REVIEW: Atlanta Burns by Chuck Wendig


You don’t mess with Atlanta Burns.

Everyone knows that. And that’s kinda how she likes it—until the day Atlanta is drawn into a battle against two groups of bullies and saves a pair of new, unexpected friends. But actions have consequences, and when another teen turns up dead—by an apparent suicide—Atlanta knows foul play is involved. And worse: she knows it’s her fault. You go poking rattlesnakes, maybe you get bit.

Afraid of stirring up the snakes further by investigating, Atlanta turns her focus to the killing of a neighborhood dog. All paths lead to a rural dogfighting ring, and once more Atlanta finds herself face-to-face with bullies of the worst sort. Atlanta cannot abide letting bad men do awful things to those who don’t deserve it. So she sets out to unleash her own brand of teenage justice.

Will Atlanta triumph? Or is fighting back just asking for a face full of bad news?

Revised edition: Previously published as two volumes, Shotgun Gravy and Bait Dog, this combined edition includes editorial revisions.

Amazon link:

MEL’S REVIEW: Author Chuck Wendig has never exactly been known for holding back. If you have ever read his blog or his books (including The Blue Blazes, the Miriam Black series, and his young adult Heartland Trilogy), you’ve seen his NSFW MO. If you expected anything else from his newest book, Atlanta Burns, you will be either overjoyed or sorely disappointed. This is Chuck Wendig at his truest and finest form.

Atlanta Burns hold no punches. Atlanta, the main character, is a teenage girl who has been through a lot. But unlike many of the angst-ridden teens we read about in YA fiction, she doesn’t take this crap lying down. No way. Atlanta takes matters into her own hands and exacts her own brand of justice. She’s like a teenage superhero with the balls to face danger without a mask or cape. She’s a teenager with a shotgun, and she’s done letting people pray on the weak.

Wendig has accomplished something pretty cool with this novel. Not only does he deal with topics like suicide, homosexuality, bullying, dog fighting/animal rights, absentee parenting, sexual abuse, and drugs—he deals with them all in one book in a realistic way that doesn’t feel heavy-handed. We don’t get that syndrome I see so often in teen books, where so many things happen to one person that it’s unbelievable. Most importantly, however, he captures the helpless, powerless feeling of being a teen so well, and in a way adults can understand, which is possibly the most interesting thing. Atlanta’s problems are not petty, and they are far-reaching. I never felt the eye-rolling exasperation I get when I read some YA “issues” books, I never felt like the main character had to get over herself, because she wasn’t in it for herself. She puts her life on the line for her friends, and while yes, life would have been easier had she just lain low and let things happen…well, this is Atlanta Burns we’re talking about here.

Every time I asked myself “how can this get any worse?” it did. Things got to the point where I had to say, “This can’t possibly end well,” yet the book did end in a satisfying way. No one is unscathed, but life does go on.

Is this a good book for teens? Would it be appropriate for your teen? Well, as with anything, you know your kids best. I thought this was a great book, and Atlanta is a kickass heroine that adults and mature teens can love. Very sensitive teens might want to wait a while on it though, as there are some animal cruelty issues as well as some drug usage.

Kudos to Chuck Wendig for another no-holds-barred winner!

REVIEW: Chuck Wendig’s BLIGHTBORN (Heartland Trilogy #2)

BLIGHTBORNSummary: Cael McAvoy is on the run. He’s heading toward the Empyrean to rescue his sister, Merelda, and to find Gwennie before she’s lost to Cael forever. With his pals, Lane and Rigo, Cael journeys across the Heartland to catch a ride into the sky. But with Boyland and others after them, Cael and his friends won’t make it through unchanged.

Gwennie’s living the life of a Lottery winner, but it’s not what she expected. Separated from her family, Gwennie makes a bold move—one that catches the attention of the Empyrean and changes the course of an Empyrean man’s life.

The crew from Boxelder aren’t the only folks willing to sacrifice everything to see the Empyrean fall. The question is: Can the others be trusted?

They’d all better hurry. Because the Empyrean has plans that could ensure that the Heartland never fights back again.

Chuck Wendig’s riveting sequel to Under the Empyrean Sky plunges readers into an unsettling world of inequality and destruction, and fleshes out a cast of ragtag characters all fighting for survival and, ultimately, change.



This book was everything awesome that the first Heartland book, UNDER THE EMPYREAN SKY, was, and more. Wendig’s characters are like real people, multi-dimensional and complicated. There are no cliche cardboard cutout archetypes or tropes here. Every character has their strengths, weaknesses, things that you love, and things that make you want to scream.

I went into this book expecting a second book, maybe a little saggy, like many middle books of trilogies are. Hell no. This book kept me engaged the entire time, kept me wondering what would happen next, and kept surprising me. The setting details are fantastic, the action and pacing impeccable. In this book, we learn so much more about the characters we already know/love/hate from the first book, and meet several new folks, too. Things grow more complicated as the plot thickens, and the world isn’t as black and white as it perhaps seemed earlier in the series.

