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Review: Devil's Pocket by John Dixon


Devil's Pocket
Author:  John Dixon
Publisher:  Gallery Books, August 4, 2015
Format:  Trade Paperback and eBook, 352 pages
List Price:  $10.99 (print); $8.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9781476738666 (print); 9781476738710 (eBook)
Review Copy: Provided by the Publisher

Review: Devil's Pocket by John Dixon
The follow-up to the critically acclaimed Phoenix Island, which reads like “Lord of the Flies meets Wolverine and Cool Hand Luke” (F. Paul Wilson, creator of Repairman Jack) and inspired the CBS TV show Intelligence.

With a chip in his head and hundreds more throughout his body, sixteen-year-old Carl Freeman was turned from an orphan with impulse control issues into a super-soldier. Forced into the mercenary Phoenix Force group, he begins to fear he’ll never escape. Sent to a volcanic island to fight for them, he’ll compete in a combat tournament that awards teens with survival for merciless brutality. But just when all looks lost, he spies a friendly face…and possibly a way out.



Trinitytwo's Point of View

In the hard hitting sequel to John Dixon's award winning Phoenix Island protagonist Carl Freeman finds himself in the Devil's Pocket. The chip that has enhanced Carl's mind and body has transformed him into the ultimate fighting machine. It's made him stronger and faster, but has also unleashed a murderous rage which takes all of his discipline to curb. When Commander Stark offers a new assignment with a reward he can't refuse, Carl happily accepts. His mission is to win the Funeral Games in which fighters from all over the world will battle in a secret arena. Stark promises Carl the position of second in command if he triumphs, which would allow Carl the opportunity to get the information he desperately needs to destroy Phoenix Island for good. If there is one thing Carl knows, it's how to fight and he finds himself excited to be a part of this blood sport competition. However, the stakes at the Funeral Games are deadlier than Carl ever imagined and even his enhancement chip won't prevent him from ending up against the ropes.

Devil's Pocket is a combination of jabs, crosses and uppercuts that will keep its readers engrossed in its pages. Dixon's sequel packs a punch and the savagery of the cage fighting sequences really had me on the edge of my seat. I like the unexpected twists and turns in the storyline. Unlike Phoenix Island, this book is not a straightforward psychological thriller, as Dixon adds a healthy dose of intrigue and espionage to the mix. He also reunites Carl with some old allies and enemies with accompanying complications. The novel's ominous setting creates the perfect backdrop for the action. Dixon definitely knows his fighting techniques, so much so that this book may not be for those squeamish souls who cringe at blood. Not being one of those people, I really enjoyed the fighting choreography and at times felt I was sitting ringside. Another positive is Carl's character development. It rang true that his limited life experiences would cause him heartache. I appreciated that even though the chip has made Carl something of a superhuman, at heart he is still a teenage boy struggling with difficult decisions and the fallout of his own mistakes.

Devil's Pocket can definitely stand alone, however I would point prospective readers in the direction of Phoenix Island to start. I highly recommend this book to readers who like fast-paced, action-packed thrillers.


Read Trinitytwo's review of Phoenix Island here.

Review: Phoenix Island by John Dixon


Phoenix Island
Author:  John Dixon
Publisher:  Gallery Books, January 7, 2014
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 320 pages
List Price:  $19.99 (print)
ISBN:  9781476738635 (print)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher

Review: Phoenix Island by John Dixon
The judge told Carl that one day he’d have to decide exactly what kind of person he would become. But on Phoenix Island, the choice will be ma de for him.

A champion boxer with a sharp hook and a short temper, sixteen-year-old Carl Freeman has been shuffled from foster home to foster home. He can’t seem to stay out of trouble—using his fists to defend weaker classmates from bullies. His latest incident sends his opponent to the emergency room, and now the court is sending Carl to the worst place on earth: Phoenix Island.

Classified as a “terminal facility,” it’s the end of the line for delinquents who have no home, no family, and no future. Located somewhere far off the coast of the United States—and immune to its laws—the island is a grueling Spartan-style boot camp run by sadistic drill sergeants who show no mercy to their young, orphan trainees. Sentenced to stay until his eighteenth birthday, Carl plans to play by the rules, so he makes friends with his wisecracking bunkmate, Ross, and a mysterious gray-eyed girl named Octavia. But he makes enemies, too, and after a few rough scrapes, he earns himself the nickname “Hollywood” as well as a string of punishments, including a brutal night in the “sweatbox.” But that’s nothing compared to what awaits him in the “Chop Shop”—a secret government lab where Carl is given something he never dreamed of.

