Category Archives: Reviews

Once begun, there’s no escaping “The Sixth Extinction”

TheSixthExtinction-JRollins_cvrYou can judge this book by its cover, and it will not be found wanting. I spotted it on the bookshelf at Shoppers Drug Mart. It has a cleverly illustrated dinosaur skeleton wrapped around to form a “6” in the book’s title, The 6th Extinction. It’s beautiful, and the cover did exactly what it should: it got me to pick up the book and check out the cover. The synopsis on the back did the rest. Hook, line, and sinker; I bought the book.

This was my first foray into the writings of James Rollins and the world of Sigma Force, and I was barely able to put the novel down. In my eagerness to start reading what promised to be an incredible story – and it did deliver – I missed the various ads that revealed this novel was part of a series; the tenth book, in fact. In spite of this, Rollins has written the characters with enough detail and backfill that I was able to grasp all the characters and run off with them for hours at a time. It didn’t matter that I’d never read any of the other stories. The novel is a perfect entry-point into the world of Sigma Force. Rollins, masterfully introduces characters, brings them together, and separates them again, sending them off to different parts of the world. Each group of characters encounters separate and distinct threats, dangers, and horrors. Between these and the growing threat from a genetically-engineered virus that kills everything in its wake – released during a precipitating event – Rollins keeps the reader turning pages and reading on.

The story is bookended with Notes from the Historical Record and Notes from the Scientific Record at the beginning, and a Truth or Fiction section at the end; something I hadn’t seen before. Rollins mixes fact and fiction into an intoxicating brew that seduces readers into becoming willing co-conspirators in the suspension of disbelief, sucking them down the rabbit hole into his all-too-real fictional world.

I haven’t read any of the preceding nine books, but believe me – I will. If you enjoy a fast-paced thrilling read with mystery, history and science as elements, pick up a copy of The Sixth Extinction, turn off your cell phone, and get lost in this novel’s pages. The world will still be there, with all its concerns, when you surface again. Or will it?

The Sixth Extinction, published by HarperCollins, is available at Chapters, Amazon.ca, fine bookstores, and perhaps, at a drugstore near you.

Stephen Lowe is a graduate of the Professional Writing Program at Algonquin College and lives in Maitland, East Hants, NS and Ottawa, ON with his wife, Gwen, and their dog, Rosie.

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Discover the northern lights in Painted Skies

PaintedSkies_InhabitMediaIncTitle: Painted Skies By: Carolyn Mallory Illustrated by: Amei Zhao Ages 5-7 ISBN: 978-1-77227-004-4 Publisher: Inhabit Media Inc. Author, Carolyn Mallory’s newest book, Painted Skies, tells the story of a young girl named Leslie who has recently moved to the Canadian Arctic. She and her young friend, Oolipika, are lying on their backs making what people from southern Canada would call “snow angels,” when the sky erupts into the shimmering green of the northern lights. Unnerved, Leslie begins to whistle. Oolipika quickly stops her and explains there are consequences for those who whistle under the northern lights. In Mallory’s story, readers are introduced to the magic of the aurora borealis through the eyes of someone who’s never seen them before; stunning, beautiful, and seemingly reacting to your presence. But it is our young Inuit interpreter, Oolipika, who shares the traditional story of what the northern lights are that brings a mystical element. Mallory draws on her experience of living in Nunavut for many years, as well as Inuit traditional knowledge. The book ends with a page that discusses the science behind the northern lights. It is the amazingly beautiful artwork of Amei Zhao that brings this story to life. In her skillful artistry, Leslie and Oolipika are endearingly and wonderfully portrayed. Her use of birds-eye- and worms-eye-view are part of the magic. They bring the reader right where the action is taking place, and they give majesty to the lights phenomenon. What’s more, the birds-eye-view gives the impression that the northern lights are themselves a character in the book looking down on the girls, which is wholly appropriate when you understand the traditional story behind them. The illustrations are vibrant with colour and Zhao manages to capture, in a hauntingly realistic way, the breathtaking and flowing nature of the northern lights. When Oolipika tells Leslie the traditional Inuit story of the northern lights, Zhao transforms the lights in the sky to illustrate the concept. While in my 16 years living in Nunavut, they never appeared the way she portrays them in this moment, the idea in the traditional story and these illustrations perfectly capture the essence or spirit of what I saw. I find myself captivated by virtually every page of artwork, and can well imagine that if I had access to the original pieces of artwork I would find myself framing many of them and hanging them on the wall. Painted Skies is an entertaining read with captivating artwork that will ignite the imagination of a young reader. This is Mallory’s third publication, after co-authoring Common Plants of Nunavut and authoring Common Insects of Nunavut. Painted Skies is also her first published book of fiction. Amei Zhao is a wonderful illustrator, and an animation professional, with many credits to her name, including work for DC Comics. Painted Skies is available through Chapters, Amazon.ca and fine independent book stores.

