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Posted by Łukasz

Official Author Website
Order The Anointed over HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Keith Ward has been writing fiction since he was little; in elementary school, he and his friend John wrote a series of skits called "We're in the army now," in which they were raw recruits. They'd write the script early in the week and act it out later in the week. 

For more than a dozen years he's written fiction, focusing on novels and screenplays. In 2012, his screenplay "Deadly Air," about the early days of the U.S. Airmail Service, won a special award at the Astana International Action Film Festival in Astana, Kazakhstan. He's also collaborated on screenplays with a major Hollywood producer.

He lives in Maryland, near Baltimore, with his glorious wife and whatever children haven't yet come to their senses and left the nest.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Xinlas’s life goal is modest: he wants to be a living legend, revered in song and story. And he’s off to a good start. He faced death once, and won. His legend grew -- at least in his own mind.

Fame comes calling on Xinlas again, or so he thinks, when he stumbles on a hidden village. The village has a resource that no one’s ever seen before. A resource that can be used to conquer other lands. A resource that a power-mad ruler will kill for.

Can Xinlas -- with the help of a mysterious orange-haired girl he meets on a river -- stop the man who would enslave millions? It will take a kind of courage found in legendary heroes. 


FORMAT: The Anointed was self-published by the author in December 2017 as a third book in Red Proxy series. It works as a standalone. It's available in an e-book, paperback and hardcover format. 

The book counts 489 pages and is divided into 70 numbered chapters. 

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (LUKASZ): The Anointed shows a lot of promise. It blends well-known tropes/topics (chosen one figure, coming-of-age arc) with interesting setting and unique ideas (transfer of life-span through Proxies). Unfortunately, it also falls short on providing a substantial character development and strong storytelling.

I liked the setting and the concept of lengthening the life. In theory, anyone with sufficient means can reach immortality through Transfers. In the process, a Transfer recipient gains the life Span of a Proxy (usually innocents and children). Getting more Transfers, gives you a longer life but increases the risk of Transfer Sickness that leads to insanity. 

Story’s protagonist, Xinlas, had done nothing noteworthy in his life. As the fortunate son of a rich, influential family, he dreams about becoming a hero. When it turns out his Span was probably miscalculated, Xinlas acts like a typical teenager. It gets him into troubles but it also drives the story forward, especially when he meets Greengrass - a mysterious and strange girl from Peacewood. 

Their worlds have little in common. In Peacewood, everyone works for the benefit of the community and they even don’t have words like money or buying. Greengrass’ driving force is curiosity. Xinlas’ actions steer from ambition, arrogance and angst. Their interactions are usually fun. 

That said, I haven’t warmed up to any of them. As most characters in the story, they felt rather two-dimensional. Their arcs contained uninteresting repetitions and lacked a hook that would make me turn the pages frantically just to learn what happens next.

Even though the story’s bad guy, DuQuall, feels slightly over-the-top, I liked his chapters most. DuQuall is a cold, ruthless and ridiculous ruler who doesn’t care for his people. He’s portrayed mainly through Plionya (his wife) and Jiixe (Span-seer) POV’s. Their parts of the book never lack tension, strong emotions, and good hooks that made me wonder what would come next. 

DuQuall used his children as Proxies. He wants to live forever and he fears his offspring would follow his footsteps and, once allowed to live and age, usurp his throne. I admired Plyonia’s strength and Jiixe’s skill in dealing with him.  

Ward’s utilitarian and simple prose is easy to follow but also repetitive and lackluster. I firmly believe in the power of brevity and I dislike unnecessary description or slowly developing chapters. Ward’s writing didn’t immerse me in the world and the events. Take a look at this quote about a character falling from the skies:

So this is what it feels like to fall off a dragon. Strange. Wow. I’m moving really fast. The ground is approaching quickly. I. Am. Going. To. Die. Nothing I can do about it. I just never thought something like this would happen. What about my destiny?

Maybe, just maybe, someone would actually think those words. No idea, I’ve never fallen off a dragon. But that’s irrelevant. They just don’t convey the danger and the drama. 

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (MIHIR): The Anointed is a book that I was super excited to read based on its blurb. The details that the blurb entails are pretty cool as is the spiffy cover. This world has some pretty cool features and dragons. All in all I was very much wanting to read this book.

The story has many POV characters and chief among them is Xinlas, our “hero” and resident problem child. He’s a sole surviving proxy baby which makes him uniquely arrogant. This world as presented is a very cool one, there’s the span concept which basically means that anybody who’s born immediately knows how long they will live. There’s also the fact that nothing can float in this world so potentially any water body is an unsurpassable boundary. There’s also the concept of proxy babies, which is a way for people to increase their life span (in a horrific way). There’s the sudden discovery of a hitherto hidden place which has magical wood which floats which suddenly causes the plot to go into high speed.

There’s a few more things that are bubbling under, but overall the world settings and magic system which really differentiate this story and this I believe is the USP of the story. For me though this book wasn’t an enjoyable read inspite of these interesting characteristics because of its utterly annoying main character Xinlas. This is not a knock on unlikeable characters, I like prefer stories with darker turns and unlikeable protagonists. However Xinlas as a character failed to hold my interest. His dealings with the other characters, his superiority complex as well as his arrogance. There’s also the fact he assaults a female character which supposedly helps him grow as a person. Now I’m not a reader who believes in absolutes. I believe an author should be able to explore any aspect that they want but then they should be able to explain as to why their characters behave as they do. This is where my enjoyment of the story fell apart, Xinlas absolutely comes across as jerk of the highest order and there’s no real reason given for his change. This is not to say that the author doesn’t present the case for Xinlas’ change of heart but honestly it didn’t come through as genuine enough for me.

There’s also the part about the people who have managed to stay hidden for so long who are peaceful beyond compare and also are truthful beyond fault. I failed to buy this aspect of the story, not saying that this can’t happen. But there’s not much of an explanation provided and that really hampered my read. Lastly the story pace is also something that perhaps could have been spruced up. More than two-thirds of the story, things are just tepid. Again in the end, this is my subjective opinion. I feel that I’m unduly trashing this story and that there might be better stories by Keith Ward. Unfortunately for me this one wasn’t to my taste at all.

CONCLUSION (ŁUKASZ)With its strong setting and interesting premises, The Anointed shows some promise. Unfortunately, parts of the book are monotonous, especially when it digs into the repetitive descriptions. It lacks strong chapter hooks that would make me feel the urge of page-turning hunger. 

SPFBO Final Score - 3/10

Heather Gudenkauf

Apr. 24th, 2019 12:05 am
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Posted by Marshal Zeringue

Heather Gudenkauf is the Edgar Award nominated, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Weight of Silence, These Things Hidden and Not A Sound.

Her new novel, Before She Was Found, is a gripping thriller about three young girlfriends, a dark obsession and a chilling crime that shakes up a quiet Iowa town.

Recently I asked Gudenkauf about what she was reading. Her reply:Right now
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Posted by Łukasz

Official Author Website
Order Zero Sum Game 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


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.

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.

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

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
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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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The post Lemon Tempeh Air Fryer Sheet Pan Dinner appeared first on FatFree Vegan Kitchen.


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
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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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