Dawn of Dreams by Bronwyn Leroux: Preventing an Apocalypse in this Futuristic Fantasy

Dawn of Dreams

Dawn of Dreams

by Bronwyn Leroux
Series: Destiny, #1

Kindle Edition, 298 pg.
2017

Read: November 22-25, 2019


Jaden is out hiking with his friends on a mountain near their home during a school break. Suddenly, Jaden sees a large, monstrous, hard-to-describe bird-like creature. The rest of the group seems oblivious, and Jaden begins spending a lot of effort to convince himself he’s seeing things. Even taking bonus trips to the same point, and trying to record his sightings. The videos show nothing, but the way they show nothing convinces Jaden that he’s on to something.

Which really isn’t that reassuring. Why can’t anyone else see this beast? Why can’t the video show it?

Shortly after this, he meets Kayla, a new girl in the neighborhood. They’re hanging out at a park when the creature shows up, and not only can she see it—she’s been having similar experiences to Jaden. It’s somewhat reassuring that there’s someone else out there seeing it—but the questions keep piling up

It’s not long before they begin to see there are other similarities in their lives—clearly, there’s some sort of connection that goes back generations in both of their families. Throw in some artifacts—and other creatures that only Kayla and Jaden can see, and the questions pile up faster than the answers can keep pace with.

In a matter of days, their lives are no longer the same and the challenges that await them personally are so beyond anything they’d previously thought possible or likely.

Jaden is almost too perfect—smart; a real technical wizard (beyond his years and peers it seems); at least moderately popular; humble; a supportive and understanding child/grandchild; very athletic and annoyingly good at video games (just ask his friends). I’m not sure we saw a single weakness to him—despite that, I found myself liking the kid.

Kayla’s a bit more realistic—she’s clever, too; athletic, really into video games; but she’s not as good (at anything) as Jaden. She has skills that he doesn’t, thankfully. She’s had a harder life, you can sense, but don’t get all the details about. She’s easier to believe as a character, but I’d like to get a few more details about her past.

Jaden’s old friends—and Kayla’s new ones—aren’t around enough for us to get more than a vague sense about. But their families are involved a lot more than your typical YA families are—this is a pleasant change, but Leroux still spends a frustrating amount of time with the parents (mothers, to be specific) hinting at things going on in their lives rather than coming out and just telling the reader (whether or not the duo learns anything ) what’s going on.

The realities the pair discover and are exposed to are interesting, and I’d really like to see what Leroux has planned for them in the future. All the magical/otherworldly/unusual creatures they (and the reader) meet are well-designed and executed.

A couple of things I’m not sure about—first of which is the pacing. The book feels like it’s all set-up. All the conflict, all the challenge is in the future—Dawn of Dreams is just setting the stage for the series as a whole. I’m only guessing here, but my gut says I’d be more satisfied if books 1 and 2 in this series were combined into one, lengthier volume. Imagine if Tolkein had stopped The Fellowship of the Ring after the Council of Elrond and then started a second book for the trip through the Misty Mountains and the rest. I didn’t really have a problem with the slow pace, until the book ended and I was left wondering why I didn’t get more.

I’m not sure what’s gained by having this set in 2073 instead of the present day. I’m not saying there was a problem with it—I liked the slightly advanced version of the world, I’m just not sure I get the point of putting things there. I’m also not sure where this took place—there’s no reference to local flora or fauna, or even just a geographic place name.

Neither of these points really changed what I thought about the book, they just left me wondering more than I should have. There were some things that bothered me.

Leroux likes her adjectives. She more than likes them—she overloads the text with them (either especially at the beginning as she introduces the characters and world—or I got used to it as the book progressed). I appreciate her attempt to paint a picture with words, but it frequently felt to me like she’d never use one adjective if she could use three instead. Her adverb use is almost as bad at times, but it’s not as pronounced.

