Tag Archives: 3 stars

Battle Hill Bolero (Bone Street Rumba 3) by Daniel Jose Older.

Stars: 3 out of 5

I must admit that I’m disappointed with this book. I had loved Midnight Taxi Tango (which I reviewed as well), so I was looking forward to see what trouble Carlos, Sasha, Reza and Kia would manage to get themselves into next.

Well, bad news is, even though we still get Carlos and Sasha POVs, Kia is virtually non-existent in Battle Hill Bolero, and Reza seems to have taken a long sabbatical or something. Same goes for a few other characters I really liked from the previous books, like Baba Eddie. Instead, we are introduced to a plethora of new characters that seem to have come out of nowhere, like Krys, the River Giants and a bunch of other ghosts. Oh, they are interesting and fully fleshed out, but they seem tacked on to the story and spend most of the book on the outskirts of the main action, sorta hanging there with nothing particularly important to do until the last battle.

Oh, don’t misunderstand me, I really loved Krys. Once again, Mr. Older has a knack for creating wonderfully diverse characters that you WANT to follow. The problem is, the path Krys follows is barely tangent to the story for most of the book. So much so that her story feels disconnected from the main events.

And why is Caitlin even in this book? Her story was pretty much done with the destruction of the blattodeon at the end of Midnight Taxi Tango. Oh, we could have had an excellent revenge arc where she could have sought to destroy Carlos and Sasha for bringing down everything she’d worked for her entire life. Unfortunately, the author chose not to take that route. Instead, she is hangs on the outskirts of the story for most of the book and only plays an important role during the last battle, but even that story arc could have been taken out of the book entirely without any major damage to the story. Caitlin is a non-entity. She gets no personal development at all, which is rather surprising for an author who loves creating characters that feel so alive they jump out of the book page at you. Her only role in the book is to be a weapon and to distract Carlos from the main fight for a few minutes.

This is so disappointing because, like I already mentioned, she could have been so much more. Just imagine – a powerful necromancer going after the people who killed her family, destroyed the cult she had dedicated her entire life to and basically left her future in shambles. That warranted a whole book dedicated to the clash between these powers.

And this is where my major complaint about Battle Hill Bolero lies – the story. It doesn’t feel like the third book in a series and a direct continuation of Midnight Taxi Tango. When I started the book, I had to go on Amazon and make sure that I didn’t skip a couple more books in the series, because I was so confused with the direction of the story. By the end of Midnight Taxi Tango, Carlos, Sasha and their group had defeated the blattodeon and saved their children from a gruesome fate. Yes, there had been rumblings about the Council of the Dead among the ghosts, and Carlos didn’t particularly like his employers, but nothing even hinted at the full-out confrontation we start Battle Hill Bolero with. Where did that come from?

The author implies that only a few months passed between the two books, but for the situation to escalate like this, a lot of things must have happened. Things that aren’t even mentioned or explained. So the reader starts the book with a nagging feeling that they skipped an important portion of the story. As a result, I felt disconnected from most of the new characters. I was so busy trying to figure out the stakes and the whats and the whys of the situation to concentrate on the plethora of new characters that were thrown my way.

It is sad that this happened, because I truly loved this series; the diversity and complexity of the world; the vivid and interesting characters. But this book feels rushed and disjointed at the same time, which almost puts me off this series entirely. I might give the next book a read or I might not, but I won’t be eagerly waiting for it anymore.

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

The Big Sheep by Robert Kroese.

 Stars: 3 out of 5

 

Blake Fowler works for Erasmus Keane, a brilliant private detective. When they are called on a case of a missing sheep, he doesn’t even suspect the depth of trouble they will get themselves into if they decide to take the case. And when a rising TV star comes to their agency to seek their help because she thinks someone wants to kill her, things only get more complicated. After all, there is only two of them, so working two cases at once can get complicated. Only the two cases turn out to be more connected then they suspect…

 

Mr. Kroese has created an interesting world here. One that I wouldn’t mind exploring further. After the Collapse of 2028, when the United States briefly descended into anarchy, Los Angeles is a city divided. There is the normal city where law and order rule again, and then there is the DZ or the Disincorporated Zone, a walled off portion of the city where warlords rule, police is none-existent, and human life is cheaper than a penny.

