Book Review: Pandora: Outbreak by Eric L. Harry

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“Like Crichton and H.G. Wells, Harry writes stories that
entertain roundly while they explore questions of scientific
and social import.” -Publishers Weekly

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Pandora: Outbreak
A Pandora Thriller #1
Eric L. Harry
Rebel Base Books/Kensington, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-63573-017-3
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

They call it Pandoravirus. It attacks the brain. Anyone infected may explode in uncontrollable rage. Blind to pain, empty of emotion, the infected hunt and are hunted. They attack without warning and without mercy. Their numbers spread unchecked. There is no known cure.

Emma Miller studies diseases for a living—until she catches the virus. Now she’s the one being studied by the U.S. government and by her twin sister, neuroscientist Isabel Miller. Rival factions debate whether to treat the infected like rabid animals to be put down, or victims deserving compassion. As Isabel fights for her sister’s life, the infected are massing for an epic battle of survival. And it looks like Emma is leading the way . . .

A pandemic is one of my favorite apocalyptic scenarios so I really looked forward to reading this. In some ways, Pandora: Outbreak met my expectations but not in others.

There are three major characters, siblings Emma, Isabel and Noah, and I liked them all up to a point but also found them a bit unlikeable, each in his or her own way. Isabel seemed kind of weepy and weak, not really a scientific type but I gave her some latitude because of the situation she was in. I just can’t imagine how hard it would be to maintain a stiff upper lip when you’re watching a sister or brother turn into…something.

Noah just about bored me to tears with his obsession to prevent anything untoward happening to his family. I know, that’s harsh of me but I just didn’t want the endless instructions about weaponry, supplies, fortifications, etc.

And then there’s Emma, the actual victim of the virus. She became really unlikeable and, yet, I cared about her the most because her personality changes are driven by the disease. To blame her for that would be like blaming someone with a mental illness so I cut her a lot of slack and sympathized greatly with what she was going through, especially her fear of the unknown.

In the end, my primary objection was that I felt the story was being told in lab reports with a sort of clinical coldness. Perhaps there was just a little too much of the day-to-day and not enough of the nailbiting action I expect from a pandemic story. In addition to that, there are overtones of sexism that I could do without, not uncommon in science fiction but I always hope for better. Still, there’s room for improvement and growth so I’ll check out the sequel next year.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2018.

About the Author

Raised in a small town in Mississippi, Eric L. Harry graduated from the Marine Military Academy in Texas and studied Russian and Economics at Vanderbilt University, where he also got a J.D. and M.B.A. In addition, he studied in Moscow and Leningrad in the USSR, and at the University of Virginia Law School. He began his legal career in private practice in Houston, negotiated complex multinational mergers and acquisitions around the world, and rose to be general counsel of a Fortune 500 company. He left to raise a private equity fund and co-found a successful oil company. His previous thrillers include Arc Light, Society of the Mind, Protect and Defend and Invasion. His books have been published in eight countries. He and his wife have three children and divide their time between Houston and San Diego.

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Book Review: H.A.L.F.: Origins by Natalie Wright

Origins
H.A.L.F. Book 3
Natalie Wright
Boadicea Press, August 2017
ISBN 978-15453-7109-1
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Tex and Erika are again fugitives, on the run for their lives. But when Tex falls gravely ill, a Navajo healer is Tex’s only hope for survival. He emerges from the ordeal changed in body and mind and with vital information: how to stop the predatory M’Uktah from destroying those he has come to love.

Erika Holt seeks a respite from the constant threats to her life but she’s not about to give up. As she and Tex launch a mission to shut down the galactic highway used by invaders, she grows closer to her troubled half-alien companion. But what about her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Jack?

Jack Wilson, with his new friend Anna Sturgis, is determined to put an end to the Makers’ schemes for world domination. Complicating matters, the valuable medicine to counter the alien virus has been stolen.

As both alien and human forces line up against them, the destiny of all humankind is hand the hands of these young warriors. And time is running out.

