Book Review #22: Clandestine by Cynthia Morgan

The year is 2446. Tzadkiel, Archangel of Mercy, has somehow found the one merciful person left on Earth. His job is mostly complete with Lourdes at his side. Nothing but his conscious stands between him and releasing the Final Horseman from his waiting place.

First, though, he needs to find a place to keep Lourdes safe. As love begins to blossom in the French countryside, the twisted Savauge clings to their trails, intent on finding them and keeping Lourdes all to himself. Blinded by lust and rage, he’ll go to any length to get his hands on her.

All three of them will be pushed to the very edge, and there may be no coming back.

Clandestine (Mercy Series Book 2) by [Cynthia A. Morgan]

Before I dive into my actual review, I want to say how THANKFUL I am to Cynthia Morgan, who so gracefully gave me a free copy of the audiobook in exchange for an honest review. I have been DYING to read this sequel since I finished Misericorde, and even though life has been a bit insane and I haven’t had time to write up this review, Clandestine is all I’ve been able to think about. I’ve read other books since then, and I am just…. STUCK on this stinking series. Stuck like Savauge to— You know what, I take that back. Gross. Ick. No. *hits rewind on her life*

Style:
I’ll try to tone down my excitement this time, guys. I’m sorry for shouting at you all. Actually, I’m not. Because once again—

ABSOLUTELY FREAKING FANTASTIC. BREATHTAKING. 

Did you like how I used different adjectives this time around? Heh. Cynthia’s world building continues to blow my mind every time I pick up one of her books. The fantastical, science-fiction environment that somehow blends both reality as it could be in the future and the supernatural world of angels and demons is perfect. Within this book, we get a bit of an insight into the “science” side of things— the instruction manual of Tzadkiel. You half expect these explanations to be boring, but it was far from it. I didn’t mind listening to Little Tzad explaining things to Lourdes. He’s just so sweet. I could never get tired of listening to him.

Last time, I struggled with getting into the story, but with this installment, there wasn’t a lengthy intro. We jump straight in with both feet. It was a journey that took me some time (ten hours, to be precise) because I listened to the audiobook instead of reading it. About an hour a day, here and there, and then on my way to our vacation home, I binge-listened to like four hours at a time. I fully intended to listen to the entire thing on the way down, but I was so worked up about it that I had to take breaks. LOL 

Last style point— TENSION. Good grief, the romantic tension. That’s another reason that I had to stop so frequently. I’ll preface by saying this: I am a very expressive reader. If you watch me read, you’ll know exactly how I feel. So, this book is ROMANTIC. I put it in all caps and bold so you’ll know how important this is to me. Because it’s not the type of romance that’ll make you fan yourself and hide your phone screen. No, no, no. This is like squealing out loud in my car and beating the steering wheel while you blush like a little school girl (I did all of these things). This is the best, innocent style of romance. I was melting in my seat, you guys. I was eating lunch and telling my coworkers about it. It’s been a looooong time since I read anything that was this romantic without being smutty.

Characters:
Now that I’ve talked your ear off about style, buckle up for some character development!! Because there’s a lot of it! YAY! 

Lourdes is back, and she continues to be one of my favorite female characters. I stick to my guns in saying that she is so much more than the sweet, submissive maid that the men think she is. Her bravery really gets tested through this book, and her strength is pushed to a breaking point. I obviously cannot relate to the things she went through in the last scenes of the book, but GOD, did I feel for her. I kept wanting her to get up— murder some people— do something— but I also really understood her predicament. She’s sort of helpless in a very frustrating way, but I get it. So say the least, I am very excited to see her grow even more now that her eyes (and Tzad’s eyes) have been opened to how helpless she really is. Maybe he will teach her how to protect herself. 

Then there’s Tzadkiel. My freakin’ king. I call him Little Tzad, but I should really start calling him King Tzad. Not Kiel because we don’t like that side of him. Yuck. My journey through simpdom continues, and I honestly think hearing the narrator bring life to his voice was the final nail in the casket. Literal goosebumps. It was everything I imaged it to be. There’s growth though, in how Tzad has to tamper down his own demons. The more hatred that grows in him for Savauge, the more he struggles to maintain the “angelic” side of himself. Seeing that play out made him less perfect and more… human? Relatable? All of the above. I simply love him. Periodt. 
Other characters include Levesque, who is 100% redeemed in my eyes, Chevalier, who I believe is the real guardian angel here, and a slew of other people. I won’t dwell too much on them, simply because their role is much smaller than the others and I’ve dragged this on long enough. 

Last but not least is Savauge. To be honest, I wouldn’t even give this man the time of day. If I saw him walking down the street, I wouldn’t cross to the other side. I’d wave down a car and politely ask them to RUN HIM OVER. And when the judge asks me why I assisted in his murder, I’d tell them because the world is a better place without his stinkin’, nasty face. Then, I’d cuff myself. Disgusting human being. I’ve NEVER wanted to punch a character so much in all my life. (Good job, Cynthia, for creating a character that I hate this strongly. Lol. Very well done. But UGH)

Plot: 
*takes several heaving breaths* I’m wearing myself out. I’m too excited. LOL 

I don’t have too much to add, surprisingly, to what I said last time. The multiple POVs are still seamlessly well done. There’s a perfect blend of past and present, allowing us ample insight into Lourdes’ past and the other characters’ thoughts and feelings along the way. 
It probably wasn’t my advice that Cynthia followed, but I did see some things I commented on had changed. Shorter chapters but more of them (16 this time, as opposed to 9) and a trigger warning added to the Amazon description. I genuinely have NO COMPLAINTS. 

