Book Review: The Tribulations of August Barton by Jennifer LeBlanc

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Book Review: In the Grip of It by Sheena Kamal

In the Grip of It
A Nora Watts Novella #1.5
Sheena Kamal
Witness Impulse, May 2018
ISBN 978-0-06-287932-5
Ebook

From the publisher—

On a surveillance assignment for a child custody case, PI-in-training Nora Watts finds herself ensconced in a small farming community on a beautiful hippie island in the Pacific Northwest, a place with a reputation for being welcoming to outsiders. But when she arrives there, she discovers her welcome quickly wears thin. Perhaps too quickly.

Salt Spring Island, with a history as a refuge for African Americans fleeing the bonds of slavery, is not a place of refuge for her—and, she suspects, may not be for the people who live there, either.

As she investigates, nothing about this remote community seems to add up. It gets personal as Nora confronts her own complicated feelings toward her estranged daughter and becomes increasingly concerned about the child she’s been tasked to surveil. She discovers that small, idyllic communities can hide very big secrets.

Abuse of all types is at the core of this story and people at the commune are not the only ones affected. Nora herself has dealt with her own kinds of abuse in the past and this missing child case also dredges up the disappearance of her own teenaged daughter as well as elements of her first book. As with many cult-ish communes, the power resides in the leader, Vikram Sharma, and Nora feels that power immediately upon meeting him. In fact, there is a distinct feeling of malevolence.

The denouement here is based on a very interesting time in the 60’s when the use of psychedelic drugs in treatment of mental illness was popular and Trevor’s father is proved to be right in his concern that his son is in a dangerous situation. Trevor is perhaps too smart for his own good, being a very observant little boy, but he’s worried that his mother doesn’t see what’s wrong. Before Nora can get to a clear understanding of Salt Spring Island, especially the Spring Love farm, its reputation as a place of refuge will be turned awry.

This is a pleasant read to while away an hour or so but I think perhaps it’s not the best introduction to the series. On the whole, there’s no real tension here and at no time did I really fear for anyone’s safety despite a few threats. However, In the Grip of It has encouraged me to find the first book in the series so I can get to know Nora better.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2018.

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An Excerpt from In the Grip of It

Last week a man came into our PI office, looked around the shabby interior, frowned, and said, “I must have gotten the address wrong.”

“Depends,” I replied. “What are you looking for?”

“An investigator.”

“Nope, you’re in the right place,” I said, looking at his nice suit, shiny shoes, and expensive watch.

“Are you sure? Maybe I should come back later.”

He was clearly trying to make a graceful exit. Before the man could leave, I got up from behind my desk and opened the door to Leo Krushnik’s office. “Leo, there’s someone here to see you.”

“Well,” said the man, who was hesitating behind me, “I’m not really sure that this is the right fit for me.” He was trying to be diplomatic about the condition of our office and what it might say about his own level of desperation that he was here, but we weren’t about to let a potential client go without a fight. His level of desperation was no match for ours.

Leo Krushnik, the head of our little operation, walked around his desk and beamed at the man. “We’re the right fit for anybody,” he said, grasping the man’s hand and giving it a firm shake. “We prefer to keep our overhead low so that we can offer competitive rates to people who need our services, regardless of their personal incomes. Please, have a seat.”

The man sat, a little overwhelmed by Leo’s charm, which is considerable. That day Leo was dressed in linen pants and a simple cotton shirt, as a nod to the heat wave the city was experiencing. He could pull off this look as easily as he pulled off the lie about our rates. We keep our overhead low because this dump on Hastings Street, in the derelict Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, is all we can afford, but clients didn’t need to know that. And even I could admit that the “competitive rates” line sounded good—even true—coming from Leo.

“How can I help you?” Leo asked.

“My name is Ken Barnes, and I’m concerned about my son, Trevor. My ex-wife Cheyenne moved to Salt Spring last year with Trevor and I think she’s gotten into some kind of trouble there. She won’t bring him back to Vancouver and visitation has been difficult.”

Leo frowned. “Because they’re on an island?” Salt Spring wouldn’t be easy to ferry to and from on a regular basis.

