Tag Archives: 2.5 stars

in the shadow of spindrift house by mira grant

Stars: 2.5 out of 5.

I have bad luck with Mira Grant books. Feed is about to join the permanent DNF pile because I have been stuck at 85% for over six months. Now this book…

The story has promise – four childhood friends on the cusp of adulthood decide to take one last case before disbanding their teen investigation agency. If they succeed at this case, they will earn over 7 million dollars which would have them set for whatever future paths they want to take. Only the case hasn’t been solved in decades for a reason, and the price they all will have to pay might be too high…

I picked up In the Shadow of Spindrift House because of the cover and the decidedly lovecraftian vibe the blurb gave off. To be honest, the story manages to keep that feeling, since it deals with things slithering in the deep and observing the human race run its rat race from the comfortable viewpoint of almost immortality, but the end product is underwhelming, at least for me.

My problem with Mira Grant’s books is that I can’t connect to the characters. I think it’s because the author “tells us” about their emotional connections to each other, but never really “shows us”. Case in point – we are told several times that Harley is in love with Addy, but her actions during this story don’t show this. Plus Addy is portrayed as such a negative light throughout the book that I found it hard to believe that Harley was in love with her. Especially since we don’t “see” that love in her actions, we are just told of that feeling through her thoughts. 

And that’s the case with the dynamics between all four characters. We are told they have been close since childhood. We are told they have been solving cases together and are kinda sorta famous, but we are not shown any of it. So when the horrors start creeping in and bad things happen to the characters… yes, it’s horrible, but not as shocking as it could have been, because as a reader, we haven’t seen that emotional connection that is supposed to exist between Harley and them.

And I think that is the biggest flaw of this story. Harley is too detached from everything, even before she leads her team to the doomed exploration of Spindrift House. Heck, she shows more emotion towards that house than she does towards any of her longtime friends, almost brother, and what she herself calls the love of her life… Yet, she casts them all aside seemingly without as much as an afterthought. 

Maybe if the book wasn’t this short, the author could have had time to build to the horror of this last case by showing us how the characters interacted BEFORE it all happened. Maybe actually show us some of the other cases they did together. Show us the dynamic in their little team… If we saw those connections instead of being told they exist, the stakes of what happened in Spindrift House would have been much higher and more impactful.

So to summarize, it’s a well-written book when it comes to creating descriptions and the creepy atmosphere of the house, but that suffers from the excessive case of tell, not show.

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

cinders on the wind by louis emery (The tapestry of retha 1)

Stars: 2.5 out of 5

I made it halfway through the book before I decided that enough was enough. Unfortunately, I am DNFing this one. I’m sure there is a good story somewhere in there, but even after reading half the book, I’m still waiting for it to grip me. The author would have benefited from a good content editor, because this book suffers from a lot of pitfalls rookie authors encounter:

1. Infodumps. We got literally the whole geopolitical introduction to the world in the first few pages. Problem with that? My eyes glazed over after a few paragraphs. I didn’t know those countries or kings or events, so I didn’t know to CARE about remembering them. So when they are mentioned again a few chapters later, I’m lost. I already forgot who was fighting with whom and why.

2. Endless flashbacks. Every time a character is introduced, we get a 4-6 pages flashback that explains their story, their motivation and what brought them to the moment in time we are reading about. EVERY SINGLE TIME!!! We are in the middle of an action scene, there is a build up in tension, then bham! new character… and a snooze-fest of a flashback. Yes, let’s kill the pace of an already very slow moving story even more.

3. Lots of tell, not enough show. You might have inferred that from the infodumps and flashbacks, but the author doesn’t know how to show very well. Or thinks that the reader isn’t intelligent enough to understand the character’s reactions and actions unless it’s fully explained to them. Trust me, the reader is smarter than you think, and being spoon fed the information is very annoying. 

4. The blurb is misleading. That young Seer mentioned in the blurb? Haven’t heard or seen her after the first 3 chapters or so. The Kingsguard that is supposed to protect her on her journey? He is off to a neighboring kingdom waging war for his king. There is no mention of that journey and I am halfway through the book. Instead we have 4 characters stuck in different locations doing seemingly unconnected things. There is talk of a rebellion, but who is rebelling, and who is attacking whom is cryptic to me. Probably because my brain switched off during the 6 page infodump in chapter one.

