Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Warm Bodies is probably the most unique work of fiction I've ever read. It is a tale of post-apocalyptic human sur...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Warm Bodies is probably the most unique work of fiction I've ever read. It is a tale of post-apocalyptic human survival against a zombie horde, except in this case, the main character and first-person narrator is one of the zombies. Said zombie is an existential philosopher who is trying to discern his reason for living (or being undead as the case may be). All of this is couched in a love story, although I hesitate to classify it as romance like many other readers do. It just simply isn't written in the style of romance, nor are the emotions as palpable as they are in most romance novels. However, I will certainly allow that love is a driving force in the story and without it there couldn't have been the happy ending that is classic to romances.
In my opinion, what makes this story so unique is it's protagonist, a zombie simply known as R. He can no longer remember the name he had when he was one of the Living, but he recalls the first letter being R. He spends his days in an often stupefied state at the old airport which is inhabited by his hive, lumbering around and groaning. Despite his outward appearance and actions, R has a rich inner thought life in which he analyzes his existence as a zombie. At his heart, R is a philosopher, but even though he can ruminate on the deeper meaning of life and death, he cannot remember enough human speech to verbalize much of what he's thinking, and even if he could, there is no one around who would care. I liked that R exhibited an unusual sense of morality for a creature such as himself. Although his “wild nature” drives him to hunt humans, he's not entirely comfortable with doing it. He's also a collector of human artifacts, which I saw as a way for him to remain linked to his humanity. Something inside R begins to fundamentally change the day he goes hunting and eats the brain of a young security officer named Perry. R promptly starts feeling guilty about this, because through consuming the scrumptious morsel, he becomes privy to all of Perry's thoughts and memories. Some of his most compelling memories are of his time with a girl named Julie. Essentially living vicariously through Perry's memories, R decides that Julie, who was present when Perry and most of the other members of her salvage crew were killed, is not someone to be eaten, but someone to be protected. He takes her back to the airport with him, and she becomes the first person he has ever really tried to communicate with since being turned zombie. Together, they embark on an adventure in which they must try to figure out why R's interactions with Julie have begun to change him, why some of those changes seem to be transferring to other zombies in his hive, and whether they might be able to stop or even reverse the effects of the plague that made the zombies.
Julie is the main female character, but we only see her through R's eyes. Because of this, there were times when I felt like something was missing. There wasn't quite sufficient explanation about who she was as a person and her motivations for doing certain things. She's had a pretty rough life in which she had to grow up fast in a world that was crumbling around her. She's a brave spitfire who doesn't really take any grief from anyone, and she has a curious nature too. This may be part of why she's so open toward R almost from the start. She sees that he's different from other zombies she's encountered, and after a short period of fear, she becomes almost blasé about being friends with him. This is where being privy to her thoughts would have helped me to understand her motives better, but as I read further and learned more about her life, my understanding of her character gradually became clearer.
There are a few secondary characters who play significant roles. Perry, despite being dead, lives on in R. The way in which he begins communicating with R reminded me somewhat of the relationship between Melanie and Wanderer in Stephanie Meyer's The Host. Perry was an intriguing character who appeared to be a rather doom and gloom person. He had essentially decided his life was all but over anyway and that he probably wouldn't live much longer. I think I understood what fueled this attitude in him, but again, like with Julie, it would have been nice to know a little more about him. Perry, in effect, becomes R's conscience, driving him to seek more from life. Julie's best friend, Nora, is another kick-butt girl who doesn't take any crap. R's zombie friend, M, also recognizes when things begin to change and helps lead the revolt. Then there is Julie's father, the general in charge of the human security forces, who unfortunately has become so blinded by his own hatred for the zombies, he won't listen to reason when Julie tries to tell him that she thinks she may have found a way to start curing them. Luckily, his second in command and Julie's surrogate grandfather, Rosso, sees what his friend doesn't.
