Category Archives: science fiction

Blood Binds the Pack (The Ghost Wolves 2) by Alex Wells

Stars: 3 out of 5

I am ashamed to say that it took me almost 2 years to finish this book. According to Goodreads, I started reading on August 20, 2020… Well, I finished it on July 30, 2022. It’s not the longest I had dragged a book on my currently reading list, but it comes close.

And you know what? I am not sure why it took me so long. I loved the first book. I devoured it in two days. I was fascinated by the world, the magic, the characters… Especially Hob and her band of ragtag Wolves and the Bone Collector.

And therein lies the problem, I think. I liked Hob. I wanted to follow her and maybe also find out what happened to Coyote and how he would cope with the changes. Unfortunately, I got very little of that in this book. In fact, I got almost zero on Coyote at all, which is really disappointing. I mean he is back with the Wolves and helping Hob, but we don’t dwell over the profound changes he underwent at the end of the last book or the consequences for him. It’s the same old Coyote, just with a lust for blood… That was disappointing. And I get that there is a bigger story there and that Coyote is only slightly important to it, but it was still disappointing.

The book is divided between three main POVs (with the inclusion of a couple unimportant ones here and there). We follow Mag, Shige, and Hob. Unfortunately, I couldn’t care less for Mag even in the first book, and she gets a lion’s share of page time in this one. Shige isn’t much more interesting to me either. Listening to him whining about his upbringing and his fate and not doing anything to change it gets old fast. And listening to him dwelling in his jealousy for his brother who had actually left is even more irritating. As far as I’m concerned, he could have died in that desert and I wouldn’t have shed a tear.

So this leaves only one POV I was excited to read… and Hob gets very little coverage. Of the three narrators, we stay with her the least until the final battle. I would be excited every time I got to Hob’s narratives, but they would end up way too quickly and I would have to slog through Mag’s troubles with the miners or Shige’s ineffective meddling with TransRift while he was becoming the Weatherman’s puppet… and my interest would disappear to the point where I would put the book down for a few months. And that’s why it took me two years to read 416 pages.

I still think it’s a decent book. I just wish we had learned a bit more about this strange world and that the characters I liked had a bit more screen time. But if you like Mag or Shige, you should breeze through this book pretty quickly and enjoy it.

Dead Silence by S. A. Barnes

Stars: 3 out of 5

This book had so much promise! Ghost ship in space! Damaged protagonist! Horror of the psychological and other kind! I couldn’t wait to start it. And for the first three quarters of the book it was really great. I honestly thought that this would be one of the best horror books I’d read in 2022… then the ending botched it all, at least for me.

Then again, I am not a fan of evil corporations doing evil things because they are evil. It’s been done to death by now in books, movies, and video games. Let the corporations rest. Find another villain for your stories. Thanks.

Also, this story was truly frightening as long as we didn’t know what really happened to the Aurora. I was terrified for our characters when they first boarded the ship and started exploring. The obvious signs of violence and the fact that we didn’t know what had cause everyone to go mad was really scary. The ending killed that, in my opinion. As soon as I knew what was behind everything, I didn’t care anymore. As I said, it’s one thing to watch a group of hapless people battle against an unknown entity, and another to see them battle against a corrupt space corporation. I’ve seen the second scenario too many times before.

I loved Claire though. She is a very relatable protagonist. I couldn’t help but root for her the more I learned about her past trauma. And since she has psychological issues of her own, she makes the perfect unreliable narrator here – we never know what is just in her head and what is affecting everybody else. And she doesn’t know it either, which adds to the angst. 

Unfortunately, the other characters were a lot less defined. In fact, most of them were just placeholders: the self-assured jerk, the innocent young girl, the nerdy hacker, the evil corporation goon, the entitled rich guy. I honestly couldn’t care less about any of them. 

I was also not sold on the burgeoning love story. I think it was shoe-horned into the main story just to make the reader care more about the characters. Well, it did the opposite to me. The whole courtship felt so forced that it turned me away from the characters. I think I rolled my eyes every time they interacted. It wasn’t needed. Claire had enough motivation trying to save her team without adding a love interest into the mix. 

Finally, I wasn’t a fan of the ending. It felt a little bit too convenient and didn’t fit with the rest of the story. I understand that the author wanted to give a HEA to the characters and an emotional payoff for the reader, but to me it felt flat. 

All in all, it was a good read for most part. I mean, I finished it in one day. But it could have been so much better. 

