Book Review: The Scourge by Jennifer A. Nielsen

The Scourge
Jennifer A. Nielsen
Scholastic Press, September 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-68245-9
Hardcover

River people are derogatorily referred to as “grubs” and in retaliation, they only address townspeople as “pinchworms”. It is true that the folks outside of town prefer their own company and way of life. It is also accurate to say they’ve been ostracized, blamed for being the source and spreaders of the Scourge, stealing so many lives hundreds of years ago.

Ani Mells is a proud river person known to create a touch of trouble wherever she goes. Perhaps a bit stubborn and quite possibly prejudiced against pinchworms; she is also intuitively kind, driven to do the right thing and ferociously loyal. When she and her best bud, Weevil, are essentially abducted and hauled into town, she is too furious to question the reasoning.

Told that they needed to be tested for the recently resurrected Scourge, Ani was initially wary and so she asked questions. Answers, if provided at all, were vague and almost illogical. Not only does Ani doubt the townspeople’s truth about the plague, but she suspects something sinister afoot. She is determined to get the bottom of it, but Governor Felling and her guards have to stop her. Weevil wants what Ani wants and the two together may just have a chance to end the heinous political plan that is so horrific I won’t even hint about it here.

This fantastical, action-packed adventure also shows personal growth and change, along with some quick wit and humorous banter. I’m completely charmed and in awe of characters that possess admirable and attainable attributes while still being wholly human and making silly mistakes and an occasional dumb decision along the way. Ms. Nielsen must keep in the company of wizards because there’s way too much magic in her writing for it to made of only hard work and mad skills.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2018.

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Book Review: The Phoenix Project by C.A. Gray

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Title: The Phoenix Project
Series: The Liberty Box #2
Author: C.A. Gray
Narrator: Melissa Williams
Publisher: Wanderlust Publishing
Publication Date: May 2017

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The Phoenix Project
The Liberty Box #3
C.A. Gray
Narrated by Melissa Williams
Wanderlust Publishing, May 2017
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the publisher—

The haven city of Beckenshire has been demolished, and most of the rebels lie beneath the rubble. The few that remain scramble to communicate with the outside world, knowing that if they are to stand a chance in the coming war, they can’t do it alone. In a last ditch effort to grow their ranks, the remaining rebels systematically destroy the repeaters which help to propagate the control center signals. And it’s working: citizens in targeted cities are waking up in droves. But Ben Voltolini will stop at nothing to quell the uprising before it has a chance to get off the ground. And he has one major ace up his sleeve: Kate Brandeis.

During Kate’s broadcast to the nation, Voltolini unleashed targeted brainwave signals against her, causing her to allow both Jackson MacNamera’s capture, and her own. Now, despite Voltolini’s exquisite wining and dining, she can’t seem to stop the panic attacks. Whom can she trust? What is truth? Is there even such a thing?

Meanwhile, imprisoned and hopeless, Jackson realizes the depths of his feelings for Kate only after he has already lost her. The incredible self-control upon which he prides himself gets put to the ultimate test when he meets an unlikely ally who just may turn the tide in the rebels’ favor – but only if Jackson can put aside his own bitterness. In this gripping conclusion to The Liberty Box Trilogy, new and surprising alliances are formed, passions run high, and our heroes learn what they are really made of. Do they have what it takes to fight for freedom – even if it means paying the ultimate price?

It would be fair to say that The Phoenix Project neatly wraps everything up for the trilogy and so it does but that doesn’t really do the author justice. A lot goes on in this last volume and I got to know the characters even better, not always pleasantly.

With Kate being held in pampered captivity and seemingly completely under Voltolini’s sway, Jackson in the deepest of dungeons and the remnants of the resistance in tatters, it would appear that all is lost and the dictator has won but some of the rebels have a different plan. At the same time, Kate discovers Jackson in his cell and begins to doubt her thoughts, her implanted belief that he is a murderer and the cause of all that is wrong. Meanwhile, Jackson has his own doubts about himself but meets another prisoner who just might turn out to be a critical piece of his, Jackson’s, redemption.

In this third book, I came to dislike Will more and more as his need to control everything, especially Kate, became increasingly obnoxious. This man truly needs to be set straight about how to behave towards women and he really is kind of stereotypical but, truthfully, he was not my most detested character. That honor goes to Denise (I think that’s her name), Kate’s mother but I’ll leave it to you to find out why—I assure you it won’t be hard to figure it out. As for Jackson, I came away understanding that he is, indeed, very human and not a superhero, making him very likeable indeed while my empathy for Kate intensified even as I wanted to throttle her sometimes.

Narrator Melissa Williams still isn’t my favorite reader because she doesn’t differentiate voices all that well but I still enjoy listening to her. Her tone is very pleasant and I think her vocal strength comes at those times when characters are losing it. In particular, her shrill tones with both Will and Denise made their distress very evident.

