Tag Archives: 1 star

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.

Of Starlight and Plague by Beth Hersant

Stars: 1 out of 5

DNF at 52%

I know that zombie books aren’t a paragon of high literature. I expect that. But when I pick up one, I expect to be entertained at least. This is the first boring zombie book I’ve ever read, so that must be a record. I picked it up because it has a bunch of 4 and 5 star reviews on Goodreads, and now I am honestly baffled. Were we reading the same book? Was there a particular lens I forgot to put on before I started this? I came for mindless zombie fun, what I got instead is a poorly written snooze fest. 

I think the biggest problem here is that the characters are skin deep. Granted, I don’t expect great characterization in a zombie book, since most of them will be zombie appetizer, but I expect to have one or two main characters that I can follow through the story. I need to have somebody I can associate myself with and see the world through their eyes. 

Here, we have no such thing. The two people responsible for the plague die by end of part 1. Which is a shame, because it would have been an interesting story to follow them through the pandemic. To see them realize the horror of what they have unleashed and do everything in their power to stop it before the world is destroyed. It’s a wasted opportunity and it’s such a shame.

Then we have Tammany, an old wise mambo in New Orleans. She seemed interesting and had at least a little depth to her character, even if most of that depth was full of  clichés about voodoo practitioners.  But her story was cut short by the end of part 2. 

By the time I decided to part ways with the book, we were introduced to yet another smart old lady who was planning on surviving the plague with her family. That felt redundant. Why not just continue with Tammany? Why introduce a whole new character, when they serve exactly the same purpose. The story of survival would have been in a swamp in New Orleans in Louisiana instead of a farm up north, but it would have served the same purpose. As it stands, that’s yet another character that has to be introduced, yet another conflict that has to be set up from the beginning. 

And that’s another problem with this book. Since the author has to set up so many characters, the action constantly jumps back and forth in time. We get to the inevitable “zombie” outbreak from the point of view of one character… then we switch to the very beginning of the story again for the next one and follow them to the same precise moment of the outbreak again. Rinse and repeat. This made me feel like the story is just spinning its wheels without going anywhere. And if a story isn’t going anywhere, I eventually loose all interest in it. 

Or the author introduces a character just as they get killed or loose their soul to the New Rabbis then backtracks a few days or weeks to show us how they got there. Problem is, we already know that character is zombie food (or zombie themselves), so why invest time in making an emotional connection with them by learning their story? We won’t be following them for long. 

And what about this irritating way all characters have to quote scientific journals or other sources in their conversations or even in their thoughts? Who, in their right mind does that? Who stops in the middle of their dream to explain a term that she’d known since she was a child? A term that is part of her culture? Yes, that term might be confusing for the reader at first, but most of us are smarter than an average monkey. We can figure out what it means based on the context. Explaining it so blatantly in the text does two things – it insults the reader’s intelligence and it immediately pulls them out of the story because it sticks out like a sore thumb.

Same with incessant quotations of scientific articles and research. I get that the author did her research and is proud of it, but why make your characters shove it down my throat in every conversation? If only one character did that, it would have been a quirk and an interesting layer to their character, no matter how strange, but they all do that. The neuroscientists quote medical journals at each other. Wouldn’t they have read them independently if they are so good at their job? Tammany quotes voodoo research… which is even more weird. Why would a mambo read research done into her religion by outsiders anyway?

All this made for a very frustrating and boring read. This book had potential. But it needs a good developmental editor to unearth that potential out of the confusing heap of dirt the story is right now.

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

Too Like the Lightning (Terra Ignota 1) by Ada Palmer

Stars: 1 out of 5

DNF at 42%.

I was lured to this book by the abundance of 5 star reviews. I was really looking forward to reading it… The first chapter had me baffled, confused and disappointed. But I decided to stick around to see if the story would actually get good and justify all those raving reviews… it didn’t. And as you can see, I stuck around for almost half of the book waiting for something to happen, so I think I gave it more than a fair chance.

I have so many problems with this book this review would become a laundry list of complaints if I were to touch on all of them. So I will limit myself to the aspects that raked me the most.

First, this story is told to the reader post-factum by a narrator that was there for some of the events and collected oral accounts of witnesses for the events he wasn’t part of. That can actually work, if done well. I read a few books told postpartum and loved them… But that doesn’t work if the narrator constantly breaks the fourth wall and addresses the reader directly. I was about ready to throw my tablet at the wall after the third “Dear reader, you might not know but blah-blah-blah…”. After the fifth one, I was contemplating murder.

My second problem is that a combination of good ideas doesn’t make a good story. I got the impression that the author got so enamored with their worldbuilding, that they forgot to actually tell a compelling story. We get introduced to Bridger, this boy wonder who will supposedly change the world, in Chapter 1… then we don’t hear about him again until almost 30% into the book. Instead, we are introduced to an endless parade of characters, places, and philosophies, that I honestly stopped caring about after about the third chapter. My reaction became “yawn, who are all these people?” 

