Tagged: masq1

Queen of the Deep by Kay Kenyon

Queen of the Deep by Kay Kenyon(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

On the streets of New York, Jane Gray meets an intriguing man who claims to be the impossible: an imaginary playmate from her childhood: Prince Starling. Determined to know the truth, Jane tracks him into another realm.

This is the world of the Palazzo, a magical ship which is both a colossal steam vessel and a Renaissance kingdom. Ruling over its denizens–both human and otherwise–is an exotic and dangerous queen. Jane must find her way home, but the path is hopelessly lost.

Promising romance, the enigmatic Prince Starling and big-hearted crime lord Niccolo vie for Jane’s heart. But she has her eye on the pilot house. Who–or what–guides the Palazzo, and what is the urgent secret of its endless voyage? As a shocking destination looms into view, Jane must choose both a lover and a ship’s course, one that may avoid the end of all things.

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

First off, don’t let the perceived love triangle in the blurb fool you.  Queen of the Deep is a magnificent story where a stereotypical love triangle really, really isn’t all that it appears to be.  And that really goes for the whole book: when you think you’re certain of one aspect of the world Kay Kenyon has created, you find your assumptions are wrong.  It’s a really amazing book in that respect.

Obviously, what I loved about Queen of the Deep is the world-building.  At first it seems like Kenyon went for the whole ‘met mysterious man at a young age, meets him later and is attracted to him’ trope but as I hinted, that’s really not the case.  And when Jane Gray ventures from New York city to the floating world of the Palazzo, very little is as it seems.  Kenyon leaves tiny hints for clever readers to pick up on, but for the most part I was so entranced by her writing style that I didn’t notice all of the little hints until the various plot twists actually happened.  Then it made sense why the Queen of the Palazzo, Diamonde was so interested in Jane and why Prince Starling saved Jane’s life, etc.

The Palazzo is a magical Renaissance-inspired floating ship that no one on board thinks is a ship.  When Jane arrives on it, she’s warned not to mention that she can see over the side of the ship into the water because no one else can and they’ll think she’s crazy.  While this is very odd, the reasons for why Jane can see it are absolutely fascinating.  I can’t really go too much in depth about the Palazzo without spoiling so many of the amazing plot twists, but let’s just say that the ship (much like the characters) isn’t all that it appears to be.  It will certainly surprise you throughout the story, particularly at the end.

Jane is a very interesting character.  Normally aspiring actresses are so stereotypical but Jane really transcends the usual clichés.  She’s broke but she works a second job and actually studies her craft rather than whining about not getting any parts.  She goes to auditions and tries hard which actally serves her quite well when she finds herself on board the Palazzo and must start her life from scratch again.  In the beginning Jane can be a bit blind to the motivations of those around her but she definitely shifts her worldview as she learns that sometimes the obvious villains are actually on her side and that apparently kind people can be cruel.  She really does grow as a person throughout the story and because of that, the ending was very satisfying.

The only possible downside to this book is that it’s not exactly fast-paced.  It’s very interesting and Kenyon’s writing style is absolutely enchanting but if you’re looking for a thriller, this isn’t the book for you.  I had a bit of a hard time getting oriented when Jane came on board the Palazzo but in the end I actually enjoyed the confusion because I got to learn along with Jane rather than knowing more than her and getting frustrated at her perceived incompetence.  Really, this is just a fascinating book with plenty of plot twists and great writing.  You don’t need an extremely fast-paced plot for a book like this.

If you enjoy fantasy and are interested in trying something new for a change, Queen of the Deep is definitely the book for you.  It will surprise you, as it certainly surprised me.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Seven Dead Pirates by Linda Bailey

Seven Dead Pirates by Linda Bailey(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

A shy boy comes to life and finds his voice when the ghosts of seven dead pirates appear in his bedroom. A humorous, inspiring adventure with poignancy and depth, destined to become a middle-grade classic!

Lewis Dearborn is a lonely, anxious, “terminally shy” boy of eleven when his great-grandfather passes away and leaves Lewis’s family with his decaying seaside mansion. Lewis is initially delighted with his new bedroom, a secluded tower in a remote part of the house. Then he discovers that it’s already occupied — by the ghosts of seven dead pirates. Worse, the ghosts expect him to help them re-take their ship, now restored and on display in a local museum, so they can make their way to Libertalia, a legendary pirate utopia. The only problem is that this motley crew hasn’t left the house in almost two hundred years and is terrified of going outside. As Lewis warily sets out to assist his new roommates — a raucous, unruly bunch who exhibit a strange delight in thrift-store fashions and a thirst for storybooks — he begins to open himself to the possibilities of friendship, passion and joie de vivre and finds the courage to speak up.

