The Dreamers by Karen Thompson – Provided for Review

This book was provided for review by the kind folks at Netgalley. Thank you!

In an isolated college town in the hills of Southern California, a freshman girl stumbles into her dorm room, falls asleep—and doesn’t wake up. She sleeps through the morning, into the evening. Her roommate, Mei, cannot rouse her. Neither can the paramedics who carry her away, nor the perplexed doctors at the hospital. Then a second girl falls asleep, and then another, and panic takes hold of the college and spreads to the town. As the number of cases multiplies, classes are canceled, and stores begin to run out of supplies. A quarantine is established. The National Guard is summoned. 

Mei, an outsider in the cliquish hierarchy of dorm life, finds herself thrust together with an eccentric, idealistic classmate. Two visiting professors try to protect their newborn baby as the once-quiet streets descend into chaos. A father succumbs to the illness, leaving his daughters to fend for themselves. And at the hospital, a new life grows within a college girl, unbeknownst to her—even as she sleeps. A psychiatrist, summoned from Los Angeles, attempts to make sense of the illness as it spreads through the town. Those infected are displaying unusual levels of brain activity, more than has ever been recorded. They are dreaming heightened dreams—but of what?

I always enjoy it when a book grabs my attention in the first few paragraphs before taking me on a wild ride. And that is exactly what happened when I read The Dreamers. From the first page to the last, I was enthralled by the story and continually wondering what would happen next.

One of the good things about this book is that there aren’t too many characters to try and keep track of. Yes, the book takes place in a small college town, but what is happening is presented from only a few points of view. The fact that the characters are all different ages and come from different walks of life only adds an extra layer of enjoyment.

The only real complaint I have is in regards to the virus itself. So very little attention is given to it, though it plays a major role in the story. Where did it come from? How did Kara, Patient Zero, originally contract it? Where did the virus eventually go? It’s alluded that it simply fizzled out, but because the whole town wasn’t affected, I find that tiny point a little hard to swallow.

Personally, I enjoyed reading The Dreamers; I practically devoured it. I wouldn’t recommend it for hypochondriacs, but for those looking for a good fairly quick read, I say give this one a try.

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Provided for Review – Daisy’s Run (The Clockwork Chimera Book 1) by Scott Baron

This book was provided by Netgalley and the author for review. Thank you!

Life in deep space could be a drag sometimes, but Daisy supposed things could have been worse. They were still alive, after all, which was always a plus in her book. Now if only she could figure out who, or what, was endangering her return home, things would be just peachy.

With the powerful AI supercomputer guiding the craft beginning to show some disconcerting quirks of its own, and its unsettling cyborg assistant nosing into her affairs, Daisy’s unease was rapidly growing. Add to the mix a crew of mechanically-enhanced humans, any one of whom she suspected might not be what they seemed, and Daisy found herself with a sense of pending dread tickling the periphery of her mind. 

Something was very much not right––she could feel it in her bones. The tricky part now was going to be figuring out what the threat was, before it could manifest from a mere sinking feeling in her gut into a potentially deadly reality. (via Goodreads)

As someone who is a very big science fiction fan, when I was offered a chance to read Daisy’s Run, I jumped at the opportunity. It isn’t often that you come across a sci-fi book where the lead character is a female. And especially one who is as strong and snarky as Daisy.

Daisy’s Run is one of those books that hits the proverbial ground running. Right from the first page we are thrust in to a dangerous, and possibly deadly, situation. The space ship has been damaged by debris and if repairs are not done it could spell catastrophe.

At first everything seems to be running smoothly, but when one of the crew is inexplicably sucked out in to space, what was supposed to be a quiet trip back to Earth takes on a more dangerous tone. It doesn’t help that aside from Daisy, almost every other crew member is augmented in some way, and it seems that every one of them has a secret they’re hiding.

As the story continues and Daisy tries to figure out what is happening, it becomes harder and harder for her to know who to trust. She becomes incredibly paranoid and the reader is left to wonder if all these dangers she is seeing are all in her head.