Natalie Wright captured my attention two years ago with the first book in this trilogy, The Deep Beneath. Her plot was creative and compelling but what really appealed to me was her character, H.A.L.F. 9, who is a hybrid alien/human intended for unpleasant behaviors but who has an unplanned vulnerability. After an encounter in the Arizona desert with three humans, 9 began to connect in unexpected ways with Erika, Jack and Ian and the humans develop a desire to protect 9. While I really enjoyed the straight-forward science fiction storyline, it was these four characters that meant the most to me.

A lot happened in that first book, leading to capture and imprisonment and a voyage into an unknown future. In Makers, the second book, Erika and Ian were forced onto a spaceship while Jack and Tex, the name chosen for 9, were left behind on earth to face their own dangers. This book made the plot electrifying while the characters became even more real and appealing. Ms. Wright‘s concept solidified into a truly adventurous story that let the reader take part, if you will, in the emotions and action that have marked it as science fiction that’s accessible to all.

Now, the danger of world domination by the aliens, as well as the missing medicine for the virus, propel the friends into looking for ways to fight back against the aliens and a contingent of humans who are no less threatening. Along with an intriguing plot, the characters, including secondary players, are intensely interesting and often unpredictable and the romantic elements that have been developing from the beginning are even more absorbing. This is a love triangle that has real depth to it, unlike what we often see.

Origins ends satisfactorily although with a good deal of sadness and the one major unanswered question is part and parcel of this kind of story. The author seems to have ended this tale but I hope that, perhaps someday, she’ll offer more since I know I’m going to miss Erika and her friends and colleagues.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2017.

Book Review: Lockdown by Samie Sands

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Book Review: Broken Lies by Claire Vale

Broken LiesBroken Lies
The Broken Series #1
Claire Vale
CreateSpace, March 2015
ISBN 978-1508719175
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Scientists predicted it would take seventy years for the Arctic Shelf to completely melt. In the end, it took less than five. We lost thirty percent of our land to the oceans and a big chunk of our structure to panic and anarchy.

The Melt crippled us.

But it was the Arctic Virus at the bottom of The Melt, trapped for millennia in the darkest depths of ice strata, that broke us. The real flood was the Living Corpses. A population of billions turned to soulless, rabid shells within months. That’s what washed away the human race as we know it.

Born into a post-apocalyptic world, Lake has grown up in the last city standing. Governed by what used to be the Queen’s Cold Stream Guard, vaccinated against the threat, life in Windsor City is both harsh and fair. The rules are designed to strengthen the city and ensure survival.

Lake’s future is planned out with opportunities and unfair advantages and then there’s Ash—her best friend and hopefully more. Things could be worse, considering she’s living past the end of days. And, sometimes, she could definitely do with being a better person, which was what drafting into the Guard for two years of service was supposed to be about.

But she has no idea what she’s signed up for. The city is more vulnerable than she’d ever imagined, on its knees at the mercy of a megalomaniac organisation, and she’s just been chosen to pay the price.

Lately, we’ve had more than our share of power outages and, as I write this, we just had a brief one. The brevity of it makes me a bit unsettled and I foresee the outage coming back with a vengeance so this review will be shorter and more to the point than I had planned.

I very much like the concept of this story, the combination of natural disaster and pandemic with zombie-ish results, and I felt the author did a credible job with it. Readers should be aware that this is the first of a series so there are plot points and character development as well as worldbuilding that are lacking in Broken Lies. I assume we’ll find out more about those missing details in future volumes.

Lake struck me as a typical teen but, perhaps more importantly, a typical person trying to deal with circumstances that are not always a walk on the beach. As you might expect, Lake is, in turn, reluctant, rebellious, unsure of herself, very sure of herself, unpleasant, someone you can like very much while acknowledging her shortcomings.

To my dismay, I’m pretty sure we’re headed for a love triangle—I’m truly tired of this cliche—but it wasn’t too “in your face” in Broken Lies so maybe Ms. Vale will surprise me. In the meantime, leaving the boys aside, Ava is my favorite character, even over Lake, because she’s the kind of friend all teen girls should have.

Pacing is somewhat slow but continually builds and I kind of appreciated that as it gave me more time to get to know the characters. Still, that slow pacing leads up to a humdinger of a cliffhanger (which I love), practically guaranteeing I’ll be reading the next book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2015.

