Saturday, April 21, 2018

ECOSYSTEM Blog Tour -- Joshua David Bellin

I'm happy to be a stop on Joshua David Bellin's blog tour to celebrate the release of his newest book, ECOSYSTEM, which releases tomorrow.


 Don't forget to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway at the end of the post for a chance to win a signed copy!


Seventeen-year-old Sarah is a Sensor, gifted with the ability to survive within the sentient Ecosystem that swept away human civilization centuries ago. While the remnants of humankind huddle in small villages of stone, Sarah uses her psychic connection to the Ecosystem to travel freely in the wild in search of food, water, and fuel. Sarah doesn’t fear the Ecosystem—but she hates it for killing her mother when Sarah was a child. When she hunts, she hunts not only for her people’s sustenance but for revenge.

Then Miriam, an apprentice Sensor, is lost in the Ecosystem, and Sarah sets out to rescue her. Joining Sarah is Miriam’s beloved, Isaac, a boy who claims to possess knowledge of the Ecosystem that will help their people survive. The harrowing journey to find the missing apprentice takes Sarah and Isaac into the Ecosystem’s deadliest places. And it takes Sarah into the unexplored territory of her own heart, where she discovers feelings that threaten to tear her—and her society—apart.

A thrilling fantasy adventure from the author of Freefall and the Survival Colony series, Ecosystem is the first book in a YA trilogy that includes The Devouring Land (2019) and House of Earth, House of Stone (2020).


Ecosystem is a powerhouse of a novel. From the very first scene, Bellin draws you into a highly realized universe where the greatest threat to humans is the world around them. From bloodbirds to poisonrose to flameflies, there’s always something ready to harm or kill a person as soon as they step outside of their stone village.

Bellin’s writing is confident and clear, coaxing you into the world and the story. It’s apparent that he took great care in this project and that it’s close to his heart. As someone who reads a lot, I think that makes a subtle difference in the reading experience because it helps deepen the story.

What generally attracts me to stories is the protagonist. Here, it’s a fun and occasionally exasperating ride to step into Sarah’s shoes and find out where her journey—both physical and emotional—takes her. Like the stabbing nettles she sometimes encounters, she’s a bit prickly, especially at first. But as she learns to trust others and herself, she grows in confidence and grows on the reader.

This is a timely novel, too, that cautions against abusing the environment. It should seem like common sense, but in a time when recognizing climate change means going against business interests and profits, it’s a necessary and apt reminder.

Overall, Ecosystem is a thrilling, complex read. I’m eagerly awaiting the next book in the trilogy, The Devouring Land.

More About Josh 

Joshua David Bellin has been writing novels since he was eight years old (though the first few were admittedly very short). A college teacher by day, he is the author of three science fiction novels for teens and adults: the two-part Survival Colony series (Survival Colony 9 and Scavenger of Souls) and the deep-space adventure Freefall. His new book, the YA fantasy Ecosystem, releases on April 22, 2018 (Earth Day). Josh loves to read, watch movies, and spend time in Nature with his kids. Oh, yeah, and he likes monsters. Really scary monsters.

Find Josh online:

And find ECOSYSTEM at:

Josh will also be stopping by the Monessen Public Library on Saturday, May 19th.




a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, April 16, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: The Princess Deception, Nell Stark

I really enjoy Twelfth Night, and I'm an even bigger fan of She's the Man. When I saw this available on NetGalley, I jumped at the chance to read it. Modern adaptations of older works are always a lot of fun, especially when things get updated in unique ways. Because of that, I really, really wanted to love this one. However, I didn't.

The story is about Viola, the Princess of Belgium. When her twin brother, Sebastian, overdoses right before the month-long bid for the FIFA World Cup begins, she decides to play him while he goes to rehab so the bid can continue. Meanwhile, Missy Duke is a former pro soccer player who was forced to retire early because of a knee injury. Now, she's covering the Belgian-Dutch joint bid for a sports magazine/network. Cue the ensuing misunderstandings.

