Category Archives: books

The Extinction Trials by A. G. Riddle

 Stars: 1 out of 5.

I DNFed this book at 55%. You would think that reaching the halfway point there would have been some exciting action, right? With a name like Extinction Trials, you would think there would be some high stakes, trials, etc., right? Wrong. 

Yes, there seems to have been a mass extinction event, but even halfway through the book I’m not sure how long ago it had happened or how the characters ended up in Station 17. And apart from them leaving the station and getting on a boat, there hadn’t been any trials either. Unless you count them trying to repair the boat as a trial. But then one man was working on it and the rest were just mulling around waiting, so that’s a boring trial.

And that’s the crux of it – this book is boring. The characters are uninspiring. Heck, I am not sure I can remember most of them after dropping this book a few days ago. I mean who the heck is Blair and what is her purpose in this story anyway? They have no personality, no quirks, no inner strengths or weaknesses. And even though the book is told from the perspective of two of those characters, we never really get familiar with them. 

The reason for that is because the author doesn’t know how to show things. What we get instead is never-ending exposition. Each character has to tell their backstory. Then they find a journal and a character needs to read every single entry out loud. Then they find video recordings, so those are narrated as well. Heck, at one point, the two character even read excerpts from a self-help book… Yawn.

By the time I reached the halfway point and discovered that nothing major had happened yet and I didn’t particularly care about any of the characters, I decided that continuing this struggle wasn’t worth my time. So I skipped to the end just to see how this whole mess was resolved and… let’s just say that the ending is very disappointing. If you want the events in a book to make sense and abide by the rules of the world that the author created, this book is definitely not for you.

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

Ion Curtain by Anya Ow

 Stars: 4 out of 5.

This was a surprise hit for me. I went into this book not expecting much of anything and just hoping that it would be a fun enough to compensate for a disastrous post-apocalyptic read I had DNFed before starting this. I’m glad that I tried it. It was fun, it was fast-paced, and it had surprisingly a lot of heart.

I loved the characters. Be it Kalina or Solitaire or our stoic Russian Captain. They are surprisingly very real and “alive” in their interactions and inner thoughts. I laughed out loud a few times and rooted for them and was shocked and sad about the demise of some of the characters. It’s a sign of good writing when the reader ends up grieving the death of minor characters along with the protagonists. 

The worldbuilding was also pretty impressive and different than the usual scifi fare. In most scifi books written in the Western World, The space-faring galactic humanity is distinctly ango-saxon. If minorities are mentioned, it’s glossed over or considered that they assimilated into the bigger anglo-saxon culture. It was a breath of fresh air to see something different here. Human colonies are divided between a militaristic Federation that originated from the Russian expansion into the stars and the UN who is an amalgamation of other races but with a strong Chinese base and influence. This results in mentalities, languages and behaviors that are different from the usual. 

I absolutely loved that! We need more diverse voices in science fiction. It’s absurd to think that American culture will still dominate humanity hundreds of years from now. I loved Firefly for that exact reason – they accounted for the melting pot of cultures that will expand into the galaxy, and not all of them spoke English. 

It is also interesting to read a book about AIs and the dangers that come with achieving singularity. Though there could be discussion here whether the ships really are AIs – after all, they are brain scans of real people, so they behave like those people. Either way, the prospect is rather terrifying. And AI is be definition faster and more intelligent than a normal human. What happens if it decides that humanity is no longer relevant? What can humans do against a super computer that is self-aware and incontrollable? 

I think the author did an excellent job showing us just how ruthless and alien that kind of enemy can be. The destruction of New Tesla was horrifying because of how unnecessary it was. The AI destroyed an entire colony to get at one little ship. How do you negotiate with that kind of enemy?

I have one complaint about this book though. The story isn’t finished. Nothing is resolved. In fact, one might argue that the real story is barely starting. This made me feel rather unsatisfied when I finished the book. I was hoping for a little more resolution so to say. And I don’t mind waiting for the next book in the series, but so far no other books have been announced. I really hope we get a continuation (and conclusion) of this story eventually. 

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

Gutter Mage by J.S. Kelley

 Stars: 4.5 out of 5

This was such a nice surprise of a book! It reads like urban fantasy… in a fantasy world instead of a slightly reimagined modern world. Since I love the urban fantasy vibe, this worked well for me. 

