio Silence but it wasn’t there, which was disappointing. We know the electricity is out, we just don’t know why. Hopefully there’s more information as the series goes on.

So I liked this one a lot! It was definitely the right book to jump-start my attempts at finding which romance novels work for me and which do not. I will definitely be continuing with the series.


Into the ForestInto the Forest by Jean Heglund
Published by Dial Press

This novel is about two teenage sisters, Nell and Eva, who are struggling to survive in their Northern California home as the world quietly collapses around them. They are 30 miles from the nearest town so as an overseas war and issues in the US government cause massive issues in society, they don’t notice much difference until suddenly their electricity goes out and there’s no gas to be found. As they rely on one another for everything, their bond is tested time and time again, and they both must figure out how to grow into women in this new world they are facing.

I liked the first third of this book a lot. I found it fascinating, and horrifyingly believable, how the world as these characters knew it slowly disintegrated without their really noticing it. I loved getting to know the two of them and how each played a different role in their family structure. But as the book went on, one sister just read all the time and the other danced all the time – it almost got boring to me. And there’s a point in the book where something happens between the two of them that I thought was completely unnecessary and actually took away from what I did like about the book. At that point, I kind of hated it. So, not a personal recommendation but I do like some of the ideas presented here and I’d be open to picking up another book by this author.

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin OlympicsThe Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown
Published by Viking

This is the story of the University of Washington’s crew team and their fight to win gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Daniel James Brown traces the history of Nazi Germany leading up to and just past 1936 alongside the story of how this incredible crew team was put together, including helping the reader get to know each of the eight men on the team as well as their coaches.

I really REALLY liked this one! I was impressed with how the author managed to tell such a compelling story about this sport that I knew nothing about beforehand – and frankly didn’t care about beforehand. I loved getting to know these men, their back stories and childhoods and learning what made them tick, what made them successful, and most importantly, why these specific eight men, as a team, had to be the guys in this Olympic-caliber boat. It was fascinating to me how this sport is such an incredible illustration of teamwork, how a crew team is more about the team itself than its individual members. Further, this was an incredibly fascinating look at Nazi Germany just before Hitler began showing the world his true colors. I don’t think I’ve read a book before that illustrates the build-up to World War Two from this angle and it was so interesting to me, I need to find more books that do this. The Boys in the Boat is super great and I think it’s an easy recommendation to make to almost anyone.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station ElevenStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Published by Knopf
Review copy provided by Netgalley

From the publisher:

One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time-from the actor’s early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains-this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet. Sometimes terrifying, sometimes tender, 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.

Station Eleven was one of my most anticipated reads this year. When I met Emily St. John Mandel at SIBA 2012, I almost died … I fangirled so hard. This book was fantastic and absolutely did not disappoint.

There are a lot of characters in this book, and what I love about this author is she finds unique and surprising ways to make the various characters and their story arcs come together. The book is full of those “ah-ha” moments when you understand how one character and/or timeline is related to something that you thought was entirely separate. The ONE thing I didn’t love about Station Eleven is that, at times, the characters felt a bit at arms’ length from me as the reader. While they were written incredibly well, I didn’t always feel the closeness to the characters I wanted. That being said, that is literally the only thing I didn’t love about this book.

However! I loved so much about this novel. The fact that this is a post-apocalyptic novel shouldn’t scare you away, as it is entirely different from any book of its kind that I’ve read before. For the most part, the story takes place fifteen years after the flu that destroys the world, so the characters are in a place where they have survived the worst of it and are deeply entrenched in a new way of life. So much of this book is not really about the end of the world at all, it’s about the people who are left and the lives they’ve clung to, the new world they’ve made for themselves.

And her writing is to die for. There is a short chapter listing many of the things the world lost once the flu destroyed everything and this might be my very favorite part of the whole book. It’s just such a perfect snapshot of how beautiful Mandel’s writing is – how clear and concise, yet filled to the brim with so much feeling and emotion it is. I just love it.

I’m not sure what else to say because Station Eleven is truly excellent. I am so happy Mandel is getting so much attention for this novel because she’s the kind of author you don’t see every day. Her stuff is unique and interesting and she is truly so talented. Highly recommended!


California by Edan Lepucki

CaliforniaCalifornia by Edan Lepucki
Published by Little, Brown and Company
Review copy provided by Netgalley

From the publisher:

The world Cal and Frida have always known is gone, and they’ve left the crumbling city of Los Angeles far behind them. They now live in a shack in the wilderness, working side-by-side to make their days tolerable despite the isolation and hardships they face. Consumed by fear of the future and mourning for a past they can’t reclaim, they seek comfort and solace in one other. But the tentative existence they’ve built for themselves is thrown into doubt when Frida finds out she’s pregnant.

Terrified of the unknown but unsure of their ability to raise a child alone, Cal and Frida set out for the nearest settlement, a guarded and paranoid community with dark secrets. These people can offer them security, but Cal and Frida soon realize this community poses its own dangers. In this unfamiliar world, where everything and everyone can be perceived as a threat, the couple must quickly decide whom to trust.

California is almost two separate novels in one. In the beginning of the book, and for the first, oh at least 100 pages, Cal and Frida are all alone, living off the land, in this small shack they found after fleeing Los Angeles. They are happy in their solitude and believe, truly, that the two of them are all each other needs in the world. They meet another family about 50 pages in, and while the other family keeps their distance for the most part, they end up having a camaraderie with them and become friends, sort of. And a bonus – the other couple has been living in the wilderness a lot longer than Cal and Frida have, and are able to teach them skills that make their lives even better.

