Book Review: The Culling by Ramona Finn

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Title: The Culling
Series: The Culling Trilogy, Book 1
Author: Ramona Finn
Narrator: Stacey Glemboski
Publisher: Relay Publishing
Publication Date: March 21, 2018

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Purchase Links:
Audible // iTunes // Amazon

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The Culling
The Culling Trilogy, Book 1
Ramona Finn
Narrated by Stacey Glemboski
Relay Publishing, March 2018
DownloadedUnabridged Audiobook

From the publisher—

In a solar system where The Authority decides who lives and who dies, only one of their own executioners can stop them.

Glade Io is a trained killer. Marked at a young age as an individual with violent tendencies, she was taken from her family and groomed to be a Datapoint—a biotech-enabled analyst who carries out the Culling. She is designed to identify and destroy any potential humans that threaten the colonies: those marked as lawbreakers, unproductive or sick. But when she’s kidnapped by rogue colonists known as the Ferrymen, everything Glade thinks she knows about the colonies, and The Authority that runs them, collapses into doubt.

Pulled between two opposing sides, and with her family’s lives hanging in the balance, Glade is unsure of who to trust—and time is running out.

Now, this is a dystopian concept that I haven’t run into before and fresh ideas are always welcome. Much of the tale’s plot and the behavior of the characters is similar to many other books but that all supports the central theme, that sociopathic tendencies can be harnessed to do the bidding of an evil government without a care or concern.

Glade is one of those sociopaths and, after being snatched from her mother and younger sisters as a young girl, she has been melded, in a manner of speaking, with a biotech system so that she is able to locate and assess candidates for culling and then carry out the procedure. What it boils down to is Glade is judge, jury and executioner; she murders people with the approval of the seven-person Authority and, because she’s a sociopath, she feels no remorse or reluctance whatsoever.

Except when she remembers that her own father was culled and she’s never understood why.

Things could have gone along this way for years but Glade and another Datapoint are taken captive by a band of resisters known as the Ferrymen and their leader, Kupier, begins to have a small effect on Glade and on her perspective. For the first time in her life, she has niggling questions about what she does and why and about the Authority. Back on the space station, she has a different view of herself and her fellow Datapoints, especially Dahn, and begins to fear one of the Authority, Jan Ernst Haven.

Even with the similarities to other dystopian stories, I came to really like these characters (my favorite may be Kupier’s kid brother) and some of the details of their world but there are still missing pieces. For instance, I want to know much more about how Earth came to be uninhabitable, how the people became space colonizers and why the Authority turned into such a force for evil. Perhaps more will be revealed in the next book.

Narrator Stacey Glemboski does a nice job with clear tones and good pacing. She has to work with a bit of a hindrance in that the point of view and even the setting frequently change without warning and it can be momentarily difficult to make the transition as a listener/reader but Ms. Glemboski eases the pain with her quite believable and effective voice characrterizations. I’ll gladly listen to more books she does.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

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About the Author

Ramona Finn writes about courageous characters who fight to live in broken, dystopian worlds. She believes a person’s true character is often revealed in times of crisis, and there is no greater crisis than the worlds that she drops her characters into!

She grew up sitting cross-legged on her town’s library floor–completely engrossed in science fiction books. It was always the futuristic world or the universe-on-the-brink-of-extinction plotlines that drew her in, but it was the brave characters who chose to fight back that kept her turning the pages.

Her books create deep, intricate worlds with bold characters determined to fight for their survival in their dystopian worlds–with a little help from their friends. And, of course, romance is never out of the question ;).

Website // Facebook // Instagram

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About the Narrator

Stacey is an accomplished audiobook narrator and voice actor who has recorded books for many best-selling authors. Many of her favorite books have been for kids and teens, but all genres of narration appeal to her. For Stacey, narration is about having fun breathing life into characters and getting as lost as possible in the story she’s telling. Outside the studio, Stacey is an avid tennis player and fitness enthusiast. She enjoys dog walks, paddle boarding, and most any outdoor activities.

Website // Twitter // Facebook

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Play an excerpt here.

