Review: “Feed,” Mira Grant

Pros: Absolutely wonderful milieu and characters!
Cons:
Rating: 5 out of 5

In Mira Grant’s Feed (Newsflesh, Book 1), two curative viruses meet up and mutated into something terrible. So now we don’t get cancer or the common cold, but everyone eventually becomes a zombie, even if it’s when they die. The zombies haven’t really caused an ‘apocalypse’ but they’ve definitely resulted in some changes. For instance, if you’re a reporter you have to have all sorts of qualifications, be trained with a gun, and so on. It didn’t take long for traditional news sources to bow before the bloggers, who were much more willing to toss themselves straight into danger for a good story. Ratings are everything. George (Georgia) and her adoptive brother Shaun–along with their friend Buffy–got an invite to ride along on a Senator’s push toward the White House. They’re ready for the next level of providing the news.

George is a ‘Newsie’–someone who tries to report the facts of what’s happening. Shaun is an ‘Irwin’–he pokes and prods at the things that might bite back, enjoying the danger of it (I have to assume that’s named after Steve Irwin). Buffy is a ‘Fictional’–she writes poetry, stories, and so on. In this case she’s also along because she’s one of the best techies in the business, able to hide tiny little cameras and microphones in (or as) jewelry and so on.

 

There are zombies, and some information about them, but frankly this story is about the people. The real problem with the zombies is that in killing them you might get their blood on your skin. All mammals are already ‘infected’ by the virus, but it generally takes something to trigger that virus. An active virus from a blood spatter could activate a person’s dormant virus colony. This makes blood spatter–much easier to end up with than a bite–lethal. The bloggers go through so many quick blood tests, and gun training, and decontamination procedures, that they at least have some chance of surviving an encounter. Certainly they have to be bound and determined to do what they do if they want to go through all that. There are a couple of small mysteries to think about (zombies seem to get smarter the larger the pack they’re in), but not a whole lot of answers. It works.

The narration (mostly from George’s side) is fantastic. She and Shaun know very well how to handle their readers and the attention they get–George and Shaun’s parents basically adopted them as a means to get ratings, so there’s no love lost there. The group is bound and determined to ride their invitation all the way to the top. Along the way there are attempted murders, actual deaths, secrets unbound, global blogger conspiracies–and of course, zombie attacks.

The characters in here are fantastic. I love the relationship between Shaun and George. They use the campiness of the situation they’re in to play to the crowd, both informing and entertaining. I wouldn’t have expected to enjoy a zombie tale that was about bloggers, but Feed has changed my mind.

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Review: “The Least of My Scars,” Stephen Graham Jones

Pros: Really fascinating
Cons: confusing as hell
Rating: 3 out of 5

Stephen Graham Jones’ The Least of My Scars is all about William Colton Hughes. He’s a serial killer, but he’d rather skip the stalking of his prey and the body disposal portions of the game. A small group of people come along who seem eager to use him as a torture-and-kill sort-of service. That’s when things get really weird.

William talks to dead people, including a few he’s kept in his apartment. Now he’s working for someone else. All he has to do is kill the people they bring, and leave them messages of what sorts of food and supplies to deliver. He can even request who or what he’d like to kill that night. But after a night when he decides to kill one of his benefactors, everything changes.

 

This is William’s tale, but William is quickly recognizable as an unreliable narrator. I spent most of the book trying to figure out what was real and what was not, and what was real but not what it seemed. While I like having my head twisted a bit, this book gave me whiplash. I didn’t stop reading it, because I was too fascinated to put it away. But I have to admit, I left the book nearly as confused as I’d been before opening it. Just how unreliable is the narrator? Who are the people seemingly catering to his whims? Is he really in the apartment building he thinks he lives in?

The characters and plot were interesting if confusing. I would have liked at least a little more certainty of what was going on, at least by the end. If you totally don’t mind getting your head twisted without answers, and/or are much better than I at understanding the contents, then it’s a fascinating weird story that you’ll probably enjoy!

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Review: “Gilt Hollow,” Lorie Langdon

Pros: Decent mystery
Cons: Stupidity that’s easy to fix and drawn out too far
Rating: 3 out of 5

In Lorie Langdon’s thriller Gilt Hollow (Blink), Ashton, now eighteen years old, is being released from Juvenile Detention. Everyone in his home town, except maybe his best friend Willow, believes him guilty of murder. Because Willow defends him, she has few friends of her own. She and her mother and little brother (Rainn) have been living in the huge house Ashton grew up in, as caretakers for the place. (Ashton’s parents abandoned him when he was convicted.) Ashton won’t own the house (or get the rest of his trust) until he’s 21. Willow is all for Ashton crashing with them–he was her best friend after all–but her mother doesn’t trust Ashton.