[Full disclosure: I received a free paperback copy from the publisher at Book Expo America 2015 with no expectation of a review.]

Obviously middle grade novels aren’t my specialty but I think everyone can remember when they were in this target age group.  With that said, Seven Dead Pirates is a book I would have loved when I was younger.  Even as an adult I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Our protagonist is Lewis Dearborn, a perpetually shy boy of eleven who is helicoptered by his frantic mother and father, who seem to think he’s made of glass and will break at any second.  They think he has all manner of health problems and so are completely obnoxious about it, stifling his social growth both at school (where they frequently come in and embarrass him) and at home.  In the beginning of the novel this is particularly bad and you would expect Lewis to have almost no real personality but he does.  When he’s alone you really get the feeling that he’s an intelligent, sensitive and curious young boy who wants to get out from under his parents’ stifling presence and explore a bit.  Even if it’s just in the old house his great-grandfather bequeathed to them, stipulating in his will that they had to live in it for 6 months before they were able to sell it.  Just before he dies, Lewis’ grandfather tells Lewis one thing: “Libertalia”.  What is Libertalia?  Well, when Lewis finds out he is in for quite the adventure.

What I really loved about Seven Dead Pirates is that although in the beginning all seven of the dead pirates in question are pretty stereotypical pirates but turn out to be three dimensional characters.  They’re really not all they seem to be and their real personalities shine through their rough, gruff personas that are designed to impress Lewis and maintain their reputation.  And really, all they want is to be able to go to their old ship, which is housed in a museum nearby.  The only problem?  They haven’t been out of the house in centuries and whenever they try to sneak out as invisible ghosts, cars and other strange things frighten them so they turn visible, thwarting the whole “stealth” aspect of the plan.  It’s quite funny how Lewis figures out a workaround to this and at the same time it shows his cleverness.  He even disobeys his parents in order to bring his plan to fruition, learning a lot about himself in the process.

The plot isn’t exactly fast-paced but it is funny and interesting.  The story itself is not so overly complicated that an 8 or 9 year old couldn’t follow it but there are some scenes that I personally think would be nightmare-inducing at that age.  (Or at least it would have been for 8 or 9 year old me.)  Which of course firmly sets Seven Dead Pirates in the middle grade novel range.  The really good thing about Linda Bailey’s book is that I think it can be enjoyed by anyone on very different levels.  Younger readers can enjoy the adventure aspects while more mature readers can also enjoy the moving personal journey Lewis goes on as he discovers some of his independence.  And adults can thoroughly enjoy the humour and creativity that Bailey incorporates into the novel.  Basically, you can’t go wrong with this book.  There’s truly something in it for everyone.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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The Carnelian Legacy by Cheryl Koevoet

The Carnelian Legacy by Cheryl Koevoet(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Marisa MacCallum always believed that the man of her dreams was out there somewhere. The problem is—he’s in another dimension.

After the death of her father, eighteen-year-old Marisa’s life is on the verge of imploding. She seeks comfort on her daily ride through the woods of Gold Hill, but when a mysterious lightning storm strikes, she is hurled into the ancient, alternate dimension of Carnelia where she is discovered by the arrogant but attractive nobleman, Ambassador Darian Fiore.

Stranded in a world teeming with monsters, maniacs and medieval knights, Marisa is forced to join Darian on a dangerous mission to negotiate peace with his cousin and archenemy, Savino da Rocha. Along the way, she starts to see Darian’s softer side and finds herself falling in love. But once she learns that he is locked into an arranged marriage, her heart shatters.

When Savino falls for her charms and demands her hand in exchange for peace, Marisa is faced with an impossible choice: marry the enemy of the man she loves or betray them both and become the catalyst for a bloody war.

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

Some books you can tell right away that they’re going to be amazing.  (Or amazingly bad.)  Others it takes a little while to tell.  And still others, like The Carnelian Legacy, you really aren’t sure of until the very end.  I’ll explain.