As Daisy becomes more and more paranoid, the story itself begins to feel frenetic. The pace almost becomes as frantic as Daisy’s mind is, only slowing down towards the end when things begin to be explained.

Baron does a very good job of making us wonder just who is telling the truth. Small clues are dropped through words and actions that hint at bigger plots behind the scenes.

While the story itself is a bit slow to start, I encourage readers to hang in there and keep going. When the story picks up, it picks up fast and pulls you along with it. And personally, I cannot wait to see what happens next.

Her Cyborg (Bound by Her #1) by Nellie C. Lind

CAN’T FIND MR. RIGHT? WHY NOT CREATE HIM? MedAct is the company that can make all your dreams come true! Just give them a call and let them create the perfect man for you. But remember, you can never give him up. It will kill him, literally. 

Loneliness and failed relationships made Phoebe want a cyborg of her own. With him, she would never be heartbroken again, but getting a cyborg is not easy. So when she turned to the medical and scientific company MedAct, she never expected to become one of the few people who passed their tests to be able to apply for one. 

Now, months later, his creation is complete, and they are about to come face to face for the very first time. The day she has waited for has finally arrived, and it is about to change everything.  (via Goodreads)

Her Cyborg is one of those books where the premise was very interesting but the actual execution ended up being somewhat lacking.

First off, all the cyborgs mentioned in the book are male. There is no mention of female cyborgs either having been created or even considered for creation. This means that the only individuals who can create their “perfect” mate are heterosexual women or homosexual men, and while the former are mentioned numerous times, the latter are not mentioned as being candidates at all.

Second, the “bond” that is created between cyborg and human is mentioned to the point of being ridiculous. Practically every page there is some mention of this bond, of how it is part of the core programming of the cyborg and should the female they are bonded to sever it, how the cyborg will die or go insane. Every character, whether human or not, talks of this bond – of its importance – and it gets tiring pretty quickly.

Third, there is almost no character development to speak of. We are given so little background on Phoebe or any of her friends that I found it difficult to actually care about them. Even when certain events came to pass and lives were in danger, it was hard to be concerned.

Lastly, and I think most importantly, was a detail I noticed that might make some readers uncomfortable. It’s mentioned that when a cyborg first awakens the bond between him and his human is particularly strong. So much so that the two of them must be practically isolated for their first month together. The way Lind describes Shade’s thoughts and actions during this time, it borders on the obsessive and could be triggering for some readers. And while his possessiveness is dismissed as part of his programming and will lessen with time, it was still troublesome to read.

Sadly, as promising as the premise of Her Cyborg is, the book itself is as one reviewer put it “A hot mess.” There is a second and third book in the series that continues the story with characters introduced in the first book. If they are anything like this one, it is not worth the money or time. Something which makes me sad because I really wanted to like this one.

The Fall of the House of Cabal (Johannes Cabal #5) by Jonathan L. Howard

Johannes Cabal, a necromancer of some little infamy, has come into possession of a vital clue that may lead him to his ultimate goal: a cure for death. The path is vague, however, and certainly treacherous as it takes him into strange territories that, quite literally, no one has ever seen before. The task is too dangerous to venture upon alone, so he must seek assistance, comrades for the coming travails.

So assisted–ably and otherwise–by his vampiric brother, Horst, and by the kindly accompaniment of a criminologist and a devil, he will encounter ruins and diableries, mystery and murder, the depths of the lowest pit and a city of horrors. London, to be exact.

Yet even though Cabal has risked such peril believing he understands the dangers he faces, he is still underestimating them. He is walking into a trap of such arcane complexity that even the one who drew him there has no idea of its true terrors. As the snare closes slowly and subtly around them, it may be that there will be no survivors at all. (via Goodreads)

The Johannes Cabal series is one I have read and enjoyed from the first book to (sadly) the last. Like any series there were books I enjoyed more than others. And like most series I’ve read, I am sad to see this one end.

