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Review: Deadline, Mira Grant

This review will contain spoilers for Feed, the first in the Newsflesh trilogy. Please go to my review and read the book before you read this review!

After the heart-breaking conclusion to Feed, where he lost his sister and best friend Georgia to Kellis-Amberlee, Shaun is lost. He knows he should follow through on some of the things his sister was so passionate about, including the site they ran together, but his heart’s not in his position as an Irwin any longer. But Georgia hasn’t quite left him; her voice in his head drives him forward to solve some of the ever-eerier mysteries that she only began unearthing during the Ryman campaign.

I knew this book was going to have a hard time living up to Feed, the first book in this series, which I simply found amazing. I worried when I started this; would it have the same relatively slow build-up before I got engaged in it again? How would I adjust to the shift to Shaun’s narrative voice? Would he be distinguishable from Georgia at all? And so on. My worries were, for the most part, unfounded, and I was completely wrapped up in this book while reading it, speeding through its many pages in a single weekend.

What about those worries? First of all, there wasn’t a slow build-up. I still felt as emotionally attached to the new characters as I had to the old. I didn’t love them the way I really loved Georgia, not even Shaun, but I did find myself getting fond of him by the end of the book. There are some fairly tense events close to the start of the book that get the action going, and one moment that I suspect was intended to be as jaw-dropping as the first death in the first book was. (It wasn’t, but it was still pretty good). I could easily distinguish Shaun from Georgia, and his persistent melancholy didn’t bother me very much at all.

I did, however, have a few reservations with this book that I didn’t have while reading the first one. I didn’t like that Shaun spent the book talking to Georgia and hearing her in his head. Maybe he couldn’t cope without her; but it felt cheap, like she’d cheated death, unlike the absolute complete absence that took place when Buffy died. They still haven’t caught up without her, after all. Georgia may not have been conventionally alive, but the fact that her character still lives on bugged me, in a way.

I also noticed some repetitive writing here which I hadn’t in the first one; in Deadline’s defense, my “repetition” sensors were on full blast after Fifty Shades of Grey, and I’m not sure I’d have noticed otherwise. One character is constantly paling and the rest of them often start swearing on a very frequent basis. And they continue swearing for what should be minutes; I can understand uttering an expletive, but surely stringing many swear words together is not entirely a necessity when in a life-or-death situation. I suppose I don’t know; I’ve never been in one. But it happened very, very often.

Anyway, all that aside, I did actually genuinely enjoy Deadline, and I was happy that I’d already preordered Blackout so I could continue with the story right away. I’ll definitely recommend these as absorbing reads that are still very thoughtful in their own way, and I’m looking forward to wrapping up the trilogy in the very near future.

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Review: Feed, Mira Grant

feedIt’s been twenty-five years since the Kellis-Amberlee virus hit the world population. When the virus that finally cured cancer, in a young girl called Amberlee, and the virus that cured the common cold, created by Dr Kellis, combined, disastrous consequences ensued. The virus wound up living inside ordinary people and reanimating them once they died; these zombies are a constant threat, hungry for flesh that they, too, can infect, a neverending supply of horror. The world has changed drastically in the face of the virus, and Georgia and Shaun Mason, brother and sister, are part of the new wave of media – bloggers who report from the edge . Together with the third member of their team, tech whiz and writer Buffy, and a crew supporting them, they’ve just won the biggest contract of their career; the position of press team on Senator Ryman’s quest to become President of the United States.

I let Feed languish on my shelves for a number of months before I finally persuaded myself to pick it up. Although I adored Warm Bodies a year and a half ago, zombies have never really been my favorite member of the horror brigade. What did draw me to this book were the spectacular reviews and the simple fact that Mira Grant is a pen name for Seanan MacGuire, the author of one of my top two favorite urban fantasy series. In search of something I could love as much as I love October Daye, I finally picked this book up. And I was rewarded far more than I’d expected to be, because this is a truly fantastic book, and not really about zombies at all.

There is some background to be learned in the first part of the book; we need to know about this world, and this particular author happens to be an incredible world builder. It takes a little longer to get started than other books, with all the time spent learning about Kellis-Amberlee, about the characters and their lives, and about the new way that people get their news in this post-apocalyptic world. By about halfway, however, the book is constantly exciting and suspenseful, building up a mystery that had me turning the pages faster and faster, both dreading and anticipating what would come next.

As with many books I adore, the main character, Georgia Mason, generally known as “George” to the people who love her, is a fantastic, gutsy, brave, smart woman. She’s not afraid to love, with her brother the primary example, but she’s ferociously loyal to her ideals and sticks by her mantra of always delivering the news. She’ll do what’s right for journalism and for the world. She loves her brother Shaun above all others, including the rest of her family, and together, they make an incredible team that has resulted in the success of their news site. She is the narrator of this book, but each chapter has snippets of blog posts and news stories from each character, so we do hear all of their voices.