It felt like a kid showing me their collection of random shinies they have accumulated over the years – they are all pretty and unique on their own, but they have no connection to each other. Like I said, a collection of ideas doesn’t make a story.

The final nail in the coffin of this book, at least for me, was when at 42% mark we finally come back to Bridger… then the narrator has to recap something that happened before (and he wasn’t present to witness, so it’s a third party account of a third party account). Yay, we finally have some action, even if related post-factum! Things are happening. Shenanigans are afoot… and then the action grinds to a screeching halt because a new character is introduce and it takes three pages to describe him, and what he is wearing, and how they are standing, and how others are reacting to him… Momentum = dead.

That’s when I threw my hat and decided to bid the book goodbye. This is a sad moment, because I probably won’t bother checking out other books by this author because my first impression was so disastrous.

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

Agents of Dreamland by Caitlin R. Kiernan.

Stars: 1 out of 5.

For a short 84 pages novella, Agents of Dreamland sure felt like one long read. Long and pointless.

You are probably not used to such harsh judgements in my reviews, since I usually try to find at least something positive in the books I read. So let me explain why I’m so negative this time.

The story is about the agent of some secret government organization dealing with the unexplained and the paranormal who discovers what at first glance seems like cult mass suicide, but turns out to be the beginning of the end of humanity. Some kind of alien fungus that would destroy humanity and pave the way for a different life form. Sounds like it could be an interesting story, right? I certainly thought so when I read the blurb and picked up the book.

Well, don’t get your hopes up. The story goes nowhere after that. I’m not joking. They discover the bodies of the cultist and one survivor. They take the survivor to a secured facility where she dies in an explosion of alien spores. It’s implied that this is the curtain call for humanity. The End.

Even that little bit of story could have been interesting if the characters were engaging enough to empathize with or the stakes high enough to create tension. Unfortunately, we get neither. In fact, I think that by giving one of her characters the ability to cast her mind both into the past and the future, the author effectively shot herself in the foot and killed her story.

So this character can get “unstuck” from the present and let her mind travel to all the moments she lived in the past or will live in the future. She goes into the future and sees that in the year 2043, human civilization is pretty much extinct, the remaining humans infected and changed beyond recognition by the fungus, and aliens are controlling the skies. She sees all that and chooses not to say a word about it to anybody. But the author includes a detailed description of her little trip into the future before the middle of the book…

That right there killed the story for me. If the end of the world is coming anyway, nothing the Signalman or his colleagues from Albany do has any meaning. There are no stakes anymore. So what’s the point of the story? Any (minimal) investment I still had in it plunged to zero on my “How much do I care about what happens next” meter. And when the novella ended with a non-ending that didn’t resolve anything, I wasn’t really surprised or particularly disappointed.

I came for an interesting horror story he blurb had promised. I got lots of allegories and similes and countless references to obscure black and white movies and the Beatles sprinkled with a bit of mythology. From what I understand, the author tried to write a Lovecraftian story. In my opinion, that attempt failed.

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

Urban Shaman (The Walker Papers 1) by C. E. Murphy.

Stars: 1 out of 5.

 

I don’t give a one star review to a book very often. Usually, when a book is only worthy of one star in my opinion, it ends up in my DNF (Did Not Finish) pile, and I don’t write reviews on DNF because it wouldn’t be fair to the author if I reviewed something I didn’t finish.

 

But I actually stuck around until the very end of Urban Shaman, because I kept hoping that things would get better. Sadly, they didn’t, which is a shame, really, because the book is well written. There is plenty of action. I didn’t particularly hate the protagonist, even though I didn’t fall in love with her either. There are a few juicy pieces of worldbuilding that kept me interested and wanting to learn more… Problem is, the bad in this book outweighed the good, at least for me.

 

But first things first, Joanne Walker is a car mechanic working for the police department. She is also a mixt race, because her father was Native American and her mother Irish, though she knows little of either of those cultures (I’m not even sure it’s mentioned which Native American tribe her father belonged to, just that Joanne spent some time with the Native Americans in North Carolina). While on a plane back from Ireland where she attended her mother’s funeral, she spots a woman being chased by an armed man and decides to help as soon as the plane lands. This choice will change her life forever…

 

I can see you frowning in puzzlement and trying to re-read that last paragraph, but no, I didn’t make a mistake. Joanne spots a woman running away from a man armed with a knife FROM A DESCENDING plane. Wow, even Hawkeye from the Avengers would be impressed with that! Not only that, but she manages to triangulate the part of the city in which it happened “using basic math she learned at school” (I didn’t say that, the author did). Once again, I’m impressed. Even if I could see something this precise from a descending plane (again, the plane wasn’t even landing yet, but executing the descending approach), I would only have a vague idea where it happened even if I’m familiar with the city.

