Tag Archives: 4.5 Stars

Between Shifts (The City Between 2) by W.R. Gingell

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Stars: 4.5 out of 5.

This series is a delight to read so far. The first book introduced us to this bizarre world and the trio of not-so-human psychos, and we are getting better acquainted with all of them in this book. Also, werewolves are real. Oh, sorry, lycanthropes. They don’t like being called werewolves.   

Pet has a knack of picking up strays and getting emotionally attached to them. In the first book, it was detective Tuatu (who is decidedly more friendly in this book) and the old mad bloke. In this one it’s Daniel, the lycanthrope with a plethora of werewolf issues on top of the usual pile of teenage raging hormones issues. And you know what? I really like that about Pet. Her good heart and compassion is a nice foible to the callous disregard the other three display towards humans. 

My suspicion is also growing that she isn’t a simple human, and I think that the trio is aware of that, but chose not to tell her anything for reasons. I mean why did her parents raise her in such secrecy that there were almost no records of her, and nobody even thought to look for her when they were murdered? Also, a simple human wouldn’t be able to yank objects from Between, or persuade them to be something other than they appear in the human world. Not to mention see Between and be able to navigate it. No, there is more to Pet that meets the eye, and I am looking forward to discovering what it is.

The story itself was pretty straightforward, at least to me, but I still had a blast reading it, mainly because I love the interactions between Pet and her three psychos. The side characters are also pretty engaging. I mean detective Tuatu was a bit of a prick in the first book, but he is growing  on me. Ultimately, he his heart is in the right place. 

I am definitely looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

The Myth Manifestation (SPI Files 5) by Lisa Shearin

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Stars: 4.5 out of 5.

This is another excellent installment into the series. I swear this keeps getting better and better with each book.

In this book, we have a variation of a closed room (or in this case a closed hotel) mystery. Our characters, along with a bunch of other magical races, find themselves trapped in a hotel that has been transported into a pocket dimension. They can’t get out, but monsters sure can get in, and they have big appetites and nefarious intentions. What follows is a tense couple days during which our characters fight for their lives and try to determine exactly what happened, how to stop it, and who is responsible. Non-stop action and thrills, and the book flies by.

Mac continues to progress and develop as a character without losing her spunk and humor. I am not ashamed to say that she is quickly becoming one of my favorite urban fantasy heroines, there along with Kate Daniels (which is high praise). She is really becoming a badass, even though she isn’t portrayed as this killing machine that needs no man to help her. On the contrary, Mac is a seer, so her powers are non-offensive. She can’t conjure fire and incinerate her enemies. She doesn’t have super strength or super speed or fast regeneration. All she can do is see through glamor and veils. Oh, and detect portals. But she makes the most of her ability, which makes her an invaluable asset to her team.

I loved that she has a pain gun instead of a normal gun. Because SPI has plenty of sharpshooters, but they can’t hit what they can’t see. So Mac’s job is to hit the target well enough to make it visible to the snipers who can punch it full of holes afterwards. She has to be a good shot to hit a moving target in a frantic situation, but she doesn’t have to worry about delivering a kill shot. 

And I love that her team knows how to utilize her abilities best and that they have a backup plan for her if things hit the fan. And Mac sticks to that plan instead of trying to go GI Jane on people (and probably get herself killed). Like during the methodical sweep of the hotel floors. The plan was that if they are overwhelmed and she can’t help, she runs for the hotel lobby to regroup with the rest of the SPI commandoes. And Mac does just that.

My only complaint about this book is that there wasn’t enough Ian in it. Oh, he was present, but there wasn’t much Mac and Ian interaction. I love how those two bounce off each other. And since their relationship turned firmly into the adopted siblings category, their banter is just so fun to read about. I hope we get more of them together in the next book.

I also think that the tie in to the author’s other series set up in the same universe was well made. Now I want to read about Raine Benares as well to see if the main villain of this book gets his just desserts. 

