Tag Archives: 3 stars

Blood Binds the Pack (The Ghost Wolves 2) by Alex Wells

Stars: 3 out of 5

I am ashamed to say that it took me almost 2 years to finish this book. According to Goodreads, I started reading on August 20, 2020… Well, I finished it on July 30, 2022. It’s not the longest I had dragged a book on my currently reading list, but it comes close.

And you know what? I am not sure why it took me so long. I loved the first book. I devoured it in two days. I was fascinated by the world, the magic, the characters… Especially Hob and her band of ragtag Wolves and the Bone Collector.

And therein lies the problem, I think. I liked Hob. I wanted to follow her and maybe also find out what happened to Coyote and how he would cope with the changes. Unfortunately, I got very little of that in this book. In fact, I got almost zero on Coyote at all, which is really disappointing. I mean he is back with the Wolves and helping Hob, but we don’t dwell over the profound changes he underwent at the end of the last book or the consequences for him. It’s the same old Coyote, just with a lust for blood… That was disappointing. And I get that there is a bigger story there and that Coyote is only slightly important to it, but it was still disappointing.

The book is divided between three main POVs (with the inclusion of a couple unimportant ones here and there). We follow Mag, Shige, and Hob. Unfortunately, I couldn’t care less for Mag even in the first book, and she gets a lion’s share of page time in this one. Shige isn’t much more interesting to me either. Listening to him whining about his upbringing and his fate and not doing anything to change it gets old fast. And listening to him dwelling in his jealousy for his brother who had actually left is even more irritating. As far as I’m concerned, he could have died in that desert and I wouldn’t have shed a tear.

So this leaves only one POV I was excited to read… and Hob gets very little coverage. Of the three narrators, we stay with her the least until the final battle. I would be excited every time I got to Hob’s narratives, but they would end up way too quickly and I would have to slog through Mag’s troubles with the miners or Shige’s ineffective meddling with TransRift while he was becoming the Weatherman’s puppet… and my interest would disappear to the point where I would put the book down for a few months. And that’s why it took me two years to read 416 pages.

I still think it’s a decent book. I just wish we had learned a bit more about this strange world and that the characters I liked had a bit more screen time. But if you like Mag or Shige, you should breeze through this book pretty quickly and enjoy it.

Dead Silence by S. A. Barnes

Stars: 3 out of 5

This book had so much promise! Ghost ship in space! Damaged protagonist! Horror of the psychological and other kind! I couldn’t wait to start it. And for the first three quarters of the book it was really great. I honestly thought that this would be one of the best horror books I’d read in 2022… then the ending botched it all, at least for me.

Then again, I am not a fan of evil corporations doing evil things because they are evil. It’s been done to death by now in books, movies, and video games. Let the corporations rest. Find another villain for your stories. Thanks.

Also, this story was truly frightening as long as we didn’t know what really happened to the Aurora. I was terrified for our characters when they first boarded the ship and started exploring. The obvious signs of violence and the fact that we didn’t know what had cause everyone to go mad was really scary. The ending killed that, in my opinion. As soon as I knew what was behind everything, I didn’t care anymore. As I said, it’s one thing to watch a group of hapless people battle against an unknown entity, and another to see them battle against a corrupt space corporation. I’ve seen the second scenario too many times before.

I loved Claire though. She is a very relatable protagonist. I couldn’t help but root for her the more I learned about her past trauma. And since she has psychological issues of her own, she makes the perfect unreliable narrator here – we never know what is just in her head and what is affecting everybody else. And she doesn’t know it either, which adds to the angst. 

Unfortunately, the other characters were a lot less defined. In fact, most of them were just placeholders: the self-assured jerk, the innocent young girl, the nerdy hacker, the evil corporation goon, the entitled rich guy. I honestly couldn’t care less about any of them. 

I was also not sold on the burgeoning love story. I think it was shoe-horned into the main story just to make the reader care more about the characters. Well, it did the opposite to me. The whole courtship felt so forced that it turned me away from the characters. I think I rolled my eyes every time they interacted. It wasn’t needed. Claire had enough motivation trying to save her team without adding a love interest into the mix. 

Finally, I wasn’t a fan of the ending. It felt a little bit too convenient and didn’t fit with the rest of the story. I understand that the author wanted to give a HEA to the characters and an emotional payoff for the reader, but to me it felt flat. 

All in all, it was a good read for most part. I mean, I finished it in one day. But it could have been so much better. 

Folklorn by Mi Young Hur

Stars: 3 out of 5

I have mixed feelings about this book and a lot of difficulty putting them in to a structured review. So I apologize in advance if this looks more like a stream of consciousness on paper than a review.

