Aegis Rising by S. S. Segran

Aegis Rising by S. S. Segran(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Over a remote northern forest, a small plane carrying five teenage friends flies into a freak storm. Struck by lightning, the aircraft crashes and the passengers find themselves cast into a life-changing adventure.

In a hidden valley, a mysterious people gaze at the stormy sky as a glowing object with fiery wings disappears behind a mountain ridge. The astonishing sight reignites an ancient prophecy foretelling the arrival of five chosen ones destined to become bearers of light against a dark storm gathering on humanity’s horizon.

In a distant city, a secretive organization led by a shadowy figure initiates a sequence of cataclysmic events designed to wreak havoc across the planet, beginning with a remote mining site in a northern Canada.

As the three worlds collide, unlikely heroes arise. Armed with powers entrusted to them by the ancient prophecy and the resilience of their life-long bond, the five teens take a stand against a malevolent foe.

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

One word I would use to describe Aegis Rising  is ‘solid’.  Not ‘great’ or ‘amazing’, but solid.  Why?  Simply because it was a solid novel: good characters, a decent enough plot and fairly good world-building.  However, it never had that wow factor.

As I said, the characters were okay.  The five teenagers who crash in the plane are named Aari, Jag, Kody, Mariah and Tegan and they react about as well as you’d expect to suddenly being surrounded by a strange culture in the middle of nowhere.  Especially since Kody doesn’t know where his dad (who was flying the plane) is.  Still, they at least realize that they can’t do a thing about their situation until they’ve got their strength back up so they hunker down and make the best of things.  My only real problem with the teens is that they’re just a little too perfect.  They never whine, complain or angst at any point (even when an adult would be) and they’re all described as drop dead gorgeous.  I like to have teen characters that don’t constantly angst, don’t get me wrong here, but you have to be just a little more realistic.

The plot was decent enough.  It sort of combines elements that both fantasy and science fiction fans will be familiar with.  There’s a prophecy set to come about and the teens must train to use their powers in order to save the world.  Only, the water supply of the valley is being poisoned and they must stop the Big Bad from doing that.  I think you can guess who the Big Bad is, especially if you watched Avatar or Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest.  There’s a little bit more depth to it than that, but I really would have liked for some plot twists toward the end instead of having Segran play the tropes straight.

The world-building was actually pretty good, but as I’ve said it never crossed into amazing territory.  At first it seems ridiculous that people in the valley have stayed hidden for so long, but the explanations provided by Segran are reasonable enough.  They build their huts for camouflage up in the Canadian wilderness, they have the Guardians protecting them (who are enormous bear-spirits) and they truly are self-sufficient.  Heck, they even have their resident scientist to think up new innovations to make life in the Dema-ki quite modern.  The magical powers portion of Aegis Rising is pretty typical, with no magical powers you probably haven’t seen in fantasy before.  However, it was reasonably well done and I wasn’t left asking “What’s going on here?” by the end of the novel.

All of these elements (characters, plot and world-building) are good enough, but they never really crossed into ‘amazing’ territory for me.  Segran’s writing was a little too simplistic for that, to be honest.  I would have appreciated more in-depth descriptions of the beautiful world around them as well as how they practiced their powers, rather than their banal conversations with each other.  Still, I honestly can’t think of anything that went ‘wrong’ with this novel so it is a solid book.  Not good, but pretty solid for me.  I think that most people out there would call it ‘good’ or ‘enjoyable’ but my problem is that I’ve read too many novels similar to this.  If you haven’t, then I can’t recommend Aegis Rising enough.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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Partials by Dan Wells

Partials by Dan Wells(Cover picture courtesy of Dan Wells’ site.)

For fans of The Hunger Games, Battlestar Galactica, and Blade Runner comes the first book in the Partials Sequence, a fast-paced, action-packed, and riveting sci-fi teen series, by acclaimed author Dan Wells.

Humanity is all but extinguished after a war with Partials—engineered organic beings identical to humans—has decimated the population. Reduced to only tens of thousands by a weaponized virus to which only a fraction of humanity is immune, the survivors in North America have huddled together on Long Island. But sixteen-year-old Kira is determined to find a solution. As she tries desperately to save what is left of her race, she discovers that that the survival of both humans and Partials rests in her attempts to answer questions about the war’s origin that she never knew to ask.

