(Archive of the Fives, #1)
Publication date: February 12th 2019
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Good luck and have a pleasant apocalypse.
The end of the world is coming. How or when, scientists can’t agree upon. For decades, Earth’s best line of defense has been a team of young soldiers known as the Apocalypse Five, forced into virtual reality simulations to train for Doom’s Day. But, this is no game. Death on the grid is brutally final and calls up the next in a long line of cadets.
Stationed aboard the AT-1-NS Starship, the A5 are celebrities thrust into the limelight by a calling they didn’t choose. All it takes is one unscheduled mission, showing seventeen-year-old team leader Detroit a harsh and unfathomable reality, to shake the A5’s belief in all they thought they knew. After questioning people with the power to destroy them, the team is framed for a crime they didn’t commit and marked for death. Now, the hunt is on.
Can the Apocalypse Five expose the truth the starship would kill to keep hidden? Or, will their bravery end in a public execution?
Certainly reminiscent of The Hunger Games, Apocalypse 5 adds a few twists. In the former, society has already suffered the events that led to a dystopian rule and the games are essentially an entertainment and a reminder of who is in charge. In the latter, the events are coming sometime in a nebulous future and the games are intended to defend society.
It’s an interesting premise but is puzzling and part of the story’s development has to do with understanding how it came to this, why death games are required for an essentially unknown danger. Ms. Rourke is an author new to me and I appreciate her storytelling abilities that kept me wanting to read. The characters are fleshed out nicely, although I could do without the ubiquitous romance, and I especially enjoyed the interaction and camaraderie of the team members.
All in all, this book is a good choice for anyone looking for an adventurous story and I’ll be back for the next tale.
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2019.
RONE Award Winner for Best YA Paranormal Work of 2012 for Embrace, a Gryphon Series Novel
Young Adult and Teen Reader voted Author of the Year 2012
Turning Pages Magazine Winner for Best YA book of 2013 & Best Teen Book of 2013
Readers’ Favorite Silver Medal Winner for Crane 2015
Stacey Rourke is the author of the award winning YA Gryphon Series, the chillingly suspenseful Legends Saga, and the romantic comedy Reel Romance Series. She lives in Michigan with her husband, two beautiful daughters, and two giant dogs. She loves to travel, has an unhealthy shoe addiction, and considers herself blessed to make a career out of talking to the imaginary people that live in her head.
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Booke of the Hidden
Booke of the Hidden #1
Diversion Books, October 2017
From the publisher—
To get a fresh start away from a bad relationship, Kylie Strange moves across the country to open a shop in a seemingly quiet town in rural Maine. During renovations on Strange Herbs & Teas, she discovers a peculiar and ancient codex, The Booke of the Hidden, bricked into the wall. Every small town has its legends and unusual histories, and this artifact sends Kylie right into the center of Moody Bog’s biggest secret.
While puzzling over the tome’s oddly blank pages, Kylie gets an unexpected visitor―Erasmus Dark, an inscrutable stranger who claims to be a demon, knows she has the book, and warns her that she has opened a portal to the netherworld. Kylie brushes off this nonsense, until a series of bizarre murders put her, the newcomer, at the center. With the help of the demon and a coven of witches she befriends while dodging the handsome but sharp-eyed sheriff, Kylie hunts for a killer―that might not be human.
Generally speaking, I don’t gravitate towards witchy books but this one had a couple of things going for it before I even started—the description sounds awesome and I already knew I’d enjoy this because it’s written by Jeri Westerson. If you ask me, Ms. Westerson is one of those authors who is way under-recognized and I’ve been happy with everything by her I’ve ever read.
When Kylie finds that book, she does what anybody would do, she opens it. What follows—a coven of witches, a possible demon, murder and a bit of romance—turn this find into something quite out of the ordinary but Kylie keeps her cool, for the most part, and her interactions with Erasmus are often laugh out loud funny. Even the name of the town, Moody Bog, draws out a smile and, while the pacing is a little on the slow side, I chalk that up mostly to setting things up for the books to come. I came to feel really attached to the kind of creepy but appealing Moody Bog and its inhabitants and to the story that leads Kylie and her new “friends” down a most unlikely path on the way to solving the murder.
So, did Booke of the Hidden live up to its description? Yes, it certainly did and its essential differences from Ms. Westerson‘s other work make this a really fun departure from her straightforward historical mysteries. Despite my slight aversion to witch-related stories, I’ll definitely be back for the next book in the series.