 

At the beginning, Ash and Willow each seem angry at the other person–Ash because Willow never wrote to him, and Willow because he never wrote back to all the letters she sent. Gee, seeing a pattern here? The only thing that annoyed me about it is that it was such an incredibly easy thing to clear up, if either one of them had the presence of mind to say, “why didn’t you reply to my letters?” I hate artificially drawn out conflicts–it usually means the author couldn’t think of other, more natural ways to provide conflict.

I almost felt a little too empathetic in Willow’s case. It was obvious she was going to get hurt emotionally and probably physically, and of course since this is high school there’s always a humiliation piece or two. (I am not fond of that sort of plot.) For a short while I didn’t want to read any further because I didn’t want to see how she’d get screwed over. This does, however, speak well of the characterizations.

Once Willow and Ash warily circle the wagons, they have to figure out who really killed his friend. It doesn’t help that the head of the police has it in for Ash and is keeping an eye on him at every chance.

On a side note: Need a way to quickly establish a growly male as having feelings? Make sure he likes fuzzy animals. (Yes, I’m being sarcastic.) It’s kind of second nature for authors at this point.

A number of the things Ash and Willow did seemed reckless and ill-advised; maybe the author was trading in on the fact that his characters are so young.

 

NOTE: Free book provided by publisher in return for honest review
Expected publication date: September 27, 2016

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Review: “Ninth City Burning,” J. Patrick Black

Pros: Wonderful characters
Cons: Want to know more about what they’re fighting; time differences should produce more change?
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

J. Patrick Black’s Ninth City Burning is a fascinating look at a war between forces from two different worlds/dimensions/etc. Certain elements stay the same–each side has ‘fontani’, which is a person who generates the power other people need to work “thelemity,” a force that powers many of the machines and people needed for the war. Our home dimension is called “Hestia,” and there are aliens trying to break through and defeat us. A group of wanderers is more-or-less tricked into joining the armies of Hestia, but soon even they come to realize that what they’re doing is important and needed.

 

One of Hestia’s oddities is that time moves much faster there than in any other dimension they’ve found. So they should be years ahead of anyone–it’s a truism that no one ever returns from the front lines of the battle because once they go through the Veil time passes so much more slowly than it did at home. This disparity should be pushing innovating years and years beyond the aliens (called ‘the Valentines’ because they invaded on Valentine’s Day). I don’t understand why we aren’t handily winning this war. There are a number of other things as well that seem to not match up with the disparity in the movement in time. It feels like someone needed a reason for X and then failed to fully take into account the changes it would make to the book.

The characters in Ninth City Burning are fantastic. Each chapter posts its point-of-view character in bold letters at the top, so it’s easy to know who you’re currently following. Also, the characters have wonderful detail and chemistry to them. Watching them grow and change was my favorite part of the book. Normally I have a lot of trouble keeping up in books that have a lot of characters, but it worked in this case, which was pretty impressive. The characters are definitely the best part of Ninth City Burning.

I wish we understood more about thelemity. I’m having trouble grasping the boundaries on how it does and doesn’t do things, and how it gets transformed into actual results. It feels like science fantasy–i.e., an attempt to provide sci-fi but doing it through devices that might as well be magic.

Oh, one thing I didn’t like–the constant endnotes. They’re just so… unnecessary.

 
NOTE: Free book provided by publisher in return for review
Expected publication date: September 6, 2016

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Short Take: “Come Twilight”, Tyler Dilts

Pros: Interesting mysteries
Cons: Some confusions; hard to like some of the characters
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

In Tyler Dilts’ Come Twilight (Long Beach Homicide book 4), homicide detective Danny Beckett is having a really bad day. He catches an odd murder case (poorly staged to look like suicide), and his car is acting up badly enough that he has it towed to his mechanic. So far all that is fairly normal–at least, until an explosive detonates under the driver’s seat of his car. If he’d been in it, he would have been pulverized. So who killed the man who supposedly committed suicide? Who tried to kill Danny? And how will anyone get Danny to sit down, relax, and stay away from his own damned case?!

