Tagged: book 1

Omega Days by John L. Campbell

Omega Days by John L. Campbell(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

When the end came, it came quickly. No one knew where or exactly when the Omega Virus started, but soon it was everywhere. And when the ones spreading it can’t die, no one stands a chance of surviving.

San Francisco, California. Father Xavier Church has spent his life ministering to unfortunate souls, but he has never witnessed horror like this. After he forsakes his vows in the most heartrending of ways, he watches helplessly as a zombie nun takes a bite out of a fellow priest’s face…
University of California, Berkeley. Skye Dennison is moving into her college dorm for the first time, simultaneously excited to be leaving the nest and terrified to be on her own. When her mother and father are eaten alive in front of her, she realizes the terror has just begun…
Alameda, California. Angie West made millions off her family’s reality gun show on the History Channel. But after she is cornered by the swarming undead, her knowledge of heavy artillery is called into play like never before…
Within weeks, the world is overrun by the walking dead. Only the quick and the smart, the strong and the determined, will survive—for now.

[Full disclosure: I received a free paperback at Book Expo America 2015 with no expectation of a review.]

One of the things I have to make clear from the start is that this is not the original ebook that some other people have reviewed.  This is the new, expanded paperback edition that was published by Penguin under their Berkley imprint.  I don’t know how many differences there really are between the two editions but apparently there are a few more little points of view to add interest and some tightening of certain narratives in a couple of places.  In the relative scheme of things, I think the few distinctions don’t really matter all that much.

First, let’s start off with the characters.  We have a huge variety of characters from your typical college student who turns into a killing machine to a reality TV show star who has a fully stocked arsenal of guns.  And while Skye and Angie are fascinating characters, one of the characters that isn’t really your typical ‘stock character’ in a zombie apocalypse is Xavier, the priest.  He is definitely an unconventional priest coming from a very rough background but at the same time he really does seem to care about all of the survivors he meets.  For a while he loses his faith (who wouldn’t?) but then toward the end of the novel we start to see a sort of transformation in him as he learns that perhaps all is not hopeless, despite the devastation around him.

One of the things I found very realistic is that people in the Omega universe actually knew about zombies.  It’s not like Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy where people immediately knew what to do with zombies, but they did make occasional references to zombies in popular culture.  Another thing I appreciated was that although the government of the United States fell fairly quickly, independent pockets of the military managed to cling on and try to rescue as many people as they could.  That’s more realistic in my view than a total collapse of everything as surely there would be some military units out there with a strong enough chain of command to hold people together during a crisis, even one as big as a zombie apocalypse.  And throughout the story we see the points of view of various peoples who survive in various ways: doctors whose hospitals were mostly overrun but were protected by the military for a time while they worked on a cure, a Russian military pilot sent to train American soldiers, a crazy televangelist who is about as ruthless as you might expect, etc.  Some of these people play large parts in the story while others only get a single point of view before dying or just passing from notice.  It’s a very realistic look into how different people would cope during a nationwide disaster like a zombie apocalypse.

Which brings me to one thing: the plot.  Normally you would expect all of these points of view to really slow down the plot or make it confusing.  Omega Days really didn’t have that problem, oddly enough.  The little side stories were nice and were short enough that they didn’t take away from the main plot as the different pockets of survivors converged.  They also imparted important information regarding how the military and governmental structures fell and what doctors and scientists were able to find out about the Omega Virus and zombies in general before most of the hospitals were overrun.  I think it will be very interesting in future books to see Campbell expand upon the idea that the zombies aren’t just infected with one virus, they have two different viruses working in tandem.  I would love to gush on about this very different idea of making zombies come to life (so to speak) but I’ll leave that for you to discover as you read the book.

Basically, Omega Days really was a pleasant surprise.  A lot of zombie books read the same or are shameless rip-offs of The Walking Dead, what with its current popularity.  But Omega Days is really different and I appreciated all of the different points of view John L. Campbell wove together into a coherent narrative that told the story of the zombie apocalypse.  I can’t say that this book is the most amazing I’ve ever read but it is very well written, with interesting characters and plenty of suspense.  You can’t go wrong with that.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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Partials by Dan Wells

Partials by Dan Wells(Cover picture courtesy of Dan Wells’ site.)

