Book Review: Malice by Pintip Dunn @pintipdunn @EntangledTeen @The_FFBC

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Title: Malice
Author: Pintip Dunn
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Publication date: February 4, 2020
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult

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Malice
Pintip Dunn
Entangled Teen, February 2020
ISBN 978-1-64063-412-1
Hardcover

From the publisher—

What I know: a boy in my class will one day wipe out two-thirds of the population with a virus.

What I don’t know: who he is.

In a race against the clock, I not only have to figure out his identity, but I’ll have to outwit a voice from the future telling me to kill him. Because I’m starting to realize no one is telling the truth. But how can I play chess with someone who already knows the outcome of my every move? Someone so filled with malice they’ve lost all hope in humanity? Well, I’ll just have to find a way—because now they’ve drawn a target on the only boy I’ve ever loved….

Pintip Dunn has a knack for coming up with young adult science fiction stories that are interesting and creative but are not hardcore science fiction so they appeal to a wider readership that prefer scifi-lite, so to speak. That doesn’t mean they’re weak, by any means, just more accessible and I appreciate that.

The beauty of time travel is that there’s so much you can do with it, so many ways to make it the core of an intriguing tale and that’s true here. By offering a look at certain characters during different stages of their lives that haven’t happened yet, the focus can be on those characters and not so much on the setting or worldbuilding.

Alice is a perfectly normal teen or, at least, as normal as possible for a girl whose mother disappeared years ago and whose father has been emotionally distant ever since. In fact, Alice is the steady one in this family, especially in looking after her older brother, Archie, a prodigy who definitely has a few screws loose and a deep distrust of people. These two and a boy named Bandit are all crucial to the plot and, although I pegged the future creator of the global virus early on, that certainly didn’t keep me from wanting to see how everything would pan out.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2020.

About the Author

Pintip Dunn is a New York Times bestselling author of young adult fiction. She graduated from Harvard University, magna cum laude, with an A.B., and received her J.D. at Yale Law School.

Her novel FORGET TOMORROW won the 2016 RWA RITA® for Best First Book, and SEIZE TODAY won the 2018 RITA for Best Young Adult Romance. Her books have been translated into four languages, and they have been nominated for the following awards: the Grand Prix del’Imaginaire; the Japanese Sakura Medal; the MASL Truman Award; the TomeSociety It list; and the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award.

Her other titles include REMEMBER YESTERDAY, THE DARKEST LIE, GIRL ON THE VERGE, STAR-CROSSED, and MALICE.

She lives with her husband and children in Maryland.

Website // Twitter // Facebook // Instagram // Goodreads

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Book Review: A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen @mikechenwriter @HarlequinBooks @MIRAEditors

A Beginning at the End
Mike Chen
MIRA, January 2020
ISBN 978-0-7783-0934-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

An emotional story about what happens after the end of the world, A BEGINNING AT THE END is a tale of four survivors trying to rebuild their personal lives after a literal apocalypse. For commercial readers who enjoy a speculative twist, or their sci-fi with a heavy dose of family and feelings.

Six years after a global pandemic, it turns out that the End of the World was more like a big pause. Coming out of quarantine, 2 billion unsure survivors split between self-governing big cities, hippie communes, and wasteland gangs. When the father of a presumed-dead pop star announces a global search for his daughter, four lives collide: Krista, a cynical event planner; Moira, the ex-pop star in hiding; Rob, a widowed single father; and Sunny, his seven-year-old daughter. As their lives begin to intertwine, reports of a new outbreak send the fragile society into a panic. And when the government enacts new rules in response to the threat, long-buried secrets surface, causing Sunny to run away seeking the truth behind her mother’s death. Now, Krista, Rob, and Moira must finally confront the demons of their past in order to hit the road and reunite with Sunny — before a coastal lockdown puts the world on pause again.

Most post-apocalyptic stories tend to give a wide view of the world after the critical event but Mike Chen chose to focus on just a few people, a compelling tactic. As much as I love PA, and I really do, it’s sometimes a little difficult to form a connection with the characters but that’s not the case here.

