Cannibal Kingdom by John L. Campbell

“Deep in an Indonesian jungle, a careless tourist releases an ancient evil that has lain dormant for centuries. Appearing as a virus, completely without symptoms and seemingly benign, Trident quickly infects the world’s population. Silently it waits, counting down to the moment when it will reveal its true, terrifying nature.

It is only weeks before the presidential elections, and Garrison Fox, a decorated Marine and devoted husband and father, is almost assured of a return to the White House for a second term. As the campaign nears its final days, the First Family finds itself scattered across the U.S.

At an Ohio rally and across the globe, Trident suddenly unleashes its horrible power, transforming unsuspecting people into merciless killers driven to feed. When an infected Secret Service turns on him, President Fox is forced to flee across an America plunging deeper into savagery with each passing hour.

In Atlanta, a CDC researcher will work against her own mortality in an effort to stop an extinction-level event. In Pennsylvania, a newly commissioned second lieutenant is hurled into a war for which he was never trained. And moving east toward a secure mountain bunker, President Fox must find a way to save his family, his country and his own life…if he’s not already too late.”

I’ve read Campbell’s Omega Days series, which also features zombies, and mostly enjoyed them.  There were times that I felt the novels were a little scattered or just didn’t quite hit the mark plot-wise, but I’ve kept up with them since they’re set in Northern California and I enjoy reading about places that I’m familiar with.  Seeing that the author had released a stand-alone zombie novel caught my curiosity, plus it got tons of good reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, I decided to give it a shot.  And I guess I’m just not the right audience for this particular book.

For one thing, the editing in this book is sub-par.  I found missing words, misspellings, and even homophone confusion (“principle” and “principal”, more than once).  At one point, a zombie is being autopsied, and the doctor cuts open the scalp and pulls the forward over the face to reach the skull, and yet somehow, the doctor sees the corpse’s eye twitch.  Another issue that I had was with the number of tired tropes the author uses–I’m specifically thinking of a female character on a deserted road who encounters the one psycho that wants to imprison and rape her.  And quite a few characters display tendencies towards the “lawful stupid” alignment, refusing to resist the urge to go roaming alone in zombie-infested territory or believing that it’s amoral to execute someone in the throes of turning into a zombie until they’ve actually turned and bitten someone.

The biggest gripe that I have is, oddly enough, the author’s attempt at a scientific explanation of the Trident virus.  Well, that’s half the problem, since the virus isn’t actually a virus, but the entire book focuses on explaining it like a virus.  And it acts like one, even down to the fact that it appears to be almost entirely similar to ebola.  But it’s not a virus!  Augh, my head… I wish the author had made up his mind.  In my opinion, it’s really tricky to write a book like this one where you attempt to use science, because you can’t half-ass it.  If you’re going to invoke science, you need to go all the way.  Here, the characters can study the virus/curse/thing and watch how it operates in the human body (but not animals, because Reasons), but the world’s top virologists can’t do a thing about it.  And at the end, the solution to stopping the zombies makes absolutely no sense, and there’s not the slightest attempt to justify it.

I hate to say it, but if this book was a movie, it would be made for TV and air Sunday afternoon at 2pm.  Good if you’re bored and have nothing else to do, but not much else.  If you’re an aficionado of zombie fiction, skip this one.

This book was a personal purchase.

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The Women in the Walls by Amy Lukavics

the-women-in-the-walls“Lucy Acosta’s mother died when she was three. Growing up in a Victorian mansion in the middle of the woods with her cold, distant father, she explored the dark hallways of the estate with her cousin, Margaret. They’re inseparable—a family.

When her aunt Penelope, the only mother she’s ever known, tragically disappears while walking in the woods surrounding their estate, Lucy finds herself devastated and alone. Margaret has been spending a lot of time in the attic. She claims she can hear her dead mother’s voice whispering from the walls. Emotionally shut out by her father, Lucy watches helplessly as her cousin’s sanity slowly unravels. But when she begins hearing voices herself, Lucy finds herself confronting an ancient and deadly legacy that has marked the women in her family for generations.”

So, wow.  This is a good novel to kick off October, the month associated with All Things Scary, especially in the media.  You can’t turn on a cable channel without the risk of glimpsing a slasher flick in progress; in a similar vein, it seems like a disproportionate number of books that I’ve read lately have something to do with monsters or things that go bump in the night.  I didn’t plan it that way, it just happened.

And with this one?… well, in my opinion, this book started out interesting and then took a hard left turn into gore-ville.

