Hope Is Not a Strategy: Book Three of the Monitor Series
by Darleen Hayball Johnson
Westwood Books Publishing, LLC

"His world was gray upon gray, black upon black, unless he was with Ann, when it was either warm and loving or intensely infuriating."

Three years after the eruption at Yellowstone National Park, Ann Jacobs and her family continue to survive in the harsh state of the world. With the help of the Monitors, an alien race from outside the solar system that observe the progress of humanity, the ongoing concern of how to treat the lungs of all life on Earth and remove the obsidian dust from them remains the top priority. The head of the Monitors on Earth, Marco Antonio, is now fully invested in his romantic relationship with Ann Jacobs, the matriarch of the Jacobs family. Together, they go looking for supplies in abandoned shops, conduct research in their joined-basement laboratory, and enjoy intimate moments while also learning more about the social differences between their two races.

When the original bodies of the Monitors are finally located deep in the Mariana Trench, Marco Antonio leaves Ann behind while desperately racing against time to save himself and his people. However, his absence and the discovery of the stasis chambers creates a series of dangerous events. Jason and Doris Russo catch the group unaware while Marco Antonio is sleeping and deceive the group about their inhumane treatment of the humans in search of a cure. Convincing the other Monitors that Marco Antonio has become too enamored with humanity to serve their needs, they dispose of his stasis chamber and leave him for dead in the deep ocean. With time running out, Marco Antonio must save his own people while the woman he loves deals with violent robbers, familial illness, a friend turned jealous rival who is quick to claim Ann for his own lover, and the continued inhabitable environmental conditions post-Yellowstone.

Picking up where the second book left off, readers should expect no real sense of normalcy from a book series about human-alien interactions and pseudo-apocalyptic conditions, but Ann’s life seems to have whatever passes for normal in those conditions. As a character, Ann is something of an emotional paradox. She’s deeply in love with Marco Antonio but also mourning the death of her long-time husband Tim. She has the wisdom and experience of a woman in her 70s, but her genetically-altered, age-reversed body is emotional and lustful. When she’s taking care of other people, she remains cool and collected, but left to her own devices, she starts to worry and panic. These polar shifts represent the human condition brilliantly and work as a great contrast to the more scientific, stoic, or reserved way that most of the Monitors behave.

Perhaps the most effective storytelling device in this book, however, is the variety of its antagonists. The “enemy” may be regular people fighting to get by however they can with scarce supplies, aliens who view humanity as a lower life form not to be treated as equals, or nature as an unstoppable, uncaring force that simply functions on its own, forcing everything around it to adapt. Each of these conflicts makes sense on their own, but this book deftly shifts from one to the other, keeping readers on their toes as to the source of the next crisis that its characters must overcome. It’s refreshing to read an apocalypse story that focuses on cooperation and rebuilding while avoiding common themes like zombies or desert-bound scavengers. Fans of the series will love the inventive new twists and turns that Ann and her family and friends deal with, while new readers should fall right in and have their questions answered as they go along. Easy to follow and focused on the best aspects of humanity and other advanced life forms, this story offers a near-constant beacon of hope under the most adverse of conditions, inspiring readers to never give up no matter how bleak things look.

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