Tag Archives: 5 stars

Confluence (Linesman 3) by S. K. Dunstall.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

I have a particular fondness for this series even since I discovered Linesman, the first book in the series, which I have reviewed, as well as the second book. So I picked up Confluence with a certain amount of trepidation. Would it be as good as the previous books? Let me reassure you right now – it is.

The New Alliance might be in possession of the only alien fleet known to mankind and the only linesman who can communicate with that fleet, but that doesn’t mean they will automatically win a war.  There are outside powers that would stop at nothing to destroy it before the alien fleet is fully operational.

Trouble is brewing within the Alliance itself where many disparate worlds, some of which had been bitter enemies before, battle for dominance. Many of those worlds aren’t happy with the fact that Lancia has Ean Lambert’s contract, which means unlimited access to the alien ships. And while the Crown Princess of Lancia is more than happy to share the technological advances with her new allies, her father the Emperor seems to have a different opinion about what would make Lancia a power to be reckoned with.

So Princess Michelle has to play a dangerous political game to protect those she holds dear. A game that sends Radko on a secret mission right into the heart of the enemy territory.

And all Ean has problems of his own. The alien ships are a lot more self-aware than normal human ships and they are getting impatient. If Ean won’t provide them with a crew, they will start choosing their own crew. In fact, some of them have already started…

What I love about this series is that with each book we learn a little more about the lines and what they are capable of. Just because Ean can talk to line eleven on the alien ships doesn’t mean that he will automatically get all the answers. Lines don’t think like humans, so the most difficult part of his job is to translate what he wants the lines to do into concepts they can understand.

What did we learn about the lines and the ships in this book? That for the lines, ship doesn’t necessarily mean the captain, even though most of the time it is. But sometimes, it can be an unremarkable mechanic that had been working on that particular ship for years, or even a guard who’s been overseeing reconstruction works. We have also learned that ships become more aware the longer they had been crewed, especially if there are no inner conflict within the crew.

Apart from discovering new tidbits about the lines, this book also gives us some important and rather satisfying developments for our main characters and their relationships. I won’t get into details because that would be some big spoilers. Go read for yourselves.

I would just mention that with most of the inner conflicts and tensions out of the way by the end of Confluence, our characters can finally focus on the bigger issue that has been looming on the horizon since they discovered the Confluence fleet. Those powerful alien ships had been in a fight, and a vicious one from the damage they all sustained. A fight they were losing, since the whole fleet jumped into the Void and tried to flee the battle. So what were those aliens fighting against? And how long before their enemies decide to pursue them and discover the human planets, divided, almost defenseless and ripe for the taking?

I don’t know about you, but I am looking forward to exploring this possibility and hope that the author will take us there in the next books.

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

A Witch’s Kitchen by Dianna Sanchez.

Stars: 5 out  of 5

 

I feel the need to add a disclaimer at the beginning of my review – this is a children’s book. Well, a Middle Grade book, but the point is that this is not my usual reading fare. In fact, I stumbled upon this book by mistake: I loved the cover on Netgalley and requested it without looking for the intended audience. Glad I did, because I loved it!

Millie thinks she is a useless witch who can’t do proper magic. None of the spells her mother tries to teach her turn out right. In fact, the only thing she can do and loves to do is cook, much to her mother’s disappointment. But then she is enrolled into the Enchanted Forest School and discovers that there are other kinds of magic then the one her mother uses and that maybe she isn’t as useless as she thought. She also makes some friends and a few enemies and uncovers the truth about who her father really is.

The story sounds simple when summarized like that, doesn’t it? Well, despite its simplicity, this is a wonderful story that touches on some important topics like the importance of friends, the struggle to meet expectations and the desire to fit in, the difficult choices one has to make when deciding to follow a different path in life. It also talks about things like bullying at school and split families.

Oh, and you can really tell that the author loves cooking just as much as Millie does. The descriptions of most of the dishes Millie made in this book had me salivating and running for the fridge, though sadly, I didn’t have anything as good there to treat myself with.