From the first page, I loved The Carnelian Legacy.  Marisa is a young woman who has gone through the unthinkable: not only did she lose her mother at a very young age, she just lost her father in her last year of high school.  She’s grown up so quickly because her life has been shattered and then, when she seeks out a little peace in the woods of Gold Hill she’s thrust into a whole other dimension.  Not only that, she’s stumbled into the middle of a very dangerous political situation where even the slightest misstep could mean the deaths of thousands on her conscience.  When Marisa met Darian and Arrie (the prince and the diplomat, respectively) I began to have my doubts about The Carnelian Legacy.  Although I loved the beginning, I felt apprehensive about where Cheryl Koevoet was taking the story.  Was she going to turn a fairly interesting and unique premise into your typical love at first sight story?

Throughout the novel, there were times I would have answered yes and times I would have answered no because of the many, many plot twists.  Some were predictable and some weren’t.  But what really clinched it for me is in the end when I thought I had figured out everything and seen through the upcoming stereotypical plot twist, Koevoet changed the rules.  In a good way!  She defly dodged a predictable trope by combining many other older tropes to create something new and fresh.  It was such a relief.  So when you’re reading this book, you really do have to give the plot a chance right up until the end.  It might turn out the way you think, but the journey will be very, very surprising.

That said, even if the plot had fallen flat on its face, I would still have enjoyed the book.  Marisa is a character after my own heart.  She grew up way before her time and had to play the adult from a very young age.  Not only that, she had to decide whether risking everything for love was really worth it or whether she should do the responsible, practical thing that might bring about love in time.  So you could say I’m a bit biased but Cheryl Koevoet really made Marisa come to life.  She really portrays her frayed emotional state well without making her melodramatic.  Anyone who has experienced loss in their life will understand Marisa’s frequent mood swings and crying spells, believe me.  Especially since not only did she lose a parent, she lost her remaining family and was transported to another dimension where only a handful of people speak her language.

Darian is a wonderful male lead.  Some people will probably be frustrated with him and all his contradictions but I think it made him far more realistic.  He, like Marisa, has had to shoulder adult responsibilities from a young age and that has made him slightly paranoid and unwilling to trust anyone.  Just when you think he’s on the brink of opening up about his past or his feelings, he shuts down once again as he reminds himself of his duty.  His romance with Marisa is far from straightforward, just like in real life.  Confessions come from both sides at inconvenient times, feelings don’t always stay constant and both sides make enormous mistakes at one time or another.  But that’s what really clinched The Carnelian Legacy for me: it was very realistic in its depiction of a relationship with so many outside forces exerting pressure on it.

The world-building was also very good.  While this is obviously not a political thriller, Koevoet did a good job of making the politics of the kingdom believable.  Everyone had their own motivations, even the secondary characters, and nothing was as it seemed.  She also presented a very interesting view of alternate dimensions that I haven’t really seen in science fiction/fantasy before.  I can’t explain it without spoiling some of the plot points, but suffice it to say you’ll be pleasantly surprised.  There was even a realistic depiction of religion in the kingdom that I thoroughly enjoyed because Koevoet was able to create religious characters without being preachy (unlike some authors).  It was a refreshing change.

Basically, while I was very skeptical about the novel at times I am so glad that I stuck with it because it really is amazing.  It’s definitely one of my better NetGalley finds and I can’t wait to read the second book, The Carnelian Tyranny.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Dark Horse by Michelle Diener

Dark Horse by Michelle Diener(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Some secrets carry the weight of the world.

Rose McKenzie may be far from Earth with no way back, but she’s made a powerful ally–a fellow prisoner with whom she’s formed a strong bond. Sazo’s an artificial intelligence. He’s saved her from captivity and torture, but he’s also put her in the middle of a conflict, leaving Rose with her loyalties divided.

Captain Dav Jallan doesn’t know why he and his crew have stumbled across an almost legendary Class 5 battleship, but he’s not going to complain. The only problem is, all its crew are dead, all except for one strange, new alien being.

She calls herself Rose. She seems small and harmless, but less and less about her story is adding up, and Dav has a bad feeling his crew, and maybe even the four planets, are in jeopardy. The Class 5’s owners, the Tecran, look set to start a war to get it back and Dav suspects Rose isn’t the only alien being who survived what happened on the Class 5. And whatever else is out there is playing its own games.