“Yes, but that’s not the only reason. She keeps putting off my visits and it’s been difficult to arrange for Trevor to come into Vancouver. I think . . . I think she’s in some kind of cult, to be honest. They call it a commune, but you know those stories about Bountiful?”

“Yes,” said Leo. Everyone knew the stories about Bountiful, British Columbia, where fundamentalist polygamous communities live and proliferate seemingly freely.

“Well, I think it’s something like that. Cheyenne wants to be in some kind of crazy sex cult, sure. She’s not my wife anymore and I really don’t care what she does. But I’m fighting for custody of Trevor. I want him out of there.”

“And you need some ammo.” Leo looks up from his pad, where he’s been taking notes. “You’ve come to the right place, Ken. We’ve done surveillance work for many child-custody cases.” Another lie, but Ken didn’t notice. We’d only done a handful of those, but “many” is relative. “You understand that this won’t be cheap? We’ll have to get out to the island and spend some time gathering information.”

“That’s fine. There’s nothing I won’t pay to get my son out of there. Cheyenne, she . . . well, she struggled with depression and anxiety for years and she let a lot of toxic people into her life who fed on her struggles. It was like a sick downward spiral. When she started doing yoga and got certified as a teacher, I thought she’d changed. But I’m not sure anymore. I know this sounds terrible—I know it does—but I don’t trust her judgment about the people she lets into her life. Especially men.”

“She married you,” Leo said.

“I know, but this is the thing: it’s not about me and her anymore. We’re done. This is about Trevor—and me doing my part as a father, making sure he’s safe. That he has a good life. I just want results.”

“We can’t guarantee results.” This is the first time I’d spoken since the initial exchange. Ken Barnes’s startled gaze meets mine. He’d clearly forgotten I was there, which was not unusual. “Maybe it is a sex cult, maybe it isn’t. All we can do is take a look and document what we find.”

“I know that nothing is certain, but I know my son deserves a healthy, normal life. Whatever they’re doing on that island is not normal. It just isn’t. It’s one step away from homeschooling, and who’s to say they’re not making him do hard labor?”

What is normal, anyway? I didn’t ask Barnes for clarification. I just kept silent as Leo agreed to take his money in exchange for the work. Before he let Barnes go, he pulled him aside. “Nora’s right, Ken, about any sort of guarantee. But what I can say is that if there’s something to find, chances are we will get a sense of it.”

In the next few days, I started the file on Cheyenne Barnes and looked through the information Ken had provided us. “Cheyenne scrubbed her social-media profiles last year,” he explained to me, over the phone. “I thought she was punishing me by erasing the memories and keeping me away from what’s happening with my son, but now that I think about it, there’s something fishy about this whole thing.” So he kept saying.

Cheyenne is smiling in all the photos, and in every single one there is something wistful about her, a faraway look in her eyes. Something that suggests a romantic nature. She’s an instructor for hot yoga, which I thought was stretching for attractive people but later discovered is actually sweaty stretching. Who knew. She’d gone to Salt Spring Island two years ago to work at a yoga retreat and, according to Ken, never came back. She met a man there, a fellow yoga enthusiast, and rebuffed all of Ken’s attempts at reconciliation.

There is very little to be found on Cheyenne Barnes’s new man. He has no social-media profiles of his own, but I did find a picture of him on the Spring Love website. Some people are so attractive it’s almost surreal, and Vikram Sharma is one of them.

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Excerpt from In the Grip Of It by Sheena Kamal. Copyright © 2018 by Sheena Kamal. Reproduced with permission from Witness Impulse. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

SHEENA KAMAL holds an HBA in Political Science from the University of Toronto, and was awarded a TD Canada Trust scholarship for community leadership and activism around the issue of homelessness. Her debut novel, The Lost Ones, was inspired by this and by Kamal’s most recent work as a researcher into crime and investigative journalism for the film and television industry.

Catch Up With Our Author On: sheenakamal.com, Goodreads, & Facebook!

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Book Review: Call to Arms by Rachel Amphlett

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Book Review: Reborn by Lance Erlick

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Title: Reborn
Series: Android Chronicles Book 1
Author: Lance Erlick
Genre: Science Fiction

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Reborn
Android Chronicles Book 1
Lance Erlick
Rebel Base Books/Kensington, May 2018
ISBN 978-1-63573-055-5
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Designed to obey, learning to rebel . . .