Playing on our curiosity of and fascination with the complete collapse of civilization, Partials is, at its heart, a story of survival, one that explores the individual narratives and complex relationships of those left behind, both humans and Partials alike—and of the way in which the concept of what is right and wrong in this world is greatly dependent on one’s own point of view.

I’ve had my eye on Partials ever since it was on NetGalley as an ARC.  I couldn’t get it because requests were not open to Canadians, so being the cheapskate that I am I waited until it was out in paperback to actually buy it.  So I guess you could say I’ve been greatly anticipating reading this book.

You know what?  It’s actually pretty good.  For YA, it’s quite science-intensive, even if that science is slightly simplified (particularly the virus talk).  I was very impressed when Dan Wells actually took the time to show the long, laborious process of research as Kira tries to discover what’s killing all of the human babies.  It’s an interesting dilemma from a science point of view: How are these babies dying in a sterile room?  If they really are dying in a sterile room it means that the virus is transmitted to the fetus from the mother.  And how on earth does a sixteen-year-old new doctor fix something like that?

Kira is an interesting main character because her generation has been forced through adulthood very, very quickly.  She’s already trained as a doctor and she’s only 16 years old, so she’s fairly mature.  At the same time, she feels like every other sixteen year old would when the rumours in the community are that all women will have to be pregnant by 16 now.  (Since a certain percentage of adults survived the initial virus eleven years ago, they hope that the more people being born, the greater the chance one of them will be immune.)  She rages against it, rebels and eventually commits treason against the Senate, the rather dystopian ruling body of the community.  Trust me on this: Kira is no shrinking violet and will do whatever it takes to save humanity.

The plot was both fast-paced and incredibly interesting.  For me, it was the characters that I was more interested in, but Dan Wells did an excellent job of creating a believable but unpredictable plot.  It twists and turns constantly; I did see the big reveal coming but only because it was used in a few other similar novels and movies.  Of course the cliffhanger on the end ensures that I’ll most definitely be reading the next book, but Partials was so good that I wouldn’t have needed such a cliffhanger to keep reading the series.

What surprised me most of all, aside from the fairly heavy science, was the world-building.  Eleven years ago, most of humanity was destroyed by a war with the Partials and the virus they supposedly unleashed and now the only remaining humans (as far as they know) are struggling to survive.  Everyone scavenges in empty homes, there’s farming but not always enough to live on alone so everyone scavenges old food.  Apparently expiration dates in the future will be longer.

There are no pharmaceutical manufacturing companies any longer, so some of the most important missions are scavenging for medicine in old veterinary and medical clinics.  It’s a harsh picture of what an apocalypse would really look like, even if there were pockets of survivors: they’d be highly concerned about the basic necessities like medicine and food from scavenging, but also about the remaining energy.  Gasoline destabilizes after a few years so humanity has reverted to the good ol’ horse and cart.  It’s a very realistic picture of what would probably happen in the event of most of humanity dying out.  Most post-apocalyptic YA novels don’t put this much thought into the day-to-day survival needs of their narrators.

So we have realistic and interesting world-building, a pretty cool main character and a reasonably paced plot.  Even though I still say this book was over-hyped in the blogging community, I can’t really criticize it.  It was a very good read.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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The Secret Lives of Sgt. John Wilson by Lois Simmie

The Secret Lives of Sgt. John Wilson by Lois Simmie(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

John Wilson came to Canada from Scotland in 1912, leaving his wife and family with the promise to return in a year. In 1914 he joined the Mounties, and while stationed in Saskatchewan village, he caught TB and fell hopelessly in love with the young woman who took care of him. He would do anything for her, anything at all.

Winner of the 1995 Arthur Ellis Award for Non-Fiction, The Secret Lives of Sgt. John Wilson is played out against a backdrop of catastrophic events; World War I, economic depression, the TB and Spanish Flu epidemics. It is the riveting account of a mounted policeman and the women who loved him.

I initially picked up this book because it was semi-local.  (When you’re in Saskatchewan, any fiction vaguely mentioning your province is ‘local’, no matter how far away the story plays out from where you actually are.)  I like true crime books, even if I don’t necessarily always review them.  But this one I had to review.

