Monthly Archives: November 2013

Review: Parasite by Mira Grant

Parasite (Parasitology, #1)

Mira Grant’s first novel Feed was one of the best novels of its year, garnering critical praise, a legion of fans and making the short list for the Hugo Award.

It deserved every bit of that attention thanks in large part thanks to a new take on the zombie thriller and a couple of interesting twists along the way that made me eager for the next installment in the trilogy. Unfortunately, the final two segments of the Newsflesh trilogy never quite lived up to the high bar set by the first book.

But that doesn’t mean I was ready to throw in the towel with Grant. And when I heard she was working on a new series, I was intrigued to see if Grant could get her the groove back she had in Feed.

Enter Parasite.

If Grant is trying to recapture the feeling readers had when reading Feed she may have succeeded too well. Parasite suffers a bit too much from a feeling of “been there, done that” for much of its run.

A decade in the future, medical technology has created genetically enhanced tapeworms. These tapeworms are ingested by everyone and help regulate the body, fighting off illness and keeping humanity alive and kicking. It’s also helped the world become virtually disease free thanks to the genius of medical corporation SymboGen.

Sal is a young woman involved in a near-fatal car wreck six years earlier. Just as her family was about to take her off life support, Sal woke up. But there’s a side effect of her miraculous recovery — she can only remember her life to the point she woke up. Memories of the first several decades of her life are missing and she’s forced to start her life over again. She’s also being studied by SymboGen (who pays all her medical bills) to find out what happened to her and if her tapeworm had anything to do with it.

Without warning, people with the tapeworms are becoming catatonic, almost zombie-like beings. Sal witnesses several outbreaks of the disease, leading her to question if this is somehow linked to the tapeworms everyone ingests and if SymboGen knew this could be a potential side effect.

For a large chunk of Parasite, I found myself wondering if this was a prequel novel or a tie-in to Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy and if these parasites might not be a possible explanation for the zombie-virus.

The novel also channels the Newsflesh trilogy with is structure and characters. Sal feels like a sister to Feed‘s Georgia. It’s not helped that both novels are told in first person narration as well. In addition, Grant presents opposing viewpoint documentation openings to each chapter of these novels.

All of it adds up to a novel that I liked but ultimately didn’t love. The story does have enough twists, turns and it ends on a fascinating enough cliffhanger that I will probably be back for the next installment. But how high it ranks on my to be read list remains to be seen. I’m hoping that once Grant finishes this series, she’ll either retire (Mira Grant is a pseudonym for writer Sean McGuire) or really push herself to do something different within the horror genre. Feed and (on some level) Parasite show she has the stuff. It’s just a shame that Parasite ended up being a bit of a letdown.

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Review: Confessions of a Hater by Caprice Crane

Confessions of a Hater

When Hailey Harper’s family moves cross-country before her sophomore year, Hailey decides she’s been given a chance to re-invent herself when it comes to her social station within the world of high school. Aided by her older sister’s hand-me-down clothes and a journal called How to Be a Hater, Hailey seems ready to take her Southern California high school by storm and find her niche among the popular and famous.

But Hailey finds the popular crowd isn’t all she thought it was and after a day or two as part of the in-crowd, she decides she’d rather spend time with people who share her taste in music and other things and instead of being popular. She decides to use her older sister’s book of rules and observations to elevate herself and others to a different social strata.

Caprice Crane’s Confessions of a Hater chronicles Hailey’s rise as well as her feud with the popular crowd she rejected. Written with wry observations about life in high school and a few genuinely heart-felt moments, the novel seems cut from the same cloth as the hit movie Mean Girls.. Hailey’s first person narration is witty, sardonic and completely self-aware in an almost Joss-Whedon-like fashion.

Unfortunately, what Whedon makes look easy on the small screen isn’t necessarily as easy as you’d think and while this book has its moments, there are other times when it feels a bit too clever for its own good. A lot of this comes into play in an ever escalating series of pranks played out between Hailey’s clique and the popular clique. It culminates in a final prank by Hailey that seems a bit over the line as does the reaction by various authority figures within her life. (It almost feels like Hailey gets punished in the short term but rewarded in the long term for her prank).

Another question I have with the book is the target audience. While the ARC I was provided says this novel is one targeted to the young adult audience, it feels like Crane is trying more to appeal to those who are beyond their high school years to look back with a bit of snark and nostalgia. And while there isn’t a metaphor quite like the one Whedon used in Buffy, you can’t help but feel that Crane is trying to achieve that and coming up just a bit short.

There is some humor here, but I often found it hitting the mark because I’d gone beyond high school and could look back at it now and find the humor in the situation. Whether or not those going through it will enjoy this or not remains to be seen.

