Zero Sum Game by SL Huang

Apr. 23rd, 2019 12:00 am
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Posted by Łukasz


Official Author Website
Order Witch Who Courted Death over HERE



AUTHOR INFORMATION: SL Huang justifies her MIT degree by using it to write eccentric mathematical superhero fiction. In real life, you can usually find her hanging upside down from the ceiling or stabbing people with swords. She is unhealthily opinionated at www.slhuang.com and on Twitter as @sl_huang.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Cas Russell is good at math. Scary good. The vector calculus blazing through her head lets her smash through armed men twice her size and dodge every bullet in a gunfight, and she'll take any job for the right price.

As far as Cas knows, she’s the only person around with a superpower...until she discovers someone with a power even more dangerous than her own. Someone who can reach directly into people’s minds and twist their brains into Moebius strips. Someone intent on becoming the world’s puppet master.

Cas should run, like she usually does, but for once she's involved. There’s only one problem...

She doesn’t know which of her thoughts are her own anymore.

CLASSIFICATION: Science fiction thriller.

FORMAT: Initially self-published by the author, Zero Sum Game was republished by Tor Books in October 2018. It's the first book in Cas Russell series. It's available in an e-book, paperback, and hardcover format. 

The book counts 329 pages

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: 

There is something beautiful about the high-speed math of a gunfight. I’ve heard other people opine that gunfights are confusing and disorienting, but to me, they always happen with perfect clarity: every bullet impact leads back to its source, every barrel sweeping through with its own exact trajectory.

Thanks to good teachers I fell in love with mathematics and geometry early in my life. There are art and thrill in reasoning, imagination and finding the truth. 

Zero Sum Game’s protagonist - Cas Russell is a weaponized mathematics genius and a kick-ass heroine with mild psychopathic tendencies. She literally equates her way out of impossible situations and devastates her opponents with preternatural ease and speed. It seems I have a new crush.

Cas is a loner and an outcast leaving off the grid as a retrieval expert. Human life doesn’t mean much to her, and she rarely hesitates to pull the trigger. She trusts only one person, Rio, an absolute and ruthless psychopath whose ability to be lethally effective borders on the unrealistic. 

Her latest job goes wrong. It turns a seemingly naïve drug mule Cas rescued from Colombians is part of a secret and well-connected organization, called Pithica. Despite the evident danger, Cas can’t help digging deeper into the case. Supported by Rio, irritatingly moral PI investigator and a brilliant computer-whiz she faces opponents with augmented psychic skills (telepathy). 

I have a soft spot for unlikable heroes with psychopathic tendencies. Add genius mind to the mix and I’m sold. Cas and Rio are a lethal, terrifying duo. Cas’s mind-bending math skills allow her to dodge bullets, eavesdrop through closed doors thanks to an in-depth understanding of sound waves properties, or jump from building to building through an armed window. People don’t understand her and she doesn’t function well in society. 

Rio is an unstoppable killing machine. He’s unable to experience normal human emotions. For unknown reasons the two trust each other on a visceral level. I hope SL Huang will explore their non-romantic, intriguing relationship in the sequels. 

Secondary characters felt entertaining and well rounded. That said, remember we’re talking about explosive, fast and over-the-top pulp read. Don’t expect these characters to be realistic. Unless you live in a much more interesting world than I.

CONCLUSION: I loved this book. It has it all. A kick-ass heroine with mild psychopathic tendencies and genius mind. Mathematics. Preternatural skills. Conspiracies. Breakneck speed. Guns, mines, and grenades. 

I choose to turn a blind eye to its flaws - small inconsistencies, open ending, a ton of unanswered questions, cheesy moments directly out of an action B-movie. If such things irritate you Cas’s story will tire and disappoint you. If, however, you love explosive, hard-hitting and straightforward crime fiction with a supernatural twist try it.

Interesting fact Originally, the Cas Russell series (formerly Russell’s Attic series) was self-published by the author and consisted of four books and two short stories. Because of upcoming Tor re-release of the series only book 1 is available for purchase at the moment (with book two Null Set coming out in July). The republished version will differ from the source material on some levels.

Michael Moreci

Apr. 22nd, 2019 06:05 am
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Posted by Marshal Zeringue

Michael Moreci is the creator of numerous original comics series and has written and collaborated on multiple established properties.

His debut novel, Black Star Renegades, draws inspiration from the space operatics of Star Wars and the swagger of Guardians of the Galaxy. It is a galaxy-hopping adventure that blasts its way from seedy spacer bars to sacred temples guarded by strange creatures-

No More Excuses

Apr. 20th, 2019 12:34 pm
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Posted by monbiot

No one is coming to save us. Only rebellion will prevent an environmental apocalypse

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 15th April 2019

Had we put as much effort into preventing environmental catastrophe as we’ve spent on making excuses for inaction, we would have solved it by now. Everywhere I look, I see people engaged in furious attempts to fend off the moral challenge it presents.

The commonest current excuse is this: “I bet those protesters have phones/go on holiday/wear leather shoes.” In other words, we won’t listen to anyone who is not living naked in a barrel, subsisting only on murky water. Of course, if you are living naked in a barrel, we will dismiss you too, because you’re a hippie weirdo. Every messenger, and every message they bear, is disqualified, on the grounds of either impurity or purity.

As the environmental crisis accelerates, and as protest movements like YouthStrike4Climate and Extinction Rebellion make it harder not to see what we face, people discover more inventive means of shutting their eyes and shedding responsibility. Underlying these excuses is a deep-rooted belief that if we really are in trouble, someone somewhere will come to our rescue: “they” won’t let it happen. But there is no they, just us.

The political class, as anyone who has followed its progress over the past three years can surely now see, is chaotic, unwilling and, in isolation, strategically incapable of addressing even short-term crises, let alone a vast existential predicament. Yet a widespread and wilful naivity prevails: the belief that voting is the only political action required to change a system. Unless it is accompanied by the concentrated power of protest, articulating precise demands and creating space in which new political factions can grow, voting, while essential, remains a blunt and feeble instrument.