Just about halfway through the book, Frida and Cal decide to go exploring, and end up finding an entire community they never knew existed. While the people, on the surface, seem to take to Cal and Frida and allow them to be a part of the community, it’s abundantly clear that everyone is holding information back from them, everyone has secrets of their own, and there are huge, important things that Cal and Frida are not being told.

I actually liked both halves of this novel, for very different reasons. I liked the isolationist part because I felt like I was really getting to know and understand the two characters – individually and as a couple. Even in the beginning, Cal and Frida are far from perfect – even though they are super close and rely on one another for everything, they are still holding things back from each other at times. I was also very intrigued by the other family, although it felt from the first meeting that something weird was going on with that family, like there was this strange vibe running underneath all of their interactions.

The second half is more chaotic, and becomes confusing for the reader as it’s unclear who Cal and Frida can trust (and can they even trust each other is a question that’s raised too). But I liked how Lepucki revealed information very slowly to the reader, at the same pace as Frida was getting it herself, and even when it seems like all the cards are on the table (or should be) there are still things about this community that just don’t make sense. I liked the feeling of almost understanding, but there being that extra something just under the surface that I couldn’t quite wrap my brain around. But I have to say, none of the characters in this community were very likable, so I felt like if I stuck with Frida, kept rooting for her, I wouldn’t be too disappointed by whatever happened. And for the most part, I was right.

I hated the ending until I learned that this is the first book in a planned trilogy. Then I hated that it’s a trilogy. UGH.

Anyway – while California wasn’t perfect for me, I liked it more than I expected to and (unfortunately) I’ll be reading the second book if/when it comes out. I can’t be left hanging like this!

More Than This by Patrick Ness

More Than ThisMore Than This by Patrick Ness
Published by Walker Books Ltd

From the publisher:

A boy drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments. He dies.

Then he wakes, naked and bruised and thirsty, but alive.

How can this be? And what is this strange deserted place?

As he struggles to understand what is happening, the boy dares to hope. Might this not be the end? Might there be more to this life, or perhaps this afterlife?

From multi-award-winning Patrick Ness comes one of the most provocative and moving novels of our time.

Who here loved the Chaos Walking trilogy and has been dying for something else from Ness that has that similar feel? *raises hand*

Well, you are in luck because More Than This is that book. This is a gorgeous novel about stuff that I don’t even want to tell you because that will just spoil it. But I will tell you that it has that same sense of urgency, that same OMG SOMETHING BAD WILL HAPPEN feeling that runs through the entire Chaos Walking trilogy. Like all Patrick Ness books, this book is saying something, and by the end of the novel you will get it loud and clear. But to explain what, exactly, is happening here would ruin the experience. So I won’t.

Ness writes in such a way that causes the reader to truly feel the emotions the characters are feeling. He causes the reader to question his/her own life – how what we think and feel is filtered through our own limited experiences and how our memories are shaped not just by what happened but by the emotions we associate with those events. And he makes the reader wonder – how would we react and respond to a situation the characters in this book are faced with? Would we do the right thing or would we panic, save ourselves, and make choices with devastating consequences?

Please read this book. It is truly fantastic.

This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

Courtney Summers This Is Not a TestThis Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers
Published by St. Martin’s Griffin, an imprint of Macmillan

Sloane Price is a teenager when the end of the world begins. She escapes the masses of dead bodies, brought back to life and aching to bite anything still living, with five other students barricaded inside the high school. But Sloane’s life ended months ago when her sister left, leaving her to survive their father’s abuse alone. Now she’s struggling to find a reason to live, and although she’s living through the apocalypse with five people who are hopeful for their survival, she must decide if she can find a reason to stick around. With everything in her life gone, Sloane has to figure out if there’s anything left worth holding onto.

I have to admit that I’m not sure zombie stories are really my thing. I have liked some of them (such as The Forrest of Hands and Teeth series), but others I’ve had difficulty with and even given up on (Warm Bodies comes to mind – couldn’t get through it). This Is Not a Test falls somewhere in the middle. While I liked Sloane and felt deeply for her, I was more concerned with the human aspects of this novel than the zombies. Because it was more about the six of them still hanging onto their lives, I overall enjoyed it, but I do think it was my least favorite Courtney Summers novel due to the zombie stuff.

I empathized with Sloane right away, though. She had an incredibly traumatic life before the apocalypse, and basically everyone in her life who was supposed to protect her had either abused her or abandoned her. So she was pretty indifferent to being alive, and at one point she put herself in harm’s way with the intent to get bitten, with the intent to die. I definitely felt that she was the strongest part of the book, for me, as reading her struggle to decide whether to live or die felt very authentic to me, in the midst of a zombie story. What she was going through was not a normal situation, but she reacted to it based on everything she’d already been through in her life.

While I was interested in the dynamics between the group of six teens, for me this book was mostly Sloane’s story, more about her personal struggle than how she related to the rest of the group. Obviously they played a huge part in the story, but to me they were each a minor character in this story about Sloane’s conquering her internal demons, and therefore I didn’t much connect to any of them.

Summers has no fear in this book! She was not afraid to make Bad Things happen to her characters, and I applaud her for that. I also really liked her stark, cold writing style, a style that I’m almost always on board with but also one that really worked well with the subject matter of the book.

I listened to the audio of This Is Not a Test, narrated by Stephanie Cannon, which was just okay for me. Cannon has a hint of an English accent and I found that to be a little strange. I felt she did a good job with the narration, but I was really distracted by her voice.

I don’t have a ton of experience with zombie books, and I do fear sometimes that they aren’t for me. That being said, I did enjoy This Is Not a Test, due to Summers’ excellent writing and the main character, Sloane, who completely won me over. I would recommend this one for fans of zombie books and YA fiction.