Broken – A review

Every so often, if you’re lucky, you come across a book that reminds you of everything you love about reading science fiction—and why you started reading it in the first place.  Broken is one of those books.

It has all these delicious elements: A dystopian world set in the future. A superhero who has lost her powers. A scared young man who can see the future.  The future of mankind at stake….

But don’t let the description fool you. This is not your typical stereotypical superhero story. This is an amazing book and an exceptionally fun read that I found almost impossible to put down. Susan Jane Bigelow is an extremely gifted writer who knows how to tell a story. She avoids the pitfalls of tedious world-building and long descriptive paragraphs that just drip with voice. Instead, she allows the reader to organically experience the world she has built for us through the story itself and the actions of the characters.

The characters themselves are interesting, fully fleshed out and beautifully written. They felt like real people, people you want to care about. Bigelow skillfully plays with stereotypes and expectations in a way that adds depth and dimension to the characters.

The story is cohesive and tightly written without feeling “plotted.”  Bigelow does a great job of keeping you guessing. I can usually tell right where a storyline is going, but this was suspenseful throughout. The author also has a delightful sense of humor that occasionally she allows to peek through.

While this one is definitely a fun read, the book also was thought provoking and deals with some serious themes: the concept of names and labels, identity, self, responsibility and courage.  It was difficult to let go of the characters and the events of the book, even after I finished reading.

In short: I laughed; I cried. I finished the book and wanted to immediately hit the go-to-beginning button on my Kindle and read it all over again.

I took a sneak peak at the author’s blog, where she hinted that there was a sequel in the works. It will definitely be on my to-be-read list.

I found it difficult to believe that this was Susan Jane Bigelow’s first novel. She is definitely a writer to watch in the future. I am definitely looking forward to reading more of her work.

Brokenwill be released on January 25, 2011. It is only avalable in a digital form.

Disclaimer: An ARC of this book was provided by the publisher, Candlemark & Gleam,  who had no idea that I would fall completely in love with the book! 🙂

The Patron Saint of Plagues – A review

As a long time fan of authors like Robin Cook and Michael Crichton, I LOVE medical thrillers. The more viruses, bacteria, plagues, and epidemics, the better, at least as far as I am concerned.  Just mention etiological agents and I get really interested.  So, I started reading The Patron Saint of Plagues with a lot of excitement and was more than prepared to like it.

Unfortunately, I was tremendously disappointed in this book.

First, I might argue that this book was mischaracterized by calling it science fiction – realistically it was more of a combination speculative fiction/mystery. It was set 50 years or so in the future. The author did a poor job of world-building here and I spent the first half of the book asking myself why it was set in that time.

The characters suffer from the same lack of development as the world-building does. The characters are unbelievable and barely fleshed out.  They are also constantly contradicting themselves for reasons which are never explained.

The protagonist, Dr. Henry David Stark is a perfect example. At various times in the book, he is referred to by three or four different names. Also for no apparent reason, he sometimes (and only sometimes) speaks a pidgin English that no one else in the book (including his family) speaks. This is never explained.

What the reader gets out of this are plastic, predictable characters doing predictable things leading to a predictable ending. The only surprises were the parts that didn’t make sense.

I found this book poorly edited – and by this I don’t mean spelling and grammar errors. Those things were fine. I mean the guidance an editor SHOULD give a writer. Little things like telling him when the story doesn’t make sense. Or when a scene should be cut. Or when the dialogue isn’t working. Or that the story isn’t flowing. Or that he has thrown information out there and never followed through with it.

The description for this book said that author Barth Anderson has won awards for his short fiction work. Since this was his first novel, he may not have been ready for long form writing. Although, honestly, the reviews for his second novel, The Magician and the Fool, were not much better.  I think one that of the reviewers for that novel summed it up best by saying, “Barth Anderson may be a skilled writer, but he is a terrible storyteller.”  Unfortunately, I have to agree.

This book is available in a Kindle edition.

Three Days to Dead: A Review

Three Days to Dead

It was one of those strange things:  I saw this ad for Kelly Meding’s Three Days to Dead and I swear my spidey-sense started tingling. I just knew that this book was going to be great and that she was going to be an author who was really going to go places.  Then I read the first chapter online and was really hooked.  Waiting the three months until the book actually came out was agonizing!

But, boy, was I right!  Three Days to Dead is one of those rare debut novels where the author’s tremendous talent shines through from the very beginning. In this novel, you find everything that a reader looks for in an urban fantasy.   Great characters?  Check.  Excellent story telling?  Check.  Superior world-building?  Check.  Non-stop action?  Check.

Triad Hunter Evangeline “Evy” Stone wakes up in someone else’s body.  She has no idea how she got there.  And she only has three days to find out before she dies.  Again.  So begins this riveting tale of conspiracy and betrayal where the balance of power depends on Evy’s ability to remember how she died and discover how she was resurrected. 

