Zomburbia by Adam J. Gallardo

Zomburbia by Adam Gallardo(Cover picture courtesy of 100 Industries.)

 

Lifeless. Slow-moving. Brain-dead.
Welcome To Zomburbia.

My name is Courtney Hart, and I’m here to tell you about things that suck. Being born in a podunk town like Salem, Oregon, for one. Living in a world infested with zombies? That, too. And the meat heads I go to school with? I think I’d actually take the undead over them most days. But I have a plan to get out of here and move to New York. I just have to keep selling Vitamin Z along with your fries at The Bully Burger. The secret ingredient? Zombie brains.

I’ve noticed things are getting even worse lately, if that’s even possible. The zombies seem to be getting smarter and faster. If I can avoid being arrested, eaten by shufflers, or catching the eye of some stupid boy, I should be able to make it through finals week still breathing. . .

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

Sometimes you read a blurb and think a novel has a good premise.  However when you read that book you learn that you have a huge, insurmountable problem with it: the narrator.

Courtney is snarky, constantly putting her friends down, arrogant, clueless, bratty, hot-tempered and thoughtless.  So she’s pretty much your typical teenager except for the fact that throughout the novel I kept wishing for her to die because she was so awful.  I can’t go into much detail because I don’t want to get into too many spoilers, but it’s hard to believe she went through so many traumatic, possibly life-changing events and came out exactly the same at the end of the novel.  As I’ve said before, I don’t mind unsympathetic characters (like Jorg from Prince of Thorns) but Courtney is just intolerable.  She’s your typical teenager with attitude magnified by 10 and given an added dose of blindness about the world around her.

Being stuck in the head of such a horrible human being for the whole novel was trying.  I kept fruitlessly wishing she’d die so I could get in the head of someone who at least acted like a human, like Willie or even Brandon.  But no such luck; Courtney lives while people around her die like flies.  The only mildly interesting thing about her is that she thinks she has a plan to fix the zombie problem.  She goes on and on about how much smarter she is than everyone and yet we never hear the details of this wonderful plan that hinges on the army clearing New York of all its zombies in the next year or so.

Okay, even with that wretched girl for a narrator, this book may have redeemed itself with a good premise.  I’ll admit that it doesn’t have a bad premise, just not a great one.  If everyone has moved out into the suburbs because the cities are infested with zombies, why don’t the zombies follow them into the suburbs?  Predators like to go where the food is, especially when said food is wandering around near wooded areas where there’s lots of shelter.

As for the drug Vitamin Z, I’ve never underestimated the determination of people to get high.  Yes, I believe that people would try to get high off zombie brains but I also think Gallardo needed to explain more of why the drug makes people act like they do when they’re on it.  That could be in the next installment of the series, but I’m not so curious as to consider reading the sequel.  Not unless Courtney gets a personality transplant.

This book doesn’t come out until August 26 but I can’t honestly recommend it to anyone.  Courtney is a rather poor excuse for a human being and the plot isn’t even all that exciting.  To top it all off, the zombies (while having some unique qualities like being able to lay ambushes it seems) are pretty boring.  They show up when it’s convenient for the plot and that’s about it.  We’re told that they seem to be evolving pack behaviour and see that actually happen during the novel but we’re told exactly 0 about it or its possible consequences.  And that’s pretty much how the whole novel goes, in one big cycle where we end up back at square one in the end.

I give this book 1/5 stars.

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Feyguard: Royal by Anthea Sharp

Feyguard; Royal by Anthea Sharp(Cover picture courtesy of Barnes & Noble.)


The adventures begun in the Feyland trilogy continue, where a high-tech computer game becomes a gateway to the treacherous Realm of Faerie.

Rich-boy gamer Royal Lassiter lives on easy mode—until everything falls apart. Dark faeries are plotting to invade the mortal world, his controlling mom has turned home into enemy territory, and he can’t deny his irresistible attraction to newcomer Brea, despite the danger lurking in her mysterious eyes.