Now, the main problem with The Secret Lives of Sgt. John Wilson is that it tries so hard to be both a novel and a nonfiction account of a cold-blooded murder.  In the end, it works as neither.  In some respects, this has to be a fictional novel because (despite the award for nonfiction!) Lois Simmie really does insert her own flair into it and speculates highly on what John Wilson was feeling at the time.  This is without backing it up with evidence like testimony from his trial or something similar, mind you.

And that’s why, despite the award, I also don’t consider this to be nonfiction.  This is more of that hybrid genre, creative nonfiction. Normally the genre of something wouldn’t matter to me at all except for the fact that this book works as neither fiction or nonfiction for me.  As fiction, it’s boring and as nonfiction it’s not exactly strictly true to the facts the way you see with other true crime.

Enough of my griping about categorization, though.  It’s not all that relevant when a short read like this (something like 200 pages) was threatening to put me to sleep.  As I said, part of it was the fact that Lois Simmie included almost verbatim the letters of Polly Wilson’s relatives, who had sent them to so many different policeman it made my head spin.  Frankly, the first part of the book leading up to the murder was boring as well.  There was too much focus on mundane events whereas the murder itself barely had any page time at all.

It shouldn’t have been because it really had the potential to let us watch John Wilson’s slow descent into madness and murder, but it was because Lois Simmie has a very dry writing style.  It’s like she’s writing a textbook for schoolchildren, not an actual book (be it nonfiction or fiction).  Even nonfiction writers can insert their own flair as long as they’re not playing with the facts, just like Toby Wilkinson in his book The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt.  He was very factual and backed up his speculations with evidence, but he also added in his own commentary of events on occasion in very cynical one-liners.  He also wrote in such a way that his audience was engaged whereas Simmie doesn’t seem to care whether anyone is interested in her book by the second half.

I had been interested in this murder case, having never heard of it before, which is why I picked up this book.  However, had I known it was going to be such a dull affair as this, I never would have wasted my time with it.  I can’t honestly recommend it.

I give this book 1/5 stars.

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Black Moon by F. M. Sherrill & Becca C. Smith

Black Moon by Smith and Sherrill(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Shea Harper is forced to stay in boring, hot and dry Phoenix, Arizona for college. But once she meets the enigmatic yet positively egocentric Lucian, Shea’s life changes forever.

She finds out that she comes from a long line of descendants called Vessels. In her soul is the key to destroying an ancient prison protecting the world from darkness itself: Lucian’s father.

Up until now, Lucian has captured every descendant except Shea. With her powers awakening, all vampires want to drag her down to the pit. But Lucian is territorial. She’s the first female Vessel… and he’s convinced she belongs to him.

Saucy and tauntingly surprising, Black Moon captures the struggle between burning desire or denying the heart. This is a love story that will drain you dry.

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

I really do love the characters in this novel.  Both Smith and Sherrill did excellent jobs with their respective characters, Shea and Lucian.  I felt like I really was in Shea’s and Lucian’s shoes during their chapters and I understood their motivations for their actions.  I’ll admit it: sometimes I’m a sucker for tales of forbidden love.  And boy, does Lucian ever fit the bill here.  Our dark vampire here used to be a slave in Egypt who loved the beautiful Nefertiti but was killed for it.  After all these centuries, he still loves her despite the tragedy that befell her because of him.  His guilt and his love are clear in many aspects of his life…until he meets Shea.

As an Egypt buff, I loved the infusion of some history into Black Moon, but it was rather disappointing that Smith and Sherrill played fast and loose with the facts.  No, Nefertiti was hardly captured in battle along with her father.  No, her father’s name was not Ur-Nammu.  And no, she was certainly not a slave at court with the name of ‘wife'; by all accounts she was greatly beloved of Akhenaten.  Now, I can definitely forgive some historical inaccuracies in the name of a good story.  But when Lucian passively mentions that Queen Hatshepsut constantly reeked of myrrh, I had to laugh.  Hatshepsut was far before Nefertiti’s time and therefore Lucian’s time (since he was human then).  There were three kings with extremely long reigns between the two women, so there’s no way Lucian actually would have met her.