Millie is a wonderful protagonist. She is shy and very self-conscious because all her life she considered herself a failure, a disappointment and a source of shame for her mother. She has zero self-esteem because she’d been mercilessly bullied and ridiculed by the other witch apprentices because of her inability to cast any “normal” witch spells. But that rather brutal upbringing didn’t turn her into an embittered hag. She managed to remain a very sweet girl who loves making others feel better with her cooking skill.  I like how she more self-assured once she makes some friends in school. Growing up is a hard and often painful process during which you can learn some rather unpleasant truths about people you considered your heroes when you were a child. I like that Millie stands up to her mother and decides to undertake the dangerous journey into the Logical Realm (aka our world) to find the truth about her father.

The Magical Realm of the Enchanted Forest is delightfully fleshed out. Yes, it’s a bit simplistic because it’s a children’s book, but it’s still full of depth and colors and different magical inhabitants, friendly or otherwise. I loved the School and the different creatures that teach there , and I kinda wish the book spent more time there, a bit like the Harry Potter books in Hogwards. I mean the caretaker is a giant tree! The whole school is located on its branches. And the Headmistress is a dragon. I would have loved to see what other classes were taught there, because the few that we saw seemed really interesting. Not that I’m disappointed with Millie’s journey into the Logical Real either, but talking about that would be a huge spoiler, so why don’t you find out about it for yourselves?

I don’t have kids, but I think A Witch’s Kitchen would be an excellent book to read with your middle grader on those fall evenings when the air turns colder and the sun sets earlier and paying outside is out of the question. I think there is something to enjoy in this story for both children and adults. So go on, buy it! You won’t regret it!

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

The Girl with all the Gifts by M. R. Carey.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

 

Can I just take a moment to say just how much I loved this book? It is rare to find something new in the overly saturated zombie apocalypse genre, so The Girl with all the Gifts was like a breath of fresh air. I loved the premise, I loved the story and the characters, and I loved the author’s unique take on the whole people turning into zombies trope.

Melanie’s life is a well-oiled routine. Every morning, she waits in her cell to be collected by armed guards and taken to class. She likes her classes. She learns all sorts of things about history and the world outside the Compound, a world she will probably never see, even though she likes to imagine herself exploring it when she lays in her bed during quiet time. Her teachers tell her that she was found wandering out there one day, but she doesn’t remember. They tell her that she is special. They call her “our little genius”, but the guns the guards keep pointed in her direction and the fear in their eyes tell her that there is more to the story than she suspects…

I love zombie apocalypse books, whether they are the “OMG shit just started happening and nobody knows why” genre or the “the world went to hell twenty years ago, how do we pick up the pieces” genre. My only requirement is that I get an interesting story with strong characters and no Deus ex machina in the end. And no gratuitous splatter gore that does nothing to advance the story. And that’s where a lot of books in this genre loose me, because a lot of authors concentrate on the horror of the situation (or the joyful elimination of throng upon throng of shuffling zombies) and forget that a story is first and foremost about people and how they change when faced with horrible situations.

That’s what I loved about this book. Since the world as we know it ended over twenty years ago, humanity has already come to terms with what happened, discovered why it happened and is how trying to recover and maybe find a cure. So even though the book doesn’t have the life or death urgency of the first days of the zombie outbreak books (at least in the beginning), this gives the author a chance to explore the drastic changes such an event would bring to the world and our civilization.

I liked the fact that we know what cause the outbreak. I like the fact that there is a scientific explanation that doesn’t sound too farfetched because it makes this story even more chilling. The hungries are not really zombies in the classical sense – they didn’t die and come back to life, they were overtaken by a parasite instead. So they are still alive, even though the parasite is the one at the wheel. And none of these half-rotting, shuffling nonsense either. The Hungries are fast and once they latch to your scent, they don’t stop until you kill them or they feed on you.

I also liked the overall message of this book that this outbreak isn’t something that can be reversed, that it’s only the next step in the evolution of our planet and of the human species as well. Yes, humans as we know them will perish and the first generation of hungries, but the next generation will be like Melanie -smart, strong and capable of individual thought, even though they will still be parasite carriers. Earth will be different than what we know now, but life will carry on and humans will still walk it.

I am actually really interested in revisiting this world and seeing what became of it say 10-20 years after the end of this book, so I am definitely preordering the next book in this series, The Boy on the Bridge, which comes out in May 2017.

Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal.

Stars: 5 out of 5

 

I must admit that I really enjoyed this book because it’s well written and has a rather unusual premise. I’ve seen stories taken place during World War II and stories taking place during earlier periods, like the Civil War in the US, or the Gold Rush, not to mention all the regency novels. But this is the first time I come across a book taking place during World War I. And this book not only uses WWI as the background for the story, but makes the war its integral part.

 

Ginger Stuyvesant is a medium in the Spirit Corps, a special Spiritual Force within the British army. Each soldier is conditioned to report to the Spirit Corps after they die and give all the details of the location and manner of their death as well as what they heard and saw at those last moments before they can move on to the afterlife. Ginger and the other mediums are in charge of documenting this and passing the relevant information up the chain of command.

 

This is a thankless and grueling job, because there aren’t enough mediums, so they have to work double if not triple shifts, and the casualties keep piling up. The mediums are at the verge of collapsing from exhaustion and their circles are just as worn out, but there seems to be no end in sight…

 

One day, Ginger takes the last report of a ghost that hints at the fact that the Spirit Corps are not as secret as they thought they were, and that the Germans are not only aware of them, but are actively seeking to destroy the mediums. More worrying still, the ghost hints that there is a traitor within the British command. Ginger goes to her superiors only to be ridiculed and sent home, but she won’t just sit still and watch the events play out, not when the lives of those she loves are on the line.

 

I loved the attention to detail the author put into this book. It touches on a number or important subjects, like the role of women in society at that time, or the disdain towards people of color, who, even though they fought in the war and died alongside white soldiers, were still considered second rate citizens at best.

 

I loved how well-developed and “alive” all the characters were in this book, even the secondary and tertiary ones. They all felt like real people with their own hopes and stories, all of them worthy of a novel of their own, and that’s a big accomplishment!

 

Ginger is a capable young woman who stands up for those she loves, even if that means going against racial prejudice and injustice like in the case of the medium who she thinks is more than capable of serving as liaison between the Spirit Corps and the commanding officers in her stead, but the medium being black and a woman to boot, this idea is promptly shut down. I love that Ginger judges people by their personal worth, not by their skin color or place in society.

 

At the same time, I love that Ginger isn’t depicted as a feminist (I’m pretty sure that notion didn’t exist at that time yet) or even a suffragette. She is very much the product of her time and her upbringing, and she behaves in accordance with the rules of polite society of that time, even if she pushes the boundaries a little when she needs to.

 

The story itself is fast-moving and packed with action, but also has poignant and heartbreaking moments as well as providing a pertinent commentary on prejudice, misogyny and racism. My only complaint is that the ending was rather underwhelming, but it was logical and in line with the world that was depicted in the book.

 

So all in all, it was a fun and refreshing read, and I really loved it! I would definitely recommend it to my friends, and I hope that there will be a second book set in this world someday.

 

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

Two Serpents Rise (Craft Sequence 2) by Max Gladstone.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

I have a small, but slowly growing circle of authors whose books I sweep off the shelves as soon as they get published because I know that they will not disappoint me.  Ilona Andrews is in it, as well as James S. A. Corey, Robert Jackson Bennet, and Peter F Hamilton. After finishing Two Serpents Rise, I am adding Max Gladstone to that circle as well.

I had loved the first book in the series, Three Parts Dead, and thought that this world had a lot of potential (You can read my review of that book here, if you are interested), but then I got so many other books to read and review that I completely forgot that I had bought the second book in the series as well. Until I started cleaning out my e-reader and stumbled upon it three days ago. Needless to say that I was hooked the moment I opened the book on page 1…

While it set up in the same world at Three Parts Dead, Two Serpents Rise has a different set of characters and a different story to tell, though it still revolves around Gods, Craftsmen, and the nature of sacrifice.

