Category Archives: Reviews

Caliban’s War by James S.A. Corey

Stars: 5 out of 5

Caliban’s War is the second book in the excellent Expanse series. The action takes place a couple years after the events of the first book, Leviathan Wakes (which I already reviewed).

The Eros station and the protomolecule it was carrying crashed into Venus, and now strange things are happening beneath the planet’s dense atmosphere. But even though humanity is aware (and afraid) of the monster sitting right at their doorstep, they still can’t put aside their petty squabbles. Earth and Mars are still at the verge of armed conflict and the OPA is now a force to reckon with because it holds the only known protomolecule sample that is not on Venus. The beginning of the book takes place on Ganymede station, which is the granary of the Belt and outer planets and a station that neither Earth nor Mars are willing to let go. So both superpowers have a military presence there, but are just content to sit in the trenches and watch each other warily… Until something tears through an Earth outpost, killing the whole garrison and all hell breaks loose, threatening to set the whole solar system on fire, while the protomolecule on Venus stirs at last.

James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are back! And they are in the thick of the action once again, quite inadvertently so this time. I love those characters and the author handles their development well. They are still the likable bunch I got to know and love from the first book, but the events have also changed them. Holden in particular is faced with a sort of identity crisis in this book, and I absolutely loved how he managed to get through it and stay true to himself.

I also loved the new characters introduced in this book, especially Chrisjen Avasarala, the foulmouthed Earth politician. They are all fully fleshed-out and interesting to follow. I think that’s actually part of why I love James S.A. Corey’s books so much – the believability of his characters. They are never cardboard, they are always alive. Whether you like them or not, you still want to follow their adventures.

The story itself is just as tightly woven and engaging as the one in Leviathan Wakes, and the author knows how to keep you up late turning the pages because you absolutely NEED to know what happens next. And oh dear God, please don’t kill my favorite characters!!!

Ahem, anyway, I think by now it’s clear that I absolutely loved this book. So my advice to you is buy it, rent it, steal it from your friends, do anything necessary to get it and read it. Well, start with Leviathan Wakes first though, and then continue straight to Abaddon’s Gate (I know a will).

Enclave by Ann Aguirre

The Enclave

Stars: 4 out of 5

There is a multitude of YA novels out there. Some are nothing exceptional and are just content to ride on the Twilight and Hunger Games hype. But others have well written original stories with believable characters that are a pleasure to read. Thankfully, Enclave by Ann Aguirre is one of those.

The story takes place in College, an enclave in what later turns out to be abandoned underground tunnels. It is a post-apocalyptic novel, but what exactly happened to the world is not really clear, because several generations had passed since the event. People of the enclave have never been Topside, most of them have never even ventured in the tunnels beyond the barricades. Life in the community is strictly regulated, because supplies are limited. Only those who are strong, healthy and useful are permitted to survive. The enclave is ruled by the Elders, and the population is divided into three very distinct roles: Builders make equipment, cook food and are in charge of the general maintenance of the enclave, Hunters venture in the tunnels to bring back meat and defend the enclave against outside threats, and Breeders well… breed (on a strict schedule) and take care of the young. Life is hard in the enclave and not many people survive past 25 – disease and malnutrition take their toll.

The main protagonist is a young girl named Deuce, who we meet at the day of her naming ceremony, when she gets her name and becomes a Huntress – something she had dreamed of and worked very hard to accomplish. I loved Deuce. She is strong, she is not afraid of making difficult decisions and accepting the consequences. She is an excellent fighter and an even better Huntress, and nothing is handed to her on a silver platter just because she is the protagonist. Ann Aguirre made the character believable: Deuce is good because she trained all her life for it. She watched the other Hunters fight when she was a brat, she listened to all the stories, she showed up to all the lessons and did three times what was asked of the Hunters in training. So when Deuce and her partner are ambushed by four Freaks in the tunnels and manage to kill them, I believe that it’s possible. And they don’t get out of this encounter without scars either…

I also loved the fact that the author never really says what happened to the world. The reader discovers some hints at the same time as the protagonists, but they don’t care about it that much. For them it’s ancient history and they have more pressing matters to worry about, like survival.