All in all, The Liberty Box trilogy has been a pleasure to listen to and I’m glad I had this opportunity.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

About the Author

By day, C.A. Gray is a Naturopathic Medical Doctor (NMD) with a primary care practice in Tucson, AZ, and she writes medical books under her real name (Dr. Lauren Deville). She lives with her husband, with whom she maintains a facetiously contentious movie review blog, and travels as often as they can get away. When not writing or seeing patients, she does yoga, drinks red wine while eating dark chocolate, and consumes audiobooks like there’s no tomorrow!

WebsiteTwitterFacebookGoodreadsInstagram

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About the Narrator

Melissa lives with her family, including two dogs and a cat, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains near Denver, Colorado.

After having a corporate job for most of her life, and as a self-proclaimed introvert, she decided to leave corporate America to work from home. Voice overs had always tugged at her heart as something she would like to explore, so she attended some classes and landed with a company that taught her how to break in to the industry.

Loving to read, she explored the fast growing world of audiobooks and fell in love with it. She has ten audiobooks under her belt and is currently working on the 11th. Understanding that she should always be learning how to improve her skills, she is currently working with Sean Pratt.

When not talking to herself in a padded room, she can be found walking her dog, singing or fishing the Arkansas River.

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Book Review: The Eden Conspiracy by C.A. Gray

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Title: The Eden Conspiracy
Series: The Liberty Box #2
Author: C.A. Gray
Narrator: Melissa Williams
Publisher: Wanderlust Publishing
Publication Date: September 19, 2016

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Purchase Links:
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The Eden Conspiracy
The Liberty Box #2
C.A. Gray
Narrated by Melissa Williams
Wanderlust Publishing, September 2016
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the publisher—

The refugee caves have been destroyed, and most of the refugees are dead. The Potentate now knows of their existence and will stop at nothing to wipe them out completely. He suspects that terrorist Jackson MacNamera is among them, as well as reporter Kate Brandeis’s fiancé, hacker Will Anderson – and probably therefore Kate herself. Now that the Potentate is aware of security threats, most of the strategies the rebels used to get back onto the grid before now no longer work. The Potentate knows the rebels are on foot, and he knows they were at the caves not long ago. They can’t get far.

The remaining rebels, among them Jackson and Kate, have Kate’s fiancé Will to thank for their survival: he arrived back from the dead and in the nick of time, bearing classified information about the Potentate’s plans to expand his influence internationally. But the remaining rebels and the Council cannot agree on whether their top priority should be spreading truth far and wide and freeing as many citizens from government control as possible, knowing that they will likely die in the process, or escaping to New Estonia, in hopes that they might live out the rest of their days in peace.

Kate, meanwhile, finds herself torn between Jackson and the fiancé she thought she lost, and between the damsel-in-distress she once was, and the rebel she believes she has always been underneath. Whether the other hunters will support her or no, she knows she must use her influence over the people of the Republic to tell them the truth, no matter the cost. But is she strong enough to withstand the government’s lies?

No one will ever accuse this book of suffering from sophomore slump, that’s for sure. After a successful opening in the first book, the action really ratchets up in The Eden Conspiracy and certain characters become more vivid plus I learned a lot more about the two factions.

I already knew that the Potentate and his minions exercise a sort of mind control over the people, brainwashing really, but here I learned that they can direct it at a particular person. Kate has bought into the resistance fullbore but that propels her into doing something rash, bringing herself some very unwanted attention but she shows an unexpected strength when that happens even while she distrusts herself and Jackson immensely.

Things go from bad to worse for the band of refugees but a small group splinters off to find a new sanctuary while Kate heads back home to enlist her brother Charlie’s help with a project. Unfortunately, government agents are soon in hot pursuit and whether Kate can accomplish her mission is in real doubt.

Kate and Jackson come into sharp focus in this part of the trilogy and she especially shows a lot of growth emotionally and physically, no longer the simpering wuss that she used to be. In fact, Will’s behavior towards her becomes much more annoying because she realizes how condescending he’s always been, perhaps warranted before she grew a backbone. Jackson, on the other hand, is the perfect man, to the point of being irritating at times (but he always redeems himself). Many of the characters from the first book kind of fade into the background but Kate’s brother and parents are prominent with her mother being as aggravating as she can be. Last but most certainly not least, the Potentate’s point of view comes into play and, now that he is is much more evident, his bad guy persona comes to the fore with chilling effect.

With the first book, I indicated that I thought the narrator was a bit lacking but I saw a lot of improvement in this second book. Ms. Williams really got into the story this time and there’s more life in her voice although I still think most characters’ voices are too much alike. That aside, I do enjoy listening to her.