It appears that one of the major genre categories for Warm Bodies is young adult fiction which makes sense given the age of the protagonists. Although their ages aren't outright specified, it is implied that Julie, Perry and Nora are still teenagers, but in many ways they act older, probably due to their circumstances. No one really knows how old R is, but there is some speculation that he was probably only in his twenties when he was turned. Given the young adult classification, there is some content in the book to which parents might object. For starters, there is quite a bit of language, including frequent uses of the f-word. Given that most of the characters appear to be teenagers, there is also some underage drinking going on. Sex is more talked about than actually described, but there is some mature content in that respect. Some of the things that occur: R briefly describes zombie sex which is basically a poor imitation of human sex, a character watches porn, a character's arousal is implied, a character tells of having prostituted herself at the age of thirteen, and a boyfriend and girlfriend are mentioned to have made love several times. When looked at in perspective, none of these things, language, drinking or sex, are terribly surprising though, given the rough nature of the post-apocalyptic setting in which people are struggling for day to day survival and social niceties have, for the most part, become a thing of the past. Of course, last but not least is the violence and gore. More than once the zombies go on hunting raids, looking for humans to eat, and sometimes, the consumption of human flesh is described. At times, it made me a little squeamish, but overall, I didn't think it was overly graphic. There are some good messages for young people here too about standing up for what's right, looking for common ground to solve differences, not giving up even though things seem hopeless, and the fact that love can heal a multitude of hurts. Overall though, given the content and the philosophical nature of the book which might be difficult for younger readers to understand anyway, I would only feel comfortable recommending it to readers sixteen and up who wouldn't be bothered by any of the things I mentioned.
In Warm Bodies, Isaac Marion has crafted a very unusual story that was an enjoyable read. I liked the world-building here, and he described everything in a way that was easy to envision. He's also a master of metaphor. Not only is he clever with a turn of phrase, but the entire story becomes a metaphor for hate, avarice and a plethora of other sins, a morality tale of sorts. While it was a very well put together story, I wouldn't say it was perfect. In addition to some character motivations being a bit murky as I mentioned earlier, the pacing was a little slow in places, especially given the post-apocalyptic setting filled with zombies. This novel is written in present-tense which I think was appropriate, but the author has a tendency to frequently use present perfect tense when I thought simple present tense would have given the narrative more punch and a greater sense of immediacy. Despite me zoning out a little during the earlier parts of the book, the ending was pretty action-packed, keeping me on the edge of my seat. For this reason and because of the delightful oddity of the story, I decided it was worthy of keeper status. While Warm Bodies is a self-contained story, it does leave some room for a continuation which it appears Mr. Marion is working on as we speak. There are also some short stories he wrote which are set in the same world and star the same characters. I'll be looking forward to checking those out while waiting for the next installment in the series.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" Robyn Carr has been a favorite author of mine for a while. I'm a big fan of her Virgin River series and up to this...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" Robyn Carr has been a favorite author of mine for a while. I'm a big fan of her Virgin River series and up to this point, the Thunder Point series has been good too. That's why it pains me to have to give The Chance less than four stars, but in all honesty, I didn't feel it was up to her normally high standards. For starters, the vast majority of the first ¾ or so of the story was told in dialog. I'll be the first to admit that rich dialog that advances the plot and character development is a must in any book, and to some extent it accomplishes that goal here. However, there were many times that the dialog would drag along, then be briefly punctuated by a tidbit of narrative, only to slip right back into another lengthy conversation. This is a classic extroverted style of writing that simply doesn't work well for an introvert like me. With so little narrative, it was difficult to get a feel for the setting and plot, which seemed to meander anyway, and with so little introspection, it was nearly impossible to connect with the characters in a meaningful way. The author has never been the best writer when it comes to blocking during dialog (ie. interspersing bits of narrative that show where the characters are and what they're doing or thinking while talking), but in the early parts of this book, this deficiency became painfully obvious. Normally, Ms. Carr does a better job with integrating the narrative and dialog together, but in The Chance, the story was very top-heavy in favor of dialog.
