July 2017 Book Wrap-Up

Managed all of seven books this month. What were they and what did I think of them?

Why I read it: I very much enjoyed book 1, Remade and counted down the days with the author Alex Scarrow on twitter to the release of this follow-up. I got it in the eve of July, so it became July’s book of the month.
What is it about?: In a post-apocalyptic world where the majority of people have been wiped out by a virus, suvivors Leon and Freya discover help may be on the way.
Thoughts: I’ll try to keep this spoiler free as best I can, however I may need to address certain points in order to effectively manage expectations for this book. First and foremost, this is not the book Remade, nor is it a lazy rehash of Remade. If you get this book expecting more people dissolving in gruesome detail or a seat-of-your-pants thrill-ride like in the one found in book one you may be disappointed. If you want that story, go and reread Remade. This story, like the virus itself, has been Reborn (see what I did there?). This is how a sequel is supposed to go. Aliens did it following Alien as did The Empire Strikes Back followed A New Hope. They didn’t give us more of the same, they continued the story.
Reborn also has that The Day of the Triffids / The Walking Dead vibe, including the ‘scavenging for canned goods’, ‘avoiding the hoards of killing-things’ and ‘coming across other survivors’ tropes we all know and love.
What makes this story stand out is the body-swap aspect which really makes for quite the uncomfortable read. Not uncomfortable as in body horror necessarily but more as in that feeling of impending doom. Usually there’s the group of survivors and you know that one of them is not who they seem to be and have the tension come from not knowing which one it is. In this case, we not only know who it is all along, but we also see things from their perspective and what they’re doing. This has essentially body-swapped out the expected thriller aspect with a totally different thriller aspect coupled with a big helping of discomfort. You’re watching these survivors doing their best to keep it all together, thinking they’re as safe as they’re can be, but you know better. Instead of the usual sudden but inevitable collapse of safety, you’re included in the machinations behind every step of it. If you were watching this, you’d be shouting at the screen at the hapless humans telling them to “Getouttathere!”. I found it worked well in heightening the stress, you can see it coming, you know it’s coming, you just down know how it’s going to go down and to whom. As already mentioned, this makes you feel very uncomfortable as you’re as powerless as the characters are to do anything about it (short of shutting the book and leaving them all safe at that point in time).
Some effort has been made to develop the characters more, even the new ones. In the first book, there wasn’t the time for the characters to learn more about each other and themselves. This book has the time to do that and every character who is lost, is a real blow. Not just because of who they were to you, but because of who they were to the other characters you also care about.
If you found the first book squeamish, you might find this one more to your tastes. There is a little of that, I’m not saying the book is devoid of melting people, but there’s a lot less of it. Some of the later creature manifestations actually reminded me of the non-zombie creatures from Resident Evil (not the films).
Look out for Alex Scarrow’s shameless plug for Zombie Last Stands on page 120. It made me laugh. And I say, “Why not?”. There are a number of other pop-culture references in this book, might as well add your own as well.
Now for the negatives. These are a little nitpicky as I really enjoyed this book:
As mentioned at the beginning, the story has moved on from the first book. If you manage your expectations, this shouldn’t be a problem but I can see some people having issues because of it. It didn’t bother me, but I was aware of it.
I did find Leon and Freya’s acceptance of -Sorry can’t tell you BIG spoiler there- to be a little bit quick. After what they’d seen and been through, I would have thought they’d be very alert for anything remotely hinky. People behaving odd is a big indication of BAD STUFF and it was hard to believe they didn’t pick up on it.
It did feel like half a book. This may be down to my having waited for it so long, reading it so quickly and only to finish with those dreaded words “To be continued” and the next book still being written. It doesn’t leave on a cliff-hanger as much as there’s still a lot left unresolved and yet to be revealed.
This was a solid sequel in a story that’s evolved as much as its content. It the ‘last-survivors’ type material we have seen before, but with a good body-swap slant to it.
Score: Booktastic
I’ve also read: TimeRiders: TimeRiders/Day Of The Predator/The Doomsday Code/The Eternal War/Gates Of Rome/City Of Shadows/The Pirate Kings/The Mayan Prophecy/The Infinity Cage; The Legend Of Ellie Quinn; Remade
What’s next? August’s book of the month…Revenger.
Why I read it: I have a collection of movie novelizations that I pick up from charity shops. I like how they can give further insights into the story as well as how they sometimes have content that ended up on the cutting room floor, or was never filmed in the first place.
What is it about?: Every 1000 years a virtue of humanity is personified to make the world a better place. Unfortunately the latest Golden Child has been kidnapped by evil. Chandler Jarell, the finder of lost children is hired by a mysterious Nee Kang to find him and finds himself in a world of demons and dreams.
Thoughts: As stated on the book’s cover this is based off of one of the screenplays and not the final film. The film was originally intended to have Mel Gibson lead and be a more serious film. Instead it became what I consider to be one of Eddie Murphy’s most underrated films. It’s not his best, but it’s far better than people give it credit for.
