Saturday, August 25, 2018

Star Wars: Are You Scared, Darth Vader? by Adam Rex

Star Wars: Are You Scared, Darth Vader? Star Wars: Are You Scared, Darth Vader? by Adam Rex
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What could possibly scare the Dark Lord of the Sith that we have all come to love? A quick read (this is geared toward kids, after all), Are You Scared, Darth Vader? is still a remarkably cute book and I found myself laughing out loud despite it being so short. Adam Rex's illustrations are fantastic, and the ending of the book is obviously what brings the whole thing together. If you've got a young SW fan in your life (or you're just young at heart like I am), this is the perfect book.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Calculating Stars: A Lady Astronaut Novel by Mary Robinette Kowal

The Calculating Stars: A Lady Astronaut Novel
by Mary Robinette Kowal
Published by Tor Books • September 23, 2014
432 Pages • ISBN 978-0765378385 • Paperback



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Book description:
Mary Robinette Kowal's science fiction debut, The Calculating Stars, explores the premise behind her award-winning "Lady Astronaut of Mars."

Goodreads―Most Popular Books Published in July 2018 (#66)
The Verge―12 fantastic science fiction and fantasy novels for July 2018
Unbound Worlds―Best SciFi and Fantasy Books of July 2018
Den of Geek―Best Science Fiction Books of June 2018
Omnivoracious―15 Highly Anticipated SFF Reads for Summer 2018

On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space, and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process.

Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too.

Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her.


Mary Robinette Kowal's new novel, The Calculating Stars, is quite frankly a remarkable book. Playing out over an alternate early 1950s background, the book tackles so much that it's a wonder that MRK could pull it all together, but she does and does so with aplomb. Spinning this story out of her Hugo Award-winning novelette, "The Lady Astronaut of Mars," The Calculating Stars acts as the background to that story. If you have not yet read "The Lady Astronaut of Mars" you should fix that posthaste and pop over to Tor.com to read it for free! It's a beautiful, emotional story that still stick with you.

In 1952, a meteorite strikes off the East coast of the United States, wiping out much of Eastern Seaboard, including Washington DC. The impact is soon discovered to be an extinction level event, having created a changing weather pattern that will make the Earth uninhabitable in a reasonably short amount of time. However, not everyone believes this and it fall to Elma York and her husband, Nathaniel, to convince the US government to fast track the space program so that we can colonize the moon, and perhaps further. Elma, a computer, works closely with her fellow female computers in creating the mathematical equations that will eventually put man into space. Unfortunately for Elma, who suffers from anxiety, she becomes the unintended face of the space program, known as The Lady Astronaut, as she spearheads the inclusion of women, both white and black, to be included in the astronaut program. Even with the events spiraling out of the meteorite impact, this is still 1950s America, and a woman's place is in the kitchen, not in space.

MRK deftly handles so many elements that are still very pertinent in today's society: feminism, sexism, racial tension, female rights, mental health, religious concerns, weather change. She deals with each of these problems in an engaging yet careful way, never overplaying the problems, but making it clear that these are problems that are just as relevant today as they were then, and that in every case, the problem truly falls on society's negative ideas about these issues. The science in the book is approachable and understandable while still feeling very grounded in actual fact; it's my understanding that MRK had several IRL astronauts critique the story to make sure that it was as accurate as it could be.

Elma's courage and wonder in the face of space and the unknown is inspiring. MRK writes some genuinely beautiful scenes building on that sense of wonder, one in particular that really reminded me of how powerful a writer she is. I can't go into it as it would be a little spoiler-y, but it involves someone getting to watch a rocket launch for the first time. I may have actually cried a little during this scene, and that doesn't always happen when I'm reading.

If you're an audiobook fan, MRK also narrates the book and her performance is spot on! Having met MRK on several occasions, I actually picture Mary as Elma in my head now.

