Welcome to OrphanCorp Review: YA Dystopia Lit

This is a review of Welcome to OrphanCorp by Marlee Jane Ward. This short novella brims with tension, pain, acidity, and just a little hope. Telling the story of Miriiyanan Mahoney, this novella speak to truths about systems and offers a warning just as relevant today as 4 years ago when it hit the market.

The photo shows the cover of Welcome to OrphanCorp, the subject of this review. A little girl holds a sign with the title.

In the bleak future of this short novel, corporations have taken charge of orphanages. And let me tell you, they do not treat their charges well at all. In many ways, this novel acts as what could be a precursor to something like the Handmai’s Tale. Only instead of religious fundamentalists taking over, it was the oligarchy.Ward never explains how the world of Welcome to OrphanCorp came to pass, and for the purposes of this review it doesn’t matter. In fact, it’s not too hard to imagine something like this happening in today’s world.

All you have to do is look at the private prison system, and how private corporations are responsible for the mess along the US border. Those are real places, and this is fiction, but so often those lines blur.

Welcome to OrphanCorp Presents Freedom as the Lesser Evil

Mirii is a hard case. She’s got a smart mouth and a quick mind. She has been in the system for a long time and is a week from release. What happens when she gets released? Well, she gets to be free on the outside, but that is terrible as well. The world outside of the corporate orphanage has gone to hell, but at least she’ll be free. But what does that mean? She doesn’t have a family, or a job, or even a place to live. The prospect of leaving the orphanage is compelling, but it’s also a bit like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Inside, the kids do whatever they can to remain sane. This includes cuddle parties, sex, and going on missions. The latter is where trouble really happens, as these missions are illegal. Whether it’s just sneaking out to explore the grounds or to steal some drugs from the pharmacy, missions are bad news if you get caught.

Laughs in the Face of Corporate Inhumanity

One thing that really struck me about this novella is the humor. Sure, the book is terrifying and tragic. And yes, it presents a world full of pain and anger and anguish. It’s hard reading about kids in pain, even if they are fictional. But, Mirii is so acerbic and clever that we can’t help laugh with her. She puts on a tough facade, and humor is part of her armor. Of course, she is not as tough as she appears, which makes it all the more heartbreaking when the times she falls apart.

Another thing I appreciated about this novel was the world building. In a short amount of time, readers understand this strange and frightening world. The adults at the orphanage are called Aunts and Uncles, clearly a perversion of family. When the orphans get in trouble, they have to face the Consequences and go in Time Out rooms. Both of these are awful punishments, but their names make them sound innocuous. It’s a great bit of contrast between the expectation of what those words mean, and the reality of the novel.

Overall, I recommend reading this book. It’s short and well written. The world and characters spring to life on the page, and the tension is palpable. This might be a young adult novel, but it is suitable for anyone interested in corporate over reach, finding hope in the darkness, and good stories.

Thank you fro reading my review of Welcome to OrphanCorp. If you’ve read this book, join me in the discussion in the comments. And if you haven’t, you should.

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Killing Gravity: Sci-Fi Thrills in Outer Space

Killing Gravity is a short novella by Corey J White. It tells the story of Miriam “Mars” Xi, a young woman trying to make her way in a dangerous and futuristic cosmos. Xi (pronounced like the Roman Numeral) is the result of horrible experiments by the MEPHISTO corporation which left her with special powers. If you guessed these powers were psychic in nature, you wouldn’t be wrong.

The image shows the cover of the novel Killing Gravity, and has a woman in a space suit floating in the void of space.

Despite the familiarity of its premise, Killing Gravity offers plenty of new ideas for fans of the genre. Or at least it did for this fan. One thing that makes this story different from something say Firefly is Mars’ attitude. She is tough as nails and a loner, but she also has a tender side. Well, maybe tender isn’t the right word. Maybe a sense of guilt and atonement would be better descriptors. At any rate, it is clear from the moment we meet her that Mars takes no guff, but also is more than just a living weapon.

Of course, she can and she will kill when necessary, though it’s not something she likes to do. Eventually, as in all of these stories, she is forced to face the demons of her past because they won’t leave her alone.

Mars’s character arc, while somewhat predictable, is compelling nonetheless. She begins the story by just wanting to get away. That is not really an option. If it were, there wouldn’t be much of a story. As the disruptions in her life mount she meets up with a motley crew of scrappers who she grudgingly befriends. Mars’s relationship with this crew, Squid, Mookie, and Trix becomes an integral part of the plot and is important in helping to show Mars’s development. Without them, she’d just be a hard-ass.

