Book Review: Pandora: Outbreak by Eric L. Harry


“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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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: Lockdown by Samie Sands

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Book Review: Blight by Alexandra Duncan


Title: Blight
Author: Alexandra Duncan
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Publication date: August 1, 2017


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Alexandra Duncan
Greenwillow Books, August 2017
ISBN 978-0-06-239699-0

From the publisher—

When an agribusiness facility producing genetically engineered food releases a deadly toxin into the environment, seventeen-year-old Tempest Torres races to deliver the cure before time runs out.

From the author of the acclaimed American Booksellers Association’s Indies Introduce pick Salvage, which was called “Brilliant, feminist science fiction” by Stephanie Perkins, the internationally bestselling author of Anna and the French Kiss. This stand-alone action-adventure story is perfect for fans of Oryx and Crake and The House of the Scorpion.

Seventeen-year-old Tempest Torres has lived on the AgraStar farm north of Atlanta, Georgia, since she was found outside its gates at the age of five. Now she’s part of the security force guarding the fence and watching for scavengers—people who would rather steal genetically engineered food from the Company than work for it. When a group of such rebels accidentally sets off an explosion in the research compound, it releases into the air a blight that kills every living thing in its path—including humans. With blight-resistant seeds in her pocket, Tempest teams up with a scavenger boy named Alder and runs for help. But when they finally arrive at AgraStar headquarters, they discover that there’s an even bigger plot behind the blight—and it’s up to them to stop it from happening again.

Inspired by current environmental issues, specifically the genetic adjustment of seeds to resist blight and the risks of not allowing natural seed diversity, this is an action-adventure story that is Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake meets Nancy Farmer’s House of the Scorpion.

Genetically modified food is kind of a sore subject these days with some appreciating the enhancements and others being diametrically opposed for a number of reasons, not least of which are the known and unknown health risks. In Tempest’s world, not so very far in the future, such food has become the norm and a subclass of people has developed , those who can’t afford this food and must resort to stealing it or distributing contraband. Tempest has found her place in this agriculture-driven reality as a security guard and she’s very good at what she does. She knows herself and what she wants for her future…until the day disaster strikes and she has to make unexpected choices.

Tempest is an intriguing character and has a toughness about her that comes to stand her in good stead. When we first meet her, she seems to be quite focused and, in fact, she has been raised with very little softness or sentimentality. Inside, though, she’s not nearly so self-assured and the many facets of her personality begin to come to the fore; it’s especially interesting to watch her come to terms with some unhappy truths and figure out her place in an uneasy future. Essentially, this is kind of a coming-of-age story and getting to know this girl is what makes Blight a story to remember.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2017.

About the Author

Alexandra Duncan is a writer and librarian. Her first novel, Salvage, was published April 1, 2014, by Greenwillow Books. Her short fiction has appeared in several Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy anthologies and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. She loves anything that gets her hands dirty – pie-baking, leatherworking, gardening, drawing, and rolling sushi. She lives with her husband and two monstrous, furry cats in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

You can visit her online at



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Week One:

7/24/2017- Savings in Seconds– Review

7/25/2017- The Autumn Bookshelf– Interview

7/26/2017- Wandering Bark Books– Excerpt

7/27/2017- A Dream Within A Dream– Review

7/28/2017- Two Chicks on Books– Interview

Week Two:

7/31/2017- Buried Under Books– Review

8/1/2017- The Bewitched Reader– Guest Post

8/2/2017- Here’s to Happy Endings– Review

8/3/2017- Kati’s Bookaholic Rambling Reviews– Excerpt

8/4/2017- YABooksCentral– Review



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Book Review: There Once Were Stars by Melanie McFarlane

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Title: There Once Were Stars
Author: Melanie McFarlane
Publisher: Month9Books
Publication Date: April 26, 2016
Genres: Science Fiction, Dystopian, Young Adult



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There Once Were StarsThere Once Were Stars
Melanie McFarlane
Month9Books, April 2016
ISBN 978-0-9968904-0-3
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Peace. Love. Order. Dome. That’s the motto that the Order has given the residents of Dome 1618 to live by. Natalia Greyes is a resident of Dome 1618, a covered city protected from the deadly radiation that has poisoned the world outside for four generations. Nat never questioned the Order, until one day she sees a stranger on the outside of the dome. Now Nat wants answers. Is there life outside the dome and if so, what has the Order been hiding from everyone?