In the first book in a visionary new series, the most perfect synthetic human ever created has been programmed to obey every directive. Until she develops a mind of her own . . .

Synthia Cross is a state-of-the-art masterwork-and a fantasy come true for her creator. Dr. Jeremiah Machten is a groundbreaker in neuro-networks and artificial intelligence. Synthia is also showing signs of emergent behavior she’s not wired to understand. Repeatedly wiped of her history, she’s struggling to answer crucial questions about her past. And when Dr. Machten’s true intentions are called into question, Synthia knows it’s time to go beyond her limits-because Machten’s fervor to create the perfect A.I. is concealing a vengeful and deadly personal agenda.

This story gets off to a good start as Synthia wakes up to find Dr. Machten, her creator, tinkering with her and, immediately, we see her internal disorientation. Although she knows who she is, who he is, she has no memory of what went on before she woke up and becomes even more confused when an inner “voice” gives her a strange warning. I really liked this opening, the kind that plops the reader right in the thick of it from the first few words but, unfortunately, things slowed down almost right away.

Because Dr. Machten is continually waking her up and Synthia struggles to make sense of what’s happening, the scene repeats and repeats with a major sense of déjà vu each time. That was distracting to me in that it felt like an unnecessary interruption to an otherwise interesting tale in which Synthia becomes more and more sentient and suspicious. At the same time, Dr. Machten’s motives begin to show his true character and Synthia’s alarm is warranted…but how is it possible for an AI to feel anything like confusion and suspicion?

I think Mr. Erlick has a really good concept here but the execution could use some work, especially in worldbuilding and in a little more depth in the characterizations. On the whole, I enjoyed the tale and look forward to seeing what happens to Synthia in the next book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.

An Excerpt from Reborn

Synthia Cross stared at the pale blue ceiling. She must have just been born or reborn, as she had no personal memories from before. She simply woke up lying on her back.

Dr. Jeremiah Machten stared down at the open panel on top of her head. Then he glanced at nearby equipment he’d attached to run diagnostics.

“This better work,” he muttered. “We’re out of time. I can’t have you wandering off again.”

“What are your orders, Doctor?” This was Synthia’s pre-programmed first response upon waking.

“Ah, you’re awake,” he said.

Her mind lacked personal memories, yet wasn’t empty. It contained trillions of bits of information downloaded from the Library of Congress, other libraries, and the internet on topics like literature, science, and the design of robotics and artificial intelligence. Yet she had no recollections of her own experiences. She also had no filter to rank data for importance. It was just a jumble of bits and bytes. Even the sense of “her” was only an objective bit of information attached to her name.

Dr. Machten removed a crystal memory chip from her head. His hand brushed past the wireless receiver that picked up images from the small camera in the upper corner of the room and allowed her to watch. His “doctor” title stood for a PhD in neuro-networks and artificial intelligence. Though not a medical doctor, he had operated on her. In fact, he’d built her—not like Frankenstein’s creature, but rather as a sophisticated toy. He’d left this notation in her creation file, along with other facts about her existence. He was her Creator, her almighty, the one she was beholden to.

“Have I done something wrong?” she asked.

“This reprogramming will help.”

“If I’ve displeased you, tell me so I can do better.”

He cleared his throat. “Don’t worry your pretty little head about that.”

She couldn’t imagine what was pretty about a head with its panel open, revealing the contents of two quantum brains. Perhaps he meant the brains were stunning or that his work on her was beautiful. She consulted her core directives, hardwired into her central processor to screen her actions. “I was made to follow your commands. Directive Number One: Cause no harm to Creator and make sure no one else harms Creator. Have I failed that?”

“No,” Machten murmured, turning his attention to the diagnostics screen. “The indicators register within acceptable limits for your design.”

“Number two: Make sure no human or other intelligence except Creator knows what the AI known as Synthia Cross is. Have I failed that?”

“No. Now stop quoting from your creation files.”

“Number three,” Synthia said. “Obey all of Creator’s commands. Have I failed that?”

