Book Review & Giveaway(!): Phoenix Island by John Dixon


Phoenix Island first came to my attention when I went to my first meeting of the Brandywine Valley Writer’s Group. The special guest speaker was a member of the group, John Dixon, who’d just published his second novel, the sequel to Phoenix Island titled Devil’s Pocket. He spoke about the sources of inspiration for this Phoenix Island (which is always interesting for a wannabe writer like myself), his experiences breaking into the publishing  industry (short version: years of hard work and lots of rejection) and the process of writing Phoenix Island and Devil’s Pocket.

Dixon just seems like a super humble, normal dude who’s passionate about his writing and that made me want to support this person’s writing efforts. Plus, he read a little from something he’s currently working on at the last writer’s group meeting and his characterization is just phenomenal. And there’s a fist on the front cover of this thing, so I pretty much had to read it.

Now, I consider myself to be well versed in the YA genre, but I’d never heard of  this John Dixon bloke. Phoenix Island was the winner of the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in 2014, which is apparently a big deal in the horror genre. I can sort of see why this would be considered horror…The official definition of horror: it’s intended to, or has the capacity to frighten, scare, disgust, or startle their readers or viewers by inducing feelings of horror and terror.

Yeah, that’s about right.

So, our main character is Carl. He’s sixteen and a champion boxer. Unfortunately, he has the habit of starting (and finishing) fights with bullies (the boxing was supposed to be an outlet for all the aggression). Carl finds himself orphaned and bouncing around the foster system thanks to his fists. We meet him at the “end of the road” so to speak. He’s picked a fight with the wrong bunch of kids and finds himself in front of a judge  who recommends Carl be remanded to a camp for hard cases until he turns eighteen. Carl accepts the deal because he doesn’t feel like he has a choice and he understands where his future lies if he doesn’t change his ways. Of course, not all is as it seems when he gets to this place, which turns out to be an island out in international waters…

I really enjoyed this. I read it in one day – during the lovely blizzard we had about a week and a half ago – and there is nothing that I can think of that I didn’t like about it. The fight scenes were great. I love a good fight scene. Dixon lets Carl fail over and over again, which had me thinking “he HAS TO succeed this time!” and then he wouldn’t, but he’d get right back up again, which I thought was a refreshing change from the norm. It certainly wasn’t predictable. At the writer’s group meeting, Dixon talked about how he had wanted to make a strong male character in his book and I think he’s succeeded here with Carl.

Dixon also mentioned that much of the criticism he received for this book was that people thought it was too violent for the YA genre. I really have to disagree. If you write a book about a ballerina, for example, the expectation of the reader will be that there will be dancing. There has to be dancing, otherwise, why a ballerina? If you write a book about a boxer kid who likes to thrash bullies, who ends up on some prison island, the expectation is that he’s going to hit someone.

Carl’s being a fighter is essential to the plot. And seeing him using this *ahem* ‘talent’ is also essential… I think what these critics were really saying was “This book wasn’t for me,” which is fine but it’s not the same as “This book is too violent for the kids.” Was the violence gratuitous? I didn’t think so. How is this any more violent or disturbing than The Hunger Games, for example? Or The Chocolate War? I really don’t think it is. Swearing is virtually non-existent, in that I don’t even remember there being any, which is very unusual for a YA book, period, let alone a YA book of this subject matter, but maybe that was a deliberate choice by the author – violence OR language, not both. Anyway, all I’m sayin’ is, get your expectations in line-this isn’t a book about bunnies and rainbows.

This one may not be everyone’s cup of tea but the book is well written and I couldn’t put it down. I can’t not give it an A.

And now for the super fabulous reward for reading this review – I am giving away a hardcover copy of Phoenix Island to one lucky reader. All you have to do is leave a comment below. Any old comment is fine but if you’re out of ideas, tell me about your favorite fight scene in a book. Please fill out the email address field in the comment form – your email will not show up on the comment post but I can see it in my comment admin. This is how I will contact you, should you win. I will randomly select a winner by comment number using The contest will close at midnight on February 14th, 2016, and I’ll contact the winner shortly thereafter.
Thanks for reading!

~Hardcover purchased from Amazon Marketplace.

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Book Review: Infinity Squad by Shuvom Ghose

Inifinity SquadIt was really good to get back to some aliens, clones and explosions.

I actually started this back in November – which is the worst month for me to start reading anything because of NaNoWriMo. Needless to say, I didn’t have time to finish the thing at the time. I finally got back to it last weekend. This book came on my radar because it was on my sister’s Goodreads feed and I thought the plot sounded awesome. I got it from Amazon for the low, low price of zero dollars. And you can, too! Right Here.

