Tag Archives: 4 stars

Dream of Death City (Red Kingdom 1) by P.J. Nwosu

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Stars: 4 out of 5

The Red Kingdom is a fascinating world. It’s dark, brutal, and unforgiving. The caste system is rigid and hopeless, to tell you the truth, and life is hard for anyone who is not a Sun Noble. Resources are scarce, violence is rampant, people are burned at the pyre for the smallest of transgressions, and if you managed to survive that, the black lung will take you to your grave in the end. It should be dark and depressing, right? And it is dark, but it’s strangely beautiful as well. 

You can see that a lot of love went into creating this world. I already had a glimpse of it in A Pale Box on a Distant Shore where we met some of the characters that Thora and Diem encounter in Death City. This book shows us a bigger glimpse of the Red Kingdom and the capital City of Pillars, but you can see that the Frontier and Death city is a favorite of the author’s.

And I can’t complain about it. It’s a wonderfully grotesque city and island where the harsh nature and living conditions, as well as the remoteness from the rest of the Kingdom and its rigid Red Doctrine have created a unique culture seeped in superstition and “low ways”. And it’s hard to blame the citizens of Death City when they have a corpse of a god lying in the waves just offshore, and dead giants walk the sea on hollow moon nights…

I liked the mystery our characters came to unravel as well. What seemed at first glance as a simple kidnaping of a Sun Noble’s daughter led them to uncovering a whole human trafficking ring. And transformed everyone involved in fundamental ways. Nobody left Death City the same as they arrived into it, though some didn’t leave at all.

So why did I give this book 4 stars instead of 5? That’s because I didn’t particularly like Thora, who is one of our main characters. Oh, I understand her motivation and her desire to be more than mere Dust, to prove herself to her masters and have a chance at doing more than scrubbing floors and cleaning bedsheets all her life. What I didn’t like is how selfish she is in her pursuit of that dream and how willing she is to sacrifice everything and everyone to achieve that goal.

Her accusing Diem of taking justice in his own hands and doing things an Investigator shouldn’t sounded very hypocritical when she is the one who planted evidence, obtained false eyewitness statements, and created a diversion that got a lot of people killed. Not to mentioned persuaded a colleague to go against direct orders and do something that she knew could put her in danger. And when it got that colleague killed, she raged at anyone BUT herself. Yes, she didn’t hold her head under the water or hung her from a tree branch afterwards, but Thora was the one who sent her to her death nevertheless. It’s that double standard Thora has towards everyone else that seems hypocritical to me. That self-righteousness when she is definitely in the wrong. 

But this is just a small gripe for what is an excellent book. I am definitely looking forward to reading more book about this world and seeing how things progress in the Red Kingdom and outside its borders.

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

Between Jobs (The City Between 1) by W.R. Gingell

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Stars: 4 out of 5.

This is the strangest book I’ve read in a long time. Oh, don’t get me wrong, it’s strange in a good way, and I absolutely loved it, but it is weird.

It starts in a slightly usual way for an urban fantasy, with an ordinary girl and three beautiful strangers that aren’t human… But wait, because the strangers are much more interesting than the usual urban fantasy fare, and the girl… well, I’m still not convinced she is entirely human. And together they form this weird dysfunctional family that is rather fascinating to read about.

The world itself is also pretty original. Not only does the action happen in Tasmania, instead of the usual USA / UK setting, but the supernatural elements are rather original. We have our real world, that the humans inhabit. then we have the Behind, where fae and other creatures originate from. And linking them together is the Between, a strange ever-changing place that is not really here, but also not really there, and where time, space and even shapes are malleable. Fae can travel the Between to go from our reality into the Behind and back again. Humans can’t, unless they are taken in by a fae, or slip accidentally into an opened passageway.  Most of those who end up Between don’t come back, or if they do, the experience drove them to madness. 

I really liked this book. I loved the story itself, but also everything else that was alluded to but never clearly explained, because it feels like there is a whole vast world to explore, and this book only scratched its surface. I also really loved Pet. This girl has no fear or sense of self-preservation, but her interactions with the three psychos are really fun to read about. I’m sure there is a bigger mystery about the murder of her parents and how she managed to survive hidden in that house for four year without anyone even being aware of her existence. I hope this will be explained in later books, and I will happily be there for the ride. 

I should also mention that these books are fairly short, so it’s a quick sweet read between heftier books just for a change of tone and pace.

Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz by Garth Nix

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Stars: 4 out of 5.

I am not usually a fan of collections of short stories about the same characters. I feel like the format doesn’t give the author enough time to develop the characters and tell a compelling story at the same time, especially if the stories aren’t in chronological order or were written for different magazines and published at different times. And this compilation suffers from the same drawbacks, but the characters are compelling enough that I derived some genuine enjoyment following them around.

Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz make an odd pair, to say the least. One is a human knight, skilled with firearms and swords, also a dandy and a bit of a womanizer. The other one is… a living puppet with a singular mission of exterminating rogue godlets who intend to cause harm to the world.  It’s also implied that Mister Fitz is a lot older that anyone knows and suspects, older even than the order of Witches from which Sir Hereward originated. Add to that the fact that he used to be Hereward’s nanny when he was a little boy, and their relationship is interesting, to say the least. 

Sir Hereward himself is a bit harder to read, probably because we don’t get to explore his needs and wants as much in these stories. We know that he is the forbidden child to an order of Witches that are supposed to only sire female (Dune anyone?), but since his mother was part of the ruling council, he was allowed to live, and even train with other witches, but then exiled forever to go and hunt down rogue godlets in the world away from the witch stronghold. But we never really explore what Hereward himself wants in life, or how he feels about being a perpetual nomad, not able to put roots anywhere, traveling from one battle to another with only a living puppet for company. I would have loved to have this aspect explored more in the stories I read.

The world these two characters inhabit is also really interesting. It’s full of magic and different deities, called godlets. Some are powerful, some less so. Some are benevolent or simply harmless, while others either intentionally cause harm or are just so incompatible with the world they invaded that they slowly destroy everything around them. I loved the fact that Hereward and Fitz aren’t heartless killers who eliminate any godlet they are pointed at. They always assess the situation and do what’s right, even disobeying direct orders sometimes, when those orders are unjust. 

I would love to read more stories about these characters, even maybe a novella or a full blown novel where we can explore their inner workings a bit more and dive deeper into this world.

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

The Anomaly (The Anomaly Files 1) by Michael Rutger

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Stars: 4 out of 5.

This was an entertaining story with very likeable characters. Wasn’t particularly scary, but I had a good time following our unfortunate crew, even if they didn’t have a good time at all.

This starts like one of those lost tape movies (kind of like Blair Witch Project) about a group of amateur mystery hunters filming a YouTube documentary about the Kincaid Cavern in the Grand Canyon. The location of this cavern is unknown, and even its existence has never been properly acknowledged. Plus, our crew has a bad track record when it comes to actually finding things. As in, they never do. But lo and behold, they find the cave this time, though by the end of this adventure, they will all be wishing that they never did.

As I mentioned before, this wasn’t particularly scary for me, though some situations the characters found themselves in were particularly uncomfortable. Stuck in a cave with no light? Having to negotiate a narrow passage back to the others by feel alone and in pitch darkness? Yeah, even not being claustrophobic, that had an extra eek factor for me.

But the main strength of this book is in the relationship between the characters. You can feel that they are complex individuals with their own agendas and desires. You can also tell that they worked together for a long time and really know each other well. The banter, and good-natured insults they throw each other’s way, but then they are always ready to help and support each other when needed. I grew to know and love them for that, so I was invested in their well-being. I was worried about them, and I really wanted all of them to survive this ordeal and see the light of the sun again. 

The titbits of information and conspiracy theories that Nolan shares with the viewers of his future documentary are also very interesting. I love The Unexplained series on Netflix, so this was right up my alley. 

I must admit that the conspiracy plot in this book was a bit over the top. And the villains were a lot less rounded than the main characters. They were very one-note, in fact. I still don’t understand what their motivation was behind switching on the terraforming machine ahead of schedule. Did they think they would be spared by creatures that are programmed to wipe out all of humanity? On what grounds? What made them the chosen ones to be spared annihilation? Maybe we will find out in future books, since it is mentioned that the society that financed this expedition has their hands in a lot more projects one of which directly involves Nolan’s ex-wife, so I’m sure he won’t let this slide.

In any case, this was an enjoyable read, and I am definitely excited to pick up the next book in the series.

City of Ghosts (Cassidy Blake 1) by Victoria Schwab

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Stars: 4 out of 5.