5. I don’t think the author has a very clear idea about his own mythology and divine system. He mentions that the main divinity is the Dragonmother and that there are a bunch of minor gods. The kingdom where most of the action takes place worships the Dragonmother… yet their elite soldiers are called God’s Burden? Yes, with a capital G…

So after wading through half the book and battling with the above mentioned irritating details, I am throwing the towel. This is not for me.

PS. I received an ARC from Netgalley in exchange for a honest review. Sorry, it had to be negative

Halfway Dead by Terry Maggert.

Stars: 2.5 out of 5

Once in a while you come across a book that gets you really excited about reading it because it starts with a great character who has a distinct voice and who seems to be telling a compelling story… then either goes horribly wrong halfway through or simply veers into meh category.

Sadly, this is exactly what happened with Halfway Dead. This book had so much promise! We are introduced to Carlie in the middle of action, when she goes for a little clean up job and tackles a pair of wendigos who moved close to her beloved town of Halfway with clearly nefarious intentions. She is efficient and self-reliant during that encounter, never losing her cool. We get an excellent introduction to our protagonist and an “on the job” explanation of how her magic works. She has a distinctive voice and she has sass.

At that point, I was invested in the story and ready to follow Carlie wherever her adventures or misadventures lead her. Unfortunately, the story starts unraveling pretty much right after that initial introduction.

Some random dude by the name of Major Pickford approaches her to help him find a grove of ancient chestnut trees. I would be ok with that if this plot point was presented better than it was. First, this Major appears in one scene where he hires Carlie to find those trees then disappears and is NEVER SEEN AGAIN for the rest of the book. Second, the story he feeds Carlie about why he wants those trees is so fantabulous that you really have to be stupid to believe it. Yet, Carlie believes and accepts without doing too much research to verify if what Major says is true. Author, why? You just showed us that your protagonist is a smart cookie when she handled the wendigos, but this scene undid all that good work.

At this point I was still determined to see this story through, even if my investment in it had gone down a notch, but it only gets worse afterwards.

Carlie goes to the local library and does a little bit of research into that mysterious grove of trees and discovers that it has ties to her family… and a ghost speaks to her from an old photograph and asked her to come find him. As a motivation for our protagonist to venture forth, that’s pretty good. Only it fails to confer any urgency to the situation. If you think about it, Carlie really has no stakes in this matter. Both the trees and the ghost had been there for three hundred years, so they will still be there whether she goes now or waits a few more decades.

The other problem is that when the next random stranger approaches her and tells her that Major basically fed her a load of lies, she still agreed to go into the mountains with this new stranger instead. Girl, where is your brain? Didn’t the situation just prove to you that there is a lot more at stake than you think or know and that you shouldn’t take anybody at face value? Sure, she calls the company this guy supposedly works for, but what proof those she have that she really talked to the CEO of that company? Also, how often do we call a multimillion dollar corporation and get to speak to the CEO directly as soon as we ask for it?

But my biggest frustration with this book are the dialogues. They don’t make sense. People just don’t speak and behave like that in real life. They all speak in riddles. They all go pages and pages of talk to say nothing that would advance the plot or explain the situation. And Carlie just accepts this avoidance and clear change of subject as a given. On more than one occasion, I wanted to reach into the page and slap some sense into both her and whomever she was talking to.

Add to that the sluggish pace at which the story is moving and the many interruptions to admire the scenery or get an excursion into the land’s (and the character’s) past, and you get a book that I ended up almost hate-reading until the end. And I did it only because I had a review to write and I don’t review books I don’t finish.

So to summarize, Halfway Dead is a book that had such great promise, but sort of unraveled halfway through like a badly knit sweater, leaving me with a lot of frustration at its unrealized potential and a conundrum as to how to rate it. I loved the first 1/4 of it. I was okay with the next 2/4. I would never have made it through the last 1/4 if I didn’t have a review to write.

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

Shattered Girls (Broken Dolls 2) by Tyrolin Puxty.


