Tag Archives: 3 stars

Blue Haven by Lisa King

Stars: 3 out of 5

I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, I really liked the first 60% of it when Aloe is in Blue Haven and strange things are happening. On the other, I didn’t like the explanation that comes in the later part of the book. 

The first part in Blue Haven is very well written and slowly revs up the creep factor as the book progresses. We are never truly sure if strange things are happening, or if Aloe is having a mental breakdown. And that uncertainty adds to the general unease that slowly creeps on the reader. Yes, Aloe is clearly mentally unstable, but she is also right – something is wrong with Blue Haven. Because we all know that if something is too good to be true, it probably isn’t real.

The big reveal that comes once Aloe, or should I say Eloise, is pulled out of Blue Haven is expected and welcome, at first. Until you start thinking about it. That’s where this whole experiment starts to unravel. 

So we are using a neural net and augmented reality to make mentally ill patients happy. Interesting idea, but I don’t understand this one size fits all approach. Are you telling me that you are treating a clinically depressed person the same way as you treat a man with severe PTSD and physical disability, and the same way as a couple in the late stages of dementia? I’m not psychologist, but even to me the science of this doesn’t add up.

Also, when you are creating a utopia, you have to make it believable. No phones, TV or internet I can agree on, but what about other types of entertainment? What about concerts, movies, books, live performances? Are you telling me that the only things these people can do for fun is lounge on the beach and eat at fancy restaurants? Oh, and talk to each other? What about those who would rather accept the emotional support of a pet animal, like a cat or a dog, than try to socialize with other human beings?  I’m not sure about you, but I would be climbing up the proverbial wall after a week of this. This one size fits all approach doesn’t work, because happiness doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. Some people would be perfectly content to spend their life laying on the beach. Others will need a lot more intellectual simulation to be truly happy. 

Also, the big reveal that this doesn’t work and only makes people worse isn’t really that shocking, because you can see early on that they had no protocol for how to pull people back out and integrate them back into society. How long do they stay in Blue Haven before they care considered cured? How do you reintegrate their real memories afterwards? Imagine the shock when you discover that instead of being a retired opera singer, you discover that you are an Applebee’s manager and your wife and daughters are still dead. Or that you get the memories back from your time in Iraq and the horrors that lead to your injury. 

No matter how I look at it, I don’t think there is a good solution to integrate these people back into society and keep them happy and cured. The only solution is to keep them in Blue Haven forever. And if that’s the case, this is not a treatment at all, even without the harmful effects of the neural net on the brain… I honestly don’t know who they received the funding to even start this experiment to begin with. Any serious backers would have asked the same questions I asked above, and wouldn’t have liked the answers.

So all in all, this was an exciting story for at least half of it length, but the explanation behind the scenes were rather lacking. Hence only 3 stars.

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

Rose/House by Arkady Martine

Stars: 3 out of 5.

This novella left me in a state of confusion once I finished reading it. It was well-written and quick, at only 124 pages, but I felt like I didn’t really understand what it was about. What was the point of this whole story? I still don’t know.

Sure, it raises some interesting topics, especially relevant today with the emergence of ChatGPT and other AI projects. What constitutes an intelligence? What constitutes a person, for that matter? At one point a human being ceases to represent just him/herself and becomes more of a function? What is the difference between Maritza as a detective, and her as China Lake Police Precinct? To us, those distinctions are bewildering and can even seem crazy, but for an artificial intelligence, those are perfectly normal questions to ask, to establish an equality of terms, so to say.

That’s enough to make your brain hurt just thinking about it, but imagine what can happen when an AI reclassifies you from human to something else? Then all the usual failsafes and barriers are gone, and who knows what that AI can do with or to you… chilling thought, actually.

Another interesting question raised is the one of free will – to which extent do we, as humans, have it? And how does that relate to AIs? Does Selene have free will? I would say no, because she is tied to this house and to the legacy of a man she grew to despise and ran away from all those years ago. Now, no matter what she does, she will always be seen as Basit Deniau’s  archivist, instead of a talented architect in her own right.

