Thursday, July 24, 2014

Prison Nation by Jenni Merritt - Justice gone very, very wrong

In this view of the future, the United States has become a land of "mega-prisons" where a large majority of the population lives out its days laboring at jobs to sustain the prison population (and society's elite we later discover). Millie 942B is a "Jail Baby," born in one such prison - Spokane - to "lifer" parents. She has spent her entire existence within the walls of the prison never having experienced the outside world, touched a tree, or studied the stars.

The story begins as she is approaching her 18th birthday and her impending release to the outside when she is discovered and stalked by a senior prison guard, Carl. Carl wants Millie for his own purposes, and all Millie wants is to be a citizen, good and strong, and free. However, free means leaving everything she has ever known behind in the prison including her parents and her secret friends, Jude - a young night guard and Orrin - an inmate in a nearby cell - both of whom she's never actually met face-to-face, only through the grill of the closed cell door after "lights out." And "outside" may not prove to be as free as she's been led to believe.

Prison Nation is a fascinating vision: horrible, threatening, and exciting to read. The characters Merritt has created seem like ordinary people surviving under extraordinary circumstances (that have become the new normal). Millie is "street-smart" in the prison and naïve (yet wary) when she gets outside. She is a nice, regular girl - someone that you'd like. The supporting characters are well-developed and give us good variety. Carl, the villain, is suitably evil and creepy, and single-minded in his pursuit of poor Millie.

Fans of young adult dystopia should enjoy Jenni Merritt's creative story of the United States in the future where justice has gone very, very wrong. The setting of Spokane to Portland is both changed to support this future and familiar enough to make it all the more devastating a vision. The story ends at an appropriate place but poised to continue with book 2 - Lady Justice - coming sometime, I most fervently hope, in 2014.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Lord John and the Private Matter by Diana Gabaldon

Lord John Grey (apparently a popular character from the Outlander series) discovers quite by accident that his cousin's fiancée, the Honorable Joseph Trevelyan, is afflicted with "the pox." As he struggles to come up with a way to break the engagement without ruining Olivia's reputation and future chances at another good marriage, he becomes embroiled in a murder mystery, espionage, and missing persons.

Lord John and the Private Matter has a fast-paced and intriguing plot, and Gabaldon's dialogue sparkles and entertains. The Recorded Books version is wonderfully performed by Jeff Woodman who magically makes these characters come alive.

You will not be disappointed as the plot takes sudden left and right turns keeping you guessing the entire time. I think you will even be surprised when "all is revealed" at the end.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Open Minds by Susan Kaye Quinn - action, adventure, young adult medical mystery

In this vision of our future, humans have developed the ability to share their thoughts telepathically. However, every now and then a child is born that does not have this capability; they can neither read someone else’s thoughts, the collective thoughts of the group nor can anyone read their thoughts. They are known as “zeroes,” and are ostracized and distrusted by the rest of humanity.

Sixteen-year-old Kira has not yet undergone the change that brings the mindreading ability like her friends and is already feeling the shame and humiliation of being different from everyone else. Her anxiety that she may never change is abruptly exchanged for fright when she discovers that she has other, more powerful abilities. Rather that changing into a “reader,” Kira has developed into a mind-jacker, and can control the thoughts and actions of the mere readers. However, “jackers” are considered a danger by the government and when discovered are rounded up for imprisonment and study.

The author has created a fabulous story of being different and not fitting in with the crowd at school. Her depictions of the simple day-to-day realities, the rejections and humiliations, Kira’s thoughts and feelings were dead on. She skillfully builds in how Kira’s relationships with her friends were before and after their own changes, and gives Kira at least one true-blue friend, Raf, who stays by her side no matter what.

The story has action and mystery, villains and heroes, family and young love. It is a fast-paced, young adult story that keeps you wondering where it is going to go next.

This is the first book in the Mindjack Trilogy.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Great story with a great backstory!

Honestly, I don’t know which I liked more: the novel itself or the story behind the writing of Virulent: The Release. Written as a challenge from a student to create a post-apocalyptic young adult story set in their high school, English teacher Shelbi Wescott surely has a win with this terrifying tale inside what is normally seen as a safe haven.

The action and danger is non-stop. The characters act, speak, and interact as you’d expect teens to – even under such horrifying circumstances. Adults that are looked to for protection act crazy or fall apart at the seams. Strangers end up being the compassionate saviors.

The author builds a close-knit family unit and immediately separates our main character from this safety net as well. I worried right along with Lucy about whether her family was alive or dead. I agonized over the come-and-go cellphone signal and the meaning of the text messages and their timing. I wondered if Lucy’s brother, Ethan, was really coming to the rescue or if he’d never made it at all.

The larger setting is Portland, Oregon with its urban setting, its rivers, and the farmland only a little ways out of town. Clues the characters discover at Lucy’s home tell them to flee to another part of the country and we’ll have to wait until book 2 in the series to see if they can successfully do this and whether or not the rest of the family has survived.

I highly recommend this zombie-free young adult novel to those fans of both young adult in general and post-apocalyptic fantasies as well.