Review: Human.4 by Mike A Lancaster

 

Title: Human.4

Author: Mike A Lancaster

Publisher: Egmont USA

ISBN: 978-1606840993

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Kyle Straker volunteered to be hypnotized at the annual community talent show, expecting the same old lame amateur acts. But when he wakes up, his world will never be the same. Televisions and computers no longer work, but a strange language streams across their screens. Everyone’s behaving oddly. It’s as if Kyle doesn’t exit.

Is this nightmare a result of the hypnosis? Will Kyle wake up with a snap of fingers to roars of laughter? Or is this something much more sinister?

Narrated on a set of found cassette tapes at an unspecified point in the future, Human.4 is an absolutely chilling look at technology gone too far.    

Review:

What an odd book!  Odd in a good way, too, but Human.4 is hard to classify.  What is this?  Sci-Fi, mystery, psychological thriller?  I’m still not sure what I would call it, but I do know one thing; I could not put the book down, and I polished it off in just a few hours.

Kyle Straker volunteers to be hypnotized by his friend at the annual community talent show.  He doesn’t really want to, but he doesn’t want to see his friend crash and burn when nobody else wants to help him with his act.  Kyle finds himself onstage with three other townspeople, and when he wakes up from the hypnosis, the world is completely different.  He’s not sure what’s going on, but he can tell that it is not the same.  His parents are acting very oddly, and the phone lines are all dead. So are the computers and the television sets.  Is he losing his mind? Or did something happen while he was hypnotized?

The suspense is overwhelming!  I wanted to find out what was going on just as much as Kyle did.  Have aliens invaded? Is he trapped in a nightmare?  Is he nuts?  The narrative is tense and exciting, and the pacing never slows.  The story is so fast-paced, and the short chapters add to the urgency of Kyle’s predicament.  I kept telling myself I would only read one more chapter before I turned the light off to go to sleep, but then I would say – just one more!  I couldn’t stop reading!

Kyle’s narrative kept me engaged in the story, but the occasional editor notes were very jarring.  The narrative is supposed to be a transcription of Kyle’s audio tapes, which described his ordeal.  The premise is unique and I thought it was very interesting, but the research and scientific notes slowed down the pace of the story.  They just didn’t fit well into the narrative, and I grew tired of them very quickly.

The book ends neatly, with all of my questions answered.  I found the reason for Kyle’s extraordinary ordeal to be kind of “meh,” but the run up to the final revelation kept me engrossed in the story.  The ending was a bit of a let down, though, and I don’t want to say much more because it will spoil the suspense of the read.  I think that this book will have a lot of appeal for boys, and readers who enjoy thrillers and mysteries.

Grade: B

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Invasion by Jon S. Lewis

 

Title: Invasion

Author: Jon S. Lewis

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

ISBN: 978-1595547538

 

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

Invasion is an action adventure book on steroids.  It’s a comic book in prose, with so many death defying acts of heroism packed into 300+ pages that you can’t help but get caught up in the excitement.  The momentum never slows, but at times I found the pacing exhausting.  I don’t know how protagonist Colt made it through the whole book without ever stopping to catch his breath!  I was gasping for air several times, and had to set the book down slow my heart rate.  I’m not joking!

Colt’s world comes tumbling down after his parents are killed in an accident.  He is shipped off to live with his grandfather, and right away, Colt gets caught up in danger and intrigue.  A mysterious phone call informs him that his parents were murdered because his mother was working on a story to expose Trident Biotech and their nefarious mind control device.  As Colt strives to uncover the truth behind his parents’ death, he exposes an alien conspiracy to take over the world!  Can he and his new friend Oz save the day?

The plot doesn’t really stand up well under inspection, so set your brain on auto-pilot and just go with the flow.  I had no problem accepting flying motorbikes and gateways into other worlds, but I did have a few problems accepting the computer hacking aspects of the story.  I just found it hard to believe that a bunch of aliens intent on world domination would have such lax network security.  Gah!  I don’t know why that jumped out at me and jarred me out of the story.

Colt is a likable character who is having a hard time.  His parents are both dead, he’s been relocated to Arizona to live with his grandfather, and he’s having a hard time dealing with his feelings of loss.  I thought Colt’s personality was nicely fleshed out.  He’s trying to get on with his life, but he’s not finding it very easy, even with the support of his grandfather and his childhood friend, Dani.  Once the action kicks into high gear, he doesn’t have much time for his grief, and he puts all of his focus into staying alive and bringing his parents’ killers to justice.

