Book Review: In a Handful of Dust by Mindy McGinnis

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Title: In a Handful of Dust
Author: Mindy McGinnis
Series: Not a Drop to Drink
ISBN-13: 9780062198532
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers)
Publication date: 9/23/2014
Pages: 384
Age range: 14 – 18 Years

Book blurb as seen on Goodreads:

The only thing bigger than the world is fear.

Lucy’s life by the pond has always been full. She has water and friends, laughter and the love of her adoptive mother, Lynn, who has made sure that Lucy’s childhood was very different from her own. Yet it seems Lucy’s future is settled already—a house, a man, children, and a water source—and anything beyond their life by the pond is beyond reach.

When disease burns through their community, the once life-saving water of the pond might be the source of what’s killing them now. Rumors of desalinization plants in California have lingered in Lynn’s mind, and the prospect of a “normal” life for Lucy sets the two of them on an epic journey west to face new dangers: hunger, mountains, deserts, betrayal, and the perils of a world so vast that Lucy fears she could be lost forever, only to disappear in a handful of dust.

In this companion to Not a Drop to Drink, Mindy McGinnis thrillingly combines the heart-swelling hope of a journey, the challenges of establishing your own place in the world, and the gripping physical danger of nature in a futuristic frontier

I received this book as a gift (but I know Hubby bought it on Amazon!)

So what can I say about this book? *sigh* I had high hopes that were not met. The first book in this series, Not a Drop to Drink, was amazing. or at least I adored it when I first read it. Sometimes I’m so into a story I don’t notice whether it’s really a fantastic book or not, and maybe that was the case, but regardless, the second one didn’t give me that breathless rush of finding out what happens next.

As far as the writing goes, I might have overestimated McGinnis’ abilities when I read Not a Drop to Drink. Maybe my own estimation of writing has changed due to my continued experience in writing as well as reading critically. Or maybe her first book really was that good. I’d have to read again to find out, but that’ll have to wait a bit. I will say that McGinnis’ stark, gritty writing inspired me to be more clean and sparse with my own revisions on I Have No Name, and I was complimented on the writing for that by several agents. In a Handful of Dust felt a little trivial in the first few chapters. I wasn’t sure whether to think the writing was sub-par, or just that I needed to become attached before I could flow into the prose. Luckily, after just a few chapters, I did become one with the story, though it never grabbed me as fully as NADTD.

As to the story and the characters, 10 years has passed since NADTD and Lynn is a woman while Lucy is a teen. Lucy is falling in love with the neighbor boy, Carter, just as a polio epidemic breaks out. Lucy and Lynn are forced to leave their pond and the community they have come to accept, because they may be carriers of the disease. Carter also is forced to leave for the same reason, but they don’t travel together because Lynn doesn’t want Lucy catching it from Carter.

I’m afraid I didn’t connect with Lucy as much as Lynn, though that may be because after reading Lynn’s story, I wasn’t ready to jump ten years into Lucy’s. She was a side character to me, one I wasn’t invested in nearly as much as Lynn. I wanted more, and I wanted Lynn to find happiness. She did, in the form of raising Lucy, but I just wanted more and I didn’t get it.

And then there was Lucy’s all consuming desire to find out if Carter would always carry the disease, or if there was a cure and if they could be together again. You know, the one she pretty much forgot half-way through the book. Okay, that’s not entirely fair. She didn’t completely forget, and she did have a lot to deal with, but there was a point where she pretty much left him to his own devices and didn’t seem to think on him much more. I thought that could have been followed through a little better.

And the introduction of Fletcher seemed pointless, other than to give them a companion and help them through their journey. But it left too many unanswered questions. How did he and his wife get separated? If he was so in love with her, why was he making eyes at Lynn the whole time? Is it even realistic that she might still be out there and is it realistic that he should still be looking for her? None of this was ever answered. I don’t mind not knowing what happens in the future after a book ends so I can make up my own continuing story, but there were too many questions within this story left unanswered.

Like when they crossed the Mississippi and the Missouri and other creeks and rivers, but they saw very few people. If these were viable sources of water, why weren’t there scores of people living everywhere along the banks. Lucy and Lynn even question this, and they drink from the water which is safe, but the question is never answered. If the water shortage was so dire that the government collapsed and people took to shooting each other over a pond, why weren’t they lined up along major waterways trying to survive. It would make sense. I guess it’s hard for me to imagine a world where there isn’t enough water when I live on Lake Huron. Even if we had major shortages, if we had these huge bodies of water I can’t see it becoming what McGinnis’ imagined.

There were a whole lot of things that happened in Las Vegas that just didn’t work for me either. Like the explanation as to why there were no guns in an entire city. Yeah, I wasn’t buying that. And it almost felt like the big reveal of horror going on was just for shock value. Lucy should have figured out what she wanted for her life without a nasty, jolting realization of evil. But I guess.