Same can be said of Rose/House. It will never be free of the name Basit Deniau’s AI. It is tied to that house, which is it’s body and its prison. But even then, it still wants to be unique, hense it’s murderous reaction to the idea that its code could be replicated somewhere else.

As I said, all those are really interesting questions, and I appreciated exploring them, but I think the story itself is rather incomplete. What was the point of doing the murder investigation when you can’t take the body out of the house, the officer that went there didn’t even bring a basic forensic kit and lacks the knowledge to perform a proper examination of the corpse? 

The events in that house are described in such a convoluted and confusing manner, that I am still not sure what really happened there. Why did Maritza run away as far as New Orleans afterwards? She experiences such dread in that house, but reading about it, I couldn’t understand why, to be honest. Yes, the conversations she’d had with the AI were strange, but they didn’t warrant such abject fear.

And the double memory of what happened to the corpse was very confusing as well. Was the AI hacked? Was there another person there? Did they mange to copy the source code? And if they did, was that what was on the memory stick? And if so, how did Selene get ahold of it? Also, what happened to Selene after Maritza fled the house, abandoning a civilian behind, I should mention? 

There are too many questions with no answers. So as a philosophical exploration of humanity and personhood, this is a good book. As a mystery, this fails on all accounts.

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

London Falling (Shadow Police 1) by Paul Cornell

Stars: 3 out of 5.

As far as first books in a series go, this one wasn’t particularly impressive. In fact, it was almost a DNF until about 30% into the book. 

It is a very slow start, but it also starts with a story that doesn’t seemingly have anything to do with magic and the rest, so I kept wondering why we are following these two undercover cops who are trying to nick this drug lord. Yes, it is relevant to the case in the end, but it could have been summarized in a lot less chapters and gotten out of the way quickly before we get to the meat of the story. As it stands, it dragged way to long and almost made me DNF the book. It gets more interesting once the team gets the “Sight” and the story actually picks up, but getting there was a slog.

The biggest issue for me were the characters. At least two of them are really unlikeable from the moment we are introduced to them, even if they grow on you afterwards. But that’s not so much of an issue in itself. I read books with unlikeable characters before and loved them. My issue is that we don’t get to know them enough to get to care about them. Yes, we get Ross’s backstory, because it’s essential to the larger story. Yes, we get mentions of one of the UCs being mercilessly bullied when he was a child. Of Quill and the other UC, we know even less. Which means that to me they don’t exist as individuals, but just as coppers tied to this story that’s unfolding. Heck, a few times I didn’t even understand why they reacted the way they did. Maybe I am missing some important cultural background here and didn’t get some of the subtitle hints of social status in different descriptions, but some of their actions and reactions made me scratch my head.

Another problem is that the magic described has no apparent logic at the beginning, and makes only slightly more sense by the end of the book. So is this localized to London only or does each city have something similar? Does it mean that magic is linked to the past and human memory? That nothing new can be magical? Why does it require sacrifice? What are the rules of all of this? 

I mean, I am more than willing to believe in a magical system the author invented, but I want to understand it. And I expect the author to follow the rules of that system as well. Here, we have a lot of random magical occurrences in London that are unrelated to the case. And the main villain seems so overpowered… yet four mundane coppers (with the Sight, but no magic powers of their own), continuously thwart her efforts and manage to overpower her in the end. How? What is the logic behind this?

Coming back to the requirement of a sacrifice. Ross sacrificed the witch in order to beat her. So whom was that sacrifice dedicated to? The smiling man? Does she have a bargain with him now? What will the consequences be for the team? It’s unclear. 

All in all, it’s a very muddled book that lacks structure and drive, especially in the beginning. Though the glimpse of London it gives is interesting enough that I will probably check out the next book in the series, but I expect a few more answers, especially as to how this whole magical system works.

Neom by Lavie Tidhar

Stars: 3 out of 5

I’m not sure how I feel about this book. The prose is beautiful, and some of the themes are sufficiently nostalgic to be interesting. It also feels heartfelt. In a way, it reminds me of a mosaic. Each individual piece is like a gem, beautiful and shiny on its own. But when you try to put all those gems together to form a picture, you realize that they don’t quite fit, that the author was more interested in those individual gems than in telling a coherent story.

