Fantasy

The Tiger’s Daughter – K. Arsenault Rivera

3 Stars

Have you been looking for an epic fantasy, set in a second-world heavily influenced by Chinese history and full of lesbian romance and badass women? If so, The Tiger’s Daughter is the book for you.

29760778.jpg
Cover from Goodreads

The Hokkaran empire has conquered every land within their bold reach―but failed to notice a lurking darkness festering within the people. Now, their border walls begin to crumble, and villages fall to demons swarming out of the forests.

Away on the silver steppes, the remaining tribes of nomadic Qorin retreat and protect their own, having bartered a treaty with the empire, exchanging inheritance through the dynasties. It is up to two young warriors, raised together across borders since their prophesied birth, to save the world from the encroaching demons.

This is the story of an infamous Qorin warrior, Barsalayaa Shefali, a spoiled divine warrior empress, O-Shizuka, and a power that can reach through time and space to save a land from a truly insidious evil.

O-Shizuka and Barsalayaa Shefali are wonderfully constructed characters (as are the rest), full of fire and passion and different kinds of strength. They are both incredibly gifted warriors, but where Shizuka is arrogant and firey, Shefali is quiet and steady. This is the story of their shared youth.

Told mostly through a single letter from Shefali, with short asides from the letter’s recipient Shizuka, their entire history is recounted from Shefali’s point of view. Through the letter, we are privy to Shefali’s inner thoughts about Shizuka and their escapades.

I have to admit, I found the letter construct a challenge. I really struggled with understanding WHY Shefali was writing a letter that basically recounted her entire history with Shizuka TO Shizuka – especially when it’s clear partially through the book that not much time has passed. Only a few years. It’s not like Shizuka would have forgotten all of this in the brief three years that have gone by. I really struggled with understanding where the letter was going and what its point was. (I struggle with books where I don’t see the “point” of the book by about halfway through. What are they supposed to be accomplishing?) The letter didn’t really relay much “new” information between Shefali and Shizuka. Obviously it’s all new information to the reader, but it’s really only the last chapter where new information is revealed.

Structural challenges aside, it’s a wonderful story with incredible characters and a well-fleshed out world.

The Tiger’s Daughter is available now through Tor. Come back next week for my review of the sequel, The Phoenix Empress.

Advertisement
Thriller

Zero Sum Game – S. L. Huang *G I V E A W A Y*

4 stars

I picked up Zero Sum Game on the recommendation of Yoon Ha Lee, the author of Ninefox Gambit, and enjoyed the jaunt outside of my comfort zone. I don’t usually read spy/thriller novels but Lee’s recommendation was so compelling I couldn’t resist requesting an ARC.

Cas Russell is good at math. Scary good. The vector calculus blazing through her 37534869.jpghead 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.

Zero Sum Game is as much about the characters as it is about the sinister conspiracy plot to take over the world.

Our main character Cas is incredibly good at shooting things and math, but not so great at being any kind of normal person. For a contract fixer she’s absurdly naive and unprepared for what comes her way. Girl needs to learn to put up walls in new places, take down some existing walls and build some better coping mechanisms. It’s going to be a painful remodel.

Checker is my absolute fave, precious cinnamon roll. I loved that even though he’s a supporting character, he’s not sidelined completely and brings a lot to the table.

Rio was the character I struggled with the most. He’s written so mechanically, and if I didn’t know he was supposed to be a person, I’d have thought he was an AI. I really struggled with his motivation combined with his bland and flat personality. He didn’t feel fully fleshed out to me. More of a convenient escape hatch or roadblock when the plot called for it.

Arthur drove me nuts, but at least he was consistent. His motivations made sense and he’s an interesting, flawed character.

The plot does center a lot on Cas’s mathematical abilities and I’ll give S.L. Huang credit, as someone who doesn’t understand a lot of advanced mathematical concepts, I was able to follow the action in Zero Sum Game easily. The calculations Cas goes through added tension to the plot and helped move it along nicely.

Baked into the plot is a struggle about ethics and morality and the value of life. It was interesting watching the characters struggle with ethical dilemmas and try to choose between two wrong decisions.

