Review: The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly

The Great Zoo of China Book Cover The Great Zoo of China
Matthew Reilly
Action
515

It is a secret the Chinese government has been keeping for forty years.

They have found a species of animal no one believed even existed. It will amaze the world.

Now the Chinese are ready to unveil their astonishing discovery within the greatest zoo ever constructed.

A small group of VIPs and journalists has been brought to the zoo deep within China to see its fabulous creatures for the first time.

Among them is Dr. Cassandra Jane ‘CJ’ Cameron, a writer for National Geographic and an expert on reptiles.

The visitors are assured by their Chinese hosts that they will be struck with wonder at these beasts, that they are perfectly safe, and that nothing can go wrong.

Of course it can’t…

GET READY FOR ACTION ON A GIGANTIC SCALE.

As a pretty die-hard Matthew Reilly fan, I was pretty keen to read his latest action novel. I loved his earlier work, like Ice Station and Contest, and have been to see him speak and have him sign my books – I was impressed! However, I’ll admit that his more recent work has leant a little more towards gratuitous action and violence than actual plot or character development. Perhaps due to upheaval in his personal life (which I won’t go into detail about), he seems to have been off form for a few years. So, I was a little apprehensive picking up Great Zoo.

Things got off to a great start; I loved Reilly’s concept. To sum things up, the Chinese have come up with a grand scheme to put them on par with the cultural titan that is America. They’ve invited politicians, environmentalists, and journalists to have a sneak peak of their pride and joy, and are determined that reviews will be positive, no matter what. However, Jurassic Park style, the best laid plans are destined to end in disaster when you put ancient, intelligent creatures in a zoo and expect them to behave. The main character, CJ was a woman (a first for Reilly), which was a nice change of pace, and her partner in crime is her brother, which rules out any lame love-at-first-sight-amongst-carnage rubbish. I thought that the reasoning behind the existence of the animals was plausible (and believable!), and I liked the political spin on the project – though I’m not sure Chinese readers would be so keen to hear about their amazing working capabilities but lack of imagination…

As the story rapidly developed, I was hooked. I raced through the book alongside the characters as they fought to escape the hellhole they’d landed themselves in. The action was intense, the animals interesting, the mythology fascinating – I couldn’t put it down, and am keen for a sequel (here that Matthew? I’ve already figured out how it could work, call me!).

Has Reilly returned to form? Yes and no. This was an epic action book, definitely in the vein of Jurassic Park (which I also love). I was hooked, and I liked the premise a lot. I felt the book had a little more soul than, for example, the last Jack West book, which was more action for the sake of action than anything else. However, there could have been more development as far as characters and creatures go, and there was probably still some gratuitous violence that I could have done without (although I appreciate the imagination behind someone’s lungs being sucked out of their body…).

Let’s be frank. This book was never written to be a literary masterpiece. Reilly also never claims that it was meant to be! He likes to write books that read like action movies, and he achieved exactly that. I struggled to ‘rate’ this book. If you’re looking for a book that immerses you in the action and as you hooked, then this is great. However, if you’re looking for great character development, then this probably isn’t the book for you. It’s fast paced and explosive, with no time for soliloquies to get to know people. Really, if you know Reilly at all, you know the kind of book you’re getting into – and if you’ve loved his early work, then you’ll probably love Great Zoo. Definitely worth a read, as far as I’m concerned! I’ll remain a loyal fan, and keep hoping that his books only get better from here.

Amazon | Book Depository

I received a copy of The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly from Netgalley in exchange for a review and my honest opinion. 

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REVIEW: The Alexandria Connection by Adrian d’Hage

The Alexandria Connection Book Cover The Alexandria Connection
Adrian d'Hage
Action
395

A New World Order is upon us . . .

In the shifting desert sands of Egypt, rumours abound of a lost papyrus that will reveal the true purpose of the Pyramids of Giza. Could these ancient monoliths be the source of a new kind of energy, one that comes at no cost to the planet? CIA agent Curtis O'Connor and archaeologist Aleta Weizman are determined to find out.