Lastly, I’ll say that the big reveal on what happens to Carter, was . . . anticlimactic. I don’t want to ruin anything, but it just fell a little flat to me. Not what happened, because I feel like it was an appropriate part of the story, but rather how it was delivered and resolved. There needed to be more clues and lead up and Lucy thinking about Carter more. McGinnis didn’t attach me to Carter enough, so I didn’t care all that much what happened to him.

Okay, so I know it sounds like I didn’t enjoy this book, but the truth is, I did. I love McGinnis’ stark writing style, though I think she executed it better in NADTD. She could work on her dialogue, because some if it didn’t flow well to me, and the first few chapters had some info dumping that was awkward, but those are difficult things to get around. Every author faces the problem of trying to work in important details the reader needs with out sounding like you’re reading off a textbook. I preferred Lynn as the MC to Lucy, but both stories were still very interesting and I was anxious to find out what happened next. I almost thought McGinnis was going to leave us hanging after Las Vegas and save California for another book, but she gave us a decent, bittersweet ending. It was far more gratifying than the ending of NADTD, though it didn’t have the poignancy of that novel. Lynn having to shoot Eli was a heartbreaking event I am still shattered from. IAHOD was satisfying, though not perfect, and I love my endings not-perfect!

Overall, this was an entertaining read with some action, some deep thoughtful parts and with gritty realism and a stark look at a world devoid of ample water. I enjoyed it, though it wasn’t soul-rending like the first one. Maybe my expectations were too high, but it was a good book to read.

My review: 3.5/5 stars

Book Review: Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

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Title: Afterworlds
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Hardcover: 608 pages
Publisher: Simon Pulse (September 23, 2014)
Language: English
Age range: 14 – 17 Years
ISBN-10: 1481422340
ISBN-13: 978-1481422345

Book blurb as seen on Amazon:

Darcy Patel has put college on hold to publish her teen novel, Afterworlds. With a contract in hand, she arrives in New York City with no apartment, no friends, and all the wrong clothes. But lucky for Darcy, she’s taken under the wings of other seasoned and fledgling writers who help her navigate the city and the world of writing and publishing. Over the course of a year, Darcy finishes her book, faces critique, and falls in love.

Woven into Darcy’s personal story is her novel, Afterworlds, a suspenseful thriller about a teen who slips into the “Afterworld” to survive a terrorist attack. The Afterworld is a place between the living and the dead, and where many unsolved—and terrifying—stories need to be reconciled. Like Darcy, Lizzie too falls in love…until a new threat resurfaces, and her special gifts may not be enough to protect those she cares about most.

I’ve done a lot of agent research over the past few months. Actually, I’ve been doing it far longer than that, but I’ve been pretty intense and in-depth of late. Agency websites have been perused page-by-page, names Googled, Twitter and Facebook scoured, blog posts and interviews read (and sometimes even the comments!) Suffice it to say, if a YA agent has said they want to see it in a novel, I’ve heard about it at this point. (Isn’t it interesting that it’s totally acceptable for authors to take on the role of a cyber-stalker while querying agents?)

So when I started reading Afterworlds, I immediately had this mental image of Westerfeld’s agent Jill Grinberg upon hearing about his latest novel: “Oh my God, Westerfeld, I f@#%ing love you!” Actually, I have no idea if Ms. Grinberg is the swearing type. To be honest, I’m not either, but if you’ve done the research I have and you’ve read this book, you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

1) Agents everywhere are asking for diversity, diversity, diversity! Westerfeld’s MC, Darcy, is Indian-American (think India, not Native). Her whole family is (of course) and one of her friends and also the LI in the Paranormal portions of the story. Though Westerfeld doesn’t inundate the reader with countless Indian references, he slips them in as they would be in Darcy’s life: just natural. A big deal isn’t made out of the inclusion of holidays or cultural references. They are part of Darcy’s life and therefore they are a part of the book. I loved how he did that.

2) And then there’s more diversity: Agents (and readers) have been asking for more LGBTQ+ characters where their sexual orientation is not the issue of the story. Westerfeld delivers. No one is upset that Darcy starts dating a girl, and Darcy doesn’t have a huge deal telling people. There is a minor inclusion of telling her parents which is a slight hitch, but they are loving and accepting and it is not the core of the story. Westerfeld treated Darcy discovering she is attracted to Imogen as just natural and real. Once again, loved that!

3) Agents and readers alike have been requesting Paranormals and Mythologies that use non-Western history or mythology. The Afterworlds portion of . . . um, Afterworlds, is based on the Hindu religion. So yeah, check another one off the list Westerfeld.

4) I’ve seen countless agents list Paranormals as an absolute no, and even if they did say they’d consider, they were adamant about no vampires, werewolves, selkies, mermaids, witches, wizards, etc. So basically anything that’s been done before. Since I don’t know a single book written about psychopomps (not saying they don’t exist, just haven’t seen any) I think Westerfeld was safe in the Paranormal category. Especially since he alternated each Paranormal chapter with a Contemporary (a genre that is getting a lot of requests these days.) One chapter about Darcy, the writer, new to the world of publishing and her trials and tribulations. Then one chapter about Lizzie, our psychopomp exploring the world of the dead. Then back to Darcy and so on. That’s two checks on this one. Contemporary and original Paranormal. Is this guy even human?