A new life. . . .

A new body. A new brain.

Gifts from the fatherly Old Man, who wants to transform Carl into something he’s not sure he wants to become.

For this is no ordinary government project. Phoenix Island is ground zero for the future of combat intelligence.

And for Carl, it’s just the beginning. . . .



Trintytwo's Point of View

Sixteen year old Carl Freeman is a hard luck case. Both of his parents are dead and he has been in and out of foster homes and juvenile courts due to his uncontrollable temper and penchant for beating up bullies. The only good thing in his life was his brief boxing career and Junior Golden Gloves title. Carl finds himself facing another assault charge. A judge in rinky-dink Dale County Juvenile Court sentences Carl to Phoenix Island, a military style boot camp, where he will serve his sentence until he turns eighteen. Carl has high hopes that this could be a fresh start, but his optimism is dashed the moment the plane lands on the remote island jungle. He is immediately singled out and harassed by a maniacal drill sergeant. Carl soon realizes that the niceties of the civilized world don’t apply on Phoenix Island. Punishments vary from harsh calisthenics to interminable stints in the sweatbox. The soldiers warn the new “recruits” that the jungle is extremely dangerous but Carl senses that the dangers in the training camp are infinitely worse.

Phoenix Island is one young man’s perilous journey for survival. Carl Freeman is smart, determined and strong. He is a survivor who, despite his flaws, is thoroughly likable. You will root for right from the start. This is Peter Pan’s lost boys on steroids, trapped on the Island of Dr. Moreau with a psycho drill sergeant pushing them beyond their limits. Carl's most lethal weapon is his determination to survive. Phoenix Island is a combination of action, horror, survival, and psychological thriller. Something black and sinister is going on behind the barracks and drills.

I didn’t think that I would like Phoenix Island as much as I did. The book has been compared to Lord of the Flies but I enjoyed it much more. The novel is fast paced and the writing is so descriptive you feel that you are experiencing all the horrors of the island for yourself. John Dixon’s debut novel is one of those books you just can’t put down. Phoenix Island is taut, gritty and a real shot of adrenaline.


2014 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - January 2014 Winner


The winner of the January 2014 Debut Author Challenge Cover wars is Phoenix Rising by John Dixon with 52% of the votes.


2014 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - January 2014 Winner
 Jacket Design by John Vario, Jr.
Photo of fist © Photogrpher's Choice/Getty Images
Photo of vine © Suzana Profeta/E+/Getty Images





The Final Results

 2014 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - January 2014 Winner





The January 2014 Debut Covers

2014 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - January 2014 Winner





Thank you to everyone who voted, Tweeted, and participated. The 2014 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars will continue with voting on the February Debut covers starting on February 15, 2014.  Look for the list of February's Debuts on February 1st.


Interview with John Dixon, author of Phoenix Island - January 23, 2014


Please welcome John Dixon to The Qwillery as part of the 2014 Debut Author Challenge Interviews.  Phoenix Island, John's debut novel, was published on January 7, 2014 by Gallery Books.







TQ:  Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

John:  My third grade teacher, Mrs. Wolfe, had us write stories and made all the difference in the world by praising mine. She even went so far as typing up one of them, a silly, didactic story about animals in a courtroom, and she told my parents that I would be a writer someday. I was a bad kid, but her praise and support gave me confidence in something more than just my fists. Needless to say, I thank her extensively in my acknowledgements, and I sent her a copy along with a heartfelt thank you. I don’t know if teachers always know the difference they make, even with very young kids, but Mrs. Wolfe was one of the most important people in my life.



TQ:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

John:  I’m a weird hybrid of the two, still trying to figure out his best process. By nature, I’m a pantser all the way, but by imposing plotting with an emphasis on structure, I was able to write Phoenix Island in ten months. With the sequel, I planned perhaps too much initially, felt a waning of excitement, then took a step back, and whoosh – here came the fun again. As I continue to write, hopefully I’ll find my proper balance between the two. Ideally, I think, I would craft a skeletal outline upon which I could hang spontaneous scene work.



TQ:  What is the most challenging thing for you about writing? Where do you write?

John:  Right now, with the book and the show coming out, the most challenging thing for me is protecting my writing time. I write anytime and anywhere, but I prefer to work on my Alphasmart Neo word processor at flimsy table in a guestroom upstairs (directly overtop, ironically enough, the dedicated office, with its roll top desk and PC). I like a Spartan workspace. The word processor and off-the-grid guestroom protect me from distractions.



