Miranda and her mother and brothers have barely survived the long winter that came right after the moon was knocked out of orbit by an asteroid, bringing an apocalypse. She’s been wondering for months what happened to her father and his pregnant new wife. She’s thrilled when they show up on the doorstep when her newborn half brother, but she’s not so sure about the three extra people they’ve brought with them — an adult man and a teenage boy and his little sister.
The third book in this series reverts back to the Miranda’s journal format of the first. While I appreciate bringing the diverse characters from the first two books in the series together, the use of Miranda’s journal exclusively in telling the story renders the tale a bit less interesting and strong than it could have been.
It should come as no surprise that a YA series featuring a girl in the first book and a boy in the second will bring the two together in the third. I must admit that although when I finished the first book I was very eager to read more about Miranda, when I finished the second I was intrigued at the idea of a series that saw the same apocalypse lived out in different places by different people throughout. That said, getting to know the extensive background of the love interest is appreciated and different but it is a bit jarring to go back to Miranda’s diary after getting to know Alex so thoroughly in the second book. The book could have been much more powerful if Miranda’s journals were interspersed with chapters from Alex’s perspective. Getting this perspective would have helped make their love seem more real, as opposed to just convenient. (Alex is the only teenage boy Miranda has seen in a year). Additionally, in spite of Miranda falling for Alex so fast, he mostly comes across as cold and overly religious in this book, whereas in his own book he was much more empathetic. Certainly the need for survival will make him come across stern, and we know that Alex has a tendency to say important things in Spanish, which Miranda cannot understand. Both of these facts means it would have worked much better to have alternating perspectives, rather than just Miranda’s.
The plot, with the exception of the instant love between Alex and Miranda, is good. It brings everyone into one place in a way that seems natural. The addition of new characters also breathes new life into Miranda’s situation. Plus, Pfeffer does a good job of forcing the family out of their stasis in the home, something that both makes logical sense (these people were not preppers, they are not equipped to stay in their home forever in the apocalypse) and also keeps the plot interesting (one can only read about people holed up in a house for so long). The plot developments also make more sense, scientifically, than in the previous books.
Religion is handled less smoothly here than in the previous two books. Everyone but Miranda’s mother and Miranda has church on Sunday (Protestant or Catholic), and Miranda doesn’t have enough of a reaction to or thoughts about this. She doesn’t really think about faith or spirituality. Church is just something some other people do. This is unrealistic. A teen who has just gone through a disaster and sees her father suddenly take up faith would definitely at the very least have some questions. Given that Alex has a very strong faith and they are interested in each other, one would think they would have some conversations about religion that go beyond whether or not they can have sex before they get married, yet they don’t. The first two books sets a great stage to talk about faith in its many forms, as well as lack of faith, yet the book backs away from actually tackling this issue. If it had, it would have offered something truly thought-provoking in the read. Instead it’s a post-apocalyptic survivor romance. Not a bad thing but not what I was expecting based on the first two books.
Overall, this is an interesting next entry in the series that brings Miranda and Alex back to the readers and moves the plot forward. However, it dances around the issue of faith vs. lack of faith brought up in the first two books, eliminates Alex’s voice from the story, and suffers from some instant romance. Those already invested in the series will still enjoy seeing what happens to Alex and Miranda, although skimming for plot points is recommended.
3 out of 5 stars
When Far Stream is still a young elephant in the late 1800s, not yet full grown and learning from her mother, aunties, and grandmother, humans trap and capture her and other members of her herd. She is shipped to America and sold to a traveling circus. Over the years, she slowly comes to be known as a bad elephant who must be put down. But is she really bad?
I was quite excited when this book was submitted to me for review. A piece of historic fiction from the perspective of an animal, focusing on animal rights problems in the circus? Such a perfect fit! This is a well-researched and written piece of historic fiction that eloquently depicts the minds of elephants as similar to and yet different from those of humans.
The book opens with a scene of a so-called bad elephant about to be executed. The humans state they are doing so humanely and nothing can be done because the elephant has gone rogue and killed too many humans. The book then flashes back to see the elephant’s life from the elephant’s perspective, leaving it up to the reader to determine if the elephant is actually bad. The humans calls her Topsy, but her elephant name is actually Far Stream. What follows in the flashback is a delicately handled and clearly exquisitely researched tale of the life of a circus elephant in the late 1800s in the US.