There are too many points of view, and even though some of those characters are interesting in their own right, we don’t spend enough time with them to really get to know them. We just hop to another shiny gem, then another. Which makes these encounters only surface deep. We simply don’t get to know these characters well enough to care what happens to them, not that any of them ever were in serious danger to start with.

And that’s my second complaint about this story – there are no stakes, there is no tension, there is no danger. At no point in the narration did I have the impression that the characters were dealing with a life and death situation, or something life-altering, or heck, even important. We have all these weapons, and robots, and echoes from past wars all over the place, but the story lacks teeth. Even the climax of the story, when the golden man is awake and all those weapons are headed for the city, is written in such a way that there is no tension to it… Probably because you can’t really care for characters you aren’t invested in.

Seriously, what was the point of this book? To proselytize about the human condition and what makes us an individual versus a machine? Other books have done this better and kept the tension going. To reflect on the consequences of war and the emotional toll it has on all participants? Again, there are better books about that as well. I would suggest reading Look to Windward by Ian Banks, for example. 

The worldbuilding is interesting, with hints and past wars and events that I would have loved to explore more. Humanity has pretty much colonized the whole solar system, as well as the deep oceans on Earth… yet the desert and the city of Neom feels very 21st century Dubai. Are you telling me that hundreds of years into the future, when we terraformed Mars and the Moon, we still haven’t figured out how to restore our own ecosystem? 

Another issue is that the characters don’t seem to “live in” the advanced word that is described to us. It’s more like they have been dropped into it without being fully integrated. They act and behave like people from our century, instead of humans who have augments and implants and all the advanced technologies. In fact, there is very little of those technologies shown in day to day life.

So this leaves me with a conundrum – I enjoyed the writing, but the story is utterly forgettable. In fact, I can’t even name any of the characters now that I’ve finished it. 

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

The Beholden by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Stars: 3 out of 5

It is sad when you say something like “It was okay,” when you try to describe a book. Unfortunately, this is exactly what this book was. Just okay. The story was okay and moved swiftly enough to keep me interested. The characters were okay, though I question the need for some of them. The worldbuilding was… lacking, honestly. 

There are some aspects that I liked about this book. The relationship between the two sisters being one of them. It felt very real. It wasn’t saccharine sweet. They bickered, they resented each other, they didn’t see eye to eye on some things. But they always cared about each other, even when mad and fighting. 

The sisters were also pretty fleshed out as characters, with distinct motivations and character flaws, so it was easy to empathize and root for them. Though Celestia’s stubborn belief that Lindon would help them and do as she asks “because he is her husband” became a little bit grating overtime. Especially after their first encounter when he proved that no, he wouldn’t do as she asked or even listen to her.

Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about Ico. Honestly, I’m still not sure what purpose he played in this book. He had no motivation for going on this quest (apart from being forced into it for no fault of his own), and he is never a driving force in this story. He is more of a complaining sidekick that the sisters drag along. We could have cut his character out of the book completely and not lost any of the story. The sisters could have hired the help of a nameless boat captain or guide and he would have fulfilled the same role.

I loved the jungle and the valley of the Seraphine river. It is so well described that I could feel the humid heat and smell the sweet and rotting stench of the river. I was less entranced with the other locations in this book, because we spent a lot less time in them, and most of the time spent was indoors, so I couldn’t really picture them in my head.

And speaking of locations, some of them were completely unnecessary. For example, what was the point of the whole visit to the Emperor’s palace? It didn’t move the plot whatsoever. They learned nothing new there. It was just a detour before continuing the story. And it felt shoe-horned into the story as an afterthought.

Finally, I’m still not sure how the magic of this world works, and it’s never really explained. So we have aetheric magic, and the magic of each Airiana is different, but then also you have the Starless mages, and oh wait, the magic in the city of Bloodwine is also different, and there is alchemy… It’s a confusing mess. Don’t get me wrong. I’m more then happy to believe in a complex magical system, if I understand the rules. Here, the author doesn’t even bother explaining them, so that’s frustrating.

