Sam’s Review of Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason

tgfEvery day our lives intersect with those of countless others. There’s the lady on-line at the grocery store, the parent of another child at the school pick-up line, the man who bumps into you as he hurries up the street. Most of these people are and remain strangers. Some we exchange pleasantries with, then part ways. Rarely, a few become lasting fixtures in our lives. They might turn out to be lovers, confidantes, life-long friends. But, what happens when one of these chance meetings turns into something we regret, leaving us wishing we’d never even met in the first place?

Such an encounter serves as a catalyst for the action in Jamie Mason’s Three Graves Full. Jason Getty meets a stranger one day by chance at the gas station. In an effort to spread a little good karma Jason offers to fill his tank with gas. A relationship that starts out interesting and amicable soon turns sinister when the man drives Jason to commit a crime he never thought himself capable of: murder.

Scared of what he has done, Jason quickly buries the body in his yard where he hopes it will never be found. Jason then slowly starts to put back the pieces of his life to try to move on. Over a year has gone by since the murder when Jason finally feels comfortable having some landscaping done on his property. He carefully watches the workers to make sure they maintain a distance from the dark secret that lurks just beyond the edge of the yard. To Jason’s shock, the workers uncover something…a human skeleton! Sure that his secret has been discovered, Jason follows the men out the yard to have a look. What he sees there is indeed a human skeleton, but not the one he buried in the yard! What’s more, a second body is discovered.

As police are called to the scene to investigate the bodies, Jason begins to unravel. The investigation persists and the reader is introduced to a lively cast of characters, each connected in some way to Jason and the bodies in his yard.

This book made me reflect a lot on our relationships with other people. How well can you really know someone? How much influence do we have over the actions of others? At what point does a person break and become something or someone they never dreamed possible?

Three Graves Full is an exciting mystery thriller that kept me guessing with each turn. Mason does a fantastic job creating characters that leap off of the page and keep you wanting to read just five more pages. I really enjoyed the well-balanced combination of his detailed writing style and fast-moving plot. Infused with tensity and dark humor, this is a book that simply can’t be missed!

4 out of 5 Stars

Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason
Gallery Books (2013)
Hardcover: 320 pages
ISBN: 9781451685039

Special thanks to Gallery Books for my review copy!

Sam Asks: What About Biographies?

biologoBiographies. I have been thinking a lot about this genre lately and have come to the conclusion that there really needs to be better definition within the biography genre. Let me explain.

Last week I went into the biography section at the library and I was frankly puzzled by what I found. Biography isn’t a genre that I tap into much, so I haven’t been in that part of the library in quite some time.

I’m not sure if I’m way off base here, but I just don’t like the idea of Justin Bieber’s biography sitting on the same shelf as Madame Curie, Mother Theresa, William Shakespeare, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Beethoven, etc. My expectation of biography is that the person being written about has done something truly special to earn themselves a place in the library. This is not to say that these celebrity type people have asked for their biographies to be written, as they are of course authored by others. I’m also not saying that there isn’t any value in knowing exactly what Sandra Bullock’s childhood was like…because I’m sure it was fascinating. I would just like a section for “famous people who are very popular because we see them everywhere” and a section for “people who made a difference.”

I think there is something to be said for a person like Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King Jr. who put their lives on the line for what they believed in. Who stood up and said something that many people didn’t have the courage to say. I think that those innovators and inventors like Edison, Einstein, and even Bill Gates have accomplished feats of greatness that deserve a certain level of respect. For me, seeing the One Direction crew in the company of people such as these makes me pause for a moment.

I still remember my 5th grade biography project. It was 1997, so the US Olympic Gymnastics team from Atlanta was still a pretty big deal. Obviously, I chose to read about Dominique Moceanu. I remember reading about her life, diet, and training schedule and thinking about how cool she was. Cool. I think that pretty much sums her up. She is a really talented, athletic, cool person. I think she is definitely biography worthy. However, I don’t think that she’s of the same caliber of biography as Winston Churchill.