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Review: The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider

The Beginning of Everything

Junior Ezra Faulkner has it all — the grades, the friends, the girls, captain of his high school tennis team. But in one evening, all of these things are ripped away from him. After catching his girlfriend in bed with another guy, Ezra attempts to flee a party in his car. The result is his expensive new car is totalled and Ezra finds himself recovering from the accident (both physically and emotionally) and never able to play tennis again.

Where he was once the lead candidate for homecoming king, Ezra now finds himself entering his senior year no longer sure of just who he is, what his future holds or who exactly his friends are.

Ezra finds himself drifting back to his estranged, debate team captain friend Toby. The two fell onto different social paths after a disastrous trip to DisneyLand while the two were in middle school. Ezra also finds himself drawn his high school’s new student (but old debate nemesis of Toby) Cassidy Thorpe. The two begin an unlikely friendship that soon begins to blossom into something more, even if Ezra always feels like Cassidy is holding something back from him.

Robyn Schneider’s The Beginning of Everything is one of those rare young adult novels that doesn’t pull any punches and just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, she pulls the rug out from under you. Ezra doesn’t go from popular guy to social outcast over the course of the novel. In fact, he’s able to straddle the line between his two potential social spheres fairly well without glorifying or vilifying one or the other. Just as Ezra’s athletic friends are willing to drink to excess, we also see that the debate squad will drink to excess. The party and the surroundings may be different, but it’s still teenagers acting like teenagers.

In all of this, we see Ezra slowly exploring more of Cassidy’s world and discovering things about her. The two begin to fall in love (the romance is authentically handled by Schneider and rings true for most of the novel) until Ezra invites her homecoming and a Cassidy has a sudden change of character and heart.

The Beginning of Everything is an apt title for this wonderful written, compelling and authentic feeling young adult novel. Schneider doesn’t pull any punches and the final few chapters and their revelations are both heart-breaking and earned. The book has haunted me on some level since I finished reading it and found out the truth between why Cassidy wants so desperately to leave her former life as queen of the debate world behind.

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The Republic of Thieves Read-Along: Weeks 1 and 2

thievesThanks to the Amazon Vine program, I received an ARC copy of Scott Lynch’s third entry in the Gentlemen Bastards series The Republic of Thieves.

So, I’m participating in the Read-Along for the novel, but I’m a couple of weeks behind.  This is my first post to try and catch-up a bit.  It covers week one and two of the read-along.

Week One

1) We get to reminisce with several old friends in this section – Carlo, Galdo, Chains. How did you like this? Bitter sweet or happy dance?

Chains and the stories about Locke growing up were one of my favorite parts from The Lies of Locke Lamorra, so a chance to visit with these characters again was a welcome, but bitter sweet treat.   Early on, I think I tried too hard to see if Lynch was dropping any foreshadowing hints about the fates of various characters, but I eventually decided to just enjoy the flashback and to see what kind of treats are being set up for this book.

2) Finally, the infamous Sabetha makes a physical appearance, albeit in Locke’s reminisces. What are your impressions? How do you think the romance, if there is to be one, will play out?

After two books of hints, it was interesting to finally have Sabetha enter the novel.   She’s such a significant figure in Locke’s life that I was a bit worried that the anticipation of her debut would overwhelm the character when and if she finally appeared.  I like that Lynch is willing to pull the wool over our eyes about her early on (I will admit I didn’t make the connection of Beth equalling Sabetha until Lynch told us).  I also like that we’re seeing the usually calm, self-assured, planning out twenty moves in advance Locke is completely flummoxed by Sabetha.  Watching him try to just be near her to catch a glimpse of her is a nice touch as is the way Locke tries to apply the way his mind works to her thoughts and motives.

3) After trying absolutely everything to save Locke, Jean still won’t give up. What did you think of that little pep talk he gave Locke concerning Patience’s offer of healing?

I’m reminded of a line of Babylon Five, “It’s easy to find something worth dying for.  Do you have anything worth living for?”  I took the pep talk as a bit of “let’s find a way out of this situation and then start thinking of the consequences of it.”

4) Locke has a few caveats to working for the Bondsmage. Wise or just Locke grasping for some control over his life? What would you ask Patience?

I think it’s Locke’s attempt to assert some control in the situation — what little control he has left.  He can’t stop the bleeding and he’s clearly in a great deal of pain.  Also, I think we’re seeing that while Locke may be physically hurting, mentally he’s still sharp enough to know that the Bondsmage aren’t going to do something for him out of the kindness of their hearts.  And like Locke, I’d want to know why Patience is willing to save me if I’d burned her as much as Locke and Jean have.

5) At the end of this section, we see that all is not as Patience laid it out. How much do you think Patience knows of the plot to off Locke and Jean? Do you see it interfering in the rigged election?