Mai Tais For the Lost by Mia V Moss

 Stars: 2.5 out of 5

This was a meh book for me, even if it was very short at barely over 100 pages. 

I think the problem was that I went into the book thinking it would be a murder mystery. After all, we have a private detective, we have a murder, and we have a (sort of) investigation of that murder. Sadly, none of it is executed very well. 

I’d say that it’s good Marrow is the only private detective in that hab, because she sucks. If she had competition, she would go out of business in a heartbeat. All she does in these 100-some pages is get drunk and high and go from one party to another. Oh sure, call them “wakes” for her murdered brother, if you want to. I’ll call them pointless waste of pages. 

No seriously, what was the point of showing us these parties? To introduce the other colorful characters Marrow grew up with? To show us just how decadent and selfish the rich are? One party would have been enough for that. And if it was to make us care for some of those characters, I’m afraid the author failed. By the end of the book, I can’t remember anything about them apart from their weird names. Besides, the author doesn’t even mention if they lived or died at the end of the book, though it’s implied that they were left in imminent danger somewhere along the way.

Now let’s talk about Marrow herself. She keeps telling us that she’d been ostracized because she come from “the Poor” and was adopted into a rich family, but from all the interactions I had seen with her brother’s friends, they seem to be pretty accepting of her, even affectionate. So the “show” doesn’t support the “tell,” which to makes me doubt a lot of other assumptions Marrow has. She also sucks as an investigator. All she does during this book is get drunk or high and stumble into pieces of evidence conveniently left for her to find. Great detective she is not.

I also found the murder mystery itself rather lackluster. We really don’t get any resolution there, just more questions and loose ends. Yes, we saved the habitat from a corporate assassin, but other than that, there is no emotional payoff…

Like I said, I probably came into this book with a wrong set of expectations, and was left disappointed.

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

Terminal Uprising (Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse 2) by Jim C Hines

Stars: 5 out of 5.

The second book in the series didn’t disappoint either. It continues the story started in book 1 and amps up the stakes! 

The story picks up a couple months after the events of the last book where Mops and the crew of Pufferfish almost single-handedly saved the Krakau homeworld. Did they get thanked for that? Of course not. They are on the run, declared criminals in the Alliance. Their ship is falling apart and their future seems bleak. They really have no choice but to accept the highly illegal mission Admiral Pachelbel gives them in exchange for funds to keep the spaceship flight-worthy. Even if this mission brings them back to a place none of them wants to come back to – Earth.

We finally get to go back to Earth and the ruins of human civilization. And it’s made even more painful by the fact that we now know that humanity hadn’t destroyed itself, that the Krakau were directly responsible for destroying a whole civilization, then keeping it quiet for over 200 years.

It’s very interesting to see our ragtag band of characters confront this place of their biggest fears, but also grow and mature both as individuals and also as a group of people who had been thrown together by circumstances, but end up becoming a surrogate family. They count on each other, they understand each other’s flaws and strengths and they protect each other. That is wonderful to see in a book.

And of course, all the ingenious and non-standard ways they come up with to resolve some pretty dire situations is a delight to read about. Not to mention the dry and often dark humor that permeates this book and helps the reader and the characters survive some pretty horrible things.

I also loved the Librarians! It was a very nice touch to discover that not all humans turned feral. That a very small percentage of the population was immune to the Krakau venom. And that those survivors banded together not only to keep each other safe, but also to try and preserve all the knowledge of the human civilization for future human or whomever discovers Earth in the following centuries. It was also wonderful to see that the Librarians even had a program for helping feral humans.

It was wonderful to see those “non-altered” humans interact with our “cured” humans, because until that comparison, I didn’t fully realize just how different they were physiologically. Yes, if you look at it from the real humans’ perspective, the feral humans are basically zombies – lower body temperature, black blood that coagulates almost as soon as it touches the air, unable to feel pain, so they keep going even when the body is broken, and guided only by they most primal instincts. And restored humans keep all the physical attributes, but regain their intelligence on top of it. No wonder the rest of the galaxy fears those unkillable savages!

The story itself is also well-done in this book. This is the case where we can ask ourselves how far is too far when trying to save the world. Does the need of the many really outweigh the need of the few? Where is that thin line that separates us from the monster we are fighting against? I won’t spoil it any more than this. Just go read the book!

