Tag Archives: 5 stars

Two Twisted Crowns (The Shepherd King 2) by Rachel Gillig

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Stars: 5 out of 5.

The first book in the duology ended in a rather heartbreaking manner with Elspeth losing her soul and her body to the Nightmare. The King and the Maiden effectively became the Monster. This book picks up almost immediately after that fateful night with Elspeth in shackles and in the dungeons of Castle Stone, and Ravyn Yew reeling from what happened to the woman he loved. The monster and the captain of the Destriers will have to collaborate in order to find the Twin Alders card and lift the curse of Blunder once and for all.

Elspeth takes the backseat in this story, with the Shepherd King coming to the forefront and inhabiting her body for most of the book. And let me tell you that he grows on you the more you discover about his past and what happened 500 years ago when the cards were made and mists came to plague the kingdom of Blunder. It’s a classical story of how the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and how by giving too much of himself to his unhealthy obsession, the Shepherd King lost everything that he should have held dear – his family, his kingdom, and his life.

I loved his interactions with Ravyn, who is devastated because he thinks the woman he loves is lost forever, and he hates the monster that is looking out of her eyes now, yet he needs that monster in order to defeat a bigger treat to his kingdom and his family – the current Rowan King. That made for some entertaining banter between him and the Nightmare, as well as some pretty heartfelt interactions further in the book.

Two other characters from the previous book come to the forefront of the narrative in this one – Prince Renelm (or Elm), and Ione. And I was honestly surprised just how much I liked their story. I liked Elm from the previous book, but Ione had seemed a bit standoffish and “frozen” for most of the last book, because she was under the influence of the Maiden card. Well, we discover in this book that it wasn’t her choice or her doing, and the things she had been put through are frankly horrifying. I was really happy that Hauth got what was coming to him. 

All in all, I really loved this world and the story, even though I thought that the ending wrapped everything a little bit too neatly. But that is just a small gripe and I would highly recommend this book.

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

The Martian by Andy Weir

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Stars: 5 out of 5.

I can’t believe it took me so long to actually read this book! It’s been languishing on my TBR list since 2014. That’s 10 years. All I can say is that life got in the way and with so many other wonderful books, I got sidetracked. But I rectified that mistake now, and boy did I love this book! I am a big fan of the movie with Matt Damon, and I had found it clever and suspenseful, but let me tell you, the book is better, as books often are.

What I loved most about Mark Watney both in the book and the movies is his relentless optimism and ability to problem solve. Yes, he has times when he breaks down and freaks out and has a temper tantrum when things go from bad to worse, but he never just wallows in the misery. Yes, stuff happened, but it didn’t kill him (yet), so he will do everything in his power to prevent it from killing him, then troubleshoot everything to insure that he lives another day and is slightly closer to rescue. That sheer good humor is contagious and very fun to read about. 

Because, honestly, Mark’s situation is really dire, if you think about it. He is stranded alone on a hostile planet with no means of communication with Earth or even his crewmates on the Hermes. And everyone thinks that he is dead. Another human would have despaired and given up, but not Mark. 

The food won’t last until the next Ares mission lands on Mars? Let’s try to grow some potatoes on Martian soil. After all, he has half a dozen non-frozen potatoes to work with, and he can produce plenty of fertilizer. Sure, it will not smell good, but needs must. No way to communicate with Earth? Let’s do a field trip to pick up Pathfinder, and test if he can survive in a rover for long period of time. Stuff really went FUBAR? He is still alive, so he will figure out something to keep himself being alive until rescue comes.

I also liked the down to earth (or down to Mars) way this story was told. Sure, we are in the near future, so it’s a science fiction book, but all the technology and solutions that Mark comes up with are very plausible and accomplishable even with current day technology. And because it is so plausible, I found myself a lot more involved in Mark’s fate. Because this could happen in real life. We are already talking about a manned mission to Mars in the near future, so we could have a man stranded there in my life time (though I really really hope not).

I loved the very hopeful tone of this book as well. Yes, the situation is dire, but the author chose to concentrate on everyone’s efforts to save Mark Watney instead of finger pointing and dicussing who made what mistake leading to this situation. The author chose to show us a world united in a common goal, which is very refreshing and hopeful, especially in the current political climat.

