Best Fiction Reads of 2021: Part 2

Best Fiction Reads of 2021

We’re getting close to the end of 2021. At times, this year has seemed to drag by, second-by-second, and at other times it flew. Okay, it seemed to drag whenever I was looking forward to the release of a new book or an in-person book event. (Time always seems to drag when you’re anticipating something or at least it does for me.) Although this was a moderately bad year for me migraine-wise, it was actually a good reading year. Part One of my “best of 2021” left off with general fiction reads. Today, I’d like to focus on my suspense, thriller, Afrojujuism, Young Adult, and Sci-Fi reads. I have very eclectic reading tastes and this year afforded me the opportunity to read a number of great books across a host of fiction genres.


I began reading P.J. Tracy with the Monkeewrench series (man, I miss that series; guess it’s time for a re-re-read). I was sad to hear of the passing of half of this mother-daughter writing duo, P.J. Lambrecht, in 2016 and thought that might be the end of books by this author. I was happily surprised when Traci Lambrecht continued the Monkeewrench series and released this psychological thriller earlier this year, the first in a new series.

DEEP INTO THE DARK by P.J. TracyDeep Into The Dark, Detective Margaret Nolan #1, by P. J. Tracy
ISBN: 9781250813831 (trade paperback – released 09/28/2021)
ISBN: 9781250754943 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781250783578 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781250790071 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B088ML1NXZ (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08BKL7N6K (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Release Date: January 12, 2021

 

Sam Easton—a true survivor—is home from Afghanistan, trying to rebuild a life in his hometown of LA. Separated from his wife, bartending and therapy sessions are what occupy his days and nights. When friend and colleague Melody Traeger is beaten by her boyfriend, she turns to Sam for help. When the boyfriend turns up dead the next day, a hard case like Sam is the perfect suspect.
 
But LAPD Detective Margaret Nolan, whose brother recently died serving overseas, is sympathetic to Sam’s troubles, and can’t quite see him as a killer. She’s more interested in the secrets Melody might be keeping and the developments in another murder case on the other side of town.
 
Set in an LA where real people live and work—not the superficial LA of Beverly Hills or the gritty underbelly of the city—Deep into the Dark features two really engaging, dynamic main characters and explores the nature of obsession, revenge, and grief.
 
P. J. Tracy is known for her “fast, fresh, and funny” characters (Harlan Coben) and her “sizzling” plots (People); the Monkeewrench series was her first, set in Minneapolis and co-written with her mother. Now with Deep into the Dark she’s on her own—and it’s a home run.
 
 
 
Read an excerpt by clicking here.
 

I’ve read quite a number of titles by Nnedi Okorafor and this author does not disappoint. Most of her titles are classified as AfricanJujuism and they meld African folklore and legends with hints of Sci-Fi and Fantasy. This title was released early in the year and I enjoyed it so much I now have two different digital copies of the book (Kindle and EPUB formats). If you enjoy reading multicultural stories that blend Sci-Fi, Female Empowerment, Coming-of-Age, and good storytelling, I encourage you to grab a copy of this novella for yourself or a friend.

REMOTE CONTROL by Nnedi OkoraforRemote Control by Nnedi Okorafor
ISBN: 9781250772800 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781250772794 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781250772961 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B087V5LZD2 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B0879FRJ9X (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Tordotcom
Release Date: January 19, 2021
Genre: Fiction | Novella | AfricanJujuism | Science-Fiction

 

“She’s the adopted daughter of the Angel of Death. Beware of her. Mind her. Death guards her like one of its own.”

The day Fatima forgot her name, Death paid a visit. From hereon in she would be known as Sankofa­­—a name that meant nothing to anyone but her, the only tie to her family and her past.

Her touch is death, and with a glance a town can fall. And she walks—alone, except for her fox companion—searching for the object that came from the sky and gave itself to her when the meteors fell and when she was yet unchanged; searching for answers.

But is there a greater purpose for Sankofa, now that Death is her constant companion?

 

I was afforded the opportunity to read this Sci-Fi title shortly before its release. Sadly, this was during a severe migraine period so I was unable to write a review at that time. (It’s difficult to sit upright when dealing with severe vertigo. Photosensitivity issues and blurred vision make it impossible to look at a computer screen and type anything.) I enjoyed this book so much I recommended it to one of my local book clubs and then got to read it again and discuss it with the club. Happily, my club members seemed to enjoy it as much as I did. Several members strongly encouraged me to try the audiobook, still waiting for that pleasure. If you read The Martian or Artemis, then I strongly encourage you to grab a copy of Project Hail Mary to read. Don’t just take my word for it, Project Hail Mary won the Goodreads Choice Award for Science Fiction this year. Yes, millions of readers voted this book as the best Sci-Fi read for the year.

