Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Book Review: Scavenger of Souls, by Joshua David Bellin

Hi there, net-friends!

One of the best things about being a writer is getting to know OTHER writers. In my experience they're generally lovely, passionate, fascinating people. And what's more, writing is usually a solo job, but it's a collaborative profession: Writers often support each other's work and endeavors because we have a unique appreciation for the dedication it takes to create something completely new.

With that said, I'm delighted to support a fellow writer, Joshua David Bellin, in the upcoming release of his second novel, Scavenger of Souls (Simon & Schuster, August 2016). I was lucky enough to score a spot on his advance-reviewer list, meaning I got to have the actual pre-release paperback proof in my hands to read and review! Trust me, that's a certified geek-out feeling for a book nerd!

Joshua is a highly talented writer of young adult science fiction. He's also active in the Pittsburgh area writers' community, which is how I got to know him. If you like books like the Maze Runner series, The Hunger Games, and Divergent, you'll love Joshua's debut novel Survival Colony 9 (available now) and Scavenger of Souls, its forthcoming sequel.

Here's my review of Scavenger of Souls; I hope you'll find this book as riveting as I did!


In this taut sequel to Survival Colony 9, Joshua Bellin returns us to the decimated future landscape that Querry Gen calls home. Let me say this first and foremost: I was thirsty for most of this book. From the colony survivors’ initial trek through the melted desert to discover the cave-dwellers of the Canyon, from there to the mysterious base, and everywhere in between, Bellin has created such a gripping, sensory world for the reader that I literally felt thirsty as I read about their deprivation and depth of exhaustion.

So… it’s not a light read. As with its predecessor, the youth of the main characters in Scavenger belies the gravity and desolation of their world. Querry’s core goal is the protection of those in his colony, including his mother Aleka (who is seriously injured early on), but he discovers throughout the course of the novel that he may be more threat than protector to everyone he loves. Querry leads an escape attempt from the terrifying Asunder and the cultish pseudo-mysticism of his Canyon civilization, only to be taken by the fiery and precocious Mercy to a sterile and soulless base where secrets are peeled back like the layers of an onion. Via the enigmatic and ancient Udain, Querry finally receives the answers he’s been seeking—the events that destroyed the old world, the origins of the Skaldi, his own family history—and they are more horrifying than he could have imagined. Armed with little more than those answers and his own abilities, Querry is the last hope of the exhausted world around him against the fiercest enemies they have ever known.

The book’s pacing was almost too quick for me at times, if only because the richness of the plot kept producing more story-lines and subtexts to unpack. (That might also have been because I was so engaged that I couldn’t slow down while I was reading.) Scavenger of Souls took me well out of my comfort zone, cutting somewhere between The Hunger Games and the Holocaust memoir Night with its teenaged perspective on graphic violence in a brutal and completely unforgiving world. The writing is distinctly cinematic; the imagery leaves just enough scope for the reader’s imagination, as if Bellin is providing the set-pieces so that we can put them on our own stages. This is definitely a book you’ll want to read again, for all the right reasons.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Introducing My Latest (non-fiction) Project... The New SAT Handbook!

Hi there, net-friends!

Most of you probably know me for my fiction writing, but when I'm not spinning yarns about curses and imaginary friends and re-imagined fairy tales (yes, that last one's in progress!), I can be found running my own tutoring company in Pittsburgh, PA: Givens Academic and Preparatory Tutoring, which I founded in 2012. My clients are primarily high school students preparing for standardized tests like the SAT.

And so, in a marvelous dovetailing of my career choices, I am proud to announce the publication of The New SAT Handbook, a brand-new SAT prep guide that I co-wrote with my fellow tutor Andrew Cole!

Fancy, right? I found Dante's final circle, guys. It's called "formatting your own textbook."

If you like the way I wrote about April and her curse in Ugly Stick, you'll LOVE the way I write about concepts like plane geometry and dangling participles! In all seriousness, though, this book took a TON of effort, research, and coordination, and I'm truly pleased with how it turned out. If you know of a high school student planning to take the SAT (or if you just want to review geometry and participles for yourself), I hope you'll pick up a copy of this book!

Here's the less silly blurb from Givens Academic and Preparatory Tutoring's website:

The New SAT Handbook is a compact, academically rooted supplement to your college prep studies. It's full of great things:

 - descriptions of the content and organization of the new test 
 - proven strategies for the types of questions you'll see on the test
 - detailed explanations of underlying academic concepts
 - math content review that will remain useful long after test day
 - new approaches to reading and writing that will strengthen your skills
 - and even a few dashes of humor to help you keep moving while you study!

We hope this guide will reach a whole lot of students and help them to succeed on the SAT and beyond. Please follow this link to check out this new book (Kindle e-book available here), share the information with family and friends, and pick up a copy for your favorite high school student. 

Thanks so much for reading, net-friends, and thank you as always for your support and interest in my work!

Joy :)