Tag Archives: 1 star

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.