Blog Tour: Mind of Darkness

Emily Rogers is ready for a summer that doesn’t involve being cast away on islands or being chased around the globe. So when she’s invited to an elite pre-college class along with her boyfriend, she jumps at the chance. But things are not all they seem at the Yin Program. Students are disappearing, and someone seems to be toying with their minds…

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Charsia O’Dell is anticipating a summer of romance and adventure with her crime-fighting partner. But she never expects that they’ll be kidnapped and taken to an underground bunker to be guinea pigs to a mad scientist named Jin Yin. Most shocking of all, she learns that they are not the only super humans in the world…

Somehow, Emily and Charisa have to break out of the prisons imposed upon them to decipher the conspiracy before their minds are enslaved by the darkness within… 

Amazon Book Trailer

 

Jes Drew is the author of the Ninja and Hunter trilogy, the Howling Twenty trilogy, the Kristian Clark saga, the Castaways trilogy, and Mind of Darkness. She lives with her mom, dad, younger sister, four younger brothers, and two dogs, obsessing about her true love, Captain Steve Rogers. There is a possibility that she may or may not be a superhuman, but she hasn’t discovered her powers. Yet. Also, she might be a spy, but that’s classified.

Agency of Books and SpiesGoodreadsPinterest

 

Blog Tour Links

Kitty’s Book Spot! Author Interview, Friday, February 1st

Author and Character Interview, Sunday, February 3rd

Blog Spot, Monday February 4th 

Review, Monday February 4th

 Review and Author Interview, Saturday, February 9th 

CSFF Blog Tour: The First Principle

Vivica Wilkins lived at the top. Her mother was governor, and about to become the president of the United Regions of North America. She had straight As, a personal bodyguard, money, social status, and awesome hacking skills.

And then she got involved with a boy and lost all of it, except the hacking skills. This should be a lesson to all of us.

The First Principle, Marissa Shrock’s debut novel, is a YA dystopian. It struck me initially as verging toward sci-fi, but not because of technology or aliens. It seemed, rather, futuristic, and even if it was an undesirable future, it didn’t have the grimness and desperation I associate with dystopians. I saw no sign of the Apocalypse.

Now, on further consideration, I regard it more as a dystopian, and I think the impression of sci-fi came from two things. One, the distance between the characters and whatever catastrophe turned the United States of America into the United Regions of North America. Vivica is sixteen and, far from having any experience of the catastrophe, puts aside a history book because she’s not interested in the depressing details. Two – and this also relates back to character – Vivica is a member of the elite. Although the world she lives in is restrictive, and there are clear intimations of greater troubles just outside her circle of experience, her world hardly feels bleak.

The First Principle is more directly engaged with current issues than other dystopians I have read. No less for that, it still paints a credible and oppressive future, with growing tension between an outward calm and simmering unrest. The dystopian world was well-constructed, real-world elements blended nicely with futuristic elements.

The novel’s plot had its surprises; the common enemy was a well-added factor, layering the story. Drake was an entertaining character, and Vivica’s mother nicely complex. And I enjoyed the interplay between Melvin’s relationship with Vivica, his relationship with her mother, and his own ambitions.

I appreciated how strongly the author used the mother/daughter relationship in this novel. I don’t see that often in the speculative fiction I read, and I am glad when I do. The echo of Jesus’ words a daughter against her mother, a mother against her daughter was effectively played.

My one issue with the book is that it didn’t really sell me on the main character’s two major decisions. The author spent time developing both issues, and the final decisions were reasonable, but I hardly saw the character transitioning to them before, suddenly, she was there.

The First Principle is the first book in a series, and I liked how the author ended it. The essential conflict of the story was resolved, and at the same time there was room for the story to go on – and some clear glimpses that it would go on to greater things. Given the quality of this novel, and the fact that I have very rarely read a series where the first book was the best, I felt confident regarding the next novel.

The First Principle is a well-conceived dystopia with strong character relationships. Recommended.


In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

CSFF Blog Tour: The Great Collapse

The First Principle is the debut novel of Marissa Shrock. It is dystopian (as is popular), YA (as dystopians so often are), and the subject of this month’s CSFF blog tour (as other YA dystopians have been).

