Tagged: jack

The Remaining by D.J. Molles

(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

In a steel-and-lead-encased bunker 40 feet below the basement level of his house, Captain Lee Harden of the United States Army waits. On the surface, a plague ravages the planet, infecting over 90% of the populace. The bacterium burrows through the brain, destroying all signs of humanity and leaving behind little more than base, prehistoric instincts. The infected turn into hyper-aggressive predators, with an insatiable desire to kill and feed. Some day soon, Captain Harden will have to open the hatch to his bunker, and step out into this new wasteland, to complete his very simple mission: Subvenire Refectus.

To Rescue and Rebuild.

While The Remaining purports to be a different kind of zombie story, it’s really not all that different from a hundred other zombie stories.  Only the premise is different: the US government actually prepared for biological warfare by building bunkers and paying specially trained soldiers as a way of having a contingency plan in case the entire military and government fell.  These soldiers in the 48 states on the US mainland are supposed to single-handedly bring order back to a world gone to hell and begin rescuing people and rebuilding society.  It’s really a lot to ask of just 48 people who have been locked in bunkers for two months with no idea what has been going on outside the four steel walls of said bunkers.

Other than that premise (which is somewhat refreshing considering most zombie stories have the government being completely incompetent with no Plan B whatsoever), this is pretty much your typical zombie story.  People have been infected by a virus that turns them into crazed killers.  They’re fast zombies and these ones use weapons like knives and shovels but that’s really all that makes them slightly different from a hundred other zombie stories out there.  They travel in herds, have sensitive hearing that forces the survivors to skulk around using any quiet weapons they can get their hands on and getting bit means infection and transformation into a zombie.  In the hands of a writer who didn’t set out to tell a typical zombie story, they could have been quite interesting.

However, my main issue with The Remaining is that it sticks to so many of the old zombie story tropes.  The protagonist has an animal which becomes exposed to the virus defending him and so must kill him in the tragic climax.  There are heartless looters and survivors who are doing what they can to help the remaining humans.  That’s not unrealistic at all but rather there was no real creativity in the characterizations of most of the survivors Lee encounters.  There’s Sam, the thirteen-year-old boy who traumatically watches his father die.  There’s Jack, the cynical former military man who is thrown into Lee’s group somewhat against his will in the beginning but who becomes a valuable asset.  And then there’s Angela and her daugher Abby, two helpless females the men in the group have to constantly protect.  Really, it seems like Molles just threw stock characters from every other zombie story together and ran with it rather than adding his own flair.

And finally, as for the plot it seems like the invisible hand of the author was always at play.  To make things harder for Lee, Sam must make a dumb mistake and be seen back at the bunker so some looters burn the house (and by extension, the entrance to the bunker) down.  Then of course the only other useful member of the group, Jack, gets bit and must soldier on before dying in battle.  Angela, Abby and Sam continue to be useless.  Then, when it seems like Lee and the group have found safety with another group, they seem to get attacked on the last page of the book for a stereotypical cliffhanger.

With all that said, The Remaining never crosses the threshold into truly terrible territory.  The pace is fairly fast and the pages do move quickly despite the rampant clichés.  The writing isn’t great but it isn’t terrible so this book really does sit in the middle in mediocre territory.  If you want a quick read and haven’t read as many zombie novels as I have, this might be a decent introduction to the genre.  But if you’ve read a few zombie books, watched The Walking Dead on TV or basically any zombie movie, you’re better off skipping this one and reading something a little more unique.  Mira Grant’s Feed would be a much better self-aware zombie novel to read.

I give this book 2/5 stars.

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Frost by Wendy Delsol

Frost by Wendy Delsol(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

After the drama of finding out that she’s a Stork, a member of an ancient and mystical order of women, and that her boyfriend, Jack, is a descendent of the Winter People able to control the weather, Katla Leblanc is delighted when all signs point to a busy and peaceful Christmas. That is, until the snowstorm Jack summons as a gift to Katla turns into the storm of the century, attracting Brigid, a gorgeous scientist who, in turn, attracts Jack. Between the school play, a bedridden, pregnant mother’s to-do lists, and keeping an eye on her aging grandfather, Katla doesn’t have time to question Brigid’s motives or deal with Jack’s increasingly cold behavior. But Katla’s suspicions mount when Jack joins Brigid on a research expedition to Greenland, and when the two of them go missing, it becomes clear that Katla is the only one who can save her beloved Jack from the Snow Queen who holds him prisoner. Adventure, romance, and myth combine in this winter escapade for teens who like a bit of fire with their ice.

It took me a little bit to warm up to Stork because of Katla but by the end I liked the story enough that I was willing to read the second book.  I had bought the entire trilogy on a whim anyway so why not?  It certainly sounded a little more action-packed than the first book.  In a way it was but in a way it was also slightly disappointing.