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.
A Meg Langslow Mystery #21
Minotaur Books, August 2017
From the publisher—
Meg is spending the summer at the Biscuit Mountain Craft Center, helping her grandmother Cordelia run the studios. But someone is committing acts of vandalism, threatening to ruin the newly-opened center’s reputation. Is it the work of a rival center? Have the developers who want to build a resort atop Biscuit Mountain found a new tactic to pressure Cordelia into selling? Or is the real target Meg’s grandfather, who points out that any number of environmentally irresponsible people and organizations could have it in for him?
While Meg is trying to track down the vandal, her grandfather is more interested in locating a rare gull. Their missions collide when a body is found in one of the classrooms. Can Meg identify the vandal and the murderer in time to save the center’s name―while helping her grandfather track down and rescue his beloved gulls?
You would think that this series would have begun to show signs of becoming stale and tired by now but that hasn’t happened. Donna Andrews has the magic touch and always seems to come up with fresh ideas and new things to laugh about but the early books still stick with me, especially particular characters beyond Meg.
This time, we have to get along without some of the old regulars (although two of my favorites, Spike the Small Evil One and Meg’s dad, are here) because Meg has gone out of town but her grandparents do a lot to make up for the missing. Meg’s blacksmithing has taken something of a back seat over the course of the series but it’s central to the story in Gone Gull as she’s agreed to teach classes for a few weeks at her grandmother’s new craft studio. Unfortunately, someone seems to have it in for the center, perpetrating small acts of sabotage, and no one is sure who’s doing it. Then Meg discovers a body and the real sleuthing begins.
I have to say the mystery to be solved isn’t as much in the forefront as the wild and quirky activities of the characters but it’s still a good one with some twists and turns to keep the reader occupied while chuckling at what’s going on. Oh, and the gull referred to in the title? That bird and Meg’s grandfather are the source of more than a few laugh out loud moments and, for me, was the icing on the cake. Having said that, I’ll be glad if we have Meg back in her usual surroundings next time.
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.
The End We Start From
Grove Atlantic, November 2017
From the publisher—
As London is submerged below floodwaters, a woman gives birth to her first child, Z. Days later, she and her baby are forced to leave their home in search of safety. They head north through a newly dangerous country seeking refuge from place to place. The story traces fear and wonder as the baby grows, thriving and content against all the odds.
It doesn’t happen often but, every once in a while, I encounter a book that just leaves me cold and this is one of them. On the surface, I should have loved it because it’s apocalyptic (one of my preferred subgenres) and follows the physical as well as mental/emotional journey of a young family trying to cope with a world gone sour. To my dismay, I couldn’t connect with this in any way.
Characters, worldbuilding and plot are the three main components of any work of fiction and there is an interesting plot here in that the protagonist and her husband and baby are forced to find a way to escape the floodwaters and the devastation that has crushed London and the English countryside. Unfortunately, there is absolutely no worldbuilding; we know the water has risen to submerge much of England but that’s all we know. What caused this? A meteor strike, global warming, some dastardly act of a mad scientist, an alien attack of some sort? It’s hard to really feel what the survivors have to deal with when we know so little.
Worst of all, the characters are close to being cardboard cutouts when no one even has a name, just an initial. To me, this is a writing style that is almost pretentious and, coupled with the first person present tense that I so dislike, well, I just didn’t care very much. I find this happens fairly frequently when I read what’s called “literary fiction”.
The one thing that helps to lift this above the abyss is the author’s attention to the bonds between mother and child and she does that extremely well. I think perhaps that was intended to be the core theme and the apocalyptic elements just got in the way. Certainly, a lot of readers and inhabitants of the publishing world have a much more favorable reaction and, although I didn’t care much for this story, I think Megan Hunter is an author to watch..
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.
Echo by Alicia Wright Brewster
Publication: April 25th 2013
by Dragonfairy Press
Genre: YA Sci-Fi
From the publisher—
The countdown clock reads ten days until the end of the world. The citizens are organized. Everyone’s been notified and assigned a duty. The problem is . . . no one knows for sure how it will end.
Energy-hungry Mages are the most likely culprit. They travel toward a single location from every corner of the continent. Fueled by the two suns, each Mage holds the power of an element: air, earth, fire, metal, water, or ether. They harness their powers to draw energy from the most readily available resource: humans.