Anyway, I’m reviewing this book, not the movie, but I can’t help but compare the two. As it was a movie first, I’m not going to review the quality of the story but focus more on the extra content, the writing and relevance to the movie it’s based from.
Although the plot and the sequence of events remain largely unchanged, albeit much darker and visceral, none of the quotable lines or scenes from the film feature in the book. Despite Eddy Murphy being on the front cover, Chandler is no way Eddie Murphy in this book (nor Mel Gibson actually but more Charlie Sheen).
There is further discussion as the Songs of reality and existence and good and evil, as well as the motivations behind much of went on. I can see why all that wasn’t included in the film, but it does flesh out the world a bit more.
I did feel that on a couple of occasions the screenplay to novel transition was a bit rushed. Sometimes it would read as if it were a screenplay without all the prose that makes a novel a novel and a few of the scene transitions happened without any explanation.
Certainly, this is a book that benefits if you’ve seen the movie first. Unfortunately, due to the character differences between the two, the book doesn’t really add much of anything to the film as all the internal thoughts and feelings are for a completely different version of Chandler which, in turn, altered Kee Nang.
Score: Worth reading…for completeness sake
What’s next? Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull
Why I read it: I spotted this in the library and liked the look of it.
What is it about?: The Pirate Stream (a magical ocean that can be sailed to reach many strange lands) is under threat and it’s left to ordinary Marrill (and her cat) who stumbles across a ship in the desert and Fin, a boy who is instantly forgettable, to not only save the day, but every world the Pirate Stream touches.
Thoughts: This came across as a cross between the discovery of strange lands like The Voyage of the Dawntreader and the comical silliness of Muddle Earth (not as silly but there is that feel to it). The hapless heroes take a voyage on the Pirate Stream stopping off at strange lands in the search for the Map to Everywhere. Each land is different with its own quirks and inhabitants, all the while they’re plagued by the big bad.
The characters were pretty good, with certainly a unique aspect with Fin who’s forgotten about when people shift their attention elsewhere. There was a lot of “Who are you?” but, surprisingly that didn’t get annoying and was even missed in longer passages when characters had focused on him for longer periods of time. There was a good exploration on the motivations and morals of a character (who naturally became a thief) who could do anything he wanted to without fear of repercussion, and then having to come to terms to having someone about who is able to remember him and what he’s done.
Merrill was a weaker character, who played the fish out of water role as she’s thrust into this strange world. She’s carried along her adventure by the plot and those around her, but produces very little input that wasn’t just there to act upon.
The villain was pretty decent, with some unusual aspects about him that made him interesting. He’s also quite well fleshed-out and, though not the sympathetic villain, is at least a villain who’s motivations can be understood.
The lands were well-imagined and not too far-fetched but not all that numerous, which did speed the plot along but I would have liked to have seen more. That there are currently 4 books in the series, suggests more is there to discover. I think I will happily attempt to do.
I should also mention the fantastic illustrations that makes this book feel linked to a Disney Channel series or other big production animation. The style and quality on the front cover and throughout the book are first-rate.
This is a fun adventure with some original ideas.
Score: Buy it
Why I read it: I recently read the first three books in the series and happened to pick up book 4.
What is it about?: Rick and the group be have found a modicum of security at the prison, but it’s not just the dead that are a threat.
Thoughts: Still struggling with the lack of colour. I think there’s one character here who I’ve no idea who they are.
Anyway,,,
This segment of the story deals more with emotions and interactions than survival. Now that the group have ‘settled’ into their new home, the reality of their situation and the fallout of the things they’ve been through bubble to the surface. Love triangles, murder, guilt, tragedy and grief see members of the group acting out in different ways.
I feel this is a slower volume than the first three and that the story has slightly stalled, but it does focus on the characterisations. Having said that, having gotten to know them better, I like them less.
Having seen the TV series first, I can’t help but compare the two, as I have in last month’s wrap-up which included the first 3 books. At this point, we’re still in the first half of Season 3. There’s still no Woodbury or the Governor, which is fine, as already mentioned, the group have some personal issues to push through. The love triangle was something not even hinted at in the show, particularly as none of the characters have even met each other at this point. I like how they changed Carol for the show, she’s certainly unrecognisable to the one in the book. It’s also interesting to see how the group dynamic has changed with different characters having died, survived or even existed between the two mediums.
Certainly, the book does take the time to flesh out the characters, something the show hadn’t done much of up to this point By introducing the Governor earlier, even in a parallel storyline, the show has more intrigue and the characters have more charisma.