PROJECT HAIL MARY by Andy WeirProject Hail Mary by Andy Weir
ISBN: 9780593135204 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780593135211 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781713630296 (audiobook on CD)
ASIN: B08GB58KD5 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08FHBV4ZX (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Release Date: May 4, 2021

 

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission—and if he fails, humanity and the Earth itself will perish.

Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, he realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Alone on this tiny ship that’s been cobbled together by every government and space agency on the planet and hurled into the depths of space, it’s up to him to conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.

And thanks to an unexpected ally, he just might have a chance.

Part scientific mystery, part dazzling interstellar journey, Project Hail Mary is a tale of discovery, speculation, and survival to rival The Martian—while taking us to places it never dreamed of going.

 

The title of this next book just grabbed me, so it was immediately placed on my personal TBR list. I’m not a big reader of Sci-Fi, although I do enjoy what I read in this genre, nor am I a big reader of Steampunk, but this Steampunk Sci-Fi read pulled me in and I’m glad I read it. A Master of Djinn by P. Djeli Clark is the first book in the Dead Djinn Universe and it packed quite a punch. If you’re going to add this to your TBR list (and you should), then I also encourage you to add A Dead Djinn in Cairo, Dead Djinn Universe #0.1, and The Haunting of Tram Car 015, Dead Djinn Universe #0.3, to your list as well. I’m greatly looking forward to reading the next book in this series.

A MASTER OF DJINN by P. Djeli ClarkA Master of Djinn, Dead Djinn Universe #1, by P. Djeli Clark
ISBN: 9781250267689 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781250267672 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781250807731 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B08JD2THTX (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08HKXS84X (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Tordotcom
Release Date: May 11, 2021

 

Nebula, Locus, and Alex Award-winner P. Djèlí Clark returns to his popular alternate Cairo universe for his fantasy novel debut, A Master of Djinn

Cairo, 1912: Though Fatma el-Sha’arawi is the youngest woman working for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, she’s certainly not a rookie, especially after preventing the destruction of the universe last summer.

So when someone murders a secret brotherhood dedicated to one of the most famous men in history, al-Jahiz, Agent Fatma is called onto the case. Al-Jahiz transformed the world 50 years ago when he opened up the veil between the magical and mundane realms, before vanishing into the unknown. This murderer claims to be al-Jahiz, returned to condemn the modern age for its social oppressions. His dangerous magical abilities instigate unrest in the streets of Cairo that threaten to spill over onto the global stage.

Alongside her Ministry colleagues and her clever girlfriend Siti, Agent Fatma must unravel the mystery behind this imposter to restore peace to the city – or face the possibility he could be exactly who he seems…

 

The next book is another title from my personal TBR stash and list (versus the blog’s TBR list and yes, I actually have two separate TBR lists although there is often some crossover). I had previously read this author’s romantic suspense titles and was greatly anticipating the release of this suspense thriller, While Justice Sleeps. I enjoyed this one so much that I “lent” my hardcover copy to my 87-y.o. mother to read and she promptly lent it to one of my aunts to read after she finished it. I finally got my print copy back, but it made a few rounds in the family first. And yes, I do own a digital copy as well as a print copy of this book!

WHILE JUSTICE SLEEPS by Stacey AbramsWhile Justice Sleeps by Stacey Abrams
ISBN: 9780385546577 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780385546584 (ebook)
ISBN: 9780593413708 (digital audiobook)
ISBN: 9780593501764 (audiobook on CD)
ASIN: B08L5KSV33 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08KSRQ7L1 (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Doubleday
Release Date: May 11, 2021

 

While Justice Sleeps is a gripping, complexly plotted thriller set within the halls of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Avery Keene, a brilliant young law clerk for the legendary Justice Howard Wynn, is doing her best to hold her life together–excelling in an arduous job with the court while also dealing with a troubled family. When the shocking news breaks that Justice Wynn—the cantankerous swing vote on many current high-profile cases—has slipped into a coma, Avery’s life turns upside down. She is immediately notified that Justice Wynn has left instructions for her to serve as his legal guardian and power of attorney. Plunged into an explosive role she never anticipated, Avery finds that Justice Wynn had been secretly researching one of the most controversial cases before the court–a proposed merger between an American biotech company and an Indian genetics firm, which promises to unleash breathtaking results in the medical field. She also discovers that Wynn suspected a dangerously related conspiracy that infiltrates the highest power corridors of Washington.

