Newest review: God of the Internet by Lynn Lipinski

By Ekta R. Garg

September 14, 2016

Rated: Bookmark it!

A computer programmer creates an indestructible virus that infects millions of devices and brings the major cities of the country to a standstill. A woman struggles with her failing marriage and making sense of her place in her relationship. Two seemingly disconnected events come together in an inextricable way in Lynn Lipinski’s gripping novel God of the Internet.

In Los Angeles a computer programmer who calls himself G0d_of_Internet is working with the extremist group Islamic Crusade to bring the government of the United States to its knees. He releases a computer virus that begins to multiply and transform in calculated ways. The virus brings first water resources and then electricity to a screeching halt by manipulating the central controls.

Islamic Crusade has a simple demand: the U.S. armed forces need to pull out of all Muslim countries immediately. Pull out, the organization’s representative says, and basic utilities will be restored to L.A., Boston, and all the other large cities that have been targeted. Ignore the demand, and worse events will befall the traitorous West.

Juliana al Dossari fears for her family’s health and safety just like any other resident of L.A., but lately she’s come to worry about her husband more. Or, more specifically, her marriage. It feels like ages since she and her husband, Mahaz, have felt any sort of connection. Mahaz has withdrawn from her in the last several months, and it doesn’t help that the media consultant he hired is young, perky, and oozing with a willingness to please him.

Every couple goes through ups and downs, Juliana thinks, and she stubbornly clings to this belief…until the day Mahaz threatens her. In the heat of an argument, he warns her that if she ever files for divorce he will take their teenage children back to Saudi Arabia. Their children, he adds, have become too spoiled and materialistic anyway. Maybe some time in their home country will remind them how to be grateful.

Shocked, Juliana doesn’t understand how this version of Mahaz could be the same one she married. Their seventeen-year-old son has a medical condition that requires constant monitoring. How could Mahaz even consider taking him to Saudi? And what about their beautiful daughter? Has Mahaz forgotten how women are sidelined in the Middle East?

She can’t spend a lot of free time thinking about his menacing words, however. In an effort to offload tasks he deems less important, Mahaz has tagged Juliana to be his representative on a task force that has assembled to combat the super virus. While the task force much rather prefers Mahaz’s help and expertise—he is a leading expert on computer network security, after all—Juliana joins them instead.

What starts as an assignment meant to demean and distract her, however, becomes a real concern for Juliana. Something about the information the task force has shared doesn’t make sense. She’s equally mystified by Mahaz’s lack of interest in the virus. Little by little her home starts to feel like the inside of one of the infected computers—a toxic environment that is choking the life out of her.

Author Lynn Lipinski begins her book on a high note and doesn’t let the action or the tension dip for long before ratcheting the story back up to another high point. While many cyber thrillers may miss the emotion of other genres, Lipinksi strikes that fine balance. The result is a book that is both exciting and heartfelt.

Readers will have no problem identifying with Juliana. Some might question why she stays in the relationship, but Lipinski answers that question with enough conviction that even those with little familiarity of other cultures will find a modicum of understanding here. A mother will do anything for her children, Lipinski reminds readers, even if that means staying in a situation detrimental to herself.

Other readers might decry the book’s clean-cut lines defining protagonist and antagonist. In a world that fights for political niceties, it’s refreshing to read a book that doesn’t hesitate to name a villain. Some authors might avert the question of responsibility; within the confines of her story, Lipinski looks responsibility dead in the eye.

Equally gripping is Lipinski’s knowledge of just how connected the world has become due to computers and the internet. While there’s no way of knowing whether the scenarios she presents could actually happen, readers certainly can’t deny the plausibility with which she writes. In a word, the situations she poses are frightening.

I highly recommend readers Bookmark God of the Internet.

Latest review: The Changelings by Christina Soontornvat

By Ekta R. Garg

September 14, 2016

Rated: Bookmark it!

A girl moves to a new town with her family and thinks any chance of friendships are doomed. Then her little sister goes missing and the girl sets out on a quest to find her, which turns her new town into an adventure. Author Christina Soontornvat gives middle grade readers an enjoyable story in the pleasant book The Changelings.

