Book Review: Immunity by Erin Bowman

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Title: Immunity
Series: Contagion #2
Author: Erin Bowman
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: July 2, 2019
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult

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Immunity
Contagion #2
Erin Bowman
HarperTeen, July 2019
ISBN 978-0-06-257417-6
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Survivors of a deadly planetary outbreak take on a new, sinister adversary in the white-knuckle sequel to Contagion, which New York Times bestselling author Amie Kaufman called “gripping, thrilling and terrifying in equal measures.”

They thought their nightmare was over, but Thea, Coen, and Nova’s rescue was only the beginning. After being imprisoned on a ship they thought was their ticket to safety, it’s clear that the threat they left behind isn’t as distant as they’d hoped—and this time the entire galaxy is at risk.

Now that threat is about to be unleashed as an act of political warfare. To prevent an interstellar catastrophe, the survivors must harness the evil they faced on the planet Achlys and learn to wield the only weapon they have left: themselves.

Following the events of Contagion, our favorite survivors would be right to expect things will get better but, alas, they’ve fallen into the hands of the bad guys who want to perform experiments on them and, ultimately, make use of their acquired abilities. Worse yet, interplanetary war is clearly on the near horizon and four teens may be the only ones who can prevent it. That’s a very heavy burden to bear.

Almost anything else I could say would border on spoilers so I’ll leave it at this: Immunity has all the elements of an exciting speculative tale—appealing and well-drawn characters, terrific worldbuilding, a setting that engages the reader’s imagination and pacing that’s so rapid it takes your breath away. I can’t say which drew me in the most but, taken as a whole, this is a story that grabs you by the throat from the opening lines and I had to squirrel myself away till I finished it, then wanted more.

I’ve been enthused about Erin Bowman’s work for quite some time and she certainly didn’t let me down this time. The only caution I would offer is that the first book of the duology really should be read first to get the full effect. Do that and you’ll have a rip-roarin’ good time 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2019.

About the Author

Erin Bowman is the Edgar Award-nominated author of numerous books for teens, including the Taken Trilogy, Vengeance Road, Retribution Rails, and the Contagion duology. A web designer turned author, Erin has always been invested in telling stories—both visually and with words. When not writing, she can often be found hiking, commenting on good typography, and obsessing over all things Harry Potter. Erin lives in New Hampshire with her husband and children. You can visit her online at embowman.com, on twitter @erin_bowman, or on instagram @heyerin.

Erin is represented by Sara Crowe of Pippin Properties.

Author Links: Website // Twitter // Goodreads
Instagram // Tumblr // YouTube // Pinterest

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by Erin Bowman (US Only)

Starts: July 2nd 2019
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Book Review: The Exile by C.T. Adams

The ExileThe Exile
Book One of the Fae
C.T. Adams
Tor, March 2015
ISBN 978-0-7653-3687-3
Trade Paperback

Helena Hai and her half-human daughter Brianna escaped the faerie world when Helena began to fear for their lives. Power struggles had become more and more violent and war looked to become inevitable. Since Brianna was the daughter of the present Fae king, it seemed she was a likely target of those trying to eliminate any competition to the throne. Besides, King Leu had a new lover.

Helena, a powerful witch in her own right, closed the veil between the human and faerie worlds to fae magic when she fled. In the human world, Helena ran a magic shop and she and Brianna made a good life for themselves. After Helena passed, a living stone gargoyle named Pug helped guard Brianna.

But even as Brianna enjoys her life and her friends, dissension is building in Fae. Leu, Brianna’s father, must fight for his life and protect his world from those who would usurp his power. Family members, afraid Brianna may be favored to be named the next ruler, seek to destroy her, even through the veil.

A large cast of characters people (or creature) this book. Pug, the gargoyle, is Brianna’s good friend. Ju-Long and his daughter Mei, shape-shifting dragons are firmly on her side. The Diamond King is unique and trustworthy. Even some of the lesser fae creatures prove themselves good citizens.

The wicked adversaries of all different ilk are super strong and well-depicted in this story. Unfortunately for Brianna, many of those enemies are King Leu’s own children and her half-siblings, which makes for interesting family dynamics.

Filled with action as the war of succession heats up, Brianna’s human friends and employees are drawn into the struggle. Nick Antonelli, a police detective, is drawn into the faerie world in a violent introduction, possibly souring an attraction Brianna would like to explore.