Terminal Alliance (Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse 1) by Jim C Hines

Stars: 5 out of 5.

I think I discovered my new favorite space opera series! This book is funny, witty, and very-well constructed. We get alien races, world-shattering conspiracies, a galaxy on the brink of an all out war… and a group of janitors stuck in the midst of it all.

I really loved the fact that our would-be heroes are not highly trained infantry soldiers (well, apart from Monroe, who was infantry, but got injured so badly, half his body is is artificial). They are just a team of janitors on a spaceship that happen to be the only group still standing and in their right mind when a biological weapon is deployed against the entire crew. And even that is mostly due to chance. 

It’s interesting to see this group of people finding most unusual solutions to their problems and utilizing the full extent of their cleaning knowledge to effectively neutralize their reverted comrades without killing them, and to keep the giant ship afloat the best they can… not to mention, unearth a conspiracy, thwart a genocide and save an entire planet. I’d say that makes them pretty amazing, actually, especially for a species of aggressive monkeys that the rest of the aliens consider barely sentient.

Let’s mention that little twist, shall we? This story is set after humanity pretty much destroyed itself by turning all known humans into ferals. I would say it’s an equivalent of zombies, only the infected are not dead and do not decay. They are stronger, faster, don’t feel pain, can survive anything short of a decapitation… and are devoid of intelligence. They are basically driven by one instinct – hunt for food. And food can be anything – other humans, animals, aliens, trees, rocks, you name it. 

Once another alien species, the Krakau, figures out how to cure those feral humans, they realize that they have a loyal and virtually unstoppable army at the tip of their tentacles. No wonder the mere mention of humans instills fear in the hearts of other alien species. Only not everything is as it seems and humanity saviors might not be as innocent as they are portrayed to be. For more information on that matter, read the book.

I loved all the characters I encountered in this book, especially Mops and her crew. They have their own quirks, but they are all very relatable and likeable. and Puffy, don’t get me started on Puffy!

This is definitely a series worth reading for the story, the (somewhat dark) humor, the wonderful characters. I am definitely picking up book 2.

Exodus Towers (Dire Earth Cycle 2) by Jason M Hough

Stars: 3 out of 5

I am not too sure about this series, to tell the truth. My husband read all the books and loved them, and I am… struggling. 

I mean the premise is wonderful and the worldbuilding is cool, but there is just something missing for me. 

I think it’s just because all the characters are so cookie cutter. The main guys is all good and heroic. The villains are very black and white and villainous just for the sake of it, it seems. The female characters… with the exception of Samantha, they have no personality. They are just there to incite our protagonist towards a particular set of actions or a decision. Neither of them have any agency on their own. I was willing to overlook that in the first book, because it had the thankless task of establishing the world and setting up the protagonist. Plus, it was this author’s debut novel. It is however getting a lot harder to let that slide in this book. 

It doesn’t help that the story doesn’t go anywhere in a hurry. I had the impression that some episodes were added just because the author thought they would be cool, but they didn’t really advance the main story. Case in point, the attempted invasion of the camp by immunes. Yes, that was a heart-ponding conflict for the 100 pages it lasted, but it ultimately didn’t advance the story. The leader was killed, most immunes ran away, and the settlers were left to rebuild their community. What was the purpose of that? It has no impact that I could see on the main plot. It did make the book seem endless and meandering though.

As a result, the book didn’t accomplish half of what it set out to do, even after 540-some pages. Samantha’s story arc is barely started. We only recovered one out of five artifacts that fell on Earth in the first book. When I finished reading, I felt like this book was a half-finished tapestry with loose treads flapping in the wind. 

All in all, I don’t know if I will continue with the series. I mean, I still want to know why the builders did this to Earth and humanity, but I am starting to care less and less about the characters. I might check out the next book, just because I’ve already bought it, but if it doesn’t improve after that, I will call it quits.

Defiant (Towers Trilogy 2) by Karina Sumner-Smith

Stars: 5 out of 5

I remember absolutely loving Radiant, the first book in the series, so I came to this one with a certain amount of trepidation. Often the middle books in a trilogy are the weakest, because they only serve as a bridge between the beginning and the inevitable resolution in book 3. I’m glad to see that this was not the case with the Towers trilogy. The second book expands on the story of the first one and does an excellent job of showing us different facets of this world.