Izzy Doyle can’t believe her family has moved to Everton. By her estimation, it’s the most boring town on the planet. But her parents wanted to get back to the fresh air and the land. It was hard enough for Izzy to try to make friends in her old hometown. How, she wonders, is she supposed to make friends in a brand new place?

During her first few days, Izzy visits the lone grocery store with her mother and her sister, Hen, and they all hear about the local witch. Suddenly Everton starts to sound more interesting. It becomes even more so when Izzy discovers the witch is her next-door neighbor. She wants nothing more than to go check out this witch, but her mother forbids her to bother the woman.

Not one to let an opportunity for excitement go by, Izzy and Hen decide to visit the witch’s home. They notice several strange things around the house, including tall piles of rocks. Then they hear music, which draws Hen’s attention. Before Izzy knows what’s happening, Hen disappears.

Izzy goes after Hen and plunges into the forest. But she soon discovers these are no ordinary woods. They’re full of magic and creatures she’s never seen before. Suddenly, Izzy realizes she’s stumbled onto something bigger than just moving to Everton.

She meets the most unusual group of people who call themselves the Changelings. They can change from their human forms into animals, which comes in handy considering that the Changelings are being pursued by a group of creatures called the Unglers. The Unglers are headed by a mysterious queen who seems to have a plan.

Izzy and the Changelings don’t know what that plan is, but as they make their way to find Hen it quickly becomes clear that the plan somehow involves the Changelings. Now, not only does Izzy have to save her sister, she has to find a way to help the Changelings…her new friends.

Author Christina Soontornvat gives readers a likeable and believable heroine in Izzy. Readers in the middle grade range will find themselves cheering along with Izzy’s successes in finding Hen and frowning in worry during various plot twists. Her friendships with the Changelings develop naturally, offering both Izzy and readers the valuable lesson that friendships must be earned. Once earned and sealed with trust, however, they can be some of the most precious relationships a young person can form.

Soontornvat drops several clues early on and throughout the book as to why Izzy, of all people, must save the Changelings, and the story does get a little muddy in detailing in some parts. Once in a while the story drifts away from its core plot, and it’s unclear whether Soontornvat built those tangents into the book with intention or to offer readers a pleasant diversion from the action at hand.

On the whole, however, middle grade readers will most certainly enjoy Izzy’s story. I recommend readers Bookmark The Changelings.

(I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Brand new review: The Cabin by Natasha Preston

By Ekta R. Garg

September 7, 2016

Genre: YA thriller

Rated: Bypass it

 

When two teens get murdered under mysterious circumstances, their friends will have to deal with the fallout from the police investigation and their growing suspicion of one another. Everything about the murders points to the group, yet no one takes responsibility until it becomes clear the murderer has unfinished business left. Author Natasha Preston fails to follow up her previous strong novels with the insipid book The Cabin.

Mackenzie can’t wait to graduate from high school, and she and her friends have planned a weekend away. One of the group, Josh, has offered his parents’ cabin as a hangout space, and even though Mackenzie has issues with Josh she chooses to overlook them in favor of spending time with everyone. Soon enough they’ll head in different directions, and Mackenzie wants to make the most of every moment they have left together.

In planning their weekend away, Mackenzie thinks it will just be the usual suspects: Aaron, Courtney, Megan, Kyle, and Josh. At the last minute Josh’s older brother, Blake, asks to come along. Mackenzie can barely stand Josh; she certainly doesn’t want to deal with an older version of him for two whole days. Because it’s his parents’ cabin, though, she doesn’t get a vote in whether Blake gets to come.

Her apprehension about Blake quickly dissipates when she meets him. He and Josh may be related, but they seem nothing alike. As the evening at the cabin progresses, Mackenzie finds herself more and more attracted to Blake. The two end up spending the night together, oblivious to the others in the house.

They come downstairs the next morning, however, and reality comes back full force when they find Josh and Courtney’s bodies on the kitchen floor. The discovery horrifies all of the friends, and they contact the police right away. The police investigation quickly becomes a pressure test for the friends. Officers on the scene report no forced entry from any of the outer doors or windows. Their conclusion: one of the group must have been involved.

