Book Review

Game of Mass Destruction – Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3 / 5 stars)

Every year, twenty contestants are “nominated” for the popular television show, Game of Mass Destruction. The goal is simple: kill robots or be faced with certain death. When Yuzuko and her partner, Sakura, are nominated, her entire world is turned upside. She soon discovers her family history is more entwined with the game than she ever imagined. But can knowing that stop the game for good?

With a diverse and large cast of twenty characters, used as Sia Bucks’s pawns in the Game of Mass Destruction, Chloe Gilholy draws us into an addictive world of violence reminiscent of The Hunger Games and Battle Royale. It is almost impossible to look away as the players succumb to violence and desire, racking up points as they destroy the robots. This in itself is the beauty of the novel: Gilholy writes it in such away that you keep reading, even as the bodies pile up, just as what would happen if the Game was broadcasted on national television.

Sia Bucks makes the game even more fascinating. A unique villain with curly purple hair and a lust for chaos, she commands the story. Each time she appeared, I reveled in her chaotic evil and melodramatic diatribes. Characters tried to rationalize what she did, but the reality is simple: Sia Bucks is evil for the sake of it, and it is fun to watch!

Yet, while the pace of the story lent itself to the game, making each seen move with the anxiety and intensity of an adrenaline-fueled game, it falls the characters short. With such a large, named cast, we don’t have time to really get to know the characters. Even the protagonist, Yuzuko, is only glanced at briefly. What did I know about her? Not much. There were elements mentioned: she didn’t like violence, she loves Sakura, she loves her “Aunt Kiki” – a robot, and she has a son who wasn’t mentioned much. There were other interesting characters: Ros and Aron, Todd and Bobby, Magiangela, and more, and to an extent I knew more about them in their brief appearances that Yuzuko.

I think if the cast was smaller, or the book was longer, it would have given us a chance to really get to know these characters. Some odd moments and interactions appeared between the characters (such as Sakura running off, Alfie’s interaction with his mother, Yanyu and Chang-Hoon’s romance, and the constant affairs among the cast), and I think getting into the heads of the characters more, or focusing on just a couple, might have helped us understand these events. Gilholy does not lack the talent to characterize her cast, as shown Sia, and even characters like Magiangela. But with so many moving parts, it makes it hard for the audience to really get to know this unique and diverse cast before some of their unfortunate demise.

That being said though, I really had a lot of fun reading this book! It was exciting, while also examining some innate human desires – such as how danger brings out the best, and worst, in us. My recommendation for picking up this book is simple: imagine you’re watching a reality TV show while reading it, because that’s how it plays out. The fact that Gilholy can capture that feeling in a book deserve applause of its own.

So if you want a fast, entertaining, and fun read, I definitely think you should check out Game of Mass Destruction. It might make you second guess your reality TV show habits though.

What’s it about?

Yuzuko’s perfect world is disturbed when she is forced to take part in the 30th season of Game of Mass Destruction, a reality tv show where twenty contestants have to fight robots and each other for a chance to become a billionaire. Each robot they destroy gives points, but extra points are rewarded for acts of sex and murder. Whilst Yuzuko is united with online friends, she discovers dark secrets about her family as she confronts the gameshow’s owner the notorious Sia Bucks. Will she survive and become victorious or will it be a comedy of errors with violence and chaos?

Book Review

L’Origine: The Secret Life of the World’s Most Erotic Masterpiece – Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★★☆ (4 / 5 stars)

Society has always spoken of the female body in the dark. Yes, artwork has portrayed women for years, but no artist dared paint a detail rendering of the region below the waist…that is, until Gustave Courbet. But his revolutionary painting was forced into hiding for many years, only to once again be freed from its shackles by a series of events that placed it into the hands of women.

Lilianne Milgrom takes a personal approach in discussing L’Origine du monde. As one of the first copyists, her connection of the painting is the grounds for this novel. We are woven into her experience as she produced a rendering of this so called “taboo painting”. It are these experiences that help her tell the tale of L’Origine, and it’s travels across Europe, hidden beneath other paintings.

