Dune (Dune #1) by Frank Herbert – Spoiler Free Review

Publisher: Ace Books

Publication Date: 1965

Genre: Sci-fi, Classic, Space Opera

Adventure Rating: 5 Stars

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Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, heir to a noble family tasked with ruling an inhospitable world where the only thing of value is the “spice” melange, a drug capable of extending life and enhancing consciousness. Coveted across the known universe, melange is a prize worth killing for…

When House Atreides is betrayed, the destruction of Paul’s family will set the boy on a journey toward a destiny greater than he could ever have imagined. And as he evolves into the mysterious man known as Muad’Dib, he will bring to fruition humankind’s most ancient and unattainable dream.

I am so glad I decided to read Dune. Especially since the new Dune movie is coming out! Like pretty much everyone else, I LOVED it! I am really into sci-fi and fantasy so I can definitely see where this book has influenced so much of what I have read and seen. Different planets, sci-fi weapons, sci-fi monsters, sci-fi tech, and more!

Let’s dig in. I really want to start with Paul. Oh poor Paul. He just wanted a quiet life. *sigh* Of course that would never happen. It’s still humanity after all. He tried so hard to do the right thing to save as many people as possible and avoid a zealot war. He somehow was noble without being boring. For some reason, books now a days have noble characters and they’re super boing. Paul wasn’t. He was like Luke Skywalker. Or maybe Luke was like him, really. Noble without being boring. I think because now in books, noble means, “oh I don’t kill bad guys” Bleh. Paul wasn’t afraid to kill evil. I liked that about him. He was put in a position where it was necessary and he did it. (Side note: Take that stupid Batman. If you would kill the Joker, no one else would friggen die!!!).

Anyways. I also really liked the politics. Which is funny because again, I’m tired of politics in today’s books. It’s too much like America’s. I read books to escape that crap. I don’t read books to read the author’s opinions on AMERICAN politics. Get your head out of your butt. Man I’m spicy today. Anyways again, the intricacies of the politics on THIER world, Dune, was so good! It wasn’t boring, it was really interesting. And Paul navigating it with his mother, Jessica, was so cool!

And the world. Oh my. Talk about world building! It nearly felt real! The many aspects that Herbert fit into book one alone was crazy! He truly built himself and his readers another universe.

The Mirror Man – Blog Tour, Excerpt, Author Q&A

Publisher: MIRA

Publication Date: October 20, 2020

Genre: Fiction, Sci-fi, Suspense

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Meet Jeremiah Adams. There are two of him.

The offer is too tempting: be part of a scientific breakthrough, step out of his life for a year, and be paid hugely for it. When ViGen Pharmaceuticals asks Jeremiah to be part of an illegal cloning experiment, he sees it as a break from an existence he feels disconnected from. No one will know he’s been replaced—not the son who ignores him, not his increasingly distant wife—since a revolutionary drug called Meld can transfer his consciousness and memories to his copy.

From a luxurious apartment, he watches the clone navigate his day-to-day life. But soon Jeremiah discovers that examining himself from an outsider’s perspective isn’t what he thought it would be, and he watches in horror as “his” life spirals out of control. ViGen needs the experiment to succeed—they won’t call it off, and are prepared to remove any obstacle. With his family in danger, Jeremiah needs to finally find the courage to face himself head-on. 

  1. What made you write this novel?

I love characters that are almost but not quite human. My favorite Star Trek characters are always ones like Spock, Data, and the Doctor from Voyager. Clones, to me, are about as almost human as you can get. Some of my favorite science fiction stories deal with clones. But there are so many good ones already out there I didn’t feel like I had anything to add, and I never really set out to try.

But I was reading something a few years ago that posed a straightforward and fascinating question: What would it be like to meet your own clone? The article I was reading left it at that, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

I knew it might be interesting to write a clone story that focused not on the clone, but on the human, who had been cloned. I thought that presented a whole new set of ideas and issues within the topic. It sort of turns the whole thing around when you look at it from that human perspective. What would it feel like to see yourself replaced in your own life? There is something so creepy and sad about that idea. Also, though, I saw something hopeful. I think it brings up the possibility of making a change in your life or seeing the opportunity for a second chance, which is always a good thing to explore. Those are some ideas I tried to keep in mind as I was writing The Mirror Man.

  1. Medical thrillers are all the rage. Why, do you think?

I think there is something intrinsically threatening about so-called Big Pharma – especially right now. In the midst of a global pandemic, the world is waiting for a viable vaccine to fix it, but there’s this nagging doubt that maybe it’s being rushed. We have government agencies relaxing rules on testing protocol, funding research with budgets the size of planetary systems, and all these drug companies racing to be the one that comes charging in on the white stallion to save the world. But poll after poll in the news says the public won’t feel safe getting vaccinated right off the bat, even if it means getting back to normal. And there are more people in the world today that don’t trust mandated vaccines to begin with – not even for the tried and tested ones for polio or mumps. 

People don’t trust that these huge companies truly have the public’s best interest at heart. I think that really became more evident when pharmaceutical companies began advertising drugs on television and pushing people to “ask your doctor or pharmacist if (insert drug here) is right for you.” I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t want to suggest a drug to my doctor as though it were a brand of cookie that looked good on TV. I’d much rather my doctor had a more educated idea on what medicine I ought to be taking. 

So, I think medical thrillers are big right now because people are pretty easily convinced that an industry that seems motivated more by profit and less by altruistic science just might have the capacity for evil. For a lot of people, that distrust is already there.

  1. What are your thoughts about cloning?

I find the concept of cloning to be fascinating. The thought of having a clone – someone who could say, clean the bathrooms for me, make dinner, go to a meeting in my place – is sort of tempting. But there are all these sinister elements about cloning, and a whole lot of ethical questions, too, that are a lot more serious. What if we created clones for harvesting body parts in the event that we got sick or injured? What if we used them to fight our wars or for bomb disposal and other dangerous endeavors in our place? Would the auto industry begin using clones instead of test dummies for crash test data? Presumably, a clone would feel every bit as real and human as the host it sprang from, but would it be? Would clones have the same rights and privileges of personhood if they were mere copies? Would they be entitled to such rights and privileges? And if they didn’t get them – what then? Would they organize and rise up against us? 

There is a lot to consider about human cloning and I only touched briefly on these questions in The Mirror Man, but I think we – as a society and as a species – ought to start thinking about it.

  1. How did you research this novel?

Because the main focus of The Mirror Man is more the psychological changes of the protagonist as he watches his clone, it isn’t a book that’s especially science laden. That being said, the science (even though most is invented) had to be believable and plausible and so, is based on real science.

For the cloning aspect in the story I researched the way cloning is currently done in mammals – via cell transfer and embryotic implantation. But I also needed to identify ways in which scientists might grow a human clone quickly, so it would reach a full, adult maturation rate in about 48 hours. I read a lot about Human Growth Hormone (HGH) in the pituitary gland of our brains and its effect on how our bodies grow. The research was intriguing and sent me down so many rabbit holes dealing with the role this hormone plays in cell repair, muscle mass, weight gain, and even life expectancy. The articles I saved and the notes I took might well come in handy for a future novel.

I also did some research for Meld, the invented drug in the story. I wanted to create a drug that – if two people took it together – could offer a literal glimpse into someone else’s mind but one that could also be used to transfer brain patterns and consciousness from the main character into the clone. In the novel, the drug is used in a myriad of ways – not only to copy a mind, but also as a promising medical tool and as an illegal recreational drug with dire consequences. For Meld I researched the areas of the human brain such a drug might act upon – especially our aptly titled mirror neurons which are responsible for making us yawn when we see someone else yawn. (If yours are especially active, you might have yawned at the very thought of that. If so – sorry!)

  1. Do you believe human cloning is possible?

As the lead scientist in The Mirror Man likes to point out, “the science exists.” 

