Review: Bloodring (Rogue Mage Series #1) by Faith Hunter

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Same book, different covers. I usually prefer one over the other, but here, I kind of like them both. Maybe if someone had combined them, the design would reflect the content of the book more.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: February 03 to November 04, 2016
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

Not quite 4 stars but close because of the apocalyptic ice age setting… which sounds pretty nice right about now, what with the last election we’re ever gonna have coming up and the world ending shortly thereafter. Just kidding?

(I wrote bits and pieces of this review days before the election, and now I’m looking back and, yeah, an ice age sounds nice right about now. Or any apocalypse. Just bring it. I’m not picky.)

Anyhow.

This book is an unusual blend of almost everything I like to see in urban fantasy with the exception of angels and biblical tie-ins. Am not a fan of angels and even less a fan of angels + biblical things. Though, here, they work for the most part. However, there were times I found it to be too religious–not preachy, just too much… religion–but the religion (Roman Catholicism) is woven into the magic and mythology. Sounds complicated and convoluted, and in some ways it is, but it also works… somehow.

The story starts out with Thorn St. Croix, a neomage living among humans. It’s against the law to have a neomage outside of controlled facilities called Enclaves, so Thorn is also in hiding, in plain sight. She lives a rather quiet life in Mineral City, North Carolina and runs an artsy jewelry shop with a couple of friends who don’t know who she is. But her quiet life is disrupted when her ex-husband Lucas is kidnapped by a mysterious cult raising up to challenge the heavenly host. This brings the angels down to earth, and where they go, the apocalypse follows. Thorn and her friends are caught in the middle. To save their town, their little piece of world that’s relatively peaceful and quiet, they must go against the literal forces of darkness.

That’s the basic plot. What I left out is a ton of world building. So let’s go back further.

Nearly a century before Thorn came into existence, there was an apocalypse (to end all almost-apocalypses) when the biblical angels of heaven descended to punish humanity for its wicked ways. This brought nearly complete destruction of the planet, biblical style, and nearly all of the human population on earth perished. The few communities that survived had to rebuild and conform to the new world order under the angels. The ice age is a byproduct of the planet getting nearly destroyed.

The new world order is what you’d expect from any orthodox governing body: no violence, no vices, absolutely no “sinning” of any kind. No fun, but people live in relative “peace” in the sense that they live and go about their lives with the fear of angelic wrath hanging over their heads. They’re also expected to attend religious gatherings every day. You can’t just observe, you must actively participate. Religion is not a choice but a way of life, and religious elders and leaders are cantankerous asses. I guess some things just never change.

What I found most interesting about this set-up is the inclusion of a gay couple in the main cast of characters. Given what we know of orthodox religions, you’d expect LGBT people to be shunned and/or executed, but that’s not the path this story took. For now, I’m glad for these two characters and liked that they lived to see the end of this book. It looks like they’re a big part of the next book too–I’m currently in the middle of book 2.

Oh, and there’s a budding romance and a few love interests, but they doesn’t take up the whole book. One of the guys is a cop who’s investigating the ex-husband’s disappearance and he’s a descendant of angels. Sadly no wings though. The other guy is also some kind of angelic hybrid–also no wings. I kinda wanted wings, to be honest.

The writing is decent, albeit slow in the beginning, but you get used to it as you read on, and it does gradually pick up speed. The characters are okay, as are the plot and mythology. I like the mixing of orthodoxy and magic. It’s a strange but interesting combo, although I’d prefer more magic, world building, ice storms, and much less religion.

This book may look like it’s all urban fantasy on the surface, but it’s something else underneath. I’m not sure how to categorize because, along with all the religious and new-age magical stuff, there’s also a government conspiracy to give the story a futuristic, sci-fi feel. Everything else, from the world to the angels to the way people live in this post-apocalyptic time, is interesting enough that I’ll most likely finish the trilogy. It’ll take some time getting there, but as I’ve learned, this book and most likely this whole trilogy is meant to be taken slowly, with frequent breaks in between.

The one thing that made this book stand out among the hundreds (or hundreds of thousands?) of urban fantasies of its kind–many of which I passed on simply because they looked too much like something I’d seen or read before–is the setting. It’s an endless, bitterly cold winter–and of course angels–but it’s an endless winter. The whole world is buried under a ton of snow and there hasn’t been any seasonal changes since the apocalyptic ice age hit. No one alive remembers the seasons changing. They speak of warm weather as though it’s a myth because all they know is winter, whereas the way things are going now in our world, we might one day speak of cold weather the way these people speak of the myth that was summer.