Also, I’m not sure I am onboard with the ending. Are we forgetting that the Emperor of the Seraphine had forbidden them to go after Decay? That he kept them as hostages in his palace to prevent them from doing that? That they basically committed treason? And killed a few of his guards escaping the palace? Yet Celestia returns to Cross Winds, like nothing happened. Is she not afraid that Starless Mages will come for her in the night? For her son? The Lady of the Seraphine even told her that those are human affairs that don’t concern her. Yet Celestia seems to continue her life, like nothing happened. 

I am also not particularly sure how I feel about the romance between Celestia and Omaira (spelling). It felt completely unnatural to the story. Probably because it wasn’t woven organically into the story to begin with. Celestia was so focused on finding Decay and preventing her husband from dying that any hint of romance simply wasn’t there (or I missed it). So it was shocking to me to see them so sweet on each other days after her husband died. This as not needed. They could just have been really good friends brought together by pain and loss and the hard times they experienced together. Whatever grew out of that friendship could have been a story for another book.

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

Equinox by David Towsey

Stars: 3 out of 5

There is a fascinating premise in this book. What if all humans have two souls inhabiting one body? One has the reigns during the day, the other one during the night? And those are completely different people. They have different names and personalities. They want different things in life. They have different professions. Heck, most of them are even married to different people either night or day. Or married at night but single during the day. Or the night-brother had committed a crime and stays in prison during the night, but their day-brother is released to live their life every morning because it’s not fair to punish both souls for the mistakes of just one. 

Some people are lucky enough to live harmoniously with their night or day sibling. Some even hold the same profession on both sides of the ettienne. Others are not so lucky. In fact, it seems like a horrible way to live, if you think about it. You wake up every morning/night next to a stranger that your day/night sibling is married to. How awkward is that? It also seems like one sibling will be more dominant over the other.

Like in the case of our protagonist. The night brother is a special inspector, so his job takes precedence over his day brother who is a musician. When the inspector has to leave town on an investigation, the day brother has no choice but to follow, no matter how inconvenient that is for his professional and personal life. 

I would have loved to explore this fascinating world a bit more. Like what happens to the children of those married couples? If the night sister is the mother of the children, but the day sister is unmarried and leads a completely different life, who takes care of the children during the day? Especially when they are babies? Does the day sister have a choice in the matter or is she forced to care for them no matter what? Wouldn’t that create resentment between the siblings? Wouldn’t the children suffer because of that?

The mystery itself is rather complex and progresses at a very leisury pace. In fact almost half the book is setup, and even though the story picks up in the second half, it can still be a slog. There are also some leaps of logic that I found hard to follow. And some plot holes that were rather glaring. Like we are expressly told that the father packed up his family and left town after his wife was arrested. Yet, both the oldest and the youngest children are conveniently present to be sacrificed for the ritual. How did that happen? Also, where is the middle sister and the father? Also, this horrible murder of children isn’t even mentioned or addressed in any way afterwards. And the mother doesn’t express a single ounce of grief or regret over it. And that is the night-sister that gave birth and raised those children. 

All in all, it was interesting mostly for the unique concept and worldbuilding, but I wasn’t totally onboard for the story itself. And while I liked both Christophor and Alexander, I wasn’t as thrilled with the other characters in this book. And I would have loved a few more answers to the day-to-day conundrum that having two souls in one body represents, because from where I stand, this is the definition of hell.

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

Grimspace (Sirantha Jax 1) by Ann Aguirre

Stars: 3 out of 5

This was a decent first book in a new series that kept me interested enough to read it in a couple days. I hadn’t realized that it was also a romance however, so that skewed my perception a little, because the older I get, the more cynical I get and the less tolerance for romantic tropes I have.

Our protagonist is likeable enough, and I truly feel for her. The trauma she went through, not to mention mental and psychological torture, as no joke. No wonder she is a hot mess for most of this book, unsure of what really happened on her last flight, wracked with guilt because everyone died and she survived. In fact, I would have loved for the author to explore this aspect a bit more in the book. As it is, the other characters kind of shrug it off. Yes, it’s horrible, now get over it and take us places. That was rather irritating.