Human cloning is absolutely possible. We are already so adept at cloning animals that there are actual companies out there whose entire business model is built on cloning our dogs and cats. And people do that more often than you’d imagine. Did you know Barbara Streisand has had something like five clones of her favorite dog? It’s true. And we all know the story of Dolly, the sheep with the dubious distinction of being the very first mammal to be successfully cloned in 1996. From dogs and cats and sheep it isn’t a giant leap to cloning humans. Essentially, the science is the same. What’s stopping us (thankfully) isn’t the feasibility, but the ethical and moral dilemmas associated with human cloning.

While many countries have passed laws that prohibit human cloning, the US currently has no such legislation (although some states do). Congress has proposed many bills to that effect, but none have been enacted into actual law. The reason for that is partly because things like medical stem cell research overlap the science of cloning. But there are reams of material written on the ethical implications of human cloning from agencies including the World Health Organization, and there are ongoing congressional discussions to agree at least on some level of regulation. But at the moment, in the US, human cloning is both scientifically possible and essentially legal. That’s just a tiny bit terrifying.

  1. Talk about the meaning of identity in your book

It didn’t take me long to understand that what I was really doing with The Mirror Man was writing a story about self-identity. It’s a topic that finds its way into a lot of what I write and is strangely compelling to me. My favorite line from David Bowie’s song “Changes” is this: 

I turn myself to face me, but I never caught a glimpse of how the others must see the faker

I find that idea fascinating. We all have this idea of who we are, and how we come across to other people, but it’s probably not the truth. The way we see ourselves is muddled with all these filters and little lies. We are all, in a sense, just fakers. I wanted to explore that concept, so I came up with a way to put a character in a situation where he literally had to turn and face himself – to see himself exactly as everyone else sees him — from the outside. Cloning seemed an obvious choice for a science fiction writer. 

In the novel, my character, Jeremiah is largely locked in this laboratory/apartment and made to watch his clone on a TV monitor for four hours a day. Even though he’s typically seeing mundane things – the clone interacting with his family and co-workers – the experience is difficult and eye-opening for him. While he has to admit that his double is every bit identical to him, he begins to despise who he’s watching. It makes him question fundamental things about his own identity.

Meanwhile, we have this illegal street use of a drug called Meld that allows people to see themselves through someone else’s eyes and it leads to a rash of suicides. It’s another way of looking at what the main character is going through, but the result is basically the same: It isn’t easy to face the truth of who you are.

There are a lot of figurative and literal mirrors in my novel. Jeremiah is often looking at his own reflection as he grapples with questions about his life. He spends quite a bit of time creating an avatar of himself for a video game. And, obviously, his clone is sort of the ultimate reflection. But he never fully understands what he’s seeing until he’s forced to face himself. And I had to bring him to that point in a very literal way. Hopefully, the novel will leave readers asking some interesting questions about their own identity.

Charles Scott glared down at him with a glint in his green eyes that felt like a warning, and Jeremiah replayed in his head the man’s ambiguous threat during their first meeting several weeks before.

“You now know as much about this project as anyone else involved,” he’d said. “It wouldn’t do to have too many people walking around with this kind of information. Our investors have a tendency to get nervous.”

Although Scott had quickly followed that remark with the matter of Jeremiah’s substantial compensation, there was no mistaking the implication: the moment he’d been told about the cloning project Jeremiah was already in. That first meeting hadn’t been an invitation so much as an orientation, and the contract he’d later signed had been a formality, at best. And the entire thing had done nothing but gain momentum from that moment on.

Dr. Pike continued to affix the wires to Jeremiah’s head. Jeremiah focused on the man’s gleaming black hair and the deep brown of his sure, professional hands, and he struggled to remember the allure of the $10 million payout he’d get at the end of the whole thing. That kind of money could fix a lot of problems. It would change things. The prospect of that fortune had been enough to make him turn away from principles he thought were unshakable. Every man has his price, he supposed.

Somewhere in the back of his mind he also acknowledged the real temptation of a twelve-month sabbatical from his own life. It had seduced him every bit as much as the money had. Maybe more. Between a job that had already begun to make him question his own morals, and a marriage that felt increasingly more like a lie, stress was eating him alive. And into his lap fell a chance to just walk away from all of it—without consequence and without blame. A free pass. He could simply walk away without anyone even knowing he was gone. There isn’t a man alive, he told himself, who would have refused. Despite the ethical question, despite that human cloning was illegal the world over, it would have tempted anyone.

Dr. Pike injected the clone with Meld and then turned wordlessly to Jeremiah with the second syringe poised above his left shoulder.

Jeremiah closed his eyes and rolled up his sleeve.

After the initial stab of the needle, he felt nothing. Which is not to say he didn’t feel anything; he literally felt nothing. Seconds after the injection, he became aware of a total emptiness, like a towering black wave that threatened to sink him into an immeasurable void. The experience was unlike anything he’d ever known. He imagined an astronaut suddenly untethered from his ship, floating helplessly into unending darkness. Without thinking, he immediately felt his body recoil. His mind screamed against it.

I’m dying!

From impossibly far away, he heard Dr. Pike say something about a heart rate and felt the slight pressure of a hand on his shoulder. He couldn’t see anything of the hospital room anymore. He was drowning in the blackness. His chest felt suddenly constricted. He fought just to find his breath.

“This is all perfectly normal, Mr. Adams. You have nothing to worry about. Concentrate on the sound of my voice. Nod if you can hear me.”

With considerable effort, Jeremiah managed what he hoped was a nod of his head. He was suddenly gripped by the alarming certainty that if he couldn’t communicate somehow, he’d be lost—swept away forever.

“Good. Good. Listen to my voice. It will keep you grounded.” Pike still sounded far away, but Jeremiah nodded again and struggled to focus. “What you are experiencing is to be expected. Do you remember when you took the Meld with Dr. Young? Do you remember the way you could feel her thoughts for the first few minutes?”

He nodded. It had been an unnerving thing to perceive her consciousness mixing with his like that. Flashes from her mind—odd, alien things like the feel of a blister on the back of her right heel, the familiar gleam in the eye of an old man he’d never seen—had swirled into the very structure of his own mind and fought for a place to settle. He had railed against that, too, and she had grounded him by flashing a penlight in his face, making him focus on that while the Meld took effect. Afterward, once he had sunk in, it had been easier.

“This is no different than what you experienced then,” Pike said. “This time, though, you are connected to an empty mind. There’s nothing there. But the more you resist, the longer this will take. You need to relax, Mr. Adams. Give in to it.”

Jeremiah nodded again and then shook his head with as much grit as he could muster. How does one give in to this? He didn’t think he could do it.

“Once your thoughts begin transferring into the mind of the clone it will be easier for you,” Pike urged. “Focus on a memory, as I suggested. Something vivid. It will help to fill that void you’re experiencing now. It will give you something to hang on to.”

Without the benefit of his full faculties, Jeremiah had little choice but to grab the last thing he’d been thinking about—his initial conversation with Charles Scott, the day all of this began.

He’d been surprised when he’d received an invitation to lunch from ViMed’s head of Engineering. The man was an icon in the science world, and although he’d quoted him a hundred times for the company, Jeremiah had never actually met him. He’d been intrigued enough to accept the invitation, especially when Scott had told him it involved a “proposition that could make him a very wealthy man.”

Flashes of that encounter and snatches of conversation now flitted through his mind like so many fireflies. He fought to catch them.

“We’ve been watching you, Mr. Adams.”

“All we ask is one year of your life. Isn’t that worth $10 million?”

“We can do this. The science exists. And with Meld, the clone will even share your thought patterns… Your own mother won’t know the difference.”

“This is sanctioned by powerful people—we have millions in secret federal backing. There are billions more in eventual funding… There’s no need to be so suspicious, Mr. Adams.”

From somewhere far away, Jeremiah heard Dr. Pike repeating his name. He had been so engulfed in his efforts to hold on to the memory that he’d almost forgotten where he was. As soon as he realized it, the void loomed again in his mind.