I liked Laine in The Hero for her heroic efforts in saving the women and children from a cult commune, but I'm sorry to say that I never fully warmed up to her in The Chance. It's not that I disliked her either. Her personality is just so different from my own that I had a hard time relating to her. She's a woman who enjoys the domestic side of life such as cooking, organizing and painting her house, and while she's willing to share those talents with Eric, she has no intention of becoming a mere housewife. She's a daredevil, who even as a little girl, liked to live on the edge, which is why the FBI appealed to her so much. After getting shot though, she's ready to relax a little and do some soul-searching. Laine is a very bold, take charge kind of woman, a little too much so for my taste. I guess it was kind of cute that she asked Eric out first when she felt like he was taking too long, but overall, I prefer a more traditional heroine. I also think there could have been more introspection to explain why he was waiting and why she was feeling impatient. Laine is basically the alpha female, taking the bull by the horns in their relationship. She's the first to ask for sex (on their first date, no less) and invites Eric to move in with her mere weeks later. Luckily for her, he's a very laid back kind of guy who isn't bothered by this and just takes it all in stride. Overall, Laine seemed to think more like a man, which was hard for me to understand. She does have some daddy issues, since her father never supported any of her choices in life and constantly downplays her accomplishments. This helped to make her a bit more sympathetic, and in the end, she showed what a devoted daughter she was anyway despite not having a very good relationship with him. These things made her a little more relatable, but she was simply never a stand-out heroine for me.
For an ex-con who walked out on his possibly pregnant girlfriend seventeen years ago, Eric turned out to be a pretty likable guy. As it turns out, the event that got him thrown in prison for five years in his wild youth ended up not entirely being his fault, but the judge threw the book at him anyway. Even though he got a rather harsh sentence for what he did, Eric isn't bitter about it, which is something I admired about him. He's also done a great job of turning his life around since getting out. He built a very profitable body shop, which he then sold for a very good price to move to Thunder Point, where he's starting fresh with a new service station. He works long hours, but always tries to find time for Ashley, the daughter he just recently found out about. Then Laine comes into the picture, and he's totally smitten. I liked that Eric was a gentleman on their first date, even turning Laine down on her initial offer of sex, although that resolve only lasted a day. He's also a bit on the old-fashioned side and very protective toward Laine when he finds out the truth of what she does for a living, although he backed off on his concern after she “proved” she could take care of herself. Although Eric might not make it to the top of my favorite heroes list, he had grown into a pretty admirable and laid-back guy, who was willing take whatever Laine offered and never pressured her for more.
Where things kind of fell apart for me was in their romance, which was pretty mundane for a Robyn Carr book. When they first met and then started seeing each other around town, there was some underlying interest on both their parts, but no strong spark of attraction, not even one of them thinking "Wow, he/she is gorgeous!" With that being the case, I wasn't entirely sure why they liked each other and wanted to go out in the first place. This is where I felt that more body language and introspection would have helped build these two characters and their emotional connection better. On their first date, I could see more of a connection, but overall, their romance was still pretty bland. They fell into bed on their second date and had explosive sexual chemistry (although for the most part, that's told, not shown, since there is only the one moderately descriptive love scene), but they literally don't have anything at all in common. This makes it difficult to see how a long-term relationship would work. Also, despite them living together, they still keep their relationship relatively casual, saying that they aren't looking for any commitments, especially Laine. Eric is quite aware too that once her leave of absence is up, she very well may return to the bureau and leave Thunder Point (and him) behind. The other thing I thought was weak about the romance is that there's virtually no conflict to speak of. The cover blurb alludes to the primary conflict being the differences that arise from Laine being an FBI agent and Eric being an ex-con, which could have been quite interesting if that was the case, but nothing could have been further from the truth. They get along famously right from the start and never have any arguments or misunderstandings. While there's something to be said for characters not keeping secrets from one another, them getting it all out in the open so early in the story left little else of interest which is probably why their relationship seemed so ordinary to me. Laine does have to go away to Boston to deal with her father toward the very end of the book, leaving at least a little doubt as to whether she would get things worked out and find a way to get back to Eric and Thunder Point, but it was too little too late, in my opinion. Up to that point, I was starting to get bored with them as a couple.