Overall, this was a good story with a slow burn, though not one I’d recommend unless you’re looking for something fairly different (but still somewhat the same) on the urban fantasy shelf. For me, though, it was a refreshing break from the usual dark and dank magical urban settings.

Review: Marked in Flesh (The Others, #4) by Anne Bishop

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: March 18 to 21, 2016
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

First of all, winter extinction is coming.

Secondly, this book gave me chills from start to finish.

“The HFL wants to talk about land reclamation? They have no idea what they started–and I have no idea who among us will still be here to see where it ends.”

Third, I would have finished it in one day if not for a water main bursting, neighbors losing their cats* during evacuation, and the IRS wanting to chat (not related to the other two but still time-consuming nonetheless). Needless to say timing was bad, and I wish I had waited for a better time to start this book because it was so hard to put down. Even during evacuation and the cats’ mad dash for freedom, I thought about maybe getting another chapter in.

So what made this book hard to put down?

If you’ve been following the series, you know. Whatever’s coming is gonna be bloody and it’s gonna be brutal.

For those who don’t know: this is a story about the inevitable thinning of a herd, and that herd is the human race. Events in previous books in which humans of the controversial HFL (Humans First and Last) movement clashed with the Others have led to this inevitable mass cleansing.

But before things get to that point, Simon and the rest of the Lakeside Courtyard, with the help of Meg and the other humans who side with the Others, must consider how much human the Others want to keep. It’s a haunting question that follows everyone throughout the book. Some handle it better than others, but ultimately the inevitable is out of their hands. They may have a say in how much human they want to keep, but the final judgment belongs to the Elders, Namid’s teeth and claws.

The prose is simple, yet its implications are deeply felt. Perhaps this book isn’t so much about the end of the world as it is about the end of a toxic way of life and the beginning of a better way to live.

We’re not here to take care of you humans,” he said. “We never were. We’re here to take care of the world.”

Simple truth.

Of course this book isn’t without the series’ signature people-eating jokes. A couple of my favorites:

“If the bison are a problem, we’ll just eat them sooner.”
“If we ate everything that was a problem–”
“–we’d all be fat.”

“I encouraged him to resign before he was fired.”
“Or eaten.”

Lastly, I just want to go on record to say that I’m invested in this series not because I want to see Simon and Meg get it on… unlike almost everyone who’s posted a review on the book page.

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ETA: Although not a fan of the Simon-Meg pairing, there’s one pairing I’d like to see happen, and that’s Tess and Nyx. Maybe these two should have a spin-off series where they roadtripping across Thaisia to solve crime and get into all sort of shenanigans.

*The cats are fine. They were found shortly after the streets stopped flooding.

Review: The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Date Read: February 26 to March 2, 2015
Read Count: 1
Recommended by: loads of people on GR
Recommended for: everyone

Such intense, vivid writing for a stark post-apocalyptic tale of survival and desperation. The execution–no pun intended–is absolutely brilliant. I rarely wish for a sequel when a story is so well written, but I do hope Mike Carey has one in the works because there’s still so much left to explore.

Everything I have to say about the book itself encroaches on spoiler territory, and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, so I’ll just say this is the most realistic fictional account of life following an unavoidable apocalypse I’d ever read. The characters and their fears are well depicted, and their journey through a wasteland that was once rural England is fascinating and terrifying. And the thing that fascinates and terrifies me the most is how easy it is to imagine this story as reality, how easy it is to see yourself making this journey through a world in various states of decay and upheaval with predators, human and nonhuman alike, lying in wait. It’s a world so far removed from the comfort of our own, where certain death awaits everyone who ventures out into the open wasteland, but it’s portrayed in a very realistic way.

You can’t save people from the world. There’s nowhere else to take them.

It’s not often that fiction scare me and it’s not often I enjoy the scare, but it’s hard not to like this book or the way Mike Carey writes. He mixes so many classic genre elements together to make them work in such a way that the story looks and feels new and fresh. The individual parts are familiar, but when put together, the whole of it feels unique.

I think everyone should read this book, even if zombie or apocalyptic fiction isn’t your thing. Aside from being well crafted and so suspenseful that you can’t put it down, it’s thought provoking. It will make you look at your world with new eyes and make you imagine a scenario in which you survive the apocalypse and must face a new reality in which you are alone, surrounded by the infected. In that it is like I Am Legend but more disturbing and deeply felt.

