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3.7 out of 5 stars
Working Stiff (Revivalist, Book 1)
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62 of 64 people found the following review helpful
on August 7, 2011
Working Stiff was a tough read for me. I was ecstatic to find it in my bookstore because I love Rachel Caine's work and I truly believe she is a master storyteller... I'm giving it three stars because I was interested in the story enough to finish it...

But

*** Going to contain some spoilers ***

I found it really hard to empathise with a heroine who is dead.
It just didn't work for me.
Bryn needs a daily shot of Returne to keep from decomposing alive, (a grisly process we get to witness toward the end) so I just didn't see any hope for her in this book, or, it turns out, from future books. It's just such a bleak outlook for a woman who is already dead. Though she's a fictional character you kinda feel like there's no point getting behind her because she's already a lost cause, already dead.

The bleak note continues through this book, I mean, how many horrible things have to happen to Bryn before she saws her own head off? One sister is already missing, another gets kidnapped, killed, brought back multipe times, until she is forced to beat Bryn to her second death with a frying pan...
Not only is Bryn a sort of chemical zombie living on borrowed time, she has to contend with the awful corporate psychos at Pharmadene (the company that makes Returne) who just want to use her and then tie her to a bed and record her slow, torturous decomposition.

Patrick, Bryn's love interest in this book, is a cold, aloof mystery man. Boy did I get sick of his mystery persona. And then we find out a little about him and it's this uber depressing tale of a serial killing sociopath older brother.

Come on! We need some light, some hope.

I also just didn't feel any connection between Bryn and Patrick. I kept wondering if it was wierd for Patric to be into a woman who is, essentially, a zombie.

One side of Returne that I just couldn't buy was the whole "Command Sapphire" and "Command Diamond"... the idea that a serum which is shot into your body to keep you from decomposing will also respond to anyone saying "condition sapphire" by forcing you to do whatever that person asks of them is too silly and random. Are the nanites at work in the serum taught from birth to respond to the word "sapphire"? It's ridiculous!
That was such a contrived side-effect to Returne, a thin excuse to have Bryn mind raped by total strangers... as if she hasn't been through enough.

Personally, I don't think I'll read the next revivalist novel, it just feels like more of the same, Bryn fighting against seemingly insurmountably odds and skidding from horrific situation to horrific situation without any hope to grease her wheels.
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34 of 39 people found the following review helpful
My grandfather used to say "Life's tough, and then you die."

But for Bryn Davis, death is only the START of her troubles. Rachel Caine's "Working Stiff," the first book in a new series, quickly kills off the heroine and reanimates her, and launches her into a bizarre, action-packed adventure. However, this book can be downright depressing at times, and the story sometimes drags in overcomplex circles.

Ex-soldier Bryn Davis takes a job as a funeral director, but her first day is a disaster. A teen girl kills herself, Bryn is pursued by the creepy Fast Freddy, and she discovers that her boss is selling a strange drug that reanimates the dead. And then he kills her.

When she wakes up, she's still technically dead -- but she's being kept animate by an experimental drug called Returne, which the Pharmadene company has discovered. However, they will only keep her alive for as long as she's useful to them, and since their company has a leak connected to her funeral home, they want her to ferret out the supplier.

But while hired gun Joe Fideli and the icy security chief McCallister are helping her, Bryn knows that her days are literally numbered. And as she becomes tangled in elaborate webs of conspiracy and megalomania, she finds that her enemies are both inside and outside Pharmadene... and if she doesn't stop them, the entire world may be next.

It took me a long time to figure out why I simply didn't like "Working Stiff." But eventually I worked it out -- this book is possibly the darkest, bleakest story that Rachel Caine has written to date. And not in a good way, but in a "I want to suck on the business end of a Glock" way. People are paranoid, greedy and cold, all the heroine has to look forward to is a slow gruesome decay, and a supporting character is grotesquely tortured.

That dark mood also extends to Caine's writing, which is somewhat more morbid than usual. The story also unfolds in fits and starts -- we have short, dense packets of action and shocking twists, followed by slower lagging periods that made me itch for SOMETHING to happen. And Caine couldn't seem to make up her mind whether she's writing about nanite technology or magical zombie drugs. But Caine does deliver in the climactic final chapters, which are much tighter, faster and richly satisfying.

As for Bryn, she's a character who takes awhile to grow on you. She was never quite convincing as a hardened soldier, but she does have a likable vulnerability and determination that really blooms at the very end. McCallister is an interesting love interest, who takes a little while to de-ice enough to really connect with Bryn.

"Working Stiff" is a rather depressing urban fantasy with an unusual premise, but the ending does indicate that the next Revivalist book might be better. But this one is kind of a dark mess.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on August 5, 2011
This was an interesting concept. It's a zombie book. It was fine for a single read; however, it was depressing and the depression only deepened by the end of the book. No room for the exhilaration arising from missions accomplished at the climax; instead, the the conclusion leaves you with an abiding sadness.

