After catching her high-school sweetheart in bed with another woman, Hannah’s life starts to spiral into a dark, dismal state. Not only are her dreams of going to art school crushed, but she’s also alone without her parents or best friend. That is, until she receives the bucket list: a set of things Libby says she must do. Hannah will have to do wild and “crazy” things. Will the list get her out of the box she’s lost herself in? Will it help her find love?
Gabe is sick and tired of fake women throwing themselves at him all because he’s attractive. After his social media influencer ex cheating on him, he’s determined to stay single and run his vet office in peace. That is, if his six Italian sisters will leave him alone long enough. When he runs into a gorgeous woman dressed head to toe in pink, totting a pink bike to match, his place for a life of celibacy might be over.
Hannah and Gabe are both tragically unprepared for the rollercoaster they’re both thrown into. Will they come out new people or be drowned by their own pasts?
I don’t read rom-coms as much as I should. I forget how much I love them until I pick one up and get swept away in it. Someone in our book club (where I read this) said that it has a “nice warm feeling after a long, hard day.” It’s almost like coming home for me. These are the books I read for a break from the heavier topics I tend to read and write. While I could never write a rom-com myself, they’re my guilty pleasure, comfort reads.
All that being said, I think it’s pretty obvious I loved this book. Michelle Angelle’s style is simplistic enough that the writing was super easy to follow but you could still easily visualize the events and characters through it. The comedy was, of course, a bit overdone, but I feel like that’s a staple of the genre. I can understand why some might see it as overdramatic, so this may not be a book for EVERYONE. But lovers of the genre will understand and appreciate the humor and drama of it all.
The characters were also extremely well-written. They were both heightened (Gabe and his gorgeous self) but also incredibly and perfectly flawed (past traumas that cause hinderance to the plot). Hannah isn’t just a gorgeous modern woman; she’s a self-conscious, nervous, anxious individual whose drawn so far into herself that even her two closest coworkers don’t know who she really is. I enjoyed how realistic her portrayal way, even amidst the drama of the story. She’s constantly looking for ways out of things, which I can 100% relate to, and failing time and time again.
Not only are the writing style and the characters well-created, but the storyline is also expertly crafted. You have this lighthearted comedic love story on the surface, and a more serious motivation underneath. Libby’s list really brings the touch of severity that you need to deepen the personality of the story.
Overall, I adored this story. If it wasn’t for other reading responsibilities, I would have picked up Michelle Angelle’s second book instantly after finishing. As it stands, it’ll have to wait, but just know, I’m very, very excited to read more from these two.
Following the Ever Rain, a global superstorm that melted ice caps, rose sea levels, and forced the survivors to seek higher ground, society exists in makeshifts towns and villages, barely scraping by the best they can in the horrific, muddy circumstances. Civilization as we knew it fell with the rain, and with its fall, divides arose between factions of those who remained.
Out of the rain, a new enemy arose– The Citadel. Inside its walls, the rich and powerful enslave the less fortunate and live in splendor while those outside survive however they can. Jessie and Calvin are two “mudders” who find themselves suddenly alone when both of their families are captured by the Citadel. On their quest to retrieve them, Jessie will discover secrets about her family that could change the dynamic forever and maybe even their world as they know it.
Lewis has crafted a splendid example of dystopian literature. The story has a double-edged sword kind of conflict, one where man faces both nature and man, simultaneously at times. The struggles of living in this muddy world (for lack of a better word) are painted clearly and aid in strengthening the even-more-dangerous dissension between the opposing factions of people. Also in terms of world- and story-building, I particularly enjoyed that there was no sprawling exposition in the story. Instead, the settings and personalities unfold with the events of the story. That alone speaks to the talent of Lewis!
While you’re following the explosive plot that Lewis has written, you’ll also be able to enjoy a large cast of unique characters. Each one is fabulously designed to be an asset (or a hinderance, since some are obvious villains) to the mission of the main characters. From young children screaming in anger and demanding people to fight to old men running both the town and a moonshine still at the same time to mildly psychotic snipers, you’ll never be bored with the phenomenal characters.
Overall, Muck World is a thrilling read that will keep dystopian lovers enthralled until the very last page. Lewis is a very talented author, and I cannot wait to read more from him.
You like that title? Lol Because I couldn’t think of anything else.
I don’t talk about my own writing too often! I’ve tried to keep this blog ALL about other books! That seems to work well for me.
But today, an editorial review of Caged went live on Reedsy Discovery, and I want you all to see it.
Leigh Minarapa wrote:
“Caged is the first of two books in Amy Johnson’s Idyllic Series. The story follows the character Eden Cavalleri in a world where machines have gained control and humans are being captured, imprisoned in zoos, and used as lab rats in atrocious experiments. Humans now hide and live in underground tunnels, and it is Eden’s role to forage above ground in search of supplies. During one of these missions Eden is captured by machines and is imprisoned in a human zoo. Threatened by the possibility of being killed, or even worse, being turned into a machine, Eden must find the strength and determination to stay alive.
