Tag Archives: 2 stars

The First Days (As the World Dies 1) by Rhiannon Frater

Stars: 2 out of 5

This was rather disappointing. I’m always on the lookout for a good zombie story, and this one had promise. The first chapter sure packed an emotional punch. Two women thrown together by circumstances and desperately trying to survive in a world gone mad overnight. It looked like it would be a bloody and scary romp through rural Texas fighting zombies and finding strength and friendship in each other. And it was just that for the first 100 pages or so. But once they rescue Jenni’s stepson and join the other survivors, thigs quickly degenerate.

All of a sudden, instead of being decisive, smart and brave, these girls just give up all of their initiative to the first male figure they encounter. It’s like they switch off their brains and switch on their hormones. Big man will protect me! I don’t have to think anymore. I just have to spread my legs! Jenni is the biggest offender on that front. And the whole story becomes this weird love square between Katie, Jenni, Travis and Juan. Did we really need that? The world is literally ending around them, why do I have to read about who hooks up with whom?

Not to mention how false that reads. I mean Katie just witnessed her beloved wife, the one she literally describes as her whole world, become a zombie and try to eat her face off. That was not even a week ago. And suddenly she has strange feelings for Travis and is doubting her sexuality? What happened to loss and grief and time to process the enormity of what happened? Jenni witnessed her abusive husband kill and eat both her children and barely escaped with her life. Yet as soon as she sees an attractive man, she switches off her brain and starts thinking only with her nether parts. But the least said about Jenni the better. Her characterization is problematic at best.

That’s another issue with this book – characterization. It’s inconsistent.  Characters do and say things that sometimes wildly clash with how they behaved before and what they were said to believe in. Some plot points and arcs don’t do anything to advance the plot and are there only either for shock value or to add some zombie gore. Like that whole adventure to rescue Jenni’s stepson, what was that about exactly? He fades into the background almost as soon as they reach the refugee camp and has no further role to play in the story. Heck, the dog has more page time than the kid, and more personality.

And it feels like the characters worry more about who will sleep with whom than the more pressing matters, like how to secure food and other supplies. What will happen when electricity goes down and running water dries out. They should be planning raids on nearby stores and pharmacies, and securing a source of running water. They should be thinking about hygiene and how to prevent the spread of diseases that will inevitably follow. Even the common flu can kill. Not to mention dysentery, which they are all likely to get if they don’t figure out a safe way to preserve food and boil the water they drink. I know, I know, I’m asking too much, but I was looking forward to a good zombie survival book, and instead I got this…

At least I crossed another book off my TBR list, I guess. And this one has been sitting on it since 2018.

Souldier (In the Shadows of Eternity 1) by Andrew Dahms

Stars: 2 out of 5

DNF at 50%

I am honestly amazed at all the 5 stars reviews on Goodreads. Have I read a different book than everyone else? They talk about a good story and gripping action… Well, I had to force myself to read to halfway point, and I honestly saw neither. Maybe things get better in the second half of the book, but if I have to wait until then for the story to get interesting, something is wrong. Plus, I don’t have that much patience. 

I think the biggest problem is that the author doesn’t know how to show anything. All he does is tell. We have paragraphs upon paragraphs of descriptions of everything from buildings to uniforms, to what is happening to the character. But it’s all tell, tell, tell… I mean, he even managed to make the basic training sequence boring as fish. And it lasted way too long, by the way. I mean we are barely out of basic training and actually on the Line by the halfway mark. 

It doesn’t help that Vivian’s character is a non-entity. Because the author tells us everything instead of showing, we are never privy to her inner thoughts or find out how she actually feels about the things that are happening to her. I mean we have several chapters describing how grueling her basic training was, and how the drill sergeant did everything he could to break her… but that’s just words. I have no clue how she felt about it. I don’t see her exhaustion, her frustration, her determination to continue. None of that is there.