What I’m trying to say is that the biography genre generally needs to be more specific. Within fiction there are categories: fantasy, science fiction, realistic fiction, and so on. I suppose biography is a sub genre of non-fiction, but I think we can do better. So far I propose these categories:  cool people, famous people, people who changed the world (so broad, I know…I’ll work on it!)

What do you think? Is one huge biography category enough? Who was your elementary school biography project about?

Sam’s Review of The Bracelet by Roberta Gately

thebThe Bracelet by Roberta Gately follows Abby Monroe, a young woman searching for herself following a difficult breakup. She thought she had found “the one” in long time boyfriend, Eric, but when Eric is offered a job across the country he decides to go on without her.

So, heartbroken and lost, Abby does what any girl would in that situation: join the United Nations and take off half way around the world to Peshawar, Pakistan. Here Abby, a trained nurse, looks at statistical data from a refugee camp and reports her findings to the UN. The goal of their mission is to aid in any way possible the vaccinations of the refugees (mostly women and children) who come there.

One of Abby’s colleagues in Peshawar is Najeela, a bubbly, beautiful young woman originally from Afghanistan. Her family left Afghanistan as her father wanted different opportunities for his wife, a college professor, and his daughter than what would have been allowed had they stayed. Despite the appearance of progressive thinking, Najeela mentions several times that her father can be quite violent and closed-minded at home, but wants to be seen as forward thinking to the public. Thus Abby begins to learn what is going on behind closed doors in her new city.

Of course, because this is a story of a heartbroken young woman there must be a love interest. Enter Nick, a handsome, rugged reporter sent to Peshawar to write a story about the UN’s involvement there. Part of Nick’s assignment is to interview Abby. At first they are at odds. Abby doesn’t want to be interviewed and resents Nick’s arrogant attitude. Nick reveals to her that he considers his interview with her “fluff” and his real angle is to write about human trafficking, which is a major problem in the refugee camp, as well as the city itself. It’s a problem that Nick is passionate about exposing, and one that he feels is being ignored. Abby is shocked to hear about this from Nick and is also hurt at being thought of as “fluff.” Predictably, as they begin to work together their feelings change.

Perhaps the most interesting plot point comes in the very first chapter of the novel where Abby bears witness to a heinous crime. While training in Geneva for her mission in Pakistan, Abby sees a woman being pushed out of a building and falling to her death. What Abby remembers most about the nightmarish scene is a beautifully crafted bracelet on the woman’s arm. With no one around, Abby goes back to her hotel to get help. By the time she brings aid to the crime scene, it has been cleared and no one believes what Abby saw. This experience changes Abby and continues to haunt her throughout her journey.

Gately’s story reads sort of like a Lifetime movie (please know I LOVE Lifetime movies.) It’s easy to follow and surprisingly light given the intense content of human trafficking. I really enjoyed the balance between the love story, friendship, and the healthy dose of reality. Human trafficking is a huge problem in our world, one that deserves attention.

I think that Gately handled her content well, exposing just enough to make her point, but not so much that it was difficult for me to read. I think it is worth bearing in mind the seriousness of the content before you pick up this book as your reaction to those themes/ scenes might be totally different from mine.  All in all a nice, quick read.

3 out of 5 Stars

The Bracelet by Roberta Gately
Gallery Books (2012)
Paperback 336 pages
ISBN: 9781451669121

Special thanks to Gallery Books for my review copy!

Sam Asks: What’s Your Balanced Reading Diet?

In Ms. Gati’s 6th grade reading class, we follow a strict reading diet. This is in an effort to facilitate healthy growth of our thinking and schema. Favorite or “default” genres, authors, and topics are put into the category of “doughnuts” and “pizza,” while challenge genres, authors, and topics are our “broccoli.”

Earlier this year I shared with my students that for me science fiction is a “doughnut” genre and Rick Riordan is a definite “pizza” author. I decided that in order to lead by example, I would participate in my challenge to them: read three “green veggie” genres, authors, or topics in between each of my favorite ones.

So far, it’s been a bit of a challenge! As readers I think our natural inclination is to pick up books that have familiar aspects. My students have found that in reading different genres, they have been able to extend their thinking about certain themes. They have noticed that topics and lessons transcend genres and have been able to draw some very insightful conclusions.

