Tag Archives: 4 stars

The Paradox Hotel by Rob Hart

 Stars: 4 out of 5.

I don’t read a lot of time travel stories. Usually because the science of it makes my head hurt, or because the complete lack of scientific backing or inner logic makes my brain hurt. Plus, I usually can’t get over the time paradox that a lot of these stories create. Like, if the character went into the past to save his sister/lover/parent, wouldn’t that person be alive in the new present, thus negating their need to go into the past and change things? Brain explodes.

But I’m happy to announce that we don’t have as many time traveling shenanigans here, so I could enjoy this book without giving myself a migraine. We have more of a case of people existing outside of time, or being Unstuck. And that’s a wonderfully interesting concept that I haven’t see in books before. I liked the narrative possibilities it opened. Being Unstuck is not a boon. In fact, most people who reach the third stage of being Unstuck fall into a coma, their mind lost in time, disconnected from their body and the “present”. This adds an additional danger to the already dangerous situation our protagonist finds herself in.

Speaking of protagonists. January is a hard cookie to crack. She is far from being a nice person. She is abrasive and rude to everyone around her. She lashes out at everyone who tries to help her out or even try to be nice at her. She is like a wounded dog that bites the hand that tries to pet him. It’s hard to empathize with such an abrasive character… and it’s a real feat that the author actually makes you empathize with her in the end. 

January is a major b to everyone around her and so clearly miserable with her job, with the hotel, with her life in general, to the point that nobody understands why she stays there. She has enough years on the job to retire comfortably. In fact, retiring and getting away from the time port is the best thing she can do, since being so close to it slowly worsens her condition. So why does she stay? By slowly uncovering her reasons for staying, the author explains why she is so abrasive to everyone. And makes the reader care for her in the process.

It also helps that she genuinely cares about the hotel and the people who work there, even if she doesn’t know how to show her affection to them. So she fights tooth and nail to keep them safe. To neutralize the threat she uncovers. And she grieves for those she is unable to save. January is flawed, even broken, but she isn’t a bad person.

And the other characters are just as interesting and eclectic. I really enjoyed getting to know them. They felt real. I would have loved to discover more of their backstories. What brought them to Paradox Hotel? Why are they staying? It’s not like they are treated well or that the pay is exceptional… yet all of them stay. It says a lot about the author’s mastery of their world that each supporting character could have been the protagonist of their own story, and I would have been there for the ride.

My only complaint is the villains’ motivation. I’m still not sure what the end game was here, for either of those people. They already went back in time and made one of them filthy rich. What else did they want to accomplish? What’s the ultimate end goal? Since that’s never really explained, it lessens the impact of the book, in my opinion. 

But that’s a small gripe. I loved this story a lot more than I expected, and I’m not a fan of time travel stories. So for those who love them, this is a must read!

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

Ion Curtain by Anya Ow

 Stars: 4 out of 5.

This was a surprise hit for me. I went into this book not expecting much of anything and just hoping that it would be a fun enough to compensate for a disastrous post-apocalyptic read I had DNFed before starting this. I’m glad that I tried it. It was fun, it was fast-paced, and it had surprisingly a lot of heart.

I loved the characters. Be it Kalina or Solitaire or our stoic Russian Captain. They are surprisingly very real and “alive” in their interactions and inner thoughts. I laughed out loud a few times and rooted for them and was shocked and sad about the demise of some of the characters. It’s a sign of good writing when the reader ends up grieving the death of minor characters along with the protagonists. 

The worldbuilding was also pretty impressive and different than the usual scifi fare. In most scifi books written in the Western World, The space-faring galactic humanity is distinctly ango-saxon. If minorities are mentioned, it’s glossed over or considered that they assimilated into the bigger anglo-saxon culture. It was a breath of fresh air to see something different here. Human colonies are divided between a militaristic Federation that originated from the Russian expansion into the stars and the UN who is an amalgamation of other races but with a strong Chinese base and influence. This results in mentalities, languages and behaviors that are different from the usual. 

I absolutely loved that! We need more diverse voices in science fiction. It’s absurd to think that American culture will still dominate humanity hundreds of years from now. I loved Firefly for that exact reason – they accounted for the melting pot of cultures that will expand into the galaxy, and not all of them spoke English. 

