Book Reviews: Death Spiral by Janie Chodosh and Identity Crisis by Debbi Mack

Death SpiralDeath Spiral:
A Faith Flores Science Mystery
Janie Chodosh
The Poisoned Pencil, April 2014
ISBN 978-1929345007
Trade Paperback
ISBN 978-1929345014

Faith Flores is a sixteen-year-old high school girl from the low side of Philadelphia. Faith wears thrift-store clothes, exists at the margins of society. She wears combat boots and she exudes attitude. Her mother is a recently dead heroin addict. Now she’s been taken in by her mother’s sister and is living in a better neighborhood and attending a different high school, where she’s having difficulty fitting in. Faith Flores is also bright, stubborn and street smart. When she gets a little distance from finding her mother’s body on the bathroom floor, she begins to realize something is off. Her mother was in a clinical trial and clean. So how is it she dies of a purported heroin overdose?

The tale begins sixteen weeks later and Faith is struggling to acclimate to her new school and new and different classmates. As she moves through the halls, attending class and negotiating all the differences of a new school and climate, her observations of her contemporaries are pointed, trenchant and often funny. You begin to realize that in spite of her background and deprived circumstances, this is a bright and determined young woman. In these early paragraphs, the author cleverly introduces most of the pivotal characters and the circumstances that force Faith into a terror-filled race to save her mother’s reputation, her very life, and bring down a powerful adversary.

I don’t hang about with teen-agers although I am certainly aware of many of their public tribal idiosyncrasies, however, the dialogue here and the expressed attitudes and opinions have the absolute ring of authenticity. With considerable skill, the author draws readers into the story and as the tension and pace continue to rise, we are tormented by the reminders that this story and Faith’s objectives are propelled by children, however bright and sophisticated they may be.

The story is written to a high level of competence and while there are occasional wandering lapses, and though there is a wondering sense of stretching credibility from time to time, here is a group of teens, led by a persistent young woman of uncommon grit and little tact whom I predict offers an enduring attention and approbation, if not outright loyalty and adoration, from fans sixteen to sixty.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.


Identity CrisisIdentity Crisis
A Sam McRae Mystery
Debbi Mack
Debbi Mack/Lulu, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-557-08325-1
Trade Paperback
Renegade Press, November 2013
ISBN 978-0-9829508-7-6

The novel rides squarely on the protagonist’s capable shoulders. She’s a bright and upright independent lawyer with her own practice. Stephanie Ann McRae can be a potty mouth at times, but her infrequent tirades are self-directed. Does she make mistakes? You bet. Does she fault herself when it happens? You bet. Does she occasionally skate a little close to the legal if not the ethical line? For her clients, sure she does. Maybe her emotions are a little close to the surface, for a lawyer, but it all works and somehow, by page 10 you’re saying, “I’m on board. I wanna see this through to the end. Go Sam!” Because “Sam” McRae has grabbed you for the full ride.

Sam is smart, but not infallible, doesn’t leap even low bushes at a single bound, so she’s easy to relate to. Early on she discovers that the FBI and her local cops are interested in her client, Melanie, because of a murder. Melanie isn’t exactly a suspect, she’s a person of interest. The problem is, Melanie has gone missing.

The next thing you know Sam, who isn’t what you’d call well-off, learns that she—or someone using her name—is applying for a substantial line of credit. Mild panic ensues and another layer is added to the mix. Is Sam’s client involved in the identity theft? And what’s that black limo doing, the one that appears to be shadowing her at times?

There are a lot of characters in this novel, most of whom are interesting, some of whom might has been more fruitfully developed. Sam’s love interest is at times almost an afterthought. Occasionally the writing meanders, but mostly the story maintains a high level of interest and forceful pace. The author has a keen eye for character and her writing is usually smooth and interesting. I enjoyed the novel all the way to its satisfying conclusion.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, April 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

Book Review: Renegade by J.A. Souders

Elysium Chronicles Book 1
J.A. Souders
Tor Teen, November 2012
ISBN: 978-0-7653-3245-5

Evelyn Winters leads a privileged life. She is Daughter to the People, to the People of Elysium and one day, she will rule their underwater haven, safe from the dangerous Surface Dwellers and their endless killing. Her life is just about perfect, the life she remembers that is; the one they keep telling her she enjoys. But what is a life? The one you have or the one you choose?

Dear Author,

Your book started well enough. With a dystopian feel and set in an underwater haven where illness is scarce and resources are plentiful Renegade begins with promise. It soon becomes apparent that all is not quite right here and a few times, it appears that the book starts anew. The reasons for this become apparent later on and the sinister, unhinged character that is Mother soon starts to reveal her true nature. As far as dystopian stories go, this one has potential but for me, there was not enough detail. Important elements to the story were sketchy and almost added as an afterthought. The result of this is that there is very little depth to the characters, the overall setting and ultimately, the book. Also, the main character Evelyn or ‘Evie’ seems to fall in love ridiculously easy and ends up morphing into someone who you don’t really believe in. From a simpering, mild-mannered and obedient teenager, she quite suddenly becomes a fierce warrior and rebel, openly defying her superiors all because of the emergence of a Surface Dweller who she decides must survive at all costs, even if that means her dying for him. Somehow difficult to accept don’t you think?

Ultimately, your book needs a lot of work before it would become a popular title for young adults. There needs to be more depth to the characters and added detail given to flesh out the location and the overall story. All this could be tolerated though if it had some sort of satisfactory ending. After spending a few hours reading through around 360 pages, the ending that I arrived at seemed like an insult. Abruptly finishing and with little or no attention to the overall premise, the ending of this book was a complete let down. It seemed as if you just couldn’t be bothered and the lazy ending is the main reason why I won’t be recommending this otherwise promising title. I felt like I had wasted my time reading all those pages to be rewarded with a sloppy ending with a half-hearted conclusion.


Sincerely yours,
A cheesed off reviewer.

Reviewed by Laura McLaughlin, December 2013.