Review: Parasite – Mira Grant

Grant_Mira-ParasiteTitle: Parasite
Author: Mira Grant
Series: Parasitology #1
Orbit
Rating: 5 / 5

A decade in the future, humanity thrives in the absence of sickness and disease.

We owe our good health to a humble parasite – a genetically engineered tapeworm developed by the pioneering SymboGen Corporation. When implanted, the tapeworm protects us from illness, boosts our immune system – even secretes designer drugs. It’s been successful beyond the scientists’ wildest dreams. Now, years on, almost every human being has a SymboGen tapeworm living within them.

But these parasites are getting restless. They want their own lives…and will do anything to get them.

I decided to do something a little different with this review; instead of reviewing the whole thing at the end, I’d do little progress reports, because, while I am, at the time of this writing, around 100 pages in, I’m having a lot of fun with it and am looking forward to finishing it. I’m planning to do three sections to this review, so without further ado:

Part the first

My initial reaction was that I was unsure of reading this book. I’d heard both good and bad things about Mira Grant’s writing, some say her writing is too involved, and some really enjoy the level of detail and research that goes into her books. Some people had a problem with the format, some didn’t.

So far, I’ve not had a problem with either. I really enjoy when writers don’t feel the need to dumb every little thing down to the readers–they assume their readers are at least intelligent enough to use context clues to figure out what they’re talking about (or, at the very least, the reader knows how to use a dictionary). When Grant feels the need to explain something, it’s done in a way that feels less like an explanation and more like part of the story.

Then there are the articles, transcripts from interviews, excerpts from autobiographies, etc. These little bits are dropped here and there in between the narrative from Sal, our main character, and leave a slightly unsettling feeling in the pit of your stomach.

Speaking of Sal, her experience alone is wildly unnerving. When we first meet her, she is waking from a coma, a result of a car crash that left her brain dead. She has no memory of who she was before waking up, and she has to relearn everything it means to be human and to be able to function in society.

At this point in the book, I have my theories about Sal and her thoughts and experiences, but I’ll keep them to myself, as I’m trying to write this review without spoilers.

Part the second

I finished the book in what amounted to one large reading session. The book picks up speed, in a way, after about 100 pages (which, by the way, is usually where I say, “forget it” if the book isn’t holding my attention, but in this case I made an exception). Everything develops slowly, but it feels like it happens fairly quickly, Grant’s writing is that well-done.

Grant makes us want to care about the characters. I felt absolute anger towards Sal’s parents, who are overprotective to the point of treating her like a young child, instead of a fully capable adult. I felt devastated at some of the losses Sal experiences. It’s been such a long time since I’ve cared so deeply about characters, and it was so refreshing.

The last thing I want to touch on is that the book eventually starts developing multiple storylines. There’s the story with SymboGen, the company who developed the tapeworm, there’s the storyline with the military, and finally the “sleepwalkers”, which is coming across as a zombie-like story. Grant previously did a zombie trilogy, the Feed series, and I am now curious whether Grant is going to go in the same general direction (a zombie story). I was actually hoping for something different, because of this. By “different”, I mean not a zombie-esque story.

There are still more books to come in the series, so I guess we’ll find out if it continues, but it also looks like a “human versus human” scenario in the middle of a possible apocalypse, which is very, very interesting to me.

As a quick mention, the theories I had about Sal were correct, and I very much am looking forward to Parasitology #2.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. This has not influenced my opinion in any way.

Review: Stalk Me – Jillian Dodd

Dodd_Jillian-StalkMeTitle: Stalk Me
Author: Jillian Dodd
Series: Keatyn Chronicles #1
Bandit Publishing
Rating: 1 / 5

Keatyn has everything she ever dreamed. Her life is following the script she wrote for the perfect high school experience. She’s popular, goes to the best parties, dates the hottest guy, and sits at the most-coveted lunch table.

She’s just not sure she wants it anymore.

Because, really, things aren’t all that perfect.
Her best friend is threatening to tell everyone her perfect relationship is a scam.
Her perfect boyfriend gets drunk at every party they go to.
It’s exhausting always trying to look and act perfect.
And, deep down, she isn’t sure if she has any true friends.

To add to the drama, her movie star mom has a creepy stalker.
A hot, older man flirts with her and tells her they should make a movie together.
And she’s crushing on an adorable surfer. Dating him would mean committing social suicide.

So she writes a new script. One where all the pieces of her life will come together in perfect harmony.
But little does she know, there’s someone who will do anything to make sure that doesn’t happen. (goodreads.com)

So… What the hell did I just read?