It is also interesting to read a book about AIs and the dangers that come with achieving singularity. Though there could be discussion here whether the ships really are AIs – after all, they are brain scans of real people, so they behave like those people. Either way, the prospect is rather terrifying. And AI is be definition faster and more intelligent than a normal human. What happens if it decides that humanity is no longer relevant? What can humans do against a super computer that is self-aware and incontrollable? 

I think the author did an excellent job showing us just how ruthless and alien that kind of enemy can be. The destruction of New Tesla was horrifying because of how unnecessary it was. The AI destroyed an entire colony to get at one little ship. How do you negotiate with that kind of enemy?

I have one complaint about this book though. The story isn’t finished. Nothing is resolved. In fact, one might argue that the real story is barely starting. This made me feel rather unsatisfied when I finished the book. I was hoping for a little more resolution so to say. And I don’t mind waiting for the next book in the series, but so far no other books have been announced. I really hope we get a continuation (and conclusion) of this story eventually. 

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

Revelation Space (Revelation Space 1) by Alastair Reynolds

Stars: 4 out of 5

I love when I discover a new space opera series that I haven’t read before, and there are several books already written. This means that if I like the series, I can binge it at my heart’s content. I’m happy to say that Revelation Space is another binge-worthy contender. 

The author created a very complex and fascinating world with several characters that have different motivations and come from extremely different backgrounds. We are also presented with a complex interweaving story that eventually brings all of those characters to one place and time.

This is an interesting take on space exploration and the age of our universe. Unlike a lot of other science fiction franchises, like Star Trek for example, who are teaming with sentient alien species and stories of first contact and collaboration, human in the world of Revelation Space seem to be almost alone in the galaxy. Sure, they have encountered a couple other sentient races like the Shrouders or the Pattern Jugglers, but they are so alien that any hope of communication and understanding is short lived. But they found ruins, and plenty of them, on multiple planets. It’s almost like the galaxy used to be a crowded place teeming with intelligent life… that died out long before humanity made it to the stars. It’s like humans were too late for the party and found only the remnants of the buffet.

What happened? Why did all those civilizations disappear? Will the same fate befall humanity as well? The quest for the answers to those questions is what is at the heart of this story.

As I had mentioned before, we have a diverse group of characters in this story as well. And while I didn’t like all of them, I must admit that they were all interesting and well-done. They had distinct personalities and motivations. More importantly, there was always a reason behind their actions, even if that reason wasn’t immediately apparent. I love characters who behave and act in accordance with how they are established, because that makes them believable. 

Again, that doesn’t mean I liked all of them. Sylveste was a particularly self-absorbed condescending prick. I really can’t fathom what Pascale saw in him. Granted, he sort of redeemed himself in the end, but you could argue that he had to do it to prevent an extinction event that wouldn’t have happened hadn’t he been so pigheaded and single-minded in his obsession.

My only complaint is that the author overuses dialogue (or should I say monologue?) to infodump the reader on different events and concepts. It works the first or even the second time, but it gets rather old after a while. I also noticed that the characters constantly summarize previous events for other characters, even though the reader just witnessed them a few chapters ago. I mean sure, this book is 500 some pages long, but give the reader some credit, we haven’t forgotten what happened 100 pages ago.

The world itself is complex and fascinating, and this book only scratched the surface of it. I can’t wait to dive into the next books and uncover other pieces of the puzzle.

Hunting Season (Twenty-Sided Sorceress 4) Annie Bellet

Stars: 4 out of 5

This series continues to impress. The books are short, but the author does a great job of telling the story and managing some pretty solid character development in the space of around 180-200 pages.

As I had mentioned in my previous reviews, the biggest draw for me is the cast of characters. Too often in urban fantasy our female protagonist is a solitary figure who has no family and next to no friends, especially female. Not so with Jade. I love found family stories and this book has that in spades. Jade has a best friend (who is female, which is a rare species in urban fantasy), and she has other friends ready to help and defend her. And she is more than ready to protect them from harm. 

I love the dynamic in this group of friends. They are all different and powerful in their own ways, and they respect each other enough to trust each other to do their job. Yes, Jade worries about her friends and her boyfriend, but she doesn’t try to be a noble idiot and run off to face danger on her own in order to “protect” them. She includes them in her plans instead and trust them to do their part, even if that puts them in danger. That’s how real teams work, and that’s why I love this series so much.

The story itself moves at a pretty good clip as well and we discover some new information about some old characters and are introduced to some new ones. Unicorns, anyone? And the whole Jade vs the local witch coven standoff was rather hilarious. 