“Mr. Adams,” Pike said, “you’ve got to listen to me. The clone cannot pick up on any memory of the experiment. What you’re thinking about is not going to help. You need to think about something else, some memory that won’t be filtered. His mind is still empty.”

Jeremiah panicked. He couldn’t think. And now that he wasn’t focused on anything, the blackness began to take over again, creeping closer and threatening to swallow him. He fought for breath.

“Relax, Mr. Adams,” Pike said. “Think about your job here at ViMed. Remember something the clone can actually use. Something he’ll need to know.”

He felt a dull jab at his shoulder.

“This should help. I’ve given you a mild sedative. Take a few deep breaths. Concentrate on your breathing.”

With everything in him, Jeremiah tried to turn his mind away from the void that seemed to be all around him. He inhaled deeply and tried to focus on the rise of his own chest. Exhaled, and he felt his chest fall.

“Very good, Mr. Adams. Very good. Pulse is returning to normal. Deep breaths. Now, think about a typical day at work. Something ordinary and mundane.”

Inhale. Exhale. After a moment, Jeremiah began to relax and, as the sedative took hold, he found he could let his mind wander without the frantic thought that he’d never get it back. An oddly comforting fog seemed to expand in front of him, pushing the blackness away slightly, and Jeremiah retreated into it.

He began to think about the morning of the Meld fiasco—the day the New Jersey housewife had killed herself. The press had been circling. He’d arrived at his office with a terse mandate from his superiors to “get these fuckers off our back” and no idea how to accomplish that. It hadn’t been lost on him that not a single soul seemed bothered enough to stop and feel sorry about it, and he’d taken a quick moment behind his office door to offer silent condolences. It wasn’t thirty seconds before someone had come knocking, pushing him to get something done.

Weeks before, he’d heard talk of Meld being used to detect brain activity in a sixteen-year-old football player who had been comatose for nearly six months. Time to cash in. He tracked down the doctor somewhere in Delaware and the man started gushing about Meld, calling it “magical,” “a godsend” and “the most important medical advance of a generation.”

“After so many weeks,” he said, “the parents were hopeless.”

Meld was a last resort before pulling the plug, and it gave them the first clear signs of neural activity in the boy.

“Not only was he aware and awake in there, but he was cognizant of everything that was going on around him—including the fact that his parents were losing hope. He even heard them talking about funeral arrangements at one point. The kid was scared, terrified. He was begging for his life in there. That’s what I saw when I took the Meld with him. Meld absolutely saved his life. There is no doubt in my mind.”

Jeremiah had almost smiled. It was pure gold. A few hours later, the story was in the hands of every major news outlet, and that doctor was spending his fifteen minutes of fame touting Meld as “a medical miracle.”

Jeremiah focused on that now. Maybe Meld did have some silver lining, after all, he thought. Maybe it was miraculous.

Jane Gilmartin has been a news reporter and editor for several small-town weekly papers and enjoyed a brief but exciting stint as a rock music journalist. A bucket list review just before she turned 50 set her on the path to fiction writing. Also checked off that list: an accidental singing career, attending a Star Trek convention, and getting a hug from David Bowie. She lives in her hometown of Hingham, Massachusetts.

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Road Out of Winter by Alison Stine – Feature, Excerpt, Q&A

Publisher: MIRA Books

Publication Date: September 01, 2020

Genre: Sci-fi, Dystopia

Harlequin  | Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Books-A-Million | Powell’s

Surrounded by poverty and paranoia her entire life, Wil has been left behind in her small Appalachian town by her mother and her best friend. Not only is she tending her stepfather’s illegal marijuana farm alone, but she’s left to watch the world fall further into chaos in the face of a climate crisis brought on by another year of unending winter. So opens Alison Stine’s moving and lyrical cli-fi novel, ROAD OUT OF WINTER (MIRA Trade; September 1, 2020; $17.99).

With her now priceless grow lights stashed in her truck and a pouch of precious seeds, Wil upends her life to pursue her mother in California, collecting an eclectic crew of fellow refugees along the way. She’s determined to start over and use her skills to grow badly needed food in impossible farming conditions, but the icy roads and desperate strangers are treacherous to Wil and her gang. Her green thumb becomes the target of a violent cult and their volatile leader, and Wil must use all her cunning and resources to protect her newfound family and the hope they have found within each other.

Chapter One

I used to have dreams that Lobo would be arrested. The sheriff and his deputies would roll up the drive, bouncing on the gravel, but coming fast, too fast to be stopped, too fast for Lobo to get away through the fields. Or maybe Lobo would be asleep, and they would surprise him, his eyes red, slit like taillights. My mama and I would weep with joy as they led him off. The deputies would wrap us in blankets, swept in their blue lights. We were innocent, weren’t we? Just at the wrong place at the wrong time, all the time, involved with the wrong man—and we didn’t know, my mama didn’t know, the extent. 

But that wasn’t true, not even close. 

I sold the weed at a gas station called Crossroads to a boy who delivered meals for shut-ins. Brown paper bags filled the back of his station wagon, the tops rolled over like his mama made him lunch. I supposed he could keep the bags straight. That was the arrangement Lobo had made years ago, that was the arrangement I kept. I left things uncomplicated. I didn’t know where the drugs went after the boy with the station wagon, where the boy sold them or for how much. I took the money he gave me and buried most of it in the yard.

After his station wagon bumped back onto the rural route, I went inside the store. There was a counter in the back, a row of cracked plastic tables and chairs that smelled like ketchup: a full menu, breakfast through dinner. They sold a lot of egg sandwiches at Crossroads to frackers, men on their way out to work sites. It was a good place to meet; Lisbeth would come this far. I ordered three cheeseburgers and fries, and sat down.

She was on time. She wore gray sweatpants under her long denim skirt, and not just because of the cold. “You reek, Wil,” she said, sliding onto the chair across from me.

“Lobo says that’s the smell of money,” I said.

“My mama says money smells like dirty hands.”

            The food arrived, delivered by a waitress I didn’t know. Crinkling red and white paper in baskets. I slid two of the burgers over to Lisbeth. The Church forbade pants on women, and short hair, and alcohol. But meat was okay. Lisbeth hunched over a burger, eating with both hands, her braid slipping over her shoulder.

“Heard from them at all?” she asked.

“Not lately.”

“You think he would let her write you? Call?”

“She doesn’t have her own phone,” I said.

            Lisbeth licked ketchup off her thumb. The fries were already getting cold. How about somethin’ home made? read the chalkboard below the menu. I watched the waitress write the dinner specials in handwriting small and careful as my mama’s.

“Hot chocolate?” I read to Lisbeth. “It’s June.”

“It’s freezing,” she said. 

And it was, still. Steam webbed the windows. There was no sign of spring in the lung-colored fields, bordered by trees as spindly as men in a bread line. We were past forsythia time, past when the squirrels should have been rooting around in the trees for sap. 

“What time is it now?” Lisbeth asked.

I showed her my phone, and she swallowed the last of her burger.

“I’ve got to go.”

“Already?”

“Choir rehearsal.” She took a gulp of Coke. Caffeine was frowned upon by The Church, though not, I thought, exclusively forbidden. “I gave all the seniors solos, and they’re terrified. They need help. Don’t forget. Noon tomorrow.”

The Church was strange—strange enough to whisper about. But The Church had a great choir; she had learned so much. They had helped her get her job at the high school, directing the chorus, not easy for a woman without a degree. Also, her folks loved The Church. She couldn’t leave, she said.

“What’s at noon?” I asked.

           She paused long enough to tilt her head at me. “Wylodine, really? Graduation, remember? The kids are singing?”

“I don’t want to go back there.”

“You promised. Take a shower if you been working so my folks don’t lose their 

minds.”  

“If they haven’t figured it out by now, they’re never going to know,” I said, but Lisbeth 

was already shrugging on her coat. Then she was gone, through the jangling door, long braid and layers flapping. In the parking lot, a truck refused to start, balking in the cold.  