It took almost two days to finish this book. It was filled with a lot of nothing-happenings. Mixed in with the actually important plot was a lot of slice-of-life stories. Conversations with Keatyn and her mom, with Keatyn and pretty much anyone. Unimportant things she does. Lots of descriptions of her clothing, which I actually started skipping over, because beyond a simple “jeans a t-shirt” or “dress and heels”, I really just don’t care. Throwing around a lot of designer names and spending what feels like half a page on a description of one outfit really crosses the line for me into “overkill” zone.

Not to mention that the book is written in first person, and not done so well. Keatyn gives a day and time for each section of narration, as well as a quick little title that shows up within that narration somewhere. If she needs to describe something that happened in the past (and usually, it’s unnecessary description because if it was important, it wouldn’t have been ignored in the first place). By “in the past” I’m not talking about something that happened years ago, but only an hour or so before her narration began.

The jumping back and forth gave me a headache after a while. I had to keep putting it down because a lot of what she talks about in past tense just wasn’t that important.

There’s also a lot of “valley girl” speak (using the word “like” as something other than describing or verbage). It’s. Annoying. It’s one of those peeves I have that I didn’t really know I had until it came up while reading one day. And it stuck with me, apparently, because it’s still really annoying.

Keatyn’s “friends” are back-stabbing, money-grubbing, no-good people. I know people like this exist, but if you go by this book, the entire existance of them are all holed up at some rich-person high school in Malibu. Keatyn fits in with them pretty well, despite her insistance that she’s different and wants to be different. She caves every. single. time. And it is beyond ridiculous.

Despite Keatyn only being 16, she obviously is much more mature and is also so awesome at doing practically everything. She plays soccer (and is apparently so good that her coach is okay with her skipping practices and games, because she never plays in one single game during the entire novel, even during the parts that actually take place during the school year), she dances, takes martial arts lessons, kickboxing lessons, and surfs. She’s fluent in a few languages and is passable in others. On top of all that, she still has time to party, party, party.  (This entire paragraph brought to you by sarcasm.)

And that’s pretty much my entire take-away from this, because not only did Keatyn seem like an annoying brat with too much time on her hands, she’s also entitled and more than a little indecisive. Let’s not talk about her boy-hopping and who she decides is the love of her life this week. We don’t really get to know much about any of the boys, except possibly Brooklyn. Even Cush gets very little screen time. Keatyn doesn’t give us a feel for any of them, except that they’re all, apparently, really hot.

The “stalk me” drama that happens over the course of the novel actually feels a little thrown in there because someone realized there wasn’t much of a plot otherwise. It feels paper-thin and watered down. Keatyn doesn’t concern herself with any of it unless it’s happening in the now–ten minutes later, it’s pretty much forgotten again. Keatyn also is more than a little stupid during the whole thing, which doesn’t help her case any.

Overall, I was very unhappy with the book. I won’t be continuing the series, especially if any of the sequels are as vapid and boring as this one.

Review: The Collector – Victoria Scott

Scott_Victoria-TheCollectorTitle: The Collector
Author: Victoria Scott
Series: Dante Walker #1
Entangled Teen
Rating: 4 / 5

Dante Walker is flippin’ awesome, and he knows it. His good looks, killer charm, and stellar confidence has made him one of Hell’s best — a soul collector. His job is simple, weed through humanity and label those round rears with a big red good or bad stamp. Old Saint Nick gets the good guys, and he gets the fun ones. Bag-and-tag.

Sealing souls is nothing personal. Dante’s an equal opportunity collector and doesn’t want it any other way. But he’ll have to adjust, because Boss Man has given him a new assignment: Collect Charlie Cooper’s soul within 10 days.

Dante doesn’t know why Boss Man wants Charlie, nor does he care. This assignment means only one thing to him, and that’s a permanent ticket out of Hell. But after Dante meets the quirky, Nerd Alert chick he’s come to collect—he realizes this assignment will test his abilities as a collector, and uncover emotions long ago buried. (goodreads.com)

The Collector is a lot of fun. A. Lot.

Dante is your narrator, and if you’re not used to it, he’s a little off-putting with his confidence, swagger, and outright arrogance. At some points, it gets a little annoying, but it’s also nice to see him handed a slice of humble pie, mostly from Charlie.

Dante, in life, was one of the Popular People. Charlie isn’t. Charlie seems a little over the top sometimes in the opposite direction of Dante–she isn’t pretty at all (messed up teeth, fuzzy hair, not-so-clear skin, bad fashion sense, and a bedroom that looks like Mattel’s Barbie threw up all over it). Her friends are just as bad of outcasts. After reading this book, and a few others in the “high school” category, I just have one question: do people really experience high school like this? And by “this” I mean, if you’re not popular, than your ugly? And there’s apparently various levels of popularity? Because I surely didn’t. (For the record, I was not one of the “popular” kids, but I was definitely known.)

