Anthology Review: American Carnage

american carnage cover
American Carnage: Tales of Trumpian Dystopia
Editors: Paul Brian McCoy and Jennifer King
Publisher: PDI Press
Format: Kindle (paperback available)
Full disclosure: I’m friends with one of the editors who worked on this project, and I learned about the book through her. I received the book as a gift from my friend (not the publisher), but opinions are my own. I am not being compensated for this review.
Note: the underlying theme of this book has the potential to become controversial. Please be respectful when commenting on the review and any future interviews with the authors and/or editors.
Another note: because of the topic, this book is quite likely going to be a love it or hate it book. Be forewarned!
Warning: possible spoilers. I try not to include spoilers, but I’m going to put this here anyway.
Okay, now to the actual review. (Ha!)
American Carnage: Tales of Trumpian Dystopia is a short story anthology from indie publisher PDI Press. (PDI Press is the publishing arm of website Psycho Drive-In.) My understanding of the anthology is that it was developed with a sort of punk rock dystopian theme, centered around an apocalypse brought about by the current US administration. (Let’s face it, anything apocalyptic is bound to catch my attention — the musical part just made it more interesting.)
Five stories are included in the collection; there are a couple of longer stories, but the other three are fairly short. It’s a super fun read, though; it’s been an interesting “what if?” exercise. (Okay, so some of it is less likely than others, but I guess anything’s possible. Or something.)
The five included stories are: What Kind of Monster Are You?; The Day the Earth Turned Day-Glo; None But the Brave; Where Eagles Dare; and Big Takeover. The stories are all quite different in tone; some are more serious than others. The writing in all of the stories was solid, and they all follow the same basic theme. It was really interesting to see how each writer interpreted the anthology’s theme and premise — I can honestly say that no two stories are anywhere near alike.
The opening story, What Kind of Monster Are You?, is the longest, but it’s also the most fun (and, um, the goriest). For me, this one captured the musical part of the anthology’s theme the most — it also has its own soundtrack since the main character listens to a quite a bit of music throughout the story. It’s got an alien invasion of evil space octopi who regrow tentacles like a president-faced Hydra. It was very…splatter-y. And absolutely bananapants bonkers, but in a totally fun way. The best part of this story is the dialogue: the writer used actual presidential quotes for the Trump-alien’s dialogue, and it is hysterical in the context of the story. It was also a brilliant idea to use actual, existing quotes. After all, why reinvent the wheel?
My favorite story, though, is the much “quieter” When the Earth Turned Day-Glo. This story is set in the near future, after the current administration has ended. Humans have colonized the moon (well, sort of), and have found a way to profit from the sun. I can’t even put my finger on why I enjoyed this story more than the others — maybe because it has a touch of realism to it? (Call me cynical, but I could totally see someone profiting from the sun by making people pay for sunlight.) Whatever it is, the story’s quiet thoughtfulness won me over completely. It’s the second story in the book and follows the alien octopi invasion story, so it had a really tough act to follow because that first story is just so much fun (in my opinion, anyway). But I really liked it.
The other two middle stories, None But the Brave and Where Eagles Dare, were well-written, but I didn’t quite connect with them as much. Regardless, they were still good stories and they presented two completely differing views of a Trumpian dystopia. In None But the Brave, special agents are able to extract thoughts from the dead (but only those who commit crimes against the state) and see their last moments. In Where Eagles Dare, a man pretends to be the sheriff and interrogates another man who dislikes the president — until the real sheriff shows up. (I can actually see these stories becoming reality in some way, which is alarming. But… it may just mean that I’m more cynical than I thought. Heh.)
The last story, Big Takeover, seems to be part of a larger universe, so I was a bit lost in terms of the worldbuilding. The world itself was interesting, though, and to me it was a little bit Matrix and a little bit Inception. (There was also a demon. Demons are fun in stories. Um, but not in real-life.) I might have to go track down some of the author’s other work, because the story’s universe is intriguing.
Overall, I loved this. It’s a collection of super fun stories written by a group of good writers. And I actually enjoyed each story (which isn’t always the case for anthologies). Yes, it may be a bit controversial because of the anthology’s theme, but it was really fun to read. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys dystopian anthologies (especially ones rooted in punk rock), but with the caveat that they should probably also be mindful of the underlying theme.
Keep an eye out for interviews with the anthology’s contributors over the next few days!

