February 19, 2015

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Dr. Lise Shields has concerns about her latest patient. Jason Edwards arrives at Menaker State Hospital with no referral or patient information in his chart. It’s against protocol in every way, but Lise has been assured that everything is fine. Why then does it seem that Jason shouldn’t even be a patient at all? Why, after questioning his case, does Lise suddenly find that she’s being followed? And why are the FBI approaching her to talk about Jason?

This latest from John Burley is a fascinating psychological suspense read. The characters are fabulously drawn and the plot is quite deftly woven.

The only hiccup here is that a well-read fan of this type of tale might be able to untangle the thread of the plot a bit easier than they’re meant to. Burley does it well, but it’s not as unique as I’d have hoped, to be quite honest.

2/15 Becky LeJeune

THE FORGETTING PLACE by John Burley. William Morrow Paperbacks (February 10, 2015). ISBN: 978-0062227409. 352p.

DESPERATE GAMES by Pierre Boulle

February 5, 2015
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Pierre Boulle, noted author of books like The Bridge on the River Kwai and Planet of the Apes, passed away in 1994. Among his other works is a dystopian science fiction novel of a world controlled by pure scientists translated and recently reissued.Dys

Boulle postulates scientists from all over the world getting together and deciding that all the problems that exist on earth are due to leaders who do not understand what they are doing, that they are men and women with no grounding in science and lack the perspective of what people really need. The physical scientists propose that they take over all governments on earth and have the current leaders step down and just enjoy life without the stress of governing.

Said and done, the scientists quickly choose a president by a method of formal testing, along with advisers and other officers. All governments are disbanded and countries are consolidated into a world wide organization. The scientists begin working on eradicating the pressures of disease, strife and conflict quickly allowing all mankind to work less and have more.

The required workday is cut to about 2 hours with plenty of time for recreation and rest. The new leaders, the physical scientists, believe that they have achieved the optimum conditions for all the planet’s inhabitants and everyone is happy with the new status quo.

In a short time it is noted that the rate of suicides has gone up and it is quickly determined that these are due to the lack of challenges for the people. The scientists decide that they will provide games to entertain similar to those held in the ancient world, namely fights to the death between trained individuals. This works for a short time until the rate of suicides again climbs.

The answer, of course, is to increase the participation and number of fatalities in the games. Continuing on to staging great battles based on real incidents fought throughout history, namely massive assaults such as the D-Day invasion of Normandy and the world war I battle of the Marne.

While the tone of the book is tongue in cheek and has some similarities to Animal Farm, it can also be taken as a serious condemnation of allowing any group to achieve absolute power without normal checks and balances. It was true while Boulle was alive, and just as true today where philosophies of one group are forced on others causing strife and war. If the book had received more publicity at the time Boulle wrote it it has the potential to be part of works like 1984 and Animal Farm and taken it’s place as a classic example of power run amok.

2/15 Paul Lane

DESPERATE GAMES by Pierre Boulle. Hesperus Press (January 1, 2015). ISBN: 978-1843915355. 208p.

BIRD BOX by Josh Malerman

January 30, 2015

Four years ago something devastating began infecting people around the world. The outbreak was so baffling and odd that at first no one was quite aware of what was happening. People turned on one another – reports of violence in remote areas expanded and spread until those left began barricading themselves indoors. It was a viral madness, the cause of which seemed to be as simple as seeing something so horrible that it drove the viewer insane.

Malorie has lasted this long by living in perpetual blindness. It’s an awful and horrifying existence, one that her two children have only ever known. But Malorie knows they can’t continue like this and decides it’s time to try and move on. To do so means exposing them all to whatever caused this plague of insanity and hoping they can get to their final destination without laying eyes on it.

Josh Malerman’s debut is crazy fabulous. From page one I knew it was going to be unique but quite soon after that I realized it was going to be amazing.

