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: Earth Quarantined by D. L. Richardson

Earth Quarantined
Earth Quarantined, Book 1
D. L. Richardson
D L Richardson, November 2018
ISBN 978-1-64467-535-9
Trade Paperback

From the author—

World peace came with rules. We’ve just broken them.

In the year 2055, millions of humans were wiped out by a deadly virus known as EMB-II, a bioweapon strain of Ebola that could not be stopped. The need to get off the planet and into space was never stronger. Before the ships could be launched, First Contact was made. A dozen spaceships arrived, carrying twelve Criterion Advocates – peacekeepers of the universe – and thousands of Criterion soldiers, aides, workers, and engineers. To stop the virus getting into space, Earth was placed under quarantine and work begun to save the planet and humanity. Through tough control measures, world peace was achieved.

The year is now 2355. The virus is gone. Humanity is eager to get into space. Yet the Earth is still under quarantine. The Criterion are lying to us. What they don’t know is that we’re lying to them.

Kethryn Miller is an award-winning actress, but nothing will prepare her for the role she’ll take on when a strange woman who shouldn’t be alive turns up in the city, threatening to expose the lies that have kept peace on Earth for 200 years.

With shades of The Hunger Games—individual states, controlled by a central power—Ms. Richardson has come up with a nifty idea. Aliens saved what was left of humanity after a worldwide virus wiped out most of us and we accepted their help, having very little choice at that time. For 300 years since, humans have been living in quarantined colonies of a sort and have become accustomed to the twice-a-day reconnaisance by patrol ships that are manned by humans who work for the aliens. There are 100 states, each comprised of several cities, and people long ago became used to the aliens’ oversight, even population and resource control that are supposedly at the direction of mankind.

Now, though, some are beginning to question the status quo, especially since the Criterion have withheld the long-promised technology for space travel and their control of all aspects of human existence is wearing thin. At the same time, a woman destined to become president of her state has just learned something that could turn her entire life on its ear and alter the course of her state’s reality.

Told from several points of view, humans and aliens, the story moves along quickly as tension builds, leading to an unknown future, different from anything humans have experienced since the arrival of the Criterion. Short chapters keep the pace lively and I found myself reading faster and faster, eager to find out what would happen next. Now, I’m eagerly anticipating Book 2, Earth Arrested.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2018.

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An Excerpt from Earth Quarantined

Derek followed Aries out onto the balcony, biting down on the pain that raced up his leg from his ankle. Long periods of sitting aggravated his ailment, and today’s meeting had been long.

“I suspect I know what message your minister received,” said Aries. “I also suspect I know what you will ask, but the decision is out of my control. These are the laws that mankind created.”

Aries was always to the point, a trait Derek liked about her. It saved a lot of time, but it also reminded him that she wasn’t human. Some called the Criterion emotionless. Not true, he thought. They’d just had millennia to contain their emotions.

“You denied Justine’s application to have a child,” said Derek. “For the third time.”

“If she possesses an impure gene, she cannot have a child. That is the law.”

“She’s getting treatment for her condition. A treatment you recommended.”

Aries sighed. “These are human laws we uphold, not ours. Must I remind you that all the leaders sat around a table and decided which of their policies would save the human race. We are not the leaders of your world.”

“Some days I’m not so sure.”

She turned to face him. Her liquid eyes hardened as if they’d iced over. The tendrils on the back of her head lifted, which happened whenever she got angry. In twelve years, he’d gotten to know her well.

“When we arrived,” said Aries, in a self-righteous tone, “your species was dying, your planet destroyed, and while I place no faith in hope as a cure, is it not fair to say you had lost all hope?”

She gazed at him, seeking an answer, and as he stared into her face, he realized that she suddenly appeared old. And this realization made him feel old. They were both being replaced. Neither was ready for it. Both had work to finish. And nobody cared.

Derek sighed. “I don’t want to argue with you, but can’t you make an exception just this once? Show compassion. The ministers are your direct link to the citizens and they’d have a better time believing the Criterion are a compassionate race if you showed it. At least once in a century. If not for Justine, then do it for me. Think of it as my last request in my official capacity as President.”

Aries tilted her head. “Would you ask me to sit idly by while you returned your world to its ruined state? All it takes is one diseased gene and the chain is broken.”

“It’s just one act of kindness.”

Aries sighed. “I couldn’t unlock the fertility inhibitor chip even if I wanted to. It’s interfaced with the host’s body and designed not to activate in the presence of unhealthy genes. The Order Of Harmony hold the overriding codes, not me.”

“You’re the Order Of Harmony.”

“I am one member of a much larger organization.”

Derek paused. He’d always considered the residing advocates had the ability to unlock the fertility chips. If not, then who did?

************

About the Author

D L Richardson writes speculative fiction, which encompasses science fiction, light horror, supernatural fiction, and fantasy. When she’s not writing, she can be found wandering in her yard waging war on weeds, watching back-to-back episodes on Netflix, playing her piano or guitar, curled up on the couch reading a book, or walking the dog.