Caleb works for Red King Consolidated, a corporation of Craftsmen who killed the gods of Dresediel Lex sixty years ago and had since then taken their responsibility of supplying the growing city with everything needed for its survival, like water, power, and food. Caleb works as a professional risk manager for RKC and is sent to investigate an accident in one of the mountain reservoirs supplying the city with much needed water. Reservoir that had been contaminated by tsimet, or water demons. It’s up to Caleb to find out if it was a miscalculation in their risk assessment or the result of intentional sabotage. Turns out, there is more than tsimet lurking beneath the dark waters, and Dresediel Lex is in more trouble than anyone expects. And some of that trouble is very familiar to Caleb, since it comes from his father, who is also known as the last priest of the old gods and the leader of the True Quechal opposition.

This book is darker than the first one, because Quechal is not a peaceful country. The gods have been killed, but there are plenty who would welcome the return of the old ways. More importantly, this city shouldn’t exist. It’s a bustling metropolis on the shores of a deadly sea filled with monsters and surrounded by an arid land where nothing grows naturally. Everything that Dresediel Lex relies on to survive was provided by divine intervention. Gods made the rain fall and the reservoirs fill with water. Gods protected the fishing boats from the monsters roaming in the depths of the sea. Gods made crops grow on infertile soil and cattle thrive. And now those gods are gone, and RKC is a poor substitute for the miracles by which the gods kept Dresediel Lex alive and thriving. Dresediel Lex is a city on the brink of a disaster, even if the common masses don’t know it. Or maybe they know, but are too afraid to acknowledge it?

And Caleb is a prime example of this. He rejects the old ways because he’d seen firsthand how bloody and uncompromising they can be. But he also realizes that his new employer cannot keep the city going forever; that in ten – fifteen years the water table in Quechal would be sucked dry and the city would either die of thirst or have to wage war with other nations for that precious liquid. He sees no solution for this dilemma, and no future for himself or his city, so he is adrift, just living his days without a purpose or passion.

The story itself is gripping and fast-paced and ends on a hopeful note, despite the initial bleakness of the situation – when both the old and the new ways are equally bad, sometimes it’s essential to put your pride aside and work together for a different solution, a third way…

Anyway, I love this world and I would recommend this series to anyone who like complex stories that makes you think. I am certainly ready to dive into the next book in the series, so stay tuned for more reviews!

Chaos Rises (Veil World 1) by Pippa DaCosta.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

 

I always pick up a new series with a certain amount of trepidation. Will it be good? Will the world be interesting? Will the protagonist be engaging enough or will she or he make me want to pull my hair out? Will the actual plot of the book be worth the read? Some series start with a bang and some start with a whimper. I’m glad that Veil World turned out to be in the first category. So before I dive into the review, let me just say that Chaos Rises had been a tremendously fun read.

 

Gem and her brother Del are half-bloods. Half-demon and half-human. Created by the Institute for the sole purpose to hunt down and exterminate demons. Trained for that purpose since they barely learned how to walk as well. When the Veil fell and demons swarmed our world, Gem and Del took the opportunity to escape the Institute. Only their training didn’t prepare them for the harsh realities of life outside their sterile cells, and now, with the Veil back in place and stronger than ever and the Institute looking for them, they are forced to rely on the good graces of a demon to survive in LA. It’s not half bad, as long as they are together…

 

A routine mission to capture a lesser demon for their master goes terribly awry and lands Gem in a hospital bed while Del goes missing. Now Gem will go to any lengths to get her brother back, even if that means going against their benefactor.

 

Pippa DaCosta created a very interesting and different world. Are you used to smolderingly sexual and slightly dangerous demons who are just misunderstood and need someone to love them to transform into cuddly puppies? Well, you won’t find any here. These demons are smoldering, and sexual, yes, but also ruthless, cruel, and very very dangerous. And for them rutting, fighting, killing and devouring their enemies is just as fun. And not always in that order either.

 

The demon hierarchy is based on strength and ruthlessness. One literally climbs up the ladder stepping on the corpses of weaker and unluckier demons. And the place of half-bloods in that hierarchy? Right at the very bottom, just one step higher than the mindless lesser demons. Half-bloods were made to be owned, that’s what demon rules dictate.

 

I also liked the unusual take on half-bloods in this book. There is nothing “half” in Gem and Del. They are both fully human and fully demon. Two entities sharing the same shell and the same mind, constantly fighting for dominance. The life of a half-blood is a constant struggle to stay human enough to keep the demon in check. In the Institute, Gem managed to do that with the aid of a special drug, a drug that only Allard can procure for them now.