And why is she here anyway? Yes, she wants to find out what happened to Sally, but again, apart from what the author tells us, nothing shows us just how much she meant to the protagonist. Show us some flashbacks. Show us their interactions when they were friends. Show us how Vivian felt when Sally left to join souldier, or how she felt when she received the news of her friend’s death… then I will believe that she could drop everything and travel half the world away to seek some answers. As it stands, I don’t care.

And that’s the trend in this book. We are told that the characters are doing something or reacting to something, but we aren’t shown that. And often, we aren’t shown any reactions at all where there should be something. 

For example, when Vivian and her fellow enlistees are sent to help load and unload planes during the new wave, the pilot of one of them has a mental breakdown, literally saying that he brought his squad back in boxes. They were unloading coffins. Surely, there would be a reaction to that? We get nothing. No horror at the realization, no desperation, no fear even. Nothing but the description of how grueling it was to work for such long hours for several days. NOT the thing you want to put the accent on in this kind of story. That was a lost opportunity to immerse the reader in the world and show just how bleak the situation is. 

When I realized that at halfway mark the book wasn’t getting any better, and that I was just getting more and more frustrated with the writing, I gave up.

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

Bona Fides (MI-X Series 1) by Ash B. Whitley

Stars: 2 out of 5.

DNF at 50%.

The blurb for this book sounded very interesting: a child prodigy stuck in a sort of parallel dimension where she can see and hear what’s going on on our plane of existence, but not interact with anything. Her fight to get back into our world and prove that her father is innocent of her murder. Sounds like a wonderful story, doesn’t it? That’s why I picked that book up. 

Unfortunately, the blurb is misleading. Oh, Rowyn is stuck in a parallel dimension, alright, watching helplessly as her father is convicted of her murder. However, this situation is resolved within the first four chapters of the book, and without much effort on her part, I must add. What happens after that is a story about a group of super-powered young adults who are trying to save the world against a big bad with super powers. Some reviewers drew a parallel with X-Men, and I can see where they come from. 

And I would have stayed for this X-Men like adventure, even if that was not what I was expecting when I picked up the book, but the characters were simply not interesting enough. Their POVs feel “rough”, like the author tried too hard to give them distinctive quirks to make them more memorable. Well, their “voices” sound stilled and unnatural instead. I saw their individual powers, but I never saw the actuals individuals behind those powers.  I think it was also party because the author chose to tell us a lot of things instead of showing them. So we are told that Alexia hates her powers and that they make her toxic to everyone around them, but I don’t see that turmoil in her POVs. 

The problem also lies in the story itself, or, more precisely, it’s execution. There are way to many plot holes and deus ex machina moments. The whole team seems rather ineffective and bumbling through their missions on sheer luck and because the author needs them to succeed. I mean, just because Hakim has a brain that is better than a super computer, it doesn’t make him a good leader. There is a lot more to leading a team of troubled super-powered people than smarts. Empathy goes a long way as well. 

And that’s what this book lacks – empathy. Horrible things happen to characters, but it’s never addressed afterwards. We never see the emotional fallout of Rowyn’s father suicide, for example. It’s just assumed that these people will brush this off an continue like nothing happened. As if having a super power makes them immune to psychological trauma. 

So I left this book disappointed, even though I might have enjoyed it better if the blurb had prepared me for what it really was – a thriller with superheroes, instead of a mystery about a girl stuck out of sync with our plane of existence and desperately trying to get back to it.

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

Pattern Black by Sean Platt and Johnny B Truant

Stars: 2 out of 5

This book was a chore to read, and I almost DNFed it at 32% when things were making to sense at all and I was getting very annoyed with the narrative.  I powered through it and finished this book, but I’m not sure I made the right choice. It had been a long and often frustrating slog to get through all 700+ pages of this.

The concept itself is really interesting. I mean, I love Inception. I still think it’s one of the best movies ever made. So I was really excited to read something similar. Unfortunately, this concept is a lot harder to bring to life on a written page than it is on the silver screen. Where in a movie you could add an element of crazy and reality not making sense in small visual queues, on a page it just makes for a very confusing and frustrating narrative. 