Killing Pretty (Sandman Slim 7) by Richard Kadrey

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Stars: 4.5 out of 5.

This books marks a turning point in James Stark’s life, and a sort of reboot of the series as a whole. After all, Stark saved the world from the Old Ones in the previous book and got rid of his arch-nemesis Mason once and for all (hopefully). So he should be able to live happily ever after, right?

That’s precisely what this book covers – how do you live after you fulfilled your purpose. Stark saved the world, but lost the Room of Thirteen doors in the process, so he can’t travel through the shadows anymore. So for the first time since he came back from Hell, he is stuck on Earth. No more popping to see Lucifer for a drink, heck no more zipping through LA from shadow to shadow. He has to brave the horrible traffic like any other shmuck. But more importantly, they had to fake Candy’s death at the end of the previous book, so she has a new face, new name, and is trying to build a new life for herself. Which means their relationship is basically starting over. Oh, and did I mention that Stark never got paid for his efforts to save the world? So he is broke as well. So no money, no girlfriend, no easy means to travel… and no purpose in life. Stark is not a very happy boy.

It was interesting to see our protagonist struggle with what to do with his life now that he doesn’t have a big bad to defeat or even a little bad in the face of Mason. Stark is questioning his own choices and actions in this book. This is especially visible in his relationship with Candy/Shihiro. Yes, it’s the same person underneath the glamor, but he still feels like he is cheating on the old Candy when he is with her new persona. And the things she told him in the previous book keep haunting him as well. Is he using her? Is he trying to mold her to be a monster like he is because he wants somebody like that by his side? Does he really love her or the image he created of her in his head?

I also had a lot of fun watching him function like a normal(ish) human being in LA – battling traffic, workplace rules, and having a boss he had to report to. As you can imagine, it failed horribly. Stark is not cut out to be an investigator – he is not the meticulous type who can sit in a stakeout for hours or go through surveillance footage. He gets bored and then his destructive tendencies kick in. And I think he finally came to terms with the fact that kicking doors and busting heads is what he does best. Now, he will have to figure out how to put this talent to use and earn some  money in the process. Maybe working with the new Augur would turn out to be a blessing in disguise. 

All in all, I really love where this series is going. This is a more subdued book, compared to the previous one, but that’s exactly what we all needed. Time for retrospective and reassessment. 

Eyes of the Void (The Final Architecture 2) by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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Stars: 4.5 out of 5

You would think that when different factions and races that make up intelligent life in the galaxy discover that the Architects are back, they would put aside their petty squabbles and unite in the face of an overwhelming enemy, right? Well, you would be wrong.

The Architects are back and this time they are destroying inhabited worlds regardless of the species who live on them, whereas before they only concentrated on human worlds. Heck, even the Hegemony isn’t protected by their Originator relics anymore. But instead of uniting and fighting together, humanity is shattering and descending into an inner conflicts. HUGH and the Partheni are at each other’s throats and the smallest spark can ignite a powder keg of mutual destruction…

It’s interesting to see that all the characters in this book struggled with their loyalties to their respective factions versus their own moral code and what they thought was the right thing to do. Idris defected to the Partheni at the end of the last book because he hoped that they could engineer Ints without subjecting people to the horrible programs that HUGH had put in place. Programs that have over 80% mortality. And the surviving Ints are broken beyond repair, and are no better than slaves. But when a war between HUGH and Partheni seems eminent, he struggles with this decision. Is he a traitor for abandoning the Colonies? Of course, soon that consideration becomes rather irrelevant, at least to him.

Solace and Olli have their own doubts and crisis of faith moments as well, but ultimately, I love that their first loyalty is to their found family on Vulture God as well as humanity as a whole instead of a particular faction their originated from. 

We also learn a lot more about the universe, the structure of Unspace and its relation to our real space, oh and a little bit about the foreboding presence that stalks whoever enters Unspace. 

