Tag Archives: 4 stars

Deep in the Hollow by Brandy Nacole.

Stars: 4 out of 5.

 

Apart from a few little gripes about the last part of the story, I really loved this book.

 

Jo is a typical teenager faced with very untypical circumstances. A year ago she witnessed the death of her boyfriend Bryce and the circumstances were less than ordinary. Something attacked them at the overlook and pushed Bryce over the stone wall and into the hollow. Problem is, nobody believes her. In fact, everyone in the little town seems to think that she killed her boyfriend. So Jo turned from the leader of the cheering squad and popular girl into the school pariah. Only Jo isn’t as crazy as everyone thinks, and monsters do exist. And this one isn’t done with her yet…

 

I loved Jo. She has a very distinct voice and is a very interesting and believable character. How do you deal with a tragedy like that when you are barely 18 and struggling with your life as it is? She has PTSD and survivor guilt, and recurring nightmares of the thing that attacked her and Bryce that fateful night. So much so that she’s almost persuaded herself that she is slowly going crazy.

 

And it doesn’t help that the police thinks she’s guilty, and that everyone in school think the same. Even her parents bailed and left town, abandoning her with her older brother. Her brother tries to help, but the big problem is that he doesn’t believe her when she says there’s a monster haunting her dreams and think that it’s all due to depression.

 

How do you cope with that and not break? How do you keep on living when everyone around you would rather wish you slunk away and quietly died somewhere out of sight? Even adults would crack under that pressure. So I really admire Jo for hanging on in there and for finding the courage to do what’s right when the truth comes to light.

 

All these trials have made her cynical, with a rather gloomy outlook at life, but she still possesses a wry sense of humor that gives us a glimpse of the firecracker she used to be before tragedy ripped her life apart.

 

The story itself is suspenseful and interesting as well. I love the way it deals with difficult themes like loss and grief and the need to move on (and the guilt that arises when you are starting to move on). I liked how the author managed to show the stifling atmosphere of a little town where everybody knows everybody and rumors spread at the speed of sound. And where deep dark secrets are kept from generation to generation.

 

SPOILER!!!! READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!!!

 

 

 

 

 

The gripe I had mentioned earlier has to do with the coven that comes into the limelight in the last part of the book. First, it felt like it popped into existence almost out of nowhere. Second, the members of the coven were way too bat shit crazy to be believable. I mean how can they function and appear normal in everyday life when they fly off the handle like it was depicted in the scene on the overlook?

 

But apart from that, it was a very enjoyable read, and I would love to see this book turned into a series.

 

PS. I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a honest review.

City of Light (An Outcast Novel) by Keri Arthur.

Stars: 4 out of 5.

I had only read one book by Keri Arthur before – Memory Zero, and I hadn’t been particularly impressed by it (you can read my review if you are interested), so I had been a bit apprehensive to pick up another book by her. But the premise looked interesting and I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic stories when they are well written, so I decided to give this one a try.

Boy am I glad I did! I devoured this book in two days and I would have been done earlier if I didn’t have to stop for things like work, sleep, and food.

So what is City of Light about? Well, it has your traditional plethora of supernatural species like ghosts, shifters, vampire, and demons, but the world they inhabit is rather unusual. It’s a world where the very fabric of reality had been thorn by bombs that had ended the war between humans and shifters. Humans lost, but the bombs opened gateways into a different realm which demons and wrights use to invade our reality. So in the end, nobody won. What remains of the human and shifter population now lives in heavily fortified cities that are constantly bathed in light to prevent vampires from infiltrating them. Only fools or those who have a death wish risk staying outside of their protective walls at night.

Tiger is a déchet – a bread of humanoid super soldier created by humans in a last ditch effort to turn the tide of the war in their favor. As far as she knows, she is the last surviving déchet, because shifters hunted them down and eradicated them mercilessly during and after the war. For over a hundred years after the war, Tiger lived in an old bunker with only a few hundred déchet ghosts for company only venturing out into the light-filled city when she needed food or supplies. And she would have been perfectly content to live another hundred years like that, but   the impulse to save a human child hunted by vampires turns her quiet life upside down. Now her sworn enemies become her reluctant allies, her long lost friend might have become her enemy, and something really shady is brewing in the world outside her bunker.

