Book Review: #NotReadyToDie

by Cate Carlyle

My rating: 2.5 / 5
Genre: YA suspense


A school shooting at a high school in Canada is shown from the perspective of one of the students. She’s forced to think past her perceptions of other students to do the best she can to help others trapped in the classroom with her.

I didn’t find very many redeeming qualities about this book. My favorite thing was the way that each chapter ended with a tweet from various sources–usually either the local news station or one of the students in the school. I liked reading the updates as time went on (and missed them when they weren’t there), though I wished I could see reactions from the characters to some of them. They were mostly removed from the narrative. The writing was clear and easy to follow. And I liked the relationship between the narrator, Ginny, and her mom. That’s the extent of my positive notes. These are the main reasons I gave the book 2.5 stars.

There was a secondary main character named Kayla who, frankly, would have made a much better main character. She was compassionate, brave, forgiving, and had knowledge of medicine. I don’t mean to say side characters can’t be better at anything than the main character, of course, but in contrast, Ginny was judgemental, a bit harsh, and too often focused on the entirely wrong things during this crisis. The main character doesn’t have to be the “best,” but for a story to land well, it certainly helps for the reader to be able to identify with the MC…and I just didn’t. Ginny spends the entire book calling Kayla by an insulting nickname, but it’s okay, because she says it “with love” after the two start to become friends. Just…no. There are other things that happen with Ginny that either don’t make sense to her character or are pretty big personality flaws.

And speaking of characters, the book is so full of cliches. In the classroom during the lockdown, there are only 3 main groups of people identified: jocks, cheerleaders, and nerds. I get the over-simplification of background characters in a setting like this, but maybe go against the trend of those commonly used groups? The main person who acts selfishly and is disliked by the MCs is a jock. Maybe change it up, make him something less cliched.

This might count as a spoiler, so be warned, but one specific thing that really bugged me was later in the book, Ginny makes a comment about one of the other students that leads Kayla to tell her maybe she should work on not judging people so much. After initially snarking back to Kayla about this comment, she admits to the reader that Kayla had been right (yeah, we know…considering that you have been calling Kayla, who is supposedly becoming your friend now, “Barbie” since the beginning of the book). Then later, when talking about the “jerk jock”, we’re told that Ginny prides herself on having a pretty good feel for people. Except she’s spent half the book finding out that she’s misjudged at least 3 different people in her class. But since we all agree that the jerk jock is a bad guy, I guess we’ll let that little contradiction slide.

Here are a few other stray thoughts, which contain some spoilers (which I’ll try to cover with black): From my limited knowledge, I’m pretty sure most school shootings are a lot shorter than the time it went on for in this book. The shooter weirdly taunted this classroom, which I never really understood. There wasn’t much suspense for me, considering the final chapter title, the book’s POV and tense, and the fact that I wasn’t really connected to the MC (note: I am not at all saying that I didn’t care if she died, especially considering the subject matter of this book). Finally, I don’t think it would have bothered me to not be told the motivations behind the shooting if the students hadn’t speculated on it so much along the way. Because of that, I did find myself wanting to know, which we don’t find out. I know that the motivations aren’t always clear in real life either, but this is fiction, so I would have hoped for at least a more definitive speculation from someone in authority by the end.

The subject of a school shooting intrigued me, which is why I chose to read this book. Though I know there are other books like this out there, I haven’t read any. However, so much of the characterization was just so off to me, I had a difficult time finding it very much of an exploration into the minds of students in this terrible situation. I don’t think I can come up with any types of readers I would specifically recommend this book to. It was short, so I should have read it much more quickly than I did, but instead found myself stopping and going back to my other book that I was really enjoying, and it’s not because of the difficult subject, but because…it just didn’t hold my attention very well.

Thank you to Netgalley and Common Deer Press for providing me a copy of this book to review.

Find out more about #NotReadyToDie
Publication date: October 1, 2019

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Book Review: Lock In

Lock In
by John Scalzi

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Sci-Fi mystery

Lock In

In the near future, a disease ravages humanity, leaving a large population of Earth completely paralyzed. In the time period of Lock In, technology has been developed to allow those “locked in” to live as normally as possible, either putting their consciousness into a robotic being, or into the mind of someone who has the ability to accept the mind of someone else. Set against this backdrop, the book is a mystery that starts with a murder, but deepens continually as the story goes on.

I wasn’t really expecting to like this book that much, though I don’t know why. However, I ended up liking it a lot. The sci-fi element, mainly the roles the Hadens (those who were locked in) and the Integrators (those who could let a Haden use their mind & body) played in the mystery, really enhanced the mystery plot.

The main character, Chris Shane, is a Haden and an FBI agent, who interacts with the physical world in what they call a “threep” (basically a robot that is controlled by a Haden’s consciousness). In a lot of ways, the book was similar in this area to Ready Player One, which I only read recently, so it was fresh in my mind. I was interested reading about the laws surrounding Hadens and their threeps, when it comes to crimes committed both by and against them. I also enjoyed the main character’s intelligence, ingenuity, and stoicism.

Another thing that I found myself appreciating throughout the book was the writing style. There is not a lot of description or figurative language, which to my taste, at least, can slow a story down or add unnecessary filler. There were even times that I would read through an entire page and get this feeling in the back of my mind that I’d skipped some text (I do that sometimes, essentially accidentally skimming for a bit before deciding I need to go back), but when I’d go back to try to find what I’d skipped over, there was nothing. Conversations flowed quickly, with little in the way of descriptions of what the characters were doing. Some may find this a flaw, but I personally liked it. If the characters aren’t really doing anything but sitting and talking…maybe sometimes it’s okay to not add minor actions in just because. I usually write dialog this way too, but end up going back and adding more in, because I feel like it’s expected.

Scalzi’s world-building was brilliant too, from following the progression of politics, laws, and citizen response brought on by Haden’s syndrome in America, to the slang and lingo that seemed so natural in this world. My main detraction in the book is involved in this area though. At one point in the last quarter of the book, a side character who is an expert in a field that is needed for the investigation spends about 10 pages explaining some technological and coding mumbo jumbo that I had a difficult time wading through and understanding. I was at least able to come away with some idea of what was going on, though, so it didn’t cause enough problem for me to be more than a short frustration. I also feel it prudent to mention that there was a lot more language than I prefer.

I had seen that there is a follow-up to this novel when I wasn’t even halfway into reading it yet, and I didn’t expect to have much desire to read it. However, by the end of the book, I knew I had to read Head On at some point soon!

I would recommend Lock In for fans of near-future sci-fi and for mystery lovers too.

Find out more about Lock In

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