“Johnson presents a fast moving and ruthless world within this man versus machine narrative. The action promptly unfolds within the first moments of the story, and this fast paced tempo does not cease as it is continued throughout. The swiftness of the rising action at the start of the book isn’t to be taken as the author’s failure in the lack of exposition, but rather a success in their ability to assert the necessary details of characters, setting and backstories in such a short timeframe.
“Eden’s experiences in the zoo are difficult to follow as Johnson does not shy away from depictions of violence and brutality. This graphic nature casts a sombre feeling throughout the majority of the story. The plot itself is well crafted and wonderfully executed. Johnson’s writing style is effortless and clear, creating a flow in the narrative which is easy to follow.
“Caged is a novel fit for any readers of the science fiction genre given they have a stomach for violence and brutality. Those more sensitive to this type of content may struggle with Eden’s experiences in the human zoo, but those that are drawn into sci-fi narratives with glimpses of horror and instances of gore will not be disappointed.”
I think it’s wonderful, don’t you?
If you’ve read Caged (or if you haven’t and just love me), drop by Reedsy Discovery and upvote the review for me! The more reviews I get, the better my chances are to be featured on their newsletter.
Fair warning: This is a review for a sequel. Now, while the book would work as a standalone, I think they still need to be read in order. You can find my initial review of Illusion (Book #1) here!
The Faction War in The Life ended with the digital world in flames. For Kitty, though, her *actual* world is in flames, too.
After blowing up her lab– and a small island off the coast– Dr. Catherine Hardage (aka Kitty) faces the US Senate to face the consequences of her experiment. The hearing goes awry, though, and suddenly Kitty is the pirate she’s always wanted to be– running from the US Navy in the middle of a hurricane. Meanwhile, Blacklight (the creators of The Life) approach her with an offer to beta test their new game Deadeye. Kitty agrees and is thrown into the fully-immersive, Western style game.
Nothing is as it seems, though, both in real life and in the game world. The game quickly turns into something nightmarish and twisted, and Blacklight’s hold on her real world life is questionable at best. Can Kitty evade and ultimately escape the two very different enemies that she faces?
Style: Now, I want to start by pointing out that I didn’t do a long review of Phelps’ first book. It was a four star rated book for me. That essentially means it was good, but there was something I didn’t necessarily LOVE about it. When I first started this sequel, I knew I was going to enjoy it. A lot of the same things are true about this book, but when I tell you it HITS DIFFERENT. I mean, it hits different, okay? Let me explain.
Phelps has this intricate style of writing about him. His descriptions are rich and vivid; his action scenes are clear and easy to follow. While he does tend to be long-winded with his book (this one was 433 pages according to amazon, which I know it shooting low), there’s not really a second of wasted time. I love the raw talent that Joseph portrays in the stories that he tells. While it’ll take some time to read these books, you’ll be absolutely absorbed. I wasn’t that in with Book 1 because some of the parts seemed to drag. Maybe it was the game style, because I’ve never really been interested in GTA-style games. Either way, with this almost-too-real Western format, I loved it from the very first moment. Plus, there’s a very real sense of discovery as we follow along Kitty. She doesn’t know how the game works, and so we get to follow along as she learns. All this to say: I didn’t mind the length this time!
Last thing I have to say about style is this: This book gave me multiple goosebump moments. Books don’t often do that for me! It’s those moments that I live for, friends. They make me put the book down, say “woah” out loud, and tear up just a little bit. I’m jealous of authors that can do that for their readers. I don’t think I’m one! So let me tell you about the moments where I just was blown out of the water by this story.
There’s a moment where a certain character (name redacted for spoiler purposes) who happens the be an NPC looks at another NPC and admits to knowing she’s a “plaything, meant to amuse beasts from another world.” Aka, she broke the virtual forth wall. When I tell you that I gasped, I mean it. This character had an absolutely heartbreaking past, and her growth and arc were just phenomenal. This was a real turning point, and it took my breath away.
Closer to the end of the story, after the baddies have cornered them, everything’s taken a turn for the worse, and thing don’t seem to be looking up, Kitty corners one of the players and says she’s sorry. Now, I cannot and will not go into any detail for you, because that would be a HUGE SPOILER. But it’s important, because over the course of the story, Kitty admits that she tends to use and choose her friends for her own personal gain. They all have something she can benefit from. But in this scene, with this one character, she says she’s sorry for exactly that. For using this person when they needed her to not. And its just…. the character arc, you all. That did it for me.
Characters: Now, I’ve kind of already talked about the character development a little up there, but I do want to consider it just a little more. Because in this book, you see the return of several characters from book 1, and a lot of them have already changed and grown. But a few of them, I really got a deeper look at them. That needs to be discussed.
So as far as main characters go, you’ve got quite the cast: Kitty, Kurt, Jimmy, Gadot, Nels, Abraham, and Jacob. At least, those are the players. Then, there’s NPCs like Mitchel, Grace, Earl, Grandma Gore… and on and on and on. Now, I’m not going to talk about every single one of these. That would take me four years. Let’s hit on the highlights.