As a group we have seen ourselves grow. In the beginning, we all abandoned far more books than we do now. I think we were afraid of trying something new. We didn’t like the idea of powering into a text that we would have previously thought of as boring or not interesting.

I try to check in with my students as often as possible to make sure that they are reading a broad range of text. In turn, they check in with me. It has gotten to a point where they insist that I leave the book I’m reading on my desk each week so that they can inspect it for genre, author, and topic. I have had to sneak a few science fiction books in on my Nook to avoid being scolded!

Thus, in an effort to hold up my end of the bargain I have moved into a genre that I rarely read, realistic fiction. The Bracelet by, Roberta Gately is a book that deals in current events. Not only is this book “green veggies,” but it was also written for adults (I typically read YA). My students were so proud!

At the close of this post, I have a question and a challenge for you:

Question: What is your reading junk food? What is your green veggie?

Challenge: Next book you choose – let it be something outside of your comfort zone. Balance your reading life, it’s challenging and fun 🙂

Sam Asks: The Thing That Makes You Come Alive

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Me and Dad

On Friday, my father came into my classroom to tell my students about his Norwegian upbringing. He shared stories from his childhood, facts about his country, and even passed around a few wood carved trolls. Through it all, my students listened intently, asked wonderful questions, and absorbed what he was telling them. They were delighted by his accent and his larger than life presence.

But, no part of the presentation had them more captivated then when he read to them from a book of Norwegian folk tales. He held their attention as he acted out each story with enthusiastic facial expressions and spot on voice characterizations. They giggled and gasped, and at the end erupted into applause. The pure joy on their faces was priceless.

One student raised his hand and asked, “how did you get so good at reading like that?”

My father answered, “I have had a lot of practice, I read to my kids every night before they went to sleep.”

At this response, I could see that some of my students were surprised. As my father was packing to go, one little girl came up to me and wanted to know, “did your dad really read to you every night?”

“Yes he did,” I answered with a smile, “just like he did for you today.”

“Wow,” she breathed, “you are so lucky.”

As I looked at her awe-struck face, it was all I could do not to cry. Me? Lucky? Because my dad read to me?

Now, I am not so naive to think that all parents read to their children. I get enough parent letters about the 30 minutes of reading I assign each night to know that isn’t so. But, in my opinion, reading is a gift. There are so many people out there who have never been taught to read, who will never know the words of Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, J.K. Rowling, or even Dr. Seuss.

Somewhere along the way reading has gotten a reputation of being “boring,” a “chore,” an “assignment.” I have always read because I wanted to, not because I had to.

In my life, some of my most important life lessons have come from books. I have become who I am because of what I have seen in books that delight or disturb me. My best memories are of reading, being read to, and sharing literature.

I will always remember the book that started it all for me. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. I read it for the first time in the 5th grade. I read it for the 100th time just last week. Up until I read Ella I had been read to. Stories had been pre-selected for me by parents and teachers, and I have to say that I LOVED them all. But, Ella Enchanted was different. I went into the bookstore with my mom to look for a book on my summer reading list. As she paid for a short stack of books at the register, I continued to browse. My fingers gently outlined the bindings. I read title after title, smiling to myself at how much I looked forward to reading them all! At last, my finger landed on a brownish spine that it has landed on so many times since. I gently removed it from the shelf and opened to the first page. I was already finished with the first chapter by the time my mother found me.  It was there, with that book that I found my voice as a reader. I don’t know if I would have been able to do that if it weren’t for my parents making reading a part of the fabric of our lives.

As I think back to the little girl in my class, the opening lines of The Great Gatsby come to mind:

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. 

Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.

Today I am reflecting on these words and have come to this conclusion:

My advantage in life has been having a father who read to me. If he hadn’t stayed up night after night reading “just one more page,” I wouldn’t be the woman I am today. I wouldn’t be out there every day trying to spark in other young minds the same love that has been sparked in me.