Beyond that, I’m not crazy about a lot of her word choices. In her attempt to vary her vocabulary, she often ended up grabbing the wrong word for a situation. I’m not talking malapropisms. But words that mean almost what she’s clearly going for, but aren’t quite right. Almost like Joey Tribbiani’s use of a thesaurus when composing a letter of recommendation. The result too frequently proved a stumbling block to the story. It’s like if your radio was tuned to 98.8 FM when the station is 98.7—you get a pretty good signal and can hear everything, but occasionally you get too much static with your music, ruining the song.

I don’t like bringing up those two points, because there’s a real earnestness to the novel. It’s not that Leroux is being negligent or careless in her writing, on the contrary, I think she’s trying too hard and ends up getting in her way. If she’d dial back on the effort a bit, focusing more energy on the plot and characters, I think the book would be more successful.

I liked the story, I thought the characters were fine—and I definitely want to spend more time with them. I’m just not crazy about the writing—which is a fairly important component of a book. So I can’t recommend this as heartily as I want to.


3 Stars


My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including a copy of the novel) they provided.

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: Dawn of Dreams by Bronwyn Leroux (AND KINDLE GIVEAWAY)

Today I welcome the Book Tour for the YA SF&F Dawn of Dreams by Bronwyn Leroux. Along with this spotlight post, I’ll be giving my take on the novel here in a bit. Be sure to check out the Kindle Giveaway at the bottom of this post. But let’s start by learning a little about this here book, okay?


Book Details:

Book Title: Dawn of Dreams by Bronwyn Leroux
Release date: July 25, 2017
Format: Paperback/Ebook
Length: 298 pages

Book Blurb:

Lost family heirlooms. Sinister mutants. An ancient book hiding legendary secrets. Such mythical things should not exist in the futuristic world of 2073.

Yet, this reality is forced on two strangers. Jaden and Kayla are blissfully unaware their world is about to be invaded. When a relentless, age-old force casts them together, the shocking truth is revealed. They are hunted by the hideous, malevolent monster prowling their community. Worse, it’s invisible to everyone but them.

Forced down a dark and dangerous path, the pair discover their stalker isn’t the only thing they have in common. As they quest for solutions while trying to survive, their unique abilities surface. They team up with other-worldy allies. After deciphering an enchanted tool, they get their first answer. But knowledge comes at a price.

In a world on the verge of destruction, can Jaden and Kayla solve the puzzles and find a way to save it, all while trying to make sense of this inexplicable connection they feel for each other?

About Bronwyn Leroux:

Bronwyn LerouxBorn near the famed gold mines of South Africa (where dwarves are sure to prowl), it was the perfect place for Bronwyn to begin her adventures. They took her to another province, her Prince Charming and finally, half a world away to the dark palace of San Francisco. While the majestic Golden Gate Bridge and its Bay views were spectacular, the magical pull of the Colorado Rockies was irresistible. Bronwyn’s family set off to explore yet again. Finding a sanctuary at last, this is Bronwyn’s perfect place to create alternative universes. Here, her mind can roam and explore and she can conjure up fantastical books for young adults.

Follow her at https://bronwynleroux.com or https://www.facebook.com/AuthorBronwynLeroux/

Social Networks:

Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Website ~ Instagram

Purchase Links:

Amazon UK ~ Amazon US ~ Kobo ~ Nook

Kindle Giveaway:

For your chance to win a an 8GB Black Kindle Fire 7 with Alexa, click here.

Terms and Conditions: Giveaway starts November 23rd and ends at midnight MST on December 2nd 2019. Entries are open to all ages and countries. You will be asked to provide your email address which will subscribe you to Bronwyn Leroux’s mailing list. You can unsubscribe at any time. Bronwyn Leroux will contact the winner via email on December 4th. The winner will also be announced via Bronwyn Leroux’s social media channels. There is no cash alternative.

My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including a copy of the novel) they provided.

Yet More Quick Questions with . . . Nick Kolakowski

Man…this is the third time I’ve got to pick Nick Kolakowski’s brain (the first and the second, for you completists). I can’t believe he keeps coming back for more — but when I get great answers like these, I’ve gotta keep asking, you know? Do read the others if you’re wanting to learn more about him in general — I stuck to Maxine Unleashes Doomsday (I posted about it earlier today, in case you missed that) this time.