This is an excellent way to tell the story, because in truth all three of the main crew, Georgia, Shaun, and Buffy, alongside some side characters, are very well fleshed out. I cared what happened to all of them, especially as things started to heat up, and parts of the book very nearly had me in tears.

This isn’t just about zombies, truly; and in fact, there really aren’t that many zombies in it, which makes their appearances all the more suspenseful. No – it’s about the barriers set up against the truth, about how ordinary people can be more threatening than our worst nightmares, and very much about what journalism should be at its best. It’s also very political; Georgia is right inside a presidential campaign, and imagining how politicians might cope when the very fabric of their world and morals is constantly fraying makes for further amazing characterization.

Is this a book you should read? Yes – I was completely swept along for the ride and left with my jaw on the floor at the end of it, longing to find out what this author could possibly do next. The book doesn’t end in a cliffhanger, but it was so good that I was eager for more. Very highly recommended.

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Review: The Fall, Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

After the showdown with the Master, in which they failed to kill him, Ephraim Goodweather and Abraham Setrakian are left clutching at straws in their attempt to vanquish the vampires and save the human race.  Worse, Eph is now discredited from his organization and must hide at all times, his ex-wife has now been turned and is trying to capture his son, and in all respects it’s clear that the good guys are running out of time.  Abraham is left racing to get his hands on a book that will help them, a book that the Master wants, and must use all of the abilities he has left to get it before the vampires do.

This is going to be a difficult review to write, simply because I did not like this book.  I did like The Strain, which I think set me up for disappointment here.  Like many second books in trilogies, this one just falls flat, limp with a total lack of plot, too many unnecessary plot strands, and for me at least, a complete and total lack of suspense and fear.  Mainly, I read my way through the book feeling bored, disgusted, and uncaring, which means that I at least will not be reading the third installment of this trilogy, even if it lands on my doorstep for free.

If I found any part of the book interesting, it had to be Abraham Setrakian’s backstory.  I quite enjoyed reading about his past, horrific as it was, because I felt it cast some much-needed light on the main story.  In fact, I could quite easily have stripped out everything else and solely had a book about how the vampires rose from World War II to the present; unfortunately, that isn’t what I got.  Perhaps it’s just personal preference talking, but I have no real desire for a book that seems solely about killing, without a plot to hang on, that relies on disgust for its shock factor and leaves character relationships and development to the wayside as a result.  And no, it’s not just because I like my vampires sparkly, because I don’t.  I just grow tired of fight after fight with gushy white blood for what felt, to me, no purpose.  It read more like a horror movie than a book exploring the takeover of vampires.

I’m not sure I can still recommend this series.  I know quite a few other people enjoyed The Fall, my own husband among them.  For me, however, I’m drawing the line here, and will not be reading the next book.

If your opinion differs, I’d love to hear about it.

I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for review through Amazon Vine.

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Review: The Road, Cormac McCarthy

A man and his son wander through an ash-filled America.  The apocalypse has happened and the entire world is cold, gray, and lifeless.  There are no animals.  There are few people, and those that exist are likely planning to kill you and steal everything you own.  It isn’t an atmosphere to raise a child in, but the man has no choice.  He must keep himself and his son alive, must keep them moving, even though he isn’t sure what’s out there to live for.

What a dark, creepy read this was.  There isn’t a single happy moment in this book.  Virtually the whole of the narrative consists of the man and his son, neither of whom have a destination in mind, trying to find food, get warm, and avoid any of the other people, or creatures, wandering the road with them.  It seems as though the world burst into flames, but the actual cause of the apocalypse is never made clear.  At one point the boy and man run into another survivor, but he clearly states that they have no common cause because they did not survive together.  This really made me wonder exactly what happens – but McCarthy never tells us.

He also never tells us anything about the evil that stalk the land, simply that they’re there.  These creatures – I assumed they were vampires or something like that – eat people.  Adding to the pervasive feel of danger is the endless fall of ash and the constant corpses they come across everywhere.  I couldn’t imagine how difficult it must have been for the boy; we’re never told how old he is, but he wasn’t alive before the apocalypse happened.  He has never experienced the world as his father has.

Miraculously, though, he still has a sense of good, a desire to help people, which is simultaneously childish and incredibly wise.  Out of the literal ashes of the world, a good spirit has risen, and even though the rest of the book is dark I would never say that all hope was lost, even when I worried that they were close to death.  Even more hopeful is the fact that the father and the boy clearly still love each other and strive to live even when it looks like all is lost.  The power of the human spirit is incredible and is in large part a reason we can still care for and worry about these characters in a world that is otherwise unrecognizable and terrifying.

