Book Review: The Insurrection by Chris Babu @realchrisbabu @tlcbooktours

The Insurrection
The Initiation #3
Chris Babu
Permuted Press, February 2020
ISBN 978-1-68261-883-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

They are protected by lies. He is armed with the truth.

Having survived the Initiation and expedition, one battle remains: the fight for the heart and soul of New America.

Drayden and his friends, enlisting the help of Professor Worth, must find a way back to New America before the Guardians imperil their return. But for these teens, their problems are only beginning. The Bureau, which never expected them to survive the expedition, will do everything in their power to prevent New America’s darkest secrets from getting out.

Drayden’s only hope is the insurrection led by ally Kim Craig. The David versus Goliath battle between good and evil, between truth and lies, will push Drayden to his breaking point and require bravery, self-acceptance, and above all, belief in himself. Backed by the will of the citizens, he’ll need to engineer an ingenious strategy to defeat the all-powerful authoritarians. The question is, will it be enough?

Predators in the wild, gang violence, a perilous ocean journey, confrontations with the Guardians…all, and more, are the many trials and tribulations a small band from Boston face as they work to help those who are resisting the Bureau of New America. How did we get here? A pandemic caused by Aeru, a deadly bacterium (uncomfortably close to what we currently have with the coronavirus) led to a totalitarian group dividing Manhattan into highly defended walled wards but, as you might expect, very little about this is beneficial to the citizens.

Drayden and his team , Catrice, Sidney and Charlie, along with the elderly Professor Worth, set out to become part of the incipient revolution led by Kim Craig but they also have personal issues to work through, especially the teens. When all is said and done, this band of resistors are able to focus on the task at hand, the defeat of the Bureau and they learn that their bonds give them the strength and the fortitude to do what needs to be done.

Mr. Babu is a very talented storyteller and I have to say I really appreciated the way he let these teens be more mature than so many authors do, with all of them able to keep the usual teen angst down to a dull roar. I haven’t read the first two books but I surely will now.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2020.

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About the Author

Chris Babu is a lifelong math and science geek, with a math degree from MIT. For nineteen years, he worked as a bond trader on Wall Street. Now he writes full-time, indulging his love of young adult books. He splits his time between New York City and the east end of Long Island, where he lives with his wife Michelle, daughter Lily, and Great Dane Buddy. He’s the author of The Initiation and The Expedition, and can be found at chrisbabu.com.

Connect with Chris:

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Book Review: November Rain by Shannon A. Thompson

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Title: November Rain
Series: Bad Bloods, Book 1
Author: Shannon A. Thompson
Narrator: Jonathan Johns
Publisher: Clean Teen Publishing
Publication Date: September 12, 2017

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November Rain
Bad Bloods, Book 1
Shannon A. Thompson
Narrated by Jonathan Johns
Clean Teen Publishing, September 2017
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the publisher—

Seventeen-year-old Serena isn’t human. She is a bad blood, and in the city of Vendona, bad bloods are executed. In the last moments before she faces imminent death, a prison guard aids her escape and sparks a revolt. Back on the streets determined to destroy her kind, Serena is spared by a fellow bad blood named Daniel. His past tragedies are as equally mysterious as her connection to them. Unbeknownst to the two, this connection is the key to winning the election for bad bloods’ rights to be seen as human again. But Serena is the only one who can secure Vendona’s vote. Now, Daniel must unite with her before all hope is lost and bad bloods are eradicated, even if it means exposing secrets worse than death itself. United or not, a city will fight, rain will fall, and all will be threatened by star-crossed love and political corruption.

It’s not always easy for an author to come up with a fresh idea for a dystopian story but Ms. Thompson’s concept of Flocks for these unwanted—and, in some cases, criminal—kids is brilliant because it’s so reminiscent of today’s gangs, such as the Crips and the Bloods. In both cases, the organization is intended to provide family and protection for its members while they have deep seated hatred for each other.

I did find the story a little hard to follow because worldbuilding is weak and there’s just not enough information available to help the reader understand this world and how it came to be that certain children would be so disregarded and feared to the point of executions. While I enjoyed November Rain,  I hope things will become clearer in the next book.

Narrator Jonathan Johns has a very pleasing voice and his individual voices are good but I was happy to have chapter headings identifying the speaker as I didn’t think Mr. Johns differentiated as well as he might have. His enunciation is especially good, though, and that’s a boon for listeners.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

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About the Author

Shannon A. Thompson is a young adult author, avid reader, and a habitual chatterbox.