This really is a beautiful book, unexpectedly beautiful in so many unfathomable ways. Whatever you think this book is about, it’s so much more than that.

Melanie thinks: when your dreams come true, your true has moved. You’ve already stopped being the person who had the dreams, so it feels more like a weird echo of something that already happened to you a long time ago.

Melanie is a big part of the beauty in this book. She’s the element that makes the story new and fresh. She really is the girl with all the gifts.

Review: The Art of Eating through the Zombie Apocalypse: A Cookbook and Culinary Survival Guide

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: December 24, 2014 to February 24, 2015
Read Count: 1
Recommended by: no one; it was a gift
Recommended for: beginners on the run

Would you survive the apocalypse? Think that you can? I thought I’d do okay…and then I read this book and now I’m not so sure anymore.

As an introductory crash course to surviving on the run, this book has all the necessary things one would need to know to get by in all sorts of worst-case scenarios. It’s written in a light and fun way, as if to make it seem like you’d be going on a quest–to survive.

Before setting out, you’ll have to gather necessary essentials and prepare for the worst, which could range from the bizarre like zombie hordes to the tedious like severe weather conditions. If you remove the zombie apocalypse, this book is like any other survivalist how-to guide to living on your own, literally. Imagine that you’d be on your own and have to make/build everything from scratch or scavenge for whatever else you need. You have to know how to forage, hunt, fish, clean and dress your own kills. And that’s just one part of survival. You also have to know where, how, when to hide and where, how, when to run. As if that’s not hard enough, there are zombie hordes lumbering down every street and alley. (Post-apocalyptic scenarios are thrown in for fun, you know, to keep up with the times.)

What I like most about this book is the way it’s formatted, with you, the beginner, in mind–let’s imagine you’re a beginner. There are detailed sections on packing, going on the run, scavenging, looting, various ways to make camp, build fires and snares/traps, fishing, cleaning and dressing kills, avoiding detection, and much more. The first few sections of the book are on packing survival kits and making the tough decision to bug-in (stay put and fortify) or bug-out (go on the run); many of these sections are geared toward bugging out. If you have the “should I stay or should I go” dilemma figured out, you have a fighting chance. The other sections deal with various necessary preparations, most of which requires a lot of pre-planning, pre-zpoc planning. Like, start now if you want to live. So that if you are to survive the initial chaos of the apocalypse, you would be extremely prepared to live several months or even years by yourself before the apocalypse becomes post-apocalypse. Things would eventually settle down and you’d be able to venture back to civilization again. But what you find there is anybody’s guess.

A big downside to this book is its foraging section. It’s not as thorough as it should be. Half of this book could be focused on foraging alone and that might increase your chance of survival, and personally I think foraging would be much more useful to lone survivors in the wild. Much of your post-apocalyptic diet would–I have to keep myself from typing “will”–consist of plants and roots because they’re safer, less time and energy consuming than hunting and trapping. But wild vegetation is dangerous, berries and fungi especially. There are tell-tale signs to determine if a berry bush or group of mushrooms are edible, but that requires some training and experience. If you don’t know how to tell the edibles from the poisonous ones, there’s no point in trying. It’s just too risky. You could do a taste test, but that takes time and patience, which people on the run don’t have. Undead flesh eaters are on your trail.

Although I find this book funny and its take on impending doom practical, it really got me thinking about all the things we depend on to get through an average mundane pre-zpoc day. Fresh, clean water. A roof. A safe place to sleep. A warm bed. A sense of security. All of which would disappear once the electricity goes out and society breaks down exactly like Cormac McCarthy imagined it would. There’d be chaos, violence, turf wars breaking out everywhere… and while imagining all of this, I couldn’t help thinking how I’d never have perfectly cooked, seasoned food again. All that chaos and violence wouldn’t bother me as much since I expect that to happen. It’s the idea of never being able to prepare my favorite dishes again that gets to me. Spices are out of the question, unless you somehow loot a grocery store in time before the hordes overtake it. Forget about breads, pastas, and all diary products. Baked goods and sweets are history, literally. And these are just the simple things. It would be all about living the Paleo way of life from here on out. Way to get me all choked up, book.