For fans of The Hunger Games, Battlestar Galactica, and Blade Runner comes the first book in the Partials Sequence, a fast-paced, action-packed, and riveting sci-fi teen series, by acclaimed author Dan Wells.

Humanity is all but extinguished after a war with Partials—engineered organic beings identical to humans—has decimated the population. Reduced to only tens of thousands by a weaponized virus to which only a fraction of humanity is immune, the survivors in North America have huddled together on Long Island. But sixteen-year-old Kira is determined to find a solution. As she tries desperately to save what is left of her race, she discovers that that the survival of both humans and Partials rests in her attempts to answer questions about the war’s origin that she never knew to ask.

Playing on our curiosity of and fascination with the complete collapse of civilization, Partials is, at its heart, a story of survival, one that explores the individual narratives and complex relationships of those left behind, both humans and Partials alike—and of the way in which the concept of what is right and wrong in this world is greatly dependent on one’s own point of view.

I’ve had my eye on Partials ever since it was on NetGalley as an ARC.  I couldn’t get it because requests were not open to Canadians, so being the cheapskate that I am I waited until it was out in paperback to actually buy it.  So I guess you could say I’ve been greatly anticipating reading this book.

You know what?  It’s actually pretty good.  For YA, it’s quite science-intensive, even if that science is slightly simplified (particularly the virus talk).  I was very impressed when Dan Wells actually took the time to show the long, laborious process of research as Kira tries to discover what’s killing all of the human babies.  It’s an interesting dilemma from a science point of view: How are these babies dying in a sterile room?  If they really are dying in a sterile room it means that the virus is transmitted to the fetus from the mother.  And how on earth does a sixteen-year-old new doctor fix something like that?

Kira is an interesting main character because her generation has been forced through adulthood very, very quickly.  She’s already trained as a doctor and she’s only 16 years old, so she’s fairly mature.  At the same time, she feels like every other sixteen year old would when the rumours in the community are that all women will have to be pregnant by 16 now.  (Since a certain percentage of adults survived the initial virus eleven years ago, they hope that the more people being born, the greater the chance one of them will be immune.)  She rages against it, rebels and eventually commits treason against the Senate, the rather dystopian ruling body of the community.  Trust me on this: Kira is no shrinking violet and will do whatever it takes to save humanity.

The plot was both fast-paced and incredibly interesting.  For me, it was the characters that I was more interested in, but Dan Wells did an excellent job of creating a believable but unpredictable plot.  It twists and turns constantly; I did see the big reveal coming but only because it was used in a few other similar novels and movies.  Of course the cliffhanger on the end ensures that I’ll most definitely be reading the next book, but Partials was so good that I wouldn’t have needed such a cliffhanger to keep reading the series.

What surprised me most of all, aside from the fairly heavy science, was the world-building.  Eleven years ago, most of humanity was destroyed by a war with the Partials and the virus they supposedly unleashed and now the only remaining humans (as far as they know) are struggling to survive.  Everyone scavenges in empty homes, there’s farming but not always enough to live on alone so everyone scavenges old food.  Apparently expiration dates in the future will be longer.

There are no pharmaceutical manufacturing companies any longer, so some of the most important missions are scavenging for medicine in old veterinary and medical clinics.  It’s a harsh picture of what an apocalypse would really look like, even if there were pockets of survivors: they’d be highly concerned about the basic necessities like medicine and food from scavenging, but also about the remaining energy.  Gasoline destabilizes after a few years so humanity has reverted to the good ol’ horse and cart.  It’s a very realistic picture of what would probably happen in the event of most of humanity dying out.  Most post-apocalyptic YA novels don’t put this much thought into the day-to-day survival needs of their narrators.

So we have realistic and interesting world-building, a pretty cool main character and a reasonably paced plot.  Even though I still say this book was over-hyped in the blogging community, I can’t really criticize it.  It was a very good read.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson

The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

A princess must find her place in a reborn world.

She flees on her wedding day.

She steals ancient documents from the Chancellor’s secret collection.

She is pursued by bounty hunters sent by her own father.

She is Princess Lia, seventeen, First Daughter of the House of Morrighan.