Book Review: AlibiZ by Karice Bolton

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Title: Alibiz
Series: Afterworld #2
Author:Karice Bolton
Publication Date: October 26, 2014
Genres: New Adult, Post-apocalyptic

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AlibiZAlibiZ
Afterworld #2
Karice Bolton
Bulldog Press, October 2014
Ebook

From the author

The outbreak might be over, but the nightmare is just beginning…

Rebekah vows to expose the truth behind the RecruitZ that are killing the innocents. These creatures must be stopped, but so should the people controlling them. When Rebekah uncovers who is behind the uprisings, her own life becomes in danger.

Rebekah knows that she is not alone in this fight but vengeance alone won’t help her and the others to victory. It is up to her to uncover the truth for the public before the world is turned over to an elite few.

Regardless of what may happen to her, she knows it’s a race against time to destroy these creatures and the monsters controlling them before there is no one left worth saving.

When I read RecruitZ, the first book in this series, earlier this year, I thoroughly enjoyed it and thought it was one of the better zombie books I’ve come across, largely because the author clearly knows how to do it right when it comes to creating a world I can fall right in to. I was also intrigued by characters who stood apart from the norm, with Rebekah being a strong, self-sufficient woman who can take care of herself and Preston being her equal in all the ways that count. I could barely stand the wait to read their next book.

The fight to survive, after the virus has been contained, for the most part revolves around the resistance to the greed and corruption that is behind the tragedy that befell humanity and that now intends to take advantage of the survivors and the chaos. From the first page, Rebekah and Preston are enmeshed in the battle against those who would destroy what’s left of the old world order but they are not alone and the secondary characters, like Emily and Braden, are just as vivid and important to the story. It’s really captivating to me that this author has turned the usual zombie tale upside down by focusing on what comes after the zombie outbreak because, after all, living through the outbreak does not mean everything will go back to the way it was before.

For once, the relationship between the characters grows in a way that makes sense, given their circumstances. Both are mature enough to recognize that other things must come first and a romance between them could just get in the way and, yet, the tension is palpable. We can be pretty sure it’s going to happen but the big question is when? True friendship comes first, and the development of complete trust and loyalty, making their eventual coming together all the more satisfying for me (and, clearly, for them).

Once again, Ms. Bolton wraps up her story with a humdinger of a plot surprise and it becomes clear that this war has only begun. Is there anyone this small band can trust in the fight to win back humanity? I’m already dying to know and UprisingZ, due out sometime in 2015, can’t come soon enough for me.

One last note: I can’t begin to say how disappointed I am that this book is not available anywhere other than on Kindle and that the earlier book, RecruitZ, has been removed from Nook and Kobo (the paperback of RecruitZ is available on Barnes and Noble but there is apparently no paperback of AlibiZ). If I had not been provided with an epub for this book tour, I would not have been able to read this because, like many other readers, I choose not to read on the Kindle or Kindle app. It’s such a shame that many readers will not be able to experience these wonderful books and I do hope they will become more widely available very soon.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2014.

About the Author

Karice BoltonKarice received an MFA in Creative Writing from the U of W. She has written fifteen novels and has several exciting projects in the works. Karice lives with her husband and two English Bulldogs in rainy Washington.

Books currently available:
Luke Fletcher Series: Hidden Sins (Book 1), Buried Sins (Book 2) – coming soon
Beyond Love Series: Beyond Control (Book 1) Beyond Doubt (Book 2) Beyond Reason (Book 3) Beyond Intent (Book 4) Beyond Chance, Beyond Promise, and Beyond the Mistletoe coming soon
Afterworld Series: RecruitZ (Book 1) AlibiZ (Book 2) – October 2014
The Witch Avenue Series: Lonely Souls (Book 1), Altered Souls (Book 2), Released Souls (Book 3) Shattered Souls (Book 4)
The Watchers Trilogy: Awakening (Book 1), Legions (Book 2), Cataclysm (Book 3), Taken Novella (Watchers Prequel)
The Camp

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Book Review: The Artful by Wilbert Stanton—and a Giveaway!