TQ:  Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?

John:  Since I was just a kid, literary influences have hovered over me, waxing and waning like moons of exquisite beauty. Ray Bradbury always made me feel like writing, and certainly Phoenix Island was influenced by the comic books of my youth and childhood favorites like The Lord of the Flies, The Island of Dr. Moreau, “The Most Dangerous Game”, and the novels and short stories of Jack London, America’s most unfairly and unfortunately pigeon-holed writer. Over the last decade, however, I’ve learned the most from my favorite authors, Stephen King, Elmore Leonard, and Cormac McCarthy, and a lot from other favorites, like Thomas Harris, Jack Ketchum, S.E. Hinton, and Robert Lipsyte.



TQ:  Describe Phoenix Island in 140 characters or less.

JohnPrison Break meets The Lord of the Flies – starring a sixteen-year-old Jason Bourne.



TQ:  Tell us something about Phoenix Island that is not in the book description.

John:  The main character, Carl Freeman, has one fatal flaw: he can’t ignore bullies. He’s a zero tolerance anti-bullying program on two legs, and his inability to dismiss injustice causes him no end of trouble.



TQ:  What inspired you to write Phoenix Island? Why did you choose to write a dystopian thriller? Do you want to write in any other genres?

John:  I have written widely in the short form and will continue to write in other genres.

Dystopian stories are my way of worrying about the future, while still creating characters capable of dealing with darkness. In a sense, I’m creating the mythology of my nightmare future. In terms of society, I suppose I’m a pessimist, but in terms of the human heart, I always be a terminal optimist. If the world goes bust and people must suffer, I believe some people will suffer bravely, even beautifully.

Phoenix Island came at me from a bunch of directions, unconnected experiences and ideas coalescing over time, but the heart of it grew out of two sources: hope and rage. From the get-go, I knew I wanted to write a story about a kid who, like so many people I’ve known, doesn’t really fit into polite society but who nonetheless possesses great strength and potential, given the right circumstances. Then I heard about the unbelievably disgusting “Kids for Cash” case, where judges from my home state of Pennsylvania made money by convicting kids to privately run boot camps for teen offenders. My high hopes for people I’d known met my rage over this unbelievable injustice, and the book blew up in my head.



TQ:  What sort of research did you do for Phoenix Island?

John:  The most important research came quite unintentionally through osmosis with life, from my experiences as a boxer, a teacher, a prison tutor, a caseworker for at-risk youth, and, of course, a lifelong reader with too many interests. Phoenix Island is a contemporary thriller, the story of a tough kid in tough conditions, so these experiences took me a long way, but science is important – even integral – to the book, so in that sense it is also science fiction. The book, series, and TV adaptation all deal with the question of trans-humanism, which fascinates me. Thanks to amazing sources, good people like Dr. Gary Della Zanna and Dr. John Dougherty, both of the National Institutes of Health, and the guidance of Intelligence’s executive producer, Tripp Vinson, who would get in touch, telling me to watch a specific Ted Talk, read a helpful book, or Google some bit of cutting-edge science, research was an absolute blast – as were the purely imaginative brainstorming sessions that helped me go from fact to fiction.



TQ:  Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why? Who is your favorite good guy, bad guy or ethically ambiguous character?

John:  The easiest character to write was Carl, because I knew him so well, almost intuitively, before I’d even started the book. He is in many ways the person I wish I had been, though I would hate to go through the things he suffers.

The most difficult character to write was Carl’s friend Octavia, because she’s a girl, and that’s something I’ve never been. I’ve written comfortably from the point-of-view of women and younger females, but I found myself on sometimes uncertain ground while in the head and heart of a seventeen-year-old girl.

My favorite ethically ambiguous character is Motorcycle Boy from S.E. Hinton’s mind-blowing masterpiece, Rumble Fish, which I’ve read no fewer than twenty times. Francis Ford Coppola, who directed the film version, called Rumble Fish “Camus for kids” – a true enough statement, I reckon, and one predicated primarily upon the things Motorcycle Boy says and does.



TQ:  Give us one of your favorite lines from Phoenix Island.

John:  “With the hard darkness of night, the jungle became a madhouse of sounds: cries and squawks; squeals and snorts; hoots and gibbers; something large bellowing deeper in the woods – and under it all, the constant, deafening chorus of insects pulsed with noise, and this peeping, bleating rhythm was to him the heartbeat of night in the jungle, wild with fear and hunger and menace.”