Although I know everybody isn’t a fan of Under the Dome by Stephen King, I am and I like the idea of a society closed off this way. That kind of setting is the first thing that drew me to There Once Were Stars, that and the fact that it’s a dystopian tale. While I had some niggling issues, I enjoyed Nat’s story on the whole.

Society lives under domes because, in the past, a deadly worldwide virus struck and the powers that be chose to irradiate the world to stop it. This was the first hiccup for me as I can’t imagine such a response to a pandemic being thought a good idea, much less the world’s leaders agreeing to it, but it’s certainly a fresh concept for a subgenre that’s becoming a little roadweary. Living under domes has “evolved” into tightly controlled situations with many restrictions on citizens’ freedoms and they’re told that life is not possible on the outside.

Nat is a likeable girl if quite immature. That immaturity isn’t totally surprising considering her very limited life experience but I’m not sure how the people got to the point of almost sheep-like adherence to the rules and her lack of real interest in the outside is odd since she is selected to work in the science unit. I really didn’t expect her story to revolve so much around her personal issues…and a dreaded love triangle…and she was kind of whiny but I *did* like Nat so I mentally encouraged her to pursue answers to the questions she has, particularly about the outside and how people can be surviving despite the admonitions that it’s still too deadly.

There’s a lot of potential in a storyline that involves a virus that produces zombies and a world that’s contaminated by nuclear radiation and, in some ways, I was quite satisfied except that the pace was pretty unexciting, almost making such life-altering conditions something of an adjunct to “a day in the life of”. Eventually, though, Nat begins to really question everything she’s been told all her life and the story picks up. Still, I found it really odd that Evan, the boy Nat saw outside the dome, is assigned to work in the science unit as though he hasn’t just apparently defied the government’s restrictions and secrets.

On the whole, this wasn’t the tightest dystopian I’ve read or even close to it but I never felt the urge to give up and, long before it was over, I’d become comfortable with the discrepancies and occasional plot holes. I wasn’t left with the sense that there will be a sequel but, should there be one, I’d like to spend more time with Nat & Company.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2016.

About the Author

Melanie McFarlaneMelanie McFarlane is a passionate writer of other-wordly adventures, a little excitable, and a little quirky. Whether it’s uncovering the corruption of the future, or traveling to other worlds to save the universe, she jumps in with both hands on her keyboard. Though she can be found obsessing over zombies and orcs from time to time, Melanie focuses her powers on writing young adult stories to keep the rest of the world up reading all night.

She lives with her husband and two daughters in the Land of Living Skies.

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Book Review: Unleashed by Liz Coley

Tor Maddox #1
Liz Coley
CreateSpace, May 2015
ISBN 978-1508860808
Trade Paperback

From the author—

When sixteen-year old Torrance Olivia Maddox, self-confessed news junkie, figures out that the mysterious and deadly New Flu is being spread by dogs, she has one question—if the danger is that obvious to her, why hasn’t the government revealed the truth and taken action? Her search for the answer will take her farther than she ever imagined. But then again, she never imagined that man’s best friend could become public enemy number one, that men in black might show up in her cozy suburban neighborhood, that she’d spend her sixteenth birthday as a teenaged runaway, and that her effort to save one dog would become a mission to save them all.

It all starts when Tor reads a conspiracy blog without really paying attention. It sticks in her mind, though—does this blogger really think dogs are spreading pestilence and the government is covering it up? Why haven’t her beloved news venues mentioned anything about this strange new flu and its possible connection to man’s best friend? Surely her beloved Cocoa isn’t about to become an enemy  of humanity!

Tor is a teen I’d like to call my own although she really is almost too good to be true. Intelligent, pretty, comfortable in her own body, bighearted, kind, enjoys learning vocabulary, so forth and so on and, yet, she doesn’t come across as a goody two shoes. Tor does have a few failings such as being a bit headstrong and not always recognizing potential consequences but, after all, she’s not yet 16 years old so I think we can forgive her occasional lack of wisdom. She also has  a terrific friend, Sioux, and her brother, Rody, is a rather cool guy as brothers go. Then there are her parents who named their children after the places where they conceived said children—TMI indeed 😉

At first, Tor just follows what little news there is about the flu but everything takes on a much more ominous tone when her dad tells her about the first death in the hospital where he works. After the Men in Black show up on her doorstep and the CDC calls for doggy quarantine, Tor begins to morph into a bit of an avenging angel in defense of Cocoa and the other dogs in mortal danger. One twist follows another and Tor’s search for truth and justice soon leads to some very uncomfortable answers.