The media, with a few exceptions, is actively hostile. Even when broadcasters cover these issues, they carefully avoid any mention of power, talking about environmental collapse as if it is driven by mysterious, passive forces, and proposing microscopic fixes for vast structural problems. The BBC’s Blue Planet Live series exemplified this tendency. As TV comedy and drama have become ever more daring, factual and current affairs programmes have become ever more timid. Truth now has to be smuggled into our homes under the guise of entertainment.

Those who govern the nation and shape public discourse cannot be trusted with the preservation of life on Earth. There is no benign authority preserving us from harm. No one is coming to save us. None of us can justifiably avoid the call to come together to save ourselves.

I see despair as another variety of disavowal. By throwing up our hands about the calamities that could one day afflict us, we disguise and distance them, converting concrete choices into indecipherable dread. We might relieve ourselves of moral agency by claiming that it’s already too late to act, but in doing so we condemn other people to destitution or death. Catastrophe afflicts people now, and, unlike those in the rich world who can still afford to wallow in despair, they are forced to respond in practical ways. In Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, devastated by Cyclone Idai, in Syria, Libya and Yemen, where climate chaos has contributed to civil war, in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, where crop failure, drought and the collapse of fisheries have driven people from their homes, despair is not an option. Our inaction has forced them into action, as they respond to terrifying circumstances caused primarily by the rich world’s consumption. The Christians are right: despair is a sin.

As the author Jeremy Lent points out in a recent essay, it is almost certainly too late to save some of the world’s great living wonders, such as coral reefs and monarch butterflies. But, he argues, with every increment of global heating, with every rise in material resource consumption, we will have to accept still greater losses, many of which can still be prevented through radical transformation.

Every nonlinear transformation in history has taken people by surprise. As Alexei Yurchak explains in his book about the collapse of the Soviet Union – Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More – systems look immutable until they suddenly disintegrate. As soon as they do, the distintegration retrospectively looks inevitable. Our system – characterised by perpetual economic growth on a planet that is not growing – will inevitably implode. The only question is whether the transformation is planned or unplanned. Our task is to ensure it is planned, and fast. We need to conceive and build a new system, based on the principle that every generation, everywhere has an equal right to enjoy natural wealth.

This is less daunting than we might imagine. As Erica Chenoweth’s historical research reveals, for a peaceful mass movement to succeed, a maximum of 3.5% of the population needs to mobilise. Humans are ultra-social mammals, constantly if subliminally aware of shifting social currents. Once we perceive the status quo has changed, we flip suddenly from support for one state of being to support for another. When a committed and vocal 3.5% unites behind the demand for a new system, the social avalanche that follows becomes irresistible. Giving up before we have reached this threshold is worse than despair: it is defeatism.

Today, Extinction Rebellion takes to streets around the world in defence of our life support systems. Through daring, disruptive, non-violent action, it forces our environmental predicament onto the political agenda. Who are these people? Another “they”, who might rescue us from our follies? The success of this mobilisation depends on us. It will reach the critical threshold only if enough of us cast aside denial and despair, and join this exuberant, proliferating movement. The time for excuses is over. The struggle to overthrow our life-denying system has begun.

M.G. Wheaton

Apr. 20th, 2019 07:05 am
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Posted by Marshal Zeringue

Born in Texas, M.G. Wheaton worked in a computer factory before getting his start as a writer for such movie magazines as Total Film, Fangoria, Shivers, SFX and several others. After leaving journalism, Wheaton worked as a writer for video games, comic books, and movies, including writing scripts for New Line, Sony, Universal, Miramax, HBO, A&E, Syfy, Legende, Disney Channel, and others while

Katy Loutzenhiser

Apr. 18th, 2019 12:05 am
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Posted by Marshal Zeringue

Katy Loutzenhiser grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, dabbling in many art forms and watching age-inappropriate movies. After graduating from Bowdoin College, she found an unlikely home in the Chicago comedy scene and regularly sang improvised musicals in public. These days she writes YA books in Brooklyn, where she lives with her husband. She is probably eating a burrito right now.
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Posted by Łukasz


Official Author Website
Order Witch Who Courted Death over HERE


AUTHOR INFORMATION: Maria Lewis is an author, journalist and screenwriter based in Sydney, Australia. Getting her start as a police reporter, her writing on pop culture has appeared in publications such as the New York Post, Guardian, Penthouse, The Daily Mail, Empire Magazine, Gizmodo, Huffington Post, The Daily and Sunday Telegraph, i09, Junkee and many more. Previously seen as a presenter on SBS Viceland’s nightly news program The Feed and as the host of Cleverfan on ABC, she has been a journalist for over 13 years. 

CLASSIFICATION: A dark LGBT friendly urban fantasy with horror elements.

FORMAT: The Witch who Courted Death was published by Piatkus in October 2018. It's a stand-alone novel. It's available in an e-book, paperback and hardcover format. 

The book counts 432 pages and is divided into 20 numbered chapters. 

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (Lukasz): It’s been a while since I read a book about witches. Actually, it’s been a while since I read a genuinely fresh urban fantasy and I read in the genre regularly. The Witch who Courted Death by Maria Lewis impressed me on many levels and I don’t understand why so few people read it. It has it all - a relatable, complex characters, interesting supernatural creatures, magic, spells, charms, covens, mayhem, and romance. Plus, contrary to most books in the genre, the story happens in Europe, in Berlin, Riga, and Cornwall.

Corvossier ‘Casper’ von Klitzing, the world’s most powerful medium, and her twin brother Barastin can speak with and control the dead. For unknown reasons a sect called Oct targets them, kills Barastin and maims Casper. She survives, but she looses everyone she’s ever cared for. She wants a revenge, but before she sees justice done, she must find a witch who doesn’t want to be found.

Casper is an impressive gal. Strong, composed, caring, intelligent and resourceful she makes her plans work by using resources at hand. The hunger for revenge drives her but doesn’t consume her. As a self-aware adult who’s been using her powers all her life, she’s already accomplished the quest for self-discovery and teenage angst is way past her. And I love it. Urban fantasy needs more mature protagonists.

