Book Review: The Virus by Stanley Johnson and The Doomsday Kids #4: Amy’s Gift by Karyn Langhorne Folan

The VirusThe Virus
Stanley Johnson
Witness Impulse, May 2015
ISBN 978-0-06-241492-2
Trade Paperback

Note: This is a re-issue of a book originally published in 1982.

From the publisher—

How do you stop an invisible killer?

When a young woman in New York City dies mysteriously after a trip to Brussels, top epidemiologist Lowell Kaplan identifies the cause of death as the Marburg Virus—a fatal strain that has surfaced only once before in history.

Determined to trace the source of the disease, Kaplan follows a trail of intrigue from the labs of Germany to the jungles of Central Africa.

With danger nipping at his heels, and the secrets of the virus’s origin kept deliberately under wraps, Kaplan must go to unimaginable lengths to stop a deadly scheme.

The premise of this story, the possibility of a deadly pandemic, is what initially drew me in to The Virus and, for the most part, I was not disappointed although there were some stumbling blocks. The story is noticeably dated in some ways as it was first published in 1982 but I was more annoyed by some of the actual writing. Over and over again, the author uses characters’ full names, i.e., Susan Wainwright or Lowell Kaplan, both of which are repeated multiple times. Once or twice is sufficient; we do not need to be told a character’s full name endlessly. Mr. Johnson is not a first-time novelist when this is being re-issued, hopefully with some re-editing, and should know better.

Mr. Johnson also takes some very broad liberties with his descriptions of the original Marburg outbreak(s), I suppose in the interest of increasing the level of fear. I’m all for a good thriller but, when it’s based on actual occurrences, I prefer that the author stick to the facts a bit more closely and, in this case, the real Marburg is very scary indeed, no embellishment needed.

At one point, mention is made of the Congressional Medal of Honour being bestowed upon an individual but, in fact, that could not happen based on the circumstances and 30 seconds of research would have prevented this error. There are other awards that would be appropriate in this situation.

All that aside, a thriller generally has lots of breakneck action to prevent a horrible event from happening and that certainly happens in The Virus. Lowell Kaplan is remarkably obtuse, more so than most thriller protagonists, but he is instantly believed by all sorts of people in power no matter what he says so he was not an altogether credible “hero”. Still, he’s ultimately a very likeable character as is a woman named Stephanie Verusio and likeability is an important element in making a thriller work. Also, as in any good thriller, the bad guys seem to have the upper hand quite a bit and it’s not till the end that we see what really was going on.

Bottomline, read The Virus with a somewhat jaundiced eye, suspend your disbelief and sit back for an enjoyable ride that will keep you entertained. After all, entertainment is a pretty good reason for reading, don’t you think?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2015.


Amy's GiftAmy’s Gift
The Doomsday Kids Book 4
Karyn Langhorne Folan
K Squared Books, April 2015
ISBN 978-0990804352
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Amy Yamamoto was never exactly the “friendly” sort. Driven to be the best-the prettiest, the most popular and the most envied girl in school-Amy has lost everything she loved and believed in since the end of the world she once knew: her family, her friends and her connection to the people who understood her.

And now, after all of those other losses, she faces the end of the Doomsday Kids’ life at the Mountain Place as they embark on a journey of nearly a thousand miles in the hopes of reaching a survivors’ camp on the Gulf of Mexico. Can they reach it before their supplies run out? Can they avoid the evil bands roaring through deserted towns and cities and reach safety before it’s too late? And most of all, can Amy learn to trust the others enough to reveal her deepest secret? Is there room in a world full of death and destruction for hope, a new life and a new love?

I’m usually a stickler for good construction of a book, quality production, meaning I’m ripped right out of the story by an overabundance of errors, whether they be in grammar, spelling, formatting, whatever. I can’t say that Amy’s Gift is all that pristine but, you know what? I don’t care because this is a cracking good story.

This is not a surprise—I’ve been in love with this saga from the very first book and every one of them has drawn me in deeper and deeper. I don’t recommend starting in the middle as you need to know who all these kids are and how they came to be a family of sorts if you want to get the full impact of each one’s individual tale. The good news is they all are quick reads because they hold your attention.

Amy is the one character that has been the hardest to connect with in earlier books simply because she’s a prickly sort, very standoff-ish, and has kept her feelings in very tight check. Part of this comes from her heritage as Japanese-American and the cultural tendency towards always being the best and always being private. I don’t think the Japanese-Americans are quite as much this way as some of the other Asian-American families but there’s no doubt these parents do have higher expectations of their children than many other ethnic or cultural families in the US. Please understand I don’t mean this in any kind of dismissive or derogatory way; it’s just part of who Amy is.

Now, we finally get to know Amy a lot better as her story unfolds and she is a very surprising girl, particularly as she begins to learn more about herself and how emotionally strong she really is. This little band has to face so many hurdles on their journey to what they hope will be a true sanctuary, after surviving the harrowing events following a nuclear attack. Whether Amy and all her ragged companions will make it is questionable and Ms. Folan leaves us with a huge cliffhanger. Thank heavens the next book, The Doomsday Kids #5: Survivors’ Stories, will be coming out in just a little over two weeks because I don’t think I could stand to wait much longer to see what’s coming.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2015.