Borrow it, read it, then return it. It's not what I would call a "keeper," so I'm not going to be purchasing the second book in this series.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
This is a hard one to review. First off, I really liked it in that it was well written, the characters were engaging and the idea was clever.

But...it was downright disturbing in several places. And the large-scale concepts of death, being conscious in a decaying body, being dependent on a daily shot of a rare, controlled drug or face slow, tortuous death was very disconcerting. Several parts truly bothered me.

Zombies are not my thing. I really don't see the appeal. (At all.) But what made this so disturbing was the *humanity* of Bryn and how she was an otherwise completely normal, feeling, scared woman. It's hard sometimes to read something where the main character is such a victim in ways she didn't ask for and can't escape. It troubles me.

And yet, it was a solid book.

So, I don't know. I'd give it 4 stars with the caveat the you need to be ok with some serious horror in a very real, very difficult to get out of your head after you put the book down sorta way.

Oh and...What happened to the dog?
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 27, 2011
I am incredibly impressed to see Rachel Caine offer such a different type of story than her other two UF series, Weather Warden and Outcast Season. Faintly skeezed out, to be honest, but impressed. I was surprised to see Caine dip her toe into the zombie genre, but I willingly followed, based on past success with her writing style. I wasn't disappointed, but I was surprised. I knew this would be about zombies, but I thought the heroine's role would be different based on the vague back cover summary and past experience with UFs.

Bryn was just the type of UF heroine I like. I was wary about how she would be portrayed after I read that she was fresh from the military, but I shouldn't have troubled myself. Bryn was not portrayed as a Wonder Woman and, having been in the military, I easily related to her struggles (but eagerness) to slip back into a civilian role. Her worry about the appropriateness of her outfit choice after having been stuck in a uniform for years and her wry observations about civilian bosses being just like military CO's made it easy for me to slip into her shoes and sympathize.

I loved that Bryn got her butt kicked more often than not. Well, I didn't love the fact that she was hurt, but I liked that she wasn't played up to be more elite than she was just because she was in a military supply unit in the war. Because, honestly, she wouldn't have been authentic cast as a Rambo type after coming from that MOS. I also really enjoyed how normal her emotions were. She wasn't emotionally stunted and closed off. She even cried! She didn't do it frequently, but her life was turned upside down and she didn't always react calmly. All throughout the book she struggled to cope with how her life had changed. She never whined about it, but I don't think I would have blamed her if she did. The girl got a raw deal.

Where this book really excelled for me--beyond the characters, which I loved--was the harsh look at the new reality that Bryn was forced to deal with. It was, to put it quite bluntly, terrifying. The lack of control she had over her life, her body, had me feeling jittery, and it wasn't even me. Everywhere I looked, there were more bad deals, just equipped with a differing degree of suckage. Bryn had to face the fact that she no longer ruled her life and that there was no escape for the foreseeable future. I loved the story, and I loved the grittiness of it, but the lack of sugarcoating on Bryn's situation made me feel sympathetically claustrophobic and trapped. Add that to the horror of facing the truth about what she is and, more importantly, what she can easily become without the shot, and you have an incredibly intense and emotional story.

Although Working Stiff could be gory and gritty, Caine paired it well with a nice dose of humor to help lighten the mood when it got too dark. Although this was not a Romance, there is a nice little relationship in the making. We only got to see the foundation laid out here, but it looks to be a good pairing. The love interest, Patrick McCallister, and Bryn seem to have their fair share of issues to work out before they can settle into couplehood, not the least of which is the reality of what she has turned into. I felt that Pat was brushing it aside a little too easily and really preferred Bryn's struggle with it, because I was struggling with it. Caine made sure to expose us to situations that wouldn't allow us to ignore the truth of what she was dealing with. It's not cute, it's not a game. It's horrifying and I am still completely freaked out by it.

The fact that I don't like zombies and yet I completely loved this book is a true testament to the author's skill. I occasionally found myself sympathizing with a few--well, one, really--of the "bad guys" and their lack of compassion toward the welfare of the victims. I can't say that I didn't find myself struggling with the exact same opinion that he/she had, so it was hard not to see their side of things. My struggle with that made it quite an interesting read.

Favorite Quote:

"You are unbelievable."

There went that tiny little smile again, tight and controlled, meaning nothing. "I do date, Bryn. Occasionally."

She bet he did it on a schedule. 1900 to 2100 hours, dinner. 2100 to 2115, drive the girl home. 2115 to 2130, sex. 2135, shower, kiss good-bye. 2140, drive home.

"I don't date jackasses," she said. "Just so we're clear."

