Book Review: The Hitchhiker Strain Box Set

cover58140-mediumTitle: The Hitchhiker Strain Series Box Set

Author: Kellie Sheridan

Genres: Horror (Zombies), Fantasy, Young Adult, Anthology

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Description:

END DAYZ

It’s month after the dead first began to walk. The miracle vaccine that was supposed to save us all has failed.

Now, four teens fight to stay alive as a stronger, smarter breed of zombie begins to appear, threatening to end humanity for good.

MORTALITY

After surviving a deadly plague outbreak, sixteen-year-old Savannah thought she had lived through the very worst of human history. There was no way to know that the miracle vaccine would put everyone at risk for a fate worse than un-death.
Now, two very different kinds of infected walk the Earth, intent on nothing but feeding and destroying what little remains of civilization. When the inoculated are bitten, infection means watching on in silent horror as self-control disappears and the idea of feasting on loved ones becomes increasingly hard to ignore.

Starving and forced to live inside of the abandoned high school, all Savannah wants is the chance to fight back. When a strange boy arrives with a plan to set everything right, she gets her chance. Meeting Cole changes everything. Mere survival will never be enough.

DUALITY

The end of everything came quickly, but the road back is endless and full of heartbreak.

After months of only death and loss, Veritas may be the answer everyone has been searching for—a cure. Savannah wants nothing more than to begin rebuilding, but with both the Initiative and the United Militia vying for power, there are no easy answers. Ending the threat for good could mean becoming something far worse than the monsters she is fighting against.

The infected will not go quietly. For Chelsea, the choice to step back into the world of the living is anything but simple. No miracle can erase the memories of the things she saw or the people she killed. While the girl she was struggles against the beast she became, Chelsea must make a choice—succumb or fight.

This Box Set Includes:

Review:

This is hands down, one of the best zombie-based book series I’ve had the privilege to read. The Hitchhiker Strain Series revolves around a small group of teens that are trying to survive the post-zombie infection world. It is a tale of lost futures, lost families, and lost innocence. The stories are told from multiple viewpoints and over a series of months between the first sign of an epidemic, and a year later when the world has collapsed and the first signs of a cure are starting to surface. The books are filled with clean, YA romance (though that is by far not one of the main themes), action, adventure, mystery, and horror.

The characters are wonderfully fleshed out and very human in the way they are written—imperfect, fallible, and struggling to come to terms with the way the world has changed. The real strength of this series, however, is the way the zombies were portrayed, and the way the author used their viewpoints to show the struggle for humanity that everyone—zombies and survivors alike—had to deal with. One of my favorite moments in this series revolved around the heartbreakingly tragic moment when I sat back and tried to imagine what it would be like to be one of the second generation zombies. I sympathized with Chelsea and Zarah more than almost any other character in the series.

The writing itself was beautifully done. The narrative was engaging, clear, easy to follow, and fast paced. I never got bored or confused, and there were very few technical errors.

Overall, I loved the series. I am so incredibly glad I read it, and I would certainly recommend it to anyone looking for a good YA Zombie-based series. This box set is going on my keeper shelf.

Book Review: The Enchanted Forest Chronicles Box Set

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Title: The Enchanted Forest Chronicles Box Set

Rating: 5 Stars

Author: Patricia C. Wrede

Genres: Fantasy, Children’s, Juvenile, Young Adult, Adventure

Description:

Collected together for the first time are Patricia C. Wrede’s hilarious adventure stories about Cimorene, the princess who refuses to be proper. Every one of Cimorene’s adventures is included in its paperback edition–Dealing with Dragons, Searching for Dragons, Calling on Dragons, and Talking to Dragons–in one handsome package that’s perfect for gift giving.

This box set includes:

Review:

This series was FANTASTIC. I first read The Enchanted Forest Chronicles as a  young teen in middle school, and the impression it left me with was so strong, that decades later I asked for a box set of the children’s books for Christmas. My family looked at me a little funny (being that I am now 30 years old), but lo and behold, I obtained the box set come Christmas morning. I spent the next few months reading through the four books (a chapter a day) with a 10 year old member of my family, and wasn’t surprised to find, that I still loved the series every bit as much as I did as a child.