And it is absolutely fascinating to see the society the author created. Their values, rules and aspirations might look foreign to us, but in the context of that world they make sense, and that is wonderful.

I had a few minor gripes with the story though. First of all, the motivation behind some of the things the Elders did was really lacking. If they were so worried about the survival of the enclave, some of their actions really made no sense. And secondly, I didn’t appreciate the attempt at a love triangle in the second part of the book, or the fact that it was so easy to drive a wedge between Deuce and Fade. They are partners, for God’s sake! They fought together; they had each other’s back and saved each other lives countless times. How hard is it to just sit down and talk things through? No, let’s skulk and absolutely refuse to communicate instead…

But apart from that, I am looking forward to reading Outpost, the second book in the series and explore a bit more of this world.

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

Stars: 5 out of 5

I rarely award five stars to a book, but I must admit that Leviathan Wakes swept me off my feet – I couldn’t put it down.

I loved the world Mr. Corey created. I loved the fact that despite this being science fiction, it wasn’t too far fetched. I could see humanity being able to live like that in about 100-150 years if we decide to expand into our solar system. And it is absolutely plausible that we would bring our petty squabbles and our problems up there with us. Humanity is slow to change in that respect.

I also absolutely loved the two main protagonists telling the story. Holden and Miller come from different upbringings, and have had different circumstances shaping their views and attitudes, and they couldn’t be more different. But their POVs are oddly complementary, and they serve to highlight different facets of the treat that awaits humanity when the ice-hauler Canterbury decides to deviate from its course to check on a distress signal and discovers an abandoned ship. I will not talk about the plot of the book any more than that, because I’d rather you pick up this book and discover it for yourselves.

While I liked both Holden and Miller, I must admit that I managed to sympathize with Holden more. He was faced with impossible circumstances: he saw his ship destroyed, he was stranded on a small shuttle with a rag-tag crew of four, they were being chased by every faction in the solar system, but he still managed to keep it together. More than that, he did everything in his power to keep his crew safe, and the moral high even in the most dire circumstances. So I was not surprised when his crew answered him with fierce loyalty.

A special mention must be made about the secondary characters. All of them are “alive” and tridimentional and read like real people. You might like them, you might hate them, but you will not dismiss them as a part of the scenery.

This book also raises an important point about the precariousness of human’s hold on our solar system, and the fact that our technological advances can put is in great danger if our mentality doesn’t change along with them. There are three factions in this world – Earth, Mars and the ragtag alliance of asteroids called the Belt. And each one of them has enough military power to destroy the other two. Even populations living on a planet isn’t safe anymore when the other faction can drop enough rocks down the gravity well to render its surface inhabitable. All factions know that, yet they keep bickering and fighting for dominance, like kid playing with the atomic bomb switch…

Leviathan Wakes is a trilling and intelligent read, and I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series called Caliban’s War. So start your new year with a good read, pick up this book!

Keepers by Gary A Braunbeck

Keepers

Stars: 2 out of 5.

The Keepers is the first book I read by Gary A Braunbeck and I must admit that I was a bit disappointed.

It had such a promising beginning, where the reader is following a seemingly ordinary man who witnesses a horrible accident on the turnpike. This accident triggers memories that he thought were long forgotten. The reader then follows the protagonist, as he tries to put these memories back together and solve the puzzle of his past, while strange things start to happen around him in the present.

I liked the narrative, I liked the pace, and I even kinda liked the protagonist and the story of his past. The story that was unfolding in his present, however, left me unmoved. I think it was party because the situation was never clearly explained and the “bad guys” were neither bad nor good: they even protect the protagonist and save his life several times. It’s like the author wasn’t sure either whether his antagonist was good, bad or indifferent.

I think another reason why the book’s conflict fell flat for me was the fact that the author never really explained what the stakes were for the protagonist in all this. So why would I root for him if I don’t know what’s important to him?

The author introduced an interesting intrigue to the book, but failed to explain it or to bring it to a logical resolution. He left too many questions unanswered. Did the Keeper’s plan succeed? Why was Gil important for it? Why were Beth and the dog important? The whole turning people into animals and animals into people angle could have been a bit more developed in my opinion.