I absolutely loved Tiger! She is a kickass heroine who can literally kick ass and doesn’t need a man to rescue her. In fact, she does the rescuing of the said man a few times herself, which is a nice reversal on the usual trope. I also like how complex her character is and that the author let us get into her head and really understand what makes her tick. Like her overwhelming need to protect children for example, no matter whether they are human, shifter, or déchet. It could have been written off as just heightened maternal instinct or something, but there is a really good explanation for that instead.

I love this broken and dangerous world that Keri Arthur has created. It was well introduced and set up and I enjoyed exploring it. It’s interesting to see that the war between humans and shifters basically ended in their mutual defeat, because the demons that pour out of the holes they had thorn in their reality don’t care who they kill. So the erstwhile enemies had to become reluctant allies to survive in this new world. And it is a harsh world where light is your only protection against painful death. Where most of the planet is left to roaming vampires and humans and shifters hide behind silver-reinforced walls of a few cities.

I was really invested in the story of City of Light as well. I thought it was interesting and well-paced and kept you on the edge of your sit until the end. I won’t say anything else about it to avoid spoilers.

So why did I only put 4 stars instead of 5? Because of the ending. It felt really rushed. It left a lot of things unresolved. I understand that it’s the first book in a new series and that there needs to be a bigger story that would flow from book to book, but it felt like the author had a set maximum word count for her book and just cut off the story when she reached it. It’s not even a cliffhanger per se, the story just kinda stops mid-stride…

But nevertheless I sincerely recommend this book to everyone who loves post-app and urban fantasy! The heroine is badass and the world is interesting. I will definitely be looking forward to the next book.

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

The Casquette Girls by Alys Arden.

Stars: 4 out of 5.

 

I actually loved this book a lot more than I thought I would. It’s well written and even though it takes the tragedy that was hurricane Katrina and uses it as a plot device, it’s well done and not used only to wring tears from the readers.

 

In fact, when this book starts, the Storm, because the hurricane that devastated New Orleans in this book was so big that it didn’t even have a name, is already over. The protagonist and her family are left to pick up the broken pieces of their lives that were left in its wake.

 

What I loved the most about this book is the description of New Orleans. You can see that the author loves this city and knows a lot about its history and mythology. New Orleans is alive and vibrant on these pages, even when it’s broken and flooded and full of death and rot. It’s still a city unlike any others, full of magic and religion and voodoo, full of quirky people who speak a strange mélange of French, English, and Creole. A city that will party and sing even when the world is ending just to prove to it that it’s still alive. Laissez les bons temps rouler.

 

I loved all the quirky characters this books is populated with. The inhabitants of the Vieux Carre all feel like one big dysfunctional but loving family. Those are the die hards, the ones who came back as soon as the city was deemed safe enough to return because they simply couldn’t imagine their life anywhere else. And you can feel their love for their beautiful (if destroyed) city through all their words and actions. Kudos to the author for showing that.

 

I also liked Adele, the main protagonist. Yes, she is seventeen and dreams of boys and dresses and first love, but when push comes to shove, she demonstrates a surprising level of maturity and determination. More importantly, she acts instead of reacting. Love protagonists like that! I love that she is no damsel in distress either and prefers to resolve her own problems herself instead of waiting for someone else to do that for her. And that she takes matters personally when people she cares about are hurt.

 

So by now you are probably wondering why I gave The Casquette Girls only 4 stars out of 5 if I liked this book so much? Well, the thing that didn’t work for me was the love story. My first gripe is purely subjective and personal – I don’t like love triangles. But I hate it even more here because it didn’t really feel like a love triangle until the last fourth of the book. For most of it, Addie had feelings for Nico and a developing friendship with Isaac… but then all of a sudden it shifts, but not really. So it felt like Addie settled for the second best because the first choice was unavailable. This is not fair to Adele and not fair to Isaac, because both are great characters.

 

But since it’s the first book in a series, I am willing to give the author the benefit of the doubt on that account and hope that she either develops that relationship better in the future books or resolves it in a way that makes sense.

 

All in all, this is a wonderful book that I would definitely recommend. If you want to read a story of magic, vampires, old family secrets, and new friendships, all set in the magical city of New Orleans, this book is definitely for you.

