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Susan Beth Pfeffer

What Janine is Reading, Late Summer/Early Fall 2011

What Janine is Reading, Late Summer/Early Fall 2011

In addition to the books I read for review, I’ve been doing some reading with my husband. Because he is not a romance fan, and I am not a fan of science fiction (his genre of choice), we have to meet in the middle. For the most part that has turned out to be young adult fantasy. Here are some of the books we’ve read together:

This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer

This is the third book in Pfeffer’s series about how people’s lives are changed when an asteroid knocks the moon’s orbit closer to Earth. This World We Live In continues the story of Miranda, the protagonist in the first book (Life as We Knew It). My husband and I were both disappointed that she seemed to have lost the maturity she had acquired by the end of the first book.

About a quarter or so into the book the protagonist of book 2 (The Dead and the Gone), Alex, showed up with his sister Julie. My interest sharpened at this point both because I like Alex much better than Miranda and Julie was my favorite character in the series, as well as because Alex and Miranda’s budding romance engaged my attention.

From that point on the book got quite good, and it was heading for a B+ grade when the story took a nosedive toward the end. I expect some realism and even bleakness from this series, but this ending was overkill. My other half thought the big event near the end unfolded in an unconvincing fashion, and hated that we were left hanging as to most of the characters’ fate. A side character seemed utterly superfluous to both of us as a result, too. So much about this ending was pointless that I can’t grade the book any higher than a C/C+.

Interestingly, when Jia reviewed Pfeffer’s series here, her preference among the books differed from mine. Whereas the second book was Jia’s least favorite, it was by far my favorite because it felt more believable to me than the other two, and because I had so much more empathy for those characters. I’m not sure I will be reading more of Pfeffer after the ending of book 3.

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Megan Whalen Turner’s Thief Series

I’ve reviewed all four of the books in this series in the past, but after seeing Turner on the YA panel at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, my husband and I decided to read the series together. It was the first reading for him and a reread for me. Although I had reread parts of some of the books before, it was only my second time reading the series in its entirety.

In my original review of The Thief, I felt that the first half was slow and the book aimed at a younger audience than me. I still feel that way, but it was fun to read the book knowing Gen’s secret from the beginning. My husband enjoyed The Thief very much on the level of the adventure story that it is when you haven’t yet read the later books and don’t know what’s coming.

The latter three books are targeted at older readers and full of intrigue. The King of Attolia, book three, is still my favorite because I find it so romantic and I really enjoy seeing Gen through the POV of Costis, his guard. There is something so satisfying to me about seeing Costis’ opinion of Gen evolve without his even realizing it for the longest time. Also, the intrigue is at its most intense and complex here, and watching the pieces of the puzzle fall into place is wonderful. This book is a rare perfect A for me now.

Having said that, book two (The Queen of Attolia) is probably the most girly, and I can see why so many romance readers count it as their favorite. The last third of that book is deeply romantic. The middle does drag a tiny bit, but less so for me on rereading than on the first read through when I didn’t know where that book was heading.

So on the whole, I’d say the first three books all rose in my estimation, which was pretty high to begin with. As for book four, A Conspiracy of Kings, perhaps because I had read it more recently, or because Sophos doesn’t have as many layers as Gen, my enjoyment of it was close to the same as before. My husband and I both felt that Sophos’ characterization in this book wasn’t entirely consistent with the shy, sweet, stammering Sophos we had met in The Thief, but we still enjoyed the book very much.

After reading all four books, my husband is as much of a Turner fan as I am. I’d probably give the series overall an A- grade.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

We selected this book because it’s both romantic and science fictional. My husband loved it, which surprised me, because there is quite a bit of focus on the romantic relationship. As for me, well, I had read it at least three or four times before so that should tell you something. I love Niffenegger’s prose, the main characters and the darkness and complexity of their relationship.

I also love the nonlinear structure which is just about perfect for the story since the romantic relationship itself develops in a nonlinear fashion. Henry first meets Clare when she is twenty and he is twenty-eight, but Clare first meets Henry when she is six and he is in his thirties. When Henry stays put in his own time, their age difference is always eight years, but when he is time traveling (something he cannot help) the age difference between them becomes protean.

I thought a lot about the issue of reader consent as I read The Time Traveler’s Wife this time, about how Niffenegger manages to pull this realtionship off to me without that much of a squick factor. Part of it is that when we first see them interact, Clare is an adult and the pursuer. Part of it is that Henry has no control over where and when he travels to. Another part is that so much serves to separate them that it is hard not to want their happiness almost as badly as they do.

Toward the end of the book, Henry compares their love to a net under a high wire walker. Between the strangeness of the relationship and the complexity of the timeline, the book itself is a kind of high wire act. Still, this time around, I wasn’t as emotionally caught up in the story as I’ve often been in the past. I was more conscious of some of its flaws, like the way I couldn’t understand Clare’s friendship with her old roommate Charisse, or Charisse herself. Typically this book wrings tears by the bucket load out of me; this time I was just a little damp-eyed.

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What about you guys? What did you think of these books, if you have read them? And have you ever tried to read with a partner? If so, do you find your tastes in books similar or dissimilar?

REVIEW: This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer

REVIEW: This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Dear Ms. Pfeffer,

The World We Live In by Susan Beth PfeifferI’ve made no secret of the fact that I love post-apocalyptic novels. While I do think it’s more suited to certain genres than others (I’m afraid I’ve yet to really fall in love with a post-apocalyptic romance), post-apocalyptic young adult fiction is one subgenre I have yet to get tired of. I was first introduced to your work when someone gave me Life As We Knew It as a Christmas present. I fell in love with that book and sang its praises to anyone who’d listen. And believe me, I was completely ecstastic when many award-giving people agreed with me.