Robyn Carr's signature writing style is usually full of secondary characters who have their own POVs and side plots, but sadly, there weren't very many in The Chance. Most of the characters from the first three books of the series barely show up, and only a couple of new characters, both employees of Eric's, are introduced, who might play roles in future books. First is Al, a middle-aged drifter who has trouble settling down in one place because of past mistakes. Almost immediately upon coming to town, he kindles a romance with real estate agent, Raye Ann. However, we don't really even get into the meat of his storyline until near the end of the book. Once I started learning more about him, he was a pretty interesting guy. His sub-plot intertwines with that of Justin, a seventeen year old young man whose mother is gravely ill and whose father skipped out on the family a long time ago. He's trying to hold things together for the sake of his two younger brothers, both of whom are in danger of winding up in foster care. Again, he was an intriguing character, but things don't really get rolling for him either until near the end. I would have liked to see their stories woven into the narrative earlier and more seamlessly instead of being crammed into the final chapters. The final supporting characters who played important roles were Laine's family. Her twin brother, Pax, is basically her support system and the only one who can really deal with their irritating father, but he's a busy doctor with little time to himself. As with the other sub-plots, Laine's father appears during approx. the last ¼ of the novel, but I have to say his storyline was pretty predictable. I realized almost instantly what was happening with him, and it didn't do much else besides providing a little family drama and giving Laine the opportunity to reconcile with him. Even Eric's daughter, Ashley, was barely seen. We're simply told about her and the other kids from the first three books graduating high school rather than being shown, which would have been nice. The new town doctor, Scott Grant, who becomes the hero of the next book, The Promise, shows up briefly in a few scenes, just enough to give the reader the impression that his story is coming.
While The Chance had some good points, in general, it was the weakest of Robyn Carr's full-length novels I've read to date. At times, it felt like she'd run out of ideas and was just writing stuff to fill in the word count without really taking the time and care to breathe life into her characters, particularly Laine and Eric. With no real commitment until the final pages (even then it was more of an HFN ending since there's no proposal or anything), and the stakes being pretty low for our happy couple, even the romance was lacking. I know for a fact that Ms. Carr is capable of much better. Just about any book in the Virgin River series is proof of this. The final 1/3 or so of The Chance actually reflected more of the writer I've come to know and love. The fact that the ending was considerably better than the first 2/3 of the book is what prevented my rating from being lower, but I still couldn't help feeling like this book was rushed to publication when it could have been more carefully crafted to tell a truly compelling story. One misstep certainly isn't enough to put me off Ms. Carr's writing, so I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that with The Promise, she'll get back to the engaging storytelling that won me over as a fan and give the sexy doctor a meatier plot.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the publicist via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" One with the Night was another great read in Susan Squire's Companion series. Once again, I'm rather shocked by th...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" One with the Night was another great read in Susan Squire's Companion series. Once again, I'm rather shocked by the somewhat lower ratings for this series. Then again, perhaps it has something to do with the fact that she has a penchant for seriously torturing her heroes, sexually and physically. Said heroes are also typically more docile and submissive than most vampire heroes, though I hesitate to call some of them betas. However, for the most part, none of this bothers me. Overall, I enjoy the juxtaposition of the heroine essentially saving the hero. I also love how Ms. Squires takes her characters on an emotional and psychological journey that always culminates in them not only finding true and lasting love, but also finding some peace with their companion which up to that point has usually tormented them. I thoroughly enjoy watching them learn about themselves and each other and grow throughout the story to a place where I can believe in their rightness for one another and the power of their love.