Stars: 2.5 out of 5

I had really loved Broken Dolls, the first book in the series, which I reviewed here, if you are interested. So I picked up Shattered Girls with a certain amount of trepidation. Would it live up to its predecessor? Would it expand the world and manage to weave a compelling story at the same time? Sadly, it failed on both accounts, at least in my opinion…

Shattered Girls takes place about 10 years after the first book. The Professor made his invention public and went on to work for a big company and make lots of money. Gabby transformed from a vivacious little girl into a sullen teenager. And Ella… well, Ella is still a doll. But at least she is happily hanging out with Gabby and even attending school classes with her, since everybody thinks that she is just an exceptionally well-made robot.

But all isn’t well in the little town where Gabby and Ella live. Girls keep disappearing and the police doesn’t seem to be able to find any clues as to why or who is behind this. And now Gabby and Ella come back home to an empty house and visible signs of a fight. Something very fishy is going on, but the girls will definitely get to the bottom of it all with the help of their crazy aunt Sianne.

The book follows a similar recipe as the first one – two girls fighting against evil adults and their evil machinations, only this time it doesn’t quite work. Let me explain why.

In my opinion, it doesn’t work because of the stakes are too high in the second book. In Broken Dolls, Ella was fighting against the evil Professor in order to save Gabby from the same unfortunate fate that befell her – being turned into a doll. Nevermind that the Professor wasn’t evil at all and that what he did was to cure Gabby, or that Ella had chosen to remain a doll in the first place as it turned out. What I’m saying is that the stakes were localized and attainable even for a little girl and a plastic doll.

In Shattered Girls, the stakes are much higher: a big corporation is kidnapping children and turning them into dolls. Moreover, they have policemen, politicians and even the press on their payroll. They are big, they are powerful, and they are motivated by nothing but profit. Unfortunately, the fact that the villain is so powerful makes the idea that a teenager and a doll can defeat it rather ridiculous. In which world can a child and a doll go against an evil corporation and win? Even Harry Potter needed friends and all the help he could get often from unlikely allies to defeat Voldemort.

But Ella and Gabby are the protagonists of this story and they will defeat the super villain and restore order even if the author has to bend rules to achieve that. Hence we have adults behaving like they all got struck with a highly contagious case of the stupids. We have a huge corporation whose headquarters have such lax security that a teenager can walk right through the front door just by jamming the surveillance cameras. And so on and so forth.

By the end of the story, I didn’t really care what happened to Ella and Gabby and if they managed to restore all the kidnaped people to their own bodies, because the story turned so ridiculous that I couldn’t suspend my disbelief any longer.

So all in all, I wouldn’t recommend this book, even though the beginning is rather fun and fast-paced. But as soon as the action shifts from the confines of a school or even a small town to New York, the story goes off the rails.

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

Way Walkers: Tangled Paths by J Leigh.

Stars: 2.5 out of 5

 

I really wanted to like this book, I promise. It had a really interesting world I was dying to explore. It had so much potential, that with the underdog hero on a quest to find his place in the world…

 

Unfortunately, even with all those things going for it, this book fell flat to me. I finished it, but I had to force myself to do so, and if it wasn’t an advanced reader copy I was reading for a review, I would have dropped it.

 

You see, despite all the potential the story was just so… boring.

 

The protagonist rages against prejudice and how his compatriots see him, but he does it in a very subdued, passive kind of way. And it’s hard to sympathize with him too much because despite some mistreatments, he is still the Crown Prince and Heir to the Throne. Then he sets off on this journey to discover his destiny and his place in the world, but his attitude towards this whole deal is so lukewarm that it doesn’t touch the reader either. If Jathen doesn’t really care much about his travels, why should the reader care?

 

I think the reason for my inability to empathize with the protagonist is the lack of stakes. There are no driving forces in Jathen’s life that push him to do what he does. Yes, his position as Heir is threatened, but it’s never a life or death situation. Besides, he himself isn’t even sure if he wants to sit on the throne someday. So him leaving on that journey is more of a spur of the moment decision than a need. And this lack of urgency, this lack of personal stakes, is what kills this story for me.