As political wrangling ensues in Washington to potentially replace the ailing judge whose life and survival Avery controls, she begins to unravel a carefully constructed, chesslike sequence of clues left behind by Wynn. She comes to see that Wynn had a much more personal stake in the controversial case and realizes his complex puzzle will lead her directly into harm’s way in order to find the truth. While Justice Sleeps is a cunningly crafted, sophisticated novel, layered with myriad twists and a vibrant cast of characters. Drawing on her astute inside knowledge of the court and political landscape, Stacey Abrams shows herself to be not only a force for good in politics and voter fairness but also a major new talent in suspense fiction.

 

The next book is a title I won in an online giveaway via BookishFirst, Sugar Town Queens by Malla Nunn. This author has deftly combined a coming-of-age story with female empowerment, colorism, family, community, abuse, emotional health issues, as well as social and racial equity. Yes, there is tragedy in this story, but there is also laughter, love, friendship, and more. I passed this title along to not only my 87-y.o. mother to read, but to one of my 14-y.o. diva twin nieces as well. I’m happy to report that everyone enjoyed it as much as I did.

SUGAR TOWN QUEENS by Malla NunSugar Town Queens by Malla Nunn
ISBN: 9780525515609 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780525515616 (ebook)
ISBN: 9780593397886 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B08MV6KWH9 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08MQ3G34L (Kindle edition)
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Release Date: August 3, 2021

 

 From LA Times Book Prize Award Winner and Edgar Award Nominee Malla Nunn comes a stunning portrait of a family divided and the bonds that knit our communities.

When Amandla wakes up on her fifteenth birthday she knows it’s going to be one of her mother’s difficult days. Her mother has had another vision. If Amandla wears a blue sheet her mother has loosely stitched as a dress and styles her normally braided hair in a halo around her head, Amandla’s father will come home. Amandla’s mother, Annalisa, always speaks of her father as if he was the prince of a fairytale, but in truth he’s been gone since before Amandla was born and even Annalisa’s memory of him is hazy. In fact many of Annalisa’s memories from before Amandla was born are hazy. It’s just one of the many reasons people in Sugar Town give Annalisa and Amandla strange looks—that and the fact her mother is white and Amandla is brown.

But when Amandla finds a mysterious address in the bottom of her mother’s handbag along with a large amount of cash, she decides it’s finally time to get answers about her mother’s life. But what she discovers will change the shape and size of her family forever.

 

The final book on this list is another Young Adult title and a Jane Eyre fantasy retelling. (Jane Eyre is one of my all-time favorite stories and I enjoy reading anything inspired by or listed as a retelling.) This title had been on my personal TBR list from the moment I heard about it (hey, Jane Eyre retelling folks!). However, due to a few parental health issues followed by multiple deaths in the family, I didn’t get around to reading this until recently. Let me sum up with “WOW, Great Read!”

WITHIN THESE WICKED WALLS by Lauren BlackwoodWithin These Wicked Walls by Lauren Blackwood
ISBN: 9781250787101 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781250787118 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781250819833 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B08SNSSJZG (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08R2L2BRD (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Release Date: October 19, 2021

 

“Lauren Blackwood’s can’t-miss debut is a magical, Ethiopian-inspired remix of Jane Eyre.” – Harper’s Bazaar

Within These Wicked Walls is an indulgently Gothic fairy tale, comparable in mastery with Mexican Gothic and Jane Eyre. An intricate magic system, a grimly humorous Black heroine, AND a heart-thumping romance? This book leaves nothing wanting.” – Jordan Ifueko, New York Times bestselling author of Raybearer

What the heart desires, the house destroys…

Andromeda is a debtera—an exorcist hired to cleanse households of the Evil Eye. She would be hired, that is, if her mentor hadn’t thrown her out before she could earn her license. Now her only hope of steady work is to find a Patron—a rich, well-connected individual who will vouch for her abilities.

When a handsome young heir named Magnus Rochester reaches out to hire her, she takes the job without question. Never mind that he’s rude and demanding and eccentric, that the contract comes with a number of outlandish rules… and that almost a dozen debtera had quit before her. If Andromeda wants to earn a living, she has no choice.