Anyway, Dante has a one-track mind about getting out of Hell permanently with this assignment, and of course things go badly for him (because it wouldn’t be story if there weren’t complications). It isn’t until he really gets to know Charlie, as much as he can in a two- or three-day span, that he starts second-guessing himself and his assignment.

When I think about it, I had a lot of problems with this book. Not because it isn’t a good book, because if you take it on the surface level it really is kind of shallow and self-fulfilling, but because Dante is sometimes frustrating (okay, a lot), Charlie is too far in the other direction, and the plot gets a little obvious in places (notably the sub-plot of Max and Valery).

That isn’t to say I didn’t like the book, because I did. It’s a lot of fun. I went into it expecting a fun ride, without taking it too seriously, and that’s exactly what I got. When I first read it, I’d been in the middle of reading several serious books, either seriously long, or just with serious subject matter, and it was a nice change of pace. The second time I read it, I was in the middle of reading a fairly difficult adult book (for some reason, despite enjoying it, I was struggling with the length). The Collector provided me with a nice change of pace there, too.

This is, as you can tell, one of those guilty pleasure books for me. It may not be the best book out there, but dammit, I enjoyed it. And I’m also looking forward to the sequel.

BFTA Review: Jeff Lindsay – Darkly Dreaming Dexter

Lindsay_Jeff-DarklyDreamingDexter
Title: Darkly Dreaming Dexter
Series: Dexter #1
Author: Jeff Lindsay
Doubleday


Rating: 4/5


Meet Dexter Morgan, a polite wolf in sheep’s clothing. He’s handsome and charming, but something in his past has made him abide by a different set of rules. He’s a serial killer whose one golden rule makes him immensely likeable: he only kills bad people. And his job as a blood splatter expert for the Miami police department puts him in the perfect position to identify his victims. But when a series of brutal murders bearing a striking similarity to his own style start turning up, Dexter is caught between being flattered and being frightened — of himself or some other fiend. (goodreads.com)

Please forgive me — this review got away from me a bit.

Darkly Dreaming Dexter is the first in a series of books about a sociopath who occasionally helps his cop sister and kills bad people. Oh, and we, as readers, are in his head.

Dexter is short–at only 288 pages, it’s one of the shortest novels I’ve read this year, and it’s a quick read. Dexter is pretty fun, for someone who doesn’t understand or experience emotion. He’s practiced at “being human”, his way of saying he fools people into thinking there’s nothing wrong with him. Even his sister doesn’t really suspect. He is clever and witty, and has no trouble at all telling people how it really is, and even calling people out on their stupidity.

Although the book is really a who-dun-it mystery, Dexter really makes the book. He is entertained by odd things, like a Barbie head hanging from his freezer:

Whee. I had a new hobby. (p. 128)

I will say, however, that the introduction to this character is incredibly unpleasant, and as the book progresses, Dexter’s mind becomes more and more weird. He is fascinated by the moon, and it seems like his “hunting” cycle is dictated by it. He seems to only kill when the moon is full.

I could go on and on, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll leave you with some of my favorite quotes and this question: refrigerated trucks have rear-view mirrors?

If you can’t get me my newspaper on time, how can you expect me to refrain from killing people? (p. 170)

Because, the paper carefully pointed out, how could we believe that two such killers could possibly be on the loose at the same time? (p. 171)

Mutilated corpses with a chance of afternoon showers. (p. 173)

Originally posted 08 April 2011.

BFTA Review: Margaret Peterson Haddix – Found

Haddix_Margaret_Peterson-Found
Title: Found
Series: The Missing #1
Author: Margaret Peterson Haddix
Simon & Schuster

Rating: 3.5/5

Thirteen-year-old Jonah has always known that he was adopted, and he’s never thought it was any big deal. Then he and a new friend, Chip, who’s also adoped, begin receiving mysterious letters. The first one says, “You are one of the missing.” The second one says, “Beware! They’re coming back to get you.”

Jonah, Chip, and Jonah’s sister, Katherine, are plunged into a mystery that involves the FBI, a vast smuggling operation, an airplane that appeared out of nowhere — and people who seem to appear and disappear at will. The kids discover they are caught in a battle between two opposing forces that want very different things for Jonah and Chip’s lives.

Do Jonah and Chip have any choice in the matter? And what should they choose when both alternatives are horrifying? (goodreads.com)

The entire time I read this book, I felt like Twilight music should be playing. No, seriously. When I picked the book up, I didn’t realize it would turn out to be sci-fi, but that’s really what it is.
While I had no problem following the action (although some of the time travel talk threw me for a little while), I had a more difficult time getting to know and like the characters. The novel was really more plot-driven than character-driven, but the characters felt wooden and dull to me. While I wanted them to succeed, it was more out of a need to see what happened next than to see what happened to the characters next. At the same time, I like that it was a plot-driven novel, because it’s a faster read, and I didn’t get bogged down in some convoluted characterization and explanation, which could also have happened. I just felt like it was balanced a little too far in the other direction.
The ending was a little twisty for me, as most twists are, but that was okay for me. I’m a little iffy about whether to pick up the second book. Does it get better? Do we meet more of Jonah, Katherine, and Chip, or is it another plot-driven novel?

