Never Too Old to Save the World: A Midlife Calling Anthology

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Stars: 3 out of 5.

The problem with anthologies is that the stories in them are usually very uneven. You can find some hidden gems, but you will also find stories that are uninspiring to say the least.

In this particular case, the idea behind the anthology was great. The tired trope of the Chosen One has been done into oblivion over the years, but most of the Chosen Ones are children or young adults. It’s like your membership to this club automatically expires once you turn twenty, or something. It’s refreshing to see stories about Chosen Ones who are middle-aged, and have a wealth of experience behind them. Who have lived their lives, had their teenage rebellions, have settled into their lives, and pretty much know who they are and what they want. 

In theory, this premise, this should make for wonderful stories, where the Chosen One doesn’t need prophets or kings to tell them what to do or how to act, and have a strong moral compass on their own. The execution, however, is rather disappointing.

I think the only story I really liked was A Legacy of Ghosts. It felt like a fully fleshed out story with a sympathetic protagonist and some stakes you could feel. The Jackalope Wives was okay as well, but I felt that I liked it more due to the author’s writing style than due to the story itself. Another one I truly enjoyed was Once A Queen. It had that Wayward Children by Seanan McGuire series vibe, and I enjoyed at least the first 2-3 books in that series.

The rest of the stories ranged from meh to frankly mediocre. I went back to re-read the titles of the stories before I sat down to write this review, and I was sad to discover that I couldn’t even remember what some of the stories were about. Yes, they were that unmemorable.

I would say that this is an anthology that you can pick up from your library just to read a few select stories, and don’t feel guilty returning it having skipped the rest.

PS: I received an advanced copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Cast in Secret (Chronicles of Elantra 3) by Michelle Sagara

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Stars: 4 out of 5.

This is my favorite book of the series so far.

I like how in each new book, we uncover another side of this very complex world. It is hinted in the first book that Elantra is built on the ruins of previous civilizations. And the second book show us a little bit about what those were, as well as why the Barani have to have a strong presence in the city (hint: they are containing an even bigger evil).

I also like that Kaylin has to confront her own preconceptions in each consecutive book, which often changes her whole opinion about a situation, or in this case, an entire race of people. Last book it was the Barani, this time we learn more about the Thal’anni, a race of telepaths that Kaylin absolutely abhorred in the previous books because she only considered what they could do to her – break into her mind and discover her worst secrets. She never stopped to think the price they paid for that ability.

I loved this exploration of the origins of an entire race and the decisions that led to this particular race choosing to be peaceful, when they had the means and the ability to dominate this world (not to mention destroy it). In fact, they almost did just that once, a long time ago.

Kaylin had to confront the toll mind reading exerts from the Thal’anni, and realize that they don’t do it willingly at all. Those Thal’anni working for the Emperor are a tribute the race has to pay for being left in peace. And those tributes often come back damaged by the experiences they are forced to pry out of the minds of the people they interrogate. 

While Kaylin still irritates me most of the time, because she behaves like a teenager younger than the 17 years she is supposed to be in this book, I love her unwavering loyalty to children in need. Protecting children who can’t protect themselves is at the core of her being. It defines her ever since her little family in Nightshade. It’s the murder of those children that she couldn’t forgive Severn for, or herself. So her trying to care for the children in the Foundling Hall, or do everything in her power to save women in difficult labor is what defines her character. And you know what? I can stand behind that. And I can forgive a lot of her other quirks and stupid knee jerk decisions she makes because of that.

Especially since she get a little bit more character growth in this book. She learns that she was wrong hating a race of people because of a bad experience with one of them. And that experience wasn’t even that interrogator’s fault. She acknowledges her wrong and manages to grow past it. To see individual people where before she saw monsters. That’s a very mature step to take that not many adults are capable of even in our world.

As it stands, I want to learn more about this world. Every book gives me a little glimpse into it and keeps me hooked. I also want to learn more about the forces behind the marks on Kaylin’s arms and what it all means for the world of Elantra. Onward to book 4.