Forced to undertake a perilous mission for the Dark Queen of Faerie, Brea Cairgead finds living among humans and hiding her true nature as one of the fey folk a fearsome challenge—especially when her emotions prove all too vulnerable to a certain human boy. Torn between impossible loyalties, she must serve her queen… though it may cost her heart.

Can love between mortal and fey ever have a happy ending?

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

I’ve never really liked Roy as a character in Anthea Sharp’s novels, both Feyland (the original series) and Feyguard (this new spinoff series) so I’ll admit I was a little reluctant to read things from his point of view for a whole book.  It’s a testament to Anthea Sharp’s writing talent that once I actually got going, I really didn’t mind him so much.

Roy is the kind of person that hides his true self behind a facade, both at school and at home because people would disapprove.  In the case of school there’s the usual peer pressure to stay cool but at home his mum really is more of a ruthless CEO type rather than the type of mum who would approve of Roy’s forays into art.  In a situation like that, it’s easy for him to fall back on the rich playboy facade rather than expose his innermost self.  Into all this, enter Brea Cairgead, a fey girl sent by the Dark Queen to make more humans susceptible to falling into Feyland so that they may live.  She can see beyond his facade even while she creates her own, so when they start falling in love it makes for an interesting relationship dynamic.

At the same time this book isn’t just about Roy as a character.  We see Jennet and Tamlin and some of the other Feyguard as well, but it sort of continues the story of how the fey are desperate to bring unsuspecting humans into their world.  In a way I feel sorry for them since most of the mortal realm doesn’t believe in them and their very survival is in peril because of that.  However, their methods don’t lend much sympathy and in the end the fey are capricious and often quite vicious so I can’t feel too sorry for them.

This is in many ways a character driven novel, but as you can probably guess there’s also a pretty interesting plot as well.  There was nothing all that unexpected in the plot until the end, where there’s a huge twist.  I don’t want to give too much away, but it solves the problem of Roy and Brea’s fey-human attraction in a brilliant if semi-tragic way.  I’m a sucker for some portrayals of star-crossed love and this is definitely one of them.

All in all, Anthea Sharp’s second book in the Feyguard series was even better than I expected.  Roy still gave off rich playboy vibes in the beginning of the novel but by the end he’s actually a pretty nice guy.  So there you have it: magic, character development and a pretty fast-paced plot.  I certainly can’t ask for more than that.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Caesar’s Daughter: Julia’s Song by Alex Johnston

Caesar's Daughter Julia's Song by Alex Johnston(Cover picture courtesy of History and Other Thoughts.)

After serving Julius Caesar on assignments in Gaul and Alexandria, Marcus Mettius is finally back home in Rome. His work with Caesar had been lucrative, but dangerous. So you can imagine his trepidation when the Roman soldier Quintus shows up at the tavern where Marcus is drinking with yet another letter from Caesar.

You’ve got to admit, Caesar certainly had balls, asking Marcus for his help yet again. On his last two assignments, Marcus was arrested by a mad Egyptian Pharaoh, almost burnt at the stake, and nearly lynched by an angry mob.

But this time is different (you can almost hear the Fates chuckling with glee at THAT line!) All Caesar wants Marcus to do this time is to take a gift to his daughter, Julia, and have a little chat with her while he is there. Certainly no harm can come from that, right?

Well, the next thing you know, Marcus is all tangled up with the leading figures of late Republican Rome – Pompey, Cicero, the deposed King of Egypt, and, of course, the infamous Publius Clodius Pulcher, aedile and former Tribune of the Plebs.

Once again, Marcus’ life hangs in the balance, in ways he could scarcely have imagined. But he shouldn’t be surprised. After all, he’s Caesar’s Agent Man. And odds are he won’t live to see tomorrow. Join Marcus and his friends in the thrilling sequel to Caesar’s Emissary!

