Happy Monday! I don't exactly have a bright and cheery peppy Monday read for you today. Instead I am bringing you a thrilling and intense dystopian read by Mike Mullin. I was thoroughly impressed with his debut book last year, Ashfall, and I was very eager to continue with the series. I invited Mike here today for a guest post. First, let me introduce you to him:
Mike Mullin’s first job was scraping the gum off the undersides of desks at his high school. From there, things went steadily downhill. He almost got fired by the owner of a bookstore due to his poor taste in earrings. He worked at a place that showed slides of poopy diapers during lunch (it did cut down on the cafeteria budget). The hazing process at the next company included eating live termites raised by the resident entomologist, so that didn’t last long either. For a while Mike juggled bottles at a wine shop, sometimes to disastrous effect. Oh, and then there was the job where swarms of wasps occasionally tried to chase him off ladders. So he’s really glad this writing thing seems to be working out. Mike holds a black belt in Songahm Taekwondo. He lives in Indianapolis with his wife and her three cats. Ashen Winter is his second novel. His debut, Ashfall, was named one of the top five young adult novels of 2011 by National Public Radio, a Best Teen Book of 2011 by Kirkus Reviews, and a New Voices selection by the American Booksellers Association. You can find Mike on his website, blog Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Google+ and Pinterest.
Here is Mike:
A Day in the Life of a Writer:
I’m sitting in a hotel room in Springfield, Illinois beside a rain-streaked window not much different from the one in this blog’s header, so I thought for my ramble I’d give you a sense of what a day in my life has been like since my first novel, ASHFALL, was published in October 2011.
I spend a lot of time in hotel rooms like this one. I’ve given more than 300 presentations in the last sixteen months in bookstores, libraries, schools, and taekwondo dojangs. Tomorrow I’ll give six talks at Springfield High School, but right now I’m at loose ends. I drove here early this morning to avoid the sleet that’s now pinging almost musically against the window.
More than 25,000 people follow me on the various forms of social media I participate in, but this is still easily the loneliest of the numerous careers I’ve tried. I get up in the morning and write--alone. I drove here with Maggie Stiefvater’s amazing novel, The Raven Boys, on the CD player and that did make the drive go faster, but still, almost all the 40,000 miles I’ve put on my car over the last 16 months have been lonely ones.
I’m looking forward to dinner with the Springfield High English Department tonight and to speaking with their students tomorrow. But while I’ll meet dozens of wonderful people in the next 24 hours, then I’ll have to leave, and new people will take their places in Houston next week and Brookville the week after that. There’s none of the sense of connection and routine I got from my more traditional jobs.
My intent isn’t to whine. I love writing and plan to do it until I’m buried with my laptop—my cold fingers still clawing at the keyboard in case an idea should strike during the longest night. I’m grateful to the readers who’ve bought enough of my books to make it possible for me to write full-time (thank you!) and to my wife who supplies our health insurance (love you, honey!) But I think I understand at least part of the reason why writers and other creative people are more susceptible to mental illness, depression, and suicide than the population at large.
There are ample compensations for the risk. The time I spend with people is mostly spent with readers, librarians, and teachers—generally speaking, a fabulous group of folks to hang out with. Based on my time in corporate America, I’d say the odds of ending up with a slime mold as a boss are about 50/50. In writing, almost everyone is agreeable. Heck, I don’t really have a boss—I suppose my editor is sort of a boss, but one who’s both pleasant and manages with a light touch. And I love the fact that I can read as much as I like and honestly say that I’m working. Writing only rarely feels like work, yet somehow, miraculously, I’m getting paid for it.
If there’s a point to this rainy day ramble, I suppose it is this: it’s important to have a good support system before you set foot on the writing path. The rock that supports me is my wife—we’ll celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary this August, and I’m still grateful every day for the providence that brought us together. When I write about Alex’s love and loyalty for Darla in ASHFALL and ASHEN WINTER, I’m really writing about my relationship with Margaret.
How about you—do you aspire to be an author? What do you rely on to keep your sanity in times of loneliness? Let me know in the comments, please.
I can certainly relate to those lonely, gray days living here in the Northwest. For me, to keep my sanity I read and blog and spend time with my kids! Thanks so much for stopping by today, Mike. Best of luck to you! I am eagerly waiting for Sunrise. You can read the first couple of chapters of Ashen Winter here. Be sure to check out both books!
Here is my review:
Ashen Winter (Ashfall #2) by Mike Mullen
It’s been over six months since the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano. Alex and Darla have been staying with Alex’s relatives, trying to cope with the new reality of the primitive world so vividly portrayed in Ashfall, the first book in this series. It’s also been six months of waiting for Alex’s parents to return from Iowa. Alex and Darla decide they can wait no longer and must retrace their journey into Iowa to find and bring back Alex’s parents to the tenuous safety of Illinois. But the landscape they cross is even more perilous than before, with life-and-death battles for food and power between the remaining communities. When the unthinkable happens, Alex must find new reserves of strength and determination to survive.
Hardcover, 576 pages
Published October 16th 2012 by Tanglewood Press
Three and a half stars: An action packed, brutal survival story.
For Alex and Darla, it is still a daily fight to survive, even though they are safely settled on his uncle's farm. Food is scarce and civilization continues to decay as the country is immersed into a cold, seemingly never ending winter. Just when Alex and Darla are thinking things are a little better, bandits strike the farm. One of them is carrying a gun that Alex's father had when he left searching for Alex months ago. Alex is determined to go out looking for his parents, even if that means leaving the safety of the farm. Darla, of course, insists on joining him. The two set across the frozen tundra hoping for a miracle. Can they find Alex's parents?
