When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

It almost feels wrong to write a review of this book, because it’s not just a book. When Breath Become Air is the story of a man’s life as it reaches it’s end.

Death is inevitable. We are slowly, constantly marching towards it. No cure exists. There are only stopgaps. This is something Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgery resident, knew all too well. Often, he was the stopgap. His work meant the difference between life and death for that patient in that moment. But near the end of his residency, he was diagnosed with severe, metastasized cancer. He likely wouldn’t survive.

Dr. Kalanithi didn’t come to medicine via the nerdy scientist route. He came to it from a wish to understand morality, responsibility, and what makes a human. Through English and literature and philosophy, he could understand the human condition. Through science, he could understand the underlying why.

A question that’s been on my mind is what are we first? How we identify changes what lens we see the world through. As we grow, we change and name ourselves differently. I’ve been a dancer, a gymnast, and athlete, a trainer, a writer, a student, and a young professional, among others. When I grew out of those identities, my worldview would change to fit the new identity. Paul, similarly, is a multifaceted and ever-changing human. Would Paul want to be remembered, first, as a surgeon? A writer? A father? A man? How does each presentation change who he is and who he is remembered as?

I will only ever know Kalanithi, the writer. Through that, I get a glimpse of who he was as a doctor and as a human, but I will never know his full person. I can ascertain that he was as dynamic in person as he was on paper. His writing is beautiful, full of meaning and emotion.

Every year, this book finds itself on several premed reading lists, and that’s how I stumbled upon it. I didn’t expect to be so affected by it. Some stories you can read secondarily. They don’t need all your attention; a small fraction will do.

This is not that book. Kalanithi’s writing is so enticing that it demands your singular focus. With that singular focus, of course, comes investment. From the beginning, he makes it clear how this story will end, but every step along the path is filled with unexpected joy and heartbreak. He may not have lived the length of life he deserved, but he lived a life filled with meaning and shaped with an understanding others hope to pursue.

The Life Below by Alexandra Monir

Have you ever seen the movie Life? With Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal? If you enjoyed that, you’ll love The Life Below.

When we last saw The Final Six, they were being shepherded to their rocket, getting ready to blast off to Europa – without Leo. Naomi, the communications & tech specialist, chosen because she knows too much about the mission. They couldn’t take her off the mission, but the International Space Training Camp could punish her by leaving her love interest behind on a failing Earth.

What Dr. Takumi and General Solokov of the ISTC did not account for was Dr. Greta Wagner, disgraced NASA scientist and previous head of the ISTC, taking matter into her own hands. She has also developed a rocket, this one intended for one astronaut instead of six. This ship will carry Leo through to a secret Martian rendezvous with The Final Six, and he’ll stay with them to Europa.

This isn’t the same sci-fi I was reading when we were at space camp and were following the finalists. The Life Below is a horror story if I’ve ever read one.

The Life Below is intended to be the final book in The Final Six duology, or so the internet tells me. Which doesn’t make sense. Everything feels unresolved and rushed. There’s this rule in writing (well, actually there aren’t really rules in writing, just ideas that you follow because they make sense or that you don’t because it’s an artistic choice, but I digress) that the last new question to be introduced is presented at the 80% mark. Ideally, this gives the author enough time to discuss all the questions and before wrapping up.

Neither this book, nor The Final Six followed this rule. With The Final Six, I kind of understood why. The author was trying to create tension, make people anticipate the second book, etc. I get the idea. But if this is intended to be the end of the duology, I don’t understand why they left as many questions unanswered as they did.

For example, why were the communication systems of the Pontus (The Final Six’s ship) sabotaged? What is that horrifying life form on Mars and why didn’t anybody share what might be waiting for the Pontus crew when they reached the Mars supply ship? Why are these mad scientists so intent on convincing everyone that there’s no life on Europa if it’s possible to peacefully co-inhabit? Well, I guess I know the answer to that one, but the biggest question is what is this new mission that Dr. Takumi is telling Sam about on the literal last page of the book? If this is the end of the duology, why is that the last page?