The Kingdom of Morrighan is steeped in tradition and the stories of a bygone world, but some traditions Lia can’t abide. Like having to marry someone she’s never met to secure a political alliance.

Fed up and ready for a new life, Lia flees to a distant village on the morning of her wedding. She settles in among the common folk, intrigued when two mysterious and handsome strangers arrive—and unaware that one is the jilted prince and the other an assassin sent to kill her. Deceptions swirl and Lia finds herself on the brink of unlocking perilous secrets—secrets that may unravel her world—even as she feels herself falling in love.

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Lia was a hard character for me to read, if I’m honest.  I’m not the type of person that’s overly self-sacrificing, but her decision to run on her wedding day didn’t sit well with me.  It felt incredibly selfish, especially when the livelihoods of two kingdoms and all of their subjects were at risk.  She didn’t even give her marriage a chance to work, but made a pre-emptive strike by running away and putting literally thousands of lives at risk.  I can absolutely understand her motivations, though I certainly don’t agree with them.  Still, Lia was not a bad character and by the end she was at least well-fleshed out enough that I actually found myself enjoying her.

My main problem with The Kiss of Deception is that it’s like a really old table: it sags in the middle.  Don’t get me wrongMary Pearson’s writing really is amazingbut her pacing is somewhat lacking.  Most of the story’s plot centres around the fact that you apparently aren’t sure which of the two boys Lia likes is the assassin and which is the prince.  What really puzzled me was that there seemed to be no ambiguity in her writing so the ‘big reveal’ was somewhat spoiled by the fact I didn’t know there was a mystery to begin with.  It was rather jarring, I’ll admit.

One of the saving graces of the story wasn’t just Lia’s character development, but the aforementioned quality of Pearson’s writing.  It really was awesome and despite the poor pacing I found myself revelling in the world she created.  It was vivid and real with some really beautiful descriptions that you don’t often find in YA fiction.  In my opinion it’s hard to comment on the world-building simply because we haven’t actually seen much of the world yet.  Lia spent most of her time in a small-town tavern, after all.  Still, from what I’ve seen I’m pretty satisfied and it almost makes up for the poor pacing and Lia’s character in the beginning.

So overall?  I’d have to say that The Kiss of Deception is more contradiction than deception but that doesn’t mean the book doesn’t have merit.  The writing got better as the book went along and there was finally something resembling a plot at the end of the book so I think I will end up reading the second book.  However, you do have to have a certain mindset to read this book and not feel repulsed by Lia’s selfishness at the beginning.  It does get better as the book moves along, however.

I give this book 3/5 stars.

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Feyguard: Spark by Anthea Sharp

Feyguard; Spark by Anthea Sharp(Cover picture courtesy of Anthea Sharp’s blog.)

Superstar gamer Spark Jaxley’s life might look easy, but she’s part of an elite few who guard a shocking secret; the Realm of Faerie exists, and its dark magic is desperate for a foothold in the mortal world.

Aran Cole hacks code and sells his gaming cheats on the black market. It’s barely a living, and one he’s not proud of. But when he turns his skills to unlocking the secrets behind Feyland—the most exciting and immersive game on the market—he discovers power and magic beyond his wildest dreams.

Spark’s mission is clear; pull Aran from the clutches of the fey folk and restore the balance between the worlds. But can she risk her life for someone who refuses to be rescued?

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook from Anthea Sharp in exchange for an honest review.]

In Feyland: The Twilight Kingdom one of my favourite characters was the teenage gaming superstar Spark Jaxley.  She was sassy, tough and a talented gamer and I wanted to learn more about her.  Imagine my surprise and happiness when I learned that the first book in the spin-off series would actually feature Spark as a main character.

I was far from disappointed, believe me.  Spark sure is a sassy, tough and talented gamer but she’s also a teenager who’s lonely in her fame.  Her fame makes it hard for anyone to see her as a real human being requiring company that’s on the same level.  I liked the whole it’s-lonely-at-the-top angle Anthea Sharp gave her because it’s far more realistic than Spark revelling in her fame 24/7.  Of course there are advantages (mainly the gaming itself) but I found it interesting to see Spark not just as a good gamer, but as a lonely teenage girl.