I ordered hot chocolate. I was careful to take small bills from my wallet when I went up to the counter. Most of the roll of cash from the paper bag boy was stuffed in a Pepsi can back on the floor of the truck. Lobo, who owned the truck, had never been neat, and drink cans, leaves, and empty Copenhagen tins littered the cab. Though the mud on the floor mats had hardened and caked like makeup, though Lobo and Mama had been gone a year now, I hadn’t bothered cleaning out the truck. Not yet.

The top of the Pepsi can was ripped partially off, and it was dry inside: plenty of room for a wad of cash. I had pushed down the top to hide the money, avoiding the razor-sharp edge. Lobo had taught me well.

I took the hot chocolate to go.

In the morning, I rose early and alone, got the stove going, pulled on my boots to hike up the hill to the big house. I swept the basement room. I checked the supplies. I checked the cistern for clogs. The creek rode up the sides of the driveway. Ice floated in the water, brown as tea. 

No green leaves had appeared on the trees. No buds. My breath hung in the air, a web I walked through. My boots didn’t sink in the mud back to my own house in the lower field; my footprints were still frozen from a year ago. Last year’s walking had made ridges as stiff as craters on the moon. At the door to my tiny house, I knocked the frost from my boots, and yanked them off, but kept my warm coveralls on. I lit the small stove, listening to the whoosh of the flame. The water for coffee ticked in the pot.

I checked the time on the clock above the sink, a freebie from Radiator Palace. 

“Fuck,” I said aloud to no one.

Excerpted from Road Out of Winter by Alison Stine, Copyright © 2020 by Alison Stine. 

Published by MIRA Books

1.       If Wil had a favorite song, what would it be?

I feel like she would have grown up listening to country, and to the music her mama liked, as I did, like Linda Ronstadt, Crystal Gale. I think she would really like Kacey Musgraves, and would have snuck a copy her albums to her friend who was raised very strict. But I think Wil’s favorite song would be Burning House by Cam. It was on the radio when I was writing. I used to sing it to my son. The lyrics speak a lot to Wil’s situation: “stay here with you/til this dream is gone.” It would have been on the radio when she was driving home from seeing the person who could never love her the way she wanted, driving through the place that could never love her back.

2.       Which character in ROAD OUT OF WINTER do you most relate to?

Wil. We were a few months into the pandemic when I realized I actually am Wil. Writing her made me realize I’m stronger than I know. I can get my family cross-country safely. I can make it work. All of her plant knowledge is my own, which I gained from living in rural Appalachia for so long, and from my friends and neighbors. I cry more than she does, though.

3.       What was your favorite scene to write? No spoilers!

Everything involving the skaters, though it scared me too. My son is a skater and my partner is (and I used to be, before getting hurt!). Friends of ours have a homemade skate ramp out in the country. Several of my friends basically have their own compounds which, I’m not gonna lie, is a dream. Anytime I can convey the wildness, strangeness, and the abandon of rural Appalachian Ohio is a good writing day. It can be scary but it can also be really fun, living in the middle of nowhere. You can do what you want, to both good and bad results.

4.       Who was your favorite character to write and why?

Jamey. In my real life, in part because of my disability, I’m quiet, especially in new situations. I hold back. Jamey says the things I wish I could. She’s also, as my smart friend and early reader Ellee pointed out, a survivor: she can be sarcastic and harsh sometimes because of what she had to endure. Her defense mechanism is pretending not to care. But she does care, deeply.  

5.       Why was it important to you to have a queer character in your story?

I didn’t consciously set out to make Wil queer and I don’t know that she would call herself that exactly, if she has that language or community yet. She loves who she loves, but her experience of romantic love in a small town has been things just not working out. Nobody really seeing her. That was also my experience for a long time. I’ve only felt comfortable calling myself bisexual in the past few years, despite having had long-term relationships with both men and women. That was how I grew up, in a small conservative town. Wil wants love, and the woman she loves wants something else, a bigger life, that Wil always hoped she could make somehow right here where she grew up. My experience is that sometimes you have to make that life elsewhere. Sometimes rural spaces are not the friendliest, home is not the easiest. But I am very proud and glad to have a bi woman in a rural space in my book. I guess I wrote the book I needed when I was young and couldn’t find. It’s still hard to find bi characters, especially in adult literary and commercial fiction. It’s even harder to find them celebrated. We seemed to be skipped over quite a lot. Often I feel invisible, like my life and experiences and struggles don’t matter. Being bi is just who she is, it’s not a plot device. Just a fact, as it is in life. 

6.       Are you a pantser or a plotter?

I like to surprise myself so I am mostly just plunging into writing. The best stories come from dreams, in my opinion. Then once you have the dream, you need to wait a little while until characters and the main events take shape. I usually know the three main acts before I start to write a book, but that’s it. I start to know the end by about the middle. With ROAD OUT OF WINTER, I knew nothing, because the book originally did not go where I wanted it to and so I stopped writing. I thought they were going to go clear across the country and so I stopped. When I came back to the manuscript a few months later, I realized, no, they were never supposed to get out of Appalachia. And I finished the book.

7.       Where is your favorite place to write?

I can work anywhere, and have had to, being a single mother for most of my child’s life. But a lot of ROAD OUT OF WINTER, and my next book, were written and revised at The Westend Ciderhouse, a cidery and bar in my town. I would go in the afternoon—they opened early on Fridays—and had my favorite table. Nobody bothered me. Several of the bartenders were my friends but they knew I was working. It was very quiet, and kinda dark and cool, and I would just write—and drink one cider, until it was time for my son to come home from school. I write better in bars than in coffeeshops. I guess I’m just that type.

8.       What’s the worst writing advice you ever received?

That you need the approval of a teacher or professor or workshop or a degree to write. Writing is being a collector and interpreter of experiences. You don’t have to study writing formally or major in it, and looking back, I kinda wish I had explored more of my other interests in music and theatre and art. All that would have helped my writing too. Don’t let go of the other stuff that makes you happy. Everything you do helps fill your well as a writer—other art, sports, travel, friendships. Books are your best teachers. The best thing you can do to be a better writer is to read, to experience, to write, and to live.

9.       What is the best book you’ve read this year?

The best book I read this year so far was Meg Elison’s The Book of the Unnamed Midwife. I read and loved all the books in the trilogy. They were some of the first books I could get through in the early days of the pandemic, when my mind and heart were all over the place. They helped center me, in part because they made me feel seen. The trilogy focuses on women, queer folks, bi folks, and how we might survive in a world that doesn’t really see or even want us—and that matters to me.

10.   What are you working on next?

My second novel TRASHLANDS is coming out from MIRA in the fall of 2021. It’s about a single mom at a strip club at the end of the world. She has to choose between being an artist, being a parent, or being in love, which isn’t much of a choice at all but the kind that women throughout time have been forced to make. And I’m starting to write my next novel, about a reporter who is hard of hearing (like me!) and is called back home to investigate something really bad.

ALISON STINE lives in the rural Appalachian foothills. A recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), she was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. She has written for The Atlantic, The Nation, The Guardian, and many others. She is a contributing editor with the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.

A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen – Feature, Excerpt and Author Q&A

Publisher: MIRA Books

Publication Date: January 14, 2020

Genre: Sci-fi, Dystopia

Buy Links:

Harlequin| Amazon| Barnes & Noble| Books-a-Million| IndieBound| Apple Books| Kobo| Google Play

I am so excited to feature A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen today on my blog! Plus a few extras to go along with it! Check out an excerpt and a Q&A with the author below! Thank you to Harper Collins for having me on the tour!

An emotional story about what happens after the end of the world, A BEGINNING AT THE END is a tale of four survivors trying to rebuild their personal lives after a literal apocalypse. For commercial readers who enjoy a speculative twist, or their sci-fi with a heavy dose of family and feelings.