 

Gem is one heck of a protagonist. She is strong and determined and ruthless sometimes, but how can she not be with her upbringing? She doesn’t trust anyone, especially not demons, and the only person she can relate to is her brother. I also loved her struggle to keep control of her demon, to stay in charge when her world spun out of control more and more. And while at first I wondered what the big deal about that was, I was given ample explanation of it when Gem finally lost that control. She was created to kill demons, so her demon by definition had to be stronger, meaner and deadlier than her prey. Well, if such things as psychopathic serial killer demons existed in Hell, Gem’s demon would be one. Without her human mind in control, she is more terrifying than Allard and his demons.

 

The story is tightly wound and keeps you on the edge of your sit. I found myself rooting for Gem, celebrating her small victories and fuming on her behalf when things went from bad to worse.

 

So to summarize, Chaos Rises is an excellent start of a new series. I certainly recommend it to any Urban Fantasy lovers and I am looking forward to the next book.

 

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

The Ghoul King (A story of the Dreaming Cities) by Guy Haley.

 Stars: 5 out of 5.

 

Quinn, the Knight of the Dreaming City of Atlantis, is back in this new novella, and I’m so very happy about it! I’d read the first novella of the cycle, The Emperor’s Railroad, and absolutely loved it. If you are interested, you can read my review here. So I was eager to find out where Quinn’s adventures took him next.

 

Well, in The Ghoul King, Quinn finds himself rather down on his luck thanks to the intervention of an Angel, who took it rather personally when Quinn had killed that dragon at the end of The Emperor’s Railroad. So at the beginning of this book, Quinn has lost both his horses and his gear and is forced to fight countless waves of undead in the fighting pits of a squalid little town. So when a woman offers to tell him where his gear and horses are if he escorts her group of technophiles inside the ruined Dreaming City of Columbus, it’s not an offer he can refuse. Even if he knows that the chances that any of them will survive the trip are very slim. Even if he suspects that his employer’s reasons for entering Columbus might not be as innocent as she wants them to appear…

 

The first story gave us a glimpse into what promised to be a very complex world, but left us with more questions than answers in the end. I’m glad that in The Ghoul King, Haley answered at least some of those questions, even though those answers only added to the mystery. One of the answers we got in this book is about the origin of Angel, and just as I suspected, God had very little to do with their creation…

 

Just like in the first book, the reader sees this story through the eyes of a narrator who knows very little about the ugly reality behind the lies he’ grown up with. Though in this case, Jaxon is in possession of more knowledge then Abney from the first book. A forbidden knowledge that would get him killed if the Angels knew he had stumbled upon it. I love how Guy Harley manages to submerge the reader in his narrator’s point of view so seamlessly, that even though we recognize most of the things he describes, we understand why they would seem fantastical and incomprehensible to him. After all, Jaxon was born to a mostly medieval world, so he wouldn’t know what a computer or an elevator shaft is. He’d seen trains, but they were powered by clunky coal engines, so when he sees train tracks in a tunnel buried under a city, he can’t fathom how a train would travel through without its passengers suffocating.

 

And I understand his growing disappointment and even resentment towards the Angels because they decided to keep most of the knowledge of the Gone Before from common people. As a healer, he can’t understand what harm it could do to let doctors study the old textbooks. To educate the masses about microbes and bacteria and that washing your hands and separating your sewage from your drinking water would alleviate a lot of health problems. He doesn’t understand why his desire to learn how to help people would get him banished. And his encounter with Quinn, as well as the ill-fated trip into Columbus only reinforces his conviction that something is very wrong with the world he lives in…

 

As I said, this book gives us some answers and lifts the curtain a bit further over this interesting and complex world, but this story also raises more questions. What do the Angels do with the young people they collect from the villages every year? What happened in Atlantis to make Quinn rebel against the Angels? What is he looking for? And why did the Angels of Atlantis let him live? And also what cataclysm could transform what used to be a highly technological world into a barren wasteland where the remnants of humanity cling to small medieval cities?

 

I am looking forward to more stories set in this world and I hope that I will eventually get all the answers I want.

 

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