Anyhow, this was a fun read, like a romp through an abandoned city that’s gradually being taken back by nature. But take away all the zpoc doom and gloom, and you have a beginner’s guide to venturing out into the wilderness all by one’s lonesome. Great for people on the run, whether it’s from zombies or federal agents or assassins or drug cartels.

Review (and reread): Red Rising (Red Rising #1) by Pierce Brown

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Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date Read: December 28, 2014 to January 9, 2015
Read Count: 2
Recommended by: ads on Goodreads
Recommended for: I don’t know

Not your average YA in that it’s darker in tone and subject matter, just like The Hunger Games but wordier and not as heartfelt.

I read this book when it first came out and really liked it, but looking back, I think that was because it’s so reminiscent of Suzanne Collins’ sparse style that it brought back memories of when I first read The Hunger Games. Now that some time has passed, I’ve come to see that Red Rising doesn’t have much going for it on its own. Barely anything about it is original, except for the setting being on Mars. Overall, I found the book difficult to get through a second time, esp the first half, because things I’d overlooked before became too glaring to ignore. If not for the huge buddy read, I don’t think I’d get through it.

While it’s very much like every other YA dystopian novel published in recent years, right down to the survival-of-the-fittest games and oppressive caste system, Red Rising doesn’t have the heart or that spark (or characters like Katniss) to light its pages and carry the story. It’s kind of a drag actually–first person POV’s usually are for me. Sparse writing about hardship, grief, and loss needs strong characterization to hold the story together and keep readers interested, and sparse writing about hardship, grief, and loss in SFF needs a sense of realness and relatability to anchor it in our consciousness. Furthermore, it needs sharp commentary to make it memorable, to take it to that next level of relevance, but I understand that’s not what some authors aim for, which is fine but it’s a huge missed opportunity when a book about taking on an oppressive society doesn’t take the chance to make meaningful critiques that may or may not relate to current events. Just saying. It’s no wonder I don’t recall much about Red Rising; it’s not the kind of story that stays with me.

All right, on to the actual book. The setting is oppressive, dystopian, and on Mars. The population is divided into groups by the colors of their eyes and other physical and mental traits, all of which are the result of specialty breeding. Golds rule the universe, Reds are slaves, and other colors in between have their own specializations. Eugenics is an interesting theme to explore, but it’s not well explored or executed here and that’s why this book is young adult and not adult fiction. The scope is rather narrow with the focus being mostly on physical looks/altercations and might, and the single character POV is too limiting.

Anyhow. The Society is especially cruel to the Reds. They work the hardest, have the highest mortality rate, but receive the least recognition and are often scorned and abused by the other colors. This treatment, which goes back centuries, is permitted. The explanation for it is quite contrived, I must admit now that I can’t ignore it. And yet the Society has functioned like this for over 700 years. Within the Red population, there is separation between high Reds and low Reds. High Reds are permitted to live above ground and hold menial jobs; low Reds live below ground and never know there’s a whole world thriving on the surface of Mars.

Darrow, the main character, the titular Red Rising of this book and Golden Son of the next book, is a low Red helldiver; his fate, to forever live and die underground, and his job, to go deep into to the caverns of Mars and mine precious resources. It’s part of the work that keeps the planet running. Most helldivers don’t live past the ripe old age of 25. Darrow is only 16 at the start of the book, and he definitely sounds like it–this is what I mean about the scope of the story being narrow/limiting. He’s married to his childhood sweetheart, Eo, and what a lovely delicate gal she is. We all know what happens to lovely delicate characters in dystopian fiction–they don’t live to see the end because they get refrigerated early. Too early, in this case.

Eo’s death is the catalyst Darrow needs to rise up and take action, otherwise he would’ve been quite content living out the rest of his short life as a Red, burning away in those deadly mines. The real action gets rolling around the time Darrow begins his preparation to be become Gold, but things don’t necessarily pick up until more than half way through the book when he successfully infiltrates their ranks and the war “games” begin; I’d forgotten how much you have to wade through before things really get going. New characters, more interesting than Darrow, are introduced when Darrow takes part in these survival “games.” And then more things happen and a few characters die violently, and the end of the book makes you want to start Golden Son. That about sums it up.