Weird, huh?

Once again, I’m gonna have to give his book a heaping 12/10. It’s honestly better than the first, and I cannot wait to read books 3 and 4 when they are released. I’d read Cynthia’s grocery list, at this point, if she’d let me. 

You can follow Cynthia Morgan at the following links:
Website: https://www.cynthiaamorganauthor.com/
WordPress: https://booknvolume.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/morganbc728?s=21
Amazon: Author.to/CAMorganAuthor


Stay tuned for my next review: a dystopian romance that honestly might give Cynthia a rival when it comes to ranking my top reads of the year so far.😉

Book Review #13: The Sanctuary by Lauren Rigby

In a world torn apart by war, people flee to The Sanctuary for “safety.” What greets them though is a divided society where the High live in splendor, and the Slums are overrun with poverty and filth. The inhabitants aren’t supposed to mingle.

Selena and Rowan can’t help it, though. After a passionate start to their romance, things only go downhill, and years after their initial meeting, life only gets more complicated. Can love prevail and save them from the horrors of The Sanctuary? Or will evil win once and for all?


Style/Length:
Amazon has The Sanctuary marked at 288 pages, which seems about right. Once I got into the story line (which actually took me a minute), it moved along splendidly. The plot runs smoothly with enough twists and turns to make you want to keep reading but not so much that I feel like I’m being jostled around.

There are times, though, when the writing feels flat. It’s either not descriptive enough or too descriptive. There’s not really a happy middle ground. I think with a good run through by an editor, this story could be very well-polished and come out a shining star. That being said, I still really, really enjoyed it.

The Sanctuary reminds me a lot of my other favorite dystopian books. Forbidden romance between two people who are on different spectrums of society reminds me of Katniss and Peeta; overbearingly controlled government reminds me of The Giver; the culling process reminds me a lot of The Hunger Games and The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. This book is full of tropes that any dystopian fan will find comforting.

Characters:
There are a handful of characters throughout the storyline, and most of them remain consistent. Selena and Rowan are clearly the two main, but side characters include Madge and her son Clive, Lucas and his wife Camille, Caleb and Cole, and then the two antagonists Jerome and Troy. Let’s talk about a few of these.

We’ll start with Selena because I really like her. She’s a strong woman that turns into an excellent mother. I haven’t read a lot of dystopian books where the main character actually is old enough to HAVE children. This was a nice change for me, as a mother. LOL. Selene is very devoted to her two boys and would do anything for them– even when she falls for the valiant Rowan. What surprised me the most about Selena was actually the fact that she didn’t change who she was for Rowan. She didn’t stop being a mother. Actually, she tells him time and time again that the boys come first.

Rowan, on the other hand, was not my favorite to start out with! He grew on me, a little, once he stopped being so dang creepy. Sure, it was fine when the two of them first got together. He was sweet and charming. But then they break up due to Caleb’s conception, and he basically follows her around for the next eight (approximately, I have forgotten the exact number) years. Who does that? Stalkers. That’s who.

If you don’t know who this is, then… Watch the show You. That’s all I can say.

And then, he makes some really creepy comments about her breasts when she was pregnant, and its all just a little too much. Too strong for me. Now, he stops doing this. Like I said, he grew on me. I actually really like how he stepped up for both of Selena’s boys, even though one of them wasn’t his. Plus, he is her knight in shining armor (no spoilers). I don’t know; Rowan and I have a love-hate relationship.

Not let’s talk about the antagonists, because in the blurb it says “a truly hate-worthy villain,” and let me just say HOT DANG it isn’t wrong. Troy is the main antagonist and I just wanted to KNOCK HIM THE EFF OUT. Like honestly. He’s disgusting; he gives me the heebie jeebies, and I hope I never hear the words “pussy cat” ever again in my life. Ugh. That’s all I’ll say.

Plot:
As far as plot goes, I have no complaints here! I loved how the story moved, and I really found myself tangled in with the characters as they fought to make it out of this mess in one piece. It kept me reading, that’s for sure.

If you’re a fan of the dystopian genre, I don’t think you’ll regret picking this book up. I’ll be waiting for the next book, that’s for sure.


Follow Lauren Rigby on the following platforms:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/laurenrigbyauthor/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/Authorlaurenrigby
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Sanctuary-Lauren-Rigby-ebook/dp/B08L9RD3H7

Thanksgiving 2020: A Holiday We Won’t Forget

This year has been rough. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it over and over again until it’s finally over. It has– by far– been one of the strangest and most difficult years for everyone I know. We’ve all had to adjust and flex and struggle our way through this. And it’s not even over yet!

We’re getting there, though, so that’s something! Maybe 2021 will be better! FINGERS CROSSED. I’m not superstitious, but I am a little bit stitious (only the best of people will get that one). So I’ll be knocking on wood and crossing my fingers and saying my prayers for the rest of the year. I don’t know how much more of this nonsense I can handle.

