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.

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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.

A Handful of Shorts

PlaguePlague
Lisa C. Hinsley
Pocket Star Books, December 2013
ISBN 78-1-4767-3336-4
Ebook

From the publisher—

A new strain of the bubonic plague is diagnosed in London. Before it can be contained it spreads through the population, faster and deadlier than anyone could have imagined. Three weeks is all it takes to decimate the country.

Johnny and Liz are devastated when their young son, Nathan, starts to show symptoms, but Liz phones the authorities anyway, and a few hours later the army arrives and boards up their house.

Now Nathan is dying and there is nothing they can do to help him. Hours pass like weeks as their little boy grows weaker and weaker. All Liz wants is for them to die with some dignity, but the authorities refuse to help. Then their Internet and phones stop working. Cut off from the world and stuck inside their house, the family tries its best to cope—but there is nothing they can do to stop the lethal epidemic.

Plague by Lisa C. Hinsley is a pandemic-based thriller in which a mutated strain of bubonic plague hits London and races through the population in three weeks. The core of the story is what happens to a young family when the government, in its zeal to stop the disease, quarantines the neighborhood, and maybe much more, but then the military and the scientists disappear.

The most vibrant character is Liz, who is the quintessential mother figure determined to do whatever she can for as long as she can. Along with Liz, I felt the fear when her house is boarded up by the government and there is little to hope for.

I happen to be very fond of this kind of story that revolves around a natural disaster or pandemic and, while this novella is a bit reminiscent of other such novels, it’s really well written and held my attention from beginning to end, wanting to know if there would be any salvation.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2014.

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The Missing Remote of the ApocalypseThe Missing Remote of the Apocalypse
An Afterworlds Short Story
Afterworlds 0.5
Barry Hutchison
HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2012
Ebook

From the publisher—

A prequel to the comedy fantasy The 13th Horseman, “The Missing Remote of the Apocalypse” sees War, Famine and Pestilence bounced around the Afterworlds due to circumstances beyond their control. They come face to face with a surprised demon, visit the lair of Sedna the She Cannibal (they’ve never met her before, but everyone says she’s a right cow) before finally winding up somewhere worse than they could ever have dreamed…

Why does Pestilence hate Tuesdays? Who gets to be the pink Hungry Hippo? Who’s the guy wearing bunny slippers and a leopard-print dressing gown? Most critical of all, where is the doofer?

Need I say more? Well, I suppose I could but you can find the answers yourself for FREE on Mr. Hutchison‘s website right here. Let this little short story introduce you to the master of mayhem that is Barry Hutchison 😉

Kinda sorta reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2014.

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Charmed I'm SureCharmed I’m Sure
World of Pax Arcana
Elliott James
Orbit, September 2013
ISBN 978-0-316-25345-1
Ebook

From the publisher—

When Tom Morris encounters a naked man walking along the interstate with no memory of how he got there, the smart thing to do is drive away. The only problem is, Tom Morris has secrets of his own. Like the fact that he comes from a long line of witch finders, monster slayers, and enchantment breakers, or that his real name is Charming. John Charming.

This is one of four shorts written in the universe of Elliott‘s novel, Charming, an urban fantasy. John Charming comes from a long line of monster hunters. In this short story, he runs into a wila, sort of a nasty-tempered and mesmerizingly beautiful nymph, who has been collecting and disposing of, in gruesome ways, hapless human men. Mayhem ensues when our hero sets out to end her fun. Lots of fighting, man versus monster, a touch of humor here and there.

Charming seems to be a bit of a cross between Jack Reacher (mystery thriller series by Lee Child) and Atticus O’Sullivan (The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne) and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Some might think the full-length novel should be read first for a better understanding of Charming but I didn’t feel that way; this just makes me want to read more and I will be doing so posthaste.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2014.

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Apocalyptic Organ GrinderApocalyptic Organ Grinder
A Hydra Dystopian Novella
William Todd Rose
Hydra/Random House, June 2013
ISBN 978-0-345-54914-3
Ebook

From the publisher—

A fatal virus—a biowarfare experiment unleashed on an unsuspecting world—has reduced the once-mighty United States to a smattering of tribes dueling for survival in the lawless wilderness. The disease-free folk known as Settlers barricade themselves in small villages, determined to keep out the highly contagious Spewers—infected humans who cannot die from the virus but spread the seeds of death from the festering blisters that cover their bodies.
 