It doesn’t help that this confusion persists for the first 40% of the book. This is way too long to leave the reader wondering what the heck is going on. I have seen that a lot of readers DNFed this book around 30-35% in, and I totally understand why. Like I said, I almost did the same.

Once the protagonist emerges out of the simulation within a simulation he’s been in for the first half of the book, things start to pick up steam and make slightly more sense, but even then, the action drags. Unnecessarily, in my opinion. I found that the final confrontation took too much time as well. I kept turning the pages and wishing for things to finally be over, yet the conflict still dragged and dragged. When I finally reached the last page, my thought was “thank God, it’s done,” instead of “wow, that was good book.” That should tell you something about how invested I was(n’t) in this story.

I got tired of the simulation within simulation within another simulation that was constantly going on. I also got tired of the double- triple- and quadruple-crossing going on in this book. It made my brain hurt.

 I might have enjoyed the twists and turns better if I cared about the characters, but as it stands, all of them are horrible human beings. Especially Mason. He is awful in the beginning of the book when he is in the simulation, and he doesn’t get much better once he emerges into the real world. In fact, all the characters do is fight with each other, bicker and hurt each other. There isn’t a single healthy relationship to be found. They never talk about their issues or try to resolve them. They just lash out and make things worse. The relationship between Mason and Carter is especially toxic, and nothing is done about it. 

To be honest, by the end of the book I was cheering Mason on when he held the logic bomb, because I would have actually been happy with an “and everybody died” ending for this group of wonderful human beings. As it stands, the ending is rather unsatisfying, because I don’t think our protagonist learned the most important lesson he had to learn – that hiding from his issues isn’t a solution. 

I am still giving this book 2 stars, because it is well-written, and the concept is amazing. With more likeable characters you could root for, this would have been a very good story.

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

The Bladed Faith (The Vagrant Gods 1) by David Dalglish

Stars: 2 out of 5

DNF at 45%.

There are the makings of a good book in there, that’s why I am not giving it a one star review, but the execution was sorely lacking, at least for my taste.

First of all, it drags. Even the battles move slowly and the narrative parts between them are never-ending. We get a long training montage at the beginning of the book that was interesting for the first 10 pages, but rapidly lost my goodwill after it dragged and dragged. 

I think the reason for that is because even though the characters acquire new skills and evolve physically, they never grow mentally. I found that the character development is next to null in this book. I never got to bond with the characters because I was never allowed in their heads. What drives them? 

Why does Cyrus decide to endure this harsh training? Just because he was told that he could become the avenger of his people? He didn’t strike me as someone that selfless and patriotic at the beginning of the book. I would understand this better is I was privy to his inner thoughts and doubts instead of just his relentless training. 

Same goes for all the other characters. They are kind of there and going through the motions, but I can’t picture them in my head. They are not “alive” to me. I am a character-driven reader, I don’t do well with books that lack those. I can forgive a lot of flaws and plot-holes as long as I’m invested in the characters. Here, I wasn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some interesting ideas in this book. The whole idea of the origin of divinity is one I would have loved to know more about. This is one of the reasons I kept reading for as long as I did. But then I caught myself skipping pages upon pages and stopping just to read the major plot points. That’s when I knew that it was time to abandon ship. 

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

Flotsam (Peridot Shift 1) by R J Theodore

Stars: 2 out of 5

DNF at 45%.

There is a good book hidden somewhere in there. Unfortunately, it’s buried under tons of overwritten plot and bad characterization. It feels like this story isn’t quite done yet. It need more time to “cook” in the author’s head, or maybe a strong developmental edit.

The premise is fascinating: a whole planet shattered by a cataclysm that left it in chunks. Yet somehow life still exists there. There is atmosphere and gravity even if that revolves around the “islands” – floating bits of planet. There are five “gods” that remade their respective people in some ways to facilitate their adaptation to this new environment. And these deities are not fictional. They exist, they interact with others sometimes. There is a mysterious ring and some even more mysterious aliens. And the crew of a smuggler’s ship caught in the middle of all of that. Sounds interesting? Sounds like lots of fun and action, doesn’t it?

