Tag Archives: book review

Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon

Stars: 2.5 out of 5

This book had so much promise! The premise was intriguing, and the book started strong with Vern on the run and not much explanation of what had happened but with a growing sense of urgency that even the reader could feel.

The book was good for the first half at least, while we followed Vern as she learned to live in the woods and tried to raiser her children by herself.

Unfortunately, by the second half of the book, the novelty of the story ran out, and I discovered a couple things that started gradually dampening my enjoyment of the book until they ruined it completely. I’m sad to say that I finished this as a hate read. I was so close to the end that I had to finish it just to say that I did.

First of all, the story just keeps circling the drain for most of the book. Vern knows that the answers to what’s happening to her are back in Cainland, but she never actually does anything to find them. She knows that the woods are not safe anymore for her little family, but her answer is to go back to civilization nilly willy and follow a dream. No recon beforehand, no explanation or basic training for her children before she subjects them to such a traumatic change. It’s a wonder she even got to her destination at all. The way they were dressed and the way they acted, she should have been picked up by cops almost immediately.

I think my biggest problem is Vern herself. I have never seen a more selfish and pig-headed protagonist in my life! It was okay in the beginning because she was young and on the run, overwhelmed by circumstances. Problem is, she never changes. She doesn’t grow up. She doesn’t evolve and mature. She stays the same bull-headed and selfish teenager throughout the book. She is stubborn, and prideful, and rebellious just for the sake of being rebellious, or that’s what it seems at times. She is the kind of person who would stick her arm in the fire and let it burn just because somebody told her not to do that. That’s just incredibly stupid.

She abandons her babies for nights at end alone… in the woods… in a makeshift shelter open to elements. She hurts the only person who had information about Cainland and what was happening to her, instead of listening and trying to get information out of her first. She pouts and shouts, instead of admitting that she can’t read, even though learning to read would help her find the answers she wants.

And the most infuriating part is, despite all those shortcomings and acts of tremendous idiocy, she always escapes scoot free. There are no dramatic consequences to her actions.

She leaves two newborns in the woods all night? Sure, they are all nice and safe in the morning. No animals found them and hurt them. They didn’t get cold or hungry and started crying. In fact, how the heck did they survive for 8 years in the woods and never once got sick with anything?

Vern literally walked them into a mall, dressed them in new clothes, grabbed essential… and just walked out? And the tags on the clothes didn’t’ set off the alarms? The security in the mall didn’t catch her? Right…

The further we venture into the story and out of the woods, the more implausible this lack of consequences gets. To the point that I didn’t even care for any of this anymore. Whatever Vern did, she would get out of it looking better than ever, with an “upgrade” to her supernatural abilities. If the protagonist has a “Mary Sue shield” around her, what’s the point reading her story?

The ending is even more underwhelming because it reads like the final boss level of a video game – Vern gets her maximum upgrades and goes to fight the bad guys who don’t stand a chance. Only it’s all kind of pointless at that point, pun intended.

In conclusion, I wouldn’t recommend this. There are better and more impactful stories out there that don’t need deux ex machina elements to keep the protagonist from dying because of her own stupidity.

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

A Master of Djin by P. Djeli Clark (Dead Djin Universe 1)

Stars: 3 out of 5

I really love this author’s short stories. I’ve read everything he published and each one of the stories was a solid 5 out 5 stars. So I was really looking forward to diving into this full length novel set in the same world as the Haunting of Tram Car 015.

Unfortunately, my high expectations were met with a disappointment. This has all the ingredients that made his short stories great… but the mixture isn’t quite setting right.

I think one of the reasons is that there isn’t enough plot here for a novel, so the author is putting a lot of filler to add to the word count. As a result, the narrative moves at a very sedate pace and feels rather disjointed. I caught myself wondering several times why the the author chose to stay with some minutia details for as long as he did.

When the narrative actually moves the story along, it’s all tight writing and nail-biting action. Unfortunately the “padding” kills that momentum every time. I constantly felt like the story was hitting the break every time it was starting to get good.

