Little Ones of Holda In ~ Short Story

“There’s trouble coming, son. Take your sister and hide in the basement. Remember, always survive. Live to survive.”

Solemn brown eyes in thin oval face were bright with fear and determination. The sharp edges of his nose, cheeks and jawline become prominently displayed as every muscle in the young boy’s body coils close to act. His only answer was to give his Father a single nod of understanding and then he was off to gather his sister and minor provisions.

A tiny little girl with lopsided pigtail braids, bright smile and tattered boys clothes sat at a chipped wooden desk. Homemade ink splattered across her right hand as she tried to draw a lizard on an old magazine. Igwa the lizard was a present that her Father had given to her as a birthday present that year. She loved it! Her older brother called it a lazy animal but she didn’t care. She loved the way it scampers across the floor and flicks its tongue out to eat bugs. She was just about to finish drawing the spines on the back when her brother tapped her shoulder.

She looked over her shoulder and beamed at her brother. “Guguh! Look, I’m drawing Igwa!”

The boy’s sharp features softened as he looked at his sister. “That looks great! We have to go and play the hiding game. You ready to play?”

“Yes! I remember. We have to be quiet, take our bag and go hide.”

“That’s right. Go get your bag and be ready to go in one minute. Ok?”

“Ok, Guguh!”

As the youngest Park scootched off her seat and ran to get her backpack, the young boy moved to grab a water filter, a large bottle of water and the flat cakes that their Father had made for breakfast. He threw everything into a bag that already held a change of clothes for each of them and zipped it closed. He swung it onto his back and met his sister by the main door to their suite of rooms. He put a finger against his lips and she nodded. He opened the door slowly and listened hard.

Nothing.

Nothing but the rush of blood pumping hard in his chest. The angry hiss of him trying to breathe sounded too loud. So loud that anyone could hear it. He knew it was nothing but fear spiking into paranoia but he couldn’t strangle it silent. Taking a big breath, the young boy that has yet to see his teen years, took his baby sister’s hand and they ran down the shadowed hallway, past the stairwell, rusting metal doors, and stopped at the maintenance closet just long enough to open the door and closet themselves inside.

His heart pounded louder than their soft footfalls on the carpet when they ran in the hallway. He put one hand on the wall and held onto the little one with the other. Uneven texture of pitted and paint peeling wall turned into a cold rusted metal. He pulled the chute open and whispered, “Remember to keep your arms and legs together and roll once you get to the bottom. Ok?”

“Ok,” she whispered back. She felt him pick her up, and she gave him a quick hug and kiss on his chin before he placed her into the chute. There was a moment where nothing happened at all and then she was off! She almost gave out a whoop of glee before she remembered that they were playing the hiding game.

The little girl loved the way the world seem to pass by in a hissing whoosh. She knew she was falling but it felt more like an adventure ride that ends in a pile of old pillows. She couldn’t help but giggle when she landed with a whumph and a cloud of dust danced into the air. She was about to jump up and down on the pillows but remembered to roll away instead and hide behind the large grey laundry cart. She tucked into herself, became as small as she could be and waited. She started to count to a hundred the way her Father taught her to.

One one thousand.

Two one thousand.

Three one thousand.

Her bubbly joy began to fade as she reached the thirties without a sign of her brother and started to count into the forties. A ping of unease wove into her heart and the palms of her little hands became moist. The feeling of foreboding crept over her slowly with the passing of each thousand and she was ready to give up on the game when a hissing noise tempered the silence and a darker figure flew into the air to land with a whumph! She didn’t wait like she’s suppose to. She ran fast as lightning, threw herself on her brother and hugged him tight.

“I was scared, Guguh.” she whispered into his side. Her eyes closed tight. She felt him hug her back awkwardly, patting her thin shoulder.

“Shh– shhh. It’s ok. Don’t forget the rules. We have to be very quiet and hide. Let’s go hide in the basement storage room. We’ll hide until Father finds us.”

The little girl nodded. One of her pigtails loosened and wavy little locks of blue black hair bounced as she moved her head. This time, she grabbed her brother’s hand and held tight. Her small, heart shaped face no longer held a bright smile.

They moved quickly in an almost jog. He lead her in a maze of turns that they both knew well. The whole building was their home, haven and playground. They knew every inch of it. Though, he had a better grasp of it than she did. The darkness didn’t frighten them. It never did. It would be hard to live in the desolate wastelands if one is afraid of the dark. Yet, the tension in the young boy’s frame only coiled tighter and the littlest Park could feel it. She didn’t understand why but she could feel that there’s something wrong.