Malorie’s world is cut off. She lived with her sister when the outbreak started, discovering that she was pregnant just as things got really bad. And then she was alone. But she was able to find others. She was able to find a safe haven. And they learned more about what was going on around them. All of this is revealed to the reader as the story progresses. Malerman begins the book with Malorie facing her coming journey with the kids, unfolding the past and present portions of the story through alternating chapters.

As the book progresses, we learn just how strong Malorie is and just how determined she’s had to be to get by this long. It’s a tense and terrifying tale. In fact, Bird Box is one of the outright creepiest horror reads I think I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.

01/15 Becky LeJeune

Read on for the BookBitch review:

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Malorie is a young mother of two children known simply as Boy and Girl, and she is a survivor living in a post-apocalyptic world, raising her children to use all their senses, especially their listening skills, as sight is not an option here.

In this world, the survivors struggle to stay alive by living indoors with all the windows boarded up; the sight of whatever is outside is causing people to become violent murderers, as well as suicidal, in the most horrific ways possible.

The book moves back and forth over a four year period when all the insanity began, exploring the personalities of the people that came together and survived, and how they managed to live after all ways of communication effectively withered and died with most of the population. It ends with Malorie rowing her children down a river while blindfolded in hopes of taking them to safety.

The characters are interesting, the story moves along very rapidly as the suspense builds, but unfortunately, the ending is a disappointment; the reason for all the bloodshed is never explored or explained. Recommended for readers who enjoy horror and post-apocalyptic fiction.

Copyright ©2014 Booklist, a division of the American Library Association.

5/14 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

BIRD BOX by Josh Malerman. Ecco (May 13, 2014). ISBN 978-0062259653. 272p.

THE THREE by Sarah Lotz

December 21, 2014

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Four flights – all originating from different countries and each one from a different airline – crash on the same day, stirring up a whirlwind of controversy. But it’s not just the crashes themselves that have people talking. The crashes are the sort no one walks away from, and yet three of the flights have one survivor each. These survivors – all of them young children – and an odd phone message left by one of the dying passengers have spurred movements claiming everything from aliens to Armageddon. Are these children really harbingers of some biblical apocalypse or are they to become the victims of mass hysteria?

The Three is told in a very atypical way. It’s set up as being a book written in the immediate aftermath of the crash. The writer, Elspeth Martins, interviews the family members, airline officials, religious personalities… anyone and everyone with something to say about the crashes and the surviving children. Those interviews, correspondence, recordings, and even emails and online chats are The Three.

The Three is a quite disturbing read. It begins ominously and becomes more so as the book progresses. There is a definite supernatural aspect but that takes a serious backseat for most of the book. It is horror but not in the gore and monsters sense. It’s the human kind of horror. The way people react to the magnificent. The way people turn miracles into monstrosities. The way people handle the things they simply can’t understand.

12/14 Becky LeJeune

THE THREE by Sarah Lotz. Little, Brown and Company; First Edition edition (May 20, 2014). ISBN: 978-0316242905. 480p.

THE VAULT by Emily McKay

December 13, 2014

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In the aftermath of the events at El Corazon, Carter and Mel are faced with the possibility of losing Lily altogether. Because Mel has already been turned, they know that Lily carries the same gene. The progression of the Tick virus has been slowed temporarily thanks to the medical team at El Corazon, but Carter knows the only way to save her is to find the cure. And the only way Carter and Mel can get the cure is to work hand in hand with the very people who betrayed them.

This third installment in McKay’s series begins right where The Lair left off. And though it would seem that things are improving for the trio, what with the assassination of Roberto and all, they’re facing just as much danger as ever.

Carter, Lily, and Mel – and even Sebastian – have come so far in this trilogy. With each new book, McKay continues to grow these characters, pitting them against the reality that is their new world. They are emotional wrecks (as one would expect) – vulnerable and confused but also strong and determined. In other words, they feel real in every way!

The Vault is an excellent follow up and – though I’m sad to say goodbye – a really great end to the series.