The ending also fell flat, in my opinion. It was too rushed and didn’t really explain anything. Why were those Boiler-hat men after the dog? Why did they decide to kill Gil after all? What the heck really happened in the end? The author left too many questions unanswered which is really frustrating. He might have striven for the mysterious “make your own conclusions” ending, but here it doesn’t work.

Right now I am debating whether I should try to read something else by Gary A Braunbeck or if all his book are a bit like the Keeper. I want your opinion on this. Did you like some of his books? If so, which one would you suggest I read?

October Daye series by Seanan McGuire

Rosemary and RueA local Habitation

Stars: 3 out of 5

I usually try to read at least the first two books of a series before I review it and decide whether I will continue reading or move on to something else. So today I will be reviewing the first two books of Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series: Rosemary and Rue and A Local Habitation.

Seanan McGuire depicts a modern day San Francisco in which ordinary humans cohabit with all sorts of fae folk, both pureblood and half-blood, even though they are completely oblivious of the fact. Indeed, the fae don’t want humans to know that they are real and use glamor to appear human when they are out and about. Some of them feel pretty much at home in our world. They thrive and have successful businesses, legal and not so much in some cases.

The main protagonist – October “Toby” Daye, is a half-blood Daoine Sidhe who is trying to fit in in the human world. She earns her living as a private detective, but also has to fulfill her duties as a Knight of the Shadow Hills. And she has a family – a husband and a daughter who have no idea that she isn’t human. This is how the first book starts, but this life is shattered in the very first chapter when the pureblood fae Toby was investigating turns her into a fish and leaves her in a pond to die. Only the spell eventually wears off and Toby becomes human (or half-human) again… eleven years later. She stayed the same, but life moved on without her. Her human family thinks she ran away and doesn’t want to have anything to do with her now. She has trouble adjusting to the new technological advances that happened in eleven years. But most importantly, she has trouble finding a meaning and a purpose for her life.

I will let the readers discover the rest of the story of both books for themselves. What I want to talk about is why I put only three stars on this series so far.

Let’s start with what I liked. I liked Toby and I can sympathize with her struggle to adjust to our modern world after eleven years of basically swimming in circles and thinking about fishy things. It is interesting to watch her reconnect with her old acquaintances and slowly get her motivation back. It is also interesting to see her developing as a character.

I liked the world Ms. McGuire created and I am looking forward to discovering more of its facets. I especially liked the mention that the fae are mostly nocturnal, because their magic is most potent under the cover of the night, and that the sunlight weakens it. Or that the transitions at Dawn and Dusk are the moments when they are the most vulnerable.

However, I was disappointed to discover that most of the supporting characters weren’t nearly memorable enough. In fact, it seemed like the majority of them were there just to act as background. So every time I saw a character that was more or less three-dimensional, I could bet that he or she would be either the villain, or the best friend, or the future love interest for the heroine.

Also, for a private detective who is (supposedly) good at her job, Toby does a lot of flailing about in the dark instead of actual detective work. Her logic sometimes baffles me as well – in Rosemary and Rue, why did she refuse to go to her liege for help and went instead to the crime lord that had basically treated her as a slave for years? In A Local Habitation, when a killer is on the loose and offing anyone who wanders the building alone, Toby consistently let’s people wander off unsupervised and then wonders why they end up dead.

And finally, I found the plot in both books slightly lacking in depth. In the first book Toby is cursed and needs to find the killer of her friend before the curse kills her. In the second book she is sent to check on her liege’s cousin only to discover that someone is killing off her subjects, so she sets to uncover who the killer is. Those are good premises, but they are not enough for a full length book. And the subplots are sadly lacking.

All in all, I liked the world and I will probably stick around with the protagonist through the next installment of the story, but probably no further than that, unless book three is really good.

Mike Carey – Felix Castor series

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Rating: 3/5 stars.

***SPOILER ALERT***

There might be possible spoilers in this review, so read at your own risk!

I only read the first two books of Mike Carey’s Felix Castor series so far – The Devil you know and the Vicious Circle, so that’s what my review will be based on.