Anyway, this is an excellent book, and I highly recommend it even for those who already saw the movie. There is a lot more here than ever made it into film.

Dead Man’s Hand (The Unorthodox Chronicles 1) by James J Butcher

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Stars: 5 out of 5.

I think I found a new urban fantasy series to fangirl about! I picked it up on a whim because I liked to cover. Oh, and I had no clue that the author was Jim Butcher’s son. Though I must admit that I was never a huge fan of Harry Dresden, though I read maybe 4 or 5 books in the series. I might even revisit that particular series someday…

Anyway, I came to this book unbiased and without trying to compare the creation of the son to the works of the father. And I must admit that I really loved it!

The world is very interesting. We have the Usuals, or people like you and me, plain Jane humans, and we have the Unorthodox. Who can be magic users (or witches), as well as other magical creatures that we heard of in legends and fairy tales (and some we’ve never heard of). Some can pass for human with relative ease and managed to build almost normal lives in our world. Some… not so much. All of them are controlled and regulated by the Bureau of Unorthodox Affairs, who acts like law enforcement, but also a social services organization. 

Now let’s talk about Grimsby, our protagonist. He is a bumbling, stumbling bundle of insecurities and misery, but I must admit that I really liked him. Because he has good reasons to be miserable and resentful, and to wallow in that misery from time to time. Life really did a number on him. He is not a hero. He is, most of the time, a coward that hates conflict and tries to avoid it at any cost. 

But despite all that, he has a strong backbone and a moral compass. He is willing to bend and let a lot of things slide, but when it comes to something that he holds dear, or that he thinks is plain wrong, he will stand his ground, even despite the danger to himself. He is also very loyal to his friends, probably because he doesn’t have that many. In fact, by the end of this book, he really only has one.

I also liked that despite his limitations, he finds new and ingenious ways to combine the three spells he knows. And even though those are only 3 spells, he mastered them to perfection. Grimsby might not be particularly powerful, but he is very tenacious and capable of innovative thinking, because he doesn’t have pure magical strength to rely on.

I also like his grudging partnership with the Huntsman, because despite the odds, they make a really good team. The Huntsman constantly pushes Grimsby to get out of his comfort zone, especially if that zone is made of self-pity and woe against the unfairness of the universe. And Grimsby acts as a tempering influence and a moral compass for a man who has done some terrible things in the line of duty and often won’t hesitate to do even more horrible things if needed. Even if he would probably regret it afterwards.

It was interesting to see the Huntsman go from looking at Grimsby first with suspicion, then with derision, then with grudging respect. And they did get to the bottom of things in the end and got the bad guy. 

I liked that the main storyline is resolved by the end of this book, but there are other tantalizing bits of story left dangling in front of the reader to entice me to pick up the next book. I want to know how the main villain managed to make so many human familiars without anyone noticing.  I want to know who Blackskull was when it was alive. And I want to know if Grimsby will every manage to control his magic even despite the scars. So I will definitely be continuing with this series. 

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

Greymist Fair by Francesca Zappia

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Stars: 5 out of 5.

Now this is a fairy tale retelling done right! It doesn’t try to outdo the original, just takes that inspiration and creates something new and very readable with it.

I loved the village of Greymist Fair and the atmosphere of mystery and even foreboding the author created for this place and the villagers. Imagine a village in the middle of a dense forest with only one road leading to it and back out. That’s already claustrophobic enough. But now add to that the fact that there are rumored to be monsters in the forest, and those who wander under the trees rarely come back alive. Oh, and that road to the village? It can take hours, or it can take days to travel, and some travelers never find Greymist Fair at all.

The author managed to convey the magical feeling that I absolutely love in fairy tales, and she also understands the cardinal rule of those tales – no matter how fantastical the world or the events happening in it, there must be internal rules to that world that everything follows. And if those rules are broken, there must be an explanation as to why and how. Like the ever-flowering tree branch that protects the wearer from Death, or the shoes instilled with magic that allow the person to outrun Death and its wargs.

