The Hatching by Ezekiel Boone (2017)

hatching cover

In several rural parts of the earth, a simultaneous hatching of a terrifying and fast-reproducing population of spiders has been awakened from deep within the earth. These insects are capable of devouring every human in their path and of spreading across the globe with little difficultly. How will the world respond to a threat they never could have imagined?

This supernatural thriller reads like a mash-up of Dan Brown novels and the movie Contagion: covering plot lines and introducing characters on six continents in a huge array of political, military, and scientific careers who all work in concert to identify the threat and how to stop it from causing global genocide.

Told through the viewpoint of several narrators, and many other smaller characters — as disparate as the President of the United States, a Marine, a doomsday prepper, entomologist, and FBI agent — the story of the Hatching, and the subsequent effort to contain it, unfolds. The phenomenon grows unchecked in the early days of the hatching; both because no one wants to believe this is possible and because the rural areas where it began were places no one (with the power to intervene) seemed cared about. When it disaster erupts in urban cities and happens on camera, the world begins to pay attention…and to realize their disbelief has put them at a huge disadvantage. The following action shows, in great detail, how the characters respond to the threat.

Despite its great plot line, the book remained a bit underwhelming.  Characters in the story — and there are many, many characters — are presented without too much depth, the author relying mostly on the fast moving, unsettling plot. At times his female and non-white characters — who are already somewhat poorly drawn — seem to devolve into caricatures of themselves (a female scientist who is also obsessed with sex; the young African American solider who joined Marines to avoid jail; a gay prepper who takes time to make cocktails) further emphasizing the weak character development. Overall readable, but not outstanding.

 

Island of Glass by Nora Roberts (2016)

Book #3 in The Guardians trilogy. A review of Book #1 of The Guardians trilogy can be found here: http://wp.me/p6N6mT-2K  (Note: Although I read it, I did not post a review of Book 2.)

cliffs-of-moher-county-clare-ireland

Cliffs of Moher, County Clare, Ireland

 

 

Readers who follow this blog are well aware that I love Nora Roberts. After first discovering her as a teenager, I have been an unabashed fan of her work since then and I have read — although people often doubt me! — every single one of her more than two hundred and seventy-five books. Nora Roberts consistently delivers exactly what I want in a romance novel (or, in the case of her JD Robb books: a science-fiction murder-mystery) and always ties up every single storyline, just in time, with a happy ending.

All that praise aside, I have to admit that I do not like this most recent trilogy. The books have some of the elements of her books that I do love: a steamy romance between two sexy consenting adults; a great supporting cast of characters; an enviously luxurious setting; and a larger story of being on a quest — in this case, to save the world. Somehow, though, the story feels lacking in some indefinable element. After some thought, I have decided that she has written past stories that are similar to these but also better than these and, by comparison, I find The Guardians lacking. Not terrible, not unreadable…but somehow less than her supernatural-fantasy-romance best.

SPOILER ALERT: If you continue to read this post, I might spoil some secrets that are revealed in books one and two. As always, I strongly suggest that you read every book series in order! (Side note: some of this material appeared in my blog review of book #1 http://wp.me/p6N6mT-2K )

Officially classified as a romance, the book actually belongs in the sub-genre of supernatural romance, of which Roberts has written more than a few novels. The story of Stars of Fortune follows six gifted young people — Bran, Sasha, Riley, Sawyer, Doyle, and Annika — who come together to complete an epic quest searching for three priceless jewels, the Stars of Fortune, that have been hidden on earth by three goddesses from a distant world. They must learn to live, search, and fight as a team in the hopes of finding the jewels and of defeating the evil sorceress who is searching for them herself.  All six of the characters are all supernaturally gifted: Riley is a bright archaeologist and a Lycan; Sawyer is a time-traveler; Doyle is a weapons-wielding immortal; Sasha is a seer; Bran is a wizard; and Annika is a mermaid brought to the surface for a short time to help the others.

In Island of Glass, we find our heroes newly arrived at the final destination on their quest: a mansion on the coast of Ireland. Here, surrounded by sumptuous furnishings and gorgeous scenery, they begin the work of locating the last Star of Fortune. Using a combination of ancient texts, excursions to remote parts of Ireland, and magic, the team grows closer and closer to finding the Star. Along the way, they learn that a much deeper magic than simple friendship has linked them together and — of course — the final two characters, Doyle and Riley, fall in love.

Even though I do not always love supernatural and fantasy romance novels, I still have loved some of Robert’s previous books in that genre (see two suggestions below.) This time, however, things just seem super-supernatural, to the point of being silly: distant planets, hidden parallel worlds, everyone a supernatural being, everyone on a life and death quest to save the world; and there is still time for a lot of steamy sex!  Oddly, even with all that going on, there is still quite a bit of the novel dedicated to domesticity. Every time the action slows, there are discussions of who’s doing the dishes and whose turn it is to do the laundry. While I applaud Roberts’s attempt to address the issue of shared work between the men and women, at times it gets to be too much of the plot.

Those criticisms aside: Roberts’s book is populated with likable characters and her signature romantic story-arc is, as always, nice to read. The simple fact is this: she has written similar stories before that make Stars of Fortune seem less than her best.

Among the similar books that Roberts has written, there are several I would recommend in place of Stars of Fortune. If you are in search of supernatural romance, try Three Sisters Island trilogy which follows three witches who must use their powers to stop an dark, menacing presence haunting their beloved island. If you like the idea of a story about six people fated to fight evil together, a better read is the Signs of Seven trilogy which finds a group of six living and working together to defeat the ghost that infects the residents of their town every summer.  If you prefer traditional romances rather than supernatural stories, try The Reef (a stand alone novel) and The Chesapeake Bay Saga (four books told by four male narrators). Reviews of many, many of her books can be found by clicking the Tag “Nora Roberts,” on the right hand side of the main page of this website.