All in all,  I liked the world that Mike Carey created – modern day London with a twist. And the twist is that the dead are coming back for some inexplicable reason. Some come back as mere ghosts, some manage to possess human bodies becoming zombies (not the “Braaaaains” kind, just the slowly rotting but mostly harmless kind), and some possess animals, twisting them into human-like forms and become loup-garous. Some of those revenants are peaceful, some not so much, but all of them raise questions that modern society is not prepared to answer: Do the dead have rights? Is exorcising them considered murder?

While the authorities are struggling with the answers and working on new laws, people who possess the particular talent of exorcising the dead make a good living for themselves. Our protagonist Felix Castor is one such exorcist. And while he is not entirely sure where the ghosts he destroys go (or if they are just snuffed out of existence), his way of making peace with his conscience is to persuade himself that those ghosts are not actual dead people, just memories of dead people, an imprint they left on the fabric of the world before they died. So he is not destroying people, but erasing that memory, which, by all accounts, is just stuck in a repetition of a particular pattern and unable to evolve, think or feel.

But this belief is put to test when a ghost he is sent to exorcise deviates from her pattern and actually saves his life. Now Felix must reconsider his approach and also face the fact that he had been destroying actual souls who could feel and be afraid, not mere memories.

This inner turmoil is explored further in the next book of the series, where Felix is hired by a family to rescue the ghost of their daughter who had been kidnapped by another exorcist. Of course, it turns out there is a lot more to that story then first meets the eye…

And as if ghosts were not enough, the other inhabitants of the underworld are eager to squeeze through the opening and invade our reality as well, like the demon who possesses Felix’s friend Rafi or the succubus summoned to kill him in the first book.

All in all, the world building is great. Mike Carey does a fabulous job describing a London that is and isn’t the city we know and populating it with engaging characters. I particularly loved Nikki, the conspiracy theory geek whom even death couldn’t slow down for long.

Where the book falls short of its mark for me is the main protagonist, Felix Castor. Don’t get me wrong, I usually like the “let’s spit in the face of danger and never give up” protagonists, but in Castor’s case it is taken to the extremes. While I was willing to suspend my disbelief in book one, it got harder and harder to do as book two progressed. I mean, this guy just doesn’t know when to shut up and sit quietly instead of mouthing off and provoking conflict that could have been avoided. I’m sorry, but the chances of survival of a normal man once he managed to alienate several werewolves and make enemies of at least two powerful organizations are next to nil. Going all alone into a church full of Satanists armed only with a gun would also fall into that category. Yet Felix Castor emerges from the wreckage alive and relatively unscarred. This is when I put the book down and say, “I do not believe.”

I know every author likes his protagonists (heck, I love my darlings too), but make them believable! They can rush into the thick of it without thinking or mouth off once, but chances are they will get hurt for doing that, and hopefully that would make them think and change their behavior. It would make them evolve. I think that’s what bothered me the most in those two books, that Castor doesn’t change and doesn’t learn from his mistakes.

I might give this series another chance and try to read book three. Who knows, maybe Felix is just a slow learner? But if that’s not the case, I think I will have to find something else to read.

Book review – Look to Windward by Iain M. Banks

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I absolutely love all of Iain M. Banks’s books in the Culture series and I eagerly await each new installment. But Look to Windward is my absolute favorite – it has a particular place in my heart. I think that’s because this story touches some subjects that I can relate to.

The story is set on Masaq’ Orbital, one of the Culture’s ring-shaped artificial worlds ran by an AI. It’s been 800 years since the Twin Novae battle which ended with the explosion of two suns, the destruction of countless planets and artificial habitats and loss of billions of lives. But the light of this explosion has reached Masaq’ Orbital only now, eight centuries later. So did an unlikely ambassador from another war-torn world, Major Quilan. Quilan’s official mission is to bring a renegade composer back to his home world of Chel. His true mission, kept secret even from him and implanted deep in the recesses of his brain, is to kill the Orbital’s AI. Why kill an AI would you ask? For revenge. Oh, not on this particular AI, but on the Culture in general. See, the Culture tried to intervene in the affairs of the Chelgrian society and, even though they meant well, the result was a civil war that cost their lives to five billion people. And now Chel is sending Quilan with the mission to assassinate Masaq’s AI who is also caring for five billion people placed in suspended animation. To the Chelgrians their death would balance the books. And all this happens when the light of a battle fought so long ago finally reaches the Orbital. In that battle too Culture played a role that, some say, precipitated the disaster.

