Book Review: Regeneration by Stacey Berg

Regeneration
An Echo Hunter 367 Novel #2
Stacey Berg
Harper Voyager Impulse, March 2017
ISBN 978-0-06-246614-3
Ebook
Mass Market Paperback coming in April 2017

From the publisher—

The Church has stood for hundreds of years, preserving the sole surviving city in a desert wasteland. When Echo Hunter 367 is sent out past the Church’s farthest outposts, she’s sure it’s a suicide mission. But just when she’s about to give up hope, she finds the impossible – another thriving community, lush and green, with a counsel of leaders who take her in.

Wary of this new society, with ways so different from the only life she’s ever known, Echo is determined to complete her mission and bring hope back to the Church. She’s unsure who she can trust, and must be strong and not be seduced by their clean, fresh water, and plentiful energy sources. If she plays her cards right, she may even still have a chance to save the woman she loves.

Regeneration is one of those books that leave me in the dust a bit because there is so much going on and so many characters to keep straight. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but it does mean I struggled some but, all in all, I liked it for the most part. I will say I think I should have read the first book, Dissension, before tackling this one.

When we first see Echo, she is on the point of death but rescue comes just in time and she wakes in a strange place surrounded by people she doesn’t know. This is initially the most important facet of the story, the need to try to adapt to and work with strangers, people whose lives have been so different.

The other core aspect of Echo’s tale is the need to make choices or, indeed, to NOT make choices. At nearly every turn, Echo is faced with options and they are rarely simple; some, in fact, can lead to major upheavals in her life and in the world she lives in. She’s not the only one facing these dilemmas, though. As two societies learn they are not alone, they must either agree to disagree, if you will, or find ways to coexist and Echo is right at the center of what will be a turning point for these people who have survived the end of civilization as we know it.

Including a love story that nearly consumes Echo, Regeneration is an intense look at human nature when faced with the unknown and I felt compelled to turn the pages to find out what would happen next. I was certainly not prepared for the ending but I think it was almost pre-ordained and was, indeed, fitting.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.

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An Excerpt from Regeneration

Echo Hunter 367 studied the dying woman in the desert with grudging admiration. The woman had walked long past what might reasonably be expected, if that lurching stagger could be called a walk. When she couldn’t walk any more she had crawled, and after that she had dragged herself along, fingers clawing through sand until they clutched some purchase, body scraping over rocks and debris, heedless of the damage. Now and then she made a noise, a purely animal grunt of effort or pain, but she forced herself onward, all the way until the end.

I smell the water.

Desperate as the woman was, she had still been cautious. Though an incalculable distance from any familiar place, she still recognized danger: the wind-borne sand that scoured exposed skin clean to the bone, the predators that stalked patiently in the shadows for prey too weak to flee. The cliff edge that a careless girl could slip over, body suspended in space for the briefest moment before her hands tore through the thornbush, then the long hard fall.

Echo jerked back from that imagined edge. It was her last purposeful movement.  From some great height, she watched herself collapse in the sand. One grasping hand, nails torn, knuckles bloody, landed only a few meters from the spring’s cool water, but she never knew it. For a little while her body twitched in irregular spasms, then those too stilled. Only her lips moved, cracking into a bloody smile. “Lia,” she whispered. “Lia.” Then she fell into the dark.

For a long time there was no sound except water trickling in a death rattle over stones.

Then the high whine of engines scattered the circling predators. Pain returned first, of course. Every inch of skin burned, blistered by sun or rubbed raw by the sand that had worked its way inside the desert-proof clothing. Her muscles ached from too long an effort with no fuel and insufficient water, and her head pounded without mercy. Even the movement of air in and out of her lungs hurt, as if she had inhaled fire. But that pain meant she was breathing, and if she was breathing she still had to fight. With enormous effort she dragged open her eyes, only to meet a blinding brightness. She made a sound, and tasted hot salt as her lips cracked open again. “Shhh,” a soft voice said. “Shhh.” Something cool, smelling of resin and water, settled over her eyes, shielding them from the glare. A cloth dabbed at her mouth, then a finger smoothed ointment over her lips, softening them so they wouldn’t split further when she was finally able to speak. Lia, she thought, letting herself rest in that gentle strength until the pain subsided into manageable inputs. Then she began to take stock.