Ashara has been assigned to the Ethereal task force, made up of human ether manipulators and directed by Loken, a young man with whom she has a complicated past. Loken and Ashara bond over a common goal: to stop the Mages from occupying their home and gaining more energy than they can contain. But soon, they begin to suspect that the future of the world may depend on Ashara’s death.
The phrase “hit the ground running” takes on new meaning in Echo and this is absolutely not a bad thing. Most of the time, we have to wade through a lot of worldbuilding and character development before the story actually gets going good but not this time. Ms. Brewster has wisely let the central premise take root immediately and, after all, why not? Would you want to putz around forever if your world was going to end in just 10 days or would you want to buckle down and get to whatever has to be done to stop the apocalypse?
I love the idea of a second Earth that was supposedly colonized by the very people who want a second chance at taking good care of their home planet and yet… their good intentions may all have been for naught. Or have they? If the Elders can rewind time repeatedly, might they find a solution to the problem in one of those timelines? If not, is it a given that they will rewind those ten days on an endless loop? Can you imagine the havoc that could cause in everyday life? The author takes the reader on a journey of despair and hope and redemption and, inevitably, heartbreak.
Ms. Brewster is such a good writer with an engaging cast of characters, whether they be good, evil or somewhere inbetween, and her storyline is one of the most creative I’ve seen in young adult fiction in quite a while. Ashara is very likeable, largely because she’s a strong person, not just a strong woman, but she also has some vulnerability, particularly when it comes to Loken. Ah, Loken, what a fella! Don’t get me wrong, though—Ash can be downright whiny at times and definitely difficult to cope with but that’s OK, it’s normal. And let me count the ways I love Rey.
One last thing I must mention is the cover. I could be dead wrong on this but I *think* the model is a woman of color. I can’t help questioning myself because I can’t find a mention of it in any other review I’ve located so, if I’m seeing it wrong, I apologize. The large traditional publishers have done a woeful job of promoting protagonists who come from non-white cultures, to the point where they have been known to deliberately have a white model portray a person of color as though no one would notice. They seem to think sales will be hurt if the cover art shows a black or Asian or whatever model and they apparently don’t recognize the value in (1) having a non-white girl or guy on the cover and (2) actually having a model who reflects the character. Anyway, if I’m not dreaming this up (which is always possible), Ash has “light-brown skin” and several other characters have varying degrees of brownness so I applaud Dragonfairy Press for doing what’s right.
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2013.
About the Author
In her virtually non-existent free time, she loves to read, watch movies, and eat food. She is particularly fond of the food-eating and makes a point to perform this task at least three times per day, usually more.
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Forty Days (Neima’s Ark #1)
by Stephanie Parent
Release Date: 02/10/13
Readers looking for a traditional, religiously oriented
version of the Noah’s Ark story should be warned that
Forty Days may not appeal to them. The novel will,
however, appeal to lovers of apocalyptic fiction,
historical fiction, and romance, as well as anyone who’s
ever dreamed of having a baby elephant as a pet.
Forty Days is on sale this week only for only $.99! Go get your copy!
From the author—
The entire village knows Neima’s grandfather is a madman. For years the old man has prophesied that a great flood is coming, a flood disastrous enough to blot out the entire earth. He’s even built an enormous ark that he claims will allow his family to survive the deluge. But no one believes the ravings of a lunatic…
…until the rain starts. And doesn’t stop. Soon sixteen-year-old Neima finds her entire world transformed, her life and those of the people she loves in peril. Trapped on the ark with her grandfather Noah, the rest of her family, and a noisy, filthy, and hungry assortment of wild animals, will Neima find a way to survive?
With lions, tigers, and bears oh my, elephants and flamingos too, along with rivalries and betrayals, a mysterious stowaway, and perhaps even an unexpected romance, Forty Days is not your grandfather’s Noah’s Ark story.
OK, let me get rid of the bad stuff first. What did I not like about Forty Days?
Um, well, let me think…oh, yeah! It’s too short.
Yep, that’s all I can come up with—it’s too short.
Forty Days is exactly the reason I often don’t like novellas, novelettes, short stories, what have you. If I don’t connect with the story or the characters or the writing, the truncated offering is a good thing because it means I haven’t spent a lot of time on something I didn’t care for. On the other hand, when I DO really buy into it, I’m so disappointed that it ends much too soon. I want it to go on and give me so much more. So, yes, I didn’t like that this book is too short because I just loved it and I didn’t get enough.