 

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

Dead Witch Walking (The Hallows book 1) by Kim Harrison.

Stars: 4 out of 5.

Dead Witch Walking is a solid first novel in a brand new series. I loved the characters and the world Kim Harrison has created and I thoroughly enjoyed the story as well. I have only one gripe with this book, but it’s big enough to deduct a whole star out of the score.

Rachel Morgan is a witch and she has a big problem, because until she finds a way to pay off her contract with I.S., she is literally a dead witch walking.  Nobody has breached a contract with this organization and survived long enough to tell the tale. But she has a plan – with the help of Ivy, a living vampire bounty hunter and Jenks, a pixie bodyguard, she will track and shut down the biggest illegal Brimstone operation in Cincinnati.  That ought to get I.S. off her back, no? Either way, it’s not like she has much of a choice…

Welcome to a world where a virus hiding in genetically modified tomatoes wiped out 3/4 of the human population… which made things rather complicated for the supernatural races who turned out to be immune. With the population numbers shrinking, they cannot hide in the shadows anymore and had to make their presence known.

Thus Cincinnati has been split into two very distinct cities – on one side of the river is the “normal” town, where most of the human population lives, and the other side belongs to the Hallows, where everything supernatural gathers and thrives. Oh, humans can take a walk on the wild side and venture into the Hallows, but they are not guaranteed to come back in the same state as they entered, or come back at all.

It’s a rich and interesting world, even if the premise for the apocalypse is rather silly. A tomato responsible for the end of the world as we know it, really? But the new world in which Rachel lives is complex and fascinating, with real problems and engaging characters.

Speaking of characters, a series cannot be popular without a good protagonist, and I absolutely love Rachel Morgan. She is a kick-ass heroine. No matter how many times she is kicked down, she always finds the will to get up and keep going.

I loved Ivy and Jenks. They are just as complex and interesting as Rachel and both have their own sets of problems. I like how those 3 very different people chose to stick together and help each other get through this very difficult situation.

My only complaint is that I didn’t like Rachel’s love interest. I tried, I really did, but he just rubbed me the wrong way almost from the moment he was introduced. He is too nice, too good, too everything to be believable and likable. I kept thinking that he has just assumed this “nice guy” persona to get closer to Rachel and that he will turn out to be somebody awful in the end, because of how unbelievably nice he was. Nope, seems like that’s real. Works for some, I guess, but for me, his character definitely lacks depth, especially compared to the rest of the cast.

But other than that, Dead Witch Walking is an excellent read that I would definitely recommend. I already bought the second book in the series and I can’t wait to dive into it as well.

Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig.

Stars: 4 out of 5

I rarely read and review young adult books, but I had read Chuck’s Atlanta Burns which I also reviewed and loved it. Plus the premise of this book sounded interesting. Carnivorous corn? Dystopian society? Heck yeah! So I requested Under the Empyrean Sky from NetGalley when it became available.

I liked it. Less than Atlanta Burns, but it was still an enjoyable read. The world is interesting. Who would have thought that the world would be destroyed not by a plague or natural disaster or alien invasion but by genetically modified corn that turns carnivorous? Most of the land is covered in it. It’s so virulent that it kills all other plants, so that’s the only thing that grows anymore. And it’s not even edible to bout!

This world has a very clear separation between the have and the have nots – the Empyreans living on their floating ships sailing high above the corn and dictating their law to the few people who still live in the Heartland. The Empyreans have everything: the best technologies, the best food, the best healthcare, while the Heartlanders live on scraps that sometimes fall from the sky.

The Heartland is a bleak, hopeless world. There is no future for those born amongst the corn. The only jobs available is to grow, harvest or process the corn. Cancer and other diseases are rampant due to the highly toxic chemicals used to process corn and keep it away from the villages. There is no school, no sports, no entertainment. Even marriages are arranged by the Empyreans who send down a list of who will marry whom on Obligation day. The only way out is the Lottery that is held once a year and which gives one family a chance to relocate into one of the Empyrean flotillas. Only everyone knows that the Lottery is rigged, though it doesn’t prevent people from hoping…

Cael and his crew are salvagers. They have a glider they use to scout the sea of corn around their village for broken harvesters they can salvage for parts or anything else that could earn them a few ace notes. Cael’s dream is to become rich and famous, to build a better life for his family, to be a better man than his father whom he sees as weak and incapable of providing for his sick wife and his children.