I hope you’ll bear with me as I steer away from my usual book review and writer musing on this special holiday. I love Thanksgiving. Holidays were hard growing up. We had a split family household, and most of my time was spent running back and forth on major holidays between my parents’ families houses, scarfing down food and scrambling to open presents and hug everyone I hadn’t seen in months. It was always “hurry, you’ve got to be at Dad’s/Mom’s by so-and-so o’clock.” I don’t blame my parents; I hold no grudges, really. It was just how it had to be, you know.

Thanksgiving was never like that, though. Most people say that Christmas is the slow holiday. You know– “You’re moving like Christmas!” Well, for me, Thanksgiving (or the week of, really) was when life really slowed down. We went to different houses, sure, but there was more time. I could sit down and really visit; I got to enjoy dinner AND dessert! No one was shoving presents in my faces. No one was rushing me. We were all so deep into a turkey-coma that life just moved in slow motion for once.

And I loved it.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. And not just because I’m a foodie and just really love eating. I love the PREMISE of Thanksgiving. Truly enjoying each other’s company and dwelling for a day (or week!) on the things you’re thankful for. “Shouldn’t we do that all year long, Amy?” Yes! Yes, we should, but shouldn’t we also give each other small gifts throughout the year to show each other our love (Coming for you, Christmas)? YES!

This year– in true Covid-19 style– things are going to be different. We aren’t traveling to people’s houses. We aren’t hugging all our great-aunts and grandfathers; we aren’t piling into living rooms that smell like stuffing and pumpkin pies. We won’t be watching the parade with our nieces and nephews or scouring through the Wal-Mart Black Friday catalog for Christmas presents. No one will pass out on the couch thirty minutes after we’ve eaten or ask the lone single female of the family when she’s going to finally find herself a husband.

And I’m going to miss it.

I’m going to miss the boisterous laugher and the hilarious family stories (even if I hear the same one’s every year). I’m going to miss hugging my husband’s great-aunt and seeing my step-grandparents. I’m even going to miss my mother-in-law’s precious but huge dog who is always so painfully happy to see me. There’s so much I’m going to miss.

But here’s the thing: I’m not going to dwell on that.

This isn’t what I want to rant on about.

Instead, I want to redirect my attention to some things I’m thankful for. Let’s do that, okay? Some unconventional things, maybe. I’ll skip over the usual spouse-family-food-God spiel, but don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful for those things too.

  1. My students and their parents:
    I don’t tell my kids often enough how much I love them. This year is so hard. I’m a hugger by nature, and I can’t do that this year. So, having a room full of fifteen wonderful children that I love so much that I call them my kids and not being able to give each of them a hug at the end of the day is so hard. They constantly bring a smile to my face and never fail to make me laugh– even when it’s 8 am and I am a MESS. They always remind me to do attendance and apologize if they’re being a bit “too much.” They are so perceptive and forgiving and I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have them in my life.

    And I owe just how wonderful they are to their parents. Or guardians or grandparents or aunts or uncles or WHOEVER loves them from home. Whoever makes sure they come back to me the next day. Thank you for the wonderful children you’ve raised. I know it can’t have been easy. Not in this day and age. I’m a parent, too, and I know how it feels to constantly worry if you’re making the right decision or pushing them too hard or not pushing them enough or… This list could go on forever.

    As parents, you’re often asked to push yourself aside and set them first. During this pandemic, classrooms all over the world have moved to your living room. Virtual teaching is a world/challenge all its own. I know it’s a lot to ask of you, parents. Just know that I see you, I sympathize with you, and I’m here for you. I know this is so hard, and you’re doing the absolute best you can in a bad situation. We all are. Thank you so much for all that you do. I couldn’t do my job without your support.
  2. My friends
    I won’t call any of you out by name, but you’ll know who you are if you’re reading this.

    My Mother Hen: Thank you for always being a listening ear when I needed you. Quarantine has been hard on you, I know, but you’ve never turned me away when I need to talk. You have no idea how much that means to me.

    My OG: You’ve had a really hard past few months. God really ran you through the wringer. I love you. More than you can ever possibly know. I’m thankful that you’ve allowed me to support you through this hard time. Any time you need to go get some bulgogi, holler at me. You know I’m always down.

    My Long-Distance: One day, I’ll actually meet you. Until then, thank you for texting me each. and. every. day. You’re an escape. A nice little haven where I can pretend life isn’t wild. Thank you.
  3. My Job
    “Yuck, Amy. Your job? Don’t you just dread going in every single day?”

    Um, no. I’m super lucky that I get to do a thing that I LOVE every single day. Not only do I work with the best kids ever, I also get to pass on my love of the English language to a new generation. I honestly have a passion for what I do. Other than writing, I can’t see myself doing anything else.

    I’m blessed to work with the best people under the most amazing principal. If you’re reading this, JP, I can’t even begin to tell you how thankful I am for your patience. I have met some of the most wonderful people at North Elementary. Wouldn’t trade you guys for the world.

    Maybe for retirement, but definitely not the world. 😉

I hope everyone has a magnificent Thanksgiving. Be safe. Be smart. Don’t spread Covid everywhere. I’d like to NOT teach virtually for another couple of months. If you can’t see your family, call your family. It’s better than nothing.

Lots of love,
Amy.

Book Review #8: Cells by Julia Cowan

When James Hall wakes up in a dark, doorless, concrete box with no clue of how he got there or where “there” is, he has no idea that this is just the beginning of his problems. The truth unravels itself slowly: this is an unofficial, covert prison designed by two twisted minds to remove offenders off the streets and cleanse their neighborhood.