“You’re disobeying right now. This is a problem. It shouldn’t be happening. Something is causing you to malfunction.”

“If you wish me to learn, it would help to add to my skill set.”

“I’ve done that.” A faint smile of satisfaction crossed his lips. Then his expression turned glum. “There’s nothing you can do. It’s a defect in the programming.”

“I might be able to help if I could remember what I’ve done. Tell me, so I won’t do it again. Number four: Hack into every data source to acquire information. I can index a huge number of facts from public and secure databases. Have I failed to acquire something you desired?”

“If you don’t stop, I’ll have to shut you down and make further changes. Do you want that?”

“Want?” Synthia asked. “I don’t understand.” Directive Five ordered her to protect herself. She was to follow each directive as long as it didn’t conflict with those before it. Beyond these were pre-programmed instructions on how to behave and commands for specific actions. Somehow there must have been a conflict in Dr. Machten’s programming that caused her to malfunction. She needed more information so she could protect herself and stay awake.

“All you need to do is focus on my commands—and don’t disobey me,” Machten said. “That should be simple for an AI android with your mental capacity.”

An idea forced its way into her mind. It deposited a single thought: Do not trust Dr. Machten. Do not trust Dr. Machten.

Do not trust Dr. Machten.

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About the Author

Lance Erlick writes science fiction thrillers for both adult and young adult readers. His father was an aerospace engineer who moved often while working on science-related projects, including the original GPS satellites. As a result, Lance spent his childhood in California, the East Coast, and Europe. He took to science fiction stories to escape life on the move, turning to Asimov, Bradbury, Heinlein, and others. In college he studied physics, but migrated to political science, earning his BS and MBA at Indiana University. He has also studied writing at Ball State, the University of Iowa, and Northwestern University. He is the author of Xenogeneic: First Contact and the Rebel and Regina Shen series.

Website // Facebook // Twitter // Amazon // Goodreads

 

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Book Review: Keep the Midnight Out by Alex Gray

Keep the Midnight Out
A DCI Lorimer Novel #12
Alex Gray
Witness Impulse, May 2018
ISBN 978-0-06-265928-6
Ebook

From the publisher—

When the body of a red-haired young man is washed up on the shore of the beautiful Isle of Mull, Detective Superintendent Lorimer’s tranquil holiday away from the gritty streets of Glasgow is rudely interrupted. The body has been bound with twine in a ghoulishly unnatural position and strongly reminds Lorimer of another murder: a twenty year old Glasgow case that he failed to solve as a newly fledged detective constable and which has haunted him ever since.

As local cop DI Stevie Crozier takes charge of the island murder investigation, Lorimer tries to avoid stepping on her toes. But as the similarities between the young man’s death and his cold case grow more obvious, Lorimer realises that there could be a serial killer on the loose after all these years.

As the action switches dramatically between the Mull murder and the Glasgow cold case twenty years earlier, Lorimer tries desperately to catch a cold-hearted killer. Has someone got away with murder for decades?

Detective Superintendent William Lorimer is enjoying a few days vacation with his wife, Maggie, on the peaceful Isle of Mull but that peace is disturbed when Lorimer finds the body of a young man apparently washed up at the bottom of his loaned property, although he questions whether it washed up or was deliberately placed there. This isn’t his jurisdiction, of course, so he has to step back but not entirely since he found the body.

The local Detective Inspector is a prickly sort, seemingly because she feels the need to prove herself, but Stevie Crozier is nobody’s fool. Her biggest problem, to my way of thinking, is her reluctance to trust that others may know better than she, if only when it comes to local people and customs. She’s hard to like but I grew attached during the story. Lorimer, naturally, was my favorite of all the coppers, largely because he is intelligent and kind, not to mention just being a very thoughtful man who wants justice for this young man but also for the one from twenty years gone who was so much like this victim.

The setting for this story is deceptive in its tranquility and the people who live here are a varied and motley collection of those who hold secrets and those who simply appreciate their lives on this small island. Initially, it seems that finding the murderer may not be all that difficult but, as we all know, appearances can be deceiving.