Invasion should appeal to reluctant readers who enjoy video games and comic books. What is not to like about a secret government organization, murderous, shape-shifting aliens, and ultra-cool technology? Appealing characters add icing to the cake. The sketchbook included at the end of the book is a nice extra, too. I am looking forward to the next installment of the story, because that promises to be even more exciting!  I don’t know if I can take that much excitement! 

Grade: B

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Saturn Apartments Vols 1 & 2 by Hisae Iwaoka

Title: Saturn Apartments Vols 1 & 2

Author: Hisae Iwaoka

Publisher: Viz

ISBN: 978-1421533643 & 978-1421533735

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Mitsu has just started working as a window washer, a dangerous job that five years earlier led to the loss of his father. As Mitsu struggles with being the new guy—making mistakes, struggling to keep up, petty workplace resentments—he also discovers the simple pleasures of befriending his coworkers, enjoying time off and getting to know his absent father through the eyes of his colleagues.

Review:

Mitsu is a window washer on a gigantic apartment complex 35,000 feet above the surface of Earth.  The planet has been evacuated and declared a nature preserve in a last ditch effort to save what native life remains on it.  The complex is segregated into stratified social classes.  Those from the lower levels, like Mitsu, must obtain passes to visit the upper levels, where the structure’s wealthy residents live.  Mitsu is trying to follow in his father’s footsteps, even though Aki was killed in a tragic accident five years earlier.  What he finds is that washing windows isn’t as easy as it sounds, and that understanding his co-workers can be even more difficult.

This is a slice of life series, and the chapters meander along as Mitsu learns the ropes of his trade.  He’s accepted into the guild because of his father, which earns him some animosity from a co-worker.  Fresh out of school, Mitsu’s biggest challenge is learning how to get along with others.  It doesn’t help that he feels pressured to live up to his dad’s reputation as a hard worker. 

Wow, window washing 35,000 feet up is hard, dangerous work!  I can’t imagine doing it! I love the story concept, and find the idea of evacuating everyone on the planet to a huge, orbiting apartment a fascinating concept.  I never once considered that the windows would get dirty, and need to be cleaned to allow sunlight to filter in and brighten up the place a bit.  Forcing the apartment population into a class-based social structure adds complexity to the plot, too.  Like any resource, there’s a limit to the amount of natural light available, and the more affluent residents get a lot more exposure to it than the poorer lower levels.  A lack of natural light leads to sickness and weak immune systems.  The units of the wealthy residents have vast windows, and they can afford to have them cleaned.  People like Mitsu have tiny little apartments, with no windows to the outside.

Saturn Apartments is a character-driven story.  Mitsu is struggling to deal with his father’s death, as well as trying to do a job he can be proud of.  His first day on the job almost ends in disaster, but afterwards, he feels that he has a better understanding of his father.  After getting a look at the earth outside of the apartment complex, he is awed by its beauty, and he is determined to someday go to the surface.  He knows that his dad must have felt the same way.  For the longest time he thought that Aki committed suicide and abandoned him, but after being outside, he realizes that he was wrong and that his father really was the victim of a fatal accident.

I love the character interactions.  Mitsu tries to keep himself apart from his neighbors and not be a burden on anyone.  They aren’t so willing to let him do that,  which adds all kinds of complications to his life.  His customers are surprising demanding, too, and each of them affect his life in a different way.  Though they are often a pain to deal with, they also enrich his solitary life for the better.

The art is kind of weird.  I don’t know how else to describe it.  The characters have big round heads and tiny little eyes and at first they looked so odd to me.  As I made my way through the first two volumes of the series, though, I found them very expressive and very unique.  Hisae Iwaoka has a distinct style; it’s not smooth and clean, but instead has a rougher texture that make the illustrations visually arresting.

I found my introduction to Saturn Apartments a pleasant experience, though there were a few moments when the pacing was just a tad too leisurely for my tastes.