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The Ghost in the Machine: Predator One by Jonathan Maberry

Predator OneJonathan Maberry’s seventh novel in the Joe Ledger Series, Predator One, dials up the fear that turns techno-thriller into techno-terror. Rarely does a novel actually scare me, but this one gave me a sense of dread the likes of which no book ever has.

The story centres on a dying madman and his plan to watch the world burn. In the process, his henchmen and minions undertake to destroy the Department of Military Science (DMS), the organization for whom Joe Ledger works. It begins when a simple model plane, packed with explosives, buzzes the opening ceremonies on opening day of the new baseball season. Things quickly escalate, and in short order, chaos and havoc are unleashed. The villains are soon poised to deliver a crushing blow using the hijacked Air Force One like a drone, from a remote location.

The book plays on fears of autonomously-controlled technology, the rapid expansion of drone use, and what could happen when it all falls into the wrong hands.

As I read Predator One, I found myself questioning whether drone technology is safe in any hands. Within a day of having finished the novel, I read an article in the news about some people who attached fireworks to a drone and made a YouTube video. They now potentially face charges related to the incident. It drove home the point of how easily drone technology could be abused.

Flitting from the present to the past and back again, Maberry builds the reader’s sense of dread, revealing a chronology of events that the DMS has yet to piece together. Using short and succinct chapters, shifting from one group of characters to another, he escalates the tension to keep the reader turning pages.

Maberry also excels at character development and portrayal. I especially noticed this in his last two books, Predator One and Code Zero. If you’ve been along for the entire Joe Ledger experience, you’ll be familiar with the former, villainous henchman, Toys, from earlier novels. I experienced an irresistible urge to compare and contrast Toys with Dr. Pharos, something that I feel was intentional. They are two faces of the same madly spinning coin, but where one is capable of remorse and redemption, the other is beyond it. Like Dr. Pharos, the characters simply known as Boy, and the Gentleman, are equally despicable. Yet, Maberry manages to deftly draw from the reader some empathy for them, even though we can never agree with their motives or actions.

Predator One is Jonathan Maberry’s best book to date. If you like techno-thrillers, and you’re looking for an exciting read that will keep you pondering the story and topic well after you finish the novel, check it out. New to Maberry’s books or the Joe Ledger Series? You can get your feet wet here and enjoy it well enough. You’ll quickly want to go back and start from the beginning with Patient Zero; there’s a world of monsters and mayhem that awaits.

Predator One is available in Canada at Chapters, Amazon.ca and other fine independent book stores.

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Matt Ryan Channels DC’s John Constantine

I was chuffed to hear that NBC was going to be taking on DC’s John Constantine as a weekly show. I’ve loved the character since his introduction in DC’s Saga of the Swamp Thing, back in the 1980’s. The character was created by Alan Moore, who also introduced us to The Watchmen and V For Vendetta. Constantine went on to have his own series, in the Vertigo line of comics, called Hellblazer. I picked up occasional issues, but because of where I lived, it was impractical to collect. When DC relaunched their comic book line as The New 52, Constantine got a friendlier, less hardcore release as part of the regular line. He appears in the aptly named Constantine, and also in Justice League Dark. It is a guilty pleasure of mine, to include the Keanu Reeves movie Constantine in my movie collection, and as long as you don’t expect him to be DC’s Constantine, it’s a fun ride.

In this new TV series, Matt Ryan does an excellent job of channeling Constantine. Ryan portrays John Constantine believably, and portrays him so well, I forget I’m watching an actor at work. The storylines I have seen to date – the Pilot episode and The Darkness Beneath are well-written and suck me in, like one of the demon pits that are gateways to Hell.

I saw the leaked version of the Pilot, and I admit to watching it over and over again, because it was so good. I liked Lucy Griffith’s portrayal of Liv Aberdeen, and the character, so I was sad to hear she was exiting the show after the pilot.

The revisions that were done, however, to reshape the ending of the episode have only strengthened it. I like the re-crafted ending of the pilot episode and the introduction of Zed. As a Canadian, may I also say that I appreciate she’s called Zed and not Zee, which is in keeping with Constantine’s UK origins.

I’m as busy with homework and other duties as Constantine is with handling the latest demon infestation or invasion from Hell, so I don’t make the choice lightly to invest time in watching this series. For those with a love for the cinematic universe adaptation of the comic book realms, this is a no-miss television series. For the genre it portrays, it’s an example of the best the medium can offer.

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