The series follows the lives of a colorful cast of fantasy characters ranging from the princess who doesn’t  want to be a princess, to a baby dragon that wants to grow up too soon, an ill-tempered fire-witch, a boy who doesn’t realize he’s a prince, and a giant blue donkey that flies and used to be a rabbit. The pages are filled with humor, adventure, mystery, romance, magic battles, and familiar fairytale characters that have been adapted to this wonderfully entertaining series. The books are perfect for children of all ages, ranging from about 3rd grade on up—and even adults will love these light-hearted stories. I wouldn’t change a thing about these books… I’m only saddened that there weren’t more books to the series.

If you’re looking for a series of fantasy books to share with a child in your family (or at your school) you would do well to pick this series up. I guarantee you won’t regret it.

Book Review: All American Wolf

 

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Title: All American Wolf

Author: Adriana Hunter

Genre: Fantasy, Paranormal, Suspense\Thriller, Romance

Rating: 4 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

When a dead, naked body is found frozen in the snow, recently promoted Detective Serena Daniels is assigned to the case. Determined to be taken seriously, she sets to work unraveling the mystery, one suspect at a time.

Brody Sullivan is a man with many secrets and he also just happens to be Madison County’s newest citizen. So when he ends up on the list of potential suspects, it is Serena’s job to clear his name. There’s just one problem: Serena’s felt an undeniable attraction to Brody that ignited from the moment they first met, and if she’s not careful she may lose more than her job, she may lose her heart to the man who is willing to break every one of her rules.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I read this book as part of the Fated Mates Box Set, so I am planning to give a review to each individual book in the set, and then the set as a whole at a later date. There are twelve books in the set, and it is currently for sale on Amazon for $0.99 at the time this review was written. This is Book 1 of 12.

I really enjoyed this book. From a technical standpoint, with the exception of maybe one error I found, the book was well written. The narrative felt both natural and personal to the main character, Serena, and moved along at a pace that never seemed to slow. I was immediately drawn in to the engaging voice the narrative is written in, and I didn’t surface again until near the end of the story.

As far as the characters go, Serena was both likeable and easy to understand. Throughout the book there were moments when she let poor judgment override her better sensibilities, generally when the two main males were involved. In most stories, this would have irritated me. If you take a long hard look at the situation Serena found herself in with the two male love interests, in hindsight it’s easy to shake my head and say “What on Earth was she thinking?” Not only did she put herself into a compromising situation romantically, but she also put her safety, and her career in jeopardy. I can only say that it is a testament to the author’s writing abilities that at the time these events occurred, it seemed like the logical choice. I didn’t feel put off by her personal choices—in fact, I probably would have made the same decisions she did! The ability of the author to pull the reader so deep into the character’s mindset that they, like Serena, fail to see the warning signs of what’s going on, exemplifies how well written this was.

As for the male leads of this story, Brody was kind, stable, hard-working… everything we girls love in a main male lead. He was sexy and warm-hearted without being broody or over-bearing, and it was a nice change in this genre. He was, as the title states, an all-American wolf (well, shifter that is). When it came to Wes, that’s where my loyalties split. He initially came across as dark, charismatic, and sexy-as-hell. Of course, he also set off a few warning bells for both Serena, and me, the reader, but that didn’t deter either of us from drooling over him. I don’t want to post any spoilers, but I wasn’t surprised to see how this story went in this love triangle, but I think the author did an excellent job making both choices appealing almost up until the climax of the story.

Now here’s where it fell apart for me: There came a point near the end of the book (I think two chapters from the end?) when the story began to wrap up. The major fight was over, the choice of the main couple was solidified, and all the drama/murder mystery aspect of the story was over. The book felt complete at this point. I expected to turn the page on my Kindle and be faced with the title page of the next book in this set… but that isn’t what happened. The story continued on for another two chapters that, as far as I could tell, had nothing to do with the main plot. They were the quintessential “neatly tied bow” on the story that is so typical of romances these days, basically showing how happy the couple is and the plans for their future. Had the story ended where I thought it was going to, I would have rated this story much higher.

Unfortunately, with the extended ending, things seemed to be wrapped up a little too neatly. It also had the unfortunate side effect of bringing me out of the story and highlighting the questionable choices the main character made throughout the book. She started off the book as a strong female detective, trying to fight against the male-dominated workplace and solve a murder mystery. She wasn’t actively looking for a relationship. By the end, she’d given up her career and her home, put her own life in danger, and compromised her work on the murder case by sleeping with two suspects. Honestly, it made me a bit disgusted with her. Up until that point, I was fine with all of her choices, but once it crossed that line of “engaging story” and into “neatly tied up romance”, it had lost it’s appeal. I really wish the last two chapters had been scrapped. In the end, I gave it four stars, because the ending ruined it for me.