Originally posted 04 April 2011.

BFTA Review: Jonathan Maberry – Rot & Ruin

Maberry_Jonathan-RotAndRuin

Title: Rot & Ruin

Series: Benny Imura #1
Author: Jonathan Maberry
Simon & Schuster Children’s
Rating: 4/5


In the zombie-infested, post-apocalyptic America where Benny Imura lives, every teenager must find a job by the time they turn fifteen or get their rations cut in half. Benny doesn’t want to apprentice as a zombie hunter with his boring older brother Tom, but he has no choice. He expects a tedious job whacking zoms for cash, but what he gets is a vocation that will teach him what it means to be human.(goodreads.com)

I really enjoyed this book. Although I had a hard time getting around Benny changing his opinion of his brother so quickly, then backing away from it when Nix calls him on it, then going back to thinking highly of his brother, even though at the beginning of the novel he hates his brother and thinks he’s a coward. It was hard for me to flip back and forth so quickly, although I could see the change coming anyway.

The book itself was an interesting take on zombies. So often we don’t think of zombies as anything but shambling monsters, coming to devour your flesh (or just your brain, depending on whether you like scary zombies or cute, animated zombies whose worst enemies are sunflowers and peashooters). Rot & Ruin focuses more on who the zombies used to be, and, to an extent, brings the zombies into focus as more of a protagonist than an antagonist. Or, at the very least, innocent bystanders. I also liked how it touched on the definition of humanity in a world where it becomes easy to lose your humanity and become the monster.

I also liked that Benny didn’t suddenly become superman when he was without his brother. He didn’t magically adopt his brother’s skills, or develop some crazy skills of his own. He keeps his same, crappy skill-set; after all, he hasn’t been working at zombie hunting nearly as long as Tom or Lilah, but once his brother shows him what he really does, Benny shows the same compassion his brother does towards “Zoms”.

Really, I liked the book, and I’m adding it to my “buy” list.

Originally posted 31 March 2011.

BFTA Review: Suzanne Collins – Mockingjay

Collins_Suzanne-Mockingjay

Title: Mockingjay
Author: Suzanne Collins
Series: The Hunger Games #3
Scholastic Press
Rating: 4/5
Read for: Amazon Best of 2010 challenge

My name is Katniss Everdeen. Why am I not dead? I should be dead.

Katniss Everdeen, girl on fire, has survived, even though her home has been destroyed. Gale has escaped. Katniss’s family is safe. Peeta has been captured by the Capitol. District 13 really does exist. There are rebels. There are new leaders. A revolution is unfolding.

It is by design that Katniss was rescued from the arena in the cruel and haunting Quarter Quell, and it is by design that she has long been part of the revolution without knowing it. District 13 has come out of the shadows and is plotting to overthrow the Capitol. Everyone, it seems, has had a hand in the carefully laid plans – except Katniss.

The success of the rebellion hinges on Katniss’s willingness to be a pawn, to accept responsibility for countless lives, and to change the course of the future of Panem. To do this, she must put aside her feelings of anger and distrust. she must become the rebels’ Mockingjay – no matter what the personal cost.

It’s really hard to talk about this series without doing a lot of spoilers, but I’m going to try.


By the time I got to Mockingjay, I wanted the series to go on forever. I couldn’t stop reading, and although sometimes Katniss’s veering off subject to talk about the past with her father was a little distracting, even after reading two other books in which she does the same thing, it wasn’t enough for me to not want to read.


The reason I loved Mockingjay so much was because it was like yet another round of Games, only without the Games committee, and all the fanfare. And while I was intrigued with was was happening to District 13, especially since Katniss can’t help but meddle, even though she really shouldn’t get involved and is told such.


I think that’s the reason I like Katniss so much; she can’t help but stick her nose in other people’s business, and it made her the perfect spokesperson. I have a hard time imagining this whole series from, say, Peeta’s point of view, because Katniss is just out there, and she’s outspoken, doing things she knows she could get in trouble for and doing them anyway. And it’s not just in the third book that she starts doing this, but from the very beginning of The Hunger Games, out hunting with Gale.


There’s a lot of hype over these books, and rightly so. I was disappointed to see it end, but at the same time I’m glad that I finally got around to reading the series.

Originally posted 28 March 2011.