In this world, the military has the ability to ‘download’ your mind into a cloned body if you die in combat (an infinite number of times, presumably). The narrator is Second Lieutenant Jonah Forrest who becomes the commander of Infinity squad after their First Lieutenant dies (permanently) under mysterious circumstances. The humans are in the midst of a war with the Hell Spiders on a planet far from Earth. Forrest discovers something very interesting about this alien enemy and stuff starts to hit the fan in short order.

The military science fiction I’ve read in the past always moves along at a good clip, not a lot of description or pontificating like fantasy does, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing – just different. The focus is on tactics, weapons, explosions- that sort of thing- as opposed to visuals and exhaustive world building. I really liked the narrative voice – it reminded me of Mark Watney from The Martian, but with a lot more swearing. There was also some sexual content, so reader beware.

This was published by an indie author, but again, it doesn’t show. It was entertaining and well paced. The characters were funny and real. The premise was well thought out and executed. Some interesting uses for the clone technology are used in the character’s various exploits, some of which made me laugh out loud.

Verdict: A-.

Thanks for reading!


~ebook purchased from Amazon for $0.

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Recent Good Reads – Cinder


Before I talk about how awesome this book is, I just wanted to explain my methodology for picking out books at the library – which is where I got my copy of Cinder.

Usually, with my three little people in tow, I –

~Go to the library, parking as far from the door as possible, because let’s face it, those are usually the only parking spots available

~Go straight to the kid’s section and pick out about twenty children’s books whilst the tiny humans play with the library toys (it’s not like we’re there for books or anything), stuffing them all into my $1.49 library tote until the seams can barely take the strain

~Gather the herd and shamble back up toward the front desk, with my little lambs trailing behind, tripping unsuspecting strangers and getting distracted by the water fountain

~Send the two older ones off to look at the fish tank while struggling to hold onto my purse -which is really heavy – and the tote – which is now really heavy – and my two year-old son – who, though not a chubby kid, is quite heavy and wiggly and who, if released in the library would wreak havoc and devastation the likes of which would make librarians the world over weep into their Ovaltine

~ Take two seconds to pick out books for myself  and shuffle back up to the front desk before the combined weight I’m carrying will simply break me in half.

~ And, finally, digging through my purse for my library card while simultaneously trying to keep the previously mentioned master of chaos from touching everything on the check-out counter.

So…my book choosing strategy has to be super quick. I ask myself three questions: “Is the title interesting?”, “Do I like the cover?” and “Do the first few sentences on the back cover make this thing worth reading?”

Sometimes…I don’t bother with #3. Sometimes I only bother with one of the three…Usually #2.

That’s it. I’m pretty much a marketer’s dream. You know, if I was actually paying for the books.

I especially like this strategy at our library because they often have racks and racks of books waiting to be re-shelved, especially in the Young Adult section. So I don’t even have to take them off the shelf and put them back if I decided I don’t want it. The frazzled mom’s dream!

The only problem with this strategy is that sometimes (read: most of the time) disappointing books have interesting covers or interesting titles. I have picked up a lot of not-so-great books this way. This one, for example. *sigh* I’ve picked up some really good books, too. Like PathfinderThe Secret Hour, and, more recently, Crash.

“Relevance?” you’re asking yourselves. Well, I had, in fact, on a previous occasion not so long ago, picked Cinder up at the library using the method described above and then proceeded to not read it, which often happens when you have a stack of books you’re not quite sure about… The due date came and alas, it went back to the library unread.

Fast forward six months or so and my favorite podcast mentions how awesome is it. I, however, was heading out of town. So I went to the library’s digital catalog and put a hold on it.

Having read it now, I was a fool…a fool(!) for sending it back to the library unread.

I’ve heard this book pitched as Cinderella with cyborgs, which, though true, does it a disservice. Personally, I’m getting kind of tired of formulaic YA books. Cinderella is, like, the origin of this trope of every conflict in the story culminating in a dance. A trope that’s SO overused that if there were a list of YA Ten Commandments, the first would be “THOU SHALT NOT HAVE A DANCE.” I feel like every YA book I’ve read recently has a stupid dance at the end where all the things happen. Gah! I can’t stand it! Thus, though I liked the cover of Cinder, it went straight back to the library the first time I checked it out.

Cinder was fantastic despite borrowing from an overused premise.

The thing I liked the most about the book was that it wasn’t predictable. The author takes some of the these Cinderella story tropes and cleverly turns them on their head, but it’s not a plot point by plot point re-hash.

And Cinder’s a cyborg. Come on, that’s pretty awesome – though, in the story her Cyborg-ism(?) causes the girl some issues. Naturally.