So did I like the book? Yes, I really did. It was short, but well written. Would I read it again? Definitely, but I’d avoid the last two chapters if I could. Would I recommend it to others? Certainly. If you’re a paranormal/romance reader and you like murder mysteries, give this one a try.

Book Review: Blind Wolf Box Set [1-4]

 

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Title: Blind Wolf Box Set (Books 1-4)

Author: Aubrey Rose

Genre: Paranormal, Fantasy, Romance, Contemporary, Box Set (Anthology)

Rating: 3 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

Julia has never been on a date in her life. She’s a curvy girl with no money, no education, and no way out of the town she works in as a library assistant… until Damien shows up. He’s just like the prince charming Julia always imagined would sweep her off of her feet. There are just a few things standing in the way of true happiness: he’s blind, he’s dating someone, and he’s WAY out of her league.

Oh, and he’s a werewolf.

Damien lost his eyes two years ago in a wolf battle. Ever since then, the straggler pack of disabled wolves he leads has been searching for a place to call home. One house seems like the perfect choice, but Damien realizes too late that the person who lives there is the girl he met at the library. The human girl. Damien is torn between loyalty to his pack and raw lusting desire for the girl who haunts his dreams day and night.

She’s a human. How could she be his true mate?

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I received a copy of this 4-book set on NetGalley from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

It took me awhile to decide how I wanted to go about this review. My first inclination, as with all my reviews, was to split the box-set up into individual books and do separate reviews, as well as an all-encompassing review for the set itself. Unfortunately, after having read the series, I changed my mind. This set of books cannot be separated. They do not stand up on their own. It’s almost as if the author wrote all four books (and I use that term lightly because they’re closer to novellas) in one go as a single book, and then split it into four parts. Personally, I would categorize these books as Episodes of a greater whole. Literally from one book to the next the split between the stories occur sometimes in the middle of conversations that continue on as if there was never a break. If you happened to miss the previous book, any one of these books would be completely incomprehensible.

So let’s get down to the nitty gritty: Technically speaking, the writing in this series of books is well done. It’s clear, concise for the most part, and grammatically correct. There were no missing words, misspelled words, or incorrectly used phrases. The writing is strong and engaging, and that’s most of the reason why this set scored as high as it did. Regardless of what happened in the narrative, I was engaged by the writing, and that’s half the score of any book for me.

Plot-wise, I’ll admit, the books fell short. There were little incidences of conflict throughout the series—such as the introduction of  Trax’s pack, Mara’s possible betrayal, and the obscure leader that took over after Trax—but these bits of tension were just that, bits. There didn’t seem to be an overall arching plot to the series, or the individual books, and the points of tension seemed to be randomly thrown in to drive the stories without having any great outcome on the stories themselves. The conflicts were resolved quickly, and with little effort. There were no quests or motivations that seemed to drive the characters to develop any further than how we originally found them at the beginning of the first book (with the exception of Julia searching out her heritage). There were no great understandings reached about their morality or about other characters.

Now, if you look at Romance being the plot itself, then for the first book, I have no problem. It was your basic romance… boy meets girl, they struggle, and eventually sink into a favorable relationship. I’m okay with that, but for the next three book in the series, the romance seemed to be an ever-present point, but not strong enough to actually be considered a plot. Once the main characters sunk into their relationship, nothing really changed with the relationship. They bickered sometimes, but there was no real threat. So while I’d consider the romance theme an extension of the original book, I don’t think the books had a strong plot behind them once you removed that element.

As for the characters themselves, I had a few issues with them. When the main female lead, Julia, is first introduced, she is a weak, self-doubting character. She’s never had a real relationship, and she’s uncomfortable with her body, so going into a relationship with Damien seems like a pipe-dream to her. I liked this about her original character. However, as the books wore on, this didn’t seem to change much. Julia never seemed to get comfortable with her body image. She was continually doubting the validity of her relationship with Damien. As a character (and this is true of all the characters, not just Julia, but I’m making a point of her) she didn’t grow or gain any depth throughout the series. Julia in book 1 was remarkably like Julia in book 4 with the exception of finally learning her heritage. For all intents and purposes, she didn’t grow  as a character—and that’s something I think is necessary in any novel. As events and conversations happen to a character, they should change. These characters didn’t.