 

That and just how uninterested in the world Jathen seems to be. He is given a book that might contain major clues as to who his father might have been, yet he barely skims it when he gets bored. He is given a puzzle but doesn’t give it more than a passing glance and doesn’t even dig deeper when the solution seems too easy. He passes by cities and people with only passing curiosity for anything that isn’t architectural. It’s hard to care about a world and companions that the protagonist doesn’t care about himself.

 

My other problem with this book is that the dialogues seem overly long but actually rather uninformative. By the end of the book I had the feeling that everyone knew who Jathen really was, but nobody would actually tell him anything. They alluded, they spoke in riddles, but never actually gave him and the reader anything. It works alright in the first part of the book, but it gets old really fast. And gets really frustrating when none of those questions were answered by the end of the book. I get it that it’s the first in a series, but even then the reader needed some resolution after sticking with the story for almost 500 pages.

 

That’s the final problem I have with this book. It’s too long. Oh, I have read books that were 500 and even 1000 pages long (Songs of Ice and Fire comes to mind) and didn’t even see the time fly by because every page kept me immerged in the story. Unfortunately, this is not the case with Way Walkers. I feel like the book could have been cut in half without any harm to the story. There is a lot of exposition and infodump disguised as dialogue between Jathen and different characters which made Jathen seem very ignorant of the world he lives in. Surely the Heir to the Tazu throne would have had classes on history, politics and customs of the different nations he would have to interact with? That makes the explanations sound even more tedious because the readers know they are for their benefit only.

 

All this to say that I was disappointed in this book. It had such potential and the world truly seems rich in history and substance. Unfortunately, I don’t feel the desire to drudge through the next book to find out more about it though.

 

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

Zero World by Jason M Hough.

Stars: 2.5 out of 5

I had a lot of difficulty grading this particular book. There are many things I loved about it and just as many that I absolutely hated, and some left me indifferent. So after much internal debate, I decided on 2.5 stars.

Let’s talk about the things I loved first.

I liked the technologically advanced Earth of the future that we are introduced to in the beginning of the book. The space travel, the physical enhancements and implants that seems to be common amongst the population. I would have loved to have been able to explore that world a bit more and I was disappointed when the focus shifted towards Gartien.

But I loved Gartien as well, because I’m a sucker for well-crafted new worlds and the amount of work the author put into creating this world that is so close but yet different to our Earth is impressive. I love the details the author added to flesh out those differences, be it in the customs and habits of its inhabitants, or in their speech patterns and religious beliefs. Even their physiology is slightly different than ours.

Character-wise, I liked Melni. She is a strong woman and an effective undercover operative who is very good at planning, but can think on her feet when needed. What I didn’t like is how quick she is to trust Caswell and even side with him when push comes to shove. It looked extremely out of character for someone for whom caution and suspicion were a necessity of survival.

So what didn’t I like about this book? Well, the plot was rather lacking to be frank. It starts like a science fiction spy / assassin thriller then shifts gears about 50 pages into the book and becomes a sort of Indiana Jones-esque romp through Gartien with seemingly half the world in hot pursuit of our protagonists. And it ends… I won’t say anything about the ending there apart from it was messy and left me highly dissatisfied.

The plot also left me with the feeling that the author started with one book in mind, then flipped everything into a different direction halfway through. There are also some lapses of logic in the character’s actions that I found hard to get past.

For example, Caswell only has 15 days to complete his mission before the implant in his brain automatically resets his memory back to 15 days ago, erasing all knowledge of where he is and what he is supposed to do. Yet, when we get bogged down in the details of his journey with Melni (whom he follows almost halfway across the world), that sense of urgency is lost. I mean, hello, your clock is ticking, Caswell, show a bit more concern about it!

Speaking of Caswell. This is the first book where the protagonist left me absolutely indifferent. It’s not that I didn’t like him and I didn’t really hate him. I just could care less about him and whether he survived to complete his mission. Maybe because in my eyes, Caswell is a coward. He chose to get that implant because that way he can kill as many people as he needs and pretend that it never happened because his memory is wiped clean every time. I’m sorry, a killer is still a killer even if he doesn’t remember his kills. And the sea of bodies he leaves in his wake on Gartien only proves my point.

In other words, I was looking forward to Zero World but I leave this book rather disappointed. I liked Darwin’s Elevator much better.

PS. I received and advanced reader copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a honest review.