 

We get to explore both sides of LA in this book, but I would have loved to see how the rest of the US and the world fared as well. Does each city have their own DZ? How did other governments cope with the Collapse? Maybe we will learn about that if the author decides to continue this story.

 

So all in all, I liked this book and I really liked our protagonist, Blake Fowler. He isn’t a genius investigator like Keane, but he has a good head on his shoulders. Besides, his function in this duo is not to spin crazy theories, but to keep Keane grounded when he digresses too much and to provide raw muscles when things get dangerous. And when it comes to kicking ass, Blake delivers.

 

Unfortunately, even though the protagonists are good, the same couldn’t be said about the villain. I won’t name names, because that would be big spoiler and certain to ruin the enjoyment of the book, but a lot of times I wanted to hand the antagonist Pete’s Evil Overlord List and make them memorize it, especially the following points:

 

I will not gloat over my enemies’ predicament before killing them.

 

When I’ve captured my adversary and he says, “Look, before you kill me, will you at least tell me what this is all about?” I’ll say, “No.” and shoot him. No, on second thought I’ll shoot him then say “No.”

 

I mean seriously, I have never seen an antagonist spend more time explaining their whole plan in specific details than in this book. Not only does that come across as unrealistic and frankly rather stupid on the villain’s part, but it also gets annoying very quickly. You have several scenes full of action and tension… and then over 10 pages of exposition. Tension killed. Yawn fest begins. I admit that by the end, I skimmed over all that to get to the next action scene, because I didn’t WANT to hear about the reasons behind all the actions anymore. I just wanted to know how it ended.

 

So all in all, it was an enjoyable read, even though it could have been so much better with a villain who didn’t feel the need to tell their life story in great detail to the private investigators they were about to kill anyway.

 

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

The Courier by Gerald Brandt.

Stars: 3.5 out of 5.

I actually enjoyed this book quite a lot. It’s fast paced, well written and entertaining. The story is solid and the protagonist quite engaging. So why did I give it only 3.5 stars? Because it could have been so much better if the author had worked on his antagonists a bit more…

But we will get to that later. So what is this book about? Well, Kris Ballard is a motorcycle courier who tries to scrap a living doing courier jobs between levels 3 and 4 of San Angeles, a huge multilevel conglomerate city that has swallowed the west coast from Los Angeles to San Francisco. She makes barely enough to put food on the table and a roof over her head, so when Dispatch sends her after a late package, promising better rates and a tip, she grumbles, but goes anyway. After all, her bike needs new tires. Only the delivery goes all kinds of sideways when she walks in on a murder. Now she is on the run with the package that every corporation out there seems to want and her life is pretty much over if she can’t stay one step ahead of the hunters.

First, let’s talk about the things I loved about The Courier, and the most notable one would be Kris herself. She is one tough young woman. She comes from a background of tragedy and abuse, but she had the strength and courage to pull herself out of the muck and build herself back up again. She doesn’t expect handouts from anyone and relies only on herself. She is smart and street savvy and doesn’t scare easy. And one thing I really like about her is that she is too stubborn to give up. No matter what life throws at her, no matter how bleak the situation, she finds the strength to keep on going. So Kris immediately had my affection, and following her through her story was a blast.

Second, as I said, the story is well thought out and fast paced. I didn’t have time to take a breath because everything was unfolding so fast, which is actually a good thing because it stressed the urgency of Kris’s situation. The tension revs up the moment she starts running for her life and doesn’t let down until the last pages of the book.

I also like the world the author has created where big corporations have pretty much divided zones of influence on Earth and own everything, from the government to the police, healthcare and entire giant cities. Earth has been pretty much depleted of all resources and those rich enough have fled to the Sat cities who orbit the planet. Those who weren’t so lucky are trying to scrap a living on a polluted dying planet. This premise has potential, and we have only seen a small fraction of the world in this book, since Kris never left San Angeles. From what I understand, this is the beginning of a series, so I’m looking forward to exploring this world a bit more in the consecutive books.

Now I need to talk about the stuff that I DIDN’T like, because even though the book was well-written, the flaws were jarring enough to make me knock 1.5 stars off my score.

First of all, apart from Kris and Miller, all the other characters we encounter seem pretty one-dimensional. In fact, most of them are more like walking names or stereotypes. Devon is a nerd with uncanny computer skills. Dispatch is a down on her luck woman who seems like a b*^ch but has a good heart underneath. And Jeremy is a megalomaniac as well as a possible psychopath.  Not to mention the very simplistic approach that since the corporations are bad, everyone who works for them is bad as well.