Even though I found Cael’s narrative to be a bit too angry at times, I could understand it and even empathize a little: I still remember how it feels to be a teenager in full rebellion.  Everything is either good or bad, black or white. There are no shadows or demi-measures. Cael is at that age when he is at odd with the rest of the world. He thinks that adults don’t understand him. He doesn’t want to conform to their rules. He wants the freedom to find his own path. The fact that his crew is the ultimate underdog in this town doesn’t help either. No matter what they do, it ends up in disaster. All their small victories morph into failures and things go from bad to worse.

So yes, I understand why he is angry, but this is also something that didn’t sit quite right with me and why I gave this book only 4 out of 5 stars. Since we see the world through Cael’s eyes, all the bad people are horribly bad, with no redeeming qualities. The Empyreans are painted in such thick dark colors that they could be demons feasting on poor Heartlanders’ souls for all I know. I find that a bit heavy handed. I like my worlds to be more nuanced and my villains to be a little less of a caricature and a little more real. Real people have both good and bad in them, and they can do bad things for entirely honorable reasons.

But other than that, I did enjoy Under the Empyrean Sky quite a lot and I would definitely recommend it. And I will certainly read the next book in the series.

PS. I received a free copy of this book from NetGAlley.

Rubberman’s Cage by Joseph Picard.

Stars: 4 out of 5.

I have been lucky to read some good books lately and Rubberman’s Cage is one of them. When I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, I was a bit cautious at first. The title and the cover looked a bit ominous. I knew it would be either post-apocalyptic or dystopian, but I was afraid that it would be dark and dreary as well. I’m glad that this fear turned out to be unfunded.

This is the story of a young man named Lenth who has lived his whole life in a room with his three Brothers and a Rubberman watching over them through the grated ceiling above. This room is all he’s ever known. To him, that’s the extent of the world. But one night the shackle that they all have to put before they go to bed malfunctions and one of his Brothers is shocked until he dies. He is gone the next morning and there is a stranger sleeping on his bed instead. Everyone else takes this change in stride, but Lenth just can’t let go. He wants answers. He wants to find his missing Brother, and he wants to see what’s beyond the grated ceiling that the Rubberman walks.

The book follows Lenth’s journey in search of his missing brother while he explores this strange world full of rooms with Brothers and Rubbermen. It is a coming of age story, because Lenth is as innocent as a child. He can’t read; he’s never seen a woman and doesn’t know what they are; he has no concept of death. He is told that his brother died, but when he can’t grasp the fact that death if final, that you can’t repair a dead person. He thinks that he just needs to find him and wake him up…

This is also a chilling tale of a society how has regressed so much that they are reduced to repeating rigid tasks and protocols that had been set up years ago and the meaning of which has long been forgotten (and became obsolete). Nobody really knows why they need Rubbermen, or why men and women are kept separately, or how all the machinery really works. They know just enough to maintain the status quo. The sad part is that nobody questions it. Brothers think that Rubbermen know what they are doing and why. Rubbermen are persuaded that the Providers have that knowledge because they are clueless themselves, and so on.

So it was an interesting and rather endearing read. The book is well written and I liked Lenth, with his child-like candor and curiosity while he explores this ever-growing world. My only gripe is that it almost seems too easy for him to do so. He manages to get from level to level without too many problems and none of them really life-threatening. And everybody treats him well, considering. You would think that in a society where Brothers are constantly shackled in place (in bed, in the shower, on the treadmill, at the workstation) and shocked when they disobey, the reaction of those who find one just wandering around would be more violent.

All in all though, I think it’s a solid and entertaining story that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. I would definitely recommend it to my friends!

Cry Wolf (Alpha and Omega book 1) by Patricia Briggs.

Stars: 4 out of 5.

While this book is the first in the Alpha and Omega series, it’s set in the same world as the Mercy Thompson books and has a prequel in the form of a short story that explains how Charles and Anna met. I haven’t read either of those. Cry Wolf was my first introduction to this world and these characters, and I was surprised at just how much I loved them.