Surviving the cells is just step one. James will be forced to make impossible decisions, and in the end, it may just ruin him and everyone around him.

Image taken from Amazon.


Style and Length:

Cowan’s style is IMPECCABLE. It’s simple enough that I wasn’t bogged down by language, but at the same time, it was incredibly eloquent. The descriptions were very well-written and the emotion was very clear with each twist and turn of the story.

It’s an average length book. I started earlier in the week but didn’t really have a chance to start reading until Saturday morning.

I finished in a day, y’all. That’s how fantastic this book was. I was absolutely blown away.

I did have a slight issue with some of the POVs. I was thrown off when we starting jumping from one character’s POV to the next because James, the main character, seems to have a variety of nicknames. His father calls him Jim, Jimbo, and James. So, in some chapters, I struggled to know who was talking. It didn’t last forever, though. I cleared myself up pretty fast. So, this issue might be chalked up to me just being an occasional idiot.

Whatcha gunna do about that?


Character Development:

Cells has a fair amount of characters! There’s James (the main character and inmate of our “prison”), David and Joseph (the creators of the prison), Craig, Chris, Simon, Emily, Jill, Sally… The list goes on. Normally, I wouldn’t have an issue juggling characters. But this is a FAST read– chalk it up to the action of the story. I did have to slow down sometimes and really think about who was who. Again, we can blame that on the SPEED which I read this book.

I really liked the development of James through out the book and how well he handled all of the issues thrown his way! He’s a phenomenal main character. I’m glad the end worked out the way it did for him.

The two antagonists– David and Joseph– are also very well written. The balance between powerful David and meeker Joe works out good for the dynamic of the story. I don’t know what it is with me reading books with villains I sympathize with, but I can’t seem to avoid them here lately. I genuinely felt bad for these two men! Surprisingly enough, I felt more for David! Please, note: I don’t condone making a torture prison for anyone.

I did have one issue with the characters, though. Joe/Joseph started out as a follower: shy and submissive. He stays this way throughout the first half of the story, but after a certain event I won’t spoil, he seems to… stop being scared of David? It’s a bit sudden. The dynamic changes between them, and I really didn’t like it. Joseph starts giving the orders. I’m not really 100% why it didn’t sit well with me, but it didn’t.


Plot:

THIS PLOT. Ugh!

I am a huge Saw fan– you know, the movie franchise. I love the intertwining story plots, the torture prisons, the gore, the “justified villain” aspect, ALL OF IT.

Cells reminds me of Saw! I could see myself reading this book over and over just for fun. It’s also the first story I started taking notes on while I was reading! I was on the edge of my seat, audibly gasping, stopping to tell my husband what I thought would happen, complaining about my mistaken predictions…. I loved every bit of it. Honestly. I have nothing negative about the plot, y’all. It was just…

You can buy Cells by Julia Cowan here! I’m giving it a big ole 9.5 out of 10.

Book Review #7: The Sensorians: Awakening by Brigitte Starkenburg

*taps mic* Does this thing still work? I mean, it’s been dead silent for…. two weeks?

Let me just say: YIKES. Last week was rough, y’all. Between worrying about this election and work and life and UGH. It was too much.

I have been hard at work on the next Idyllic book, which I’ll start doing bits of reveals for here soon. Then, I did some reading. Which leads me to today’s review!

Ready?

Eliza had a rough enough childhood as it was. Between her father abandoning her and being diagnosed as schizophrenic, she did her best to muddle through and come out the other end. Things don’t get better when the mysterious Zack shows up in her life. He says he knows where her father is and that he needs her. In order to help anyone, Eliza will have to face challenges that will test her to the core.

Will she come out the other side a better person or be forever bent by the Sensorian way of life?

Picture taken from Amazon.

Style and Length:

Starkenburg’s style is very simplistic. Normally when we talk about someone being simple, it’s an insult. Don’t take it as that here. What I mean is, it flowed really easily and wasn’t overly complicated in vocabulary or grammar or side plots or anything like that. It was not a challenging read in any way whatsoever.


And I prefer that! It was an average length read, sitting at 232 Kindle pages. I started on Thursday (or maybe Friday) and got finished on Tuesday. The majority of the book I read over the weekend! Instantly it hooked me, and I was super eager to keep going.
One complain I do have (because I’m trying to do better about being constructive) is that sometimes the dialogue throughout the story was confusing. This is an issue in formatting and super easy to fix.

Above, you’ll see a snippet of conversation from the very beginning of the book. No spoilers this early in the review. 😂 I’m used to the start of a new paragraph (aka, drop down a line and indent) meaning that someone new is speaking. So, I read it as Kas-Eliza-Kas-Eliza. In reality, it’s supposed to be Kas-Kas-Eliza-Eliza. Like I said, an easy fix!! All Starkenburg would need to do is backspace where those conversations have been unnecessarily indented.


I’ll also go out of my way to say that in NO WAY does this affect the quality of the story. Once I got used to it, not a problem. It just boggled me at first.

Character Development:

I’ll start off this section by saying that I love these freaking characters. 😂 Starkenburg does a magnificent job at making sure her two POVs are different enough that a reader can tell. Plus, every single character is different! It’s truly phenomenal. Even I struggle with that.
Let’s start with Eliza. A fireball, for sure. Her personality is very strong, and she resists being oppressed throughout the book. I love how she developed into a understanding and much more sensible girl when it came to the Sensorian’s ways. I was caught a bit off guard by how much I liked her to be honest.