Gideon the Ninth (The Locked Tomb 1) by Tamsyn Muir

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Stars: 4 our of 5.

This was a very bizarre book set in a weird world, and I loved every minute of it! A one sentence summary for this story would be – Necromancers in Space, but that doesn’t do this book justice. 

I came into this book with no small amount of trepidation, because opinions were very divided about it amongst my Goodreads friends. Some adored it, some couldn’t stand it, some DNFed it halfway through. I now can proudly admit that I am in the “adored it” camp.

I think the biggest surprise for me was just how attached I grew to all the characters. I grew to love all of the necromancers of various houses and their cavaliers. It was interesting to observe their interactions as well as ties that kept the different pairs together. And some of the characters I even enjoyed hating, like the unbending militaristic Second house, or the scheming Eight. 

The slower pace of the book in the first half helped create that effect – the author takes her time first showing us the abysmal life that Gideon lived in the Ninth house, and the decrepitude it was slowly falling into. That way I clearly understood why Harrow was so desperate to answer the summons, or why Gideon would agree to come along, even though she hated her guts. 

By taking time to introduce us to the different characters and explore the strange palace they find themselves in, the author makes us care for everyone. Even Teacher with his perpetual good humor. So when the horrors start happening and the first deaths occur, it hits the reader like a punch in the gut. Especially since it happens to the characters that are the most sympathetic of them all.

The ending is also heartbreaking. I wanted so badly for Gideon to finally break free from the clutches of the Ninth house. I’m glad that her and Harrow finally aired all their grievances and made piece before the final confrontation with the big bad of the book. So Gideon’s sacrifice came as a natural conclusion of that story. It made sense. It was the only way Gideon could act at that time. It was still heartbreaking.

I wish we got a few more answers by the end of this book. Where did Gideon come from? Why was there mentions of her name in this palace? Why can’t the Emperor set foot on the planet again? What was the force lurking beneath the place that Teacher was so afraid of? I doubt we will ever get the answers to these questions now, since this story seems over.

I will however continue with this series because I want to know what force in the galaxy is more terrifying than a whole empire of necromancers.

Deadline (Blood Trails 1) by Jennifer Blackstream

Stars: 3.5 out of 5.

This was an interesting first book in a new (to me) series. It has the usual assortment of supernatural creatures living alongside ordinary people but puts enough spin on it to make this entry into the urban fantasy genre interesting. 

I loved the mention that unless a person is open-minded enough to even entertain the idea of supernatural or “other”, they won’t see it even if it smacks them in the face. For example, the protagonist killed a lobster monster, and of the two joggers who found her with the body, one saw it for what it was – a body of a monster, but the other’s mind made him believe that it was just a thrown out vacuum cleaner. 

It’s also interesting to see that people have different reactions when confronted with the supernatural and forced to “see” it for the first time. And in most cases it’s a shock to their belief system. Some even go crazy. Or that once you saw the supernatural side of life, you can’t unsee it, no matter how much you try.

I must admit that I didn’t love the protagonist that much though. I found Shade rather judgmental of other people and prone to jump to conclusions about others without any proof, based solely on first impressions. Not the best trait for a village witch who is supposed to help her community. Case in point – the old woman and her kitten. Had Shade taken this seriously and listed earlier, she would have seen the unnatural spell on the animal and spared the cat a lot of suffering.

Also, for someone who wants to be a private investigator, she sure makes a lot of stupid decisions and not much in the way of actual investigating. In fact, it seems like all of the clues just kinda fall in her lap. Honestly, she seems pretty incompetent as a witch and as a private investigator. It is implied that she is pretty young and inexperienced though, so I am willing to give it a pass in this book and hope that her character will grow and evolve as the series progress. 

I am also glad to say that there is no romance at all in this book. We have some hints at possible romantic interest later on, but that’s a story for another book. And I’m glad about that. I loved exploring this world and Shade’s difficult relationships with people without adding insta-love to the picture.