Aran Cole was also a fascinating character.  He’s extremely poor and one of the best hackers out there when it comes to finding game cheats.  He certainly has the motivation to improve his station in life and he’s not afraid to manipulate people to get what he wants.  Aran’s not your typical cold-hearted criminal, though.  Although he tries to hide and deny his feelings, he does feel quite a bit of guilt about his hacking.  Especially when it lands Spark in danger later on in the novel.

So basically you have two awesome characters.  How was the world-building?  As with the original Feyland trilogy, the world-building is fantastic.  I liked that Anthea Sharp focused more on the real world with this one, especially the gaming culture that Spark is so immersed in.  It gives you a better picture of her imagined future where extreme wealth and poverty stand in stark contrast to one another.  Of course she also adds some new stuff to Feyland itself, but the new information we learn is mostly about the real world.

The plot was so fast-paced that although I intended to only read a few chapters, I ended up finishing the whole book in one sitting.  Spark is one of my favourite main characters and her and Aran’s story was fascinating.  They’re both great characters in a fast-paced novel with three dimensional world-building.  What more can you ask for?

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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The First Man in Rome by Colleen McCullough

The First Man in Rome by Colleen McCullough(Cover picture courtesy of Avon Romance.)

When the world cowered before the legions of Rome, two extraordinary men dreamed of personal glory: the military genius and wealthy rural “upstart” Marius, and Sulla, penniless and debauched but of aristocratic birth.  Men of exceptional vision, courage, cunning, and ruthless ambition, separately they faced the insurmountable opposition of powerful, vindictive foes.  Yet allied they could answer the treachery of rivals, lovers, enemy generals, and senatorial vipers with intricate and merciless machinations of their own—to achieve in the end a bloody and splendid foretold destiny…and win the most coveted honor the Republic could bestow.

After reading so many Young Adult books of late, reading something as heavy as The First Man in Rome was a refreshing challenge.  Trust me, even if you know your Roman history well, this is a book that you should not read when you’re tired.  You will forget all of the plot points.

I first fell in love with Colleen McCullough’s writing after reading The Song of Troy because her portrayals of historical characters were amazing.  She made it feel that not only was I alongside these famous people, but that I truly understood them.  Well, she does the exact same thing in The First Man in Rome.  From Marius’ brilliant leadership in the battlefield to his dismal political career, I really feel like I know the legend as a man.  We see the soft side of him when it comes to Julia, his more ruthless streak at the end of the novel and his never-ending ambition to become the First Man in Republican Rome.  He’s a larger-than-life character and yet he seems extremely accessible.  Contrast that to the brilliant, but debauched young patrician Sulla who develops the ruthless streak he was known for later in life.  These two have an unlikely friendship, but it’s one that I absolutely love because it shows that not everything is in black and white.

If you don’t know much about Roman history, I can see where you would get confused by The First Man in Rome.  Thankfully, Colleen McCullough includes a well over 200 page index that tells you everything from the English translations of Latin curses (very creative!) to the history behind many of the events characters refer to.  But if you’re like me and have someone like Mike Duncan to thank for your knowledge of ancient Rome, you’ll just breeze through The First Man in Rome.  In terms of historical accuracy, I can’t pick away at it.  Everything is well researched and McCullough does an excellent job of defending her hypotheses in places where there are gaps in the historical record.

I wouldn’t call this a fast-paced book, but it’s not meant to be either.  It’s meant to be a sprawling novel in order to draw you in to the cutthroat world of Roman politics and to explore the lives of the main players.  The strange thing about Colleen McCullough’s books is that they have this sort of grand, epic feel to them that I can’t quite explain.  It’s like you know they’re on par with classic novels, but there’s no sense that McCullough was trying really hard for that ‘classic novel’ status.  Her books feel like epic novels in an effortless sort of way and that’s really part of the attraction of her writing: it’s larger-than-life, yet accessible to most readers.  That’s why, despite the intimidating length and amount of time I need to spend on them, I’ll certainly be continuing her Masters of Rome series.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence(Cover picture courtesy of Fantasy Book Critic.)