And what world it is! I think this is one of the most unique post-apocalyptical settings I’ve seen in books or movies. A world where the person’s inner magic is the currency by which they are judged. The more magically powerful you are, the better your life will be. The most magically-adept people live in the comfort of the floating Towers, the least magical people are forced to scrape by in the ruined Lower City sprawling under their shadow. And there are different strata within the Lower City as well. It’s a complex and fascinating system. There is even a version of zombies there, and I loved that their existence is given an explanation that makes sense. 

I love it when the world abides by the rules defined by the author, or there is a good explanation when those rules are broken. This is always a sign that the author put a lot of thought into the creation of their world and story, and I respect that. I also love slowly discovering those rules and learning more about the world the characters live in. This book gave me that in spades.

And I think both Xhea and Shai are excellent characters. I love their interactions and their friendship. It’s rare to find a YA book that focuses on a healthy female friendship instead of a romance. We need more of those. That friendship and attachment shines through the entire book even though Shai and Xhea spend most of it apart. This forced separation was used to advance the story. It made both Xhea and Shai confront their fears and insecurities and decide what they stand for. They both discovered that there are lines they are not willing to cross and that there are people they care about. 

We also learned a lot more about the origin of the Towers and Xhea’s black magic. And also about why things are so dire in Lower City despite the efforts of its citizens to make improvements. 

I am very interested to see the conclusion of this story in book 3. So far, this is one of my favorite series.

Wakers (The Side Step Trilogy 1) by Orson Scott Card

Stars: 2 out of 5.

DNF at 70%, so you darn right I’m leaving a review for this, since I put so much effort into this book!

I am very disappointed. I loved The Ender’s Game by the same author so I had high hope for this story as well. 

And the beginning was pretty good actually: intriguing and suspenseful. I was along for the ride with Laz, and even his constant monologue and the tendency to over-analyze every little thing to death wasn’t all that annoying at first. He was looking for answers, after all, and we, as the reader were looking for them with him. Yes, the pacing was rather slow, but I was willing to forgive that as long as I got the answers I was looking for in the end.

Then Laz finally wakes up Ivy… and things took a nosedive from there. 

First of all, the pace, which was already slow, became glacial. I mean the story progression grinded to a halt to be replaced by pages and pages of mindless and mind-numbing dialogue between two obnoxious teenagers. It was pointless. It wasn’t interesting. It didn’t bring ANYTHING useful to the story. It made my eyes roll back in my head and make me want to take a nap every time I opened the book. It’s an endless stream of verbal vomit between two people who I found more and more unlikeable the further in the book I got. 

Because most of the book is written in these horrible dialogues, the author does a lot of telling, but almost no showing. The characters debate scientific theories, explain to each other things that should be self-evident for them just so the reader can catch up with the science here. Problem is, the reader has checked out ten pages ago. 

I got no sense of the world, because the descriptions are almost non-existent. It’s all just Laz made a snide remark, Ivy retorted with something the author meant to sound smart, but just made her sound like a spoiled brat, Laz retaliated in the same fashion, blah, blah, blah…. twenty pages later we still haven’t learned anything new and the story hasn’t progressed an inch. Heck, I don’t even know what the dogs in the pack of four look like because mighty Laz didn’t care enough about it to talk about it.

I understand that this is a YA book, but I still didn’t particularly appreciate how all adults are described as complete idiots. Seriously, Laz and Ivy have this “better then everyone else” attitude to them when they talk to anybody else that would never have worked in the real world. You might be smart and possess a unique ability, but you are still a teenager, no you are a clone with fake memories, so if you talk to me this way, you will get smacked. I think that’s my biggest pet peeve with the author’s approach – you CAN create smart and resourceful teenagers without making them disrespectful at the same time. 

It made me hate the main characters more and more, and by the end I didn’t care about them or finding the answers to the big questions enough to read through the last 30% of obnoxious dialogue.

I will not continue with the series. I will definitely not recommend this book. And if this is the author’s new style of writing, I doubt I will try any of his newer book going forward. I’d rather re-read the Ender’s Game.

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

Midnight, Water City (Water City 1) by Chris McKinney

Stars: 2.5 out of 5

Honestly, my reaction after finishing this book is “meh.” 

I went into this book excited about the premise. An underwater city? Humanity averting the end of the world for once? This sounded so exciting! Unfortunately, we spend little to no time at all in the actual underwater city. 