Kitty– Catherine Hardage is everything you want to see in a female lead. She’s intelligent, snarky, bold, ingenius, and definitely not afraid to get what she wants. I was a bit concerned about a female lead being written by a male, but there’s no issues here whatsoever. Plus, with Kitty, we get so see so much growth, as I already mentioned. Kitty goes on a bit of an emotional journey through this, and it’s heartbreaking and phenomenally written. Kurt– A return character but not one that is without change. Kurt’s always been a bit of an anomaly to me, because as the main character of the first book, I didn’t think he fit into the big shoes set for him. I understand the importance of his personality, strengths, and weaknesses. I feel Kurt and Kitty’s friendship building, if they can just understand each other. Poor Kurt’s inside Blacklight, though. Abraham– A new character! And a…. tricky one. I won’t go into deep detail, but do sum it up: the man’s a cannibal. And his backstory outside of Deadeye really builds upon that status. Abraham is by far one of the most intriguing characters in the story. I love it.
NOW Jacob– This is the villain. The baddie. The monster inside Deadeye. Except, he isn’t really your typical bad guy. Not in the traditional sense. It’s hard to explain. It’s just that, originally, his only crime in the game was to NPCs. And that’s a line that is difficult to justifiy crossing when the NPCs think, act, and speak, so much like people that you start to become confused who’s-who. I would like to have known more about Jacob outside of the game, because like unnamed-character-because-of-spoilers, it’s almost like it’s Kit’s morals that make him BECOME the baddie. Idk, okay? There’s a lot of LEVELS here.
Plot: WE MADE IT. Take a deep breath with me. Inhale. Exhale. We’re almost done.
So, Joseph Phelps is a master in what we call LitRPG, meaning that it’s a story within a story. I’ve read more GameLit than ever before since I started reviewing books, and I’m coming to really like this particular genre. What I enjoy is that there are two stories. You follow Kitty’s real life adventures escaping the US Navy, and then you follow Kit’s game life as she explores this horrible wild west with its monsters and cannibals and killer snakes. And this book is different in that Kit starts to forget what’s real and what’s a game. That was an interesting added touch.
I have no complaints about the way the plots (both real and game!) unfolded. Unlike book 1, there’s no unnecessary space. I didn’t even graze over all the specs for items, lol. It was well paced, kept my attention, and honestly, to sum it up, a breathtaking read. Well done, Joseph.
I’m giving it a bright and shiny 9/10!🙂
You can buy Joseph’s book at the link below! Bye, friends!
TW: This post contains discussions around intense grief.
I went back to work this week. For the first time in two months. At first, it was a bittersweet feelings. I’ve missed my colleagues; I’ve craved more structure in my life. Yet, at the same time, I wasn’t ready to put summer behind me.
You would have understood that. We probably would have talked about it Monday afternoon. You might have even called me when I was on my way to work.
But you didn’t. You couldn’t.
I was fine. Holding it together like cheap school clue clinging to the pieces of a shattered, priceless vase. The mask was in place. Today, I wasn’t going to cry.
Then, my best work-friend, my partner-in-crime, asked that dreaded question.
“How are you?”
She knew. She could see past the porcelain designs, past the carefully painted serenity and hand-crafted pottery. I swallowed. Hard. And said, “A little better.”
And that was partially true! I wasn’t lying.
I am a little better. I’m a little bit better at pretending everything’s normal. I’m a little bit better at covering up the hurricane inside my stomach and chest, and I’m a little bit better at swimming through the tsunami-ridden seas of nightmares and guilt. I’m a little bit better.
But I’m also a little more.
A little more sad because everyday that passes is one that you aren’t here with me. With us. And I don’t know how to deal with that because I miss you so much that it hurts to even talk about. It hurts to face the sun rising on a day you can’t check on me.
A little more mad because you didn’t have near enough time with us. You loved me for 25 years of my life, and thats NOT enough. It’s not enough. I feel cheated because we were supposed to have so much more time left. You weren’t supposed to leave us. Don’t take this wrong; I’m not mad at you. You tried so, so hard to stay. It’s not your fault. I know that, but I’m just so angry.
And I’m a little more regretful because when you needed me, I wasn’t there. When you knew it was your time, I was at home. In my soft, warm bed. Sleeping. She told me that you asked for me. I’m sorry that I didn’t know you wanted me there. I’m sorry that I was so selfish and went home that night. I should have been there. You’ll never know how many nights I’ve been kept awake by crippling guilt knowing I. Wasn’t. There. I never got to say I loved you one more time. Never got to say a real goodbye. Never got to hug you. So many things I didn’t do one more time.
I’m a little more happy, though, too. Happy that you aren’t in pain. You aren’t suffering with this sinking ship of a world. You’re not unhappy anymore. Up there where you are, you’re driving lap around a pearly city with someone in the passenger seat. You’ve probably for your arm hanging out the driver’s side window– if cars are even a thing in Heaven. I like to think they are. And even if they aren’t, you have to be happy up there. That’s my beacon of comfort, my little candle light in this shadowy corner that I inhabit most days.
I miss you a little more each and every day. “It’s going to get easier,” they say. “It won’t be so hard as time passes.” But I don’t want time to pass in a world YOU don’t exist in.
Is there a happy medium? I genuinely do not know. Maybe I’ll find it.