12/14 Becky LeJeune

THE VAULT by Emily McKay. Berkley Trade (December 2, 2014). ISBN: 978-0425275887. 384p.

THE LAIR by Emily McKay

December 12, 2014

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Ever since escaping the Farm and surviving the events that followed, Carter has been especially careful in protecting Lily. And it could be to the detriment of the rest of the survivors at Base Camp. So when Lily’s pregnant friend McKenna decides to head to Canada, Carter supports Lily’s wish to travel with her.

The plan is that McKenna, Lily, and Ely – one of Carter’s most trusted men – will head to the border in search of safety. If, as rumored, Canada somehow escaped the outbreak that plagues the United States, Ely is to leave McKenna and Lily and return to Base Camp for the rest of the survivors. But, of course, things don’t go according to plan at all.

Meanwhile, Mel has been living alongside Sebastian, learning to control her insatiable hunger and hone her skills as a new vampire. When she learns that Lily is in trouble, though, Mel is unable to resist the call to save her sister.

This follow up to The Farm is definitely not a sophomore slump read. Nope, McKay deftly weaves a second story that keeps up the momentum set by its predecessor all the while managing to move the plot along significantly and satisfyingly. There were also a few twists that I did not see coming!

12/14 Becky LeJeune

THE LAIR by Emily McKay. Berkley Trade (November 5, 2013). ISBN: 978-0425264126. 432p.

THE FARM by Emily McKay

December 11, 2014

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Life for Lily and her twin sister, Mel, has irrevocably changed. A viral outbreak has left much of the country’s population infected, mutated into creatures driven by bloodlust. They call them Ticks. And nothing is as tasty to a Tick as the hormonal blood of teens. The so-called solution was the creation of the Farms – facilities built to house and protect the nation’s teenage population. But Lily knows this is far from the truth. Instead of protecting the kids, the Farms collect and dole out their blood as food for the Ticks.

At least within the walls of the Farm there’s some semblance of protection, though. The biggest fear is what happens when you turn eighteen. No one is sure and Lily isn’t going to wait around to find out. Lily has a plan to get her and her sister out of the Farm, but the arrival of an acquaintance from Before throws a wrench in her plan before she can even begin.

Carter says he can help. He says he’s been on the outside. But Carter is hiding something and Lily isn’t sure that she can trust him.

The Farm is fabulous! McKay wonderfully builds a post outbreak end of the world scenario – with vampires that don’t sparkle. Seriously, these are brutal and violent beasts and McKay doesn’t shy away from making that undeniably clear.

The world building alone is quite admirable. There’s a believable explanation behind the virus and its consequences. The Farms, the Before, and the outside world are all vividly clear as is the atmosphere of fear and ruthlessness that Lily lives in. But what’s best about this book is Mel. Mel is autistic and McKay really does a phenomenal job giving voice to her character. She’s one of the most unique narrators I’ve ever read.

The Farm is the first in this dark teen series. Books two and three, The Lair and The Vault, are both out now as well.

12/14 Becky LeJeune

THE FARM by Emily McKay. Berkley Trade (December 4, 2012). ISBN: 978-0425257807. 432p.

THE LAST TOWN by Blake Crouch

October 11, 2014

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The Wayward Pines Trilogy Book 3

Ethan Burke’s life has been turned upside down. Just a few weeks ago he was sent to the small town of Wayward Pines on a case involving two missing agents. When he arrived, he found that nothing in the case was as it seemed and that Wayward Pines – a town that appeared to be perfect in every way – was hiding a big secret.

Built by a scientist named David Pilcher, Wayward Pines was meant to be a last stand against the end of humanity. But the truth about the town was kept hidden from its inhabitants. At least until Ethan arrived. Now everyone is privy to Pilcher’s agenda and all hell has broken loose. The gates that protected the town from the dangers that surround it have been breached and everyone in Wayward Pines is in grave danger.