When the survivors of the pandemic begin to emerge into a new and unfamiliar, often frightening, society, their initial focus is on figuring out what to do now. It’s only a few years into our own future and that gives the story an immediacy that’s more than a little nervewracking, especially with the current news about the wuhan coronavirus. Yes, humanity is vulnerable to any number of possible end of the world as we know it scenarios but Mr. Chen chooses to look at the rebuilding of what we had, hence the very effective title.

Just four characters are the core of this story and, at first, only the father and his young daughter are connected. Later, fate brings them together with two quite disparate women; watching these four first form a tenuous friendship and then gradually become a semblance of family gives hope for their future. It also gives us hope that, given a similar deadly crisis, humanity will survive.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2020.

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An Excerpt from
A Beginning at the End

Prologue

People were too scared for music tonight. Not that MoJo cared.

Her handlers had broken the news about the low attendance nearly an hour ago with some explanation about how the recent flu epidemic and subsequent rioting and looting kept people at home. They’d served the news with high-end vodka, the good shit imported from Russia, conveniently hidden in a water bottle which she carried from the greenroom to the stage.

“The show must go on,” her father proclaimed, like she was doing humanity a service by performing. She suspected his bravado actually stemmed from the fact that her sophomore album’s second single had stalled at number thirteen—a far cry from the lead single’s number-one debut or her four straight top-five hits off her first album. Either way, the audience, filled with beaming girls a few years younger than herself and their mothers, seemed to agree. Flu or no flu, some people still wanted their songs—or maybe they just wanted normalcy—so MoJo delivered, perfect note after perfect note, each in time to choreographed dance routines. She even gave her trademark smile.

The crowd screamed and sang along, waving their arms to the beat. Halfway through the second song, a peculiar vibe grabbed the audience. Usually, a handful of parents disappeared into their phones, especially as the flu scare had heightened over the past week. This time nearly every adult in the arena was looking at their phone. In the front row, MoJo saw lines of concern on each face.

Before the song even finished, some parents grabbed their children and left, pushing through the arena’s floor seats and funneling to the exit door.

MoJo pushed on, just like she’d always promised her dad. She practically heard his voice over the backup music blasting in her in-ear monitors. There is no sophomore slump. Smile! Between the second and third songs, she gave her customary “Thank you!” and fake talk about how great it was to be wherever they were. New York City, this time, at Madison Square Garden. A girl of nineteen embarking on a tour bigger, more ambitious than she could have ever dreamed and taking the pop world by storm, and yet, she knew nothing real about New York City. She’d never left her hotel room without chaperones and handlers. Not under her dad’s watch.

One long swig of vodka later, and a warmth rushed to her face, so much so that she wondered if it melted her face paint off. She looked off at the side stage, past the elaborate video set and cadre of backup dancers. But where was the gaffer? Why wasn’t anyone at the sound board? The fourth song had a violin section, yet the contracted violinist wasn’t in her spot.

Panic raced through MoJo’s veins, mental checklists of her marks, all trailed by echoes from her dad’s lectures about accountability. Her feet were planted exactly where they should be. Her poise, straight and high. Her last few notes, on key, and her words to the audience, cheerful. It couldn’t have been something she’d done, could it?

No. Not her fault this time. Someone else is facing Dad’s wrath tonight, she thought.

The next song’s opening electronic beats kicked in. Eyes closed, head tilted back, and arms up, her voice pushed out the song’s highest note, despite the fuzziness of the vodka making the vibrato a little harder to sustain. For a few seconds, nothing existed except the sound of her voice and the music behind it— no handlers, no tour, no audience, no record company, no father telling her the next way she’d earn the family fortune—and it almost made the whole thing worth it.

Her eyes opened, body coiled for the middle-eight’s dance routine, but the brightness of the house lights threw her off the beat. The drummer and keyboard player stopped, though the prerecorded backing track continued for a few more seconds before leaving an echo chamber.

No applause. No eyes looked MoJo’s way. Only random yelling and an undecipherable buzz saw of backstage clamor from her in-ear monitors. She stood, frozen, unable to tell if this was from laced vodka or if it was actually unfolding: people—adults and children, parents and daughters— scrambling to the exits, climbing over chairs and tripping on stairs, ushers pushing back at the masses before some turned and ran as well.