On top of the frustration from the lack of resolution, The Life Below feels generally rushed. It needs more rooting and more exploration. Tell me more about the surroundings, let me know more about what Naomi and Leo are thinking and feeling, and inform me more of the implications of the discoveries they’re making. This book could have easily stretched to fill an additional novel. 2/3 of this book take place on the Pontus. It would be easy to take the time in book two to fully explore life on the spacecraft, how the crew integrates their new member, and tasks and problems the astronauts encounter in space. It should take The Final Six around 6 years to get to Europa. In the span of this book, it feels like months, and there’s plenty of horror material to keep things entertaining on board the ship.

Then wrap up the trilogy with what happens when they reach their destination. The events that happen on the surface of Jupiter’s moon could be expanded upon (because they are terrifying) and they need to find a more reasonable solution than Patrick Star’s old idea of “We should take Bikini Bottom and push it somewhere else?” There needs to be repercussions for what Beckett does under the ice. Otherwise, we’ve been building this tension toward nothing.

At least we find out what’s going on with Beckett. Both why he’s awful and why he was picked for the mission. Again, though, I wish there had been a deeper exploration of that, too. He mentions a rough family life and severe punishment for any transgression. He also talks about how he obtained information by eavesdropping on his uncle, the President, and how he (and his father) use that info as leverage. We learn his motivations, and they’re understandable. It makes him feel like a character worth exploring, but we don’t.

Then, we’ve got Naomi. Without Sam directly here to push her, I’m not sure what her stakes are. Obviously she has to consider issues of life and death, but each situation needs to have some kind of risk to it. If this, then that. What are the stakes in convincing Sydney to stop delivering the radiation-resistant bacteria that will keep them from being fried alive on Europa’s atmosphere-less surface? The risk here isn’t imminent. They’ll all been surviving the RRB, even throwing the sample under a microscope did creep them out. Why does it matter now, and what is Naomi going to do about that?

Like with The Final Six, The Life Below featured a promising premise that fell flat due to issues with pacing problems and an event-driven plot. With little to no development or change in the characters, their beliefs, or stakes, I found myself uninvested in how this book turned out. At the end, I was frustrated at the lack of resolution.

The Betrothed by Kiera Cass

Hollis Brite is a noblewoman (noble girl?) who happens to have caught the King’s eye. His attention to everyone so far has been fleeting, but he seems to have latched onto her. “She’s the only one who can make him laugh,” everyone says (several times). Everything seems to be working out right, until Isolten refugees ask Jameson, the Coroan King, for asylum in his country. Hollis is immediately intrigued by their eldest son, even though she’s all-but engaged to the King.

This book was underwhelming for the amount of hype it received. Cass is best known for writing The Selection series, another YA romance series with a gorgeous set of dresses on the cover.

Now, don’t get me wrong… The Selection series wasn’t great. It’s like The Bachelor in a book. Trashy, but fun. It kept my attention. And America had spunk and fire, even if I did find her trite. But The Betrothed hasn’t even got the fun factor. It’s just Hollis, living her life in pretty dresses at a castle, trying win over the king (who I don’t even like). There’s nothing driving her to do anything, and no consequences if she can’t do something. Sure, maybe the king won’t pay her any attention anymore, but who cares? It’s annoying. She’s annoying.

I also can’t stand any of the people Hollis surrounds herself with. Her parents are overbearing and emotionally abusive. I grew up with friend whose mom would constantly tell other parents that she’s “grooming her child for greatness.” Lady Brite reminds me of her, except for she doesn’t even have faith that her daughter will be able to achieve that greatness. Delia Grace, who is supposed to be her best friend, is constantly calling her stupid. She’s a schemer, that one, too. There’s history with her and the other teenage girls at court. They (except for Hollis, our wonderful protagonist) bullied Delia Grace because of a rumor that she was born out-of-wedlock. And she’ll do whatever it takes to not be humiliated by that. Whether it’s trying to win over the king herself, or keeping herself as close to the woman who will be the queen as possible.