Hope you enjoy!

Did you set out to write Science Fiction or is that something that came about as you started the project?
I’ve always wanted to write a dystopian novel, but all my early attempts were ignoble failures; they were Diet Cormac McCarthy, pastiches of “The Road” that were just retreads of what everyone else was trying to do. It’s only when I mashed the concept onto a noir framework that it started to work for me—a heist novel was the grounding that I needed, even if the target of that heist, in this post-apocalyptic context, is really, really weird.
What were some of the new challenges (and/or freedoms) compared to your earlier works given this setting/genre?
I’ve never written a book that covers the whole scope of someone’s life. Any novel comes with its share of continuity challenges; even if the timeframe is really short (i.e., a few hours or days), you need to keep all of your pieces and characters aligned and consistent. But keeping the details of a character’s life aligned across decades can prove much more difficult—did this happen to her left or right arm when she was a teenager, etc.

In terms of freedoms, though, you can create an incredible character arc if you have that kind of super-expansive timeframe to play with. There’s a real poignancy to tracing someone’s life from their teenagehood to the very end, especially if the country is radically changing around them at the same time.

What came first—the story or Maxine? Is that your typical approach, or does it vary from project to project?
Maxine came first: I had a vision of a badass woman, bitter and chain-smoking but refusing to give up no matter what life threw at her. From there, I wanted a story that put her in worse and worse circumstances. What happens to someone who loses everything? What’s left?

In terms of actual writing, this book started in the middle. Then I wrote Maxine’s childhood and teenage-dom. Then I stalled for about a year because I couldn’t think of where to take her from there; it was only when I came up with the broader framework—of academics discussing her life and her impact on society—that I figured out where to take everything.

In this book, Preacher reminded me a lot of Main Bad Guy’s Walker—but a very different take on the character type. Is 2019 your Year of the Aging Badass, or is that just a coincidence?  I’m having a hard time not asking a spoiler-laden question about him, so let me take the easy way out – what would a prospective reader want to know about Maxine’s very disfunctional paternal figure?
That was a coincidence, but now that you mention it… yeah, Preacher and Walker are brothers of a type! I didn’t mean it that way; Preacher made his first appearance in my head circa 2014, while Walker emerged around 2017-18, when I was writing “Main Bad Guy.”

Not to spoil too much, but Preacher isn’t the badass that Maxine thinks. He’s ultra-tough, and he deserves his fearsome reputation in the ruined part of the world where Maxine and her family lives. But his weaknesses—and frankly, his lies—eventually force Maxine to step up. The thing about badasses like Preacher and Walker, they can serve as crutches for your main character; at some point, you need to neuter them or take them away if your protagonist is truly going to move on and grow.

Are you far enough into your next book to talk about it – are you sticking with SF, going back to Crime Fiction, or trying your hand at something like Wizards?
Haha! Noir-ish wizards would be pretty cool, although I’m sure someone has already covered that arena already. Up next is actually the sequel to “Boise Longpig Hunting Club,” so it’s back to crime fiction (and Idaho!). The as-yet-untitled sequel is actually giving me a bit of trouble, because I’m trying to ratchet up the tension as tightly as possible on Jake and Frankie, my two main characters (and siblings). They survived some insane crap in the first book, so I have to figure out a way to make things even crazier.
Thanks for your time—and thanks for introducing me to Maxine
Thank you! I love her. I hope readers will, too.

Maxine Unleashes Doomsday by Nick Kolakowski: Kolakowski Gets His Crime Fiction Chocolate in this SF Peanut Butter

This is one of those books that I’m uber-excited about, yet I don’t think I do a good enough job at explaining why I am. It’s just good.

 Maxine Unleashes Doomsday

Maxine Unleashes Doomsday

by Nick Kolakowski

eARC, 274 pg.
Down & Out Books, 2019

Read: October 29-31, 2019

“You know the trick to surviving? The one thing you got to do?”

“What’s that?” Maxine asked.