My whole impression of Katla in Frost was essentially ‘meh’.  She’s changed a little bit from the first book in the sense that she’s no longer as stuck up and is taking on the responsibilities of being a Stork willingly but at the same time she’s also still pretty immature.  When Brigid shows up, Katla immediately goes into jealous girlfriend mode without seeing how Jack will even react to the woman.  Of course her initial suspicions are confirmed when Brigid drags Jack off to Greenland but at the same time I can’t help but feel a little colder toward Katla for her rather obsessive jealousy.  I don’t hate her or really dislike her because I can completely understand jealousy but it didn’t make me feel any warmer toward her.  When she set off to go find Jack her selflessness really came into the spotlight so in the end I did like her a little more than I did in the first book.  Still, I wouldn’t call her a great or even a memorable character; she’s pretty average.

The plot was pretty slow-paced even though this book is only a little under 400 pages long.  It’s very much character-driven (which I usually don’t mind) but at the same time I had a hard time with the first 200 pages or so because not much happens.  Sure it’s nice to see how Katla is settling into her duties as a Stork and how it’s changed her life at school but at the same time I couldn’t help but get bored.  It’s nice to see Jack and Katla’s relationship develop before Brigid bursts onto the scene but I think Wendy Delsol spent a little too much time on her introduction.  I wanted a lot more action and I simply wasn’t getting it.  Because of the slow pace of the first part of the book it also felt like the last part where Katla had to go rescue Jack was way too rushed and more than a little bit confusing.  I would have liked the plot to start out a little bit faster and then gradually build toward the more action-packed sections rather than the abrupt transitions in Frost.

As for the world-building, it was thoroughly enjoyable even if it lacked that ‘wow’ factor.  The plot of Frost is loosely based upon the Snow Queen story which I’m more familiar with than the first book’s story so in that regard it was a little more enjoyable for me.  I liked how we finally got to see how the hierarchy of Storks works and whether or not there are other Storks around the world that carry out the same or similar duties.  It made things a little more realistic and it added more depth to the story.

Wendy Delsol has a good writing style that describes things well and clearly while not beating around the bush, which would have made the book excellent if not for the lack in pacing and the admittedly lackluster characters.  She’s an author with a lot of potential and despite my overall ‘meh’ impression of Frost I’ll be reading the last book, if only to finish the series.  Basically, this book was just not made for me and if the blurb at least sounds intriguing to you I’d recommend giving the series a try.  Who knows?  Maybe you’ll like it better than I did.

I give this book 3/5 stars.

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Atlas by Becca C. Smith

Atlas by Becca C. Smith

(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Kala Hicks is part of a covert elite military team that answers directly to the President of the United States. But during an emergency mission aboard Air Force One, Kala is shocked to discover that the real threat is none other than the President himself. Defying her commanding officer, Jack Norbin, Kala takes the shot, and her life changes forever.

The moment the President is killed, a supernatural force speaks to Kala, telling her that she has to commit one act of atrocity every four days… or the world will end. Thrown into a reality she never could have imagined, Kala faces off with creatures of legend; from demons determined to make her fail and plunge the Earth into chaos, to angels who don’t trust her to do the job and are willing to kill her to claim it for themselves.

Pitted against the forces of good and evil, Kala must choose whether to save the world by doing the unthinkable, or sit back and let it burn. And four days later, she’ll have to do it again.

[Full disclosure: I received a free paperback copy in conjunction with the blog tour in exchange for an honest review.]

I’ll admit that with this one I was a little skeptical once I actually read the blurb.  To be honest, it sounded a little dumb and I thought that I’d accidentally signed up to read a total lemon.  Thankfully, that was far from the case.  This one is a diamond in the rough, so to speak.

The real strength of Smith’s writing is the fact that she can pace things so well.  I felt the tension ratchet up right from the beginning until it was at almost unbearable levels during the climax.  There were twists and turns in the plot, with plenty of “didn’t see that coming moments”.  I didn’t even see the end coming when Kala did something so unexpected that she shocked angels, demons and those in-betweeners that are desperate to keep up the balance of the world through an Atlas.  Some are determined to stop her and others are still more determined that she should succeed, so in the end who will win?  You just really don’t know.

Kala is a good character and she is quite memorable.  Having grown up largely in foster care until her teen years, she understandably has some trust issues, particularly in her relationships.  Her backstory is fascinating but just when you think you know everything about her, we learn something very interesting about her foster parents and who/what they really are.  What I really liked was her determination in the beginning to find a way out of becoming the next Atlas.  She doesn’t want to commit the atrocity that’s been assigned to her, but she doesn’t want literally billions of people to die.  It’s a fascinating inner struggle, believe me.

