A Fun Adventure That Could Push Harder, But Doesn’t – A Review of Free Chocolate by Amber Royer

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This review is based on an ARC given to me for free by the publisher, Angry Robot Books. This does not in any way affect my review.

This book is slated for release on June 5, 2018.

I’ve loved chocolate since I had my first taste of it when I was a little girl. It was a piece broken off of a Nestle Crunch candy bar, handed to me by one of my parents, though I don’t remember which. That first taste created a love for chocolate that lasts to this day (though nowadays I eat more dark chocolate than milk chocolate, due both to changing tastes and health reasons). Indeed, there is no flavour quite like chocolate – and I and many chocoholics both in the past and in the future will agree that chocolate is one of the most sublime foodstuffs ever discovered.

The sublimity of chocolate was first discovered by the Mesoamericans, who first started harvesting and then cultivating the cacao plant for use in rituals and medicine – and later, when the Aztecs came to power, as currency. When the Spanish conquered Central America they brought chocolate over to Europe, where it became a popular foodstuff; as a result, plantations were set up all across the world, most of them in colonies falling within a narrow band of twenty degrees north and south of the equator. Most of the world’s chocolate now comes from countries that fall in that band: the Ivory Coast and Ghana are the leaders of production, with Indonesia, Cameroon, and Nigeria close at their heels. The Philippines is a very small producer, comparatively speaking, but the quality of the chocolate produced is exceptional, if the results from the 2017 Academy of Chocolate Awards are any indication.

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Of White Ravens, Golden Spiders, and Near-Miss Disasters – A Review of The Wrong Stars by Tim Pratt

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This review is based on an ARC given to me by the publisher, Angry Robot Books. This does not in any way affect my review.

This novel is slated for release on November 7, 2017.

I have a confession to make: I came late – very late – to the Firefly bandwagon. When the series first came out in 2002 I was deeply involved in other fandoms, but even when its popularity resurged after Serenity was released, I took a long while to finally make my way to it. When I did, though, it was immediately clear to me why it had the following it did, and why it continues to be popular today, long after the series ended and the movie was released. While the concept and storyline are certainly quite good, it’s the characters that really explain why the series caught on as it did and remains, to this day, much-beloved in SFF circles. To be sure, they are not without their problems (mostly because the show was cut far too short for any solid character development to happen), but for the most part, the Serenity’s wisecracking, somewhat amoral, internally-broken, but intensely loyal found family was – is – the franchise’s beating heart.

Since then, I’ve been on the lookout for a story (not specifically sci-fi) that plays with similar themes, and I’ve been lucky to find it, to a greater or lesser degree, elsewhere: for example, in Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards series, and in Foz Meadows’ Manifold Worlds duology, as well as in Bioware’s Mass Effect video games. It’s a quality I always look out for, because while there is nothing wrong with romantic relationships, I have a great appreciation for stories that focus on platonic and filial relationships – especially if it’s about building one’s own family, instead of relying exclusively on one’s blood relations.

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“A Captive Fish is the Same as a Dead Fish.” – A Review of The Dragon Behind the Glass by Emily Voigt

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Like a lot of people, I can remember a time when I begged my parents to let me and my sister keep pets. Though my paternal grandmother owned an entire coterie of dogs (Poodle-Japanese Spitz crosses, for the most part), those were her dogs, and my sister and I wanted something we could call our own. So first came the rabbits, which we’d only had for a few days before they suffocated to death in the ash fall from the Mount Pinatubo eruption. Some years after that came a pair of lovebirds, which both died due to what I speculate were severe panic attacks after my extremely poor attempts to get them to perch on my finger by reaching into their cage and grabbing at them repeatedly. And then came a pair of fluffy yellow chicks, which actually managed to survive into young adulthood until a visiting grandaunt deemed them worthy to serve up at the dinner table as tinola (they were tasty, by the way).

By that point my parents were running out of ideas as to what they could give us as pets. At the time my sister was still in elementary school, while I was just about to start high school, and neither of them thought us ready to take on the responsibility of caring for something like a dog. In the end, they got us an aquarium full of goldfish, which turned out to be the wrong decision entirely thanks to the lack of enthusiasm my sister and I presented, and the amount of time needed to properly take care of the fish in the first place. While no pet is truly “low-maintenance”, a whole lot more work goes into properly taking care of pet fish – in particular, the fact that the tank needs to be cleaned out on a regular basis. After several months of cleaning out the tank every two weeks, my mother just gave up on the whole thing and gave everything – fish, tank, the whole shebang – away. We did not get another pet until many years later, by which time I was at university and my sister was just finishing high school: the pet dog we’d always wanted.

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Worthy of the Big Screen, But Not Without Its Problems – A Review of The Shards of Heaven by Michael Livingston

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Book-to-movie adaptations have been around almost since the beginning of moviemaking. One of the earliest book-to-movie adaptations was released in 1899: an adaptation of the fairytale Cinderella, as told by the Brothers Grimm. It was made by Georges Méliès, a pioneer filmmaker who is more famous for his 1902 release A Trip to the Moon, which is a loose adaptation of Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon and H.G. Wells’ The First Men in the Moon.

Since then the film industry has frequently mined literature for stories to make into movies, many of which become immensely successful: Gone With the Wind and The Lord of the Rings film trilogy come easily to mind. Both are some of the highest-grossing films every made, and are considered classics both as books and as movies. However, for every book-to-movie adaptation that makes it big, there are many, many more that fail. Take, for example, the film adaptation of Christopher Paolini’s Eragon, which was almost universally panned by critics despite its powerhouse cast (which included Jeremy Irons and John Malkovich in important supporting roles, and Rachel Weisz voicing the dragon Saphira). There were plans to adapt Paolini’s entire series into film, but the sequels never materialised because of Eragon’s poor critical reception and relatively modest earnings.

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