In order for me to enjoy a book, I need to either be swept away by the story, or fall in love (or hate) with the characters. Some rare gems manage to give me both, but I don’t particularly count on it when I start a book. As long as either one of those is present, I am along for the ride. Well, I’m happy to say that I got both with Gutter Mage. 

The worldbuilding is complex and expertly done. We are introduced to the world gradually, without unnecessary infodumps, but I never felt lost. The author gave me just enough information to understand what has happening and dolled out further revelations in measured doses. Which kept me interested and invested in the story. 

And the characters, oh the characters! I love Roz with all her flaws and jagged edges. I love how real she feels. She’d been through a very traumatic event and the damage it had done to her both physically and psychologically is still there. It defines a lot of her reactions and interactions with others. But Roz never uses it as an excuse for her shitty behavior, and that’s what I like about it. She doesn’t play the victim. She knows she is broken in many ways, but she is resolved to not let the past defeat her. 

The trauma of what she’d gone through prevents her from forming normal trusting relationships with others, because as soon as someone gets too close to her, she panics and does everything to push them away. So her relationship with Nye is even more important to her – he is her only friend. The person she trusts with everything. Implicitly and without question. So what happens later in the book is a punch in the gut for both Roz and the reader. 

I also loved the secondary characters who both helped and hindered Roz in her quest. I didn’t, however, love the main villain. He suffered from the biggest flaw of the villain world, in my opinion – he loved to monologue too much. Also, his motives for doing what he was doing weren’t entirely clear. Yes, he wanted to show the world that enslaving spirits was wrong, but what was the end game for him? He didn’t sound like someone ready to give up his unlife for an ideology without some kind of personal gain.

That quip aside, I really loved this book. It was an excellent introduction to this new world and characters. I really hope that more books will follow, because while the main story ark is resolved in this book, the ending leave a lot of questions and loose ends to be developed in future books. 

PS: I received an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Mad Trinkets by Cameron Scott Kirk

 Stars: 2.5 out of 5

I honestly don’t understand all the 5 stars ratings and raving reviews for this book. I didn’t see complex characters or well-realized world. All I saw was gratuitous violence, oversexualization, and very wobbly worldbuilding.

My biggest pet peeve is the worldbuilding, actually. I am a firm believer that in fantasy, you either create your own world with its own geography, mythology and religions, or you use our world, but very carefully. Then it’s called alternative history anyway. 

What we have in this book is a complete mess. It’s set up in the fictional land of White Cloud, where two kings rule and an evil Hungry King had been defeated barely a year ago. Of him, we don’t know much. He was a cannibal, maybe? He had magic, maybe? Who knows. We never get any details on him apart from a few mentions… There is a tall mountain, and a city at the border of a vast desert, and maybe evil metal that fell from the sky. With me so far? Okay. All that is good. All that paints an interesting and fictional world…

And then we get the mention of God and Jesus Christ and real places like Jerusalem. One of the characters is a Norsewoman… who carries a katana. No, seriously, a real Japanese katana… and was given a Japanese name. So are we in our world or some kind of invented one? If we are in the real world, then where exactly is this land of White Cloud on the map of our world? When are these events taking place in reference to our present time? And if it’s NOT our world, why mention a religion from our world? Especially since it has no influence on this story whatsoever? Why give your Viking woman a Japanese katana? Again, it isn’t relevant to the story. All it does is kick me out of the story and irritates me, because I can only suspend my disbelief so far.

The characters are also nothing to write home about. All the women are good and righteous, even in their anger and thirst for vengeance. Other than that, we are not privy to their inner thoughts or desires. All men are overly sexualized pigs… apart from a few obviously good guys who somehow overcome their base nature by the end. Again, we aren’t particularly privy to their thoughts either. 

By the end of the book, I sincerely couldn’t care less for any of the characters. I skimmed the last 10% of the book just to get to the end of the story. This hasn’t become a DNF only because I was almost at the end and I was too stubborn to quit. Honestly, won’t recommend this.

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

The Scourge Between Stars by Ness Brown

 Stars: 5 out of 5

This was a surprise winner for me. I picked it up on whim and because the cover was so cool. I didn’t expect much of the story apart from space horror. I got that alright, but I also got surprisingly a lot of heart.

