Tag Archives: book review

Shadebringer by Grayson W Hooper

Stars: 2 out of 5

I added one extra star for the originality of the premise. A soldier who dies during the Vietnam war ends up in a sort of transitional afterlife world where souls are supposed to heal and deal with their hang-ups before they transition into Heaven or Hell or reincarnate, depending on their religious preferences. Oh, and all the souls in this world are soldiers from all the wars ever fought on Earth. This could have been such an awesome story! I was so looking forward to exploring that! Unfortunately, the execution was mediocre at best.

The story takes a long time to get up to speed. I mean, the protagonist doesn’t even end up in Irgendwo until about 40% into the book. Until then we have a long and tedious account of him fighting in Vietnam. Well, by fighting I mean drinking, cursing, and being a total ass to his subordinates in Vietnam. We don’t get much actual fighting. And when we do, the fight sequences are confusing and not particularly well written.

Once we finally get to Irgendwo, the story doesn’t get much better. The author tells us a lot, but doesn’t show anything. He also doesn’t particularly explain how his world works. We travel through a desert and some woods and reach mountains, but there is no sense of scale. At one point it says that it’s days to the sulfur caves from the city where the protagonist is, yet it seems like an army of over two thousand people covers that distance almost instantaneously. I mean imagine the logistics involved in moving this many people over a long distance? Provisions, tents, etc.? Nope, no mention of that. They cover the distance seemingly by magic.

Speaking of magic. Apparently, there is such a ting in Irgendwo, but how it works is never explained. It’s like, here, put your hands like this and throw a fireball. Look at that, it works! There is mention of necromancers, and scryers, but how any of this works is never explained.

Nothing is explained or actually SHOWN. We are told that the people of Mora are evil and want to destroy this world, but apart from a brief scene where the protagonist witnesses a public hanging, I saw nothing that proves this supposed evilness. Or the goodness of the other guys… who force conscript anyone coming to their city. But it’s for a good cause, because the author said they are the good guys…

Also, we have soldiers from different conflicts throughout human history, including the most recent ones like WW1 and WW2. Heck, the protagonist died in Vietnam… yet all their weapons and armor are stuck in the middle ages. We have swords and maces and bows, but no guns? Why? Once again, nothing is explained. 

I think by now you can see the trend here.

I could have forgiven the lack of decent worldbuilding and explanation, if the characters were interesting. Unfortunately, that is not the case. All the secondary characters have the personalities of a cardboard cutout. And the cutout isn’t of a real person, but of a cartoon. Seriously, I can hardly remember their names, yet alone their descriptions. 

The main protagonist doesn’t fare much better. I found him extremely unlikable. He comes across as an entitled asshole who thinks that he is better than everyone else, so he treat them like dirt. Oh, and he gets away with this because he is the Chosen One. He is so quick to pass judgement on people based on their appearance or actions, yet we have seen him being a horrible excuse for a human being during his time in Vietnam… yet he considers himself so good and righteous. I wanted to slap him or throttle him for most of the book.

I quit reading at 85%, smack in the middle of the last decisive battle that was supposed to decide the fate of Irgendwo, because I realized that I simply didn’t care one way or another. I wasn’t invested in this story and the people. I couldn’t care less if that portal was closed or if the Children (which we know next to nothing about) were finally going to invade and burn everything to the ground. As far as I’m concerned, they are welcome to it.

This is supposed to be the first book in a new series, but I have no interest in picking up the next one. Me and Irgendwo are parting ways.

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

Book of Night (Book of Night 1) by Holly Black

Stars: 3.5 out of 5

This is an interesting first book in an exciting new urban fantasy series. I will definitely follow this author for updates. 

I especially loved the magic system and the magic world. It is different from the common werewolves/vampires/witches or fairies, etc. fare. Here we have normal humans all around, only some of them have quickened shadows that allow them to perform feats that can be considered magic. The system has limitations and the magical abilities of the shadows are specialized. And the shadow quickening requires life energy, mostly in the form of blood. Usually, the practitioner feeds the shadow with small amounts of his/her own blood, but more unscrupulous ones have been known to resort to blood sacrifices.

I also liked our protagonist. She is flawed and, in some ways, a total screw-up. But considering her upbringing, I am surprised she manages to be a more or less functioning human being at all. Yes, Charlie is a screw-up that is known for notoriously bad choice, especially when it comes to men she dates. But she is also very good at her chosen profession, even if this profession is a thief and con artist. Charlie is at her best when she is the Charlatan. Her life might be in shambles, but when she is working a job, she possesses magic of her own, which consists of good instincts and a visceral knowledge of people’s behavior. 