So, the giveaway part. To enter to win a copy of Zero Sum Game of your very own, comment below with the best thing you’ve read in the last six months. The giveaway is open to the US only, sorry! Please make sure your email address is captured in your entry comment so I can contact the winner. The giveaway is open until Thursday, October 25 at noon PST.

Originally self published online, Zero Sum Game is out now from Tor.

Thank you to Tor books for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. 

 

Cookbook

Cooking With Scraps – Lindsay-Jean Hard

4 stars

I am a member of Food52’s wonderful online Cookbook Club. Each month we choose a different cookbook to collectively cook from and share our experiences. We’ve cooked from Simple by Ottolenghi; Salt Fat Acid Heat by Saimin Nosrat; Six Seasons by Joshua McFadden and Smitten Kitchen Every Day by Deb Perelman among many others. For a long time, the main administrator of the group was Lindsay-Jean Hard. Coincidentally, in that same group at the beginning of the year we made food-resolutions. One of my resolutions was to throw out less food. I was unaware of her column at Food52, but when I saw that Lindsay-Jean was putting out a book on just this topic, I was delighted. (Though it would have been MUCH better for my resolution if I’d found the column months ago.

In 8537585542.jpg innovative recipes, Lindsay-Jean Hard—who wrote the “Cooking with Scraps” column for Food52—shows just how delicious and surprising the all-too-often-discarded parts of food can be, transforming what might be considered trash into culinary treasure.
Here’s how to put those seeds, stems, tops, rinds to good use for more delicious (and more frugal) cooking: Carrot greens—bright, fresh, and packed with flavor—make a zesty pesto. Water from canned beans behaves just like egg whites, perfect for vegan mayonnaise that even non-vegans will love. And serve broccoli stems olive-oil poached on lemony ricotta toast. It’s pure food genius, all the while critically reducing waste one dish at a time.

The book is organized by food, so finding a recipe to use up the scrap you have on hand is easy. Hard also includes useful tips on storing different vegetables to maximize their lifespan, and tips on composting for when there’s something you really can’t fully use up.

The recipes in the book seem a little bit odd at first, if like me, you haven’t made much of an effort to use the scraps of food before. I’ve been privileged enough to grow up with plenty of food, so I’ve never had to resort to using scraps out of necessity. However, as I paged through the book, I found myself positively inspired by the clever uses for things I’d never have thought to use. Apple cores to make syrup for pancakes? Outrageous at first, but after reading further, it sounds delicious. I am also now obsessed with the broccoli stem ricotta toasts and the cheddar nub pub cheese.

Cooking With Scraps is veggie focused, but it’s not a vegetarian book, nor is it just 80 variations on vegetable soups. Many of the recipes are as inventive and exciting as you’d find in any other inspired cookbook, but they’ve got the added benefit of leaving you feeling responsible. By cooking with scraps you’re not only making an eco-friendly decision, but a wallet-friendly decision as well. You’re making the veggies you buy stretch farther. Waste less, spend less.

Cooking With Scraps hits shelves on October 30 and is absolutely worth picking up if you’re looking to reduce your food waste and enjoy tasty results.

Thank you to Workman Publishing Group for providing me with an eARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Fantasy · Science Fiction

Mage Against the Machine – Shaun Barger

4 Stars

Mage Against the Machine is a true Science Fantasy novel. Strong story threads of both science fiction dystopia and utopic fantasy are woven together to create a seamless blend of Science Fantasy.

The year is 2120. The humans are dead.

36373428.jpg
Cover from Goodreads

The mages have retreated from the world after a madman blew up civilization with weaponized magical technology. Safe within domes that protect them from the nuclear wasteland on the other side, the mages have spent the last century putting their lives back together.

Nikolai is obsessed with artifacts from twentieth-century human life: mage-crafted replica Chuck Taylors on his feet, Schwarzenegger posters on his walls, Beatlemania still alive and well in his head. But he’s also tasked with a higher calling—to maintain the Veils that protect mage-kind from the hazards of the wastes beyond. As a cadet in the Mage King’s army, Nik has finally found what he always wanted—a purpose. But when confronted by one of his former instructors gone rogue, Nik tumbles into a dark secret. The humans weren’t nuked into oblivion—they’re still alive. Not only that, outside the domes a war rages between the last enclaves of free humans and vast machine intelligences.