As a novelist, poet, and blogger, Thompson spends her free time writing and sharing ideas with her black cat, Bogart, named after her favorite actor, Humphrey Bogart. Her other two cats bring her coffee. Between writing and befriending cats, Thompson graduated from the University of Kansas with a bachelor’s degree in English with an emphasis on creative writing, and her work has appeared in numerous poetry collections and anthologies. Represented by Clean Teen Publishing, Thompson is the best-selling author of the Timely Death trilogy and the Bad Bloods series. When she is not writing, she is climbing rooftops, baking cookies, or watching KDramas in the middle of the night, often done with her cats by her side.

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

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About the Narrator

Jonathan Johns is a professional audio book narrator, voice actor and family man.

As an audio book narrator he spends most of his time in front of a microphone spouting written words into Audacity. In his spare time he looks after his daughter Aria. He is currently recording all his audio books in Aria’s bedroom! Jonathan is known for his character work and spends far too much of his time using other characters voices in daily life. He currently has over 20 audio books to his name and has voiced hundreds of characters in them (all with varying degrees of success!). Be it Male, Female, American, British, Elderly, Youthful or anything in between, Jonathan has a voice for you.

Facebook // Twitter // SoundCloud

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Book Review: Thieves Fall Out by Gore Vidal Writing as Cameron Kay

Thieves Fall OutThieves Fall Out
Gore Vidal, writing as “Cameron Kay”
Hard Case Crime/Titan Publishing, April 2016
ISBN 978-1-7832-9249-3
Mass Market Paperback

It had been a long time since I’d read a novel by Gore Vidal (partially due to the fact that he passed away 3-1/2 years ago at age 86).  It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to read a novel by this prolific author, thanks to publisher Hard Case Crime, which discovered a lost pulp crime novel written in 1952, unavailable for more than 60 years and never published under his real name.  This is a tale of a down-on-his-luck American trying to smuggle an ancient treasure out of Egypt on the eve of a bloody revolution.

From the publisher:  It is a pulp yarn through and through, defiantly non-literary (and non-P.C., but then Vidal always was that, with echoes of “Casablanca” in its wartime intrigues and desperate rogues.  But it will also hold interest for modern readers for its depiction of Egypt in the throes of a revolution, with the ouster of a corrupt monarch leading to rioting in the streets, bloodshed and chaos.

Peter Wells, 31 years old, born in Salem, Oregon, finds himself in Cairo in July, the hottest possible time of the year.  He has been robbed by a prostitute and left penniless with nothing except, fortunately, his passport.  In quick succession, he meets two beauteous young woman, one French and one German, each of whom quickly has him under her spell, despite warnings against each and a slight unease that they may each cause harm, either directly or indirectly, to him, as well as the mission he is on: to smuggle out of the country a piece of jewelry said to be cursed but worth over $100,000, for a ‘commission’ of 10%, which he desperately needs.  The not-too-far-distant history of one of the women with Nazis, and of the other with the present Egyptian king, in addition to a mysterious hunchback known as Le Mouche, enter into the tale as well.

The novel reads quickly, and the plot is intriguing, neither Peter nor the reader knowing who can be trusted, and certain that each has been telling him nothing but lies.  It is a very interesting novel, especially considering its true authorship, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2016.

Book Review: Rook by Sharon Cameron

RookRook
Sharon Cameron
Scholastic Press, May 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-67599-4
Hardcover

This review has proven to be as stubborn as Sophie Bellamy.  Therein lies the ultimate compliment.  To me, it is only when I’m consumed by furious joy and almost dumb with delight that writing a review becomes a seemingly insurmountable challenge.  I’m torn between simply carrying this tome everywhere I go so that I can thrust it into someone’s hand and simply say, “This.” and gushing like a new grandparent.

Rook is a remarkably enjoyable, engaging read.  Each of the colorful, captivating characters has his or her own agenda.  Engulfed in a time when a coin stamped with the year 2024 is considered ancient and satellites are machines from the Time Before, enamored with and eagerly enthusiastic for Sophia, I could not keep myself from guessing who was true to Sophie and her most honorable cause, and who was true only to himself…..or herself, for that matter.

Instead of moving forward, it seems that we’ve only gone backward…all progress has been undone.  Rather than gender equality, women are reduced.  Instead of a democracy, a dictatorship, topped by the illogical, egotistical insanity of narcissistic men that are only up when holding others down.