One surprise of this novel – and you will not see this point on any other stop in the tour, because nobody else has any reason to be surprised – one surprise was the phrase the Great Collapse, referring to some (not very specified) catastrophic breakdown of America. Now, I had been using this exact phrase, for a similar event, in a manuscript of my own, and suddenly I encountered it in someone else’s published book. This is the authorial equivalent of showing up at the prom in the same dress.

But enough drama. Onto the links:

The First Principle on Amazon;

Marissa Shrock’s website;

The First Principle on Goodreads;

and finally, the blog tour:

Julie Bihn
Thomas Clayton Booher
Beckie Burnham
April Erwin
Victor Gentile
Carol Keen
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Megan @ Hardcover Feedback
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Nissa
Jalynn Patterson
Chawna Schroeder
Jessica Thomas

CSFF Blog Tour: Rebels

At the ripe old age of forty, all the citizens of the Safe Lands are “liberated”, sent by their government into Bliss. No one is certain what, exactly, that means, but Omar and Mason are about to find out. “Find pleasure in Bliss,” the liberator says, but it won’t be easy.

Meanwhile, in the Safe Lands, the subversion of the Glenrock exiles and the separatist Kindred continues.

Rebels is the final book of the Safe Lands Trilogy, written by Jill Williamson. This dystopian series, set fifty years and more into the future, is intended for teens but suited for older audiences, though not necessarily younger ones. Williamson deals with heavy themes, such as addiction, temptation, and promiscuity.

As the last book in its series, Rebels delivers on the promises of the preceding books, unveiling long-maintained mysteries and bringing character arcs to realistic and satisfying conclusions. I thought Williamson showed very good judgment about what, in the story, needed to be solved or answered, and what could be left open. Not everything was absolutely concluded, but the story ended with a sense of completion. It’s a fine line for an author between a story that feels unresolved and a story that feels like it goes on after the book is closed, but Williamson managed to walk it.

There were some twists in this book. I liked the surprise role of Luella Flynn, and the idea of the truth as the “lynchpin”. The truth is dangerous to a society built on lies.

However – and I need to turn on my SPOILER ALERT here – I thought it strange that such a controlling government did so little to keep the truth from coming out. Could no one think to cut the power to the ColorCast? I also think Rebels would have done a better job of selling the downfall of the Safe Lands government if it had evoked more powerfully a sense of chaos in the city. It mentioned riots – but only briefly, and only after the climax was over. If our heroes had confronted the Ancients while the city was engulfed in riots, it would have made the rulers’ capitulation more believable, and the story itself more exciting.

Now, SPOILER ALERT OFF.

The level of typos in this book was, for a professionally produced book, high; I don’t know if the publisher had a too-tight deadline or a shortage of copyeditors, but I suspect the problem goes beyond this particular novel. I noticed errors in the last book I read by this publisher, though notably fewer.

Rebels is a strong conclusion to the Safe Lands Trilogy, bringing the characters to complex, realistic fates and completing the Safe Lands as a convincing, chilling dystopia. Recommended, with its preceding books, to readers of sci-fi and dystopian.


In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

CSFF Blog Tour: Outcasts

The Safe Lands are many, many things. Safe is not one of them. Visitors must try hard and diligently not to contract the thin plague. Everyone is studiously tracked by the governing authorities, who live by the principle of three strikes and you’re out. Permanently.

And those who manage to make it to forty are liberated, though no one knows what this means beyond “never is seen again”.

Outcasts is the follow-up to Captives, the first book in the Safe Lands series – YA books written by Jill Williamson. I concluded after reading Captives that it was, as one of the characters said of the Safe Lands, fascinating but discouraging; I hoped that, having established the libertine dissolution of the Safe Lands, the series would move on a bit.

And it has. Oh, the Safe Lands are as libertine and dissolute as ever, but there is not so much effort at portraying it, not so much effort at bringing the mores of Glenrock into collision with the mores of the Safe Lands. Everything is more settled in the second book. The characters know better now where they are and where they stand; they’re moving on into the fighting.

Still, revelations continue. The most striking thing about this series is the level of world-building. So complete, so realistic, and so complex is the world of the Safe Lands that the story naturally peels layer off of layer. The made-up slang – so easily a stumbling block in books like this – is one of the most memorable and enjoyable elements of the world-building.

The characters, too, are rounded and complicated. The villains are usually not sympathetic, and the heroes are not always likable – parenthetical statement for those who have read the book: Levi, I’m looking at you – but they seem like real people.