This third and final installment in Blake Crouch’s Pines trilogy manages to close out the series without giving the reader real closure. All in all it is a somewhat satisfying end to what has been a roller coaster series and yet the story’s coda still leaves the reader hanging.

The surprise addition in Wayward is revealed in The Last Town – a little bonus to Pilcher’s screwing over Ethan, which adds to the tension built by throwing an entire town to the wolves (or abbies). We learn, too, that some of the characters here are truly unredeemable.

The Pines trilogy is super fun, definitely recommended reading this fall, and I truly can’t wait to see how the show will play out next year. I’m not sure how I feel about the end, though. On the one hand I actually appreciate the loose thread and the wondering. On the other, after zipping through all three installments I would have liked a less open ending.

10/14 Becky LeJeune

THE LAST TOWN by Blake Crouch. Thomas & Mercer (July 15, 2014). ISBN 978-1477822586. 306p.

WAYWARD by Blake Crouch

September 29, 2014

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The Wayward Pines Trilogy Book 2

Two weeks ago, Special Agent Ethan Burke woke up in Wayward Pines. He was told that he’d been in an accident, but he soon found that nothing was quite as it seemed.

Now he’s been tasked with policing the town and he’s one of the few who knows the truth about its existence. It’s a truth that he cannot reveal even to his own family, but the secrets might just be too much to bear.

Ethan’s concerns about hiding the true nature of Wayward Pines soon take a backseat, however, when he discovers there’s been a murder in the town. This kind of crime in Wayward Pines is all but unheard of and when he finds out the identity of the victim things become even more complicated.

Crouch ratcheted up the intensity in this second installment by adding an actual murder. While observing Burke in trying to maintain the front that’s being perpetuated by Pilcher and his other insiders makes for an interesting and conflict laden scenario, the wrinkle in having to investigate a crime in Wayward Pines is all the more engaging. There are some fun flashbacks into Pilcher’s creation of Wayward Pines as well as a mysterious nomadic character roaming around beyond the town in this one, too.

This second in Blake Crouch’s Wayward Pines trilogy maintains the feverish pace and non-stop action that I enjoyed in Pines. There is a sense of relief, however, in finally knowing the secret of the town.

09/14 Becky LeJeune

WAYWARD by Blake Crouch. Thomas & Mercer (September 17, 2013). ISBN 978-1477808702. 322p.

IN A HANDFUL OF DUST by Mindy McGinnis

September 27, 2014

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After an outbreak of polio hits their small society, Lynn and Lucy strike out for California. Though Lynn has spent all of her life living in one spot, defending her little pond, she knows that Lucy needs more. Lucy needs people. Lucy needs hope. What Lucy doesn’t need is to be faced with the fear and animosity that falls on her after the cause of the outbreak is narrowed to either her or her boyfriend as a carrier.

Some say that after the Shortage parts of California were able to maintain some semblance of normalcy. The stories suggest that folks there were able to come up with a way of making ocean water drinkable. There they wouldn’t have to worry about harsh winters and the promise of limitless water means no more living or dying by their small pond.

The road will be long and the journey will be difficult, but together they’re willing to face the challenges ahead in hopes of a better future.

Mindy McGinnis does it again. This companion/sequel to Not a Drop to Drink returns readers to Lynn and her unforgiving waterless world, this time throwing Lynn and young Lucy into a cross-country journey that tests their limits. Fans of McGinnis’s debut will no doubt find this second outing equally satisfying (and harrowing.) but even if you’ve not yet read Not a Drop to Drink you can easily start with In a Handful of Dust.

McGinnis is definitely not afraid to put her characters in the thick of it or to expose her readers to some ick, so if you’re a more sensitive reader this might not be the best choice for your TBR. All I’ll say about that here is: Oh, Vegas.

09/14 Becky LeJeune

IN A HANDFUL OF DUST by Mindy McGinnis. Katherine Tegen Books (September 23, 2014)). ISBN 978-0062198532. 384p.