In this race for the truth, he’s going to have to go against his leaders and trust the dark horse.

[Full disclosure: I received and accepted a NetGalley invitation from the author to receive a free ebook in exchange for an honest review.]

I was introduced to Michelle Diener’s work through her debut fantasy novel, The Golden Apple.  After that, I delved into her historical series about John Parker and Susanna Horenbout (set in Tudor times).  So when she emailed me saying that she had expanded into science fiction I was very excited to read her new book.  It took me much longer than anticipated to get to it, but in the end it was worth it.

Dark Horse starts out with our protagonist, Rose, escaping from the alien ship that has held her captive and tortured her for about three months.  The Tecrans that hold her hostage are more advanced than humanity but Rose has escaped by making a promise with the rogue artificial intelligence system, Sazo.  Sazo teleported the Class 5 Battleship into the middle of Grih territory.  The Grih are an alien race the closest to humans and therefore the most likely to accept Rose into their society when they inevitably find her.  But despite Sazo’s help in getting her out, Rose really isn’t sure of the artificial intelligence system’s true motivations and whether or not he plans to harm or help the Grih.  Sazo’s actions in getting her out of the ship really make her doubt that.

Rose is a great main character.  We don’t get to experience all of the horrible things she went through when the Tecran experimented on her but we certainly feel the repercussions throughout the novel.  You don’t walk away from three months of torture completely unscathed.  At the same time, Rose is full of hope that she can build a new life for herself among the Grih, particularly once she meets them.  Her attraction to Dav, the admiral in charge of the ship that found her is undeniable but at the same time she’s still keeping Sazo’s existence a secret.  It’s a dangerous secret that threatens to wreck all that she has worked for and possibly start an inter-galactic war.  Throughout the novel you really get the feeling that Rose is a fundamentally good human being who was in a terrible situation and is now willing to do almost anything it takes to get out of it with her honour and dignity intact.  It’s certainly not easy.

Not only is Rose a three dimensional character, Dav is as well.  He’s an admiral who has followed the book to the letter from about day one to get where he is in his career currently.  But that all seems to change once he meets Rose and is exposed to entirely new ideas, ideas that really threaten views he once thought were set in stone.  Yes, there’s an attraction between the two of them but it really feels organic and Michelle Diener allows that attraction to grow throughout the novel.  It’s far from straightforward either—there are plenty of bumps along the road as he discovers Rose isn’t being entirely truthful with him and the secret she keeps may ruin the tentuous peace between the five main races in the galaxy.

I could go on and on about the character of Sazo, the artificial intelligence, but to do so would spoil some of the lovely surprises Michelle Diener leaves for her readers.  Suffice it to say, Sazo’s and Rose’s banter makes for some of the best parts of the entire book.  And considering the quality of Dark Horse, that’s pretty high praise.  Even the secondary characters are very well fleshed out, something that I’ve found is very consistent with Diener’s novels, fantasy, historical fiction or otherwise.

I really did love the world-building in Dark Horse.  Some of the technology was so creative, some of it was similar to other science fiction novels and a few things will be very familiar to avid science fiction fans.   (Rose even makes a joke about this when asked how she can possibly figure out the Grih technology so fast.)  What I really liked, however, was the cultural aspect of the world-building.  Considering the fast pace of the novel we don’t exactly get an in-depth look at Grih culture but we do get beautiful glimpses into it.  For example, the scarcity of music-makers due to not only the Grih language but their anatomy.  It’s all very fascinating and very well thought out.

Best of all, Dark Horse starts out pretty fast paced and maintains that pace quite well throughout the novel.  There are some ‘down’ moments but the tension never really leaves, especially when you consider that Rose’s secret is really a ticking time bomb that could have disastrous consequences.  I can’t talk too much about the plot because that would spoil some of the twists and turns, but I think it’s enough to say that you’ll definitely be (pleasantly) surprised with said plot twists.  They’re logical and exciting at the same time.

Basically, Dark Horse is an amazing science fiction debut for Michelle Diener and I personally can’t wait for more, preferably in the same universe (if not the same characters).  I can’t recommend this novel enough.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Dragonlove by Marc Secchia

Dragonlove by Marc Secchia(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

When a woman loves a Dragon, that love will change the world.