The writing style is all right most times, though too often it is lofty and repetitive like the way idealistic young people tend to be when they speak of big-idea concepts like freedom and liberty and such. It’s not that bothersome once I got used to it, but it definitely took some time getting used to. I’d wager it’s the main factor that determines whether or not you’d like this book. I didn’t notice it much during the first read, but it’s hard to ignore during the reread. Darrow as a narrator is efficient during intense action sequences; Pierce Brown knows his ways around an action scene. However, during lulls between these scenes, Darrow has a habit of reliving past wounds (Eo, Eo’s death, Eo’s dreams) and wallowing in guilt and despair (Julien, Titus), so much so that it becomes repetitive. He spends a lot of time tearing himself apart all the while trying to survive these war games at this ridiculously sadistic school. I should sympathize, but I don’t feel anything for him or any of the other characters.

Your enjoyment of Red Rising will depend on your enjoyment of YA in general and dystopians with YA flairs specifically. While it’s better written than others of its kind published in the last decade or so, it doesn’t really stand out on its own. For me, this book is a compact review and reiteration of major (YA) dystopian themes and tropes. So it’s all right as an introductory crash course, but wouldn’t work if you’re looking for something new or groundbreaking. In short, recommended for readers new to the subgenre; not so much for anyone bored by over saturation of dystopian things.

Lastly I should mention I listened to the audio for my reread, and it changed my perspective of the whole book. Funny how that happened; I didn’t expect it to affect me so much. The narrator, Tim Gerard Reynolds, has a voice with a special talent, and that is to highlight every single flaw in the text that I would have ignored had I been reading. Nothing against his voice or accents, but there’s something about the way he narrates that makes these flaws so damn noticeable. Although I wouldn’t say he “ruined” this book for me, I did enjoy it a lot more before the audio.

So will I read Golden Son? Yes, probably in the next few weeks. But no more audios.

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Continue reading

Review: Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date read: August 16 to October 22, 2013
Read count: 1

If British humor, especially British apocalyptic humor, is not something you enjoy, then look elsewhere.

I like the concept, I like the writing, and I like the story overall; however there were certain time periods that dragged on for a couple chapters too long and a couple subplots that stayed past their welcome. The characters were fun though, and the dialogue was clever, witty (without being punny), and hilarious at times (again, without being punny). All of these things appeal to me because I enjoy British humor and a chatty meandering narration. If neither of these things interest you, then I would imagine you’d have a hard time getting through this book.

That’s also to say I had a hard time getting through this book (notice the date read) even though I liked almost everything about it. The sequences following the opening “baby switching debacle” were most difficult for me. I found Adam’s formative years to be quite a drag, not because this subplot was poorly written or too British for my understanding, but because I just don’t like reading about overly precocious children in general and often find many of stories about clever children to be a bore, regardless of the strength of prose or story. Once I got through Adam’s childhood and adolescent years, the story picked up speed and I couldn’t wait to get to “the end of times.” And what a ride that way.

This book is the first Neil Gaiman book that does not have a disappointing ending, imo. I think Terry Pratchett must have helped a lot on this front.

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Still as good and as satisfying as I remembered.

It’s not often I say this, but the audiobook is really good and a joy to listen to. The narrator, Martin Jarvis, really gets much of the book’s humor and you can tell he fully embraced its zany, over-the-top-ness, so listening to him read was almost like watching the book come to life. And I really like the way he portrayed Crowley and Aziraphale, esp during their mad sprint to stop the apocalypse.

The only thing that I still quibble about is the ending. Seems somewhat lacking considering this is a story about the end of the world and all. I just wish there’d been more to the inevitable showdown, instead of an ending that leaves room for a possible–wishful?–sequel.

Review: Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

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Rating: ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
Date read: October 10 to 14, 2013
Read count: 1

Not nearly as dead as it could have been, for a zombie tale, that is. If it had been more dead, it could have been a zombie tale I’d enjoy.

As it is though, it’s a hormonal combination of teenage angst and existential crises, typical of what you’d find in a Shakespearean remake with the purpose of appealing to the current generation of YA readers. This relatively new dead spin on the Romeo and Juliet story doesn’t appeal to me personally, just as most revamps of Shakespearean “love stories” don’t appeal to me. What it comes down to is a matter of taste, really, and also because I don’t care for Shakespeare very much.

Overall though, the writing was a pleasant surprise, and many of the prosey descriptive passages depicting barren settings, like abandoned lots and other wastelands, were some of my favorite moments. YA authors are not known for their writing merits or prowess, and so I had been expecting this book to be similar to its weak-in-prose and high-in-angst forerunners. It surprised me though by being more intellectual than your average bear genre YA and more “humane,” for lack of a better word, than average zombie or monster fiction. (Despite the somewhat eye-rolling love story at the heart of it.)