Imagine for a moment that you are on board of a generation ship that is running out of resources and no matter how many times you do the math, it all points to the same thing: we won’t reach Earth before our air and food runs out. Add to that that the ship is traveling through a literal minefield deployed by two unknown alien species at war with each other. The humans are just collateral damage in this battle, but it hurts the ship and their chances of survival all the same, because we don’t have the technology to detect and avoid the mines. Then add to that the fact that they unknowingly picked up a hitchhiker or two when they left the colony. And those hitchhikers are fond of human flesh. Yes, the sum total is one terrifying ride.

What I didn’t expect, is that this short novel, more a novella, would be populated by fleshed out characters I would sympathize and root for.  Jacklyn “Jack” Albright is an amazing character. She feels real. She has her flaws and insecurities and moments of pettiness or self-doubt, but she is also courageous and willing to do the right thing even if doing so means facing off with a terrifying monster that tears people apart like they were paper cutouts. She is trying her best to keep her crew together and prevent her ship from falling apart after each space mine, or “engagement” they encounter. She is overwhelmed and terrified, but she still tries everything she can to face the new treat when it arises. That’s what a true captain is, unlike her father who chose to abandon them in this trying time. 

As I had mentioned, the book is very short, and I devoured it in a lazy afternoon reading session. And I ended up loving the story and all the characters and wanting to know more. Like why had the colonists decided to attempt a doomed voyage back to Earth? What had gone wrong in the new colony? Especially since the existence of the native species was just speculation, from what I could understand. Who are those spacefaring aliens waging war across the stars? They seem to have technology eons above what humanity can master.  I really hope that the author will revisit this universe in her future books. 

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

The Nightmare Man by JH Markert

Stars: 2.5 out of 5

This is a hard one to review. On one hand, I liked it because it gave me a lot of the older Stephen King vibes. I love older Stephen King. On the other hand, this book has a lot of issues that just piled up the longer I read it which ultimately took away a lot of the pleasure from reading and let the frustration set in.

From what I see, this is the author’s first book and, unfortunately, it shows. There is a solid story somewhere in there. In fact, there are several solid stories that could have been several solid books. Unfortunately, the execution is a bit lacking.

As I mentioned, there is just too much stuff happening in this book. There are several serial killers and psychopaths running loose in this small town. There are nightmares galore. There is an old detective with his own secrets. There is a writer with his dark past and strange family history. There is a psychiatric asylum… It’s like the author tried to throw everything on the wall and try to make it all stick. 

Well, it makes for a very dense story where not a single thread is given enough attention to matter. And because so much information is stuffed into the book, things happen very slowly, and we also don’t have enough time to go deeper into each incident. As a result, I didn’t particularly care for any of the mares running around the little town and killing off people, or about the writer’s story, or really about the detective’s either. There is just too much happening to concentrate on.

My other issue is that there is not action in this book. Which, I realize, contradicts my previous statement that there is too much happening. Yes, things are happening, people are being murdered in horrible ways… but it’s all done “offscreen” so to say. Our protagonists either arrive at the crime scene after the fact or discuss it after the fact, or have flashbacks to some other plot point after the fact, etc. Do you see the trend there? Everything is given us through dialogues and flashbacks. In fact, I think the only time the characters are actually in the thick of the action is at the very end of the book when the mares come home. But even then, a lot of the action is told by the protagonists who arrive after the fact to discover the bloody aftermath and cooling bodies. 

Well, this might work for a little bit, but when the whole book is written in this manner, it just gets boring. There is not tension, no suspense, and there is no feeling that the characters are in clear and present danger… which is the whole point of a horror book, no? This story would have been a lot more impactful, if the author had cut out at least half of the flashbacks and put us into the action instead of having the characters retell that action to each other over a glass of bourbon afterwards. 

And finally, I’m not sure what the police procedures are in small towns, but I am positive that revealing the name of a suspect in a conversation with another suspect is illegal. Especially if that suspect is married to a reporter. Same with discussing the details of an ongoing investigation with a civilian which might or might not be tied to the killings. Yet the detectives in this story do it several times. And not only the detectives. In fact, it seems like doctor patient confidentiality, or the confidentiality of a confession are non-existent in this book as soon as it’s convenient to the plot to break them.

And honestly, the least said about that ending, the better. It feels like the author tried to tie all the loose ends from all the different stories they started in this book, and didn’t quite manage that. It was dense, jumbled, and quite unsatisfactory.

I would however say that the author has potential. I finished this book in three days, despite all my misgivings, after all. If they continue writing and honing their craft, I’m sure future books will be much better.