Six years have passed since Hualiama and Grandion defied the Island-World’s most sacred law. They burned the heavens together as Rider and Dragon. For his crime, Grandion the Tourmaline Dragon suffered exile and imprisonment. The Dragons forced Hualiama to forget her past.

Now, the suns must set upon the age of the Ancient Dragons. Amaryllion Fireborn, last of his kind, bequeaths Hualiama an astonishing legacy. She is the Dragonfriend. Raised by Dragons. Burned by Dragon fire. Oath-bound to a Dragon. Crossing the Island-World in search of her Dragonlove, she will forge an indelible mark upon history.

As war between Dragons and Humans engulfs the Islands, Hualiama must unravel the secrets of her tragic past in order to confront an evil that threatens the very existence of the Dragonkind. For love that is tested in the crucible of fate must burn, or die.

[Full disclosure: I requested and received an ebook ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review.]

In the beginning of Dragonlove, Hualiama is definitely not herself.  Or, rather, she’s not the person she was six years ago when she and Grandion put down a coup on Fra’anior led by her own father, Ra’aba and the dragons.  Normally, this would not shock readers because this second book takes place a full six years after those events.  Of course people change!  But what’s missing is Hualiama’s pure love and determination when it comes to Grandion, the Dragon that she defied sacred law for.  At the end of Dragonfriend, Hualiama had her memories wiped by the powerful Amaryllion Fireborn in an attempt to make things easier for her by not letting her remember that she and Grandion were in love, not just friends.  But before his death here in Dragonlove, Amaryllion restores those memories and sets Hualiama on a quest that will irrevocably change the Island World.

As with before, Hualiama is an amazing character.  With her memories back her love for Grandion is just as strong as ever and she’s willing to not only defy sacred law but defy Dragons for it.  She goes to the ends of the Island World during an all-out Dragon war in order to find him, risking death at every turn.  At the same time, despite her love for Grandion, Hualiama most definitely has her doubts at times.  What if Grandion will never forgive her for abandoning him to the will of the Dragon Elders council, who set him an impossible quest that he would have to complete in order to restore his honour?  Can the Island World ever forgive Grandion and Hualiama for profaning the sacred laws by daring to become Dragon and Dragon Rider?  The answers aren’t straightforward and Hualiama goes through so much on her quest as she learns about her past and about Dragonkind in general.  She also learns that not only did Amaryllion give her his inner fire before he died, she carries a darker power within her from her erstwhile caretaker Ianthine.  I don’t want to give too much away, but Hualiama’s inner powers that she discovers along her journey are part of how she changes the Island World forever.  Particularly with the ruzal, the power that binds magic to words and allows practitioners of it to shape the very world that they live in.

The plot of Dragonlove was absolutely amazing.  Not only is it driven by memorable characters like Hualiama and Grandion, it has many, many twists and turns.  For example, the introduction of some new dragon subspecies, ones that are seemingly either extinct or hidden by Pip’s and Aranya’s times in the other series.  We also learn quite a bit about magic and human magic-users like Hualiama and others who harness the magic drifting all around the Island World.  And of course there’s a huge surprise at the end of the novel during the final battle that sets up the third and final book, Dragonsoul.  (Well, there’s actually more than one surprise at the end if I’m honest but one was more earth-shattering than the other.)  Even though Dragonlove is slightly over 500 pages, you’re also never bored because Marc Secchia keeps it fairly fast-paced throughout.  The beginning is a little slow as Hualiama re-learns about Grandion and sets off on her quest to find him, but things quickly get interesting when she finally finds him and discovers he’s not the same person (Dragon?) he was six years ago either.

One of the things I’ve liked about Marc Secchia’s books is that he always has a realistic view of war.  There are a lot of wars going on currently in Hualiama’s world between not only Dragonkind and humans but Dragonkind and itself.  He presents a picture of war that is of sheer brutality and strife.  Civilians are caught unwittingly in the crosshairs or, worse, are deliberately targeted by one or both sides as a way to gain an advantage over the other side.  What’s most realistic of all is that no one really comes out unscathed from these wars.  Without giving too much away, Grandion himself has physically changed in a very drastic way.  Hualiama has scars all over her body not only from when her own father tried to kill her but also the myriad burns and scrapes she acquired amongst Dragonkind.  Neither Dragon nor Rider escapes the psychological implications either.  And that brings me to the larger point I’m trying to make here: for all that this is fantasy, Marc Secchia has a dedication to truth.  He brings to life three dimensional characters with realistic motivations and places them in a world governed not only by magic, but by natural laws as well.  The technology present in all of his books is well thought out and there are even laws governing the use of magic that place restrictions on even the Dragons.  And best of all in my view, he’s practically invented Dragon anatomy as a hobby so he can bring these mythical creatures to life in a consistent and dare I say realistic way.