Close by, a shadowy and powerful group known as Pharos meets in Alexandria, its membership a closely guarded secret. Its first order of business: to orchestrate chaos on international financial markets with a series of spectacular terrorist attacks on the world's fossil-fuel supplies.

And in Cairo, amid the anarchy of Tahrir Square, thieves have broken into the famed Museum of Antiquities and stolen one of the world's priceless artifacts: the mask of Tutankhamun. Is the audacious theft linked to the Pharos Group?

Nimbly weaving politics, history and science through a rip-roaring plot, from Afghanistan to Washington, Sydney to London, The Alexandria Connection is a spectacular and stylish ride.

I received a copy of The Alexandria Connection by Adrian d’Hage from Penguin Books Australia, in exchange for a review and my honest opinion.

As a huge lover of any story involving ancient cultures, I’d actually had my eye on d’Hage’s books for quite awhile, but was never able to find hard copies (even online!). However, after agreeing to review The Alexandria Connection, the latest in d’Hage’s series featuring CIA agent Curtis O’Conner and beautiful Archeologist Aleta Weizman, all of the previous books came on sale on iTunes! Despite my book buying ban, thanks to being broke, I considered this coincidence serendipity and had to get them while they were so affordable! So, although the Alexandria Connection could be read as a stand alone book, I also read the Maya Codex and the Inca Prophecy, and enjoyed the additional insight that the previous books provided.

D’Hage’s books all follow a similar formula; whispers arise about messages left for the modern world by destroyed ancient civilisations, and the good guys must race the bad guys to protect that knowledge – and help save the world from predicted disasters. Interestingly, many of the books in this genre were published before the famous date in 2012, when the Mayans predicted the end of the world. Since the world didn’t end, and people continued to write, I feel that it has created more of a challenge for authors to come up with new ways to explore the mysteries of our past – without relying on an armageddon that never actually came to pass.

To my boyfriend’s frustration, I believe that there is a kernel of truth in stories like these. Modern society knows an awful lot, but I’m not arrogant enough to believe that we have all of the answers. Many archeologists and scientists have found evidence of past global disasters and cultures, but everything hasn’t quite come together yet and we can’t see the bigger picture about how everything fits together!

Fast paced action defines these books and, 80% of the time, d’Hage has that down to an art. The characters flit across the globe, between archeological sites and capital cities, evading bad guys and dodging death again and again. However, occasionally d’Hage gets bogged down in over complicated explanations of missile functions, or car history, or political backstory. Given the complex interweaving of politics, religion, terror and history throughout the book, I do understand and enjoy the breadth of information covered, but think that it could perhaps be incorporated more smoothly and simply.

Overall, this book held up well against other books in the same category, and I’d definitely pick up another instalment of O’Connor and Weizman’s adventures! I look forward to seeing what conspiracies and mysteries d’Hage tackles next.

Amazon

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REVIEW: The Ice Cap & The Rift by Marshall Chamberlain

The Ice Cap & The Rift Book Cover The Ice Cap & The Rift
Marshall Chamberlain
Action
312

A COMBOQUAKE RAKES THE MID-ATLANTIC RIDGE. A FIFTEEN MILE RIFT RIPS ACROSS AN ICELANDIC ICE CAP. A DISSECTED CAVE HOLDS MYSTERIOUS ANCIENT TECHNOLOGY.

John Henry Morgan, ex-Marine, Director of the United Nation’s Institute for the Study of Unusual Phenomena, returns from the devastating attack on ISUP’s Mountain project in Belize only to be cast into the aftermath of the Comboquake and the dangers of the rift. Morgan and key ISUP staff mount an expedition to the rift and discover a cavern occupied one hundred and eighty thousand years ago, containing a perfectly preserved high-tech habitat and a traveling machine operated by unknown scientific principles.