My other problem with this book was that I didn’t particularly care for the protagonist. Fatma spends most of the book worrying more about if her tie matches her outfit or what her lover is doing than doing actual detective work. As a result, she comes across as an irresponsible airhead, not a decorated investigator.

And speaking of detective work, Fatma is particularly bad at it in this book. To the point I started wondering exactly how she got her position. Did she get hired as the token female into an all male world? I’m sure that’s not the view the author intended to convey, but Fatma’s seeming ineptitude and worry about her wardrobe above anything else doesn’t make her seem like a capable character. Heck, all the major clues that move the story along are basically handed to her by other characters!

I think the author realized that his protagonist wasn’t doing much detecting, so he decided to give her a new partner. Who is also a female. Fresh out of the academy. Very eager to learn and to jump into action.

This could have been such a wonderful idea to explore – to have those two women used to being tough in a man’s world butt heads, learn how to cooperate, and slowly gel into a cohesive team. And in the beginning it really seemed like that would be the road the author would take… until it wasn’t.

The problem here is that he made the new recruit too perfect. She is skilled in martial arts, she is smart and reads several languages, she never looses her cool even in dreadful situations, and she knows and uncle/cousin/brother-in-law, etc. in any and all departments of Egyptian life. She is basically a glorified Mary Sue.

So we have a wishy washy protagonist paired with a Mary Sue and a story that draaaaaags over pages and pages… and the result is a big disappointment. I think I’ll still with this author’s shorter work for now.

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

Sleepless by Louise Mumford

Stars: hesitating between 2 and 2.5 out of 5.

This book had such promise! The idea behind it was excellent and the blurb drew me in. Even the beginning was rather exciting. I was really pumped about reading it for about the first 35-40% of the book… Then things went downhill.

There were several reasons for this quick fall from grace, at least for me.

First of all, to create a good mystery, you need tension. To create a good horror story, you need to create the atmosphere of constant unease, when the reader and the characters know that something is wrong, but the tension is slowly winding up, like a tightening spring. Or you can have monsters jumping out of the dark and eating your face off… whatever works. The point is, it has to be scary but BELIEVABLE within the rules and limits of the world the author created.

This is were this book fails spectacularly. All the characters, especially the villains, have never heard of the word “logic”. They turn form a group of sleep study researchers into murderers seemingly in the blink of an eye. So the protagonist is asking questions about an apparition she saw in the ruins? Let’s take her there and try to kill her! But we already moved the crazy patient in a different location, so she won’t find anything. Why kill her? Oh, who cares, let’s just kill her anyway because reasons. Not to mention who is the genius that decided a ruined monastery was the perfect place to keep a sedated patient chained to a hospital bed? When you have a perfectly functional remote lighthouse on the island that has the advantage of having a roof and all the walls intact?

Also, the main premise of this book is completely destroyed about 40% in. So the protagonist is suffering from chronic sleeplessness. She can’t fall asleep… like ever. She does on 1 to 2 hours to sometimes zero a night. She’s been to all kinds of sleep studies and tried all sleep aids under the sun, right? She signs up for this experiment out of desperation… Yet not a week into this study, she is told that she doesn’t have a sleep problem. She has an internal clock problem instead. Meaning, she falls asleep between 7am and 10am instead of doing it night like normal people. Really? All the other doctors hadn’t noticed that? SHE didn’t notice that she can actually sleep on weekends when she doesn’t have to get up for work? Find a different job. Work second or night shift and your problem is solved…

The technology itself is explained rather badly. Nobody would give Thea a straight answer about how it works or what exactly they will do to her… yet she goes along it it all the same. I get it that you are desperate, but this borders on stupid.

But the nail in the coffin of this book for me was the protagonist herself. I can (usually) suffer through a bad plot if the protagonist is believable or likeable. Or suffer a bad protagonist if the story is amazing, but I can’t do both.

Thea is the type of protagonist who let’s the story happen to them, instead of creating that story with her actions. She spends about 90% of the story in an indecisive stupor, doubting herself, terrified, or simply going along with the flow. She is dragged from one place or another, from one plot point to the next by other people or circumstances. When she needs to act, she freezes and watches the action unfold around her. Granted, this is probably a realistic depiction of what an average person would do when presented with these kind of circumstances… but I read fiction to escape from reality. I want to read about characters who take action, even if with disasters consequences instead of being dragged behind the train of the story like so much useless baggage.