I am definitely interested in sticking around for a bit and explore this world more in the next books, but the story itself was a little underwhelming, once we got past the awesome worldbuilding and into the meat of the intrigue. 

Fist of all, it’s confusing and the motivation behind some of the things the different characters do is thin to non-existent. For example, why did the Hierophant kill that guy in the alley in the beginning of the book? If the main villain knew that the book of shadows wasn’t lost at all, why send the Hierophant after the guy who claimed to have it? 

And speaking of the villain, what was his end game exactly? Yes, he is evil. Yes, he is depraved. Yes, he is power-hungry. But what is it that he was trying to accomplish here? It’s never fully explained. Besides, as far as moustache-swirling villains go, he is so evil it’s bordering on ridiculous. 

Another problem here is that apart from Charlie, the characterizations of all the other people in this book are thin at best, even cliched. There isn’t a single memorable character. Even the cat was blah, which is a big let down for a cat lover. 

All in all however, I enjoyed this book while I was reading it, so I will definitely be willing to give book 2 a try as well. Hopefully now that the setup and worldbuilding is out of the way, the story and characterization can take the front seat. 

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

Plague Birds by Jason Sanford

Stars: 2 out of 5

If you are looking for a book with a story that keeps you on the edge of your seat and driven by memorable characters… this is not a story you are looking for. If you are looking for a mismatched bag of great ideas loosely wrapped into something resembling a story with characters that have the depth of cardboard, then by all means, give Plague Birds a try.

This was a very disappointing read. I was lured into this book by the excellent cover (I mean, seriously, look at this thing, it’s gorgeous) and a blurb that promised an interesting story set in a unique world. The world is unique, alright, and that’s why this gets 2 stars instead of 1, but the interesting story never materialized.

Instead, I felt like the author had a basketful of interesting concepts that  he really wanted to play with and include in the story, but he couldn’t quite figure out how to weave them into a coherent narrative, so he just tossed them all in, shook it a little and left the end result to chance. So we get villages governed by AI, cannibal monks in a monastery dedicated to preserving the knowledge of a lost human race, a forest that becomes sentient by torturing people who venture into it, and so on and so forth. Yes, those are fascinating and often horrifying concepts that were interesting to explore, but what they add to the main story is unclear.

Speaking of main story. I am still not sure what it was. What was the end goal here? Was it to discover the through behind the death of Crista’s mother? Was it to reach the city of Seed? Was it to catch the villain killing plague birds? The stakes are not clear, and there is no sense of urgency, so the story meanders along with Crista seemingly without purpose. Yes, they need to stop the Veil, but there isn’t a ticking clock to create a sense of urgency. They can hunt those people for hundreds of years without anything bad happening for all we know.

And I could have forgiven this lack of cohesive story if the characters I was forced to follow were interesting. Not the case here. I am still not sure I know Crista even after spending this journey with her. Despite this being told in first person from her point of view, the author does a very poor job actually showing us her thoughts, motivations and inner workings. 

This goes for all the other characters as well. In fact, this book is all tell and almost no show. We get flashbacks and infodumps galore. People react in ways that often puzzle me because the author never explained what made them tick. Though in the case of the main villain, I am not sure even the author knew what made him tick, because his motivation is thinner then rice paper. I mean, he could have killed Crista several times over, but he chose to mess with her mind and/or even help her instead. Why? Never explained.

Another big disappointment for me was that this book reads like a YA story. With all the typical YA shortfalls and tropes. Including insta-love (or should I say insta-lust?). Yet it’s not classified as YA on NetGalley or Goodreads. Had I seen that before I had requested this book, I would never have bothered. I have nothing against the YA genre. I just don’t read it.

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

Terminal Peace (Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse 3) by Jim C Hines

Stars: 5 out of 5

This was an excellent ending to what turned out to be a very good series. I will definitely check out other books by this author, because as far as introductions go, the Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse knocked it out of the park.

This book effectively resolves the main issue of the first two books – the seemingly unresolvable Prodryan treat. How do you prevail over a species who considers all other species as inferior and the whole universe as their own playground, ripe for the taking? Where conquest is woven into the very DNA of a Prodryan? The only way to beat that is genocide, at least according to the Krakau Alliance. And we found out exactly to what lengths the Krakau are willing to go to accomplish that in the previous two books. But Marion “Mops” Adamapoulos and her crew might just have another solution…

I loved how unpredictable these books are. Every time I think I know the course which the story will take, the author manages to surprise me with a completely different resolution. I admit that I still have doubts about the feasibility of the solution proposed at the end of this book, but I admit that it’s beautifully accomplished. What solution? you might ask. Well, read the book to find out.

