Sunday, January 12, 2014

Review: Phoenix Island by John Dixon

Title: Phoenix Island
Author: John Dixon
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction
Source: Gallery Books via NetGalley

Goodreads rating: 3.90 out of 5.00 (90+ ratings)
Goodreads | The Reading Room

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. . .

Review by Nara

Take a look at that blurb. WHY IS IT SO FREAKING LONG?! Is anyone really going to bother reading that essay of a blurb? Aint nobody got time fo' dat. I must admit I only read the bolded paragraph and therefore had no idea what the book was going to be about except for Carl possibly being a criminal. And it actually wasn't a bad way to go into the story, because I didn't know about certain aspects of the plot and was somewhat surprised when they arose (you'll know what I'm talking about if you've read the blurb, but trying not to spoil if there are other weird people like me who don't always read blurbs haha).

I felt that Phoenix Island was a bit unrealistic overall. I just found it really difficult to suspend my disbelief at quite a lot of points in the novel. Maybe because the premise wasn't really that well explained. I do feel like the story might be more entertaining as a movie or TV show- I think the narrative style just didn't click with me. Something I found very jarring was that the tone of the book overall is very matter-of-fact, but sometimes the author would put in a very descriptive sentence like
The debris of Carl's crumbled brain now whirled around his skull in a tornado of confusion.
And it just seemed incredibly out of place. As if the author suddenly thought of a pretty phrase and thought, "hey! Let's throw it in somehow." There was also a lot of (what I thought to be) unnecessary backstory and descriptions. And it was very tell rather than show, which is a style that I personally quite dislike.

There was a bit of romance throughout the book, and I have to say, particularly in the first half, it was really out of place. It was a terrible distraction from the actual plot, which in itself was pretty lacklustre. I mean, I'm going to be honest, I skimmed some bits in the middle. The pacing was just done quite poorly, so the plot became rather boring. The first half overall was pretty dang terrible, but there was some improvement in the second half- although certainly not enough for me to rate the book more than 3 stars. There was a lot more action and a few more explanations and I suppose that was enough to pull the book up a bit. If I were only rating the first half, it'd definitely be 2 stars.

I guess I have said before that I'm not much of a character reader, but I do like my characters to have a certain amount of depth. The characters in Phoenix Island most definitely didn't meet those standards (which to be honest, are quite low, so it just goes to show how poor the character development was). Also, nothing to do with the quality of the character development, but our main character Carl doesn't know what Hogwarts is. THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE. Someone educate the poor boy!
Some things that really had no impact on the overall rating, but still annoyed me a bit while reading:
It's "Here be dragons". Not "Here are dragons." Sigh.
The drill sergeants in the boot camp made all the recruits say "hooah". What the heck is "hooah"? Is that an actual thing they use in the military? Because it sounds kinda stupid when you say it out loud. Okay, I looked it up and it's an actual thing. It still sounds stupid.
This first book was certainly a bit of a rough ride for me, and I can definitely say right now that I have no desire at all to read any sequels.

It was okay

Overall: 5/10
Plot: 2/5
Writing: 3/5
Characters: 2/5
Cover: 3/5


  1. Wow, sounds like this one was mediocre! Glad I didn't pick this one up for review, thanks for warning us Nara. I'm really annoyed with romances that take up the whole book especially when there is an interesting plot.

    Jeann @ Happy Indulgence

    1. Well, I have to say, the plot in this one was pretty mediocre too haha. Still, definitely could've done without a romance.

  2. Let me be that someone to teach Carl what Hogwarts is. Hahahah. And maybe, Hoaaah is another spelling for Whoa? What do you think? But I agree, it's stupid especially if it's used by the military.

    Seen this book on NG but glad that it didn't catch my attention. I guess it has something to do with that novel like synopsis. Pretty discouraging if you're trying to get the attention of requestors.

    1. lol nah it's an actual thing that they use have a read here:

      I know! It's WAY too long. Not going to bother reading the blurb if it's that long haha

  3. This sounded like a fun book, but I am glad that I didn't request it, because no one seems to be really enjoying it.

    1. Yeah, the premise was okay, but the execution was definitely lacking :/

  4. Nice review; I've seen blurbs even longer than that

    1. I suppose there might be, but for YA book, that length is really ridiculous