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Book Review: Barbary Station by R.E. Stearns

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By Jacob P. Torres

Find my spoiler-free review of Barbary Station by R.E. Stearns, her premiere book and the first in a series featuring this cast of characters. Her second book, Mutiny at Vesta is due later this year.

Cover Description: “Two engineers hijack a spaceship to join some space pirates—only to discover the pirates are hiding from a malevolent AI. Now they have to outwit the AI if they want to join the pirate crew—and survive long enough to enjoy it.

Adda and Iridian are newly minted engineers, but aren’t able to find any work in a solar system ruined by economic collapse after an interplanetary war. Desperate for employment, they hijack a colony ship and plan to join a famed pirate crew living in luxury at Barbary Station, an abandoned shipbreaking station in deep space.

But when they arrive there, nothing is as expected. The pirates aren’t living in luxury—they’re hiding in a makeshift base welded onto the station’s exterior hull. The artificial intelligence controlling the station’s security system has gone mad, trying to kill all station residents and shooting down any ship that attempts to leave—so there’s no way out.

Adda and Iridian have one chance to earn a place on the pirate crew: destroy the artificial intelligence. The last engineer who went up against the AI met an untimely end, and the pirates are taking bets on how the newcomers will die. But Adda and Iridian plan to beat the odds.

There’s a glorious future in piracy…if only they can survive long enough.”

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Book Review: The Defiant Heir by Melissa Caruso

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By Jacob P. Torres

Find my spoiler-free review of The Defiant Heir by Melissa Caruso, book two in her Swords and Fire series.

Cover Description: Across the border, the Witch Lords of Vaskandar are preparing for war. 

But before an invasion can begin, the seventeen Witch Lords must convene at a rare gathering to decide a course of action. Lady Amalia Cornaro knows that this Conclave might be her only chance to smother the growing flames of war, and she is prepared to make any sacrifice if it means saving Raverra from destruction.

Amalia and her bound fire warlock, Zaira, must go behind enemy lines, using every ounce of wit and cunning they have, to sway Vaskandar from war.

If they fail, it will all come down to swords and fire.”

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Five Books to Start Reading on Earth Day

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By Jacob P. Torres

Any day is a good day to start a new book, but if you’re looking for something appropriate to start on Earth Day, here are five recommendations you might enjoy.

9780316229296_p0_v4_s550x406 The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
For everything else in this book that is utterly and mind-bendingly magnificent, from the characters to the magic to excellently built world, Jemisin’s first book in her Broken Earth series is also a story of surviving ecological disasters and tangentially why the moon is important to all life on Earth. If you haven’t already read this book you may have been living under a rock. 5 out of 5 Cups of Tea.

 

The Terror by Dan Simmons  9780316017459_p0_v1_s550x406
If you’re looking for a different kind of chilling, I’d recommend Simmons’ The Terror. Simmons takes the real-life disappearance of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror in their attempt to find a Northwest passage in the mid-1800s and rewrites it as a gripping horror novel as the survivors of the expedition have to fight to survive each other, mythic monsters, and the harsh, unforgiving terrain of the arctic circle. Be warned that while the setting is frigid, the book itself is a real slow burn. 4 out of 5 Cups of Tea.

 

 9781785654145_p0_v4_s550x406 Clade by James Bradley
Clade is a look at how quickly everything can get out of control, how climate change isn’t just one day oceans will be a lot higher but it’s hundreds of connected smaller disasters that quickly turn everything to ruin. The personal drama that takes the center of this story feels genuine and raw. The ecological tragedies in the background, a hauntingly realistic picture of what could come. 4 out of 5 Cups of Tea.

 

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson  9780062334510_p0_v2_s550x406
Stephenson creates a very different picture of what would happen if the moon went away. Hint: absolutely nothing good. While the science fiction and the character drama demands most of your attention, Stephenson does an excellent job of illustrating just how complicated, and damn near impossible to live anywhere but earth it would be for humans. 4.5 out of 5 Cups of Tea.

