The Dead by Charlie Higson

Posted February 10, 2012 by thedilettantereader
Categories: "A" Reviews, Science Fiction, Young Adult

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The Dead takes place a year before the events in The Enemy, the first novel in Charlie Higson’s post-apocalyptic children-against-zombie-adults series.  The illness that infects everyone over sixteen has just begun to destroy the minds and bodies of all the adults, making them attack and eat children.  Jack and Ed are defending themselves and their group from the adults at their elite British school not far from London.  It quickly becomes clear that they are overwhelmed by the sickos, and that they need to leave the school.  Help comes in the form of a healthy adult, Greg, a former butcher turned bus driver, who will take the group of children and teens by bus to the outskirts of London.


It quickly becomes clear that Greg is infected, and the group is forced to fight their way to the Imperial War Museum in London, where another faction of children are living, led by a war aficionado named Jordan Hordern.  But the problems haven’t slowed down yet; a fire drives the gang from the Imperial War Museum to the Thames, where the group separates, with some heading out to Buckingham Palace (readers of The Enemy will recognize David King from the first novel), and others heading to the Tower of London.  It is here that the storyline from The Enemy collides with The Dead, and readers can look forward to a sequel.


The Enemy novels have a high body count, with lots of gore and violence, and it probably doesn’t do to get too attached to any particular characters, because Mr. Higson doesn’t have any qualms about killing off main characters.  The Dead is an exciting addition to a fast-paced, action-packed post-apocalyptic YA series.


Grade: A


The Enemy by Charlie Higson

Posted February 3, 2012 by thedilettantereader
Categories: "A" Reviews, Reviews, Science Fiction, Young Adult

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In Charlie Higson’s The Enemy, almost everyone over the age of sixteen has been infected by an illness that destroys their bodies and leads them to crave the flesh of children.  The teenagers and children in The Enemy have struggled with their peers against the grown-ups, learning how to fight, kill, and lead factions to survival in the new order.


In this apocalyptic horror-thriller, Maxie and Arran lead a faction of children who have taken over Waitrose, a grocery store north of London.  When a teenage stranger comes to Waitrose to tell them that there are more children out in London, all but one of the Waitrose children opt to follow him back to Buckingham Palace.


The author does not shy away from the horror aspects of oozing, bloodthirsty, zombie-like adults.  There are no guaranteed happy endings; Arran, already injured shortly after the beginning, dies on the way to Buckingham Palace.  Maxie must ally herself with a rival faction leader, Blue, whom she is not sure she can trust, against David, the tyrannical leader of the Buckingham Palace gang, whom she is sure she cannot trust.


Their story is paralleled by the narrative of nine-year-old Small Sam, who is attacked and taken by grown-ups at the beginning of the novel.  He embarks on his own journey to get back to Waitrose, and then to Buckingham Palace to reunite with his sister.  On the way he meets healthy but malevolent adults, and the end of the novel promises a sequel for both groups.


Without moralizing, Mr. Higson shows what it means to be a war-time vs. a peace-time leader as Maxie makes the best decisions she can for the survival of her group.  From the beginning, the children have to deal with taking on adult responsibilities, and how to navigate a brutal new world where grown-ups aren’t the only enemy, and the odds against them only seem to get higher.  The Enemy is a terrific first novel in a new post-apocalyptic series.


Grade: A

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Posted January 27, 2012 by thedilettantereader
Categories: "A" Reviews, Reviews, Young Adult

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Divergent features a girl named Beatrice, who was born into Abnegation, a faction that values selflessness in this dystopian thriller.  The five factions in Beatrice’s world are Abnegation (selflessness), Candor (truthfulness), Erudite (knowledge), Amity (peacefulness), and Dauntless (bravery).  When it comes time for testing into a new faction, Beatrice is given a test result of Divergent, which means that she did not test into a single faction, but could potentially be at home at Abnegation, Dauntless, or Erudite.

On the day of choosing, Beatrice’s brother chooses Erudite, Abnegation’s mortal enemy, while Beatrice chooses Dauntless.  Beatrice gives herself a new name, Tris, and quickly learns more about her new faction.  Based on the results of their initiation performance, some will be expelled from the faction compound, while others will take their place as Dauntless.