Grade: B

Review copies obtained from Amazon (Volume 1) and from publisher (Volume Two)

Review: Gantz Vol 13 by Hiroya Oku

 

Title: Gantz Vol 13

Author: Hiroya Oku

Publisher: Dark Horse

ISBN: 978-1595825872

For Mature Readers

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Dinosaurs. Seriously, can the frantic world of Gantz get any more scary? How about a giant doughboy with crazy fangs and a strange outie bellybutton? Yeah, it’s not just scary; it’s a very strange world for Kei and whomever is unlucky enough to die when Gantz is gathering random people and animals for a new mission. At least this time the Gantz crew have a sweet new weapon! It’s an awesome uni-motorcycle thing! And one of the characters uses a massive space samurai sword. It’s Gantz! And it’s totally rad.

Review:

I am so happy to start my New Year reading with a new volume of Gantz.  Once again, developments are sadly lacking on the plot front, but who cares?  Kei has to duke it out with a bunch of dinosaurs.  Like, freaking huge, tail whipping, foot stomping, I’m going to crush the life right out of you dinosaurs.  How can you not get caught up in the excitement of that??

This entire volume kicks dino butt!  Kei doesn’t even have his suit, and he’s dashing into one razor-toothed fray after another!  He even grows a few, if you know what I mean, and tries to defend other people!  What is going on?  Is Kei actually experiencing a flash of character growth?  Wow!  I never thought that would happen, especially when he’s about to be skewered on a ton of T-Rex teeth.  And wait!  Hold the phone!!  He even goes out of his way to protect the weak!  My heart can’t take shocks like this!

Wanton bloodshed and severed body parts have never been so much fun.  This series is not for the faint of heart, but it is a blast if you enjoy over top action and adventure.  It’s a very quick read which will have you turning the pages non-stop right to the end.  Then you will say, “Crap!!!!  How does he get out of this mess??”  But, just like me, you will have to wait until the next volume hits book stores to find out.  ARGH!!!!!

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: The Greyfriar by Clay Griffith & Susan Griffith

 

Title: Vampire Empire Book One: The Greyfriar

Author: Clay & Susan Griffith

Publisher: Pyr

ISBN: 978-1616142476

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

In the year 1870, a horrible plague of vampires swept over the northern regions of the world. Millions of humans were killed outright. Millions more died of disease and famine due to the havoc that followed. Within two years, once great cities were shrouded by the grey empire of the vampire clans. Human refugees fled south to the tropics because vampires could not tolerate the constant heat there. They brought technology and a feverish drive to reestablish their shattered societies of steam and iron amid the mosques of Alexandria, the torrid quietude of Panama, or the green temples of Malaya.

It is now 2020 and a bloody reckoning is coming.

Princess Adele is heir to the Empire of Equatoria, a remnant of the old tropical British Empire. She is quick with her wit as well as with a sword or gun. She is eager for an adventure before she settles into a life of duty and political marriage to man she does not know. But her quest turns black when she becomes the target of a merciless vampire clan. Her only protector is The Greyfriar, a mysterious hero who fights the vampires from deep within their territory. Their dangerous relationship plays out against an approaching war to the death between humankind and the vampire clans.

The Greyfriar: Vampire Empire is the first book in a trilogy of high adventure and alternate history. Combining rousing pulp action with steampunk style, The Greyfriar brings epic political themes to life within a story of heartbreaking romance, sacrifice, and heroism.

Review:

The Greyfriar is a very fun book, and once I picked it up, it was very difficult to put it back down again.  With a full cast of compelling characters, there is a lot going on as the humans and the vampires battle it out for world domination.  After a horrible plague of vampires sweeps over the northern regions of the world, life has become a struggle that the humans can’t afford to lose.  Fleeing to the south because of the vampires’ inability to tolerate the heat, the nations of the world have fought hard to find prosperity and security from their vampire adversaries.   The human nations have been rebuilt in a world very different from our own. 

Princess Adele is soon to be wed to the brash Senator Clark, in a union that will bring the Empire of Equatoria and America together.  With the strength of both of their armies working in unison, the nations should be able to end the vampire threat forever.  Too bad the vampires aren’t so willing to allow the wedding to take place.  After kidnapping Adele, the plans of human domination are threatened.  As Adele struggles to survive, and Clark battles to free her, the dark plans of Cesare, a vampire prince, are put in motion.  Will the vampires bring the humans to their knees?

I loved the setting, and found this alternate future Earth fascinating.  And deadly.  The vampires in The Greyfriar are brutal and dangerous, and they only see humans as cattle to feed their appetite for blood.  Humans travel in air ships and battle their vampire enemies with blades and firearms, struggling to keep control of their hard won territories.  The humans have painstakingly rebuilt their cities in the south, but the threat that the vampires will launch a campaign against them hangs constantly over their heads.  In an effort to make the first strike, the two strongest nations plan to join forces.

