After The End
After the End #1
HarperTeen, May 2015
Juneau is the heir to the role of shaman in her clan. Whit, the current one, has trained her in the ways of connecting to what they call the Yara, a universal force that permeates all things. The adults fled to a remote region beyond Denali in Alaska after what they have told the children was World War III in the early 1980s.
She’s out hunting for caribou when she hears the frightening whump of a helicopter. While she’s been told that civilization has been destroyed, save for a few of what the elders call brigands, she’s heard this scary sound a couple times before and recognizes the threat it poses, so she abandons her kill and drives her sled dogs back to her village as fast as she can.
When she arrives, all clan members are gone and the dogs have been killed. Whit was supposed to be away on a retreat to a cave, but when she arrives there she realizes no one has been there for months. Her ‘reading’, a way she sees distant events and connects with other clan members, tells her that both Whit and the rest of her clan have been abducted, but Whit’s near the sea while her father and the others are much further away in what appears to be a desert location. This realization is the beginning of her odyssey, one where she intends to find and free her clan. When she reaches the sea, she’s stunned by the city and people she finds, forcing her to not only question everything she believes, but adapt quickly while evading pursuers.
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Miles has been kicked out of his private school for a third major infraction and is working in the mailroom at his father’s pharmaceutical firm. He was headed to Yale before getting expelled. When he overhears his father talking about a valuable girl who is on her way to Seattle, he decides to go and find her as a way of redeeming himself. That girl is Juneau.
When their paths cross, it’s the start of an uneasy alliance that finds them equally frustrated and disbelieving, but the longer they’re together, the more Miles realizes Juneau’s telling the truth and the stronger their attraction becomes. There’s a lot of action, a need for readers to suspend a bit of belief, a neat budding romance and a cliffhanger ending. It was good enough for me to order the sequel immediately.
Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, January 2016.
Note: This is a re-issue of a book originally published in 1982.
From the publisher—
How do you stop an invisible killer?
When a young woman in New York City dies mysteriously after a trip to Brussels, top epidemiologist Lowell Kaplan identifies the cause of death as the Marburg Virus—a fatal strain that has surfaced only once before in history.
Determined to trace the source of the disease, Kaplan follows a trail of intrigue from the labs of Germany to the jungles of Central Africa.
With danger nipping at his heels, and the secrets of the virus’s origin kept deliberately under wraps, Kaplan must go to unimaginable lengths to stop a deadly scheme.
The premise of this story, the possibility of a deadly pandemic, is what initially drew me in to The Virus and, for the most part, I was not disappointed although there were some stumbling blocks. The story is noticeably dated in some ways as it was first published in 1982 but I was more annoyed by some of the actual writing. Over and over again, the author uses characters’ full names, i.e., Susan Wainwright or Lowell Kaplan, both of which are repeated multiple times. Once or twice is sufficient; we do not need to be told a character’s full name endlessly. Mr. Johnson is not a first-time novelist when this is being re-issued, hopefully with some re-editing, and should know better.
Mr. Johnson also takes some very broad liberties with his descriptions of the original Marburg outbreak(s), I suppose in the interest of increasing the level of fear. I’m all for a good thriller but, when it’s based on actual occurrences, I prefer that the author stick to the facts a bit more closely and, in this case, the real Marburg is very scary indeed, no embellishment needed.
At one point, mention is made of the Congressional Medal of Honour being bestowed upon an individual but, in fact, that could not happen based on the circumstances and 30 seconds of research would have prevented this error. There are other awards that would be appropriate in this situation.
All that aside, a thriller generally has lots of breakneck action to prevent a horrible event from happening and that certainly happens in The Virus. Lowell Kaplan is remarkably obtuse, more so than most thriller protagonists, but he is instantly believed by all sorts of people in power no matter what he says so he was not an altogether credible “hero”. Still, he’s ultimately a very likeable character as is a woman named Stephanie Verusio and likeability is an important element in making a thriller work. Also, as in any good thriller, the bad guys seem to have the upper hand quite a bit and it’s not till the end that we see what really was going on.
Bottomline, read The Virus with a somewhat jaundiced eye, suspend your disbelief and sit back for an enjoyable ride that will keep you entertained. After all, entertainment is a pretty good reason for reading, don’t you think?
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2015.
The Doomsday Kids Book 4
Karyn Langhorne Folan
K Squared Books, April 2015
From the author—
Amy Yamamoto was never exactly the “friendly” sort. Driven to be the best-the prettiest, the most popular and the most envied girl in school-Amy has lost everything she loved and believed in since the end of the world she once knew: her family, her friends and her connection to the people who understood her.
