Book Review: West by Caroline Starr

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I reviewed the first book in this trilogy, Campbell, here.  Again, this story is amazing.  Not as intriguing as the first one, more than likely because the concept isn’t as new, but still great work.

After her world was turned upside down by the death of her twin and a new alliance forged through an unexpected friendship, Lucy Campbell left West determined to return to her old life. 

It took four years and a natural disaster for her to admit that was impossible.

Hatched from a lie devised to keep them both safe, the conflict with East has affected Lucy and Tal Bauman in different ways. It’s left Lucy engulfed in a bitter power struggle with her war-hungry brother. It’s forced Tal to align himself with Campbell, despite questioning their motivations in continuing to attack East, when peace seems attainable. He’s also left to sort out the mess left behind by his predecessor and best friend, Connor Wilde. 

When they are reunited by a tragedy, Lucy and Tal are forced to question how far their duties stretch, where their loyalties lie, and how far they would go for one another. 

They’re also left reevaluating their morals, values, and the futures of those around them. 

West is the second book in the Campbell trilogy. 

If you haven’t read Campbell, and you definitely have to before you read this book, the premise is that something wiped out all the adults and teenagers in the early 2000s.  The kids, aged 12 and under, had to fend for themselves and remake their world.  It is a completely fascinating concept.

What I like about the premise is that Ms. Starr uses it as a springboard to highlight coming of age issues.  How do you grow up when all of your parents, teachers, adults aren’t there to guide you?  So this series just captivates me.

This second installment was a little bit darker, but with more romance.  So I’ll take it.  The “kids” are now into their mid to late 20s and despite the fact of their upbringing, or lack thereof, they still struggle with the same issues “kids” in contemporary society struggle with.  Relationships, friends, “family”.  But there is so much more responsibility with Lucy and Tal.

They both are heads of state for large parts of the North American continent.  They not only have to deal with their own personal issues, but they have to deal with trade, war, diplomacy and economics.  Tal even had to deal with a murder trial for the first president of West and his best friend.

I loved that this book included more of a romance aspect.  It’s a different type of romance, and I do need to point out that this book isn’t YA, there is sex and violence.  It isn’t erotica, but it happens.

The type of romance that Ms. Starr features isn’t typical.  It’s refreshing.  It’s real:

She knew she loved him; the kind of love that was earned, cultivated over time, born of selflessness and respect.  It would never be throw-down, crazy passion because she didn’t operate that way.  What they had was better.

Ms. Starr also illustrates that basic human cruelty can survive in their post-apocalypse.  Even though they were kids when the world ended, they still retain the ability to torture each other, to go to war, to kill each other in cold blood.  That apparently will never be erased.

Overall a great read, excellent follow up to Campbell, and I can’t wait to read the third book.

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Book Review: The Scourge by Roberto Calas

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Back to the zombies.  I figure Easter is coming…

This time it is zombies in medieval England:

God has forsaken this land.

A mysterious plague descends upon 14th century England, ravaging the country and trapping the souls of the afflicted in eternal madness. The feudal hierarchy–and even the church itself– slowly crumbles as the dead rise to feed and the living seek whatever shelter they can. The bishops of England call for calm and obedience, but one man isn’t listening.

Sir Edward of Bodiam has been separated from the woman he loves and nothing on heaven or earth can stop him from seeking her out. 

Edward and two of his knights travel through the swiftly changing landscape of England, a countryside now overrun by the minions of hell. The knights encounter madness, violence, and sorrow, but Edward fights his way ever deeper into the thickening darkness of unholy terror. 

Roberto Calas brings you along on a dark, historical tale full of love, death, and black humor. Follow Edward as he journeys to save his wife, his kingdom, and his very soul.

Very similar to The Zombie Bible series by Stant Litore.  But where Mr. Litore is poetic and philsophical, Mr. Calas is humorous.  Think Monty Python with zombies.  But not so campy.

I know next to nothing about this time period in history.  My husband is a huge fan of medieval history, weapons, warfare, etc.  When he starts going on about the battle of Agincourt my eyes start to glaze over.  It’s not that it isn’t interesting, it just doesn’t interest me.  But Mr. Calas made it interesting.