Like nearly all of the heroes in this series to date, Callan is a deeply tortured man who was another of the evil Asharti's victims. She put him through hell as her own personal plaything, repeatedly raping and physically tormenting him throughout his time with her. At first it was via compulsion, but eventually, he submitted to her tortures which only left him further psychologically confused about whether he was a warped man who truly enjoyed her “attentions.” She coerced him into committing other atrocities for her as well, and when she was finally dead, he tried to create a vampire haven where others of his kind could find solace. Unfortunately, that plan backfired to the point that he became known as a traitor both to humans and vampires. Because of all this, he believes himself evil and unredeemable, but it doesn't stop the good in him from coming out in small ways. I loved how his part of the story opened with him “cleaning house” in a brothel and throwing the cruel manager and customers out while offering a new life to the prostitutes. Little good deeds like this are his way of trying to atone for the wrongs he committed in the past, but in reality, he doesn't believe he's doing much good. Callan is so tormented, he has tried several times to kill himself, but his companion won't allow it. Therefore, when he hears of a possible cure for vampirism, he's all too eager to find the doctor who is trying to discover it. Callan thinks that if he can become human again, he might finally be able to return to a normal life, and if not, then at least he'd be able to commit suicide. He just didn't expect to find love in the process. Not surprisingly, since escaping Asharti, Callan has chosen a celibate life for the past two years and doesn't really want to have anything to do with women or sex, but he can't resist the way Jane draws him. She's innocent, good, generous, and shockingly positive even in the face of her own vampirism. Although he desires her deeply, he believes it's only his companion driving him to the call of life, and he also believes himself not even close to good enough for her. Callan loathes himself so much for the things Asharti made him do that he eventually allows Jane to believe some things about himself that, while technically true, have more nuance to them than he's willing to admit. He even lets her think he's willingly having sex with the villainess, Elyta, when in reality she is compelling him in one way or another. Poor Callan has been raped so many times, first by Asharti and then Elyta, that he has trouble differentiating between a loving, healthy sexual relationship and abuse, but luckily through Jane's gentleness and their love for one another, he is finally able to experience and recognize the distinction.
Jane has always lived in the shadow of her father but is a very talented scientist and healer in her own right. She learned a great deal about doctoring by simply watching her father and reading anatomy books. In fact, she's a very bookish young lady in general, which was something I loved about her. She also taught herself midwifery by lying to her father about where she was and going into the slums to help pregnant woman. Despite all this, her father has little faith in her abilities, mainly because she's a woman, which has left her with some psychological scars of her own to overcome. Because of how she was turned vampire in a laboratory accident, Jane is still innocently unaware of the full extent of her condition and powers. She only knows what she and her father have been able to deduce scientifically. Because his only child has this “disease,” her father is working tirelessly to find a cure. It's very cute how Jane tries to comport herself like a proper lady, drinking her blood from a teacup, not allowing her "affliction" to turn her into a beast. This measure of control she exhibits over her companion definitely comes in handy in convincing Callan that not every vampire is a slave to the creature that shares their blood. She's definitely a scientist through and through. The fact that she treated her one and only sexual experience years ago as a science experiment was amusing, yet it was sad that she thought of herself as not attractive enough and too much of a bluestocking to be marriageable. This is what led to her wanting to experience sex outside of marriage, but her experiment definitely didn't produce the results she was looking for. She'd been told it would be a transforming experience, but hers was anything but until she meets Callan. However, Jane leans so far toward being a liberated woman that her first love-making experience with Callan leaves her feeling frightened that she might lose herself and her ambitions in her feelings for him. She also thinks it's just her companion producing a heightened sexual response, and that makes her feel warped for wanting sex with him so badly. Luckily, she finally comes to terms with all of this and eventually embraces every part of her new self. I also couldn't have been prouder of her when she showed her intelligence by deducing (with a little help) what was actually going on between Callan and Elyta and putting stop to it.