The painting itself is the main character, as it is passed from Turkish Diplomats, to Hungarian Art Collectors, to French Movie Stars, until finally finding its way to a permanent home. Throughout the story, we’re seen how men abuse the painting, and women ultimately liberated it. L’Origine ultimately ends up being more than just a piece of pleasure, but a symbol of female liberation and humanity, as Courbet might have initially intended.

As with any historical story, fictionalized for the audience, there are gaps. This is by no fault the author, but it means as the reader we only get a brief glimpse of L’Origine‘s true story. Milgrom highlights the biggest moments: when the painting changed hands, when Nazis threatened its existence, and even when one of the collectors smuggled it out of Soviet Hungary.

The most interesting part of this whole story might have been the prologue though: this small memoir gives us a true look into Milgrom’s connection with the painting, and was written (expectedly) with the most passion and emotion. Even if you don’t care about the history (though I really think you SHOULD because it is remarkable), Milgrom’s experience with L’Origine du monde will pique your interest.

I definitely learned so much about this painting from this book. Do I want to know more? Absolutely. But as a stepping stone into the scandalous world of L’Origine, this book was absolutely fantastic.

What’s it about?

The riveting odyssey of one of the world’s most scandalous works of art. In 1866, maverick French artist Gustave Courbet painted one of the most iconic images in the history of art: a sexually explicit portrait of a woman’s exposed genitals. Audaciously titled L’Origine du monde (The Origin of the World), the scandalous painting was kept hidden for a century and a half. Today, it hangs in the world-renowned Orsay Museum in Paris, viewed by millions of visitors a year. As the first artist authorized by the Orsay Museum to re-create Courbet’s The Origin of the World, author Lilianne Milgrom was thrust into the painting’s intimate orbit, spending six weeks replicating every fold, crevice, and pubic hair. The experience inspired her to share her story and the painting’s riveting clandestine history with readers beyond the confines of the art world. L’Origine is an entertaining and superbly researched work of historical fiction that traces the true story of the painting’s unlikely tale of survival, replete with French revolutionaries, Turkish pashas, and nefarious Nazi captains. But L’Origine is more than a riveting romp through history—it also sheds light on society’s complex relationship with the female nudity.


99c Sale and Store Announcement!

Can you believe it’s almost December? This year has been a chaotic one, but I hope everyone has been finding a way to weather this storm. 

With the holiday season upon us, I have a few announcements! Check it out below!

I have officially launched a Square Storefront! You can purchase signed copies of my book directly, as well as some other merchandise!

I currently have a deal where you can get a discounted hard cover copy, due to a change that I made a couple months ago.

If you purchase from the website, I’ll probably throw some other goodies in for free! Over time I’ll be adding in more products as well, so check back regularly!

The Mist Keeper’s Apprentice is on sale through the end of the year for only 99 CENTS! 
 If you’ve been meaning to get a copy of my debut novel, now is the perfect time! Check it out! 

You can also purchase a copy through my Square site!

And finally…

I’ve added some new swag to my Teepublic shop! More will be coming over the weekend so it is definitely worth checking out!

That’s all for now.

Hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season!

Until next time,

E.S. Barrison

Book Review

Once When We Were Human – Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3 / 5 stars)

The world is ruled by wolves, and everyone else is a dog. Wolves are dominant. They are strong. They are the ideal being. When all hope is lost, do we just give in…or do we fight? Is complacency an option? Or does that cause us to lose our humanity?

In a homage to Brave New World, 1984, and Animal Farm, David Peter Swan’s story, Once When We Were Human, explores a topic that has been explored in many forms, although maybe not ever with dogs. Any of these books are important to read, and it humbles you to the human condition. Do not be complacent; complacency means you have lost your humanity.

While this message is always a strong one, the story could have been better executed. I kept forgetting I was reading about actual dogs (with words switching between paws and hands, and struggling to get on stools to sitting on a bench). Perhaps that was the point though; in this scenario, although they are dogs (that were once human), they are no different from us.

While there is nothing revolutionary about this story, it is always important to reexamine our part as humans. Are we just obedient to the prying wolves…or are we ready to fight for what we believe?

I guess that’s your decision to make.

What’s it about?