Her relationships with Barastin and the remaining cast of characters felt true, and I loved her interactions with ghosts. Lewis impressed me with descriptions of Casper’s journeys on an astral plane. Very imaginative, and fresh.    

Worldbuilding is the second delight of this story. I enjoy urban fantasy for many reasons, mainly because it introduces supernatural elements to our world and doesn’t have to spend a lot of time on establishing geography, mythology and, well, the world. Lewis impressed me with the amount of supernatural knowledge and research she poured into the novel and that allowed her to keep the balance between two worlds: supernatural and the real one. Caspers’ world has a lot of different beings (elementals, werewolves, ghouls, Arachne) and a complex supernatural hierarchy, sets of powers and behaviors. In places it reads almost like an espionage thriller.

I need to give you an example. Have you ever seen stunning etchings of Gustave Doré? If not, you should. He created beautifully haunting engravings to accompany Dante’s Divine comedy, and one of the most impressive presents Arachne’s punishment. We see her partially transformed into a spider. Similar creatures play a significant role in Lewis’ stand-alone. And they’ll give you goose bumps.



The plot, while engaging, has uneven pacing. The story starts strong and develops fast until Casper visits Cornwall. And then things slow down and the story looses momentum. What started as a darker urban fantasy saturated with humor and pop-culture references suddenly devolves into a romance story. The middle part of the book reads almost as a supernatural slice of life fantasy. I didn’t like it. It bored me. 

The romance is convincing; I guess. The thing is, I dislike romance, and when it becomes the focus of otherwise engaging story, I start to complain. Even though more romantic readers will enjoy this arc, they will, probably see (and if not, I’ll tell them) the biggest problem of this novel - it can’t choose what type of story it wants to tell. For me, revenge and “investigation” parts contrast strongly with unfocused, wordy and unexciting stay in Cornwall and blooming romance. 

That said, if you like romance, I expect your reaction to differ from mine. 

The prose, now. Lewis writes well. She likes descriptions and long chapters more than me, but I have no complaints. Her language conveys the story and paints a clear picture. When needed, she mixes humor with horror. She delivers punchy lines, and excellent descriptions of people, magical creatures and their interactions. Also, the dialogue. Natural, nicely flowing, engaging.   

CONCLUSION: Despite minor issues I had with this book, I enjoyed it a lot. It provides a solid, energetic story and well-needed emphasis on women (not teenagers, adult, mature women). With fine characterization and willingness to spill blood so the reader may understand the stakes, it shines amongst a plethora of generic books published in the genre. Also, it’s a stand-alone, self-contained novel with a satisfying, upbeat end. Highly recommended.

Rodrigo Rey Rosa

Apr. 16th, 2019 12:05 am
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Posted by Marshal Zeringue

Rodrigo Rey Rosa was born in Guatemala in 1958. He immigrated to New York in 1980, and in 1982 he moved to Morocco. American expatriate writer Paul Bowles, with whom Rey Rosa had been corresponding, translated his first three books into English. Rey Rosa has based many of his writings and stories on legends and myths indigenous to Latin America and North Africa. Of his many works, seven have been
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Posted by Łukasz



Official Author Website
Order Sowing over HERE



AUTHOR INFORMATION: Angie Grigaliunas (grig-ah-LOO-nahs) is a part-time normal person and full-time author of fantasy/dystopian young adult books. And also some romance. (“She admits it! Murderer!”) She loves Jesus, the woods, and the stars, and has always wanted to be a superhero with a secret identity.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: For Ariliah, life under the militarized Hulcondans is one of order and safety. Despite the soldiers’ ruthless policies, she trusts their judgment. They alone provide protection from the enemies lurking beyond the city wall.

For her older sister, Rabreah, every glance from a Hulcondan is a threat. Though even a whisper against them is treason worthy of death, Rabreah is determined to end their tyranny. Joining an underground resistance is her only hope – until she realizes she doesn’t know the people she’s aligned herself with at all. Unsure who to trust but unable to back out, she must work alongside the attractive yet infuriating rebel leader who reminds her far too much of the soldiers she hates.

But with subversive posters appearing throughout the city and people dying on the blade of an unknown assailant, the sisters’ world begins to crumble.

CLASSIFICATION: A YA Dystopian novel.

FORMAT: Sowing was self-published by the author in 2016 as a first book in The Purification Era series. It's available in an e-book, paperback and hardcover format. 

The book counts 386 pages and is divided into 32 numbered chapters. The cover art was done by Kat Mellon. 

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (LUKASZ): While I read broadly, I rarely reach for dystopian YA fiction. I have nothing against the genre, but given the choice, I pick other things. In this case, though, I'm glad SPFBO made me read it. 

The story takes place in the nation of Etholia, in a city walled from all around. Militarised Hulcondans rule the city and expect its citizens to follow ruthless policies. They can be cruel and abusive but they also provide protection from the enemies lurking beyond the wall. 

The dystopian scenario requires a rebellion, and one is just starting. Not yet city-wide, but groups of rebels led by a mysterious Sorek try to shake highly regimented society. And here comes the twist. Grigaliunas doesn’t follow key characters on both sides of the barricade. Instead, she focuses on two sisters - Ariliah and Rabreah - who interact with change-makers. The novel is told in first-person chapters that alternate between their points of view. 

Ari trusts Hulcondans and believes their rules will bring peace and safety. Rab despises them and dreams about ending their tyranny. She joins the underground resistance but soon she realises she doesn’t know the people she’s aligned herself with. 

Sowing impressed me on many levels, namely character growth, in-depth study of trauma and emotional abuse, and a solid presentation of strong emotions. While the sisters were irritating and I couldn’t fully connect with them, they grew a lot. Characters felt well developed, not only because of behaviour but also thanks to intriguing back stories and unique quirks. 

Ariliah never gives non-verbal responses to direct questions, and she stutters, especially when nervous or afraid. Rabreah is always on the defensive and lashes out on people. Rebellion leader, Sorek, remains snarky and composed while one of the oppressors, Masrekah displays a dry sense of humour. 