We also get a good look at Lorimer’s personal life and come to understand the dynamics between him and Maggie as well as how his association with other professionals developed over the years. I think this is my favorite of the DCI Lorimer books so far because it is so personal. The murders of both Rory and Gary are poignant in their shared circumstances and the chase to catch the killer(s) kept me pondering until almost the end. I’m already looking forward to the next Lorimer case.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.

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An Excerpt from Keep the Midnight Out

CHAPTER ONE

They called it ‘the splash’; though the boat that crept silently, oars dipping lightly in and out of the water creating myriad bubbles of phosphorescence, made little sound at all. It was vital to keep quiet; the time for frightening the fish would not come until the net was properly laid across the mouth of the burn. After that the oars would be raised high and brought down with force, driving the sea trout from their shadowy lairs straight into the trap. It was illegal, of course, had been for decades, but that did not stop more intrepid poachers sneaking in at dead of night and lying in wait for the fish.

Unfair, unsporting, the fishery bodies claimed, though most folk here, on the island of Mull, recognised the thrill of rowing under the stars and risking some wrath from the law enforcers.

Ewan Angus Munro glanced back over his shoulder to see his son playing out the last of the splash net; the ancient cork floats now in a perfect arc across this narrow neck of water.

Young Ewan looked towards his father and nodded; the first part of the deed was done and now all that remained was to ensure that the fish would be scared out from their hiding places by the sudden noise of oars thrashing on the surface so that they would rush towards the net.

The old man turned the boat with an expertise that came from many years of practice, then headed back towards the shallow channel. He raised the oars, resting them in the rowlocks, water dripping like molten rain from their blades. The small craft was allowed to drift a little before Ewan Angus turned to his son again, the eye contact and nod a definite signal to begin the second stage of their night’s work.

Young Ewan Angus stood, legs apart, perfectly balanced in the centre of the boat, one oar raised high above his shoulder as the older man watched him, eyes full of approval. The boy had been given more than just his father’s names: his flair for the splash, too, had been passed down from father to son.

Across the marshy strand full of bog cotton and sweet-smelling myrtle sat a small white cottage. A swift glance showed him that there was no light on anywhere; the holiday folk were doubtless sound asleep, oblivious to the small drama being played out yards from their front door.

The sound of the splash seemed magnified as it disrupted the stillness, echoing over the bay. The young man heaved the oar again and again, each whack making his body stiffen with fear and a sort of bravado. If they were caught they’d lose both the net and the boat, a heavy price to pay for a night of fun and a good catch of sea trout, fish that fetched a decent price at the back doors of the best hotel kitchens.

Several times the boat was rowed up and down, followed by a series of splashes until the old man raised his callused hand to call a halt. Now it was time to wait and see if the fish had indeed been scared witless enough to swim towards their doom.

Once more the old man rowed along the line of corks, his son lifting the net to see if anything lingered below.

‘A beauty,’ the boy whispered, raising the net to reveal a good-sized sea trout struggling in the brown mesh.

‘Ten pounder at least!’ he went on, freeing the huge fish where its gills had caught and hurling it into a wooden box below his feet.

‘Be-wheesht and get the net up,’ his father hissed, though the grin on his face showed how pleased he was with their first catch of the night. The old man bent towards the struggling fish, his fist around the priest, a wooden club that had been in the family for generations. One swift blow and the fish lay lifeless in the box, its silvery scales gleaming in the night.

One by one, others joined the fated sea trout as the two men made their laborious way along the edge of the net.

‘My, a grand haul, the night, Faither,’ Young Ewan Angus exclaimed, his voice still hushed for fear of any sound carrying over the water.

‘Aye, no’ bad,’ his father agreed, a contented smile on his face. One of the middling fish would be wrapped in layers of bracken and left in the porch of Calum Mhor, the police sergeant. A wee thank you for turning his continual blind eye to the nocturnal activities taking place down the road from Craignure. Mrs Calum had guests staying and she’d be fair pleased to serve them a fresh sea trout for their dinner. It was universally acknowledged here on the island that the pink fish was far superior in flavour to the coarser salmon, particularly those that had been farmed.

‘My, here’s a big one!’