This was a refreshingly good YA ghost story. And no romance of any kind in sight, so thank god. 

Can you imagine being a kid and being able to see ghosts? Not only see ghosts, but be able to cross the Veil into that strange in-between world where they reside? And also to be compelled to do that even when you don’t really want to? And not being able to talk about it to anyone, because even though your parents are famous ghost researchers, they don’t actually believe that ghosts exist. Kinda ironic, when their daughter knows for a fact that they do, and her best friend is one. 

I really loved our protagonist Cassidy. She is smart and capable, but also flawed and a typical teenager in some ways. But when she is faced with hard choices and horrible things, she does everything she can to make things right and to fight for her own freedom and her life. I also liked her relationship with Jacob and how they always have each other’s back. I’m glad that she has at least one friend that she can confide in, even though nobody else can see him. 

The story itself was sufficiently creepy and atmospheric. I lived for a year in Edinburgh, so I can attest that the author managed to capture the essence of the old city perfectly. Made me nostalgic in fact. Well, for the sights and ambiance of Edinburgh, not for the weather.  

I would have loved to have a little more interaction between Cass and the other girl who has the same gift. Their time together was very short, and I feel like they never got a chance to really talk. 

I am looking forward to picking up the next book in the series and discovering more about Cass’ gift and what it means to her relationship with Jacob. Oh, and visiting another haunted city.

The Book that Wouldn’t Burn (The Library Trilogy 1) by Mark Lawrence

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Stars: 4 out of 5.

Mark Lawrence delivers an epic story once again. I loved his book of the Ancestors series, but wasn’t impressed with his Prince of Thorns series. One thing for sure though, he knows how to build fascinating worlds and create memorable characters. 

Here, we follow two protagonists whose stories, at first glance, have nothing to do with each other, but who prove to be intertwined at the most intimate level. Evar has been trapped in the Library his whole life. All he’s ever knows are stone walls, mountains of books, his four siblings, and the mysterious Mechanism that allows whoever enters it with a book to live inside that book. But Evar can’t help but feel like he is missing something, or someone very important to him that the Mechanism made him forget.  Livira is a child of the desert and desolation who was brought into the Library after a disaster befell her home. Her situation there is precarious, but she is smart and tenacious, like the weed she is named after.

It was interesting to try and puzzle out how the two stories are connected. Or why Evar is trapped inside the library with no way of getting out. It was also rewarding to follow Livira’s journey of self-discovery. Despite all the odds stacked against her, she managed not only to stay in the Library, but also discover more of its secrets than anyone ever had. I liked the fact that the Library exists not only across different worlds, but also across all timelines. 

The main themes in this book also hit rather close to home – the intolerance, humanity’s tendency to divide people into “my tribe” and “the enemy”. The subjugation and hatred of anybody that is different. It was interesting to see how the Library could be used to bridge a gap between cultures and species, if only someone made the effort to do that. 

While I really liked this story, I thought the book dragged a bit in the middle. The action slowed. Things were happening to our protagonists, but there wasn’t a clear purpose to it. I got a bit bored. The ending though more than compensated for that. 

My bigger issue is that even though we are told that Livira’s situation is precarious, and there are several attempts on her life throughout the book, I never had a feeling that she really was in danger. Probably because the author uses the convenient time skip when things are about to come to a head, or she is about to face the consequences of her actions, and we only learn of what happened when it’s already been 3-4 or five years down the road. The book would have had more impact if we had seen Livira get hurt, or punished, or actually BE in danger before the end of the book, instead of just told about it after the fact. 

I would also have loved to learn more about the city beyond the Library, and the wider world in general, but I understand that this is only book 1 of a trilogy, and the whole series concentrates around the Library, so it’s normal that we spend most of our time there. 

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

The Getaway God (Sandman Slim 6) by Richard Kadrey

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Stars: 4 out of 5.

I had been disappointed with the previous book in the series. I had found it meandering, and all character progression Stark had been through in the series had been pretty much negated. So I was rather apprehensive to continue with this series and I took a long break. Fortunately, my friends on Goodreads had only good things to say about book 6, so I decided to give it another go. I’m glad I did.

This is Sandman Slim at its best. The stakes are high for the world, but are also deeply personal to our characters and Stark in particular. And those personal stories are usually the ones that I like the most, because they have the most heart to them. Yes, the world may end if Stark doesn’t save the day, but what is more important to him is that Candy isn’t acting like herself, and there is nothing he can do about that. 