But she quickly realizes this is a job like no other, with horrifying manifestations at every turn, and that Magnus is hiding far more than she has been trained for. Death is the most likely outcome if she stays, the reason every debtera before her quit. But leaving Magnus to live out his curse alone isn’t an option because—heaven help her—she’s fallen for him.

Stunningly romantic, Lauren Blackwood’s heartstopping debut, Within These Wicked Walls, ushers in an exciting new fantasy voice.

Kiersten White meets Tomi Adeyemi in this Ethiopian-inspired debut fantasy retelling of Jane Eyre.

 

Once again, I’m grateful to the authors, publishers, publicists, virtual book tour companies, book clubs, and libraries that have afforded me the opportunity to read so many wonderful titles. Part Three of my “Best of” list will focus on Historical Fiction. I hope you’ll return to read that one and stay tuned for Part Four focusing on Romance.

Happy Reading, y’all!

Happy World Book Day!

UNESCO World Book Day Quote on  open book, "Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home." Anna Quindlen

Happy World Book Day, my bookish peeps. Since none of my giveaways last month during my blogiversary were international, I’ll be offering a special international giveaway in honor of World Book Day. I’ve chosen Kindred by Octavia Butler as the book to be given away. This book is very special to me, for a variety of reasons, but namely it was one of the first books I read about a person of color experiencing slavery written by a contemporary author of color and first published in 1979, the year I graduated from high school. Yes, I know I’m dating myself with that information, but this is just one of those books that I find myself rereading and I want to share my joy with one of you.

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
ISBN: 9781472258229 (paperback)
Publisher: Headline Publishing Group
Publication Date: May 03, 2018

Octavia E. Butler’s ground-breaking masterpiece, with an original foreword by Ayobami Adebayo.

‘The marker you should judge all other time-travelling narratives by’ GUARDIAN

‘[Her] evocative, often troubling, novels explore far-reaching issues of race, sex, power and, ultimately, what it means to be human’ NEW YORK TIMES

‘No novel I’ve read this year has felt as relevant, as gut-wrenching or as essential . . . If you’ve ever tweeted “All Lives Matter”, someone needs to shove Kindred into your hand, and quickly’ CAROLINE O’DONOGHUE

————

In 1976, Dana dreams of being a writer. In 1815, she is assumed a slave.

When Dana first meets Rufus on a Maryland plantation, he’s drowning. She saves his life – and it will happen again and again.

Neither of them understands his power to summon her whenever his life is threatened, nor the significance of the ties that bind them.

And each time Dana saves him, the more aware she is that her own life might be over before it’s even begun.

This is the extraordinary story of two people bound by blood, separated by so much more than time.

————-

PRAISE FOR OCTAVIA E. BUTLER, THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR

‘Unnervingly prescient and wise’ YAA GYASI

‘Butler’s prose, always pared back to the bone, delineates the painful paradoxes of metamorphosis with compelling precision’ GUARDIAN

‘Octavia Butler was a visionary’ VIOLA DAVIS

‘One of the most significant literary artists of the twentieth century. One cannot exaggerate the impact she has had’ JUNOT DIAZ

‘An icon of the Afrofuturism world, envisioning literary realms that placed black characters front and center’ VANITY FAIR

‘Butler writes with such a familiarity that the alien is welcome and intriguing. She really artfully exposes our human impulse to self-destruct’ LUPITA NYONG’O

This book is being offered via Book Depository, so please check to make sure this company ships to your country before entering. I can not be held accountable or responsible if you win and then we find out that, oops, your country is one that Book Depository does not ship to after all. Please click HERE to see if your country is on the list of countries and regions Book Depository does ship to BEFORE you enter.

To enter, please use the Rafflecopter form below. This giveaway ends at 11:59 PM ET on 04/30/2021 and the winner will be announced by 10:00 AM ET on 05/01/2021. If the winner doesn’t respond within 48 hours, another winner will be selected. Void where prohibited by law.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Book Showcase: A BEGINNING AT THE END by Mike Chen



A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen
ISBN: 9780778309345 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780778388289 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9781488055355 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488208003 (audiobook – digital)
ISBN: 9781094097435 (audiobook – MP3 on CD)
ASIN: B07Y8NQ5PF  (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B07QKD5TT1 (Kindle edition)
Publisher:  MIRA Books
Release Date: January 14, 2020


How do you start over after the end of the world?