It didn’t take long for them to reach the small storage room. He was careful to lift the door slightly and then open it. Otherwise, it would make a screeching squeal of worn and rusting metal. He tapped her on the back to let her know to go in. She felt for the edge of the door frame and walked in slowly with her hands held up in front of her. She only took seven steps into the room before turning around. She listened hard.

A noise of cloth moving against cloth. A huff of breathe. A ting-cked of metal and a definite click of the door setting into the place.

“Guguh?” she whispered.

“Go to the corner. We’ll wait on the little couch.” he whispered back.

They settled down onto the old, lumpy couch. He unrolled a blanket that their Father had left down there and pulled it over them. “We may be here for a while. Why don’t you try and take a nap?”

He felt her nod her head against his narrow chest and she snuggled in closer. It was a while before her breathing evened out in sleep. He tried to keep himself occupied by going over the plans for surviving in the desert. What to do if their Father didn’t come for them by nightfall. What he would have to do to keep them both safe until they reached Dodge City. It wasn’t safe for kids to be out in the desert alone.

Trouble was the code for raiders. Raiders came to toss Holda once every few years. Different ones for different reasons. The world’s gone to hell in a hurry when the bombs were let loose. Now everything is a wasteland and life is far from normal. Survival wasn’t for the smartest or the most fit. It was for whoever was strong enough to fight for life and smart enough to keep it going after victory.

Disjointed memories flooded his mind. He couldn’t just sit there and think about plans. No matter how many times he went over it all, it may not matter one whit. It could have been a false alarm. The Holda people may fight off the raiders. Their Father may die in the fight. Memories of the last big raid pushed over his denials and clogged his brain.

Screams.

The sharp Hai of fighting turned into harsh denials that turned into screams of fear and pain.

Dark red.
Everywhere.
It flowed quickly like a creature with a mind of its own. Searching for him. It came so close. Within inches of his face before stopping. A thin flow of red that grew thicker and darker. The rounded edges bloomed and made a lake of red out of the thin flow.

It grew each time Mother screamed.
Her screams grew hoarse and weak.
Wet sounds and masculine grunts took over.

He doesn’t remember when she stopped screaming.
When she stopped making any noise at all.
But the grunting and cursed filled satisfaction of the strangers didn’t stop.

He woke up in the darkness with a jerk and a whimpering scream clawing his throat dry. A rush of fear driven adrenaline and heat flooded his system. The cold quickly ate away the jagged warmth from his uncovered face as knowledge of where he was took root. An uncomfortable weight pushed down in his tummy. It didn’t help that the little one was snuggled tight against his side. He needed to go but he didn’t want to do it in the room.

He froze.

A loud clank and the sound of people moving. Muffled voices. He shook his little sister awake with a hand over her mouth. It muffled her questions. Her sleepy confusion. He put his lips near her ear and whispered fiercely, “Keep quiet and stand up with me. People are coming. They may find us. If it’s not Father, we have to run. Ok? Just nod your head.”

She nodded.

They stood up. He reached into the cushions of the couch and pulled out a metal rod. He rolled his shoulders and loosened his muscles. They were light from sleep but sore and tingling from were the littlest Park slept on him. He put her hand on edge of the back of his shirt. She knew to stand there. To be out of the way if he had to fight. To run.

Only minutes passed as the noises and voices grew louder but it felt like eons to the children. They waited. Growing more tense as time edged by. They didn’t have to wait too long before the heavy metal door was thrown open with a screaming metallic clash.

The shadowed outlines of a large man filled the doorway and wetness quickly puddled in the young boy’s pants as his bladder let go. The sharp smell of fresh urine filled the air and his body shook in shame wrapped fear.

With a roar of defiance, he tore away from his sister and rushed the enemy.

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Scarlet ~ Marissa Meyer

  • Title: Scarlet
  • Author: Marissa Meyer
  • Series: Lunar Chronicles #2
  • Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction, YA
  • Format: Audiobook
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Description:  The fates of Cinder and Scarlet collide as a Lunar threat spreads across the Earth…

Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She’s trying to break out of prison—even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive.

Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn’t know about her grandmother or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.