Beware the Prince of Thorns…

When he was nine, he watched as his mother and brother were killed before him.  By the time he was thirteen, he was the leader of a band of bloodthirsty thugs.  By fifteen, he intends to be King…

It is time for Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath to return to the castle he turned his back on, to take what’s rightfully his.  Since the day he hung pinned on the thorns of a briar patch and watched Count Renar’s men slaughter his mother and young brother, Jorg has been driven to vent his rage.  Life and death are no more than a game to him—and he has nothing left to lose.

But treachery awaits him in his father’s castle.  Treachery and dark magic.  No matter how fierce his will, can one young man conquer enemies with power beyond his imagining?

When Savindi from The Streetlight Reader told me Prince of Thorns was quite unlike any other book because of the main character, Jorg, I was definitely intrigued.  What had Mark Lawrence decided to do that was so different?  Who was this mysterious Jorg?

Well, the short answer is that he’s a miniature Genghis Khan.  When the opening scene in a book begins with Jorg and his men raping and pillaging, it tends to set a rather dark tone.  Rightly so, as it turns out.  Prince of Thorns is not an uplifting book at all, but what saves it is that it is an incredibly interesting book.  Not just because of Jorg, but because of the future world it takes place in, one where there seems to have been a huge nuclear war that wiped out most technology and made it revert back to Medieval times.  If that sounds familiar, it probably is, but Mark Lawrence put such an interesting spin on things that I wasn’t bothered by his use of that particular trope.

Prince of Thorns isn’t really so much about the post-apocalyptic world, but rather Jorg himself.  This is one messed up teenager, something that I don’t say lightly.  Seeing his mother and little brother killed at the age of nine while being trapped in a thorn patch and unable to help seriously affected him.  He tends to lash out at the world, taking his revenge upon practically anyone in his ultimate quest for vengeance on Count Renar.  If you’re quite sensitive, you will absolutely hate Jorg.  But if you’re a little more open-minded, Jorg is an interesting character from a psychological standpoint.  The success of Prince of Thorns is proof that main characters don’t have to be sympathetic to be popular.  What they have to be is interesting enough to hold the reader’s attention.

Overall, I really enjoyed Prince of Thorns and I can’t wait to see where Mark Lawrence goes with this series.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Curse of the Ice Dragon by Tara West

(Cover picture courtesy of Guerrilla Wordfare.)

Born with mark [sic] of the Mighty Hunter, Markus saves his village from the brink of starvation—for whenever he releases an arrow, his aim is true.  But despite his skill and strength, Markus is unable to confront his tyrannical father.  Shamed by his cowardice, he distracts himself by needlessly shooting the forest creatures.

When Markus takes no heed of the village prophet’s warning that his actions will attract The Hunter’s Curse—for every animal Markus kills, his loved ones will suffer the same fate—the Sky Goddess unleashes her ice dragon.  Now, Markus must flee the dragon without killing it…or his beloved brother will be the next to die.

[Full disclosure: Tara West sent me a free print copy of her novel in return for an honest review.]

When I started Curse of the Ice Dragon, I was expecting the plot to follow the traditional Hero’s Quest format.  That’s not an altogether unreasonable assumption in most of the high fantasy I read.  Yet my assumption was proved wrong!  In some ways it did follow the Hero’s Quest format, but I absolutely love the unique spins Tara West put on old clichés to make the plot exciting and at times unpredictable.

To be perfectly honest, I hated Markus at first.  He was cruel, selfish and completely unsympathetic, but that didn’t last for long.  Markus goes on quite the character arc and by the end of the novel, he’s a completely new person and I’m looking forward to seeing how he changes throughout the rest of the series.  He’s not the only character that stood out, though.  All of the characters were three dimensional and had realistic motivations, but Ura particularly stood out for me.  She’s concerned about her brother who left to go topside while at the same time must ward off Bane’s advances and keep her father company.  Ura is definitely not your typical fantasy heroine and her character arc is just as interesting as Markus’, if not more.

I was rather skeptical about the world-building because it seemed like a typical fantasy world based on Norse mythology.  Things couldn’t have been more far from the truth, which was yet another pleasant surprise.  Readers will recognize a few typical fantasy elements, but Tara West never strays into the realm of hopelessly cliché.  There are so many new things and such an exciting plot that you won’t be able to put Curse of the Ice Dragon down.  Personally, I can’t wait for the next book.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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