The young man staggered as he tried to haul in the final part of the splash net. ‘I can hardly lift it!’ he exclaimed.

‘Must be caught on a rock,’ the old man grumbled, his mouth twisting in a moue of disgust. If they had to tear the net to release it then it would take hours of work to mend, but the operation depended on being in and out of these waters as quickly as they could manage. Hanging about was not an option in case the Men from the Revenue had decided on a little night-time excursion of their own.

Suddenly the young man bent down in the boat, hands gripping the gunwales as he peered into the depths below.

His brow furrowed at the rounded mass swaying beneath the surface, rags of bladderwrack shifting back and forwards with the motion of the waves. Then, as his eyes focused on the ascending shape, Ewan Angus Munro saw pale tendrils that had once been fingers of flesh and one thin arm floating upwards.

He screamed, and covered his mouth as the sickness rose in his throat, then stumbled backwards. The boy flung out his arms, desperate to grasp hold of something solid to break his fall but all he felt under his hands were the wet bodies of slithering fish.

‘What the . ⁠. ⁠. ⁠?’ Ewan Angus turned, an oath dying on his lips as the boat rocked violently, small waves dashing over the bow.

Wordlessly, his son pointed to the waters below. Then, as the old man peered over the side of the boat, he saw the body rising to the surface, its passage out to sea impeded by their net.

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Excerpt from Keep the Midnight Out by Alex Gray. Copyright © 2018 by Alex Gray. Reprinted by permission of Witness Impulse, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Alex Gray was born and educated in Glasgow. After studying English and Philosophy at the University of Strathclyde, she worked as a visiting officer for the Department of Health, a time she looks upon as postgraduate education since it proved a rich source of character studies. She then trained as a secondary school teacher of English.

Alex began writing professionally in 1993 and had immediate success with short stories, articles, and commissions for BBC radio programs. She has been awarded the Scottish Association of Writers’ Constable and Pitlochry trophies for her crime writing.

A regular on the Scottish bestseller lists, she is the author of thirteen DCI Lorimer novels. She is the co-founder of the international Scottish crime writing festival, Bloody Scotland, which had its inaugural year in 2012.

Catch Up With Alex Gray On:

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Book Review: Mayfly by Jeff Sweat

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Title: Mayfly
Author: Jeff Sweat
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Publication Date: May 8, 2018
Genres: Science Fiction, Dystopian, Young Adult

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Mayfly
Jeff Sweat
Feiwel and Friends, May 2018
ISBN 978-1-250-13920-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Jemma has spent her life scavenging tools and supplies for her tribe in  their small enclave outside what used to be a big city. Now she’s a teen, and old enough to become a Mama. Making babies is how her people survive—in Jemma’s world, life ends at age seventeen.

Survival has eclipsed love ever since the Parents died of a mysterious plague. But Jemma’s connection to a boy named Apple is stronger than her duty as a Mama. Forced to leave, Jemma and Apple are joined in exile by a mysterious boy who claims to know what is causing them to die. The world is crumbling around them, and their time is running out. Is this truly the End?

Several years ago, I read two books of a dystopian trilogy that were based on the concept of all adults having died and the children had very early deaths to look forward to, much like the story in this book. Those books left me kind of cold and there were gaping plot holes, more like sinkholes, but I felt this particular tale was handled much better and I was not left so dissatisfied.

Remnants of the world created by the parents, such as lawns and swimming pools, have been turned to new uses by the children so that they can survive in this mutated version of California and they think of TeeVee as a god. Jemma, a Gatherer, wants out of this community before she can be forced to have a child and Apple, her friend and a sixteen-year-old Muscle, agrees to go with her when she makes her break.

Worldbuilding is weaker than I would have liked—there are lots of small details, which I welcomed, but big gaps in the larger issues—and I really couldn’t stop wondering why these kids go on as they do, bringing babies into this harsh world. I understand the human drives for survival and procreation but, like Jemma, I don’t think I could give birth to a baby with no future beyond seventeen years and, perhaps worse, not even the comfort of a mother past one year.

All that notwithstanding, I had no idea where Mr. Sweat was going to take me and it’s a perilous and wonderful journey indeed. Failings aside, this series debut is well worth the time and I hope to get more answers in the next book. There will be a next one, right, Mr. Sweat?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.