I was also impressed with the few planets described in this book. The destruction of Arc Pallator by the Architects after they removed the Originator ruins was epic. Especially considering that our characters were smack in the middle of it, running in said ruins. That was an amazing and heartpouding sequence of events.  And Criccieth’s Hell is truly a hellish world. 

My only complaint about this book is that the characters seem a lot more passive than in the first book – things happen to them, and they just react to that instead of being a driving force behind the story. This is especially true of Idris, who spends the whole book being a magic McGuffin that everyone tries to kidnap.

This small complaint notwithstanding, I enjoyed this book, and I am looking forward to the last book in the series.

The Creeping Shadow (Lockwood and Co 4) by Jonathan Stroud

Stars: 4.5 out of 5.

This series continues to deliver, and we finally get some answers (and a lot more questions).

It’s wonderful to have the team back together by the end of this book. I understand why Lucy thought she needed to leave at the end of the previous book, but I think that she also learned a couple valuable lessons. First that you need a team you can count on and companions you can trust. Second, that there are situations that you simply cannot deal with on your own. And finally, that Lockwood will always be Lockwood, and he will always play with death with abandon, like he has a death wish (pun intended).

The world in this series is getting bleaker by the book. It almost seems like the whole of the UK is permeated by some kind of despair. The Problem is getting worse. More and more Visitors are manifesting almost everywhere, people are dying, so everyone just goes about their day with a sort of resigned pessimism. 

It is also rather disheartening to see that the two agencies that are supposed to be the last defense against the Problem are, in fact, using said problem for their own gains. I mean there were already hints that things were not as they seemed in previous books, but here the message comes across as loud and clear. I even wonder if Fittes and Rotwell didn’t cause the Problem in the first place, especially considering the revelation we get at the end of the book.

So it is with a certain amount of trepidation that I look forward towards reading the next and last book in the series. The lines have been drawn, and some not so subtle threats have been voiced. Will our friends from Lockwood and Co survive the confrontation with a giant like the Fittes agency? And more importantly, will they finally uncover the cause of the Problem and save England? 

Three Oaths (A Daidoji Shin Mystery 4) by Joshua Reynolds

Stars: 4.5 out of 5.

About a quarter of the book in, I realized that this wasn’t the first book in this series, because the characters referred to events that had happened in previous books. This however didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the story. I also must note that I didn’t know that the Legend of the Five Rings was a table top RPG. Needless to say, I never played it, nor was I familiar with the lore and world. This, however, didn’t hinder my enjoyment of this story. So I can affirm that this book can be read as a standalone.

The world depicted in this book has some strong similarities with medieval Japan (which I am all in for, since I love Japanese culture and history). It is, however, slightly more tolerant on some issues than its historical counterpart. For example, women can hold positions of power in the government (one of the characters is a general in her household), and it seems like same sex relationships aren’t frowned upon. 

I loved Shin and his sidekicks that he seems to accumulate with ease by turning criminals into allies and by knowing exactly how to get the best use of someone by allowing them the dignity of being themselves. Shin is smart, very curious, and with a mind honed to solve complex puzzles. He is definitely wasted as a mere representative of the Merchant Guild. He is also pretty fearless, which gets him in trouble more often than not, to the consternation of his bodyguard. I loved her too. She is Shin’s exact opposite – impatient, a stickler for rules, and straightforward and unbending. Where Shin can be deceitful with words and actions to get results, she prefers to have her katana speak for her. Amazingly enough, they work pretty well together. 

The main intrigue is also pretty interesting. Is Mosu an imposter or not? And if he is, why is everyone happy to pretend that he is not and proceed with the wedding like nothing happened? The more Shin digs into this sordid affair, the bigger a conspiracy he discovers. From what I can see, it even ties to some of the events that happened in previous books. Somebody is working to bring the demise of the Lyon Clan. Surreptitiously and from the shadows, using others to weaken their enemy. And that particular storyline isn’t resolved by the end of the book either. I will definitely pick up the next book in the series, because now I am invested. I want to know who the mastermind behind all this is. 

