Book Reviews: Exo by Fonda Lee, R.I.P. Eliza Hart by Alyssa Sheinmel and The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron

Exo
Fonda Lee
Scholastic Press, February 2017
ISBN 978-0-545-93343-8
Hardcover

Peace Day may be quickly approaching, but a battle is about to go down while something more sinister, bigger, bubbles beneath. Tension between the Global Security & Pacification Forces (SecPac) and humans is palpable; the humans’ hatred, disgust and raw fury with the zhree is tangible, yet they plan to celebrate a century of coexistence.  Coexistence applies to the fifteen percent of mankind approved to exist among the zhree.  The remaining eighty-five percent faded into shadows of themselves or morphed into fierce, determined resistance fighters.

Having survived the Hardening process that transforms a zhree-approved human child into an exo, the only son of the Prime Liaison appears as a firmly committed SecPac soldier.  Donovan is confident and unquestioning in his fight against human rebels; until a raid goes wrong.  Held hostage where humans are the apex species, his perspective shifts.  It becomes impossible to see the individuals around him as the cohesive, carbon-copy-collection he has been fighting against.  What he fought for blurs out of focus.  Who he really is becomes crystal clear: not human enough for mankind, “nothing but human” to the zhree. Although it feels as if everything is different now, one thing is very much the same: the entire planet is in danger and Donovan is helpless as a hostage.

Exo is a brilliant example of Science-Fiction feeling oh-so-real.  Ms. Lee packs powerful punches in action scenes, soothes with sympathy in some situations, but bites with wit and humor in others.  Entertaining, empathy evoking, surprisingly relatable and utterly thought provoking, this is a book for everyone; not just Science-Fiction fans.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2017.

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R.I.P Eliza Hart
Alyssa Sheinmel
Scholastic Press, December 2017
ISBN 978-0-338-08762-8
Hardcover

The appeal of the convenient, all-access “…narrow streets on the narrow island of Manhattan” is almost irrelevant for someone uncomfortable (at best) in enclosed spaces. Hopeful that her home state would help her open doors that claustrophobia kept firmly closed, Ellie accepts a scholarship to attend a tiny boarding school buffered by redwoods, opening wide above the Pacific Ocean.

Alone, Ellie explores the other dorms. A parental accompaniment would have been cool, but her issues have taken up too much of their time anyway. She will make friends here, none of these students know of her problems. Actually, she even sees a name she knows and suddenly, Ellie has something to look forward to: reconnecting with Eliza Hart.

Awkwardness should be the worse-case-scenario. Eliza may not have fond memories of her former childhood friend, she may not even remember Ellie at all. Appearing angry and almost personally offended that Ellie dare approach her, Eliza obviously loathes Ellie. In fact, she’s already told everyone on campus that Ellie is a vicious, pathological liar and students should simply steer clear.

Stunned, shattered, struggling with her sanity, Ellie has to know why. Even as Eliza’s body is recovered from the cliffside and speculations swirl around campus, Ellie cannot stop searching for answers. As she uncovers Eliza’s best kept secret, Ellie’s own repression is revealed, changing her perspective on absolutely everything.

R.I.P. Eliza Hart is an outstanding YA novel because, as narrators of their own stories, Eliza and Ellie explain actualities of mental illness in a way that everyone can understand and empathize with. Misconceptions, such as medicine plus therapy equal a cure, are corrected…without sounding like a somber after-school-special. And the awesome element of something decidedly different, redwood burl poachers.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2017.

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The Forgetting
Sharon Cameron
Scholastic Press, September 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-94521-9
Hardcover

Imagine awaking with no knowledge of who you are. You don’t know your name, or age.  None of your surroundings are familiar. The distraught children barricaded inside with you are strangers, but the look of terror covering each little face reflects how you feel. They, too, have Forgotten.

In the white-walled world of Canaan, you carry your life story with you in the most literal way: hand-written in a journal kept close (if not tethered) at all times.  Every moment lived will be written down accurately and truthfully.  When one journal is filled, it is maintained in the Archives. Histories—both individual and collective—are compiled and preserved here; a necessity based on an inexplicable, yet infallible, occurrence that robs the residents of their memories every twelve years.

Every rule has an exception and here, it is Nadia.  Having been a child during her first Forgetting, she still realized how different she was.  She did not Forget.  Admirably altruistic, cunning and courageous, this character could carry the story.  A grudging acceptance to partner with Gray, the Glassblower’s Son, subtly shows her softer side and adds a bit more urgency and suspense to an already captivating caper.

The real scoop is revealed like ripples in a pond. The grab-your-attention-splash of the impending Forgetting expands into a more complex mystery.  Perhaps it is the limited memory, or maybe life without modern conveniences keeps people too busy to ponder, but; no one seems to question the wall around the city.  Again, except for Nadia.  She’s been over the wall and noted differences.  In her city, stone is jagged—as if freshly broken or cut.  The other side of wall has stone that has been worn smooth.  She wonders, “…does the wall protect us, or keep us in?”