Outside the dome, unprepared and on the run, Nik finds Jem. Jem is a Runner for the Human Resistance. A ballerina-turned-soldier by the circumstances of war, Jem is more than just a human—her cybernetic enhancement mods make her faster, smarter, and are the only things that give her a fighting chance against the artificial beings bent on humanity’s eradication.

Now Nik faces an impossible decision: side with the mages and let humanity die out? Or stand with Jem and the humans—and risk endangering everything he knows and loves?

The synopsis focuses on Nik but a good half of the book is from Jem’s perspective and I wish she’d have been more represented in the synopsis as she’s a much more compelling narrator to me than Nik. Nik, unfortunately, has a terrible case of the poor-me’s and I found him incredibly unlikeable, which resulted in the loss of the star. He makes terrible decisions, is aware that he’s making terrible decisions and then doubles down on the terrible decisions with more terrible decisions. Half of the Nik’s parts of the book are him throwing tantrums.

Throughout the book Jem also makes bad decisions, but at the end of the day, her motivations made more sense, and wherever she could she made decisions that were the best she thought she could do at the time. She may choose wrong, but she’s choosing from a place I can sympathize with. I largely enjoyed her POV sections.

The overall story, unlikeable Nik aside, was a really enjoyable read. Two very different worlds exist and Barger did an excellent job fleshing the two societies out. I loved the tension he built when describing Jem’s running operations. Nik’s world was so interesting and I could read hours more about Focals and how the mages function. The layers of conspiracy ran deep and I found that plot really emgaging. I also loved the details like Nik’s handmade knockoff Chucks. Barger obviously spent a lot of time working out how his two universes would work and it shows in his prose.

I’m looking forward to the second book, and I desperately hope Nik does some serious character growth in the next installment of the series.

Mage Against the Machine hits shelves October 30.

Thank you to Saga Press for providing me with an eARC of the book in exchange for my honest review. 

 

Science Fiction

The Stars Now Unclaimed – Drew Williams

4 Stars

The Stars Now Unclaimed is a fun, action-packed trip around space full of explosions and the constant threat of failure. Drew Williams’ debut novel will definitely appeal to fans of John Scalzi, Becky Chambers and Star Wars. 

Cover from Goodreads. Isn’t this gorgeous? 

Jane Kamali is an agent for the Justified. Her mission: to recruit children with miraculous gifts in the hope that they might prevent the Pulse from once again sending countless worlds back to the dark ages.

Hot on her trail is the Pax–a collection of fascist zealots who believe they are the rightful rulers of the galaxy and who remain untouched by the Pulse.

Now Jane, a handful of comrades from her past, and a telekinetic girl called Esa must fight their way through a galaxy full of dangerous conflicts, remnants of ancient technology, and other hidden dangers.

And that’s just the beginning . . .

Drew Williams’ The Stars Now Unclaimed is fun and I thoroughly enjoyed my reading experience. But some of the elements of the book just didn’t quite work for me. 

The main villains in the story are The Pax – a fascist collective that values strength above all else, including individuality. Their brutality and basic description of uniform made them feel like knockoff Storm Troopers, tweaked just enough to skirt copyright issues. Williams added some interesting details about how the Pax pacify their enslaved troops, but ultimately I couldn’t stop envisioning Storm Troopers when the Pax were mentioned. 

As a result of the strong Storm Trooper resemblance, the Justified and the Repentant, Jane’s sect reminded me strongly of the Jedi and the rebels. There are some pretty strong parallels between the groups and their goals. 

The book is marketed as having a Firefly vibe, which I did not pick up on at all, despite being a big fan of that franchise. 

I did however love the whole concept of the Pulse and the whole interplay between the Justified, their goals, the Pulse and the consequences. The Preacher’s character offers an interesting foil to Jane and the Justified, without being an outright antagonist. 

If you’re looking for a fun read with Star Wars vibes and tons of space battles and satisfying explosions, The Stars Now Unclaimed is the book for you. Find it on shelves now! 

Thank you to Macmillan-Tor/Forge for providing me with an eARC of this book.