 

 9781616200466_p0_v4_s550x406 The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart
I realized that an underlying theme to these was “oh, look, the earth is proper fucked,” and thought I should put a nice, uplifting non-fiction book on this list. Stewart’s book covers the plants and processes that make the alcohols and additives we use for drinks. Her love of both booze and botany shines through in this book and the stories about how the plants became the key ingredients to the drinks we love will remind you of the importance of biodiversity and exploring the natural world. 5 out of 5 Cups of Tea.

 

Book Review: Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

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By Jacob P. Torres

Ninefox Gambit

I’m re-reading Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire novels before I read and review my ARC of his third novel, Revenant Gun. Spoilers abound in this review of Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee. Ninefox Gambit was nominated for a Hugo and Nebula Award for best novel and won the 2017 Locus Award for best new novel.

Cover Description: “To win an impossible war Captain Kel Cheris must awaken an ancient weapon and a despised traitor general.

Captain Kel Cheris of the hexarchate is disgraced for using unconventional methods in a battle against heretics. Kel Command gives her the opportunity to redeem herself by retaking the Fortress of Scattered Needles, a star fortress that has recently been captured by heretics. Cheris’s career isn’t the only thing at stake. If the fortress falls, the hexarchate itself might be next.

Cheris’s best hope is to ally with the undead tactician Shuos Jedao. The good news is that Jedao has never lost a battle, and he may be the only one who can figure out how to successfully besiege the fortress.

The bad news is that Jedao went mad in his first life and massacred two armies, one of them his own. As the siege wears on, Cheris must decide how far she can trust Jedao—because she might be his next victim..”

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Book Review: Gods, Monsters and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson

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By Jacob P. Torres

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach

Spoilers abound in this review of Kelly Robson’s Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach.

Cover Description: “Discover a shifting history of adventure as humanity clashes over whether to repair their ruined planet or luxuriate in a less tainted past.

In 2267, Earth has just begun to recover from worldwide ecological disasters. Minh is part of the generation that first moved back up to the surface of the Earth from the underground hells, to reclaim humanity’s ancestral habitat. She’s spent her entire life restoring river ecosystems, but lately the kind of long-term restoration projects Minh works on have been stalled due to the invention of time travel. When she gets the opportunity take a team to 2000 BC to survey the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, she jumps at the chance to uncover the secrets of the shadowy think tank that controls time travel technology.”

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Author Interview: McKenna Reubush

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McKenna Ruebush

 

I’m so happy to be able to bring to you an interview with McKenna Reubush, author of Enter a Glossy WebShe was a fantastic guest and has released her debut novel recently, a beautiful and interesting children’s book. You can find her on her website or on twitter (@McKennaRuebush).

Watch my review of Enter a Glossy Web: 

So let’s start with the basics. Can you give a quick summary of Enter a Glossy Web?

Oh that’s actually a hard one, I’ve always had trouble with being brief as I’m somewhat relentlessly thorough. 

Enter a Glossy Web is about three kids who come together when they most need each other, and then set out to save the worlds, as there‘s nobody else but them to do it.

The story follows George, a girl who’s moved in with her aunt and uncle. Is George based on anyone in particular?
Not at all.  George developed independently of any external influences I think.  I can’t say the same about other characters, like Nero, who is partially based on my cats.

No, that’s not correct exactly.  She developed independently of any living external influences, but she was of course influenced strongly by other books I’ve read I’m sure. I’ve never personally known anyone like George, but she’s probably a conglomeration of different traits that I’ve admired in other characters.

What authors do you consider influential to your reading and writing life?
Piers Anthony was one of the first fantasy authors I read, and as a result I’ve developed a weakness for puns. 
That’s a difficult question because whereas certain authors inspire me greatly, such as J. R. R. Tolkien, William Goldman, Patrick Rothfuss, and so on, I can’t say that I am anywhere near that level of creativity and writing.

Though I suppose they count, as they do influence and inspire me.

Do you mind telling me more about Nero and your cats?
smiling-newt
Snoot wearing a mischievous smile.

When I first began truly developing Nero as a character and a person, rather than a catch-all villain, I remember writing a note down about the behavior of my cats and how it might apply to Nero.