First of all, this book appealed to me because I am also an immigrant, not once, but twice. And when my parents immigrated the first time, I was only five years old. So a lot of the themes raised in this book are achingly familiar. The sense of disconnect from your original culture and the difficulty assimilating into the new one. That state of in-betweenness, where you don’t quite understand where you belong, and you don’t have any real role models. Where your family rules and traditions often clash with what you learn in school. Where both cultures seem foreign at times.

Though I must admit that I didn’t get quite as much grief for being different as the protagonist did, because I was still a white girl in a predominantly Caucasian country, even if I had a funny accent and an unpronounceable last name. 

I also don’t come from a culture where familiar bonds and filial piety are taken to such an extreme. The amount of abuse and manipulation the protagonist takes from her parents, and from her brother, even to a lesser degree, is just staggering. Yet she keeps coming back to them despite (and sometimes because) of that abuse. This is toxic and destructive for the soul and psychological wellbeing of everyone involved. And as a non-Korean I couldn’t’ really understand why Elsa was willing to forgive all that abuse.

I think my biggest issue with this book is how passive Elsa is with her grief. Yes, we all have different copping mechanisms, but Elsa’s seems to be retreating into herself and not doing anything until the situation resolves itself or something prompts her into action. She compulsively reviews her mother’s stories and takes her father’s abuse in stride. Oh, and she self-medicates with her brother’s anti-psychotic drugs. 

I don’t know if reluctance to seek professional help is another cultural thing, but Elsa is smart, she should see the classic symptoms of depression. Why not reach out to seek help? I bet she has an excellent health plan through the university. For fear of how others would see her? For fear of appearing weak to other people’s eyes? 

I think this is where Elsa and I are fundamentally different. Where I assimilated into my adoptive culture better I guess. Because I understand her reluctance. In my native culture talking about mental health is also still a stigma and a taboo. There is no such thing as depression. You just need to go for a walk and have a good night’s sleep and get over it. And if that’s not working, you aren’t trying hard enough. Yeah… no wonder Russians drink so much… Anyway, even though I understand that reluctance, I don’t share it, because I grew up in a culture where mental health is just as important than physical health and seeking professional help for both is considered normal…

Those differences aside, I still think this is a fascinating story of family abuse, loss and cultural stigma and the exploration of Korean myths and spiritual believes was extremely well done.

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

Exodus Towers (Dire Earth Cycle 2) by Jason M Hough

Stars: 3 out of 5

I am not too sure about this series, to tell the truth. My husband read all the books and loved them, and I am… struggling. 

I mean the premise is wonderful and the worldbuilding is cool, but there is just something missing for me. 

I think it’s just because all the characters are so cookie cutter. The main guys is all good and heroic. The villains are very black and white and villainous just for the sake of it, it seems. The female characters… with the exception of Samantha, they have no personality. They are just there to incite our protagonist towards a particular set of actions or a decision. Neither of them have any agency on their own. I was willing to overlook that in the first book, because it had the thankless task of establishing the world and setting up the protagonist. Plus, it was this author’s debut novel. It is however getting a lot harder to let that slide in this book. 

It doesn’t help that the story doesn’t go anywhere in a hurry. I had the impression that some episodes were added just because the author thought they would be cool, but they didn’t really advance the main story. Case in point, the attempted invasion of the camp by immunes. Yes, that was a heart-ponding conflict for the 100 pages it lasted, but it ultimately didn’t advance the story. The leader was killed, most immunes ran away, and the settlers were left to rebuild their community. What was the purpose of that? It has no impact that I could see on the main plot. It did make the book seem endless and meandering though.

As a result, the book didn’t accomplish half of what it set out to do, even after 540-some pages. Samantha’s story arc is barely started. We only recovered one out of five artifacts that fell on Earth in the first book. When I finished reading, I felt like this book was a half-finished tapestry with loose treads flapping in the wind. 

All in all, I don’t know if I will continue with the series. I mean, I still want to know why the builders did this to Earth and humanity, but I am starting to care less and less about the characters. I might check out the next book, just because I’ve already bought it, but if it doesn’t improve after that, I will call it quits.

The Empire’s Ruin (Ashes of the Unhewn Throne 1) by Brian Staveley

Stars: 3 out of 5

This was an okay book, but nothing special. I mean, it kept me engaged enough to plod through 600+ pages, but it never got me engaged enough to be truly invested in the story. 

The world is interesting, and I really wanted to read more about it. I also realized that this was a sequel to an existing trilogy, but I don’t think you need to have read the previous books to understand the world. From what I could gather, this story follows a different set of characters anyway.