Basically, the feel that I got from the first half of the book was one of psychological horror.  Lucy is a cutter, slicing the skin of her legs and hips to let out the pressure of being expected to be a perfect Acosta girl.  The adults in her family seem oddly obsessed with a country club, hosting parties and dinners that must be seen as the most fashionable and the epitome of graciousness.  When Penelope goes missing and Margaret (who was jealous of her mother’s connection with Lucy) begins to hear her mother’s voice in the walls, all the elements seemed to be combining to tell a tale of the price of womanhood in society.  I could see all the pieces fitting together: the expectations on the women and girls; the sense of being haunted by the women who came before; the feeling of a legacy that can’t be avoided no matter how hard you try.  I was really getting into what I thought this novel was saying.

And then other things crept in–jars of teeth, bundles of bones, and other unsettling objects begin to appear.  And finally, the story devolves into a long ending of unrelenting blood and guts and paranormal happenings.  The story goes from disturbing to flat-out horrific in the space of a few pages and only gets worse from that point on.

I feel like this novel suffers from a lack of focus.  Did the author want to write a deep psychological study on the dangers of being a woman?  Did she want to write a creepy supernatural tale?  Did she want to create the prose equivalent of a splatter flick?  I don’t know that there’s an answer to this.  The book starts out one way, ends another way, and tries on a few other genres in the interim.  I’m not saying that you can’t write a story that contains all of these elements, but I am saying that this one didn’t do that good of a job at it, if that’s what Lukavic was aiming for.

If you’re a fan of delving deep into the terror of the human condition, you won’t like how this book ends.  If you love flying gore, you won’t like how this book starts.  Either way, I don’t imagine it will satisfy many.

This book was a personal purchase.

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Into the Dim by Janet B. Taylor

into-the-dim“When fragile, sixteen-year-old Hope Walton loses her mom to an earthquake overseas, her secluded world crumbles. Agreeing to spend the summer in Scotland, Hope discovers that her mother was more than a brilliant academic, but also a member of a secret society of time travelers. And she’s alive, though currently trapped in the twelfth century, during the age of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Hope has seventy-two hours to rescue her mother and get back to their own time. Passing through the Dim, Hope enters a brutal medieval world of political intrigue, danger, and violence. A place where any serious interference could alter the very course of history. And when she meets a boy whose face is impossibly familiar, she must decide between her mission and her heart—both of which could leave Hope trapped in the past forever.”

This book is set in Scotland, has time travel into England during the time of Henry II, and has been compared to Outlander.  Of course it’s going to get my attention!  Once I saw that synopsis, my interest was piqued and I put in my NetGalley request.  I initially thought I might have to wait until the book was released, but then I got the notification that I’d been granted early access.  So, I dove in and started reading.

I gotta admit–Outlander this is not.  I think that, barring a few mature elements, this might be a good introduction to the time-travel romance genre for early high school kids, or maybe good readers in middle school.  Anybody beyond that might find it lacking in suspense and complexity of plot.

Basically, the vast majority of the plot twists can be seen coming a mile away.  That’s why I say the novel is lacking in suspense.  There really aren’t any surprises in this book, although there are a few times that I thought “Oh, that’s a neat idea”.  But neat ideas alone can’t carry a story; there has to be some force propelling the plot along, and uncertainty about what happens next isn’t doing it here.

A personal peeve that I had with this book relates to language.  The characters travel back in time to the twelfth century, and their tutoring in the language they would encounter refers to a “twisty medieval dialect”.  Unfortunately, that’s not what they would have found when they got there, because in the time of Henry II, England was speaking Middle English, which sounds almost nothing like modern English.  It is, essentially, its own separate language, a mix of the Germanic Old English and the tongue of the conquering Normans, which was French.  There were terms in common use then that have died out by now, and terms that we use that didn’t exist then.  On that note, there’s a moment where a character talks about Hope’s “bloody photographic memory” and another characters tells her not to use “bloody” because it wasn’t in use in the twelfth century.  There is, however, no mention of the fact that “photographic” wouldn’t be in use for over 700 years.

Another peeve relates to that photographic (eidetic) memory.  Hope can recall things that she’s read once, which is fine, but she also does things that aren’t part of the phenomenon of eidetic memory.  For example, in a few scenes, she seems to pull information out of thin air to do complex calculations about force, angles, and trajectories.  This isn’t something she would do with only eidetic memory.  I have to wonder if Hope was influenced by the character of Cassandra in the TV show The Librarians.  Cassandra is often portrayed as visualizing information and moving it about with her hands to sort it out, and that seems to have an echo in Hope’s tendency to see an overlay of lines on what she’s looking at, which then allows her to calculate things.  The skills are two entirely different things, though.  I feel like Hope turned into something of a special snowflake as the novel progressed, and that rarely works well.