The benign scientific expedition to study the cave and its contents encounters deceit and violence as nations and terrorist groups ferret out the existence and significance of the discoveries, and mount sophisticated operations to acquire technological treasures for their own purposes. ISUP finds itself at the convergence of clandestine assault from several fronts. Violence escalates. Lives become expendable -- a scenario that has plagued the human race through the chronicles of time.

Frantic action: Prague, London, New York, Washington, D.C., Libya, France, Spain, China, Iceland. Across oceans and air lanes, factions grapple for power. Survival for the ISUP scientists and preservation of new technologies for the benefit of humanity lie in choices of whom to trust.

I received an advanced reader copy of The Ice Cap & The Rift by Marshall Chamberlain in exchange for my honest opinion.

Usually, when you give me a book with an ancient mystery hidden under the ice, it will  enthral me for hours. Think Matthew Reilly’s Ice Station, Greig Beck’s Beneath the Dark Ice, or Dan Brown’s Deception Point. However, this book fell sadly flat.

Perhaps it was because it was the second book in the series; Chamberlain gave some explanation of what happened in the first book, but didn’t really give any depth to what they’d found during that adventure. Or, it could be because the team made an amazing discovery of a city buried in an ice cap, but that seemed secondary to the entire story. Maybe it was because three of the main characters had names starting with ‘M’, which made it confusing to keep everyone straight at times!

I think the success of the other books I mentioned was that, amidst the action (which, in essence, was very similar – basically different world powers fighting it out for control of the discovery), there was also significant exploration of the discovery itself! Where it came from, how it got there, and why it was there in the first place! In Ice Cap, however, the main characters really didn’t discuss the origins of the discovery at all, which was both odd, and annoying.

I felt that the majority of the book was set on a plane, with the main character flying between Prague, London, New York, Washington and Iceland – repeatedly – to talk to various officials or check in at his office. Much of the content that was drawn out over these flights could have been better developed in Iceland, which was supposedly the centre of the action.

That said, I’m yet to mention the most bizarre part of the story. For two short chapters, we’re transported to some kind of distant, alien civilisation. The ‘aliens’ are apparently a super advanced race of beings, who subtly interfere with happenings on Earth, to ensure that the human race doesn’t kill itself. It is implied that the discovery of the ancient city in the ice was made earlier than expected, and could throw everything out of balance. In itself, this is an interesting idea. However, it was BARELY a part of the story! Just a few pages of discussion between these aliens, and again, no real exploration of the depths of their involvement or plan. I’m not against the occasional addition of an alien race to a story (Again, Matthew Reilly does this brilliantly, in his debut novel Contest), but in this instance I felt that the execution was a little off.

I don’t know if I’ll continue reading this series (though I am mildly curious about how the alien thing will play out!), but if you choose to, I’d definitely suggest reading the series from the beginning, in case that helps. You can find it on Amazon here. I’ve got to say, I was disappointed in this book! I was looking forward to discovering a new series to delve into, but was instead left feeling rather flat. I’d love to know if anyone else has read this book and had a different reaction!

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Covenant – Dean Crawford

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“Covenant” tells the action packed story of a discovery in the middle east – what appear to be alien bones. Thus begins a race between factions to obtain the remains for themselves, and control the release – or suppression – of the information gleaned from them. Disillusioned former war correspondent, Ethan Warner, grudgingly joins the hunt, alongside archeologist Lucy Morgan, and Detective Nocola Lopez. Threads of information slowly emerge from amidst chunks of overly technical explanation, and result in a race to save the world.

I had high hopes for this book… but was disappointed (as perhaps you can tell from my less than exuberant plot outlineDean Crawford - Covenant above). The premise of the book was sound, and Crawford had clearly done his research. However, the story was in many parts contrived. There were pages and pages of technical scientific explanation, and long-winded description of the middle-eastern conflicts, that were beyond the comprehension of your average reader. This made some of the text pretty hard to get through. Even for people like myself, who regularly read books on similar topics, and are used to wading through law text books – the epitome of heavy reading – there was just far too complicated, and unnecessary.