Both sisters suffered emotional and physical abuse from their mother. They care for each other deeply and I would say sisterhood and their relations remain more important than the plot. Obviously, there’s a plot and larger scale-events but Grigaliunas doesn’t focus on them. Instead, she focuses on people involved in the conflict and their emotions. We get little action or graphic violence but the in-depth study of characters wrestling with their respective fears (in first person POV) makes Sowing surprisingly dark and intense.

I appreciate the lack of an evil villain. Both city Lords, Masrekah and Siserah, fit the role but there’s much more to them. I’m especially interested in manipulative Mas. I have a feeling that his icy pretence is just a mask. I definitely want to see how his arc develops. And I like him. 

Then we have Sorek. He cares for people, but he will do anything to stop monsters. When needed, he’ll become one.  He makes an impression of someone who doesn’t care whether he lives or dies as long as he reaches his goals.


OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (MIHIR): Sowing by Angie Grigaliunas is a book that has divided opinions among the SPFBO judges. It’s a book that Sarah (Bookworm Blues) chose this book because it was a sorting hybrid thriller and political intrigue novel among other things.

This book was a hard one for me to review as on one hand I enjoyed the characterization as we get two solid POV characters and they do draw the reader in entirely but on the other hand, the world details aren’t quite laid out properly for the narrative to make sense entirely. The main plot revolves entirely around Rabreah and her younger sister Ariliah. Both of them are living in an unnamed city which is ruled by beings called Hulcondans and they now extract a heavy price on the populace for their support. Ariliah & Rabreah have completely differing viewpoints about the necessity and effective of the Hulcondan ruling class. Thus begins the main plot of the book and it further devolves into many threads as both sisters go their separate ways as they try to make sense of their lives and try to find purpose. This book had a lot of issues that affected my enjoyment, dealing with 3 topics:

- Worldbuilding

- Characterization

- Overall plot

Primarily the worldbuilding is where there is a massive disconnect, we are told of a conflict in the past as well a current problem involving a humanoid race called the Itzalin. But that’s about it, we never hear anything more. Not whatever happened in the past or what’s currently happening. There’s a few mentions of somethings but nothing that clarifies much more. This partially baked approach really hampers the plot as well as our understanding of the story.

The characterization is the next point that perhaps struck me as a little off. Here’ why both the sisters are said to love each other but they take different paths. Now that wouldn’t be such an issue but the author doesn’t really explain much of why and how they came to their current positions. It would have been nice to see why Rabreah is the rebellious sort whereas Ariliah seems to be the one deferring to authority. Plus this has been pointed out in many reviews and I don’t want to add to the chorus but the mother’s character is major puzzle. Why is she so sadistic towards her daughters, why does she behave the way she does? This and many more questions are just left for us to ponder and this was jarring to say the least.

Lastly the overall plot never really coalesces into something that the readers will enjoy. I mean that there isn’t much that happens overall and then there’s the whole sexual assaults (real, assumed, and threatened) that occur in the book. I get the author wanted to project a world that offers no safety to women and in some cases, it might convey the sense. However a trick utilized too many times, becomes easy to predict and that’s exactly what happens. Almost every time when you think something bad can happen, it usually does and it involves some form of sexual assault. I wish the author had better camouflaged this aspect of the world or presented it in a way that didn’t make is seem repetitive.

Going by my review it might seem, that this book isn’t all that good. But that’s not the case, there’s a good story hidden within and you can glimpse it from time to time but there’s a lot that needs to be done over here for this title. I hope the author doesn’t take this as an attack. For a book to reach the finals, it definitely means that it has merit. Each judge’s opinion is subjective and all the things that I listed above, could be pooh-poohed away by anybody who enjoyed Sowing. For me this book, wasn’t an enjoyable read and that’s what is reflected in our score.

CONCLUSION (ŁUKASZ): I’ll stop before this review becomes too long (probably too late anyway). I enjoyed the book. Impressive intrigues and cleverly exploited character flaws make it memorable. Fans of non-stop violent action may feel disappointed as not much is happening. If, however, you appreciate introspection and character study, Sowing should satisfy you.

SPFBO Final Score - 5/10
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Posted by The Reader


During the process of creating Legends of the Exiles, I had several beta readers and advance readers take a close look at the book. Some were supportive of the storylines within, and some readers thought I crossed a line in my depiction of child sexual abuse.

I do feel their concerns were genuine, but in all honesty, such scenes are intended to be disturbing. I do not agree that this is inappropriate. When I wrote this book, I was very careful. I knew it would trigger a lot of readers if I handled this wrong. I am one of those readers. I was molested as a child, and I would not approach this topic without being very deliberate about my actions.

There is precedent for this sort of storytelling. Maya Angelou wrote a book called I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. In this book she describes herself as a child being molested. She does not describe the act of sex, as I do not describe the act when it takes place in the story. She describes the feelings she had during the event and the things that were running through her mind. She does not flinch in telling the way she felt or the way her attacker made her feel. I did the same thing in Exiles.

In light of such feedback, I looked at the scene very carefully. There are very few things I would do to change it. I do not want to smooth it over at all. It implies the sheer brutality of the event without explicit descriptions.


This sort of horrible crime happens unfortunately to boys and girls all over the world. It needs to be talked about. It needs to be looked at and it needs to be done in a tasteful way. And in doing so, we need to take a hard look at what that child experienced if we are going to help them heal.

I hope you will see this is a book about a survivor who has experienced a traumatic event and is too strong and too smart to let it break her. When I wrote Ellen’s story, I wrote who I wanted to be. I wrote who I wished I had been after my abuse. I wrote a character who inspires me to protect the weak and let them heal in their own way.

I have done much to help the victims of abuse in my own life. Helping the other victims of my abuser along with others I have seen being hurt. I can stop the act from continuing and I have on a few occasions. That is a pristine act. Saving a person, be it a man, woman, or child, from being brutalized is noble but it cannot stop there. When a person survives such abuse, they need a way to go on. They need to find the thing that can drive them into the next day and give them hope they can find peace, can find happiness and find love. My greatest desire is that this book does that.

