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Big-Time Abandonment Issues: Quarantine, Book 1: The Loners

Cover image for QuarantineQuarantine: The Loners, first in a planned trilogy by two screenwriters under the pen name Lex Thomas, may feed young readers’ desires for another book like The Hunger Games (Moms having now moved on to Fifty Shades of Grey) but this action-packed thriller describes its violent fights to the death in more gory detail than The Hunger Games trilogy, and the characters (all high school-aged) are much edgier in language and attitude. Aimed at an audience of older teens who can’t get enough of the popular teens-survive-the-apocalypse stories, Quarantine: The Loners is also likely to thrill younger teens, with its aura of menace from attack by warring factions, and prevalence of casual sex (mentioned, but not described) among the ruins of a school.

Stronger in plot than character development, Quarantine: The Loners starts fast and keeps going, opening with a scene of desperate kids fighting each other in packs for airdropped supplies.

A black military helicopter eclipsed the view of the sky and lowered its giant cargo through the opening. Pallets of food, water, and supplies were lashed together into a single block the size of a school bus. The mass of supplies breached the slash and hung there, suspended by a cable forty feet above them.
The cable detached with a plink. The block of pallets fell. It cracked onto the ground and broke apart, scattering supplies all over the quad. As the helicopter retreated, an unseen mechanism mended the slit in the gray canopy. The kids on the perimeter bolted from the school walls and charged the mound of supplies. Colors collided. All around David kids kicked, clawed, and stomped each other to get at the food.
David never thought high school would be this hard.

On the worst first day of school ever for kids at the new McKinley High School (even worse for the teachers and administrators), David and his younger brother Will have just arrived and found their first classrooms in the gigantic, brand-new school building when the whole East Wing explodes as if from a bomb. Teachers and all other adults die immediate, gruesome deaths as if from some instantaneous Ebola-like virus. As David searches for Will to get him out and away from the scene of the disaster, lines of soldiers surround the school, armed with assault rifles and firing on any students who try to escape. Under armed guard, exit doors are welded shut and the entire building is covered in some type of tarp.

The night before, David, a former football star and good-times guy changed by the recent death of their mother, had made an enemy of the new football team captain (who his girlfriend was cheating on him with) so he is on his own, focused only on taking care of Will who is going to be without his epilepsy medicine in the months-long quarantine ahead. Loners are in grave danger of dying, though, in this new society free of adult supervision, as the high school hierarchy with football players and cheerleaders at the top solidifies into dictatorship and cliques transform into vicious gangs.

With a new school year approaching, Quarantine: The Loners is a good choice for August reading, like a pumped-up Lord of the Flies. Kids already nervous about the first day, though, may want to avoid this nightmarish vision of high school.

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of Quarantine: The Loners from Egmont USA through NetGalley.

Quarantine: The Loners
Thomas, Lex
Egmont USA
July 10, 2012
978-1-60684-329-1
$17.99

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Waiting on Wednesday — The Night Eternal

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating. This week’s pre-publication “can’t-wait-to-read” selection is:

The Night Eternal

Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

Publication Date: October 25

The Night Eternal is the third book in The Strain trilogy, a horror-laced vampire-pandemic thrill ride that started with The Strain and The Fall. Co-written by the director of Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy, these movie-ready books will keep you reading well into the night (wondering what that sound downstairs might be.)

Overwrought: Iron House by John Hart

Excited blurbs from Patricia Cornwell and Vince Flynn on the cover should have given me a clue that Iron House, John Hart’s fourth literary thriller, is more action and thrills than novelistic description and character development. If you’re a fan of Patricia Cornwell and Vince Flynn, then try Iron House. There are murders, mobsters, crooked politicians, trauma, and torture scenes in abundance.
For a thriller, though, the story takes a long time to build up steam — jerkily pausing for melodramatic flashbacks to childhood abuse in Iron House, an anarchic orphanage deep in the mountains of North Carolina. And for a “literary thriller”, writing like this just doesn’t cut it:

A final shudder rolled under her skin, then she collected herself as she always did. She crushed the weakness and the doubt, drove home to tall, stone walls and mirrors that failed to see so deep. She reminded herself that she was iron on the outside, and harder than any woman alive.

There are great reviews of Iron House out there and the bodies in the book pile up quickly, but King of Lies, the first novel by John Hart (a former lawyer turned bestselling author) is still his best work, in my opinion, combining a suspenseful story with narrative twists. Each book that followed (Down South, The Last Child, Iron House) has disappointed, although glowing reviews suckered me into reading all of them. This one is definitely the last.
For literary thrillers, I’ll stick with Peter Abrahams, Val McDermid, Thomas H. Cook, and Inger Ash Wolfe and others whose writing I don’t notice until I close the book at the end, saying, “Wow! Good book!”

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