TQ:  What's next?

John:  Right now, I’m having a blast writing Devil’s Pocket, the sequel to Phoenix Island, and I’m excited that “The Laughing Girl of Bora Fanong”, a short story I coauthored with Adam Browne, has shacked up with amazing Australian animator Adam Duncan, who’s planning to develop it into a graphic novel.



TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

John:  Thanks so much for having me. I had a lot of fun chatting with you.





Phoenix Island

Phoenix Island
Gallery Books, January 7, 2014
Hardcover and eBook, 320 pages

The judge told Carl that one day he’d have to decide exactly what kind of person he would become. But on Phoenix Island, the choice will be made for him.

A champion boxer with a sharp hook and a short temper, sixteen-year-old Carl Freeman has been shuffled from foster home to foster home. He can’t seem to stay out of trouble—using his fists to defend weaker classmates from bullies. His latest incident sends his opponent to the emergency room, and now the court is sending Carl to the worst place on earth: Phoenix Island.

Classified as a “terminal facility,” it’s the end of the line for delinquents who have no home, no family, and no future. Located somewhere far off the coast of the United States—and immune to its laws—the island is a grueling Spartan-style boot camp run by sadistic drill sergeants who show no mercy to their young, orphan trainees. Sentenced to stay until his eighteenth birthday, Carl plans to play by the rules, so he makes friends with his wisecracking bunkmate, Ross, and a mysterious gray-eyed girl named Octavia. But he makes enemies, too, and after a few rough scrapes, he earns himself the nickname “Hollywood” as well as a string of punishments, including a brutal night in the “sweatbox.” But that’s nothing compared to what awaits him in the “Chop Shop”—a secret government lab where Carl is given something he never dreamed of.

A new life. . . .

A new body. A new brain.

Gifts from the fatherly Old Man, who wants to transform Carl into something he’s not sure he wants to become.

For this is no ordinary government project. Phoenix Island is ground zero for the future of combat intelligence.

And for Carl, it’s just the beginning. . . .





About John

Photograph by Andrew McLean
John Dixon’s debut novel, Phoenix Island, inspired the CBS TV series Intelligence. A former boxer, teacher, and stone mason, John now writes full time and serves as a consultant to ABC Studios. He lives in West Chester, PA, with his wife, Christina, and their freeloading pets. When not reading or writing, he obsesses over boxing, chess, and hot peppers.

Website

Facebook

Twitter @johndixonbooks










2014 Debut Author Challenge - January 2014 Cover Warrs


It's time for the 2014 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars for January 2014!


2014 Debut Author Challenge - January 2014 Cover Warrs


Each month you will be able to vote for your favorite cover from that month's debut novels. At the end of the year the 12 monthly winners will be pitted against each other to choose the 2014 Debut Novel Cover of the Year. Please note that a debut novel cover is eligible in the month in which the novel is released in the US. Cover artist/illustrator information is provided when we have it.

I'm using PollCode for this vote. After you the check the circle next to your favorite, click "Vote" to record your vote. If you'd like to see the real-time results click "View". This will take you to the PollCode site where you may see the results. If you want to come back to The Qwillery click "Back" and you will return to this page. Voting will end sometime on January 24, 2014.


 Vote for your favorite January 2014 Debut Cover
  
pollcode.com free polls 





2014 Debut Author Challenge - January 2014 Cover Warrs




2014 Debut Author Challenge - January 2014 Cover Warrs




2014 Debut Author Challenge - January 2014 Cover Warrs




2014 Debut Author Challenge - January 2014 Cover Warrs
Jacket Design by John Vario, Jr.
Photo of fist © Photogrpher's Choice/Getty Images
Photo of vine © Suzana Profeta/E+/Getty Images





2014 Debut Author Challenge - January 2014 Cover Warrs




2014 Debut Author Challenge - January 2014 Cover Warrs




2014 Debut Author Challenge - January 2014 Cover Warrs




2014 Debut Author Challenge - January 2014 Cover Warrs
Cover Artist - Richard Anderson




2014 Debut Author Challenge - January 2014 Cover Warrs
Cover by Will Staehle




2014 Debut Author Challenge - January 2014 Cover Warrs





Review: Devil's Pocket by John DixonReview: Phoenix Island by John Dixon2014 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - January 2014 WinnerInterview with John Dixon, author of Phoenix Island - January 23, 20142014 Debut Author Challenge - January 2014 Cover Warrs

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