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Review: Not on Fire, but Burning by Greg Hrbek

Review: Not on Fire, but Burning by Greg Hrbek published on


About the Book

From Goodreads:

Twenty-year-old Skyler saw the incident out her window: Some sort of metalic object hovering over the Golden Gate Bridge just before it collapsed and a mushroom cloud lifted above the city. Like everyone, she ran, but she couldn’t outrun the radiation, with her last thoughts being of her beloved baby brother, Dorian, safe in her distant family home.

Flash forward to a post-incident America, where the country has been broken up into territories and Muslims have been herded onto the old Indian reservations in the west, even though no one has determined who set off the explosion that destroyed San Francisco. Twelve-year old Dorian dreams about killing Muslims and about his sister—even though Dorian’s parents insist Skyler never existed. Are they still shell-shocked, trying to put the past behind them . . . or is something more sinister going on?

Meanwhile, across the street, Dorian’s neighbor adopts a Muslim orphan from the territories. It will set off a series of increasingly terrifying incidents that will lead to either tragedy or redemption for Dorian, as he struggles to prove that his sister existed—and was killed by a terrorist attack.

Not on Fire, but Burning is unlike anything you’re read before—not exactly a thriller, not exactly sci-fi, not exactly speculative fiction, but rather a brilliant and absorbing adventure into the dark heart of an America that seems ripped from the headlines. But just as powerfully, it presents a captivating hero: A young boy driven by love to seek the truth, even if it means his deepest beliefs are wrong.


This is a very difficult book to review without saying too much.

As you can tell from the above description, this is a book about a lot of different things. This isn’t just a slam-pow-boom action book. There are explosions, sure. Violence, drug use. But this book deals deeply with racism, fear, othering. We have some mysteries, such as whether or not Skyler existed: did Dorian’s parents cover-up her existence (no photos or clothing or online news clippings or…) from Dorian to shield him from the painful truth, or did Dorian imagine her existence? We, the readers, see her in the book’s opening. We follow her around the destroyed city in a daze, trying to save the child she’s babysitting and find medical attention for herself. Are we crazy, too? How about the destruction of the city: terrorists, aliens, a meteor? What hit the bridge so fast and killed so many?

The rounding up of innocent Muslim’s into concentration camps, er, onto reservations, is chilling, yet historically supported by similar actions the US took against innocent Japanese-American citizens during WWII. The story sold here is that the destruction of San Francisco was a terrorist attack by Muslim extremists. We don’t see any evidence of that in the book’s early chapters, and I’m not about to go into the later ones in depth. We are left wondering: is this what happened? Even if it was a terrorist attack by a radical group of Muslims, is it an appropriate action to take? Rounding up Muslims and leaving them in reservations for decades?

We follow Dorian’s neighbor as he adopts a boy from one of these camps–a boy who already has a drug addiction and some anti-American sentiments building up from his time kept in a barely-figurative cage his entire life. We follow Dorian as he seeks information: did he have a sister? And was her disappearance and supposed death caused by Muslim terrorists?

This book requires a lot of thought. You have to pay attention. There are several POVs, and because this takes place a dozen or so years into a speculative future, we’re required to learn new terminology and slightly shift our view of reality. Because this one isn’t quite ours.

This is the sort of science fiction I love; posit a “what-if?” and spin it forward. Where does it take us? And who will we be when we get there? Hrbek adopts a perfect tone as he addresses these questions and more.

Not on Fire, but Burning was published by Melville House on September 22nd, 2015.

It can be purchased at Amazon or at your favorite book retailer.

About the Author

71shvZxoagL._UX250_Greg Hrbek won the James Jones First Novel award for his book The Hindenburg Crashes Nightly. His short fiction has appeared in Harper’s Magazine and numerous literary journals, and in The Best American Short Stories anthology. He is writer in residence at Skidmore College.