Also, what is the marriage thing in Coroa? It’s scandalous in the real world if people elope, but why is that enough to shun someone for in this book? She was trying to world-build with this information, but without a reason for the development of norms in a society, they’re left feeling like empty rules.

It’s clear some stakes exist for Silas, but what are they? The reader doesn’t learn anything about Silas’ family or why they’re seeking asylum in Coroa until the end. I’m talking last 10% of the book. Because of that, they don’t pique my interest. I just don’t care, so why would I care if Hollis ends up with him instead of Jameson?

The Betrothed by Kiera Cass was boring. Nothing happened and there were no consequences for any decisions made. It’s unclear where the story is going from here, and I’m not sure I’m all that interested in reading the continuation anyway.

Kingsbane by Claire Legrand

Before you read this review, you may want to check out my review of Furyborn.

Last we saw Rielle, she was having her Sun Queen coronation. In Kingsbane, she is again wreaking havoc with power she’s not sure how to control. She’s cracked the Gate, the only thing holding the angels in the Deep. Now she’s on a mission to retrieve the casting of the seven saints who locked the angels away. Except for the Obex, the order that guard these castings and the Gate(and everyone else in the world), don’t trust her. They think she is secretly the Blood Queen (a fact we already know, but she doesn’t quite understand), and is out to destroy them.

Eliana is recovering from that nightmare of an experience in Astavar. Now she has to actually learn to use her powers, while Simon relearns how to thread and send her back in time. Interestingly, Eliana learns to heal first, even though that power was one of the last ones Rielle learned. Simon successfully sends her back in time, but it comes with consequences that neither of them could have predicted.

You can probably tell from the difference between the two summaries which story I like better. It’s Rielle. I think she’s a much more interesting character. She wants to help people, she wants to be the Sun Queen and use her power to protect them, and she wants everyone to love her. But there’s so much going on in her head. She’s got Ludivine and Corien constantly warring up there. On top of that, she has to worry at every minute about using her power, but not blowing everybody up. Then there’s the Audric vs. Corien problem. We know she doesn’t love Corien, but he does what Audric won’t. Which is to validate that Rielle is powerful without restricting her. Audric wants to keep Rielle safe, while Corien wants to see her be as awesome as she can.

Watching Eliana is kind of sad for me. It felt she was only interesting because of her relationship with other people (ie. Simon). Her past as the Dread of Orline was interesting. She was invincible, and she was ruthless, but she’s lost a lot of her edge and confidence since regaining her power. It makes her plight feel a little hopeless.

Again, I was underwhelmed by what was supposed to be the emotional climax of the book. Both Rielle and Eliana have their biggest losses at the same time and it should have been an event that left me a blubbering mess. I can’t tell if it’s still because of the switching between points-of-view or if it’s something else. Though I will say, I did somewhat warm up to the format. While it’s not great at developing emotional investment with characters, the author does a good job creating tension. When I finish one chapter and have to head to the other point-of-view, I actively wondered what was going to happen to her. My mind was occupied with thoughts of the character that came before until I was captivated by the new person’s story. It alternated like that constantly, which made it hard to stop reading.

Has anyone here been watching Dark? It’s a German Netflix show, and it’s alright. My roommate likes it, but I find it annoying because it keeps rewriting all its rules and there’s never any real resolution to the story lines. Anyway, it also has to do with time travel, but they come at it from a different angle. In this book, Simon & Eliana going back in time will change their present. In Dark, the time travel has already happened. It’s been happening for years. In fact, the events caused by people traveling through time is what makes the future this way. There’s no beginning and no ending to it. It’s an interesting contrast, and it’s fun that the two remind me of each other so much.

I’m admittedly disappointed because I thought Lightbringer was already out. Alas, we’ll have to wait until October to find out what happens. But I guess we already know. The opening scene of the first book did tell us what to expect and I’m on the edge of my seat waiting to get there.