In Ellen’s novella, we see the tale of a person who came through this trauma and battles the crushing horror of it. When I was growing up and trying to figure out how to be a man after what happened to me, I had nothing to hold me up. Nothing to make me feel as if I was not alone. No role model to help me pull myself out of the darkness. After 17 years of intensive therapy, I told myself I was going to use my work to give people hope. I have spent my career using my books to discuss the themes of Hope vs Despair. The novella Dead Girl is in that regard my greatest achievement.

I hope you read this book and see what it is and what it is meant to be. But my truest hope is that you be gentle with yourself. If reading this book makes you uncomfortable to a point where you feel it is doing damage to your peace of mind, then please put it down. Write your review and warn everyone. But if you can look past the horror of that scene and see the power of a little girl surviving the most horrible thing that can happen to her and finding strength beyond it, then I hope you do finish it and I hope you find a way to tell possible readers.

No matter what you do, please know your opinion is valuable to me and I learn from every review and every conversation I have about the things I have written. I learn every day what my work means and I do not take for granted the time people give me or the emotional journey they are willing to make with me.

*---------------*---------------*---------------*


Official Author Website

Official Author Information: Jesse Teller has loved fantasy since the age of five. It has gone from love to hobby to professional life. He now spends his time writing novels and short stories in a fantasy world of his creation. Here you can find his thoughts on the genre, samplings of his work, and his process in creating it. Jesse Teller lives in Missouri. He hasn’t always, but like storytelling, it snuck into his bones. He fell in love with fantasy when he played his first game of Dungeons & Dragons. The game gave him the ability to create stories and characters from a young age. He started consuming fantasy in every form and, by nine, was obsessed with the genre. As a young adult, he knew he wanted to make his life about fantasy. His books explore violent issues without flinching.



Order The Book HERE

Official Book Blurb: The isolated barbarians of Neather have deep ancestry and strict traditions. Four resilient women defy tribal customs as they fight to overcome their own tragedies. Abuse. Addiction. Assault. Grief. What struggles can they endure to defend their hopes and their hearts?

Helena seeks a love as bold as she, yet finds the men of her village lacking.

Jocelyn fears her strange visions and sacrifices a life with the man she loves for the one her destiny demands.

Torn apart by abuse and grief, Ellen is a brilliant woman who must focus her intellect on finding reasons to persevere.

Rachel, a brash girl of noble heritage, dares all men to challenge her and longs for one who will.

In this set of four interwoven novellas, award-winning author Jesse Teller challenges assumptions and showcases the strength of feminine resolve.

NOTE: Author picture courtesy of the author himself.

Robert Dugoni

Apr. 14th, 2019 12:05 am
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Posted by Marshal Zeringue

Robert Dugoni is the critically acclaimed New York Times, #1 Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon best selling author of The Tracy Crosswhite series, My Sister’s Grave, Her Final Breath, In the Clearing, and The Trapped Girl.

Dugoni's new novel is The Eighth Sister.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:I just returned from Norway and my publisher gave me Hunger by Nobel
magnetic_pole: (Default)
[personal profile] magnetic_pole
A fun middle name meme via [personal profile] shadowycat:

Answers all have to start with the first letter of your middle name. No googling!

(I'm adding two challenges for you below to liven up your lazy Saturday afternoon.)

Animal.............. Lynx
Girl's name....... Loretta
Boy's name...... Lupin
Color............... Lilac
Food................ Lingonberry
Something you wear..... Leather
Drink............... Lemonade
Place............... Lower Ninth Ward
Restaurant....... La Mediterranee
Reason to be late..... Laziness
Job title............ Librarian

Ha! That was surprisingly difficult. I don't think my brain stores things that way.

Challenge #1: Can you beat my time? This took me 2 minutes and 30 seconds, not including creating the links or writing the rest of the post.

Challenge #2: Can you guess my middle name? You can find a hint in my responses. I tend not post too much personal info here, but if'd you'd like to guess and you guess correctly, I'll let you know via DM.

And the text box, if you'd like to play along:

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Posted by Susan Voisin

Lemon Tempeh Air Fryer Sheet Pan Dinner

A couple of weeks ago, I became intrigued with the idea of doing sheet pan dinners in the air fryer. A sheet pan dinner is basically a one-pot meal that you cook in a pan in your oven on a baking sheet or sheet pan. Sheet pan dinners have been popular on food blogs lately, but I don’t think anyone else has been crazy enough to attempt to cook one in an air fryer–until now.

(For those of you without air fryers, let me assure you that I will also give oven directions.) (...)
Read the rest of Lemon Tempeh Air Fryer Sheet Pan Dinner (1,980 words)


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Quantomania

Apr. 13th, 2019 05:08 am
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Posted by monbiot

Neoliberalism promised to save us from bureaucracy. Instead, it has delivered a mad, semi-privatised authoritarianism

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 10th April 2019

My life was saved last year by the Churchill Hospital in Oxford, through a skilful procedure to remove a cancer from my body. Now I will need another operation, to remove my jaw from the floor. I’ve just learnt what was happening at the hospital while I was being treated.

On the surface, it ran smoothly. Underneath, unknown to me, was fury and tumult. Many of the staff had objected to a decision by the National Health Service to privatise the hospital’s cancer scanning. They complained that the scanners the private company was offering are less sensitive than the hospital’s own machines. Privatisation, they said, would put patients at risk. In response, as the Guardian revealed last week, NHS England threatened to sue the hospital for libel if its staff continued to criticise the decision.

The dominant system of political thought in this country, that produced both the creeping privatisation of public health services and this astonishing attempt to stifle free speech, promised to save us from dehumanising bureaucracy. By rolling back the state, neoliberalism would allow autonomy and creativity to flourish. Instead, it has delivered a semi-privatised authoritarianism, more oppressive than the system it replaced.

Workers find themselves enmeshed in a Kafkaesque bureaucracy, centrally controlled and micromanaged. Organisations that depend on a cooperative ethic – such as schools and hospitals – are stripped down, hectored and forced to conform to suffocating diktats. The introduction of private capital into public services – that would herald a glorious new age of choice and openness – is brutally enforced. The doctrine promises diversity and freedom, but demands conformity and silence.