The Road was completely different than I expected, but almost more powerful in its own way.  The air of mystery lent it terror, but the relationship between the boy and his father is really at the heart of this novel.  Recommended.

I am an Amazon Associate. I purchased this book.

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Review: The Passage, Justin Cronin

Project Noah is a secret government program to create the perfect super soldier by turning convicted criminals into vampires.  In an ideal world, these vampires would then be set on their enemies; they’re so difficult to kill that a few of them could decimate armies.  But this isn’t an ideal world, and there is no way to control the vampires.  When they break free and the horror is unleashed on the entire United States, only a select group of survivors remain to live in the light and keep fighting for their humanity.

The Passage is easily this summer’s most hyped read.  It’s been endorsed by famous authors and some of my favorite book bloggers alike, which made it essentially a must read for me, too.  That’s why I snapped it up from Amazon Vine the minute I had the chance and took a long haul flight as the perfect opportunity to bury myself in this supernatural thriller.

I found it wasn’t a perfect read; for one thing, I expected it to be quite fast paced, but I had a hard time getting into it.  With a full 7 hour flight, I wanted to find myself compelling enough to read the majority of it in one stroke, but I found it moved surprisingly slow at the beginning and couldn’t hold my attention while other stuff was going on.  In the end it took me a good few days of holiday time to read, which was surprising for something I thought would be a heart-pounding thriller that would keep me up all night dying to know the resolution to the story.

It was very good, though, for the tale it was, and I was genuinely interested in the characters and the story as it progressed.  I found I was much more interested in the story after the epidemic began; I liked in particular how the character Amy tied everything together and made the story a coherent whole instead of a few related storylines.  The book is smoothly written, with moments of brilliance and mediocrity in about equal measure.  It feels nicely epic, as it should when the whole world is essentially at stake after an apocalypse.  And the ending – I am not even sure what to say about the ending, except that it leaves me wondering and I thought was the perfect way to finish it, while leaving me wondering what’s next if this is truly the first of a trilogy.

The Passage doesn’t quite live up to its over-hyped reputation, in my opinion, but it does provide an entertaining, scary, and often gripping read that is perfect for the beach, especially if you have a few hours to get going in the story.  I would definitely recommend it to horror fans and in particular those who enjoyed The Stand by Stephen King.

I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free through the Amazon Vine program.

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Review: The Strain, Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

On September 24, 2010, a plane lands at JFK airport in New York City.  Immediately on landing, the plane goes dark, all of the window blinds pulled down, and the doors completely locked.  Ephraim Goodweather has been spending time with his son, Zack, in the lead-up to a custody battle, but he is called away from his weekend off work to investigate the plane.  On arrival, he and his partner Nora realize that it is full of dead people, bar four very ill exceptions.  The dead people are unusual, though, in that they appear to be full of a strange white liquid, not blood, and their bodies haven’t deteriorated at all.  Eph is mystified until an old man, Abraham Setrakian, approaches him with an extraordinary tale and an urgent mission.

At times, The Strain reads like a movie on paper.  Everything is very visual, from the descriptions of the scenes to the alteration between chapters to the way it cuts across the perspectives of the characters.  It’s easy to imagine this on a big screen, a difficult feat for someone like me.  I rarely envision what I’m reading as I go along, but I couldn’t avoid imagine these pictures.  While that’s not necessarily a fault, the book had a startling amount of gory descriptions and action scenes, so I don’t think this book is for the squeamish.  It had my stomach rolling at times because I could for once picture all the nastiness associated with the vampires.

What does work without a doubt is the intense, ceaseless suspense and quick pace of the novel.  It only takes place over a few days, but so much happens in those days as the mystery is established, solved, and the characters set out to save the world.  The timescale never feels unrealistic, especially because we don’t stay with the few main characters all the time.  We’re also given viewpoint perspective for a few of the victims and their families, which really drives the emotional impact of the entire situation.  The authors are very good at establishing sympathetic characters in a very small number of words, which definitely impressed me.  Of course, the main characters, especially Eph, are easy to care about as well.  Eph in particular virtually lives for his son, but his chances of winning custody are slimmed even further when he has to save the human race.  His priorities break his heart, and they break ours too.

While The Strain is not for the faint hearted, it is certainly an exciting ride, and is meant to be the first in the trilogy.  I know I will be looking forward to seeing what happens next!

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Review: The Vampire of Ropraz, Jacques Chessex

In a small town in eastern Europe called Ropraz, a beautiful, virginal young woman dies of a horrible illness.  With great ceremony and reverence, she is laid to rest in their churchyard.  The next morning, her remains are found spread across the graveyard, horribly mutilated and defiled.  Resorting to superstition in their fear, the villagers assume a vampire is on the loose.  When two more recently deceased girls are violated in the same way, panic spreads and blame, naturally, settles on a peasant male who is found violating farm animals and has been noted for staring at girls.  This little novel explores the psychological and superstitious reaction a small town on the edge of the 20th century has when faced with horrible brutality.