So why did I give this only three stars? I had two problems with it. 

The first one is the pacing. There is no sense of urgency, no real stakes for our characters. Gwenna is sent to the butt end of the world to recover kettral eggs, but there is no timeline on this. We are told that the empire is falling apart and that restoring the kettral is crucial in saving it, but nowhere in the book are we given an indication that the fall is imminent. We are TOLD that it’s the case, but we aren’t SHOWN. It’s hard to be invested in a quest when the stakes aren’t known. Gwenna could take years to get those eggs back, and the empire might still stand. Who knows? The readers certainly don’t. 

Same problem with Ruc’s storyline. We are told at the beginning of the book that this supernatural badass “First” is coming with an army and he will subjugate this city… then we don’t hear from him at all until the very end of the book. Again, we are TOLD. We are shown a dead messenger who didn’t even try to resist and some kind of bat creature who, supposedly, killed several people before it was captured. We are TOLD that, but we don’t see that happening. So again, the stakes are unclear. The urgency is minimal. Especially since we spent the entire book in one place – the Arena. The characters kept talking about escaping, but never really actively doing anything about it (apart from almost at the very end). So there is this big army coming, and we keep hearing that Ruc and Bien need to escape the city… yet they are still in the Arena every time the narrative comes back to them.

As for Akiil’s storyline, I still have no clue why it was even necessary to include it, apart from that one little seed at the end. Other than that, he was my least favorite of the characters, so reading through his POVs was a slog. One of the reasons is that I can’t understand his motivation. I figured out Gwenna and was onboard for her slow descent into depression and cheered when she finally clawed her way out of it. I was mildly sympathetic to Ruc’s efforts to suppress his violent tendencies, but Akiil? I still have no clue what motivates him. It honestly felt like he was making bad choices just for the sake of making bad choices. And that whole ark with the Captain and Skinny Gwenn? I’m not even sure what the point of that was…

So all in all, I was engaged enough to finish this book, but I’m not sure if I am invested enough to pick up the next one, or to go back and read the original trilogy.

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

Shadow Shinjuku by Ryu Takeshi

 Stars: 3 out of 5

I have a hard time formulating my thoughts about this book. I liked it enough to stick around till the end, but it didn’t leave a big enough impact to consider it a really good book. 

There is one aspect I really loved, and that’s Tokyo as a whole and Shinjuku in particular. The author does a really good job describing the city, the atmosphere, the sights, the people who live in it. So much so that the city feels like its own entity and an integral part of the story. As an avid traveler who had been cooped up way to long because of Covid, I loved the chance to travel to a different place at least in my mind. And since I had visited Tokyo in 2018, some of the places described were familiar, like old friends.

Unfortunately, you need more than the atmosphere and a good description of the setting to make a good book. You also need a good story and engaging characters. In my opinion, this book is lacking in both those aspects. 

The story itself is not so bad. It’s about finding a purpose in life and a place where you belong. About family, both found and inherited. However, it starts really slow and meanders around aimlessly for over half of the book, just like Sato does. In fact, it doesn’t really pick up pace until about 60% into the book when the stuff with Kiki happens and Sato finally decides to do something apart from procrastinating.

And that is my second gripe with this book. Sato was just too passive a character to qualify for the role of a protagonist. As I mentioned, he spends over half the book just floating with the current, not engaged with the world at all, just observing it from the shadows. And I understand why the author wrote him this way and fully appreciate his transformation by the end of the book, but it really makes for a boring character to follow.

Also, since Sato doesn’t particularly care about any members of his “found family” for half the book, I found it hard to care for them as well. The bonds haven’t been established or properly showcased beforehand, so when bad things start to happen to them, there isn’t this sense of urgency and outrage that I should be feeling. In fact, I empathized with the dog more than I did with any other characters in this book, so that says something.

All in all, this was an interesting story and a good glimpse into a different culture. It would have been better if Sato had been more involved with the world around him from the get go.

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

Goblin by Josh Malerman

 

Stars: 3 out of 5

This was a meh kind of book. It’s a series of short stories book ended by the story of a delivery driver bringing something terrifying to the city of Goblin. The short stories are related only by the location where they happen – the city of Goblin on the same particularly rainy day and night. 

I think that was one of the reasons the book was kinda meh to me. Yes, Goblin in itself is an interesting, if rather unhappy place. A place for the spirits. A place where humans were never supposed to settle and thrive. The short stories illustrate the eeriness of Goblin perfectly. Problem is, they don’t do much more than that. 

I read a book mostly for the characters and then for the worldbuilding. I notice that I tend to lose interest if I don’t have anybody to root for. If I don’t have a tour guide through the world the author is showing me. And that’s what happened here. Goblin is a fascinating place. Unfortunately, the people who live there are a lot less so.