Much of the theory behind these transformations arises from the work of Ludwig von Mises. In his book Bureaucracy, published in 1944, he argued that there could be no accommodation between capitalism and socialism. The creation of the National Health Service in the UK, the New Deal in the US and other experiments in social democracy would lead inexorably to the bureaucratic totalitarianism of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.

He recognised that some state bureaucracy was inevitable: there were certain functions that could not be discharged without it. But unless the role of the state is minimised – confined to defence, security, taxation, customs and not much else – workers would be reduced to cogs “in a vast bureaucratic machine”, deprived of initiative and free will. By contrast, those who labour within an “unhampered capitalist system” are “free men”, whose liberty is guaranteed by “an economic democracy in which every penny gives a right to vote.” He forgot to add that some people, in his capitalist utopia, have more votes than others. And those votes become a source of power.

His ideas, alongside the writing of Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman and other neoliberal thinkers, have been applied in this country by Margaret Thatcher, David Cameron, Theresa May and, to an alarming extent, Tony Blair. All of them have attempted to privatise or marketise public services in the name of freedom and efficiency. But they keep hitting the same snag: democracy. People want essential services to remain public, and they are right to do so.

If you hand public services to private companies, either you create a private monopoly, that can use its dominance to extract wealth and shape the system to serve its own needs, or you introduce competition, creating an incoherent, fragmented service, characterised by the institutional failure you can see every day on our railways. We’re not idiots, even if we are treated as such. We know what the profit motive does to public services.

So successive governments decided that, if they could not privatise our core services outright, they would subject them to “market discipline”. von Mises repeatedly warned against this approach. “No reform could transform a public office into a sort of private enterprise”, he cautioned. The value of public administration “cannot be expressed in terms of money”. “Government efficiency and industrial efficiency are entirely different things”. “Intellectual work cannot be measured and valued by mechanical devices”. “You cannot ‘measure’ a doctor according to the time he employs in examining one case.” They ignored his warnings.

Their problem is that neoliberal theology, as well as seeking to roll back the state, insists that collective bargaining and other forms of worker power be eliminated (in the name of freedom, of course). So the marketisation and semi-privatisation of public services became not so much a means of pursuing efficiency as an instrument of control. Public service workers are now subjected to a panoptical regime of monitoring and assessment, using the benchmarks von Mises rightly warned were inapplicable and absurd. The bureaucratic quantification of public administration goes far beyond an attempt at discerning efficacy. It has become an end in itself.

Its perversities afflict all public services. Schools teach to the test, depriving children of a rounded and useful education. Hospitals manipulate waiting times, shuffling patients from one list to another. Police forces ignore some crimes, reclassify others and persuade suspects to admit to extra offences to improve their statistics. Universities urge their researchers to write quick and superficial papers instead of deep monographs, to maximise their scores under the Research Excellence Framework.

As a result, public services become highly inefficient for an obvious reason: the destruction of staff morale. Skilled people, including surgeons whose training cost hundreds of thousands, resign or retire early because of the stress and misery the system causes. The leakage of talent is a far greater waste than any inefficiencies this quantomania claims to address.

New extremes in the surveillance and control of workers are not, of course, confined to the public sector. Amazon has patented a wristband that can track workers’ movements and detect the slightest deviation from protocol. Technologies are used to monitor peoples’ keystrokes, language, moods and tone of voice. Some companies have begun to experiment with the micro-chipping of their staff. As the philosopher Byung-Chul Han points out, neoliberal work practices, epitomised by the gig economy, that reclassifies workers as independent contractors, internalise exploitation. “Everyone is a self-exploiting worker in their own enterprise”.

The freedom we were promised turns out to be freedom for capital, gained at the expense of human liberty. The system neoliberalism has created is a bureaucracy that tends towards absolutism, produced in the public services by managers mimicking corporate executives, imposing inappropriate and self-defeating efficiency measures, and in the private sector by subjection to faceless technologies, that can brook no argument or complaint.

Attempts to resist are met by ever more extreme methods, such as the threatened lawsuit at the Churchill Hospital. Such instruments of control crush autonomy and creativity. It is true that the Soviet bureaucracy von Mises rightly denounced reduced its workers to subjugated drones. But the system his disciples have created is heading the same way.

Dan Stout

Apr. 12th, 2019 12:05 am
[syndicated profile] writers_read_feed

Posted by Marshal Zeringue

Dan Stout lives in Columbus, Ohio, where he writes about fever dreams and half-glimpsed shapes in the shadows. His prize-winning fiction draws on his travels throughout Europe, Asia, and the Pacific Rim, as well as an employment history spanning everything from subpoena server to assistant well driller.

Stout's new novel is Titanshade.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading.
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Posted by The Reader

Today we are super excited to exclusively reveal the cover for QUILL, the first book in the Cartographer series by A. C. Cobble. AC is the author of the Benjamin Ashwood series that is complete at six volumes. I first came to know of this book thanks to cover designer Shawn T. King, who is the genius behind several amazing indie covers such as Never Die (Rob J. Hayes) with art by Felix Ortiz, Endsville (Clay Sanger), & We Ride The Storm (Devin Madson) with art by John Anthony Di Giovanni,  and many more...

We are also glad to have AC answer a few questions about this new book and series as well as the world within. AC also talks about his collaboration with Shawn to create the stunning cover seen below. So without further ado, here is the gorgeous cover for QUILL (The Cartographer Series #1) and its description:

(click to see high-res version)


Official Book Blurb: The fate of empire is to crumble from within.

A heinous murder in a small village reveals a terrible truth. Sorcery, once thought dead in Enhover, is not. Evidence of an occult ritual and human sacrifice proves that dark power has been called upon. Twisting threads of clues lead across the known world to the end of a vast empire, and then, the trail returns home.

Duke Oliver Wellesley, son of the king, cartographer, and adventurer, has better things to do than investigate a murder in a sleepy fishing hamlet. For Crown and Company, though, he goes where he’s told. As the investigation leads to deeper and darker places, he’ll be forced to confront the horrific specters rising from the shadows of his past. When faced with the truth, will he be able to sacrifice all that he has known?