Six years after a global pandemic, it turns out that the End of the World was more like a big pause. Coming out of quarantine, 2 billion unsure survivors split between self-governing big cities, hippie communes, and wasteland gangs. When the father of a presumed-dead pop star announces a global search for his daughter, four lives collide: Krista, a cynical event planner; Moira, the ex-pop star in hiding; Rob, a widowed single father; and Sunny, his seven-year-old daughter. As their lives begin to intertwine, reports of a new outbreak send the fragile society into a panic. And when the government enacts new rules in response to the threat, long-buried secrets surface, causing Sunny to run away seeking the truth behind her mother’s death. Now, Krista, Rob, and Moira must finally confront the demons of their past in order to hit the road and reunite with Sunny — before a coastal lockdown puts the world on pause again.”

Q: Parent characters are a large part of A Beginning at the End. Did you know your character’s family backgrounds before you began? How do the characters take form in your writing process?

A: Somewhat. Usually the core problem comes first in my drafting process. I tend to write in layers and my initial drafts are always very light — initial scenes may only be about ¼ of their final length because I don’t know the characters too well yet. At that stage, I’m trying to find the main conflict of the scene and the voice for their characters. I typically need 5-7 passes through a book to turn it from a 45k-50k word skeleton to a reasonably polished 90-100k word draft. During that time, the characters start to form.

As an example, my current work in progress (which will be released after 2021’s upcoming WE COULD BE HEROES), I’m on my third pass through for the first act and only now am I beginning to understand each character’s unique voice as well as their physical appearances. Core conflicts (such as character X has trouble with character Y) are established during the initial outline phase as part of the initial concept, but the how and why those conflicts happen (Is it family history? Is it a traumatic event? Is it sibling rivalry?), that takes a little longer to establish. 

For the characters in A BEGINNING AT THE END, I started out immediately knowing what drove Krista and Rob. Moira didn’t really become fully three-dimensional until much later, and in fact in early revisions, she was just a minor supporting character. My agent noted that she was far too interesting to push to the side, so the book was rebuilt around her to hold equal footing to Rob and Krista.

Q: Where did you take inspiration for this pandemic? Do you have any other book or film recommendations?

A: Though it wasn’t a direct inspiration for this book, there’s a scene in the second season of The Walking Dead that began the train of thought for A BEGINNING AT THE END. It was the season on Hershel’s farm, and there’s a scene where Lori is trying to go over homework with her son Carl. A lot of viewers mocked the scene at the time with comments like “Why would you do math in the zombie apocalypse?” but I thought that was a smart bit of human grounding against a fantastical backdrop. Because those characters didn’t know if and when the apocalypse would end, and I think it makes sense that 1) a mom would try to keep some form of normalcy for her son 2) they wouldn’t just assume the world was completely over.

Because a lot of apocalyptic fiction focuses on either the event itself or a grimdark survival world, that scene sparked a lot of ideas for me — what if society did crawl back from the brink, and instead of a true “end of the world” it was more like a big pause button? Then all these people would move past day-to-day survival and suddenly have a lot of trauma to unpack, and i hadn’t really seen that covered much at the time. That seemed really interesting to me, much more so than the idea of tribal factions attacking each other to survive.

Q: Which main character is your favorite? And which was the hardest to write?

A: It’s been interesting seeing early reader feedback because the “favorite character” opinion has been pretty evenly split. I think that’s a good sign that things are pretty balanced. For me personally, I always viewed Krista as the main character in this book and it was originally written with her to be the main focus (the original draft of this from 2011ish only had her POV and Rob’s POV). She has such a snappy voice that it’s just fun to write her responses and reactions to stuff, and a big challenge came from cutting out unnecessary dialogue that made it in there simply because she was so fun to write.

The hardest character to write was definitely Sunny. Simply because I needed to get into the head of a seven-year-old. Her POV was one of the last major structural changes my agent recommended before we sold this to my publisher and it was tricky my daughter was still very young at that point (she’s still only five). I ran those chapters by my friends who had survived parenting those years for accuracy: complexity of thought, vocabulary, rhythm, etc.

Q: Your characters struggle with confronting their past while their future is so uncertain. What are some important lessons you’ve learned as a writer that you previously struggled with?

A: I think the keys to success as a writer are also keys to a happy and fulfilled life: don’t give up and keep an open mind. Every writer I know that started around my time eventually broke through and got an agent by improving their craft through feedback and simply chipping away. If one book wasn’t good enough, then it got shelved as a stepping stone and they marched forward. Doing that requires a certain amount of humility because it recognizes that you’ve got room to improve, and that improvement is going to come from listening to others rather than being defensive. Those are hard lessons to learn so I try to tell new writers that right away, so they understand the value of harsh-but-true constructive criticism from critique partners — you’ll never make it without that.

Q: What is a genre you don’t think you’d ever write? A Beginning at the End and Here and Now and Then are both SF, do you think you would ever write something that’s vastly different? What draws you to SF?

A: Writing character-driven stories in sci-fi settings comes pretty naturally to me, as it takes my favorite type of story (slice of life) and my favorite genre and brings them together. I’m fortunate that the market has turned around on that now to support books like mine. If I wrote something different, I imagine it would lean further in one direction or another — either a contemporary drama or space opera. I am also a big fan of gothic horror, and I would love to try a haunted house story at some point.

As for what draws me to sci-fi, I can’t put my finger on it but it’s been really important to me my entire life. I grew up on Star Wars and Robotech as cornerstones of my media influences. At the same time, I’ve never really been too into fantasy despite them often being opposite sides of the same coin. My wife loves both sci-fi and fantasy, and there are things she loves that I just can’t get into like The Elder Scrolls.

Q: What are some of your writing goals for the future?

A: Keep writing and not run out of ideas! In a perfect world, I’d love to be able to be a full-time author — which is basically 50% writing and 50% the business of being an author. I don’t think that’s feasible since I live in Silicon Valley and need health insurance for a family situation, so I will likely always have one foot in corporate life unless the political landscape changes regarding medical care.

An obvious dream would be to have one of my books be adapted to a movie or TV series — I’m of the mindset that HERE AND NOW AND THEM would work as a movie while A BEGINNING AT THE END has a deep enough world that it would work well as a TV series. I really want to try writing a video game, something like Telltale’s games. And I would love to write for my favorite franchises: Star Wars, Star Trek, and Doctor Who. I’ve been pretty vocal about Clone Wars-era story ideas, and I’m friends with several authors on the Lucasfilm roster, so fingers crossed.

Q: If there was a global disaster in the future, what would your plan of action be?

A: Well, I have a bunch of animals and family health issues, so I’d say we’d be pretty screwed. I’m pretty organized and have a diplomatic approach, so hopefully that would earn me an in with some survivalists until society stabilizes.

Q: Both of your books, Here and Now and Then & A Beginning at the End, have a strong emotional foundation. Why did you choose that route?

A: It goes back to my favorite types of stories. To me, the emotional core is always the most important part of any story; it turns it from being surface level entertainment to something that resonates deeper.

Q: How has the success of your first novel affected your writing process for your second novel? Is there anything the first time around you did, that you didn’t do the second time?

A: I am lucky that A BEGINNING AT THE END was mostly finished when we sold it because it had been a project I’d shelved years ago but revised with my agent. I had a complete and fairly polished manuscript, and my editors revisions didn’t affect much of the structure, they were mostly about tightening and adding more flashbacks, more world-building. So in that regard, that process was very similar to HERE AND NOW AND THEN.

However, having now experienced deadlines and commitments on top of a day job and parenting, the biggest change is that I draft by acts rather than the whole thing. For books 3 (WE COULD BE HEROES) and 4 (in WIP stages), I drafted a first act to get a sense of characters and world, then sent that to a few critique partners for their input before investing further energy into it. There’s just no time. Also, I have to limit myself on reading for fun or video games because that time has to be used for writing and editing. Being published is a great privilege but its time demands do create numerous sacrifices.

Q: How do you balance being a reader and being a writer? 