Many people say that chivalry is a dying notion.  That honor is dead.  This may be true.  but no knight I have ever known can resist a maiden in distress.

Intermixed with all of the knightly adventures and the quest for Sir Edward to return to his wife, Elizabeth, are zombies.  My husband seems to think that zombies would be easily dispatched in medieval times, but he didn’t count on the power of the Catholic church.  It is thought that the zombies just have the plague:

The noises that come from the plaguer are those of an animal.  Growls and shrieks.  There is no reason.  There is no humanity.  I can feel his teeth scraping at the bevor upon my neck.  His hands shove at my helmet.  I see three red circles above his thumb.  I shove at him, but he has latched on to me, with one arm under my head.  He pulls me toward his mouth like a hungry lover and I scream.  Not in fear but in anger.

I’m always intrigued by the little differences that the authors of zombie books weave into their stories.  Be it the way the zombies began (plague, gas, aliens, or no reason at all) or how they move and act, this always fascinates me.  These zombies feel pain.  Which must make it difficult to kill them.

On his quest, Sir Edward has Sir Tristan and Sir Morgan with him.  Sir Morgan is devoutly religious.  He is always quoting scripture.  Sir Edward and Sir Tristan kind of give him hell for it.  But their discourse highlights the way Catholicism permeated everyday life during this time period.  Sir Morgan actually believes that holy relics can cure the plague.  And by the end of the book, Sir Edward starts to believe him as well.  The religious conversations were hilarious, however:

“Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle.”

“This is the same Lord who says we shouldn’t kill?” Tristan asks.

“No, it’s the Old Testament God,” I say.  “The grumpy one.”

“You have two Gods?” Zhuri asks.

“Just one,” Tristan says.  “But he had a troubled childhood.”

I was struck at the similarities between this work and the other zombie books I’ve read.  Particularly the ones set in modern times in the US.  Apparently when the dead start walking, the world goes to shit.  There is a fundamental breakdown in society, even in the “dark ages”, and the desire to rule one’s own little kingdom is powerful.  Even at the price of precious human life.  If you are a Walking Dead fan, think “The Governor”.  These knights find this all over England.

There is a situation the knights in this story find themselves in that is quite absurd.  Think zombie bears.  Edward remarks to himself after they have barely gotten out alive (again):

I wonder how many mad tyrants rule in England now.  How many lunatic kings sit in dung-pits and throw men to their deaths.

Overall, a great read.  Full of adventure, strong characters, humor and strong relationships.  Very different from typical zombie stories in that you actually LEARN SOMETHING about history while reading them. Much like Stant Litore’s work.  I look forward to the next installments.

Oh, and a quick note, this book was originally written as a serial for Amazon in 2012.  Each episode seems to end in a cliffhanger because a new episode would be released each week.  It doesn’t detract from the work at all, but I didn’t realize that at first when I was reading, and it made sense in the author’s notes in the end of the book.

Amanda’s Favs for 2013 Part Two

Here is the second part of my favorites list.

These are books that I have read and haven’t reviewed. Most I get from my monthly Kindle Lending Library allotment. Some are series I picked up when the first book was offered for free.  Some of the larger press books come from my weekly library run.

Favorite zombie book:  Apocalypse Z:  Darker Days by Manel Loureiro translated by Pamela Carmell.  I found apoczthis series a year ago, and I have already pre-ordered the third installment.  I have to wait til May!! Very well written, I love the European take on things.  A page turner.  Definitely recommended.

Honorable mention:  The Zomblog Series by T.W. Brown and The Remaining by D.J. Molles.

Favorite self-help book:  Invisible Scars:  How to Stop, Change or End Psychologicalinvisscars Abuse by Catharine Dowda.  I left an abusive marriage nearly five years ago.  He never once hit me.  But the verbal and emotional abuse has caused deep wounds that I am still healing.  What I liked about this book in particular is that it gave me a name to put with some of his behavior.  That I can name some of the abuse I suffered is extremely helpful.

Favorite history book:  Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff.  I reviewed his new book this year, Frozen in Time and just had to go and read this book.  