Mops also had a big obstacle to overcome in this book. One that is very personal and very terminal. It was both uplifting and bittersweet to embark on this journey with her and to see her slowly come to grips with her own condition and her place in the big picture. Mops grew a lot as a leader and a human being throughout the series. 

So did all the other characters as well. I was particularly impressed with how far Kumar came from the obsessive-compulsive cleaner he’d been in book 1. The great part is that he is still obsessive-compulsive, but he had matured as a person and discovered some inner depths that I frankly didn’t know he had. That’s the great thing about this series – the characters evolve and mature, but they fundamentally stay themselves. The growth is believable. They still act in character and the decisions they make are believable based on what we know of them. 

I admit that up until almost the end was wasn’t sure what kind of solution our crew would find to the Protryan problem short of full-on genocide or chemically altering an entire species which would also be a different kind of genocide. As I had mentioned earlier, the solution is quite beautifully done, even if I have doubts it would last long-term. I would be interested to see how it works out, if the author decides to revisit this world again in his later works. 

There are a number of characters I would like to follow up on, including Mops and all the Librarians on Earth. We end this book on a hopeful note, with a real cure for feral humanity. This is huge. How would that work out? A whole civilization to rebuild and hordes of feral humans to cure and re-educate. That’s a big task. Also, how will this new alliance work? How would the Prodryans interact with other species when they aren’t trying to conquer them?

All in all, this was a very good story – fast paced and full of twists and turns and engaging characters. And the Jynx are furry little balls of awesome.

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

The Red Palace by June Hur

Stars: 4.5 out of 5

I am a big fan of Korean dramas in general and saiguk, or costumed period dramas in particular. I also love fiction books set in cultures other than European Middle ages. So this book was right up my alley.

I lived the rich world the author describes here, and as I watched a lot of period dramas, I could picture all the costumes and locations with perfect clarity, which only added to my delight with this book.

It doesn’t hurt that the protagonist is very likeable as well. She is honest and good-hearted, but also full of flaws and insecurities. Life was hard for women in Joseon Korea, especially illegitimate daughters of noblemen who barely acknowledge them. I loved Hyeon’s determination to make a life for herself and how hard she works to achieve it.

Granted, at first her motivation is misguided – she wants to prove to her father that she is someone worth loving. Frankly, if her father doesn’t love her now, nothing will change that. And he even proves my point by recklessly wreaking her life in the middle of the book, just because she wouldn’t obey him.

I was glad to see Hyeon’s journey in this book. Her coming into her own strength and finally discovering what she wants to do with her life. What makes her happy. Her finally stopping to chase for her father’s approval.

I also loved the low key love story developing between her and Robin. Their collaboration that evolved into mutual respect and trust, then affection. I even liked that the ending isn’t a typical “and they got married and lived happily ever after”. There is a lot more to Hyeon than just settling into the role of a housewife.

If I have one complaint it’s that the intrigue itself felt a bit simplistic. I guessed the plot twists before we arrived to them. But that definitely didn’t take away from my enjoyment.

This is a fast and delightful read, and I would definitely recommend it.

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

Dead Silence by S. A. Barnes

Stars: 3 out of 5

This book had so much promise! Ghost ship in space! Damaged protagonist! Horror of the psychological and other kind! I couldn’t wait to start it. And for the first three quarters of the book it was really great. I honestly thought that this would be one of the best horror books I’d read in 2022… then the ending botched it all, at least for me.

Then again, I am not a fan of evil corporations doing evil things because they are evil. It’s been done to death by now in books, movies, and video games. Let the corporations rest. Find another villain for your stories. Thanks.

Also, this story was truly frightening as long as we didn’t know what really happened to the Aurora. I was terrified for our characters when they first boarded the ship and started exploring. The obvious signs of violence and the fact that we didn’t know what had cause everyone to go mad was really scary. The ending killed that, in my opinion. As soon as I knew what was behind everything, I didn’t care anymore. As I said, it’s one thing to watch a group of hapless people battle against an unknown entity, and another to see them battle against a corrupt space corporation. I’ve seen the second scenario too many times before.

I loved Claire though. She is a very relatable protagonist. I couldn’t help but root for her the more I learned about her past trauma. And since she has psychological issues of her own, she makes the perfect unreliable narrator here – we never know what is just in her head and what is affecting everybody else. And she doesn’t know it either, which adds to the angst. 

Unfortunately, the other characters were a lot less defined. In fact, most of them were just placeholders: the self-assured jerk, the innocent young girl, the nerdy hacker, the evil corporation goon, the entitled rich guy. I honestly couldn’t care less about any of them. 