That promise kept me going for almost half the book. That’s when I realized that the flaws of the book made it almost impossible to enjoy the story. I was skimming most of the chapters just to get to the juicy bits, but even those weren’t enough to keep me interested.

This book is horribly overwritten – I don’t need descriptions of what every character is wearing and all the weapons they have unless it’s relevant to the story. And while yes, I’m interested about how Sub Rosa was founded, I don’t need 6 pages of exposition about it. This kills the momentum and makes the book a chore to read.

The other problem is the extremely stilled and unnatural dialogue. The characters don’t talk like people. In fact, most of the time, the characters barely talk. The protagonist talks and assumes what her crew is about to say from their posture or the look in their eyes, when they barely said a word or two before she interrupts them. This is extremely irritating and makes the protagonist look unstable, even unhinged sometimes. Prone to mood swings and quick to lash out… without any provocation. 

This impression comes from the fact that the author tells us everything, but is very bad at showing it. So the author tells us that the crew is being insubordinate and even disrespectful, but nothing in the scene actually “shows” us that. Half the time, when I read those scenes, I came away confused – exactly why did the protagonist lash out? Nothing in the dialogue provoked that response. I don’t really want to follow a character I don’t like and can’t understand.

All of these flaws just kept adding up and by the time I decided to say goodbye to the book, I was just not getting any enjoyment out of the experience.

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

The Passage (The Passage 1) by Justin Cronin

Stars: 2 out of 5

I am a sucker for an end of the world as we know it book. That’s probably why I regularly dip into zombie books, even though finding good ones becomes a challenge. So the Passage was right up my alley. Unfortunately, this turned out to be a slog of a book.

The main issue is that this book is way too long – at almost 900 pages, it’s a doorstopper if I ever saw one. Which means nothing happens in a hurry. In fact, I would say that the events progress at a glacial pace.  And while that works well in the first part of the book, where the author sets up the story and introduces the characters, it absolutely kills the narrative later on. In fact, I spent 3/4 of this book skimming over endless descriptions and inept dialogue to get to the few exciting parts.

As I said, the first part of this book is the strongest, with the most developed characters and a sense of urgency. Unfortunately, it’s also the shortest. Just as we get to the end of the world, the book jumps 100 years ahead and introduces a whole new set of characters and goes into painstaking details to describe the Colony and everything that happens there (spoiler alert – it’s not much). So we get about 300 pages where absolutely nothing really happens. It wouldn’t be that bad if the characters were interesting, but they are not. They feel flat and one-dimensional. I didn’t care for any of them even by the end of the story. Even some of them dying just elicited a shrug as a continued to skim ahead. 

It doesn’t help that Amy, who is supposedly the center of this story and this chosen child, is a non-entity. She is more a plot point or a magical McGuffin then a person. We don’t know what she thinks. We don’t know what she wants or likes. And we don’t know why she is so exceptional in the first place. What differentiates her from the other Twelve? Why did she keep her humanity when they transformed into something else? Never explained. We never get to be privy to her thoughts and motivations. We only see her through the eyes of other characters, and half the time what she does and says doesn’t make sense. And no matter how much other people tell you that she is exceptional and important, I don’t see it. 

There are also so many threads introduced in this book and never fully explored or even used. Like the vials with the modified virus. Why introduce that as a possible weapon against the Twelve only for Amy to destroy them 50 pages later? And everyone acting like she did them this huge favor by doing so. In fact, everything this child does is treated lie gospel by the other characters, like she is some sort of messiah that can’t do no wrong, when nothing in her behavior supports that. That’s what happens when the author tries very hard to persuade the reader of something but does a bad job showing it.