Adele is one tough princess!  She holds her own in a fight, but when sheer numbers overwhelm her small contingent, she is captured by a scary, scary vampire.  Then only her wits see her through her ordeal.  I liked that Adele didn’t turn into a cowering captive once Cesare got his grubby claws on her.  She knows her duty and she is determined to live long enough to carry them out.  Once she and Clark are married, the joint forces from Equatoria and America will be hard for the vampires to fight off.  Even though she’s terrified on the inside, she is valiant and brave on the outside.  Just my kind of heroine!

Adele gets a little help from the mysterious Greyfriar, a rebel who battles vampires within their own lands.  The attraction between Adele and the Greyfriar is instant and intense.  As they fight to escape the vampires, they also try to resist their feelings for each other.  When Adele learns the Greyfriar’s secret, their friendship is tested to the extreme.  I was a little disappointed with Adele for her reaction to the man who risked so much to help her, but given her circumstances, I could at least understand her feelings.  She needed to mature, and her conflict with the Greyfriar gave her the much needed impetuous to achieve this.

Senator Clark.  You I didn’t care for.  At. All.  Pompous, abrasive, annoying,  I am embarrassed to admit that I was hoping the vampires would put an end to your obnoxious presence.  How can this braggart ever be a world leader?  How can Adele ever marry him?  Ah, that’s a relationship to watch in the next installment of the series.

For a rollicking read, look no further than The Greyfriar.  It’s fun, it’s exciting, and it flies by. I can hardly wait for the next book in the series. And, oh, that cover is to die for!  

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Graphic Novel Review: Daniel X Vol 1 by James Patterson

 

Title: Daniel X Vol 1

Author: James Patterson & Michael Ledwidge

Illustrator: SeungHui Kye

Publisher:  Yen Press

ISBN: 978-0316077644

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

When his parents are murdered by an intergalactic criminal, Daniel X vows to take on his father’s role as Earth’s sole Alien Hunter. Life isn’t easy, though, when you’re a young boy on your own, tracking down the galaxy’s deadliest outlaws. Luckily, Daniel has a gift: the ability to create anything he can imagine – including his parents, his sister, and his best friends, who are there to help him along the way. But when Daniel decides to go up against the sixth-deadliest criminal on his hit list, he may find that even his awesome abilities just aren’t up to the task!

Review:

This was a fun read.  I enjoyed it far more than I was expecting, and I can hardly wait for more.  With a compelling story, a smart, street savvy protagonist, and eye-catching, appealing art, Daniel X should please both fans of the prose series and new readers, too.

Daniel’s family was brutally murdered by an alien when he was a young boy, and he has dedicated his life to tracking down and eliminating intergalactic criminals.  It’s a dangerous job, but somebody has to keep the planet safe.  Daniel’s just following in his father’s footsteps, and armed with the List, which names all of the alien outlaws hiding out on Earth, he keeps busy them hunting down.  When he picks a target a little, ok, a whole lot, out of his league, he is on the run for his life.  While fighting to keep himself alive, he discovers the truth about his family, and who he really is.

I liked Daniel a lot, though I was did feel a little sorry for him at the start of the book.  He is almost totally alone, except for the friends he’s created.  That made him even more approachable to me, because despite putting on a tough guy act, and having incredible powers, he does have times when he is lonely and afraid.  That’s certainly understandable, considering the scary things he’s hunting – and the scary things that are hunting him!  He’s also got a very level head on his shoulders, though he should probably try to rein in that impulsiveness of his.  It’s going to get him killed one of these days.

The art is crisp and expressive, and it was easy to follow along with the action.  This is a good starting point for someone interested in reading a graphic novel for the first time; the story zips along at a steady pace, it’s exciting, and the illustrations are easy on the eye.  There’s no confusion with the presentation, and the page layouts are simple, clean, and very attractive.  I love Daniel’s character design, especially his unruly mop of hair.

I am enjoying Yen Press’ graphic novel adaptations of popular prose fiction books.  They are taking something that is familiar to fans of the novels, wrapping it up in a new outfit, and producing some entertaining books along the way.  In order for graphic novels to find a wider audience, publishers need to do more to make them more appealing to new readers.  I don’t know if these books are going to do that, but I do think that it’s a good start.