“A character who does something just to see how it turns out, just to see if the same awful thing happens every time.”

Which is how my cat, Snoot, operates in general. 

So Nero was inspired partially by my cats in that he has a truly scholarly and curious purpose behind some of his misdeeds. There’s actually a scene near the beginning of Enter a Glossy Web where Nero knocks some things over just to see them fall, which is a direct homage to Snoot.

Ha! That’s really funny
 

I think one of the really interesting things is that Nero should in theory be a good guy. He’s fundamentally a Judge. But you go into giving more complexity to that role. Were you doing this on purpose? How did you imagine that playing with kids?

Nero is a person who has been influenced by his past and the things that have happened to him, often due to his own decisions.  Nero has been good in the past, and part of him is still good, I’m sure, as few people (I hope) are ever 100% truly evil.  Having a character like that was important to me because any of us at any time could be a single decision away from being somebody else’s villain.  I think kids know that.  Being on the playground someone can be your best friend one day, and the next day they can be your worst bully.  Sometimes you can be the best friend/worst bully combination.  It all depends on how you decide to proceed.
I really loved George’s friends in the story, especially Caleb and Mikal. The three of them all work together to make one another stronger and do it very consciously. Did you mean to target this? and what kind of “weaknesses” did you want to draw on?
I wanted them to be a team, and I wanted each of them to be important and to bring something unique to the group.  I think the main “weakness”, the one that all three experience, is fearfulness.  George is afraid of messing up, of the consequences of messing up; Caleb is afraid of not being loved; Mikal is afraid of most things.  Of course, fear isn’t a weakness, but it’s dangerous to let fear make your decisions for you.
How old were you when you started to write? 

 

The answer I always give is eleven.  I have a bad memory, but I think that’s about right as it was in between living with my father in Illinois and my mother in California.
My grandmother told me I was writing stories as young as four, but I have no memory of that.
So eleven is the safe and most honest answer in my opinion.
I told you I was ridiculously thorough!
This is your debut novel, though. But you’re contracted for more. How many books are planned? And are you using the same artist for the next book?
Only one more book is planned to follow Enter a Glossy Web.  As far as I know we are using Jaime Zollars again.  I absolutely love what she did with Enter a Glossy Web, and can’t wait to see what she does with the next book.
I’m so excite for the sequel. I’m glad that Zollars will be working with it again. It must have been so exciting. 
It was incredible.  I think I actually cried when I saw the first mock-ups.  I don’t have kids, but seeing that first picture of George, in black and white, was like seeing my own children for the first time. I had been working with these characters for almost fifteen years, and had never seen them.
Oh, and the way Jaime imagined George was more perfect than I could have dreamed.  She took everything that had been happening in my head and made it real and better.  She’s amazing.
Where are you in the process of book 2?
I’m about 1/3rd of the way through the first draft. I should be finished with the first draft in about three months, and then we’ll move on to revisions. 
Awesome! So, the last thing I always ask is what you’re reading at the moment. 
I’m currently in the middle of The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, and about to start The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett, though my inner perfectionist is insisting I start properly at the beginning of DiscWorld with The Colour of Magic. 

Review | The Vegetarian by Han King

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Han King’s The Vegetarian has been awarded the Man Booker Prize and while I can see the appeal, it left me wanting, not in a good way.

The story revolves around a family in which the daughter becomes a vegetarian after a nightmare. She’s compulsive about it, not eating anything that came from animals and getting to the point where instead of avoiding touching meat, she avoids touching people as well. The smell of sweat bothers her.

The story is short, with three different perspectives: the woman’s husband, her sister, and her brother-in-law.

To be honest, it’s pretty manic pixie dream girl. There’s some hand waving at magical realism, but it doesn’t follow through and the story’s structure feels stunted. The characters are mysoginists and flat. The pacing is meandering, and I didn’t find the story compelling. If it had followed through on some of its more magical and dream-related elements I would have found it more interesting.

Overall, it wasn’t for me. Maybe my tastes just aren’t literary enough.

 

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.