The one thing I have loved most in reading the Cabal series is watching how Johannes has grown as an individual. From the self-centered, self-serving necromancer in the first book, to the man who willingly gives his brother an incredibly valuable gift; Johannes has come a long way. And with Howard’s writing, his growth is believable.

In this fifth and final book, Cabal believes he has found the one thing he has searched for for numerous years – a way to bring the dead back to life. An esoteric tome of unknown origin promises treasures untold and though Johannes has his doubts, it is the thought of what he could do if the stories were true that drives him on.

And drive him on it does, to a rather fire-y conclusion.

I am sad that this is the final book in the Cabal series because I have greatly enjoyed it. Fortunately, Howard has left the ending open so it is possible that one day he will return to the Cabal brothers. I certainly hope he does.

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss

Following the death of her mother, Mary Jekyll is now alone and near penniless. Curious about the secrets surrounding her father’s mysterious past and subsequent death, she begins a search for any information about the man who died when she was a small child. One clue in particular hints that Edward Hyde, her father’s friend and research partner, may be nearby. Hyde is wanted for murder and there is a reward for information that leads to his capture. Money that Mary knows could solve many of her immediate financial problems.

Mary’s hunt however, leads her to Hyde’s daughter, Diana. A troubled child, she has been abandoned by her father and orphaned by her mother, and is now left to be raised by nuns. Eager to leave the company of the nuns, Diana joins Mary in the search for Edward Hyde. The two women soon enlist the great Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, and with their help find other women like them – women who seem to have been created through terrifying experimentation: Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherin Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein.

When the investigations point to a secret society of immoral and power hungry scientists, each young woman wonders if the past has finally caught up with her.

As a fan of novels set during the Victorian era, I will admit I was a bit cautious in my initial approach to The Strange Case… In the past I have learned that the writing in these kinds of books can be rather hit or miss. When the writer “hits the bulls eye” with their writing, they capture the feel of Victorian England and draw the reader in to the described realm completely. When the writer misses…sadly, they tend to miss completely.

For me, Goss has done an excellent job and while she doesn’t completely hit the bulls-eye, she is not terribly far off either. In combing through the rich treasure trove of stories of the time, she has taken well known characters and combined them with new and unique ones. As these ladies are the daughters of numerous well known “mad scientists”, their simple existence is completely plausible. That they all exist in the same world, while not probable, is equally plausible. Who is to say?

If there is one thing about the book that I don’t particularly like, it would have to be the occasional “interruptions” from the characters as the story goes along. Having the characters interject with commentary – some before we have even met them – while not detracting from the story as a whole, was something I found distracting. At times it pulled me completely out of the story.

On the whole, The Strange Case… is a decent read. Readers who enjoy some of the more gothic classics, like myself, will likely enjoy this first book in the series. Personally, I will be keeping an eye out for the second book, and hopefully one day a third and a fourth.

 

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

“Are you happy with your life?”

These are the final words Jason Dessen hears before a masked stranger knocks him unconscious. When he wakes he is strapped to a gurney and surrounded by people he does not recognize. A man Jason has never met leans over and with a smile says, “Welcome back, old friend.”

In this new world, Jason’s life is not the one he remembers. He was never married and his son was never born. He doesn’t teach physics at a local college, he is instead a celebrated physicist who has somehow achieved the seemingly impossible.

Which life is real and which is the dream? Jason is finding it more and more difficult to tell. And should the other life be the real one, how is he going to return? The answer lies in a mysterious box and the stranger who accosted him.

Dark Matter is a story about the road not taken. It is a story of “What if…?”s and “What would happen…?”. It is a story about choices, and what one man’s choice can ultimately accomplish.

Jason Dessen is a family man. Married to his lovely artist wife Daniella, they have a teenage son, and for all intents and purposes they are happy. Still, Jason cannot help but wonder if things might have turned out differently. When he and Daniella married, they were both on the cusps of their respective careers. If they had not married, what would have happened? Would Daniella have become a famous artist? Would Jason have become a famous physicist?