Killing Gravity Has Action, Excitement, Death, And Heart

In any novel, but especially one like this, the characters are what matter. Yes, psychic powers and awesome weaponry are cool to read about. However, they are not enough to sustain this reader’s interest on their own. Luckily for me, Killing Gravity has plenty to offer beyond spectacle.

First, there is Mars. As I’ve already written, she is more than just a one dimensional waif or murder machine. She is a nuanced character who acts tough. And yeah, she is tough. But she is also sensitive, and near her emotional breaking point for the majority of the book. White makes the wise decision to give her emotional damage/vulnerabilities. These are necessary because her powers are so vast. As a voidwitch, she can crush entire starships, hurl meteors, and make heads explode. She’s dangerous, which is inherently cool. And sure, you can ride the coolness wave quite a ways. But there has to be more.

Beyond Mars’s fully rounded character, there are shocks and surprises throughout the novel. They don’t always succeed for me, but I appreciate their inclusion. White makes a genuine effort to play with readers’ expectations, and should be applauded. Sometimes, things were predictable, or not entirely refreshing. But, that’s okay. Not everything has to reinvent the wheel.

Plus, Killing Gravity has Seven, a weird cat-like creature with expandable guide flaps. I pictured it as kind of a cross between a kitty and a flying squirrel. Seven is Mars’s constant companion, and is one of the cutest critters ever to grace the page. She’s also quite dangerous when she needs to be.

Clean Prose, Good Descriptions

The prose in this novel is crisp and clean. White does a fantastic job of providing just the right amount of details to make the world come alive, but doesn’t overwhelm.

All in all this is a quick and enjoyable read with plenty of action, death, chills, and heart. It’s maybe not the most original piece of sci-fi I’ve read, but it does twist and turn the tropes of the genre in fun and exciting ways. It’s well worth the read.

Have you read it? Let me know in the comments. And if you haven’t you should purchase a copy from his website.

Thanks for reading, and until next time, don’t get into any trouble you don’t want to be in.

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All Roads End Here Apocalyptic Bleakness

All Roads End Here, a novel by David Moody is apocaylptic bleakness at a frantic pace. From the very start, the desperation of the world never fails to jump off the pages. Moody has created a cracked world in danger of splitting completely apart. In a nutshell, this novel is about a virus or some other afflction that turns many people into Haters. What’s a Hater? Hater used to be human, but now they have only the desire to destroy the Unchanged (non-Hater humans). If you think of the creatures in 28 Days Later, you’ll be on the right track. Only, the haters have some intelligence, and aren’t complete mindless brutes. Just mostly.

The picture shows the cover to All Roads End Here by David Moody. The cover is red and black

The book takes place in an English city, and the main character, Matthew Dunne, ha spent nearly three months in the wasteland. For three months, Matt survived by avoiding Hater patrols and sacrificing friends and acquaintances. His one goal: to get home to his girlfriend Jen. Matt’s willingness to do anything to get to Jen is noble, and provides motivation. However, keeping Jen safe seems to be his only reason for survival, which I find off-putting.

Finally, he reaches the city only to find it a Mad Max style warzone. Helicopters hover, strafing the hordes of Haters massing and attacking the city. Troops and bombers make appearances as well. The descriptions of the battles engage and excite, and there is a lot to like about this book in the early goings.

All Roads End Here Lacks Character

However, as the novel progresses and we see more of Matt and the people living at his house with his girlfriend, the excitement wears off. At least, that’s how it was for me. Moody writes excellent descriptions, and he builds a well realized world about to collapse. Unfortunately, he doesn’t populate that world with characters I care about, making it difficult to invest in the story.

When reading this type of novel, I find I need characters to latch onto. They don’t have to be sympathetic. Nevertheless, I like it when they aren’t complete assholes. And that is my biggest issue with All Roads End Here–I don’t like any of the characters. Actually, I can’t stand any of the characters. They could be real people, which is probably why I don’t like them. In a world where society has gone to shit, I need people I can root for and feel a connection with.

Did I root for Matt? Of course I did because he is the protagonist. Having Matt as the point of view character forces the reader to side with him, at least a little. He’s telling the story, and we want that story to continue. Therefore, we want him to live. At least for a little while.

For me, the novel became repetitious and lost a little bit of momentum for a stretch near the final third of the novel. Thankfully, it was a short stretch of pages, but it did solidify why the book wasn’t clicking for me. The reason I felt things were slowing down and becoming a slog is at that point I didn’t care about the characters. Even Matt. Once I accepted that, it was easy to finish the book.

Last Thoughts

Overall, I would say All Roads End Here is worth the read, especially if you like post-apocalyptic literature and genre pieces. It has some vivid descriptions and exciting set pieces. The battle-bus, and the waste management segments come quickly to mind.