“You got to treat every day like an adventure. Like it’s fun, or a challenge, even when everything’s crappy. Especially when it’s crappy. Because otherwise, it’s all going to crush you.”

“I feel like I spent my whole life being crushed.”

“Well, that’s your fault. A normal job, trying to live a normal life, it’s just inviting people to stomp you. And they do.”

“Yeah.”

“But at least in my line of work, sometimes you get to stomp back…”

In case the author’s name looks familiar to you, yeah, you’ve seen me use it a few times this year—3 novellas, 1 short fiction collection, and now this novel, Maxine Unleashes Doomsday. It occurs to me now, that he was the first author I read this year, and he did a pretty good job setting the tone for 2019’s reading. This book is his first step out of Crime Fiction and into Science Fiction—dystopian SF, to be precise (that really should be obvious to anyone familiar with him, I don’t think he’s got a utopian novel in him).

That said, there’s enough of a Crime Fiction flavor to this SF novel, that fans of either genre will have enough of their drug of choice to be satisfied.

This is set in the near-future, at various points along the fall of the US/Western Civilization. While there are plenty of other characters to keep an eye on, our focus throughout is on Maxine. After a rocky start to life with a drug-addicted mother, and an unsuccessful academic career (although she tried for a little bit), she tries to follow her uncle’s example and become a criminal. She has some success in that, but a large failure resulted in life-threatening injuries to a friend and the loss of one of her arms. Following that, she tries to live a non-criminal life, she gets a job, settles down with a guy and has a kid. But her heart’s not in it, and she ends up dabbling in thievery. At some point, she abandons that life and sets her eyes on a criminal career.

Maxine is one of my favorite characters this year—she’s flawed (not as flawed as she thinks), she’s a fighter (not as good as she thinks), self-destructive, optimistic, and driven. She takes a lot of (metaphorical and literal) punches, and while she may not get up right away after them, she doesn’t stop moving forward. Ever. I love reading characters like that.

Her uncle, who goes by Preacher, is one of the most significant criminals in the New York area—and has some cops dedicated to taking him down, and any number of civilians supporting him. Off and on throughout her childhood, Preacher tried to get Maxine’s mother to leave her addictions behind to provide for and care for her kids. Between his power and influence on the one hand, and being just about the only adult to look out for her and her brother, it’s no wonder that Maxine will want to be part of his life. Readers of Kolakowski’s Main Bad Guy will enjoy playing a compare/contrast game with Preacher and Walker.

There are a number of other characters that greatly influence Maxine’s life and desires, but none so much as her uncle. And to get into them would just push this post beyond the length I want (and would end up spoiling stuff to really talk about).

By and large, this is the story of Maxine’s journey from a struggling public school student to being a wanted criminal (and beyond). But that’s not everything that’s going on. For the first chapter, you get the impression you’ll be reading a book about rival groups fighting for supplies in mid-apocalyptic New York. But then you’ll realize that’s not it at all, it’s a story about how Maxine became the tenacious gun-fighter and would-be criminal mastermind that she is. Eventually you discover that yeah, both of those are true, but Kolakowski’s really writing a different story—and boy howdy, you feel pretty clever when you suss it out, and it’s such a brilliant way of telling this story that you don’t mind being wrong about what the book is trying to accomplish. But even then, you won’t really understand everything until the last line of the book (I’m not sure I actually pumped my fist when I read it, but I probably thought about it pretty hard).

Yes, it’s a pretty violent book (this too, should really be obvious to anyone familiar with Kolakowsi), but most of the truly horrible stuff happens “off-screen,” making it a lot easier to take. The prose moves quickly and assuredly, the writing is sone with a strong sense of style and savoir faire. Frankly, it’s too lively and enjoyable to keep the most readers who aren’t into gunfights, etc. from being turned off by the violence.