Stark is still his usual impulsive self, but it’s nice to see him try and temper his destructive tendencies and think with his brain, not his fists for a change. He understands that this is not a problem he can simply pound into the ground until it stops moving. He needs to think outside the box and cooperate with other people if he wants to save the world and those he cares about. Ironically, his solution is actually inside a box, well, inside a room, but I won’t spoil any more of that.

I was happy to follow along with Stark as he tackles this latest problem and finds an acceptable solution, even if it leaves him with rather diminished abilities and the necessity to find a job. Now that will be interesting to see in the next books.

I admit that I wasn’t a fan of Mason’s return. He seems like this jack in the box character that keeps popping up at the most inconvenient times no matter how many times you defeat him. By book 6 that grew kind of old. I think the author milked everything he could out of that character, because he was starting to look like a over the top villain by this book. All crazy and moustache twirling and no substance beyond evilness. Hopefully, this is the last we see of him, and even that is one time too many, in my opinion.

All in all though, I really enjoyed this installment in the series. It was a fast-moving romp with surprisingly a lot of heart, which you wouldn’t really expect from Sandman Slim. I am in love with this series again and looking forward to the next book in the series. I want to see how this private detective gig will work out for our Nephilim. 

Long Past Dues (The Unorthodox Chronicles 2) by James J Butcher

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Stars: 4 out of 5.

I really liked the first book in the series, so I picked up the next installment with a lot of trepidation. Too many times I was left disappointed by the direction in which authors took their series after the opening book. I am glad to say that it is not the case with the Unorthodox Chronicles. This book delivers everything I liked in the first one and ramps it up a notch.

We begin our story about six months after the events of the last book, and Grimsby finally got his dream of becoming an Auditor. Only the job isn’t exactly what he had dreamed it to be, since he is stuck doing house calls and babysitting various Unorthodox whom the Department wants to keep an eye on. It’s boring and mind-numbing, and makes Grimsby wonder if his life in the fast food industry was any better.

One of the reasons he is stuck with rookie jobs is because Mayflower, his partner, hasn’t shown up for work in six months. And doesn’t plan on showing up any time soon… That is until Grimsby does something desperate and steals a case intended for another Auditor. A case that has a lot of similarities with one that Mayflower encountered over 20 years ago. A case that Mayflower thought was closed, since the main perpetrator had her brains blown out…

This was a roller-coaster  of a story. So many things happen, and the action keeps moving along. It was also a better plotted story than the first book, in my opinion. Even though there was a lot of action, all of it served to further the story and move it along, and we got some nice character development throughout as well.

I admit that Grimsby can be a little infuriating in his absolute lack of faith in himself. His self-esteem is lower than the location of Underton, and that place is buried deep under Boston. But even though I found his mopping around and self-doubt ratter irritating at times, I also understood where it was coming from. All his life he’d felt like he has less than everyone else. Because of his scars interfering with his magic, because of his inability to learn any other spells than the 3 he knows. And when Mansgraf kicked him out of the Auditor program, it only reinforced his belief that he was a failed witch and a failed human being. 

So I understand that he feels like he didn’t earn his badge so to say, that he is an impostor in ill-fitting clothes just playing at being an Auditor. I like that by the end of this book, he’d made peace with that idea, and decided that he will be the best Auditor he can be with the abilities he’s given. Granted, by then, he has bigger issues to deal with than his self-doubt, but it’s still a nice piece of character growth.

I loved that Grimsby stays true to his core believes – that violence, especially the terminal kind that Mayflower is so good at, is a last resort. Or that you should always try to do your best to help your friends. He demonstrates that over and over again when he helps Wudge, then does everything to save both Wudge and Mayflower from Mother Frost, or even when he rescues the familiar. Speaking of Mansgraf’s familiar, I wonder if it will have a role to play in future books? 

We learn a lot about Rayne in this book as well, and I’m sad that things happened the way they did. Because both her and Grimsby could have been the friend each of them needed, but that is probably not in the cards anymore. I would like to know what is that birthright she worked so hard to suppress all her life. I’m sure we will hear more of that in the next books.

As it stands, I am definitely eagerly awaiting book 3, even though it probably won’t come out until next year.

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

The Brimstone Deception (SPI Files 3) by Lisa Shearin

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Stars: 4 out of 5.