Someone grabbed her shoulder and jerked back hard. “We have to go,” said the voice behind her.

“What’s going on?” she asked, allowing the hands to push her toward the stage exit. Steven, her huge forty-something bodyguard, took her by the arm and helped her down the short staircase to the backstage area.

“The flu’s spread,” he said. “A government quarantine. There’s some sort of lockdown on travel. The busing starts tonight. First come, first serve. I think everyone’s trying to get home or get there. I can’t reach your father. Cell phones are jammed up.”

They worked their way through the concrete hallways and industrial lighting of the backstage area, people crossing in a mad scramble left and right. MoJo clutched onto her bottle of vodka, both hands to her chest as Steven ushered her onward. People collapsed in front of her, crying, tripping on their own anxieties, and Steven shoved her around them, apologizing all the way. Something draped over her shoulders, and it took her a moment to realize that he’d put a thick parka around her. She chuckled at the thought of her sparkly halter top and leather pants wrapped in a down parka that smelled like BO, but Steven kept pushing her forward, forward, forward until they hit a set of double doors.

The doors flew open, but rather than the arena’s quiet loading area from a few hours ago, MoJo saw a thick wall of people: all ages and all colors in a current of movement, pushing back and forth. “I’ve got your dad on the line,” Steven yelled over the din, “His car is that way. He wants to get to the airport now. Same thing’s happening back home.” His arm stretched out over her head. “That way! Go!”

They moved as a pair, Steven yelling “excuse me” over and over until the crowd became too dense to overcome. In front of her, a woman with wisps of gray woven into black hair trembled on her knees. Even with the racket around them, MoJo heard her cry. “This is the end. This is the end.”

The end.

People had been making cracks about the End of the World since the flu changed from online rumors to this big thing that everyone talked about all the time. But she’d always figured the “end” meant a giant pit opening, Satan ushering everyone down a staircase to Hell. Not stuck outside Madison Square Garden.

“Hey,” Steven yelled, arms spread out to clear a path through the traffic jam of bodies. “This way!”

MoJo looked at the sobbing woman in front of her, then at Steven. Somewhere further down the road, her father sat in a car and waited. She could feel his pull, an invisible tether that never let her get too far away.

“The end, the end,” the sobbing woman repeated, pausing MoJo in her tracks. But where to go? Every direction just pointed at more chaos, people scrambling with a panic that had overtaken everyone in the loading dock, possibly the neighborhood, possibly all New York City, possibly even the world. And it wasn’t just about a flu.

It was everything.

But… maybe that was good?

No more tours. No more studio sessions. No more threats about financial security, no more lawyer meetings, no more searches through her luggage. No more worrying about hitting every mark. In the studio. Onstage.

In life.

All of that was done.

The very thought caused MoJo to smirk.

If this was the end, then she was going out on her own terms.

“Steven!” she yelled. He turned and met her gaze.

She twisted the cap off the water-turned-vodka bottle, then took most of it down in one long gulp. She poured the remainder on her face paint, a star around her left eye, then wiped it off with her sleeve. The empty bottle flew through the air, probably hitting some poor bloke in the head.

“Tell my dad,” she said, trying extra hard to pronounce the words with the clear British diction she was raised with, “to go fuck himself.”

For an instant, she caught Steven’s widemouthed look, a mix of fear and confusion and disappointment on his face, as though her words crushed his worldview more than the madness around them. But MoJo wouldn’t let herself revel in her first, possibly only victory over her father; she ducked and turned quickly, parka pulled over her head, crushing the product-molded spikes in her hair.

Each step pushing forward, shoulders and arms bumping into her as her eyes locked onto the ground, one step at a time. Left, right, left, then right, all as fast as she could go, screams and car horns and smashing glass building in a wave of desperation around her.

Maybe it was the end. But even though her head was down, she walked with dignity for the first time in years, perhaps ever.

Excerpted from A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen, Copyright © 2020 by Mike Chen. Published by MIRA Books. 