I was also not sold on the burgeoning love story. I think it was shoe-horned into the main story just to make the reader care more about the characters. Well, it did the opposite to me. The whole courtship felt so forced that it turned me away from the characters. I think I rolled my eyes every time they interacted. It wasn’t needed. Claire had enough motivation trying to save her team without adding a love interest into the mix. 

Finally, I wasn’t a fan of the ending. It felt a little bit too convenient and didn’t fit with the rest of the story. I understand that the author wanted to give a HEA to the characters and an emotional payoff for the reader, but to me it felt flat. 

All in all, it was a good read for most part. I mean, I finished it in one day. But it could have been so much better. 

Mai Tais For the Lost by Mia V Moss

 Stars: 2.5 out of 5

This was a meh book for me, even if it was very short at barely over 100 pages. 

I think the problem was that I went into the book thinking it would be a murder mystery. After all, we have a private detective, we have a murder, and we have a (sort of) investigation of that murder. Sadly, none of it is executed very well. 

I’d say that it’s good Marrow is the only private detective in that hab, because she sucks. If she had competition, she would go out of business in a heartbeat. All she does in these 100-some pages is get drunk and high and go from one party to another. Oh sure, call them “wakes” for her murdered brother, if you want to. I’ll call them pointless waste of pages. 

No seriously, what was the point of showing us these parties? To introduce the other colorful characters Marrow grew up with? To show us just how decadent and selfish the rich are? One party would have been enough for that. And if it was to make us care for some of those characters, I’m afraid the author failed. By the end of the book, I can’t remember anything about them apart from their weird names. Besides, the author doesn’t even mention if they lived or died at the end of the book, though it’s implied that they were left in imminent danger somewhere along the way.

Now let’s talk about Marrow herself. She keeps telling us that she’d been ostracized because she come from “the Poor” and was adopted into a rich family, but from all the interactions I had seen with her brother’s friends, they seem to be pretty accepting of her, even affectionate. So the “show” doesn’t support the “tell,” which to makes me doubt a lot of other assumptions Marrow has. She also sucks as an investigator. All she does during this book is get drunk or high and stumble into pieces of evidence conveniently left for her to find. Great detective she is not.

I also found the murder mystery itself rather lackluster. We really don’t get any resolution there, just more questions and loose ends. Yes, we saved the habitat from a corporate assassin, but other than that, there is no emotional payoff…

Like I said, I probably came into this book with a wrong set of expectations, and was left disappointed.

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

The Thousand Eyes (The Serpent Gates 2) by A. K. Larkwood

 Stars: 5 out of 5

I had absolutely loved the fist book (and you can read my review here), so I had picked up this book with a certain amount of trepidation. Too often the second book in a series is much weaker than the fist one, serving just as sort of filler before the grand showdown in book 3. I am happy to report that that is not the case here. The second book is just as good as the first one. I am also happy that the author decided to turn this into a duology. We get to finish the journey with all our characters and wrap up all of their paths in more or less neat fashion. 

I will try to avoid spoilers, but let me just say that this book went in to a direction I wasn’t expecting at all, but that’s what made it such a fun and engaging read as well. I really didn’t know where the author would be taking the characters next, but I was so invested in their fates that I was happily along for the ride. Just be warned that the book turns rather dark at some points and things happen to both our characters and the people around them that would be considered nightmarish. 

This book raises several important questions. What is the definition of self? Is self-consciousness set in stone or can it evolve over time and circumstances? What happens when two different entities merge as one? Does one effectively dominate and destroy the other? Do they share the body and take turns? Or do they blend into something new, a combination of both entities? And what makes us human? Can divinities experience love and compassion? Can they change? 

It also asks the important question of how far would you go to save the person you care about. Does the desire to protect the one you love excuse the horrible things you have to do to keep them safe or to just remain by their side? Also, is the lack of compassion and a complete self-absorption the fault of a divine presence, or was it already part of the human soul that merged with it? So many important questions and so many different fates interwoven into this tory. I loved that each characters chose their own, often rather unique answer to them. Because everyone’s story is different. Just like in life. 

It’s an interesting story to navigate along with Czorwe, Tal, and Shutmili, because they are all seeking answers to those questions in their own deeply personal ways. I am also glad that everyone gets a (sort of) happy ending despite all the hardships fate puts them through along the way. Especially Tal, because the poor boy has suffered enough. 

All in all, it was a wonderful world that I enjoyed discovering alongside all characters. I wouldn’t mind revisiting it someday just to discover more strange worlds in the broken maze, even if the stories are told by a different set of characters. I will definitely be following this author closely and check out their new books.