Find a list of all her series, including the ones I mentioned, here http://noraroberts.com/trilogies-and-series/

 

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta (2011)

The Leftovers is a story with a truly fascinating plot line: several years before the book’s action one-third of the world’s population suddenly disappeared in a supernatural event that some believed to be the biblical Rapture, soon purposely re-branded by Christians as the “Sudden Departure” when they realized many of their devout had been left behind. The missing never returned, causing shock, grief and chaos around the globe with the Leftovers wondering how to put their lives back together. Existing religions have begun to crumble, the once-faithful no longer believe in their promises of salvation. In their place several alternative religious cults have emerged; the two which affect the action of the book are The Guilty Remnant (where members forgo family, wealth, even speaking and whose sole purpose to is torment those whose lives have returned to normal) and Holy Wayne movement (led by a false prophet who tells members he can hug away their pain.)

The book focuses on a few residents of a small east coast town, Mapleton, as they struggle to move forward. We meet Kevin, town mayor and father of two, whose wife Laurie has left him to join the Guilty Remnant which requires her to divorce him and never to speak with her family again. Their son Tom has run off to join to Holy Wayne movement; their daughter Jill has fallen into wild behavior and lethargy in the face of her mom and brother’s abandonment. Aimee is an orphaned teen living with Jill and Kevin — badly influencing Jill, inappropriately tempting Kevin. We also meet Meg, Laurie’s religious partner and surrogate daughter in the Guilty Remnant, and Nora, a neighbor and part-time love interest for Kevin, whose entire family disappeared during the Sudden Departure and is just now unsteadily putting her life back together. The group members all have missteps and moments of doubt as the years unspool; the religious struggling to stay committed, the left behind struggling to start new lives without the missing.

Starting out very strong, the story introduces the characters and details their internal and external struggles with the missing and the new world order the Sudden Departure has created. Sadly, the book loses momentum midway through and never regains it. The author seems to stall out, unsure what direction the characters should move; his intensity fizzles out.  The plot action slows in lieu of too much internal development of the characters: what was once well-paced action gives way to unnecessarily complicated plot lines that go nowhere or end abruptly. It feels frustrating to be forced to spend time so much getting to know the characters, only to have Perrotta dash off half-hearted endings for them.

In addition, the author’s early chapters seemed to hint that the book was going to offer some stinging criticism of religion, but that never develops. The tension between traditional religions and the cults would have been an interesting subplot, but the author keeps it as a footnote. Similarly, the development of the cult the Guilty Remnant could have focused more on the group dynamics rather than the minutiae of the cult members’ day-to-day lives and the relationship between just two members — Meg and Laurie — and so it seems like another missed opportunity.

Perhaps in the hands of a more accomplished writer, such as Stephen King, the subject could have really come to life rather than feeling like a half-hearted attempt at psychological supernatural thriller. Under the Dome stands as a much better discussion of life after an unexplained phenomenon than Leftovers.

Stars of Fortune by Nora Roberts (2015)

This novel is the first book in the new Guardians trilogy and is the most recent book released by Nora Roberts, who has written more than 200 books during her career. As a fan of her work, I have read almost all of her books and I can honestly say I enjoy all of them. While I find I love the majority of her work, some of her books just fall a bit flat for me. Stars of Fortune  — while enjoyable to read — is not destined to become a favorite of mine. That is not to say you should skip this book or that I do not recommend it for a quick, light read. Only that I feel this author offers readers other books that better allow her storytelling to shine.

Officially classified as a romance, the book actually belongs in the sub-genre of supernatural romance, of which Roberts has written more than a few novels. The story of Stars of Fortune follows six gifted young people — Bran, Sasha, Riley, Sawyer, Doyle, and Annika — who come together on the Greek island Corfu under mysterious circumstances. Three of the characters are more “traditionally” gifted: Riley is a bright archaeologist, both Sawyer and Doyle are weapons-wielding adventurers. The other three are supernaturally gifted; Sasha is a seer, Bran a wizard, and Annika a traveler from another world (although the details of Annika’s life are not laid out until the end of the book).

These six people are brought together by the Fates to search for three priceless jewels, the Stars of Fortune, that have been hidden on earth by three goddesses from a distant world. They must learn to live, search, and fight as a team in the hopes of finding the jewels and of defeating the evil sorceress who is searching for them herself. This overarching story line is told from the points of view of Sasha and Bran, between whom a romance develops, forming a second story within a story. Readers are left with the impression that Sawyer and Annika then Doyle and Riley will find love together in the subsequent books.

Although this book’s premise is slightly silly — distant planets, hidden parallel worlds, supernatural beings — Roberts book is populated with likable characters and her signature romantic story-arc is, as always, nice to read. It might be the simple fact that she has written similar stories before that make Stars of Fortune seem less than her best.

Among the similar books that Roberts has written, there are several I would recommend in place of Stars of Fortune. If you are in search of supernatural romance, try Three Sisters Island trilogy which follows three witches who must use their powers to stop an dark, menacing presence haunting their beloved island. If you like the idea of a story about six people fated to fight evil together, a better read is the Signs of Seven trilogy which finds the a group of six living and working together to defeat ghost that infects the residents of their town every summer.  If you prefer a picks that are traditional romances rather than supernatural stories, try The Reef (a stand alone novel) and The Chesapeake Bay Saga (four books).

Find a list of all her series, including the ones I mentioned, here http://noraroberts.com/trilogies-and-series/