It’s a well-realized dystopia, one that’s easier to imagine happening than say, Panem. Kolakowski does a wonderful job of littering this book with little details that tell you so much about the world his characters live in and entertain the reader. Hitting both of those notes regularly is a difficult task. For example:

“Someday I want to go to California,” Michelle told Maxine. “Did you know it used to be a state?”

and

This far north, the concept of local government grew teeth and claws. If you stuck to the highway, you would cross into territory controlled largely by the New York Giants, which had expanded beyond its origin as one of the nation’s most consistently mediocre sports teams to control a big swath of towns northeast of Buffalo.

One of the conceits of the book is that the material is a result of an academic study about Maxine. It’s one of the best moves that Kolakowski makes in this book (and it’s full of great moves). Don’t skim over these notes, you’ll be rewarded for your attention.

Oh, I should warn you: This book might put you off popcorn for a while. I’m just saying…

Rob Hart wrote one of the endorsements for this: “Take one of Richard Stark’s Parker novels and throw it in the blender with DVDs of Mad Max and The Warriors. Guess what? You just broke your blender. Find solace in this book, which is what you should have done in the first place.” I repeat that for a couple of reasons—1. I love the last two sentences. 2. He’s right, and says everything in 4 sentences that I tried to above. You should listen to one of us. Kolakowski has outdone himself with this one, it was a pleasure from end to end. You really need to read it.

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this novel by the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion. My opinions are my own, and weren’t influenced by this.


4 1/2 Stars
LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

Opening Lines: Look Both Ways

We all know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover (yet, publishing companies spend big bucks on cover design/art) (also, this has a great cover). But, the opening sentence(s)/paragraph(s) are fair game. So, when I stumble on a good opening (or remember one and pull it off the shelves), I’ll throw it up here. Dare you not to read the rest of the book.

from Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by Jayson Reynolds:

This story was going to begin like all the best stories. With a school bus falling from the sky.

But no one saw it happen. No one heard anything. So instead, this story will begin like all the . . . good ones.

With boogers.

“If you don’t get all them nasty, half-baked goblins out your nose, 1 promise I’m not walking home with you. I’m not playln’.” Jasmine Jordan said this like she said most things—with her whole body. Like the words weren’t just coming out of her mouth but were also rolling down her spine. She said it like she meant it.

The only thing better than that first paragraph is the third. And I can already see Jasmine as clear as day.

System Failure by Joe Zieja: The Epic Failure Trilogy Concludes with a Big Success

System Failure

System Failure

by Joe Zieja
Series: Epic Failure, #3

Paperback, 417 pg.
Saga Press, 2019

Read: October 1-2, 2019

“You are literally placing the fate of the galaxy in my hands.” [Rogers] thought for a moment. “Again. You need to stop doing this.”

Every author closing out a series—a trilogy or something longer running—has a daunting task (not that stand-alones or duology’s aren’t daunting themselves, but it seems easier to me). They have to tell a self-contained story; weaving in the character and story arcs that have been percolating since the first book; resolve the new and old arcs; leave the characters in a place that readers will find satisfying; and provide some sort of ending to all of that to leave everyone in a place where you can move onto the next thing. For writers like Joe Zieja there’s an additional challenge—you have to make the whole thing funny.

Thankfully, Zieja does all of that very, very well.

Rogers’ fleet (including the Thelicosans) arrive at the home base for the Free Systems to meet with their High Command. Fully aware that the only military commander that’s had any kind of success with this new enemy is Captain Rogers, he’s named the head of the Joint Force tasked with preventing Snaggardirs from destroying the galaxy.

They also realize that the only way Rogers has had any kind of success is by throwing out all the rule books—including The Art of War II: Now In Space by Sun Tzu Jr. So they tell him to do just that. They don’t care how ridiculous or uneducated his plans are, as long as they get the job done. Snaggardirs has given the Free Systems a very limited time to acquiesce or face the destruction of the galaxy. And they seem to be able to pull that off.

So with help from a very unexpected source, Rogers reaches out to the same space pirates we haven’t seen since the disastrous opening to Mechanical Failure and also is forced to accept help from a Thelicosan practitioner of something that’s a combination of horoscopes and astrophysics (you’ll have to read the book to understand it). These, um, unconventional tools are added to the rag-tag bunch that has come to help Rogers in a last-ditch effort to save reality as we know it.