American Royals by Katharine McGee

I finally got a hold of this book. The premise of this book was promising, so I’ve had it on hold at the library for a long time. I was thrilled when I got the email that this book was ready for me.

Two hundred years ago, George Washington led the American Army to victory against the British. When they offered him the American crown, he accepted and became His Majesty, King George I. Today, his descendants still rule America. Beatrice, the first-born daughter, will be the first queen regnant in history, the law stipulating that male heirs took precedence being overturned before her birth. She’s the main character in this book, and in her families lives. Much to the chagrin of her younger sister, Samantha. Sam and her twin brother Jefferson have returned from their whirlwind graduation tour, which means they’ll have to face the consequences of the mess they left behind.

There were a lot of characters, and we didn’t get to spend much quality time with any of them. Pacing like that made it feel like everything was happening too fast. It doesn’t offer enough time to get attached to any one character. Beatrice, Teddy, Connor. Sam, Nina, Jeff, Daphne. They’re all just names. I was never told why I should care.

Except for Daphne, they all seem like nice people, but that’s it. They’re nice. I don’t feel particularly strongly about who ends up with whom.

Through Beatrice, we get to explore the idea of what could have happened if the US had become a monarchy, and that’s the most interesting part of the book. Of course, there was the obligatory “I’m a princess, so my life is not my own,” whining, which is fine (if a little trite). What was interesting was to see the differences in perception between the American royalty and the European royalty. Without the American experiment, monarchies persist throughout the world, and dealing with the political ramifications of that is something that Beatrice has to consider. I also liked reading about the integration of a royal tradition with our current institutions. The monarchy is largely symbolic. America still has a three branches (executive, legislative, and judicial), and it’s interesting to see what part the monarchy plays. They’re a source of stability and confidence. Maintaining a sense of continuity through tough times and change is an important role for them. There was a lot of thought and research that went into developing this book.

What was the most strange about this book was the love zigzag. The collection of love triangles was less fun than I thought it would be. Beatrice with Teddy and Connor. Teddy with Beatrice and Sam. Jeff with Daphne and Nina. Daphne with Jeff and Ethan. And what’s strangest about it all is that they’re not even real love triangles. Each of these people is supposed to marry or date someone that they’re not remotely interested in.

In the second book, I have a sinking feeling that Beatrice is going to go back on the development she felt in the last 10% of the book. When Beatrice decides what she wants and what she’s willing to sacrifice, she becomes a lot less insufferable (her sister agrees). But I’m nervous that we’re going to backtrack on those choices in the second book. Either by reneging on the decision she made last time or dissolving the American monarchy altogether. For me, that would be disappointing. I am looking forward to getting more involved with the characters in the future, and have hopes that since I’ll be more familiar with them in the next book, I’ll become more attached to them.

The Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn

Today we’ve got a bit of a #Throwback. The first dystopian novel I remember reading as a kid was The Bar Code Tattoo. I’d heard about it from a girl in school was much edgier than I was, so of course I needed to read it.

Today we carry driver’s licenses as identification, use our social security numbers to track our work and income, and keep our medical information in digital databases. In 2025, the time of the Bar Code Tattoo, all that information is available and at hand by the ‘too. At age 17, everyone who is anyone gets their tattoo. But something about the tattoo doesn’t feel right to Kayla. If it’s so great, why did the tattoo of Amber’s (Kayla’s best friend) dad wonk out and ruin his life? Why did Kayla’s parents kill themselves trying to get the tattoo off?

When Amber has to move away, Kayla falls in with a new group of kids at school. They’re part of a larger tattoo resistance group called Decode. Forcing people to get tattooed is unconstitutional, they say. It’s a violation of privacy. But everything goes downhill fast when the tattoo becomes mandatory for everyone over 17.

I’ve revisited this book more than once over the years. It’s a good nostalgia read for me. Also, the setting would be happening right about now, which I liked when I was a kid and think is funny now. The book touches on the lead ups to the bar code, like tracking of purchases with credit cards and social security numbers. A big part of the conflict in the book is that there’s information stored in the bar code that can be used to ruin somebody’s life. What the bar code keeps track of is relatively easy to track now, with technology people are voluntarily using. The book may not be that far off with its timeline.