It was a fun read with well written and likable characters. I really enjoyed the main character’s voice. The Prince’s chapters were also great – I wasn’t impatiently waiting to get back to Cinder’s point of view.

It’s refreshing to just get lost in the storytelling for once. I couldn’t put this one down until I’d finished, even though that ended up being 4:30 in the morning (Obviously, I’m an adult at the height of responsible behavior).

I really can’t wait to read the next one. Well done Marissa Meyer. Well done.


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Top 5 Fiction Books I Read In 2013

I read forty-two books last year, falling a little short of my goal of fifty. I know, I’m a complete failure…(sarcasm) Maybe next year.

And yes, there are three books by Brandon Sanderson on this list. If you hadn’t figured out how much I love his books by now, well then I have not done enough gushing about them.

In no particular order:

A Memory of Light

1. A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson – Epic Fantasy.

I hadn’t even heard of the Wheel of Time until Brandon Sanderson got involved with it. I read the first eleven books during a six or seven month period back in 2008. This book was a fitting end to an awesome series.

Variant Feedback jkt des3.indd2. Variant and Feedback by Robison Wells – YA Sci-fi.

Yes, I know that’s two books but they’re in the same series and this is my list, so I will do as I please. These books are about a kid who shows up at a school that doesn’t have any adult supervision…and it gets stranger from there. It was a fun read and I was delighted that the library also had book 2 so I could find out what happened next immediately.


3. Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson – YA Fantasy.

I’ve already mentioned this one twice in the last few months but here it is again! This one was just so much fun to read. It’s about a world (an alternate version of Earth) where people get super powers – but only evil people get them.

Fragments4. Fragments by Dan Wells – Post-apocalyptic YA Science Fiction awesome.

I loved the first in this series, Partials, and this one was even better. It’s about how our society created artificial human beings to fight our wars for us and what happened after the wars were over.

The Emperor's Soul5. The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson – Fantasy

This is a novella set in the same world as Elantris. This story won the Hugo award in 2013 for best novella. I won’t go into the plot because it’s…complicated but it’s fantastic.

Nonfiction Bonus – for those of you who are still reading:

What To Expect When No One's ExpectingWhat to Expect When No One’s Expecting by Jonathan V. Last – I don’t read much non-fiction, but this one I purchased as an early birthday present for myself last January. How society is affected by birthrates and people’s attitudes toward children are fascinating issues to me – this book addresses both topics. I loved it.

My reading goal for 2014 is 45 books – so happy reading to all for 2014!


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Recent Good Reads – The Hollow City

This is the first in a series of regular posts that I’m calling ‘Recent Good Reads’ – because I read a lot – and I do like to talk about the books I read – but the only other adult in my house doesn’t share my passion for reading (I still love him, though) – so, congratulations(!) – you, dear readers will be subjected to my ramblings instead. (it’s an excessive hyphens sort of day)

Hollow City

Today’s book is The Hollow City by Dan Wells.

I got this book from my parents last Christmas and it’s been chillin’ on my shelf ever since (I did get a massive stack of books last Christmas and I make regular trips to the library so, you know, I have plenty of lame excuses). I read it as a reward for surviving NaNoWriMo. As I usually don’t do any reading during November, now I’m behind on my yearly goal of 50. I have ten more to go. Thank you GoodReads for helping me keep track (and reminding me that I’m six books behind and failing at life – so helpful of you).

I love Dan Wells’ books.

I’d never read anything in the horror genre, before picking up I Am Not A Serial Killer, but I’d been listening to the Writing Excuses podcast for awhile and wanted to check out his work. I loved I Am Not A Serial Killer, so I went and bought the rest of the series and loved those, too. And then there’s Partials – which is YA Sci-Fi (probably Stacy’s favorite genre). It’s awesome, you should read it – and Fragments is even better, so you should read that one, too.

Dan Wells is meticulous. You can tell the man does his research and really thinks about the worlds he creates. And then he comes up with these wonderful, flawed characters (sociopaths, schizophrenics, androids) and he makes us care about them and root for them.

I don’t even know how to classify The Hollow City – sci-fi horror maybe?

I didn’t know if I was going to like it – and only vaguely recalled what it was about (too lazy to read the front cover blurb) – but I couldn’t put it down!

One of the things that makes this book interesting is that you have a completely unreliable narrator. The main character, Michael, has schizophrenia so as a reader, you’re really not sure what’s real and what isn’t. And his thought process is absolutely fascinating. I was convinced that his delusions were real and Mr. Wells presents Michael’s point of view in such a way that his delusions and reasons for believing them made perfect sense.

And then the plot went in some unexpected directions…hey, I like being able to figure stuff out before I get to the reveal, but I like not knowing, too.

Conclusion: Dan Wells just writes fantastic books. Go check this one out!


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