Part Matrix, part Lord of the Flies, and thoroughly engaging in its own right.



In Scotson’s (Planets Falling: Earth and Mars Saga, 2014) imaginative dystopian sci-fi novel, a young boy is taken out of a troubled childhood to train as an elite soldier.

A seemingly omniscient governing power called the Collective sends juveniles to train as special forces operatives on “Old 89,” an island in an undisclosed location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Franky Robinson is but one of a small crew of 10-year-old kids who have been selected on account of their broken family lives and potential. Each boy is implanted with a chip behind his ear and given a tailor-made tablet device that uses artificial intelligence to develop an individual’s skill set. Franky has been earmarked as a future leader, and his tablet, nicknamed Yellowcake, is programmed accordingly. Without question, the boys comply with the daily duties—a brutal regimen of martial arts and weapons training—set by the sinister Collective. But when Yellowcake begins contacting Franky via his thoughts, the boy’s regimented life on Old 89 begins to fall apart. Yellowcake allows Franky to access classified information about the Collective by entering a virtual world that resembles a beach. Franky learns of the Collective’s lethal treatment of dissidents and also of a rebellion led by escaped trainees. Further afield, humankind is on the brink of World War III. It is left to Franky to distinguish truth from lie and lead his comrades accordingly. Can he trust Yellowcake or is she another aspect of the Collective’s deception? The constant state of instability and unknowingness is what fuels this intriguing novel. Furthermore, Scotson’s idea of the development and implications of new technologies is nothing short of ingenious. Language is witty and suitably clipped: “Air support is like having a big hammer, which is useful if the nail is big but can lead to a sore thumb if the job is delicate.” At times, dialogue lacks a natural cadence, but that detracts little from this well-conceived page-turner.

Part Matrix, part Lord of the Flies, and thoroughly engaging in its own right.

Pub Date: Dec. 22, 2014

ISBN: 978-0692357453

Page Count: 302

Publisher: garveybooks

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...


Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.


High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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