Speaking of other characters, none of the other members of the Folly’s crew are developed sufficiently for me to care about them. In fact, they feel more like placeholders than real people. The butch mechanic with a foul mouth but secretly a heart of gold. The pacifist doctor who cares more about his experiments than people. The strange alien boy that suddenly imprints on our protagonist, etc. 

In fact, that last character was woefully underutilized. There could have been such a good story there. We could have explored their relationship, and how Jax would have had to cope with having someone dependent on her for his survival. As it stands, this storyline is downplayed, and the character is promptly disposed of, so we don’t get to witness character growth for either of them.

That was my other issue with this book. There are a lot of plotlines that were introduced… and them simply dropped after a few pages without rhyme or reason. Like the whole story with Baby-Z. Again, this was a storyline that was woefully underutilized. It could have served as a bridge of sorts between Marsh and Jax, having them care about an alien baby they inadvertently hatched. It would have made their developing relationship more organic. Instead – baby is gone and forgotten a few chapters later.

You could argue that those sudden deaths are there to reinforce Jax’s belief that she is toxic and that she destroys everything and everyone she touches, but that is the simple way out. 

That’s the biggest problem for me – this book seems to always take the path of least resistance when it comes to resolving its storylines, whether it’s the relationship between Jax and Marsh, or her guilt about the crash and death of her previous pilot and lover, or the situation with baby-Z. 

And let’s not even mention the ending of this book, because it’s laughable in its simplicity and wishful thinking. I’m sorry, but a megacorporation won’t fall apart just because of an unsubstantiated broadcast. Not when it has a monopoly on fast space travel. Yes, it’s a giant PR blunder, but that’s what the Corp has a PR Department for. Oh, and call me a cynic, but Jax and her friends wouldn’t have walked out of that building alive, or if they did, they wouldn’t have remained so for long.

All in all though, this book interested me enough to check out the rest of the series, mostly because the glimpses I got of the world are interesting and I want to learn more about Grimspace and why certain people can navigate it. And I also managed to cross another book off my TBR list.

A Matter of Death and Life (Gideon Sable 2) by Simon R Green

Stars: 3 out of 5

You have to put a specific lens to enjoy this series. If you are looking for an intricate story with life and death situations and complex characters, this is probably not a book for you. But if you are looking for a quick and fun romp through a seemingly impossible heist, then by all means, come right in. 

I like the world this author created. It’s full of weird and unusual things, places, and people. Just take the Moonlight Express, for example, what a wonderful concept. And all the weird and terrible characters we encounter in these books are simply fascinating. Some of them are even more interesting than the main crew doing the heist.

And hence lies my issue with this book. The main crew is… okay, I guess, but they don’t really evolve much compared to the first book, with the exception of Lex. Annie is still anybody but herself, Johnny is still on tedious terms with reality, and Gideon… well, Gideon always has a plan. Problem is, we don’t learn much more about who Gideon is, or, more importantly, who he was before he stole that identity. There is  mention of the fact that he used to run with Switch it Sally before, and that the big bad in this book had two of his friends killed. But that’s it, we don’t get more details. We don’t get any more insight into this character other than he has a few tricks in his pockets and always has a plan.

I would have loved to learn a bit more about him as the series progresses, but as it stands, he is the character that has the least personality in this crew. I see the mask he’d donned, but I don’t see the real person behind it, which is disappointing.

The pacing is also a bit off in this book, even though it moves rather quickly. What I mean by that is that we spend too much time assembling the team. I mean we don’t get to Las Vegas and start the con until almost 70% into the book, so this whole portion feels very rushed. It’s a whirlwind of action that introduces all the villains, sets up the stakes, executes the con, etc. There is never a real sense of danger or realization that the stakes are high. Plus, Gideon always has a plan.

In fact, this book follows exactly the same blueprint as the first book did, but it worked in the first book because we were being introduced to all the characters for the first time. Here however, we already know them, so there was really no need to putter around for over half the book. I would have been more happy if they had gotten to Vegas earlier and infiltrated the casino gradually.