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

Terminal Uprising (Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse 2) by Jim C Hines

Stars: 5 out of 5.

The second book in the series didn’t disappoint either. It continues the story started in book 1 and amps up the stakes! 

The story picks up a couple months after the events of the last book where Mops and the crew of Pufferfish almost single-handedly saved the Krakau homeworld. Did they get thanked for that? Of course not. They are on the run, declared criminals in the Alliance. Their ship is falling apart and their future seems bleak. They really have no choice but to accept the highly illegal mission Admiral Pachelbel gives them in exchange for funds to keep the spaceship flight-worthy. Even if this mission brings them back to a place none of them wants to come back to – Earth.

We finally get to go back to Earth and the ruins of human civilization. And it’s made even more painful by the fact that we now know that humanity hadn’t destroyed itself, that the Krakau were directly responsible for destroying a whole civilization, then keeping it quiet for over 200 years.

It’s very interesting to see our ragtag band of characters confront this place of their biggest fears, but also grow and mature both as individuals and also as a group of people who had been thrown together by circumstances, but end up becoming a surrogate family. They count on each other, they understand each other’s flaws and strengths and they protect each other. That is wonderful to see in a book.

And of course, all the ingenious and non-standard ways they come up with to resolve some pretty dire situations is a delight to read about. Not to mention the dry and often dark humor that permeates this book and helps the reader and the characters survive some pretty horrible things.

I also loved the Librarians! It was a very nice touch to discover that not all humans turned feral. That a very small percentage of the population was immune to the Krakau venom. And that those survivors banded together not only to keep each other safe, but also to try and preserve all the knowledge of the human civilization for future human or whomever discovers Earth in the following centuries. It was also wonderful to see that the Librarians even had a program for helping feral humans.

It was wonderful to see those “non-altered” humans interact with our “cured” humans, because until that comparison, I didn’t fully realize just how different they were physiologically. Yes, if you look at it from the real humans’ perspective, the feral humans are basically zombies – lower body temperature, black blood that coagulates almost as soon as it touches the air, unable to feel pain, so they keep going even when the body is broken, and guided only by they most primal instincts. And restored humans keep all the physical attributes, but regain their intelligence on top of it. No wonder the rest of the galaxy fears those unkillable savages!

The story itself is also well-done in this book. This is the case where we can ask ourselves how far is too far when trying to save the world. Does the need of the many really outweigh the need of the few? Where is that thin line that separates us from the monster we are fighting against? I won’t spoil it any more than this. Just go read the book!

Terminal Alliance (Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse 1) by Jim C Hines

Stars: 5 out of 5.

I think I discovered my new favorite space opera series! This book is funny, witty, and very-well constructed. We get alien races, world-shattering conspiracies, a galaxy on the brink of an all out war… and a group of janitors stuck in the midst of it all.

I really loved the fact that our would-be heroes are not highly trained infantry soldiers (well, apart from Monroe, who was infantry, but got injured so badly, half his body is is artificial). They are just a team of janitors on a spaceship that happen to be the only group still standing and in their right mind when a biological weapon is deployed against the entire crew. And even that is mostly due to chance. 

It’s interesting to see this group of people finding most unusual solutions to their problems and utilizing the full extent of their cleaning knowledge to effectively neutralize their reverted comrades without killing them, and to keep the giant ship afloat the best they can… not to mention, unearth a conspiracy, thwart a genocide and save an entire planet. I’d say that makes them pretty amazing, actually, especially for a species of aggressive monkeys that the rest of the aliens consider barely sentient.

Let’s mention that little twist, shall we? This story is set after humanity pretty much destroyed itself by turning all known humans into ferals. I would say it’s an equivalent of zombies, only the infected are not dead and do not decay. They are stronger, faster, don’t feel pain, can survive anything short of a decapitation… and are devoid of intelligence. They are basically driven by one instinct – hunt for food. And food can be anything – other humans, animals, aliens, trees, rocks, you name it. 

Once another alien species, the Krakau, figures out how to cure those feral humans, they realize that they have a loyal and virtually unstoppable army at the tip of their tentacles. No wonder the mere mention of humans instills fear in the hearts of other alien species. Only not everything is as it seems and humanity saviors might not be as innocent as they are portrayed to be. For more information on that matter, read the book.

I loved all the characters I encountered in this book, especially Mops and her crew. They have their own quirks, but they are all very relatable and likeable. and Puffy, don’t get me started on Puffy!

This is definitely a series worth reading for the story, the (somewhat dark) humor, the wonderful characters. I am definitely picking up book 2.