The story is OK overall, but if you’re fed up with Romeo and Juliet remakes or you’re overwhelmed by the amount of zombies in the market, then you’d probably not like this book. But if you’re looking for quick and light post-apocalyptic adventure, you might want to consider it.

As decent as the story is, the characterization is very flat and typical of what you’d find in genre fiction, though not typical of what you might expect in a supposedly character-driven story. Many reviewers say the weakest point of the book is dialogue, and I agree. Too much angst and brooding, not enough getting to the point. I think the book would have been a lot better if most of the conversations between R and Julie were cut out, to be replaced with plot development. And maybe if the “love story” angle was cut out too, to be replaced with…nothing. But that’s just a matter of personal reading preference.

My biggest issue with this book is internal monologue, which seems contradictory to say since I just said I liked the writing. The thing is there are just too many internal monologues running too close together that did little to build up this dark and grim near-future post-apocalyptic world. And while I liked the airport setting, it wasn’t featured enough in between R’s long-winded internal monologues and Julie’s brooding. There’s also not enough story progression for my liking. The plot stays very much flat even as certain events are pushing the story forward, which threw the story off-balance.

And another thing, I don’t like first person POV. When the narration is literally made up of internal monologues strung together, the character spewing these words has to be really, really, extremely interesting for the story to work. Otherwise, it’s just boring.

That’s not to say this book was a terrible read. It wasn’t terrible–more contradiction? It’s just unfortunate enough to have all the things I don’t care for, all pushed into one book.

Whenever I come across a book such as this, I’m always glad I’m no longer a teenager. This book is the embodiment of almost everything I don’t like and don’t like to remember about adolescence. If it weren’t for the zombie aspects and/or post-apocalyptic setting (both flooding the market right now), this story would not stand out in the sea of generic genre fiction. It certainly would not have made an impact (or been turned into a movie) if it was adult genre fiction.

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Maybe if I’d read this book before Raising Stony Mayhall, I would have been able to appreciate it more and find the existential concepts it introduced nuanced and interesting. Daryl Gregory is a tough act to follow. I think he ruined the whole zombie genre for me by having written such a great book and a great zombie character.

Review: Wool Omnibus (Wool #1-5) by Hugh Howey

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Date read: May 27 to September 19, 2013
Read count: 1

Far exceeds my expectations. Howey is one of the few self-published authors who actually know how to write an engaging and believable post-apocalyptic world. Admittedly, there was some hesitation before I before I even read a word. As a rule, I stay away from self-published authors, mostly because I haven’t had a good experience with their books or writing and partly because I wanted to avoid the drama that might accompany a negative book rating/review.

* Rest of review to be added at a later time.

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Series book order Wool Omnibus (Silo, #1):

  • Wool (Wool, #1)
    Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
  • Proper Gauge (Wool, #2)
    Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
  • Casting Off (Wool, #3)
    Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
  • The Unraveling (Wool, #4)
    Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
  • The Stranded (Wool, #5)
    Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½

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I had planned to read the rest of the series (Shift and Dust), but then this happened (DailyDotSlate). And that’s why I won’t be reading anything else from Hugh Howey, even thought I really did like the whole Wool series.

Review: Steelheart (Reckoners, #1) by Brandon Sanderson

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date read: August 02 to 05, 2013
Read count: 1

I liked it. And that’s saying something because this is clearly YA.

Young inexperienced protagonist, David Charleston, joins a crew of rebels, the Reckoners, to fight and defeat super villains, the Epics. The story is told from David’s POV, and while that’s sometimes interesting–David is smart and calculating–it’s somewhat annoying some times because David is a hormonal teenager who’s in over his head. His struggles, while making the story and narrative more nuanced, were a struggle for me to read. I appreciate the complications and setbacks he faces in the face of danger, but his inner monologues, most of which are Megan-centered, were not that interesting and they tended to drag things down a narrow Megan-themed tunnel.

The secondary characters, however, were more interesting. Prof, Abraham, Tia, Cody, and even Megan were more complex, fleshed out characters. Each seemed to possess their own sense of self and had goals to work toward. While David does have his own goals–defeat Steelheart–he’s still finding himself, while still trying to understand the crumbling world around him and his place in it. This makes me think maybe this book would have been better if it had more POVs. But perhaps switching between each of the Reckoner’s POV would have been too chaotic, not to mention it would have turned the book into an 800+ page doorstop.