In this dystopian short-story the world has been divided into Dogs and Wolves. The powerless and the powerful. Unlike other dystopian tales of totalitarian governments imposed on society. The oppressive measures have been voted in by an apathetic mass excepting their fate and the destiny offered by their masters.

‘Once When We Were Human’ also draws parallels with Nazi Germany and the Holocaust and looks at how a technically modern fascist society might use propaganda and education camps for citizens who protest and challenge the state.

‘Once When We Were Human’ looks at what it is that makes us human and what it means when we no longer utilize the extra faculties of our species to make a difference in this world.

A homage to 1984 and Brave New World.

Book Review

What We Need to Survive – Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3.5 / 5 stars)

A plague has struck down society, and only a handful of people remain, wandering across the country, just trying to survive. When Paul comes across a group of travelers in his own quest for survival, he is immediately struck down by a quiet young woman named Nina. But, the idea of pursuing romance is hard to fathom in a world turned on its head. But perhaps, maybe a bit of love is what he and Nina both need to survive in a world turned upside.

Elena Johansen is a talented writer that paints a picture of a world marked by a plague (notably much worse than our current Covid-19), where groups form with the pure need of survival. This is not a story about the scientists ending the plague, or some zombie fighters, or even people forming a new society; no, this is almost a slice of life in a dystopian world. It’s about people surviving, and it’s about people falling in love.

Romance as a genre is harder for me to really enjoy. It’s just not my thing. I will read romance, but usually that is limited to short novels and short stories. So already, romance has a bigger hurdle to cross. Fundamentally, this book is good. If you like romance, you’ll love the slow burn romance that starts as a flicker and turns into a fire between Paul and Nina. I like slow burn too, but from a personal standpoint, I need a bit more external plot to go along with it. Paul is an absolute sweetheart, and Johansen captures his voice to the point I could hear it in my head, and Nina is a young woman who has gone through far too much, equally shown with such care. Their equals; their friends; and you’ll fall in love with their romance too.

But, for me, the book meandered a bit too much. Once Nina and Paul’s flicker ignites, the story continues meandering as the group tries to survive in this apocalyptic scenario. For about 20% of the book, nothing much happens except for the group preparing for the winter, and consistent anger from the “antagonist-type” character, Allison.

Speaking of Allison, I would like to take note of her character, so spoiler warnings ahead.

Allison is placed as almost an antagonist from the beginning. She flirts with Paul from the get-go, even after Paul explicitly shows interest in Nina. Her desires are almost criminalized, and she is shown nothing more than as a bitter woman. With what ultimately becomes of her, I wish we had seen a different side other than this sex-driven caricature. Evidentially there was more to her: she was lonely and desired far more. I definitely would have liked to understand more to her story.

Yet, the story overall is good. I can tell it’s a good story. It’s just not one of my favorite genres. In fact, if it was a bit shorter, I might have rated it higher. But that is all a personal opinion.

That being said, if you love a heavy romance story, and are interested in a slice-of-life story in an apocalyptic world, definitely check this book out. I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy it.

What’s it about?

After the plague, the world became a web of silent roads stretching between empty towns.

Paul discovered he had a knack for living on the move, finding supplies and trading them with other survivors, never staying long in one place, or with one person. But he wanted to. Life would be easier with someone to watch his back.

Nina found her own way to survive in the ruined world, but the choices she made left her guarded and mistrustful. Not a woman likely to care for a handsome stranger who falls in with her group of survivors.

Attraction can be ignored, and trust has to be earned. But the days spent searching for food and shelter, and the nights spent keeping watch, don’t satisfy their truest need…

Each other.

When danger is never far away, is love a luxury they can’t afford? What We Need to Survive captures the tension, fear, and hope of two people struggling to build a new way of life from the leftovers of the old, deciding what to hold on to, and what to leave behind.

Book Review

I, Q – Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3.5 / 5 stars)

Q – any Star Trek fan knows his name. He tormented Captain Picard for years, placing humanity on trial through a series of trickster games. Now, enter another adventure…in his own words! Can Q, Picard, and Data stop the end of the multiverse? Or will this be the end of everything? Only Q himself can tell us.

In a story that echoes Q’s personality entirely, aided by John de Lancie’s unique perspective on the matter, we delve into an untold story. Like Q, this story is filled with confusion and chaos…all in the right way, of course. Q’s limits know no bounds, so of course his adventure would be just as infinite.