Cramming so much technical information in was, despite the length of the novel, at the cost of character development. I didn’t really get a chance to ‘get to know’ any character in depth, except perhaps Ethan Warner. Even then, I usually get overly attached to characters, but there was no love lost when people tried to kill Warner – which happened often. What little character development you did get didn’t lend itself to a particularly likeable main character. It’s never a good thing when you’re not rooting for the protagonist to succeed!

Another frustration was that the three storylines didn’t really overlap and interact enough until the very end; rather, it was almost like reading three separate books. Not to mention the cliqued ending that more than paved the way for the upcoming sequel.

What had the promise to be a provoking story about the possibility of finding another species in the universe and the lengths that people would go to in protecting that information, became an overly complicated big guys with guns story.

It’s possible I’ll still pick up the sequel… Ok, I’ll be honest – I’ve actually already purchased both of the remaining books in the trilogy… But I haven’t read them, which says volumes! Don’t judge me, I’m rather OCD in my need to purchase an entire series once I have a portion of it. I’d be interested to find out the answer to the mystery that is Warner’s missing fiance, but past that I have little interest in how this story unravels. If you want to give it a try, you can get a copy here. Hopefully Crawford and his editors have learned a lesson and cut the technicalities for some character development.

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The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

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“Winning means fame and fortune. Losing means certain death.
The Hunger Games have begun…”

Suzanne Collins - Hunger Games Trilogy

There’s no denying that Suzanne Collins’ depiction of kids killing each other for sport has sparked both controversy and obsession into the hearts of children and adults alike across the world.

I’ll admit, I fall into the ‘obsessed’ category. Having read all of the books last weekend in preparation for the movie release (which, by the way, smashed all of the box office records – take that, non-believers!), I now understand what all the fuss is about.

 For those who aren’t in the know, The Hunger Games is set in a post-apocalyptic America, where the Capitol strikes fear into the outer districts through its annual televised reality show, where each district sends two tributes to battle to the death. The teen still standing at the end of the games will be showered with rewards and become the hero of their district. However, when Katniss Everdeen volunteers as tribute to save her sister, the Capitol gets an unpleasant shock. Through her actions before and during the games, Katniss becomes a symbol of hope to the poor people in the outer districts, planting the seed of rebellion amongst the masses.

The trilogy that I repeatedly overlooked in bookstores because, yes, I do judge books by their covers and blurbs, are addictive. They aren’t just the story of violent pubescent mass murder; they’re about hope, justice, family, and freedom. Emotional in a way that former phenomena (*cough* Twilight) aren’t, The Hunger Games has something for everyone. Bloody battles for the boys, romance for the girls – or vice versa if you want to break away from stereotypes, like heroine Katniss Everdeen. There’s even some crazy couture fashion, advanced technology, and sneaky governmental conspiracy thrown in for good measure.

Even harder than writing a trilogy that can capture the imaginations and win the hearts of generations of readers is turning those books into a box-office smash. But, with careful casting, an amazing setting, and a script fairly true to the novels, The Hunger Games became a multi-billion dollar success almost overnight. With the sequel about to be released in Cinemas, you can expect a similar uproar in late November.

I would suggest reading the books before seeing the movie[1], for the sake of the extra background knowledge you’ll have, but it’s not necessary. If you do want to, you can get the trilogy (with the pretty covers) online here. Everyone who loves the story of the underdog beating the all powerful and mighty will get something out of this movie. I’m addicted to the point where I’m slightly depressed that there are no more books coming out (something that Harry Potter had going in its favour…).

 “May the odds be ever in your favour”

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[1] But be careful when purchasing from Book Depository, as the blurbs give away the crucial plot points… frustrating!!