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

Rising Tide (Ben Gold 2) by Rajan Khanna

Stars: 3.5 out of 5

This was better than the first book. Mainly because I thought I saw some character growth in Ben. After all, he sacrificed the Cherub to save a town instead of running away, like he would have done previously. That was the first selfless action I’d seen him do. And he does a lot more selfless things in this book, which is a big plus in my book. 

I was fully onboard for that change, because honestly, I didn’t like Ben in the first book. He is selfish to the extreme. All he cares about is himself and his ship. To see him outgrow that and start acting against his own selfishness to help others was fulfilling. He was protecting the island. He helped rescue the scientists. It looked like he genuinely cared for Miranda’s research in finding the cure for the virus…

Unfortunately, as I came to find out by the end of this book, this was less a fundamental change of Ben’s character than his need to act like the person he cares about (Miranda) wants him to act. He loves her, so he craves her her approval. So her goals become his goals. As soon as he realizes that Miranda is gone, he reverts to his old selfish ways. I mean, seriously, he just drops everything and runs. He abandons the people he’d been fighting back to back with, who he even started considering friends, and just takes off. This, right there, killed the book for me, because it showed that the supposed character growth was just a gimmick. Talk about killing my interest in a character.

My other problem is that this book doesn’t contribute anything worthwhile to the worldbuilding. Yes, we learn about some other factions and power players, but we still don’t know the motivations of the main factions we went against in the first book. What does Valhalla want? But more importantly, what do the scientists want? Their motivations are waved off by “evil scientists do evil stuff because they are evil” gimmick. I’m sorry, but that doesn’t work in a post-app world like this one. Why did they make this new virus? Do they want to completely depopulate the planet? Well, newsflash – the ferals are doing a pretty good job without anyone’s else help. Besides, if they eliminate what’s little left of the human race, then what? I doubt they will be content with farming their own food, cleaning their dwellings and doing other menials tasks of keeping themselves alive in a world without convenient minions to do their bidding. So yeah, their motivations are never explained. 

There are also several threads introduced in this book that are completely dropped and never mentioned again. For example, that strange feral outside the police warehouse in Ben’s recollections. Why attract the reader’s attention to that? It’s never mentioned again. What was the point? I understand that we see this story through Ben’s eyes, and he can’t think past his own self-interest, but it just feels so… disjointed. And while there was a driving force behind this story – Miranda’s search for a cure, I’m afraid that this is truly destroyed now. 

Which brings me to this: while I enjoyed the fast-paced action of the first 2 books, I don’t feel the need to follow Ben’s character any further. He proved that he doesn’t change. It also doesn’t seem that we would learn more about the virus or find a cure for it in the next book, so I think I will say goodbye to this series right here and now.

City of Stone and Silence (The Wells of Sorcery 2) by Django Wexler

 Stars 5 out of 5.

If anything, book 2 is even better than book 1. Since the backstory and worldbuilding had already been established in book 1, we can jump right into the story here. And what story it is! We thought that just reaching the garden and surviving the Rot had been a challenge. Well it’s nothing compared to what awaits our friends from Soliton when it reaches its destination.

I love the fact that Isoka underwent tremendous character growth in the last book, and it continues here. She went from being this ruthless, unfeeling person who was only out for herself and and her sister to becoming a reluctant leader who actually cares about the people she ended up in charge of.  This change makes her a lot more relatable and, while I’m sure she had that compassion hidden deep down inside her anyway, it is slowly coming out thanks to Meroe. Meroe loves Isoka, but she also constantly challenges her and makes her take a long and harsh look at her actions. And she leads by example. My only complaint about this book is that we don’t get quite enough Meroe awesomeness. 

We also get to really meet Isoka’s sister Tori in this book. In book one, we only got a glimpse of her through Isoka’s eyes, and she seemed exactly what Isoka wanted her to be: a beautiful and innocent upper-class girl far detached from all the filth and violence of the streets. In this book, we get to live in her head as well. And we find out that she is far from innocent and definitely far from detached. The innocence is a façade that she is putting up for her sister and the retainers she’d hired, but underneath is a thoughtful and determined young lady. There is no malice in that act, mind you. Tori knows that seeing her happy and pure off the filth Isoka has to wade through every day makes her sister happy. So she gives her that happiness. Because she remembers the cold and the hunger and the brutality of the streets, and she remembers everything her big sister had to sacrifice to keep her safe.  And she loves her for it. 