Scarlet picks up right where Cinder left off, but follows parallel plots featuring different groups of characters. The primary plot features Scarlet, a young woman in France who searching for her missing grandmother. She teams up with the mysterious Wolf, when evidence indicates his former gang may have Grand’Mere. Meanwhile, back in New Beijing, Cinder’s storyline is focused on her escape from prison with the aid of a dashing fellow prisoner, Captain Thorn.

The level of adventure is much higher in this book. While the first book was set in a scenario with a threat of danger, in this second book the danger has arrived. I found my heart racing and I could not stop reading (er, listening). Would they capture Cinder? Can Scarlet really trust Wolf? Is the Lunar Queen going to attack Earth? Well, my dear reader, those are things your will need to discover for yourself.

The world building in this series is so vivid. I like the soft feel of the science fiction fabric woven by Meyer. She gives us just enough description to accept the technology without having it intrude upon the story itself. This gives her much more room to focus not just on the intrigue (of which there is plenty), but also on the development a great characters.

Scarlet is both soft and strong, determined, yet compassionate. She is the perfect foil for our flawed hero, Wolf. Dear Wolf, so fierce and hard, yet he unable to deny his warm heart. My favorite new character, however, has to be Captain Thorn. His arrogant, yet charming demeanor brings a smile to my face. It is also refreshing to see that Cinder and Kai do not just become caricatures, as is often the case when the leads from the first book appear in the sophomore book of a series.

A growing cast of characters and plot lines can often result in an unwieldy storyline. Not in this case. Meyer masterfully weaves these threads together in a book that is exciting and satisfying. My only disappointment is that I have to wait several months until the release of the next book.

*Foot note: I want to also give a shout out to the narrator for this series, Rebecca Soler. She does a great job of creating distinct voices for her characters and capturing their emotions as appropriate. I also give major props to the cover artist. the covers for this series are simply awesome. The pop of red on each cover draws the eye, while the fairy tale font and the primary image hint at the fairy tale being adapted in each book.

The Doorkeepers ~ Graham Masterton

  • Title: The Doorkeepers
  • Author: Graham Masterton
  • Genre: Horror
  • Format: Paperback
  • Source: Own copy
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Description:  Julia Winward, a young American woman, has been missing in England for nearly a year. When her mutilated body is discovered in the Thames, her brother, Josh, is determined to find out what happened to his sister during that lost time. But nothing Josh discovers makes any sense: Julia had been living at an address which hadn’t existed since World War II . . .


Review: 
This was a strange little tale. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I sometimes jump into a novel, knowing absolutely nothing about it, just to keep myself in suspense. I thought it would be a good idea to approach The Doorkeepers this way, since I did know that it fell into the horror genre. Early in the book, there is quick mention of the Abba song, Dancing Queen (one of my all-time favorite hits), and then character that mentions the song almost immediately orchestrates a rather vicious murder. It was almost as if Masterton chose that particular song to lull the reader into a false state of complacency so that when the brutality struck it would be all the more horrifying. Crafty boy.

The plot of The Doorkeepers follows the story of an American man and his girlfriend who journey to England to find out more about the murder of his sister. As they begin to investigate, they discover that his sister may not have been murdered in modern day England after all. It turns out that there are hidden doorways that act as portals between dimensions, and that she may have been living in another dimension at the time of her murder. No big deal, except that many of these dimensions are not happy, friendly places, and there are people willing to go to extreme and terrifying lengths to keep these doors open to maintain their warped version of the world.

I would have liked a little more detail in the world building – the author was kind of vague at times in his descriptions. For example, it was never quite clear exactly WHAT the Doorkeepers were. It also would have been nice to learn more about how/why Boudicca was able to create the doors in the first place.

The ending seemed rushed, almost like he could not think of a really good explanation or go bored or whatever. I is a pet peeve of mine when authors lack a solid conclusion. Nevertheless, overall, I’d say I enjoyed it. I like a good creepy tale. Some of the scenes were totally disturbing, but that is what I expect in a book like this. I hate when authors are writing about something horrifying and they shy away from actually making it so. So, I give Masterton credit for this.

The Passage ~ Justin Cronin

  • Title: The Passage
  • Author: Justin Cronin
  • Genre: Horror
  • Series: The Passage #1
  • Format: Audiobook
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 3 out of 5

Description:  “It happened fast. Thirty-two minutes for one world to die, another to be born.”

First, the unthinkable: a security breach at a secret U.S. government facility unleashes the monstrous product of a chilling military experiment. Then, the unspeakable: a night of chaos and carnage gives way to sunrise on a nation, and ultimately a world, forever altered. All that remains for the stunned survivors is the long fight ahead and a future ruled by fear—of darkness, of death, of a fate far worse.