Mackenzie refuses to believe any of them could possibly have committed the heinous crime. She begins asking questions, but the friends start to crack. Bit by bit Mackenzie begins gathering information that makes her wonder whether she really knows her friends as well as she thought. Soon enough it’s apparent that whoever killed Josh and Courtney may not be done yet.

Author Natasha Preston tries to shore up the gravity of murder in this latest YA thriller but fails to keep the pace even. In accordance with her chosen genre, Preston spends quite a bit of time on the relationship between Mackenzie and Blake. Understandably, Mackenzie seeks Blake’s company for comfort. Because she’s just a teen, however, she doesn’t have the resources or the emotional fortitude to make it through a police investigation.

As Mackenzie begins looking into her friends, she doesn’t gain much traction. Instead she starts spinning her wheels. The result is that Mackenzie ends up more or less staying in place until the murderer is revealed, which keeps her role in the entire venture passive. Readers in the YA market may forgive her inactivity; other readers may not.

I recommend readers Bypass The Cabin.

Brand new review: Valley of the Moon by Melanie Gideon

By Ekta R. Garg

August 24, 2016

Genre: Women’s fiction

Rated: Bordering on Bypass it

 

A single mother discovers a gateway that allows her to time travel to the past. As she deals with the effects of multiple visits, she encounters turning points and must decide where she will live the rest of her life. Author Melanie Gideon oversimplifies the concept of time travel in the somewhat sweet but ultimately frustrating novel Valley of the Moon.

In the summer of 1975 in San Francisco, single mom Lux Lysander is juggling all the elements of her life: her son, Bennett, whom she calls Benno; her strained relationship with her father; and her waitressing job where she’s always late. With Benno leaving to visit Lux’s parents in Rhode Island, for the first time since his birth Lux will be alone and she’s equally relieved and wistful.

She goes on a week-long solo camping trip to Sonoma, also known as the Valley of the Moon. In the middle of her first night away, Lux wakes up to a mysterious fog that has enveloped her campsite. She sees a light in the distance and follows it to a community of cabins.

The people in the cabins aren’t campers like her, however. They share with Lux an incredible story: their farm community, called Greengage, is in a past time. On this side of the fog it’s April 1906, and an earthquake has struck the Valley of the Moon. Since the earthquake, the fog has trapped the almost 300 residents of Greengage on the farm. No one can cross the fog without dying.

The leader of the community, Joseph Bell, approaches Lux with wariness. Soon, though, he comes to understand she really from 1975. Lux, too, accepts the reality of her situation and spends time in Greengage. She’s drawn to the simplicity it offers, the harmonious way of life, and she finds herself torn between staying in 1906 and going back to 1975.

If it weren’t for Benno, the decision would be easy; reluctantly Lux goes back to her own time period. She promises Joseph she’ll return, and she does, many times. She begins building friendships with the farm dwellers, so much so that when a crisis occurs during one visit she loses track of time and overstays. When Lux comes back to her own world, she returns to a crisis of her own. She must deal with the consequences as well as with her yearning for Greengage as she moves forward in her own time.

Author Melanie Gideon offers readers the romance of time travel without dealing with its complexities. As a result, the story comes across as simplistic to the extreme. The charm of the fog as Lux’s method of travel wears off much too quickly. Lux travels to and from 1906 with minimal issues, including taking objects from her time period back to the past with absolutely no after effects. She doesn’t experience any physical challenges due to time travel, leaving it as simply a method for her to explore her personal potential and to meet people who bolster her confidence in herself.

The book alternates between Lux and Joseph’s points of view, but the speech patterns don’t change. Joseph and Lux both speak with the same syntax and in the same vernacular, and Gideon loses a prime opportunity to raise her book above average. Instead it becomes clear fairly soon that Gideon’s less interested in historical accuracy and more interested in moving her story forward.

Gideon does gain some momentum on Lux as a character. By herself, Lux is flawed and interesting. She deals with problems in a way many of us would, which means it’s not always a pretty picture, and readers may have appreciated a story about just her.

Her interactions with Joseph, while filled with honesty at first, soon become repetitive. Again, Joseph as a standalone character would have been fine. Because the story demands more of Lux and Joseph together, however, everyone important in Greengage and San Francisco gets relegated to the background. The book quickly transforms into a romance with time travel as an excuse, and the familiar pop culture references to the 1970s just aren’t enough to keep readers going through the book.