Something that stood out for me about this book as I read it is Wendig’s treatment of his younger characters. There is no talking down here, no weird older author’s take on teens. This is an author who understands the way a seventeen year old thinks, and tells it like it is. Wendig’s respect for his subjects is clear. There is no annoying whining here, like I’ve noticed in several other YA books I’ve read. These are characters who teens can be proud of, who they can sympathize with. Sure, they have their rough moments, but they take action. They make mistakes, but they learn.

The future Wendig has portrayed here is eerily reflective of issues happening today–I can see how this world could exist. The themes of this trilogy are timely and thought provoking.

BLIGHTBORN is an action packed, emotional ride that both teens and adults would enjoy. The only negative part is that I have to wait a year before getting my hands on the next one!

This book will be released on July 29. You can pre-order your copy HERE.

REVIEW: SCOURGE OF THE BETRAYER by Jeff Salyards #giveaway

scourge-of-the-betrayer-jeff-salyardsI picked up SCOURGE OF THE BETRAYER by Jeff Salyards back when it came out in 2012, at the suggestion of a friend (Which friend? Come on, people, I can’t even remember who said what YESTERDAY). Always a fan of the darker side of fantasy, the cover intrigued me. “All Empires crumble. All Kingdoms die.” I mean, to me, that just screams, “Woo, summer beach reading, baby!”

The novel is told from the point of view of Arkamondos, Arki for short, a scribe who has been hired to follow and chronicle the happenings of Captain Braylar Killcoin. Braylar is a member of the Syldoon Empire, a people who have quite the reputation in the world (eating babies and all that). Braylar and his band are rough and vulgar, and Arki provides a nice contrast to them. I really enjoyed seeing the world from his eyes. His point of view provided a fresh outlook that would not have been possible from another’s. It was fun going on this adventure with him, learning about the world as he did, experiencing his first attack, meeting new people. Most of all, we as readers learn things as he does, so the mission Braylar and his men are on remains a mystery that we can puzzle out, making the story even more interesting. 

I really enjoyed the characters in this book, both good and bad. Braylar is written in such a way that he is a dark guy, he has a terrible secret about him, yet through Arki’s eyes we see him as a human being. There are several situations where we can see he is a tough person with a lot of blood on his hands, yet he has a heart and a code. Salyards did a great job making him multi-faceted. Another favorite character is Lloi. I loved reading her interactions with Arki, and learning about her story. She seems to be one of those characters that could be a friend. She helps, teases, and is there for one in a pinch.

17318676I admired the way Salyards built tension in this book. It is an adventure story, but at the same time, by building characters the way he did and making them sympathetic (even the roughest guys, by the end, seemed like people I’d like to hang out with…in certain circumstances ;)), he takes readers on an emotional ride as well. Bastard made me cry near the end, and it’s not many books that can do that.

I highly suggest this book to any fantasy reader. There are some awesome lines in it that made me laugh out loud, situations that made me cry, and fights that made me cheer. I can’t wait until I can get my hands on the sequel, VEIL OF THE DESERTERS, available in early June! There is still so much to learn about these characters and the world they live in!

GIVEAWAY!!!! I have a paperback copy of SCOURGE OF THE BETRAYER to give to one lucky reader!! How can you win? Just leave a comment here.

Buy your copy today!



See what Jeff Salyards is up to at his website,

REVIEW: RED RISING, by Pierce Brown

ImageLast night I finished reading RED RISING, a book I was a bit torn about starting. I was prejudiced, I will admit. When I read the words “dystopian,” and “movie deal,” and “reminiscent of HUNGER GAMES”…well, I’m tired of it, to be frank. I’m tired of people grabbing onto what’s hot and creating second-rate replicas of it. So I went into this book a little jaded.

Well, I was more or less right as far as premise goes. It is VERY reminiscent of HUNGER GAMES, and adult fans of that series and more mature younger reader would enjoy that aspect of it. The premise is a “game” where teenagers are at war with one another. Houses have castles and must conquer each other until there is a winning house and in that winning house, there is a Primus who is above them all.

The book is set on Mars, but really, I think it could be set anywhere. There was nothing really different about the Mars of the future from the Earth we are on now. It’s been terraformed. The main character, Darrow, starts off as a “Red,” one of the lower castes of people who live underground and dig for resources. They are under the impression–indeed, have been brainwashed into believing–that their work is making the terraforming of Mars possible. They don’t know it has already been done. Through a series of tragic events (some could call them plot devices 😉 ), Darrow is “reborn” as a Gold, the highest caste on Mars, so that he can infiltrate and start a revolution. RED RISING chronicles Darrow’s first steps to rising through the ranks of Mars’s social hierarchy.