She lay on something soft, not the rock that had made her bed for so many weeks, although her abused flesh still ached at every pressure point. The air felt cool but still, unlike the probing desert wind, and it carried, beyond the herbal tang, a scent rich and round, unlike the silica sharpness of sand she’d grown so accustomed to. Filtered through the cloth over her eyes, the light seemed diffuse, too dim for the sun. Indoors, then, and not a temporary shelter, but a place with thick walls, and a bed, and someone with sufficient resources to retrieve a dying woman from the desert, and a reason to do so. But what that reason might be eluded her. The Church would never rescue a failure.

Unless the Saint commanded it.

She mustered all her strength and dragged the cloth from her eyes. She blinked away grit until the blurred oval hovering above her took on distinct features, the soft line of the cheek, the gently curving lips. Lia, she thought again, and in her weakness tears washed the vision away. She wiped her eyes with a trembling hand.

And stared into the face of an utter stranger.

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About the Author

Stacey Berg is a medical researcher who writes speculative fiction. Her work as a physician-scientist provides the inspiration for many of her stories. She lives with her wife in Houston and is a member of the Writers’ League of Texas. When she’s not writing, she practices kung fu and runs half marathons.

Visit Stacey Berg on her Website, Goodreads Page, and on Twitter!

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3/13 Guest post @ Writers and Authors
3/13 Showcase @ Sapphyrias Book Reviews
3/14 Interview/Showcase @ CMash Reads
3/15 Showcase @ The Ordinary Housewife Book Blog
3/16 Showcase @ The Book Divas Reads
3/17 Showcase @ Bound 2 Escape
3/17 Showcase @ Tome Tender
3/18 Interview @ BooksChatter
3/18 Review @ Rockin Book Reviews
3/19 Review @ Book Reviews From an Avid Reader
3/20 Showcase @ Deal Sharing Aunt
3/20 Showcase @ The Bookworm Lodge
3/21 Showcase @ The Pen and Muse Book Reviews
3/22 Review @ Buried Under Books
3/23 Showcase @ Celticladys Reviews
3/25 Review @ Collected Works
3/26 Showcase @ Writers and Authors
3/28 Showcase @ A Bookaholic Swede
3/29 Guest post @ Books Direct
3/29 Review @ Wall-to-wall books
3/30 Review @ JBronder Book Reviews
3/31 Showcase @ Books, Dreams, Life
4/01 Review/showcase @ Kara the Redhead

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Book Review: Return of the Continuums by Jennifer Brody

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Title: Return of the Continuums
Series: The Continuum Trilogy #2

Author: Jennifer Brody
Publisher: Turner Publishing
Release Date: November 1 , 2016
Genre:  Science Fiction, Young Adult

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Return of the ContinuumsReturn of the Continuums
The Continuum Trilogy #2
Jennifer Brody
Turner Publishing, November 2016
ISBN 978-1-68162-258-3
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Reaching the surface was just the beginning.

As Myra and her friends set out to find the First Continuum, they must navigate a hostile landscape and even more hostile inhabitants of other continuums with their own ideas about the future of the human race. In the pulse-quickening sequel to “The 13th Continuum,” the young heroes must make an unlikely ally if they are to survive long enough to reach their destination and learn the secret behind humanity’s destruction and the hope for its survival.

As Myra’s and Aero’s story continues, following last spring’s The 13th Continuum, I struggled a bit to reconnect with these two, perhaps because there’s a lot of information in the first half of the book for the characters and the reader. I found my attention being drawn in too many directions for a while and, yet, I still enjoyed this sequel despite the early distractions. Myra and Aero have separate storylines in the first half and that probably added to my disconnect.

Still, Ms. Brody has crafted an interesting scenario with the multiple continuums and their very isolation has led to quite diverse societies and outlooks. Learning how the various continuums were developed and how the original inhabitants of each were chosen added much to my understanding of this world far in the future and, in the second half of the book, I got caught up in the quest to reach the first continuum.

