Book Review: COLD STORAGE, only a retired FBI agent and two night security guards can stop a ruthless contagion

Cold Storage
David Koepp

1987. Counter-bioterrorism operatives Roberto Diaz and Trini Romano were rushed to the remote Australian bush where there’d been reports of strange behavior. When they arrived with infectious disease specialist Dr. Hero Martins, all of the residents of the small settlement were dead. They realized the agent was a highly adaptive fungus with one imperative: reproduce. And that meant killing all humans and animals alike. Roberto and Trini successfully destroyed the fungus, but they brought home a sample thought to be safe in deep sub-basement of a military facility.

2019. Roberto and Trini have both retired, and leadership at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency has long since forgotten about the destructive fungus, so much so that the facility that housed it was sold to a storage company catering to middle class consumers. When the deadly contagion finally escapes, only Diaz knows how to stop it—and his only allies are two twenty-something night security guards.

Cold Storage is the debut novel by David Koepp, successful screenwriter of Jurassic Park, Spider-Man, War of the Worlds, and Mission: Impossible, among others. His expertise is clear in the quick pacing and snappy dialogue of this pandemic horror. Personally, I love this genre, and Cold Storage elevates the basic formula with its interesting, narrow field of characters and its skillful plot execution. Like other books in the category, it has high stakes, conspiracies and secrets, and lots of gore.

For fans of this genre, it’s a fun, fast-paced ride. I’d also recommend it to people who may want to explore this category—it’s a great introduction.

Book Review: DARK AGE, War, Politics, and a High Body Count in Red Rising Book 5

Dark Age
Red Rising Book 5

Pierce Brown

The Rising is in shatters, leaving untold dead as the colors clash. Darrow remains above Mercury to defend the planet against the Golds while his closest allies are hundreds of thousands of miles away. Sevro has returned to his family, abandoning the Republic, while Virginia attempts to convince the senate to send troops to help Darrow and the few soldiers he has with him. Yet even her sophisticated spy network cannot identify the network of enemies arrayed against her and her husband. Pax and Electra, daughter of Sevro and Victra, have been kidnapped, and Ephraim, a mercenary-for-hire, represents their only chance for escape.

Meanwhile, Lysander au Lune, grandson of Octavia, the Sovereign disposed by the Rising, has returned to society after ten years in exile determined to bring peace by uniting the warring Gold factions, and to do that, he must defeat Darrow. With the Republic unstable, Sefi the Quiet, Queen of the Obsidians, sees an opportunity to expand her powers on Mars, even though it might mean breaking ties with her previous allies.

Lyria, a red from Mars, and Volga, an Obsidian, accomplices to the kidnapping of Pax and Electra, find themselves entangled with Victra, Electra’s mother. Yet, their importance to the Republic is unknown even to them, and they must decide whether to act in self-preservation or risk sacrificing themselves for the greater good. All alliances are in play, and no one can be trusted as the fate of the Republic and Society turn on the machinations of the world’s power-brokers in front of and behind the scenes.

Dark Age, aptly named, finds the heroes we’ve gotten to know over the past four books in dire straits. Like the other books in the Red Rising series, Dark Age depicts violence graphically, but it seemed more intense in this book to me, perhaps because of my state of mind, perhaps because it truly was relentless with a high body count, or maybe because the page count reached almost 800. There were two truly abhorrent scenes of violence against animals which make sense narratively but which I had to skip.

Like Iron Gold, Dark Age has multiple narrators, and I enjoyed some of the viewpoints more than others, as usually happens with more than one point of view character. The first section of the book, told alternatively from Darrow and Lysander’s perspectives, traces the battle for Mercury. This was the least interesting part of the book to me, unfortunate since it made the beginning a slog. I find that Darrow and Lysander have very similar voices, and their basic conflict has been ongoing for so long, I find it rather dull by this time. Furthermore, I do not like the trajectory of Lysander’s character.