Website // Facebook // Twitter
Blog // Goodreads // Email

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Book Review: The Scourge by Jennifer A. Nielsen

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2018.

Book Review: Terrible Typhoid Mary by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Terrible Typhoid MaryTerrible Typhoid Mary
A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America
Susan Campbell Bartoletti
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, August 2015
ISBN 978-0-544-31367-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Mary Mallon was a cook. A good cook, with a terrible temper. She worked for the wealthiest families in New York City. But all that changed when six members of the Warren household fell sick, and Mary mysteriously disappeared. The hunt for “Typhoid Mary” began. 

Mallon’s complex story illustrates that a “culture of shame” is not a new phenomenon. The methods of castigating women for seemingly offensive behavior may be different but the struggle for girls and women to recover is remarkably similar. When examined through this lens, a woman who is assumed to have played a large role in the spread of a terrible disease is shown to been a victim herself. The book also raises questions about reactions to “disaster diseases” and how they catapult communities into questionable actions. 

I’ve known about Typhoid Mary as far back as I can remember and was always intrigued by this cautionary tale but knew little of this woman’s story beyond the fact that she was an asymptomatic carrier of a deadly disease. When I was offered the opportunity to read this new biography, I jumped at the chance and I’m really glad I did.

Mary Mallon was a woman trapped by her times and its male-dominated society but also a victim of yellow journalism and the misguided intentions of scientists and doctors, led by sanitary engineer and epidemiologist Dr. George A. Soper, who valued their work far above human rights. Until now, I had no idea that this Irish immigrant cook was only the first of numerous “healthy carriers” and that, in fact, she caused the deaths of many fewer people than the old tales would have us believe. She did make a lot of people sick but she didn’t understand how and it didn’t help that Soper and others let their arrogance towards an uneducated poor woman get in the way of gaining her cooperation. If only they had treated her with respect and compassion, the second half of Mary’s life would have gone much differently.

The award-winning Ms. Bartoletti has done extensive research and it shows but, more importantly, she sheds a light on the paternalistic attitudes in existence in the first third of the 20th century and the willingness of those in power to ignore legalities and the Constitution itself even when confronted with the illogic of what they do. Written for the young adult market, Terrible Typhoid Mary also has much to offer adults as well as middle graders not only in the riveting story of one unfortunate woman but in what power run amok can do. A cautionary tale, indeed.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2015.

Book Reviews: The Magician’s Daughter by Judith Janeway and Unfed by Kirsty McKay

The Magician's DaughterThe Magician’s Daughter
A Valentine Hill Mystery
Judith Janeway
Poisoned Pen Press, February 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0338-1
Hardcover

It is rare for a reviewer of crime fiction to encounter a truly fresh protagonist with a unique voice. Reviewers are reluctant to say so because we haven’t read everything, but I’m sticking my neck out here to suggest Valentine Hill, a busking, itinerant street magician with heady aspirations, is that character. She’s blunt, honest to a fault, scrappy, young and aggressive when necessary. She’s in Las Vegas as the tale begins, in the middle of a nine-year search for her mother. Not out of love, but because of some vital missing information in her life. Valentine wants a social security number and she wants to know her birthdate, her father’s name and where she was born. Her mother, Elizabeth is a grifter, highly adaptable, a consummate but amoral actress who used and abused her daughter, Valentine, in prior scams.

Valentine has learned from those experiences and become an honest magician, struggling through life. She learns her mother is probably in San Francisco. Her plans to go there are upset by her companion who steals her stash and disappears. When Valentine tracks her mother to an apartment in Pacific Heights, her world dissolves into mayhem, murder, multiple law enforcement operations and several characters who are not what they seem.

The novel is relentless, positing solution after explanation that dissolve almost as rapidly as they are presented, leaving the reader guessing as much as does poor Valentine. But then, even as the danger escalates, things begin to sort themselves and some really bad guys get conned out of their shorts. A fast, coherent, fully enjoyable novel featuring a young, vibrant protagonist. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2015.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

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UnfedUnfed
Kirsty McKay
Chicken House, September 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-53672-1
Hardcover

Beginning with our main character waking from a coma to devastating news; totally unrelated to the current crisis: roaming diseased humans (whose behaviors suspiciously mimic those of the Late-Night-Movie Zombies); I certainly did not think, “Wow, this is going to be a fun read!”. Intriguing, fast-paced, action-adventure: sure; fun, no.

I was so very, very wrong. I find myself still ridiculously impressed and pleased that Ms. McKay presented Bobby’s story in such a fashion. This sequel to Undead is consuming. Comprised of small, deliberate mysteries, complete with obscure, baffling clues; this reader’s mind never strayed.

The display of dynamics within the small group of teens, forced together, just to have a glimmer of hope against the Zombie-like crowd is spot-on. Underlying currents: wariness, jealously, admiration, fear and sadness, swirl around the characters, twisting, enveloping and confusing. Churning emotions decrease focus, increase discord, frustration and distrust.