As with the first book, questions are left unanswered, giving us good reason to look forward to the third volume of the trilogy. The United Continuums will be coming in July 2017 and it’s already on my wishlist.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2016.

Also in the series:

The 13th Continuum

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About the Author

Jennifer BrodyJennifer Brody’s debut novel The 13th Continuum sold to Turner Publishing in a 3-book deal and is being packaged into a feature film. The book is the first in a trilogy and came out in Spring 2016. She is a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. She lives and writes in LA.

After studying film and graduating from Harvard University, she began her career in feature film development. Highlights include working for Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes and New Line Cinema, most notably on “The Lord of the Rings” films and “The Golden Compass”. In 2008, she produced the feature film “Make It Happen” for The Weinstein Company. Her recipes and articles have appeared in xoJane, Fox News, Parade Magazine, Whole Life Times, and Meatless Monday, and many other publications.

She is an alumni of the Sirenland Writers Conference, where she studied with Meg Wolitzer, and the Tin House Summer Writers Workshop, where she studied with Victor LaValle. She completed a 3-week residency at The Lemon Tree House and was accepted for a residency in Spring 2016 at the Helen R. Whiteley Center, run by the University of Washington.

She founded and runs BookPod, a social media platform for authors with 400 members. She’s also a mentor for the Young Storytellers Foundation. In Spring 2015, her mentee’s script was picked out of over 900 scripts for the Glee Big Show, where it was performed by the cast of the hit Fox TV show, and in Fall of 2015, her mentee’s script was chosen for the Biggest Show, where it was performed by Jack Black and Leslie Mann.

AUTHOR LINKS:

Website: http://jenniferbrody.com/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14248804.Jennifer_Brody

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jenniferbrody

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jenniferbrodywriter

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Book Review: The 13th Continuum by Jennifer Brody

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Title: The 13th Continuum
Author: Jennifer Brody
Publisher: Turner Publishing
Release Date: April 19, 2016
Genre:  Science Fiction, Young Adult

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The 13th ContinuumThe 13th Continuum
The Continuum Trilogy #1
Jennifer Brody
Turner Publishing, April 2016
ISBN 978-1681622545
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

One thousand years after a cataclysmic event leaves humanity on the brink of extinction, the survivors take refuge in continuums designed to sustain the human race until repopulation of Earth becomes possible. Against this backdrop, a group of young friends in the underwater Thirteenth Continuum dream about life outside their totalitarian existence, an idea that has been outlawed for centuries. When a shocking discovery turns the dream into a reality, they must decide if they will risk their own extinction to experience something no one has for generations, the Surface.

Anyone who visits Buried Under Books on a fairly regular basis knows that I have a fondness for post-apocalyptic and/or dystopian fiction. I haven’t read any in a while, more than a month, so I was was quite happy when the opportunity to review The 13th Continuum came along and, in most ways, Ms. Brody didn’t let me down.

Worldbuilding is a crucial component of any science fiction and, in particular, this kind of book and I did think it was just slightly lacking here but not by much. The truth is I haven’t found more than a few books that have truly incredible worldbuilding so I’ve come to a place of contentment when enough is provided to give me a sense of place and the people and the reason(s) for how society has gotten to the state it’s in. This author has devoted a lot of time, thought and effort towards creating a future that’s very credible.

What we find here is that, although this is a future time and life as we know it today has changed a great deal, the characteristics that make up humanity haven’t changed all that much. The best part of that is that I found it easy to connect with Myra and Aero, two characters who are so believably drawn that they’re almost here in the flesh. Tinker and other secondary players, even their adversaries, are just as vivid.

The story here is complex, highly entertaining, thought-provoking and as intriguing as any I’ve read in quite a while. I hope that word of this book will spread widely throughout the young adult market, as well as adult, because it’s such a shining example of how good science fiction really can be when it’s done right. The next book, Return of the Continuums, will be out in November, not nearly soon enough for this reader who wants to know what will happen next.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2016.