So I’m sorry, but this book and I had a rather messy and angry divorce and I hate-read it to the end.

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

Spec Ops Z by Gavin G. Smith

Stars: 2 out of 5 for the novelty of the idea.

DNFed at 85%. Yes, I know, I was so close to the finish… I really tried to power through, I promise.

It had a fun beginning and an interesting premise. It was fast paced and fun during their attack on NY and their escape from Manhattan afterwards.

It got boring and yawn inducing during the time on the boat. Too much drama and blatant insubordination. I’m not sure about the author’s background, but spetsnaz are ELITE forces, a bit like Navy SEALS. The shit Gulag was pulling in this book would have gotten him shot back in Afghanistan already… and to add insult to injury, Vadim is an idiot incapable of leading a pack of 5 year old’s, least of all a squad of elite soldiers. He has no authority, no personal charisma, and he doesn’t command respect. He is a joke. Fraulein was a more believable commander than him. Come on, author, you could do better than this.

But even the more than subpar protagonist would have been okay. I was looking for gruesome zombie fun, after all… only we didn’t really get much of it after the escape from NY. Mostly it’s people vs. people with the walking dead as a distraction.

Also, the author seems to forget his protagonists are zombies half the time, only remembering their “condition” when it’s convenient. They go from barely being able to keep their sanity every time they are in proximity of human beings to spending weeks with over 100 live humans on a boat. Not to mention that Princess is still alive and by the end, it didn’t seem to bother the rest of them anymore.

Not to mention that being zombies doesn’t make them superpowered. They are dead. They should start decomposing by now. And there is only so much punishment a dead body can take before it isn’t functional anymore. Yet they walk, talk, shoot, etc. without any problems even over a week after turning… after being shot at, beaten, etc. Yeah, my disbelief meter was slowly reaching boiling point.

At this point, I was still resolved to drag myself painfully across the finish line. But then the author introduced fake (and not so fake) Nazis… in 1980s England. Yeah, no. The level of stupid just overwhelmed my desire to finish the book. Welcome to the DNF graveyard.

PS: Thanks to Netgalley for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower by Tamsyn Muir

Stars: 3.5 out of 5

The princess in a tower guarded by a dragon and the prince who has to battle the monster in order to rescue her is a classical fairy tale trope.

But what happens if the dragon crunched up all the princes and no more are coming to your rescue? What if instead winter is coming and the tower is decidedly NOT equipped with hot water, heat, or insulation? What if a diet of milk, bread, and oranges is fine for a couple weeks, but decidedly NOT good after a few months? There comes a time when even the meekest princess will have to make a choice: either try to confront the monsters in the tower and make it to the bottom, or choose the fast and fatal drop out of her window. So Floralinda opens the door to her room and changes her destiny forever.

It was interesting to see Floralinda slowly transforming from a princess to someone in charge of her own destiny. It was certainly subverting a trope. It was also interesting to see the different monsters populating the levels of the tower, even if thinking that an untrained girl could succeed where numerous princes failed was rather unrealistic. But hey, it’s still a fairy tale after all.

Speaking of fairy tales, I wouldn’t recommend reading it to younger children. Some descriptions are rather… graphic, and Floralinda is forced to do some things that might shock younger minds. She has to go down a tower full of monsters, after all.

I am not satisfied with the ending though. Floralinda fights so hard to be free of this tower. She literally transforms herself into a different person to survive this and triumph over all the monsters… and the author chooses to leave her in the tower? Why??? She earned her freedom. She could have gone and done anything with her life, but the author decided to keep her exactly where she started? That didn’t sit well with me.

But all in all it was a short and sweet read that helped me pass a rainy afternoon, but Floralinda deserved better than the ending she got.

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

The Fractured Void (Twilight Imperium #1) by Tim Pratt

Stars: 3.5 out of 5

I admit that this was a fun and lighthearted romp of a novel.