Like other Sanderson books, this one has a tight plot and lots of action toward the end. It’s a nonstop whirlwind of a ride once the Reckoners put their plans into motion and move against Steelheart. This is the kind of breathless writing that keeps you glued to the book, and I had to set all (real life) things aside just to get to the finish line.

I don’t read that much YA genre fiction, so I have no idea if this book is considered good or just average by those standards, but I did like it and I look forward to the next books in the series.

“Newcago” still makes me cringe though. Why not call it New Chicago??

*  *  *  *  *

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date Read: April 3, 2015
Read Count: 1

I actually like this short story more than the first book. Maybe I’m warming up to David as a main POV character.

Following the defeat of Steelheart and Nightweilder, the city of Newcago–that word still makes me cringe–is now a sunny post-apocalyptic refuge for the powerless. But the people are still weary, as though expecting a new Epic to defeat the Reckoners and plunge the city back into darkness. And one does step up to the challenge–Mitosis. He’s the first to pose a threat, but he’s certainly not the last.

Review: Raising Stony Mayhall by Daryl Gregory

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date read: May 04 to 26, 2013
Read count: 2

5 stars upon finishing, but now that I think about it, it’s more like 4 or 4 ½, depending on my current mood of interpretation.

John “Stony” Mayhall is a living dead miracle who defy all odds, logic, laws of physics, our understanding of anatomy and physiology, our sense of “living” and “death,” etc. He lives despite not having that spark of life, he grows despite not having proper bodily functions, and he ages despite time not being a factor that should affect him. And he thinks, not only intelligently, but deeply and ponders questions like, “What is that spark of life?” and “How am I moving and thinking but not really living?” Important questions (for both the living and living dead).

One cold blizzard evening, Wanda Mayhall and her daughters come upon Stony and his birth mother by the side of the road, almost frozen and certainly looking dead. Stony’s mother doesn’t make it, but miraculously he does. The Mayhalls bundle him up and bring him back to their farm and then realize what he is, a zombie baby. He seems almost like any average human newborn, except for his gray skin and inability to eat or sleep. Wanda decides to keep and raise the baby on the farm, instead of informing the authorities.

Stony grows despite all the things mentioned in the above paragraph and learns to live as human. However, there’s always something missing or feels not quite right in his life and he doesn’t realize what it is until he meets other living dead and live among them. Then to his disappointment, he finds out he’s not quite like other zombies either because he was raised by a human family, which brings up that age-old question of nature vs. nurture.

This is mostly a story of a boy coming of age in the late 60s/70s in a time of intense persecution. It’s alternate, yet family history. The War in Vietnam never happens and the Cold War never happens either. Instead the US government is fighting a silent war against an unstoppable viral outbreak that, if spread again, can spread at an alarming rate. The world Stony lives in is a world that traps itself in a police state for fear of another outbreak, and while people comply with zero-zombie-tolerance laws and regulations, there are some who help the living dead as part of a network that runs all across the country.

The zombie virus causes the infected to die a physical death while exhibiting all the classic zombie traits, like a bout of fever, mindlessness, a hunger for human flesh, and a gray skin tone. The infection is passed on through saliva entering the bloodstream. After 48 hours, the infected regain control of themselves and a majority resume whatever state of mind they were in before the infection, though there are a few who never recover. The living dead can die and be killed, but they don’t feel pain or heal themselves. Though no exception to the limitations of zombies, Stony is a special case because he grows and achieves a level of body awareness that’s never been seen before. He comes to understand why “the stick” moves and what actually makes it move.

It’s fun to see Gregory’s interpretation of classic zombie lore and how he develops them further. I’ve always had an appreciation for sci-fi / fantasy writers who can incorporate real-world science into their imaginary worlds. Gregory does it in a believable way. I hope this is where the zombie genre is heading–less mindlessness and flesh-eating; more focus on thoughtfulness, the science of viruses & outbreaks, and zombie physiology.

What keeps this story from a 5-star rating is the unusually huge jumps in time. There are a couple that jump over a decade or so, and that’s just too much time lost (from a reader’s perspective). Other than this one minor thing, I really like the direction in which Gregory takes his zombie story, and I hope he’s planning to write more.

Original review can be found here.