Favorite romance/erotica:  Entwined with You by Sylvia Day.  I love me some Crossfire series.  Much more realistic than “Fifty”, deals with deeper issues on the part of both characters.  Can’t wait for the fourth one.  And I think I would love to see this one made into a movie more than “Fifty”.

draculaFavorite paranormal romance:  Happy Hour at Casa Dracula by Marta Acosta.  So not what you think of when you think “paranormal romance”.  And not a typical romance either.  I loved it.

Favorite YA romance (paranormal):  Significance Series by Shelly Crane.  Very sweet, very intriguing.

 

Favorite YA romance:  Fight or Flight by Jamie Canosa.  Very heart-rending.  Extremely emotional.

Favorite mash up:  The Fridgularity by Mark A. Rayner — humorous, apocalyptic, with a technology twist.   Loved it. fridge

And my total for this year is 152 books.  And counting…

Book Review: Campbell (Book One) by C.S. Starr

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I guess this qualifies as a mash up.  Part young adult romance, part dystopian, part apocalypse. Right up my alley.

The author kindly sent me a Kindle copy in return for a review of her book.

Here is the synopsis:

It’s been ten years since a virus wiped out the entire adult population. Across the world, opportunistic kids worked to reestablish order through the creation of uneasy, fractured territories.

A decade later, the rules are changing.

Desperate to stop his western territory from coming apart at the seams, 23 year old President Connor Wilde sends his oldest confidante to Campbell, a swelling northern empire, to negotiate with its leader.

Tal Bauman isn’t expecting Lucy Campbell to be so impossible.

Or intriguing. Or beautiful.

He’s also not expecting their negotiations to leave them both fighting for survival in a part of the world neither are familiar with.

Spanning a dystopian North American landscape, Campbell is the story of two unlikely companions who find themselves reevaluating their loyalties, beliefs, and futures.

I absolutely loved this book.  It is extremely well-written, very intriguing and tender at the same time.  The author alternates between the present and about 11 years prior when all of the adults start dying off.  It is fascinating to see how it all evolved and how kids essentially rebuilt society.

The characters are so real.  You understand their motives, their wants, their desires.  You understand why they do the way they do.  They literally leap off the page.

I love Lucy Campbell.  She is a survivor.  She is an excellent and capable leader who is very stubborn but very compassionate.  Her goal is to take care of the people in her area and offer a decent and fair lifestyle to anyone willing to work for it.  She doesn’t see the need to amass material goods.  She doesn’t need to have absolute power.  She just wants kids to have a better life.  But she isn’t perfect.  I love that about this character.

Tal Bauman just followed the lead of his spoiled and exploitative friend after the collapse.  He wrestles with his conscious constantly, but never finds the way to make a real difference.  Until he meets Lucy.

This is not a young adult book.  It is an adult book about young adults forced to grow up way too fast.  There is sex, violence, drug use throughout the book.  Nothing is gratuitous and it is all necessary to develop the characters and understand their motives and actions.

The author also paints a very realistic portrait of the aftermath of years of sexual abuse.  Lucy has PTSD as a result of her experiences and her description of what happens to her with the nightmares, the flashbacks, her choice of sexual partners is entirely authentic.

The author doesn’t go into graphic details, and it wasn’t too triggering, but I need to make it known that the subject matter is present.

Despite their difficult ascendance into adulthood, they are still in their early 20s, still trying to figure out who they are, what they want in life.  That theme is found repeatedly throughout the book.  That no matter how fast someone was forced to grow up, especially without the influence of others who have gone before, they still mature at a similar pace regardless of situation.

I was (still am) very intrigued about how they built it all up again.  There is electricity, cell phones, they some more wealthier regions fly planes.  Hopefully the “how” is more forthcoming in the next book due out in February.  It is just a little bit difficult for me to understand how 12 year olds restarted the whole shebang.

Overall an amazing read.  I loved all the elements of the story.  Eagerly awaiting the next part.

Book Review: Undying by Valerie Grosjean

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Yay!!  A zombie romance!!!  I have been on a zombie kick lately, brought on by The Walking Dead and Halloween.  So I naturally gravitated to this book.  The author kindly gifted me a kindle copy, Undying.

