Tag Archives: dystopian

Civil War (Chronicles of Rondure Book 1) by TC Marti Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

A young woman trained for years to be the best warrior and Smoke Master of her people must fight her way to expose her world’s corruption within it’s political system and go rogue against the very people who trained her in author TC Marti’s “Civil War”, the first book in the Chronicles of Rondure series. 

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The Synopsis

I was Culled at age five into the Bastille Military, the World of Rondure’s superpower…

…Having lived on-base for thirteen years, military life taught me two things: Mastery of the Smoke Element and to never apologize about using it on enemies.

Now that I’m awaiting a sure life sentence for the crime of exposing Bastille’s true crimes, they’ve left me with no choice. When they try to extradite me, I will call upon my Sword of Smoke and escape this predicament, using every combat technique they taught me against them.

Then, I’ll take it upon myself to finish a mission I started years ago; to unplug the People of Bastille and let them know who the real enemy is: their home nation and its Capital City of Paramount.

As I go rogue, every authority figure with money, power, and influence in the Bastille Empire will want me dead. Thanks to them, I’m one of the most powerful Smoke Masters in the World of Rondure. And I’m ready to break the spell the people of my nation have lived under for over a century.

Calling all fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender and George Orwell, Civil War features a strong heroine, with epic fantasy tropes bending into science fiction with dystopian and thriller elements, non-stop action, and stakes so high that Mina Hirai’s success or failure will set forth the fate of Rondure forever.

The Review

This was yet another fantastic entry into this beautifully written world of the author’s creation. The first book to connect the author’s original trilogy with the next trilogy in the Elementals of Nordica Saga, Civil War takes readers on a much more intimate journey than previous iterations of this series had done. Focusing instead on a first-person narrative, the story shows one young woman’s fight to escape a deadly prison sentence after learning of her government’s betrayal, and the fight to lead an insurrection to liberate the people of the government’s negative influence. The same balance of sci-fi and dystopian settings with the fantasy elements of the characters and the mythos overall made this such an impactful story to dive headfirst into.

The protagonist was definitely the driving force behind this narrative. The author’s ability to craft a more intimate and emotional narrative from the view of Mina Harai was a brilliant call, as it allowed a more personal view of the chaos and corruption Rondure was experiencing and the painful fight those who saw the corruption had to endure to reveal these dark truths. The connections she made, the horrors she was both witnessed and experienced, and the heroism she showed made her arc so engaging and the world-building and mythos as a result much more captivating.

The Verdict

Mind-blowing imagery, entertaining, and brilliantly written, author TC Marti’s “Civil War” is a must-read novel of 2022 for fans of sci-fi, dystopian, and fantasy-driven action-adventure narratives. The rich mythos that was expanded upon and explored in this narrative was amazing to read, and the personal development of one of the world’s heroes made this a stunning story to get lost in. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

TC Marti has been an avid reader/writer for over three decades. He is the author of the Elementals Universe, a shared speculative fiction universe spanning multiple series. He is also a workout fanatic and a fan of Arizona sports teams.

Parched: The Days Before Exile (The Wastelands Book 1) by Anne Joyce Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

In a world torn apart by nuclear war and water barons tightening their grip on the worsening water supplies, two people find themselves confronted with a dark and hidden agenda in the wake of a string of disappearances in author Anne Joyce’s “Parched: The Days Before Exile”, the first book in The Wastelands series.

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The Synopsis

It’s the 2040’s and the world has become a more terrifying place than anyone could’ve foreseen. The country is recovering from a devastating nuclear war that has left much of the earth scourged and uninhabitable. Some billion-dollar corporations took advantage of the destruction by purchasing the rights to water and selling it back to the public at ridiculous prices.

Joshua Wyman and Maria Perez struggle to adapt to this new violent world where muggings and murder over water are a common occurrence. The new water barons assign an army of brutes called “Purifiers” to instill order, but when people start mysteriously vanishing, Joshua and Maria begin to wonder if the Purifiers are behind their disappearance.

When Maria receives a frantic email from a friend in danger, she learns of the water barons’ plans for the “indigents” who can’t afford water. She desperately searches for someone to share her dark secret with who might be able to help. When her information falls into the hands of a violent anarchist group, their beaten down, oppressed city must confront what its inhabitants have long since hinted about, but never dared to whisper. Uprising

The Review

This was such a unique and fun read for me. Coming into this story, I was intrigued as this was the “prequel” to the author’s book “Arid”, which I read and reviewed here before. Getting to return to this world and the characters before the events of that initial book from the author was such a unique and fun experience as a reader and reviewer. The story felt fresh and the mythos behind the water barons and the brutality of the Purifiers has perfectly mirrored in the dystopian atmosphere and haunting tone that the narrative took on as things began to break down at an accelerating rate in this narrative.

The blend of strong character development that really pulled the reader into the emotional element of this narrative along with the very real-world themes that this narrative dealt with made this such a brilliant story. The fight for survival and the desperation that comes in the face of society’s breakdown was palpable on the page, and the exploration of nuclear war, fallout, global warming, and big business controlling much of our society really has never felt more real or scary as it does now, especially in the face of more radical groups rising out in not only our nation but the world armed to the teeth hoping to impose their own way of thinking. The haunting atmosphere comes from the author’s natural ability to tap into the real-world fears we all have in this current climate.