My only complaint here is that this “waiting on big bad Samir to come get us” story is getting a bit old. I know that the series is 10 books long, but I hope that we will not live in anticipation until book 10, because you can delay the confrontation only so long before the reader’s interest flags. I know I’m already getting irritated with the constant implied treat of violence that never comes and we are only on book 4. I will, however, trust the author, because she hasn’t disappointed me so far, so I’m sure she has a good plan for this series.

PS: This book also gets additional points for a great rendition of the “kamehameha” attack. The nerd in me was absolutely delighted.

Light Chaser by Peter F Hamilton

 Stars: 4 out of 5.

This is a dystopian novel, even if it takes the reader a while to recognize that. After all, we have a modern spaceship piloted by an AI and a crew member who is tasked with visiting a umber of worlds populated by humans. She trades trinkets and harmless technologies or medicines in exchange for memory bracelets that certain inhabitants of these worlds wear throughout generations. Since her ship travels at speeds as close to light as possible, Her trip between planets might take 5 years, but for those planets, over a thousand years pass between visits.

That’s where the dystopia comes into play. Because even though Amahle visits these planets every thousand years or so, nothing changes on them. The medieval planet is forever stuck in those dark middle ages. The industrial and steam revolution planet doesn’t advance past those innovations. Even the most evolved planet at the end of her loop, where she unloads her stock of memory bracelets, hasn’t made any significant breakthroughs in millions of years. Everything stays forever the same. More than that, there is no interstellar travel in this human-populated space, apart from those Light Chaser ships.

When Amahle finally discovers the reason why, at first she refuses to believe it, then she is terrified, then she decides to do something about it. 

I thought this was an interesting take on slavery. Because make no mistake, the entire human race is enslaved by an unknown alien race. Just because humans have no idea that it is happening doesn’t make the fact any less appalling.  It was also an interesting study on the nature of our memories – what is real, can our memories be manipulated, can erased memories be recovered? And of course, it’s also a study of trust, love, and the feeling of safety. And also about hope and ingenuity.

It’s a quick read and I thoroughly enjoyed it, even though I questioned the author’s decision to start the book with the ending, then rewind the story to show us how the characters got to that point, I think it took away from the suspense of the story – we already know that the characters will succeed and survive until that final confrontation, so there is no tension when they are put in danger in the rest of the book. 

I think telling the events in the normal chronological way would have added a lot more tension to the story, since we would have had to discover everything along with Amahle, without knowing where the story was going. We would have been a lot more invested in the discovery and the struggle itself, and the ending would have been a lot more satisfying. 

Anyway, if you want a fun book about space travel, love, and reincarnation, I would highly recommend this one. Plus it’s only 172 pages long, so it’s a fast read for a rainy afternoon.

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

City of Songs (The Seven Swords 3) by Anthony Ryan

Stars: 4 out of 5

This book is the best in the series so far. I think it’s because we got the exposition and character background out of the way in the first two books, so the author is free to just tell his story. And it is a compelling story, no doubt about that.

I think what I like the most about this series the fascinating and complex world our characters inhabit. It feels complex and interesting. There are hints at deeper events and history there that the reader has yet to discover. It feels real. It feels like something I wouldn’t mind exploring further. I think this is the reason I keep coming back to these books. The characters are okay, but I don’t feel a deep connection to them. But they places they travel to are unique and worth exploring.

On a different note, this is the third city our characters destroyed so far… that’s an alarming trend, I would say. Yes, this time they weren’t directly responsible for the mass murder and mayhem, but they were still there and maybe served as a catalyst for the events. I’m a little afraid that by the time they finally collect all seven swords, there will be nothing left of the world to save.

I admit that I like the companions Pilgrim is assembling around himself, though I would still love Seeker to have a more layered role than the hunter with arrows that kills bad things. Heck, even the new member to join the team at the end of this book is more complex than her. I think that does a disservice to the story, because we are supposed to care about her search for her daughter, but we simply… don’t. I just hope that the author will give her a chance to shine in the next book.

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

One Day All of This Will Be Yours by Adrian Tchaikovski

Stars: 4 out of 5.

This was a delightful little novella and a very nice introduction to the author, as far as first impressions go.