And now, after all of those other losses, she faces the end of the Doomsday Kids’ life at the Mountain Place as they embark on a journey of nearly a thousand miles in the hopes of reaching a survivors’ camp on the Gulf of Mexico. Can they reach it before their supplies run out? Can they avoid the evil bands roaring through deserted towns and cities and reach safety before it’s too late? And most of all, can Amy learn to trust the others enough to reveal her deepest secret? Is there room in a world full of death and destruction for hope, a new life and a new love?
I’m usually a stickler for good construction of a book, quality production, meaning I’m ripped right out of the story by an overabundance of errors, whether they be in grammar, spelling, formatting, whatever. I can’t say that Amy’s Gift is all that pristine but, you know what? I don’t care because this is a cracking good story.
This is not a surprise—I’ve been in love with this saga from the very first book and every one of them has drawn me in deeper and deeper. I don’t recommend starting in the middle as you need to know who all these kids are and how they came to be a family of sorts if you want to get the full impact of each one’s individual tale. The good news is they all are quick reads because they hold your attention.
Amy is the one character that has been the hardest to connect with in earlier books simply because she’s a prickly sort, very standoff-ish, and has kept her feelings in very tight check. Part of this comes from her heritage as Japanese-American and the cultural tendency towards always being the best and always being private. I don’t think the Japanese-Americans are quite as much this way as some of the other Asian-American families but there’s no doubt these parents do have higher expectations of their children than many other ethnic or cultural families in the US. Please understand I don’t mean this in any kind of dismissive or derogatory way; it’s just part of who Amy is.
Now, we finally get to know Amy a lot better as her story unfolds and she is a very surprising girl, particularly as she begins to learn more about herself and how emotionally strong she really is. This little band has to face so many hurdles on their journey to what they hope will be a true sanctuary, after surviving the harrowing events following a nuclear attack. Whether Amy and all her ragged companions will make it is questionable and Ms. Folan leaves us with a huge cliffhanger. Thank heavens the next book, The Doomsday Kids #5: Survivors’ Stories, will be coming out in just a little over two weeks because I don’t think I could stand to wait much longer to see what’s coming.
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2015.
The Doomsday Kids Book 3
Karyn Langhorne Folan
K Squared Books, December 2014
From the author—
Rod Wasserman is dying of radiation poisoning. His last wish: to return to the Wasteland of Washington DC to see if there’s any hope that his mother has survived the nuclear blast.
Amaranth Jones has a wish, too: for the chance to redeem herself. To do that, she must leave Liam Harper and her friends at the Mountain Place and never return. When she discovers Rod packing to leave, she insists on joining him, whether he wants her company or not.
As they make their way back to ground zero, the two teens confront the horrors of their post-apocalyptic world. Food and water are scarce; nuclear winter has killed both plants and animals. Human life has little meaning and some desperate survivors have surrendered to the ultimate inhumanity: cannibalism. Threatened by weather, other survivors and their own demons, Amaranth and Rod must learn to trust each other if they have any hope of making it through hell and back. As Rod grows weaker, Amaranth is forced to make difficult choices to ensure their survival. How far will she go to help Rod achieve his last wish? And if they find Rod’s mother, can the three of them make it back to the Mountain Place alive?
Heartbreak. That’s what Amaranth’s Return is all about at its core.
Whew. I’m a big fan of post-apocalyptic fiction and of this series in particular but this episode is as gut-wrenching as anything I’ve read in this subgenre and, yet, I’m not the least bit sorry I read it. Amaranth and Rod have so very much going against them but they still manage to keep their goals in mind. Rod’s goal is to find out if there’s enough left of Washington, DC, that his mother might have survived the nuclear attack. Amaranth’s goal is much simpler—to help Rod achieve his.
The interesting thing about these two teens is that, for long stretches of the story, their ages were irrelevant. The horrible experiences they have would have been no better if they’d been adults and they have the shared bond of being in high school together, not that those years were a wonderful time for Amaranth. We learned much about these kids in the first two novels but now is when we get a much clearer picture of who they were and, more importantly, who they are now.
Ms. Folan has created a post-nuclear holocaust world that is entirely realistic and frightening and I frequently found myself wishing Rod would die because the author’s depictions of his radiation sickness are so intense and devastating. The journey Rod and Amaranth have undertaken is a quest but is also their time to come to a hardwon acceptance of past and present. They’ll meet others along the road who are suffering in their own ways and two will have a real impact on them but, in the end, this is the story of a pair of young people trying to accomplish something truly important even if it only matters to them.
My only criticism of Amaranth’s Return is that I felt the conclusion was rushed but the fourth book, Amy’s Gift, is about to come out; believe me, I’ll be on it like white on rice 😉
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2015.