And the worldbuilding isn’t really fleshed out at all. So the mankind mostly lives underwater to stay safe from solar flares? Okay, I get get onboard with that if you explain to me how that works. How did we manage to combat the enormous pressure in the ocean depths? How do we deal with the endless night, the decompression, etc.? Our protagonist seems to zip in and out of the deepest ocean reaches to the highest mountain in a matter of minutes with no visible side effects. 

Also, how are those seascrapers built? That hints at significant advances in engineering and construction materials, especially considering that today we can barely explore the depths in what amounts to an extremely reinforced safe with small windows. Yet 100 years from now, after some major wars and natural catastrophes, mind you, humanity can build penthouses at the bottom of the ocean that are about 80% reinforced glass. I know this is sci-fi. I am ready to suspend my disbelief, but the author needs to throw me a bone – some kind of explanation is in order.

That’s a trend for every scientific advancement in this book. Things happen because they need to happen for the story, and no thought is given to how feasible they are. This approach really undermines the credibility of the story and the worldbuilding starts to wobble and break around the edges. 

But the biggest problem with this book for me is that I couldn’t care less for any of the characters. Quite frankly, they are all horrible human beings. 

The protagonist used to be a killer for hire. Yes, he killed for the greater good, or at least that’s how he justifies it, but he is still a cold-blooded murderer. Add to that that he is on his fourth marriage and and his fourth kid. He’s lost all contact with his previous wives after the divorce (apart from the one that was killed), and doesn’t even know what happened to his children. He even mentions in the story that he is in the same country as his first ex-wife at one point, but has no desire to check on them. He basically ignores his current wife and avoids his daughter, because “children never interested him.” What a wonderful human being! /end sarcasm.

And the woman he works for is even worse, especially if the story about her lying about the Killing Rock is true. Akira Kimura is a sociopath and a megalomaniac who has zero concern for anyone but herself. Her daughter is even worse. 

So the protagonist’s constant devotion to Akira feels more and more twisted and sick, the further the story progresses and the more we learn about that individual. And his unwillingness to kill Ascalon also makes no sense at all. In fact, the whole ending is a perfect example of a protagonist robbed of his agency. He didn’t make the decision in the end, circumstances did it for him, which makes the payoff extremely unsatisfying in my eyes.

All in all, this wasn’t a book I will remember. And this certainly wasn’t on of the best books I read in 2022. It was okay. It kept me interested enough to finish it, but that’s about it. I’m certainly not interested enough to pick up the next book in the series.

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

Moon Rising (The Upsilon Series 1) by Daniel Weisbeck

Stars: 3.5 out of 5

This was an interesting novella about an android that’s just different enough to finally achieve consciousness. I liked our main protagonist Silon and her slow realization that everything is not as it seems. I also must admit that the first chapter was really chilling, especially since we didn’t know she was an android yet.

I cared less about the other characters that were introduced and whose POWs we followed during this book. I think this is where the book doesn’t quite work for me. It’s such a short read, but we have so many different POVs relating the events, and often backtracking to re-narrate what we already saw happening. This makes for a very chopped up delivery. In my opinion, this book is too short for this many different narrators.

In my opinion, this story would have benefited from being a bit more fleshed out. It moves too fast, too many things happen one after another, so there is not time for actual character exploration. 

Take Silon, for example, most of the changes she experienced are done either off screen or described through the eyes of other characters. So I didn’t see the progressive evolution of her character. She feels more like a playable character in an RPG – get enough experience to unlock the next level and look – upgrades! The problem with that is that all the changes feel done to her, not chosen by her. 

First, she is stuck in that basement until another character disables her safety protocols and orders her to come out. No real active choice made there, since she just obeys a command. Then at Charlie’s lab she is basically hacked again and a whole new set of programs is downloaded into her brain. I think the only really independent choice she makes is when she decides to stay with Teacher. I would have liked a little bit more agency from her in this story.

The other problem is character motivation. It’s very fuzzy and never really explained for some of them, and very on the nose for others. And that’s also a result of the book being so short. We simply don’t have time to explore the motivations of the different actors in this story. Which makes them seems a lot less like fleshed out characters and a lot more like devices put there by the author to move the story along. And them becoming basically cannon fodder doesn’t have an emotional impact on the reader at all, because we didn’t get to know them enough to care.

But despite these misgivings, this was an enjoyable and quick read that helped me pass a snowy afternoon curled up on my couch. I’m just hoping that the next book will be longer, and that the author takes time to explore the characters more.

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