The Verdict

Haunting, gripping, and entertaining, author Anne Joyce’s “Parched: The Days Before Exile” is a must-read narrative in 2022. The dystopian thriller was so engaging and was able to use creativity to highlight the real-world dangers and fears many have around the world today. If you haven’t yet, preorder your own copy of this book today, or grab your own copy on May 2nd, 2022!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Anne Rasico (AKA Anne Joyce) was born in a small town in Indiana you’ve probably never heard of. She composed short stories and comic books as a child to amuse her family and began writing poetry at the age of thirteen.

In 1998 she received an Honorable Mention for Literary Excellence for her poem “She Didn’t Come Home.” She attended business school and made the Dean’s List for three consecutive years, putting her love for writing on the back burner. It wasn’t until her mid-twenties that a political post on social networking rekindled her literary flame that has since become a bonfire.

In 2013 her novella When the Chips Are Down was named a Finalist in the MARSocial Author of the Year Contest. When she is not writing, thinking about writing, or going insane from writing she enjoys camping, fishing, swimming, and otherwise spending time with loved ones. She is mother to three extremely spoiled cats. Crazy cat lady? Probably.

Babouc’s Vision by Glenn Searfoss Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

An appliance repairman finds himself overwhelmed when the gods choose him to be the one to condemn the people of his city, and as the lives of several others flood his mind, he must prove the people’s lives worthy of saving instead in author Glenn Searfoss’s “Babouc’s Vision”.

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The Synopsis

Babouc’s Vision is a riveting dystopian science fiction novel with thought-provoking commentary on society.

The year is 2041– and the gods are angry. While Carissa scours the city garbage for food and pretty things to show her grandfather, Tom and April strive to prove themselves genetically suitable to conceive a child. Luis becomes a man fighting to protect his unborn son from the gangs. Nora sits alone in her dark apartment, old, tired, and ready to die. And Izzy, how did he land in the streets destitute? In the backroom of his appliance repair shop, Harl putters at his workbench unaware the Gods have chosen him to condemn the people of CynCity. Harl’s world turns upside-down as his mind explodes with the lives of strangers. Struggling to remain sane, he must somehow prove the city’s population deserves to survive.

The works of Voltaire (The World as it is) and Dante (The Divine Comedy) inspired this book. As well, many events in the work reflect newspaper reports of criminal, social, environmental, and scientific events happening around the world. The bleak nature of these accounts explains the book’s overall dystopian feel, while the hope buried in the stories is gleaned from human perseverance.

The Review

The author found such a striking balance of world-building and thought-provoking themes. The exploration of humanity’s worst aspects and how the people in one city fair against those sins was so fascinating to read. The detailed way the author approaches this dystopian sci-fi read was amazing, as was the narrative overall, which did a great job of playing into the themes and genres of this novel with grand futuristic settings and larger-than-life characters.

The characters were the true heart of this narrative. The vast array of different characters really brought this sad and brutal reality to life so perfectly, either by adding to the chaos or becoming a victim of that chaos themselves. Yet the way the author brought out small glimmers of hope throughout the narrative to showcase how there exists those within the darkness to fight for a brighter tomorrow was amazing to read.

The Verdict

Creative, engaging, and thoughtful in its approach, author Glenn Searfoss’s “Babouc’s Vision” is a must-read dystopian sci-fi thriller. A philosophical and introspective look into the mistakes and sins humanity inflicts upon itself far too often, and those who work to fight for change for the future, this novel shines and does an amazing job of exploring the depths of humanity in an entertaining way. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Glenn Searfoss is an American author of works in science fiction, mythology, computer science, and natural history. He lives in Colorado, USA with his wife.

Interview with Author Carla Doria

1) Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?

My passion for writing started when I was a little kid, around 8 years old. I would imagine these fantastic stories and I knew that I had to write them.  Adding some drawings to illustrate these stories, I would write them by hand and gift them to my family. They were my first “published” books. Unfortunately, my family has been terrible to save them. I’m pretty sure there was good content in them. Then life brought some swirls and made me go on a different path. But deep inside me, I always knew that I would once sit down and become a writer. It wasn’t until probably six years ago when I started to consider it again. Specifically, two years ago I started The Last Families and it has been quite an adventure. 

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2. What inspired you to write your book?

I always had in mind these landscapes with extremely tall cliffs, deserts, a purple sky, and other characteristics that are depicted in The Last Families. I also wanted to write about an end-of-the-world story with survivors that had somehow developed special skills. These characters had to feel forced to go somewhere else where things would be particularly harsh. I started playing with the idea and soon the story started to develop. Also, I’m a very visual person and most of the promotion of this book is been based on characters’ illustrations drawn by a friend of mine. I wanted those characters to be stunning and different. That is why each family has specific traits not only in what it comes to powers but also physically. 

 3) What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?