From the beginning, the author makes it clear that elephants are intelligent, with lives, families, and emotions of their own. Quite a bit of this is backed up by science, such as elephants crying and also mourning dead members of the herd. There are also those who think that elephants might communicate via sign language and/or telepathically, and the book fully embraces both ideas. What results in telling this tale from the elephant’s perspective is a scene of one intelligent species enslaved by another that is heartbreaking to read. What really makes the story work, though, is that the author strikes the perfect balance between showing the horror of being a circus elephant and also not fully demonizing humans. There are good humans (trainers and non-trainers) who love the elephants and treat them well but simply do not understand that elephants are more intelligent and have a richer emotional life than they give them credit for and by simply keeping them away from the roaming herd life they were made for they are hurting them.
Everything about the circus in the late 1800s in the US was clearly thoroughly researched by the author. The historic setting and ways of life flow smoothly and fit perfectly within the plot. They are presented simply as reality without any unfortunate modern commentary or forcing of unnaturally modern ideas into the plot. Reading this book truly transported me back in time, and it was fascinating and enjoyable, as well as heartbreaking.
Although the reader knows from the beginning that Far Stream will be executed, how she gets there is still a mystery and is handled delicately enough that the plot has momentum.
The one bit that didn’t really work for me is how the book presents what appears to be elephant spirituality. There is one scene where Far Stream and another elephant appear to hallucinate, and it is never entirely clear what actually happened. Similarly the ending goes to an odd spiritual place that just left me confused, rather than in the strong emotional state I was in the moments immediately prior to this. I found the elephant spirituality bits to be a touch confusing that lessened the emotional strength of the rest of the book, which came across much more matter-of-fact. Some readers may enjoy and relate to the spiritual aspect more than I did, however.
Overall, this is a piece of thoroughly researched historic fiction with a smooth moving plot and an empathetic, well-rounded main character. It clearly demonstrates how animals humans once thought were less intelligent and less emotional than we now know them to be came to be mistreated, setting up a precedent for that mistreatment that to some extent continues to this day. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy historic fiction and animal main characters.
4 out of 5 stars
Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review
Seventeen-year-old Alex Morales works hard with his eyes on a good college. He even works in a local pizza joint to pay for his own private Catholic school uniforms to help his Mami and Papi. Papi is in Puerto Rico for his mother’s funeral and Mami is working late when an asteroid strikes the moon and everything changes. New York City is struck by flooding and loss of infrastructure. Alex is left alone to care for his two younger sisters, Julie and Briana, and slowly he begins to think that maybe things will always be this bad. Maybe Mami and Papi will never come back, the moon will never look right again, and there will never be a world where he can go to college and not be left caring for his little sisters.
I inhaled the first book in this series, in spite of the scientific flaws (which I addressed in my review of the first book). Miranda’s journal ends so abruptly that I was eager to get to the next book right away. I was surprised, then, when the second book starts back before the moon is struck with an entirely different family in a different area of the country. This book shows Pfeffer’s abilities as a writer by showing the same apocalyptic event seen in the first book from the perspective of an entirely different family.
Miranda’s family is suburban-rural, agnostic/atheist humanist, blended (divorced parents with one remarried), and white. Alex’s family is urban (NYC), Latino, and devotedly Catholic. Both families are given room to have strengths and flaws, most of which have nothing to do with where they live, their ethnicities, or their religions (or lack of one). I honestly was startled to see Alex and his and his sisters’ strong faith treated with such respect in this book after Miranda’s lack of faith was treated with equal respect in the first. It’s easy, particularly in a book written as a journal, to mistake a character’s beliefs for an author’s, and Miranda, a teenage girl, has very strong beliefs. This book reminded me that those beliefs were just Miranda’s, just as Alex’s beliefs are just his, and it shows how well Pfeffer is able to write characters.
