Monthly Archives: July 2016

Review: The Fireman by Joe Hill

3 Stars

A deadly spore is on the loose in the world.  No one knows where it started or where it came from, but it’s spreading.  It’s known as Dragonscale by regular people like you and me.  Doctors and scientists have dubbed it Draco Incendia Trychophyton.  Highly contagious, though no one knows how it spreads.  It’s a deadly spore that marks the infected with beautiful black and gold marks across their bodies.  Those infected with Dragonscale face a horrific death, they burst into flame and burn to death.  There is no antidote, there is no cure.  And it’s spreading more rapidly than anyone would have thought or expected.  Millions are infected and society begins to collapse.

Harper Grayson is a compassionate school nurse who begins working in the hospital after watching a man with Dragonscale combust right in her schoolyard.  Pragmatic and no nonsense, she embodies Mary Poppins, dispensing advise and treatment with a spoonful of sugar attitude.  She treats hundreds of infected patients before her hospital burns to the ground.  Now she’s discovered that she has the tell-tale markings of the spore.  Not only that, she’s also discovered that she’s pregnant.  She goes back on the agreement that she and her husband made when the outbreak started.  They had originally agreed on a suicide pact, but now with her unborn fetus at risk, she backs out on the plan.  She watched infected mothers give birth to healthy children, she believes that her child will be healthy too.

Her husband quickly becomes unhinged and abandons her as their community begins to fall apart.  In the chaos, the Cremation Squads begin to rise.  Armed posses that prowl through the streets, looking for those infected with Dragonscale.  These self-appointed mobs methodically destroy anyone infected with the spore.  They are also hunting down The Fireman, a man infected with Dragonscale who seems to have gained control over the spore and instead of immolating, seems to be able to send the fire outward.  He uses this ability to shield the infected from these mobs.  He helps lead Harper to the safety of a small group of infected people who have formed a community.  These people have learned how to live with the spore and not only keep themselves from burning to death, but they have seemingly thrived together.

The world is dying.  Harper just wants to stay alive, learn about this spore that has taken over her body, learn how to control and use the spore and somehow bring a healthy child into the world.

I was actually surprised by my reaction to this book.  I’d been impatiently waiting for this book to come out.  I’d been blown away by NOS4A2 and couldn’t wait for the next Joe Hill book.  I plowed through it pretty quickly, so the story definitely kept me interested and kept me coming back.  But the whole time I was reading, I kept coming back to one thought…eerie similarities to another book where a disease is wiping out the population.  Even the characters themselves were similar to the characters in this book.  If you’ve ever read The Stand you’ll see what I’m talking about.  This did not take away from The Fireman, but it was a little eerie.

The story is well-written and fluid, there are rarely any spots where the story drags.  The action is great and very few times are you asked to completely suspend belief, everything feels very real.  It feels like this could happen to you and your family and how would you react?  But having a woman, eight months pregnant, run around climbing roofs and ladders, jumping to and from was a bit of a stretch.

I think where this story suffers is with the characters.  Many of them are frustrating and infuriating.  Especially Harper and John, two of the main protagonists of the story.  Both have a lack of backbone and passivity that borders on the insane and annoying.  It takes them far too long to grow a pair.  Especially Harper.  I wanted to smack her and shake her more than once.

There are truly some points of humor and that really made the epic more enjoyable.  When Harper reads her husband’s unpublished novel, it was nearly laugh out loud funny.  She learns that he’s a total schmuck and she was a doormat.  But then doesn’t learn from that mistake.  Sigh.  And Martha Quinn Island is so “out there” that it never failed to instill a case of the giggles.

For all its faults, The Fireman is still a good novel, well-written with a very good plot device, Dragonscale.  And the human element is very believable.  What would you do to survive?  That question came up over and over while I was reading.  And I still don’t know the answer.  Would I go up in flames or would I have the courage to find a way to control the burning…

 

 

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Review: A Murder in Time by Julie McElwain

1 Star

Kendra Donovan is a rising star in the FBI, her team has finally tracked down one of the FBI’s most wanted and she’s there for the takedown.  But everything goes wrong and her team is ambushed and half her team is murdered as she discovers a traitor.  Kendra barely survives after being shot several times but vows revenge against the man responsible for the deaths of her team members.  She ‘goes rogue’ and travels to England to put her plan into motion.