Review: The Spider in the Laurel by Michael Pogach

Review: The Spider in the Laurel by Michael Pogach published on


About the Book

From Goodreads:

The Spider in the Laurel combines elements of Indiana Jones adventures and Jason Bourne thrillers with a V for Vendetta dystopia, and an American Gods fantasy.

The Spider in the Laurel is the story of history teacher, Rafael Ward, in a world that has outlawed the basis of most of our history: religion. When Ward is forced to take a job destroying the relics he cherishes, it will take the uncompromising faith of an outlaw as an ally, and the acceptance of his guilt for his mother’s death, to help him break free of the government’s yoke. If he’s lucky, he might just prevent the coming apocalypse, for which this secular future is completely unprepared.

The Spider in the Laurel straddles the line between simple adventure fun, and the kind of novel which can force a reader to question his or her own beliefs.

The Spider in the Laurel was released by Ragnarok Publications on 9/19/2015.

It can be purchased at Amazon HERE.


Reading the synopsis gives a fairly honest perspective of what this book is about. My own “it’s like” description for this book is “It’s like The Da Vinci Code set in the world of 1984.” It isn’t that precisely, though. It definitely has shades of “Indiana Jones” (even to the point that a character says, un-ironically, “It belongs in a museum,”) and the Bourne books (the lead character, though a new-ish agent, has training and executes well in some amazing hand-to-hand and fight and a few shootouts). I don’t personally see much American Gods, but there could be shades I missed. I’m a big Gaiman fan, so my rose-colored glasses might be limiting my critical perspective. They are both books about a man who lacks faith and who goes through some spiritual/psychological torment in the process of potentially acquiring it.

Faith is an important aspect of this book. I did not in any way find the book to be “Christian fiction” even though Christianity is a key factor in the events of the story; this isn’t a book like the Left Behind series, the sort of story that can only be seen through a single lens. The protagonist’s past has been deeply affected by Christianity, he spent his early adult life studying it (and other “mythologies”), he has recently taken up (for the government, not that he has a choice, really) collecting and destroying its relics, and he spends a lot of this book thinking about whether or not he believes in it. There are a lot of Christian allusions, with little things (such as a door opening three times, feeling much like the many instances of occurrences in triplicate in the Bible). Christianity and history are strong parts of this book’s backbone. It wouldn’t exist without religion. And it asks some interesting questions about what a society might be like if religion was no longer allowed to exist.

This book is about a man’s crisis of faith, a life in flux. It is also a high-action, fast-paced, gun-heavy, sometimes-gory, world-traveling adventure that kept up the punches through the final pages.

The book ends without definitive statements. We can believe what we want about the ending, and that is perfect, considering the nature of the questions asked by the author throughout. I don’t think this book is for everybody, but I think many readers can find something to like here. I was not sure what to expect; I was pleasantly surprised by the absence of (literal) spiders.


He spun. The other man–the taller one–was there at the opposite curb. With a military glide the man approached, his hand over his heart for quick access to the weapon in his jacket.

Ward slowed his breathing. I should be in a library, he thought. Books. Everything was so much easier in books. But that single lament was all he had time for. Clenching his fists, Ward rushed forward.

About the Author

5785591Michael Pogach is an English Professor and the author of the dark fantasy/sci-fi thriller The Spider in the Laurel. His short stories have appeared in various journals such as New Plains Review, Third Wednesday, and Workers Write. Michael lives with his wife in Quakertown, Pennsylvania.

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Review: Soulless by Jacinta Maree

Review: Soulless by Jacinta Maree published on 1 Comment on Review: Soulless by Jacinta Maree

Soulless cover


Welcome to Soulless.

We are the generation that laughs at death.

Reincarnation; what was once considered a gift of immortality has become an eternity of nightmares.

Nadia Richards lives in a world plagued by reincarnation, a system of recycling souls where all past memories, personalities and traumatic events are relived daily in disjointed sequences. Trapped within their own warped realities, not even the richest and most powerful are saved from their own minds unraveling. Madness is the new human nature, and civilizations are crumpling beneath themselves trying to outrun it.