This is the first book in the series in which both characters begin the story as vampires, so the dynamic between them is a little different. Because of the companion in their blood, they experience an intense, raw sexual attraction from the moment they meet. It even provokes a sexual response when Callan is gravely wounded and unconscious. Events that occur later in the story change this dynamic, as they experience their attraction for each other in a different way. Always though, Callan is thinking of Jane first and foremost in everything he does which I found very romantic. They each also see things in the other that they can't see in themselves. Callan recognizes Jane's talents, creativity and femininity all of which she tries to hide or deny, because of how her father treated her as the son he never had. Jane intuitively senses the pain in Callan's past, because she can see it mirrored in his eyes. She also sees the goodness in him when he thinks of himself as nothing but evil. Both of them admit their love for one another to themselves, but each think the other can't love them back, which delays their verbal declarations until the very end. A part of me wished that they could have had a little more faith in each other and their ability to love, but it all ended well anyway.
For the first time in this series, I have to admit that the sexual abuse of the hero was a little harder for me to take. I think it was because a large part of it was happening in real time with Elyta, interspersed with some flashbacks to his time with Asharti as well, which made it all a little too overwhelming. It got to the point that Callan was spending so much time engaged in torturous sex acts with the villainess that I felt it was taking something away from his and Jane's burgeoning love. Of course, none of this is his fault, because Elyta first compelled him with her vampire powers, and later, by hanging Jane's safety over his head. At the time, he had little else with which to bargain except his body, so I did admire him for putting himself on the line like that to protect Jane. It was just difficult to read about him being abused over and over when he was already deeply damaged from his time with Asharti. It also didn't allow for a lot of time for Callan and Jane to develop a healthy sexual relationship, so that part seemed slightly rushed. Having Callan and Jane finally rekindle their intimacy right on the heels of the abuse seemed a little too soon as well. However, I will admit though, that their interactions were very sweet and romantic, and the author did a great job of differentiating between the two experiences for Callan.
There were a few common characters from past books who appear in One with the Night. Jane's father was first seen in The Companion as the doctor who Ian turned to, looking for a cure, and it is through his blood sample that Jane was infected. Stephan Sincai's mentor, the monk, Brother Flavio, arrives with Elyta and her maid, Clara. Although Flavio seems to have a guilty conscience for not doing more to help Stephan and is obviously not evil like Elyta, he is largely passive throughout the story. I thought it was sweet that Clara had been in love with Flavio for a long time and unable to express her feelings inside the confines of Mirso Monastery. She finally finds her voice, but sadly, we don't get to see much of what happens between these two. Perhaps they will appear again as supporting characters in future books of the series. There is also the vampire, Khalenberg, who is out to prevent anyone from discovering a cure. Although I don't distinctly recall him from the previous books, he may have appeared before, because he seemed to have knowledge of the other now-happy couples. I also thought the inclusion of the Loch Ness monster was clever.
Overall, I enjoyed reading One with the Night and thought that it was another worthy effort in the Companion series. The only reason I marked off the half-star was for the somewhat excessive sexual abuse, but in the grand scheme of things, it didn't take too much away from the rest of the story for me. I liked the journey to finding a cure and how that all turned out. I also admire the author for her talent with character studies and how she was able to bring Callan and Jane full-circle in both their relationship with each other and their individual relationships with their companions. Although the main characters for the next book of the series look like they are going to be brand new, I look forward to meeting them when I continue the series soon.
Note: The sexual tension and love scenes between the hero and heroine are fairly steamy but not really what I would term erotic. However, there are multiple scenes of the hero being raped both in the present and in flashbacks that are pretty intense and contain some BDSM style interactions (including a D/S “relationship”, bondage, flogging, and intimate piercing) between him and his female abusers, which are not for the faint of heart.(less)