I think it mostly has to do with the fact that their relationship is exactly the sort I like to read about. It’s a solid partnership between two mature, albeit damaged people who make actual efforts to work through their problems together and gain each other’s trust and acceptance. Amongst the sea of one-sided, often abusive relationships we see in the paranormal romance books nowadays, stories like that are a sip of fresh water on a parched throat.

It also has a lot to do with how wonderfully complex those two characters are.

So many things could have gone wrong with this relationship. Charles is his father’s Enforcer. He has the reputation of a ruthless killer, ready to put down anyone who threatens the Alpha’s rule and the safety of the pack and not lose sleep over it. He is feared and even covertly despised even by his own pack because of what he does and how seemingly remorseless and even emotionless he is about it.

He rescues Anna from a horrible situation, but at the same time, he yanks her out of a town where she had at least some kind of support system: a job, a few acquaintances that might have been friends, the familiarity of the big city. Now she has no job, no money and is in a werewolf village in the middle of nowhere with nobody to help her if things go wrong. In other words, she is absolutely and totally dependent on him.

When I first picked up the book, I was scared that this would turn into one of those toxic and abuse relationships with Charles being the typical “alpha male” – possessive and jealous, disregarding Anna’s wishes and opinions and depriving her of her own agency for her own protection. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case at all.

Charles might lead a violent life and be forced to do horrible things out of duty to his Alpha father, but he is always treats Anna with respect. She is his mate, but that doesn’t put her in a subservient position in his eyes. To him, she is an equal partner in this relationship. She has a voice and an opinion that he listens to.

Anna is also not your typical female protagonist. She doesn’t go through life kicking ass and taking names. In fact, she is not a fighter at all. And, surprise of all surprises, she actually thinks before she opens her mouth, can assess a situation and knows when saying nothing might be the best course of action. She is the slow and steady river current to Charles’ firestorm. A soothing presence that can ground him. She helps him remember that no matter what the rest of the pack thinks of him, he is not a monster. That all those glances of fear and barely veiled contempt are directed at the façade he has created, not the man that hides behind it.

It’s never a one-sided relationship, because they both give as much as they take. They complement each other and manage to build something beautiful out of the broken pieces of their lives.

… and this is the first review in which I managed to wax poetic about a love story while saying absolutely nothing about the actual plot! It’s not because the plot was lacking depth, I can assure you. It’s just that it paled in the face of those two wonderful characters, at least in my eyes.

So would I recommend his book? Definitely. But I would suggest reading Alpha and Omega short story in the On the Prowl anthology first, otherwise the beginning of the book might seem a bit confusing.

 

The Secret Dead by SW Fairbrother.

Stars: 4 out of 5.

Did I mention that I love discovering new exciting series to read? It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, because I know that I still have several more books to spend exploring this new world. The Secret Dead is one of those books. It’s the first one in the London Bones series and it’s a very strong beginning of what promises to be an excellent series.

SW Fairbrother has created a very complex world where the supernatural has coexisted with the “natural” for centuries (or maybe even from the beginning, it’s not quite clear). So everybody considers this as a natural order of things, even though conflicts still arise between different factions. There are laws and regulations in place to facilitate interactions between normal people and supernatural people, though some are better enforced then others.

And of course, there is the small matter of the necroambulation virus that turns people into flesh-hungry zombies after they die. 98% of those who contract it (either via a bite from a zombie or via sexual contact, like an STD) die within 24 hours, then they reanimate and unless they keep consuming human flesh, they slowly lose their mind and become nothing but rotting shambling corpses. The other 2% survive and become carriers and live the rest of their lives knowing that they will turn zombie as soon as they die. There is no cure.

What I like about this new take on zombies is that in this world this virus has existed for generations, and society has tried (and often discarded) several different ways of dealing with it, including burning their newly zombified neighbors in their homes along with all their families. This option was later discarded for being too barbaric. Now the zombies are just thrown into a huge underground pit to rot in the dark, which isn’t a much better solution, one might argue…

Anyway, this whole situation creates a wonderfully complex world that I absolutely loved exploring. And I also loved the protagonist because she is so not the typical female heroine that we so often see in this genre. Vivia Brisk is a hag, a death witch who can travel the world of the dead at will. Problem is, her body dies every time she does that, so she comes back to a more or less advanced state of decomposition, depending on how much time she spent in the Underworld. And even without that unfortunate side effect of her abilities, she is no beauty even in the best of days.