 

I kept hoping that this miraculous ability would be explained later in the book, but like most of the perks Joanne acquires, the only explanation we get goes along the lines of “it’s magic” or “it’s part of her shaman abilities”. I would be okay with that if there was a learning curve involved in discovering those shaman abilities, but that’s where this book is severely lacking.

 

Every time Joanne encounters a problem, a new ability lands on her lap to bail her out. Pierced by a sword and dying? No problem, let’s enter a trance and heal ourselves! Never mind that Joanne has never attempted a trance before or that healing people and repairing cars have very little in common.

 

Don’t know why the killer is targeting certain people? Let’s enter yet another trance, have an out of body experience and go talk to the ghosts of the victims. Never done that before? Not a problem. You’re a shaman. You instinctively know how to do things like that.

 

It’s that instinctive knowledge that I have a problem with. Shaman is like any other profession, if you think about it. Everyone starts not knowing what they are doing and become more and more proficient with training and experience. Knowledge doesn’t simply land in your lap when convenient. That’s lazy writing.

 

Another sign of lazy writing is how easily both Joanne and people around her accept the existence of the supernatural, even though this world is like ours – logical and materialistic, where supernatural elements stay hidden. Seriously, in the real world, the moment Joanne started spewing all that nonsense about the Wild Hunt and being a shaman to her direct supervisor, he would have called 911 and had her committed. Or he would have just driven her to the psychiatric ward himself, being a cop. Here, he just… accepts it. And he is only one in the long line of people who just take this in stride and roll with it. So much so that this complete non-resistance to the absurdity of the situation threw me completely out of the story on several occasions.

 

And finally, I find it extremely improbable that a person who, in her own words, has no knowledge of either of her parent’s cultures, manages to become an expert in both Celtic myths and Native American shamanism after a few trance induced dreams and a couple internet searches…

 

So to sum this rather extensive review up, this is a very disappointing first book in a series. The world has potential, but I have no desire to stick around and watch Joanne put yet another new ability out of her butt anytime her own rash actions get land her in danger. There are a lot of exciting series that I eagerly follow, but this isn’t one of them.

The Park (Evenstad Media Presents Book 1) by Voss Roster.

Stars: 1 out of 5

The Park is the perfect example of how to bomb what could have been an interesting story.

The premise is fun, even though it’s been done before. We’ve had something similar in Hunger Games or Battle Royal, but there is always a way to put a new spin on an old story.

Evenstad Media kidnapped 12 randomly selected people and put them in an enclosed trailer park with cameras everywhere. Only one can come out alive and win the big price. If done well, it could have been an action packed adrenaline ride or a grim illustration of human greed and our society’s unhealthy fascination with reality shows and violence.

So I was actually very excited to pick up this book after I read the short summary on NetGalley. I love dystopian stories like that. Unfortunately, the author made some bizarre narrative choices that totally ruined this book for me.

Those survival stories where it’s a fierce battle of one against all have to grip the reader immediately and keep their unwavering attention until the end. This is best accomplished if the book is narrated in first person present tense. That creates the illusion that you are right there with the character, and the present tense implies that whatever is happening on the page is happening in real time. So your heart starts pumping when the character gets into a sticky situation because you don’t know if he or she will survive it in one piece. That’s what makes readers turn the pages. That’s what makes them engrossed in this kind of story.

But what do we have in The Park? For some reason, the author chose to tell this story entirely in the form of emails and journal entries. Which… just doesn’t make sense. A journal entry is by definition written after the scene its recapping already happened, so there is no suspense, no action. If the character is here to write the journal entry, we already know that they survived whatever encounter they’ve been through, so there is no worry about them. Also, I don’t know about you, but I don’t enjoy reading a summary of an action scene after the fact. Drop me in the middle of a fight and I’ll be engaged, but try to tell me about it after the dust already settled, and I will probably fall asleep before you are done.

That’s by itself wouldn’t be a deal killer if the characters in this book had a distinct voice, but unfortunately they don’t. I don’t understand why the author chose to tell the story through at least 12 different POVs (or even more, since we have the 12 participants and the people in Everstad, the media, etc.) It’s hard to pull off even 2-3 distinct POVs before all protagonists start sounding the same, but 12+? That would be a feat worth of the Guinness Records book.

Unfortunately, that feat didn’t happen here. The characters have no voice. Zero. Nada. They all sound the same. They are so similar in fact, that I was quickly confused whose entry I was reading and what their previous entries were about. Add to that the fact that we get almost no background on any of the 12 participants and no real character development and you have 12 cardboard cutouts that I, as a reader, found very difficult to root for.

So no memorable characters to root for and no action to speak off makes for a very boring story.  I finished it, because I don’t write reviews for books that I didn’t finish, but I will not recommend this book. There are plenty of other stories in this genre out there that are better written.

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