Samantha serves a Church that claims to no longer need her skills. She’s apprenticed to a man that no one knows. Driven by a mad prophecy, her mentor has trained and prepared her for a battle with ultimate darkness, except, sorcery is dead. When her life is at stake, can she call upon an arcane craft the rest of the world has forgotten?

AC Cobble, the author of the best-selling Benjamin Ashwood series, crafts worlds of stunning-depth and breath-taking adventure. In Quill: The Cartographer Book 1, a pair of unlikely investigators walk a deadly path into the past, uncovering secrets best left alone.

The fate of empire is to crumble from within. Do not ask when, ask who.


Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. To start with, could you tell us what inspired you to be a writer in the first place, and why you choose to go the self-published route? Anything else you’d like to share about yourself and your past?

ACC: Hi Mihir, thanks for having me! My origin story, so to speak, is a little bit different from a lot of other authors. For one, it was never my dream to become one. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved books since I can remember, and my room as a child was filled with over-flowing bookshelves, but books were never things I thought I could write myself. I was solidly on a “business” career path, and it wasn’t until I was in my early 30’s that I was inspired to start putting words on paper. I believe I’d recently read some really terrible fantasy (we all know the stuff) and told myself that even I could write a better story! I already had some characters and story concepts in mind that bounced around in quiet moments. Eventually, that disdain for bad fantasy inspired me to write my own. I can only imagine, my stories are inspiring others in the same way ;)

I chose to self-publish because when I did my research, I saw the odds were against ever finding a traditional publishing deal, and even if I did, there was almost no chance of earning enough income to support my family. The contracts publishing companies offer new authors are tragic, in my opinion. Self-publishing guaranteed my book would be available and it offered a glimmer of hope that this could be a career, even though I wasn’t expecting that to actually happen. It seemed a smart decision on all fronts, and it’s worked out better than I could have hoped (I’ve been a full-time author for 18 months now).

And on that note, prior to The Cartographer Series, I wrote the Benjamin Ashwood Series. It’s complete after 6 books and for a limited time only, Book 1 is available for FREE to Amazon Prime members in the US and Australia. A bit random on the geography, but hey, you take what Amazon gives. That series has gained hundreds of thousands of fans, so I encourage you to check it out while waiting for June 1st when Quill (The Cartographer Book 1) releases!

Q] I loved the cover for QUILL. What were your main pointers for your cover designer as you both went through the process of finalizing it? What were the main things that you wished to focus on in it?

ACC: On the cover, I worked with the extremely gifted Shawn T. King. I was familiar with his portfolio and really liked a lot of his recent work, so I had faith he could bring my sloppy, half-baked vision to life. I sent him a sketch of what I was thinking, and some of that even found its way into the final version.

The concept of the compass in the center with the sword and quill is original. Almost everything else changed. The actual layout of the symbol is far different from my terrible version, and as we were kicking around ideas, I changed the name of the entire book because this one looks cooler! It was Shawn’s idea to bring in the subtle map background, and if you look reeeeally close, you can see it’s an actual map of a country in the book, and you’ll find the full-size map on the interior! So, hats off to Shawn for such an awesome, and appropriate, idea.

Q] Could you tell us about the inception of QUILL & vis-à-vis The Cartographer Series and what was/were your main inspiration(s) for it?

ACC: I drew ideas from a lot of places in building the world for QUILL. The real genesis though is a loose interpretation of 1750’s colonial Britain. Around the time I was brainstorming what would come after Benjamin Ashwood, I was fortunate enough to spend some time in London, Singapore, India, and of course I live in the US. That’s the colonial government and three former colonies. In Singapore, I went to a museum exhibit on colonial rule, and it really got my wheels turning. I spent a lot of time considering the implications for these cultures before/after colonial rule, and I did a great deal of research on the time period. None of QUILL is meant to be historically accurate or a direct reflection of that period, but it did inspire a great deal of this world.

Q] This book and series seems to be a nautical fantasy story. There aren’t many of those in the fantasy genre but there have been memorable ones by Paul Kearney, Rob J. Hayes, Robert V. S. Redick, Robin Hobb etc.). Where would you say your story falls on the spectrum?

ACC: I have to admit, I haven’t read all of those authors, but I think it’s safe to say there is a lighter nautical theme in my book. There are ships, airships, and even pirates, but they are set pieces rather than elements that drive the story.

Q] One thing that I loved about the cover is that there’s a map in the background and given the title of the series. Is it safe to say cartography will be a strong focus in this series? Will you be having extra maps for these books?

ACC: Yes, there is a map in the background on the cover, and it is one crafted by the talented Soraya Corcoran for the book. I will have three of her maps included in QUILL, and very likely a few more will be commissioned before this series is complete! The protagonist of the tale is a cartographer, and while most of the focus is on his other adventures, there are several times he brings out the quill and parchment. With a cartographer as a character, I wanted to make sure this story was well-mapped! Also, there’s an idea around maps that I find really inspiring, and I feel the concept holds true for telling fantasy stories. In cartography, the lines of the map are where knowledge meets imagination.


Q] Can you tell us more about the world that The Cartographer Series is set in and some of the series’ major characters? What are the curiosities (geographical, mystical, etc.) of this world?

ACC: As I mentioned, the world is very loosely based on a 1750’s colonial Britain. It’s not meant to be directly analogous, but much of the style of the book is drawn from there. In addition to that, I’ve added layers of technology largely based on the magical possibilities of the world. Essentially, there are two types of magic. Sorcery, aka dark magic, the magic of the underworld. This is of course what our bad guys use, and in this world, sorcery involves rituals and ceremony to contact and then compel spirits from the underworld. Think pentagrams and blood. Then there is life magic, where druids or shamans negotiate assistance from the spirits of life. Think of a primal communion with nature. As far as magic, sorcery is the one which gets all of the screen time in Book 1. There’s also a healthy dose of combat with primitive firearms, swords, and fists. This story has multiple points of view, but primarily follows two main characters and what happens after they are tasked with investigating a mysterious murder in a small village.