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Book Review: When They Came by Kody Boye

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Title: When They Came
Series: A When They Came Novel, Book 1
Author: Kody Boye
Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // iBooks // Amazon

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When They Came
A When They Came Novel, Book 1
Kody Boye
CreateSpace, June 2017
ISBN 978-1545174210
Trade Paperback

From the author—

I was never afraid of monsters—at least, not until They came: the visitors from outer space.

Now They’re in our skies, on our streets, always watching, forever waiting.

At seventeen, I’m just about to graduate from the Juvenile Education System and declare my career of choice. The Midnight Guard—who protect our community from the vicious things that lie outside our walls—calls to me. 

It’s hard, dangerous work, with grueling hours that offer little sleep, but it’s the one thing I know will help make a difference in our ever-changing world.

I’m a pushover for science fiction of the alien invasion variety and I have equal fondness for the truly serious kind and high camp. When They Came falls somewhere in the middle and has both attractive elements as well as some that made me lift an eyebrow.

Ana Mia appealed to me quite a lot, as did her sister and mother, and I empathized with Ana’s desire to do something honorable with her life while being pretty unsure of herself. That lack of confidence rang true for a teenager but especially for one whose mere existence is a daily test. Jason and Asha also were believable characters and a real positive of the story was how much diversity there is.

There were several things that didn’t quite mesh for me. For one thing, I can’t imagine a military leader taking raw recruits—and I do mean raw—out on a mission that’s extremely dangerous and, in fact, ends badly. Also, that particular event occurred much too soon, before I had a chance to really get to know either the characters or the dire circumstances of their lives and, as a result, I was sympathetic towards Ana but didn’t care as much as I could have. Dialogue also left me underwhelmed at times.

On the whole, though, this story of humans versus aliens is based on an interesting concept and the author creates believable tension throughout with plenty of action and fear-inducing atmosphere. While I’m not entirely satisfied with this first book in the trilogy, that doesn’t prevent me from wanting to go on to the next book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

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An Excerpt from When They Came

We didn’t find a house by the time the sun set. With no other way to seek shelter, we angled ourselves beneath the trunk of a massive pine and covered up with a pair of blankets as we watched the sun fall.

“You okay?” Asha asked.

“Yeah,” I replied, scooting closer to her. “Are you?”

“I’m scared out of my mind, but yeah—I think I’ll be okay.”

“We could always keep walking, you know? See if we find anything else?”

“I’m too tired to walk anymore.”

I couldn’t blame her. Though I couldn’t tell time by the way the sun fell, I knew, based solely on the fact that we’d risen at dawn, we’d been walking for ten, if not eleven hours. My body ached, my feet throbbed, my bones screamed bloody murder. It felt like someone had tried to drive a nail into the base of my heel, such was the pain I endured.

Rather than think on it, I opened the pack at my feet and pulled out a pair of bottled waters.

“Thanks,” Asha said as I passed hers over.

“No problem,” I said, taking a sip of my water as she popped the cap on her own. “So… how are we going to do this?”

“You mean the watch?” Asha asked. She capped her water, settling it between her knees and taking hold of the gun across her lap. “I’ll go first, then you can go until you start feeling tired. We’ll keep alternating until the sun comes up.”

“You really think that’ll work?” I asked. She nodded. “But what if we both fall asleep?”

“Then just go as long as you can,” Asha offered. “All I know is that I’m ready to pass out, but I’ll force myself to stay awake if I have to.”

Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad for the two of us to fall asleep at the same time. I mean, we were hours away from civilization. Surely the Harvesters had no reason to land out in the middle of nowhere, much less a copse of trees. Regardless, I knew I couldn’t argue with Asha. As I settled back against the tree and closed my eyes, she sighed and adjusted her position against the trunk.

“This isn’t going to be an easy night,” she said.

No. It wasn’t.

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About the Author

Born and raised in Southeastern Idaho, Kody Boye began his writing career with the publication of his story “A Prom Queen’s Revenge” at the age of fourteen. Published nearly three-dozen times before going independent at eighteen, Boye has authored numerous works—including the short story collection Amorous Things, the novella The Diary of Dakota Hammell, the zombie novel Sunrise and the epic fantasy series The Brotherhood Saga.

Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram * Amazon * Goodreads

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$10 Amazon gift card
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A Trio of Teeny Reviews

Ain’t She a Peach
Southern Eclectic #4
Molly Harper
Gallery Books, June 2018
ISBN 978-1-5011-5133-0
Trade Paperback

Once again, the McCready family of Lake Sackett, Georgia, is back in fine fettle with their McCready Family Funeral Home and Bait Shop and, also once again, they’ve captured my heart. This time the focus is on Frankie, the youngish coroner/embalmer who considers herself well past the age of independence but her parents don’t know how to even begin to think of letting their precious only child spread her wings, so to speak. Sure, she sneaks off to Atlanta occasionally for a night of satisfying rowdiness but she can’t make herself move out (although she has disabled the location service they use to track her). There are very good reasons for this helicopter parenting but, really, she needs to grow a pair!

There’s a new Sheriff in town, Erik Linden, and while Frankie has a few, or a lot, of philosophical differences with Erik, including his queasiness around her dead customers, she’s finding it very hard to resist the man. Meanwhile, the rest of the McCready bunch are around and about and the town’s Halloween Trunk-R-Treat festival is coming up while a teenaged desperado has it in for Frankie for some reason.

The whole rambunctious McCready clan is a family I’d love to be part of and this fourth book in Molly Harper‘s series is just as much fun as all the others. Oh, I do hope there will be more!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

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Jurassic, Florida
Hunter Shea: One Size Eats All #1
Hunter Shea
Lyrical Press/Kensington, June 2018
ISBN 978-1-5161-0793-3
Ebook

LOL, I’m still chuckling over this book and I have only myself to blame for not having indulged in Hunter Shea‘s work before. Polo Springs, Florida, is a quiet little place but people are starting to notice that the lizard population, specifically small iguanas, seems to be popping up everywhere. Not just popping up—slithering and scampering and the little beasts apparently have lost all fear. Not so the humans in this town, folks like Frank who’s running from the mob and Ann Hickok, the very unlikely mayor who’s only 18 years old. Everyone in Polo Springs has stepped into their own Godzilla movie and the future’s looking very, very dim.

Polo Springs is about to get a rude awakening and they’ll wish they had those little iguanas back. In scenes that are alternately grisly and scream-inducing but also high camp, we learn the answer to the question: can anyone save this town from the invasion of giant people-eating critters?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

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In His Kiss
Neil Plakcy
Featherweight Publishing, March 2018
ISBN 978-1-64122-112-2
Trade Paperback

There’s nothing easy about high school, as most of us know, but senior Michael has it worse than some. First of all, he’s gay. No big secret there but he’s almost painfully shy and definitely insecure when it comes to actually finding “the right one” or even one who will do for right now. He’s also saddled with his younger brother, Robbie, aka the Big Mistake and family life pretty much revolves around Robbie with his multitudes of allergies and other issues. On the positive side, he has an awesome best friend, Brie, and she makes life in Stewart’s Crossing, Pennsylvania, tolerable although Michael is way past ready to get out of Dodge.

And then along comes Daniel Florez and life for Michael will never be the same again. Luckily for him, Daniel has a little more self-confidence—really, he’s almost oblivious to what’s not supposed to work or maybe his home life has just given him a thicker skin so he’s not quite as vulnerable. Whatever it is, Daniel is not afraid to make the first move and the second and the third… Suddenly, things are looking up for these two really nice kids and the future might be bright but there are some side effects, including resentment from Brie, but why are strange things happening to Michael, like awesome SAT scores? And, minor detail, why is the FBI hanging around spying on Daniel?

With a bit of fantasy and a lot of high school angst, not to mention lots of humor and love of all sorts, Neil Plakcy has created a story that had me smiling a lot and cringing just a little (in a good way) and I definitely want to know what Michael and Daniel are going to be up to next 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

Book Review: Crow Mountain by Lucy Inglis

Crow Mountain
Lucy Inglis
Chicken House, June 2016
ISBN: 978- 0-545-90407-0
Hardcover

Sixteen year old Hope lives in London with her extremely feminist, scientific researcher mom. She has very little contact with her actor father who took off with his pregnant co-star around the time Hope was born. Mom is extremely controlling…Of Hope’s schooling, her diet, what she can do, pretty much everything.