I think Patience not only knows about the plot, but is counting on it.  She’s planning to use Locke and Jean for their skills in this area and the plot to take them out can help get one final double cross on them once the job is done.    And I don’t think her name is a coincidence.  I have a feeling she is willing to be patient to get her revenge on Locke and Jean.

Week Two

1) Blood And Breath And Water: Patience tells Locke that the ritual to save him is serious business. She wasn’t kidding… What did you make of this scene, and do you think any of it might (perhaps literally) come back to haunt Locke?

It almost sounds like a case of the cure is worse than the disease.   OK, so maybe not really but it sounds like a very painful process.  One aspect I found interesting was that Jean could observe but he couldn’t leave the room if he felt queasy about what was going on with Locke.  In the short term, I think Locke will be recovering from the procedure.  Long term, it could take him some time to build back up his stamina and fully recovery physically.  Mentally, I can’t help but wonder if going through this will make him more ruthless in the long run.

2) Orphan’s Moon: Back to the childhood of the Gentlemen Bastards, and here we get another ritual, this one in service to the Nameless Thirteenth. It looks as though it might be Locke vs. Sabetha, round two – but this time Locke seems to be a little slow on that uptake… Who do you think deserves to be given the final oath? Locke or Sabetha?

I’ll admit that once again Lynch pulled me with the test.  At first, I thought the real point of the test was to make Locke confront his feelings for Sabetha and see how they can be a strength and a weakness.  Certainly, it’s no secret but I get the impression that Locke thought he was hiding it well (as most of us felt like we were hiding our feelings from our first crush and those around us).  Chains certainly doesn’t want a distraction like this getting in the way of the crew’s attempts to make money, so I wondered if part of the motive here was to force Locke to either take action or get over his feelings.  As for the final oath, I think both parties need to take it.  As we find out later, Sabetha also likes Locke, but Locke is clueless.

3) Across The Amathel: This chapter takes a breather for quite a bit of Eldren history, while Locke starts recovering. What do you think of the history lesson, and Patience’s ominous speculation regarding the Eldren? Is this something you’d like to know more about?

I don’t think Lynch would include this unless it’s going to pay off later in the book.   On the one hand, it’s world-building, but on the other hand world-building needs a purpose (unless it’s Tolkien and you describe every leaf on every tree just because you can).

4) Striking Sparks: The gang’s off to Espara, after a bad summer and a pretty thorough dressing-down from Chains, and we finally get to the source of the book’s title – they’re bound for the stage! What are your thoughts on this latest ‘challenge’ and the reasons for it?

For some reason, I found myself reminded of The Brady Bunch in the later seasons when the family would face an issue and put on a show or on act to resolve it.   I’m sure Lynch didn’t intend for this to happen, but that’s just the way my crazy mind works.   I think part of the reason for this challenge is to build up the G.B.’s skills a showmen.  We’ve seen throughout the novels that part of each scam or caper is selling yourself in the role.  What better way to learn that then by acting and committing to the character you are playing.  It should be interesting to see how the crowds react to the performances.

5) The Five-Year Game: Starting Position: The election gets underway with a party (as you do) and before it’s even over, the Deep Roots party has problems – and not just thanks to Sabetha. What do you make of Nikoros and his unfortunate habit?

I’m going to speculate that Nikroros could be a weakness that Locke exploits into a strength.

And it wouldn’t be any fun if the chips weren’t stacked against our heroes just a little bit.

6) Bastards Abroad: The gang arrives in Espara, and already they’ve got problems (nicely mirroring the Five Year Game!)… This aside, we’ve also seen some more of what seems to be eating at Sabetha. Do you sympathize with her, or is Locke right to be frustrated with her?

I can see both sides in the story.  And I think going forward it will make the story and the interplay between these two a lot more interesting.

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Young Adult Reviews: Hate List & Thousand Words by Jennifer Brown

Hate List

Hate List

Val knew there was something different about her boyfriend, Nick. The two social outcasts found each other in their high school and soon developed a close, romantic relationship. But while Val considered it a way of letting off steam at students and teachers who wronged them, she never knew that Nick has another more sinister purpose for their hate list.

Five months ago, Nick entered their school and opened fire on his classmates and teachers. Killing several and wounding others (including Val), Nick ended his rampage by taking his own life — and leaving a community and Val hurting and searching for answers.

Now as Val prepares to go back to school, she faces questions, pain and accusations not only for the community but also from her own family. If Val was an outcast before, she is even more so now but with the added quality that people are on pins and needles around her because of the actions of her boyfriend and her assumed role in the shootings.