I don't think it's a spoiler to say that Duke finds out about Viola's ruse, but I think she finds out way too easily. Ultimately, I think that's what dissatisfied me. The whole conceit of Twelfth Night is that pretty much no one knows that Cesario is really Viola, and a lot of the drama and comedy come from the audience knowing. Instead of being intrigued by "Sebastian" and then having to reevaluate when she finds out Sebastian is really Viola, Duke spends the majority of their relationship trying to figure out why Viola's doing it so she can break a story. More than that, though, they actually just don't spend a lot of time together. We're 40% in before they have a conversation in private, and the black moment comes at 70%, which doesn't leave them much time to develop a relationship.

My main complaint is possibly my own fault. I went into this with high expectations because, like I said, I enjoy Twelfth Night and especially She's the Man. So, my expectation was that this would be funny. Instead, it's very dramatic. That's fine, and the drama is mostly earned. Sebastian's overdose and subsequent rehabilitation are treated with the weight they deserve. Duke is still depressed over losing her soccer career. I just wanted this to be a lot more fun and filled with more shenanigans than it was.

There are some nice moments and observations in the writing, though. At one point, Viola notes how much she appreciates her circle of friends. Both Viola and Duke treat Sebastian's addiction as a disease and defend him against people who would "out" his addiction as a scandal. While posing as Sebastian, Viola realizes she shouldn't say a lot because men are often laconic when it comes their emotions, and she wonders "whether men felt as constrained by the norms governing their behavior as she did emulating them."

Because there's such a focus on a woman pretending to be a man and having to wear "masculine" clothing and on how people present gender, it made me think a lot about transgenderism and gender expression and passing and the "proper" amount of masculinity or femininity. I don't know if this can be classified as transgender representation, especially whether it can be classified as positive transgender representation. What I can say is that it made me think and made me want to learn more about transgender history.

Overall, The Princess Deception is an interesting book, but don't go into it expecting a faithful representation of Twelfth Night.

Thanks to NetGalley, Bold Strokes Books, and Nell Stark for the advanced e-copy in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Where There's Hope: Healing, Moving Forward, and Never Giving Up, Elizabeth Smart

I vaguely remember the media coverage surrounding Elizabeth Smart's disappearance and subsequent rescue. She's only a year older than I am, and I didn't really pay attention to news until I got to high school at least. I remember her disappearance and her eventual rescue, but I didn't know any of the details. When I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway, I decided it'd be better to have more of an understanding of her ordeal. I listened to My Story on audiobook and found it moving and uplifting.

The subject of Where There's Hope: Healing, Moving Forward, and Never Giving Up is fairly self-explanatory. What I appreciated most about the book, though, is that it's not just Smart's story of moving on from her ordeal. In each chapter, she interviews one or two people who have been through or are currently dealing with difficult circumstances, and she doesn't shy away from those whose stories are far different than her own. In this way, it's not Smart telling the reader there's only one way to move on and that's her way. Instead, she presents other peoples' stories and examples in ways that allow the reader to see there are many roads to recovery. I also found the book to be well structured. Smart uses the interviews as well as her own experiences to highlight the themes of each chapter, among them hope, loss, faith, forgiveness, and more.

The one quibble I had is that during one chapter, a mother who lost her daughter to suicide after not being weaned off properly advises alternatives to antidepressants such as exercise and being in nature. The truth is just that everyone needs a different combination of healing options. While certain people do react poorly to antidepressants, they're extremely helpful for other people. I just think it's a tricky topic and Smart could've spent a bit more time on it.

Nonfiction, especially titles in the self-help category, tends to be subjective in a different way than fiction, so I find that I can't really judge this book or recommend it in the way I do novels. The only thing I can say is that if you are even a little bit intrigued, it's probably worth picking up.

Overall, I really enjoyed this reading experience. I dogeared a lot of pages and quotes to return to. I'm probably going to pass this on to my mom because I think she'd appreciate it, too. One of the marks of a really good book, for me, is if it keeps me thinking afterward, and this one certainly has.

Friday, March 23, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Herding Cats, Sarah Andersen


If you've read one of Andersen's previous collections, you know what you're getting with this one. The "scribbles" subtitle is accurate, as
each comic is only a page. The first two books were also delightful, and this one follows through on that as well. Because of the length of the pieces, there's no earth-shattering material. Instead, they're short strips that capture the reality of being an adult today.

That can be good and useful in and of itself. It's nice to know I'm not alone in struggling with adult tasks or self-worth. None of us really knows what we're doing, but hey, a lot of us take comfort in books and pets and friends and comics like these.