Six years after a global pandemic wiped out most of the planet’s population, the survivors are rebuilding the country, split between self-governing cities, hippie communes and wasteland gangs.

In post-apocalyptic San Francisco, former pop star Moira has created a new identity to finally escape her past—until her domineering father launches a sweeping public search to track her down. Desperate for a fresh start herself, jaded event planner Krista navigates the world on behalf of those too traumatized to go outside, determined to help everyone move on—even if they don’t want to. Rob survived the catastrophe with his daughter, Sunny, but lost his wife. When strict government rules threaten to separate parent and child, Rob needs to prove himself worthy in the city’s eyes by connecting with people again.

Krista, Moira, Rob, and Sunny are brought together by circumstance, and their lives begin to twine together. But when reports of another outbreak throw the fragile society into panic, the friends are forced to finally face everything that came before—and everything they still stand to lose.

Because sometimes having one person is enough to keep the world going. 






Purchase Links:  IndieBound  |  Amazon  |  Amazon Kindle  |  Barnes and Noble  |  B&N Audiobook  |  B&N Nook Book  |  BookDepository  |  Books-A-Million  |  Books-A-Million eBook  |  Downpour Audiobook  |  eBooks  |  Google Play Books  |  iBooks  |  !ndigo Books  |  Kobo Audiobook  |  Kobo eBook



Read an Excerpt


Prologue




People were too scared for music tonight. Not that MoJo cared.

Her handlers had broken the news about the low attendance nearly an hour ago with some explanation about how the recent flu epidemic and subsequent rioting and looting kept people at home. They’d served the news with high-end vodka, the good shit imported from Russia, conveniently hidden in a water bottle which she carried from the greenroom to the stage.

“The show must go on,” her father proclaimed, like she was doing humanity a service by performing. She suspected his bravado actually stemmed from the fact that her sophomore album’s second single had stalled at number thirteen—a far cry from the lead single’s number-one debut or her four straight top-five hits off her first album. Either way, the audience, filled with beaming girls a few years younger than herself and their mothers, seemed to agree. Flu or no flu, some people still wanted their songs—or maybe they just wanted normalcy—so MoJo delivered, perfect note after perfect note, each in time to choreographed dance routines. She even gave her trademark smile.

The crowd screamed and sang along, waving their arms to the beat. Halfway through the second song, a peculiar vibe grabbed the audience. Usually, a handful of parents disappeared into their phones, especially as the flu scare had heightened over the past week. This time nearly every adult in the arena was looking at their phone. In the front row, MoJo saw lines of concern on each face.

Before the song even finished, some parents grabbed their children and left, pushing through the arena’s floor seats and funneling to the exit door.

MoJo pushed on, just like she’d always promised her dad. She practically heard his voice over the backup music blasting in her in-ear monitors. There is no sophomore slump. Smile! Between the second and third songs, she gave her customary “Thank you!” and fake talk about how great it was to be wherever they were. New York City, this time, at Madison Square Garden. A girl of nineteen embarking on a tour bigger, more ambitious than she could have ever dreamed and taking the pop world by storm, and yet, she knew nothing real about New York City. She’d never left her hotel room without chaperones and handlers. Not under her dad’s watch.

One long swig of vodka later, and a warmth rushed to her face, so much so that she wondered if it melted her face paint off. She looked off at the side stage, past the elaborate video set and cadre of backup dancers. But where was the gaffer? Why wasn’t anyone at the sound board? The fourth song had a violin section, yet the contracted violinist wasn’t in her spot.

Panic raced through MoJo’s veins, mental checklists of her marks, all trailed by echoes from her dad’s lectures about accountability. Her feet were planted exactly where they should be. Her poise, straight and high. Her last few notes, on key, and her words to the audience, cheerful. It couldn’t have been something she’d done, could it?

No. Not her fault this time. Someone else is facing Dad’s wrath tonight, she thought.

The next song’s opening electronic beats kicked in. Eyes closed, head tilted back, and arms up, her voice pushed out the song’s highest note, despite the fuzziness of the vodka making the vibrato a little harder to sustain. For a few seconds, nothing existed except the sound of her voice and the music behind it— no handlers, no tour, no audience, no record company, no father telling her the next way she’d earn the family fortune—and it almost made the whole thing worth it.

Her eyes opened, body coiled for the middle-eight’s dance routine, but the brightness of the house lights threw her off the beat. The drummer and keyboard player stopped, though the prerecorded backing track continued for a few more seconds before leaving an echo chamber.