Stephanie Parent has taken a story people all over the world know and crafted a world around it that is believable and, for me, makes the core story come alive. The Noah’s Ark tale means something different to everyone; to me, it’s the quintessential biblical allegory meant to make sense of an event that would have been overwhelming to the people of the time. We know that a horrendous flood almost certainly occurred. Did it cover the entire earth? No, not in a literal sense, but isn’t it interesting that the Noah’s Ark story exists in such similar forms in so many cultures? It’s easy to understand that the people directly affected would have seen this as a divine event and would weave their own explanations for it. It’s also believable that this event could have been the catalyst for belief in a single God.
Another thing that I like about Ms. Parent’s treatment of the basic tale is her acknowledgement that the taking in of the pairs of animals could reasonably only have meant those animals known to live in the immediate area or within trading distance. That would still be an inordinate number of species but it’s at least more manageable than to believe two of every living creature were taken into the Ark (except, of course, for the unlucky unicorn). I also definitely appreciated Ms. Parent not shirking the unpleasantness that would be inevitable on a closed container of humans and animals.
The characters in Forty Days are all so normal, so likeable—or not—just as people usually are and I found even those who are violently opposed to Noah truly understandable. The members of his family, though, are who really bring the story to life because you can’t help knowing that you’d most likely respond to him in the very same way, tolerating his craziness because he is the patriarch but hoping that his madness will somehow go away so they can return to a comfortable co-existence with their neighbors.
Neima is a girl it’s easy to love. She has the expected teenage angst going on but she loves her family and only wants to be happy and accepted by the community for herself, not ostracized because she’s the granddaughter of a crazy old man. She has one friend, Derya, who can look past Neima’s family failings while her relationships with Jorin and Kenaan don’t resemble the common love triangles found in so many young adult novels, something I appreciated. I’d much rather go along with her on her “journey” as she finds what her heart really wants. Best of all, though, is Neima’s relationship with her father and how it changes as Neima has to accept that he is not perfect.
This first volume of the Neima’s Ark duology ends in a real cliffhanger but I’m grateful that we don’t have long to wait for the second book, Forty Nights, due out in June. I can barely wait and that reminds me of one other thing I don’t like about Forty Days—I have to wait two months for the conclusion.
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2013.
About the Author
Stephanie Parent is a graduate of the Master of Professional Writing program at USC and attended the Baltimore School for the Arts as a piano major. She moved to Los Angeles because of Francesca Lia Block’s WEETZIE BAT books, which might give you some idea of how much books mean to her. She also loves dogs, books about dogs, and sugary coffee drinks both hot and cold.
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The Way We Fall
Disney Hyperion, January 2012
Also available in hardcover
From the publisher—
When a deadly virus begins to sweep through sixteen-year-old Kaelyn’s community, the government quarantines her island—no one can leave, and no one can come back.
Those still healthy must fight for dwindling supplies, or lose all chance of survival. As everything familiar comes crashing down, Kaelyn joins forces with a former rival and discovers a new love in the midst of heartbreak. When the virus starts to rob her of friends and family, she clings to the belief that there must be a way to save the people she holds dearest.
Because how will she go on if there isn’t?
Islands have frequently been a favorite setting for fiction involving some sort of disaster, natural or otherwise, and the reason is simple—the reader knows there is a likelihood there will be no rescue from the outside and the islanders must fend for themselves in the best way possible. That distinctly ratchets up the anxiety level for the characters and the reader. Such is the case with The Way We Fall and the author has created a really good story with moments of both frustration and suspense that builds as tension increases. [Note: this book is frequently categorized as a thriller but that is really not accurate as the pacing is, at times, rather slow.]
The idea that teens would be the ones to develop a foraging and distribution system for food, medications and other necessities is certainly not new but I think it works better in this novel than in some others. In the event of an epidemic, it would be very natural for the adults with expertise, education and certain skills to concentrate their attention on the most pressing details which, in this case, is the unidentified virus and its extremely high death rate. This scenario also works because the island is initially well-provisioned with food and other needed items and it’s not until the electricity fails that the adults become more cognizant of the world outside the hospital doors.
As you might expect, there are islanders who take advantage of the situation but this was one area in which I felt something of a void. I really would expect some of the miscreants to be adults and that there would be far more looting and violence. In a way, although some readers might see this as a means of making the story more appropriate for younger readers, I just felt it showed an unrealistic mildness, with an almost dumbing-down effect.