Also in the Series:

Return of the Continuums

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About the Author

Jennifer BrodyJennifer Brody’s debut novel The 13th Continuum sold to Turner Publishing in a 3-book deal and is being packaged into a feature film. The book is the first in a trilogy and will come out in Spring 2016. She is a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. She lives and writes in LA.

After studying film and graduating from Harvard University, she began her career in feature film development. Highlights include working for Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes and New Line Cinema, most notably on “The Lord of the Rings” films and “The Golden Compass”. In 2008, she produced the feature film “Make It Happen” for The Weinstein Company. Her recipes and articles have appeared in xoJane, Fox News, Parade Magazine, Whole Life Times, and Meatless Monday, and many other publications.

She is an alumni of the Sirenland Writers Conference, where she studied with Meg Wolitzer, and the Tin House Summer Writers Workshop, where she studied with Victor LaValle. She recently completed a 3-week residency at The Lemon Tree House and has been accepted for a residency in Spring 2016 at the Helen R. Whiteley Center, run by the University of Washington.

She founded and runs BookPod, a social media platform for authors with 400 members. She’s also a mentor for the Young Storytellers Foundation. In Spring 2015, her mentee’s script was picked out of over 900 scripts for the Glee Big Show, where it was performed by the cast of the hit Fox TV show, and in Fall of 2015, her mentee’s script was chosen for the Biggest Show, where it was performed by Jack Black and Leslie Mann.

AUTHOR LINKS:

Website: http://jenniferbrody.com/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14248804.Jennifer_Brody

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jenniferbrody

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jenniferbrodywriter

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Book Review: The Girl’s Guide to the Apocalypse by Daphne Lamb

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Title: The Girl’s Guide to the Apocalypse 
Author: Daphne Lamb 
Publisher: Booktrope Publishing
Publication date: August 11, 2015
Genres: Science Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic, New Adult

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The Girl's Guide to the ApocalypseThe Girl’s Guide to the Apocalypse
Daphne Lamb
Booktrope Editions, August 2015
ISBN 978-1-5137-0118-9
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Welcome to the Apocalypse. Your forecast includes acid rain, roving gangs and misplaced priorities, in this comedic take on the end of the world as we know it, from debut author Daphne Lamb. As a self-entitled, self-involved, and ill equipped millennial, Verdell probably wouldn’t have ranked very high on the list of those most likely to survive the end of the world, but here she is anyway. Add in travelling with her work addicted boss, her boyfriend who she has “meh” feelings for, and a handful of others who had no businesses surviving as long as they have, and things aren’t exactly going as planned. But despite threats of cannibalism, infected water supplies, and possibly even mutants, Verdell is willing to put in as little effort as she can get away with to survive.

The word “apocalypse” generally denotes horrible travail, the end of the world as we know it, loss of civilization, deaths in the millions, maybe even a zombie horde. That’s the kind of apocalyptic book I sincerely love and, quite obviously, so does Daphne Lamb…except her end of the world tale takes a decided turn to the left and upside down and we readers are taken on a wild and crazy ride. You might say this is “The Three Stooges Meet The Apocalypse” and I cackled my way right through to the finis.

Ms. Lamb has filled her story with every hilarious, satirical trope and cliché she could come up with and I loved every minute of it. Sure, there are some very serious scenes, as there must be, but then we have:

“We’re getting grilled cheese?” I asked. “What if I’m lactose-intolerant?”

when there’s been no steady supply of food. Then there’s this:

She pulled a small bottle of nail polish out of her skirt pocket. “Did you hear about my makeup party I’m having next week?”
I shook my head. “Now where on earth would you be having that?”
“Originally, it was going to be at my home, but now it looks like it’ll be in the break room,” she said. “Unless they get all this,” she motioned to the carnage lying on the freeway below us, “cleaned up. I’ll keep you posted, though.”

The central character, Verdell, isn’t the brightest person in the world nor the bravest by a long shot but she’s head and shoulders above some of her companions. Sort-of-boyfriend, Bruce, is determined to further his acting career now that he can actually meet an occasional entertainment celebrity and her boss, Robert, is oblivious to the new realities around him and finds solace in the pages of his tattered copy of Secrets to Risk Management. Meanwhile, Debra is tottering around on her platform heels and obsessing over the lack of healthy food choices. Verdell herself continually makes promises to God if He’ll just get her out of the crisis of the moment.