Review posted on Fiction Vixen.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on October 7, 2011
First I would classify this book more as a Sci-Fi Thriller than a Paranormal Book. I think the labeling of this book as a "zombie" book is inaccurate and here is why...The main character Bryn is killed and brought back to life by a new wonder drug called Returne. This drug can restore a dead person to life but of course there is a catch and that is the person must receive a daily dose of the drug in order to maintain the facade of a normal functioning human being. Without the drug the body begins to decay and rot within a week the "dead individual" is a living, rotting, maggot infested corpse.
Ms. Caine had two separate descriptions of this state in her book that I loved and will quote for you. ~
The first is "She was an animated, breathing mimicry of life" and the second quote from the book "The drug maintains you. It doesn't bring you back to life, just supports your vital functions. If you wanted to get poetic, I'd say it replaces your soul." ~
These two quotations best sum up the basis of the book. So if you are looking for the next zombie book this in my opinion does not fit the bill. However, there are many good reasons to read this book.
What I liked:
* The entire premise; the ability to bring people back from the dead with a drug is intriguing to say the least. The implications of this possibility are dangerous, mind-numbing. Not to mention the far reaching consequences. I was horrified at the perverse manipulations of the drug. We should hope that this drug Returne remains in the fiction classification.
* The morgue setting. The book begins with Bryn starting her first day as a funeral director at a mortuary. I was fascinated as I was dragged into the macabre of the funeral industry. Her boss and the mortician provide extra creepiness and chill factors. Then after an emotionally charged first day on the job to top it all off she is killed; talk about your bad first day. The roller coaster ride starts off thrilling.
* The good guys Joe Ferari and Patrick McCallister. I wasn't sure of their standings but each character has layers of complexities and as the book progresses and new facets to each of their personalities are provided I decided that they are affable and heroic.
*Mr. French the lovable bulldog provided a little comic relief. I was disappointed that he just dropped out of the story.
* The twists and turns of this book were surprising. This book took me on an unexpected adventure and ended up being completely different from my expectations.

And the not so much:
* This book has a complex plot it starts out fast and thrilling but it is convoluted and the middle portion of the book dragged for me.
* I am not convinced that this can evolve into a best selling series. I enjoyed the book; it is a great stand alone story. Yes, there are plot lines that are designated as the basis for future novels but I can honestly say I am not sure if I will continue with this series. I am satisfied with the resolution. I am not compelled to madly rush out and purchase the next novel when it releases. I may read another book in this line or I may not. Too early too say.
* I was intrigued by the sinister characters of Fast Freddy and Mr. Fairview but they were taken out of the story prematurely. I thought they had more potential. Instead the bad guy turns out to be someone unexpected and it just didn't quite work for me.
* Finally I had problems with the idea of Bryn being a normal functioning human even though she was dead. The building of an intimate relationship between her and another character is unnerving. How could a normal living guy not be disturbed by intimacy with a dead girl? I am not certain that this is a viable possibility due to the many complications of Bryn being deceased.

Final thoughts, Working Stiff was an interesting book with a chilling concept. A good stand alone novel. It is not a zombie book. It works more as a sci-fi thriller. If you are looking for paranormal books with zombies and the supernatural this is not your book. I enjoyed the story but found the plot had several divergent paths that may be distracting for some readers. Yes, it got a little slow in the middle but then it picks up with surprises and thrills to the end. I would rate it 3 1/2 stars.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 20, 2011
Bryn Davis is a veteran of the Iraq war. After she musters out of the army, she wants nothing whatever to do with anything exciting, just a nice steady safe job. Being in a war zone has left her all to accustomed to dealing with dead bodies, and since it doesn't bother her, and since she feels the dead deserve better than she has been able to give them so far, she gravitates to the mortuary industry. Unfortunately, her first day working at a small upscale funeral home turns into a nightmare as she discovers that the owner has (illegal) access to a newly discovered ressurection drug (magic handwaved to sound like technology by invoking "nanites") which he uses to extort his wealthy clients to bring back their loved ones and keep them alive with regular doses.

I don't know. This one just didn't grab me, and I liked the author's "Weather Warden" series pretty well. Why?

Well, first Bryn just seemed like a very "subdued" character. I guess the point might be to imply she was suffering from a certain ammount of PTSD, but it often just seemed there was "no there there" with her. I think the third person point of view might have contributed to this feeling of distance -- everything I've read from Caine has been first person, and this book often read like it was supposed to be first person but that she had replaced half of the "I"s with "Bryn" and half with "she". It just came off odd and I couldn't really get engaged in her problems.

SOME SPOILERS START HERE

Second, I just couldn't believe the scenario. Basically what we have here is an immortality drug. Sure, it's one that makes you dependant on getting your next dose, but many people lead lives like that already today, and it doesn't seem a barrier to a happy life. I get that it's a huge problem that a corrupt drug company (or at least one of its corrupt managers) is exploiting the tech, but nobody ever backs up and says "holy s***, this is eternal life!".