This is the intrigue (or part of it, because, as in all Banks’s books, there are layers upon layers of intrigue). But what made me love this book so much is the story behind the story, the hidden meanings and hidden feelings of all the characters. Quilan, Zeller and even Masaq’, the AI in charge of the Orbital, are surprisingly human, with their own baggage and skeletons in their closets, with their own nightmares and dreams and feelings of guilt and helplessness. And that makes them particularly endearing to the reader.

In this book, Ian M Banks wanted to explore the consequences of our actions on us and other people and to see how different human beings cope with feelings such as rage, guilt, grief, etc. I think it rings very close to home right now with all that has been going on in Iraq and Afghanistan – both those conflicts scared a lot of people, be it the local population of the soldiers that have fought there. How do you continue living when you know that you are partly responsible for billions of deaths? Is anything you do good enough to counterbalance that? How far would you go for revenge?

Masaq’ Orbital AI is a perfect example of that – 800 years ago he was the AI of one of the warships that participated in the battle and he witnessed firsthand the explosion of the two suns. The guilt had been haunting him ever since, and now, when the echoes of this battle finally reached the Orbital, he wants to make amends. How? By asking composer Zeller to create a beautiful symphony that would honor the souls lost in that battle, but also by not stopping Quilan from fulfilling his secret mission… And these are all the spoilers I am going to give.

I love the world of Culture – it is incredibly complex and so well-detailed that it feels real. Every book in the series just adds a new piece to the puzzle, slowly building a beautiful picture of a star-dwelling civilization. Buy it, read it, enjoy it, pass it on.

Review of “Grass” by Sheri S. Tepper

ImageEver since I was a child, I’ve had a particular love for science-fiction and fantasy books. Sure, I have read my fair share of non-fiction and there are a few classics that I love deeply, but give me a good fantasy book, and I am lost to the world. There are, I think, three reasons for that.

First of all, those books give me a chance to explore totally new worlds that the authors created. Places that are either years in the future or not even in our universe. Places that do not exist and never will, but if the author is good, they still seem so real that you can see and smell, and taste them.

The second reason is the characters. Most really good science-fiction and fantasy books have very compelling and memorable characters. Sure, they can be over the board and larger than life sometimes, but you remember them, you sympathize with them and that’s a good thing. After all, they will be your companions on the journey through this new and strange world that the authors have created.

And lastly the book needs a good plot. For the world building and tri-dimensional characters can’t keep my interest for long if the story isn’t getting anywhere. Something needs to happen, the characters need to face and overcome obstacles and evolve.

When it comes to “Grass” by Sheri S. Tepper, the book left me with very mixed feelings.

I really loved the world Sheri Tepper created. I could really visualize Grass: I could see the multitudes of colors and textures of the grasses that constitute the only vegetation of the planet. I could hear the sound of the wind rippling through them, the cries of the peepers in the roots and the rhythmic dances of the Hippae. The ecosystem of the planet is also fascinating – it’s like a serpent biting its own tail in a way – everything evolves and mutates into something else along the food chain.

So as far as world building is concerned, “Grass” delivered, at least for me. It’s the characters that I had a problem with. As I said, I like well developed, tri-dimensional characters that I can empathize with. Sadly, in this book there is only one such character – Lady Marjorie Westriding. You can tell that the author took time to work on her background and motivations. She feels real and alive; I can understand the reasoning behind her actions and choices. Most importantly, she changes and her point of view evolves during the course of the book.

Unfortunately, the rest of the characters are not as lucky – they felt like cardboard cutouts to me. They move, they talk, they act, but they don’t provoke any emotional response from me. Simply put, they are not fleshed out enough for me to care about them. If they had been a bit more memorable, I think I would have reacted differently to the problem of possible imminent extermination that awaits them.