Already intrigued by the idea of a periodic, mass-memory-erase, I became completely captivated considering circumstances that could have resulted in the walled city.  My wildest imagination is not even comparable to Ms. Cameron’s creative genius; I was astounded.

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2017.

Book Review: Dead to Me by Mary McCoy

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Title: Dead to Me
Author: Mary McCoy
Publisher: Hyperion
Release Date: March 3, 2015
Genres: Mystery, Young Adult

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Dead to MeDead to Me
Mary McCoy
Hyperion, March 2015
ISBN 978-1-4231-8712-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

“Don’t believe anything they say.”

Those were the last words that Annie spoke to Alice before turning her back on their family and vanishing without a trace. Alice spent four years waiting and wondering when the impossibly glamorous sister she idolized would return to her–and what their Hollywood-insider parents had done to drive her away.

When Annie does turn up, the blond, broken stranger lying in a coma has no answers for her. But Alice isn’t a kid anymore, and this time she won’t let anything stand between her and the truth, no matter how ugly. The search for those who beat Annie and left her for dead leads Alice into a treacherous world of tough-talking private eyes, psychopathic movie stars, and troubled starlets–and onto the trail of a young runaway who is the sole witness to an unspeakable crime. What this girl knows could shut down a criminal syndicate and put Annie’s attacker behind bars–if Alice can find her first. And she isn’t the only one looking.

Evoking classic film noir, debut novelist Mary McCoy brings the dangerous glamour of Hollywood’s Golden Age to life, where the most decadent parties can be the deadliest, and no drive into the sunset can erase the crimes of the past.

There is plenty about Dead to Me that I should not like very much. I generally don’t care for books set in the film world, I’m not crazy about noir and/or hardboiled private eyes and the late 1940’s leave me kind of indifferent. Why on earth, then, did I sign up for this blog tour?

Truth is, I was intrigued by the story description, particularly the notion of a teenaged girl working so hard to get to the truth and find out who would do such a thing to her sister and why, not to mention learn why Annie had disappeared years before. The time period involved made it more interesting despite my usual antipathy precisely because Alice would have so much going against her in this era when teen girls were not exactly held in high esteem. Also, let’s face it, I was pulled in by my immediate feeling that this could be very Nancy Drew-ish and I have a fondness for that young lady. I’m happy to say that Ms. McCoy didn’t let me down in any way. Within the first three pages, I was captivated.

From the beginning, Alice shows herself to be intelligent and more than a bit nosy, great qualifications for a budding detective. Along the way, she encounters those who would harm her but also those who want to help and she needs them because the surprises start immediately when Alice  learns that Annie wouldn’t want their emotionally distant father to know what has happened. Alice isn’t perfect, though, in her zeal to get to the truth; she makes a lot of mistakes as you might expect and, without a private investigator named Jerry Shaffer, she likely wouldn’t have gotten very far.

A number of the characters in Dead to Me are seemingly quite stereotypical on the surface, right down to the seedy private eye and dirty cops, but Ms. McCoy gives them a bit of flair that makes them feel very real. Alice  even smacks a little of Veronica Mars, another of my favorite teen girl detectives 😉 I’ve become quite fond of Alice and Jerry and really hope Ms. McCoy will bring them back.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2015.

About the Author

Mary McCoyMary McCoy is a librarian at the Los Angeles Public Library. She has also been a contributor to On Bunker Hill and the 1947project, where she wrote stories about Los Angeles’s notorious past. She grew up in western Pennsylvania and studied at Rhodes College and the University of Wisconsin. Mary now lives in Los Angeles with her husband. Her debut novel, Dead To Me, is a YA mystery set in the glamorous, treacherous world of 1940s Hollywood.

 

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Book Reviews: Books 1 and 2 of the New World Series by G. Michael Hopf

The EndThe End
 Book 1 of the New World Series
A Postapocalyptic Novel
G. Michael Hopf
Plume, January 2014
ISBN 978-0-14-218149-2
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

What would you do to survive?

Young Gordon Van Zandt valued duty and loyalty to country above all, so after 9/11, he dropped out of college and joined the Marine Corps. This idealism vanished one fateful day in a war-torn city in Iraq. Ten years later, he is still struggling with the ghosts of his past when a new reality is thrust upon him and his family: North America, Europe and the Far East have all suffered a devastating Super-EMP attack, which causes catastrophic damage to the nation’s power grid and essential infrastructures. Everything from cell phones to cars to computers cease to function, putting society at a standstill.

With civilization in chaos, Gordon must fight for the limited and fast dwindling resources. He knows survival requires action and cooperation with his neighbors, but as the days wear on, so does all sense of civility within his community—and so he must make some of the most difficult decisions of his life in order to ensure his family’s safety. 