I will also definitely pick up the previous three books about Daidoji Shin, because he is such a likeable character, and I want to know what other mysteries he solved and how he came to have some of the servants he has at his service, like the smuggler Lun. And now I am also interested in checking out other novels set in the Legend of the Five Rings universe, because that world is fascinating. 

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

PPS: Also, that book cover is amazing.

A Pale Box on a Distant Shore (Red Kingdom 0.5) by P. J. Nwosu

Stars: 4.5 out of 5.

This is a fascinating book. It almost reads like a cross between a poem and a fevered dream, but in a good way. Rarely have I been so entranced by the world depicted in a book.

There are character driven books, there are story driven books, there are books that incorporate a bit of both. Then there are books that try to introduce us to a new world or concept more than they care about characters. I am not saying that this book is the later, because there is a solid detective story here, and the characters are engaging enough. But to me, the description of the world in which those characters live is the most important part here.

And that description is so well done! It permeates every page, weaving organically into the story, so that it never appears tedious. It creates an image of a fascinating world of arctic winds and white snow, of gray seas and red bones, of big white motes fluttering against buildings darkened by soot and landing on burning corpses. A world growing on the ruins of an older civilization, where a night can turn hollow, and an inverted moon would rise, and dead giants will stalk the shallow waters off shore. This is a harsh and unforgiving world, but it’s also very beautiful, in a cruel kind of way.

There are so many fascinating little details about the different religions and superstitions, about how different castes of people are living on Death City Island. The bone miners who wear red copper masks and white furs of a long dead animal, and risk their lives to mine the red bones of a giant who died off shore of the Death City. The merchant caste that wears silver masks and drapes themselves in layers of embroidered silks…

I liked Soldier Honnan Skyin and his relentless pursuit of a babe killer. Even when everyone told him to let it go. Even when a deadly epidemic was sweeping the island, killing thousands. Even when they ran out of pale boxes to burn the death at sea and had to resort to communal pyres in the middle of dead villages, Honnan still followed the clues he could find and stubbornly investigated this murder. And I’m really glad he did, because he brought to justice a monster worse than the black lung. 

All in all, this is a successful introduction to a brand new world. Now I definitely want to read the first book in the Red Kingdom series. Because while this book is still part of that universe, Death City Island is at the very outskirt of the Red Kingdom, so the customs and traditions are slightly different and watered down. Some of the details Honnan mentions about mainland are rather intriguing.

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

The Lesser Dead by Christopher Buehlman

Stars: 4.5 out of 5

This is how vampires should be written about! If you like your Twilight type of glamourous vampires who glitter in sunlight, this book is definitely not for you. The vampires Joey describes here are monsters. They are cruel, they are hideous (unless they put the glamor on), and they have very questionable morals. They are also “alive” and interesting.

The author also accomplished a seemingly impossible feat – he showed us all the horrors that these vampires inflict upon unsuspecting humans… then made me care about the monsters. Because we get to know them. We get to know their stories and their interactions. Because they don’t usually “peel” the people they prey upon. Granted, it’s not because of some high moral imperative not to kill, but purely because of sense of self-preservation. Kill enough people, the authorities will notice and come investigate. They your underground home is crawling with cops and there is an angry mob topside ready to kill you with pitchforks and burn you. Not to mention that sunshine is deadly to these vampires.

Plus, the children are truly horrifying. I mean even in the beginning, when we don’t know anything about them, there is something profoundly unsettling about these little vampires. Something that makes your skin crawl. Kudos to the author for instilling this subtitle feeling of wrongness and slowly cranking up the intensity. I was truly horrified by the end of this book, especially considering the ending.

Also, this book is dark and unapologetic. Nothing is sugarcoated here. So if you are squeamish, you might want to skip some of the descriptions. When I said that these vampires were monsters, I wasn’t exaggerating. Theirs is a cruel world where the strong survive because they are willing to be ruthless and eliminate the competition, but also where a monster can find a broken family they can count on. That’s why the final betrayal in this book hurts so much, because Margaret’s group were family, as dysfunctional as that family was, and seeing their fate was heartbreaking. 