While the story itself won’t go down as one of the most amazing Star Trek stories of all time, the beauty of this book is Q’s narration. It meanders and babbles just like he does, and I could hear Q (and Picard…Data…) as I read this story. Is some of it outlandish? Absolutely! But that’s the beauty of Star Trek, isn’t it?

Overall, it’s a fun story. That’s the reason why I picked up this novel in the first place. I’m not usually one to read books inspired by TV shows, or fan fiction for that matter, but when I saw John de Lancie’s name on the cover of this, I just knew I was in for a good time.

Will it change Star Trek lure? No. But does it give us an insight into one of the most compelling characters in The Next Generation? Yes.

So if you like Star Trek, and especially Q, this is a fun story for an afternoon read.

What’s it about?

The enigmatic entity known as Q remains one of the greatest mysteries in the universe, yet no one, perhaps, understands Q as well as actor John de Lancie, who has played Q on television for more than a decade. Now de Lancie and Peter David, the bestselling author of such acclaimed novels as Q-in-Law and Q-Squared, have joined forces to send Q on an unforgettable cosmic odyssey, told from the mischievous trickster’s own unique point of view.

The Maelstrom, a metaphysical whirlpool of apocalyptic proportions, is pulling all of reality into its maw, devouring the totality of time and space while bringing together people and places from throughout the universe. The Q Continuum pronounces that the end of everything has come, but Q refuses to meekly accept the end of all he has known. Defying the judgment of the Continuum, he sets out to derail doomsday – at whatever the cost.

Q has been everywhere and done everything, but now he’s in for a cosmic thrill ride beyond even his own astonishingly unlimited imagination. Old friends and adversaries wait in unexpected places, transcendent hazards abound, and the multiverse’s most unlikely savior encounters wonders and dangers enough to render Q himself speechless. Almost.

Can even Q, reluctantly assisted by Jean Luc Picard, prevent the Universe As We Know It from literally going down the drain? I, Q is a wild and witty voyage through the secret soul of creation – as only Q can tell it!

Book Review

Crimson Crown – Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★★☆ (3.75 / 5 stars)

Welcome back to Chicago’s Psychic Scene: now, instead of three waring gangs, a new King has risen from the ashes, causing a wake of disarray in his path. Daniel Cavanough is back again trying to set things right, all while trying to uncover the truth about the mysterious “Rose”. Can Daniel stop the disarray? Or will he be forced to make choices he cannot begin to fathom?

Once again Patrick D. Kaiser shows us his ability to strike a narrative in verse. We’re brought back to Daniel Cavanough’s world in well written poetry that exuberates both emotion and storytelling. We’re brought back into the world of the “minds” – psychics that have insurmountable power – and understand the role of the Black Dog amid Kings and others in charge. A story in verse seems perfect for a story about psychics; everything is very internal, even the battles, that trying to describe it in typical prose might be difficult.

Actually, I would like to give props at this point to how well Kaiser wrote the battle scenes. Sometimes, battle scenes can be overwritten, or authors fail in portraying the disarray. But poetry, using beats and rhythms, really shows the pace of a battle. It’s fast; it’s suspenseful; it’s confusing; Kaiser shows all of this in his verse thriller.

Once again, my critiques of verse thrillers are similar to what I wrote in my review of Crimson Minds. We did not get the same amount of character exploration or description in the verse thriller, and that is to be expected. The verse thriller also made it somewhat difficult to recall what happened in the first book in the trilogy. Often in sequels, you get some recap as to what happened in the previous book. Verses make this more difficult, especially when we also don’t get as many defining characteristics regarding the cast’s ensemble. But this by no means is a critique on the author or the book, but more so on the genre as a whole.

Crimson Crown also fell into the fatal “middle book syndrome”. The book was fantastic, but it definitely did not have the same “razzle-dazzle” as Crimson Minds. Why? It’s clearly building up to a great finale that I cannot wait to pick up! While I anticipated the twist regarding Rose’s identity (which was due to Kaiser’s own wonderful storytelling ability to leave clues along the way), I am anxious to see if Daniel can finally bring peace as the Black Dog!