As civilization swiftly crumbles into a primal landscape of predators and prey, two people flee in search of sanctuary. FBI agent Brad Wolgast is a good man haunted by what he’s done in the line of duty. Six-year-old orphan Amy Harper Bellafonte is a refugee from the doomed scientific project that has triggered apocalypse. He is determined to protect her from the horror set loose by her captors. But for Amy, escaping the bloody fallout is only the beginning of a much longer odyssey—spanning miles and decades—towards the time and place where she must finish what should never have begun.

With The Passage, award-winning author Justin Cronin has written both a relentlessly suspenseful adventure and an epic chronicle of human endurance in the face of unprecedented catastrophe and unimaginable danger. Its inventive storytelling, masterful prose, and depth of human insight mark it as a crucial and transcendent work of modern fiction.
From the Publisher (Random House)


Review: 
Justin Cronin has taken it upon himself to tell a rather long and ambitious tale. The Passage, weighing in at 784 pages, is just the first installment of this saga, so be prepared to settle in for the long haul. The book requires patience, as Cronin weaves between different perspectives and time periods as he slowly and methodically lays out his tale.

The Passage tells the story of the rise of vicious vampire-type creatures that have caused the near destruction of the world. The first half of the book explains that circumstances surrounding the creation of these monsters and their subsequent infection of society. The second half of the book follows survivors of the catastrophe and their struggle to try to save what is left of the human race.

From the description, it sounds like this is an epic, action-packed story. Not so much. Don’t get me wrong, there are quite a few action scenes and some of them are very well told. The scene where all hell breaks loose at the secret compound in Denver was very well-written. However, the action seems few and far between, as they are spread out among a lot of long-winded prose explaining all of the characters in great, and often, unnecessary detail.

For example, the book opens by telling the hard-knock life story of Amy’s mother. Amy is a vital character to the plot of series, not just this first book. However, the author could have given the mother’s background in a few sentences, rather than a few chapters. In fact, the writing style reminded me at times Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, seeming overly focused on everyone’s internal motivations and past history. This is not a compliment, I could not finish Frankenstein. Cronin’s opus is indeed slightly more enjoyable, I did make my way through to the end, after all.

The book often felt a little ADD, changing perspective AND writing styles. I am generally not bothered by alternating point of views, but Cronin took this a bit to the extreme. He would spend a lot of time focusing on a group of characters, then boom, he is off somewhere completely different. Oh, and he tells the story through a combination of narrative, letters, and diary entries.

The author was also guilty of committing one of my worst fantasy/sci-fi infraction, conflicting mythology. He has described that sunlight is harmful to his creatures and harms them. This premise is a key component to the survival of his characters. However, he has a scene where his characters flee the “sticks” (their derogatory name for the creatures) in broad daylight, and yet the creatures give chase. How is that possible? Further, his Mensa-candidate survivors decide to take refuge in a mall where there is plenty of shade to aid the sticks. It makes no sense! Gah!

Overall, the book wasn’t bad. There were compelling characters and the story was interesting. It probably would have been better told in at least 200 fewer pages. After hanging in there until the very end, I was rewarded with an ending that just kind of petered off. I am sure the author intends to pick up the thread in the next book, but the question is, will I care enough to read it? The jury is still out.

Insurgent ~ Veronica Roth

  • Title: Insurgent
  • Author: Veronica Roth
  • Series: Divergent #2
  • Genre: Sci-Fi, Dystopian, YA
  • Format: Audio book
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewer: Val
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  One choice can transform you, or destroy you.

Every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves, and herself, while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.


Review:   Insurgent, the second book of the Divergent series, picks right up where Divergent left off. The factions are at war, following the massacre of much of the Abnegation faction at the hands of the hypnotized Dauntless warriors. Having stopped the attack, Tris and Four find themselves outlaws on the run.

This book was just as much of a rush to read as the first, maybe even more so. There is plenty of action, as Tris and Four face danger trying to uncover the truth about what is going on. Roth takes the political undertones even deeper, creating a delicious tension throughout the story. It is a constant struggle to sift truth from lies, or more importantly, whose truth is more compelling.

As the plot thickens, the character also become more complex. It is no longer as simple as good versus bad. Roth reveals the good intentions behind some of the terrible actions of her “bad guys”, and that good misguided “good” characters have faltered onto dark paths. I am so tempted to mention some specifics here, but I think I will let you discover that for yourself.