My biggest issue was that I didn’t care if the characters lived or died. This isn’t Moody’s fault, simply a missed connection between reader and author. No one changed by the end of the proceedings, and I don’t find static characters particularly interesting.

Have you read this novel? If not, maybe give it a shot. As always, thanks for reading.

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The Den New England Gothic Novel

The Den is a New England Gothic style novel by Abi Maxwell. It tells the story of two different families, each facing difficult choices and circumstances.

It begins with the sisters Jane and Henrietta, and their dysfunctional family. Henrietta, age 15, has started to rebel, smoking cigarettes, and having sex with her boyfriend. Jane, 12, spies on her sister as she desperately aches to get closer to her. It’s all very dramatic and high hysterics, but with a slightly modern spin on typical New England Gothic by adding in some other intrigues and red herrings, though I suppose these are hallmarks of works in the genre.

The Picture shows the cover of the Den a New England Gothic novel. There is a long haired girl sitting on a chair, looking over her shoulder.

In addition to the coming of age aspect of the first part of the novel, there are secrets galore in this book. Jane and Henrietta’s mother keeps a secret art studio in the attic. Plus, Henrietta is pregnant and sneaking around. These are not the only examples of secrecy in the Den, but to reveal them would spoil the surprises in this New England Gothic novel.

Instead of focusing too much on the events of the book, I want to focus on the structure. The novel has four different narrators: Jane and Henrietta who I discussed above, and Elspeth and Claire. Elspeth and Claire are two sisters with a connection to Henrietta and Jane. The two pairs of sisters mirror each other in action, story, and trauma. Henrietta and Elspeth, while not terribly strange, are somewhat odd names. On the other hand, Jane and Claire are relatively plain names. Beyond the names, though, there is the behavior. Henrietta and Elsbeth appear adventurous, independent, and sexual. Their sisters, however, are as steadfast women who stand by their families and run the danger of becoming spinsters. Clearly, these stories have a deep connection.

The Den New England Gothic Meets Today

Maxwell does an excellent job of weaving these disparate but connected tales into one clear vision. As I read this novel, I was mostly able to follow the threads and twists and turns. Sometimes, I admit, the text turned where I didn’t expect. I love that. Gothic literature, no matter the region, needs some good mystery and conspiracy. The Den provides that at just the right times and in just the right amounts.

As for the modern twist, Henrietta and Jane are alive in the 1990’s, and as such have phones, cars, the internet, etc… This provides us with a glimpse of how this genre and these stories are going to look as we move further away in time from the roots of these types of tales. However, The Den never feels fully modern due to Maxwell’s ability to maintain the style and features of New England Gothic writing. These include improbable coincidences, loss, forgiveness (or lack thereof), pain, family, coming-of-age, and sacrifice.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and if you like Gothic style writing with a bit of modernization thrown in, you might like it too. Check it out. Thanks for reading and leave me a comment if you are so inclined.

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Shallow Creek Review Deep Scares in Short Stories

This is a review of Shallow Creek, a collection of short stories centering around the titular town. It will not focus on each individual story, but rather the overall feel. The premise of the collection is simple. Storgy, the publisher, provided the authors with ideas and characters to use to develop the town. This is an interesting technique because it allows the authors to write their own stories, and bring their own voices, but it also helps maintain collection cohesion.

This image shows the cover of Shallow Creek, a collection of short horror stories.

First, this collection of short horror stories presents a wide range of terrors and characters. The town itself has seen better days, as is often the case in such things. Once upon a time, it flourished, but now its downtown is dying, the Church is failing, and the whole place exists under a shadow. Many of the tales feature the same characters, but in different ways. For example, sometimes Krinkles the clown actually shows up and joins the story, and in others readers only encounter him as a face on a cereal box. This method adds a nice twist to the standard thematic collection.

Despite the disparate authors involved in the collection, there is a unified voice, or at least tone. Reading through it, I was never taken aback by shift in style. Each author manages to stay true to the overall tone of the tome while adding their own twist. I have read many short story collections, but seldom have I encountered one as thematically rich as this one.

Shallow Creek A Brief Review of a Few Stories

This review of Shallow Creek focuses on a couple stories rather than each individual story.

The first story I want to focus on is Pentameter by David Hartley. This is the story of Jud, a broken man. He is the lighthouse keeper, and only speaks and understand Pentameter. Initially, this focus on Jud’s speaking style seems like a gimmick, and it is something that could easily become grating. However, the story that emerges through poetic form is gruesome, creepy, and powerful. Could it have been told in a more traditional prose style? Of course, but the impact would have been lessened.