All in all, this was a really good continuation of the story and I’m excited to now move on to the third, and last, book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

About the Author

By day, C.A. Gray is a Naturopathic Medical Doctor (NMD) with a primary care practice in Tucson, AZ, and she writes medical books under her real name (Dr. Lauren Deville). She lives with her husband, with whom she maintains a facetiously contentious movie review blog, and travels as often as they can get away. When not writing or seeing patients, she does yoga, drinks red wine while eating dark chocolate, and consumes audiobooks like there’s no tomorrow!

WebsiteTwitterFacebookGoodreadsInstagram

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About the Narrator

Melissa lives with her family, including two dogs and a cat, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains near Denver, Colorado.

After having a corporate job for most of her life, and as a self-proclaimed introvert, she decided to leave corporate America to work from home. Voice overs had always tugged at her heart as something she would like to explore, so she attended some classes and landed with a company that taught her how to break in to the industry.

Loving to read, she explored the fast growing world of audiobooks and fell in love with it. She has ten audiobooks under her belt and is currently working on the 11th. Understanding that she should always be learning how to improve her skills, she is currently working with Sean Pratt.

When not talking to herself in a padded room, she can be found walking her dog, singing or fishing the Arkansas River.

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Book Review: The Culling by Ramona Finn

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Title: The Culling
Series: The Culling Trilogy, Book 1
Author: Ramona Finn
Narrator: Stacey Glemboski
Publisher: Relay Publishing
Publication Date: March 21, 2018

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Purchase Links:
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The Culling
The Culling Trilogy, Book 1
Ramona Finn
Narrated by Stacey Glemboski
Relay Publishing, March 2018
DownloadedUnabridged Audiobook

From the publisher—

In a solar system where The Authority decides who lives and who dies, only one of their own executioners can stop them.

Glade Io is a trained killer. Marked at a young age as an individual with violent tendencies, she was taken from her family and groomed to be a Datapoint—a biotech-enabled analyst who carries out the Culling. She is designed to identify and destroy any potential humans that threaten the colonies: those marked as lawbreakers, unproductive or sick. But when she’s kidnapped by rogue colonists known as the Ferrymen, everything Glade thinks she knows about the colonies, and The Authority that runs them, collapses into doubt.

Pulled between two opposing sides, and with her family’s lives hanging in the balance, Glade is unsure of who to trust—and time is running out.

Now, this is a dystopian concept that I haven’t run into before and fresh ideas are always welcome. Much of the tale’s plot and the behavior of the characters is similar to many other books but that all supports the central theme, that sociopathic tendencies can be harnessed to do the bidding of an evil government without a care or concern.

Glade is one of those sociopaths and, after being snatched from her mother and younger sisters as a young girl, she has been melded, in a manner of speaking, with a biotech system so that she is able to locate and assess candidates for culling and then carry out the procedure. What it boils down to is Glade is judge, jury and executioner; she murders people with the approval of the seven-person Authority and, because she’s a sociopath, she feels no remorse or reluctance whatsoever.

Except when she remembers that her own father was culled and she’s never understood why.

Things could have gone along this way for years but Glade and another Datapoint are taken captive by a band of resisters known as the Ferrymen and their leader, Kupier, begins to have a small effect on Glade and on her perspective. For the first time in her life, she has niggling questions about what she does and why and about the Authority. Back on the space station, she has a different view of herself and her fellow Datapoints, especially Dahn, and begins to fear one of the Authority, Jan Ernst Haven.

Even with the similarities to other dystopian stories, I came to really like these characters (my favorite may be Kupier’s kid brother) and some of the details of their world but there are still missing pieces. For instance, I want to know much more about how Earth came to be uninhabitable, how the people became space colonizers and why the Authority turned into such a force for evil. Perhaps more will be revealed in the next book.

Narrator Stacey Glemboski does a nice job with clear tones and good pacing. She has to work with a bit of a hindrance in that the point of view and even the setting frequently change without warning and it can be momentarily difficult to make the transition as a listener/reader but Ms. Glemboski eases the pain with her quite believable and effective voice characrterizations. I’ll gladly listen to more books she does.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

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About the Author

Ramona Finn writes about courageous characters who fight to live in broken, dystopian worlds. She believes a person’s true character is often revealed in times of crisis, and there is no greater crisis than the worlds that she drops her characters into!

She grew up sitting cross-legged on her town’s library floor–completely engrossed in science fiction books. It was always the futuristic world or the universe-on-the-brink-of-extinction plotlines that drew her in, but it was the brave characters who chose to fight back that kept her turning the pages.

Her books create deep, intricate worlds with bold characters determined to fight for their survival in their dystopian worlds–with a little help from their friends. And, of course, romance is never out of the question ;).