You later wrote a companion book to LAWKI, the dead & the gone. My feelings were very mixed about that book and while I thought it was a good read, I wasn’t convinced it lived up to the promise of LAWKI. But then again, what could? That’s a real dilemma authors face and I do sympathize but as a reader, I often just want a book as awesome as the first.

Which brings us to This World We Live In (hereafter abbreviated as TWWLI because I am lazy). As previous novels chronicled, a meteor hit the moon and knocked it into an orbit closer to earth. As a result, the moon’s gravitational pull upon the earth was made that much stronger. This resulted in many environmental changes and catastrophes: tsunamis that destroyed pretty much all of New York City, volcano eruptions that left a permanent thin layer of ash which blocked out the sun, earthquakes, and the like. When TWWLI opens, it’s been a year since that fateful event when life on earth was irrevocably changed.

In TWWLI, we also return to the life of Miranda Evans, the protagonist of the first book, LAWKI. When the novel opens, Miranda has been having terrible nightmares. She wonders what happened to her father, her stepmother, and their unborn child to whom she was meant to be godmother. For the past year, she’s lived in a house with her mother and two brothers. They’ve survived on the weekly rations handed out by town officials. It’s not really a life but it is survival and sometimes that’s all you can ask for. But maybe Miranda has a bit of intuition in her because one day, her father shows up on their doorstep with his wife, their newborn baby (a boy, not the girl Miranda had been hoping for), a man named Charlie whom they’d befriended, and two teenagers they picked up along the way — Alex and Julie.

Readers of the previous two novels will probably recognize those last two as characters from the dead & the gone. I have mixed feelings about this. When they first turned up, I was skeptical. I tend to find stories in which characters from previous books show up and meet a little contrived at the best of times and more than a little twee during others. But I’ll also be honest and say when I was the age of these books’ target audience, I ate that sort of stuff up with a spoon so that’s just a personal preference of the me in the present day.

By the end of the book, I was very glad you had made this choice. I love the interactions between Miranda and Alex. They offer a dynamic that wasn’t present in either of the previous novels so that was fresh.

“You don’t have to believe in the church,” he said. “Or even in God. Believe that people can change things.”

“No,” I said. “I don’t know that anymore.” My mind flashed back to the dead man with his dog lying beside him. “We’re all helpless,” I said. “There’s nothing we can do. There’s nothing left to trust in.”

“Trust in tomrrow,” Alex said. “Every day of your life, there’s been a tomorrow. I promise you, there’ll be a tomorrow.”

“Do you trust in tomorrow?” I asked.

“I have to,” he said. “For Julie’s sake.”

“But you don’t trust in us,” I said. “To look after Julie.”

He answered with silence.

“You don’t trust in anything, either,” I said. “Not really. Your God, your church, your tomorrow. You don’t even trust Carlos. You’re just doing what he tells you because it’s easier.”

“That’s not true,” Alex said. “You don’t understand.”

“I do understand,” I said. “But I don’t care. I’m not a dream girl. I’m a real human being with real feelings. How can I trust tomorrow? Tomorrow terrifies me. I wake up every morning scared and I go to bed every night scared, and all those tomorrows I’ve lived through are exactly the same. Hunger and fear and loneliness. Exactly the same as you, as everybody. Only you’re worse, because when we ask you to share our hunger and our fear and our loneliness, you turn your back on us. I may be lonely and scared and hungry, but I haven’t given up on loving people yet. You have. Or maybe you never loved anyone. Maybe all your life was dreams.”

It helps that these two have very different outlooks on life, by virtue of their backgrounds and upbringing.

While there’s never been a question about your ability to capture how bleak and grim this world is, I liked you portrayed how such a setting makes what would ordinarily be insane events seem normal. I’m specifically thinking of what Matt and Jon went to the coast to fish and a week later, they return with Syl who Matt has declared to be his wife. The circumstances surrounding how this came to pass are what show how society has deterioriated: Syl had been traveling with a man who beat her and when the brothers discovered this, they put a stop to it and took Syl away from the man.

In LAWKI, one of Miranda’s best friends opted for a life similar to Syl’s — she chose to leave town with a man who promised safety in exchange for her body. In some ways, I think Syl brings that narrative thread full circle: what happens to a girl who’d chosen that life and how it forever changes her. Not once does she ever really speak of love when it comes to Matt despite his making constant proclamations of his undying love for Syl. (Me? I think Matt just needed to get laid.) But it’s obvious she does appreciate the life she’s found with Matt and his family.

I definitely like the return to Miranda’s POV. I know LAWKI was heavily criticized for Miranda’s self-centered narrative but hey, she’s a teenager whose life is changed when the world ends. Miranda’s self-centeredness was very grounding and kept the fantastic familiar. So that said, if readers didn’t like that self-centered aspect of Miranda’s narrative, they’re not going to like it now in TWWLI. Nor will readers who dislike the epistolary format.

My only complaint is that I think the ending pushed very hard against my suspension of disbelief, which already had been nudged by Alex and Julie showing up on Miranda’s doorstep. I don’t want to spoil what happens but while I see it as being necessary to encourage the Evans family and company to do what needs to be done, it also struck me as suddenly dramatic, overly so, in a book that had been quiet for the most part as it chronicled how people survive, how they keep hope alive when every day does something to beat it down, and how to keep faith when all signs tell you to stop.

All that said, I found this book enjoyable to read and more in line with the experience I found with LAWKI. I think many readers of post-apocalyptic YA will feel the same. B+

My regards,

This book can be purchased at Amazon. No ebook format.