Plot? Nah, not really, but that’s quite all right with me. I still relish the serious sorts of post-apocalyptic stories but The Girl’s Guide to the Apocalypse was a most welcome diversion from the darkest side of doom 😉

“We’re all dead!” Jake screamed. “We’re all going to die!”
I frantically looked around. “What was all that talk about staying calm—“

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2016.

About the Author

Daphne LambDaphne Lamb was raised in the wilds of Colorado and now resides in a very different wilderness known as Los Angeles. She is a comedian and award winning writer who has worked in television, film and video games. In her spare time, she enjoys collecting comic books, discussing awesomely bad movies and thinks about what it would be like to own a cat.

She loves connecting to fans and readers, so feel free to connect!

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Book Review: Poison by Lan Chan

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Title: Poison
Series: Wind Dancer #1

Author: Lan Chan
Publication Date: September 1, 2015
Genres: Science Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic,
Dystopian, Young Adult

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PoisonPoison
Wind Dancer #1
Lan Chan
CreateSpace, September 2015
ISBN 978-1516807376
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Since the night her mother was murdered, sixteen-year-old Rory Gray has known one truth: There are no good Seeders.

In post-apocalyptic Australia, the scientists known as Seeders have built a Citadel surrounded by food-producing regions and populated with refugees from the wars and famine. To maintain their control, the Seeders poisoned the land and outlawed the saving of seeds.

It’s been six years since Rory graced the Seeders’ circus stage as the Wind Dancer and still the scars on her body haven’t healed. Even worse are the scars on her heart, left by a Seeder boy who promised to protect her.

Now the Seeders are withholding supplies from Rory’s region for perceived disobedience. Utilising the Wanderer knowledge she received from her mother, Rory must journey to the Citadel through uninhabitable terrain to plead for mercy.

However, the Citadel isn’t as Rory remembered. The chief plant geneticist is dying and rumours fly that the store of viable seed is dwindling. The Seeders are desperate to find a seed bank they believe Rory can locate, and they will stop at nothing to get it.

To defy the Seeders means death. But Rory has been close to death before–this time she’s learned the value of poison.

Recommended for fans of The Hunger Games, Divergent, strong protagonists, minority characters, circuses and nature!

In the first few pages of Poison, I knew I was in for a treat when I discovered that Ms. Chan has added elements to what could have been a just-like-all-the-rest dystopian story, elements that lift it above the pack. The Reapers are certainly intriguing but the blood furies really caught my attention. The author doesn’t shoot her wad, so to speak, in those first pages, though; surprises are to be found from one scene to the next. (Glider suits? How cool!)

Ms. Chan is equally adept with plot and character development. The tale of a world that comes into being following devastating famine is unusual with her special touches, leading to pathos as well as resistance against the controlling Seeders, and the near-constant twists and turns left me breathless at times. Rory’s own evolution into a young woman who overcomes her fears and rises above what seems to be neverending adversity is compelling and it’s impossible to be sure who is friend, who is foe.

Australia makes a wonderful setting especially with its native fauna that becomes just a little odder as a result of genetic manipulation. This country’s natural and spectacular beauty lends itself well to a story focused on the environment and, for me, heightened the impact of the disaster that could very well arise from genetic manipulation of our agriculture. Perhaps we should take heed.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2016.

About the Author

Lan ChanLan Chan is a writer, gardener and professional procrastinator based in Melbourne, Australia. She is still waiting for her super powers to manifest but until then she writes young adult novels featuring strong female protagonists, minority characters and has a particular interest in dystopias and urban fantasy. Lan’s debut novel POISON, the first in her WIND DANCER series was released in September 2015.