That's not to say there isn't depth. The comics tackle issues like anxiety, introversion, time management, sexism, politics/the social landscape, and global warming. There are lighter topics, too, like how summer is hot, being a bookworm, bonding with fictional characters, and the little joys of life, like scissors sliding across wrapping paper.

Where this collection veers away from the path of the first two is the discussion that closes out the book. In the last few pages, Andersen intersperses the comics with prose in order to advocate for creativity. She discussing the realities of being a creative person on the internet, where everyone has access to your work but not everyone has good intentions, and she calls for creative types to, simply, keep making stuff, a message that's always nice to hear.

In my opinion, collections like these are best in small doses. pick it up, read a comic or two, have a chuckle or appreciate how relatable or cute it is, and repeat the next day.

Thanks to NetGalley, Andrew McMeels Publishing, and Sarah Andersen for the e-arc in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, March 16, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: What She Doesn't Know, Andrew E. Kaufman

While reading this, I was hovering around three stars. I didn't love it, but it certainly kept me reading. However, the more I read, the more frustrated I got.

I had issues with the writing style. I actually love present tense, which not many people do, so that wasn't what tripped me up. It just didn't feel as polished as it should have been. There's a lot of info-dumping. The dialogue is unrealistic at times. Every time Riley yells, it's in all-caps. There's no real setting of scenes, just sentences like: "It's been a few days since Riley left her sister that apology message and still no response." But every chapter (and each scene is a new chapter) opens similarly. A lot of the moments that should be emotional don't land, such as: "She applies the makeup, but even that can't fix the damage caused by a life wasted, a life destroyed. Then a tear--the kind that expresses what words never could--rolls down her cheek."

Sunday, March 4, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Soul of the World, David Mealing

I'm writing this review because I loved this book and great books deserved to be talked about! It's no secret I love epic fantasy. I enjoy a ton of genres, but there's no shaking epic fantasy from the #1 spot. However, it's a very frustrating genre because it's been so focused on straight white male protagonists. To me, and to many other readers, that's tired and boring by now. I don't need the genre to be reinvented. I just need it to be more inclusive, and I'm very happy with this one.

I picked up Soul of the World on a whim. I knew I wanted a big, thick fantasy, but honestly, I often shy away from male authors. That's the majority of the genre, though, so I grabbed this one in B&N one day and decided to buy it because I was excited by the prospect of two of the three main characters being women (and the other being a man of color, but I didn't realize that just from reading the back cover).

Basically, the story takes place in a new world across an ocean from the old, so very much inspired by Europeans coming to North America. In this new world, there are indigenous tribes, colonies of Sarresant and Gand, and a wall that divides the two. The plot isn't easy to distill into a sentence or two because there's just so much going on. There's very cool magic and revolution and a shifting of gender roles and giant animals and gods with mysterious motivations.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Writing Update, February

February's been . . . interesting. Every once in a while, I hit a wall creatively. I think it's because I don't like to take breaks. So, I finished the draft of book two in mid-December, and by the middle of January, I'd added 30,000 words to a romance manuscript to finish it. Even though I did a lot of reading at the beginning of February to help cleanse my palate, I tried to jump straight into other projects instead of giving myself a breather, and it didn't work out that well.

My main goal was to write four short stories to submit to anthologies before March 1st. I wrote and submitted two. 50% isn't bad, but I'm a little disappointed. I also had the goal of increasing my science-fiction manuscript from 9,000 words to 30,000. I increased it to 10,000 words. At least that's some forward momentum, even if it's slow.

One thing I'm going to try to do is outline the sci-fi novel more deeply. Right now, the outline is a page long and just major story beats. It'll help to flesh that out, figure out more about the characters, and do some world-building before I really dive into the manuscript.

I've also decided to indulge myself in my pet project, which is an epic fantasy with a cast that's almost entirely female just 'cause that's what I wanna write. From the outline, it's going to be a long, long book, so the number-one rule is that I can't get consumed in it. I'm only going to write a bit here and there when I need help getting into the flow. And I'm giving myself permission for the first draft to be terrible. Because it will be, and I don't want to scare myself away from writing it because I want it to come out perfectly the first time.

So, there are my new goals! Stay tuned for whatever progress I end up making. And an extra bit of good news: I sold a short story today. It's supposed to come out tomorrow, so I'll keep you updated!