I have a couple criticisms (beware of spoilers): Omar’s final, big fall – the kiss with Kendall and vaping afterward – was unnecessary. I don’t think it made any real difference to the plot, and with the similar incidents earlier in the story, it contributed little to Omar as a character. I didn’t see the point. For that matter, I didn’t see the point of the whole Kendall/Omar/Shaylinn love triangle.

More spoilers: I could not see Otley’s motivation for killing Rewl when he knew that it was the brothers who had led the girls away. And I wouldn’t even mention it here except that that shooting became the basis for a crucial turning point. The climax pivoted, ultimately, on Otley’s decision to shoot Rewl, but the decision is too weak to support such a pivot.

Outcasts is a first-class dystopia – realistic characters in a riveting but believable world that brings all sorts of ideas into play against each other. I am planning to continue with the Safe Lands series; this is a world still to be explored – beginning with what, exactly, it means to be liberated.


In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

CSFF Blog Tour: Dystopia

Today the CSFF blog tour begins its tour of Outcasts, the second book in Jill Williamson’s dystopian Safe Lands series.

Dystopian is in now; you don’t need to look any further than The Hunger Games to know it, and if you look anyway, you’ll see Divergent. YA dystopian is especially in. This has naturally led to all sorts of rumination about dystopias, trends, literary darkness, and teenagers.

Some people attribute the increasing darkness of YA fiction to the increasing darkness of the world around us. In our era of terrorism, school shootings, economic decline and political dysfunction, dystopia is either a dark mirror or a dark comfort. (“Well, America might be unraveling into a social, political, and economic mess – but hey, it could be worse.”)

I wonder about this explanation. The images we swim in might be darker and darker – and someone out there must like it, when you consider how much of the darkness is manufactured in Hollywood for our entertainment – but is the world itself darker? Is our modern experience so much grimmer that it darkens our imagined worlds to match?

At the end of the 1930s, Americans were marking a decade and counting of economic depression, while watching other nations topple into the second world war in twenty-five years. Somehow it didn’t set off lucrative trends into dark stories.

I have no firm theory or settled opinion on the matter, and surely the real explanation is complex and multifactored. And whatever the precise reasons behind the current popularity of dystopias, the essential idea is an old one and is still a compelling way to examine ideas. On that thought, here are the links to

Outcasts on Amazon;

Jill Williamson’s website;

and the blog tour:

Red Bissell
Thomas Fletcher Booher
Beckie Burnham
Pauline Creeden
April Erwin

Victor Gentile

Ryan Heart
Timothy Hicks
Jason Joyner

Julie Bihn
Carol Keen
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Melanie @ Christian Bookshelf Reviews
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Nissa
Jalynn Patterson
Writer Rani
Chawna Schroeder
Jacque Stengl

Jojo Sutis
Steve Trower
Phyllis Wheeler
Deborah Wilson

CSFF Blog Tour: Captives

There are two worlds, separate of their own choosing. In the Safe Lands, all is pleasure and comfort and convenience, greased by the omnipresent wonders of technology – except for the thin plague, and until the time of liberation.

In little Glenrock, life is harder and the rules are stricter – but there is the freedom to go, and even to stay much longer.

These two worlds disdain each other on the basis of what they think they know, and keep wide apart – their orbits separated by a stretch of miles, a rising mountain. But that distance – though so long honored – is easily crossed. And when it is, in all the meetings and conflicts that follow, many will have cause to revise what they think, on the basis of what they really do know.

Captives – written by Jill Williamson – is a dystopian novel that takes place in the year 2088. There are some hints of what destroyed our present world – pandemics, the pollution of the earth’s water – but the main focus is on the fractured world that replaced it. Glenrock and its nearby villages are juxtaposed against the Safe Lands, with a few tantalizing mentions thrown toward places such as Denver City and Wyoming.

Jill Williamson explores these societies in great depth. Captives is one of the finest examples of world-building I have ever seen. Williamson’s treatment of these cultures is comprehensive – their family and power structures, their laws, their moral codes, their technology, their history, their cultural suppositions.

Also their benefits, flaws, and blind spots. It is part of the complexity and realism of Captives that no individual or culture is represented as entirely good. One world is clearly better than the other, but both have their own errors, and no one living in either one is entirely right or wrong.

Williamson handles the meeting of these worlds with consummate skill, and allows it to guide the spiritual themes of the story with utter naturalness. The worlds don’t only clash; they intrigue and even tempt. Through the story – what is done far more than what is said – Williamson delivers a powerful lesson in temptation and how people are led astray.