What Jason does not know is that there is another version of him that made a different decision to the one he had made. This second Jason didn’t marry Daniella and instead focused on his career. After winning an elite scientific award, this Jason joins Velocity Laboratories where he eventually creates a device that allows travel between the infinite dimensions of the vast multiverse.

While the first Jason wonders if he made the correct decision in starting a family, the second Jason regrets his decision not to. This leads second Jason to actually use his device and cross the dimensions in order to switch places with first Jason and have the family he desired. When first Jason realizes what has happened, he decides to use the device himself in the hopes of returning home.

That last sentence reminds me a great deal of the television show Quantum Leap. In it, the scientist Sam Beckett leaps from life to life trying to find his way home. There are numerous differences between the two stories, but the essence is alike.

On the whole, Dark Matter is an interesting book. The majority of the characters are well thought out and written in a believable manner. Others, sadly, are not and are very one dimensional. For instance, Jason and Daniella’s son Charlie; aside from his age and his love of drawing, there is almost nothing else given about him. This is sad because for Jason, the thought of seeing Charlie again is one of his reasons for continuing his search. Yet we the readers are never let in on why.

There is a good deal of heavy science referenced in Dark Matter. Generally, Crouch does a good job of parsing the information in an understandable language, but there are a few passages that get bogged down with techno-babble. Crouch’s prose is rarely, if ever, ambiguous and aside from some of the science speak, hard to understand. Readers who like an engrossing read will do good to pick this one up. I found it to be an exciting page turner and one that held me from beginning to end.

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

Tom Hazard is a man with a dangerous secret. For all intents and purposes, he looks like your average 41 year old man. However, Tom has a rare and unique genetic condition that slows his aging dramatically. In truth he is over 400 years old.

In that time Tom has done amazing things. He’s performed with the great Shakespeare, sailed with Captain Cook, and even had cocktails with Fitzgerald. But now Tom is tired and longs for a normal life.

So with some help, Tom moves back to London and takes a job as a history teacher. All is well and he even meets a lovely French teacher and the two take an interest in one another. Tom’s past, however, continues to haunt him in the form of worsening headaches and memories of his lives gone by. Including the most important one; his first with his wife Rose and daughter Marion.

As events begin to unfold before Tom he must at last come to a decision; to continue living in a past that he can never recapture or come to terms and live in the present.

I will be completely honest with you, dear reader, I was expecting so much more from How to Stop Time. When I first heard of the book, it was when it had been announced that Benedict Cumberbatch (a favorite actor of mine) had been cast in the movie adaptation of the book. Like many fans I was excited and while it took some time, eventually read the book. Now, I’m only looking forward to this movie if they do an almost complete rewrite.

Tom, the major character of the book and through whose eyes we are taken on this journey, is such a boring individual. You would think that after 400 years a person would become at least marginally interesting, but such is not the case! Tom is terribly wishy washy, pining over his dead wife for over 300 years and leaving the search for his daughter – who he learns is like him and ages slowly – to someone else. For all the love that he professes he has for the child, he has an odd way of showing it.

Much like Forrest Gump, Tom floats through history and meets great people almost randomly. He plays lute for Shakespeare, he shares a drink with F. Scott Fitzgerald, he even dines with Cecil B. Demille. Even for one as nearly immortal as Tom, these would seem incredible, but he brushes them off and mopes. He agonizes over his wife and daughter but eventually does nothing.

The flashbacks of Tom’s, to his earlier lives, are certainly interesting. Haig seems to have done a fair bit of research and does his best to capture the feel of London as well as other places. The only drawback is Tom, at times he is very difficult to relate to or even feel any empathy for.

Another point I found irritating was that for all of the information we are given on Tom, there is so little given about the other characters. Characters like Hendrich, the head of the Albatross Society, or Camille, the pretty French teacher Tom develops a crush on. At times these characters are little more than window dressing. The reader is given so very little on them that when something happens, when something is revealed, there is no emotional reaction brought about.