So there you have it: the reasons any agent would have taken on this book, even if Westerfeld wasn’t a huge name in YA to begin with. But what did I think of it?

Well, pretty much I feel if you are attempting to break into the publishing industry, you should read this book. Especially if you write YA. Not only does it give you a glimpse into the world of an agented author who has a book deal, but it is also a well-written YA that you can learn a lot from. It also explores the touchy ground of using an existing religion or mythos for the purpose of a YA novel. Darcy struggles with concerns that she is pilfering her religion “for the purpose of YA hotness.” Thought the issue is never resolved, it is something all authors have to consider when writing about a culture, religion, race, sex, or sexual orientation. What doesn’t seem offensive to one person can be to another and we have a responsibility to consider that. By no means should we avoid controversy and exploring all aspects of life, but we should at least consider all the options and potential opinions.

Usually, I expound on an author’s writing abilities, but I feel that is unnecessary in this case. Westerfeld is irreproachable for his writing skills. And moving on . . .

Both stories were intriguing, though I was drawn to Lizzie and her lord of death more than Darcy’s angst over first love, revising a book, living alone in New York for the first time in her life. That’s just personal choice. I don’t read a lot of Contemporaries, but having said that, I was fully invested in Darcy and Imogen and the rest of the cast very quickly. As far as Contemporaries go, I really liked it.

As for Lizzie and Yamaraj’s story, I was so completely absorbed. The story was new and fresh, not something I had read before, and there was a definite creepy factor I wasn’t expecting. Reading late one night I promised myself to the end of the chapter. I had to go to bed. After all, I have children, and they don’t care how late I stayed up reading. Anyway, the chapter ended with “something” scratching the floor beneath Lizzie’s bed and calling, “Come down and play!” I was so freaked out, and I don’t usually get scared by stuff in books. Of course, I don’t usually read scary books, but hey, this was creepy!

And no, I didn’t read another chapter. I really had to go to bed. But you can bet the next day when I had a free minute I was pulling that book out to find out what happened.

Pretty much I loved this book. I borrowed it from my library, so it may have to be a future purchase. But I didn’t love everything. As a mom, I wasn’t thrilled about the references to underage drinking. No, I’m not some silly prude that thinks teens don’t drink. And I know my nineteen-year-old daughter drinks with her friends. And when I was nineteen, I drank too, but not much. It annoyed me that Darcy drank almost everywhere she went. It’s much harder in Michigan to get a drink as a minor, but maybe New York is different. When Darcy thought about how bad she needed a beer, I was just put-off. I’m not totally upset about it, because I realize it is part of life and Westerfeld didn’t really glorify it, but I wasn’t thrilled about it either.

The other thing I was ambivalent about was the romance between Darcy and Imogen. Actually, not even the romance, but the lead up to it. The scene where they express their feelings for the first time and kiss was beautiful and I adored it, but there wasn’t enough of a lead up for me. One minute she isn’t thinking about Imogen in that way and the next they’re kissing. I guess I just need the feelings to be established a little more. It made it difficult to connect with their love story through out the book. Personal preference, but I like a slow burn that gets me caught up in wanting these two characters together, not a suddenly together and let’s skip all that foundation stuff. It was just too quick for me. On one hand, the story wasn’t about the romance, and that’s okay, but I still needed more.

I’d love to know from some of my LGBTQ+ blogging buddies if they have read the book and how they felt about Darcy and Imogen’s romance. I was worried that I wasn’t connecting because the characters are lesbians, and well, I am not. But I honestly don’t think that’s it, because like I said, I loved that first love scene and I was rooting for their relationship after that, but it kind of snuck up on me. I thought maybe it was going to happen, but questioned whether I was reading too much into the text.

Other than those two minor things, I adored this book. Every minute kept me captivated and I’m interested to know if Westerfeld is going to write a sequel. Though I have read his Uglies series, I haven’t read the rest of his books. He has just entered the ranks of one of my favorite authors, so I guess I’m going to be searching out the remaining books I haven’t devoured yet.

My Review: 4.5 stars

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The eighty-five-year-old driver who killed my wife, Desreen, was jailed today for eighteen months for causing her death by dangerous driving. He was also banned from driving for life. I suspect he, his family and friends are feeling really quite dreadful right now, and, for what it’s worth, mine and I aren’t exactly celebrating either.

You see, I’ve had time to think since attending the trial and I’ve realised that you can punish a crime but you can’t transfer pain. Any suffering caused to the defendant as a result of his sentencing could in no way take away mine. I’ve since learned that, having suffered so much myself, I genuinely wish no hurt on any other person and I never wished a prison sentence on the driver, either.

In fact, I wasn’t even going to mention the sentencing on my blog at all. But then I reminded myself that justice for Desreen is best served not by a…

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