Basically, I absolutely adored Dragonlove and will eagerly await the third book in the trilogy, Dragonsoul.  This second book had everything I expected and more: memorable characters, a fast-paced plot, lots of twists and turns and world-building of the highest calibre.  You really can’t go wrong with the Dragonfriend Trilogy.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Omega Days by John L. Campbell

Omega Days by John L. Campbell(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

When the end came, it came quickly. No one knew where or exactly when the Omega Virus started, but soon it was everywhere. And when the ones spreading it can’t die, no one stands a chance of surviving.

San Francisco, California. Father Xavier Church has spent his life ministering to unfortunate souls, but he has never witnessed horror like this. After he forsakes his vows in the most heartrending of ways, he watches helplessly as a zombie nun takes a bite out of a fellow priest’s face…
University of California, Berkeley. Skye Dennison is moving into her college dorm for the first time, simultaneously excited to be leaving the nest and terrified to be on her own. When her mother and father are eaten alive in front of her, she realizes the terror has just begun…
Alameda, California. Angie West made millions off her family’s reality gun show on the History Channel. But after she is cornered by the swarming undead, her knowledge of heavy artillery is called into play like never before…
Within weeks, the world is overrun by the walking dead. Only the quick and the smart, the strong and the determined, will survive—for now.

[Full disclosure: I received a free paperback at Book Expo America 2015 with no expectation of a review.]

One of the things I have to make clear from the start is that this is not the original ebook that some other people have reviewed.  This is the new, expanded paperback edition that was published by Penguin under their Berkley imprint.  I don’t know how many differences there really are between the two editions but apparently there are a few more little points of view to add interest and some tightening of certain narratives in a couple of places.  In the relative scheme of things, I think the few distinctions don’t really matter all that much.

First, let’s start off with the characters.  We have a huge variety of characters from your typical college student who turns into a killing machine to a reality TV show star who has a fully stocked arsenal of guns.  And while Skye and Angie are fascinating characters, one of the characters that isn’t really your typical ‘stock character’ in a zombie apocalypse is Xavier, the priest.  He is definitely an unconventional priest coming from a very rough background but at the same time he really does seem to care about all of the survivors he meets.  For a while he loses his faith (who wouldn’t?) but then toward the end of the novel we start to see a sort of transformation in him as he learns that perhaps all is not hopeless, despite the devastation around him.

One of the things I found very realistic is that people in the Omega universe actually knew about zombies.  It’s not like Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy where people immediately knew what to do with zombies, but they did make occasional references to zombies in popular culture.  Another thing I appreciated was that although the government of the United States fell fairly quickly, independent pockets of the military managed to cling on and try to rescue as many people as they could.  That’s more realistic in my view than a total collapse of everything as surely there would be some military units out there with a strong enough chain of command to hold people together during a crisis, even one as big as a zombie apocalypse.  And throughout the story we see the points of view of various peoples who survive in various ways: doctors whose hospitals were mostly overrun but were protected by the military for a time while they worked on a cure, a Russian military pilot sent to train American soldiers, a crazy televangelist who is about as ruthless as you might expect, etc.  Some of these people play large parts in the story while others only get a single point of view before dying or just passing from notice.  It’s a very realistic look into how different people would cope during a nationwide disaster like a zombie apocalypse.

Which brings me to one thing: the plot.  Normally you would expect all of these points of view to really slow down the plot or make it confusing.  Omega Days really didn’t have that problem, oddly enough.  The little side stories were nice and were short enough that they didn’t take away from the main plot as the different pockets of survivors converged.  They also imparted important information regarding how the military and governmental structures fell and what doctors and scientists were able to find out about the Omega Virus and zombies in general before most of the hospitals were overrun.  I think it will be very interesting in future books to see Campbell expand upon the idea that the zombies aren’t just infected with one virus, they have two different viruses working in tandem.  I would love to gush on about this very different idea of making zombies come to life (so to speak) but I’ll leave that for you to discover as you read the book.