That in spite of all differences humanity can still carry on if they work together. The Last Families touches on some underlying themes like a post-apocalyptic era, skin color as a survival factor, family superiority, and misogyny. Of course, these topics are addressed in a very specific way in this fantastic world, but somehow they can also relate to some of the issues that our society faces today. I hope that the story helps readers from around the world question not only their beliefs but also imagine humanity’s fate (although the book’s one might sound too far-fetched) if we don’t take care of our current world. With Covid, I think many of us have are able to see fiction as a potential happening. 

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4) What drew you into this particular genre?

As a voracious reader, I read almost anything and I read in all genres. But fantasy and science fiction have a special place in my heart. However, reading fantasy and science fiction is not for everybody.  Good fantasy and science fiction invest a lot in world-building. If you read Tolkien, Asimov, Hubert, and others in these genres, you come to see these writers have invested quite a deal in describing the backgrounds and characteristics of their worlds.  When I started writing as an adult, I knew I had some great stories in mind in these genres, but I didn’t think I was good enough to write them. I thought that writing a contemporary story was going to be easier for me as an aspiring writer. After all, I’m still a good reader of thrillers by John Grisham, Lee Child, and others. Therefore I began with a technological thriller about five years ago. 

But after some time, I understood that it doesn’t work that way. Writing a thriller is also hard. You have to make sure to research well your location. Since it is a real location, you have to really know about it. You have to make sure your characters talk and feel like they are people from a specific location. It actually became tougher than I thought.  

Therefore, I came to the conclusion that for me specifically, imagining the whole location, and better yet imagining the whole world made sense. I have a very good imagination after all.

I’m definitely happy now writing fantasy. I want to explore science fiction but that is for later. I believe these two genres are very important nowadays. Through them, we can imagine certain worlds that don’t exist yet but might exist in the future. Whenever I think of our current world’s inventors and all advances in technology, I’d like to imagine they got some of their ideas of fictions stories they read or saw on film. 

5) If you could sit down with any character in your book, what would you ask them and why?

This is a tough question. The Last Families narrates the story from several POVs. Some characters like Yarisha, Palista, Malakay, Palista, and Marquesh are more visible than others. Yarisha might take the lead as the main character but I love Malakay. I love making imperfect characters. I like that Malakay is cocky and arrogant. I like how he is feisty and looking to snap at everybody’s comments. In some ways, he feels like the grown-up version of a spoiled brat. Yet he can change. All people change. If could sit down with him, I would probably ask him why he’s taken his mother’s teachings so high. Does he really think his family is superior to everybody else? I guess that as the character’s creator I know the answers. But Malakay is Malakay, and I could actually expect him snapping at me and replying something I wouldn’t expect. 

6) What social media site has been the most helpful in developing your readership?

I’m still developing my readership but I would say Facebook and Instagram. These two social networks are mostly connecting me with people that I already know, so it is a bit hard to get to other people out there. I started a Bookstagram only one month ago. I wished I had done it sooner. That bookstagram (currently in Spanish but working on getting the English version) has connected me to people outside of my social circle. I’m still growing it but so far it looks like the most promising one. 

7) What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?

Make sure to have people looking at your writing as soon as you can. As starting authors, we terribly self-doubt ourselves –  the infamous impostor’s syndrome. We feel too ashamed to show our writing to others. We are afraid somebody will say “you should work on your writing” “or the story is really poor”. With The Last Families,  I had some people take a look at my story, and of course, somebody helped me edit it, but I wished I had had more beta readers. Sometimes we focus too much on getting help with editing that we forget it is also important to have somebody looking at your story from a developmental point of view. We need somebody who will point out plot holes and tell us that a specific scene or dialogue doesn’t make sense, or that a character feels too flat. Also, those beta readers then become a point of contact when you are about to launch your book “your launch team.”

8) What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?

While I waited for some people to revise The Last Families manuscript, I started another story. So yes, there is already another story halfway. It is a dystopian story. This time there is not too much fantasy in it, but still a post-apocalyptic turn of events based a bit on our current pandemic. It is located in Bolivia (where I live). I’m pretty sure that people will love the characters. I’m having fun writing them. Of course, it has no title. Coming up with a title was the most difficult thing for The Last Families, so this new manuscript will probably receive its title at the very end of its cycle.

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About the Author

Carla Doria was born in Cochabamba, Bolivia where she currently resides. Graduated as an Industrial Engineer, she decided to acknowledge her lost love from childhood: writing. She spends her time working, blogging, writing, traveling, doing yoga, biking, running, and enjoying the good life in the city valley of Cochabamba.

Social media and websites

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cdoriam

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/thelastfamilies/

Bookstagram https://www.instagram.com/delfinliterario/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/carlisdm 

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/carladoria

Tumblr: https://thelastfamilies.tumblr.com/

The Last Families’ website: https://thelastfamilies.com/

My personal author blog: https://carladoria.com/ 

The Last Families by Carla Doria Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

The remnants of four powerful families who hold onto powerful abilities find themselves in a fight for survival and must contend with a dangerous new home, all while dealing with the same family fighting and odds they have held onto for so long in author Carla Doria’s “The Last Families”. 

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The Synopsis

Escaping their land’s destruction, the Kaptarish, Drontas, Verbaren and Ninfires have reached the island of Gambir. The last families with talents like mind-reading, extraordinary force, burning with their hands, and flying, hope to find refuge in this place.