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Book Review: The Cave by Michela Montgomery

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Title: The Cave
Series: The Wind Cave #1

Author: Michela Montgomery
Published by: Post Hill Press
Publication date: April 7, 2015
Genres: Science Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic, New Adult

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The CaveThe Cave
The Wind Cave #1
Michela Montgomery
Post Hill Press, April 2015
ISBN 978-1-61868-917-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

When a nuclear war devastates the U.S., a four-day excursion quickly turns into a fight for survival in The Cave. Six Stanford students journey into one of the deepest and longest caves in North America. A day into their journey, a nuclear war begins from within the U.S. Unable to return to the surface, and unsure what they will find when they do, the Cave will test the strength and survival of each person differently – transforming six individuals into a team, and ultimately…a family.

One thing you will never ever catch me doing is caving. I’ve enjoyed a couple of the large caverns like Luray but the very idea of actual spelunking leaves me cold, partly because I’m moderately claustrophobic but also because camping in a tent is about as rugged as I want to get and I haven’t done that since the dark ages. Why then, you might ask, do I want to read about it? This really is the essence of why I’m drawn to post-apocalyptic and post-disaster fiction so much—I totally get into vicariously sharing the adventures and tribulations of people having to deal with such situations, especially having to cope with extreme conditions.

In The Cave, survival means lasting until it’s safe to go above ground again but it also means learning to cope with this warren of eternally dark places without destroying each other. Building relationships where they don’t already exist is critical if these people are going to endure and finding each other’s strengths and weaknesses is truly important. This is, unfortunately, where the book’s chief failing comes into play with the introduction of a love triangle. I keep hoping that authors of young adult and new adult fiction will recognize that a romance is not needed in every story, that it can get in the way, but I’m afraid I’ll have to keep hoping. I like Kate but I’d think better of her without this extra, unnecessary distraction. Romance can come later.

On the whole, I do wish the story had focused occasionally on what was going on outside the cave to broaden the scope of the disaster and to give us the perspective of those trying to survive the attacks but Ms. Montgomery has a way with words and we’ll be getting more of the outside world’s story in the next book so I’m satisfied for now 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2016.

About the Author

Michela MontgomeryMichela Montgomery graduated with her B.A. in Creative Writing from California State University, Long Beach. She completed the Claims Law Program with AEI and occasionally teaches classes on negotiation, litigation and investigation at her Corporate University. Although born and raised in California, Ms. Montgomery considers Boston her second home and spends as much time there as possible. She enjoys singing, dancing, yoga, cooking, the Red Sox, the Patriots and a good cannoli from Mike’s Pastries. She lives in Northern California with her two children, a feisty Yorkie and a teacup Chihuahua named Killer.

http://posthillpress.com/writer/michela-montgomery

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Teeny Reviews: Joy to the Worlds by Maia Chance, Janine A. Southard, Raven Oak and G. Clemans, No Honor Among Thieves by J.A. Jance, Peril by Ponytail by Nancy J. Cohen, One Year After by William R. Forstchen, and Blonde Hair, Blue Eyes by Karin Slaughter

Joy to the WorldsJoy to the Worlds
Mysterious Speculative Fiction for the Holidays
Maia Chance, Janine A. Southard, Raven Oak and G. Clemans
Grey Sun Press, November 2015
ISBN 978-0-9908157-6-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

What do you get when you mix mystery and speculative fiction, then toss in the holidays for good measure? A mobster Santa, genetic hanky-panky, Victorian villages, time-travelling detectives, a Krampus, eerie bell spirits, and more–this collection of short cross-genre fiction is the perfect counterpoint to traditional holiday reading!

Joy to the Worlds brings together eight short works that explore mysteries across time and space. Ranging from dark dystopian worlds to comedic retro-futures, four diverse writers find new ways to combine these disparate worlds.

This collection stars national bestselling mystery author Maia Chance, who dazzles with humor and folklore; IPPY award-winning science fiction author Janine A. Southard beguiles with unexpected time-travel science; science fiction and fantasy bestseller Raven Oak offers a look into the gothic past; and for a whole new perspective, debut fiction author and art expert G. Clemans dives into the intersections of creativity and mystery.

Whether you enjoy science fiction, fantasy, mystery, Christmas, noir, gothic, or folktales—this collection has something for you.

I tend to shy away from anthologies because I don’t much like coming to the end of a short story I really like, wanting it to be a full-length novel, but Joy to the Worlds interested me on first glance because I knew and liked two of the authors’ work but had never tried the others. This seemed like a good opportunity to return to familiar writers and meet a couple more.