The book is really plot-driven. Things happen to Kayla, she doesn’t start the events. It’s frustrating to watch her react to the things that are happening instead of taking direct action. But perhaps that’s a more realistic view of what would happen for most of us in a similar situation. The Tris Prior’s of the world are few and far between. It’s a little easier to relate to the Kayla Reed’s of the world.

Part of this book takes us on a journey to the Adirondack mountains to meet some mystic woman. The book was already plenty sci-fi before, but the development of psychic powers took it a little far for me (these days. When I read it as a younger human, I thought that was a brilliant development). Actually, there’s a lot about this book that makes it feel hokey. The dialogue is stiff and there’s a lot going on with all the characters. One of my biggest sticking points is that email addresses are linked to actual addresses (you email a physical place instead of an account? So there’s no guarantee that the person you sent the email to will get it unless they’re the only one checking email from that location. Did they not have email in 2004?).

Overall, this book’s biggest strengths come with the dystopian territory. What is happening? How does it personally affect our favorite hero/heroine and how do they overcome it? The bones of the book are there, and that’s what makes it both a nerve-wracking and fun book to read.

Fitness Junkie by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza

Janey is not fat. Or at least, she doesn’t think she is until her best friend/business partner tells her to lose 30lbs in 3 months, or she’d be out of the company. After that fateful breakfast, Janey embarks on a mission to get back to her college-age thinness through a mix of mint cigarettes, weird diets and intense workouts. She meets a fun list of new people – celebrities, juice chefs, and silver foxes OH MY! – on her journey to better health and wellness and learns that weight loss is not the end-all be all for fitness.

The book was a statement piece on how ridiculous these rich women get about their “health journeys”. And that message comes through loud and clear. These women are insane, trying to lose weight by eating clay and training endlessly. We meet one woman who bounces from wellness retreat to wellness retreat like it’s her full-time job. And don’t get me started on the abusive and nasty cycle classes. Trends like the ones in this book give fitness and wellness a bad name.

Something about almost every single character in this book doesn’t feel right. The only one who is halfway normal is Janey, and she lets herself be pulled into this madness like the rest of them. Beau is a master manipulator, and he uses Janey and her resources. Stella is a shaman, which might be fine if she wasn’t a blonde Upper-West-sider. Ivy is an embittered ex-ballerina who works for a company that prides itself on being exclusive and abusive toward it’s clientele.

I think it’s hard to read chapters written from Ivy’s point of view because I relate to her. Not about the being terrible to clients, but I’m also a personal trainer and an ex-ballerina. I can also be pretty angry about the world and my place in it. She goes to group therapy for other young people who are angry at the world, and the tips and advice that she gets is funny, sad, and true. When Janey and CJ and her all start hanging out together, there’s a visible change in Ivy’s disposition. It’s easy to tell that she’s enjoying having close friends for the first time in a long time. The corporate espionage is probably a little further than I’d go, but I get where she’s coming from in needing to pay her bills.

Beau is the best friend/business partner who tells Janey she has to lose weight. I have a hard time understanding why Janey was ever friends with him. He’s a jerk every time we see him. He has a gift for manipulating her and shattering her self-confidence. In my head, I can’t believe anyone would put up with that, but I feel like a lot of us have a Beau. A lot of us have that friend who makes us feel like a part of the in-crowd when they joke about other people. Having their attention makes us feel good and important. It doesn’t hit us until their venom is turned our way that they’re a mean person. It’s like Janey says, “When Beau’s light shone on you, it made you feel like you could stare directly into the sun without being burned. When it shifted away things felt very, very cold.”

Janey is the normal, rational world looking at the new hip, trendy fitness world. When Beau tells her that she has to lose weight, at first she’s shocked and hurt, and her reaction stems from that. She’s not fat. There’s no reason for her to lose 30 pounds, but Beau is that pressure point that pushes her to that, like how our friends mindsets can us push us into less healthy habits. Her first response to a lot of her friends habits is reasonably questioning. Watching her explore this new world she’s entering while also maintaining some of her strength of conviction was fun.