Tris is conflicted by her “betrayal” of her parents and the Abnegation faction, and at the same time she is an outsider in Dauntless, which seems to be divided between those who believe in ruthless bravery as an end in itself, and those who believe in compassionate bravery with a purpose.  In this first book, society itself is terribly confining; each faction can only take on certain jobs and characteristics, and Tris discovers that the stifling nature of Abnegation is matched by the leaders of Dauntless, who are brutal and oppressive to their followers.

Within a few pages into Veronica Roth’s Divergent, I was already seeking out the next book in the trilogy, which unfortunately isn’t out yet.  This book is terrific as a coming-of-age dystopian action-thriller, featuring a strong female protagonist whose faces both internal and external conflict as the world she knows falls apart around her.

Grade: A

18 by Jan Burke

Posted October 14, 2011 by thedilettantereader
Categories: "A" Reviews, Mystery, Reviews

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Jan Burke’s 18 is a terrific collection of 18 short stories by the award-winning author of the Irene Kelly mystery series.  The author writes from a variety of perspectives, like a young guilt-ridden boy in “Mea Culpa” or a widow haunted by the ghost of a murdered man in “Ghost of a Chance.”  Ms. Burke also includes a few period pieces, such as the terrific Regency mystery “The Abbey Ghosts” or “The Haunting of Carrick Hollow,” which features a young doctor in the late 19th century U.S.  Also included are two stories set in the author’s fictional town of Las Piernas, with a short story featuring Irene Kelly, and another story featuring Irene’s husband Frank and their friend Ben, who trains the wonderful Search and Rescue dog Bingle.  I highly recommend this collection for fans of detail-rich, character-driven suspense stories that are alternately heart-warming and chilling, and often both.

Grade: A-

Treachery in Death by J.D. Robb

Posted October 7, 2011 by thedilettantereader
Categories: "A" Reviews, Reviews, Romance

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Treachery in Death is the 33rd book (depending on how you count them) in J.D. Robb’s futuristic suspense series featuring Lieutenant Eve Dallas, her husband Roarke, and her squad of homicide detectives in 2060 New York City.  Eve’s partner, Peabody, has just closed her first live (as opposed to a cold case) case as primary, but after a wake-up call regarding her physical fitness during a scuffle with a suspect, she decides to hit the little-used gym at Central. While she’s in the shower, two cops burst in having an argument, and Peabody quickly discovers that not only are they dirty cops, they have been running their criminal side business for six years, and they’ve gotten away with murder.

Peabody quickly takes the case to Eve, who begins planning to take the dirty cops down in a high-stakes sting operation that involves the Internal Affairs Bureau, her commander, and her favorite E-men, Feeney, McNab, and her own husband Roarke.  One problem: the head dirty cop, Lieutenant Renee Oberman, daughter of former NYPSD commander “Saint” Oberman, happens to be the head of the Illegals division at Central, and there’s no knowing how
wide her web encompasses.

Treachery in Death is one of the most exciting In Death novels, and it’s a testament to Robb’s talent that even after thirty-some books, this one is among the best.  Because of the sting operation, it is a bit different from the usual In Death book, where Eve is investigating one or a series of murders.  Murder has and does happen during the course of the novel, but everyone knows from the start who’s responsible, and it’s a matter of being able to pin down all the little pieces that will put Renee Oberman and her organization in a cage.

Part of the suspense comes from not knowing who, exactly, of Oberman’s twelve detectives, is involved, and the other part comes from the cat-and-mouse game Eve and Oberman play.  Eve has a good head, heart, and gut, and she puts them to good use as she sets the trap that will take a squad of dirty cops down.  As always, the regular cast of characters works really well together, and the dialogue is snappy and sarcastic.

Grade: A

Disturbance by Jan Burke

Posted September 30, 2011 by thedilettantereader
Categories: "A" Reviews, Mystery, Reviews, Uncategorized

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I first picked up an Irene Kelly novel in the mid-90s, and followed the intrepid reporter’s adventures through Bones, the novel which won Ms. Burke an Edgar Award and appeared to change the tone of the Irene Kelly series.  Before Bones, Irene worked on stories set in the fictional Southern California town of Las Piernas.  Irene is a stubborn, hot-headed, compassionate reporter who always has an eye on the story, even when she is injured or in danger.  She is married to Las Piernas police detective Frank Harriman, who has always been a prominent character in the series, and in fact is given his own perspective in novels like Flight.