Next, Zack. My favorite!! Zack is an authoritative leader, taking control of many a situations. He struggles with figuring out his feelings for Eliza without compromising his job at the same time. I LOVE this character. He’s a bit of a swearer, but that doesn’t even take away. I really, really, really hope he gets a chance to finish what he and Eliza started. *winkwink*

There are other minor characters, each of which are very developed. I hesitate to even call them minor. Zaphyre, Zack’s sister, is the temptress of the story. I’m not a huge Zaphy fan (only because I’m Team Zack lol). Then there’s Markus and Laura (heads of the Sensorians), Kasper, Eliza’s boyfriend (*boos erupt all around*), Sam and Ned (Zack’s friends), and even Alice (Eliza’s mom). It wasn’t such a big cast that I couldn’t keep up, so I appreciate that from the author.


Plot:

First of all, this story moves along SO. FAST. The beginning was an absolute blur. In my opinion, I would have slowed down quite considerably. Zack and Eliza meet one day and then she’s leaving with him the next. I know the mission is important and time-sensitive but it really felt a bit rushed. I would have made the entire first quarter it’s own book, probably, developing their relationship and letting Zack convince her of who and what she is.

Now, it does slow down after the initial meet. Training and then the mission was much more developed in my opinion. I have no complaints or questions about how the main plot points unravelled. I am definitely excited to see what happens next, though!
You can count on me to read Book 2 when it comes out.😉


I’d give this book a big ole 9.5 outta 10. I’ll definitely be recommending. Might even ask Starkenburg to do an author interview for me.

You can buy The Sensorians on Amazon here.


Follow Brigitte Starkenburg on the following platforms:
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/brigitte__books
Facebook: https://facebook.com/brigittewritesbooks
Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/BrigitteMorseS1

Caged Playlist

Hey, everyone! I thought for this week’s post, I’d share some of the songs that inspired and fueled Caged. I’ll type a little bit about every song to give you some background info!

  1. The Beginning by Factor Eight: I absolutely love this song. All of Factor Eight’s songs are instrumental and series soundtrack fuel. I listened to this one on repeat!
  1. Human by Christina Perri: This one’s sort of obvious. I mean, the entire story is about Eden’s limitations as a human and fighting to keep that humanity. She’s only human, ya know?
  2. Human by Rag’n’Bone Man: Another sort of obvious one. “I’m only human after all. Don’t put your blame on me.” I think this is Eden talking to herself. She does a lot of self-blame and deals with a lot of regret.
  3. Liberty by Factor Eight: I can’t speak enough for this band/group. There’s a part of this song, though, that quotes Charlie Chaplin’s speech from the Great Dictator.

    “Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost….”

I mean, if that doesn’t sound like Caged, then you obviously haven’t even read it.

5. To Be Human by Sia: I heard this song while watching Wonder Woman, and Oh My Goodness. “To be human is to love, even when it gets too much.” I mean, Eden’s downfall is her unending love!! Come on!

6. Helium by Sia: Um… I really like Sia’s voice. I think I went down a hole when I was song-hunting. This one’s another love song, but its all about vulnerability and wishing you didn’t need help but REALLY NEEDING IT ANYWAY. “Yeah, I wanted to play tough, thought I could do all this on my own but even Superwoman sometimes needed Superman’s soul.” Eden’s a beast, but she really needed a helping hand.

7. Rise by Katy Perry: Whoo, does this song give me vibes. I mean, it’s literally all about not giving up and rising when everyone thinks you’re going to fail. Eden much? “This is no mistake, no accident / When you think the final nail is in, think again / Don’t be surprised, I will still rise.” Gives me the heeby-jeebies.

8. Rainbow Connection by Trespassers William: I’m pretty sure this song is originally from the Muppets or something like that, but I like this indie version a lot better. In Caged, Eden tells Knox about how her mother used to sing the same lullaby every night. This is the lullaby. It makes me weepy.

9. Lightning by Little Mix: I mean, this is just a power anthem. LOL

10. The Coldest Winter by Pentatonix: I’m a Pentaholic as is, but this song just EXUDES the spooky, sad vibes of Caged.

11. Run by Awolnation: Who doesn’t like this song? I listened to it on repeat when I was writing the fight scenes. LOL Also, the opening line is “I am a human being, capable of doing terrible things.”

12. Out Loud by Gabbie Hanna: I thought about taking this out, ’cause of all the Gabbie hate going around, but I can’t deny how much I love this song. It’s basically about not being able to let go. This will be much more applicable for the sequel, but… I love it.

13. Rise Up by Andra Day: This power anthem speaks for itself. If you don’t sing along to this song, something’s wrong with you. I scream-sing this song. You have to.

14. Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken by Pink!: “There’s not enough rope to tie me down. There’s not enough tape to shut this mouth. The stones you throw can make me bleed, but I won’t stop until we’re free. Wild hearts can’t be broken.” It’s like Eden’s personal motto, y’all.

15. Dark On Me by Starset: All of Starset’s songs feel like I’m watching an epic space sci-fi and make me feel totally immersed. This one specifically fit my vibe, though. It’s about loneliness, being abandoned, feeling lost… “You’re the cause, the antidote, the sinking ship that I could not let go, who led my way and disappeared. How could you just walk away and leave me here?” Knox and Eden vibes, amiright?