Here is the synopsis:

This is a story of love . . . and zombies.

When eighteen-year-old college freshman Christian discovers his dormitory is crawling with the living dead, he knows he has a problem. But once he learns the whole country is overrun by the flesh-eating horde, he must race to protect what matters to him most.

Sixteen-year-old Iris, the girl he loves, is stranded eighty miles away, alone and completely unaware of the gruesome threat surrounding her.

Christian’s plan is to evade the zombies, drive the distance to rescue Iris, and get them both to his family farm–where there are guns, fuel, and everything else they’ll need to survive. His mission seems simple: Get the girl, get to the farm, and stay alive.

Things get complicated when Christian is forced to make an unthinkable choice between Iris and his family. Someone he loves must die, and he must decide.

If you have read this blog before, you know that I love zombies.  I credit my bonus child, Christian, with getting me started when he made us watch the first season of The Walking Dead a few summers ago.  I didn’t start getting into reading zombie stories until last year with the Zombie Bible series.  I have since devoured most zombie books that I can get my hands on, including the mainstream ones.

This book was a bit different.  It was a zombie story with a romantic theme.  Plenty of the zombie stories I read feature love stories as a side plot, but this book has that plotline front and center.  And I loved it.

Christian has never revealed his feeling for Iris.  He just kind of shoved them down.  He is planning on telling her when he goes home for the weekend, but then the zombie apocalypse happens.

The love story kind of mimics my own (second) marriage.  My husband and I were the same age as Christian and Iris.  We had feelings for each other, but we didn’t want to do the long distance thing.  Then life happened, and we were unable to tell each other our true feelings until we were damn near 30.  So I identify readily with the love theme.

The zombies are typical zombies.  The vector of transmission is plausible.  People “turn” very quickly, so the apocalypse happens overnight, rather than over a few days or weeks.  This definitely lends a sense of panic to the story.

The gore is typical zombie gore, but it doesn’t go overboard in the description of the mutilations.  It isn’t stomach turning.

I love the character of Christian.  He is amazing.  He is strong, capable and sensitive.  He knows what needs to be done and makes the hard decisions.  He’s a great leader.

I don’t know enough about Iris to make the same conclusions.  But if Christian loves her, she must be special.

The action is intense. It is a page turner.  There aren’t any parts that lag or don’t make sense.  The author also knows where to stop the minute by minute recall of events and let the plot flow.  Very much appreciated.

I can also tell that the author is a bit spiritual.  That is implied with Christian’s mention of heaven, his overall demeanor.  But it isn’t the focus of the story and it isn’t rammed down the reader’s throat.  In fact, it makes Christian more appealing.

I will be eagerly awaiting the next book in the series.  I truly enjoyed this read and I finished it in one night.  Valerie Grosjean is an excellent story-teller of both the zombie genre and the romance genre.

I also stopped by her blog and I was fascinated to read about her writing process.  That is also good reading if you are so inclined.

And this book is 99 cents on Amazon today.  You don’t have a valid excuse NOT to get it.

Book Review: Schrodinger’s Gat by Robert Kroese

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The author generously sent me a Kindle copy of this book for review.  Here is the synopsis:

Schrodinger’s Gat is a quantum physics noir thriller. Paul Bayes has begun to feel like all of his actions are dictated by forces beyond his control. But when his suicide attempt is foiled by a mysterious young woman named Tali, Paul begins to wonder if the future is really as bleak as it seems. Tali possesses a strange power: the ability to predict tragedies and prevent them from happening. The possibility of breaking free from the grip of fate gives Paul hope. But when Tali disappears, Paul begins to realize that altering the future isn’t as easy as it seems: you can fight the future, but the future fights back.

I’ve been reading a ton of sci-fi lately (see my recent reviews on “About Time” by Michael Murphey).  Like Mr. Murphey’s book, Schrodinger’s Gat reminded me of Stephen King’s 11/22/63.  But in this case, it appears that the future is stubborn as well.

I am a huge fan of Mr. Kroese’s earlier works, most notably the Mercury series.  This book is different in that it is darker (hence the “noir” part of it) and more scientific where Mercury is religious.  It is more sarcastic, more vulgar, written in a more contemporary tone.