The story itself is quite an interesting take on time travel that I haven’t seen explored before, even though there is a certain logic to it. If someone was sent back in time to change the past, the present they come back to wouldn’t be like the one they left. And if they are sent again to change it back because say another faction changed something in the past to suit their agenda… well, there is no guarantee that the change they make will bring back the same present they were born in. 

So what you have left with in the aftermath of a time war is a bunch of time agents trying to fulfill the agenda of governments that don’t exist anymore, or have never existed, depending on the twists the time war took along the way. That just keep changing things and fighting each other through time because they have no present to come back to. In some cases, they never even existed in the new present, because their parents never met or they died when they were a child.

This is meaningless slaughter both of people and of the time continuum until one time agent realizes that time is already so irrevocably broken that fighting over it doesn’t make sense anymore. His solution? Eliminate all the other time agents, then eliminate anyone who might ever invent a time travel machine. Anywhere. Anywhen. It’s brutal, it’s ruthless, and it’s very in character with our protagonist.

He isn’t a nice person. I would go as far as call him a psychopath, but anyone who’d fought in a time war for endless iterations of said time would have to be. He sits in the bottleneck between the broken remains of the time that was before and doesn’t let anyone with time travel technology get past him into what will become after. And he is perfectly happy to enjoy his little paradise of now in solitude. Until a time traveler comes from that after and claims that he created their whole civilization…

It was a fun read, even though all the characters in it were equally awful. Like I already said, the protagonist is a killer with absolutely no remorse or scruples, and the people he is fighting against are coming from a society that is just as awful, so as a reader I couldn’t really root for either of them. They both deserved to be erased out of time for different reasons. Heck, the only character I was rooting for was the dinosaur, but that’s because how cool would it be to have a pet dinosaur?

But even thought the characters are awful, it’s a fun romp through the broken shards of time watching them heap horrible things on each other. The ending was not what I had expected, but I admit that it has a certain poetic justice to it. It also leaves the door open for a sequel.

All in all, this was an enjoyable read that kept my attention for an afternoon and I wouldn’t mind revisiting this if the author ever writes a sequel.

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

Foundryside (The Founders 1) By Robert Jackson BEnnett

Stars: 4 out of 5

Robert Jackson Bennett is a Creator of Worlds, and yes, the capital letters are fully intended here. Every time his new book comes out, I am amazed at this man’s imagination. His Divine Cities trilogy is in the top 10 of my most favorite series ever. That worldbuilding was absolutely top notch and like nothing I had ever read before. And he delivers again with Foundryside.

Imagine a world where certain words inscribed into inanimate objects can give the truly magical characteristics? A few glyphs put on a carriage wheels can persuade that wheel that it is going downhill, even if it’s on a flat surface, so the wheel will roll forward even if in reality it goes uphill. What you get is a self-propelling carriage that doesn’t need horses or engines. Imagine the implications for such a technology? Imagine how rich and powerful the Merchant Houses who control this art have become? No wonder they guard their glyphs and techniques with murderous jealousy.

Now imagine a person who, through a horrible and inhumane experiment, can interact with these scribed objects and sometimes use them in ways not intended by their creators. That would make Sancia a very good thief indeed… Until she is commissioned to steal an object from a heavily guarded warehouse. Now all the merchant houses want her dead, and everyone wants the artifact in her possession. All Sancia wants is to stay alive.

I loved everything about this story – the worldbuilding,  the characters, the tension and the seemingly overwhelming odds our protagonists face. I also liked that ultimately this is a story of transformation. Yes, objects are transformed by the art of scrivening, but more importantly, human beings are transformed by the circumstances and encounters they make during that book. Sancia is the best example of it. She starts the story as a loner who doesn’t trust anyone and struggles with her ability, considering it more of a curse than anything else. She comes to the end of this book as an almost different person – she has found friends and has mastered her ability, but she has also found a purpose. And a group of misfits was transformed into a found family as well. But not all the transformations are good ones, unfortunately, because one good man was transformed into a mindless monster, though I think there is still hope for him and he will come back in future books.

The reason why I gave this book 4 instead of 5 stars is because the protagonists seem less mature than in the author’s other series, even though the book isn’t categorized as YA, so that was a little off-putting for me, but that’s only my preference, since I’m not much into young adult books. Hopefully, Sancia will do more maturing in the next books of the series because I definitely want to check them out.

If you like great worldbuilding, like I do. If you like fast paced stories with twists and turns and wonderfully flawed characters, you should definitely check out this book.