I really appreciated Becca Smith’s world-building.  She clearly knows a lot about Greek mythology (which you would expect) but she goes deeper into Christian theology in order to create some of her other creatures like the Grigori and Malaks.  I would have liked a little more time devoted to the creation and working of magic, but then that would have slowed down the plot and thrown the pacing off.  We still have good working knowledge of the whole different world Becca Smith created, but it’s more of a personal preference for me that I would have liked a little more.

All in all, this is actually a pretty good book and I’m glad that I went into it with an open mind, rather than judging it entirely on the blurb.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Stork by Wendy Delsol

Stork by Wendy Delsol(Cover picture courtesy of Wendy Delsol’s site.)

Family secrets. Lost memories. And the arrival of an ancient magical ability that will reveal everything.

Sixteen-year-old Katla LeBlanc has just moved from Los Angeles to Minnesota. As if it weren’t enough that her trendy fashion sense draws stares, Katla soon finds out that she’s a Stork, a member of a mysterious order of women tasked with a very unique duty. But Katla’s biggest challenge may be finding her flock at a new school. Between being ignored by Wade, the arrogant jock she stupidly fooled around with, and constantly arguing with gorgeous farm boy and editor-in-chief Jack, Katla is relieved when her assignment as the school paper’s fashion columnist brings with it some much-needed friendship. But as Homecoming approaches, Katla uncovers a shocking secret about her past — a secret that binds her fate to Jack’s in a way neither could have ever anticipated. With a nod to Hans Christian Andersen and inspired by Norse lore, Wendy Delsol’s debut novel introduces a hip and witty heroine who finds herself tail-feathers deep in small-town life.

It actually took me a long time to warm up to Stork.  I had read up until chapter three sometime in March but was so bored with it I put it down for a while.  Lately I’ve had a little bit of time to read during the day so I sat down and got down to the business of reading a significant chunk of the book at once.  It’s a good thing I did too.  Stork is one of those books that isn’t very fast-paced at the start but it draws you in slowly and soon enough you’re hooked.

Normally I’d hate a main character like Katla.  She’s a total fashionista and despises the small town ways (I myself live in a small town and feel the same way, but it gets tiring after a while).  I would have given up on this book except I reminded myself of the way she was raised.  Her father is very similar to her and raised her to be this perfect little fashionista that looks down her nose at almost everyone.  Eventually Katla improves and starts to realize that maybe fashion is just her way of hiding her insecurities and that maybe she should lighten up a bit.  Overall she is a well-rounded character, though.

This is loosely based off of a Hans Christian Andersen tale that I’ve never read so I can’t really comment on how true it stays to the story.  I think Wendy Delsol added a lot of her own flair into the myth and that’s how we get the storks: women who help bring babies to ‘troubled souls’.  They’re like the storks of myth in the cartoons that drop off babies on doorsteps, except they do it on a spiritual level.  It’s much more interesting than I’m making it sound and you really have to read the book to appreciate the world-building.

Stork is not the best book I’ve ever read, I’ll admit that.  It does drag on in some places and there are old tropes left, right and centre but overall I was actually quite impressed.  By the end of the novel I felt connected to the main characters and honestly cared about what happened to them.  That’s not bad considering my low expectations from the first three chapters.

Basically, if it sounds interesting to you give it a try.  It’s not the greatest book out there but it was good enough that I’m glad I bought the second book in the series to continue Katla’s story.

I give this book 3.5/5 stars.

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Crystal Deception by Doug J. Cooper

Crystal Deception by Doug J. Cooper(Cover picture courtesy of Masquerade Tours via email.)

Criss lives in a special kind of prison. He can see and hear everything around the world. Yet a restrictor mesh restrains his reach and keeps him cooperative. His creator, Dr. Jessica Tallette, believes his special abilities offer great promise for humanity. But she fears the consequences of freeing him, because Criss, a sentient artificial intelligence with the intellect of a thousand humans, is too powerful to control.

Guided by her scientific training, Tallette works cautiously with Criss. That is, until the Kardish, an otherwise peaceful race of alien traders, announce they want him. With technologies superior to Earth’s, the Kardish express their desires with ominous undertones.

The Union of Nations is funding Tallete’s artificial intelligence research, and she turns to them for help. Sid, a special agent charged with leading the response, decides Earth’s greatest weapon is the very AI the aliens intend to possess. But what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? And what is humanity’s role if an interstellar battle among titans starts to rage?

[Full disclosure: I was sent a free physical copy from the author in conjunction with the blog tour in exchange for an honest review.]

I honestly have to admit I was more than a little skeptical about Crystal Deception when I signed up for the blog tour.  A book about a sentient, talking crystal could either be really good or really terrible.  Still, I decided to be open-minded because I’ve been skeptical of books before and they ended up being some of my all-time favourites.