 

I think the characters were surprisingly realistic. It isn’t easy on Jen (Danny’s partner) or on Julia (Danny’s girlfriend) when Danny has to stay under guard and under wraps. He’s not a man who relaxes easily, and by the time we get into the meat of things, both Jen and Julia have largely had it with him. His behavior should piss them off; it’s nice to not see them giving in to it.

I love that a side character signed his rental agreement with the name “Kobayashi Maru”. That threw the cops off something fierce until they finally stumbled across a detective who’s also a nerd!

At one point Danny is abducted and told, “stay away from her!” But unfortunately he doesn’t get a chance to ask who, which makes things all the trickier.

This book didn’t wow me, but I enjoyed it.

 

Book provided for review by publisher
Expected publication date: August 23, 2016

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Review: “Labyrinth Lost,” Zoraida Cordova

Pros: Fascinating
Cons: Powers become generic
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Labyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas), by Zoraida Cordova, is billed as a young adult book (not surprising, given the themes of finding oneself and growing into our power), but it’s a great read for us adults, too.

Alejandra Mortiz comes from a magical family, brujas and brujos on all sides. Her birthday is coming up, and the hope is that celebrating her deathday at the same time might, this time, tease her magical abilities to the surface. Alex doesn’t want that at all, and is afraid the attempt will force her to reveal a secret she’s been carrying for years. Soon, however, her entire family is whisked away as a result of something she did, and she’ll have to call on every scrap of power she can find if she wants to bring them home safely.

 

Alex’s little sister Rose is a psychic:

“I could hear your dreams,” Rose says. “It gives me a headache.”

I have a lot of trouble believing that she wasn’t aware of the secret Alex has been carrying.

Alex teams up with a young brujo, Nova, who doesn’t seem entirely trustworthy. Her best friend Rishi also gets mixed up in things. It creates a triangle of possible-love-interests, and I really like that the strongest side of that triangle seems to encompass Rishi and Alex. Also, while I’m not the best judge of things, seeing as it’s been a long time since I was the characters’ age, I believe the content is acceptable for the young adult crowd.

There are some good quotes in here:

Nothing says “happy birthday” like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

There’s a surprising amount of tension, and plenty of high stakes–enough to make this book very hard to put down. I was roped in from the start.

Alex finds out that her family ended up in Los Lagos, a different plane of reality. They’ve been captured by the Devourer, and they don’t have much time to prevent her plans from seeing fruition. Alex very bravely steps forward to do what needs doing, especially now that she knows more about her powers and how they work.

My only problem with characters’ powers is that, like so many TV shows about people with powers, we end up with people tossing random balls of energy or force at others. Mysteriously they no longer use charms or have to come up with clever ways to affect things using seemingly inappropriate magic. It’s just a couple of wrecking balls going back and forth. That feels like cheating. In the earlier details, bruja/brujo magic seemed to have a lot of flare and individuality, and this completely wrecked that. I’m disappointed; I feel that the book could have been much more interesting otherwise.

P.S.: Having seen the mention of “guava and brie empanadas,” I feel the need to do some cooking!

 

Book provided free by publisher for review
Expected publication date: September 6, 2016

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Review: “Apprentice in Death,” J.D. Robb, Nora Roberts

Pros: Enjoyable story and characters; thank heavens that Eve and Roarke are not mixed up in this one.
Cons: Nothing terribly new
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

In J.D. Robb’s Apprentice in Death, New York is in a panic. There’s at least one sniper taking out targets, and that sniper seems to realize that if he takes out extra targets, it’ll be a lot harder for the police to figure out who the real target is. In most “in death” books, Roarke, Eve, or one of their close friends is wrapped up in the plot. There’s some reason for that–Eve and Roarke are high-profile people so they catch attention. On the other hand, it’s nice to have a volume in which they are not the main targets.

 

I enjoyed this volume quite a bit–once the killer gets unmasked, the police still have to catch that killer. The cops also have to figure out whether their killer is just after a few specific people, or is essentially a serial killer. The pacing is great, and the characters are fun. It’s everything fans of the series have come to expect, even though it isn’t at the top of the series. Eve and Roarke’s relationship is at their supercharged best, with delightful semi-abstracted sex. The killer(s) are interesting too, especially as the good guys try to figure out the motive. This obviously seems based (generally) on the DC sniper tale, but the characters and motives keep the story from being a knock-off.

I’m not entirely sure what more to add to that. It’s what the series fans want (although the snarky dialogue still isn’t as reliable as it used to be). There’s plenty of danger, lots of bright personalities when it comes to Eve’s friends, and so on. I think it’s a great buy for fans, but definitely not a book for new folks who want to find out what the series is like.