The Sacrifice Game by Brian D'Amato

the sacrifice game cover

The Sacrifice Game by Brian D’Amato

Release date: July 2012

Review copy provided by Penguin/Dutton

Amazon blurb:

The mind-bending, stunningly inventive sequel to Brian D’Amato’s In Courts of the Sun, in which one man holds the key to saving the world from the 2012 apocalypse foretold by the Mayan Prophecy.

In Brian D’Amato’s cult classic, In the Courts of the Sun, a team of scientists sent math prodigy and Mayan descendant Jed DeLanda back in time to the year AD 664 to learn the “Sacrifice Game,” a divination ritual that the ancient Maya used to predict the apocalypse on December 21, 2012. But after arriving in the body of a willing human sacrifice instead of a Mayan king, Jed’s experiences led him to the fateful decision that rather than avert the apocalypse, he must ensure instead that the world ends.

 Using his knowledge of the divination game, Jed sets in motion a series of events that will bring about the destruction of humanity, ending the world’s pain and suffering once and for all. But before the plan can be completed, the organization that sent him into the past discovers his intention and devotes every resource to stop him.
 Taking readers back to the dizzying action of ancient times, The Sacrifice Game is a breathtaking odyssey in which Jed must survive bloody wars, ruthless leaders, shifting alliances, and unspeakable betrayal to learn about the Game, before his time in both the ancient Mayan empire and the present day runs out.

All right. So. To avoid a possible drama-filled timesink like what happened with this book review, I’m just gonna come right out and say it: this book was a DNF for me. And this makes me sad, because I seem to be the only person on the planet who couldn’t get through it.
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Book review: Dark Magic by James Swain

Dark Magic cover

Book review: Dark Magic by James Swain, published May 2012 by Tor Books

Note: The review copy was provided by the publisher.
Blurb:

Peter Warlock is a magician with a dark secret. Every night, he amazes audiences at his private theater in New York, where he performs feats that boggle the imagination. But his day job is just a cover for his otherworldly pursuits: Peter is a member of an underground group of psychics who gaze into the future to help prevent crimes. No one, not even his live-in girlfriend, knows the truth about Peter—until the séance when he foresees an unspeakable act of violence that will devastate the city. As Peter and his friends rush to prevent tragedy, Peter discovers that a shadowy cult of evil psychics, the Order of Astrum, know all about his abilities. They are hunting him and his fellow psychics down, one by one, determined to silence them forever. Dark Magic is a genre-bending supernatural thriller from national bestselling novelist and real-life magician James Swain.

First off, I’m going to admit that while I love science fiction and fantasy, I no longer read a lot of urban fantasy. Why? Because, quite frankly, I’m tired of reading about vampires, werethings, and ninja heroines with attitude problems.
Second, I’m going to admit that this review has taken such a long time to write because I read the book twice. (Yeah, I really it.)
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Book review: Endworlds by Nicholas Read

Note: My review copy was provided by the publisher via NetGalley. I can no longer seem to find the publisher’s website, so unfortunately I can’t link to it.
Another note: This is actually a series, so “book 1.1” won’t get you the whole story.
Amazon blurb:

Billionaire industrialist Raef Eisman loses his daughter on an airliner in midair after flying through a strange electrical storm. With no body, no ransom and no explanation, he embarks on a crusade to find her . . . which sees him ousted from his company, stripped of his fortune and vilified by the world press. Only his faithful assistant, retired special forces colonel William Hills, stands at his side as they uncover primitive legends of ‘skypeople’ in the clouds, the trafficking of humans between dimensions, and a worldwide conspiracy of revisionist history that obscures our race’s true origin and purpose.Thought mad by his peers, Eisman inexplicably disappears as his vehicle plunges into the Thames. Instead of the 50-year old corporate raider emerging from the depths, a soggy 15-year old amnesiac rises in his place. A boy with no identity and no past.Dubbed “Eastwood” by those who find “the boy with no name”, he is conscripted by an underground army of teen refugees in the tunnels below Waterloo. Wards of an ancient organization intent on protecting the world from an increasing alien and inter-dimensional threat, these “Longcoats” induct Eastwood into a new life, with new allies and deadly enemies: the Fae’er of the First Age; the ageless Cassandrans; the shadowy Dae’mon; and a covert military junta known only as GRID – all on a collision course.

So…okay. This book has an interesting premise, that’s for sure. Raef’s disappearance early on was a little weird, especially considering an amnesiac teenage boy seemed to take his place. (Although that whole process was interesting, too.)
It took me a long time to read even a small part of this book. That in itself is usually not a good sign (well, for me, anyway; YMMV). I only got a quarter of the way through before I stopped reading.
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Book review — Plan and Prep: Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse by Alex Newton

Disclaimer: While the author and I are Twitter acquaintances, I did not receive compensation for reviewing this book, nor did I receive a free copy for review.
This review was first published on my blog. The link to the original review is here.
This book is available from Amazon in both ebook and print formats.
Amazon blurb:

Plan and Prep: Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse is an introductory guide to emergency and disaster planning and preparation.
This book follows Bill Jones and his family as they navigate their way through a series of emergency and disaster events, culminating in the outbreak of a Zombie Apocalypse.
Plan and Prep: Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse walks the reader through basic planning and preparation techniques and attempts to answer most of the more basic questions before they are asked. Areas that are often overlooked by beginners are explored, and some of the more common misconceptions are discussed.

This book does not claim to be a survival handbook, so if you’re looking for a how-to book about how to become Survivorman(TM), you’re reading the wrong book.
Also, note that Plan and Prep: Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse isn’t actually about zombies–not the Hollywood kind, anyway. It does include zombies, but not the undead-eat-your-brains version that are currently prevalent in movies and TV.
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Book review: The Zona by Nathan L. Yocum



Publisher’s blurb:[1. Review copy provided by Curiosity Quills Press]

It started with the Storms.
The world got too hot too fast. The weather wrecked Hell on man’s shiny, pretty civilization. With the heat and wet came bugs, with bugs came new diseases, and man’s numbers and sanity dwindled.
The survivors reformed governments like petty shadows of the world’s old empires. They sought answers and justifications, they sought redemption for what they perceived as man’s holy smiting.
Welcome to the Arizona Reformed Theocracy, otherwise called The Zona.
Here the Church rules with power absolute. The laws are simple, all sin is punished swiftly. Preachers enforce the Church’s words like old West lawmen.
But what happens when a Preacher refuses to kill? What happens when men of honor take a stand against their rulers?

As I was reading this book, the one thought that kept going through my head was, “Hey look, Ann and I kinda talked about this very setting already.”
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Book review: Zia's Path by David W. Small and Debra L. Martin



Amazon blurb:[1. Review copy provided by authors]

In this novelette featuring crippled teenager, Abraham “Ham” Jones, and his tomboy partner, Zia Slate, the stakes are even higher. They have agreed to accept the memory weapons from their new guardian, Henry Lloyd, but with the power of the weapons comes the responsibility to follow “the right path.” It’s suppose to be simple: help one person at a time, but nothing in this harsh world is ever simple. It’s a dog-eat-dog world where food is scarce and gangs rule the street.
When Ham decides to go into the worst gang-ridden area of the city to save a little girl, Zia doesn’t think it’s a good idea. It’s too dangerous, but eventually she agrees and the two set off in search of the girl. When Zia goes off to scout ahead, Ham’s worst nightmare comes true. Zia is snatched by slavers. Can Ham find out where she has been taken and mount a defense to save her in two days before she is sold as a sex slave?