Tanner Kline is a trained Sweeper, sworn to exterminate Spewers roaming the no-man’s-land surrounding his frightened community. As all Settlers do, Tanner dismisses them as little more than savages—until he meets his match in Spewer protector Lila. But when hunter and hunted clash, their bloody tango ignites a firestorm of fear and hatred. Now, no one is safe from the juggernaut of terror that rages unchecked, and the fate of humanity hangs on questions with no answers: Who’s right, who’s wrong . . . and who’s going to care if everyone’s dead?

This is SUCH a cool book for those like me who love post-apocalyptic fiction.  What’s left of society has devolved into the most primitive existence and two clans are pitted against each other. The Settlers are as healthy as possible in a world of limited hygiene and medical skills while the Spewers are diseased and infectious, not welcome among the Settlers or anywhere nearby. The Spewers are the new version of Typhoid Marys and literally could destroy the little that’s left of humanity.

Still, the two groups have managed to co-exist by keeping their distance but that will all change when Tanner meets Lila and sees for himself that the Spewers are not just carriers of pestilence and, yet, can’t bring himself to believe they deserve any compassion. The increasing tension and anger that affect both sides is palpable and I found myself drawn to Lila as much as to Tanner but deciding which faction is more deserving of survival is a question still roiling in my mind. Mr. Rose has presented a conundrum that may not have any easy solution, leaving his readers much to think about, indeed.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2014.

Book Review: Hide and Seek by Amy Shojai

Hide and Seek ShojaiHide and Seek
September Day Series, Book II
Amy Shojai
Cool Gus Publishing, January 2014
ISBN 9781621251477
Trade Paperback

From the author—

A mysterious contagion will shatter countless lives unless a service dog and his trainer find a missing cat . . . in 24 hours.

A STALKER hides in plain sight.
A VICTIM faces her worst fear.
AND A DOG seeks the missing-and finds hope.

Eight years ago, animal behaviorist September Day escaped a sadistic captor who left her ashamed, terrified, and struggling with PTSD. She trusts no one-except her cat Macy and service dog Shadow.

Shadow also struggles with trust. A German Shepherd autism service dog who rescued his child partner only to lose his-boy forever, Shadow’s crippling fear of abandonment shakes his faith in humans.

They are each others’ only chance to survive the stalker’s vicious payback, but have only 24 hours to uncover the truth about Macy’s mysterious illness or pay the deadly consequences. When September learns to trust again, and a good-dog takes a chance on love, together they find hope in the midst of despair-and discover what family really means.

Question: If a book is a mystery and a cat and a dog have significant parts, what subgenre of mystery is it?

Answer: Most likely a cozy unless the book is Hide and Seek by Amy Shojai. If you’ve picked up this book thinking you’re about to read a cozy, you’ll be very surprised. In fact, you should walk away from the book.

If, on the other hand, you’d like a good deal of nailbiting suspense, a fair amount of psychological distress both past and current, quite a bit of action and even a little humor here and there and, yes, a pair of pets you’d like to call your own, then you’ve come to the right place.

Ms. Shojai weaves a tale of intersecting plotlines that range from the highly questionable behavior of a reality show’s star and host to a death that causes untold stress in a woman damaged by her own past to the playful antics of Macy and Shadow, a cat and dog that share a home with September Day. In the early stages, Macy is the only one of the trio who isn’t in some sort of psychological recovery but then Macy becomes the focus of a search for a lot of answers, not the least of which is who—or what—is making people and animals so sick?

A menace from September’s painful past, a missing woman, a little girl who loves kitties, a smarmy tabloid reporter all contribute to a story rich in tension and uncertainty as well as the many emotional attachments we all have in our lives. In the long run, it was the latter that really got my attention and Ms. Shojai is equally adept at making those attachments believable whether they’re of the animal or human variety and spending time with Macy and Shadow was especially enjoyable in those quiet moments that relieve the anxiety of the core thriller.

There are occasions when we see the action through Shadow’s eyes and instincts but readers who prefer animals not be anthropomorphic need not be concerned—Shadow does not tell the tale nor does he do any sleuthing.

Hide and Seek is a story full of surprises and I’m looking forward to spending much more time with this little family in the next book and all that will follow.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2014.