No applause. No eyes looked MoJo’s way. Only random yelling and an undecipherable buzz saw of backstage clamor from her in-ear monitors. She stood, frozen, unable to tell if this was from laced vodka or if it was actually unfolding: people—adults and children, parents and daughters— scrambling to the exits, climbing over chairs and tripping on stairs, ushers pushing back at the masses before some turned and ran as well.

Someone grabbed her shoulder and jerked back hard. “We have to go,” said the voice behind her.

“What’s going on?” she asked, allowing the hands to push her toward the stage exit. Steven, her huge forty-something bodyguard, took her by the arm and helped her down the short staircase to the backstage area.

“The flu’s spread,” he said. “A government quarantine. There’s some sort of lockdown on travel. The busing starts tonight. First come, first serve. I think everyone’s trying to get home or get there. I can’t reach your father. Cell phones are jammed up.”

They worked their way through the concrete hallways and industrial lighting of the backstage area, people crossing in a mad scramble left and right. MoJo clutched onto her bottle of vodka, both hands to her chest as Steven ushered her onward. People collapsed in front of her, crying, tripping on their own anxieties, and Steven shoved her around them, apologizing all the way. Something draped over her shoulders, and it took her a moment to realize that he’d put a thick parka around her. She chuckled at the thought of her sparkly halter top and leather pants wrapped in a down parka that smelled like BO, but Steven kept pushing her forward, forward, forward until they hit a set of double doors.

The doors flew open, but rather than the arena’s quiet loading area from a few hours ago, MoJo saw a thick wall of people: all ages and all colors in a current of movement, pushing back and forth. “I’ve got your dad on the line,” Steven yelled over the din, “His car is that way. He wants to get to the airport now. Same thing’s happening back home.” His arm stretched out over her head. “That way! Go!”

They moved as a pair, Steven yelling “excuse me” over and over until the crowd became too dense to overcome. In front of her, a woman with wisps of gray woven into black hair trembled on her knees. Even with the racket around them, MoJo heard her cry. “This is the end. This is the end.”

The end.

People had been making cracks about the End of the World since the flu changed from online rumors to this big thing that everyone talked about all the time. But she’d always figured the “end” meant a giant pit opening, Satan ushering everyone down a staircase to Hell. Not stuck outside Madison Square Garden.

“Hey,” Steven yelled, arms spread out to clear a path through the traffic jam of bodies. “This way!”

MoJo looked at the sobbing woman in front of her, then at Steven. Somewhere further down the road, her father sat in a car and waited. She could feel his pull, an invisible tether that never let her get too far away.

“The end, the end,” the sobbing woman repeated, pausing MoJo in her tracks. But where to go? Every direction just pointed at more chaos, people scrambling with a panic that had overtaken everyone in the loading dock, possibly the neighborhood, possibly all New York City, possibly even the world. And it wasn’t just about a flu.

It was everything.

But… maybe that was good?

No more tours. No more studio sessions. No more threats about financial security, no more lawyer meetings, no more searches through her luggage. No more worrying about hitting every mark. In the studio. Onstage.

In life.

All of that was done.

The very thought caused MoJo to smirk.

If this was the end, then she was going out on her own terms.

“Steven!” she yelled. He turned and met her gaze.

She twisted the cap off the water-turned-vodka bottle, then took most of it down in one long gulp. She poured the remainder on her face paint, a star around her left eye, then wiped it off with her sleeve. The empty bottle flew through the air, probably hitting some poor bloke in the head.

“Tell my dad,” she said, trying extra hard to pronounce the words with the clear British diction she was raised with, “to go fuck himself.”

For an instant, she caught Steven’s widemouthed look, a mix of fear and confusion and disappointment on his face, as though her words crushed his worldview more than the madness around them. But MoJo wouldn’t let herself revel in her first, possibly only victory over her father; she ducked and turned quickly, parka pulled over her head, crushing the product-molded spikes in her hair.

Each step pushing forward, shoulders and arms bumping into her as her eyes locked onto the ground, one step at a time. Left, right, left, then right, all as fast as she could go, screams and car horns and smashing glass building in a wave of desperation around her.

Maybe it was the end. But even though her head was down, she walked with dignity for the first time in years, perhaps ever.


Excerpt from A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen. 
Copyright © 2020 by Mike Chen. Published by MIRA Books. 
Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.