As usual, Rogers is the focus. He’s been on a journey of personal growth since we first met him—despite his best intentions, it should be stressed. He really comes a long way just in these pages and it’s pretty cool to see.

Of course, I can’t go without talking about Deet—the droid that Rogers assembled from junk. He’s also on a journey of personal growth—just a different kind. In addition to trying to understand how to justify and explain his existence, he’s trying to learn to empathize, as well as lie convincingly (or at all), and he continues to improve his [EXPLETIVE] swearing. He does get better at it and made me laugh out loud several times (both in his successes and failures). There was one misstep that he made, and I re-read that sentence a few times to figure out what he may be trying to say. Naturally, after I gave up and moved on, I learned that no one understood what he was going for.

I should add a little something about Tunger. I found him amusing in Mechanical Failure, but I thought he was overused (and became a little annoying). In Communication Failure, I stopped finding him all that entertaining, mostly trying. Which is how he started in System Failure. But he soon became a very cool character and one of the real strengths of the book. He really might be the best thing that Zieja did throughout the series.

It seems like a bonus to me—not at all the kind of thing one expects from a book like this—we’re given an antagonist that the reader can almost sympathize with. Yes, their methods and strategies are wrong and harmful to innocents. But you can’t help but understand why a people would set off in this direction. I can’t imagine anyone reading about their plight will start hoping for a failure for Rogers and the rest, don’t get me wrong. But you just might see where the Jupiterians are coming from.

There’s a key acronym in the book that a. is fitting, b. is funny, c. took me far too long to get. Once I stopped feeling stupid, I realized it was a great example of this being one of those books where even if you don’t get the jokes, the book holds up as a story well enough that you won’t even notice there are jokes you don’t get until later.

There’s one figure with access to the top of Snaggardirs who isn’t on board with their destroying the galaxy plan. So they set out to sabotage it by helping Rogers. Their scheme was pretty clever, but with one giant flaw. Which made their sacrifice sad—and their attempts at success very funny. It’s a good mix for the reader (a pathetic one for the character).

I’m not sure it’s entirely fair (and I don’t mean to disparage any of the books I’m about to mention in any way), but while reading this, I couldn’t help but compare this to two other humorous series and their conclusions. I hate to compare any comedic SF to The Hitchhiker’s Trilogy, but how do you not? This series never got as funny as the best of Hitchhiker’s (maybe a couple of times it got pretty close, though), but it was a cohesive and believable story, populated with better characters and a solid ending — unlike Adams repeated attempts at a conclusion that never really felt satisfying. Similarly, Epic Failure trilogy went out strong, with its strongest material still working, unlike The Tales of Pell which went a little off-course in the final volume and didn’t stick the landing the way that System Failure managed to do.

Zieja successfully called back to elements of the first book (some I’d forgotten about, some I thought had fully served their purpose) and built on the developments of the second to give this volume a bit more heft and greater stakes. Then he added a great story new to this novel and wrapped up everything in a satisfying and definitive way. All while making me chortle, chuckle, grin and occasionally laugh. Who can ask for [EXPLETIVE] more? I don’t know what Zieja has planned next, but sign me up for whatever it is.


4 Stars
Humor Reading Challenge 2019

A Couple of Thoughts on the 40th Anniversary of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The first Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy book was published 40 years ago on October 12, 1979.

Just a couple of thoughts in response to this…I don’t want to blather on. (if you want to see me blather on about the series, click here).

bullet 40 Years? Wow. Sure, a lot of it is dated, but most of it feels so fresh that he could’ve written it within the last year or two.
bullet Yeah, that’s the original cover—that’s a long way from the smiling planet logo I’m used to seeing (and have tattooed on my arm).
bullet On a related note, someone—multiple someones, actually—thought that cover was a good idea.
bullet 40 years later, it’s still the benchmark. How many works from that era are still that important? (maybe some cinema)
bullet Okay, that’s actually all I’ve got—it’s just cool to note big anniversaries like this. So, now we have.

Have you read this series? Got any thoughts/memories to share?