I mean, take Quincy for example. He is part of the corporation’s Black Ops, which by definition should be a group of very skilled professionals right? Wrong. Instead of getting in and out and done with the mission as cleanly as possible, he plays with his victims, he tortures them, and he isn’t even against an occasional rape.  I would understand if he was a common thug or gangster, but he is a Black Ops team leader, for God’s sake!

My second problem with this book is that the idea that an untrained 16 year old girl would be able to escape several trained killers and Black Ops over 5 times and then even kill one of them is rather ridiculous. One or two times I would understand, but more than that? That screams of sheer incompetence on the killer’s part or too much luck on our protagonist’s part. After a while it’s simply not believable.

But all those flaws become apparent only AFTER you finish the book, because while you are immersed in the story you are too busy running with Kris to notice this. Though admittedly, the sadistic villains got on my nerves even while I was reading this book.

All in all, I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a fast-paced story with a strong protagonist though.

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

Fair Game (Alpha and Omega 3) by Patricia Briggs.

Stars: 3.5 out of 5

 

A lot of things happened in Fair Game. The werewolves have finally announced their existence to the world, much like the fae had done over 50 years ago. With the light of the media scrutiny trained on them, the werewolves have to be on their best behavior, so the offenses that ended up with just a trashing or verbal warning are now punishable by death. And it falls to Charles, the Marrok’s enforcer, to carry out the execution.

 

Charles has never been keen about killing, but at least before he agreed that the crimes were on par with the punishment. Now, they are not, but he still has to kill those werewolves for his father’s sake. So instead of being angry at his father for making him do this, his anger turns into self-loathing. Charles is spiraling down into depression and Anna doesn’t know how to help him. Thankfully, the Marroks sends them to Boston where a series of murders point to a serial killer. They will be part of a joint task force between FBI, werewolves and fae, because all the victims were half-fae, but the latest one was a werewolf.

 

There are many things that I liked about this book. First of all, we get a greater insight into this interesting world and about human interaction with the other species. It was interesting to see the contempt and indifference with which they treated the fae and how the justice system was designed to protect humans first and foremost. Which brought us to the conflict at the end of the book that I won’t talk about because major spoilers 🙂

 

Of course, the situation is in part the fae’s fault as well, since they chose to only show the least powerful and non-lethal of their kind making the humans believe that the fae were pathetic weaklings happy to live in their reservations that anyone could bully around. I’m interested to see how the next book will read now that the stakes are up and the fae are done playing nice.

I also loved the giant step forward in character development Anna took since book 1. She was a scared and broken girl in book one, beaten almost to the breaking point. She started dealing with some of her psychological problems in book 2, notably her fear of Alphas and other dominant werewolves, as well as discovering what it means to be an Omega. In this book, we see her finally into her own. I love the person Anna has become. I love that even though she is usually a mild and non-conflictual person, she never covers or bows down to other werewolves or humans or fae. I love that she has her agency and that she isn’t afraid to act upon it. She drives the story of this book, with Charles and the other characters just getting dragged in her wake.

 

So why did I give this book only 3.5 stars then? Because despite the awesome world development and character progress for Anna, there are some flaws that I simply couldn’t overlook. And the biggest one of them is Charles. He was an awesome character in the first 2 books, but I think that the whole angst over killing others was overdone and dragged for way too long. It had started in book 2 and got only exacerbated in book 3. I get it that he feels like a murderer now. I get it that he feels like some of the executions he was forced to carry out were unjust. But he’s been doing that for most of his life, so why break now all of a sudden? And especially, why try to sever all emotional ties with the person who acts as your anchor? I felt like we were rehashing problems that had already been discussed and solved between Charles and Anna in book 2. So while this book was a progress for Anna’s character, it was definitely a regression for Charles. I had to fight the urge to yell at him for the first 3/4 of the book.

 

The second thing that really rubbed me the wrong way is the fact that Anna gets kidnapped… again. Good God, how many times is it now? One or two per book? It’s really getting old. Why does she always have to be rescued by Charles? She is a big bad werewolf as well, please let her get out of a sticky situation on her own for once! I especially hated it in Fair Game because her kidnapping served no other purpose than to make Charles realize that he needs to screw his head back the right way. Really? This is such an old trope that I had to roll my eyes.