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Title:The Artful 
Series: Shadows of the City #1
Author: Wilbert Stanton 
Publisher: Curiosity Quills Press
Publication date: May 27th 2014
Genres: Post-Apocalyptic, Young Adult

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The ArtfulThe Artful
Shadows of the City #1
Wilbert Stanton
Curiosity Quills Press, May 2014
ISBN
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

New York City, 2025: Everything is changed. The city that never sleeps is now a land of death and decay. A rampant virus has taken over and the survivors have become carriers, quarantined from the rest of the world.

Twist and Dodger grew up in the streets, the sewers and underground tunnels – their playground. They aren’t heroes. They just like attention; and stealing meds from the rich and giving them to the poor is their golden ticket.

On their latest raid, they unknowingly steal a cure that puts them square between the ailing Emperor of Manhattan and the war hungry Governor of Brooklyn and forces them on a quest into the darkest shadows of their putrefying world.

 

To the reader who’s just starting The Artful: keep at it. Yes, the story is slower than you might like in a post-apocalyptic and/or dystopian novel but the action will pick up if you have a little patience. I admit I came close to giving up but I pushed on and I’m glad I did.

The interesting thing to me about this book is that I wasn’t overly enthralled with the characters immediately but they grew on me (although I never really liked Dodger) and I really appreciated the Dickensian flavor with a large dash of Robin Hood. Still, all is not lighthearted, just the opposite in fact. These boys live in a world of danger and gloom, the latter emphasized by a sun allergy. There are people in our world who cope with a similar condition known as Xeroderma pigmentosum (XP) and still more suffer from a depressive reaction to Seasonal Affective Disorder so the author’s concept of people being unable to let the sun’s rays touch them—and the consequences—is not so hard to believe.

Most of all, perhaps, this is a tale of great friendship and that is what made it appeal to me the most. We don’t see a lot of young adult books that feature boys as the main characters and even rarer is the book that shares the bond that can grow between those boys. Girls tend to have a lot of friends including one or two who are very close while boys frequently have just the one or two. As a result, the male and female friendships can have a different intensity. Dodger and Twist offer a good deal of insight to the reader about male friendships and I feel richer for it.

I do think this story suffers somewhat from firstbookitis in that there are holes in the plot, the character development and the worldbuilding but they didn’t cause me to want to DNF. Mr. Stanton has created a world and characters that I want to know more about and I am looking forward to getting more answers—and action—in the next book. I fully expect Mr. Stanton will hit his authorial stride then.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2014.

About the Author

 

Wilbert StantonWilbert Stanton was born and raised in New York City. From an early age, Wilbert decided he would either write books or take over the world; everything else was just a precursor to his end game.

Along the way, he has studied Psychology, English, and Computer Science. He’s held jobs in a wide range of fields and met people from all walks of life. Wilbert is constantly learning and growing as a person, in order to solidify his dreams.

In the end world domination was a bit tedious, so he decided to focus on writing books.

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Wilbert Stanton!
The winning name will
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Book Reviews: Darkness Trilogy Books One and Two by L. M. Justus

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BOOK ONE:
Title: Welcome to the Darkness
Series: Darkness Trilogy #1
Author: L.M. Justus
Publication date: August 5th 2013
Genres: Paranormal, Young Adult

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BOOK TWO:
Title: Darkness Reigns
Series: Darkness Trilogy #2
Author: L.M. Justus
Publication date: June 2014
Genres: Paranormal, Young Adult

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Welcome to the DarknessWelcome to the Darkness
Darkness Trilogy #1
L.M. Justus
Taurpio Publishing, August 2013
ISBN 978-0-9919368-0-9
Trade Paperback

From the author—

A typical teenager, seventeen-year-old Reed Hennessy doesn’t realize how lucky he is to lead a normal life until he loses everything, including his humanity. The attacker who slaughters his family and destroys their home turns out to be a vampire, a creature Reed had considered a myth.

Now a vampire himself, but with the unique ability to walk in sunlight, Reed struggles in the dark underworld he didn’t even know existed. His only two allies in his fight to stay alive are his reluctant mentor, Nathaniel, a vampire with over two hundred years’ worth of emotional baggage, and Sarah, a rookie cop with a secret ability of her own.

Together, Reed and his companions face a harrowing, cross-country journey before stumbling into a plot which could mean the end of everything for humans and vampires alike.