A: I use my phone a lot! I’ve discovered audiobooks, though my preferred method right now is ebooks through Google Play. Their app has a text-to-speech feature which, while nowhere near the quality of real audiobooks, allow me to listen while I’m commuting or doing dishes or whatever, but then also allow me to switch back to reading in the app when I want to. It’s funny, I just don’t read physical books that much now because my time is so compartmentalized that having it available on my phone is the best way to go. 

The great irony about this is that as I’ve gotten to know more authors, agents, and editors, I’m often offered advance review copies by authors I really love and I simply have no time for them.

Q: What does literary success look like to you and with that definition in mind, are you successful? 

A: This is tricky because I think all authors at all stages are looking up at someone and mentally comparing sales and awards. I know I’m doing better than some of my peers and worse than others, and one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the past year is that it is totally okay to be happy for someone while also jealous of their success. In fact, that is 100% normal.

With that in mind, I think success means that I’m selling enough copies to get the next contract and a chance to audition for licensed franchise work. Aspiring for bestseller status or awards is kind of silly because so many other factors go into that, many of which (marketing budgets, publicity selections) are simply out of your control. But if you keep producing at a high level of quality, I think you’ll be able to gradually grow your readership with each book, and that’s good enough for me.

Also, it’s really cool to hear your book has touched a reader. That level of engagement is always a good measure of success. 

Q: Finally, for you, what makes a book a good book?

A: I think the things that I always look for are interesting characters, emotional conflicts, and good prose. While I appreciate great action scenes or immense worldbuilding, I can often overlook those things if characters, emotions, and prose are all clicking. On the other hand, if I lose any of those main three, I’ll often have to drop a book, even if, say, the worldbuilding is amazing.

Shameless shoutout to some friends: if you want impeccable examples of ALL of those (characters, emotions, prose, action, and worldbuilding), I suggest Fonda Lee’s JADE CITY / JADE WAR and Kat Howard’s AN UNKINDNESS OF MAGICIANS.

Prologue

People were too scared for music tonight. Not that MoJo cared.

Her handlers had broken the news about the low attendance nearly an hour ago with some explanation about how the recent flu epidemic and subsequent rioting and looting kept people at home. They’d served the news with high-end vodka, the good shit imported from Russia, conveniently hidden in a water bottle which she carried from the greenroom to the stage.

“The show must go on,” her father proclaimed, like she was doing humanity a service by performing. She suspected his bravado actually stemmed from the fact that her sophomore album’s second single had stalled at number thirteen—a far cry from the lead single’s number-one debut or her four straight top-five hits off her first album. Either way, the audience, filled with beaming girls a few years younger than herself and their mothers, seemed to agree. Flu or no flu, some people still wanted their songs—or maybe they just wanted normalcy—so MoJo delivered, perfect note after perfect note, each in time to choreographed dance routines. She even gave her trademark smile.

The crowd screamed and sang along, waving their arms to the beat. Halfway through the second song, a peculiar vibe grabbed the audience. Usually, a handful of parents disappeared into their phones, especially as the flu scare had heightened over the past week. This time nearly every adult in the arena was looking at their phone. In the front row, MoJo saw lines of concern on each face.

Before the song even finished, some parents grabbed their children and left, pushing through the arena’s floor seats and funneling to the exit door.

MoJo pushed on, just like she’d always promised her dad. She practically heard his voice over the backup music blasting in her in-ear monitors. There is no sophomore slump. Smile! Between the second and third songs, she gave her customary “Thank you!” and fake talk about how great it was to be wherever they were. New York City, this time, at Madison Square Garden. A girl of nineteen embarking on a tour bigger, more ambitious than she could have ever dreamed and taking the pop world by storm, and yet, she knew nothing real about New York City. She’d never left her hotel room without chaperones and handlers. Not under her dad’s watch.

One long swig of vodka later, and a warmth rushed to her face, so much so that she wondered if it melted her face paint off. She looked off at the side stage, past the elaborate video set and cadre of backup dancers. But where was the gaffer? Why wasn’t anyone at the sound board? The fourth song had a violin section, yet the contracted violinist wasn’t in her spot.

Panic raced through MoJo’s veins, mental checklists of her marks, all trailed by echoes from her dad’s lectures about accountability. Her feet were planted exactly where they should be. Her poise, straight and high. Her last few notes, on key, and her words to the audience, cheerful. It couldn’t have been something she’d done, could it?

No. Not her fault this time. Someone else is facing Dad’s wrath tonight, she thought.

The next song’s opening electronic beats kicked in. Eyes closed, head tilted back, and arms up, her voice pushed out the song’s highest note, despite the fuzziness of the vodka making the vibrato a little harder to sustain. For a few seconds, nothing existed except the sound of her voice and the music behind it— no handlers, no tour, no audience, no record company, no father telling her the next way she’d earn the family fortune—and it almost made the whole thing worth it.

Her eyes opened, body coiled for the middle-eight’s dance routine, but the brightness of the house lights threw her off the beat. The drummer and keyboard player stopped, though the prerecorded backing track continued for a few more seconds before leaving an echo chamber.

No applause. No eyes looked MoJo’s way. Only random yelling and an undecipherable buzz saw of backstage clamor from her in-ear monitors. She stood, frozen, unable to tell if this was from laced vodka or if it was actually unfolding: people—adults and children, parents and daughters— scrambling to the exits, climbing over chairs and tripping on stairs, ushers pushing back at the masses before some turned and ran as well.

Someone grabbed her shoulder and jerked back hard. “We have to go,” said the voice behind her.

“What’s going on?” she asked, allowing the hands to push her toward the stage exit. Steven, her huge forty-something bodyguard, took her by the arm and helped her down the short staircase to the backstage area.

“The flu’s spread,” he said. “A government quarantine. There’s some sort of lockdown on travel. The busing starts tonight. First come, first serve. I think everyone’s trying to get home or get there. I can’t reach your father. Cell phones are jammed up.”

They worked their way through the concrete hallways and industrial lighting of the backstage area, people crossing in a mad scramble left and right. MoJo clutched onto her bottle of vodka, both hands to her chest as Steven ushered her onward. People collapsed in front of her, crying, tripping on their own anxieties, and Steven shoved her around them, apologizing all the way. Something draped over her shoulders, and it took her a moment to realize that he’d put a thick parka around her. She chuckled at the thought of her sparkly halter top and leather pants wrapped in a down parka that smelled like BO, but Steven kept pushing her forward, forward, forward until they hit a set of double doors.

The doors flew open, but rather than the arena’s quiet loading area from a few hours ago, MoJo saw a thick wall of people: all ages and all colors in a current of movement, pushing back and forth. “I’ve got your dad on the line,” Steven yelled over the din, “His car is that way. He wants to get to the airport now. Same thing’s happening back home.” His arm stretched out over her head. “That way! Go!”

They moved as a pair, Steven yelling “excuse me” over and over until the crowd became too dense to overcome. In front of her, a woman with wisps of gray woven into black hair trembled on her knees. Even with the racket around them, MoJo heard her cry. “This is the end. This is the end.”

The end.

People had been making cracks about the End of the World since the flu changed from online rumors to this big thing that everyone talked about all the time. But she’d always figured the “end” meant a giant pit opening, Satan ushering everyone down a staircase to Hell. Not stuck outside Madison Square Garden.

“Hey,” Steven yelled, arms spread out to clear a path through the traffic jam of bodies. “This way!”

MoJo looked at the sobbing woman in front of her, then at Steven. Somewhere further down the road, her father sat in a car and waited. She could feel his pull, an invisible tether that never let her get too far away.

“The end, the end,” the sobbing woman repeated, pausing MoJo in her tracks. But where to go? Every direction just pointed at more chaos, people scrambling with a panic that had overtaken everyone in the loading dock, possibly the neighborhood, possibly all New York City, possibly even the world. And it wasn’t just about a flu.

It was everything.

But… maybe that was good?

No more tours. No more studio sessions. No more threats about financial security, no more lawyer meetings, no more searches through her luggage. No more worrying about hitting every mark. In the studio. Onstage.