My griping about historical accuracy aside, I really enjoyed Black Moon.  It has quite a fast plot and so many twists and turns that my head was spinning by the end.  Yes, in the beginning it seems to be mostly character-driven but by the end it seemed to be more plot-driven.  In reality, it’s actually the best of both worlds: it’s a fast-paced novel with extremely well developed and believable characters.  I thought it got a little melodramatic toward the end, but that’s a personal thing rather than an actual flaw with the novel.  The cliffhanger at the end was excruciating; I would have read the next book without it anyway, but with a cliffhanger like that I know I definitely have to read the next book now.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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Operation Owl by Tara Quan

Operation Owl by Tara Quan(Cover picture courtesy of Elle Rush’s blog.)

A Beyond Fairytales Adaptation of Grimm’s The Owl

Five years ago, Maya Jain kissed her best friend only to have him run out of her dorm room and leave the state. When he shows up in Washington, D.C., a wanted fugitive sought after by every branch of the US government, she can’t bring herself to ignore his plight. As their physical relationship picks up where it left off, she decides it’s time to make him see her as more than the bespectacled, bookish girl he once called “Owl.”

After being accused of espionage and treason, Zack Strong needs a forensic accountant to help clear his name. Not knowing who he can trust, this white-hat hacker has no choice but to ask his former best friend and math tutor for help. Together they unravel a cyber conspiracy at the Barn, an NSA facility tasked to intercept electronic communications. But as they traverse the nation’s capital to avoid capture, Maya insists on letting their simmering sexual tension take its natural course. Even though he’s never been able to shake the memory of their one kiss, he refuses to let her give up her life for a man with no future.

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

Operation Owl was a solid ‘meh’ for me personally.  Yes, I went into this expecting for there to be lots of romance (which was fine) but I also expected a little bit more action.  I’ll explain.

Essentially, the big conspiracy plot that’s the reason why Zack is running plays second fiddle to the interpersonal conflict between him and Maya.  That’s just fine by me in theory, except that in practice, the actual huge conspiracy probably made up less than 25% of the book whereas the rest was about their friendship.  With a conspiracy that big, I would have preferred a little more action because it’s pretty important.  So even though Operation Owl does have an interesting plot on the blurb, it’s actually very much the ‘romantic comedy’ it’s labelled as.  (Though lacking on the comedy part.)

Despite my misgivings about the plot, I did enjoy the characters.  Maya and Zack have had a complicated relationship, to say the least.  We learn about the events of five years ago that led to Maya kissing Zack and how that in turn led to them not seeing each other in person for all that time.  When they finally meet again, having Zack being chased by the government’s hired mercenaries doesn’t exactly make for the best circumstances.  Still, they make it work and their bond re-forms.  I liked seeing from each of their viewpoints how they learned to let go of the past and just focus on the present.  This is definitely one of the better romances I’ve read.

Tara Quan’s writing style is actually very good.  It’s well-suited to the contemporary feel of her novel and while it is pared-down, I was never confused about the setting or which character was speaking (as sometimes happens when authors try to cut too much description).  She does an excellent job with the sexual tension of both characters and by a certain point in the book you’re just ready to scream at them to go and have sex already.  Which is sort of the purpose of that unresolved sexual tension, I suppose.

So character-wise and writing-wise, I really have no complaints.  I would have liked for there to have been more focus on the conspiracy, but that’s just me.  At least the conflict was resolved nicely (but not necessarily neatly) at the very end and it would almost be believable were I not such a cynic about politics.  Again, that’s just me; it’s actually quite a satisfying ending from a reader’s standpoint.

I give this book 3.5/5 stars.

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Fairytale Apocalypse by Jacqueline Patricks

Fairytale Apocalypse by Jacqueline Patricks(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

A ROMANCE OF APOCALYPTIC PROPORTIONS.

Two worlds bound by magic…
Three people joined by destiny…

Lord Kagan Donmall rules the Verge, the border that protects the magical Fae Inlands from the mundane mortal world. Recently, the Verge has been failing and he suspects the source of magic is fading. His prayers to Danu have gone unanswered, until now.

The young mortal, Lauren Montgomery, hears the message of Danu and eagerly agrees to be the Lady of the Verge, for she desires more than a mundane life.

But Lauren’s twin sister, Tessa-ever her sister’s protector, challenges the decision. The Verge falls, and the Fae and mortal worlds suffer a double apocalypse.

Now Kagan, Lauren, and Tessa must survive in this new, hostile world and discover a way to repair that which has been destroyed while navigating the bonds of duty, love, and vengeance.