This was a pretty fun book. Zia’s Path is the third book in the Dark Future series, and while I’ve not read the first two books, I didn’t have much of a problem figuring out what was going on. (I may have to get the other two though, just to complete the story arc.)
The book is short, only about 50 pages or so. The length isn’t much of a detriment (though I’m sure reading the first two would’ve helped), and the story actually moves at a pretty fast clip.
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Book review: The Last Condo Board of the Apocalypse by Nina Post



Publisher’s blurb:[1. Review copy provided by Curiosity Quills Press]

Kelly Driscoll tracks down monsters for a living, but the job isn’t what it used to be.
Vampire hunters are the new big thing, but Kelly doesn’t swing that way. When a reclusive client hires her to locate a rival angel, Kelly’s search takes her to a downtown highrise that has become home to hundreds of fallen angels and dimension-hopping monsters.
As the fallen angels take over the condo board, argue over who’s handling pizza delivery, and begin planning for a little shindig otherwise known as the apocalypse, Kelly must team up with an unlikely group of allies to find her target and keep the fallen angels at bay. In the process, she befriends a reluctant Angel of Destruction, gets tips from a persistent ferret, uncovers the mysteries behind Pothole City’s hottest snack food empire, and tries to prevent the end of the world.
The Last Condo Board of the Apocalypse is a light-hearted urban fantasy novel, combining angels, monsters and other supernatural elements with realistic characters and a comedic tone.

I…am not quite sure what to say about this one. I had a really hard time writing this review, because I want to say why it didn’t work for me, but I don’t want to give away huge chunks of the plot. Especially since the WTFery goes into overdrive in the last half of this thing, and from my experience most people don’t like it when I give away huge chunks of the end of a book.
But. I will try my best to explain why this left me in an ambivalent state of dazed confusion without giving away the ending. I will TRY. But be warned: this review may end up with a boatload of spoilers in it anyway. So if you’re planning to read this book and don’t want to know what happens, then read this review AFTER you’ve read the book. If you don’t care either way, then by all means, read on.
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Book review: How to Make a Golem and Terrify People by Alette J. Willis



Book blurb from publisher’s website:[1. Review copy provided by Floris Books via NetGalley.]

“You think you’re a fairy godmother or something?” I asked.
“Or something,” Michael agreed.
Edda is tired of her nickname, ‘Mouse’, and wants to be braver. But when her house is burgled on her twelfth birthday, Edda is more afraid than ever. That is until new boy Michael Scot starts school. There’s something peculiar — and very annoying — about know-it-all Michael. He claims to be a great alchemist who can help Edda overcome her fears by teaching her to build a golem. But surely they can’t bring a giant mud monster to life? Can they?
Winner of the Kelpies Prize 2011.

Okay, I have a confession to make. I buy children’s books (middle grade and young adult) and use the excuse that I’m buying them for my kids. Seriously, my daughters are two and three and a half–they’re not exactly going to be cuddling with the Percy Jackson series anytime soon. But you bet your soggy winter boots in Alberta that I bought the entire set. I read them all, too. (Yes, I also have all seven Harry Potter books. Yes, I read them all. Yes, I’ve seen the movies. Well, except for the last one, the Blu-Ray of which is sitting on my desk somewhere.)
But in my defense, I’m just pre-screening these books for my kids. You know, for when they’re old enough to sit still for longer than thirty seconds and can actually read (not just recognize the alphabet and their names). Assuming they like fantasy. Because, um, yeah, that’s all I buy. (Ahem.)
When I was going through NetGalley the other day, the title “How to Make a Golem and Terrify People” jumped out and started waving its arms at me. Do you really think I can ignore a jumping golem? No, I cannot. So I requested the book.
And I loved it. I would’ve read it aloud to my kids if the giant, wailing mud-monster wouldn’t have scared the sleep out them. (Literally.) Unfortunately for me, the book is published in the UK and the print version is hard to find here (I read an e-ARC). Otherwise I would’ve bought a copy and saved it for the kidlets. (The only time I buy print versions of novels now is when they’re for my kids. If they’re for me, I get the e-book version.)
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