Damien in particular was a sore point for me as well. Like Julia, he didn’t change much throughout the series. Unfortunately, the person he was didn’t present a real clear picture. At times Damien was forceful and angry (even towards Julia), but for the most part, he was a rather weak character. He didn’t lead his pack of werewolves with any sense of real leadership. There was this vague notion that his pack members followed him out of loyalty, but it wasn’t loyalty earned through great deeds so much as circumstance. One wolf had a crush on him. One he’d happened upon as she was dying, another was acquired from another pack. None of them followed him because he seemed to have any real leadership quality, and throughout the books he continually steps away from pursuing the qualities that would make him a strong leader. He runs instead of fights. He doesn’t reprimand pack members when they need to be reprimanded. It’s no surprise to me that he had as much trouble leading them as he did. His control over his pack seemed almost lackadaisical.

Even when Damien got into fights with Julia, he didn’t stand up for himself. Most of the time he whined about the outcome or worried about his own inaction instead. I honestly had a hard time accepting him as an alpha male character because his character was presented for the most part, as being weak. Combine his overall presented character with the odd moments of forcefulness, and it seemed as if the author wasn’t really sure what kind of character she was trying to represent. I didn’t get a strong sense of his personality outside the fact that he reacted to each situation in the stories in a way that would bring the most drama—and this is true of almost any character within the book.

The other characters, mostly members of Damien’s pack, seemed rather 1-dimensional. The books never got far into their personalities, or even spent much time on them at all until Damien had a reason to order one of them to do something. Other than Jordan, Damien’s right hand wolf, I honestly came away from the series not knowing all that much about any of the characters. There was very little backstory given, and hardly any conversations that lead to a deeper understanding of the characters at all.

As for the sex…it was steamy. It was also a bit overblown. Julia was constantly shouting “Oh!” or “Ah!”, or talking about how big parts of Damien’s anatomy were, and there came a point where I just sat back and shook my head. Sex happened all the time in this series. Literally, and regardless of the actual storyline. It felt as if sex were being thrown into the book at regular intervals to fill space. It happened before arguments, after arguments, during arguments… even when certain individuals were injured and sex would have been ridiculously uncomfortable or inappropriate during the situation. These moments didn’t seem to serve to bring the characters together, and so it almost felt as if they were fan service in a way. With the exception of when sex actually served to cause pregnancy or cement their relationship in the first place, most of it could have been completely removed from the series with no impact on the story whatsoever.

I think out of the four books, the first was probably my favorite, and the fourth was probably the most irrelevant. Honestly, in the first several chapters of the fourth book, nothing happened. The characters sat around and discussed poetry, motherhood, and how much they didn’t enjoy college, but nothing actually happened. If I hadn’t already invested four hours into the series at that point, I’d probably have closed the book. In my opinion (and take that as you will) the main interest of the plot fell between book 1 and book 2. After that, it felt as if the series were dragging. Now, that’s not to say that all the points in the last two books weren’t good. I really enjoyed the mystery of the werewitch, the strengthening of the bond between Julia and Damien, and the pureblood werewolf subplot. I think those were excellent story points, and I really wish the author had spent more time developing them. Unfortunately, these incidences were barely explained. After four books, I still can’t explain to you who the werewitch was, why she was different than the other werewolves, or what her interest in Julia was.

I think this series had a lot of potential to be something bigger than it was, but for whatever reason, the way the overall story was split up and manipulated really hurt the series as a whole. I wish this had been one book, and that the tension points and plot points that were brought up had been delved into further. As it stands, it was a bit of a lack-luster read. Would I read it again? No, I probably wouldn’t. Would I recommend it? Honestly, probably not. It’s not that the series was horrible, but I walked away from it without any passionate feelings on it at all. It wasn’t bad enough for me to hate it, but it wasn’t good enough for me to want to continue either—and that’s why I gave this three stars (and that was rounding up). It fell right into the lower middle of the rating system for me with an “it was okay.” I think there are certainly people out there that will enjoy this series much more than I did, and I would like to take a moment to commend the author for having chosen to represent her characters the way she did. It’s not often you find a series where the main cast are as intrinsically flawed as these were. There was an overweight virgin, a blind werewolf, a gay werewolf, and some formerly-abused werewolves. I’m glad to see that not all, or even most, of the characters were perfect. It was a nice change.