I had a professor in college who said to us, “I am here because I want to help you find your passion, the thing that makes you come alive. Find that. Do that. Know success.” I will never forget those words. I repeat them to my students, help them find their passion, show them that mine is reading. Teaching makes me come alive, and I never would have known that if it hadn’t been for my first teacher, my father, who read to me every night before bed.

So I suppose, dear readers, what I’d like to know from you is:

The book that started it all.

Your advantage.

The thing you do that makes you come alive.

Sam’s Review of Song of the Red Cloak by Chantel Acevedo

redcloakI want to preface my review today by saying that I know this author. She was an English teacher at my high school and although I never took one of her classes myself, I really really wanted to! She has an incredible way about her, which carries seamlessly over into her writing. Her writing voice is charming, witty, and funny. I may or may not gently stalk her blog, which is how I found this book! (A full year after it was published… I never said I was a good stalker…)

In Chantel Acevedo’s young adult novel, Song of the Red Cloak, two young princes, born to separate houses, cling to their mothers. Neither knows it yet, but only one will grow up to be king of Sparta. A prophecy from the Gods declares that one boy will go on to betray the other. So, it is decided that there will only be one prince, and the other baby must be sacrificed to the Gods for the good of the people of Sparta.

Fast forward 16 years where we meet Galen, a helot (slave). He is a kitchen boy at the local school where Spartan boys train to become strong and cunning warriors. Galen dreams of one day wearing the red cloak of the Spartans into battle, however such things are impossible for a boy in his station. The closest he can ever hope to get to being a true warrior is to spar and practice with the Spartan boys at the agoge (school).

Luckily for Galen he has found a unique friendship with prince Nikolas, heir to the Spartan throne. Their friendship allows Galen certain privileges that other helots simply would never have. Others in Sparta are troubled by the boys’ bond and have a hard time accepting that two who are so different could be so close.

In the book Nikolas and Galen find their friendship tested in a way neither could have anticipated. Nikolas’ family holds the power in Sparta, but the other royal family wants their turn to rule. Their son, Acayo, attends school with Nikolas and makes every effort to assert dominance.  In addition to scheming royals, there are also two young ladies who threaten to come between Galen and Nikolas. The mysterious and powerful Zoi and Korinna have secrets that threaten not only the boys’ friendship, but also Sparta itself.

Prophecies. Sacrifices of blood. Gods and goddesses. As a reader I couldn’t have been more captivated by the story. I have always been fascinated by Greek myth and Ancient Greek culture. This book blended the elements of Greek study that I love with elements of Spartan life that I have never known before. Acevedo does a wonderful job of explaining the rituals and giving background on the time period without making it sound like a lecture. Each historical fact is woven carefully into the story, which makes it all the more interesting to read.

Galen is a truly heroic main character. His loyalty to Nikolas combined with his bravery in the face of a fight and dream of one day wearing the red cloak, regardless of his station in life, makes his journey exciting to watch. With each chapter it becomes more and more clear just how Spartan he really is, despite the class in which he was raised. By the end, Galen has truly earned his red cloak and as a reader I found myself rooting for him every step of the way.

However, as I read I found it harder and harder to keep up with all of the action. There is a complicated sequence of events that leads Galen to discover something within him he could never have imagined to be true. The pace of the story was fantastic because it urged me to keep reading and I honestly didn’t want to put it down. But, I found that with this pace and all of the information I was getting occasionally meant that I glossed over some really important pieces of the puzzle. I found myself re-reading to pick up a breadcrumb or two that I lost along the way.

Once I had all of the pieces the story fell neatly into place and I was back to being a happy reader. I love that this story was mostly about friendship. It was about two boys, who against all odds become brothers. It was a journey of self-discovery. Figuring out who you are as a person and who you are among your people. Personally, as a young woman who is searching for her place in this world, I found myself totally attached to Galen’s quest.

This story is epic. It has everything! Packed with action, romance, adventure, and even magic there is so much to love!  As I read I kept track of all the new facts I had learned. I was inspired to read more about Sparta, which allowed me to create an even better picture in my mind of Acevedo’s intricate and beautifully described world. That world made me love the story even more. I am so glad that I stumbled across this book. I sincerely hope that you consider picking it up…mostly because I really need someone to talk to about the ending!