As it turns out, my open-mindedness was rewarded.  Doug J. Cooper’s story is much, much more complicated and engrossing than the blurb would have you believe.  There are plot twists around every corner and the characters are very well-developed and interesting.  Even Criss himself, the artificial intelligence crystal, has a distinct personality of his own and he grows throughout the novel.

We’re introduced to quite a few characters in the beginning, but I like how they’re all actually necessary to the storyline.  In the end we only really focus on five characters and each of them has distinct personalities and backgrounds so it doesn’t feel like five versions of the same person.  Surprisingly, Criss the crystal was my favourite character.  He’s cold and generally unemotional in the beginning but after his exposure to humans for so long he starts almost becoming one, growing in self-awareness.  It’s a very interesting transformation but at his core he’s still a brilliant supercomputer.  Juice, Jack, Cheryl and Sid are also great characters and they’re all extremely well-developed and sympathetic.

As I said before, the plot is fairly fast-paced for this nearly 400 page book.  There are twists and turns around every corner until you really aren’t sure what’s going to happen in the end.  I can’t really go into much detail without introducing spoilers, but the way Doug J. Cooper handled the Kardish mystery was absolutely brilliant.  At first it seems like there are holes in logic a couple of miles wide but there’s actually a very good explanation for why the Kardish have been orbiting Earth for 20 years.

You don’t have to be a big sci-fi fan to enjoy this book because you can enjoy it on many different levels.  You can enjoy it as an exciting thriller/mystery or you can thoroughly enjoy Cooper’s scientific explanations for the creation of AI crystals and all of the technology that is available in his imagined future.  Basically, there’s something for everyone here and I’m so glad I kept an open mind about the book.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Since Doug J. Cooper is so awesome, the blog tour will be having a giveaway of TWO $40 Amazon gift cards or PayPal cash.  It’s even open internationally and doesn’t end until April 14.  Just click the link below to start entering!

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Genome by Gary Alan Henson

Genome by Gary Alan Henson(Cover picture courtesy of Createspace.)

Jack Thomas is amazed to find himself heading the company of his dreams, nestled in the high-tech backdrop of beautiful Boulder, Colorado.

Built with his best friend and partner Frankie, the bio-genetics company has achieved success far beyond their wildest dreams.  The company is poised to revolutionize the treatment of cancer and other diseases.

The only thing missing is Jack’s highschool sweetheart, Emily, who was brutally murdered, her killer never found.

With the help of PIP, a sexy artificial intelligent assistant, and beautiful green-eyed psychic, Samantha, Jack risks his life using the latest genetic technology to delve into a terrifying world of spirits that he didn’t even know existed.

Genome explores the boundaries between what we can create and what we may never fully understand—science and the afterlife, chance and destiny, and a love that crosses the chasm of life and death.

[Full disclosure: Gary Alan Henson sent me a free print copy of his book in exchange for an honest review.]

First off, I absolutely loved the blend of science and magic in Genome.  Science has never been my strongest area, so I won’t even begin to pretend to understand half of the technical information Gary Henson included in his debut novel.  However, the spirit world that Samantha and Jack encounter is very well-developed and is an interesting contrast to the logical, scientific parts of the novel.  It’s not very often that you see a novel where there’s both science fiction and a bit of fantasy, but this odd combination works very well in Genome.  If you’re a real science fiction lover, this book is perfect for you because of the insane amount of research Gary Henson obviously did to bring Jack and Frankie’s futuristic company to life.

The main characters like Samantha, Jack and Frankie were very well fleshed out.  This was definitely helped by the fact that we got to look inside all of their heads, which also helped move the plot along.  There were no sections that really dragged in the book because we could see the motivations and thoughts of all the major characters.  Combined with some amazing plot twists, this made for a really fast-paced read.

However, I don’t feel that the characters lived up to their full potential because of the point of view Gary Henson chose.  Genome is told in a sort of third person omniscient present tense, meaning that the narrative is in third person and switches between characters frequently but is also told in present tense (i.e.: he goes to the supermarket and picks out a nice fresh apple).  This isn’t so much confusing as it is irritating at points because we are being told what happens rather than being shown.

I think part of the problem with the writing was that this was Gary Henson’s first novel.  Now don’t get me wrong—it’s very good for a first novel—but I don’t think it lived up to its full potential.  The writing wasn’t as polished as it could have been, some of the dialogue was stiff and there were some minor typos (mainly missing quotation marks).

Still, the plot twists, great world-building, realistic characters and the amazing amount of research that went into Genome suggest that we’ll see even better things from Mr. Henson in the future.

I give this book 3.5/5 stars.