We read stories of several different people who are not connected to each other, so it’s already hard to figure out why we should follow these characters or even care. Those stories are also not connected at all to the prolog, where a delivery driver is bringing something to Goblin. Something horrible… Well, Goblin already has plenty of horrible things. There is the Goblin police, the Witch of the North Woods, the owls, etc. So by the time that horrible thing finally reaches Goblin, it’s rather anticlimactic. It’s just another monster to add to a city already full of them. What’s the point?

Also, none of the stories we read about have any real resolutions, apart from the story of the man who was afraid of the ghosts. That one, we see to it’s logical conclusion. The rest of them leave is suspended in the air, without an explanation or a conclusion to them. I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to say.  And the arrival of this great terrible thing in the end isn’t enough to satisfyingly end any of those stories. 

In conclusion, it was an okay book to pass the time with, but I probably won’t remember what it is about in a month or so. This is the third book by this author I’ve read and found rather underwhelming, so I think I’m just not the intended audience here. A lot of people love these books, so your mileage might vary. 

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

The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi

 Stars: 3 out of 5

For most of the book, I thought this would a solid 5 star read. The story was fun to read and fast paced – a perfect book to spend a cold day with, curled up by the fire… Then I hit the last quarter of the book and finished it with my eyes rolling so much it hurt. 

But let’s talk about what worked first, shall we? The story is lighthearted and rather optimistic, which is a plus during this pandemic times that seem never-ending. The protagonist is fun to follow. He never looses his optimism no matter what obstacles life throws in his way. We all could use a bit of that after two years of the global mess we’re in. I also liked that he is an average joe, unlike a lot of other typical protagonists who are either hidden martial artists, or retired military, or chosen ones. He isn’t even the smartest one around. He was hired to “lift things”, not do science. Yet he does indeed lift things and accomplish other dangerous and sometimes gross things with good grace, optimism, and fun. 

I also loved the Kaiju Earth. To imagine a parallel world where life has adapted to a denser atmosphere that is richer in oxygen. A world where some animals are living walking nuclear reactors that sometimes go critical and explode. Only it’s not a catastrophe, like it would be in our world, because everything else around them evolved to absorb that radiation, to use it as fuel and food. So an exploding kaiju is basically like a dinner bell – everything that survives the initial blast and firestorm rushed that way to absorb as much radiation as possible. 

It was fun to imagine a world where giant monsters like Godzilla were an inherent part of the ecosystem. It was also gratifying to have an explanation that worked. I also liked the explanation on how those monsters sometimes ended up crossing to our Earth, and why they couldn’t survive here for long. 

So this was a fun romp until the last twist and the ending, which unfortunately killed the book for me. I almost rage-quit reading at one point, but decided to carry on since I was 80% at that time.

The problem is that the whole plot twist is highly unbelievable. But I could let that slip of the motivation behind it was sound. But as it stands, this book sports the worst antagonist I have seen in a book in looooong time. It’s like Scalzi forgot the true and tried principal that every villain is the hero of his or her own story. Yes, their actions might be atrocious or ridiculous, their plans might be far-fetched, but the motivation behind them must be believable. The antagonist must have a reason for what they are doing. 

Here, they are just being bad for the sake of being bad. I mean, seriously, the author showed this antagonist in such a bad light from the beginning of the book that there isn’t a single redeeming quality in them. They are so evil, they come across as a cardboard cutout. A real person can’t be this horrible all the time. Even the worlds greatest villains and mass murderers have peoples and pets they care about. This antagonist doesn’t. 

I mean, this might work for some readers, since the premise of the book is far-fetched anyway, but this absolutely didn’t work for me. I can’t stay involved in the story if I can’t take the bad guy seriously – I simply stop believing in the stakes. 

Speaking of stakes, that twist with stealing Bella was simply ridiculous. Once again, a plan without any rhyme or reason with consequences that have been tacked on just for maximum damage and to show how villainous our antagonist is. I mean why pull the kaiju to our Earth and let it go nuclear? Those mercenaries had to come close to the kaiju in order to install the devices that would open the barrier, so why not just instruct them to take the samples required and quietly leave? It accomplishes exactly the same thing – the antagonist has all the samples he needs to breed his own living nuclear reactors, and nobody is the wiser. But now, he had to do this dramatic disappearing act, and kill a bunch of people in the process, just because he is evil. 

Oh and the fact that four nerds with absolutely no military training managed to break into a mercenary compound and bring Bella back without getting killed? Yeah, that was absolutely not believable. That’s when my eyerolls reached such a speed that they gave me a headache. 