Yarisha, the only mind-reader in the Verbaren family, will fall in love with Malakay, the most arrogant sibling in the Ninfire family. She knows the young man’s mother and the matriarch of the Ninfires, Mandely, will never consent to this relationship since she considers the Verbaren family inferior to them.

None of the members in the families expect to find a land full of secrets where those with the darkest looking-skin have better chances to survive and where the leader, Ian, is planning to take wives by force.

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The Review

This was a truly marvelous and engaging read. Immediately readers are hit with the urgency and anxiety that these characters are feeling, having lost their families and homes and seeking a safe haven after enduring so much loss. The balance the author found between the magic, power, and world-building that the fantasy genre brings with the desperation and fear that comes with a dystopian setting really elevated this narrative tenfold. 

Yet it was truly the world and character building and mythos the author crafted that allowed this story to shine. The author created such diverse and intricately detailed family dynamics both within each family and amongst the relationships between different families as well. The multiple POVs that this narrative had really did a great job of highlighting the differences amongst each family’s powers and perceptions of the world, and yet the same emotions and fears that resided within them all in this fight for survival they all shared.

The Verdict

An entertaining, thoughtful, and hauntingly thrilling dystopian fantasy read, author Carla Doria’s “The Last Families” is a must-read fantasy novel of 2021. The examination of what could happen if we tore our world apart so much that it was destroyed completely, and how inherent judgments and opinions can survive that destruction was so interesting to see, as was the need for survival that stripped those notions from some of these main characters enough to realize that those differences didn’t matter quite as much, making this a truly thought-provoking and emotionally investing read. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Carla Doria was born in Cochabamba, Bolivia. where she currently resides. Graduated as an Industrial Engineer, she decided to acknowledge her lost love from childhood: writing. She spends her time working, blogging, writing, traveling, doing yoga, biking, running, and enjoying the good life in the city valley of Cochabamba.

The Last Families is her first fantasy novel.

Book’s website: https://thelastfamilies.com/

Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09LJV5J7B

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/59067117-the-last-families 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cdoriam 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/carlisdm

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thelastfamilies/

Tumblr: https://thelastfamilies.tumblr.com/

Trashlands by Alison Stine Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A mother struggling to save enough money to rescue her child finds an opportunity to change her and her child’s life through her art in the sci-fi dystopian thriller, “Trashlands” by author Alison Stine. 

The Synopsis

A resonant, visionary novel about the power of art and the sacrifices we are willing to make for the ones we love

A few generations from now, the coastlines of the continent have been redrawn by floods and tides. Global powers have agreed to not produce any new plastics, and what is left has become valuable: garbage is currency.

In the region-wide junkyard that Appalachia has become, Coral is a “plucker,” pulling plastic from the rivers and woods. She’s stuck in Trashlands, a dump named for the strip club at its edge, where the local women dance for an endless loop of strangers and the club’s violent owner rules as unofficial mayor.

Amid the polluted landscape, Coral works desperately to save up enough to rescue her child from the recycling factories, where he is forced to work. In her stolen free hours, she does something that seems impossible in this place: Coral makes art.

When a reporter from a struggling city on the coast arrives in Trashlands, Coral is presented with an opportunity to change her life. But is it possible to choose a future for herself?

Told in shifting perspectives, Trashlands is a beautifully drawn and wildly imaginative tale of a parent’s journey, a story of community and humanity in a changing world.

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The Review

Captivating and thought-provoking, author Alison Stine shines brightly in this emotional and relevant eco-thriller/sci-fi dystopian read. The novel’s brilliance comes through early on in the use of shifting perspectives, allowing readers not only to see how this dystopian world evolved and grew but allowing them to see how the bonds between these characters formed and how they came to be who they are. The chilling atmosphere comes not from some horrendous mutant beast or alien invasion, but the horrors humanity inflicts on our own planet, forcing the Earth to reshape its landscapes and forcing good people to do whatever it takes to survive.

The character arcs in this narrative are the true heart of this book. The various perspectives we have to allow the reader to see the balance Coral must find in not only surviving for herself but in finding the means to save her son, taken years ago from her to work in a factory. Her ability to find beauty and the means to create art for others while still putting herself through perilous work to earn the means of leaving everything behind and saving her son showcases mankind’s ability to persevere in the face of adversity and find hope in the darkness that surrounds us, a message that rings true for so many people. 

The Verdict

An engaging, emotionally-driven, and thematically important read, author Alison Stine’s “Trashlands” is a must-read novel of 2021! The perfect story of survival, hope, and finding beauty in the most troublesome of times, this story will take readers on a roller-coaster of emotions and showcase a depth of world-building that readers will come to love from this eco-thriller. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

About the Author

Alison Stine is an award-winning poet and author. Recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and an Ohio Arts Council grant, she was a Wallace Stegner Fellow and received the Studs Terkel Award for Media and Journalism. She works as a freelance reporter with The New York Times, writes for The Washington Post, The Atlantic, The Guardian, 100 Days in Appalachia, ELLE, The Kenyon Review, and others, and has been astoryteller on The Moth. After living in Appalachian Ohio for many years, she now lives and writes in Colorado with her partner, her son, and a small orange cat.

