A Free Dreamer Review: At the Trough by Adam Knight


Rating: 3 stars out  of 5

In a future where schools have no teachers and no classrooms, Jennifer Calderon is the perfect student. Every day she watches her video modules, plays her edu games, and never misses an answer. Life is comfortable in the Plex, a mile-wide apartment building. Corporations and brand names surround her and satisfy her every want and need.

Then one day, her foul-mouthed, free-spirited, 90’s-kitsch-wearing girlfriend Melody disrupts everything. She introduces her to a cynical, burned-out former teacher, who teaches them the things no longer taught in school. Poetry. Critical thinking. Human connection.

But these lessons draw the attention of EduForce, the massive corporation with a stranglehold on education. When they show how far they are willing to go keep their customers obedient, Jennifer has to decide what is most important to her and how much she is willing to sacrifice for it.

When I read the blurb of “At the Trough”, I was thrilled to finally find a classic YA dystopia with an LGBT+ couple. But that’s not what I got, so I was a bit disappointed.

There are so many YA dystopian novels out there, with two teenagers in a forbidden love, fighting to overthrow the system and I love that genre. But I have yet to find a book with a couple that’s not m/f. I had hoped that this book would finally be the first book with a f/f pairing with that setting. Needless to say, I was quite disappointed when it turned out that “At the Trough” was more a philosophical debate about the school system.

Other than that, I had a couple issues with the story. First of all, the timeline didn’t quite work out for me. The book is set in 2051 and the world as we know it doesn’t exist anymore. That’s only 32 years from now, so not all that far in the future. I found it hard to believe that everything is so very different, without any sort of natural disaster or war or something else to jump-start such a major change in society. It all started in the 2030s, which is just 20 years from now, and I just don’t see that coming.

I didn’t feel the romance between Melody and Jennifer at all. Best friends with benefits, sure, but lovers? Not so much. Maybe a little background info would have worked. We never learned how these two very different young women met and fell in love. We never learned anything about Melody’s past.

On one occasion, I found a pretty serious mistake. Charles tells his students about Kafka and calls him a “German writer”. And that’s just plain wrong. There’s a difference between German-speaking and German, just like there’s a difference between English-speaking and English. If you have to pin a nationality on Kafka, it would have to be Czech. Charles, a literature-loving teacher, would never have made that mistake, so it was clearly a research mistake.

The plot didn’t really engage me. It felt a bit like a manifesto of the brilliant, wonderful school system and that’s not something I’m interested in. And the ending didn’t really work for me either.

Overall, “At the Trough” wasn’t what I expected at all and I was honestly disappointed by that. I guess you might like the book more, if you go in with the right expectations, but it just wasn’t for me.

The cover by Natasha Snow is alright.

Sales Links:

NineStar Press | Amazon | Smashwords | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

Book Details:

Published May 13th 2019 by NineStar Press
Edition Language English

An Aurora YA Review: Angel Radio by A.M. Blaushield

Rating: 5 out of 5     .★★★★★

angel RadioIt is on the cusp of summer that strange angels of eyes and wings appear throughout the world, and a week later all of humanity is dead. Except one girl. Months later, Erika Cantor continues to wander her desolate hometown without purpose or answers—until a strange radio broadcast sends her into the dangerous world outside—a world past civilization, whose only inhabitants are monsters and demons.

There, Erika meets Midori, a naïve girl with a cryptic connection to the angels, and Gav, a boy who seems to have knowledge he refuses to share with Erika. The appearance of the mysterious Fex raises even more questions. Can he be trusted?

 As Erika travels across Vermont searching for some remnant of society, she learns that there’s a reason she survived—that the angels, horrid creatures that they are—have a plan for her.

The action in this book starts right off the bat, which is a good thing in some ways and a not-so-good thing in others. I was really intrigued by the concept of the book, and the things that did happen within the first chapter really interested me, so I was compelled to keep reading. However, the nature of the book is that it starts out pretty directly with our main character alone in the world, or thinking that she is, at least. This definitely bolsters the stakes and makes it interesting to find out what’s going to happen next. However, there is very limited character interaction because of it. While I did understand this, I would have liked to have seen some more interaction between Erika and her parents, or even with some of her friends at school who were panicking, before we got to at least a whole chapter where I didn’t get to see Erika interact with anyone but herself.

For me, I was interested in Erika, I was intrigued by the way she thought about things, and her narration was interesting enough that I wanted to read if only to see what would happen to her. This is master characterization on the part of the author, because it wasn’t too overt, Erika didn’t just tell the readers exactly what her personality was. There were little comments here and there, little shifts in attitude from what would have been perceived as normal, that hinted as to Erika’s eccentricities. And it was enough to keep me interested through her journey until she met up with some other characters. Really, the whole book contained really strong characters. No one seemed one dimensional, apart, perhaps, from the people who were introduced in the first chapter and dead before it was over. The characters who were still alive were interesting within a paragraph of being introduced, sometimes in as much as a sentence.
And the plot wasn’t lacking either. Once it got on its feet and got past the set up for the book, the angels coming, Erika leaving home, it was captivating until the end of the book. An original idea is good, but keeping the plot engaging beyond that initial idea can be challenging. This book didn’t struggle with that at all, and definitely kept me interested beyond just the tagline of ‘angels destroy humanity.’ 
This book wasn’t your typical YA dystopian novel. It flourished with engaging characters, a stellar plot throughout, and lots of imagery to help the movie in my head.
The cover for this book is so beautiful. It definitely caught my eye from the moment I saw it, and drew me to the book really effectively. Some people have problems with a main character being pictured on the cover, but I actually liked having that drawing to flip back to and put an already constructed face to the name. It is really well done and shows great artistic ability, as well as being paired up just perfectly with the tone and plot of the book. It looks like a cover the main character could have chosen for herself.
Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press | ARe | Amazon
Book Details:
ebook, 250 pages
Published December 31st 2015 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1634762800 (ISBN13: 9781634762809)
Edition LanguageEnglish