In the Woods
A Harper Jennings Mystery #5
Severn House, February 2015
From the publisher—
Harper Jennings – mother, Iraqi war vet and archaeology graduate – knows she should be counting her blessings that she’s able to enjoy a child-free camping trip with husband Hank. Hank’s recovery from a brain injury after falling from their roof is nothing short of miraculous. But . . . Harper misses baby Chloe. And she worries that, in being so wrapped up in her toddler, she’s lost her own identity.
But her worries pale into insignificance when she stumbles across a body in the woods. Accident? Harper doesn’t think so, and nor does Ranger Daniels, who seems to blame local militia known as the Hunt Club – who will do anything, it seems, to protect the land they see as their birthright.
Harper wonders what exactly she’s doing, in some dark state forest, tripping over corpses, when she could be at home with her little girl – but when a fellow camper’s husband goes missing, she finds herself reluctantly sucked into the hunt, and into a waking nightmare . . .
What should be a nail-biting tale full of suspense misses the mark a bit although there are qualities about this book that I liked.
To me, it makes no sense that Harper and Hank would go on a camping trip in an area where hunting is a local and tourist pastime. Harper’s PTSD is severe enough that she frequently slides into an episode , triggered by predictable events. Is it any surprise that gunshots and explosions would set her off? Why on earth would she subject herself to the sound of gunshots? Perhaps someday when she’s farther along on her path to healing that might be part of her treatment but now?
The other thing that concerned me is the behavior of one of the possible killers, behavior that can only be termed silly . Yes, a killer of this type is deranged and his…or her…behavior is going to be beyond what the normal human being can fully understand but we don’t generally think of them as silly, do we?
On the positive side, Ms. Jones has created enough scenarios to confuse the reader as well as the good guys. In fact, identifying the good guys is not always an easy thing to do and coming up with motivations that adequately explain things is a little dicey, too, especially regarding a pair of guys named Pete and Bob. Figuring out how the disparate motives and deaths and potential killer(s) all fit together is what kept me reading (although I wondered why the author wanted to hide the identity of the Sector Chief when I spotted him almost immediately).
I have to make a couple of comments about the construction of this book. First, the author knows how to string a sentence together and grammatical/typo errors were infrequent. What I didn’t like was the lack of chapter divisions; a simple paragraph break is just not enough, particularly when the scene is changing. Many times while I was reading, I’d have to stop for a few seconds to get my bearings, so to speak, and that always lessens the tension, not a good thing in a crime novel.
On the whole, while I have some issues with In the Woods, it’s a decent mystery and I certainly don’t regret the time spent.
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2015.
The Doomsday Kids Book 2
Karyn Langhorne Folan
K Squared Books, September 2014
From the author—
Since the nuclear apocalypse, it’s a shoot first, ask questions later world. Following their perilous escape from their Washington, DC suburb, the surviving Doomsday Kids reach their mountain safe house, only to discover their troubles have just begun.
Their hope of finding the protection and guidance of an adult is dashed: there is no one there to help them and they are still children who must find a way to survive alone. Book-smart fifteen year old Nester Bartlett got good grades in his life before the bombs, but has no skills for his new life of tending animals, keeping the fires lit and defending their cabin against intruders. When circumstances thrust him into the role of reluctant leader, threats bombard him at every turn: from the weather, from a nearby correctional facility and from the kids’ own grief. Inexperienced with firearms and conflicted about killing people, Nester struggles with whether there is a place for compassion in this new, lawless world. Then nuclear winter overtakes them, the crops die and the animals succumb to radiation sickness. But when one of their number suffers a medical emergency, Nester must make a desperate choice that shatters their little community and irrevocably alters their hopes of survival.
Nester’s Mistake continues the tale of a small group of kids, mostly teens, who are struggling to survive a nuclear attack. Nester is perhaps the one who is most challenged by their circumstances and, yet, the most able to cope besides Liam, who grew up with a survivalist father.
Nester’s test comes largely from the fact that he is unprepared on all fronts to survive a disaster but his strength lies in his book smarts and in his ability to rise above his insecurities and do what has to be done. He is now, by default, the leader of the group as Liam has been grievously wounded and the others look to Nester to make decisions and do the heavy lifting, so to speak. Among other things, Nester has to keep the peace between the original group and its latest additions, Katie and Marty, but his real trial is his guilt over the death of his younger brother, Nate, who is now spending a lot of time in Nester’s head.
Liam’s condition deteriorates and, determined not to let another of their group die, after Nate and Lilly, some of them stay behind to guard the cabin while Nester, Amaranth and Katie head out in the snow to get help from a neighboring veterinarian. What they find will present a test of their collective courage beyond what they could have imagined.