Buy Links: 

BookShop.org

Harlequin 

Barnes & Noble

Amazon

Books-A-Million

Powell’s 

Social Links:

Author Website

Twitter: @AlisonStine

Instagram: @alistinewrites

Goodreads

Q&A with Author Alison Stine

1.      Give us an out of context quote from your book to warm our hearts.

“People had thought there would be no more time, but there was. Just different time. Time moving slower. Time after disaster, when they still had to live.” 

2.      What’s the last book you read that inspired you? 

Lily Cole’s Who Cares Wins: Reasons for Optimism in a Changed World. I’m quoted in the book, which is how we met. She had me on her podcast. It’s a book of ideas and hope for sustainability and environmental action. And it inspires me that she is able to leverage her platform as an actor and model to try to do good in the world. This world really wants you to be just one thing, and she resists that, and converts the attention into calls for action.

3.      Name one song or artist that gets you fired up.

Lana Del Rey’s “Swan Song.” It has a slow build, dark and intense, like I hope my work is. I don’t listen to music with lyrics when I draft, but I listen to the same song over and over again when I revise. That song becomes the heartbeat of the book. And “Swan Song” was one of the heartbeats of Trashlands.

4.      How do you find readers in today’s market?

There’s only so much a writer can control. I do everything in my control–post on social media, do events, publish essays–but at the end of the day, my job as a writer too is to tell the best story I can, to the best of my ability, in the time I’m given. What happens after that is a function of money and attention and decisions that don’t include me. As a disabled writer, it’s especially hard– nobody does year-end best lists about us. I try to remember that the writers I most admire–Octavia Butler, Angela Carter–wrote a ton. They just kept writing. I have to just keep writing, keeping going, too. 

5.      Do you come up with the hook first, or do you create characters first and then dig through until you find a hook?

Every book is different and every book teaches you how to write it. For me, trying to be analytical about things like plot or meaning doesn’t work. If I have a story I can’t let go of, something I dreamed, or something that keeps coming back to me, I listen to it. Often a character speaks first.

6.      Coffee or tea?

Definitely coffee. I’m a lightweight, so I try to limit myself to one cup a day.

7.       How do you create your characters?

One thing that I think is missing from some contemporary literary fiction is work. As someone from a working-class background, what characters do for money, how they feed themselves and live, is important to me, and can define character. Often what you want to do is different than what you have to do. I try to make it very clear how my characters support themselves, which can be a big part of characterization and plot–like in Trashlands, where several major characters work at a strip club at the end of the world– but also, what are their larger wishes? What are their unfulfilled dreams? What do they regret? 

8.      Who would be your dream cast if TRASHLANDS became a movie?

Lana Del Rey as Foxglove, Erin Kellyman as Coral, Eric Roberts as Trillium, MJ Rodriguez as Summer, and the late John Dunsworth as Mr. Fall. 

9.      If you could grab lunch with a literary character who would it be?

Jet from Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic series. I just read The Book of Magic, which reminded me how much I love Hoffman’s characters and that world. We all need an aunt in our lives who’s a witch, someone who’s both no nonsense and a lot of nonsense–and who serves cake for breakfast. (It just occurred to me that I may be turning into that kind of witch myself.) We need someone to remind us of our own personal magic. 

10.  What are you currently reading?

Township, a collection of stories by fellow Ohioan Jamie Lyn Smith, which is slated to be published this December. 

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Here is an Exclusive Excerpt From “Trashlands”

1

Early coralroot

Corallorhiza trifida

Coral was pregnant then. She hid it well in a dress she had found in the road, sun-bleached and mud-dotted, only a little ripped. The dress billowed to her knees, over the tops of her boots. She was named for the wildflower which hadn’t been seen since before her birth, and for ocean life, poisoned and gone. It was too dangerous to go to the beach anymore. You never knew when storms might come.

Though they were going—to get a whale.

A boy had come from up north with a rumor: a whale had beached. Far off its course, but everything was off by then: the waterways, the paths to the ocean, its salt. You went where you had to go, where weather and work and family—but mostly weather—took you.

The villagers around Lake Erie were carving the creature up, taking all the good meat and fat. The strainer in its mouth could be used for bows, the bones in its chest for tent poles or greenhouse beams.

It was a lot of fuel for maybe nothing, a rumor spun by an out-of-breath boy. But there would be pickings along the road. And there was still gas, expensive but available. So the group went, led by Mr. Fall. They brought kayaks, lashed to the top of the bus, but in the end, the water was shallow enough they could wade.

They knew where to go because they could smell it. You got used to a lot of smells in the world: rotten food, chemicals, even shit. But death… Death was hard to get used to.

“Masks up,” Mr. Fall said.

Some of the men in the group—all men except Coral—had respirators, painter’s masks, or medical masks. Coral had a handkerchief of faded blue paisley, knotted around her neck. She pulled it up over her nose. She had dotted it with lavender oil from a vial, carefully tipping out the little she had left. She breathed shallowly through fabric and flowers. Mr. Fall just had a T-shirt, wound around his face. He could have gotten a better mask, Coral knew, but he was leading the crew. He saved the good things for the others.