I’ll be picking up the final book in the trilogy very soon, but until then, if you want to check out a fun verse thriller…check out the Crimson Mind Trilogy! It’s definitely worth it!

What’s it about?

The war for the city is heating up, the vacancy left by the three Kings burning it from within. Rose plots from the shadows as The Black Dog is no closer to finding the answers needed to achieve equilibrium. Everyone toils away, while a certain figure has returned and is planning his own vision for the city – A former King, putting the old guard on edge & gunning for The Dog to either join or die.
There’s a reason his crown is crimson.

This book is a thriller told in verse. Action, emotion and suspense – All wrapped in one uniquely written package! It’s a guarantee, you’ve never read a book quite like this!

Book Review

The Boy Who Dared – Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3.5 / 5 stars)

Helmut Hubner was raised in Nazi Germany with a few ideals: never lie, support your country, and love your neighbor. But as the Nazis begin taking control of Germany, and the bravado of their parades wears off, Helmut consistently finds way to subvert the Nazi regime: from stealing books, playing investigator, speaking with “criminals”, and publicizing the details from secret airwaves from the BBC. But sentenced to death, Helmut must come to the conclusion: were his decisions worth it?

Helmuth’s story is a tale of heroism not often dictated in history books. He, and many others like him, helped expose the truth behind the Nazis to the people of Germany. But even more, this is the story of a young man who dared to fight for his convictions. And, this is about the power of a single voice.

This story is timely; while it is important for individuals, both young and old, to read about the past, this also serves as a warning about fascism and dictatorships. If we do not learn about those who lived among it, who accepted it, who grew complacent, then we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes. Whether it is now or in the future, we must always learn.

But, while Helmut’s story is fascinating, and this short middle-grade novel covers it well for children, I found that the narrative was a little bland. Do I think children will understand and be compelled to Helmuth’s story? Absolutely. But it is dark, and some children may not want to continue with it. Granted, since this is a work of historical fiction based on Helmut Hubner’s life, the author was limited to imagination. To keep as accurate as possible, the author might have chosen to gloss over parts of Helmut’s life.

That being said, this is a story that will help children see they have the ability to make change. Perhaps not through treason, but by caring for others.

And more importantly, it will give children and adults a valuable piece of history…that hopefully we are not doomed to repeat.

What’s it about?

A Newbery Honor Book author has written a powerful and gripping novel about a youth in Nazi Germany who tells the truth about Hitler.

Susan Campbell Bartoletti has taken one episode from her Newbery Honor Book, Hitler Youth, and fleshed it out into thought-provoking novel. When 16-year-old Helmut Hubner listens to the BBC news on an illegal short-wave radio, he quickly discovers Germany is lying to the people. But when he tries to expose the truth with leaflets, he’s tried for treason. Sentenced to death and waiting in a jail cell, Helmut’s story emerges in a series of flashbacks that show his growth from a naive child caught up in the patriotism of the times , to a sensitive and mature young man who thinks for himself.

Book Review

The Awakening – Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3.5 / 5 stars)

Henry thinks he’s going insane. After hearing voices, his brother and best friend, Benjy, commits him to a psychiatric ward. But as soon as he arrives, he is shipped off to North Caroline, to the Institute…home of Psionic Arts. After discovering his newfound psychic abilities, Henry and his friends – Tamra, Milton, and Kylie – must undergo a process known as an awakening. But, the awakening might not just awaken powers this time…and are they strong enough to face the challenges it will bring?

In a story that has elements of Inception and Harry Potter, we are taken to the Institute and introduced to a diverse cast of characters, as well as the complex and terrifying world of the Psionic Arts. Cody Blake Wilson helps establish this world as an overlay to our own; psychics are among us, but some of them might just be janitors.

I really loved the concept of this story. Who wouldn’t love the idea of getting whisked away to a psionic institute, hidden in North Caroline of all places? I’ve always loved psionic arts as a theory, and seeing it explored on page is enthralling.

