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Book Review: Above Ground by A. M. Harte (Series, #1)

November 28, 2012 4 comments

Yellowish moon seen through the trees.Summary:
Lilith Grey has spent her entire life living below ground–among the lucky descendants of the humans who escaped there before catching the virus that turned the rest of humanity into monsters from fairy tales.  But one day Lilith and her friend Emma get temporary vaccines and go above ground to a tourist theater to view these vampires and shapeshifters in person.  When everything goes horribly wrong, Lilith finds herself whisked away from the carnage on the back of a werewolf.  Can she ever get back below ground?

Review:
I was hesitant to accept a YA book for review, since the genre is not one I tend to enjoy.  But I had previously read and thoroughly enjoyed a book by this indie author, so I decided to give it a go.  Her other work, Hungry For You, is a collection of zombie themed short stories that manages to put a fresh twist on that genre, so I was hoping for more of that unique glint in her YA work as well.  This, her first full-length novel, is more unique than what is currently saturating the market, but I did not feel that it lived up to the expectations I had based on her short story collection.

The basic concept is intriguing.  Many post-apocalyptic stories feature humans living in bomb shelters or other similar underground enclosures but not for the reasons put forth in this novel.  This unique twist is what I’ve come to expect from Harte’s writing, and it definitely was the part of the story that kept me reading.  Seeing how the mutated humans lived above ground versus how the non-mutated lived below ground was intriguing and interesting.  I wish more time had been spent building this world and less on the emotions of the main character (not to mention her friend, Emma, and the werewolf, Silver).  The scifi explanations for the fantastical creatures was also engaging, but again not enough time was spent on it.  Similarly, while the typical werewolves and vampires exist among the infected above ground, there are also the more unique such as the ewtes who mutated to live in the water but can walk on the ground with water tanks.  Actually, I could have easily spent an entire book among the ewtes.  They were far more interesting than our stereotypical main character Lilith.  The world and minor characters are what kept me reading….not the plot or main characters.

The initial plot set-up is painfully stereotypical.  Clueless teenage girls wind up in danger. Two men save them. One is an angst-ridden werewolf. The other is a mysterious, handsome intelligent fella.  The girls protest they can care for themselves but the reader can see they can’t really. The main teenage girl feels inexplicably pulled to the werewolf angst man. The werewolf angst man feels drawn to the teenage girl and angsts about it. And on we go.  The last few pages of plot, thankfully, didn’t take the typical turn, but honestly the pay-off was incredibly minor compared to the rest of the stereotypical YA plot.  Even just making it a teenage boy from below ground saved by a female werewolf would have been a change enough to make me more interested.  I also was disappointed to see no depth or examination of the human condition here, which I saw in Harte’s previous work.  I was excited to see what depth she could bring to YA but she didn’t even bring an empowered female main character to the genre.  Quite disappointing.

Ignoring my own quips with the plot and main characters, the book simply does not read like a solid first entry in a series.  It gives the reader mere tastes of what we want to know from a first book in a series, like who the DEI are and why everyone is afraid of them, while lingering on things like how the main character craves the werewolf.  That is fine if it was a paranormal romance, but it feels more like it is meant to be a post-apocalyptic/dystopian style novel.  A clearer world needs to be established and characters more fully fleshed-out if they are to hold up a whole series.   There has to be a clear world and a three-dimensional main character set up before the danger if the reader is to feel any connection or caring at all.  As it is, I mostly just wanted to wander off and follow the ewtes.

Overall, then, this is definitely a book for YA fans only.  It’s the basic plot from YA with a twist set in a unique future world that was fun to visit.  YA fans will have to try it out for themselves to determine how much they will enjoy that visit.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy received from author in exchange for my honest review

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Giveaway! The author is running a giveaway along with her month long blog tour.  Check out the rafflecopter for details!

 

Book Review: Hybrid by Brian O’Grady

August 4, 2011 Leave a comment

DNA strand.Summary:
Amanda Flynn’s life changed forever when her Red Cross relief team was exposed to a deadly virus in the Honduras, leaving her the sole survivor.  Seven years later, when she thinks most of the horror is over, the virus resurfaces in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and she finds herself forced to team up with various government officials, a priest, and a coroner, in a fight against a deadly terrorist plot.

Review:
I admit that I bought this book in a haze that I call “Kindle Sale Fever.”  Periodically Amazon has sales of Kindle books where they suddenly cost 99 cents to $2.99, and I tend to impulse buy.  Oops.  (I mean, if you’d told 7 year old me such a thing would even be possible one day, I probably would have curled up and died in pure bliss).  In any case, the Amazon blurb led me to think this was more in the transhumanist/zombie genre than evil terrorist plot thriller, which I tend to avoid.  It’s nothing against the genre; I just don’t do politics in my happy fun reading time.  So, this book was already facing a challenge to satisfy someone who doesn’t tend to like that kind of story.