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Gantz Vol 12 by Hiroya Oku Manga Review

 

Title: Gantz Vol 12

Author: Hiroya Oku

Publisher:  Dark Horse

ISBN: 978-1595825261

For Mature Audiences

 

May Contain Spoilers

Izumi finally gets his wish, and ends up back in the apartment, along with all of his revived shooting victims.  Kei tags along against his will, and it’s off to fight another batch of aliens.  This time they are huge dinosaurs with gigantic teeth that chomp, big tails that smash, and monstrous feet that stomp.  Oh, did I mention that Kei doesn’t have his suit?  Yeah, bad times are ahead for Kei, a guy who has managed to die not once, but twice, and end up in the room with the cryptic sphere both times.

Once again, a book with so little plot somehow keeps me on the edge of my seat with an endless tide of violence and suspense.  The little group of cannon fodder seems a little stupider than normal, but their lack of intelligence makes for even more senseless deaths and carnage.  Half of the group seems to die before the aliens even make an appearance, and then they are like ducks in a shooting gallery.  Bye bye, useless dinosaur kibble.  Get out of the way so the real warriors can step up and kick some raptor ass. 

If you are new to the world of Gantz, don’t worry too much about what happened in previous volumes.  There isn’t much of a plot, but there is a wealth of tense action, complete with flying body parts and exploding heads.  You can expect rivers of blood, gun fights, flashing swords, and deadly martial artists.  Mostly, though, there are lots of stupid people getting munched on by monsters. 

The cover for this volume is one of my favorites.  Izumi actually looks gallant has he wields his sword, and Kei looks heroic.  While Izumi is the exact opposite of chivalrous, I  think that Kei is actually becoming, I hate to say it, valiant.  Has there actually been some character development in the series?? 

Brainless fun doesn’t get much better than this. 

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by publisher

7 Billion Needles Vol 1 by Nobuaki Tadano Manga Review

 

Title: 7 Billion Needles Vol 1

Author: Nokuaki Tadano

Publisher: Vertical

ISBN: 978-1934287873

 

May Contain Spoilers

I have been wondering why everyone seems to want to read this manga series.  I had no idea what it was about, and when I received a copy,  the cover certainly piqued my interest.  There’s a terrified girl on the cover, with a disintegrating skeleton right next to her.  What is up with that?  And the name – what is up with the name?  I had to know, so the book was moved right to the top of my TBR stack.

This is another wow! title.  I had no expectations for it, and once I started reading it, the rest of the world faded into background, not unlike when protagonist Hikaru cranks up her music to isolate herself from her surroundings.  She is at first hard to like, and she has mastered the art of appearing indifferent and uncaring.  About anything.  That’s easy to understand, when you learn that her parents have just died, and she’s now living with her relatives.  They are trying to make her feel welcome and at home in her new environment, but she just isn’t having any of that.  She does everything possible to stay distant from everyone, and  you can’t help but feel a twinge of pity for her.

To totally complicate her life,  Hikaru has been possessed by an alien who calls himself Horizon.  Horizon has been tracking a killer named Maelstrom for time beyond count.   Maelstrom is a merciless murderer who has left planets lifeless in his wake.  Horizon is frantic to find his enemy’s host before life on Earth is wiped out.  Hikaru doesn’t want to get involved and remains unmoved by the plight of her unwelcome companion, until a most unlikely thing happens; Hikaru makes a friend, and Maelstrom threatens to eat her.  Watch out when Hikaru lets loose, because she kicks ass!

This is a suspenseful, intense book.  I love the complex and detailed art, and how clearly the action is rendered.  There are lots of scary things happening, as Horizon urges Hikaru to help find Maelstrom before everyone is dead and it’s too late to stop the monster.  What I enjoyed best, though, is how skillfully Nobuaki Tadano develops Hikaru’s character.  At first unable to interact with her peers, she is very protective of herself.  Nothing is ever going to hurt her again, especially if she never allows herself to care about anything.  After she is drawn into the hunt for Maelstrom, she finds that she can’t remain emotionally isolated.  It’s impossible to not care about anything, and by the end of this introductory volume, it’s impossible to not care for Hikaru.  Oh, volume two, it will be a long wait until November!

Grade: A-

Review copy provided by publisher