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Flotilla by Daniel Haight

FlotillaSource: Copy from author
Format: Ebook
Rating:  3 Stars
Reviewer: Laurel

Flotilla is an unyielding exploration of people and technology in a perilous world. When 15-year-old Jim joins his dad on Colony D, he doesn’t see it as the new frontier in green technology and sustainability; he sees a free pass out of rehab to spend the summer on a man-made island in the Pacific. Jim thinks his troubles are marooned on the mainland, but it turns out that his dad has secrets of his own. When things stop adding up, and Jim becomes suspicious, he makes a horrible discovery.
But now, that’s the least of his problems.

The United States come under attack, and Jim’s parents go missing. Drug runners and modern-day pirates are coming to settle a score. All he and his sister have now are an old boat, limited supplies, and each other. Jim must race against time if he wants to escape the catastrophic meltdown of civilization.

Jim is fourteen years old, and an alcoholic. Or at the very least, a party-going heavy drinker. He comes out of hospital after his latest round of drinking, and is ‘sentenced’ to spending a summer with his Dad, Rick Westfield, on Colony D., a man-made island in the Pacific that houses those farming fish for an on-shore company. Ostensibly, Jim’s father is a fish farmer.

I felt quite sorry for Jim through most of the story. From everything he says (Jim narrates the story), he really is trying to get his life back onto an even keel. He learns (not with much help from his dad, Rick, mind) that life is better when one stays away from alcohol, and he just wants to be a normal person. The only problem is, Rick is anything but normal, and keeps throwing Jim into deep ends that he has to wade out of – not helpful deep ends either, much. Jim eventually figures that Rick is running “scams” (deals) with other people in Colony D – though he never directly admits to doing so – and Jim keeps getting caught in the middle of them.

There were some really touching moments when Jim speaks of his little sister Maddy, and one can tell, despite the issues he has with alcohol and his parents, he really loves and cares for her. But is helpless at the hands of his parents, who barely attempt to comprehend him.

Though this book does end on a post-apocalyptic note, I wouldn’t classify it as post-apocalyptic. The vast majority of the action takes place on Colony D (the flotilla of the title), and is a study in the culture of the colony. It follows Jim’s adventures, or misadventures, as he gets to know the inhabitants of the colony (at the hand of his dad, who is rather off-hand about most things), all while trying to not drink. It was, for me, more reminiscent of a disaster story, when all hell breaks loose towards the end.

Overall a very interesting read, and I would be happy to read another book by Haight.

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Zombie Girl: Dead Awakened by Pippa Jay

Zombie Girl 1Source: ARC from author
Format: Kindle ebook
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewer: Laurel

Imagine waking up to find the world has ended, but unfortunately you’re not alone…

For Connor Innis, awakening from a year-long coma with no memories, no ability to move, and unable to speak was bad enough. Then he learns that a bioweapon set off a zombie apocalypse—for real—while he was sleeping, and the world he can’t even remember no longer exists.

Rehabilitation might be torture, but far worse awaits him outside. All too soon, the hospital Mentor declares him fit to leave with nothing to go home to except a city full of mindless, flesh-eating monsters. That is, until he forms a strange relationship with the one he nicknames ‘Zombie Girl’.

The concept is pretty much what it says in the blurb. A young man, Connor, wakes up to an ICU, having been unconscious for a year, and a relentless Mentor AI that pushes him through rehab. I’m not sure we find out why he was in hospital. He has no memories, and the world outside has changed. A bioweapon was unleashed – one he and other coma patients remain unaffected by – and the locals have become zombie-like. We learn nothing of the world outside the city – Connor’s lack of memories reinforces this. And it appears no contact is possible. But then he meets Zombie Girl.

Pippa Jay is a writer who brings stories to life. This is probably one of her calmer stories – her usual modus operandi is to torture her heroes, and there’s relatively little of that in this tale – but it’s no less vivid or poignant for that absence.

I wouldn’t say that Zombie Girl: Dead Awakened is Jay’s most tightly-written novella, but it is a delightful – if at times a teensy bit gory – tale nevertheless. What do I mean by tightly-written? From what I could detect, there weren’t multiple levels of meaning or complexity to the story, which I am more used to from Jay’s other novellas. It just appears to be a rather sweet account of what happens after Connor wakes up. There’s nothing wrong with this; it’s quite a pleasant change to read something simple that doesn’t tax my brain too much. I really liked the way it wrapped up, and it would be interesting to see what happens next in this world.

Maxx Fragg, V.P.I. by S.A. Check

Maxx Fragg
Source: ARC from author
Format: Kindle ebook
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewer: Laurel

When Maxx lost his brother in a car accident, his world fell apart. It didn’t help he was driving the car when it happened. Finding an escape inside the virtual world of Other Syde, Maxx runs the Maxx Fragg Virtual Paranormal Investigative Agency with his best friend, Tane. But in a world where dreams become reality, can nightmares be far behind?

When a real ghost attacks Maxx inside the program, he’s saved by the last person he ever expected to see again, his brother. Risking everything for a chance to say he’s sorry, Maxx, Tane, and Maxx’s almost-girlfriend Emi, need to figure out why real ghosts are haunting a virtual world while on the run from a murderous cybergeist, high-tech security guards, a corrupt corporation with their own plans for the technology, the recluse genius who created the program, and Maxx’s own demons.

This book is refreshingly humorous and inventive. We meet Maxx Fragg, a Virtual Paranormal Investigator who scams the denizens of the virtual world of Other Syde as a ghost hunter in return for, well, payment. (what else?) Except he soon runs into a real ghost, with some serious consequences.

A quick and easy read, I just love Check’s imagination, which comes through clearly. He treats serious subjects gently, and makes one laugh at the not-so-serious stuff. And this is the only spoiler: the dream sequences are FREAKY! Very well done, they are.

It is a pity that the quality of the editing does not match that of the story itself, and it is hoped that a future edition of this book will be made available to a higher standard. This is the only reason this book did not receive five stars from me.

If you enjoyed the Tron movies, and even Neuromancer, this one’s of a similar ilk. I’m not up on the YA protocols, but this appears to be a YA read.