Book Review: Stage 3: Alpha by Ken Stark

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Book Review: Stage 3: Alpha

 

In Stage 3 Mason tries with all his heart to reunite his new charge, Mackenzie with her beloved Aunt Sarah. By the end of the book, we’re left wondering if there’s even an Aunt Sarah to find. I’ll admit I worried Aunt Sarah hadn’t made it out of the doomed hospital.

Stage 3: Alpha gives us a whole new cast of characters to explore, among them, Aunt Sarah. I can’t tell you how happy I was to see that the author had given Aunt Sarah the space to show us who she is. I kept waiting for Mason and Mackenzie to show up and rescue Aunt Sarah, but I quickly learned that Aunt Sarah needs no rescuing.

I felt as though Stage 3 gave us a teaser of what humanity had become, the obvious monsters and the not-so-obvious monsters. In the second installment of the series, we get a much clearer view of the wasteland they’re all living in, the hopelessness they face, the kindness of strangers, and that some monsters look just like us.

The author has a knack for character development. Each character in Stage 3: Alpha feels real. Even the truly vile humans we encounter have wants, desires, and motivations. I loved how Stark used the characters of the book to show this new world isn’t as black and white as the old one. The world has grown much grayer.

Stark’s story weaves us through a dangerous landscape without ever making us feel like the people are surviving by the grace of the author. The scenes come alive because I don’t feel like the author handed the character everything they needed in a neat and tidy, little package. Stark makes his characters work to survive. A believable plot and believable characters are what bring me back to Stark’s series.

This is my second purchase in the Stage 3 series, and it won’t be my last.

 

Book Review: Whispers in the Alders by H. A. Callum

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Book Review: Whispers in the Alders

“The drifts formed and moved like waves animated in clay, seeming to have a purpose to the shapes they took and the directions they wandered.”

From the beginning, the story swept me up and carried me along. I was entranced by H. A. Callum’s poetic descriptions. He used his words to paint vivid images for his reader. Unlike other novels, I didn’t feel bogged down in the description, rather I wanted to wade through the words and see this new world through Callum’s eyes.

“Tommy and I had always made the vow to break the mold and live our lives on our terms regardless of the cost. And that is what I did.”

By the fourth page, I had identified with Aubrey, the narrator of the story. This is a mark of how easily Callum draws you into his world. Throughout the rest of the book, I found myself in awe of Aubrey and the choices she faced. Aubrey made realistic decisions with realistic outcomes.

“Tommy went on, ‘But it just happens, right? All your life you dream of getting out and exploring the world, but then life just grabs you by the foot and pulls you back in.’”

Throughout the novel, Callum used dialogue to show his characters in unique ways and to make us fall in love with them. Since the book is narrated by Aubrey, many of the dialogues between Aubrey and Tommy are the only clues we get to Tommy’s worlds. The two aren’t able to talk as often as they’d like, but each interaction gives us a glimpse of the kind and tender heart of Tommy.

Personally, I would have loved more interactions between Aubrey and Tommy. A few scenes explained how they continued to talk to one another, and I wish Callum had expanded those scenes with more dialogue. I think it would have anchored their relationship for me.

As much as I can identify with the characters, I can also recognize Alder Ferry. It may very well be unique in its location and setting, but the town’s mindset is very much alive across the United States. Many readers will recognize the town mentality and shudder to think what or who are falling through the cracks at this moment in time in their own chunk of the world.

I will be recommending this novel to all my fellow readers, and I look forward to seeing what this talented author has in store for us in the future.

Note: I received an advance review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Stage 3 by Ken Stark

Stage 3 by Ken Stark Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Stage 3 by Ken Stark

Stage 3 by Ken Stark

Ken Stark found a unique way to introduce us to the protagonist and the plot of the book, and I found myself applauding him for it. He teases and taunts us with snippets of the world we’re about to be immersed into and then takes it away by secluding our protagonist. All the while, you know what will be awaiting you.

Stage 3 feels new and different from others like it. Yes, we have a virus that turns folks into monsters, but that’s where the similarities end. The protagonist isn’t the normal cliched protagonist. He’s not going to do what you’d expect, and I found it refreshing. Mr. Stark even goes so far as to give us an interesting sidekick who is constantly trying to steal the show. Most authors would shy away from introducing a child into a book like this. Children add a great deal of work and consideration, but Mr. Stark bravely takes on this challenge and does it well.

At first, I questioned whether a child would trust a stranger, let alone so quickly. As a parent, we tell ourselves our children wouldn’t trust a stranger so easily. I only had to consider the environment to see the truth. A child alone in a world of madness would reach out to any adult who treated them with kindness. For Mackenzie to find someone, anyone in a sea of monsters was miraculous enough, but a person willing to help her as well, of course, she clung to that glimmer of hope.

The child element to this story gave Mr. Stark a great way to throw a wrench in the “easy way out”. Every step of the way Mackenzie challenges Mason to do the right thing and to be a better person. I could see people wanting to leave Mackenzie behind, a save-yourself mentality, but I believe there’s plenty of people who couldn’t bear to leave a child alone in a world of death.

Please don’t get the wrong impression. Mackenzie isn’t solely used to make Mason’s world harder. Mackenzie has her own sets of strengths, and she does her fair share to keep the duo alive. I applaud Mr. Stark for making her more than just mere baggage to hold Mason back.

Mr. Stark weaves suspense, action, and character development into a horrific tale of survival and friendship. Stage 3 has a steady pace that keeps you turning pages without wearing you out. You’ll have your fingers crossed for our duo, but you’ll get some breathing room and some time to learn who they really are.