She was the only girl on the trip, and probably the youngest person. Maybe fifteen, she thought. Months ago, she had lain in the icehouse with her teacher, a man who would not stay. He was old enough to have an old-fashioned name, Robert, to be called after people who had lived and died as they should. Old enough to know better, Mr. Fall had said, but what was better, anymore?

Everything was temporary. Robert touched her in the straw, the ice blocks sweltering around them. He let himself want her, or pretend to, for a few hours. She tried not to miss him. His hands that shook at her buttons would shake in a fire or in a swell of floodwater. Or maybe violence had killed him.

She remembered it felt cool in the icehouse, a relief from the outside where heat beat down. The last of the chillers sputtered out chemicals. The heat stayed trapped in people’s shelters, like ghosts circling the ceiling. Heat haunted. It would never leave.

News would stop for long stretches. The information that reached Scrappalachia would be written hastily on damp paper, across every scrawled inch. It was always old news.

The whale would be picked over by the time they reached it.

Mr. Fall led a practiced team. They would not bother Coral, were trained not to mess with anything except the mission. They parked the bus in an old lot, then descended through weeds to the beach. The stairs had washed away. And the beach, when they reached it, was not covered with dirt or rock as Coral had expected, but with a fine yellow grit so bright it hurt to look at, a blankness stretching on.

“Take off your boots,” Mr. Fall said.

Coral looked at him, but the others were listening, knot-ting plastic laces around their necks, stuffing socks into pockets.

“Go on, Coral. It’s all right.” Mr. Fall’s voice was gentle, muffled by the shirt.

Coral had her job to do. Only Mr. Fall and the midwife knew for sure she was pregnant, though others were talking. She knew how to move so that no one could see.

But maybe, she thought as she leaned on a fence post and popped off her boot, she wanted people to see. To tell her what to do, how to handle it. Help her. He had to have died, Robert—and that was the reason he didn’t come back for her. Or maybe he didn’t know about the baby?

People had thought there would be no more time, but there was. Just different time. Time moving slower. Time after disaster, when they still had to live.

She set her foot down on the yellow surface. It was warm. She shot a look at Mr. Fall.

The surface felt smooth, shifting beneath her toes. Coral slid her foot across, light and slightly painful. It was the first time she had felt sand.

The sand on the beach made only a thin layer. People had started to take it. Already, people knew sand, like everything, could be valuable, could be sold.

Coral took off her other boot. She didn’t have laces, to tie around her neck. She carried the boots under her arm. Sand clung to her, pebbles jabbing at her feet. Much of the trash on the beach had been picked through. What was left was diapers and food wrappers and cigarettes smoked down to filters.

“Watch yourselves,” Mr. Fall said.

Down the beach they followed the smell. It led them on, the sweet rot scent. They came around a rock outcropping, and there was the whale, massive as a ship run aground: red, purple, and white. The colors seemed not real. Birds were on it, the black birds of death. The enemies of scavengers, their competition. Two of the men ran forward, waving their arms and whooping to scare off the birds.

“All right everybody,” Mr. Fall said to the others. “You know what to look for.”

Except they didn’t. Not really. Animals weren’t their specialty.

Plastic was.

People had taken axes to the carcass, to carve off meat. More desperate people had taken spoons, whatever they could use to get at something to take home for candle wax or heating fuel, or to barter or beg for something else, something better.

“You ever seen a whale?” one of the men, New Orleans, asked Coral.

She shook her head. “No.”

“This isn’t a whale,” Mr. Fall said. “Not anymore. Keep your masks on.”

They approached it. The carcass sunk into the sand. Coral tried not to breathe deeply. Flesh draped from the bones of the whale. The bones were arched, soaring like buttresses, things that made up cathedrals—things she had read about in the book.

Bracing his arm over his mouth, Mr. Fall began to pry at the ribs. They were big and strong. They made a cracking sound, like a splitting tree.

New Orleans gagged and fell back.

Other men were dropping. Coral heard someone vomiting into the sand. The smell was so strong it filled her head and chest like a sound, a high ringing. She moved closer to give her feet something to do. She stood in front of the whale and looked into its gaping mouth.

There was something in the whale.

Something deep in its throat.

In one pocket she carried a knife always, and in the other she had a light: a precious flashlight that cast a weak beam. She switched it on and swept it over the whale’s tongue, picked black by the birds.

She saw a mass, opaque and shimmering, wide enough it blocked the whale’s throat. The whale had probably died of it, this blockage. The mass looked lumpy, twined with seaweed and muck, but in the mess, she could make out a water bottle.

It was plastic. Plastic in the animal’s mouth. It sparked in the beam of her flashlight.

Coral stepped into the whale.

Excerpted from Trashlands by Alison Stine, Copyright © 2021 by Alison Stine. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

Creatures Most Vile by Chelsea Lauren Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A young woman who has been hunted by creatures her whole life has her world turned upside down when she discovers she has rare supernatural abilities, and is forced to fight the beasts that have haunted her in an arena. She must find a means of escape before the arena’s ruthless Commander before its too late in author Chelsea Lauren’s “Creatures Most Vile”. 

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The Synopsis

Stalked by monsters in the woods and her past, Anora finds safety in the quiet comforts of her small town life.