Although always well-done, there were times I did not enjoy Captives. The ‘grit’ – the sin, the temptation, the dissolution – wore on me. There was an excellent moral in watching a neglected teenager fall into bad company and a drug habit, but it was no fun. I am not sure the story needed every bit of grit it had; I know I didn’t.

At one point in the story, one of the outsiders said that the Safe Lands were “both fascinating and discouraging”. So was Captives, to a large extent. I’m still interested in the series – I’m hoping that, having set up the libertine dissolution of the Safe Lands, it will move on a bit – and it is fascinating.

Captives is a phenomenally well-crafted dystopia, guided by Christian spiritual understanding and with enough sympathetic characters* to add human interest to the dystopian intrigue. Take under advisement.


The links to other reviewers are at the bottom of my last post. Captives is marked as teen fiction – a label I will have something to say about tomorrow, but not today. I’ve already said plenty today.

[minor spoilers] * Like Omar and Mason and Shaylinn and Ciddah, but not Levi. He was kind of a jerk sometimes, especially when he was told that a woman’s baby was going to be taken away and Mr. Compassion responded: “Not my problem.” I hated that.

CSFF Blog Tour: Dystopian Dreaming

In the 1930s, civil war wracked Spain. Under the banner of the Republic, socialists and anarchists and Communists threw in their lot together; the Nationalists – granted force by the military and the Catholic Church – responded to the fears of the middle class.

Josef Stalin supported the Republic with arms – always for a price – and controlled the Spanish Communist Party through his agents. In 1937 he reached for even greater power over the Republic, and Caballero, their chosen leader, resisted him; that was the end of Caballero. In due time the Soviets arranged a coup, overthrowing Caballero as head of the Republic and replacing him with a puppet of their own choosing. Thus enabled, the Communists – themselves under the terror of Stalin’s brutal enforcers – took over the Republic of Spain.

And then – following the script Stalin had already written for Russia – the Communists began a purge, the slaughter of their erstwhile political allies. The Republic, while still in a civil war with the Nationalists, entered into a civil war with each other. The Communists tortured and murdered their fellow Leftists by the thousands. Many foreigners were marked for murder; some managed to escape.

George Orwell was among them. After fleeing the bloodbath, he attempted to expose it in print. One editor turned him down on the grounds that it would damage Western support for the Republic.

That editor was wrong. When Orwell finally got his story printed, it affected the Republic very little. The 1930s intellectual elite were more entranced with Communism than the truth, more concerned about Stalin than about the cruelties engulfing life after life in Spain. They assured the victory of the brilliant Communist propaganda.

In a 1946 essay called “Why I write”, Orwell stated, “The Spanish war and other events in 1936-37 turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it.”

Three years later, he published 1984, modeling his hero Emanuel Goldstein after Andres Nin, a Spanish political leader murdered by the Stalinists in the Republic’s fratricide.

Dystopias are the nightmares of their authors, which are in some measure the nightmares of their societies. They write what they see and what they fear. George Orwell, emerging from the horrors of the 1930s, wrote about totalitarian states, their cruelty and their conquest of truth.

In Captives, Jill Williamson builds a dystopia of our own phantoms – polluted earth, Big Brother, complete social collapse, the final scrapping of all traditional morality. Today Captives begins its CSFF blog tour; I’ll be along with my review later. You can begin your exploration of this twenty-first century dystopia here:

Captives on Amazon;

Jill Williamson’s website;

and, of course, the blog tour:

Julie Bihn
Thomas Fletcher Booher
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse
Jeff Chapman
Pauline Creeden

Emma or Audrey Engel
Victor Gentile
Timothy Hicks
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Asha Marie Pena
Nathan Reimer
Chawna Schroeder
Jojo Sutis
Jessica Thomas
Steve Trower
Phyllis Wheeler
Rachel Wyant

CSFF Blog Tour: Storm

At the end of the world, you should expect to have some problems. Tyranny, intrigue, drought, a biological superweapon, Big Brother watching you – it all gathers into a perfect storm.

In Storm, Logan Langly continues his fight against DOME, his search for answers. He sees more of the big picture than nearly everyone who walks through the streets of the Global Union. But he doesn’t see nearly enough.