So kudos for a fun and wonderfully created Kaiju Earth and engaging characters, but the antagonist and the ridiculous ending ruined that book.

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

A Master of Djin by P. Djeli Clark (Dead Djin Universe 1)

Stars: 3 out of 5

I really love this author’s short stories. I’ve read everything he published and each one of the stories was a solid 5 out 5 stars. So I was really looking forward to diving into this full length novel set in the same world as the Haunting of Tram Car 015.

Unfortunately, my high expectations were met with a disappointment. This has all the ingredients that made his short stories great… but the mixture isn’t quite setting right.

I think one of the reasons is that there isn’t enough plot here for a novel, so the author is putting a lot of filler to add to the word count. As a result, the narrative moves at a very sedate pace and feels rather disjointed. I caught myself wondering several times why the the author chose to stay with some minutia details for as long as he did.

When the narrative actually moves the story along, it’s all tight writing and nail-biting action. Unfortunately the “padding” kills that momentum every time. I constantly felt like the story was hitting the break every time it was starting to get good.

My other problem with this book was that I didn’t particularly care for the protagonist. Fatma spends most of the book worrying more about if her tie matches her outfit or what her lover is doing than doing actual detective work. As a result, she comes across as an irresponsible airhead, not a decorated investigator.

And speaking of detective work, Fatma is particularly bad at it in this book. To the point I started wondering exactly how she got her position. Did she get hired as the token female into an all male world? I’m sure that’s not the view the author intended to convey, but Fatma’s seeming ineptitude and worry about her wardrobe above anything else doesn’t make her seem like a capable character. Heck, all the major clues that move the story along are basically handed to her by other characters!

I think the author realized that his protagonist wasn’t doing much detecting, so he decided to give her a new partner. Who is also a female. Fresh out of the academy. Very eager to learn and to jump into action.

This could have been such a wonderful idea to explore – to have those two women used to being tough in a man’s world butt heads, learn how to cooperate, and slowly gel into a cohesive team. And in the beginning it really seemed like that would be the road the author would take… until it wasn’t.

The problem here is that he made the new recruit too perfect. She is skilled in martial arts, she is smart and reads several languages, she never looses her cool even in dreadful situations, and she knows and uncle/cousin/brother-in-law, etc. in any and all departments of Egyptian life. She is basically a glorified Mary Sue.

So we have a wishy washy protagonist paired with a Mary Sue and a story that draaaaaags over pages and pages… and the result is a big disappointment. I think I’ll still with this author’s shorter work for now.

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

Glow by Tim Jordan

Stars: between 3 and 3.5 out of 5

This book has magnificent worldbuilding and a rather scary view of what the human race could become in the near future if we continue or technological race for “improvements” without stopping to consider just how much damage we do to our planet and to ourselves in the process. So yes, I had much fun exploring the world created in this book.

The characters, however, were another story altogether. Granted, there were some interesting ones, like Rex or Elaine up in her crumbling ivory tower of an orbital. The major problem though is that there were simply too many of them. It’s like the author tried to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks with this book. Too many ideas, too many plot lines, too many characters.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t give enough attention to ALL his characters, so while some character arcs get satisfying (or at least plausible) resolutions, others are left hanging or shoehorned into other character stories as an after thought.

For example, what was the point of Mira in this book, Beyond having Rex realize that he could care and defend someone other than himself? Why bring her back into the story over and over again?

What was the point of Jaxx by the way? It spends the whole book hunting down the star river and merrily murdering and disassembling humans along the way (granted, that was fun to watch and to read about its thought process while this was happening), but then, when he has the river… he lets it go? What was the point of this character and this particular storyline? In fact, what was the point of the confrontation between the orbital and the artificial construct up in space? It brings nothing to the story itself and dies in the most stupid manner in the end.

And there are a lot of examples of those headscratching characters whose motivations and importance to the story aren’t clear even in the end. That’s what happens when you try to tell too many stories in one book. General confusion and hanging plot lines…

Even the ending, despite its explosions, confrontations, and general destruction and mayhem, is underwhelming. It doesn’t bring any resolution to the story of the star river, the McGuffin that was so important to the future of mankind, or so we are told throughout the book… it stays inactivated in the brain of a man-dog. Oh, and why was it so important by the way? No real explanation apart from doom and gloom prophecies is given.

And what was the whole point of Glow, that drug that the book was named for? Again, no explanation is given.

In summary, I loved the world the author created, but the story itself was confusing and meandering and the ending failed to deliver resolution or any emotional impact. Apart from Elaine. She got exactly what she deserved.

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