Some readers may find it odd and frustrating to go back in time to relive the apocalypse over again with different characters. I personally enjoyed it, because the world falling apart is one of the best parts of post-apocalyptic fiction for me. I also liked having the opportunity to see differences in how the apocalypse plays out based both on the location (suburban/rural versus urban) and the characters’ personalities and reactions. However, that said, I can see how this set-up of two vastly different sets of characters in books one and two could be off-putting to certain readers. Some religious readers may be turned off by the first book and Miranda’s staunch atheism. Those who read the first book and enjoy it for precisely that reason may similarly be turned off by the second book’s heavy Catholicism and faith. The diversity is a good thing but it also makes it hard to pinpoint an audience for the series. Those who are open to and accepting of other belief systems would ultimately be the best match but that’s a demographic that can sometimes be difficult to find or market to. However, if a reader is particularly looking for a diverse set of viewpoints of the apocalypse that is more than just characters’ appearances, this series will be a great match for them.
It should also be mentioned that this book is not a journal. It is told in third person, from Alex’s viewpoint, although the dates are still mentioned. It makes sense to do it this way, since Alex definitely does not come across as a character with the time or the inclination to keep a journal. It would have been interesting to view the apocalypse from the viewpoint of a boy who did keep a journal, however.
The plot makes sense and brings in enough danger without being overly ridiculous. It would have been nice to have maybe started the book just a bit earlier in the week to see more of Alex’s day-to-day life before the disaster. Instead, we learn about it through flashbacks, which makes it a bit harder to get to know him than it was to get to know Miranda.
Overall, this is a surprising and enjoyable second book in this post-apocalyptic series that lets readers relive the apocalypse from the first book over again with a different set of characters. This approach lends diversity to the series, as well as bringing in a greater variety of scenarios for those who enjoy the apocalypse process. Recommended to those looking for a diverse presentation of beliefs and how those impact how characters deal with an apocalypse.
4 out of 5 stars
Drumila, four-armed king of the daityas, seeks to take them above ground to escape their enemy the naagas, giant flame-breathing serpents. Meanwhile, Krishna (the highest-ranking god) sends his daughter, Nandini, to Earth in human form to weaken Drumila and keep him from crossing the barrier from Earth into the higher plains. Unfortunately, Nandini ends up liking Drumila a bit more than they bargained for.
I was excited to have a fantasy based in a non-European mythology submitted to me, and wow is this different from the typical European-based fantasy. In a good way. This is a dense, different fantasy with a strong learning curve unless the reader is already very familiar with Hinduism.
The basic story reads just like mythology. This has pros and cons. On the plus side, it feels quite fantastical. On the minus side, some of the plot points can be cringe-worthy (such as an unwanted kiss that could have turned into a rape if the female character hadn’t suddenly 180ed from zero interest to desire) and the characters can be a bit two-dimensional. This will bother some readers, but those who enjoy mythology, in spite of its shortcomings, will appreciate this read. Personally, I generally prefer if authors update and modernize their mythological rewritings a bit more, but not all readers feel that way.
The author is well-aware that Hindu mythology won’t be familiar to many Western readers, so he offers an extensive footnotes that are well hyperlinked in the ebook that explain both definitions of words and various aspects of Hindu mythology. This means that the reader learns a lot but it does also slow down the reading of the book and breaks up the immersion in the world. The footnotes are a good idea but perhaps if some of the words and concepts were better incorporated and explained within the writing itself then there could be fewer footnotes that offered greater explanations of more value.
The ending is a bit abrupt. It’s clear this is intended to be the first book in a series, but an extremely abrupt ending like this one makes it difficult to feel like the reader got a full book out of the deal. It feels more like the pilot of a tv show than the first book in a series.
I would give this book a more full review, but it has been pulled from publication since the review copy was sent to me. I really wish when authors and/or publishers choose to do this that they would notify those of us with review copies. While I enjoyed the read enough to not regret reading it, it feels rather silly for me to bother reviewing a book no one else can get their hands on anymore.
Overall, this is a fantasy book set firmly in the tradition of Hindu mythology that will best appeal to readers who enjoy the traditional features of mythology and don’t mind an abrupt ending.
3 out of 5 stars
Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review
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