Saturday, September 22, 2018

Happy Hobbit Day!

“There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.” 
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
May you keep looking for good books and always find ones that aren't exactly what you were after--because they're far better. 
Erin (center), Anna (right), and their sister in Oxford at a Tolkien exhibit. There was much geeking out.

From The Wood Between the Worlds to your own cozy Hobbit hole, Erin and Anna wish you a very happy Hobbit Day. 

Thursday, September 13, 2018

My stress levels rise thanks to R.E. Palmer's 'The Gates of Dawn'

Title: The Gates of Dawn
Series: The Never Dawn (#3)
Author: R.E. Palmer
Genre: YA Sci-Fi / Dystopian
Publisher: FrontRunner Publications
Date: August 17 2017
Pages: 398 pages

What Goodreads has to say:

Banished to the surface, Noah and his team struggle to survive in the harsh climate and are forced to make a difficult decision. In their quest to see the first dawn, they make a shocking discovery about their past that could help Noah bring Mother's cruel regime to an end.

What I have to say:

You know that feeling when you're nearing the end of a book, and there's maybe ten pages left, and everything is a complete mess and you're like, "how the heck can we salvage this situation? Ain't no way. Everyone's gonna die."

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present R.E. Palmer's The Gates of Dawn

This book was so stressful. Not only at the end when I was like, but wait, are they not going to win after all???? No, this book was just stressful all the way through. Like--Is this person going to die? No, they can't die! I really really like them! (Hi Reuben). Shoot, is Noah going to die? Noah can't die, he's the narrator and we still have three-fourths of the book left! But wait, is he dead? Crap, maybe everyone's going to die.

It kept me invested, it kept me guessing, and it kept me holding my breath right up to the very end. The characters' pain was my pain. Their small victories filled me with joy. Their shocking discoveries induced my horror.

Before moving on, can we take just a moment to appreciate this masterful opening paragraph:

"It turns out you can't touch the sky. I guess I really should have known it wasn't possible. But I mustn't be critical of my younger self. In every picture I'd drawn in the nursery, I'd colored the top third in blue and left the page blank until the green line of the fields where I would be playing happily with Mother."

At the beginning of The Gates of Dawn, Noah, Rebekah, and a handful of their friends (I use the term loosely because one of them wants Noah dead) are sent down to New Earth by Mother. That should be cause for celebration, right? Yeah, sure, I mean except for the fact that New Earth seems to be a dark, frozen planet incapable of supporting life.

They decide to trek across the planet in search of fertile ground, but it's by no means a smooth journey. Think avalanches, sea storms, and the occasional murder attempt by that person who's not really Noah's friend. In other words, it's truly an adventure.

But what Noah and his "friends" eventually learn on New Earth sends them back to The Ark, in one final attempt to topple "Mother" from her seat of power and save themselves and everyone else still living in The Ark.

While I loved this book, and in fact, the whole series (well done on your first trilogy, R.E. Palmer), I ultimately had a problem with the ending for some reason. Being my usual super helpful self, I'm not sure exactly what that problem was. Of course, it's hard that, oh wait, hold on a sec-




OK hi. So it's hard that Noah and Rebekah end up separated at the end, and my heart aches for Rebekah who's still stuck under Mother's dominion (though we can hope that Mother is a little nicer now, right?). 

But I don't think that's where my problem with the ending lies. Maybe I wasn't sure exactly what happened at the end--how Noah averted the crisis? Or maybe averting the crisis turned out to be too simple? (Activating the fail-safe by pressing a button.) Maybe I wanted more people to die? IDK.

Or maybe it was the epilogue that fell flat for me. Maybe I needed more trees, or maybe I needed Abraham or Seth to be there. Maybe I needed something more akin to the beautiful moment in this book where Noah looks up at the first sunset he's ever seen and is overcome:

"I blink. A tear runs down my cheek. I can't touch the sky, but it can touch me."

All in all, though, this was a great story and I enjoyed it immensely. Even though I think the final book was ultimately my least favorite of the three, simply because I didn't feel it was quite as masterful as the first two (The Never Dawn and Cloud Cuckoo), it was still a fantastic, gripping dystopian adventure.

Yeah, it was heck of stressful. But that's how I like 'em.


(like... 3 and a half...? Can we get half a tree?)

Until tomorrow.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Twist follows twist in R.E. Palmer's dystopian 'Cloud Cuckoo'

Title: Cloud Cuckoo
Series: The Never Dawn (#2)
Author: R.E. Palmer
Genre: YA Sci-Fi Dystopian
Pages: 222
Publisher: FrontRunner Publications
Date: August 26 2016

What Goodreads has to say:

Following their shock discovery, Noah and Rebekah reluctantly return to the lower levels of The Ark. Isolated and apart once more, Noah struggles to remember what happened at the surface and suspects Mother has altered his memory. 