This series if finally finding its stride. The first book was lukewarm, and the second book was okay, but still lacked something, but this book really hit it out of the ballpark.

I think the biggest reason why this book worked for me so well is that the will they won’t day tension between Mac and Ian is finally resolved. I honestly like them a lot more as partners, friends, as well as brother-sister relationship. They work so much better as characters and as partners like that. Plus, that leaves Mac free to explore her relationship with Rake, however strange and undefined it is. As someone who abhors love triangles in my books, I am a much happier reader now.

As for the story, it picks up almost immediately after the events of the last book, so tensions are running high. They defeated the mad dragon, but someone else had orchestrated all of this, and that someone got away. And now a new drug is hitting the streets that indicates that somebody has a direct line to Hell. What can go wrong with that?

I love the progression of Mac’s character so far. She gained a lot of confidence in her abilities in the last two books, but she also gained a lot more confidence in herself and her place in the SPI. I like that she understands that she will never be a badass commando, that no matter how much she trains with Ian in hand to hand combat and shooting guns, she will loose a fight if she doesn’t fight smart. And the smartest thing she can do is back away and let Ian and other commandos fight the battles for her. Though I must admit that she really did hold her own when that squid demon tried to drag her into the portal to Hell. 

Mac is smart and has a good sense of humor, and it really shines now that she finally found her self-confidence. I love the commentary she has in her head about the events. She always tries to find a silver lining, even when horrible things happen around her, like finding a dozen demon hatchlings under her bed, who would have eater her alive if she hadn’t been careful.

Heck, I even like the slow circling Mac and Rake do around each other, with Mac not sure of Rake’s motives, and very aware of the reputation for deceit that goblins have. Despite that, I think they form a dynamic duo that is rather fun to watch.

I also love how the author throws hints about plotlines that will come to the forefront in consequent books. Like the mention of the ghoul that killed Ian’s partner. It seems to have been lurking in the background since book 1. I am definitely picking up the next book in the series, because I want to know what happens to our SPI agents.

Cast in Secret (Chronicles of Elantra 3) by Michelle Sagara

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Stars: 4 out of 5.

This is my favorite book of the series so far.

I like how in each new book, we uncover another side of this very complex world. It is hinted in the first book that Elantra is built on the ruins of previous civilizations. And the second book show us a little bit about what those were, as well as why the Barani have to have a strong presence in the city (hint: they are containing an even bigger evil).

I also like that Kaylin has to confront her own preconceptions in each consecutive book, which often changes her whole opinion about a situation, or in this case, an entire race of people. Last book it was the Barani, this time we learn more about the Thal’anni, a race of telepaths that Kaylin absolutely abhorred in the previous books because she only considered what they could do to her – break into her mind and discover her worst secrets. She never stopped to think the price they paid for that ability.

I loved this exploration of the origins of an entire race and the decisions that led to this particular race choosing to be peaceful, when they had the means and the ability to dominate this world (not to mention destroy it). In fact, they almost did just that once, a long time ago.

Kaylin had to confront the toll mind reading exerts from the Thal’anni, and realize that they don’t do it willingly at all. Those Thal’anni working for the Emperor are a tribute the race has to pay for being left in peace. And those tributes often come back damaged by the experiences they are forced to pry out of the minds of the people they interrogate. 

While Kaylin still irritates me most of the time, because she behaves like a teenager younger than the 17 years she is supposed to be in this book, I love her unwavering loyalty to children in need. Protecting children who can’t protect themselves is at the core of her being. It defines her ever since her little family in Nightshade. It’s the murder of those children that she couldn’t forgive Severn for, or herself. So her trying to care for the children in the Foundling Hall, or do everything in her power to save women in difficult labor is what defines her character. And you know what? I can stand behind that. And I can forgive a lot of her other quirks and stupid knee jerk decisions she makes because of that.

Especially since she get a little bit more character growth in this book. She learns that she was wrong hating a race of people because of a bad experience with one of them. And that experience wasn’t even that interrogator’s fault. She acknowledges her wrong and manages to grow past it. To see individual people where before she saw monsters. That’s a very mature step to take that not many adults are capable of even in our world.

As it stands, I want to learn more about this world. Every book gives me a little glimpse into it and keeps me hooked. I also want to learn more about the forces behind the marks on Kaylin’s arms and what it all means for the world of Elantra. Onward to book 4.