Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Princess Alethea's Magical Elixir
  Book Reviews by Alethea Kontis
October 2011

Title: Enclave
Author: Ann Aguirre
EAN: 9780312650087

When a publisher puts a Publisher's Weekly quote like "For fans of The Hunger Games" on a book, those are some pretty big shoes to fill. I loved The Hunger Games and recommend it often, so my bar was set pretty high. Fortunately, this quote turns out to be quite true. It's a dark, postapocalyptic story told from the first-person point of view of a fifteen year old girl. Enclave is also blessedly written in past tense, as opposed to the sometimes-awkward present tense that threw me out of The Hunger Games from time to time (thank you, Ann Aguirre).

The book opens with Girl15 on her name day, the day when the three groups of her underground enclave - Breeders, Hunters, or Builders - claim the "brat" and train her in their discipline. Girl15 is adopted by the Hunters and given the name Deuce as well as a series of scars on her arm as a mark of her profession. She is assigned a partner, and together they must run through the dangerous tunnels, checking traps, and returning home with the spoils. Most of all, they mist avoid being attacked by Freaks, monsters that may once have been human but now feed on flesh.

It is the age of the second holocaust, and I suspect (though it is never said outright but may have been subtly implied and I must read it again for clarification) that the Freaks are a zombie-type result of some sort of plague. But one cannot turn into a Freak once bitten (thankfully), one must simply avoid them . . . which is getting tougher, because the Freaks are getting smarter.

The rules of the enclave are strict, but necessarily so as to insure the survival of a group where few live to the ripe old age of twenty-five. Deuce is paired with Fade, a rogue boy not enclave born who swears that he comes from topside. No one believes him, of course, as topside is a legend - everyone knows it is a horrible, unlivable place where acid falls from the sky. But when Deuce stumbles on corruption in the enclave, she and Fade are banished and force to move on . . . so Fade takes them to the surface.

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I have to say, I was magically sucked into the masterful storytelling of Enclave, and I certainly didn't expect to be. Deuce is a fantastic character with amazing depths: an old soul, but with an innocent naiveté that endears her to the reader. It is a wonder experiencing things like sunshine and snow with her for the first time. It makes you think about those simple things in your life that you so often take for granted.

Ann Aguirre's Enclave is a gorgeous book, beautifully written, and a lightning fast read that I wholeheartedly recommend for - yes, indeed - fans of The Hunger Games. The only problem you might have with this book in comparison to Suzanne Collins' infamous trilogy is that this one - as far as I know - is a stand- alone book. And more's the pity. But Ann Aguirre has definitely made a new fan in me, and I anxiously await her sophomore effort!

Title: Ruby Red
Author: Kerstin Gier (translated from the German by Anthea Bell)
EAN: 9780805092523

Just as Grimm's Fairy Tales hailed from Germany, so too did Kerstin Gier's steampunkish time-travel fantasy Ruby Red, and with much the same beauty of style. I fell in instant love with every piece of this book: the gorgeous cover, the prologue (which I admit I went back and reread more than once during the course of the novel), the snippets taken from diaries and chronicles and the secret writings of Count Saint Germaine (which I flipped back to often as well - perhaps there should have been an appendix). I fell in love with sixteen-year-old Gwyneth Montrose, and the private school she attends in London, and her best friend Lesley, and James - the ghost she can see and talk to there.

Gwen is the average of average teenagers - she is not particularly graceful or eloquent and knows far too much about movies (from which she and Lesley learn what history they haven't looked up on Wikipedia) and pop culture. Gwen is the complete opposite of her perfect cousin Charlotte, with her red hair and destiny to be some fabulous time traveling wunderkind. Charlotte is one day older than Gwen, speaks several languages, knows how to fence, and her grades are immaculate. The Guardians have been grooming her to join their very secret society since birth. They are simply waiting for Charlotte to exhibit the requisite dizziness and signs of being bodily whisked away into another time and place.

The glitch, of course, is that Gwen turns out to be the one with the gene, not Charlotte. She is therefore totally unprepared when she finds herself popping in and out of different time periods dressed in her school uniform . . . or worse. Lesley finally encourages Gwen to confess her newfound power to her mother, and Mrs. Montrose reluctantly turns her over to the secret society to both train Gwen and protect her.

The Guardians have a chronograph, a machine with the ability to control exactly when in time those with the time traveling gene show up (the where is always where they are at the time). But this is the second chronograph that's come into their possession - the first one was stolen by Gwen's aunt Lucy and her partner (and lover) Paul de Villiers. Gwen and her partner Gideon de Villiers (for the genes stay in families) are tasked with going back in time and acquiring drops of blood from the previous time travelers, so that the circle of twelve will be complete, and the chronograph will do . . . something.

It's that "something" that Lucy and Paul wanted to avoid. They seem to think that completing the chronograph will culminate in the wonderful event the Guardians have predicted. But why they think this - and what lengths to which they're prepared to go to stop it - wraps untried Gwen up in a dangerous game of intrigue.

Just like Enclave (which I finished directly before picking this up), Ruby Red is eloquently told, with an exceptionally engaging main character and a fascinating world that parallels our own. I can see why this book is an international bestseller, and I'm thrilled that there are two more in the series I can look forward to: Sapphire Blue and Emerald Green. Two enthusiastic thumbs up from this Princess!

Title: Touched By an Alien
Author: Gini Koch
EAN: 9780756406004

I'm always on the lookout for great new science fiction. It's a tougher thing for me to find than one might think. I'm on a lot of review lists and I receive books all the time, but if it's science fiction then it usually turns out to be either 1) hardcore military SF or 2) book 3 of 5 in a series. (Or Steampunk, which I still hesitate to call SF instead of Fantasy. Your thoughts?)

Now, I have no qualms about reading book 3 of 5 normally, but if that's all my column turns into, you guys will get seriously turned off. And while I am anxiously awaiting Myke Cole's Shadow Ops, most space marine stories typically make my eyes glaze over. So I took a trip to the bookstore and scanned the shelves, desperate for a title to jump out at me. Know what I found? Space marines. Book 3 of 5. Steampunk. And stuff I'd already read.

Just when I'd almost given up, my finger stopped on the spine of this book: Touched by an Alien. I laughed at the title and then the cover, which features a smoochy couple with guns surrounded by flying monsters and fighter jets and chaos. PERFECT.

You shouldn't normally judge a book by its cover, but in the case of Touched By an Alien, what you see is what you get: a snarky, action packed, shoot-em-up romance. The book opens with our heroine, Katherine "Kitty" Kat, just finishing jury duty when she witnesses a man transform into a monster in the streets and kills him without thinking twice. Her actions draw the attention of a special branch of the government that not only specializes in aliens . . . they are aliens. And super attractive aliens, to boot.

At that point, the reader simply needs to strap themselves in, hold on to their popcorn and enjoy one heck of a ride all the way to the end. This is one of those summer blockbuster books that's heavy on the snappy dialogue and heart-pounding action. You're better off not stopping to think things like: "Most people would die of exhaustion after 24 hours of this, never mind a whole week" or "Gee, there is an awful lot of exposition shoved into this dialogue" because you're too busy giggling and wondering what happens next.

Fair warning, there are a couple of spicy scenes between our hero and heroine, so this one's definitely not for the kiddies. Which is just as well, because there are more than a few pop culture references to folks like Gloria Steinem and Aerosmith that would probably go over their heads. For the rest of us, though, it's a screaming roller coaster thrill ride that I enjoyed all the way up to the superfluous final chapter.

Vaya con extraterrestres, folks!

Read more by Alethea Kontis

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