Basically, Omega Days really was a pleasant surprise.  A lot of zombie books read the same or are shameless rip-offs of The Walking Dead, what with its current popularity.  But Omega Days is really different and I appreciated all of the different points of view John L. Campbell wove together into a coherent narrative that told the story of the zombie apocalypse.  I can’t say that this book is the most amazing I’ve ever read but it is very well written, with interesting characters and plenty of suspense.  You can’t go wrong with that.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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Awake by Natasha Preston

Awake by Natasha Preston(Cover courtesy of Goodreads.)

Scarlett doesn’t remember anything before the age of five. Her parents say it’s from the trauma of seeing her house burn down, and she accepts the life they’ve created for her without question—until a car accident causes Scarlett to start remembering pieces of an unfamiliar past.

When a new guy moves into town, Scarlett feels an instant spark. But Noah knows the truth of Scarlett’s past, and he’s determined to shield her from it…because Scarlett grew up in a cult called Eternal Light, controlled by her biological parents.

And they want her back.

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

One of the things that sort of bugs me when I read YA (or really anything in the urban fantasy genre) is that a lot of the main characters find out about magic from someone else.  Usually there’s a token skepticism that’s quickly washed away at the slightest hint that the other person might be right.  But what happens when a main character doesn’t believe in magic because there really is no magic?  Instead, there’s just a bunch of crazy people in a cult that want to sacrifice her in an insane attempt at immortality.

While I like the general idea for the story quite a bit, Awake was disappointing in that it followed all of the usual high school romance tropes.  A more popular best friend that the main character slut-shames?  Check.  New guy in school conveniently has the same schedule as the main character?  Check.  They live reasonably close together and are sat together on the first day of classes so they get to know each other?  Check and double check.  And then they fall into a cheesy teen romance that develops over the course of a week?  Yep.  I think we’ve hit almost all of the main high school tropes and that’s what really drags this book down.  Natasha Preston has a great premise with some very interesting insights into the psychology of cults but it’s just lost in the horde of clichés dumped on you right in the beginning.  It’s really sad in that respect.

Scarlett is an unremarkable narrator.  She says it’s weird that she doesn’t have memories before the age of four and everyone around her seems horrified at the idea.  But in the real world?  People would go, “Oh, that’s weird” and move on with their lives, not try to get her to see a therapist and bend over backwards to find those ‘lost’ memories.  Most people I know don’t have memories from before they were around the age of 3 or closer to 4 so I really don’t see how unusual that is.  It’s sort of like Preston was trying to create suspense where there was none instead of focusing on creating suspense in a more believable way.  Other than her weird fixation about not having memories from before she was 4, Scarlett doesn’t stand out at all.  She doesn’t really have any notable hobbies or interests other than Noah once she meets him.  She’s just boring.  Noah is a little more interesting because of his Eternal Light background and his conflicted feelings about love versus duty but other than that he’s a pretty stereotypical love interest.  Generically attractive, somewhat athletic and of course a little bit sheltered.  The perfect boring boy for the perfect boring girl.

As I said earlier, what I did like about the book is that Awake did have a great premise in theory.  I love that Natasha Preston sort of takes the trope of the narrator discovering they have an amazing background and turns that on its head.  It’s really refreshing after a string of fairly decent YA novels with the same boring premise of “girl discovers she has magical powers from a boy who was sent to save her”.  Although I don’t want to give too many plot points away, once we actually meet the members of the Eternal Light cult, it’s very interesting from a psychology perspective.  They engage in highly complex rituals and they’re almost completely beholden to their leaders under threat of violence.  Most people don’t seem to need violence to conform, however, as they’re very glad to have a purpose in life.  Even if it means sacrificing another human being.

In the end, Awake was a fairly decent book ruined by too many clichés and predictable plot twists.  It had a great premise that got lost in that avalanche of tropes and while there was some suspense near the end of the novel, I never felt especially compelled to turn the page to find out what happened next.  Really, it was just boring and unremarkable.  Another book that you may read once and then completely forget a few hours after reading it.  It wasn’t terrible and it wasn’t great; it was just in that middle ground that leaves you feeling unsatisfied.

I give this book 3/5 stars.

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