Jennifer Brown’s Hate List brings up a lot of uncomfortable questions in this character-driven examination of one of today’s hot-button topics. Val’s story is a tragic one and watching her struggle with guilt over what Nick did, all while trying to reconcile it with the love she felt for him is heartbreaking and compelling. And while it might be easy to give Val some easy answers on the printed page, Brown doesn’t.

Scenes that showcase Val and Nick before the tragic day, on the tragic day and Val’s attempts to move on with her life all sparkle with authenticity. This is one of those books that will linger with you long after that last page is turned.

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Review: Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest by A. Lee Martinez

Helen and Troy's Epic Road Quest

Helen and Troy are just your ordinary, average young Americans who work together at minimum wage jobs in a fast food restaurant.

Well, except for the small detail that Helen is a minotaur and the two have been given an epic quest by a hamburger god. And while details of the quest aren’t exactly forthcoming, the duo still sets out on a epic road trip/quest in A. Lee Martinez’s comedic fantasy novel Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest.

Along the way, they’ll meet a cyclops who will only do battle with people who have purchased a license (enacted to help keep his small town’s struggling government afloat), visit a dragon preserve and face pursuit by a group of supernatural bikers who may or may not have our heroes best interests at heart. And that doesn’t even take into account the quasi-governmental agency assigned to help our heroes.

If it all sounds a bit absurd and like something out of a Terry Pratchett novel, you’re not wrong. Unlike a lot of authors who try (and fail) to channel the humor of Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett, Martinez writes a humorous story, poking fun at the pratfalls of epic fantasy and delivering a handful of genuine laugh out loud moments along the way. (This is not a book to be read in company that will look at you oddly if you chuckle, snort or laugh out loud at a certain line, image or clever turn of phrase. Consider yourself warned).

And while Martinez gets fairly close to what Adams and Prachett do (and they make it look easy), he doesn’t quite enter the same stratosphere as those two giants. But he comes a lot closer than many other authors I’ve seen try and spectacularly fail in the attempt.

That’s not to say Helen and Troy isn’t a fun, entertaining read. It’s a mostly hit or miss comic fantasy that, for me, hit more than it missed. Certain threads started to weigh thin over the course of the story, but overall this is an epic road quest worth taking. This mis-matched duo of a minotaur and the popular cute guy delivers some solid laughs and witty observations over the course of the story. And Martinez wisely doesn’t dwell long on each of the epic fantasy stops along the way. He allows the jokes to have their moment and not wear thin (in most cases).

In the interest of full discretion, I received a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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TV Round-Up: Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD: The Hub

agents-0f-shield-the-hubWith “The Hub”, I find myself far more intrigued by the coda of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD than I did the forty-one or so minutes leading up to it.

It’s kind of a shame because there were some interesting pieces to the episode, but they didn’t all come together.  If anything, “The Hub” suffered from a lack of focus.

When SHIELD intel reveals that a new weapon nicknamed the Overkill Device has been built and fallen into the wrong hands, agents Ward and Fitz are sent in to sabotage it.  It’s a covert mission and one whose details are only known to agents with a level eight clearance or higher — a clearance level Coulson has when we start the episode, but one that he may not necessarily still have when the episode is over (looks like we’ll have to wait and see on that one).

Of course, being kept out of the loop doesn’t sit well with Skye, who immediately begins plotting to find a way into the top secret files to determine the truth of the mission.  She’s helped out by Simmons, who proves to not be so deft on her feet in coming up with a convincing cover story.  There’s probably a reason she’s not in the field that often.   I will say that the scene with Simmons coming up with excuses for why she’s at a panel with a flash drive was one of the more amusing on the program.  It also shows that Elizabeth Hendridge does well with humor and that she could be more capable of delivering Whedon-esque dialogue than I’d originally given her credit.

I also liked the continued plot threat of Skye’s growing loyalty to the team and her friends.   Presented with the chance to try and find out more about the mystery surrounding her parents, Skye goes for the data on Ward and Fitz’s mission, only to uncover an uncomfortable truth — it’s actually a suicide mission since SHIELD has no extraction plan in place for the two.

On the one hand, I can see how Ward might be expendable, but it’s hard to believe that SHIELD would want or allow someone as technologically savvy as Fitz to be killed in the field or worse yet, captured and allowed/forced to develop tech for the enemy.  Sure, it worked out that Tony Stark’s tech helped him to escape from his captors and eventually became an asset for the good guys, but we can’t forget that Starks initial mandate was to develop and replicate his work on weapons systems for terrorists.

The mantra of this episode was “Trust the system.”  And it really felt like the series was trying to remind me that I needed to have faith that all these pieces would come together and that the series will eventually find its footing and become the show we’re all hoping it’s capable of being.  And yet, it’s another week where I feel like the pieces were all there for a home run of an episode and instead we only got a run-it-out double.

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