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About the Author

Credit Amanda Chen

Mike Chen is a lifelong writer, from crafting fan fiction as a child to somehow getting paid for words as an adult. He has contributed to major geek websites (The Mary Sue, The Portalist, Tor) and covered the NHL for mainstream media outlets. A member of SFWA and Codex Writers, Mike lives in the Bay Area, where he can be found playing video games and watching Doctor Who with his wife, daughter, and rescue animals. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @mikechenwriter

Author Links:
Website // Twitter // Facebook // Instagram

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By foregrounding family, Chen manages to imbue his apocalypse
with heart, hope, and humanity. Sci-fi fans will delight in this
lovingly rendered tale. — Publishers Weekly

Book Review: The Girl in Red by Christina Henry @C_Henry_Author @BerkleyPub

The Girl in Red
Christina Henry
Berkley, June 2019
ISBN 978-0-451-49228-9
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

It’s not safe for anyone alone in the woods. There are predators that come out at night: critters and coyotes, snakes and wolves. But the woman in the red jacket has no choice. Not since the Crisis came, decimated the population, and sent those who survived fleeing into quarantine camps that serve as breeding grounds for death, destruction, and disease. She is just a woman trying not to get killed in a world that doesn’t look anything like the one she grew up in, the one that was perfectly sane and normal and boring until three months ago.

There are worse threats in the woods than the things that stalk their prey at night. Sometimes, there are men. Men with dark desires, weak wills, and evil intents. Men in uniform with classified information, deadly secrets, and unforgiving orders. And sometimes, just sometimes, there’s something worse than all of the horrible people and vicious beasts combined.

Red doesn’t like to think of herself as a killer, but she isn’t about to let herself get eaten up just because she is a woman alone in the woods….

I read this book during the holidays and, weeks later, I’m still stewing about it. I guess that’s not necessarily a terrible thing because, after all, it means the book made a lasting impression on me but…

Red is a young woman who’s apparently alone in the world following the advent of a pandemic cough but we soon learn that’s not entirely true. The author switches the scene back and forth from just before to now and back again, a style that can be confusing but it works well here. Red is determined to get to her grandmother’s house deep in the forest but has a perilous journey to get there. Fortunately, she’s somewhat prepared for the dangers she faces because she prepared well, unlike her parents and brother (who is so clueless you have to wonder how he made it as long as he did even before the Crisis). To add to her difficulties, Red is an amputee and, not that it matters to the story but she’s biracial, a nice touch.

Red has a number of twisty turny encounters but she keeps going for weeks, fending off bad guys and monsters as well as the government that wants to put everybody in quarantine (but even the government offers a hero of sorts) and the nearly unbearable tension kept me reading far into the night. As post-apocalyptic stories go, this one is a doozy and I loved how Ms. Henry turned Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf into an even scarier tale. So, why am I so bent out of shape? Well, I can’t tell you specifically because it would be a major spoiler but let me just say that Chapter 15 has a whopper of a surprise and I was left wanting so much more. I’m really torn because until then I was completely immersed but that nonending left me cold. Fortunately, not every reader sees it that way; all I can say is Bah Humbug…but dagnabbit, this was good!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2020.

Book Review: Resistant by Erika Modrak @brwpublisher

Resistant
A World Divided
Erika Modrak
Black Rose Writing, December 2019
ISBN 978-1-68433-393-6
Trade Paperback

It is pertinent to preface this review by sharing my wish-list for turning A Book into The Best Book.

1.      Characters I attach to like Velcro. The kind that pop into my head, even when it isn’t buried in the pages, and evoke a wide range of emotions.

2.      So well written that I simply slide along the sentences. But not smoothly.

3.      Must have razor-sharp turns, tummy-flipping twists and a reveal so shocking, it hits like a giant wave of ice-cold water— from out of nowhere.

4.      The story itself must be its own kind of special. Something shiny-new, but with a pseudo-nostalgic, familiar feel. A couple of chuckle-worthy lines, a few to bring tears.

Resistant by Erika Modrak, doesn’t stop at checking each box; it fades my Kodachrome-color fantasy into a sad little stick-figure drawing.

Set in two drastically different worlds, separated by only miles and an impenetrable wall, this Young Adult dystopian marvel unfurls from different viewpoints, each providing a part of the big picture.