P.S. As if she weren’t bad ass enough…this book was self-published. Super cool. Super brave. If you want to know more about the reason she chose to do that, you too can gently stalk her awesome blog here.

5 out of 5 Stars

Song of the Red Cloak by Chantel Acevedo
CreateSpace (2011)
Paperback: 310 pages
ISBN: 9781463719319

Sam’s Review of Matched (Matched #1) by Ally Condie

matchedYou wake up in the morning and dress in the same outfit you wear every day. You come downstairs to find your family dressed identically, in a house identical to all of your neighbors. As you exchange good mornings, your breakfast arrives in a slot near your kitchen. Each meal has the name of the family member to whom it belongs. The calories have been counted carefully, the nutritional value balanced so that you may stay healthy, fit, and strong. After your meal you grab your pill container. It’s small, holding just three tiny pills.

Blue, you have been told, will help you survive for three days should you run out of food and water. Green helps calm you down if you are feeling anxious. Finally, Red, the mysterious final pill which no one seems to ever remember taking. It is rumored to bring death. But why would The Society want to do that?

With your pills safe at hand, you head out the door to an air train station where you meet all of your friends, with whom you head to school. Your classes are carefully prepared and planned, all containing the same curriculum: the 100’s. 100 poems, 100 songs, 100 paintings, 100 books. All have been pre-selected by the origins of society as the only works needed. As you work and play you are being watched. Always watched.

This is life for Cassia, a teen growing up in Oria under the restrictive rule of The Society, the ruling party in Ally Condie’s dystopic novel Matched.  Everything is decided for Cassia. Her every move is recorded by The Officials so that The Society might find her the perfect Match. The Matching Ceremony is the most important of all functions of The Society, as it makes the rest of one’s life possible.

For her matching ceremony Cassia wears a spring green dress and carries a valuable and prized possession, an artifact. It’s a silver compact that once belonged to her grandmother in the times before The Society. Such things are rare in Cassia’s world. Sameness is not only encouraged, but demanded. The Matching Ceremony is the only occasion where it is appropriate for citizens to dress elegantly, so Cassia’s bright green dress is in sharp contrast to her parent’s plain clothes.

The Matching Ceremony is truly a special occasion. Boys and girls from all over the country gather in halls fitted with large screens to await their match. The screens give the first glimpses of the person they are to spend the rest of their lives with. Once your match is revealed, you receive a micro card with all of the data you need to know about your match. Everything from physical appearance to favorite color. Then come the chaperoned digital meetings, carefully planned by The Officials, until finally, you meet in person. All of this excites Cassia as she nervously awaits her match.

As the screen pulls up the face of her match, she is shocked to see her very best friend Xander staring back at her. It is a statistical improbability to not only know your match, but to already be so close. After the shock, Cassia is happy that The Society has made such a perfect choice for her and she can hardly wait to get home and look at the micro card to see if there’s anything she doesn’t already know about her beloved friend. But as she puts his card into her computer port, a very odd and unexpected thing happens. The face of another boy, Ky, pops up on her screen. Ky Markham also lives in her town, and also attends school with Cassia. Could there be a mistake? Is Ky her match? Can the Society even make mistakes? And thus Cassia begins to do the very thing The Society never wants; she begins to question.

She seeks out Ky Markham, gets to know him, and finds out all she can about him. She realizes just how much they have in common, how happy she is when they are together, and how much she wishes that she had the power to choose.

In Matched ( the first book in the trilogy), Ally Condie sets up a world we all hope will never exist. A world where computers and data dictate our every move. A world where the illusion of free will is being passed off as the real thing. Together, Cassia, Ky, and Xander begin to question the world they have grown up in, in the hopes of finding others who are doing the same.

I really enjoyed the concept of this book. It is dystopia at its most extreme. As readers we are introduced to a world that seems to function perfectly on the surface. So long as the citizens never question, never wonder “what if,” it all proceeds smoothly. Once that seed of doubt is planted though, everything begins to unravel in an exciting way!