The one individual that brought the most irritation in regards to this ‘not enough information’, was Agnes. We are given to believe that she is Hendrich’s right hand man – or woman, in this case – seeking out Thomas originally and helping him on occasion. Yet, other than that, we are given almost nothing else. Who is she? Where did she come from? Why is she helping someone so clearly unhinged as Hendrich? None of these points are touched on and are left dangling like loose threads.

The ending of the book is incredibly rushed and was not very satisfying. Throughout the entire book we are given all this build up and it is resolved in a handful of pages. The whole situation with his daughter – something that has gone on for centuries – is not even given that. I find it hard to believe that the decades of hurt feelings and pent up emotions can be simply forgotten just by seeing an old coin. And considering the plot of the book itself, this is really saying something.

The epilogue also felt tacked on and again did not satisfy me while reading it. It was as if Haig had finished the book and then came back at a later date with an “Oh, the readers will want to know what happened next…”. The actual ending of the book, despite its numerous flaws, felt like an ending.

If I were to recommend this to any one, I would say wait for the movie. That might actually be better than this was.

Infiltrator (Agent G #1) by C.T. Phipps

The International Refugee Society has twenty-six cybernetically enhanced “Letters”, and for the right price they will eliminate any one. These “Letters” have given up their families and their memories, exchanging them for ten years of service and a life of luxury when the time is done.

Agent G is one of these “Letters”. He’s been sent on a near impossible mission to infiltrate the Carnevale – the Society’s most dangerous competitor. It is while on this mission that clues from his hidden past begin to emerge. In the midst of all the violence and deceit, G will need to keep his wits about him and trust only a few.

After all, if an organization like the International Refugee Society will kill for the right price, how far would they go to keep the truth hidden?

One of the reviewers on Goodreads described Agent G as “If the agencies behind Johnny Mnemonic and Jason Bourne merged their R&D departments” and it is a description I completely agree with.

G is a highly trained agent, enhanced with what is referred to as Black Technology. Along with wiping his memories, his emotions are kept under strict control via the chip that is embedded in his brain. His body has also been subjected to several modifications, turning him in to the so called perfect weapon.

There is a lot of violence in Infiltrator – and I mean a LOT. Phipps does not skimp when it comes to that particular detail. People are killed left and right and not all of them are bad guys. Concepts like “collateral damage” are not even considered in G’s world of espionage. When an elderly couple comes across the carnage after G and one of the members of Carnavale have been ambushed, they are shot almost point blank before they can leave and possibly report what they saw. Deaths like this are fairly common throughout the book, underlining the fact that these are not nice people.

Overall, the plot line driving Infiltrator isn’t that original. Any one who is familiar with the manga and movies Ghost in the Shell or Battle Angel Alita have seen similar storylines – augmented individuals with forgotten pasts trying to remember the people they were, for better or for worse. Even the big reveal at the end, which has enough hints dropped through the story to make it fairly easy to guess, isn’t that original. Other books and movies have done the same thing and done it better.

At times I also found the dialogue a bit awkward and clunky. Even when the dialogue was between two characters it sometimes became difficult to tell who was speaking and there were a few times I had to go back to reread a passage to make sure I was following it properly.

The bottom line is Infiltrator is an okay book. Very violent and not very innovative, it gives us a story that has been done before but unfortunately doesn’t present it in a new way. While it might appeal to some, I wasn’t terribly impressed and I won’t be seeking out the rest of the series.

It Devours: A Welcome to Night Vale Novel by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

Nilanjana Sikdar is an outsider to the small town of Night Vale. Working beside the town’s top scientist Carlos, her guiding principles are fact and logic. These principles are put to the question when Carlos gives her a unique assignment; investigate the strange rumblings and disappearances that have been occurring around town.

