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: In the After by Demitria Lunetta

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Title: In the After
Author: Demitria Lunetta
Series: In the After
Hardcover: 464 pages
Publisher: HarperTeen; First Edition edition (June 25, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0062105450
ISBN-13: 978-0062105455
Age range: 13 – 17 Years

Book blurb as seen on

Amy Harris’s life changed forever when They took over. Her parents—vanished. The government—obsolete. Societal structure—nonexistent. No one knows where They came from, but these vicious creatures have been rapidly devouring mankind since They appeared. With fierce survivor instincts, Amy manages to stay alive—and even rescues “Baby,” a toddler who was left behind. After years of hiding, they are miraculously rescued and taken to New Hope. On the surface, it appears to be a safe haven for survivors. But there are dark and twisted secrets lurking beneath that could have Amy and Baby paying with not only their freedom . . . but also their lives.

This will be quick because once again I didn’t take notes and I read this in July, so I can’t remember much of what I would have said. In retrospect, maybe that’s a good idea, because I’ll just be commenting on the things that really stuck with me.

I really enjoyed this book. Post-apocalyptic stories have attracted me over the last few years (understandably so since my own YA novel is post-apocalyptic.) In fact, I loved pretty much everything about this book. The characters were interesting and believable. The plot was enticing and mostly full of great twists and turns. And the action was amazing! I was clutching my paperback with dread on several occasions. The only real drawback for me was the big surprise reveal towards the end and the portrayal of New Hope, but I’ll get to that later.

Probably my favorite part was how Amy, the MC, lived alone for two years. Her only companion was Baby, a toddler she saved from the wreckage of humanity. Everything about the first 146 pages was fantastic. Amy and Baby don’t talk, because talking draws the creatures. They have suppressed their deep, deep emotional issues because survival means you have to be tough. They’ve learned to survive and that means hard choices. Amy even reveals how she considered leaving Baby to fend for herself because she was afraid a noisy toddler would endanger her own life. People think that way. They aren’t always noble and good, and they don’t always make the right choices.

To be honest, I found that part interesting, because my own MC goes through a similar circumstance. She’s alone for two years, but she has imaginary friends to talk to. And when she finally comes in contact with other survivors, she doesn’t make choices that are good for others. She thinks of herself and her own survival first. So yeah, I was thrilled to read this accurate portrayal of humanity, because it bears some resemblance to mine.

In the After is split into three parts (another similarity to mine: not sure how I feel about that), and after the first part, each chapter begins with a portion of Amy’s life in the future, like four months or so. Then we switch to present (or maybe it’s the other way around), but we get glimpses of two different times in Amy’s life and they both help to explain each other. I don’t know that it was necessary to do this, but it was still interesting.

My only beef was with the New Hope dystopian society. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because women are expected to give birth every three years starting at the age of 17. Maybe because the kids are raised in dormitories. Maybe it’s because I’m a little tired of the perfect-society engineering in YA novels. I just don’t think that’s how things would be. And criticizing stuff like this is so hypocritical on my part, since my own YA post-apocalyptic has a totalitarian society. But I think the difference is two-fold. First, they aren’t my ideas, and we always like our own ideas best. 🙂 And second, perfect-societies need a perfect-society maker, which is generally some nut job who decrees that all women should give birth to one child every three years, or that love is a sickness and you need brain surgery, or being divergent is dangerous. I’m just a little tired of that. I think books like the Hunger Games have it more correct. Totalitarian societies don’t care about the intricacies of your life. Be a schlum for all they care, just as long as it doesn’t effect them. Tow the party line and all is good.

The other part that was just so-so was the big surprise dramatic reveal near the end. For me it fell a little flat. It concerns where the human-eating creatures that have destroyed humanity come from. I mean, I saw it coming a little, but it was just a little non-creative in my opinion. Especially after the author set it up to be something else. I’ll explain further in the spoiler at the bottom, but it was a ho-hum plot point to me.

Otherwise, good book. Decent writing. Loved the suspense and some of the realism in characters and life after an apocalypse. Can’t wait to read the sequel!