Rarely have I been so conflicted about a book and I fear it won’t get any better with the second novel. At its core, this is a strong post-apocalyptic story with tension running higher and higher with every day that passes after the EMP attack but, sadly, the plot can’t make up for the flaws in most of the characters.

Put simply, the women are useless unless overrun with power madness and the men are overbearing bullies, manly men who always know best. There are exceptions, of course, Sebastian and Jimmy being the most obvious, but Gordon, as likeable and dependable as he can be, knows no boundaries to his superior knowledge. Then there’s the President of the United States who is an uncontrollable hothead and, like Gordon, will listen to no one else’s opinion. And the women? Apparently, not one is capable of lifting a finger for her own survival, much less anyone else’s, unless someone dares to threaten her child and then Mama Bear comes out. Where are all the women we see around us every day who are perfectly capable of going on supply runs, wielding a weapon with accuracy, coming to the defense of others, driving a vehicle, for heaven’s sake?? Samantha’s only roles, apparently, are to look after Hunter and Haley (perfectly understandable) and whisper sweet nothings into Gordon’s ear while Mindy is the stereotypical HOA witch. Only Simone seems as though she could be somewhat useful but her role is very limited.

And this is the source of my conflict—I think the plot is really good and gives a good picture of how society would fall apart in such a situation but the characters are SO hard to care about. I understand that someone like Gordon who has a military background and experience with hostilities might be best suited to lead others in the quest for survival but it’s difficult to overlook his trigger-happiness and his inability to EVER admit he might be wrong. President Conner is easier to understand because he’s been thrust into a frightening situation he never thought could happen but it’s even more terrifying to contemplate how unwilling those surrounding him are to confront him when he insists on action that will bring our destruction even faster. Perhaps Lt. Colonel Barone is the easiest of the main characters to understand as I have no doubt some military leader somewhere would mutiny and attempt to “rule”.

When all is said and done, the story is interesting enough to keep me reading so I’ll move on to the next book, The Long Road. Maybe these people will start to grow on me. At the very least, I want to see what will happen with Sebastian, Gordon’s brother, who’s trying desperately to get back to his only family.

 

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2014.

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The Long RoadThe Long Road
Book 2 of the New World Series
A Postapocalyptic Novel
G. Michael Hopf
Plume, January 2014
ISBN 978-0-14-218150-8Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

The End was just the beginning of the new world…

Only six weeks have passed since a super-EMP attack devastated the United States, but already, life has changed dramatically. Most of America has become  a wasteland filled with starving bands of people, mobs and gangs. Millions are dead and millions more are suffering, with no end in sight.

For Gordon, Samantha, Sebastian, Cruz and Barone, the turmoil and chaos they dealt with in the early weeks after the attack will seem trivial in comparison to the collapse of society that plays out before their eyes. Uncertainty abounds as they all travel different paths in search of a safe place to call home. The only thing that is definite is that The Long Road will take its toll on all of them.

In The End, the EMP attack happens on December 5, 2014, and the small band under Gordon’s leadership leaves San Diego on January 6, 2015 . How is it possible that both the author and the publisher could fail to notice that the dates in this second novel are wrong all the way through? The first one concludes in January 2015; the story continues in January 2014 (after the introductory chapter with Haley) and it is not a flashback. I could understand an error getting past all eyes one time but this was previously self-published so it’s had more than just the publisher/author round of proofing. Chapter after chapter, the error goes on and that pulled me out of the story more than anything else could. It’s just sloppy and makes me feel that neither the author nor the publisher cared enough to correct it which is certainly easy enough to do in the digital editions if not the paperback and surely I’m not the first reader to notice this. (Note: I didn’t just get an uncorrected copy—the sample on Amazon is the same.)

Another dating issue occurs on January 16th when a mention is made that one of the groups has been camped out for eleven days but they had just reached that spot on January 8th.

Faction leaders—Lt. Col. Barone, Bishop Sorenson, Rahab, Cruz, Pablo Jaurez, Gordon—all must be in control and all are victims of madness to varying degrees except for Cruz, who is just very weak, and Bishop Sorenson. He is a kindly man, too kindly for the circumstances, but it was a relief to find one person in a position of leadership who truly cared for other people.

The one person who is consistently an honorable man is Sebastian and perhaps he and the bishop represent the minority that would be trying to survive with decency while all the others are the types we would most likely encounter in a post-apocalyptic world. Rahab is the scary monster living under the bed but Barone and Jaurez are the men truly to be feared. Gordon, the supposed hero of the story, is frightening if only because he is so deadly and can’t control himself. His impulses, as often as not, lead to terrible consequences.

This part of the story covers just 10 days which I also found disappointing and, quite honestly, far too many pages are devoted to those 10 days. Still, with all my negative feelings about this book and its predecessor, I am completely caught up and need to know what will happen next; despite everything else, this is the hallmark of a good story, to be compelled to read on. I’ll be picking up Sanctuary as soon as I can.

 

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2014.