Third, I couldn't believe the machinations. Not only do we have a corrupt company with ninja-deadly private security forces that goes around killing people left and right, we have ex-FBI agents living off the grid with past-state-of-the-art *portable* labs who can reverse-engineer years of work in an afternoon, we have a super skilled mole operation *within* the company, _and_ we have the government dropping in a the last minute and saying "we know it all the time, and by the way we're going to keep the drug a secret, and if we have to kill a bunch of people without due process, we're fine with that". This is the FBI, by the way, not some super-secret-invented-for-the-book agency. Even the intelligence agencies can't keep secret documents off of the New York Times, and the FBI is going to keep eternal life under wraps?

Fourth, oh, and with all this about to break loose, Bryn can't come up with a way to keep her sister out of town, so that something completely predictable happens to her?

Fifth, in the end Bryn gets sent back to working the mortuary because, well, only because it's the series premise?

I really can't go more than 2.5 stars here, and was hoping for something better.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon November 8, 2011
I was really looking forward to this book. I'd read quite a few pre-release reviews that were very positive and the description is totally up my alley. On release day, I rushed out and picked up a copy. That was a mistake because I hated this book.

I try to always find something positive about a book I disliked and generally it is not that hard, but I have to say that it is a struggle for me to come up with anything positive about this book. The best I can do is say that the premise of a drug company creating a drug that resurrects people is entertaining and fairly original. But that's all I've got.

So, what didn't I like? Bryn, for starters. She was just not a likeable character. She was very rigid and uninteresting. She wasn't a particularly strong character. She seemed to be falling to pieces every few pages, and I just don't enjoy that. Along with Bryn, the supporting characters were not great. They were flat and very stereotypical.

The plot was convoluted. It's paranormal; it's corporate espionage; it's zombies; it's organized crime...it's crap is what it is. It was a hodgepodge of ridiculousness. And the ridiculous plot just drug on and on and on.

I have a general rule that I do not judge an entire series by the first book in that series. If I did that, I wouldn't be reading some of my absolute favorite series today. However, I am going to break that rule for this book. It was so bad and I see no redeeming qualities in this book that would warrant me spending my time on it.

If you feel compelled to read this book, get it from the library. I would strong advise just skipping it altogether.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 9, 2012
Some people may not like Working Stiff but I certainly did.

This is not a typical Rachel Caine book. It breaks from both the Weather Warden Series and the Morganville series and to be honest is a lot more action driven and gruesome (I know, impressive when considering both the previous series mentioned involve a hefty amount of killing, backstabbing, and destruction.)

This series instead focuses on characters that can be brought back from the dead. There is a new drug that can raise the dead, the only downside? The dead are reliant on the drug, if they don't get it they literally decompose (not a pretty way to re-die (or die a first time for the matter.)) The story follows Bryn an ex-military girl who starts work at a funeral home.

The story quickly progresses and leaders to attraction, deception, and action packed heroics. Too be honest I was surprised by how many twists and turns Caine included in this first novel of the series. It felt like every time I was getting the handle on a new surprise Caine threw something else into the mix.

All in all a fun and exciting read. I can understand why some people didn't like it though, it's not exactly like Caine's previous works, yet nor is it even remotely like other zombie novels out there. Caine once again creates engaging characters, fast plots full of surprises and twists, and a cliff hanger like ending to keep the reader on edge. While some people may be disappointed I certainly wasn't and would very much recommend this to anyone with a pulse (sorry had to throw in a bad zombie joke).
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Bryn Davis takes a job at a mortuary, selling funeral packages and consoling bereaved family members. But Bryn's first night on the job, she is caught watching her boss and the creepy embalmer doing a shady after-hours business deal. And Bryn is murdered. The funeral director had been taking advantage of wealthy family members, selling a black-market drug and giving false hope. Bryn is given the same drug and "revived" in order to use her to hunt down her boss' supplier. Now, Bryn has to receive the drug every day or she will start to decompose. So Bryn must prove her worth before the pharmaceutical company decides she isn't worth the cost of the life-restoring drug.

First in a new series, Working Stiff follows Bryn and her terrifying last day and subsequent resurrection. Bryn is likeable and sympathetic character, which makes her predicament that much more disturbing. Bryn becomes a zombie of sorts, but not mindless.

This chilling, science fiction adventure is dark and with many twists and harrowing events. Fast-paced and full of suspense, the story is completely engaging and impossible to put down. This unusual, macabre tale will attract both urban fantasy and zombie fans alike. The climactic tension leads to a big finish and leaves readers a mild cliffhanger. The spine-tingling premise alone will keep me reading future installments.
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