Valley of the Moon Borders on Bypassing it.

New review: The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

By Ekta R. Garg

August 17, 2016

Genre: Murder mystery

Rated: Bordering on Bookmark it!

A travel journalist deals with the emotional fallout of a traumatic event in her personal life while on her latest assignment on a luxury cruise ship. Just as she tries to pull herself together, she witnesses what she believes is a murder…except no one on the ship is missing. She will have to prove to everyone—including herself—that despite recent troubling events her journalistic instincts are still as sharp as ever. Author Ruth Ware takes readers on a wild, fun ride in the murder mystery The Woman in Cabin 10.

Laura “Lo” Blacklock can’t believe she’s landed her latest assignment. Richard Bullmer, British business tycoon, has launched a new concept in cruise ship traveling. It’s the ultimate in luxury cruising with less than a dozen cabins on board and every indulgence a person of wealth and power could possibly desire. Bullmer has invited a few choice guests and members of the media to cover the maiden voyage on the Aurora, and Lo gets to stay in one of the plush cabins while spending a week hobnobbing with some of England’s elite and sailing through the Norwegian fjords to observe the Northern Lights.

Days before she sets foot on board, however, Lo experiences a traumatizing event. She barely has time to recover before getting on the ship and trying to impress Bullmer and the other passengers. The details of the event haunt her, but she tries to concentrate on the opportunity to mingle with other journalists and England’s rich and powerful.

A chance encounter with the woman in the cabin next to hers turns into more than a casual meeting when Lo witnesses what she thinks is a murder. When Lo tries to bring the attention to the ship’s security and other crew members, though, they discover that everyone is accounted for. No one is missing. Lo begins to question herself, but her instincts won’t let it go. Something serious took place, and even with her own misgivings and issues she won’t stop until she figures out just who died.

Author Ruth Ware takes her readers through the paces of a good old-fashioned murder mystery. She offers what the genre does best: a protagonist with deep flaws. Misdirection. Red herrings relevant to the story. A list of suspects each more unreliable than the last. And enough conflict and tension to keep readers swiping or flipping pages in an eager bid to find out what’s really happening.

Protagonist Lo does suffer from some annoying traits. She keeps turning to alcohol to solve her problems and her deep insecurity might make readers wonder how she manages to get out of bed in the morning, never mind hold down a steady job or pursue a relationship. Ware also leaves a few minor questions unanswered. Some readers may appreciate this cloudiness in the story; others might want to know everything by book’s end.

By the same token that Lo’s alcoholism impairs her judgment, it also offers Ware the opportunity to sow doubt in Lo’s trustworthiness in the way that seasoned authors can and should. Can Lo count on herself? Can readers count on her? Ware keeps readers guessing to the very end about the identity of the victim and the series of events leading to her death, and she doesn’t let up on the tension even with just pages to go until the end. It’s a rollicking fun ride that will make readers want to go back to the front of the book as soon as they reach the end of it.

Readers will find that The Woman in Cabin 10 Borders on Bookmarking it!

(I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Newest review: The Last One by Alexandra Oliva

By Ekta R. Garg

August 10, 2016

Genre: Thriller/suspense

Rated: Bookmark it!

A group of contestants on a reality TV show must deal with the elements and one another as they compete for a huge financial prize. At some point, however, it becomes clear that what started as a challenge for the purpose of entertainment has morphed into a challenge for life itself. Author Alexandra Oliva’s debut in fiction will keep readers flipping or swiping pages as fast as possible in order to reach the heartbreaking end in the riveting book The Last One.

Television producers have created a reality show that pushes the idea of “surviving the wild” to its breaking point, and twelve brave contestants agree to the rules. They arrive for their series of challenges in a remote location with nothing but a varied natural landscape as far as they can see. In their pre-show interviews and during the initial taping of the show, the producers keep an eye on the contestants and peg their ability to drive up ratings.

Of the twelve brave souls, producers closely monitor a woman they’ve nicknamed “Zoo” for her love and knowledge of animals. As shooting progresses, Zoo works with the other contestants and learns several new skills that allow her to advance in the competition. The show’s schedule demands a challenge where the contestants must spend an extended amount of time alone, and Zoo sets off with the supplies she’s earned through winning smaller challenges or as gifts from other contestants.