Website // Facebook // Instagram

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About the Narrator

Stacey is an accomplished audiobook narrator and voice actor who has recorded books for many best-selling authors. Many of her favorite books have been for kids and teens, but all genres of narration appeal to her. For Stacey, narration is about having fun breathing life into characters and getting as lost as possible in the story she’s telling. Outside the studio, Stacey is an avid tennis player and fitness enthusiast. She enjoys dog walks, paddle boarding, and most any outdoor activities.

Website // Twitter // Facebook

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Book Review: The Liberty Box by C.A. Gray

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Title: The Liberty Box
Series: The Liberty Box #1
Author: C.A. Gray
Narrator: Melissa Williams
Publisher: Wanderlust Publishing
Publication Date: May 19, 2016

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Purchase Links:
Audible // iTunes // Amazon

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The Liberty Box
The Liberty Box #1
C.A. Gray
Narrated by Melissa Williams
Wanderlust Publishing, May 2016
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the publisher—

Kate Brandeis has it all: a famous reporter at the age of 24, she’s the face of the Republic of the Americas. She has a loving fiancée and all the success she could wish for. But when she learns of the death of a long-forgotten friend, her investigations unravel her perfect memories, forcing her to face the fact that she’s been living a lie.

Jackson MacNamera, trained from a young age in the art of mind control, returns to the Republic for his mother’s funeral. Within a few hours of his arrival, authorities collect Jackson and take him by force to a room ironically called The Liberty Box, where he must choose between surrendering his thoughts to the new Republic, or fleeing for his freedom.

Kate, bereaved and confused, finds her way to a cave community of refugees, where Jackson seems to offer her an escape from her grief. The two forge an uneasy bond, and in the process Jackson learns that Kate has some insight which may help the hunters in their attempt to free other citizens from the tyranny of the Potentate. Against the expressed wishes of the Council, the hunters plot a series of daring raids, attempting to prove that not only is freedom possible, but that the citizens are not too far gone to desire it. But with the odds so stacked against them, can the refugees succeed in their rescue missions right under the Potentate’s nose?

It’s common in dystopian fiction for the people to be unaware of what their leaders are really like but not so common that they’ve been made to actually not see what’s around them. It’s that element of The Liberty Box that intrigued me the most, knowing that Kate and so many others truly believe they have good lives while the truth is entirely different. When Kate begins to get an inkling of something being off she still resists but the sudden death of someone very close pushes her over the edge and the appearance of clearly dangerous men at her door pushes her to run.

Kate lands with a rebel group, who do see what things are really like, and she meets several people who will make a difference in her life, for good and ill, but I didn’t always buy into the characterizations and the small details. For instance, if someone told me not to worry about the bullets because the government wouldn’t have loaded weapons, I’d tell that person to stand in front of me. I also think it’s unlikely so many people could escape the notice of a government that supposedly has such tight control but, I was intrigued by the story and, in particular, how Kate comes to terms with reality. I also had some good feelings about the very angry Alec and a lot of questions about Jackson who thinks he’s better than sliced bread.

The narration by Melissa Williams is pretty good, not the best I’ve ever heard but not unpleasant in any way. My main issue is that her voice doesn’t really distinguish one character from another very well.

On the whole, this is a promising beginning to the series and I’m looking forward to finding out what happens next.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

About the Author

By day, C.A. Gray is a Naturopathic Medical Doctor (NMD) with a primary care practice in Tucson, AZ, and she writes medical books under her real name (Dr. Lauren Deville). She lives with her husband, with whom she maintains a facetiously contentious movie review blog, and travels as often as they can get away. When not writing or seeing patients, she does yoga, drinks red wine while eating dark chocolate, and consumes audiobooks like there’s no tomorrow!

WebsiteTwitterFacebookGoodreadsInstagram

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About the Narrator

Melissa lives with her family, including two dogs and a cat, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains near Denver, Colorado.

After having a corporate job for most of her life, and as a self-proclaimed introvert, she decided to leave corporate America to work from home. Voice overs had always tugged at her heart as something she would like to explore, so she attended some classes and landed with a company that taught her how to break in to the industry.

Loving to read, she explored the fast growing world of audiobooks and fell in love with it. She has ten audiobooks under her belt and is currently working on the 11th. Understanding that she should always be learning how to improve her skills, she is currently working with Sean Pratt.

When not talking to herself in a padded room, she can be found walking her dog, singing or fishing the Arkansas River.

TwitterFacebook

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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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1 winner will receive a MAYFLY
prize pack which includes
buttons, custom art and maps,
and a t-shirt.
US only.

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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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Purchase Links:
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Amazon // Indiebound

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ISAN
International Sensory Assassin Network
Mary Ting
Vesuvian Books, May 2018
ISBN 978-1-944109-56-1
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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Signed book and swag.
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