First of all, there are no actual vampires in this book.  That was a disappointment to me, who received this as a review copy knowing absolutely nothing about it, so don’t let it disappoint you!

If you like creepy, you might like this book.  The descriptions of the mutilated girls had me feeling ill and uncomfortable in my skin.  I’m jumping at shadows.  I don’t always like to be scared and I can’t say I’m liking it right now – I’m writing this review after midnight just to get this book out of my head.  Also, the concepts of bestiality and necrophilia are innately disgusting to me, and those parts really bothered me.  Honestly, I did not need to know the condition of the accused’s private organs.  Worse, it’s written in such a matter-of-fact way that it’s almost as though this shouldn’t bother me, since it’s just genetics.  It did.  I’m squicked out.

The psychological effect was interesting, though.  It almost reminded me of The Witch’s Trinity by Erika Mailman in the way that blame centers on one person and then it just grows and grows, people desperate to blame someone.  Mailman does it better, though.  This one captures a certain mass hysteria but doesn’t focus on anyone’s feelings in particular.  It’s really too short and could have done with some fleshing out.  At 104 pages of huge font with blank pages between chapters, we just get a straight narrative and not much else.  It feels almost as though my review could be longer than the book.

I don’t think I’d want more though.  This one creeped me out too much.  I can’t imagine how it could be better in its original French; the descriptions of the countryside might flow better, but I doubt the translator could escape the graphic descriptions of mutilation which have me shuddering an hour after completing the book.  I do have to say, clever ending.  This one’s based on a true story and I was definitely wondering just how true that conjecture might be.

I will stop talking now, put this book out of my head, and let you look for yourself: Amazon and Amazon UK.

Do you like it when books creep you out?

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The Gunslinger, Stephen King

I hated this book when I first read it.  Really did not like it.  This was about six years ago, when I acquired this book along with the next two in the series.  Then Stephen King went and finished the Dark Tower series and everyone was talking about it.  I resisted.  Well, I decided that resisting is over, and I went in for a reread.  This was not my first attempt at a reread.  See, I am convinced that if everything thinks something of King’s is brilliant, I must too, and obviously I was just missing something the first time.  The second time was a flop and I found my bookmark halfway through.  This time, I read it again, and I didn’t hate it nearly as much, to my delight.

In brief, the book follows Roland, the gunslinger, across the desert in search of the man in black.  In typical Stephen King fashion, there is gore, blood, eerie zombie creatures, and other trademarks of the horror genre.  On the other hand, there are flashbacks to a medieval-type atmosphere, Roland’s origins.  It goes without saying that these were my favorite part of the book.

On the whole, not really much happens.  There is a lot of walking and following.  There are some exciting moments, but mostly this one is dull.  I’ve heard that the next ones pick up the pace.  I’m looking forward to discovering that they actually do.  After I climb down from my mountain of ARCs, that is.  The style is fairly typical King, gritty and tense.  The characterizations aren’t there yet.  Roland is still a shadowy sketch.  I hope he’s fleshed out soon.  So I wouldn’t quite recommend this book yet, although you can check it out on Amazon.  I’d probably steer you in the direction of It or The Stand if you were looking for King.

So, have you read the Dark Tower series?  Is it worth persevering?

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Duma Key, Stephen King

We’ve all heard the rumors.  DUMA KEY is the best King novel for years.  He’s back to his old excellence.

They’re true.

DUMA KEY has it all, at least all you’ve ever wanted from King.  Great characters, terrific atmosphere, reactions so real that it hurts — mixed in with horror that keeps you awake at night terrified of the phantoms that he’s conjuring.  Yes, this happened to me, and to be honest I’ve never experienced it from one of his books before.  Hints, whispers of something coming in the midst of sincerely hoping that this poor man can recover his life, because you just like him, even though he’s flawed.  When it comes, it’s intense, and it doesn’t let go until you’ve finished the book.

I liked it a lot.  I felt it was a tight plot with just enough “in case” left over, because you never know.  I loved all the characters and found them to be really human, not quite as much as in some of my favorites, but there aren’t any angels or heroes floating around.  There is pure evil, but this book is horror, so that’s okay, it comes with the genre.  It feels like an old King novel.  It’s scary like an old King novel.  The things he talk about rise out of the page and come up at you.  I wonder what it would be like to live with that kind of imagination, and I think I’ll settle with my ordinary life.

In conclusion?  Very highly recommended, unless you scare too easily.

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