Saturday, May 21, 2011

Ten-Hut Virals! We Have Missions To Complete!

Book 1
By Kathy Reichs
Amazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks

Tory Brennan is just your typical high school freshman. You know the type: so smart she skipped two grades; lives on an island with a father she just met; niece of a famous forensic anthropologist; spends most the time boating around with three older geeky guys. Yeah, sure. Typical.

And it's on a typical trip to the neighboring Loggerhead Island, home to a super high-tech biology research lab and off limits to outsiders, that she and her friends discover a clue to a 50-year-old mystery as well as evidence of cruel animal experimentation. Apparently not everything on Loggerhead is as official and clean-cut as it seems.

After rescuing the wolfdog puppy from the labs, Tory and the group start experiencing strange symptoms. But heightened senses, hunger for raw meat, and yellow eyes are the least of their worries when their investigation efforts start attracting the wrong sort of attention. The deadly kind. They'll have to work together if they want to stay alive and put this mystery to rest.

Fortunately, they are now more than friends.
They are a pack.
They are

This book was impossible to put down! I started reading this at midnight, thinking I'd spend an hour or two at the most before turning in. Four and a half hours (347 pages/57 chapters) later I finally found a place I felt I could comfortably leave them and go to sleep. I grant that the pacing isn't the best at times—I found it impossible to tease the book using the first 50 pages because nothing had happened yet—but the absence of action in the beginning was completely covered by the characters. And once the action started, it never let up—especially not at chapter breaks.

But speaking of characters, I loved each and every one of them. Tory, our freshman-at-fourteen narrator was everything I love in a female lead. She's smart, sassy, strong (though she often plays it down for the boys' sakes), wounded but trying to overcome. And her language, her pattern of speaking/thinking was exactly like I'd expect. In some ways it matched my own, such that tagging along in her head was a pretty seamless experience. Plus she's a redhead, automatic +2 points.

Tory's boys were just plain fun. Hi, probably my favorite of the bunch, was the comedian of the group. If the situation's getting way out of hand, trust him to throw in a line that lets everyone take a breath. Shelton and Ben blurred together a bit at first, but I straightened them out eventually. Shelton's the techno-wiz, but tends to spook easily. Ben's definitely the muscle, but he doesn't boast it. All three of them had great senses of humor, and though they're older, they're all intensely loyal to their leader, Tory.

It's YA, so you know there's gotta be some romance, right? Well, yes and no. There are some boy-girl scenes with flirting, some boyfriend/girlfriend references, and some definite crushing going on. However, in comparison to most girl-narrated YA, this was surprisingly tame. There was a bit of a triangle popping up now and again...and maybe it's just me, but I sense Ben might have a little crush of his own...but on the whole, everything is sub-subplot at best. It's there—it's pretty near unavoidable when dealing with high school—but it's maybe 30 pages of a 450-page book.

Instead of teenage angst, the book mainly focuses on mystery, sci-fi, and action plots. Doesn't seem to be typical YA genres these days, especially for what looks to be a sci-fi or paranormal book. I'll admit, I was surprised at how well everything was woven together. Just when you're thinking Mystery Plot caught a huge break, Action bursts in, shakes everything around, and then lets Sci-Fi take the lead. Each of the three plots seems separate, which might be offputting for some, but with the characters leading you through it all it's not too hard to follow.

The action starts off immediately, right from page one in the form of a prologue. Technically, the prologue takes place in the middle of chapter 25, so it was a bit confusing trying to figure out what the heck was going on. On the other hand, it certainly gets you hooked right away, and Reichs does a good job referencing back to the prologue in the chapter (in case you need a refresher), so I think it works alright. The action throughout the story kept my heart pounding pretty fast (the music* ensured that pretty well too).

The science/science-fiction of the story is fairly understandable. Since none of the characters specialize in the same fields, there's usually a fair bit of explanation between them for any science-y stuff. I'm a bit biased toward wolves (gee, ya think?), so I'll admit that the wolf-DNA change plotline was what drew me to the book in the first place. Didn't know exactly what to expect—full-blown werewolves, monsterous mutation, canine-centered super-powers, or mere insanity—but I was pleased with the results. Even as science-fiction, it seemed believable, obtainable at our current level of technology.

I was especially impressed with the pacing of the mystery. With the characters somewhat going about their daily lives, the pacing actually felt realistic, which only helped build the suspense. I never felt like there were convenient breakthroughs, nothing was handed to them, they had to work for every clue they found. But I suppose I shouldn't have expected anything less from the author of the Bones series.

Speaking of which, I feel I must make a clarification for those who are familiar with Bones, the TV show. The Temperance Brennan referenced in this book is NOT the one from the show, she is the one from Reichs' novel series which inspired the show. So before any Bones fans start complaining/questioning about how Tory is Brennan's sister's granddaughter (TV-Brennan is in her 20's and has a brother), please reference the books. That being said, other than that one reference to their relation, there is absolutely nothing concerning "Aunt Tempe" in Virals. She's mentioned a couple times as a minor tag to Reichs' other work, that's all.

But I think I've blathered on long enough. If you haven't gotten the gist that I loved this book, I don't know what you've been reading. Overall, I'd recommend this for fans of sci-fi, mystery and/or action who don't mind a YA style. I'd say that, between the younger-but-still-high-school narrator, lack of romance and the good amount of action, this book is definitely geared for middle school and up. If you're looking for a break from the norm, something you can really sink your teeth into, Virals will definitely keep you intrigued, mystified, and entertained.

Approximate Reading Time: 5.5 hours

Audiobook Review
Read by Cristin Milioti
Length: 9.6 Hours
Listened at 1.8x Speed

First of all, the narration was superb. Milioti pulled off spunky, sassy, sarcastic, smart-alek-y, teen know-it-all Tory to a T. Tory's male cohorts were a bit less unique from each other, but became more recognizable as the book went on. Supporting characters with southern accents were spot on (well, to a person who rarely hears them), and I enjoyed the variety of flavors she gave everyone. She also reads a bit faster than I'm used to—hence the 1.8x instead of my typical 1.9x—which also adds to the teenage vibe.

I did notice a couple inconsistencies between the audio and the print - most noticeably the switching between "Charleston University" or "CU" in the book and "University of Charleston" or "UC" in the audio (though every so often it switched to the former). I'm not sure which the author meant to use (or which is correct), so it seems confirmation will have to wait for the paperback edition.

*If you take away nothing else from this review, you MUST grab this audiobook for its special effects. This is the first audiobook I've listened to which actually incorporated music into the story. Sure, some companies have themes that play during the introduction, maybe at the beginning of each chapter or during the prologue. But Virals pulled out all the stops. My heart literally started racing the first time the music kicked in during a chase scene. And then, when Tory feels her "flare", indicated in the book by a SNAP, instead of a voice simply reading the word, you actually get what sounds like an electrical surge coming through your headphones.

An absolute joy from beginning to end, I'd recommend this for anyone looking for a YA sci-fi, mystery or adventure audio to chew on. It's a unique experience, to be sure, and I'm sure you'll be as reluctant as I was to hit the pause button.