As in the first book, Liam’s Promise, character and plot are both real strengths in this story which takes place just 18 days after the bombs fell. Ms. Folan never slights the horrific conditions that would follow a nuclear disaster down to the details of how children would feel and react when left to their own devices and the fear and anger as well as the protective care for others that quickly develop. Each of these kids have something to offer the group and they soon learn to rely on each other and, unfortunately, to fear the rest of the world. The Doomsday Kids are, indeed, faced with horrors and regrets and anger and deep, deep sadness. Ms. Folan sugarcoats nothing.
As for the kids themselves, every single one is sympathetic in spite of their shortcomings. Amaranth contends poorly with her past while Rod and Amy, who used to be a power couple, looking down on such “losers” as Nester and Liam, prove themselves to have a depth of character no one would have anticipated. Newcomers Katie and Marty are a pair to be reckoned with and have begun to prove their worth to the rest of the group. Taken alone, none of these kids would have fared well, with the possible exception of Liam who’s had survivalist training, but they shine as a group, warts and all.
The only real quibble I have is with the cover. It really doesn’t fit since so much is made of the fact that Nester wears glasses and actually does need them.
TEOTWAWKI—the end of the world as we know it—has come and now the Doomsday Kids must find it in themselves to not only survive but survive with their humanity intact. What will happen next depends largely on how they’ll cope with a split in their number and the need to consider a very long trek to an uncertain safety. I’m already eagerly awaiting the third chapter, Amaranth Returns, due out in December.
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2014.
The Doomsday Kids Book 1
Karyn Langhorne Folan
K Squared Books, March 2014
ISBN 978-0615966083Trade Paperback
From the author—
“Get to the Mountain Place!”
With those words, eight kids embark on a terrifying journey to survive a massive nuclear blast that destroys the world they once knew.
In the wreckage of their community, without food or transportation, their only hope of safety is to walk to a mountain cabin almost two hundred miles away. But the journeying under gray, radioactive skies brings the kids face to face with death and danger, deprivation and disease and worst of all: the realization that life will never be the same again.
Oh, my. I think I’m in book-love.
Choosing to read Liam’s Promise was a no-brainer for me because the post-apocalyptic genre draws me in like no other. I do enjoy many other genres but this one always intrigues me the most because it opens a window on what humanity really is at its core, how it behaves when conditions are at their worst. Knowing ahead of time that a nuclear disaster was in store, the opening line grabbed me right away:
She couldn’t have picked a worse time.
From that moment on, the rollercoaster ride begins and our narrator, Liam Harper, is literally off and running. I really think it was brilliant of the author to have Liam be the son of a prepper because that means he reacts right away when the threat comes and he has some idea of what to do. Most teens (any age group, really) would flounder around and waste much precious time but there surely would be a few here and there who’ve had some training. It was refreshing to see him react with such immediacy.
The kids who eventually wind up together are a motley crew who would be unlikely to hang out together in normal times. Ms. Folan has a true strength in character development and each of the eight came alive for me so much that I think I’d know Amy or Nate or any of the others if they walked past me on the street. A tip to the reader who wants a visual—go to the series webpage at doomsdaykids.com and you’ll find pictures of each of these children that fit the descriptions remarkably well.
Do I have a favorite? No, but I will say that not all are likeable from the start. Only one struck me as a little not quite right and that was Lilly. It’s no spoiler to tell that she has Down’s Syndrome and I know that such kids have a very wide range of abilities but Lilly seems just a bit too “normal”, for lack of a better word. In the long run, though, that’s neither here nor there as the core story and how the kids survive is so compelling.
I have to mention that this book could have used a bit more editing for construction errors—there are too many flaws, primarily missing words—but I believe my copy may not have had its last proofread. If that’s not the case, readers should still not let this get in the way of such a good story. I like that Liam and the others have a goal and that they are not all 100% into that goal but still recognize their strength in being together. I also like that they’re confronted by one crisis after another because, surely, that’s the way it would be should such a disaster really happen. The plot careens from one moment of suspense to another but the players also have quiet moments of introspection along the way.
Liam’s Promise was one of those books that engaged me totally from beginning to end and hit a lot of my hotbuttons for post-apocalyptic fiction with heartbreak and hope, emotions and intelligence, adventure and the building of trust. Ms. Folan is planning five more books in the series and I can hardly stand to wait for the second one, especially since Liam’s Promise ends with a heck of a cliffhanger. Nester’s Mistake is due out in September and I’ll be reading it for sure 🙂
Note: it’s not easy to find the author online so here are a few links for you—
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2014.