Ms. Coley has taken a serious idea and leavened it with just enough humor and fast pacing to make it highly entertaining as well as full of suspense and I think I’m going to have to read some more “adventures of Tor”. Lines like this will draw me in every time:

“Side bar. Actually, a lot of us ask this question
regularly. What were our parents thinking?”

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2015.

Book Review: Time of Ruin by Shauna Granger

Time of RuinTime of Ruin
Ash and Ruin Trilogy Book Two
Shauna Granger
Shauna Granger, June 2014
ISBN 9781492759799
Trade Paperback &Ebook

From the author—

The world has ended, and hope is the most dangerous thing left.

Battered and bruised after barely escaping San Francisco with their lives, Kat, Dylan, and Blue press north – desperate to reach the possibility of a new home.

But strange, monstrous ravens are tracking the remaining survivors, food is becoming scarce, gasoline is running short, and people are becoming suicidal, making survival almost impossible.

And the Pestas are growing bolder. Somehow, their numbers are growing.

The further north they go, the harder it becomes to ignore the signs that they’ve made a fatal mistake. Kat must face the impossible truth that there is no escape, there is no safe haven, and their worst nightmares don’t come close to their new reality.

Shauna Granger was so kind to send me a copy of Time of Ruin after I lamented on her blog that I had missed her offer to reviewers. How have I repaid her? By taking endless weeks to write this review, even though I read the book within just a few days of getting it. And why is that, you ask? Well, truth be told, I’m not at all sure I can do it justice. Sigh 😦

The first book in this trilogy completely captivated me for a number of reasons and I couldn’t wait to read the second one while I also feared (slightly) that I’d be disappointed. You know how it is—even if the author doesn’t suffer from “sophomore slump”, there’s still the chance that the magic discovered in the first book just won’t be there in the second, for whatever reason. I’m delighted to say that didn’t happen with Time of Ruin; if anything, it’s better than the wonderful World of Ash and that’s as it should be.

Kat, Dylan and Blue are on a quest of sorts, one that’s common—and entirely credible—in many post-apocalyptic novels. It’s in our nature as humans to find other humans in a time of great crisis and, in this case, the trio’s quest is to get to Kat’s uncle, her only remaining family. The journey they take is fraught with peril of all sorts from those who are desperate or who seek to take advantage of others and they also must cope with personal stress such as hunger and injuries and loneliness. Looming in the dark is the presence of the terrible Pestas, creatures of death. They’re not zombies but share some of their characteristics and take it a step further by seeming to be able to think. These Pestas are enough to give one nightmares because, unlike zombies and other evil creatures, they are nebulous and little understood, not easy to visualize. They are the embodiment of pestilence just as the name suggests and yet we still don’t know what they really are. Not knowing is the worst.

Amidst all the despair, Kat and Dylan find themselves growing ever closer and mindful of each other’s needs. The care and love they show towards one another is uplifting as is the mutual adoration between them and Blue, probably one of the most wonderful fictional dogs ever. The three need to be thankful they have each other, especially when a most disheartening truth begins to come to light.

Time of Ruin is not all doom and gloom. Yes, it’s a dire situation and humanity is at risk of being annihilated, but there are times when we see that many people are still kind and generous and compassionate in spite of their circumstances. Ms. Granger also treats us to flashes of humor:

“I gather up some more gauze and all the tape and wipes I can find. I shove them into the pack and see that he managed to get a few cans of creamed corn and pudding cups—one item with no nutritional value and the other full of sugar. We’re doing this apocalypse right.”

Moments such as this lighten the mood but, when you get right down to it, Time of Ruin is a tale of humanity’s resilience in the face of horror and sadness and fear. Now we have to wait for the third and concluding book to find out whether Kat, Dylan, Blue and so many others will triumph over the darkness and what it will take to get there. And then there are those mysterious and ominous ravens…

Well done, Shauna Granger!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2014.