The characters are less important here than the story they are part of, but I still had fun following along with them. The story is also not told in chronological order, with subsequent stories often going back in time and shedding more light on events mentioned or implied in previous stories, but the whole paints a fascinating canvas of a village at war with Death, even if the villagers don’t realize that. See, the forest around the village is Death’s domain, and so was this village at one point, until something happened and Death was denied entrance.

I loved the fact that this conflict was resolved not with violence, but with forgiveness and acceptance. The main message of this story is that we are all social animals, and that even entities like Death can be lonely and long for companionship. And that it is always better to show acceptance and love to others instead of prejudice and violence. That’s a message we should hear more often today.

It’s a well written and heartfelt story with a beautiful message, and I would highly recommend it.

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

The Ghoul Vendetta (SPI Files 4) by Lisa Shearin

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Stars: 5 out of 5.

I think this series hit its stride, because the last two books were excellent. 

I like that we finally established all the relationships in this series (romantic and non-romantic), so we can concentrate on the story and character development instead of the whom of the two/three/etc. hot males (females) will the protagonist choose. 

The story picks up a few months after the events of the previous book, in which our team plus Rake closed a Hellmouth. And this particular installment is centered around Ian’s old nemesis, the pseudo ghoul who had attacked him and his partner back when he was in the NYPD. It ate his partner and almost killed him, and it seems that it’s been stalking Ian ever since and orchestrating some of the troubles the team had to deal with in the previous books.

It’s interesting to see that the tables are turned in this book, and Ian is playing the role of the damsel in distress instead of Mac. He is drugged and kidnapped and destined to be sacrificed to precipitate the end of the world. And it’s Mac and the SPI team that has to do everything in their power to save him, not only to prevent said end of the world, but also because he is their friend, and really want him to continue breathing. 

I also think that Mac finally found her stride. She understands that she will never be a SPI commando who rushes into danger guns blazing. She knows her physical limitations. But she also knows that she possesses a few unique abilities that could mean that an op is a success or a failure. And since she is a lot more sure of herself and at ease in her own skin, she is a delight to follow in these books. I love her sense of humor and down to earth attitude. 

I also love that she has real friends in the SPI and a strong support system, and all those secondary characters feel like real people with their quirks and their flaws. Oh, and I absolutely loved the dragon riders from Rake’s realm. Now that’s a cool job to have… unless you also have to clean up after your dragon, because then I think I’ll pass.

Oh, and I also like how Mac’s relationship with Rake is progressing. I like that they seem to be having fun together and have a deeper understanding of each other then either of them was aware of, I think. Rake is a fun character to try and puzzle out. He is a rogue, no doubt, but he has a moral code and, I think, he is very loyal to those he considers his friends. I hope we learn more about his past and his motives in the following books. I wouldn’t mind visiting his homeland as well.

All in all, I’m still really happy with this series. It’s fun, it’s interesting, it’s surprisingly low on existential angst. So I will definitely pick up the next book to see what new horrors await our SPI partners plus Rake. 

Gideon the Ninth (The Locked Tomb 1) by Tamsyn Muir

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Stars: 4 our of 5.

This was a very bizarre book set in a weird world, and I loved every minute of it! A one sentence summary for this story would be – Necromancers in Space, but that doesn’t do this book justice. 

I came into this book with no small amount of trepidation, because opinions were very divided about it amongst my Goodreads friends. Some adored it, some couldn’t stand it, some DNFed it halfway through. I now can proudly admit that I am in the “adored it” camp.

I think the biggest surprise for me was just how attached I grew to all the characters. I grew to love all of the necromancers of various houses and their cavaliers. It was interesting to observe their interactions as well as ties that kept the different pairs together. And some of the characters I even enjoyed hating, like the unbending militaristic Second house, or the scheming Eight. 

The slower pace of the book in the first half helped create that effect – the author takes her time first showing us the abysmal life that Gideon lived in the Ninth house, and the decrepitude it was slowly falling into. That way I clearly understood why Harrow was so desperate to answer the summons, or why Gideon would agree to come along, even though she hated her guts. 

By taking time to introduce us to the different characters and explore the strange palace they find themselves in, the author makes us care for everyone. Even Teacher with his perpetual good humor. So when the horrors start happening and the first deaths occur, it hits the reader like a punch in the gut. Especially since it happens to the characters that are the most sympathetic of them all.