But Noah's attempts to unite the workers to rebel are halted when Mother begins The Purge. Her cruel, relentless trials bring Noah to breaking point as he fights to survive when faced by his worst fears. Forced to accept Mother's terms after a month in Re-Education, Noah finally learns the truth about his people's past that leave him determined to defeat her once and for all. 

What I have to say:

I have to admit, when I learned the title of this book, my mind immediately jumped to The Lego Movie--that supremely awesome, completely perfect work of art which we will not discuss here--but this Cloud Cuckoo is very different from the fluffy cloud-realm inhabited by rainbows and unicorn kitties. 

Then again, I'd be lying if I said this story had nothing in common with The Lego Movie. There's a totalitarian leader who masks their sinister actions behind a benevolent image. There's a clueless young worker who gradually comes to lead the rebellion. There's a spaceship.

Laying obligatory Lego Movie comments aside, though, let's dig into R.E. Palmer's Cloud Cuckoo, the second book in his dystopian series The Never Dawn.

This book is fast and furious. Book one, The Never Dawn, immersed us in the world of The Ark--an underground (or so we thought) society ruled by an all-powerful figure known as Mother. Our protagonist, Noah, is a worker helping to bring about the New Dawn by assembling weapons day in and day out. But at the end of The Never Dawn, in a brilliant twist of an ending, we realize that nothing on The Ark is as it seems. And at that point the book ended.

In Cloud Cuckoo, we pick up directly where book one left off. Noah and his friend Rebekah have made a life-changing discovery--The Ark is a spaceship. Meanwhile, someone in The Ark is concealing a secret book that could expose Mother's lies, and Mother is determined to find that person. In fact, as you may have guessed, that person is none other than Noah himself. 

In order to catch the thief, Mother invokes a Purge--and boy, it's rough. She opens up the floor and sends everyone down to a dark, low, compact level where they'll sleep in tubes that seal shut and where they'll be served only tiny portions of green mush for every meal.

But it gets worse. Everyone will undergo interrogation at the hands of Mother's prefects.

Dude, this section is so intense. (Yeah, I use the word "dude" when I get really excited. I'm not sure why.) People are dropping like flies. Noah is starting to suspect everyone. Could his fellow team member Barnabas know something? Could he be planning to betray Noah to the prefects? And what will Noah tell the prefects when his turn comes?

It's such a great way to open the second book in the series, because after that revelation at the end of book one, we all know Noah can't just go back to his old life. The stakes are high, and Mother's Purge raises them even higher. It's relentless, it's grueling, and it's a page-turner.

Noah's not perfect. And he's not yet the brave leader he'll become later on in the series. Unable to handle the pain inflicted by the prefects--during The Purge interrogation and later in Re-Education, he buckles. He gives names.

The stakes just get higher and higher, and eventually Noah is forced to admit that he has the book. He's then sent to Re-Education, where, after enduring intense pain and betraying a few more of his friends, he's effectively brainwashed and sent back to his old life--well, not exactly. He's assigned to the kitchens. But that doesn't last.

Throughout the rest of the book, Noah moves from one level of the ship to another, gradually attaining new levels of knowledge as he climbs the social strata. Mother is leading him toward her ultimate goal--she will turn him into a Hero Worker, a role-model for the others to look up to, someone who follows Mother devotedly and inspires everyone to keep working for The New Dawn. 

But Noah's goal is very different. He'll expose Mother's lies and stir the others up to rebellion. They'll defeat Mother and find their way to New Earth, so they can finally be free of this ship and start a new life on the surface.

Unfortunately, Noah learns what many before him have already discovered--revolution is freaking hard.

If The Never Dawn led up to that one gut-wrenching twist at the very end, Cloud Cuckoo delivers a new twist every few chapters, each one more shocking than the last. Again and again, the author fools you into thinking you know what's going on, only to pull the carpet out from under your feet. No way! That was a shock. OK, but now you know what's going on. Ha ha nope! And so on.

I loved every mind-boggling, gasp-inducing twist and turn. I was so invested and I couldn't stop reading. I had to know what was going to happen next.

I think I have a bias toward middle books in a trilogy. Maybe it's because the middle book is the one that really tests the characters and molds them into the heroes they'll be in book three. Maybe it's because the middle book is always so intense and twisty. Maybe it's because I just love watching everything go to pot. 

Whatever the reason, I've now finished The Never Dawn trilogy (review of book three to come), so I can safely tell you that Cloud Cuckoo was my favorite of the three. It's not that the other two weren't also great--it's just that this book is so masterfully done. I love watching the characters develop and I love watching their relationships harden. I love experiencing Noah's pain, shock, and despair alongside him. 

Hmmm, OK, on second thought, that doesn't sound like it should be fun. I guess I'm just a sucker for those failed revolution plot-lines.


Until tomorrow.