In addition, the story is made by the diversity and realness of the characters. In the short amount of time, we fall in love with Henry, Milton, Tamra, and Kylie, as well as Tony and Benjy. Their characteristics are clearly displayed, perhaps in a way that psychically embeds them into our minds, and we see them develop over time. This is most evident with Henry, who opens up, and Milton, who shuts down, each based on their own experiences at the Institute. The two serve as a clear foil to one and other, showing how not everyone will respond equally to the same experience.

As often is the case, I do wish the book was longer. It fell victim to its fast pace and length, unfortunately. From a personal standpoint, I prefer books that are a bit longer and give us a chance to grow with the characters. In the span of 200 pages, we cover a year, and Henry learns about all type of psionic arts. But we don’t actually learn with Henry. Instead, we are told all the details after the fact. This also adversely impacts how we experience the Institute, as well as Henry’s relationships; so much is told to us rather than giving us a chance to experience with him.

That being said, I don’t think it took away from the overall story. Ultimately, the Awakening is about more than psionic abilities. It’s about awakening who you are and your place in the world, no matter your age. Henry, as a person in his late twenties, shows that even after college, you might not know who you are yet. And that’s okay. Sometimes, you just need to be woken up to your true calling.

I can’t wait to read more of Wilson’s Awakened Universe. I think there is a lot to explore…and for some reason, I don’t think that was the last we’ll see of the monsters lurking in the shadows of Henry, Milton, Tamra, and Kylie’s minds.

What’s it about?

When Henry starts hearing voices and seeings things, he thinks he must be going insane. Instead, Henry finds himself at the Fullove Institute for the Psionic Arts, a training ground and governing body for emerging psychics.

In order to fully access their powers, all psychics must undergo an Awakening, a trial within the mind to uncover the source of their power. But what was supposed to be a routine procedure quickly becomes something much more dangerous for Henry and his new friends. Now, Henry, Tamra, Milton, and Kylie must each wrestle with the notion of who they thought they were, and who it is they are quickly becoming.

The first book in its urban fantasy series, and the first installment within The Awakened Universe, The Awakening explores how each of us finds strength, power, and love both within ourselves and each other.

Book Review

Ms. Infinity: Infinite Moon – Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★★☆ (4 / 5 stars)

Ms. Infinity: superhero extraordinaire! She can take down anyone, no matter how strong…but sometimes there are some foes too strong for even Ms. Infinity! When Ellen Wahia starts as a cashier at the Big Box Store, Bonnie Boring (aka Ms. Infinity) knows something is wrong. But is she being a little too suspicious? And will her friends believe her before it’s too late?

Once again, Ms. Infinity takes us into the impossible. A quirky young woman who will resonate with many audiences, Bonnie Boring is the epitome taking usual super hero tropes blessed on characters like Superman, and twisting them. She’s all powerful, sure, but she is also in her head. She is no where without her friends, which is a valuable lesson for anyone who wants to be a hero.

Andrew Kirschner continues to polish his craft with this third installment of Ms. Infinity. While I am reading all of these out of order, with the titular title, Ms. Infinity: Earth’s Greatest Hero still on my short TBR list, I can see how Kirschner has grown as a writer. Infinite Moon is just the right length for this superhero tale: we get a glimpse into Bonnie and her relationships, without sacrificing her (well-written) battle scenes with the werewolf. Yes, the story ends on an expected note, as all super hero stories do, but it provides commentary about the obsession of power, the importance of consent, the value of teamwork, and the strength of forgiveness.

The story reads like a comic book. I could picture it easily in my mind, and visualize the scene shifts as they would appear on the page. This does impact some of the prose and writing, but not enough to take away from the wonders of Ms. Infinity.

Will I be picking up the next installment of Ms. Infinity? Absolutely! She is the type of hero that we all need: her imperfections make her powerful. I am sure we will see her grow in her coming battles.

What’s it about?

The mega-powered Ms. Infinity has never met a villain she couldn’t beat, until today.

In her day job as Bonnie Boring, she meets a cashier who changes into a horrifying werewolf, and it’s a job for Ms. Infinity! But the superhero is in over her head. Before she knows it, the werewolf has turned her own power against her, and Earth’s Greatest Hero has become the lycan’s super-powered slave.

Presenting an update of classic superheroes. The third Ms. Infinity adventure is full of thrills, action and humor, and the most unforgettable villain yet!