The ending is also heartbreaking. I wanted so badly for Gideon to finally break free from the clutches of the Ninth house. I’m glad that her and Harrow finally aired all their grievances and made piece before the final confrontation with the big bad of the book. So Gideon’s sacrifice came as a natural conclusion of that story. It made sense. It was the only way Gideon could act at that time. It was still heartbreaking.

I wish we got a few more answers by the end of this book. Where did Gideon come from? Why was there mentions of her name in this palace? Why can’t the Emperor set foot on the planet again? What was the force lurking beneath the place that Teacher was so afraid of? I doubt we will ever get the answers to these questions now, since this story seems over.

I will however continue with this series because I want to know what force in the galaxy is more terrifying than a whole empire of necromancers.

The Hero of Ages (The Mistborn Saga 3) by Brandon Sanderson

Stars: 5 out of 5.

This was a fitting end to an epic trilogy. What I love about Brandon Sanderson is that his worlds are always complex and well thought-out. Things happen for a reason, even if that reason isn’t immediately discernable by the reader. There will be no deus ex machina here. Everything that happens has been foreshadowed in the previous books or hinted upon in this one. 

I also like that he lets his characters be flawed and make mistakes. Vin isn’t a strong female lead that can do no wrong, and when she does, it’s not wrong because she is the protagonist. I’ve seen too many of those in the movies and TV series lately. No Vin is a very human character, with her needs and wants. She is rash and acts without thinking things through sometimes. And people die as a result. And Vin realizes this, and strives to do better, to try harder. 

It’s disheartening to see both her and Elend try so hard to protect their people, but no matter what they do, Ruin seems to prevail. I especially felt for Elend there because he came into this story as a stary-eyed idealist full of good intentions. Life proceeded to regularly beat him down and show him that good intentions aren’t enough when you are responsible for the lives of thousands of people. That sometimes you have to make hard decisions. I like the fact that even despite that, he kept the moral core that made him a good man right until the end.

And even though I love our main couple, there is no denying that Sazed, Spook, and TenSoon are the real heroes of this book. My heart broke for Sazed who experienced a veritable crisis of faith in this book. And Spook… Oh Spook. From a minor characters who could barely talk he becomes a leader worthy of Kelsier’s crew. 

Speaking for Kelsier. It’s amazing how a character who died in the first book manages to influence everyone he came in contact with for the next two books. God knows he wasn’t perfect, but he managed to inspire people to fight seemingly impossible odds. And, dare I say, he helped create the Hero of Ages.

I came out of this trilogy with a sense of immense satisfaction, but also with a broken heart, though I understand that things ended how they needed to end for all of our characters. I will definitely check out the books in the next era of Mistborn world, but I think I will take a break first. Because despite how much I love Brandon Sanderson’s style, these books are rather hefty tomes that require a lot of brainpower to get through.

Solitary (Escape from Furnace 2) by Alexander Gordon Smith

Stars: 5 out of 5.

If you thought the first book was terrifying, wait until you read this one. The level of terror and claustrophobic horror is turned up a notch in Solitary. I was physically uncomfortable a few time reading this book and just imagining what the protagonist was going through. It goes to prove that psychological horrors are sometimes more terrifying than even physical violence.

This book begins moments after the end of the fist book with Alex and his comrades jumping into the underground river to escape furnace. Unfortunately, their escape doesn’t last long. They are recaptured and put into solitary, well the two of them that survive. And solitary is full of its own horrors that make you wonder what’s worse – to dies at the claws of the Rats, or to go completely mad confronted by your own mind in the dark silence of a solitary cell?

I could feel the cloying despair and hopelessness that Alex was starting to feel the longer he stayed in that cell. I honestly think that if it wasn’t for the Lost Boys, Alex would have given up and given in to his fears right there. As it stands, I was rooting for all of them throughout this book, wishing that they would finally find a way out. So the ending came like a slap in the face both for the characters and for the reader. The author slowly built our hopes up, bit by tiny bit, then smashed them into dust with one decisive strike. 