When Mom heads off to do an ecological study on a Montana ranch, one of the few remaining unspoiled ones that practices environmentally friendly ranching, she drags her daughter along, even though Hope wants to stay in London and be with her friends.

Crow Ranch has been in operation since the 1870s and run by the same family. When a handsome young man, Caleb, the owner’s son, meets Hope and her mother at the airport in Helena, she feels an immediate attraction, but her shyness keeps her from saying anything. When they stop in Fort Shaw and the local sheriff harasses Cal, as he prefers to be called, while hinting to Hope about unsavory behavior in Cal’s past, it’s her first inkling that there’s trouble ahead.

It doesn’t take long for Cal and Hope to start talking and become very aware of their growing mutual attraction. After he shows her the room above the barn where she can hide out from her mother, Hope discovers a diary written by a girl named Emily who was on her way to an arranged marriage in San Francisco via Portland Oregon, by stagecoach in the early 1870s. She’s fascinated by the story and takes the diary with her the following day when she and Cal head off through back country roads in the national forest on a trip to get Cal’s mother who has been caring for her sister in law following a broken bone. They’re also hauling a horse trailer as they’re to bring back a couple horses.

At this point, the book begins to alternate chapters between Hope and Cal following a scary accident, and diary entries telling the story of Emily and the mysterious young man she first sees outside her hotel room in Helena, as they encounter an eerily similar fate. To say more might spoil the plot, but I can say that first off, I bought this immediately following my reading of her other book City of Halves, which is equally stellar.

This is an excellent book, part adventure, part love story, part historical fiction and a book that forces you to keep reading because of the tension and uncertainty facing both couples. It’s one that deserves a place in many libraries, both school and public. If you like it, read her other book, City of Halves.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, June 2018.

Book Review: Velocity by Chris Wooding

Velocity
Chris Wooding
Scholastic Press, March 2017
ISBN 978-0-545-94494-6
Hardcover

With an almost-manic-joy bubbling beneath the determined calm needed for navigation, Velocity takes off; tearing through teeth-rattling turns and bone-jarring twists. The tale of the unprecedented quick-track that takes Cassica and Shiara from racing the “unofficial boondocks circuit” to a qualifier for the Widowmaker, “the most hotly contested rally in the world”, flies faster than Maisie. Try not to take it too quickly though, lest you miss the interspersed clever, cutting humor and gradual growth of the girls, both as individuals and as a team.

Admittedly, I was seriously psyched to be reading about a female rally-car team. Being familiar with rally racing because it was something that another author I admire, Maggie Stiefvater, participated in; I believe her words describe it best, “…when the co-driver and driver are working perfectly together, you can hurtle along blindly, much faster than a) someone without notes or b) someone with common sense.” Certainly, Cassica and Shiara are tighter than twin sisters.

Shiara’s family had taken in Cassica when the girls were very young and while Cassica didn’t share Shiara’s fondness for tinkering and building cars, such as their beloved mongrel of so many different parts, Maisie, she happily hopped behind the wheel. While they shared so much, each had her own dream. One would be more than content to continue racing the tracks here in Coppermouth while the other yearns for…so much more.

Sometimes, helping your best friend achieve her dream means more than anything, even if the effort is not wholly altruistic. So, in spite of her skepticism, Shiara agrees to accept an unsolicited offer for sponsorship and management for a chance to qualify for the pinnacle of Maximum Racing season. Cassica is quickly dazzled and swept up in the glamour while Shiara is surlier than usual and even more suspicious than her teammate can stomach. It’s soon apparent that the terrifying tracks are only a small part of the danger that the duo will face. Suddenly, the girls are in so deep that no one can help them. They truly only have each other—or maybe not even that, anymore.

Reviewed by jv poore, December 2017.