Against unimaginable odds, The Red Rook devises a daring plan including a mass release of those wrongfully imprisoned to be followed by the triumphant toppling of the terrifying regime.  Action is aplenty, alongside conflicting emotions, witty banter and immediately intriguing ideas.  It isn’t possible to read this story without taking pauses to consider and ponder points.  Not in a “what the ……?” way but in an “hmmmm…..interesting, I couldn’t have conjured….” way.

While appropriate and appealing to Middle Grade readers, I would be remiss if I limited my recommendation to that group.  Like a giant bag of Hershey’s miniatures, there is something for everyone.  Enjoy.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2016.

Book Review: The Coupling by Cathrine Goldstein

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Title: The Coupling
Series: The Letting #2
Author: Cathrine Goldstein
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Publication Date: February 15, 2016
Genres: Science Fiction, Dystopian, YA/NA

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The CouplingThe Coupling
The Letting #2
Cathrine Goldstein
The Wild Rose Press, February 2016
ISBN 978-1-50920-617-9
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

In Ronnie Billings’ dystopian world, surviving the Letting and breaking free of a corrupt government is less of a surprise than falling in love with Phoenix Day, the leader of the Peaceful Revolution…

When the government sentences Ronnie to a Coupling under the guise of producing a coveted blood type, Ronnie discovers the one she’s slated to Couple with expects even more.

Prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice to save those she loves most, Ronnie devastates Phoenix with her impossible decision. Whisked away from her rebel life to another world ravaged by despair, Ronnie meets her greatest nemesis…her biological father.

Steeling her nerves against the dangers of escape, she embarks on the perilous journey back. She is convinced she belongs with Phoenix and his revolution, but will her friends, and especially Phoenix, be ready to accept her when she returns? Because this time, evil is in her blood…

I found the first book in this series, The Letting, to be really intriguing and exciting in a number of ways, most especially the core theme of taking blood from children to keep society going. Ronnie spent her young life shepherding her young charges to their destiny without knowing what that destiny really was but, in that first book, she learned a number of truths that changed her world. I looked forward with anticipation to the next book to see what would happen and, hopefully, gain a little more insight into this dystopian existence.

For some reason, I didn’t connect quite as well with The Coupling and I think the problem is on my end, not the book’s. In the early chapters, I felt an annoyance with the main characters, I mean the good ones that I was supposed to like. I did like Ronnie and Phoenix but I also thought some of their behavior was odd, especially when Phoenix blamed Ronnie for something she really couldn’t avoid if she was going to save the lives of three little girls, three little girls who are inordinately important. I also thought Ronnie was way too incredulous at Phoenix’s reaction as though she had no clue he would be so upset.

Not making the all-important connection with the major players is a red flag for me but I continued reading because, despite that issue, I really wanted to follow the story and I’m glad I did. The plot moves along quickly with lots of twists and turns that kept me interested and now I’m looking forward to the next installment.

Note: I recommend that readers new to the series start with the first book, The Letting; this is one of those times when reading in order is best.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

Cathrine Goldstein The Coupling Promo Banner

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About the Author

Cathrine GoldsteinGiven my love for cities and all that is gritty, my new obsession with trees really has me stumped. (Sorry.) Maybe it’s because trees are the inspiration behind my YA/NA novel, The Letting, followed by The Coupling.

Whatever the reason for my new infatuation, some things remain constant — like my love for: coffee (although sadly, it’s now decaf); yoga; Luna bars (I am petitioning for them to bring back Chocolate Raspberry!); running in my neighborhood; Hemingway; Bukowski… and, above all, my husband and my girls.

I am the author of the bestselling novel, Sleeping With Mortals: The Story of a New York Mistress, and I’m also a playwright. I have my B.A. in English and my M.A. in Theatre.

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Book Review: Jupiter Winds by C. J. Darlington

Jupiter WindsJupiter Winds
C. J. Darlington
Mountainview Books, May 2014
ISBN 978-0-9891621-3-5
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

In 2160, a teenager becomes the bait to capture her missing revolutionary parents she thinks are long dead.

Grey Alexander has one goal—to keep herself and her younger sister Orinda alive. Not an easy feat living unconnected in the North American Wildlife Preserve, where they survive by smuggling contraband into the Mazdaar government’s city zones. If the invisible electric border fence doesn’t kill them, a human-like patrol drone could.