It’s another ordinary day when she’s sent to a Guardian assessment designed to unleash rare supernatural abilities, until she blasts a tunnel of water across the room. Her coach calls her gift a blessing, but Anora knows it’s a death sentence. Now she must train as a Guardian and battle the very monsters that have tormented her entire life.

After being thrown into the arena with a clawed and cackling creature, Anora refuses to accept this new life. She appeals to the Commander and begs her trainers to let her go home. The more they refuse, the more Anora realizes this isn’t a training camp—it’s a prison and they will never let her leave. Now she must escape the camp before the Commander catches on, for if he does, he may turn out to be worse than the monsters lurking in the woods. 

The Review

The world-building in this novel was fantastic! The author did an incredible job of not only captivating readers with a strong protagonist who evolved greatly over the course of the narrative but crafted a merciless and haunting dystopian world full of monsters, both the ravenous and humankind. The mythos that the author crafted around these fictional nations and the creatures that inhabit them, as well as the Guardians and their purpose, was incredible to watch unfold and did a great job of putting a new spin on the dystopian SCI-FI genre. 

The character arcs were what really brought me into this narrative fully. Anora was a fantastic hero to watch grow, as her arc from a scared and family-driven young girl into a strong and rebellious young woman was such a great and well-rounded story arc. The antagonists of this book were so vile and twisted, and the author did a great job of shocking readers with twists and turns that would change character perspectives constantly.

The Verdict

A heart-pounding, jaw-dropping, and entertaining read, author Chelsea Lauren’s “Creatures Most Vile” is a must-read dystopian sci-fi of 2021! The perfect read for sci-fi fans during the spooky season, the chilling monster attacks to set up the novel’s setting, and the twisted mind-games that the protagonist must endure making this a tense-filled world that cries out for a sequel. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

I never knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up. At school, everyone seemed so convicted in their career aspirations while I was constantly changing my mind. My two favorite subjects were science and English, so I decided to follow a biology track in college.  

During those four years my love for biology solidified. A career in research started to take shape. I was accepted to a graduate program winter of my senior year and was ready for a new adventure. Little did I know, that adventure was waiting for me in a Creative Writing 101 course that upcoming spring.  

After a semester of exploring my creative side through poetry and short stories, I was hooked. After graduation, I continued writing for fun and in graduate school it was an outlet for stress. My best friend and I would have de-stress writing sessions. We wrote a little, talked a lot, and she is the one who encouraged me to seek publication and share my stories with the world.   

Throughout the years, my fiancé has been a constant source of encouragement.  Balancing a career in microbiology, a blossoming career as an author, and everything else would not be possible without his hugs and our baby puppy Otis’s cuddles and kisses.  

Here’s a link to a Q&A I did with author Joshua Gillingham. 

https://www.chelsea-lauren.com/

The Infant Conspiracy: Book Two of the Oberllyn Family Trilogy by J. Traveler Pelton Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

After a lifetime of government service and espionage work, Noel and Violet Oberllyn must not only welcome their adult children and their families back into their home, but must come out of retirement to stop a shadow group who has infiltrated all major governments, has released an airborne toxin to stop fertility in its tracks amongst the general population, and has led the U.S. Government to the brink of destruction through civil unrest in author J. Traveler Pelton’s “The Infant Conspiracy”, the second book in the Oberllyn Family Trilogy. 

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The Synopsis

Noel and Violet Oberllyn spent their adult careers working special assignments for the U.S. government, a family tradition. After forty years of espionage, all they wanted was a peaceful retirement in the country. Just as it seemed that dream might happen, an unplanned series of events forced their over achieving adult children to return home to live with the folks – all four of them driven from their homes by different aspects of a government that had gone insane. Kai, a geneticist, with Zyanya his wife, Gabriel, a bomb expert turned nurse, with their grandson little Gabe, Jasmine, a forensic psychiatrist married to Scott, a CPA, join their little sibs still living at home, Micah, an autistic savant and Serena, an artist, in uncovering a secretive group of people led by the Ice Lady whose main goal appears to be to take the earth’s population down from 7 billion to 500 million within the next 10 years. Having infiltrated the governments of most developed countries and released an airborne anti-fertility virus, the Brotherhood succeeded in forcing a zero fertility rate. In the meantime, the economy of the U.S. tanked, the government sells all citizens who have debt into slavery within a system so harsh that civil disorder breaks out. Serenity Retreat Center is forced to become a slave labor camp and the family is compelled into special service to save the Center, their tribe, the United States and humanity from destruction. If you thought retirement was simply about money, this book will change your mind… 

The Review

Shocking and tense, this novel seems to border a sci-fi dystopian future with a twist of family and drama. The setting was very reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale, but with a twist. Rather than a group straight-up eliminating the government, this book focuses on a nefarious group infiltrating the already existing government and showing a world in which healthy women who have healthy pregnancies are so rare that they are taken to birthing centers and their rights are forfeited. The collapse of the society that we are all used to was harrowing to see unfold, as was the almost sci-fi element to this genetic engineering fiction read. 