Throughout the book, Mr. Kroese explains various theories in quantum physics and philosophy.  Prior to reading this book, I had heard of the idea of Schrodinger’s cat, I just never really given it much though.  I wouldn’t have passed physics in high school if it wasn’t for my lab partners (Hi Jeff & Chris!!  Thanks for saving my ass!!).  But Mr. Kroese infuses his trademark wit with his explanations:  “I’m no expert, so don’t come bitching to me if I get this slightly wrong and you end up with a dead cat in a box”.

Also, there are several sections where Mr. Kroese warns the reader that the next few pages might make their eyes cross.  At first, I tried reading through it.  But, my eyes eventually did cross, and I started taking the advice when I would come read the words “SKIP THIS PART” and take it back up when I encountered “OK, START READING HERE”.

The knowledge imparted in these sections isn’t crucial to the main story, but if you want to know the theory behind some elements of the story, it is provided for you.

As always, Mr. Kroese provides memorable characters.  The protagonist isn’t a hero, isn’t some all-knowing being with swagger and panache.  He’s just a regular guy who was trying to end his crappy life when the female main character intervened.

And Tali, she is very interesting.  Extremely intelligent.  She understands the broader implications of what she and her mentor are doing.

I also liked the element of mystery, how Paul is just trying to see Tali again and gets swept into the larger scheme of things.  How he ends up being an active participant in the entire future predicting business.

Overall, a very interesting read.  I feel more intelligent for reading it.  Like always, Mr. Kroese kept me entertained even with a subject completely out of my depth.  Again, it centers on a good story.  And this book has that and more.

Book Review: Rise From the Ashes Part One: Lena’s Story

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I was sent this book from the author for review.  I am a huge fan of post-apocalypse tales, so I was eager to jump into this one. Here is the synopsis: The Taliban have bombed the US with a chemical agent. It wiped out over half of the population and left the country in shambles. Those who are left find unexplained things happening like premonitions in their dreams and enhanced senses. Lena, a young woman from Vermont, and Mick, a young man in the US Army, grow close and become leaders as they trudge north to meet up with a military camp at Lake Champlain. Their dreams continue to get more peculiar and have even synced up in a historical setting. With the power out and gasoline a scarce resource; motorcycles, horses and bicycles have become the new mode of transport. In another group that is trying to survive, a priest leads discouraged parishioners north and is faced with tough decisions as he has to put the well-being of the group ahead of individuals. They have to band together to make it through this new chaotic situation, relying on their intuition and basic survival skills. This motley crew must reorganize the country just as was done after the revolutionary war. The clock is ticking as the persisting threats of the Taliban, drug lords from south of the border and rival gangs across the country put US freedoms in jeopardy. Unlike many books in this genre, the author uses something that is very real in this world, the threat of terrorists from the Middle East.  Instead of imagining some enemy, she draws on reality to provide the basic backdrop for the action. And that is where the similarities end. I might be arrogant when I say this, but I really don’t feel that the Taliban would have the resources to pull off such a wide spread attack across the globe.  Their biggest hit to date (with Al Queda) was 9/11, and that was over a decade ago. When I read stories like this that use realistic elements, my mind immediately goes to the probability of such an action.  I have explained this before in my review of “Zomblog”, how the author just bypassed this step for me altogether and took my analytic brain out of the equation and allowed me to just read the story and not compare it to real life. This author removes that when she bases the apocalypse in reality. The story itself is interesting with people from different segments of society banding together for the common.  The characters are strong and memorable. For the YA audience, this would include the relationship between Mick and Lena. I love their relationship and the way they treat each other.  Apparently they are connected in a past life, which completely came out of left field.  But the way their story is woven throughout the book is unique. There is some confusion with more minor characters.  I understand what the author was trying to do by linking the actions of different groups of people in the same area, but it wasn’t as clear as it could have been. I also do not feel that the issues of “superpowers” and similar dreams were fully explained.  It is intriguing, especially with the element that links them all, but it was very vague. I did like reading about the ways they try to rebuild society, and I look forward to reading more about the story of Mick and Lena in the future.  I just feel the story idea could have been executed in a better way.

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