In addition to characterizing Jud with his mental tic, the pentameter immediately informs readers that they are in a weird story. Furthermore, it helps illustrate how disconnected from the world Jud is. As the story progresses, we see that he has a few worldly connections, a voice on a CB radio named Mike that feeds him instructions, and Sian, a teenager who seeks his friendship. At first, Sian doesn’t grasp the idea of using pentameter to communicate with Jud, but she quickly groks it and the two become fast friends. There is also the matter of Jud’s wife, who he talks to often but the reader doesn’t meet until the end of the tale.

All of these elements combine to create dread, which is what I want from a horror story. Tension builds as Mike gives Jud instructions to sabotage the carnival that has recently come to town. When each of these attempts fail, the stakes rise, and things become even tenser. The escalation with Mike mirrors how his relationship with Sian develops. One is destructive while the other has the potential to save him. The resolution of which is terrifying and inevitable.

Thematic Resonance

The other story I want to mention is Backwards by Adrian J. Walker. This tells the story of the town Sheriff, another broken man. He has been investigating a murder, to no avail. As a result, he has earned the ire of the town, as well as lost faith in himself. He wishes to be anywhere but Shallow Creek, but that seems unlikely.

This story is different from Pentameter, and the other stories in this collection as it has a sci-fi bend to it. However, thematically, it keeps to the core of the collection. It tells the story of broken people in a broken town. Trauma is one of the strongest threads that holds this collection together, and Backwards has trauma in spades. The Sheriff has to reckon with his failures, and inability to change his situation. This is relatable to readers, and a hallmark of good stories, horror or otherwise. Also, it echoes Jud’s situation in Pentameter, though the resolutions are quite different.

All in all, this is a good collection of horror stories held together with strong thematic elements. It explores flawed characters and their struggle to survive in an inhospitable town. Some the horrors found in the creek are supernatural, while others are human. Many of the tales are dark bloody, and brutal, while others are more subtle and psychological. Each story in this collection is grounded in a hyper-real world that never feels fake or unbelievable, which might be its biggest strength. Horror works best when it feels possible and probably, and Shallow Creek delivers on that front.

Thank you for reading. If this collection sounds up your alley, get it ASAP. It’s well worth your time.

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Search For Alice Is a Fresh Twist on Fairy Tales

The Search for Alice, a novel by Amy Koto is a modern twist on Alice and Wonderland and fairy tales. It tells the story of 16 year old Kallie Bennet, a social outcast searching for ways to fit in. Well, kind of searching. Defining Kallie as someone in need of peer approval is not entirely accurate. Rather, she, like many of us at that age, is searching for her place in the world. Friendship and acceptance are of course part of that search.

The picture shows the cover for The Search for Alice novel

Unfortunately, due to her circumstances, Kallie doesn’t have the best options for friends. For one thing, she seems to be on the poorer side of the socioeconomic scale. For another thing, her mother is an abusive drunk, and neither of these things lend themselves to socializing. The one group of girls she does hang out with treat her more like a charity case rather than a friend. Amanda, the leader of the clique, is clearly in the ‘popular girl mold’ right down to the obsession with boys and money. She reminded me of Cordelia Chase from Buffy the Vampire slayer.

Kallie herself is bitter and angry and a loner. Though, she does still seek validation from Amanda on more than one occasion. Which makes sense; no matter who we are, there is always a time we want validation from others. Koto never presents Kallie as unlikable, despite how easy it would be. Kallie cries a lot, and complains a lot. Both of these traits are easy to overdo, but Koto walks the line nicely. She wants us to sympathize with Kallie, and she makes it easy to do so.

Search for Alice in a Twisted Wonderland

As you might expect from the title, the Search for Alice is a different take on Alice in Wonderland. In this version, Kallie sees Alice instead of the rabbit, and follows her into the strange world. However, things are much different than in the original tale, which is good. No one wants to read the same story as the original. Or, if they do, they can just read the original.

In this tale, Alice is an enigma. She appears to Kallie every once in a while, but never says anything. Furthermore, Kallie has an idea of what is going on because she has read the book, and is a child of the real world. This meta angle could become tiresome, but Koto never takes it that far. She always presents Kallie as uncertain of the world around her, even as she possesses some knowledge.

The novel is full of some good twists, turns, and character moments. Also, it is a quick read, not taking long to build momentum and not stopping until the end. It is the first in a series, so there is more to come. The second book is already out, in fact.

Overall, I really enjoyed this. The descriptions are visceral, and the action is tense. The language sometimes feels unsophisticated, but that’s okay. This novel is clearly meant for the YA crowd. That is not to say they can’t handle sophistication, but appropriate language for your audience is necessary.

If you enjoy fairy tales, Alice in Wonderland, and modern twist on old stories, then this book is for you. Purchase it here.

Have you read this one? Let me know what you thought in the comments. Or better yet, leave a review for Amy Koto on Goodreads or Amazon. Thanks for reading.

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