I admit that Tori was the biggest surprise in this book for me. From the glimpse we had of her in book 1, she’d appeared very shallow and young. But we get to follow a young woman with a heart of gold and spine of steel in this book. I can truly say that both sisters are exceptional. I can’t wait to see them reunited at last and delivering their own brand of justice to those who wronged them.

And I can’t wait to jump into the last book in the trilogy. This is a must read. If you like a thoughtfully created world and wonderfully flawed characters, pick up this series.

To Blackfyre Keep (The Seven Swords 4) by Anthony Ryan

Stars: 4.5 out of 5

I like this book a lot more than the previous 3, maybe because the storyline was pretty straightforward, but also because our (un)merry band of curse sword bearers got a lot more character development here. I admit that I hadn’t been particularly impressed when I had picked up the first book in the series, but this is getting better and better with each installment. 

The world is what fascinates me the most here. It’s complex and layered, with countries and regions that have a very distinct feeling. I enjoyed exploring them in each consecutive book. And the purpose of the seven cursed swords is more and more intriguing. 

I also liked how Guiome is evolving from book to book. He starts to care about people who journey with him and not just his quest anymore. He also got a dose of humility in this book when he discovered just how much he actually came to rely on the power of his cursed sword over the years. Curse as he may their arrangement, without the magic of the sword to keep him alive, he is just a man. Still strong and formidable, but ultimately killable. 

I am also very sad for Seeker if what is hinted about her daughter is true. It would destroy her if she finally catches up to her child only to discover that she is just a shell inhabited by a demon. Having to kill that demon would probably shred her soul as well.

I’m also happy we learned a bit about why the druid decided to join our band of adventurers. And he was a lot less annoying (and a lot more helpful) in this story.

And of course the addition of a new traveling companion, the Cursed Knight. I can’t wait to see how that plays out in the next book.

Yes, I am loving this series better and better with each book and I can’t wait to pick up the next one once it comes out.

PS: I received a copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Revelation Space (Revelation Space 1) by Alastair Reynolds

Stars: 4 out of 5

I love when I discover a new space opera series that I haven’t read before, and there are several books already written. This means that if I like the series, I can binge it at my heart’s content. I’m happy to say that Revelation Space is another binge-worthy contender. 

The author created a very complex and fascinating world with several characters that have different motivations and come from extremely different backgrounds. We are also presented with a complex interweaving story that eventually brings all of those characters to one place and time.

This is an interesting take on space exploration and the age of our universe. Unlike a lot of other science fiction franchises, like Star Trek for example, who are teaming with sentient alien species and stories of first contact and collaboration, human in the world of Revelation Space seem to be almost alone in the galaxy. Sure, they have encountered a couple other sentient races like the Shrouders or the Pattern Jugglers, but they are so alien that any hope of communication and understanding is short lived. But they found ruins, and plenty of them, on multiple planets. It’s almost like the galaxy used to be a crowded place teeming with intelligent life… that died out long before humanity made it to the stars. It’s like humans were too late for the party and found only the remnants of the buffet.

What happened? Why did all those civilizations disappear? Will the same fate befall humanity as well? The quest for the answers to those questions is what is at the heart of this story.

As I had mentioned before, we have a diverse group of characters in this story as well. And while I didn’t like all of them, I must admit that they were all interesting and well-done. They had distinct personalities and motivations. More importantly, there was always a reason behind their actions, even if that reason wasn’t immediately apparent. I love characters who behave and act in accordance with how they are established, because that makes them believable. 

Again, that doesn’t mean I liked all of them. Sylveste was a particularly self-absorbed condescending prick. I really can’t fathom what Pascale saw in him. Granted, he sort of redeemed himself in the end, but you could argue that he had to do it to prevent an extinction event that wouldn’t have happened hadn’t he been so pigheaded and single-minded in his obsession.

My only complaint is that the author overuses dialogue (or should I say monologue?) to infodump the reader on different events and concepts. It works the first or even the second time, but it gets rather old after a while. I also noticed that the characters constantly summarize previous events for other characters, even though the reader just witnessed them a few chapters ago. I mean sure, this book is 500 some pages long, but give the reader some credit, we haven’t forgotten what happened 100 pages ago.

The world itself is complex and fascinating, and this book only scratched the surface of it. I can’t wait to dive into the next books and uncover other pieces of the puzzle.