Needless to say, I can't recommend The Calculating Stars enough and I'm anxiously awaiting the sequel, The Fated Sky.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

The Big Empty Life of Alphonse Tabouret by Sibylline Desmazières & Capucine, illustrated by Jérôme d'Aviau

The Big Empty Life of Alphonse Tabouret The Big Empty Life of Alphonse Tabouret by Sibylline Desmazières
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've been very impressed with the range of graphic novels that Lion Forge has been putting out lately, and The Big Empty Life of Alphonse Tabouret is no different. Alphonse Tabouret is simply created one day in a forest, and his maker immediately tires of all of his questions and leaves him. Alphonse journeys thru the forest, searching for both answers to his questions and someone (or something) to fill his life with. There are numerous ways to interpret this story, but I feel it is an allegory that tells us that no matter what we think we need to fill our lives, if we're not happy with ourselves, we may never fill that void, and that sometimes it's OK if we never find a something to fill that void, and that it's also OK to just be by ourselves. I was under the impression that this was geared towards a younger audience, and while I think they would enjoy the story and cartoonish illustrations, it strikes me that this is actually more a story told for adults, disguised as a kid's graphic novel.

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Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Beautiful Exiles by Meg Waite Clayton

Beautiful Exiles
by Meg Waite Clayton
Published by Lake Union Publishing • August 1, 2018
384 Pages • ISBN 978-1503900837 • Hardcover



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Book description:
From New York Times bestselling author Meg Waite Clayton comes a riveting novel based on one of the most volatile and intoxicating real-life love affairs of the twentieth century.

Key West, 1936. Headstrong, accomplished journalist Martha Gellhorn is confident with words but less so with men when she meets disheveled literary titan Ernest Hemingway in a dive bar. Their friendship—forged over writing, talk, and family dinners—flourishes into something undeniable in Madrid while they’re covering the Spanish Civil War.

Martha reveres him. The very married Hemingway is taken with Martha—her beauty, her ambition, and her fearless spirit. And as Hemingway tells her, the most powerful love stories are always set against the fury of war. The risks are so much greater. They’re made for each other.

With their romance unfolding as they travel the globe, Martha establishes herself as one of the world’s foremost war correspondents, and Hemingway begins the novel that will win him the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Beautiful Exiles is a stirring story of lovers and rivals, of the breathless attraction to power and fame, and of one woman—ahead of her time—claiming her own identity from the wreckage of love.


My knowledge of Hemingway runs no farther than The Old Man and the Sea, a staple of most high school English classes. I only have a vague memory of slogging thru, his writing clearly not for me. As a result, I've never pursued any more reading, let alone research, on him (or his wives) and therefore honestly had no frame of reference going into Beautiful Exiles, other than having read Meg Waite Clayton's previous books and being a fan of her writing.

Painstakingly researched and beautifully written, this book is not about Hemingway; instead it is about Martha Gellhorn, a writer and eventual prominent war correspondent, who became Hemingway's third wife. Told in the first-person, Gelhorn proves to be just as strong-willed as Hemingway, and more often than not, I found myself wishing she would strike out on her own and leave the self-inflated Hemingway behind. We are given a Gelhorn who is a force unto herself, who is not overshadowed by the sometimes more famous characters around her.

The writing is spot on; whether describing the peaceful, lazy days in Key West or the fast paced, immediate action of being on the front line, I could easily imagine each scene. The detail and descriptions were perfect and really brought the characters, and their situations, to life. Clayton's writing continues to get stronger with each book, and it clearly shows here.

In my admitted non-existent knowledge of Martha Gelhorn, I appreciate Beautiful Exiles all the more; everyone knows Hemingway, but I'm not so sure about Gelhorn. Clayton has given me a perspective on a woman ahead of her time, who was willing to put her life on the line to make sure the world knew what was happening in Europe during Hitler's rise to power. I found Gelhorn fascinating and am sorry that she had become overshadowed by Hemingway, at least in my experience. I want to find out more about her, and I think that a book like Beautiful Exiles, one that sparks that kind of interest in me, is always remarkable.