This is a big book, well-plotted with nicely drawn characters. It’s fairly rare to find a book where the lesser characters are so well developed. There’ll be more Brianna Hai stories, which I’ll look forward to reading. I’m hoping most of these characters will follow her into fae.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, June 2015.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

Book Review: The Shadow Throne by Jennifer A. Nielsen

The Shadow ThroneThe Shadow Throne
The Ascendance Trilogy #3
Jennifer A. Nielsen
Scholastic Press, February 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-28417-2
Hardcover

Oh how I’ve missed these colorful characters! Jaron’s wit sharpens with anger and whenever he and Roden are in the same country, Jaron fairly idles at anger. Admittedly though, his previous journeys seem to have smoothed out some of his rough edges and forced a bit of maturity. From the first leg of adventure when Jaron, Tobias and Roden were yanked from the orphanage in The False Prince (The Ascendance Trilogy, Book I) , to Jaron’s capture by pirates in The Runaway King (The Ascendance Trilogy, Book II), this young man has had no choice but to learn quickly, fight hard and follow his heart in order to survive.

The Shadow Throne (The Ascendance Trilogy, Book III) is quite simply, the quintessential conclusion. Still nursing a broken leg, courtesy of Roden, the young king has no time to focus on healing as his arrival home brings the news that his land of Carthya is targeted for immediate attack from three countries, each coming from a different direction. Compounding the horror, the very girl who captured Jaron’s heart has been taken hostage and is being held by one of the threatening countries. Clearly none of this is a coincidence, but with no time to consider the bigger plan, Jaron rapidly begins barking out orders, only to be reminded that he is no longer alone. Jaron had only recently learned the value of trusted friends. Always open-minded, but now quicker to be flexible, Jaron acknowledges that to conquer, they must divide.

True to nature, first implementations of his new kingly power were unprecedented and shocking. Releasing his betrothed Amarinda from their arranged vows to then declare her a princess of Carthya was unheard of. Knighting the charming chatterbox Fink was ridiculous. The boy couldn’t lift a sword with both hands.

When Jaron’s tiny group scattered, his enemy makes the ultimate move. With diabolical focus on the strength of friendship, love and loyalty; Jaron’s nemesis gleefully informs separated individuals immediately whenever a companion has been captured or killed. Details are not spared. Will the youngsters, so strong and cohesive together, find the strength and will to survive solely, in spite of the aching emptiness?

Ms. Nielsen impressively combines ferocious battles, brilliantly clever tricks and traps, quick thinking and scintillating dialogue with kindness, empathy and loyalty to end the attack on Carthya. In doing so, many mysteries meandering through the trilogy are resolved without a perceived need to answer each and every question ever raised along the way.

To me, Ms. Nielsen has a unique, uncanny ability to reveal more than generally meets the eye, without deliberately and emphatically lecturing. Immersed in her words, I’m wide open. I feel eager to take everything in, mull it over; carefully consider all facets and options. I’m far enough removed to view an entire picture, yet close enough to be totally vested. I’m highly entertained, amused and delighted. Simultaneously, impulsively…I’m reflective. Always, I’m hopeful and happy when visiting the world created by Ms. Nielsen.

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2015.

Book Review: Shattered Veil by Tracy E. Banghart

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Title: Shattered Veil
Series: The Diatous Wars #1
Author: Tracy E. Banghart
Publication date: February 28th 2014
Genres: New Adult, Science Fiction

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Synopsis

For Aris, a talented wingjet pilot, war means sacrificing everything: her home,
her name, her face—and the one promise she swore she’d never break.

In the small village of Lux, everyone flies wingjets, but nobody flies them like
Aris Haan. When she’s not dancing through the skies, she’s spending every
minute with Calix, whom she’s loved since childhood. They plan to Promise,
but instead he is sent to defend their dominion against a bloody invasion.
Determined not to lose him, Aris follows, joining an underground network of
women inside the male-only military. Using secret technology that allows her to
pass as a man, she becomes “Aristos”, a Flyer in a search-and-rescue unit.

As Aris grows stronger on the battlefield and more comfortable in her guise as
Aristos, her personal mission becomes less and less clear. When she and
her enigmatic commander, Major Vidar, uncover an astonishing conspiracy that
could destroy everything, she must make a choice that will determine not
only the fate of her heart, but the future of her dominion.

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Shattered VeilShattered Veil
The Diatous Wars #1
Tracy E. Banghart
Tracy E. Banghart, February 2014
ISBN 978-0-9890373-4-1
Trade Paperback

From the author—

When everything that defines you is stripped away, who do you become?