At first, it definitely was working for me.  The plot of Amanda Flynn mysteriously surviving the illness and escaping the CDC to avoid being treated like a guinea pig was engrossing for the sheer humanity of it.  The initial break-out in Colorado Springs was also intriguing with the virus killing some people but healing others from serious illnesses like childhood leukemia.  At a certain point though it started to feel like O’Grady was trying to do too much.  The book was trying to straddle multiple genres and plot-lines that didn’t quite mesh.  Among the things going on: new general trying to prove himself, survivors who turn psychic, Amanda dealing with her guilt, new African-American head detective dealing with being head detective in a largely white city, priest having crisis of faith, little girl miraculously healed of leukemia, coroner who might be a sociopath, definitely evil dude who hallucinates (or might not be hallucinating) some random Russian guy, head of the CDC trying to figure out the spy in his office, and Arab dude who may or may not be defecting from the terrorists to the Americans.  See what I mean?  This would be totally fine if they all somehow tied up in the end, but the main issue in the book of these survivors with psychic powers is just kind of dropped.  We get far more information on the foiled terrorist plot than on the effects of the virus on the survivors, and that is by far the more interesting part of the story.

It’s also bothersome that the main character, Amanda Flynn, is the least well-rounded and likeable.  The priest and the coroner are far more interesting and well-rounded, showing that O’Grady can write characters well, but Amanda simply rings false.  Perhaps part of this is that we see the priest and the coroner before they become infected and are still entirely human.  The story of Amanda and her survival in the Honduras is simply never fully told, and I think that would have helped a lot, even if addressed only in a flashback.

Overall, although the story itself is not for me, it does suffer from some characterization/plotting issues.  Thus, I would recommend it to huge fans of terrorist thrillers, who would probably still enjoy it.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Movie Review: Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Wounded head rising from the horizon.Summary:
The zombie uprising has struck, and chances of survival are looking dire.  Two American soldiers, a newscaster, and a helicopter pilot go on the lam looking for a place to hole up and hopefully survive.  They find it in a classic suburban mall, but how long will they be able to hold off the hordes–not just of zombies, but of other survivors?

Review:
This Romero classic is the follow-up to Night of the Living Dead (review).  Some similar themes may be found–holding off both the zombies and fear–but new ones exist as well, such as the danger presented by groups of other survivors.  Perhaps most interestingly, the question of how much does this apocalypse create a new world and how much of the old world should be held onto.

The beginning sequence in this film is less strong than in the previous one.  It is jumbled and confusing as we land right in the middle of the uprising, as opposed to at the beginning of it.  Everyone is talking at once, and it takes the viewer a bit to get acclimated.  Additionally, the scene in which the soldiers are introduced is confusing.  Plot-wise, it makes perfect sense, but logically, it makes no sense why the people the soldiers are going after are refusing to kill the zombies.  It does not seem like it should even be a problem, and yet it is.  This hesitance at killing zombies as if they were still people is present throughout the film.  Perhaps this reflects the ideals of the 1970s, but as a modern-day woman, I was completely unable to relate.

After the opening scenes, however, the story quickly picks up.  The four main characters are all well-rounded and interact well together.  Moving the plot to the mall was a brilliant choice on Romero’s part.  Much could be said about the commentary on the zombie movements through a shopping center, relentlessly wandering, up and down, around and around, surrounded by consumerism.  In fact, after the opening scenes, the entire film seems to be a commentary on consumerism.  Characters get into trouble when they want too much or try for too much.  In any case, the scenes of zombies wandering through the mall are incredible and clearly became iconic for a reason.

The concept of being able to have fun in the middle of a zombie uprising shows up here.  The characters run around the mall, blasting zombies, looting, learning to shoot, and more, and mostly seem to have fun doing so.  The distress mostly comes from boredom and feeling trapped, not so much from the zombies themselves.  This theme is certainly its own special section of zombie stories.  There are the stories that focus on the virus and the being eaten alive, and then there are the stories that focus on being trapped.

The special effects are dismal.  In fact, they are worse than in a black and white film because in color, it’s easy to see that the colors are off.  Obvious face-paint is used on the zombies.  Incredibly fake-looking blood that flows too slowly is present throughout the film.  One does wonder why they couldn’t at least get realistic-looking blood.

Overall, although the reasons this became iconic are abundantly evident, I still did not fall in love with it.  The plot was rather meandering, followed-up by a cliche ending, and there were portions that were just too illogical to suspend disbelief.  It is a fun watch for fans of zombies curious to see how they have developed over time, and it is those people to whom I recommend it.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

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