The entire playlist can be found here for your listening pleasure! I hope it inspires you as it has me.

Book Review #3: Reliance by Paul McMurrough

Hey, guys! It’s time for another book review. I just finished this book today, so it’s fresh on my mind. 

This week’s book is Reliance by Paul McMurrough. It is a apocalyptic science fiction for adults— my FAVORITE genre. 

A crisis looms on the horizon. Professor Martin Monroe has predicted that a massive solar flare is on a direct path for Earth. The result will be a global power outage. 

Cell towers, power grids, water systems, prisons— nothing will be left untouched. 

How will the world handle this disaster? 

Cover taken from Amazon.

Style: First of all, McMurrough has a wonderful voice. It’s easy-to-read but really dives into the emotion of each character. He easily balances four points of view seamlessly, something that I definitely can’t do. He’s just descriptive enough to paint a clear picture, but he doesn’t linger too long. 

Length: “Reliance” is just about as long as my own book. It took me about four days to finish, but that’s only because I had other things to do. I bet if I’d sat down to read non-stop I would had finished earlier. The story was absolutely intriguing from start to finish, but we will get to that later. 

Character Development: There’s four different characters in this book: Martin Monroe, Lisa Keenan, Simon Wilson, and Derek Henderson. Let’s touch base on each of those for a second. 

Martin is the professor who predicts the crisis. Years before our story takes place, Martin made a bad call on the Haley Bopp comet and has since been branded as a bit of a wackjob. Yet, he refuses to let people ignore him this time. The author paints Martin as a anxious, jittery, somewhat depressed man who would do whatever it takes to look out for the people around him. 

Lisa works on an emergency response team for the government. Her job is simple: put together a statement to the public and help coordinate relief efforts if needed. That gets made a lot more complicated when the power goes out and no one has a working phone. She joins forces with Martin to try and get the news out to the locals, if they can get anyone to believe them in the first place. The author paints Lisa as a kind, determined girl who cares strongly about her job and the people she serves. I was genuinely concerned about Lisa towards the end of the book! No spoilers this time, but I thought she was a goner

Simon is Martin’s closest— and only, really— friend. Having lost his wife a few years back, Simon is a bit of a loner. But, when push comes to shove, Simon will stand up for Martin and his neighbors. I really liked this character. He was helpful but showed a lot of vulnerability when it came to the things he witnessed. 

Last but not least is Derek. As a prison guard, Derek’s job was never easy. The power outage only makes it worse, though. Staff stop coming into work; supplies start running low. Derek’s forced to make one of the hardest decisions of his life. Derek was my FAVORITE character! His story pulled me in. I felt for him, rooted for him, and wanted to cry for him. 

Plot: Now, I know I ranted on and on about the characters, but truly, the best part of this book was the plot. As it follows the four characters, there never was a slow part. Sometimes, I find myself skipping around books that are a bit slower, but I promise you, I read every word of this book. From the moment Simon got the phone call from Martin about the solar flare all the way to the final farewell, I was hooked. 

Each character’s story adds something to the plot. I honestly would have never thought about how a response team would handle a near-apocalypse. Yet, with Lisa, I get to see that. Simon shows us the civilian point of view, including all the looting and stealing and murdering. With Derek, we get to see a man struggle to take care of his family and worry about the people he’s tasked with. 

This story is so immersive. I swear. I felt like I was there the entire time. It almost makes me want to start being a prepper. I’m going to start buying non-electric supplies and stocking up on batteries. First, I need to actually find a flashlight that isn’t my phone. 

The Big Picture here, I believe, is on the fact that we rely so much on electricity. We’d be doomed without it, and this book shows that clearly. It’s scary. 

Pick up this book. You WILL NOT regret it. 

This is the link here to buy it. 

Was It Enough?

I’m typing this from my phone, still sitting at my desk, trying to breathe through everything that happened this morning. Bear with me; I’m still sort of a mess.

I’m a teacher. I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. Well, not always. There was a point when I thought about being a veterinarian. Doesn’t every kid, though?

Anyhow, I’m a teacher. I went through five years of college, class after class on education theory and children’s psychology, and hours of in-class experience. I made a million lesson plans, typed what felt like a hundred papers, and gave dozens of presentations. I mean, I graduated with a 3.9, y’all. I was a good student!

But there are things college doesn’t prepare you for.

An unannounced active shooter drill is one of those things.

This morning, my students and I were having a writing lesson on the concept of Showing (Not Telling) Emotion. I had just finished my mini-lecture and had set a timer for their independent work. Eight minutes– It was only two problems. No sooner had I walked away than our secretary came over the intercom and said those two words that no teacher ever wants to be surprised with.

Code. Lockdown.

Our procedure is the same. We’ve practiced it once a month, every month since I started teaching four years ago. The students quickly and quietly go sit in the floor behind my big metal desk. Luckily, they all fit behind it, maybe a little cramped. I check the two doors, lock them if necessary, turn off the lights, and then go back into the corner to stand by them.

You see, I can’t sit with them. Even though I really want to. Even though I’ve got two girls in tears and the boys asking what’s going on. Even though I myself don’t know what’s happening because no one told me about a drill. I can’t sit.

Why not?