Storm focuses less on Logan and Erin than the earlier books, though Logan retains his place as the protagonist of the series. Evan Angler adds a few new characters, expands on some old ones. We get our first real look at Lamson and Cylis; Tyler and Eddie – who had previously impressed me only as a couple of unusually stupid boys – acquire some depth. Lily gets more pages than ever, and becomes more confusing than ever; Dr. Rhyne is both hilarious and stereotype-breaking.

The novel is written in an on-the-street style, with brief paragraphs, many sentence fragments, and a pervasive casualness. There is art in expressions sprinkled throughout the book – such as describing a town as “still, suspended in the thick, stifling air”. You read that, and it sounds like something you’ve felt once. The narrative of Storm, though not strongly detailed, is always flavorful.

It’s with considerable skill that Angler blends the genres of dystopian and End Times fiction. One can, reading the Swipe series, see Revelation playing out, but most of the judgments seem – if I may borrow the phrase – “man-made catastrophes”. The prophecies of Revelation are fulfilled, but not in any obvious way.

And to me, that feels right. Jesus gave us signs of His return, and told us that we would know by them when it was near. But He also said that we should always watch and be ready, because He will come, like a thief in the night, at an hour when we do not expect Him. He promised to surprise us.

What I like about the Swipe series is that it shows that the End Times are likely to be so unexpected that we could, even as Christians, be in them without realizing it. It shows how there may be sighs that those who are awake and wise can read – and still not know when Jesus is coming, only that it seems to be very soon.

Storm is the third book of the Swipe series, and the best yet – the most well-written, the most unexpected and yet the most logical in its story, with the most intriguing ending. It could change the way you think about End Times fiction; it could change the way you think about the End Times.


Storm is written by Evan Angler, who has a website despite living on the run from DOME.

Evan Angler briefly appears as a character in Storm, getting his story from his characters. According to Becky Miller, “Evan Angler” is a pen name. She said that she had “yet to locate any information about the person behind the pen name.

So I spent a few minutes trying, and now I have to say: Me, too. The author’s bios of Evan Angler – in the books and on the Internet – are blarney; entertaining blarney, but not a fact in them. On his Twitter account, in interviews he keeps up the pretense of living in the dystopia of the Global Union, and his picture is of somebody wearing a hoodie with his head bowed, the setting sun over his shoulder, so you can’t really see the face …

On reflection, I’m not sure that Evan Angler even exists. But you should go to his site anyway. Because he has the best book trailers I’ve ever seen.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

CSFF Blog Tour: Sneak

When you are a refugee from an evil government and its secret police, when your ambition is to pull a prison break at a fortress of a prison, when you are variously counted a criminal, a traitor, an outcast, and a target – what do you do? Well, for starters, you sneak.

Sneak is the second installment of the story Evan Angler began in Swipe. Logan, now among the Dust, is on a mission to save his sister; he has a city to go to, a name to look for – Acheron, the ultimate bane of the Markless. On the road they find stories of Acheron. Whether or not they’ve found truth – well, that they won’t know until they can get to Acheron and see for themselves.

Sneak explores deeper the world rising from the devastation of global warming and Total War. That world grows more elaborately dystopian, and in this second book, the series becomes definitely Christian and unmistakably End Times. I had hoped the books were not going in that direction, because it’s not the sort of thing that naturally appeals to me. But if you’re going to do it, this is the way to.

Knowing Revelation, one can see various fulfillments in Swipe and Sneak. Yet they come in unexpected ways, flavored and influenced by the particular world of the novels. And they come unheralded, and even gradually – far more interesting, and even more believable, than the seven years of cataclysm found in other End Times works.

The pace of Sneak is brisk enough to keep away boredom, and slow enough that readers are not left confused. Certain events were skimmed past with hardly a glance, but they were peripheral to the actual experiences of the characters, and maybe that is the nature of a middle-grade book. On the same front, I found the main character too rash – but again, maybe that is the nature of thirteen-year-old boys who have abruptly been torn from all that was stable in their lives.

What I appreciated most about this book was the inventiveness with which the author handled his world and End Times prophecies. He had a flair with his characters, too, and managed to support a large cast and make most of them distinctive. Sneak leaves more going than Swipe did, while also leaving less of an idea of where the characters will turn next. So here’s to the next book, and the author’s skill that keeps readers coming back.


Sneak is the second book in the Swipe series. Yes, we are getting there: to Storm, the one under the spotlight.