For Aris, a talented wingjet pilot, war means sacrificing everything: her home, her name, her face-and the one promise she swore she’d never break.

In the small village of Lux, everyone flies wingjets, but nobody flies them like Aris Haan. When she’s not dancing through the skies, she’s spending every minute with Calix, whom she’s loved since childhood. They plan to Promise, but instead he is sent to defend their dominion against a bloody invasion. Determined not to lose him, Aris follows, joining an underground network of women inside the male-only military. Using secret technology that allows her to pass as a man, she becomes “Aristos”, a Flyer in a search-and-rescue unit.

As Aris grows stronger on the battlefield and more comfortable in her guise as Aristos, her personal mission becomes less and less clear. When she and her enigmatic commander, Major Vidar, uncover an astonishing conspiracy that could destroy everything, she must make a choice that will determine not only the fate of her heart, but the future of her dominion.

I don’t always immediately like the primary character(s) in a novel that engages me from the beginning and that’s the case with Shattered Veil. I had problems first with Calix and his patriarchal attitude towards Aris, his assumption that his decision was all that mattered and that Aris had nothing to say about it. I then had some difficulty with Aris’ decision to go to war disguised as a man. This isn’t the first time such a thing has happened both in fiction and in real life—there were women who did this in our Civil War—but I’ve always had some reluctance to see it as a fully positive thing.

In the case of Aris, I totally got her desire to be where Calix was but it was such an immature decision. She gave no real regard to the hurt she’d be causing her family all because her hormones were in overdrive and, OMG, she just couldn’t be parted from her true love! Then, she showed her complete lack of understanding reality when she was surprised, floored actually, that she had to undergo training before she could jump into the war. How dumb can a girl be?

Fortunately, my dismay with both Aris and Calix was shortlived although it would be resurrected later in spades regarding Calix. Aris began to show what she was really made of and my admiration for her started to grow. The plot of Shattered Veil is important, of course, but its main purpose for me was to act as a vehicle for Ms. Banghart’s very strong character development of a young girl. Aris was sheltered from birth, as were all females, but we get to see her grow up and resist the commonly-accepted practices of her time. It’s sort of a fast forward look at the struggle for equality women have been undergoing in real life for far too long.

The other thing about this book that struck me was the vivid characters besides Aris and Calix. Did I love them all? Of course not, how boring would that be? Even the less appealing people, though, really came to life and a few, likeable and not so much, in particular especially struck me, such as Galena, Dianthe and Major Vidar. Also, I mustn’t forget Ward Balias, one of the best evocations of an untrustworthy politicians I’ve come across.

I may be in a minority here but I did appreciate the third person style. I’m always more comfortable with that than with first person, especially when there is a lot of action and some dangerous things going on. It’s hard for me to believe a protagonist telling me what’s happening in real time when, say, bad guys are shooting at her. I’m also inordinately thankful that, despite Aris’ hormones, romance takes a second seat to the rest of the story.

I do think there were two weaknesses, the lack of worldbuilding and the ease with which the women were able to hide their true identities. With regards to the latter, people who go to war are a close-knit community and it was hard to believe that the truth wouldn’t come out much sooner and more frequently. As to the worldbuilding, well, there really wasn’t much and I hope Ms. Banghart will remedy that in future books. As it is, we can’t really say that this is dystopian and/or post-apocalyptic because we just don’t know enough.

That said, I did enjoy Shattered Veil  a lot and I hope to see Aris again soon.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2014.

About the Author

Tracy E. BanghartTracy E. Banghart is a cheesy movie–loving, fantasy football–playing (go Ravens!), globe-trotting Army wife who began “practicing” her craft at the age of five, when she wrote her first story. She loves visiting the international friends she met while pursuing her MA in Publishing and spends a portion of every summer at her family’s cabin in Canada, where she finds inspiration and lots of time to relax on the dock. She lives with her husband, son, two lazy dogs and one ornery cat. When not writing or spending time with her family, she is on a mission to bake the perfect cupcake.

LINKS:

Website  /  Goodreads  /  Facebook  /  Twitter

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Book Reviews: A Ton of Gold by James R. Callan and Defy by Sara B. Larson

A Ton of GoldA Ton of Gold
James R. Callan
Dark Oak Mysteries, January 2013
ISBN 978-1-61009-118-3
Trade Paperback

James Callan’s book, A Ton of Gold, is a fast-paced adventure story set in Texas between Dallas and a small rural community where people know their next door neighbor’s name and folk tales run rampant. How much of a folk tale is true and how much is fantasy? Some people don’t know the difference. When the tale of a wagon load of gold lost in a rural lake falls on the ears of dangerous men, their desperate measures to find the gold include intimidation, murder, kidnapping and firebombs.