Zoo makes her way through the woods confident that she will conquer the game. It is a game, after all, and she continues to remind herself of that. Even when she loses crucial supplies, she keeps going. Nothing allows her to waver from her objective. Zoo wants to be the last one standing, the one declared the winner. She’s come on the show to prove something to herself, and the longer she moves alone the more imperative it becomes for her to succeed.

The challenges that come her way start to become downright bizarre, however, and after a point nothing makes sense. Clearly she needs help, and while Zoo understands that what she’s doing makes for good TV she also feels a little cheated. How far will the execs at the network let her struggle? Soon enough the answer to the “why” become clear for Zoo, but she doesn’t know if she can handle the cost of the challenge for the financial advantage at the end.

From the book’s outset, fiction debut author Alexandra Oliva will grab hold of readers and not let go. She doesn’t hesitate to dive head first into the incredulous lengths television travels in the name of ratings. Just as she lulls readers into one corner of her story world, she reveals the true intent of her story. Without even realizing it, readers will encounter a book that deals with some of the most pressing concerns of our current times.

Many experienced authors would find the switch between the two layers of story a challenge. Oliva uses a deft hand and doesn’t shy away from the difficult moments. Instead, she throws herself into them headlong and demands that her readers follow her. She’s created in Zoo a protagonist who will impress readers at first with her dedication to winning and then her helplessness in her circumstances.

Anyone who enjoys suspense will thoroughly enjoy The Last One, and readers should definitely Bookmark it!

(I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

New review: Claiming Noah by Amanda Ortlepp

By Ekta R. Garg

August 10, 2016

Genre: Women’s fiction

Rated: Bordering on Bookmark it!

Two women find themselves at the heart of the question of parenthood when they engage in a battle for the right to a child. They will need to work through differences with their partners and their families as well as their own consciences before reaching a conclusion. Debut author Amanda Ortlepp offers readers a likeable and touching story in her first book Claiming Noah.

Catriona Sinclair has everything a woman could want: a successful career; a loving, supportive husband; and a lovely home in a thriving Australian city. If Catriona could point to one thing that might be lacking, it’s the fact that she and her husband, James, don’t have any children. But the matter of children is more complicated for Catriona than James. She’s not completely sure she wants them.

Still, she’s willing to try for James’s sake. When natural conception becomes difficult, Catriona and James pursue in vitro fertilization. After a difficult period of time Catriona finally becomes pregnant, but she doesn’t think she can handle more than one pregnancy. She and James decide to make the remaining embryos available for adoption.

Elsewhere in the city, Diana Simmons mourns the fact that she can’t conceive. She wants nothing more than to be a mother. Someone gives Diana the idea of embryo adoption, and she grabs hold of it. She convinces Liam, her husband, to agree to the in vitro procedure, and they go ahead with it despite social pressure against it.

The donation of the embryo eventually brings Catriona and Diana face to face, and they come to court to argue a sensitive matter: who is the rightful parent of a child? The person whose genetic material made the child’s existence possible, or the person raising that child? On first glance the answer seems easy to each of the women, but as they pursue the court case they come to understand one another’s position and feelings.

Author Amanda Ortlepp handles her subject matter with compassion and relative maturity. For a first-time novel, Claiming Noah will offer readers several points for careful consideration. The idea of embryo adoption presents a new twist on a story that travels down well-trodden paths.

Some of Ortlepp’s choices become predictable. Readers will most likely guess certain plot twists well in advance of them actually occurring. A few of the characters, too, come across more as checkmarks for types instead of original people.

They serve their purpose, however, as does the predictability. Even with the fulfillment of the expected, Ortlepp still surprises readers. Catriona’s struggle with motherhood, in particular, comes across as fresh and real. Those women who have experienced the same challenges as Catriona will definitely sympathize with her plight, and any woman who has given birth can identify with Catriona’s misgivings.

Ortlepp allows her characters to move through the climax of their story with the utmost of dignity and grace. For this and the tenderness she shows this worthy effort, Claiming Noah Borders on Bookmarking it.

(I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)