As far as first books in a series go, it fulfilled its function rather well – it introduced the world and the characters that live in it without it ever filling like an infodump.

The world is fascinating. We have different planets, and a lot of different alien species that have learned to co-exist in a way that seems very natural. The way they operate, talk and interact with each other never feels forced. Also, all alien species described fit well into their environment, like the “squid” people who live on two planets that are covered by oceans.

This is what attracted me the most to this book. I love when the author knows their world. He doesn’t have to give us an infodump on it for the reader to see that. The little hints thrown here and there along the story show the reader that there is much more history to explore and that the author knows what’s going on. There is background there. Things happen for a reason. I would love to explore this galaxy a bit more in the next books.

But the worldbuilding is only part of the magic formula. The other ingredient is the characters. And I admit that this part didn’t work quite as well for me.

I liked the Duval Devils alright, even though they seemed a little over the top in their piratey brashness from time to time. They seemed like a group of misfits at first, posturing in front of each other and trying to look cool. But I admit that they gelled as a team somewhere halfway through the book, probably because they finally had a common goal and a common detestable person to hate. I think Tib was my favorite character in this book. She is smart, she is efficient, and her sarcasm is right up my alley.

I really didn’t click with the duo that was opposing them. I know Azad and Severine were supposed to represent two strong female characters, but… I don’t know… I think Azad’s complete lack of scruples or any moral compass at all did her no favor. She has all the markings of a psychopath, and I have never been particularly found of those. The author kept them alive for a reason, so my guess is they will play a part in future books, but honestly, I could care less.

The author takes home the 2020 award for creating the most detestable character of the year, and he isn’t even a villain in a true sense of the term. Thales is a despicable, nasty piece of work. He is a megalomaniac with a huge chip on his shoulder who never forgets any offense, real or perceived, towards his fragile ego. I admit that I cheered a little when our good captain punched him in the face. And I definitely felt good when he got what he deserved at the end of the novel.

My problem with this book is that it feels like a big prologue rather than a first book in a series. The set up for the real conflict happens in the last two chapters and in the epilogue. Yes, it was fun to see the Duval Devils wheezing around the known galaxy assembling parts for the wormhole device, but it’s only set up. The bad guys are introduced only in the last chapters, so the end of the book feels rather anticlimactic. Yes, Thales got what he deserved, but the damage is already done, and the REAL STORY starts now. Only it doesn’t because the book ends.

I like this book well enough to pick up the next one in the series, because the writing was fun and light and there was a good balance between action and exposition. Hopefully, I will like the characters of the next installment better than this one.

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

The Kraken’s Tooth by Anthony Ryan (The Seven Swords #2)

Stars: 3.5 out of 5.

I liked this book better than the first one, which I reviewed here.

One of the reasons is that there are a lot less characters, so the author gets the chance to focus a bit more on each of them. So they actually feel like people instead of cardboard cutouts. It helps that we already met Seeker and Pilgrim in the first book, so the author doesn’t have to reintroduce us to them. He can focus on fleshing them out more instead.

This is where comes my first complaint. Pilgrim is the only one deserving fleshing out and a back story, it seems. Oh, we dwelve into his past plenty in this book. We even learn how he got bound to his demin sword. Don’t get me wrong, it’s interesting and I welcomed the knowledge… I just wish the author would have done the same with Seeker.

As it stands, she is still the mysterious beast master who is looking for her kidnapped daughter. Deadly with a now, masterful in animal control, silent and not very fleshed out. We don’t even get to learn her name, unlike Pilgrim. Oh, and we still haven’t found her daughter, imagine that. I hope that the author pays her more attention in the next book, because she is an interesting character who deserves to come out of Pilgrim’s shadow and get a voice of her own.

The world continues to be imaginative and intriguing. Therr are gods, demons, ancient heroes, and strange cartographers who are much older than they appear. I’m not entirely sure how all this fits together just yet, but I’m happy to stick along for the ride. As ling as the hints thrown here and there in the books end up fitting into a coherent picture in the end.

Can’t help but notice that so far all Pilgrim and Seeker did in their quest was bring ruin and destruction to magical places that had stood for millennia. I hope that’s not a trend. Otherwise by the time Pilgrim assembles all the cursed swords, the world would be in ruins.