But if you can get past that lack of characterization, the premise is interesting, the plot moves along at a nice pace and the author manages to tie everything neatly together.

While the rest of the colonized planets are not described in as much detail as Grass, the picture the author paints is still convincing, though very bleak. There are several colonized planets, but progress and expansion are at a standstill because Sanctity, the predominant religious order of the star-traveling humanity, forbids it. So the reader is witnessing the slow degradation of a once formidable race. And as if that degradation wasn’t killing humans quickly enough, there is a mysterious but deadly plague that swipes from world to world and for which there is no cure. All the planets are infected. On all of them humans are dying. Except Grass – there is no plague here. Why? If this question is not answered and a cure is not found, Grass might become the only place in the entire galaxy where human life still exists…

But Grass is far from being a bucolic and worry-free haven. Dark tidings are afoot here too. Danger lurks in the shadows. And when hounds are barking and mounts are ready to hunt foxen, their riders are given very little choice in the matter.

To sum it up, I would definitely recommend this book, even with the lack of characterization. Read it for the story, or just read it for the pleasure of walking in the grass gardens of Klive or watching the grasses paint the prairie in different shades of purple when spring finally comes on Grass.

Third Star made me rethink my life.

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Watched Third Star a couple weeks ago, but it took me that long to actually sit down and write a review. I had to let some time pass and wait until the raw emotions this film provokes settle down a bit. I can say this – it’s one of the best movies I have seen this year, but I will admit that not everyone will like it.

Basically, if you are looking for a an easy, switch your brain off and laugh out loud movie , walk away. Third Star is anything but easy, though it has some funny moments. If you are looking for two hours of eye popping non-stop action, chose something else to watch. But if you want a movie that grabs you and takes you on an emotional roller coaster, a movie that makes you laugh and cry and hurt with its characters, a movie that leaves you with many things to think about once it’s over – by all means, buy Third Star.

The main premise is common enough: four childhood friends – James (Benedict Cumberbatch), Davy (Tom Burke), Bill (Adam Robertson) and Miles (JJ Feild) embark on a road trip to James’s favorite place on Earth – Barafundle Bay in Pembrokeshire, Wales. But this is where this trip differs from countless other road trip movies. James is terminally ill with cancer and his friends decided to organize this trip as their last adventure together. This is not a spoiler. In fact the movie starts with James saying “I am 29 today. I won’t be 30.”

So this movie is a road trip, yes, but one that is also a goodbye –  goodbye to a friend, to childhood memories, to dreams not fulfilled and paths not taken. And while all four of the protagonists do their best to ignore the elephant in the room (James’ sickness), they will have to face it eventually, as they will have to face their own shortcomings and lost dreams.

It is hard to describe this movie. Yes it is sad and the ending is hearth-wrenching and had me really crying, which not a lot of movies do. But you know what? It’s also filled with beauty and subtle humor and you can really see how much those four care about each other.

To me, this is what this movie is about – love. Those four friends really love each other and they genuinely care about James or they would never be able to make the decision they made at the end of the movie. And they all love life and see the beauty in the little things around them.

All four actors gave exceptional performances for Third Star. Nothing is overplayed or heavy-handed. I believe them when I watch them interact on screen. I forget that it’s Benedict Cumberbatch and JJ Feild, instead I only see James and Miles. That is the highest praise you can give an actor.

But most importantly for me at least, this movie made me think. We all have dreams and things we want to do eventually, one day, when we have time. And after a while, like James says, “all those daydreams become fantasies rather than possibilities.” Well what if there is no more time? What if the next day is your last one? What would you see when you look back at your life? What happened to all those possibilities and dreams?

This movie made me think about what I really want to do with my life. And you know what? I don’t want my dreams to become mere fantasies. I want to fulfill them, even if it will be hard work. So for this realization I must thank director Hattie Dalton and Western Edge Pictures and the main actors.

And for those who want to spend two hours with a good movie that makes you sympathize with its characters and think about life and death, watch Third Star. It’s available for download from Amazon or on ITunes.