 

NOTE: Book provided free for review
Expected publication date: September 6, 2016

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Review: “Bloody Bloody Apple,” Howard Odentz

Pros: Fascinating story and great characters
Cons:
Rating: 5 out of 5

I first encountered Howard Odentz’s writing in Little Killers. I absolutely loved the book, so I decided to look at Bloody Bloody Apple next. In Apple, everyone fears the Fall season. Every year several people die in terrible ways, and it’s been going on for so many years that the town sort of accepts it now. Everyone wants their kids in before dark, and they watch their kids like hawks, but it doesn’t stop the killings from happening. Each one is different, and each one is horrible. It’s contributed to a malaise that affects so many families. Abuse, lack of emotion, near-catatonia, obsessions–it’s a town in decay.

Every Fall, when the orchards ripen and the leaves begin to die, there are murders. We know it, and we accept it. It’s the price we pay for living in Apple, Massachusetts.

The relationships depicted in this tale are beyond dysfunctional. Jackson takes care of his entire family in his own ways. His grandfather isn’t particularly mobile, his mother is in such a deep funk she barely speaks, his father spends all his time carving crucifixes, and his sister Becky lives chained in the basement, seeing as she seems to be possessed by something unspeakable. (She even knows how many killings there will be this Fall). People are ensconced too deeply in dealing with their problems to simply run away. The place has a sort of gravity to it that keeps people there. There is a lot of objectification of women, but I felt it was appropriate to the characters and events, rather than a glimpse into the author’s mind.

Speaking of relationships and people, I love that in the relationship between Jackson and his semi-girlfriend Annie, she’s the one who’s from the “wrong side of the tracks.” In almost every other story it’s the guy who has the bad-boy rep and zip code.

Things have been going on like this for I think 60 years, so it’s actually believable that people lock their doors and semi-accept what’s going to happen. Especially since this is a small, isolated town that doesn’t exactly have a state-of-the-art police department.

Murder just happens here.

I loved this tale, and now I need to find more Odentz stories!

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Short Take: “Lamashtu,” Paul E. Cooley

Pros: Great little interlude
Cons: Fairly standard
Rating: 4 out of 5

I really enjoyed Paul E. Cooley’s “The Black” series, so I thought it was time to read something else of his. Lamashtu is a short, fun mummy’s curse-type of story. There are archaeologists digging things up. When they hit an unusual relic and a veritable cloud of bird-shaped artifacts around it, people start to get sick.

There’s little that’s new here, but to be honest, when I grab a short horror story I’m rarely looking for ingenuity (although I love it when I find it)–I’m looking for a little old-fashioned bloody fun. This one’s inexpensive, non-time-consuming, and exactly what I was looking for. I hope you enjoy it too!

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Review: “The Black: Outbreak,” Paul E. Cooley

Pros: LOTS of tension and action
Cons: Want more!
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Paul E. Cooley’s The Black: Outbreak (book three) follows on the heels of The Black: Arrival (book two) and just The Black (book one). One thing that sometimes annoys me in books is to have the plot bouncing back and forth between various locations and/or times so much that you can’t keep track of it. I love the way Cooley handled this. In book one, folks on an oil rig found stuff under the sea floor that they thought was oil–of course it turned out to be a really weird, very hungry organism. Partway through the book they had to send a barrel of sample off to a lab (this was before they realized it wasn’t oil). Instead of trying to deal with both of these at once, the author turned the arrival of the barrel at the lab into book two. When someone early on gets sent to the hospital (again, before they knew it wasn’t oil), the ramifications of that are taken up in book three. The books overlap, but cover three totally separate portions of the story. I’m delighted by that.

Anyway, the plot is pretty simple: Book one, oil rig finds not-oil, all hell breaks loose. Book two, not-oil was sent off to the lab for more testing–all hell breaks loose. Book three, woman accidentally gets contaminated with not-oil and goes to the hospital, where all hell breaks loose. I know that sounds like not much plot for three books, but I loved it. There are some bits and pieces that don’t seem entirely logical, but hey, it’s a fun monster story with some really neat details. The ordering of the story-parts is fantastic, and I loved watching as the characters tried like hell to save themselves from a truly nasty monster. The only problem is that I’m really getting to the part where I want to know more about the not-oil and its origins. I hear rumor that’s what the next book is about, though, so I’ll have to be patient (not my strong suit).

Looking for a fun read with blood, gore, science, and maybe-aliens? Read this series!

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