Crystal Moore, a young computer programmer, is caught up in the actions of men who believe the tale and will stop at nothing to find the gold. Her life is turned upside down when her beloved Nana’s estate is attacked and Nana goes missing. With the help of Crystal’s handsome boss and loyal co-workers, they set out to find the men responsible and discover the truth of the tale.

Overcoming her own insecurities, Crystal must face challenging encounters with the killers. Encouraged by her courageous ability to deal with the killers, she gains the personal strength to stand up and defend her intellectual accomplishments in the workplace.

Discovering the truth behind the folk tale is the major plot of the story, but I found the subplot of how Crystal deals with a bitter and crushing defeat in her personal life the most interesting part of the novel.

James Callan’s novel, A Ton of Gold, is well-written, has a compelling storyline and believable characters. Highly recommended reading for adventure readers.

Reviewed by Elaine Faber, January 2014.
Review originally posted on Amazon.

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DefyDefy
Sara B. Larson
Scholastic Press, January 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-59758-6
Hardcover

I very much wanted to like Defy, a Young Adult fantasy debut from author Sara B. Larson. The premise recalls some of my favorite books, from modern classics like Tamora Pierce’s Alanna to recent bestsellers in the vein of Kristin Cashore’s Graceling. Orphaned in the brutal war that is consuming her country, teenager Alexa Hollen is forced to disguise herself as a boy. “Alex” turns out to be an exceptional swordfighter, and rises to a place on the palace guard. Tasked with protecting the arrogant Prince Damian from a conspiracy of powerful sorcerers, Alex is drawn into a dangerous plot that just might save the kingdom.

Unfortunately, Defy didn’t work for me. The chief problem is the conception of the protagonist and the conflicts that she faces. Alex may be intended as a “strong female character,” in the sense that she is a skilled fighter who learns to be even better over the course of the book. However, physical prowess isn’t enough to make a main character effective when she is never in the position to make any important choices or to drive the direction of the story in any meaningful way.

Throughout Defy, Alex reacts to choices made by others. Most of the suspense in the novel comes about because other characters refuse to tell the protagonist what is really going on. Alex repeatedly comments within the narration that no one will answer her questions, and as a reader I understood how she felt.

Usually when an author plays this kind of game, I assume they are covering for the fact that the answer to the mystery isn’t very interesting. However, in this case, it turns out there’s a lot of compelling stuff going on behind the scenes. This makes the choice to withhold the truth from Alex (and the reader) for most of the book puzzling. There’s a good story hiding in Defy. First-time novelist Larson may just not have found the best way to share it, yet.

As it is, the only thing Alex has to focus on for most of the book is whether she loves Prince Damian (the guy who keeps lying to her) or her comrade-in-arms Rylan (the guy whose seduction strategy consists of whining because she isn’t his girlfriend already). There’s nothing wrong with having romance in a fantasy novel, but it’s a good idea to give some sense of what the characters see in each other. In this case, Alex seems to like both boys solely because they’re physically attractive. That’s better than the guys, who instantly fall for Alex as soon as they find out she is biologically female. I’m not being facetious. “I realized you were a girl” is literally the only reason that either of them gives for liking her.

It is possible that Alex may actually be the only girl that Rylan and Damian know, and this leads to a note about some extremely disturbing content in the book. (Consider this a warning for discussion of sexual assault). You see, Alex’s main motivation for joining the guard is not that she wants to be a soldier, but that girls are routinely sent to “breeding houses” where they will be systematically raped. This is bluntly stated several times in the book, and while there aren’t any graphic scenes, several very young girls are depicted being prepared for sexual slavery.

I’m not here to police what makes appropriate reading material for Young Adults. Still, Defy‘s use of systematic rape as a plot device strikes a particularly sour note in light of the types of content that are missing from the book. Alex laments that she can’t be with the prince because he couldn’t marry her. It never crosses this teenage girl’s mind that sex might occur outside of marriage. Likewise we are repeatedly told that Alex’s male suitors didn’t start liking her until they knew she was a girl. Despite the gender-bending premise, nary a hint of homosexual attraction is presented as a possibility.

I’m not saying that this novel needs to contain gay romance or premarital sex, but it seems a little ludicrous that neither idea ever occurs to Alex, even in passing. I don’t know if the author, editor, or publisher makes these decisions, but the idea of rape being more acceptable content for a teen audience than consensual sex is a value judgment that ought to be reconsidered.