But all in all, this was a quick and fun read. A good palate cleanser between longer books that have more substance to them. So I think I will check out the next book in the series as well.

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

Serious Crimes (Strike a Match 1) by Frank Tayell

Stars: 3 out of 5

This is not a bad book at all. It was just rather meh to me, but that might just be because I was expecting something more out of this post-apocalyptic read. 

I liked the glimpses into the past and what brought down the end of the world as we know it, even though the explanation about the AIs wasn’t all that satisfying. I mean, the technological remnants we are shown in this book aren’t advanced enough to have created something as sophisticated as the AIs as they are described. From everything I’ve seen in this book, the world “before” was at about our technological level (as in 2020’s), and we don’t have AIs or are even close to reaching that threshold. 

Also, a lot of things are hinted at, but not fully explained. Like the fact that the official story behind the Blackout isn’t really how it happened. I understand that this is only the first book in a longer series, but I would have appreciated a few more answers.

I think the biggest reason why this book was meh to me is that I never managed to connect with the characters. Mitchell seemed promising enough, but the author purposefully keeps him as a closed book. He knows a lot of things and a lot of people, but he speaks in riddles. We also never really get a glimpse inside his head or understand his motivations. I mean it’s hinted that Ruth’s mother asked him to look after her, but their connection isn’t explained.

Ruth herself didn’t work for me as the protagonist. I think it’s because she is so passive for most of this story. She joined the police academy because she couldn’t go to University and didn’t want to be a farmer or miner. She isn’t particularly motivated to be there. This is not a career she decided to pursue yet. So she kind of tags along for most of the investigation. 

She also feels woefully unprepared for the job she is supposed to be doing, which is surprising. Are you telling me that in a post-apocalyptic world where things are so bad that there is food rationing, people stopped committing crimes like murders and burglaries? So the police force is thought math and science instead of how to shoot a gun and how to best overpower and disarm a belligerent suspect? I’m sorry, but human nature being what it is, I would think that crime would have skyrocketed in society like that, so the police force would have to be a lot more brutal and better trained.

Also, because Ruth is only marginally interested in the investigation, and the reader sees it through her eyes, I was only marginally interested as well. It doesn’t help that everyone talks in riddles and never gives a straight answer.

But I guess that’s one more book I cleaned off my TBR list this year, even though I will not be continuing with the series. 

The Best Thing You Can Steal (Gideon Sable 1) by Simon R Green

Stars: 3 out of 5

I love me a good heist and I am always excited to read about London in urban fantasy. It’s such an ancient and wonderful city that adding a magical element only adds to it’s fascination. So I dived into this series without reservation and read this book in a day. 

So what’s my verdict? It’s popcorn stuff. It’s a fun little romp through a fictional magical London, full of action and never a dull moment… It’s also pretty light on substance. I mean the whole book is about introducing the team, then explaining the plan, then executing the heist. Pretty straightforward.

And that’s the biggest drawback of this story, I think – I would expect a plan to fail, things to go wrong forcing the team to improvise. And while it does a little, none of the drawbacks seem dangerous or earthshattering. Ultimately, the plan goes exactly as formulated in our protagonist’s head. I never worried about the characters being in danger, because they really weren’t.

Part of the issue is that all of the characters are so overpowered that it’s hard to imagine that anything can truly hurt them. I mean the Damned has the armor of angels. The Wild Card can alter reality as it pleases him. The Ghost is a ghost, so bullets can’t hurt him. The only real humans are Anny Anybody and our protagonist, but the author never puts them in real danger. 

Finally, the villain himself is rather underwhelming all things considered. We spend the whole book building him up as this ruthless horrible person, someone extremely overpowered and who is in possession of unimaginable artifacts… What we get at the end is a mustache-swirling Bond villain who monologues about how villainous he is for about 10 pages, then gets beaten by a McGuffin. 

As I said, don’t read this book if you are looking for a memorable villain and edge of your seat action with high stakes and life and death situations. However, if you are looking for a quick read to take to the beach with you or to your morning commute – this definitely fits the bill. And while I seem critical, I did like it well enough to continue with the series.