Kaelyn is a well-rounded character and we see her compassion, intelligence, strength and self-reliance, as well as some indications of very natural fear and a longing for a grown-up to take charge. Tessa also is an appealing character, as is Gav, but I definitely felt a desire to know them better and I hope Ms. Crewe will offer more in the next book. Other characters were less developed and, as a result, didn’t generate much empathy on my part with the possible exception of Kae’s brother, Drew. I must say, though, that it was very refreshing to find a central character who is biracial and another who is homosexual but the author does a nice job of showing how a person who is different is regarded without hitting the reader with a two-by-four.
The one character that I felt was decidedly lacking was Kaelyn’s father. I just don’t believe that, even though his expertise made him crucial to the work of identifying and treating the virus, he would be so neglectful of his own family. It was as though he took the “needs of the many” much too far, with dire effects.
Overall, The Way We Fall is an entertaining story and, although it certainly has some slow passages, it still manages to be a quick read. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the trilogy, The Lives We Lost, due out next February.
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2012.
A. M. Dellamonica
Tor Books, April 2012
From the author’s website—
The sequel to Indigo Springs opens with the U.S. government preparing to try Sahara Knax for treason, while Astrid Lethewood and a growing number of volunteers try to find ways to safely maintain the spread of magic into the real world. Law and order breaks down in the U.S. as several factions vie for control over enchantment. Witch-burners square off against the Alchemite cult, hundreds of soldiers caught in the crossfire go missing, and police struggle with the fallout from power outages and storms–even murders!–triggered by the use of mystical objects.
In Indigo Springs, Astrid promised the residents of a realm called the unreal that she would restore the mystical balance: freeing them and returning magic to the real world. But making a promise is easier than keeping it. The raw vitagua has been cursed, turned by an ancient cult into a contaminant that turns people to animals, animals to monsters. If Astrid cannot reverse that ancient spell, the continued spread of magic can only be catastrophic.
There are many things that can be said in a book review and many aspects of the book that can be covered. For me, the most relevant are the quality of the writing, the strengths and weaknesses of the author’s character and plot developments, and, most of all, whether I liked the book and why or why not. In the end, my “job” is to give an honest opinion that will help other readers decide if the book in question is one they’re likely to want to read for their own reasons. Blue Magic has thrown me up against a problem I haven’t really encountered before—I don’t know what I think of this book, at least, not clearly.
First, I was asked to review this book but it was already on my list of titles I wanted to take a look at so there’s no undue influence at work here. Second, I like the dark fantasy subgenre so I’m predisposed to like this one but, at the same time, I’ve read enough of this category that I might be too critical if I’m not careful and I do try to be careful.
Ms. Dellamonica has created a world full of possibilities and consequences and one can’t help but be interested in what her characters might do with the new-found ability to use magic. At the same time, Will has a very natural and overwhelming desire to find his children and that desire takes precedence over everything else. Perhaps a benevolent use of magic can help him but he’s up against a cult atmosphere that is driven by a fanatical worship of its leader and just may make it impossible for him to get his kids back. In the meantime, Astrid, who found the river of magic, must find a way to prevent the world-wide damage her former friend, Sahara, may have set in motion in her quest for power.
The author has crafted a story that is different and appealing to the apocalyptic or dark fantasy fan who is always looking for something refreshing and there is no doubt that she is a gifted writer. So, why don’t I have a distinct opinion about Blue Magic? I could say I felt there were too many characters (I got a little lost among them all in Astrid’s compound) or that I think the book is a bit too long but those are just minor points.
No, the difficulty I had with this book is mine alone and no fault of the author’s. Normally, I can happily read a series out of order—I have no problem reading #16 first and then I may or may not want to go back to catch up on earlier books. This one, though, has sort of thrown a monkey wrench in my usual modus operandi and, well, maybe it actually is Ms. Dellamonica‘s fault. The truth is, I want to know these characters better and understand more about what has happened to their world with the discovery of the underground stream of blue magic. To do that, I’m just going to have to read Indigo Springs and then I’ll have a better feel for Blue Magic. Why is this the author’s fault? Plainly speaking, she has made me want to start at the beginning because the second book is so intriguing and I have to satisfy my need to know more.
Yes, it’s definitely her fault.
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2012.
You might win a print copy of Blue Magic by A.M. Dellamonica!
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