My final gripe with this book comes from the heavy handed attempt at spiritualism. It’s implied that Amy was special even before the virus (the episode with the animals at the zoo). It’s implied that it was God’s will to destroy the world.  And for Amy to save it later. When? No clue, she sure didn’t do it by the end of this book, even after 900 pages. So we have some characters who do completely irrational things because they “hear God’s will” or “feel that it’s the right thing to do”… and other characters just follow along. If it was me and I was asked to follow somebody across vampire-infected country from California to Colorado, I would at least ask why. And the explanation that there is a 100 year old signal that is talking about a “her” that might be the kid that just brought death and destruction to my home wouldn’t be enough to persuade me. 

This book had so much potential, but I feel like it was squandered. 

Seven Deaths of an Empire by G.R. Matthews

Stars: 2 out of 5

Well, this was a disappointment. Do you sometimes happen across a book that should, by all accounts, be right up your alley, but realize that it’s a complete miss? This is what happened to me with this book.

First, I didn’t like the worldbuilding itself. The world is too reminiscent of the Roman Empire with a little bit of magic added for good form. Oh and a monotheistic religion that mirrors what Christianity became at it’s worse – intolerance towards other religions, Inquisition, and witch hunts. Though in this case, we should probably say mage hunts. Other than those parts, the world itself has no originality. There is nothing that makes it unique or memorable, or even “fantasy”.

I am still fuzzy about the geography of this world or the different people who live in it. We talk about the forest tribes and the Empire, but it’s mentioned that the Empire conquered a lot of other people as well… yet I don’t see this diversity in the book. Even the tribes looked like a monolithic block to me, despite the fact that Emlyn mentions several times that each tribe is unique. We are told that, but we aren’t shown it.

Same with the Empire itself. It’s just an homogeneous mass of soldiers to me. I can’t even tell you what the main characters look like. Kyron is supposedly descended from the tribes, so does he look different than another citizen of the Empire? One descended from the original invaders that came from overseas? No clue. 

Speaking of that, why is the capital of the Empire on this new continent if the Empire originated elsewhere? Who governs that part of the Empire? Are they aware of the death of the Emperor and all the drama that follows? There is no mention of that. It’s hinted that it’s a big territory, yet it’s not important enough to even mention more than once in the story?

This moves into the second problem I had with this book. There is no sense of scale. The author hints at a huge continent and the Emperor is somewhere north of it with his army… yet it takes them what, one or two weeks to get back out of the forest and almost to the capital? Considering that they were moving on forest trails and with heavy carts full of with provisions, as well as the Emperor’s body, they weren’t moving very fast. Probably even slower as than a normal march. So if this was a big continent, it would have taken them a month or two to get out of the forest and into proper roads. And the author mentions that it took the Princess and her retinue a week to sail to the city with the bridge… yet they were back in the capital rather quickly after that battle. This creates such a confusion about geography and distances. I don’t “see” this world at all, thus I’m not interested in it.

Finally, I didn’t click with the two protagonists either, though I liked Bogan better than the whiny Kyron. Yes, the kid does some growing up in the course of the story, but he is still as selfish in the end as he was in the beginning. And his actions at the end of the book only prove it. His grandfather begged him to leave and do nothing. His master begged him to leave and do nothing. Heck, a lot of other people who know what they were talking about begged him to just save himself. Did he listen to any of them? Of course not. And by acting against the wishes of the person he is trying to save, he makes things so much worse…

Also, if found that the ending was at least 60 pages too long. The battle at the bridge was a very nice climax to the story with a great emotional payoff… but then the story kept going… and going… and going. Frankly, I lost interest and started just scrolling to the end, reading a word here or there. Even the twist and the big reveal didn’t manage to recapture my attention. I think it’s because that twist is so out of character for the actual villain of the story. Either that or Bodan can’t read people to save his life. 

If this book is a standalone, then the story isn’t wrapped up by the end. If it’s the first in a series, unfortunately, it didn’t make me interested enough to wait for the next one.

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

Book of Sand by Theo Clare

Stars: 2 out of 5.