The other narrators, Ephraim, Lyria, and Virginia have more interesting, fresher stories to tell in my opinion, though they do cross pass unexpectedly with characters I’d forgotten about from previous books, plus Lyria and Volga are set up to have critical roles in the next book(s) in the series. Victra, in this installment, becomes much more sympathetic, though remains quite a badass. I enjoy the strong female characters. Since they are written by a man, I do find myself prodding the edges of their characterizations for flaws, but if they are there, they are lost to me in the wave of the narrative, so I’m content to enjoy these strong female characters. Some other women on Mars in the Red Hand or affected by it are more one-dimensional, and there are some very creepy older women/younger men, mother/son sexual dynamics at play in certain relationships.

Given the length of the book, I thought the editors would encourage Brown to cut unnecessary scenes and subplots, but I thought there were some which I won’t mention due to spoilers. Additionally, Darrow and Lysander’s internal monologues are very repetitive. As a result, I’m glad they aren’t the primary focus of Dark Age. Younger characters such as Pax and Electra take more of a role, which is good because the body count in this book is very high.

The general fate of key characters is resolved by the end of the book, but not their next moves, and several questions remain for the sequel which I will no doubt read. I will leave you with one spoiler, though. Sophocles, the fox, survives!

Book Review: CONTAGION by Teri Terry

Terry, Teri - Contagion (2)Contagion
Teri Terry

Shay, a high school student who hasn’t fit into life in Killin, Scotland since she and her mother moved into an inherited home there from London, has been being bullied. One afternoon, in a scuffle, she falls into a kiosk and uncovers a missing persons poster.

With her photographic memory, she is certain she saw the young girl on the flyer. Unfortunately, it was almost a year before. Still, she calls the number, and Kai, the girl’s brother, not too much other than Shay, immediately arranges to meets with her and find out everything she remembers.

At the same time, Callie, a girl imprisoned in a highly secure underground bunker is forced to endure painful experiments until given the “cure.” The cure kills her, turning her body to ash, but she lives in an alternative form. In this state, she is able to travel through the facility and watch as the personnel who tortured her succumb to a terrifying illness.

As Kai and Shay try to find his sister and Callie attempts to negotiate her way home, the deadly and incurable illness reaches epidemic proportions. Kai’s mother, an epidemiologist, joins the team searching for a cure while Shay learns that she and Kai’s sister have more in common that a simple encounter.

Kai and Shay’s search may lead them to the secret to the disease, if they can keep ahead of its rapid advance and avoid the Special Alternatives Regiment, a secret military group that doesn’t want the teenagers to succeed.

Contagion, a disaster book in the young adult genre, was a fun and quick read, though because it is the first in a trilogy, it is setting up the action for the story, and the ending is unresolved, to be addressed in the sequels. For some inexplicable reason, books about infectious diseases interest me, and Contagion was written better than most. As expected in the YA literature, the protagonist is a smart, scrappy teenager who is pretty but doesn’t realize it and who develops a romance with an equally smart, strong, and handsome teenage boy who is the first to see the girl for who she is. Although this seems to be a requirement, I often find it saccharine and just endure it for the rest of the plot in series like The Red Queen. Happily, in Contagion, it’s the least mawkish I’ve seen.

Here, the disease vector is strange and new. Though it is clear from the beginning to readers how the epidemic is being transmitted, the characters don’t realize it until the end of the book, and even then, there is confusion. Even for the readers, most of the details are not fully explained, and I wish there had been a little more time on the hypothetical science behind it. Iona, Shay’s sidekick, was my favorite character, and I wish we’d seen more of her, though what we did see was a blast.

The conclusion of the book places the characters in precarious positions that will propel the action in the follow-up, Deception, which is due later this year and which I will read as soon as possible. I suppose that’s a good recommendation for Contagion!