Tyson Wallenstein, a dead detective trying to prove himself—he’s only been dead a year so he’s the newbie of the group—sets out to investigate a man’s death without all the trappings of a living detective (no forensics, no DNA, etc.) in the first story and I was immediately captivated. Was it an accident? Murder? Is the prosthetic leg attached to a high heel a clue? Why does mistletoe seem to be everywhere?

In another story, a young American named Odysseus Flax is overcome with motion sickness while traveling by train through the Alps and jumps off the train in a little village called Kiefertal. There he encounters the underbelly of Christmas during Krampusnacht when a very rich man decides to scare his obnoxious little boy and Odysseus learns there is much he does not know about what’s real or not real in this picturesque little town.

Four authors with four very different choices of genre and style offer two stories each that entertain in an unexpected way, giving the reader a slightly askew look at the holiday season. What better way to be introduced to authors you haven’t tried before?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2015.

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No Honor Among ThievesNo Honor Among Thieves
An Ali Reynolds/Joanna Brady Novella
J.A. Jance
Pocket Star Books, November 2015
ISBN 978-1-5011-3559-0
Ebook

From the publisher—

“A semi’s gone over the embankment.” The call wakes Sheriff Joanna Brady in the middle of the night, but what brings her fully alert is the rest of the story. The driver didn’t drift off to sleep and cross the center line—he was shot, multiple times, by someone with serious firepower. And when the truck crashed through the guardrail, its payload wound up scattered all over the road—boxes upon boxes of Legos.

Legos that are being tracked by B. Simpson’s security firm to reduce black market sales—and Ali Reynolds is just the woman to get to the bottom of the crime. She has the tech and the intel to follow the money (or, in this case, the Legos), which makes her a valuable asset to Joanna’s team. Soon these two strong women realize that they’re not just sharing a case, they’re kindred spirits—which is paramount, because the killer they’re up against is anything but child’s play.

A new Joanna Brady story is always a treat to my way of thinking and, in No Honor Among Thieves, we get the best of two protagonists, Joanna and Ali Reynolds. So much fun!

Other characters are just as enjoyable, Kendra, B. and Cami just to name a few. One of Ms. Jance‘s particular strengths lies in creating characters you can develop a connection with and I never feel overloaded with names to keep straight other than a few of the very minor players.

Who knew LEGOS are actually a hot product on the black market? Yes, those little plastic things you make cool stuff with go for high prices once a set is retired, much like other collectibles, and that’s what brings Ali into the investigation. Her husband’s security company has been hired to shadow LEGOS shipments to try to identify the sources of the black market commodities and B. sends Ali to the scene to check out the identification chips on the LEGOS packages, hopefully to figure out why a midsized truck was carrying the toys on back roads. What she and Joanna find, though, only adds to the puzzle of why someone wanted to kill the driver in such a spectacular fashion and, before it’s all over, a gigantic mistake is made.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2015.

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Peril by PonytailPeril by Ponytail
A Bad Hair Day Mystery #12
Nancy J. Cohen
Five Star Publishing, September 2015
ISBN 978-1432830984
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Marla and Dalton’s honeymoon at an Arizona dude ranch veers from dangerous to downright deadly faster than a horse headed to the corral. With her husband’s uncle–the resort’s owner–on the suspect list for murder, Marla races to prove his innocence. She hopes her blind trust isn’t misplaced, especially when she learns their relative has secrets he’d rather keep buried. As the bodies pile up, she digs deep to find the killer. With her new family in jeopardy, she’d better figure out who’s adding to the spirits haunting a nearby ghost town before someone she loves is hurt.

The very idea of the girly-girl Marla honeymooning at a dude ranch was funny enough to make me want to read Peril by Ponytail, latest in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries, and I found myself highly entertained by the scenario. Marla is her usual snoopy self (although, as can be expected, quite rational about it) and feels compelled to investigate when her uncle by marriage becomes a murder suspect in the midst of a series of mishaps at the ranch and a nearby ghost town.