DNF at 60%

I tried so hard to like this book, or baring that at least finish it before I reviewed. I struggled for the last 10-15% of the story, hoping to get some answer or that the story would get more interesting. Unfortunately, it didn’t, so I am calling it quits.

The beginning was really promising, though I wasn’t a fan of the dual storylines. McKenzie’s story in particular was a little bit too YA for me. I am not a fan of YA, so getting through her parts was a struggle. It was especially hard and off-putting because of how intermingled these parts are – you have several paragraphs with Spider and the family in the Cirque, then we jump to McKenzie for a paragraph, then back again with no warning, no rhyme or reason. 

The desert storyline was intriguing enough to keep me going though. And I wanted to know how the two stories tied together. Unfortunately,  the answer to that question was rather blah. Also, the book went downhill once the two stories merged. There were too many questions left unanswered and too many deus ex machina moments. Also, nobody communicates in this family. Everyone withholds information for no other reason but to keep the mystery of the story. It’s infuriating. 

These people are supposed to be a family, and the author mentions several times how much they love each other. Yet for some reason they all despise Hugo because he is “entitled”. Well, I’m sorry, but I haven’t seen anything entitled about him in this book. He’s been nothing but helpful and self-sacrificing throughout the story. The reaction of the other family members makes no sense. Same with Spider’s constant suspicion towards Noor. Like dude, why don’t you two talk it out, like normal human being would? And why are your so-called Elders speak in riddles and never answer any questions? And why do you constantly just let it go? It’s a life and death situation you guys are in, but Spider would be just like, “cool, you won’t answer me about why I should explore this city, so I will just go away and do something else.” Really?

Also, with such a big cast of characters, it’s sad when the only well-defined and interesting one is a camel. 

And this book is way too long. It sits at a hefty 600 pages. So I made it to about 350 by the time I called it quits, and the story hadn’t given me any satisfying answers yet. Nope, I’m out.

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

The Mad Trinkets by Cameron Scott Kirk

 Stars: 2.5 out of 5

I honestly don’t understand all the 5 stars ratings and raving reviews for this book. I didn’t see complex characters or well-realized world. All I saw was gratuitous violence, oversexualization, and very wobbly worldbuilding.

My biggest pet peeve is the worldbuilding, actually. I am a firm believer that in fantasy, you either create your own world with its own geography, mythology and religions, or you use our world, but very carefully. Then it’s called alternative history anyway. 

What we have in this book is a complete mess. It’s set up in the fictional land of White Cloud, where two kings rule and an evil Hungry King had been defeated barely a year ago. Of him, we don’t know much. He was a cannibal, maybe? He had magic, maybe? Who knows. We never get any details on him apart from a few mentions… There is a tall mountain, and a city at the border of a vast desert, and maybe evil metal that fell from the sky. With me so far? Okay. All that is good. All that paints an interesting and fictional world…

And then we get the mention of God and Jesus Christ and real places like Jerusalem. One of the characters is a Norsewoman… who carries a katana. No, seriously, a real Japanese katana… and was given a Japanese name. So are we in our world or some kind of invented one? If we are in the real world, then where exactly is this land of White Cloud on the map of our world? When are these events taking place in reference to our present time? And if it’s NOT our world, why mention a religion from our world? Especially since it has no influence on this story whatsoever? Why give your Viking woman a Japanese katana? Again, it isn’t relevant to the story. All it does is kick me out of the story and irritates me, because I can only suspend my disbelief so far.

The characters are also nothing to write home about. All the women are good and righteous, even in their anger and thirst for vengeance. Other than that, we are not privy to their inner thoughts or desires. All men are overly sexualized pigs… apart from a few obviously good guys who somehow overcome their base nature by the end. Again, we aren’t particularly privy to their thoughts either. 

By the end of the book, I sincerely couldn’t care less for any of the characters. I skimmed the last 10% of the book just to get to the end of the story. This hasn’t become a DNF only because I was almost at the end and I was too stubborn to quit. Honestly, won’t recommend this.

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