When her worst fear comes true, Grey questions everything she thought she knew about life, her missing parents, and God. Could another planet, whose sky swirls with orange vapors and where extinct-on-Earth creatures roam free, hold the key to reuniting her family?

What could have been a straightforward science fiction tale is really a blend of science fiction, mystery and action adventure, the very hallmarks of one of my favorite kinds of crossgenre fiction. Plot and characterization carry equal weight in Jupiter Winds and I’m really not sure I can say which appealed to me more.

Grey and Rin are young sisters who have learned how to survive on their own in a harsh world although they do have a little help from a few friends. Grey, being the elder, takes her responsibility towards Rin very seriously but, at the same time, she values Rin’s contributions to their partnership and I found that really refreshing. I expect siblings in this kind of story to care about each other but to see them respect each other in equal measure is not so common. These two girls understand how important it is that they work together towards the common goal of staying alive no matter what the dangers might be—and dangers there certainly are.

Revolution against a tyrannical government is a common theme but Ms. Darlington adds her own touches with technology and with the disappearance of Grey’s and Rin’s parents. I particularly loved that, in the girls’ smuggling business, books are hot ticket items. Printed books, that is, and anyone like me who’s hanging on to the belief that printed books will still be around in the future can take a small bit of comfort here. Anyway, when the girls are dragged into the middle of this revolution, they find themselves surprised at every turn but no surprise is bigger than finding out what happened when their parents disappeared years ago. Then again, a certain Mrs. March has a few tricks up her sleeve, so to speak, and her place in the sisters’ lives is probably my favorite plot point of the entire story.

As you might expect from the title, the planet Jupiter plays a big part in the story but Ms. Darlington has also woven in a Christian theme that, to my way of thinking, makes for a more well-rounded tale than much of science fiction. The author uses a light touch with this and I never felt the slightest hint of proselytizing but Jupiter Winds can be recommended to anyone looking for inspirational fiction. Having said that, I should also stress that the term “inspirational fiction” shouldn’t scare anyone off because it’s done so well and so unobtrusively here.

In short, I finally have to say I can’t decide whether the plot or the characters appealed to me more because they’re equally strong. And have I mentioned worldbuilding? Jupiter Winds ranks right up there with the best speculative fiction I’ve read. Grey and Rin, Mrs. March and a fellow named Jet, and both Earth and Jupiter in Ms. Darlington‘s imagination will stand out in my reading memory for quite some time to come.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2014.


Book Review: Havana Lost by Libby Fischer Hellmann

Havana LostHavana Lost
Libby Fischer Hellmann
The Red Herrings Press, August 2013
ISBN: 978-1-938733-38-3
Trade Paperback

Author Libby Hellmann, with a number of Chicagoland detective mysteries to her credit, has moved in a new direction. This novel continues that move, beginning with the excellent Set The Night on Fire,  continuing with A Bitter Veil, and now this novel. Here we have a love story set against the turbulent and dangerous background of the Cuban Revolution. The story of two lovers from wildly different circumstances form the catalyst that drives this story.

Hellmann’s skills as a writer have continued to improve and her talent is most obvious when she deals with the principal characters, Luis the revolutionary, follower of Fidel Castro and his inamorata, Francesca Pacelli. She’s the teen-aged daughter of Tony, the American manager of a luxury casino and night-club. Pacelli is a confidant of Meyer Lansky, among others in the nightlife enterprises of Havana in the late 1950’s. Hellmann has created a vibrant, colorful Cuba of the 1950’s on the brink of a revolution as Castro’s oppressive and revolutionary force move to take over the island nation.

The evolution of Francesca Pacelli from a headstrong hormonal teenager in exotic Cuba to a steely, self-assured Chicago matron, head of a far-flung business enterprise, is fascinating and very well handled. One can argue that the Angola device (you’ll have to read the novel for explanation) carries the principals far afield and is something of a distraction. Never mind. The central story is compelling and what gives this novel its fire and its depth of feeling, is the character movement. Consistent, logical, rising out of circumstances, Luis Perez and Frankie Pacelli set in motion both life-affirming and tragic, nearly inevitable violent confrontations set against the wider forces of the times.

The scope and sweep of this novel is spectacular, beginning in the 1950s and terminating in today’s difficult circumstances, from Cuba to Africa to Chicago. But over and over, Hellmann effectively brings the focus down to the individuals important to this narrative. Truly, a novel to be savored.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, October 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.