What I Liked:
- I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series, Ashfall, when it released last year. It was a riveting, action packed read. Book two, Ashen Winter, picks up shortly after the conclusion of the first book, and from the get go it is intense. This book is a heart pounding and terrifying read. Alex and Darla jump from the frying pan into the fire and spend the entire time dodging the hot flames. There is very little reprieve in this one for our heroes. It is scary and harsh as we see just how far society has declined in ten months. The midwest of the United States is overrun by bandits and deadly gangs who have resorted to murdering and cannibalism (eww!). If you like fiercely, intense reads that have driving action from beginning to end read this one. There is hardly time to catch your breath! I picked this up and read it in one day, almost six hundred pages in an afternoon! Set aside time for this one because once you start you will have to read just one more chapter to see if Alex can survive!
- One of the things I appreciate the most about this series is the growth of both Alex and Darla. Alex starts out as a typical teen, who is annoyed by his parents and sisters and he enjoys video games and the ease of modern life. Once the volcano erupts, his world is shattered and he is in a fight for his life. Alex is forced to mature very quickly, and he does so in a hurry! He turns into a fighter and a survivalist. At sixteen, he has endured some horrific things over the last ten months. Even though he is a teen, Alex is now confident, mature and brave, but he retains his humanity when many have lost sight of theirs. Darla is one of my favorite YA female protagonists. She is everything a typical young lady is not. She is extremely resourceful and intelligent. She can problem solve like nobody's business. She is very much a tomboy and not always great about expressing her feelings, sometimes she resorts to punching Alex when she is overly anxious. Darla is certainly someone I would want with me if I were in an apocalyptic situation for sure! I have really grown to like these characters.
- The romance in this one is very well done. It is mature and it reflects the conditions that Alex and Darla are surviving. For instance, gone are the petty games and typical teenage lusts. Sure they have those sexual impulses, but they realize the danger of acting without protection, no one wants a pregnancy in this brutal new world. The conditions the two have survived has brought them so close and that makes their relationship mature, so strong that adults fail to grasp their intense undying love for one another. I think Mr. Mullen did an excellent job with this romance, and it is very believable. I especially liked the real and frank conversations that Darla and Alex had regarding their relationship.
- I enjoyed the introduction of two new characters, Alyssa and Ben. Ben is autistic and he is brilliant when it comes to anything military or tactical. He is very interesting and funny at times, especially when he launches into a complete tactical analysis when they are held at gun point. He basically tells the bad guys what they are doing wrong. He ends up being a bit of comic relief which was a nice reprieve. Alyssa is a fighter as well, and she has certainly done what it takes to ensure that she and Ben survive. I really felt her. I hope that somehow things will work out for Alyssa and Ben.
And The Not So Much:
- My biggest complaint about this book is that it felt like it was just more of book one. I was hoping for more detail on the volcano and the devastating effects it had on the world. I wanted to see more on day to day survival, such as how they were finding food and trying to rebuild civilization. Instead I got another trek across the country with Alex and Darla, where they continually encounter one bad situation after another. Basically, it is lots of gun fights and altercations with bandits and gangs. Sure the action is intense and it is a riveting read, but I honestly grew tired of the continuous action because that is all this book is. Don't get me wrong, it is a very entertaining read, but I felt like I had been there done that with this series. I really want to see more progression into other areas instead of the same old same old. Seriously, Alex and Darla never get a break of any kind. They are continually losing their supplies, being captured and nearly dying. Their existence is brutal to say the least.
- I wasn't thrilled that Darla was absent for the majority of the second half of the book. She is the star of the series, in my opinion, and to have her missing due to the situation was a bit of a downer. I missed her inventions and resourcefulness.
- This book is very dark, and I would recommend it for mature readers only. It has lots of violence and discussions of cannibalism and so forth. I think this would be better categorized as New Adult since its subject matter is best suited for older teenagers.
- This book ends on a cliffhanger, which was a disappointment. I felt after all the run around and bad that it would end on a bit more positive note, but unfortunately, it ends with more chaos. Alex and Darla really deserve a break, but no rest for the weary!
Ashen Winter was a terrifying, riveting read that kept me hungrily reading until late into the night. If you are a fan of endless action and danger in your dystopian check out this series. Even though I was disappointed that this book fell a little bit flat in that it didn't really explore any new territory, and it tended to revisit the same conflicts repeatedly, I still enjoyed it. At the heart of the story is a fierce romance born out of horrific circumstances. It is the one shining bright spot in this devastated world. Will I continue this series? Absolutely! The next book, Sunrise, due out later this year hopefully will bring Alex and Darla a bit of peace. I am hopeful for them and for humanity!
"The rich blue of that final August sky was fading from my memory. Colors are slippery: If you cover your eyes and try to remember blue, you see black."
"She started stripping my clothing, muttering all the while, "Stupid, pigheaded, obstinate, obnoxious, oviparous, egg-sucking boy." I both laid and sucked eggs? That didn't make sense. Whatever."
"He held the sandwich in front of him as he ate, staring at it like a kid with a new iPhone on Christmas morning. Well, like a kid would have stared at an iPhone before the volcano. Now that kid would just toss the useless chunk of metal and glass aside and look for the good stuff: food, clothing, matches or weapons.
"And look, if we repay brutality with more brutality, how does it end? We do something just a little bit worse every day, and soon enough we're just like him."
"A year ago, death meant I'd have to get my armor repaired in World of Warcraft. Now it was an all-too-real shadow lurking behind the veneer of daily life. "
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and I was not compensated for this review.
This completes another book for my TBR Challenge!