 

So all in all, it’s a solid new installment in a series that I still love, but it’s weaker than the first 2 books, in my opinion, even though I appreciated the new world developments. I just hope that the next book will be better and kidnapping-free.

Moon Called (Mercy Thompson book 1) by Patricia Briggs.

Stars: 3 out of 5.

 

Since I had absolutely loved the Alpha and Omega series (you can read my review of Book 1 and Book 2), I decided to give this older series a go as well. They are set up in the same world after all, and some of the characters play a recurring role in both series.

 

What can I say? I was happy to come back to this world Mrs. Briggs created, because it’s fascinating and the worldbuilding is very well done. It’s a world where the fae have come out into the light of day, and now the whole world is trying to live with the consequences. And the werewolves might be forced to do that as well, because with the medical and technological advances, it’s getting harder and harder to keep their existence a secret. I was also happy to learn a bit more about pack structure and the complex hierarchy between the dominants and the submissive wolves and what it meant to be an Alpha.

 

I was NOT impressed with the role of women in this structure.  They are basically just an addition to their male mates (oh, not traditional relationships are also frowned upon). So if a dominant female mates with a submissive male, she is treated like a submissive wolf on the very bottom step of the hierarchy ladder. And if she is not mated, she is treated like an object to be protected / courted / dominated. Not cool, Mrs. Briggs, not cool at all.

 

I love Mercy. She is a fun character to follow – she is smart, independent, stubborn and tough as nails. She also loves to do a bit of mischief from now and then, so it’s no wonder that she shifts into a coyote. My problem with this book is that, unless the author plans on making the werewolf packs undergo a significant shift in mentality when they reveal themselves to the human world, if Mercy accepts to become a werewolf’s mate, she will lose everything that makes her such a great protagonist to follow.  She would become just one more female to be protected and robbed of her own agency.

 

And she understands that, that’s why she’s resisting tooth and nail and rejecting the advances of a certain very determined Alpha…  yet she still lives next to Adam, the Alpha of the local pack, and allows Samuel, who is another werewolf and who she used to have (possibly still has) a crush on to move in with her.  And no matter how much she resists and snarls, she still allows both of them to manipulate her and try to decide what’s best for her.

 

This is a very worrying tendency that I really hope not to see in the next book. I am also extremely surprised to see this kind of one-sided approach to relationships in this book, because it’s diametrically opposite to the relationship Anna and Charles have in Alpha and Omega, and they are part of the same world, after all.

 

The other thing that dampened my enthusiasm for this book is the love triangle between Mercy, Samuel and Adam. Or is it a rectangle, if you take Stefan the vampire into consideration as well? But that’s a particular pet peeve of mine. Call me naïve or deluded, but I believe that if you can’t choose between two people you supposedly love, then you don’t love either one of them. But that’s a personal quirk, and plenty of people love reading about love triangles it seems – just look at the YA shelves.

 

Anyway, I liked Moon Called, but definitely not as much as I loved the Alpha and Omega series.  I will probably give the second book a go, but if the worrying tendencies I’ve seen in this book persists, I might drop this series altogether and just read about Charles and Anna.

Johnny Shipwreck by the Lindsay Brothers.

Stars: 3 out of 5.

 

I love pirate adventures. I’ve read all the classics back when I was a little girl, starting with Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea by Jules Verne and the Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. So when I got asked to read Johnny Shipwreck in exchange for an honest review, I jumped at the occasion. After all, it has all the elements I love: pirates, a mystery, a hidden treasure and lots of adventures. And it even starts like all good adventures should – with a message in a bottle. Well, in an old lantern in this case…

 

All in all, I enjoyed this book. It had a good balance of action and sleuthing. The narrative alternates between 1950, when Johnny Socko finds a strange message and begins his search for the mysterious Castillo del Mar, and the 1700s, when Titus, first mate on the English ship Queen Anne, has his fateful encounter with a pirate and his daughter.

 

The authors managed to capture the feel of most pirate adventure novels – the slow unraveling of the mystery that drives the reader along with the protagonists in the hunt for the next clue. It was also fun to watch the conclusions Johnny and his crew come up with, and then read how it really happened in the chapters set back in the 1700s. Sometimes Johnny got it right, but sometimes he fell short of the truth.