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

I have a confession to make about this book.  When I requested it on NetGalley I expected it to be a shameless romance involving little or no thought.  I was looking for guilty pleasure reading that day.  So imagine my surprise when not only does Fairytale Apocalypse turn out to be serious, it turns out to be good!

What really surprised me were the characters.  Yes, there’s the typical older protective sister dynamic with Tessa (she is the older twin) but there also is a lot of resentment about her role as the protector.  Since Tessa and Lauren are essentially the same age, their totally different personalities come into conflict constantly.  Tessa is grounded and very mature for her age whereas Lauren…well she’s definitely a dreamer, but she’s also kind of flaky and naive.  Lauren is not necessarily the best match for Kagan, the Lord of the Verge, who is very serious, could never be described as naive and old by mortal standards.

I was also pretty impressed when Jacqueline Patricks decided to modify the tropes she was using, rather than being lazy and playing them straight like so many authors.  I can’t really reveal all that much without giving away the storyline, but just imagine a double apocalypse (in the Fae world and mortal world) where powerful people like the Fae can’t use their magic any longer.  How would they cope?  Could they even survive in a mortal post-apocalyptic world, let alone a Fae one?  It’s actually very interesting because it makes the plot far less predictable.

The world-building was excellent, no doubt about that.  Yes, the Fae world is sort of a typical fairy world: there’s dangerous lurking around every corner and the pretty things are probably what will kill you.  But at the same time, Patricks put her own spin on it and included some fascinating new creatures as well as older creatures that are usually neglected in fantasy.  All of the fae have swords that communicate with them, something you would think would end up being ridiculous but really didn’t.  It was actually quite a fascinating bond and I wish we had learned more about it.  There’s always next book, though.

So here we have a fantasy with themes of love vs. duty and sacrifice for the greater good.  We also have amazing characters, a really interesting and unpredictable plot as well as some pretty great world-building.  I really can’t ask for anything else, other than for Jacqueline Patricks to hurry up with the next book!

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Zombies: More Recent Dead by Paula Guran

Zombies More Recent Dead by Paula Guran(Cover picture courtesy of Prime Books.)

The living dead are more alive than ever! Zombies have become more than an iconic monster for the twenty-first century: they are now a phenomenon constantly revealing as much about ourselves – and our fascination with death, resurrection, and survival – as our love for the supernatural or post-apocalyptic speculation. Our most imaginative literary minds have been devoured by these incredible creatures and produced exciting, insightful, and unflinching new works of zombie fiction. We’ve again dug up the best stories published in the last few years and compiled them into an anthology to feed your insatiable hunger…

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

I’ve been suffering from a severe case of Walking Dead withdrawal for a few months, so I figured that I might as well get back into that zombie kind of mood with a new anthology from some well-known authors.  Jonathon Maberry, Neil Gaiman and so many more authors that I actually like were included in this anthology.  Where could it go wrong?

Apparently, almost everywhere.  This is a non-traditional zombie anthology, which I knew when I requested it.  All of these zombies are either thinking zombies or just kind of dead shells of their former selves come back to life.  I don’t mind reading about these types of zombies.  It’s a newer (more terrifying in some ways) take on a creature that is a little over-hyped by pop culture.  Of course, being that people are people, sometimes they would do disgusting things with these zombies: have sex with them, make them servants, etc.  It’s sad to see that my faith in the worst impulses of humanity is still justified.

Except, by the end of the anthology, I was really, truly struggling to finish it.  This is not a long book, by the way.  It’s only 480 pages and it should not have taken me so long to finish, but I really had to force myself to keep reading about 2/3s of the way through.  Why?  Because, for the most part, it was boring.  Most of the stories, even by authors that I really liked, were quite boring.  Yes, they showcased the new type of zombie very well but some of them didn’t seem to have a point (or a plot) and still others were so boring that you forgot how the story began by the time you got to the end.  It’s not like I have a short attention span, either.

None of the characters really stood out for me here and even though it’s only been a week since I read this, I couldn’t really name more than two or three of them.  This anthology just did not pack the punch I’ve come to expect from authors like this.  In the end, I was more disappointed than entertained, which is not something you want when you’ve just read through almost 500 pages.

I give this anthology 3/5 stars.

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