Not wanting to disappoint her boss, Nilanjana follows the clues to the Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God – and to Darryl, one of the congregation’s most devout followers. Grappling with her beliefs as well as her growing attraction to Darryl, she begins to suspect there is more to the congregation that meets the eye. And that they are planning a special ceremony that could threaten the lives of every person in town.

Welcome to Night Vale is a currently ongoing podcast that mimics the style of NPR and small town talk radio. The difference being that Night Vale is not your typical town. Strange and mysterious events happen aplenty and the town is populated with a wide variety of individuals – from a mysterious glow cloud (all hail) to a literal five headed dragon and from numerous humans of all walks of life to some who are mostly human. And for the most part, the citizens of Night Vale get along well enough.

The reader who decides to pick up It Devours should have some prior knowledge about Welcome to Night Vale. While they don’t need to be fully caught up on the podcast, some knowledge about the town and characters is essential. The novel itself focuses on two original characters – Nilanjana Sikdar and Darryl Sanchez – but other characters such as Cecil and Carlos do make appearances. There are also references to the hooded figures, the black helicopters, and the Smiling God – all of which have been referenced before in the podcast.

This aside, It Devours is an interesting book. The two main characters come from opposite side of a unique spectrum. Nilanjana believes in science – that we should question everything and always seek the truth. Darryl believes in his religion – that we should question nothing and should believe the truths given to us. Naturally they butt heads but they both eventually realize they are simply different sides of the same coin. They both want the same thing even if they end up going about it in different ways.

The ideas of religion versus science are handled very well in this book. Neither is lauded above the other, neither is declared “right”. And the individuals who proclaim that their way is the right and only way are actually shown the error of their ways. Whether it be by being eaten by a giant sand worm or by realizing that they are in fact the creator of the tremors that are decimating the city.

The characters themselves are also presented in an uncommon manner. Very little is dedicated to their actual physical appearance. Instead, the reader is encouraged to get to know Nilanjana and Darryl by their words; their thoughts and actions dictating the kind of person they are. The same can be said of all the characters of Night Vale. So little is known about what they physically look like, the only exception being we know that Carlos has “perfect hair”. This allows the reader to imagine themselves or any person in any of the roles.

In general, the average reader could possibly enjoy It Devours. While knowledge of the universe via the podcast does make the read more enjoyable, the opposite could also be true. By reading the book one becomes interested in the universe and seeks out the podcast. Either way, I enjoyed It Devours and recommend it to my own readers.

The Outpost (Outpost #1) by Adam Baker

Moored in the Arctic Ocean, Kasker Rampart is a derelict refinery platform at the end of the world. A skeleton crew of fifteen occupy the place, every day a battle with boredom and despair. As they wait for a relief ship to come take them home, the crew receives word that the world beyond is crumbling. A strange pandemic is ravaging the cities, turning normal humans in to ravenous monsters.

One by one the TV channels die, the radio waves following after. The crew of the Kasker Rampart receive a final message; their relief ship is not coming, help is not on the way. The crew must find a way to survive the long Arctic winter alone, even as the deadly contagion makes slow progress towards them.

The Outpost is one of those titles that had been sitting on my To Be Read list for a while. As intriguing and as interesting as I often find these books, I have to be in the right mood to actually read and enjoy them.

With that said, I enjoyed reading The Outpost and had trouble putting it down once I started. Baker does a good job of creating a tense, enjoyable page turner; one that draws the reader in from the first page and holds them to the end.

There were times, however, that it felt like Baker was trying to add too much to the plot line. Additions that either had little to nothing to give or that ended up going nowhere. Why have the revelation that a character isn’t who they say they are so late in the story? And then do nothing with it? Why have a character go insane yet not reveal what exactly caused them to go down that path?

There is a great deal that Baker unfortunately leaves unresolved. Things that could have easily been omitted and not affected the flow of the story at all. And while what he does resolve is important, at times it also feels rather rushed.

Despite it’s flaws, The Outpost is an enjoyable book. I would recommend it to my readers with the small caveat that it does have it’s flaws. Readers who enjoy a decent thriller will likely enjoy this one as well.