 

So by now you are probably wondering why I gave this book only 3 stars if I liked it so much? Well, there were several problems that dampened my enjoyment considerably, that’s why.

 

First of all, the authors tried to write this book in Subjective Third Person Omniscient point of view. I get it. Most of the pirate adventure books back in the days were written in that POV, so they probably wanted to keep that feeling in their story as well. Problem is, omniscient is extremely hard to do well, especially subjective where the narrator (and the reader) knows everything, even the characters’ thoughts and feelings. For it to work, the narrator needs to have a strong voice, and he cannot be one of the participants.

 

Unfortunately, that’s where this book falls short. There is no distinct narrator to tell us this story, just a jumbled mess of POVs from all the other characters that switch back and forth several times in the same scene. That’s called “head hopping,” and I found it extremely confusing and irritating.

 

My second gripe with this book is that Johnny, the boy wonder and all-star sleuth, is a bit too perfect. He solves all the mysteries, he gets all the answers, he fights off the bad guys, and he does all that seemingly effortlessly. This kills a lot of the suspense, because I was never worried for Johnny’s life and well-being. Since he had all the answers, it was clear that nothing bad could happen to him, no matter how dire the situation. Had the authors made him a little bit more fallible, let him make some mistakes and reap the consequences, his adventures would have had a bigger impact and kept me on the edge of my seat.

 

And my final complaint: I think the whole mystical / magical element in this book was entirely unnecessary. It was all good and dandy while it was just hinted upon, because it could or could not have been the truth, but the final confrontation with the Crimson Pirazzo felt alien to this story, like it had been included as an afterthought. And it really didn’t add anything to the story itself. Just escaping from Castillo del Mar in one piece would have been a worthy enough conclusion.

 

But despite those shortcomings, I think Johnny Shipwreck is a good book. I would definitely recommend it even to reawaken that feeling of adventure and wonder we used to get when we opened a pirate book when we were kids.

The Mirror Empire (Worldbreaker Saga 1) by Kameron Hurley.

Stars: 3.5 out of 5.

There are books that you fall in love with since the very first page. There are books that take time for you to warm up to. There are also books that absolutely fail to keep your interest. Then there are books that have such an enormous potential that you WANT to love them, but have some flaws that seriously dampen that love.

Well, The Mirror Empire falls into that last category. There is so much to love in this book! The world Kameron Hurley has created is fascinatingly complex and unlike anything I’ve ever seen in the fantasy genre before. Too often, we see endless iterations on the worn out theme of elves, dwarves and magicians. Nothing of the sorts here, thankfully. The races are unique and very distinct and they live in a world like nothing I have seen before. It’s wonderfully alien and complex and a delight to explore.

The magic system is rather unique as well. I don’t think I have read about mages who depend on one of the multiple satellites that orbit this world for their powers. Which makes for an interesting dynamic, with different magical schools coming to power with the ascendance of their satellite and waning into obscurity for a few decades when their star moves away.

So as you see, there is a lot in this book to love, at least for me. The problem is that there is TOO MUCH stuffed in one book. Too many locations, too many characters, too many plot lines at once. And because of that, there is not enough worldbuilding. Yes, I never thought I would voice that particular complaint about a book, but with so many things happening simultaneously in so many places, the author doesn’t have time to concentrate on any of them.

The reader is left stumbling from character to character, trying to puzzle out who all those people are and what part of the world they are in and how the heck does it all tie in together? It’s annoying at first and gets extremely frustrating after a while when you discover that almost nothing will be explained the further you get into the book. We will just continue switching POVs and jumping from story to story, desperately trying to figure out how it all falls into the big picture. Usually, I don’t mind doing the leg work. It can even be exciting. The problem with this book is that so many seemingly unconnected stories are told at once, it’s hard to keep up.

And with so many characters to follow, the author doesn’t have time to dive deep and really develop any of them. As a result, I didn’t feel connected to any of them at all. And if I can’t connect to the characters, it takes away a lot of the tension from the story. Because I can’t worry about the fate of a character I don’t empathize with. I think the book would have been noticeably better with half the characters. At least, we would have been able to spend more time with each one of them and get to know them better.

So what’s the take away from this review, you might ask? Is this book worth reading? I think so. Even if it’s only for the wonderfully complex world Kameron Hurley has created. It’s refreshingly new. But if you like character-driven narrative like I do, this book might not be for you.