A brand new teenaged vampire, a slightly older rookie cop with a different sort of power and a seasoned vampire with a couple of hundred years under his belt…can this odd assortment of characters defeat the nefarious intentions of a very old and vicious vampire queen and her equally odious brother? Sounds a bit silly, doesn’t it? Well, put your pre-conceived notions aside because Welcome to the Darkness is a serious vampire book—no sparkles in sight—with overtones of sheer fun and, yes, lots of bloody dinners, so to speak.

I am perfectly aware that there are all sorts of reasons this trio should stumble in their efforts to stop a terrible scheme against humanity and, truthfully, the plot doesn’t always work. For instance, why would a plan to turn all humans into vampires be a good thing for the existing vampires since they need to feed on human blood? I also think Sarah is sometimes too naive, especially since she’s a cop. Still, little quibbles like this one don’t really matter so much because the entire cast of characters is vibrant enough to carry the story. Reed is delightful, as is Sarah, but I have to claim Nathaniel as my favorite. He may have his own issues as a “mature” vampire but, beneath his pasty exterior, he still has some rather endearing human traits.

I also really enjoyed Ms. Justus’s use of both first and third person POV and there’s no trouble following the switches since each chapter is labeled with the name of a particular character. The voices are distinctive, not only of the original three protagonists but also of many of the other players, especially a couple of folks who join the cast later.

So, can our intrepid trio and a few friends save the day? You’ll just have to read this to find out while I rush on to the next book  🙂

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2014.

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Darkness ReignsDarkness Reigns
Darkness Trilogy #2
L.M. Justus
Taurpio Publishing,
ISBN 978-0-9919368-3-0
Trade Paperback

From the author—

New York City is a wasteland. More than eight million people are dead or worse…infected.

After their failed attempt to stop the spread of a virus that turns people into zombie-like, human-vampire hybrids, Reed Hennessy and his ragtag crew are scrambling to stay alive. To make matters worse, the human authorities are close to proving the existence of vampires and blaming them for the disaster in New York.

Their storm of trouble is already spinning out of control when an old enemy reappears to issue a challenge–an ultimatum that will mean certain death for at least one member of Reed’s group. With their mountain of problems growing exponentially and a host of enemies closing in, they flee for their lives, desperate for a miracle. Will they survive and avoid the world’s scrutiny, or will darkness prevail?

When we last saw our trio of heroes, now grown to five with at least one more reluctant than heroic, things had gone from bad to worse and now they need to get out of New York City before the hordes of former humans get to them. Reed and Nathaniel face even more difficulties as their vampire backs sport great big targets. Unfortunately for this little band, many of the survivors out there are no more trustworthy than the hybrids.

This is where I think Darkness Reigns slips just a little bit. These humans and vampires are remarkably trusting and almost innocent in their outlook, particularly when they approach a prison, and they don’t get smarter once they’re inside. The other aspect of the story that doesn’t quite work for me is the romance between Reed and Sarah. I started feeling uneasy about it in the first book and its credibility slides even more in Darkness Reigns with the problem lying in their ages. It’s not that I’m especially bothered by his being 17 as opposed to her 21 from a moral standpoint; rather, I’m too aware that the huge majority of girls mature faster than boys and Sarah has managed to make it through the police academy so I just don’t feel the big connection between these two.

Putting all that aside, I still think this book is quite entertaining and I do appreciate that there are more twists and turns than in the first book. At times, there’s a feeling of “The Perils of Pauline”, adding to the fun as well as the darker side of things and I’m now looking forward to what might happen in Book Three.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2014.

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About the Author

 

L. M. JustusLisa Justus’ path to becoming an author took a circuitous route through the University of Waterloo where she earned a Bachelor of Mathematics, followed by jobs in quality assurance and technical writing at a high-tech company. With a keen interest in creative fiction, she wrote her first fantasy novel as part of NaNoWriMo as well as an early chapter book for her kids when they were younger. Welcome to the Darkness and Darkness Reigns are the first two books of the Darkness Trilogy, a YA paranormal fantasy.

These days Lisa is busy writing her next novel, reading, finishing her basement, doing volunteer work, and trying to stay in shape by running somewhat regularly. She, her husband, and their three children live in Ottawa, Ontario.


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