Meet the author

Photo by Amanda Chen
Mike Chen is a lifelong writer, from crafting fan fiction as a child to somehow getting paid for words as an adult. He has contributed to major geek websites (The Mary Sue, The Portalist, Tor) and covered the NHL for mainstream media outlets. A member of SFWA and Codex Writers, Mike lives in the Bay Area, where he can be found playing video games and watching Doctor Who with his wife, daughter, and rescue animals. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @mikechenwriter 



Connect with the author via Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, and his website

Book 149: DREAMS UNLEASHED Review

Every now and again I enjoy reading books that might loosely be classified as paranormal or science-fiction. I don’t always enjoy these genres but I don’t dislike them either. For me the sci-fi and paranormal genres are like candy, I have to be craving it in order to enjoy it. Well I wasn’t really in the mood for paranormal/sci-fi when I began reading Dreams Unleashed by Linda Hawley but I can say that I’m glad I read this book. 


Dreams Unleashed is a little difficult to describe because after reading it I’m unsure as to what was a dream and what was reality for the main character, Ann Torgeson. The underlying premise is that Ann has special paranormal skills that ultimately allow her to “remote view.” These skills permit her to work as a “spy” for the CIA through the Air Force at a young age. Fast forward 25 years, Ann is now in her early 40s, a widow and mom, and working as a technical writer for a company in Washington state. She is having vivid dreams that seem all too real. She is told that her dreams are being brought into reality because of her special paranormal skills. She dreams of an object that has been lost for years but wakes up with it in her possession. Talk about spooky and strange . . .  The action toggles between Ann’s dreams and reality as well her past and the present. By the end of the story I was asking the question “what was real and what was a dream?” 


Ms. Hawley has crafted a unique story that grabbed my interest and didn’t let go until the very end. Some of the future action (set in the year 2015) may seem a bit farfetched but it isn’t completely outside the realm of possibilities and therefore becomes acceptable. If you’re up for a read that forces you to think outside of the box and you like stories with a paranormal/sci-fi slant, then you definitely want to read Dreams Unleashed. The biggest drawback to reading this book is that it is book one in a trilogy so you’ll have to wait to read about what happens in future books.


DISCLOSURE:  I received this book free from the author for review purposes. I was not paid, required nor otherwise obligated to provide a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Book 135: THE SKIN MAP Review

The Skin Map by Stephen R. Lawhead
Publisher: Thomas Nelson, Inc.
Release date: May 31, 2011 (paperback)


C. Christopher “Kit” Livingstone is an average 20-something male. He is employed and has a girlfriend, and he isn’t happy with either one. Kit’s life changes when he meets his great-grandfather and is taught about ley lines that provide for inter-dimensional time travel — different times and alternate universes. Unfortunately he tries to impress his girlfriend, Wilhelmina “Mina” Klug with ley line travel. Mina gets taken to early 17th century Prague whereas Kit is taken to 17th century England. What follows is a wild adventure of discovery and intrigue. Mina finds her place by becoming a successful merchant as co-owner of a bakery and coffeehouse and even earns a royal warrant. Kit is still floundering while trying to understand the importance of ley lines, the “skin map” that depicts and decodes these ley lines, and his role in decoding the information. 


This story is told from multiple points of views, namely Kit, Mina, Lord Burleigh and Arthur Flinders-Petrie. The reader travels to Macau, ancient Egypt during the times of the pharaohs, early 20th century Egypt and the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb by Henry Carter and Lord Carnarvon, and alternate 17th century European civilizations. The mystery lies in the ultimate purpose of the ley lines and the search for the Well of Souls, something that only Mr. Flinders-Petrie apparently knew and had coded into symbols tattooed onto his body. There are hints given to myths and mysteries but nothing is ever spelled out.


Although Kit’s role seems to be pivotal to this story I found all of the other characters much more interesting. Mina is determined to make the best of a bad situation and quickly adapts to living in the 16th century. Mr. Flinders-Petrie is the key and we’re allowed a glimpse of his life and travels in Macau and ancient Egypt. I enjoyed reading about the various adventures each person has and even learning about the theories behind the ley lines and their importance in the hypothetical omniverse. The Skin Map is well-written but it moved a little too slow for my tastes, not to mention leaving too many questions to be answered in, presumably, the remaining books. I enjoyed this book but I doubt if I’ll be reading any more in this series, it simply wasn’t that captivating.


Disclaimer: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not paid, required nor otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”