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

Lost and Found by Orson Scott Card

Stars: 2 out of 5.

Sometimes even authors we like disappoint us. Ender’s Game is still close to the top of my list of favorite scifi books. I re-read it several times since I discovered it in my tender teens and had my mind blown away. So to say that I was excited to get my hands on this new book by Orson Scott Card is an understatement. I couldn’t wait to read it! I dove into it as soon as I got it! And… I don’t know… I guess I am not the right audience for his YA books.

I mean the story itself had potential. Kids with micropowers and being ostracized because of them? Excellent. A support group that lets them explore those powers and find useful applications for them or at least to come to terms with having them? Very good. A commentary on friendship and the concept of found family? I’m along for the ride. Add to it a missing person case and cooperation with the police, and this sounded like the perfect book.

Unfortunately, even though these sounded like great individual elements, the mixture turned out to be rather underwhelming. Even though the book is very well written and easy to read, I had several problems with the story.

First of all, the incessant banter between the characters. For a solitary kid, Ezekiel sure talks a lot. While some of it was fun and relevant to the story, but most of it is just that… banter that has nothing to do with the story itself and just fills page after page with words. I think the author wanted to show us how his protagonist thinks and feels by making him talk about irrelevant stuff, but to me it was mostly a snooze fest. I found myself skipping pages upon pages of dialogues that could have been cut without loosing any story at all.

My second problem is with Ezekiel himself. Some of his actions, especially towards the end of the book, make no sense. He is almost 17, not 12. He is painted to be a thoughtful and smart kid… yet he chooses to ditch a cop, who is armed and trained to take down criminals, and go rescue his friend with his dad instead who is… a butcher and doesn’t even own a gun. And that after he HEARD at least 2 criminals being at the place his friend is held at. Two unarmed civilians against criminals who are known to torture and kill their victims. Right. What can go wrong?

And deriving from that second frustration is my next one – there are no consequences to this stupidest move of the century. This whole rescue and taking down of the villains goes way too easily and bloodlessly. The resolution isn’t on par with the stakes. At no point during the book did I feel a real sense of danger or worry for the characters. I understand that this is YA, but the author describes serious crimes here: sex trafficking, kidnapping, murder, etc. Yet the language is so sanitized that it doesn’t grip you. The incessant dialogues about nothing inter-spaced in the story might also be at fault.

Finally, I found that apart from Ezekiel, his dad, and his friend, none of the other characters were particularly developed. The micropower support group kids had no personality beyond their individual powers. Heck, I can’t even remember their names. The cop was… a cop who really wanted to save that little girl and was willing to use unconventional methods to do it. Other than that, he is a blank page. And the school counselor? Why was she even in the story to begin with?

So in the end, this book was a disappointment. The brew didn’t turn out quite like I had expected. Maybe because of the addition of too many different ingredients. I think I might go re-read Ender’s Game.

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

The Ten thousand doors of january by Alix E. Harrow

Stars: 3.5 rounded up.

January is an in-between kind of girl. Born to a black father and a probably white mother in the early 1900s, raised by a wealthy patron in huge house full of treasures and wonders pilfered from around the world by her father. Her status is in-between also – not quite a pupil, not quite a servant, maybe a rare find too alive to go into a display case? Until she finds a leather-bound book and opens a door that leads into a different world…

This book is about discovering your own worth and coming into your own strength. It’s about realizing that if you spend your life cutting vital parts of yourself just to fit in to a rigid mold that somebody else created for you, you might look like a perfect little girl on the outside, but you will feel empty and miserable inside.

January tried very hard to be what Mr. Locke expected her to be – silent, almost invisible, perfectly well behaved. A breathing, living doll. What else was she supposed to do when her father was never there to tell her otherwise and when her whole world depended on the good graces of that distant and almighty man who took her and her father in when she was just an infant? But all this time she had felt lonely, empty, miserable, like half of her has been cut off and shut in one of the glass cabinets filling the Locke House.