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

Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells (Murderbot diaries 6)

 Stars: 4 out of 5

I am always excited about a new Murderbot novella or novel (though we only have one of those in the series so far, book 5, and what an excellent book that was!) because Murderbot is my favorite misanthropic paranoid SecUnit with a prickly personality and a heart of gold. It is hilarious to hear it tell itself how he doesn’t like people and how they annoy it, and how they make its life difficult… while doing everything in its power to protect those same people. 

It’s also very telling that he cares deeply for those who it considers his friends (like the members of the expedition who first discovered that it is a person, not just a piece of equipment), but he also can’t help but get invested in the wellbeing of complete strangers. This is abundantly clear in this story especially, when it discovers that there is human trafficking of sorts going on through the station and that a batch of refugees had gone missing. You would think that it would just shrug and leave the case to Station Security, since it doesn’t have anything to do with protecting his employer, but you would be wrong. SecUnit can’t help himself – though it would never admit it even to itself, it cares about what happens to people, especially if it sees something that goes against its moral compass. 

I also like how it starts to grudgingly admire the society on on this station, even though it keeps calling it too naïve and unrealistic. Despite that, I’m pretty sure that SecUnit would do everything in its power to protect the station, if needed.

It’s also rather sad to see that SecUnit automatically assumes the worst in people he isn’t familiar with, especially when it comes to their attitude to it. And it is notoriously bad at reading people’s emotions, thus misinterpreting their reactions half the time. Seriously, I think most of the station has a grudging respect for it now, even if it doesn’t realize that. Certainly, by the end of this book, most members of Station Security treat it with respect and even a certain comradery.

This is definitely a must read, especially if you love Murderbot like I do and enjoy following its sarcastic inner monologue. I would suggest that you read this book before you pick up book 5, even though this is listed as book 6. The reason for this is that chronologically speaking, the events in this book happen a couple months after the end of book 4, while Murderbot was still settling into the life on the station, so its attitude towards certain people is different than in book 5. If you are unaware of that, reading this book after book 5 might be rather confusing, as in “I thought they were already grudging allies, so why is it reacting like this person is an enemy” confusing. Besides, I think some of the events from this book are mentioned in passing in book 5 (like the episode with the corporate assassins).

Anyway, go pick up this story and spend a pleasant evening with everybody’s favorite sarcastic, drama-binging SecUnit.

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

The CAse of the Dragon-Bone Engine by Galadriel Coffeen

Stars: 4 out of 5

This was a very interesting and “light” read. And by light I don’t mean a dumbed down storyline, but the fact that this story was surprisingly devoid of angst and dark themes that seem to permeate most of modern books. Oh we have a few murders here and a rather gruesome accident, but despite that the story is refreshingly devoid of extra angst.

I must admit that I am intrigued by the world the author introduced. It’s slightly steampunky/Victorian maybe? And what glimpses we get of the worldbuilding only raise more questions. What are these dragon hives? Why are they only found on this mysterious continent? Speaking of that continent, how far North is it located that the sun barely rises for half a year? And if it’s that far North, why isn’t the weather colder than described? I understand that this is the first book in a new series, so I think the author did a good job giving us a glimpse into the world without huge infodumps, but dang, I want more answers! Which is one reason why I will most certainly pick up the next book in the series when it comes out.

I also really liked our protagonist. Unlike some typical female heroines in urban fantasy, she is refreshingly mature and no-nonsense. She has a brain and she doesn’t hesitate to use it. She is educated and she has manners. If anything, she seems way more mature than her age, but I am not complaining.

I also liked that we don’t really have a romantic line woven into the story per se. Yes, she likes her partner, and he seems to like her, but we are spared the teenage hormones and angst that are so common to these types of books. Again, really refreshing. These two people are good partners who trust and respect each other first and foremost. The romance feels an organic development of the relationship they had built before then. I certainly am looking forward to see how it will evolve in future books.

The author also did a great job setting up the stage for the next books. While the main mystery of this book is resolved in the end, and the reader has the satisfaction of discovering who sabotaged the dragon-bone engine and why, bigger mysteries are just hinted at. Honestly, I really want to know who would have wanted to kill our protagonist’s father and why. Did it have anything to do with his research into the origins of magic? And if so, what did he discover that had him killed?

Anyway, I am definitely putting this series and this author on my To Be Watched list.

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