As it stands, I am invested enough in this series that I will definitely pick up the next book.

Travel by Bullet (The Dispatcher 3) by John Scalzi

Stars: 4 out of 5.

I liked this novella – it’s perfect for a lazy afternoon when you don’t particularly want to commit to a longer book. It’s fast-paced and engaging, and still manages to deliver a decent portion of worldbuilding.

And what a fascinating world it is. Imagine a world where murder doesn’t exist anymore. And by that I mean that a murder victim will reappear in a place they consider safe and will be unharmed, though will retain the memory of the murder. Oh, that doesn’t eliminate death in its entirety. Accidents still happen, and illness, but murder? in 99.99% of the cases, the victim will be alive again. 

It’s interesting to see the changes that this brings to society. And to see the good and bad that this brings in humanity. 

On one hand we have government sanctioned dispatchers whose sole job is to murder people who would otherwise die a permanent death so that they have a second chance. For example, someone is in a bad car accident and is moments from dying. The doctors can’t save them fast enough. If the dispatcher murders that person, they have a 99.99% chance to reappear at their home safe and healthy, like the accident never happened. Sure, there is that little 0.01% chance that they will fail to reappear, but that’s better than certain death, don’t you think?

On the other hand, we have people who use their power and influence to make others compete to the death to gain their favors, be it a lucrative construction contract, a job position or a refence that the other person needs. It is immoral and frankly horrifying. So what if the murder victim will technically survive? Both the muderer and the victim will still keep the memories and the trauma of the event.

This is my second foray into this series, since I read the first book, and I must admit that I’m loving it. The concept is original and I enjoy watching where the author will take it. I will definitely also check out the second book that I somehow missed.

My only complaint about this particular book is that the main characters is a bit bland. We really don’t get to see what makes him tick. I still don’t know what his motivation is in doing what he is doing.  But since I love the concept so much, I am willing to forgive a blah protagonist.

PS: I received an advanced copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Hero of Ages (The Mistborn Saga 3) by Brandon Sanderson

Stars: 5 out of 5.

This was a fitting end to an epic trilogy. What I love about Brandon Sanderson is that his worlds are always complex and well thought-out. Things happen for a reason, even if that reason isn’t immediately discernable by the reader. There will be no deus ex machina here. Everything that happens has been foreshadowed in the previous books or hinted upon in this one. 

I also like that he lets his characters be flawed and make mistakes. Vin isn’t a strong female lead that can do no wrong, and when she does, it’s not wrong because she is the protagonist. I’ve seen too many of those in the movies and TV series lately. No Vin is a very human character, with her needs and wants. She is rash and acts without thinking things through sometimes. And people die as a result. And Vin realizes this, and strives to do better, to try harder. 

It’s disheartening to see both her and Elend try so hard to protect their people, but no matter what they do, Ruin seems to prevail. I especially felt for Elend there because he came into this story as a stary-eyed idealist full of good intentions. Life proceeded to regularly beat him down and show him that good intentions aren’t enough when you are responsible for the lives of thousands of people. That sometimes you have to make hard decisions. I like the fact that even despite that, he kept the moral core that made him a good man right until the end.

And even though I love our main couple, there is no denying that Sazed, Spook, and TenSoon are the real heroes of this book. My heart broke for Sazed who experienced a veritable crisis of faith in this book. And Spook… Oh Spook. From a minor characters who could barely talk he becomes a leader worthy of Kelsier’s crew. 

Speaking for Kelsier. It’s amazing how a character who died in the first book manages to influence everyone he came in contact with for the next two books. God knows he wasn’t perfect, but he managed to inspire people to fight seemingly impossible odds. And, dare I say, he helped create the Hero of Ages.

I came out of this trilogy with a sense of immense satisfaction, but also with a broken heart, though I understand that things ended how they needed to end for all of our characters. I will definitely check out the books in the next era of Mistborn world, but I think I will take a break first. Because despite how much I love Brandon Sanderson’s style, these books are rather hefty tomes that require a lot of brainpower to get through.