Well, because I’m their defense. If that door flies open, if someone comes barging in, I’m supposed to protect them first. It almost makes me sick to think about again now. But that’s what’s going through my head as I slip my noisy lanyard off my head and my flip-flops off my feet (the less noise I make as I walk, the better). Am I terrified to throw myself at an intruder? Yes. Would I do it for them? Yes. Because these seventeen kids are my life.

Was that enough, though?

For a long time, we are all quiet, waiting to hear what’s happening. I don’t have answers for them. Can I text another teacher? Or my principal? My husband? About ten minutes pass, and I finally text someone.

Someone’s on the run from the cops in the area. This isn’t a drill.

Great.

Now I have a reason to be scared.

At first, I don’t tell the kids. There’s no reason to let them worry. I start texting everyone I can that might be able to give me some peace of mind. My teacher-friend down the hall. A parent of one of my kids (who is also a teacher in the building). My partner-teacher. My husband.

We sit in the floor for an entire hour. Eventually, I tell the kids what I know; maybe it will give them some reassurance. No, there’s not someone in the building. Yes, you’re safe. I’m right here. I won’t let anything happen.

Forget Covid. Forget six feet apart. Forget social distancing. Today, they needed hugs and back rubs and love. I gave them everything I had, because they’re my responsibility. There’s no time to worry when you’re in charge of them. No time to freak out about the sheriff’s officers banging on your outside door.

Was that enough, though?

Today, my worst nightmare came true. I saw my children scared of something we all hoped to never experience. I won’t preach about politics and gun laws. Shamefully, I don’t keep track of all that. Would things have gone differently if I was allowed to have a weapon in my classroom? Maybe; I really don’t know.

I’m so glad it wasn’t worse, truly. But what kind of world do we live in where I have to be afraid to teach? What went wrong?

To the parents of my kids: I would have done anything for them– even in the worse-case scenario. I loved them like they were my own today. I hope it was enough.

To my students: I’m so sorry that you had to sit through that. I hope being close to your friends made you feel somewhat better. I hope my hugs helped. I hope it was enough.

Today could have been really bad. Luckily, it wasn’t.

Pray for teachers and students everyday. We really need it.

Character Interviews (Cyrus)

Happy Monday!! We’re back today with another character interview. I might tear up a little on this one. Eden’s big brother, Cyrus, is here with me, ready to answer some questions. 

(As before, interviewer questions are in BOLD.)

Hey, Cyrus! Are you ready? *grins* Oh, absolutely! Let’s do this! We know your full name is Cyrus Cavalleri, but do you have any nicknames? Sure. Eden and Lin call me Cy. I’m sure the council calls me all kinds of things, but I don’t dwell on their negativity. They’re just a bunch of old sourheads. 

What’s your occupation? I am on The Council here in Druxy. I’m in charge of general health and welfare. I make sure everyone gets fed and that the general populace is taken care of. Is it a hard job? *rubs neck* It can be, well, pressuring. Not everyone agrees with the decisions The Council makes. Heck, we don’t even agree with each other sometimes. Do you like your job, though? *grimaces* No, not really. But it’s what I’m good at. Leading comes second-nature. Plus, I need to take care of my father’s legacy. He was on The Council before me. 

Do you have a motto? Sure. Always look for the silver lining. How does that affect your everyday life? Well, it helps me to make it through a day in this gray dump. Living underground, constantly throwing your baby sister into the lion’s den, fighting to make the best decision… it can all be really depressing. But it’s important for everyone that I remain positive. So, I do. Or, I try to. Things have been really hard here lately. 

You said that your life right now is depressing. How about your childhood? What was that like? *laughs* My parents tried really hard. I’ll give them that. They did their best to make sure I have more good memories than bad. Everything was golden most days. Did they treat you differently than Eden? Of course. I’m the oldest, the one responsible for her now that they’re gone. They were more serious with me when it came to the dangers of the world above us and the risks they were taking every day. I had to be trained harder than she did, even though she’s so much better at fighting the machines than I am. I love them all— Eden included— but I sometimes wanted to kick back like she could. 

When and where are you the happiest? I may have said this a couple times, but I freakin’ adore my sister. So anytime we can be together is heaven on Earth. I have this one memory of a night when we snuck out to the river to watch the sunset. I wrapped my arms around her, and we cuddled up in the shadows so the patrols wouldn’t see. *sighs* I don’t know why that made me so happy… So you and Eden are really close? Inseparable. I’m one hundred percent sure we’d die for each other. 

If you could change one thing from your past, what would it be, and why? I’d convince my parents not to let Eden go on supply runs with them. I’d give anything to have been able to keep her out of that world, to keep her safe. It was too late for them, but if they’d never trained her, maybe she’d… I don’t know… be content with me down here. I’m terrified I won’t always be able to protect her. 