Book Review: A Very, Very Bad Thing by Jeffery Self

A Very, Very Bad Thing  
Jeffery Self
Push, October 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-11840-7
Hardcover

Marley is one of a handful of gay teens in his North Carolina town. Things at home are mixed…Good in that his parents, aging semi-hippies, are okay with his gayness, not so good in that Dad blew money he couldn’t afford to and they’re being threatened with losing their house. And Mom and Dad are dealing with it by burning herbs and spouting New Age mumbo jumbo. Even so, Marley’s life is fairly even keel, due in large part to his best friend Audrey.

One look is all it takes when Marley first sees new student Christopher and he’s beyond smitten. It’s not long before he realizes the feeling is mutual, but there’s a huge problem. Christopher’s parents are big time TV evangelists and make their living on contributions to and merchandise sales through the ministry which thrives on anti-homosexual preaching. In fact, they moved from Missouri to North Carolina for a fresh start and new church, in large part due to their son’s coming out.

It takes Marley a while to wrap his head around what’s happened to Christopher…Parental denial about his sexuality, being sent to several ‘pray the gay away’ camps and implied blame for the necessity to move. However, the more time they spend together (and Christopher’s parents make it pretty near impossible for them to have a relationship), the more upset Marley becomes over his boyfriend’s treatment.

When they use Audrey as a beard to get Christopher ungrounded long enough for he and Marley to attend the Harvest Prom, it’s what both boys dream about, until a freshman boy won’t stop with homophobic slurs while everyone’s on the dance floor. Christopher loses his temper, decking the kid and the whole fake date deal blows up. Christopher’s not only super grounded, he’s going to be sent to yet another gay conversion camp. It’s the last straw. He smuggles a letter to Marley through his sympathetic aunt, asking him to meet him at the camp after dark. He’s leaving a suicide note, but his intention is to spend one last night with Marley before taking a bus as far away as possible.

However, an impulsive stop at the town water tower for some last moment romance goes horribly awry. What happens after that night needs to be discovered by you, the reader, but I can attest to its surprising twists, both immediately and over the next several months. Told in alternating parts from before and after the water tower incident, Marley must struggle not only with loss, but guilt. How he and other players deal with it makes for a stellar story, one LBGTQ and straight teens can both relate to equally well. A definite add for school and public libraries where issue rich fiction is in demand by teens.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, May 2018.

Book Review: The Date to Save by Stephanie Kate Strohm

The Date to Save
Stephanie Kate Strohm
Point, September 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-14906-7
Hardcover

This succinct story is an oral documentary, delivered in written format.  Quite appealing to this avid reader, it seemed to create the quick, concise medium to appropriately accompany the pace of the plot.  In a kind-of-counterintuitive way, I feel like this is a fantastic format for the wary reader, too.  Essentially composed of conversations, with few notes added; extraneous minutiae is eliminated.  Fewer words means better choices.  Each sentence is carefully crafted and I definitely dig the dialogue.

Students at San Anselmo Prep are stars among California high school scholars, with none so bright as Angelica’s older brother.  Hutch, however; has graduated.  This may very well be Angelica’s time to shine.  Things are already looking up.

The school newspaper’s churlish chief-of-staff has rejected every idea Angelica has submitted.  And yet, she persisted.  Admittedly underwhelmed with the assignment to cover the upcoming Academic Battle, Angelica’s optimism easily overrode the terrible topic to embrace the opportunity.

As any decent investigative reporter knows, one thing leads to another.  The initial inquiry into the Academic Battle shows a more serious scenario.  A school scheduling snafu that cannot have been coincidence is sure to be catastrophic.  Compelled to solve the problem and identify the perpetrator; Angelica nevertheless agrees to help the school mascot when he approaches her with a different mystery, affecting the same date.

Countering the wholly consumed Angelica is Becca.  The determinedly grumpy, blue-haired-bestie is everyone’s fantasy friend.  This fierce non-conformist is a loyal companion bringing balance with her humor and unique outlook.

I found The Date to Save to be a pleasant read with one paragraph in particular that I dearly love, wherein Ms. Strohm articulates a reader’s feelings about books in a way that I want to capture for a t-shirt or bumper sticker.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2017.