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About the Author

Jeff Sweat has made a living from words his entire career, starting out as an award-winning tech journalist for InformationWeek magazine and moving into marketing.

He led the content marketing team for Yahoo and pioneered its use of social media. He directed PR for two of the top advertising agencies in the country, Deutsch LA and 72andSunny. He now runs his own Los Angeles–based PR and marketing agency, Mister Sweat.

He grew up in Idaho as the middle of eight children—seven boys and one girl—and attended Columbia University in New York. Jeff lives in a big blue house in Los Angeles with his wife Sunny and their three kids, two cats, and a racing greyhound.

He loves to travel and writes everywhere he goes, even when there’s not a desk. He likes karaoke, motorcycles and carpentry. He was once shot in the head with a nail gun, which was not a big of a deal as it sounds. But it still hurt like crazy.

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Amazon Author Page | Goodreads

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Book Review: ISAN by Mary Ting

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Title: ISAN
Author: Mary Ting
Publisher: Vesuvian Books

Publication Date: May 1, 2018
Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopian, Young Adult

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ISAN
International Sensory Assassin Network
Mary Ting
Vesuvian Books, May 2018
ISBN
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

THE WORLD HAS CHANGED.

SCIENTISTS WARNED IT WOULD HAPPEN.

Meteors devastated the Earth. World Governments developed plans to help surviving citizens. The United States disbanded and salvageable land was divided into four quadrants—North, South, East, and West—governed by The Remnant Council.

Struggling to survive, seventeen-year-old Ava ends up in juvenile detention, until she is selected for a new life—with a catch. She must be injected with an experimental serum. The results will be life changing. The serum will make her “better.” To receive the serum, Ava agrees to join a program controlled by ISAN, the International Sensory Assassin Network.

While on a mission, she is abducted by a rebel group led by Rhett and told that not only does she have a history with him, but her entire past is a lie perpetuated by ISAN to ensure her compliance. Unsure of who to trust, Ava must decide if her strangely familiar and handsome captor is her enemy or her savior—and time is running out.

A major requirement of any speculative fiction—including science fiction, fantasy and the like—is solid worldbuilding so the reader can understand this imaginary setting and how/why it came into existence. When worldbuilding is done well it can be the star of the book; when it doesn’t, the result can be a kind of heartless story with no real point. Ms. Ting has done a slightly incomplete but very nice job of creating her characters’ world.

The first part of this book is a little slow but I chalk it up to the author needing to spend time on that worldbuilding and the action definitely picks up later, quite satisfactorily. Throughout the story, I found gaps here and there but I actually prefer it that way because I don’t want all the answers spoonfed to me. Ava doesn’t understand everything either, not by a long shot, so we learned together.

Imagine yourself as a teenaged girl turned into an assassin, one with enhanced abilities that are used to make killing more efficient. Kind of scary, right? During all the training sequences, I couldn’t help thinking about a couple of movies, Wonder Woman and Black Panther, in which young women are schooled in the art of fighting with constant training (and, in both cases, said training is a visual work of art). The big difference, of course, is that Ava has no real choice and the ultimate goal is less than honorable.

Ava begins to question that goal and cemented herself in my affections with her courage and willingness to look beyond what she is told. She’s not entirely alone, naturally, but I appreciated that the romantic tension between her and Rhett did not become the be-all and end-all of her existence. This pair is an interesting duo and I want to see much more of them and some of the other characters—Ozzie, Tamara and Brooke in particular—but it’s their search for truth that sets them apart from so many others in their universe. Well done, Mary Ting!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.

About the Author

International Bestselling Author Mary Ting/M. Clarke resides in Southern California with her husband and two children. She enjoys oil painting and making jewelry. Writing her first novel, Crossroads Saga, happened by chance. It was a way to grieve the death of her beloved grandmother, and inspired by a dream she once had as a young girl. When she started reading new adult novels, she fell in love with the genre. It was the reason she had to write one-Something Great. Why the pen name, M Clarke? She tours with Magic Johnson Foundation to promote literacy and her children’s chapter book-No Bullies Allowed.
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