I’m going to get pretty damned nit-picky here for a moment–which is a compliment, because I think the book can stand up to the test. I read Mr. Brown’s bio on the back jacket. This is a guy very familiar with TV/movies and success. He knows his stuff. He knew when writing this book what would work, and he implemented it. As a writer, I could recognize why he did pretty much everything he did throughout the book. Conflict built upon conflict, and when something could go wrong, it did go wrong (though there were a couple exceptions). While I enjoyed reading the book, and I cared about the characters, a lot felt calculated. Once I cracked the code of the book, things that I think were supposed to be surprises weren’t (though aspects still were unknown; it was just enough to know that something wasn’t right, but I never had one of those OH MY GOD! moments that I love in a book). I don’t think that normal readers would get this, however. I tend to be a very analytical reader.

All that being said, I did enjoy reading this book, and found it kept my interest throughout. I will definitely be picking up the next book of the series, to learn more about the things that were kind of left up in the air and unanswered in this one. It’s fast paced and action packed, well written, and it really has you rooting for Darrow and his people. I can’t wait to learn more about the Sons of Ares, and how everything ties together. I thought this was a very impressive debut novel, and when all is said and done, does deserve some hype.

You can buy a copy of RED RISING here, and pre-order the sequel, GOLDEN SON, here.

How Ecological! (A review of Eco Fluxx)

ImageEco Fluxx is one of the many games in Looney Labs’ line of Fluxx cards games. Santa gave it to my son for Christmas, since he is such a huge fan of Cthulhu Fluxx and also because he’s a big lover of cute natural things.

The blurb on the website is as follows: In the wild, you must adapt to survive! Will you win by having your Bears Eat Fish? Or will someone change the Goal so that their Frogs and Insects can make Night Music? Play ecology themed Actions and Rules like Scavenger or Composting, but watch out for Creeper cards like Forest Fire, that can hurt everyone! Discover a little about how things go together, with EcoFluxx – the nature game of ever-changing rules!

The packaging of the game is kid friendly and appealing, at least to MY kid. The same goes for the artwork on the cards. I myself enjoyed looking through the cards. Shockingly enough–the game is educational. Throughout play, my son was asking questions. “What’s this?” He was reminded about photosynthesis, and recycling, how composting works. There are predators and decomposition. And of course, all the fun game play that always comes with Fluxx.

ImageGame play can last anywhere from 2 minutes (I’m not kidding) to an hour, averaging about 15 minutes or so. We’ve played with 2 and 3 people, but you can play with up to 6. It’s the perfect game to play after dinner for a nice family activity, or even to take on a trip to play in the hotel. The rules are super easy to learn, and it’s not a complex game. There IS strategy involved, though, so don’t let the simple concept of the game fool you. The instructions say ages 8+ will enjoy, but I think that with some reading help, most 6 year olds could enjoy it.

ImageI would note that this is a nice addition to any homeschoolers game library. 🙂

All in all, I have nothing negative to say. A fun game for the whole family!

Review: ANNIHILATION by Jeff VanderMeer

ImageBlurb: Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.

This is the twelfth expedition.

Their group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.

They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them, and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another, that change everything.

Wow. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book this well written. VanderMeer’s words and pacing worked a spell that made my heart pound through much of this story. I felt such a sense of wonder while in the world of Area X, everything seemed so alive and immediate. I could “see” things in such detail, no matter how strange and wonderful and chilling. I didn’t just read this book, I experienced it. To call this book a thriller would seem like an understatement–I’ve been reading creepy books most of my life, and it takes a lot to really give me the shivers or get my heart racing. I really can’t wait to read the next book in the series.

Review: STONECAST by Anton Strout

ImageGargoyles, magic, alchemy…I’ve been obsessed with these things since high school, and was overjoyed when ALCHEMYSTIC, the first of the Spellmason Chronicles, came out. Now I’ve just finished this second installment to the series, and I have to say, it certainly does not disappoint. With STONECAST, Strout performs a bit of alchemy of his own, combining the darker magic and mystery of urban fantasy with just the right amount of humor and snark (even a few laugh out loud moments) to create a gripping story that kept me up way past my bedtime. I appreciated the geeky nods and references throughout, but what really captured me was the relationship building between the characters, the amount of sacrifice and trust between friends, and also learning more about the fascinating world. Book 1 introduced the characters and the idea of Spellmasonry, but in this book, we really get into the magic and learn more about what is behind this world Strout has envisioned. The pedant in me appreciated the proper usage of “grotesque” and also, I found that Strout really enriched the story with details. Little things, like when Lexi found she had forgotten a hair elastic when….well, things got a little windy (I always forget mine, so I felt for her in that moment), made the story come to life. A fantastic read! But…what am I supposed to do until the next one’s out?

Click here to buy a copy of your own!