Bones marked a departure in tone of the mystery series, featuring serial killer Nick Parrish, a man who tortured and killed many women prior to the start of the novel.  As the novel opened, Parrish was in custody of the police and had been offered a deal: the authorities will take the death penalty off the table in exchange for Parrish revealing where he had buried the body of Julia Sayre, a woman who had disappeared years before.  Irene was one of the members of the expedition to the Southern Sierra Nevada Mountains, where Parrish set off his meticulously planned trap which resulted in the deaths of over six members of the expedition and allowed Parrish to escape.  By the end of Bones, Parrish is recaptured after sustaining a severe injury that left him paralyzed.

Disturbance opens years after Bones ends, with Irene hearing the news that Parrish has regained mobility and is now able to walk after a series of “miracle” medical interventions.  It also appears that Parrish’s fan club, called the Moths, are becoming active once more in preparation for Parrish’s next escape.

Parrish is a diminished character in this novel; despite being seriously creepy in Bones, he is an aged figure now, and the father of Kai, Quinn, and Donovan, half-brothers who assist him in his plans.  It is very much a family affair, and Ms. Burke switches between the three sons’ points of view, with the intriguing Donovan being the one whose loyalties are most in doubt. When Irene is kidnapped so that Parrish can finally exact his long-awaited revenge on her, her husband Frank enlists the help of her friends and family to track her down back in the mountains where Parrish and his sons have taken her.  And Irene must work to stay alive against the elements and men with murderous

Disturbance was a quick and absorbing read, and I benefited from having reread Bones only a few days before.  Disturbance should be read as a companion book to Bones, so it doesn’t quite stand alone as a book in the series.  You can catch up, but it’s better to know all the background before you read Disturbance. One of my quibbles with the book and by extension the series is the timeline of the novels: the Irene Kelly novels appeared to be set in the early nineties, and time has previously been pretty important to the setting of the books (such as Bloodlines).  However, now it seems that the author has brought the books into the present (post-financial meltdown), and so it seems puzzling because by the time frame, Irene and Frank should be pushing sixty (with Irene’s friend Lydia having dated her fiancé for about twenty years).  Despite my amusement at the various mental pictures the blurry timeline conjured up, I am willing to overlook this and just enjoy the fact that Irene has a lot more years in her.  Ms. Burke has a real talent for character, suspense, and pacing, and I look forward to many more Irene Kelly novels.

Grade: A-

Bonds of Justice by Nalini Singh

Posted June 17, 2011 by thedilettantereader
Categories: "B" Reviews, Paranormal Romance, Reviews

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It’s hard to review a Psy-Changeling novel without giving away some of the intricately plotted larger details of the series itself.  The author has created a fantastic and fascinating world that has unfolded through the past eight novels, all of them addictively readable and some of the very best in paranormal romance.  Bonds of Justice is the eighth novel in Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series, and while its main couple is human Detective Max Shannon and Justice Psy Sophia Russo, a lot of old favorite characters like Sascha, Faith, and Lucas make an appearance.  This is in addition to the involving secondary plot that has been a feature of the Psy-Changeling novels from the beginning.

Sophia Russo is nearing the end of her usefulness as a Justice Psy; her telepathic shields have degraded to the point that touch can completely shatter her mind.  She and Max Shannon initially encounter each other during the investigation of a vicious serial killer whose mind is resistant to the mental scans of the J-Psys.  When Sophia and Max are tapped to work for Nikita Duncan as impartial investigators into the deaths of members of her inner circle, they become much more intimately acquainted.  Nikita’s territory happens to coincide with the DarkRiver changeling pack, and Max and Sophia interact with many of the characters from older novels, developing stronger relationships and seeking and offering help.

The ongoing back story featuring the Psy Council is a much larger part of Bonds of Justice than it has in previous novels.  Sascha and Nikita are beginning to enter into a new phase of their complicated mother-daughter relationship.  Nikita’s sympathies for non-Psy push her into forming new alliances with other members of the Council, as the Council splits in two between those who seek complete isolation of the Psy and those who are interested in interacting with the world and with their “flawed” offspring.  Because of this larger story unfolding, Max and Sophia’s romance is not as big of a focus, although it is still satisfying.  As the series continues, so does the slow reveal to the ultimate conclusion of the problem of Silence, and I am eager to go along for the ride.  Ms. Singh gets better with every book, and I look forward to the next novel.

Grade: B