Tris, herself, is very conflicted throughout the story. Her actions in the previous book have her questioning what kind of person she really is and erodes some of her recently won confidence. This internal struggle results in conflict and tension between Tris and Four. There is also continued tension among Tris and her new Dauntless friends.

I will say one thing for Roth, she didn’t really hold anything back. She is telling a dark and gritty tale and she’s not afraid for bad things to happen to pack the necessary emotional punch. Roth is by no means a George R.R. Martin (who seems to kill off characters just so the reader won’t get attached), but she does not shy away from the death of a likeable character.

While the first book focused primarily on the Abnegation and Dauntless factions, Insurgent gives a closer look at Amity and Candor. Herein lies the brilliance behind Roth’s unfolding saga. Each faction has its specific social mores, which are both a strength and a weakness when isolated without divergent thinking (um, yeah, guess that explains the series theme in a nutshell). Another theme throughout this book is how far people will go to avoid accepting a harsh reality out of fear, often failing to act and thus making them fall victim to that fear.

The cover for Insurgent is equally eye-catching as the Divergent cover. This time, it features the faction symbol for Amity with the Chicago skyline at the bottom. The color scheme and layout are complimentary to the Divergent cover, clearly identifying the series.

There is one bad thing about this book that I do not like so much . . . that I will have to wait until October for the third and final book of the series!

Cinder ~ Marissa Meyer

  • Title: Cinder
  • Author: Marissa Meyer
  • Series: Lunar Chronicles #3
  • Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction, YA
  • Format: Audiobook
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl.

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

Review:  When I saw the promos for the release of this book, I was instantly intrigued. First of all, the cover art is fantastic . . . the red shoe, the mechanical foot, and the title Cinder leave an impression of a steampunk adaptation of a fairy tale. I love both steampunk and fairy tale adaptations, so putting this on my to be read shelf was a no-brainer.

Further examination revealed the plot to be less steampunk and more Sci-Fi (an equal substitution in my book). However, I was taken aback by the Young Adult (YA) labels. Crap. Ok, so this got pushed to the back of the TBR shelf.

Once I finally got around to reading Cinder (listening to it on audio book), I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. There were so many things that I typically don’t like: plot predictability, a touch of YA angst, and a less than tidy conclusion. And yet, I found it be a charming futuristic retelling of Cinderella. The youthful voice of the audio book narrator lent itself well to the story. I believe the quality of the narration enhanced the entertainment factor of the story.

The fact that Cinderella was my favorite of the classic fairy tale when I was younger and way more girlie may have also contributed to my enjoyment. (I think my Cinderella fixation may have been tied to my innate compulsive dancing disorder, you know, with the ball and all). Regardless, I found myself so pulled into the story that I could not stop reading (er, listening).

The primary plot played out very much like the classic tale, complete with wicked step mothers, a prince, and a ball. However, there were also hints of Snow White thrown into the mix, with the legend of missing Lunar Princess who may or may not have escaped a deadly fate at the hands of the evil Lunar Queen. Perhaps we will see a future tome devoted to the Snow White tale?

Meyer also did a great job of blending in more depth and complexity to this fairy tale story. For example, the author used cyborgs and androids to address themes of prejudice and oppression. Meyer also dabbled with concepts of political intrigue, from the delicate balance of maintaining world peace, to the menace threat of the Lunar court, and the struggle of facing a deadly plague.

Other than Cinder and Dr. Erland, most of the characters lacked depth. I was ok with this, given the fairy tale nature of the story. However, I would have liked a little more development for Prince Kai, whose character felt a bit like a leaf blowing in the wind. Despite being one-dimensional, it was hard not fall in love with little Iko who I hope will be revived in future books. But, the best character award has to go to Linh Mei (it IS her book after all). Also known as Cinder, she was a wonderful character; hopeful, generous, and kind despite her battered and bruised body and spirit.

I would be remiss if I did not mention my misgivings about the lack of Asian culture in the book I know that the story claims that the Eastern Commonwealth is a blend of many cultures, but given the obviously clearly Asian-inspired names and settings, it felt like a half-hearted attempt to differentiate the story from typical Western culture fairy tales.

I can see where this would be a great book for young adult readers, but the darker themes lend appear for adult readers who are young of heart rather than young of age. I hope the rest of the series has the same level of charm and appeal.