I previously read and reviewed the first book in Alex Johnston’s short story series about Marcus Mettius, Caesar’s Ambassador.  Well, I absolutely loved his funny take on Roman history through the eyes of a bit player.  I mean, how can you not love Marcus Mettius, the consummate salesman?

The book starts off with us hearing about the most feared slave since Spartacus: Vinus, Marcus’ wine slave who writes critical reviews of wine throughout Italy that can make or break a vineyard.  He’s not that important in the scheme of things but it certainly sets the tone as Marcus decides Vinus really doesn’t understand how the whole master-slave relationship works out because Vinus tends to dictate to him and not the other way around.  This isn’t just meaningless joking, though.  It serves to tell us a lot about the aftermath of Spartacus’ rebellion and how the First Triumvirate are faring currently (despite the rogue Clodius terrorizing all of Rome).

One thing about Alex Johnston’s writing that I really appreciate is his obvious deep love and respect for Roman history.  You can really tell that he loves it but at the same time is able to create some rather irreverent versions of famous historical characters like Cicero and Pompey Magnus.  He uses modern dialogue and slang to convey the idea that while obviously not accurate, Romans had their own sort of slang and ways of speaking rather than the usual dry dialogue I find in historical fiction.  They had crude language (Latin is a beautiful language to swear in), the younger generation’s version of rap, etc.  He really captures that sort of turning point in Roman culture as the Republic is failing and although some events are changed a little for the story Caesar’s Daughter it’s actually very historically accurate.

Add on top of all this awesomeness the fact that Alex Johnston is a truly hilarious writer.  I was in stitches, literally laughing out loud half of the time.  There are some jokes where you have to know Roman history to truly appreciate but the majority of them are hilarious non-insider jokes.  You really can’t get a better take on history that’s funny, historically accurate and yet not historically accurate at all.  The only thing I can really criticize is the overuse of capitals when characters are exclaiming things excitedly.  They lose their effect after a while.

Although I’m kind of in a mixed up order for the series right now I’m really looking forward to reading the second short story Caesar’s Emissary some day.  I’d recommend giving Alex Johnston’s short stories a try for pretty much everyone, even if you’re not a big Roman history buff.

I give this short story 4.5/5 stars.

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Queen of Someday by Sherry D. Ficklin

Queen of Someday by Sherry D. Ficklin(Cover picture courtesy of Cindy’s Love of Books.)

Before she can become the greatest empress in history, fifteen-year-old Sophia will have to survive her social-climbing mother’s quest to put her on the throne of Russia at any cost. Imperial Court holds dangers like nothing Sophia has ever faced before. In the heart of St. Petersburg, surviving means navigating the political, romantic, and religious demands of the bitter Empress Elizabeth and her handsome, but sadistic nephew, Peter. Determined to save her impoverished family and herself Sophia vows to do whatever is necessary to thrive in her new surroundings. But an attempt on her life and an unexpected attraction threatens to derail her plans. Alone in a new and dangerous world, learning who to trust and who to charm may mean the difference between becoming queen and being sent home in shame to marry her lecherous uncle. With traitors and murderers lurking around every corner, her very life hangs in the balance. Betrothed to one man but falling in love with another, Sophia will need to decide how much she s willing to sacrifice in order to become the empress she is destined to be. In a battle for the soul of a nation, will love or destiny reign supreme?

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

Let me make two things very, very clear right off the bat:

1.  Yes, this novel is about Catherine the Great of Russia.

2.  No, this is not historically accurate and nor was it meant to be.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way I think a bit of an explanation is in order.  This is about Catherine the Great’s younger years before she became empress of all Russia.  It’s about her struggles acclimatizing to the Russian court and trying to win the love of Peter, the future emperor.  As Sherry Ficklin mentions in the dedication as well as the historical note, while she really does stay true to the spirit of the times this was not meant to be historically accurate.  And that’s okay because it really does capture the zeitgeist in Russia at the time and paints a fascinating picture of how Catherine the Great became, well, ‘the Great’.