So when she picks up the silver knife and writes letters into her own flesh, she doesn’t only open a door to a different reality – she also throws open the door to her own cell, the one Mr. Locke had been building around her since her childhood. By stepping through the threshold between worlds, she sets herself free to be what she wants to be – wild and free, and fearless, a wanderer of worlds.

This book is also about our perception of ourselves and the world around us, and about how often things are not what they seem to be. Monsters can hide behind perfectly benign masks. A meek half-blooded girl can turn into a fierce untamed spirit that will blow open all kinds of doors.

I liked this story a lot, but I felt like the beginning dragged. I understand that we needed to immerse ourselves in the oppressive structure of January’s early existence in Locke House, but I feel that this part could have been condensed without loosing much of the effect. She could have found that book earlier. She could have read it over a longer period of time. That way we wouldn’t have had chapter after chapter of seemingly unrelated story wedged into the part of January’s narrative that had just started picking up speed, suspense and tension. It really kills the flow of the book and was a source of frustration for me.

Once the issue of the book is finally over and we don’t get the endless interruptions in the narrative flow, the story picks up speed and becomes much more interesting. There is suspense, there are high stakes and satisfying conclusions. The ending was maybe too neatly wrapped up in a little pink bow for my taste, but I am a cynic at heart, so don’t mind me.

My other complaint about this book is that the only really fleshed-out characters are January, her parents, and her dog Bad (short for Sinbad), and the parents aren’t even present for 90% of the story. All other characters are walking labels put there to advance the story. The mysterious, maybe good, maybe bad Mr. Locke, who serves as a father figure for January in her real father’s continued absence. There is the inevitable love interest, and the mysterious lady protector/friend that was sent by her real father… They never develop personalities outside of those stereotypes. That’s probably why I was more upset when the bad people hurt Bad then when they threatened to hurt January’s love interest (heck, after finishing the book, I can’t even remember his name).

But despite those two gripes, this was a rather enjoyable book. I liked the world, I loved the fact that unlike a lot of urban fantasies now, it’s set in the past century, not in our modern times. I liked the story of one in-between girl deciding to forge her own path and create her own destiny instead of conforming to the image everyone else had of her.

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

A pilgrimage of swords by Anthony ryan (The Seven Swords #1)

Stars: 3 out of 5.

This was an okay novella. From what I understood, it serves as a prequel or introduction to a new series, and as such, it did a good job introducing the main character, Pilgrim, as well as giving us a tantalizing glimpse into the world he inhabits.

Unfortunately, the story fell rather short for me. We follow the journey of several characters who are thrown together because all of them chose to undertake a pilgrimage into the domain of a mad god, in the hope that he will grant their most sacred wish. As such, they should all have their own stories, right? Something that pushed them to this act of desperation. And desperation it is, because nobody ever returned from the realm of the Mad God…

Yet, we don’t really SEE those characters, because because they don’t have personalities of their own. They are cutouts with labels put on top of them – the terminally sick woman and her grieve-stricken husband, the fierce huntress searching for a lost loved one, etc. It doesn’t help that we follow this journey through the Pilgrim’s eyes and his voice is just as bland as the description of the other characters. Seriously, the only character with any grain of personality in this book is the cursed sword. He is a homicidal demon, but at least he has some nuances.

As such, it’s hard to empathize with the characters, and if some of them die gruesome deaths, I just shrugged and read along. I think the only character I felt any empathy for was Priest, but mostly because I never learned what his purpose for this pilgrimage was. What was he going to ask of his god? Why had he volunteered to lead this doomed group?

My other problem was that I couldn’t figure out Pilgrim’s motivation either. For seeing this story entirely from his POV, we get no insight into his inner thoughts. Apart from the banter with his cursed sword, there is nothing. He is painted as this ruthless killer, a scourge upon the world, but his actions go against that picture. Also, his reaction when discovering Book’s true identity in the later part of the story goes against his whole character, especially when we learn in the last page of this story that he dedicated his life to destroying that particular church and its adepts.

I liked the little I saw of the worldbuilding and the hints at other cultures and religions inhabiting it, but I’m not sure I liked that enough to follow Pilgrim for a whole book or a whole series.

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