While preparing her assassination attempt, Kendra is surprised by an unexpected complication and ends up needing to flee for her life through the back passages of Aldrich Castle but when she stumbles out of the passageway, she’s faced with an impossible sight.  She is still in Aldrich Castle, but she’s in a different time.  She’s in 1815 and in the presence of the current Duke.  She is mistaken for a maid, hired to help with weekend guests.  Kendra is forced to adapt to the time period until she can figure out how to get out of there and back to her own time.

The body of a young woman is discovered on the grounds of the estate and Kendra can’t help but get involved.  She was a profiler back in her time and she knows she can put her knowledge to use in helping solve the mystery of how this young woman died.  She has none of her 21st century tools at her disposal but must rely on her own wits and extensive knowledge of crime and criminals.

As unbelievable as the premise sounds, I was intrigued.  I’ve read the Outlander series, so I can learn to suspend belief and buy into time travel.  I’ve seen time travel done very well and I’ve seen it done very poorly.  Unfortunately, this was in the latter category.  Kendra is supposed to be a woman of incredible intelligence, someone who was genetically pre-disposed to be a genius and everything in her background seems to confirm this.  So how does someone so smart act so unbelievably stupid?

Kendra constantly uses phrases and words that would have absolutely no meaning to anyone from the 19th century and instead of everyone looking at her like she belongs in an asylum, they just shake their heads and let her continue.  And how does a woman (one posing as a maid no less) somehow become the lead investigator of a murder case?  She can’t explain how she knows what she knows, and everyone is content to just leave it at that?  And the romance angle?  Give me a break.

It’s not often that I give a book 1 Star, but I just couldn’t justify giving any more.  The characters were not believable.  The main character was annoying.  The entire situation was ludicrous.  And the ending?  Atrocious.  Apparently there are going to be more Kendra Donovan books, but not for this reader.

 

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Filed under Mystery/Suspense/Thriller

Review: The Queen’s Poisoner by Jeff Wheeler

4 Stars

Anyone who knows their fifteenth century European history will recognize the story that inspired this book.  Imagine if King Richard III lived.  Imagine that in 1485 he walked off the field of battle instead of having his corpse dragged through the streets.  Names, places and events have changed.  Magic has been added.  But the underlying story is still the same.

King Severn Argentine has taken control of the throne.  He is accused of murdering his young nephews to take the throne.  He’s accused of murdering his wife, his child, his brother and as many other atrocities as his enemies and the populace can dream up.  He lives up to his fearsome reputation.  He destroys his enemies and those who have betrayed him.  He takes their children hostage and destroys entire families.  He belittles, degrades, ridicules and keeps his subjects in constant fear.  The Duke of Kiskaddon gambled and backed the wrong horse.  He failed to come to his King’s aid and for that, he has been ordered to prove his loyalty.  He must send one of his children to be fostered by the king, kept as hostage in exchange for the Duke’s loyalty.  If the Duke fails, his child dies.

Owen spends much of his time learning the castle and grounds, trying to escape his keeper.  He also spends a large amount of time in the kitchen where he has made fast friends with the cook and her husband.  He has a box of tiles that he sets up in intricate patterns and then with one push, the chain reaction knocks them all down in turn.  This is where he meets his first true friend and ally in the castle, Evie.  He also meets the woman who is going to help him save his life and become indispensable to King Severn.  He meets Ankarette, the Queen’s Poisoner.  She had been tasked by the former Queen (who is now in sanctuary) to get rid of King Severn, but she failed.  She was thought to be dead, but is back once again in the castle, this time she is tasked with saving Owen’s life.

Ankarette has a plan to save Owen, one that will not only save his life but possibly the lives of his family.  Not only that, it may bring him to the point where the King can’t do without having Owen by his side.

There is plenty of intrigue and action in this book.  It was fun for me to read, already knowing the history of King Richard III and seeing the parallels to King Severn.  The characters were fun too, especially Mancini.  He was definitely the comic relief!  Many of the characters are not well rounded or their appearance is not very well explained.  There are some conspiracies that seem to be going on that aren’t well explained to the reader and don’t go anywhere in this novel, but seem to be setting up for sequels.

My biggest problem with the book was the fact that the main character is an eight year old.  I know that this is a fantasy book and that it’s possible for younger children to be wise beyond their years, especially those who have magical abilities.  But other than that, it was a nice little fantasy novel.  I’ll definitely be picking up the sequel to see what happens to Owen and Evie.