My review: 3.5/5 stars

***SPOILER*** Here’s where I go in detail about “the big reveal”. So the author sets it up to be aliens-invade-earth-and-eat-every-form-of-meat-in-sight. The creatures are mindless killing machines that devour anything that moves. Which of course, raised the question “How could a mindless killing machine have the mental capacity to build a spaceship, fly to earth and destroy humanity?” But I thought, maybe first wave kind of thing. As the book progressed, I had a feeling the big wigs of New Hope were going to turn out to have caused the problem. I was right, but I thought maybe the creatures were organic life-forms created in a lab experiment. Half-right. The disease was created in a lab, unintentionally, people infected and turn into creatures, and then they escaped. Once they bite somebody, they infect them, creating more mindless killing machines. So basically, the “z-word”. There’s enough zombie books, zombie movies, zombie video games, that I’m pretty much over the “z-word”. Give me something a little more creative. And here’s another issue with the story, but really all zombie stories in general. You only turn into a zombie (or creature in this book) if you are bitten and you get away! Otherwise, zombies or creatures or whatever flesh eater is going to eat you! So why are there always so many zombies, and in this case, creatures, running around? Wouldn’t most of them get eaten? Sorry just a little zombie-issue I have. And if I see one more child/baby zombie I’m going to scream! Logically, if a zombie bites a baby or small child, said child is not going to be strong enough to run away or fight them off. Zombie will eat the child! There will be no zombie children. Or at least not very many. *whew* Sorry. Had to get that off my chest. So that’s my rant. Wasn’t thrilled with the idea that people became mindless killers because they’re infected. A zombie by any other name is still pretty rank and foul . . . ***SPOLIER OVER***

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Hijacking the Character Blog Hop

93-land-of-the-pirates--vector-cartoon-illustration-1113tm-v1So I saw Infinite Free Time was on the Character Blog Hop, and he invited anyone who wanted to participate to join in by tagging themselves in the comments. Naturally I couldn’t resist talking about my book, so thanks for the invite to invite myself. 🙂 It may not be an actual hijack, but close enough!

1) What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?

My character has no name, hence the title I Have No Name. Not to give away too much, but she does develop names through the book (first a nickname, then one she chooses for herself.) It’s part of her character growth that she accepts that though she is no longer the person she used to be, she can still find happiness in the person she has become.

2) When and where is the story set?

The story is set 30-35 years into the future (I don’t set a date) and takes place in two locations. The first is a small Michigan town on the shores of Lake Huron and the second location is a not-so-secret government installation in Virginia known as Mount Weather.

3) What should we know about him/her?

The girl has some serious psychological issues. When the story opens she hasn’t seen another living person in two years. Before that she watched everyone she’s ever known die of the plague. The hallucinations are a problem, but the real issue is allowing anyone to ever get close to her again. She’s so messed up she doesn’t even want to get close to herself and tries to forget her own name.

4) What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?

All she wants is to be left alone, but as usual, we often want what is worst for us. When the girl discovers she is not the sole survivor of the plague, she is faced with not only allowing herself to feel for others again, but a war between survivors that could destroy the few people she’s finally come to care about.

5) What is the personal goal of the character?

That’s hard. It changes. First, she wants to be left alone. When she does make friends and finds a place in a community, she’s captured by a rival group and just wants to get home alive. But it isn’t that easy. Turns out the rival group isn’t full of “bad guys” as she was led to believe, and now she’s even starting to fall for one of them. Finding a way to keep the people she cares about safe is the most important thing. Matters of the heart come a distant second.

6) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

I Have No Name. I’m considering making the front page of my blog static with my idea for the hook in the hopes that others will critique and help me craft a better one! And I’ve considered posting my first chapter for the fun of it.

7) When can we expect the book to be published? 

No idea. I’m finishing edits and beginning query stage soon. I want to go the traditional route, though I’m not opposed to indie or self pub if it comes to that. We’ll see. I wouldn’t expect anything for a couple of years anyway.

Like Infinite, I’m not tagging anyone. Tag yourself in the comments and jump in!