The writing in Defy does show some promise: Alex’s voice is strong, and the basic plot is well-constructed in a way that kept me turning pages. Furthermore, there is a lot of possibility in the world that Larson has created, which makes me interested in what kind of stories she will be able to tell in the future. Overall, though, Defy doesn’t live up to its potential, and I can’t recommend it.

Reviewed by Caroline Pruett, January 2014.

Book Review: In Retrospect by Ellen Larson

In RetrospectIn Retrospect
Ellen Larson
Five Star, December 2013
ISBN: 9781432827335
Hardcover

A wildly dystopian novel set in a never land somewhere east of Europe, yet not quite in Asia. Dystopia is the opposite of Utopia. Moreover, the time frame of this emotionally rich novel is a very long way in the future. Consequently, we are treated to a great many technological changes, and some surprising stasis. Communication for example appears to be similar to current experience, by mouth, by voice, by body language, communications devices, all of which have the same kinds of limitations we all experience, even today. Interestingly one attempt by the creatures who inhabit this world to alter and control their interactions is by shield. Everyone wears a face shield. They are of different colors and shapes but what they have in common is that this world exists largely without facial expressions as a channel of communication.

Two nations, Oku and Rasaka are at war. The year is 3324. When the novel opens, an uneasy peace through domination by the Rasaka has taken place, but the civilization is devastated and a great many people have been killed in battles and through massacre.

The theoretical question that is the platform for the story is whether history can be altered and whether in so doing, the future is significantly affected. The novel follows the lives of two women, Merit Rafi, called to be a trained Select in the Oku nation. She is now resurrected to travel back in time to learn who has murdered a beloved icon of the Oku. Because Merit is now under the rule of the despised Raskans, the task is beset with increasingly agonizing political maneuvering. The other woman may be Merit’s alter ego in another time frame. When they meet briefly, things get interesting.

Addressing the theoretical underpinning of the novel, the author has constructed her story on two interspersed time lines, thereby forcing us to keep the fundamental idea at the forefront of our reading experience. I found it difficult at times to remember where in time I was. Still Merit’s early experiences inform and explain much of her present thought and action.

The novel is well-written, emotionally engaging, perhaps too much so for some, and consistent in its internal rules. That’s always important in alternative reality fiction. This is a solid effort with some surprising twists at the end, by an accomplished writer.

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

Book Review: The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielsen

The Runaway KingThe Runaway King
The Ascendance Trilogy, Book Two
Jennifer A. Nielsen
Scholastic Press, March 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-28415-8
Hardcover

Before the ink was dry on my glowing review of The False Prince, (the first in the Ascendance Trilogy), I was deep into The Runaway King.  This is the second book in the Ascendance Trilogy and it is absolutely everything that I hope for in a continuation.

We met King Jaron earlier, when he was Sage (aka Prince Jaron) hiding away in an orphanage.  He was stubborn, argumentative….a total wise-guy, but he had a pure heart.  Now, his identity established, Jaron will rule Carthya.  He only needs to survive the attempts on his life and thwart the pirate invasion to do so.

On the eve of his family’s funeral, Jaron learns that he has 10 days before the Avenian pirates, supported by King Vargan, wage war on Carthya.  His army simply cannot prepare to defend his country in such a short time.  His only choice is to stop the invasion.  Thus begins a suspenseful adventure, packed with action and intrigue.

While The Runaway King features thrilling sword fights, death-defying escape attempts and fool-hardy challenges, it also demonstrates strong-will, resolve and determination.  All along his journey, Jaron is forced to evaluate the few people close to him.  There are false loyalties, and they must be weeded out.  Friendship needs to be re-established with Roden, the ferocious, vendetta-seeking enemy consumed by his desire to destroy Jaron.  Above all, Jaron must protect those that have supported and assisted him along the way.

To me, Jaron is the ultimate character for a Middle-Grade book.  Outwardly, he appears flippant, arrogant and condescending.  He may truly possess and exhibit those characteristics, but they are not the ones that define the person he is.  Rather, the reader gets to know a determined young man that must pursue that which is right.  With a heart so pure and true, Jaron is driven to protect those he cares about and the country that he loves.  He is a fine example of a true hero.

The Runaway King was just released in March, so I have no idea how long I will need to wait for the conclusion; but I am confident that, however, long; it will be worth the wait.

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2013.