The thing that I really appreciated about Queen of Someday was not only Ficklin’s honesty about accuracy and such but also her characters.  Catherine’s husband Peter is a hotly debated ruler in Russian history and I like how the portrayal of him in the book makes sense if you look at his later life before Catherine’s coup.  He’s jealous and toys with women and men alike, reveling in his power over not only their emotions but their very lives.  Catherine is at first the naive young Sophie trying to find a little bit of happiness in a marriage that’s all but being forced upon her.  As she grows into her role as future empress and learns what real love is like, she’s faced with some horrific decisions that I wouldn’t wish on anybody.  Sherry Ficklin certainly knows how to present such a quick change from naive young girl to cynical empress very well.

The plot is far from fast-paced by most people’s reckonings but it is fascinating.  There are real events in Russian history going on throughout the story and Ficklin stayed true to most of the broader strokes of Catherine’s early years.  It’s mostly a character-driven story and that’s something that I also appreciated about Queen of Someday.  This is only the first installment in the Stolen Empire series and I really can’t wait for the rest of Catherine’s story.  It’s just a shame that this book doesn’t actually release until October for the general public!  Thank goodness for pre-ordering is all I can say because I really do have to recommend it to people who love a good read.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Hyacinth by Abigail Owen

Hyacinth by Abigail Owen(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Book #2 of the Svatura Series

Selene sacrificed everything when she took her brother’s place as ruler of the Vyusher, including her secret love for her one-time adversary Griffin Aubrey. When nightmares that are just a little too real start, Selene fears she’s turned into a cold-blooded killer…the monster that Griffin thinks she is.

Griffin and Ellie Aubrey are finally safe for the first time in over a hundred years. But when an unknown menace drives Selene to leave her family and ask for help, Griffin must decide. Can he move past his hatred of everything she is? Or will the bond that could bring them both the greatest joy now be the source of their deepest despair?

The threat of the danger stalking Selene in her dreams might be too much even for this powerful group. And Griffin doesn’t want to easily forgive the woman he blames for killing his family…

[Full disclosure: I was provided a free ebook copy of this a couple of months during the blog tour in exchange for an honest review.]

Ellie, the main character of the previous novel only barely features in this one.  Although I really did like her, that was fine by me as I got to see way more of Griffin and a whole bunch of Selene.  Both of them are fascinating characters in their own right but I’ll talk about Selene first.

She was enslaved by her brother for 150 years, which is long even for a Svatura.  More accurately, she had to do what he told her because of his mind control but unlike the rest of the Vyusher tribe she was fully aware of all of the horrible things Gideon had her do.  That really just makes it more awful when you think about it.  So now Gideon is dead and Selene is having a hard time accepting her role as Queen.  Not only that, now she has to cope with the crushing amount of guilt from 150 years of hunting other Svatura.

What I find interesting with the way she copes is that she really doesn’t magically get over everything on her own; for that, she needs more than a little bit of help from the original Svatura group of the first book.  One has the power to help heal emotions but even with Ellie’s help in amplifying it Selene will never be totally healed.  This is way more realistic than having her completely healed in time for the final showdown.  At the same time, even though I wanted to smack Griffin for being indecisive, I do believe it was far more realistic than him loving Selene despite all of their history together.  By the end of the novel you’re really in doubt as to whether these two are sure they love each other but I promise you that the ending is a satisfying one.

Just like with the previous book, the plot of Hyacinth is more character-driven than plot-driven.  The characters cause many of the events that happen in the end of the novel but this book is far from slow-paced.  Abigail Owen managed to balance character development with plot development and I really appreciated that balance.  It makes for a much more enjoyable, interesting read.  There weren’t really any truly enormous surprise twists for the plot but I did enjoy Hyacinth all the same.

Abigail Owen is fast becoming one of my favourite authors, as you can probably tell by this review.  I can’t wait to read the third book in the Svatura series!  In the meantime, I’d highly recommend it to pretty much all readers who like a little fantasy in their everyday life.  You really can’t go wrong with the Svatura series.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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