I am definitely picking up book 3, because I am invested in these characters now and I want to know what happens next. And I honestly hope that by the end of this series good with triumph over bad, and the Warden and his cronies get their just desserts.

In the Lives of Puppets by TJ Klune

Stars: 5 out of 5.

I rarely read fairy tale retellings, because I think that retellings are rather pointless. I’d rather read the original and decide for myself what the morale of the story was, instead of reading about what the reteller thinks the story was about. So I’m really glad that I didn’t know that this was a retelling of Pinocchio when I picked up the book, or I would never have given it a try. And I would have lost out on a wonderful story.

And honestly, you don’t have to know anything about the original Pinocchio book to enjoy this story. Yes, there are parallels, but In the Life of Puppets stands on its own two feet pretty well and doesn’t rely on knowledge of the original.

It’s a story of Victor Lawson, the only human in a world of robots. And of his quest to save his father. And him and his friends have some adventures along the way. 

For a fairy tale this book has surprisingly a lot of heart. Because the characters, human and robot alike, are fully realized individuals with their own quirks and dreams. And their interactions are hilarious at times, and at times very touching and heartfelt. Nurse Ratched is my favorite character. Yay for sociopathic nurse robots with a heart of gold. 

The world our group of misfits travels through is wonderous and terrible at the same time, like it should be in good fairy tales. And all of the characters grow and progress along the way, especially Victor, who has to come to terms with a lot of hard truths. Like the fact that his father was the engineer of the extinction of his whole race. Or that you can still love someone even if you can’t forgive them for what they did, even if you aren’t sure you have the right to forgive them.

Or that you can love someone even if they don’t remember you from time to time. This last one hit particularly close to home, since I am dealing with a relative slowly loosing his battle with Alzheimer’s. That is a truly horrible disease that transforms a loved one into a completely different person. A bit like what happened to Gio once he was taken back into the City of Electric Dreams.

And even though the situations our characters find themselves in are horrible at times, the overall message of this book is one of love and hope, which makes it a very heartwarming story. I would definitely recommend this to adults and young adults alike. It’s rare that I read a book in one sitting and come out of it with a content and warm feeling.

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

Shorefall (The Founders Trilogy 2) by Robert Jackson Bennett

Stars: 5 out of 5.

I was a little apprehensive starting this book, because I loved Foundryside so much and there is definitely a dreaded middle book in the trilogy curse going around. So I was afraid to be disappointed. I shouldn’t have worried. RJB has never let me down before, and he didn’t this time. This is an excellent book that grips you from the first page and doesn’t let you go until the last. It makes you care for the characters and cheer them on… oh, and it rips your heart out in the process. I should have known, I’ve read the Divine Cities trilogy, after all.

The story starts about seven months after the end of the first book, and our Foundryside crew are doing well, plotting and scheming the downfall of the great scivener houses of Trevenne and accomplishing daring heists. And it seems like they have all found some modicum of peace and happiness, not to mention friendship. Well, all except Gregor, but can you really blame him after the revelations at the end of last book?

So the reader prepares for a book centered around our friends basically giving the finger to the big scrivener houses of Trevanne and bringing about the revolution… but if you think that’s what this trilogy will be about, you don’t know the author very well. Soon freedom for the people of Trevanne takes a whole different meaning, and the stakes become sky high. And our unlikely heroes are left scrambling, trying to stay ahead of the tsunami that is bearing their way, and there are no good choices only bad and less bad ones. 

I loved all the characters from book one and I’m glad we got to explore their relationships more in this book and see them work together as a unit, but also see that they have become the found family all of them needed. It was heartwarming… and we didn’t get nearly enough of it. I would have loved to see them in their compound, sharing scrivening definitions with other scriveners, answering questions, collecting definitions for their library… Unfortunately, we will never get that, judging how this book ended, and that’s sad.

The danger they are facing is very real, very urgent and rather terrifying in its sheer disregard for human life. And the more the book progresses, the worse it gets for our friends and for Trevanne in general. I won’t get into any spoilers, but the ending really rips your heart out. 

I really want to know what happens now and how this story will end for our friends, so I will be definitely picking up the last book in the trilogy.

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