Book Review: The Plain of Bitter Honey by Alan Chin

From Bold Strokes Books website: Twins Aaron and Hayden Swann are fighting a corrupt government taken over by ultra right-wing Fundamentalist Christians in 2055 America. Each brother fights in his own way, Aaron with bullets, Hayden with words. Then one night their world is turned upside down when they are caught in a government sting and they must both flee north into the badlands between San Francisco and Canada, where the only safe haven is a place called The Plain of Bitter Honey, a refuge where heads of the Resistance operate. But the brothers don’t know that government agents are tracking them to the hiding place of the   Resistance. Can they find the inner strength to survive?

There are some books that are really easy to write reviews for. And there are others that are difficult. Not because they’re not great books, but BECAUSE they are great books. This is one of those. I cannot write my typical spazzing out sort of review for this book because it just wouldn’t do it justice. And this book deserves a lot of careful thought.

The Plain of Bitter Honey takes place in the not too distant future. The America that is painted for readers is very grim. At least for some. For some people, they might like the fact the Christianity has taken over and the States have become a Christian nation. However, it is hell on Earth for many people in the book. If you do not agree with the views of those in power, or if your life and loves are different from what they think it should be, you are placed in ghettos.

I’ll flash back to history here, because what the author has done is draw on the Holocaust. There are many allusions to what happened in Nazy Germany during World War II. It is done masterfully, because it shows just how horrific the world has become.

Aaron and Hayden Swann are identical twins that are part of the resistance. At least Aaron is. Hayden, it seems, is off in his own world of literature. As a gay man, he has to hide the fact that he loves his boyfriend Julian, for fear of either being placed in the ghetto or being treated. While Aaron is very hard and driven, Hayden seems so carefree.

Looks can be deceiving.

What follows is an incredible journey to save the twins, the reistance, and everything they hold dear. There were times when I thought for sure all hope was lost, but the beautiful thing about how is that it’s always within reach if you just keep believing.

The author also weaves in some beautiful moments of magical realism as well, such as when Aaron is training with Twig and he learns to blend into the trees and become a part of them.

The conclusion of the novel is ultimately heart-breaking and beautiful. It is full of hope and you want the characters to succeed. I stayed up past one in the morning to finish because I couldn’t stop, and when I finally came to the conclusion, I put the book down, curled up in the fetal position on my bed, and just cried.

Such a wonderful novel from Alan Chin. He has a way with words that will leave you thinking and praying that this is not the future that we are headed towards. Frighteningly enough, with the current state of our country, it at times feels that way.

I look forward to many more books from this author.

This book will be released in June, 2013, and will be available from Bold Strokes Books and Amazon.


Book Review: Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Also known as the book that scared the crap out of this reader.

It’s not rare that I find a book I love and give it five stars. It is, however, rare, for me to find a book that I love so much, it makes me regret giving those other books five stars, because they just cannot even compare. It’s times like this where I wish there was a + feature to add that to the stars so the book really stands out.

So what is it about this book that makes it stand out so far above the others? First, the characters. They were realistic and changed throughout the story in ways that made me appreciate them even more. Even the characters that I started to hate at first were redeemed at some point in the novel (at least the kids were – not so much the adults). The plot is brilliant and horrifyingly unique. I’ve never read anything that had an idea like this, and I appreciate that. Finally, this is the only book that has legitimately made me cry from FEAR. I felt it as an ache in my chest, and then me, a twenty-seven year old, started to cry for the atrocities that were being committed against the Unwinds right on the page. And not because I felt bad for them, either, but because it genuinely frightened me that a world like this even existed in a book.

Connor is an Unwind who runs away to save himself. Risa is an Unwind who runs when she sees the chance. Lev is a tithe who thinks being unwound is a holy thing. When the three of them meet up, the world they live in will be thrown off course.

Connor may start off as a kid who readers like and dislike, but by the end of the book I, like the other kids, saw him as a hero. The scene that did it for me was the short chapter from the Clappers perspective as Connor is being led to the Chop Shop, he looks up at Risa on the roof, and blows her a kiss. Somehow that just cemented him as a hero in my book. It was so brave, romantic, and terribly sad at the same time.

Risa is a wonderful character who finds that she has more value than others have previously found in her.

And Lev. I think he changes the most. From starting off as a tithe who WANTS to be unwound because it is the purpose in his life to the transformation he undergoes after witnessing CyFi’s breakdown… it’s incredible. And hard to remember that he is only thirteen the entire book.

Finally Roland. He may not be a main character, but it’s a scene with him that had me so frightened. He’s a jerk. No other way to look at it. And I wanted him to get what was coming to him because I thought he deserved it. Until it actually happened. The scene of Roland’s unwinding scared the hell out of me. It wasn’t that it was overly descriptive. But as a reader, you know what’s happening through what Roland sees… or doesn’t see. Like his feet. When he says he looks down but cannot see him, and then they remove the lower half of the table, I knew half of him was gone. And then my brain, lovely thing that it is, zoomed out as if it was a movie and showed him laying on a table, only exisiting from the waist up. And the thought that he was a) kept concious during the unwinding and b) the doctor’s treated him like a nonexistent specimen just made me feel sick. In fact, I feel sick again thinking about it!

I cannot recommend this book highly enough.