Thank you to NetGalley and Charlesbridge Teen for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: IF, THEN: Disturbing visions strike neighbors in an Oregon college town

day, kate hope - if, then coverIf, Then
Kate Hope Day

Neighbors in a small Oregon college town near a dormant volcano begin to see visions. Mark sees visions of disaster that push him to make preparations beyond all logic. His wife, Dr. Ginny McDonnell, observes herself living happily with a different partner. Samara Mehta watches her mother–who has been dead a month–prepare to sell the family house. And new resident Cass, a brilliant graduate student and new mother struggling to find balance, glimpses visions of herself pregnant.

The idea behind If, Then is fascinating, but the execution did not completely deliver. The book began with an interesting premise and the beginning was fueled by the question of the meaning of the visions and introduction of the characters.

Telling the story from four points of view provides variety and, in the case of the plot of this book, is absolutely necessary, but the characters are not all equally likable. And while I know it’s a reality for new parents, I did get tired of the descriptions of Cass’s baby’s incessant crying.

It seems clear that Kate Hope Day conducted careful research because there are meticulous details about Ginny’s surgeries and Mark’s research, but the narrative at times gets bogged down in these details, and they come at the expense of characterization. Some of the most interesting characters are secondary: Samara’s mother, Cass’s graduate advisor, and survivalist Harry, perhaps because they are among the few characters to have backstories.

With the lull in the middle of the book, I was hopeful the ending would provide a big payoff, but the denouement was rather anticlimactic and the visions and their “rules of engagement” weren’t consistent or explained.

If, Then is solidly written though and I think will appeal to readers who are interested in the “Theory of Everything” and the possibility of multiverses.

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: WILDCARD, the conclusion of the WARCROSS series

lu, marie - wildcard (2) (1)Wildcard
Marie Lu

Picking up shortly where Warcross ended, Wildcard opens with Emika devastated that Hideo Tanaka, Henka Games CEO and creator of Warcross, not to mention the object of her affection, has created an algorithm that controls 98% of the population and keeps them from engaging in criminal activity–as Hideo defines it. Moreover, Emika gained top billing on the Assassin’s Lottery, commanding a hefty bounty for her death.

Emika’s only option for safety seemed to be Zero, Hideo’s nemesis, a member of the clandestine Blackcoat organization. They claimed to work for the same goals–disabling the algorithm so that no one person had too much power–but as Emika learned more about the Blackcoats, she realized that their agenda was more complicated and nefarious. She struggled to determine a strategy that would play Hideo and Zero off each other to destroy the algorithm and bring Hideo back to his senses.

Warcross described a world completely influenced by Henka Game’s NeuroLink, a type of augmented virtual reality. It provided useful overlays like maps and labels, but also allowed users to customize–or hide–their appearances, communicate, research, and play games, including Warcross. The NeuroLink also enabled Hideo to disseminated his algorithm. Wildcard briefly touches on the interesting question of what might happen if a virtual world so many people (and business) depend on is stripped away, and I think this question deserved even more attention.

The first book in the series focused on the Warcross championships and highlighted Emika’s team, the Phoenix Riders, and her teammates. Although her teammates are in Wildcard as well, they don’t play as prominent a role, and their absence is felt, as is the paucity of time spend in the Warcross game.

Instead, much of Wildcard is devoted to Zero’s backstory which is interesting, harrowing, and raises many ethical questions. The flashbacks that provide his story are presented as enhanced memory files, almost like virtual reality or videos you can enter and walk around in. While this should have been a more vivid way to offer his story that simply recounting it, the choppy nature of the memory files somehow made it more removed to me than I think it should have been.

The final confrontation which takes place partly in the real world but mostly within a game of Warcross is suspenseful, but I couldn’t help but think it was too similar to The Matrix, particular the final battle between Agent Smith and Neo in The Matrix Revolutions, with SecurityBots paralleling agents and Zero the Agent Smith character while Emika played Neo.

Still, the ending to me was ultimately satisfying, and it was a quick, enjoyable read overall. This book does though, in my opinion, require reading Warcross first. I wouldn’t read it as a stand alone title because too many characters and terms are used that were only explained in the previous book.