 

 

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Filed under Fantasy, Unsorted

Review: The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison

4 Stars

Inside a mansion is a hidden garden.  In this hidden garden there is beauty all around, especially the butterflies.  But these aren’t ordinary butterflies.  The Gardener has specially picked each and every one of them for their youth and their beauty.  He gave each one of them their name and their wings.  These butterflies are the young women that he has kidnapped to build his collection.  Each woman was taken for her unique beauty and each one was tattooed with intricate butterfly wings on her back.  To add to this horror, each butterfly has an expiration date.  On the day the butterfly turns twenty one, she disappears only to reappear inside a display case, sealed in glass and resin.  She joins the Gardener’s permanent collection.

The garden is now destroyed and the police and FBI are trying to put together the pieces to this story.  They have one of the butterflies in their interrogation room and they aren’t sure if she was complicit with the Gardener or if she is truly one of his victims.  The woman known as Maya is a tough nut to crack.  The other girls won’t talk to the FBI or police unless they speak to Maya first.  Is she truly a victim or is she part of the Gardener’s sick collection?  The story of the garden unfolds during a series of interviews.  They learn that Maya isn’t her real name and the name that she gives them doesn’t truly exist either.  Just who is this woman?  Victim or accomplice?

The story that unwinds is beyond their imagination.  The lengths that the Gardener will go to keep his butterflies is incredible.  He believes he’s doing something useful, something beautiful.  And for all his brutality, he truly believes that he loves his butterflies and that they love him too.  He has gone to great lengths to keep his garden and his butterflies secret.  The scale and scope are almost unbelievable, but there is still that shiver that goes down your spine that tells you that this could happen.

This book surprised me.  I really didn’t know what I was going to be getting myself into after reading the description.  I knew that it sounded interesting, but I really wasn’t prepared for where this story went and how all the individual stories were bound together in this intricate web.  These women are more than their butterfly wings, more than just some sick man’s obsession.  Each woman has a story, an identity and a way that she deals with the horror that faces her everyday.  What would you do if you knew your expiration date?  What would you do if you were held in a gilded cage?

I’m always a little leery of anything in the horror genre.  I’m a wimp.  I’m prone to nightmares when things get too graphic or gory.  That wasn’t the case with this book.  While it is fairly graphic, there are still many things that are left to the readers imagination and the violence wasn’t’ overdone to the point where it became campy or a gore fest.  I would definitely recommend this to fans of the genre that want a little more realism and a little less gore and gratuitous nudity and sex.  Definitely led me to question what I would do in this situation?  Would I be someone like Maya?

 

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Review: The Eagle Tree by Ned Hayes

3 Stars

March Wong is a fourteen year old tree expert.  He is a young man who believes more in trees than he does in people.  He’s comfortable around trees, he knows them all by their true names and he climbs them all.  March is more at home in the limbs of a tree than he is in the arms of his family.  March is a young man on the autism spectrum and you are immersed immediately into his mind, a glimpse of what it may be like for someone on the spectrum.

March and his mother live in the Pacific Northwest and have just recently moved into a new house.  You go through his struggle to learn a new routine and learn a new house.  His one saving grace, the trees.  He quickly learns all the trees near his home and while climbing his neighbor’s tree, he makes an amazing discovery.  He spots an enormous tree in the nearby forest, a huge Ponderosa Pine, known as the Eagle Tree.  A tree that doesn’t normally grow in the area, but somehow has thrived and dwarfs the forest surrounding it.  March decides right then and there that he must climb this tree.

Unfortunately, the land around the tree has been bought by developers who want to level the area and build homes and other infrastructure.  While March doesn’t fully understand the meaning of the developers and the notion of buying land, he knows one thing, he needs to save the Eagle Tree.  With the help of his family, friends and teachers, March comes up with a plan to save the tree that he has come to love and that he’s desperate to climb, even if it means that he will be taken from his mother.

I really enjoyed large portions of this book.  I enjoyed learning how March’s mind worked and how he processed the world around him and tried to fit in, but in his own way.  The interactions between March and the world around him felt authentic as did the characters who were in and out of his life.  The bond that he has with his family is strong, but you also see the tough side of that relationship, where the stress shows through.  The love is there, but you can tell how hard it is for everyone as they struggle to understand one another.

The book is also a very huge lesson in ecosystems and global warming and how we are destroying our planet as we destroy the forests.  While this was incredibly interesting and informing, at times, it felt like it was being shoved down my throat repeatedly.  I think that was the least appealing aspect of the book.  I understand the need for it and fully support the efforts being waged on behalf of the environment, but there were times that it felt preachy.

This was a very good book and I would definitely recommend this to anyone who loves trees, the environment and anyone who is curious to see what life looks like for someone who is on the autism spectrum.

 

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Filed under General Fiction