With the action-adventure aspect of physical battles between teens and Zoms, the mystery of where Bobby’s best friend, Smitty, is hiding (assuming he is still alive); never-minding the why of Bobby’s mom abandoning her; comatose, alone in a strange hospital, and pants-less; to run off and hide Smitty; it is so easy to be drawn in and invested in the tale. With the shocking revelation that The Enemy is quite likely made up of both Good Guys and Bad Guys, it becomes nearly impossible to stop reading.

These attributes are almost secondary to Ms. McKay’s charming and delightful writing style. As if the author feels immediate remorse for scaring (or grossing out) her audience, in comes the comic relief, effortlessly. A perfect fit, the humor enriches the entire book, keeping the tone from dropping to down-right dismal. Unexpected joy came from Bobby’s predicament of being pants-less, thus flashing her pals as she fights for her life, or making hilarious and embarrassing suctioning noises as naked thighs stick to a desk-top on which Bobby perches. Chastising herself harshly when Smitty-themed fantasies sneak into her mind; coupled with her comfortable and correct use of “dorky” endeared me to Bobby.

Although I started this trilogy right in the middle, I simply must know how Bobby’s story ends. I am already looking forward to Ms. McKay’s next book.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2014.

Book Review: Quarantine #2: The Saints by Lex Thomas

Quarantine The SaintsQuarantine #2: The Saints
Lex Thomas
Egmont USA,
ISBN 978-1-60684-336-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Nothing was worse than being locked in–until they opened the door…
McKinley High has been a battle ground for eighteen months since a virus outbreak led to a military quarantine of the school. When the doors finally open, Will and Lucy will think their nightmare is finished. But they are gravely mistaken.

As a new group of teens enters the school and gains popularity, Will and Lucy join new gangs. An epic party on the quad full of real food and drinks, where kids hookup and actually interact with members of other gangs seemed to signal a new, easier existence. Soon after though, the world inside McKinley takes a startling turn for the worse, and Will and Lucy will have to fight harder than ever to survive.

Whoa.

This is, without a doubt, a very difficult book to read.  If you have any squeamishness at all about violence, teen sex, sheer brutality for no reason other than pleasure, you should not pick up this book. As for the target audience, yes, it is Young Adult in the sense that it’s entirely about high school kids but I really think it’s inappropriate for younger teens. If it were a movie (and, apparently, it will be if things pan out), it should be rated R. That’s unlikely, of course, since it would be difficult to market with such a rating but I don’t know how they’re going to soften this story for a PG-13 rating when it revolves so aggressively around those elements that make this R-worthy.

That’s the very reason I am torn about this book. From beginning to end, the savagery that is to be found on nearly every page is almost overwhelming, to the point of making me so uncomfortable I wondered why I kept reading—and, yet, I did. Partly, it’s because of the trainwreck effect when you just can’t look away but, as tough as it was to read, this is an intense look at a society gone completely to ruin and that is what kept me riveted.

Certainly, there are flaws. It was impossible for me to really like anyone but that doesn’t mean I didn’t care about them, just that this second book in the trilogy allows for no remaining vestiges of gentleness, kindness, courtesy or decency, the traits that enable us to get along with one another. A few individuals love others in one fashion or another but, for the most part, it’s every boy—or girl—for himself or herself. That is an element that’s particularly noticeable, that the girls are every bit as ruthlesss and cruel as the boys. We do get to know a few of them better, especially Will and Lucy, but I can’t say that either one has grown on me much since the first book. Lucy has at least learned to be strong for herself, almost foolhardy, but Will is still rather whiny, although with flashes of being more likeable.

After two books, we still know pretty much nothing about what’s happening outside the school, just dribs and drabs, not nearly enough to understand if anyone is trying to find a cure or even how far the virus has spread. I also find it hard to believe that the parents, who are now in charge of keeping the kids alive, make no effort to identify themselves; just knowing that some of them still have families would give these kids hope.

Most of all, the violence in The Saints is nearly unbearable, particularly because something vicious happens constantly, either physically or psychologically. I think the authors’ point is that, when you live surrounded by such violence, it becomes second nature and you lose your humanity. While that is generally true, we have all heard of people who rise above such a life and that’s what is lacking here, the few kids who would stand fast against the violence. In an interesting if pointless diversion from the usual horrific behavior, one scene, which actually does not involve an altercation between kids, is exceptionally stomach-churning and, to me, was truly gratuitous; as an obvious allusion to Lord of the Flies, it is completely unnecessary to the story and only draws comparisons to that earlier book.

All that aside, I did find much to keep me reading in spite of my reservations and I applaud the authors for making a very harsh story eminently engaging in spite of the gore. If I still had a bookstore, I would be extremely careful to whom I would recommend this but it would most likely be those readers who can look beyond the surface to what lies beneath. This is truly a modern-day morality tale and I’m very curious about what is to come in the third book, coming out in Summer 2014.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2013.