The relationship between Marla and her police detective husband, Dalton, is appealing, partially because they respect each other’s abilities in investigating crime. Marla is no ditzy woman who thinks she knows better than the police; rather, they work together comfortably.

Secrets abound, motives keep cropping up and danger seems to be everywhere but there’s fun to be had watching Marla do her thing. She might want folks to think she’s annoyed by the interruption to her honeymoon but those of us who’ve been following her adventures for years know better, don’t we? 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2015.

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One Year AfterOne Year After
William R. Forstchen
Forge, September 2015
ISBN 978-0-7653-7670-1
Hardcover

From the publisher—

The story picks up a year after One Second After ends, two years since the detonation of nuclear weapons above the United States brought America to its knees. After suffering starvation, war, and countless deaths, the survivors of Black Mountain, North Carolina, are beginning to piece back together the technologies they had once taken for granted: electricity, radio communications, and medications. They cling to the hope that a new national government is finally emerging.

Then comes word that most of the young men and women of the community are to be drafted into an “Army of National Recovery” and sent to trouble spots hundreds of miles away.

When town administrator John Matherson protests the draft, he’s offered a deal: leave Black Mountain and enter national service, and the draft will be reduced. But the brutal suppression of a neighboring community under its new federal administrator and the troops accompanying him suggests that all is not as it should be with this burgeoning government.

Six years ago, I read One Second After by this same author and was struck by how well Mr. Forstchen created the world that would exist immediately after a devastating EMP attack and during the following year. Black Mountain, NC, became a microcosm of the self-destruction and the triumph over extreme adversity that would inevitably follow such an event, made even more realistic for me because I’ve been to the real Black Mountain and could easily “see” what went on. All these years later, it remains one of my favorite post-apocalyptic novels despite a few flaws and I hoped the author would someday let us know what happened to the survivors of Black Mountain.

Finally, I heard earlier this year that the sequel was coming out and I jumped right on it. Let me just say I was not the least bit disappointed and found the premise of a bureaucracy run amok to be completely credible. After all, there are many people in this world who think they should be in charge but I also have no trouble believing the people of a small town would come together in an effort to do what’s right and best for their neighbors while still trying to help those outside the community. Setting this story in a small town was the perfect thing to do because the reader really gets to know the people and develop a strong connection that isn’t as likely in a densely-populated area. This sequel focuses on what the survivors would do after the initial emergency, what choices they would make going forward. One Year After is a gripping novel although, by the nature of the beast, it doesn’t have the riveting impact of the first book. Still, I’m really anticipating the third book, Unite Or Die, due out in September 2016.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2015.

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Blonde Hair, Blue EyesBlonde Hair, Blue Eyes
Karin Slaughter
Witness Impulse, August 2015
ISBN 978-0-06-2442819
Ebook
Also available in mass market paperback

From the publisher—

“A beautiful young girl was walking down the street―when suddenly…”

Julia Carroll knows that too many stories start that way. Beautiful, intelligent, a nineteen-year-old college freshman, she should be carefree. But instead she is frightened. Because girls are disappearing.

A fellow student, Beatrice Oliver, is missing. A homeless woman called Mona-No-Name is missing. Both taken off the street. Both gone without a trace.

Julia is determined to find out the reasons behind their disappearances. And she doesn’t want to be next…

Karin Slaughter‘s name always comes to my mind when I hear the word “thriller”. She’s a bit too realistic for some readers but I love her work and had been anxiously awaiting her new standalone, Pretty Girls, when I saw that there was a prequel short story, giving us the backstory of one of the Pretty Girls characters. I tend to read prequels after the fact even when they’re actually offered before the primary novel so I was especially eager to grab Blonde Hair, Blue Eyes.

When bad things happen to young women, they’re frequently blonde with blue eyes as that seems to be a favorite type for bad guys. What’s interesting about this particular blonde is that she knows girls have gone missing and she’s frightened for herself, as any rational person would be, but she’s still determined to write the story that will focus attention on the supposed abductions. In doing so, Julia puts a target on her own back…or is it possible the danger is closer to home?

All in all, this is an excellent lead-in to Pretty Girls.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2015.