What really set this narrative apart was the amount of family and mythos within that family that the author built. The emotional impact of what this family goes through and the lengths they go to for one another and their fellow man are a beacon of hope in this dystopian world. The world-building is just incredible to see here, as the author paints a vivid picture in the reader’s minds of how corruption and desperation can bring out the best or the worst in humanity. 

The Verdict

A mesmerizing, adrenaline-fueled, and highly creative read, author J. Traveler Pelton’s “The Infant Conspiracy” is a must-read dystopian and genetic engineering fiction read. Full of chilling scenarios that anyone would fear becoming a reality, shady government officials, and a cliffhanger ending that will leave readers wanting more, this is a great read for those who enjoy unique and original dystopian reads. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

J. Traveler Pelton was born in West Virginia in the last century. She is active in her home church; enjoys having theological disputes with her friends, loves to cook a big meal and then takes a walk, discussing the ideas of what her friends/family are studying. She was the Nation’s Mother for her tribe for several years: she is still wife to Dan after 45 years, mother of six adults, a grandmother of eight, a Clinically Licensed Independent Social worker, a retired adjunct professor of social work at her local university and an avid reader. She is a cancer survivor. She studies science, technology, Biblical studies and human behavior. She is quick to draw parallels between different fields of thought and weave the ideas into a cohesive ideology that is at once practical, usable and thoughtful. Her books are the result of blending her life experiences with bureaucracy, studying science and nature, counseling and faith. She greatly enjoys the intersection of fantasy and possibility and hopes you enjoy it as well. We will see you on the other side of the imagination tree.

Her co-author of the fantasy series is her grandson T-bear. T Bear Pelton is a self-proclaimed gamer, a student of Kenpo, a Christian active in his home church, a Native American, a storyteller and a novice blacksmith. He lives with his grandparents, his Amazon parrot, and four Siamese on a small alpaca farm while working full time and dreaming of times when magic still existed and wishes sometimes actually came true. Enjoy this fantasy with him and for just a little while, suspend daily life for a dream of dragons and wizards, beautiful ladies and knights, magic and faith. Travel then with us to another time, another place and another dimension. Come to the future, after the War, when tech and magic combine with faith and fear.

Their farm, Springhaven Croft, is home to alpacas, dogs, Siamese cats, canaries, an eclectic group of chickens and an irascible Amazon Parrot named Gizmo. Traveler’s webpage is travelerpelton.com; she also has a FB page called Traveler Pelton. Come visit real soon!

A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

Four people are brought together by circumstance at the end of the world and must work together in the face of another disaster when society is slowly rebuilding itself in author Mike Chen’s “A Beginning at the End”. 

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The Synopsis

How do you start over after the end of the world?

Six years after a global pandemic wiped out most of the planet’s population, the survivors are rebuilding the country, split between self-governing cities, hippie communes and wasteland gangs.

In postapocalyptic San Francisco, former pop star Moira has created a new identity to finally escape her past—until her domineering father launches a sweeping public search to track her down. Desperate for a fresh start herself, jaded event planner Krista navigates the world on behalf of those too traumatized to go outside, determined to help everyone move on—even if they don’t want to. Rob survived the catastrophe with his daughter, Sunny, but lost his wife. When strict government rules threaten to separate parent and child, Rob needs to prove himself worthy in the city’s eyes by connecting with people again.

Krista, Moira, Rob and Sunny are brought together by circumstance, and their lives begin to twine together. But when reports of another outbreak throw the fragile society into panic, the friends are forced to finally face everything that came before—and everything they still stand to lose.

Because sometimes having one person is enough to keep the world going.

The Review

This was a truly unique and gripping sci-fi dystopian thriller! The timing of this novel’s release was hard not to see of course, but what the author did so splendidly was not focus the entire novel on the actual “apocalypse”, but instead on the society that came after an epidemic that took out a large portion of the world’s population. The unique perspective, narratively speaking, highlights humanity’s persistence and strength in the face of adversity and overwhelming odds, even with the mental and physical tolls each of these characters are struggling with. 

What the author really did a great job of was balancing the ever-shifting mythos of this dystopian world with the emotional depths of each character’s growth throughout the narrative. As a fan of Stephen King’s “The Stand”, I’ve always felt that this balance was necessary for a story about the end of the world to really feel emotionally connected to the reader, and the author perfectly hits the nail on the head with this read.

The Verdict

A masterful, heartfelt, and entertaining read, author Mike Chen’s “A Beginning At the End” is a must-read novel for fans of the sci-fi and dystopian thriller genres. The engaging way the author connected his characters and both the internal and external struggles each character faced made this novel become an instant hit. Be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Mike Chen is the author of Here And Now And Then (a finalist for Goodreads Choice – Best Sci-Fi, CALIBA Golden Poppy, and the Compton Crook Award) and A Beginning At The End (“a brilliant, fragile path through the darkness” — Library Journal). His short fiction is featured in Star Wars: From A Certain Point Of View — The Empire Strikes Back, and he has covered geek culture for sites such as Tor.com, The Mary Sue, and StarTrek.com. In a previous life, he covered the NHL for Fox Sports, SB Nation, and other outlets. A member of SFWA, Mike lives in the Bay Area with his wife, daughter, and rescue animals. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @mikechenwriter