I also have to say, as a girly girl at heart, I was a complete sucker for the romance aspects. It was sweet, innocent, and completely heartwarming. If you’re interested in a healthy dose of teen romance with your dystopia, Matched is your book!  And if you’re anything like me you’ll be happy to know that there is no need to worry about waiting for the next two to come out! All three books (Book 2 is Crossed and book 3 is Reached) in the trilogy have been released.

5 out of 5 Stars

Matched by Ally Condie
Penguin Group (2011)
Paperback: 400 pages
ISBN: 9780142419779

Sam’s Review of When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

When I fall for a book, I fall hard.  I can barely think about anything else.  I become consumed.  When I’m not reading the book, I’m researching things that the book makes me think about, or I’m texting my sister to tell her to pick up a copy, or I’m talking my husband’s ear off about one part or another.  It’s a sickness, really.  As of yet, I’ve found no cure for a good book, though admittedly I haven’t really been trying.

This happened to me most recently with a book called When She Woke, by Hillary Jordan.  It’s a tale of forbidden and doomed love set in a future where the right-wing religious folk have finally gotten their ducks in a row long enough to elect the right (but oh so wrong) people into power. Together, these people have criminalized abortions, deeming it murder, and have invented a nifty little drug that can actually pigment the skin. What this pigment allows them to do is change the color of a convicted criminal’s skin to match their infraction. For example for a misdemeanor, you become yellow, child molesters are blue, and the murderers are a dark scarlet red.

Enter Hannah Payne. A good girl who has fallen hopelessly and passionately in love with her Reverend, one Aiden Dale. Aiden is a sort of religious rock star, known and beloved by both his own Texas congregation and the entire God-loving world. But alas, Reverend Dale is already taken by the lovely and sweet Mrs. Alyssa Dale. Despite the obvious reasons why not, Ms. Payne and the good Reverend embark on an affair that leaves Hannah in quite a predicament. Pregnant, scared, and in love she does the only thing she can think of to save Aiden from the shame of exposing him for what he truly is. She gets an illegal abortion rather than bear his child and face the scrutiny of an angry public. When her crime is discovered, Hannah is arrested and forced to stand trial. Through it all she refuses to name both Aiden as the father and the man who preformed the abortion. Her sentence is sixteen years as a Red. Every four months for sixteen years Hannah will be injected with a virus that gives her skin the outward appearance of what society believes her to be, a murderer.

Hannah loses everything.  Her child, her love, her family, her dignity, and even her  faith in God.  And this is only the beginning.

It only takes a sentence or two to make the not so subtle connection between When She Woke to the beautiful and classic novel The Scarlet Letter, but Ms. Jordan’s story stands well on its own. The reason you still find The Scarlet Letter in classrooms today is that the story is still very real. Our society thrives on creating and ridiculing outcasts. Ms. Jordan shows the reader how a story conceived and distributed so long ago is still a part of our present and future.

As a reader I found myself fascinated by Aiden Dale. He has countless opportunities to expose himself to his wife and followers for who he truly is, but time and time again he begs Hannah to do it for him. He wants her to be the one to name him when she is questioned by police, when she is on trial, when she is running for her life. He cannot bring himself to tell the truth despite the fact that he knows it will bring him peace. He bears the weight of the world. When everyone looks to him to help them find salvation in God, he looks to Hannah to show him the way. She had to sacrifice their child and herself in order to save him. She gave everything. She knew he wouldn’t expose the truth. Knew that she had to protect his wife, his congregation. Hannah knew that their faith in Aiden was more important that their love. And so she bore the weight of their judgment. She let everyone hate her. She laid down the life of her baby so that the rest of the world could have Aiden Dale and believe.

As I said, I fell for this book. Hard. There is so much to think, wonder, question. I think I will go back to this story again and again. My next job will be to reread the original version of this story and bring to it this new perspective. I love that about reading.

Thank you Hillary Jordan for giving me a new look at an old favorite.

I’m giving this 4 out 5 stars. Partially because I can’t help but feel there’s something missing, and partially because I’m heartbroken that our relationship ended so soon.