But despite of that, she is a very engaging character that I enjoyed following. Despite a rather gloomy family situation and not particularly sunny future prospects, she never feels sorry for herself, never whines or moans or wallows in self-pity. She goes on with her life, trying to do her best with the cards she’s been dealt, and I can’t help but respect her for that…

My only complaint, and the reason this book got 4 stars instead of 5, is that the ending feels rushed. After a slow and steady build-up of the rest of the book, everything is sort of jammed in the last 20 pages or so. And it ends in a huge cliffhanger. But I didn’t even mind the cliffhanger that much because I am getting the next book in the series anyway.

So in case you haven’t yet noticed from the glowing review above, yes, I definitely recommend this book. Buy it, read it, enjoy it!

The Flex by Ferrett Steinmetz.

Stars: 4 out of 5.

Another wonderful book. Frankly, I have been spoiled with good books so far this year.

Flex has a very interesting concept of magic that I hadn’t encountered before. The ‘mancers in Flex are not officially (or unofficially) trained magicians we grew so accustomed to in other fantasy books. No, each one of them has their own particular flavor of magic or ‘mancy. There are illustromancers and musicomancers, videogamemancers and bureaucracymancers. This is a fascinating concept that a person’s believes and obsessions define his or her magic and the set of rules within which it works.

I also loved the fact that the use of magic is not free in this world. Every time there is a Flex, or the active use of magic, there will be a Flux later, or pushback when the laws of nature reascertain themselves and make the practitioner pay for breaking them. The bigger the Flex, the bigger the subsequent Flux, and it usually hits the things or people the ‘mancer cares about the most. So no wonder why ‘mancers in this world are mostly solitary and rather unhappy people – everything they love turns to ash between their fingers the more they use their magic.

Why don’t they stop? You could ask. Well, ‘mancy is like a drug, an addiction. And for a lot of these people, the Flex is the only time they are truly happy, they truly feel alive. So they are willing to risk the Flux just to experience this euphoria even for a little while.

I loved the fact that all the ‘mancers in this book are neither really good nor really evil. They are all broken people who found refuge from the ugliness of this world in their magic. They can do horrible things, but even the worst of them can create ‘mancy that’s absolutely beautiful.

Our protagonist, Paul Tsabo, had spent his life hunting down rogue ‘mancers and handing them over to the Government to be “refactored” – a horrible procedure where their mind is erased and they become no more than puppets linked to a human controller… and then he became a ‘mancer himself. When his daughter is horribly burned in an explosion orchestrated by a ‘mancer bound on destroying human civilization, he must take it upon himself to hunt him or her down and make them pay.

I liked Paul. He is not the typical action hero. He doesn’t rush into danger with guns blazing. He is not good in a fight – too scrawny, not a very good fighter. But he is extremely good with the paperwork. He is the king of forms, the god of bureaucracy. I loved the fact that he stayed true to himself throughout this book. The author didn’t make him discover sudden mad fighting skills or extreme marksmanship. Paul remains a paper-pusher, but his papers can rewrite the world.

My only gripe with Flex is that the author doesn’t give us hardly any background on the origins of this magic. One of the characters attributes the surge of ‘mancers to the birth of the Internet and the ever growing list of obsessions people have. Yet the author also hits that ‘mancers existed even in the previous centuries, way before the invention of the Internet. In fact, a full on magical battle during World War II opened a huge broach over Europe and transformed the whole continent in to a smoldering landscape full of demons.

It’s implied that ‘mancers started being hunted down and “refactored” after that incident, but the author doesn’t explain how it was before that. How did ‘mancers deal with their Flux? How did society deal with them? I would have loved to have a bit more details. I would also have loved to see more of that strange world than just New York. Hopefully, the author will expand his universe in the next book.

But even as it stands, Flex is a definite must read. It’s well written and fast paced, and the story is really interesting.

PS. I received an advanced copy of this book via NetGalley.