This book was a new Gossip Girl, but sweaty. I even pictured the actress who played Ivy in GG as the Ivy in this book. The events that happened in this book were insane and the reactions from the people in the book were insane. No matter how perturbed I was by the book, I couldn’t stop reading it.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

I finally did it. I jumped on the To All the Boys train. Admittedly, I’ve already seen the Netflix movies, but I had some time to kill, so I read the book too. I’m happy I did, because the book was a joy. I checked this book out from my local library, but I’ve attached links to Indiebound and Goodreads.

The story follows Lara Jean, a junior in high school, and the middle sister of three. Her older sister is leaving to go to college in Scotland, leaving the Song-Covey father and two younger daughters to fend for themselves. Lara Jean can’t begrudge Margot for leaving, but her life gets awfully complicated while she’s away, and she has no one to tell about it anymore.

When Lara Jean was growing up, she would write letters to the boys that she loved (hence, the title). She would stash these letters, never intending to send them, in a hatbox that was her late mother gave her. The letters were her to get out all the feeling she had for each boy. For her eyes only. Until one mortifying day when Peter Kavinsky, resident jock at school and Lara Jean’s 7th grade crush, approaches to talk to her about the contents of a letter he’d received from her.

Can I start by saying what a joy Lara Jean Song-Covey is? Because she is delightful. Both in her innocence and in her ability to feel everything so immensely. Lara Jean is every inch the romantic I was at her age, and this was the coming-of-age story I didn’t realize I needed.

To All The Boys is swoon-worthy because of its sweet innocence. No “Hot Sexy ___ Scenes,” present themselves like in other YA novels. It doesn’t need that. The joy of this book is the strength of its characters and their relationships. Peter has this charisma and cockiness that Lara Jean can see straight through. Lara Jean finds joy and meaning in the smallest of items or events, which Peter has to learn to appreciate. It’s their ability to learn and understand each other that builds such a compelling novel.

Nothing about Margot makes sense. All the descriptions make her seem like the sensible one. The dependable sister who will always be there. How did she decide to go to school in Scotland? Josh made sense for her. He was the goofy neighbor boy, always there, passably cute. He and Margot made sense.

Which is why I don’t understand Lara Jean’s fascination with him. In a certain way, it makes sense. To her, everything is important. Everything has a romance to it. Remembering Josh’s favorite cookies and his mannerisms as a child are as much a part of love as a fluttering heart beat when Peter Kavinsky talks. But it seems to me that Lara Jean would want something more than Josh has to offer her.

This is a phenomenal story, and I’m so excited to read the next book. Lara Jean’s story provides a much-needed respite from the world. She reminds of myself in my hopeless romantic days.

Furyborn by Claire Legrand

A prophecy nearly a thousand years old is coming true. Rielle knows she’s one of the two queens – the Blood Queen to bring ruin to the kingdom of men, or the Sun Queen to save them when the Angels return – but she’s not allowed to tell anyone.

She’s spent her whole life training to control her gifts. She can control all seven of the elemental magics, something the original saints couldn’t even do. When she loses control, it has devastating consequences for the surrounding people.

Eliana, the Dread of Orline, lives nearly a thousand years after Rielle. She makes her living as an assassin, but with a strange power: she heals from all wounds almost instantly. She doesn’t think much of it until her mother goes missing and the Wolf, a captain in the rebellion against the Empire that rose with Rielle’s fall a thousand years ago, contracts her for a mission to smuggle a foreign princess home.

First of all, this was the first book I finished in the time of COVID-19, so I want to genuinely thank that author (and all authors). It was much-needed entertainment while I’m social distancing. Without your art, we’d all be going insane, so thank you.