Duke Oliver Wellesley, son of the king, cartographer, and adventurer, has better things to do than investigate a murder in a sleepy fishing hamlet. For Crown and Company, though, he goes where he’s told. As the investigation leads to deeper and darker places, he’ll be forced to confront the horrific spectres lurking in his past. Samantha serves a Church that claims to no longer need her. She’s apprenticed to a priest that no one knows. Driven by a mad prophecy, her mentor has trained and prepared her for a battle against a terrible darkness. A darkness that everyone knows is impossible.

Q] So for someone who hasn't read any of your novels, how would you describe the type of stories that you write, what would be your pitch for The Cartographer Series?

ACC: My stories have a similar feel to the fantasy I grew up reading. Robert Jordan, David Eddings, Terry Brooks, Tolkien, and so on. I like to think I’ve taken their strong foundation and built a modern structure on top of it. My characters are not Chosen Ones, but that doesn’t mean they are not heroes. If you enjoy regular people, battling through fantastic, complex worlds, facing extreme danger, on their way to save the world, then you’ll enjoy QUILL: The Cartographer Book 1.

Q] You will be releasing QUILL in June. Could you give us a progress report on book 2 and outline your plans for the series as a whole?

ACC: Yes, QUILL will be up for pre-order for a June 1st release. Currently, the series is drawn out as a trilogy with a story thread in mind to extend it if people really enjoy the books. Book 2 will releasing in December and the conclusion in June 2020.

Q] So what can readers expect from this book/series and what should they be looking forward to according to you?

ACC: For readers of my Benjamin Ashwood series, I’ve been describing it as if Ben and Amelie had a baby, and that child spent summers with Uncle Rhys. For those who haven’t read Benjamin Ashwood, that means expect an adventure. Intrinsically good people, who also know how to have a good time, traveling the globe to battle the forces of darkness.

Q] In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you’d like to share with our readers?

ACC: A lot of readers were a bit disappointed that I ended the Benjamin Ashwood series. They wanted a spin-off, and I told them I needed to write this story first. I think once everyone gets their hands on QUILL, they will understand why. I’m really excited for this book to go public and can’t wait until June 1st! In the meantime, if you haven’t read Benjamin Ashwood yet, go ahead and take it for a spin! If you have any other burning questions about me or my work, you can find me on Reddit doing an r/Fantasy AMA on June 6th!


Official Author Website
Pre-order QUILL over here

About The Author: AC Cobble is the author of the Benjamin Ashwood and the Cartographer series. He was born and raised in Tennessee but currently resides in Texas with his wife, their three children, and his wife's dog. In addition to writing, he escapes by reading, eating, drinking and traveling. Benjamin Ashwood is a classic sword & sorcery fantasy that begins with a young man leaves his village with mysterious strangers. The six book series is completed in English and available in all formats, books 1-3 are available in German, and the rest are coming soon! The Cartographer is a thrilling ride packed with dark ritual and action & adventure. The first book in the series will be available in eBook and print on June 1st, with audio to follow soon after!

NOTE: Shawn T. King picture courtesy of Laura King. AC Cobble photo courtesy of the author himself. Benjamin Ashwood series pic courtesy of The Fantasy Hive.

Lorna Landvik

Apr. 10th, 2019 12:05 am
[syndicated profile] writers_read_feed

Posted by Marshal Zeringue

Lorna Landvik's novels include the bestselling Patty Jane’s House of Curl, Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons, Oh My Stars, Best to Laugh, and Once in a Blue Moon Lodge. She has performed stand-up and improvisational comedy around the country and is a public speaker, playwright, and actor most recently in the one-woman, all-improvised show Party in the Rec Room. She lives in Minneapolis.
[syndicated profile] fantasy_book_critic_feed

Posted by Łukasz



Order Finder over HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION:  Suzanne lives in western Massachusetts with a number of two- and four-legged critters, including one Very Large Fluffy Dog, and is a Linux and Database System Administrator for the Sciences at Smith College.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Fergus Ferguson has been called a lot of names: thief, con artist, repo man. He prefers the term finder.

His latest job should be simple. Find the spacecraft Venetia's Sword and steal it back from Arum Gilger, ex-nobleman turned power-hungry trade boss. He'll slip in, decode the ship's compromised AI security, and get out of town, Sword in hand.

CLASSIFICATION: Science-fiction / Space-Opera.

FORMAT: Finder was published by DAW in April 2019 as a first book in the series. It's available in an e-book, audiobook, paperback and hardcover format.  The book consists of 397 pages. 


I am Fergus Ferguson, and I find lost things. I’m going to bring Venetia’s Sword home because I said I would, and if I have to go through Gilger and the Asiigto do it, so be it.


OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: While not exactly a law-abiding do-gooder, Fergus has enough charm to make readers like him. He specializes in chasing things, getting into trouble and running away. When he tries to recover a sentient spacecraft stolen from Shipmakers of Pluto by a ruthless crime boss Airun Gilger, someone makes an attempt at his life. He barely survives, and what was supposed to be a routine job devolves into a disaster. Fergus’ actions may start a civil war, and to make matters worse, dangerous aliens seem interested in him as well.  

The action-packed plot sucked me in fast and never let go. Ferguson escapes one dire situation just to find himself in even more trouble. When you start to think he can’t handle more, Palmer proves you wrong. Watching Ferguson getting out of a mess thanks to his quick wit and ingenuity entertained me, and his resourcefulness impressed me. We all recognize lasers and light-swords as standard tools used to fight in space, but how many of you thought about using vibrating alien sex toys as space weapons (of sorts)? Just a few, I guess. And Fergus is one of you. 

Luckily, quick thinking and insolence are just the outer layers of his nuanced and well-developed character. His many flaws and upbeat attitude coupled with intriguing backstory delivered through occasional flashbacks make him relatable. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about secondary characters who lack depth. They’re well rounded and fun, I’ll give it to Palmer, but they’re here mainly to make Ferguson shine. That said a good dialogue, evocative descriptions and interesting tech make up for this. And let’s not forget about aliens. They’re cool and they make Fergus’ life more interesting, heck, they make him more interesting :)

CONCLUSION: Breakneck-paced, action-packed, and character-driven, this story is powered by thrilling plot twists that kept me on the edge of my seat until the very end. Well worth a shot.

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