Can Bryan and Robert rise like a Phoenix after reading the book Phoenix Island by John Dixon? Only listening to this episode will give you the answer!

Bryan’s quick summary:

At 16, Carl Freeman is already a state and national boxing champion. But his penchant for stepping in and punching out anyone victimizing or bullying anyone else has got him into big trouble, over and over.

So much so that Carl has had to move around the country, as institution after institution can’t handle his fits of rage against the underdog anymore, as well as the trail of bloodied noses and broken jaws.

But Carl is doing his best to live up to his deceased father’s expectations of doing good. Badly wounded in a domestic violence investigation, his father retired from the police force a broken man, his mind destroyed from his injuries. At a very early age, Carl was left to defend his traumatized father from neighborhood taunts … until a judge suggested he join a boxing club, and he met his mentor.

Then Carl’s father passed away, and his mother committed suicide.

Now … with no place left willing to take him, one judge sends Carl to Phoenix Island, to be held captive until he reforms and he is eighteen. Or face life in prison.

Carl accepts his fate … but has no idea of the hell he is about to face.

Phoenix Island is by John Dixon

So what did we think? (From a reader’s perspective)

1. (Robert) This is a thrilling and violent story. Plenty of blood and broken bones; death and torture: not the best thing for a young or timid YA reader. There is no sexual content, and only the hint of a romance.

The fight scenes are fantastic, and although Carl gets into plenty of scrapes, he shows he learns from them, and is a quick thinker – a great protagonist, with deep motivation. Plenty of things go wrong at almost every stage, and the fast pace makes this a fun read.

2. (Robert) The writing style is a little stilted at times – as if the author is trying too hard to be lyrical or metaphorical – yet when we just had action scenes or dialog, this was (mostly) not present. It seemed to be more obvious when Carl was thinking.

3. (Robert) I found the overall plot to be more like a batman episode, and Stark, the antagonist, seemed to be the epitome of a super-smart muscled villain of the muah, huah, huah variety (“I’m going to show the world these sissies were wrong! Collateral damage is acceptable for the good of the masses! Goddamn liberals!” etc etc)

But in general, 4 stars for a pacey read that had me genuinely tense in places and keen to know what happened next. If you’re up for a violent teenage boot camp adventure, with gratuitous training montages and some genetic manipulation thrown in … You’ll enjoy Phoenix Island.

The one star is missing because of the very slack ending … disappointing, as the final climax was mostly excellent.

As a debut, I’d have to say, look out for more from John Dixon. When he discovers his gritty storytelling voice, he’ll be a force to be reckoned with.

What did we think from a writer’s perspective?

1. (Robert) The plot is lame, though Carl is believable, and has great motivation. The interactions between Carl and his “friends” are excellent, and the story is mostly let down by Stark and his interactions with Carl. Parker was a more believable antagonist, yet was even more cardboard. I loved being a part of Carl smashing Parker’s face to pulp!

2. (Robert) . Stark’s world domination agenda is too clichéd for Dixon’s wonderful fight scenes, it was such a shame. I also felt at times the author’s principles, morals and world opinions contaminated the narrative. He needs to get out of the way, and let his characters SHOW US what this means, and argue the case. Antagonist monologues … that’s what reminded me of the batman comparisons.

3. (Robert) The end was a real disappointment, as the last few chapters really heated up, and the final showdown was inevitable, and clever in its set-up, but horrible in final execution, I felt let down, as previously Dixon showed us moments of sheer brilliance. A bit of a roller-coaster – plenty of good bits, but some rough bits, including the ending, which I thought was a cop-out, especially given the earlier chest-beating moral messages. Maybe Dixon struggled to let go of his story? Something seemed too restrained about the ending. But watch out for this writer in the future!

Bryan and Robert’s Famous Takeaways:

1. For a debut novel the gritty fight scenes are well described, and there’s enough excitement to keep everyone on their toes. Maze Runner fans would like this, but it’s no Hunger Games or Lord of the Flies.

2. The main conflict and plot premise leave a lot to be desired, and you’ll have to place your judgment of this to one side to get the most out of this book.

3. A difficult book to place in the YA “genre” due to its extreme violence and fight scenes, probably best suited to 16 year old boys and up. Great anti-bullying revenge stories (but not necessarily a great ideal to push).

Prompt of the Week:

Your hero is unmanageable, due to a flaw that sees him or her fly into violent rages when they witness injustice. One last incident is too much, and they must overcome a seemingly insurmountable or unwinnable ordeal in order to gain their prize. What is it, and how to they overcome it?

Write your response to the prompt or the show in the comments!

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