My biggest complaint is the ending. I understand that this book was always intended to be the start of a trilogy, but the prologue set up a lot of specific dramatic events, and we don’t get to see them in this book. It feels like an unfulfilled promise. I spent the entire book wondering why Rielle would kill Audric, and it never comes. I kept wondering how Rielle knew Simon was a marque and could save her daughter, and was never given the information to figure it out. The prologue was incredibly effective in capturing my interest, but it’s taking too long to follow through with that.

My struggle with books that switch point-of-view like this is that it’s often too jumpy to get invested in either character’s arcs. I almost wish the first book had been about Rielle, the second about Eliana, and the third about the Second Angelic War (which I’m positive is what is coming up, but have not confirmed). That probably isn’t the perfect solution, but it might’ve helped the plot feel less jumpy.

I like both characters (Rielle and Eliana). I’m not all that invested in what happens to either one of them, but I like them. They feel like acquaintances whose stories I’m happy to listen to when I see them out and about. They’re both strong and opinionated, so I like listening to them. I have a lot of confidence in their ability to solve their respective problems, which may not make them more compelling, but does make me like them better.

Corien provides a useful tie across both timelines. It’s interesting to see how he fleshes out in both realities. I also like the addition of other angels that are not interested in revenge for being trapped, but I do wonder at their motivation, though? I understand not being angry, but why actively help the humans? And why actively press out of the Gate to aid the humans?

Again, my biggest complaint is that everything feels unresolved. I understand that it’s a purposeful lack of resolution, but it still feels unfulfilling. Furyborn gets 3 out of 5 stars from me because it’s fun, but not stellar. People who like Red Queen will like this a lot (in fact it’s strongly reminiscent of Red Queen, but with much better writing), but folks who are uncomfortable with sex scenes may find some events uncomfortable to get through. I look forward to reading the second book and hopefully getting some closure.

Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

The pond in Lynn’s backyard is both their lifeline and their greatest liability. She and her mother have been protecting it with deadly force for as long as Lynn has been alive. They trust no one but each other. They don’t need anyone else.

Which is all well and good. This part of the book is pretty phenomenal. It’s a cross between a frontier novel and dystopian. We learn that the world Lynn and her mother, Lauren, live in is harsh. There’s no room for softness. There’s no room for error. This is interesting to read because the circumstances are so dire all the time. We learn more about what makes Lynn in these moments than in any other part of the book.

When Lauren dies and Lynn is alone, she’s more than capable of surviving on her own. She knows how to hunt, she knows how to defend herself, and she knows how to purify her pond water. But she also knows that dangerous strangers sit to her and south.

I like the relationship between her and her neighbor Stebbs. Stebbs takes care of Lynn out of a sense of duty to her mother at first, but the two of them develop an uneasy friendship. They begin to trust each other. I like Lucy too. She humanizes Lynn (though I do wish the author would lay off all the L names). Without Lucy, this becomes a story about what we sacrifice to survive. With Lucy, we learn about Lynn’s want for connection and found family.

The ending doesn’t sit well with me. The major confrontation is fine, I get it. But the consequence of Lynn’s decision to confront the men to the south feels sudden. There’s no lead up to it, and I’m not emotionally affected because I haven’t spent all that much time with the character we lose. I never got why or how Lynn was so attached, so I didn’t care when they died. I also don’t like that this character’s death was actively our protagonist’s fault. Stebbs made a suggestion for how to take out the men to the south’s supplies, and I knew it was a terrible idea. It seems ridiculous that they didn’t. It’s like they were looking for the easiest way to create a casualty.

The writing was phenomenal. There were nights I couldn’t sleep, not because I couldn’t wait to read more or whatever, but because I was so tense from the writing in this book. There wasn’t a moment that I felt safe because there wasn’t a moment that Lynn felt safe. The author managed to communicate the seriousness of these circumstances well.

Those that enjoyed Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Last Survivor’s series will find a lot of similarities here. It’s important that you don’t come in expecting this to be super action-packed, fight the man, dystopian. This is a harder story – they’re just trying to make it in a world that doesn’t want them to.