In life.

All of that was done.

The very thought caused MoJo to smirk.

If this was the end, then she was going out on her own terms.

“Steven!” she yelled. He turned and met her gaze.

She twisted the cap off the water-turned-vodka bottle, then took most of it down in one long gulp. She poured the remainder on her face paint, a star around her left eye, then wiped it off with her sleeve. The empty bottle flew through the air, probably hitting some poor bloke in the head.

“Tell my dad,” she said, trying extra hard to pronounce the words with the clear British diction she was raised with, “to go fuck himself.”

For an instant, she caught Steven’s widemouthed look, a mix of fear and confusion and disappointment on his face, as though her words crushed his worldview more than the madness around them. But MoJo wouldn’t let herself revel in her first, possibly only victory over her father; she ducked and turned quickly, parka pulled over her head, crushing the product-molded spikes in her hair.

Each step pushing forward, shoulders and arms bumping into her as her eyes locked onto the ground, one step at a time. Left, right, left, then right, all as fast as she could go, screams and car horns and smashing glass building in a wave of desperation around her.

Maybe it was the end. But even though her head was down, she walked with dignity for the first time in years, perhaps ever.Excerpted from A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen, Copyright © 2020 by Mike Chen. Published by MIRA Books. 

Mike Chen is a lifelong writer, from crafting fan fiction as a child to somehow getting paid for words as an adult. He has contributed to major geek websites (The Mary Sue, The Portalist, Tor) and covered the NHL for mainstream media outlets. A member of SFWA and Codex Writers, Mike lives in the Bay Area, where he can be found playing video games and watching Doctor Who with his wife, daughter, and rescue animals. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @mikechenwriter

Contagion (Contagion, #1) by Erin Bowman

Publisher: Harper Teen

Publication Date: July 24, 2018

Genre: Sci-fi, YA, Horror (using this loosely)

Adventure Rating: 4 Stars

Amazon

Perfect for fans of Madeleine Roux, Jonathan Maberry, and horror films like 28 Days Later and Resident Evil, this pulse-pounding, hair-raising, utterly terrifying novel is the first in a duology from the critically acclaimed author of the Taken trilogy.

After receiving a distress call from a drill team on a distant planet, a skeleton crew is sent into deep space to perform a standard search-and-rescue mission.

When they arrive, they find the planet littered with the remains of the project—including its members’ dead bodies. As they try to piece together what could have possibly decimated an entire project, they discover that some things are best left buried—and some monsters are only too ready to awaken. “

I actually almost rated this higher BUT I don’t think this will ever be a reread for me. Another BUT, I freaking loved this book. It is like Alien + 28 Days Later. I want this to be a movie. I would watch the crap out of this. I read to be entertained and I was not disappointed.

Characters: This was told in multiple POV while still having basically two main characters. Thea is very analytical and practical. When they answer the distress signal she is like, um, no. But she has no choice since she is just an intern and has to listen to her bosses. She almost always keeps a clear head without being heartless. Coen is super mysterious. I can’t say much about him without giving spoilers, but he was super interesting to read about! Poor kid did everything he could to survive and save those around him. The secondary characters were all pretty well rounded out. You even feel for them at some points. Except Dylan. I HATED her.

Plot: Scientists who respond to a distress signal from a planet that’s basically blacklisted by the equivalent of the UN, is bound to turn out all right, right? They come across all of the secret base members dead. And yet they still search for what happened. Chaos ensues. People die, people live, the dead live, mysteries are solved, more mysteries happen, crazy escape plans go awry. Read this.

Final Thoughts: My heart was beating so fast at some points! I listened to this on audible and I could not stop listening. I would literally stare at nothing sometimes listening and zoning out within the story. It really sucks you in! I will definitely be reading the next one within the next few months!

*Book sleeve is from Love You More Studios! Use my code to save 10%! Code: Storied10 *

*Amazon link is my affiliate link*

*Usual warning of content: This is something I put on my blog for parents specifically. Just listing the different themes or topics represented in the book.*

CONTENT: Blood, gore, swearing, scary situations, dead people, death, violence, LGBTQ side characters, sacrifice, working hard to achieve your goals.

Recursion by Blake Crouch – Spoiler Free Review

Publisher: Crown Publishing Group (NY)

Publication Date: June 11, 2019

Genre: Sci-fi, Fiction, Thriller

Adventure Rating: 4 Stars

Amazon

Memory makes reality.

That’s what New York City cop Barry Sutton is learning as he investigates the devastating phenomenon the media has dubbed False Memory Syndrome—a mysterious affliction that drives its victims mad with memories of a life they never lived.

That’s what neuroscientist Helena Smith believes. It’s why she’s dedicated her life to creating a technology that will let us preserve our most precious memories. If she succeeds, anyone will be able to re-experience a first kiss, the birth of a child, the final moment with a dying parent. 

As Barry searches for the truth, he comes face-to-face with an opponent more terrifying than any disease—a force that attacks not just our minds but the very fabric of the past. And as its effects begin to unmake the world as we know it, only he and Helena, working together, will stand a chance at defeating it.

But how can they make a stand when reality itself is shifting and crumbling all around them?”

This was my first Blake Crouch book and I completely understand the hype. It’s been a really long time since I’ve read a Fiction book that has challenged my mind. I truly believe that what happened in this book would never happen in real life, but it was really scary to think about!

Characters. There was a good mix of a scientific mind, Helena, and a mind that solves puzzles, Barry, who is a detective. Their minds meshed and worked so well together! Helena is one-minded and married to her work. Barry, I think just wants love and purpose. In the beginning I found Barry to be more exciting to read about. Helena’s chapters were really, really scientific and some of it went over my head. But I didn’t mind, because I found it fascinating to find out what happens to your brain when you die. But towards the end, Helena had the more interesting interactions.

Plot. Crouch is like a mastermind or something. I am usually pretty good at guessing where a book is going to go but he takes you to different places. I could not guess what was going to happen. I can’t even talk about it because of spoilers! But the way he melded the past, present, and future together with memories was amazing. What would happen if you could remember something that never happened to you? Or if you remembered your own death? What would the repercussions be if millions of people had these false memories? Also, THAT ENDING THOUGH, WHAT?! I HAVE QUESTIONS.

Writing. I understand why people like Crouch so much. His writing is precise, witty, and very smart. He writes a good balance of character development and highly intriguing plot. I am officially a fan!

Final Thoughts. I want to read all of his books right now. My husband and I watched Wayward Pines before it got cancelled and loved it. I would also highly recommend this book to anyone who likes the movie Inception…

Have you read any of Blake Crouch books? If so, what do you recommend?

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton – Spoiler Free Review

Publisher: Raven Books

Publication Date: February 8, 2018

Genre: Historical Mystery with a Sci-fi element

Adventure Rating: 5 Stars (Or a million)

| Amazon


“At a gala party thrown by her parents, Evelyn Hardcastle will be killed–again. She’s been murdered hundreds of times, and each day, Aiden Bishop is too late to save her. Doomed to repeat the same day over and over, Aiden’s only escape is to solve Evelyn Hardcastle’s murder and conquer the shadows of an enemy he struggles to even comprehend–but nothing and no one are quite what they seem.

Deeply atmospheric and ingeniously plotted, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (The American title) is a highly original debut that will appeal to fans of Kate Atkinson and Agatha Christie.”

I 100% recommend this book to anyone who loves smart, clever mysteries. I reminded me a bit of Inception or Shutter Island! Inception because of the plots within plots within plots, and Shutter Island because you have no idea what is going on at all until the end! I want Leonardo DiCaprio to direct this movie (if it becomes a movie). I literally cannot say enough good things about this book.

Aiden is a smart, witty character in a situation that he doesn’t understand. The reader figures it out along with him, as time goes on. It’s amazing to see what he conquers and what he doesn’t! Each time Aiden repeats a day he loses a bit of himself and you fear it might be too late for him. I mean, he doesn’t even know who he is! It’s a really crazy ride that I didn’t want to get off of. I really can’t say much more because any little thing would be a spoiler.