Personally, I love the storytelling device of one character in another person’s body. Combined with the Evangeline’s memory loss, it allows for interesting reading.  Things that might normally be viewed as insignificant  take on a sense of urgency and importance as we try to understand Evy’s character, the people around her  and the events that happened to her.  And author Kelly Meding does a fantastic job of making us care about both Evangeline and Chalice. 

The supporting cast of characters is first rate and includes every time of beastie you would want in an urban fantasy, including trolls, gremlins, fairies, vampires and goblins. Kelly’s writing style is a joy to read and if you like urban fantasy that is smart, funny, thrilling  and fast-paced, I highly recommend this novel. 

A big plus for me were the two short stories set in the Dreg City world that were posted on Suvudu’s website just before the release of the novel.  The Hoarders offered a great opportunity to get to know Evy “in her own skin,” as it were, before we meet her in Chalice’s body.  The second story, Pride Before Fall, really helped to establish the politics of the world Evy lives (and died) in. Reading these stories before I read Three Days to Dead was extremely helpful.  Kelly Meding has also written a missing scene from 3D2D that you can find here on her website

The sequel, As Lie the Dead,  is due out in the summer of 2010.  Three Days to Dead is also available in a Kindle edition.

You can learn more about Kelly Meding (and her cat) at her blog: http://chaostitan.blogspot.com/  and her website:  http://kellymeding.com/.  You can also follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.

Day by Day Armageddon: A Review

31I6DaHu2aL__SL160_J.L. Bourne’s Day by Day Armageddon is a interesting book that tells the story of the zombie apocalypse from the point of view of a military officer who is struggling to survive it. The novel originally began as a series of blog entries by the author that gained quite an audience on the web.  The book was then self published and eventually picked up by Pocket Books.

The reactions to the book are certainly polarized; people either love it or hate it.   There are certain criticisms that seem to come up repeatedly regarding this book.  Among them are:

People compare it to World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks: I can’t tell you how many times I have read, “I read World War Z and liked it, so I thought I’d read this one….”  In this case, this is a recipe for disappointment.  I think that Max Brooks’ book is absolutely brilliant, and it is certainly at the top of my zombie reading list, but the book is really atypical for the genre.  Just because a person likes one doesn’t mean that they will necessarily like the other. DBDA should not be criticized for NOT being like World War Z.

People say it lacks character development: The criticism that there is no character development is also somewhat unwarranted. Because the main character’s nature is not really effusive (he’s a military man, remember?), much of what is written in the book is about events, rather than feelings. Often, the feelings about the events are not stated directly and generally do need to be  inferred.  Other times, the feelings are very direct and evocative, such as when the main character wonders if his parents have survived or if he could manage to get to their home to check on them.  Throughout the book, the characters do act in ways that are consistent with their nature.

I think that part of the difficulty in perceiving the development stems from both the lack of a baseline and the limitations of the journal format.  In the book, the narrator starts keeping the journal right as the zombie outbreak begins.  We have very little material written before the outbreak which means we have little information with which to judge any level of character growth. 

People say it has an extremely boring plot: I personally find criticism that the plot of this book is boring to be somewhat amusing.  Rather than having a frantic paced activity level, the author (very effectively, in my opinion) uses inactivity to good effect to create tension. By using prolonged waiting to get the reader to almost a fever pitch, it heightens the suspense. Because of that, there are parts in this book that are so suspenseful, they are scary.

The journal format itself is, as others have noted, both problematic and limited and may help foster the idea of a slow moving plot.  Most zombie movies and books are usually told in the present tense.  A journal would of necessity be written after the events in question have already happened. A certain immediacy is lost because of this. And since DBDA is predominantly a survival story,  the author is more concerned with telling a story about survival than he is with telling a story about zombies.  Typically in a zombie book, there are lots of scenes of people getting eaten by zombies, and like the films, much of the emphasis is on blood and gore.  In this book, the author seems to pay more attention to describing the MREs, guns and ammo than he does the zombies.

People say it is too full of typos and grammar errors:  There are definitely two schools of thought on this one.  Some people think that the grammar errors are deliberate; others think that they are examples of extremely poor writing/proofing/editing.  I myself am torn on this one.  The author’s website and Twitter entries are generally grammatically correct.  However, the book contains numerous instances of poor punctuation and spelling (such as “putting on the breaks” instead of “putting on the brakes”).  I have never in my life been so tempted to take a red pen to a book and would have loved to introduce the author to the proper use of the comma and the semicolon. And I read the book on a Kindle!

If these errors are deliberate, it would be extremely helpful for the author to note that in a forward to a future edition.

People say the ending is horrible: I have to agree that I do not like the ending to the book at all. Without spoiling the ending, all I can say is that it ends too abruptly and that it could have been handled in a much better way.

Despite the some of the issues with the book, this is an interesting and compelling read that is enjoyable.  If you are a true fan of the zombie genre,  this book is too important to miss. A sequel, Day By Day Armageddon: Beyond Exile,  is currently in the works and is due to be released in July of 2010.

You can learn more about the series at the author’s website,  http://jlbourne.com/.  You can also follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jlbourne.