Cat and Abel are both fortunate—albeit the reasons are not the same—to live in the Dome. The great Dr. Grayson heads up and cares for The Community. He oversees order and all efforts to find a cure for the Virus. He generously provides basic essentials—beyond the vaccination—for this elite group. Protection, too. Under his watch, they are safe from the few survivors on the outside who have most certainly become criminals, quite possibly cannibals.

Wren and Ryder reside in a comfortable, if rough-around-the edges, camp with other folks that have somehow avoided the Virus. Not absolutely isolated, though. Ryder has managed to make a connection with someone inside the walled city, and periodically speeds away on his motor-bike for supplies. Sometimes, he allows Wren to join him.

And that is how Ryder and Wren learn that each camp rule was written for a reason. If broken, consequences are exponentially more severe than parental punishment.

They’ve caused worlds to collide. Secrets spill and cast a shadow of doubt over everything believed to be true. Wary partnerships are formed to ferret out the truth as those with the most to lose frantically try to maintain their malicious cover.

I’ll be happily handing out copies of Resistant as soon as it hits my hot little hands. It would just be wrong to keep it to myself.

Reviewed by jv poore, December 2019.

Book Review: Pandora: Outbreak by Eric L. Harry

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“Like Crichton and H.G. Wells, Harry writes stories that
entertain roundly while they explore questions of scientific
and social import.” -Publishers Weekly

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Google Play // Indiebound // Amazon

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Pandora: Outbreak
A Pandora Thriller #1
Eric L. Harry
Rebel Base Books/Kensington, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-63573-017-3
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

They call it Pandoravirus. It attacks the brain. Anyone infected may explode in uncontrollable rage. Blind to pain, empty of emotion, the infected hunt and are hunted. They attack without warning and without mercy. Their numbers spread unchecked. There is no known cure.

Emma Miller studies diseases for a living—until she catches the virus. Now she’s the one being studied by the U.S. government and by her twin sister, neuroscientist Isabel Miller. Rival factions debate whether to treat the infected like rabid animals to be put down, or victims deserving compassion. As Isabel fights for her sister’s life, the infected are massing for an epic battle of survival. And it looks like Emma is leading the way . . .

A pandemic is one of my favorite apocalyptic scenarios so I really looked forward to reading this. In some ways, Pandora: Outbreak met my expectations but not in others.

There are three major characters, siblings Emma, Isabel and Noah, and I liked them all up to a point but also found them a bit unlikeable, each in his or her own way. Isabel seemed kind of weepy and weak, not really a scientific type but I gave her some latitude because of the situation she was in. I just can’t imagine how hard it would be to maintain a stiff upper lip when you’re watching a sister or brother turn into…something.

Noah just about bored me to tears with his obsession to prevent anything untoward happening to his family. I know, that’s harsh of me but I just didn’t want the endless instructions about weaponry, supplies, fortifications, etc.

And then there’s Emma, the actual victim of the virus. She became really unlikeable and, yet, I cared about her the most because her personality changes are driven by the disease. To blame her for that would be like blaming someone with a mental illness so I cut her a lot of slack and sympathized greatly with what she was going through, especially her fear of the unknown.

In the end, my primary objection was that I felt the story was being told in lab reports with a sort of clinical coldness. Perhaps there was just a little too much of the day-to-day and not enough of the nailbiting action I expect from a pandemic story. In addition to that, there are overtones of sexism that I could do without, not uncommon in science fiction but I always hope for better. Still, there’s room for improvement and growth so I’ll check out the sequel next year.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2018.

About the Author

Raised in a small town in Mississippi, Eric L. Harry graduated from the Marine Military Academy in Texas and studied Russian and Economics at Vanderbilt University, where he also got a J.D. and M.B.A. In addition, he studied in Moscow and Leningrad in the USSR, and at the University of Virginia Law School. He began his legal career in private practice in Houston, negotiated complex multinational mergers and acquisitions around the world, and rose to be general counsel of a Fortune 500 company. He left to raise a private equity fund and co-found a successful oil company. His previous thrillers include Arc Light, Society of the Mind, Protect and Defend and Invasion. His books have been published in eight countries. He and his wife have three children and divide their time between Houston and San Diego.

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Book Review: Monsterland by Michael Okon

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Book Review: Lockdown by Samie Sands

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