I’ll just leave off with, THAT ENDING BLEW MY MIND!!!!

If you’ve read this, I would love to talk about it with someone!! I also highly suggest reading this for a book club. It has soooooo many discussion points that would keep you talking for a long time!

This Splintered Silence by Kayla Olson – Spoiler Free Review

Publisher: Harper Teen

Publication Date: November 13, 2018

Genre: YA, Sci-fi, Thriller

Adventure Rating: 4.5 Stars

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” Lindley Hamilton has been the leader of the space station Lusca since every first-generation crew member on board, including her mother, the commander, were killed by a deadly virus.

Lindley always assumed she’d captain the Lusca one day, but she never thought that day would come so soon. And she never thought it would be like this—struggling to survive every day, learning how to keep the Lusca running, figuring out how to communicate with Earth, making sure they don’t run out of food.

When a member of the surviving second generation dies from symptoms that look just like the deadly virus, though, Lindley feels her world shrinking even smaller. The disease was supposed to be over; the second generation was supposed to be immune. But as more people die, Lindley must face the terrifying reality that either the virus has mutated or something worse is happening: one of their own is a killer.”

Kayla Olson is a traditional story teller. It gives me a nostalgic feel whenever I read one of her books. It just feels old fashioned, in a good way. She is also a plot driven, not character driven, writer. Here’s the thing, USUALLY I am a character driven reader, BUT I love her writing and story telling so much AND her plots are suuuuuper well thought out, that I get sucked into the books right away. Her books are a go-to when I need a readers palette cleanse! She has a really unique writing style that sets her apart from other authors.

I didn’t dislike any of her characters by any means, it’s just that you don’t get their full thought processes, you just get snippets of who they are. And in this case, I am okay with that. Lindley was still a well rounded character. The reader still understands why she made the decisions she made. As long as I can understand WHY the character did the things they did, then I don’t complain! The five other side characters rounded out nicely as well. Even though you don’t get their POV, you still SEE them. And understand their choices, even if you don’t agree with them. And boy did they have a lot of really hard choices!

Literally, everything goes wrong. I started getting anxiety every time because it just seemed like they were all going to die at any given moment. And I mean, some did. I kept trying to figure out, who the killer was, AND how they were going to fix their many problems. I never got it right. It was intense. Plus, my knowledge of space stations is next to zero, so, there’s that.

The tiniest bit a didn’t like, and I mean really tiny, half a star tiny, is that the ending seemed a bit rushed. Everything resolved itself, it just seemed really fast.

So, Kayla Olson is one of my favorite authors. She is an autobuy and I’ve never rated one of her books under 4 stars. I am so excited to see what she comes up with next!

*I got positive feedback on my new content addition to my reviews. Again, I am putting the disclaimer of this is for parents who want to know the content of the book without having to read it, to see if it is something they want their kids to read. I LIKE YA! These are NOT my personal views on whether or not a book should or should not have specific content!

CONTENT WARNING: Violence, death, murder, dead bodies, blood, a couple of kiss scenes.

OTHER CONTENT: Courage, dealing with fear, healthy grief, perseverance, how to deal with tragedy, how to be a leader, how to deal with people, friendships, overcoming pride.

2019 Books I Can’t Wait For

These are all of the book I can’t wait for in 2019! At least, all of the ones I know of! This list is subject to change at anytime. 😛 Also, some of my most anticipated releases I have already read, but I am going to put them on here anyway!

  1. The Wicked King (The Folk of the Air, #2) by Holly Black

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I have already had the immense pleasure of reading this one but I want a physical copy in my library now!

2. King of Scars (Nikolai Duology, #1) by Leigh Bardugo

Amazon

Pretty sure this is on everyone’s TBR.

3. White Stag (Permafrost, #1) by Kara Barbieri

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I have also had the pleasure of reading this one and I gave it 5 stars. I need the physical copy like, yesterday.

4. The Remarkable Inventions of Walter Mortinson by Quinn Sosna-Spear

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5. Bloodwitch (The Witchlands, #3) by Susan Dennard

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6. Finale (Caraval, #3) by Stephanie Garber

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7. The Gilded Wolves (The Gilded Wolves, #1) by Roshani Chokshi

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So I am actually currently reading this one! And it’s fantastic!

8. Darkdawn (The Nevernight Chronicle, #3) by Jay Kristoff

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9. Rage (Stormheart, #2) by Cora Carmack

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10. A Dangerous Collaboration (Veronica Speedwell, #4) by Deanna Raybourn

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11. The Burning White (Lightbringer, #5) by Brent Weeks

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These next few are some honorable mentions that I am not sure of the date and they don’t have a cover, or a synopsis.

Reigntime series book #3 by S. K. Levy

The Fire Keeper (The Storm Runner, #2) by J. C. Cervantes

Ignite the Stars book #2 by Maura Milan

What are some books you are looking forward to this year?

Sky Without Stars (System Divine #1) Review [Spoiler Free]

Author: Jessica Brody & Joanne Rendell

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Publication Date: May 26, 2019

Genre: YA, Sci-Fi, Retellings

My Rating: 2 Stars



Amazon

“A thief. An officer. A guardian. 

Three strangers, one shared destiny . . .

When the Last Days came, the planet of Laterre promised hope. A new life for a wealthy French family and their descendants. But five hundred years later, it’s now a place where an extravagant elite class reigns supreme; where the clouds hide the stars and the poor starve in the streets; where a rebel group, long thought dead, is resurfacing.

Whispers of revolution have begun—a revolution that hinges on three unlikely heroes…

Chatine is a street-savvy thief who will do anything to escape the brutal Regime, including spy on Marcellus, the grandson of the most powerful man on the planet.

Marcellus is an officer—and the son of a renowned traitor. In training to take command of the military, Marcellus begins to doubt the government he’s vowed to serve when his father dies and leaves behind a cryptic message that only one person can read: a girl named Alouette.

Alouette is living in an underground refuge, where she guards and protects the last surviving library on the planet. But a shocking murder will bring Alouette to the surface for the first time in twelve years…and plunge Laterre into chaos.

All three have a role to play in a dangerous game of revolution—and together they will shape the future of a planet.

Power, romance, and destiny collide in this sweeping reimagining of Victor Hugo’s masterpiece, Les Misérables.”

*Thank you to Edelweiss+ for the review copy!*

Story/Plot. The premise of the story and plot were A+. I mean, a retelling of Les Miserables?! I LOVE that play (I know it’s based off of the book, I’ve just never read it.)! Plus it’s a retelling in space!  That’s right up my alley! And that’s about all I liked of the book. Oops. 

Writing. Okay, I did like the writing. It wasn’t anything fancy or my favorite writing ever, but it was good. It was easy to follow along and I never got lost in the story. 

Characters. Here we go. Here’s the big one. I literally didn’t like anyone. Chantine was the only one that I liked SOMETIMES. Marcellou and Allouette were SO BORING! I didn’t care if they lived or died. Marcellou was all over the place. One minute he wanted to follow his Grandfather, the next he hated him. Even at the end of the book, I was like where are we at here, Marcellou? I also just saw him as a weak character and didn’t understand his charm. Allouette was just kind of a wuss most of the time. I guess she picked up at the end but she was so boring to read about. Chantine whined a lot but she had reason to. She literally had no one. And she was poor and starving. She has a really tough life. Hers was the only story line I was mildly interested in. She was feisty and she did literally whatever she had to to survive. My suggestion to her, forget about Marcellou. You don’t need him. Although,  if you know the Les Miserables story, she’s supposed to be Eponine, so it doesn’t really end well for her anyway. I could have done without the romance in this story, and usually I’m all about those ships!

Final Thoughts. A 2 star rating for me means I finished the book but it was hard to get through. I won’t be picking up the second in the series. I will say that this might be someone’s cup of tea, just not mine.