Speaking of borrowing things from other sources, there’s a direct analogue to Outlander in this book, one that doesn’t become clear in that series until around four books in.  Because this plot point comes almost halfway through the Outlander series, I don’t want to name it here, but those who have read the books will certainly recognize what I’m talking about.

I guess what it really boils down to is that much of what makes up this novel has been done before in various forms, and done better.  It’s not a horrible book by any stretch of the imagination, but as I said earlier, it’s on a less advanced level than I expected.  As an introduction to the genre to younger folks, I might recommend this, but I don’t think it’s going to please those who have read time travel stories widely.  The publisher really shouldn’t have played up any similarities to Outlander, because it suffers in that comparison.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon

how-it-went-down“When sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson dies from two gunshot wounds, his community is thrown into an uproar. Tariq was black. The shooter, Jack Franklin, is white.

In the aftermath of Tariq’s death, everyone has something to say, but no two accounts of the events line up. Day by day, new twists further obscure the truth.

Tariq’s friends, family, and community struggle to make sense of the tragedy, and to cope with the hole left behind when a life is cut short. In their own words, they grapple for a way to say with certainty: This is how it went down.”

Oh boy, did this one end up disappointing me.  With all of the incidents happening in the country involving the shooting of young black men, I wanted to pick up this book and see if a fictional account of such an event might help me make some sense of everything I’m seeing in the news.  But all this book did was make me angry–not at the subject matter, but at the handling of it.

The synopsis leads you to believe that the majority of the book will show the shooting from the points of view of different people who may or may not have been involved or on the scene.  And the book does start out like that.  That’s where it’s the most interesting–when the author is making you question whether or not Tariq had a gun or if the shooter mistook a Snickers bar for a weapon.  The very absurdity of a candy bar being mistaken for a gun underscores how stupid and random street violence can be.

But then the book takes a turn that I didn’t like, and it took me a while to figure out what was bothering me so much.  There were the surface problems that I saw, such as the plotlines that had nothing to do with the shooting.  For example, there’s a reverend who helps organize the protests and marches, and the author makes the strange choice to have him struggle with lecherous thoughts towards one of the young female characters.  There is literally nothing that ties this to the main storyline.

I did finally figure out what was bothering me so much about this novel, though.  After I finished the book, I sat down and thought about it for a while.  And I realized that the vast majority of the book does nothing to address the issue of an armed white man shooting an unarmed (probably) black teen.  Oh, there are the protests and marches and TV reports, of course.  But as the book goes on, the question switches from “How could something like this happen?” to “Was Tariq a gang member?”  And that is so beside the point as to be offensive to me.  Whether or not he was actually an active gang member has nothing to do with the fact that an armed man stopped a car, got out, shot a boy, fled the scene, and was eventually released from custody with no charges filed.  There are so many aspects of this that could have been explored, but the focus instead is placed on blaming the victim–just like in real life.

This is not the way we want to teach kids to think about these sorts of events.  We want to inspire them to question the cultural mindset that demonizes victims, no matter their race, gender, or social standing.

I can’t completely dislike this book, because there are some good parts where characters do try to think about what happened in a way that explores the tough issues, but there aren’t enough of them.  They definitely don’t overcome the glaring problems that come up as the book progresses.

This book was borrowed from the Yolo County Public Library, Davis branch.

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The Cemetery Boys by Heather Brewer

the-cemetery-boys“When Stephen’s dad says they’re moving, Stephen knows it’s pointless to argue. They’re broke from paying Mom’s hospital bills, and now the only option left is to live with Stephen’s grandmother in Spencer, a backward small town that’s like something out of The Twilight Zone. Population: 814.

Stephen’s summer starts looking up when he meets punk girl Cara and her charismatic twin brother, Devon. With Cara, he feels safe and understood—and yeah, okay, she’s totally hot. In Devon and his group, he sees a chance at making real friends. Only, as the summer presses on, and harmless nights hanging out in the cemetery take a darker turn, Stephen starts to suspect that Devon is less a friend than a leader. And he might be leading them to a very sinister end. . . .”

This book had been on my wantlist for a while, so when I saw it pop up as a Kindle daily deal, I grabbed it.  It’s a short book, and it only took me a single day to read it.  That’s not because it was so OMG GOOD that I couldn’t put it down; rather, it’s a pretty short book, so it’s not a lot of effort to get through.