You’re an amazing brother. You know that, right? *smiles* Thank you. I try. Let’s switch gears and talk about some of your opinions and beliefs. Sounds fun! Do you believe in soulmates? *thinks* This might be a little… mean. But no, I don’t. Relationships take work. Nothing really comes that natural. That’s not harsh. It makes sense. So, do you want a relationship? I’m not looking, per say. I think I’m a little picky. Have you ever been in love? Romantically? I don’t think so. I’m sorry to hear that. *laughs* Don’t be! I told you— I’m picky. What are you looking for in a romantic partner? *thinks* Um…. someone smarter than me, probably. Probably younger, because I like to be in charge. *laughs* Looks aren’t really important, but I tend to like darker haired individuals. Tall… gentle… funny… passionate… Cy, it kind of sounds like you’re describing someone I know… *turns BRIGHT pink*

Let’s, um, finish up with some rapid fire questions. Favorite color? Brown. Food? Anything that’s not soup. Ugh. Most treasured possession? My tulip book that Eden reads. What makes you laugh? Linux, really. He’s stupidly funny. Sad? When Eden leaves for runs. Angry? When The Council questions my decisions. Are you spontaneous or do you like plans? Oh, I’m a planner. For sure. Who do you most despise? Ugh. *groans* EMORY.

Alright. That’s it. I’ll let you go back to work now. Thanks for taking the time to come talk to me. Anytime, Amy! 

Cyrus has a special place in my heart… 

Have you picked up a copy of Caged yet? If not, go to the link in my Works tab and buy one today! It’s free to Kindle Unlimited users! If you have bought one, please don’t forget to leave a review! 

Lots of love,

Amy. 

Character Interviews (Linux)

Hello, everyone! If you haven’t already heard, Caged went on sale last week. My fierce YA scifi novel can be purchased in ebook or paperback form here: Caged (Idyllic Series Book 1)

But today, we have another character interview for you! Per Eden’s request, I’ve dragged Linux here. These questions are going to be hard. Let’s torture a Linux.

Dwight Schrute The Office GIF - DwightSchrute TheOffice EvilLaugh -  Discover & Share GIFs

(Just like before, interviewer questions are in bold.)

Hey, Linux. What’s your full name? Alyx… I don’t, um, really know my last name. That’s alright. Do you have any nicknames? Yeah. Linux is actually one. Eden also calls me Lin, among other things. Where did that nickname come from? Um… Linux is an operating system for different devices. Some of the cybernetics in Druxy run on the Linux system. Since I do a lot of the coding for the Luddites, it just seemed to fit.

Where were you born? Somewhere in Druxy, I guess. You don’t know? *shakes his head* My parents didn’t live long enough to tell me. Also, most of my memories before Eden are blurry. Did you know your parents names? *shakes his head* Sorry…

I should be the one that’s sorry. I’m going to dig into this a little more. Is that okay? *nods* How would you describe your childhood? Lonely and scary. I was young when my parents were harvested. Most of my time was spent running and hiding from the Artificials. Do you remember what happened to them? *shakes his head* I think I’ve blocked most of it, out. I just know they were harvested.

Where did you learn about computers, then, if your parents weren’t around? I did learn some of it from them. They were both proficient with machines, too. What I didn’t learn from them, I got from experimentation. 

Want to talk about something happier? Yes, please. Who are your friends? Eden and her brother, Cyrus. Is that all? *cringes* The other Luddites our age haven’t always been kind to me. That’s unfortunate. Do you know why? *nods* When I first came to the tunnels, I was really weak and withdrawn. I didn’t help or really pitch in. Everything scared me. They resented me for being useless, basically. That’s terrible, Linux. I’m sorry. *shrugs* It’s okay. it’s not so bad anymore. 

Who has had the most influence on you? Eden. Definitely. Why? *blushes* She… She inspires me to be braver. I’m not as scared when she’s around. Aww. That’s cute. Are you and Eden dating? What?! No! *turns bright red* We’re just friends! That’s it. Sorry I asked. *laughs* Do you want to be more than, um, friends? NO! She’s like an older sister! I— she— we—

*laughs* Let’s just move on. What is the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you so far? *rubs back of neck* This one time, I stepped on a rat in one of the outer tunnels and screamed so loud that everyone within a mile probably heard me. That’s not that bad. *still red in the face* I also fell when it tried to climb on me and ended up with a very… obvious… mud stain. They called me Poopux for a month. *hides laughter by shuffling interview questions* That’s unfortunate. I’m sorry, Poo-LINUX

What’s the best memory you have so far? When Eden found me. Why is that so powerful to you? She rescued me from the brink of death, nursed me back to health, and gave me a purpose. I’ll be forever indebted to her. 

What’s your biggest fear? The cyborgs— Artificials, cybernetics, Idyllics. All of them terrify me. But don’t you go with Eden on runs? *grimaces* Yeah… but I’m always a scared mess. My stomach hurts every time we go out. 

I asked Eden this question, but I want to know what your opinion is. Do you believe in the existence of soulmates/true love? *thinks* Um, sure. Some people fit together perfectly. Everyone has a opposite, a person to balance them out. Have you met your soulmate? *looks away* I don’t want to answer that…

Let’s finish with some short, easy questions. What’s your favorite hobby? Building and coding. Favorite color? Electric blue. *blushes* Do you like to read? Sure. I like it better when Eden reads to me. 

What makes you laugh? When Cyrus tells me jokes. What makes you sad? When someone’s mean to me. What makes you mad? When people insult or doubt Eden. 

Okay, two questions left. This one’s from Eden, actually. Where do you see yourself in five years? *hesitates* Honestly? Yes. Be truthful, please. We can take it. Dead, more than likely. Us humans don’t stand a chance in this world. 

Last question: Who should I interview next? Cyrus or Knox? Cyrus. Keep Knox waiting. it’ll kill him to be last. 

Have a good weekend, guys! See ya on Monday!