I am not usually into vampires, but I loved this book. I think I might checkout other book by this author, because I liked his “voice” and his style.

Gutter Mage by J.S. Kelley

 Stars: 4.5 out of 5

This was such a nice surprise of a book! It reads like urban fantasy… in a fantasy world instead of a slightly reimagined modern world. Since I love the urban fantasy vibe, this worked well for me. 

In order for me to enjoy a book, I need to either be swept away by the story, or fall in love (or hate) with the characters. Some rare gems manage to give me both, but I don’t particularly count on it when I start a book. As long as either one of those is present, I am along for the ride. Well, I’m happy to say that I got both with Gutter Mage. 

The worldbuilding is complex and expertly done. We are introduced to the world gradually, without unnecessary infodumps, but I never felt lost. The author gave me just enough information to understand what has happening and dolled out further revelations in measured doses. Which kept me interested and invested in the story. 

And the characters, oh the characters! I love Roz with all her flaws and jagged edges. I love how real she feels. She’d been through a very traumatic event and the damage it had done to her both physically and psychologically is still there. It defines a lot of her reactions and interactions with others. But Roz never uses it as an excuse for her shitty behavior, and that’s what I like about it. She doesn’t play the victim. She knows she is broken in many ways, but she is resolved to not let the past defeat her. 

The trauma of what she’d gone through prevents her from forming normal trusting relationships with others, because as soon as someone gets too close to her, she panics and does everything to push them away. So her relationship with Nye is even more important to her – he is her only friend. The person she trusts with everything. Implicitly and without question. So what happens later in the book is a punch in the gut for both Roz and the reader. 

I also loved the secondary characters who both helped and hindered Roz in her quest. I didn’t, however, love the main villain. He suffered from the biggest flaw of the villain world, in my opinion – he loved to monologue too much. Also, his motives for doing what he was doing weren’t entirely clear. Yes, he wanted to show the world that enslaving spirits was wrong, but what was the end game for him? He didn’t sound like someone ready to give up his unlife for an ideology without some kind of personal gain.

That quip aside, I really loved this book. It was an excellent introduction to this new world and characters. I really hope that more books will follow, because while the main story ark is resolved in this book, the ending leave a lot of questions and loose ends to be developed in future books. 

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

To Blackfyre Keep (The Seven Swords 4) by Anthony Ryan

Stars: 4.5 out of 5

I like this book a lot more than the previous 3, maybe because the storyline was pretty straightforward, but also because our (un)merry band of curse sword bearers got a lot more character development here. I admit that I hadn’t been particularly impressed when I had picked up the first book in the series, but this is getting better and better with each installment. 

The world is what fascinates me the most here. It’s complex and layered, with countries and regions that have a very distinct feeling. I enjoyed exploring them in each consecutive book. And the purpose of the seven cursed swords is more and more intriguing. 

I also liked how Guiome is evolving from book to book. He starts to care about people who journey with him and not just his quest anymore. He also got a dose of humility in this book when he discovered just how much he actually came to rely on the power of his cursed sword over the years. Curse as he may their arrangement, without the magic of the sword to keep him alive, he is just a man. Still strong and formidable, but ultimately killable. 

I am also very sad for Seeker if what is hinted about her daughter is true. It would destroy her if she finally catches up to her child only to discover that she is just a shell inhabited by a demon. Having to kill that demon would probably shred her soul as well.

I’m also happy we learned a bit about why the druid decided to join our band of adventurers. And he was a lot less annoying (and a lot more helpful) in this story.

And of course the addition of a new traveling companion, the Cursed Knight. I can’t wait to see how that plays out in the next book.

Yes, I am loving this series better and better with each book and I can’t wait to pick up the next one once it comes out.

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