4 out of 5 Stars

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (2012)
Paperback: 368 pages
ISBN: 9781616201937

Sam’s Review of The Tube Riders by Chris Ward

So first of all, I am thrilled to be writing this review right now. I love love love books and it is my personal belief that the best part about reading is talking about it with someone else. I think talking about reading makes the experience a lot more meaningful. Us book folk have to stick together right?

I am currently obsessed with Young Adult Dystopic Fiction, so I literally jumped at the chance to read The Tube Riders by Chris Ward. The story takes place in futuristic Mega Britain where a corrupt and terrible leader called the Governor has been ruling for over 40 years. He is hell-bent on bringing Mega Britain to the forefront of space exploration while keeping his country a big secret from the rest of the world.

In the name of the Governor and his space initiative, London has been reduced to a violent slum, which sports very high perimeter walls to keep all residents in. It is a scary place to live. Guns, knives, and screwdrivers are essential tools of survival. People are reduced to doing unspeakable things simply to put food on the table. The citizens live in constant fear for their lives. No one is spared the tragedy of losing a loved one whether it’s due to untimely and brutal death or mysterious disappearance.

Ward’s story centers around a group of misfits called the Tube Riders. The only way that Marta, Paul, Simon, and Switch have found to cope with the dismal circumstances of their lives is by engaging in the dangerous pastime of riding the trains in the Underground. Using a device called a “clawboard,” this group runs after the incoming train, jumps, catches the rail, and then rides and jumps off before the train disappears through the exit arch. Little do they know, this will be the very skill that will save them all later on.

All goes wrong when a rival gang, the Cross Jumpers, show up to their abandoned Tube Station to ambush them. The Cross Jumpers, led by a woman called Dreggo, are jealous of the infamous stories and whispers about the Tube Riders and aim to eliminate them once and for all. In an attempt to flee the Cross Jumpers, the Tube Riders catch a train and hang on for dear life, dismounting at what they think is the next abandoned station.

A case of wrong place, wrong time gets them into more trouble than they are prepared to handle when they witness a government assassination, which they conveniently tape on one of the country’s last contraband digital cameras…

If news of the assassination got out to the public or worse, the world, then Mega Britain would have a revolution and world war on its hands, neither of which the Governor wants.

So, we have The Tube Riders (who are being pursued by the Governor), a team of secret agents, Dreggo and her Cross Jumpers…and because they don’t have enough to deal with, let’s add the Huntsmen. Huntsmen are the Governor’s high tech super killers. Hybrid human/ dog/ computers who have super strength, super smell, and no remorse. Their targets are the Tube Riders. These bloodthirsty beasts will not stop until they bring their prey, and anyone connected with them, to their brutal and  violent death.

What follows is a long game of cat and cat and cat and mouse as the Tube Riders attempt to flee to France with the information of the assassination. The Tube Riders try their best to hold their pursuers off at every turn. Along the way they learn that the assassination they witnessed is only the tip of the iceberg and the Governor’s reign goes much deeper than even the terrible Huntsmen.

I have to admit that I felt very overwhelmed while reading this book. The story weaves in and out of each character, not only the Tube Riders but also the Governor, Dreggo, two agents, a Huntsman, and many other characters we meet along the way. None of these characters were free of baggage, and serious baggage at that. That, combined with the colorful street language and necessity of survival, is enough to make anyone’s head spin.

But, despite the fact that I felt emotionally drained each time I put the book down, I still kept going back for more. It was slow going, but well worth it. At the core this story had a very solid plot, which meant  that no matter how many characters there were or how sad their plight, it was all held together by a cohesive thread. That thread, I think, is that each of these characters were real. Everyone from the sinister Governor to the street wise Switch had elements of both good and evil. These people exist in our world, which makes them all the more interesting. I imagine that there will be another chapter in The Tube Riders series and I for am looking forward to what comes next.

3 out of 5 Stars

The Tube Riders by Chris Ward
CreateSpace (2012)
eBook: 624 pages
ISBN: 1475116500

Special thanks to the author for my review copy!