Score: Worth reading
I’ve also read: The Walking Dead: Days Gone Bye; Miles Behind Us; Safety Behind Bars
What’s next? Book 5, whenever I pick that up.
Why I read it: My youngest chose this novelisation of the Gibli classic as his bedtime story.
What is it about?: Two young girls move to the countryside in order to be closer to their hospitalised mother. Depending on how you view the story, this is either a fantastical story of two girls and their interactions with the wood spirits or it’s a story about two young girls trying to deal with life without a mother.
Thoughts: Being a novelisation, I’m not going to review the story so much as how it’s been transferred to the page.
I’ve seen the film a number of times now, as have the children so we’re all familiar with the story already. In that, when the story deviated from what had been seen, it was a surprise, particularly as it follows the film so closely for much of it. There’s an entire sequence following the girls as they return to Tokyo for a spell. It’s not in the film at all and added little to the story, except perhaps Kanta’s involvement in caring for the girls’ forest they planted while they were away. The whole sequence with Satsuki finding Mei was also a lot different and removed some of the mystery surrounding the wood spirits, but not all…
The book is also interspersed with double-page illustrations, one per chapter, in the style of the film but all original drawings and not simply lifted straight from the screen. The famous Bus Stop image is in there, again drawn from scratch. Though they added nothing to the story, my son liked looking at them and they did help tie the two media together.
This book helps the reader to understand just what’s going on in the stoic characters’ heads. Kanta is a much more complex character than is revealed in the film. This is a worthy complement to the film, though it is advisable to have watched the film first.
Score: Buy it
What’s next? My youngest has chosen Muddle Earth next. I book I have read before, and one I think he’ll greatly appreciate.
Why I read it: I’ve been intrigued by these books for a while (purely by the covers, I admit). I managed to pick up the first six from a charity shop. My wife was also intrigued, so I read it to her.
What is it about?: Stephanie, the only member of her family who was close to her oddball uncle, is left his house when he mysteriously died. She also seems to have inherited Skulduggery Pleasant, a mysterious character who was a good friend of her uncle’s.
Thoughts: I literally didn’t know what to expect with this one. There’s a nifty picture of a fireball wielding suited skeleton on the front cover, and some girl on the back cover. There’s barely any summary. We both were surprised by how much we liked it. The exchanges between Skulduggery and Stephanie are marvellous and you get a real sense of a lasting friendship forming. Yes, this story does do the ‘World behind our world’ trope but its underplayed with not too much focus upon it.
It was also refreshing to have a child lead who’s not automatically imbued with every ability the moment they find out about this hidden world and are instantly able to master some spell or talent that they’ve apparently always had but didn’t know it yet. She genuinely struggles to make her contributions relevant but at the same time she is vital to Skulduggery’s efforts.
The witty banter between the characters and Stephanie’s friendships with Skulduggery and Tanith succeed in lightening the tone of an otherwise dark tale.
Score: Booktastic
What’s next? Was going to be book 2 of the series but I spotted Fiddlehead in the library, so will read that to my wife first.
Why I read it: My wife spotted this one in the mobile library and thought I might like to read this on the beach. It’s much later in the series that I’ve got to, but why not?
What is it about?: Nina has a long-lost relative who suddenly makes and appearance and starts her off on the quest to discover the secret behind the legend of Midas.
Thoughts: As usual with this type of action book, it’s best knowing that the action is very over-the-top James Bond insanity. If you prefer your action more grounded in the real world, this may not do it for you. If you’re a fan of the big explosions and insane-level lucky escapes, then this is a fun ride for you.
Nina and Eddie now have a young daughter, who doesn’t feature in most of the story excepting for the very predictable finale when the defeated baddie attempts the last-ditch kidnap before facing their ultimate comeuppance.
I found that the story perhaps went on a bit long, with three separate series of baddies and henchmen to be battled as they fight over the artefacts. By the time Eddie and Nina started taking on North Korea, it was a little much. Even if the action was exciting.
I did like the whole revisiting aspect of the Hunt for Atlantis, the events of which were 10 years ago in the story, the book of which I have read not that long ago.
Score: Worth reading
I’ve also read: The Hunt For Atlantis; The Secret Of Excalibur; The Covenant Of Genesis

And that was July.
What’s up for August?

Book of the month:
1. Revenger by Alastair Reynolds

Finish:
2. Fiddlehead by Cherie Priest
3. Jedi Search by Kevin J. Anderson
4. Amazon Adventure by Willard Price
5: Star Wars: Knight Errant: Aflame
6: The Massacre Of Mankind by Stephen Baxter

Read in its entirety:
7: Star Wars: Dark Apprentice by Kevin J. Anderson
8. Star Wars: Champions Of the Force by Kevin J. Anderson
9. Star Wars: Shadow Games
10-14: 5 Goosebumps books.
15-20: 6 Graphic Novels

As much as I can of:
Muddle Earth
Star Wars: The Old Republic Encyclopedia
By The Light Of The Moon
A Song Of Ice And Fire: Dreams And Dust
The Stainless Steel Rat Saves The World
Robin Hood According To Spike Milligan

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