THE FARM by Max Annas

October 17, 2020

From the publisher:

Eight Hours. Minute by Minute.

Somewhere in South Africa, a farm comes under heavy attack. No shooters in sight. Only one thing is certain: The attackers are savagely resolute. A diverse group of people barricade themselves inside the farmhouse: black and white; women, men, and children; bosses and workers; a police officer; random visitors. Who is the target of the attack? What has motivated it? Politics? Revenge? Greed? Drugs? Weapons? But do the people outside know more than those indoors? The snipers who are trying to operate in the dark of night? Who will die, who will survive? Who is pulling the strings? Who will be the winners, who will be the losers? And how long can eight hours actually be?

Eight hours, minute by minute. Constant changes in perspective, piercing precision. An explosive mixture of psychological thriller and Neo-western with a political subtext.

A story that is set in South Africa revolving around a situation that realistically could take place anywhere.  Max Annas has written a short novel dealing with a series of events that could very well be the depiction of a battle in a war.  The plot involves a raid on a farm in South Africa and without immediately indicating the reason for the attack goes over the characters involved.  These include the attackers and also the people at the farm that have to defend themselves from the onslaught.  As in any military engagement there is no collective thinking about reasons, or questioning of why it occurred at that location and at the time it did.
Action begins as the owner of the farm is talking to a salesman that has been calling on him for a long time. Suddenly there is a shot from outside the perimeter of the farm killing the salesman.  People living there and some visiting quickly gather together to adopt defensive positions and give out the guns that they have stored in case ever necessary.  Mr. Annas has done an excellent job in telling his story at the same time that he describes the confusion that runs rampant.  Those in the house which is where the defenders have gathered as well as the attackers outside wanting to break in.
The leader of the attackers knows why they are there and what they want, but none of his gang are privy to this and only are aware of the money they are promised at a successful conclusion for them.  The defenders, including his family question the farm’s owner and he professes that there is really no hidden reason.  There is an amount of cash, some jewelry and a few valuable items but nothing that could warrant an attack by the group that came against them.
Due to the area the farm is located in there is only sporadic cell phone service and main lines have been cut by the attackers. The police cannot be called and people living in the same area are too distant to hear the gunshots and become aware of the attack.  The people inside the house come up with plans to sneak outside and creeping up on the marauders shoot them.  The reactions of the raiders and those coming out after them are described and results and any knowledge of the results becomes problematic since the raid takes place in the dead of night with no lighting present.
The novel is a short one, and while in the definite category of an all nighter is finished in one very satisfying read.  The novel is currently in process of being developed for filming in South Africa and should quite a draw on that basis as well.

10/2020 Paul Lane

THE FARM by Max Annas. Catalyst Press (September 15, 2020). ISBN: 978-1946395221. 184 pages.





BLOOD WORLD by Chris Mooney

October 6, 2020


From the publisher:

Everything changed when scientists discovered the drug. It looked like the cure for aging, but all progress comes with a price tag. Now, eternal youthfulness will be paid for by the blood of the innocent. 

The blood of “carriers” is the most valuable commodity on earth. When treated with a new wonder drug, it cures disease, increases power, and makes the recipient a virtual superman.

It also makes the carriers targets. Young people with the right genes are ripped from their families and stashed in “blood farms.”

Ellie Batista became an LAPD officer specifically to fight this evil as a member of the Blood Squad, but her ambitions are thwarted—until the day she and her partner are ambushed during a routine stop. The resulting events plunge her into an undercover world more dangerous than she could have ever imagined.

Because a madman has found a way to increase the potency of the blood to levels previously unimagined. As he cuts a bloody swath through the already deadly world of blood cartels, Ellie is the only hope to stop him before the body count explodes.

Throughout the history of the world, any commodity that becomes valuable beyond the range of it’s worth as a single item develops a black-market selling at a much higher price than on the regular market. This is done to hasten the delivery of the item for those that don’t want to wait and to bring the item to a group unable to get it on the regulated sales avenue. Chris Mooney sets such an item up as the most valuable commodity ever discovered.  It is blood from a select group of carriers that when treated can bring to recipients a longer and much healthier life than ever available. This makes the carriers a group to be preyed upon. When discovered they become subject to kidnapping and either death by draining or a life of captivity as a donor where their masters charge fortunes to customers looking for the treated blood. The carriers of the blood become targets for people taking them away from their lives keeping them on a “blood farm”
Ellie Batista has joined the Los Angeles Police Department specifically to become part of the Blood Squad and help fight the incidence of blood farms and exploitation of those captured by people to be placed on the farms.  It is a path that is not quickly open to a newcomer such as Ellie, but fate intervenes when the man she is first partnered with is killed in the line of duty. The circumstances allow her to convince her supervisors to permit her to enter the department as an undercover agent. Ellie has an excellent personal reason to want to work with the Blood Squad as we discover that her twin brother was kidnapped as a baby due to having the blood type making him a donor.  The rumors circulating about him are that he is still alive after many years and possibly being held on a blood farm.
Ellie’s work as an undercover agent is fraught with danger and the distinct possibility of her being killed.  To also add to the factors, she must weigh in her decision the meeting with another police officer with whom she falls in love.  It appears that he is going to ask her to marry him but her working undercover is a detriment to any attachment.  The author depicts Ellie with all the factors weighing upon her and her very normal approach to handling her ambivalent situation with all the doubts and second-guessing that any person would face.

10/2020 Paul Lane

BLOOD WORLD by Chris Mooney. Berkley (August 18, 2020). ISBN: 978-0593197639. 448 pages.




February 19, 2015


Click to Purchase

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

Click to Purchase

Click to Purchase

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:

Click to purchase

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

Click to purchase

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

Click to purchase

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

Click to purchase

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

Click to purchase

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

Click to purchase

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.