Within a society that ignores death, Nadia appears to be the one exception to the reincarnation trap. Born without any reincarnated memories and with printless eyes, the hot tempered 19 year old quickly becomes the ultimate prize to all those wishing to end the vicious cycle, or for some, to ensure they could evade death forever.

Readers discretion: Adult language, violence and some adult scenes. For mature audiences only.



Life and death are different in the future. After several more world wars, some nuclear fallout, and a lot of hunger and sorrow, something needed to be done. That something resulted in the creation of a particularly nasty form of reincarnation and, if possible, an even less level playing field for the elites vs the rest of the players.

Everybody knows that when you die, you’ll be reborn into another body. After five or six or seven years of life, you might start having nightmares. You wake up from being stabbed to death, screaming in pain, shielding your child from the blows…to find yourself in your bed, a child once more. These aren’t nightmares, they are flashbacks to past lives. Everybody has past lives, you see. And eventually, as you get a little older, you’ll remember more and more, you’ll have too many lives to keep straight in your noggin, and you’ll go insane. Anyone with who has murdered in the past goes on a blacklist and is sent directly to prison. If you’ve done it once, you’ve done it always.

Everybody is reborn again and again; these rebirths are so certain that there is no doubt, no concern for bodily harm, no worry about what will happen when this life ends. People commit suicide at 25 to avoid aging; people will give anything for the drug, D400, that dulls the memories of past lives and allows for a sense of sanity.

Everybody, that is, but Nadia. Nadia, nineteen, remembers nothing but this life, and her eyes do not bear the line that can be scanned to demonstrate a history of lives. She’s an aberration. She lives in a slum, stands in line for food that usually runs out before she reaches the front, watches neighbors get snatched by large walking robots or shot down for breaking rules. She has a sister she loves, and parents that don’t seem to love her. She is lonely and tough and seeks understanding.

Maree deeply and impressively delves into the psychology and possible manifestation of a world in which bodies are now disposable and a person’s next life is a forgone conclusion.

How does a parent feel about a child when this child has been born many times before to different parents? Are you no longer a parent, but more like a caretaker for this bundle of beings who will eventually wake up and remember their past lives? Is there still such a thing as a parent-child bond?

How about love. If you have a loved one in a particular life, will you seek them out in the next one? How many times could you meet, and in how many incarnations? Teacher-student? Brother-sister? Lovers?

And what happens when you are the only one without these experiences? A person whose life is singular, whose parents and siblings are the only ones they’ve ever had?

This book is cinematic. There are scenes that would fit right into a miniseries or short-run series: I can see Nadia running in slow-motion, a beeping noise coming from the vault behind her as she slides along the floor and drops through a hole in the floor, an explosion rocking the building behind her, flames following her down. I can see her slipping in the blood and organs of dead prisoners, fleeing before the flames consume the empty husks. This isn’t your kids’ Hunger Games.

My only criticisms are the slight lull in the middle, (just after the cannibals,) as well as a few issues with the romance element. I don’t read much romance, so I can’t compare it to what is typical. There are some aspects that are unhealthy, some mental health and sanity checks my mind keeps making, but I’m not sure that’s surprising in a world like this. Love is rare and weird and difficult in the best of circumstances. But in a world where trust is a premium, where people are out for themselves and change allegiances quicker than their bodies, love is a battlefield. It was inevitable that the love story portion would lead to blood and violence and madness.

This book ends with a cliffhanger on a literal cliff. Maree builds an intriguing world, and for the most part, I enjoyed the plot and characters. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Soulless is available from Inked Rabbit Press on 10/1/2015 via Amazon HERE.

About the Author

Born in Melbourne Australia, Jacinta Maree considers herself a chocoholic with an obsession with dragons, video gaming and Japan. She writes a variety of genres including YA paranormal, steampunk, horror, new adult, dystopian and fantasy. Winner of 2014 Horror of the year and bestselling author, Jacinta writes to bring enjoyment to others while fulfilling her own need to explore the weird and the impossible.

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