The only thing that really comes to mind to describe this book is “average”.  The main character isn’t likable and spends most of his time whining about his life.  Admittedly, he’s had some bad stuff happen to him, but the immaturity he displays is pretty staggering.  The rest of the characters aren’t fleshed out at all.  Even Cara and Devon, who appear the most often, are kind of two-dimensional.  The rest of the boys in the town blend into each other to the point that what little descriptions they were given just didn’t stick in my head.

The story had its interesting moments, but ultimately there just wasn’t enough meat to it to satisfy me.  I couldn’t suspend my disbelief long enough to buy into the idea that an entire town was in on this weird secret.  I also couldn’t believe that they were all so open about that secret.  (What’s the point of a secret if you literally paint it on your walls?)

The best indication of my opinion of this book?… as soon as I finished it, I returned it for a refund.  I won’t want to read it again, so there’s no reason for me to keep it.  As a spooky story, it has a few good qualities, but overall, it’s just a time filler when you’re waiting for something more interesting to come along.

This book was a personal purchase.

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Hunter by Mercedes Lackey

hunter“They came after the Diseray. Some were terrors ripped from our collective imaginations, remnants of every mythology across the world. And some were like nothing anyone had ever dreamed up, even in their worst nightmares.


Long ago, the barriers between our world and the Otherworld were ripped open, and it’s taken centuries to bring back civilization in the wake of the catastrophe. Now, the luckiest Cits live in enclosed communities,behind walls that keep them safe from the hideous creatures fighting to break through. Others are not so lucky.

To Joyeaux Charmand, who has been a Hunter in her tight-knit mountain community since she was a child, every Cit without magic deserves her protection from dangerous Othersiders. Then she is called to Apex City, where the best Hunters are kept to protect the most important people.

Joy soon realizes that the city’s powerful leaders care more about luring Cits into a false sense of security than protecting them. More and more monsters are getting through the barriers,and the close calls are becoming too frequent to ignore. Yet the Cits have no sense of how much danger they’re in-to them, Joy and her corp of fellow Hunters are just action stars they watch on TV.

When an act of sabotage against Joy takes an unbearable toll, Joy uncovers a terrifying conspiracy in the city. There is something much worse than the usual monsters infiltrating Apex. And it may be too late to stop them.”

Okay, I kind of knew what I would probably be getting into when I started this book.  Lackey, in recent years, has tended to stick to the same type of story in just about every novel of hers that I’ve read.  And I was disappointed to realize that I was perfectly on target with my premonitions.  Because, believe me, you’ve read this book before.

Joy is the special-est of special snowflakes.  She begins Hunting as a child and quickly excels.  The Hounds that she bonds to–supernatural Hunting partners that appear when someone begins channeling magic–are a rare type that can change shape.  Joy can mentally speak with them and be spoken to by them, which is also rare.  Joy’s uncle is one of the most powerful men in Apex City.  The list goes on and on.

One trait of hers that I really couldn’t stand was her constant “This is how we did things back home” litany. It comes off as stuck-up, like anything she sees can’t compare to her beloved Mountain home.  She does act overwhelmed by things she sees and experiences in Apex City, but the endless comparisons start to grate on the nerves very quickly.

As far as setting goes, think The Hunger Games meets Valdemar, with a dash of The Testing thrown in for good measure.  There is nothing new here, no new ground broken.  This is a completely stereotypical dystopian fantasy that does nothing more than echo what came before it.  And it’s not that you can’t do a book that has similarities to others–I loved The Testing, and even I had to admit that it had a lot in common with The Hunger Games.  With this book, it’s more that there’s nothing that sets it apart from the crowd.  You’ve seen this all before.

The worldbuilding seems kind of shoddy as well.  Lackey changes the spelling of terms almost randomly, with no real reason discernable.  For example, the sixth day of the week is spelled Satterday.  I’m not entirely sure how the world as a whole got to the point where we join the tale–there is some effort made to tell the history through Joy, but that leads to a lot of info-dumping.

Near the end of the book, there are some action sequences that were pretty good, and some surprising character twists and turns that finally caught my attention.  I’m not sure those sections are enough to redeem the novel, but I did finally find something to enjoy.  So, while not much else pleased me, the storytelling had its moments where Lackey’s proven writing talent shines through.

I’m sorry to say that I can’t recommend this book.  There’s just too much that isn’t up to par, and a few awesome scenes near the end can’t save it.  I hope that Lackey is able to break herself out of the rut that she seems to be in and gives us the kinds of stories that we remember and love from the early days of Valdemar.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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