Tag Archives: book review

Pines by Blake Crouch

Stars: 5 out of 5

Blake Crouch says that Pines was inspired iconic TV series Twin Peaks. He wanted to capture the same eerie atmosphere of a  small town that seems perfectly ordinary on the surface, but where something isn’t quite right. I must say that he succeeded.

Ethan Burke is a federal agent who arrives to the small town of Wayward Pines looking for two fellow agents who have gone missing. Within minutes of his arrival, his car is t-boned by a truck. When he comes to, he is in a meadow in the outskirts of Wayward Pines, with no cell, no ID, no wallet and no firearm. He is badly bruised and has a horrible headache. He remembers the accident, but has no idea how he ended up in that meadow instead of a hospital. He is hurt and confused, and the inhabitants of Wayward Pines, who seem friendly enough, aren’t all that eager to help. And why do all the roads out of town just loop on themselves? And why is there a tall electric fence barring the only exit out of the valley?

I loved how the author managed to make the reader feel Ethan’s confusion. He is hurt, he has blackouts, he can’t remember his home number or even his wife’s cell. At several points in the book, he starts doubting his sanity, and so does the reader. I caught myself wondering if this was just a dream, or a hallucination brought by the accident and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Ethan feels that something isn’t quite right, but he can’t put his finger on it. So he tries to contact his superiors back in Seattle, but is given the run around. He tries to get his possessions back, but the hospital staff says the sheriff has them, while the sheriff is sure the EMTs have them, and the EMTs are nowhere to be found…

So the reader struggles with Ethan to understand what is going on and what kind of dark secret hides behind the sunny facades of Wayward Pines. Or maybe there is no secret at all and the local psychologist is right – Ethan is suffering from a mental breakdown.

But then the town itself is positively creepy as well, and Ethan Burke showed this creepiness masterfully. It’s such an idyllic little town with brightly painted Victorian houses and well-manicured lawns, where all the neighbors know each other and everyone is friendly. Like an orchestra playing a perfect melody. Only one of the instruments is slightly off-key. And this discordance keeps reverberating, until the whole melody is ruined.

I loved Ethan as the main protagonist. I loved the fact that he never gave up. That no matter what he was told, he always followed his gut and kept digging until he found out the truth. He was interesting to follow and root for.

I also liked the mystery surrounding the town itself and how the author would slowly uncover more and more details about it. And the more he showed, the creepier it got.

And I also absolutely loved the fact that the ending was NOT what I had expected. The book kept me guessing and turning the pages, and the ending was an absolute shocker.

So the final verdict is – very good book indeed. A must read for fans of Twin Peaks and other creepy mysteries alike.

Evernight by Kristen Callihan

Stars: 2.5-3 out of 5.

This is a review of the ARC of Evernight that I got curtesy of NetGalley.

I admit that I find rating this book extremely difficult, and I think it has at least partly to do with the fact that I rarely read books with a romantic line as one of the driving forces of the plot. And of those that I read, the number that I really liked is very small.

But let’s start from the beginning, shall we? As far as the world-building and the plot itself goes, I would give Evernight between 3.5 and 4 stars.

This is the fifth book in The Darkest London series, so the readers are thrown into a world that had already been introduced and explained in the previous books. As such, there are no noticeable info-dumps. The world itself is interesting and well fleshed-out. It’s everything a steampunk lover would want: a Victorian London with steam engines and crazy contraptions; Ghosts in the Machine (GIMs), demons and other supernatural beings; an organization in charge of policing the supernaturals and another one fighting for their freedom.

Granted, it’s nothing particularly new or original, but it’s described well and it works. I enjoyed exploring this alternative London with Holly and William, and I wouldn’t mind discovering a bit more about it, so I might go back and read the other books in the series.

The main characters are also rather engaging. Both Holly Evernight and William Thorne are interesting protagonists, with their own backstories and personal demons. So empathizing with them wasn’t a problem for me.

By now you must be wondering why I gave this book such a low rating if I liked so much about it? Well, we reached the crux of my problems with Evernight – the romance between the protagonists. In order for a romance book to work, at least for me, the romance has to work, since it is such a big part of the story. No matter how good the plot is or how interesting the world, if the relationship between the characters rings false, it will put me off the book.

And this is precisely the problem here. Will and Holly are interesting characters… that have zero romantic chemistry between them. They work well as partners, maybe reluctant friends, but any time the author tries to introduce the romance, both start acting extremely out of character.

The whole romance between them feels forced, as if the author had decided that it was needed, since it was a romance book, and tried to make the characters dance to her own drum beat, instead of listening to what they really wanted to do.

As a result, I had to roll my eyes during some of the touchy-feely scenes. When I realized that I was skipping them altogether to get to the plot, that was indication enough that the romance simply wasn’t working for me.

So I would rate the romance component somewhere around 1.5 and 2 stars. But, once again, I need to emphasize that there are very few romance novels I liked; where the relationship between the main characters was so well written that it had me hooked and wanting more. When I find such a gem, I hoard it, I cherish it, and I re-read it quite often. And this is always a matter of personal taste. What I found forced and unbelievable might seem beautiful and romantic to somebody else.

So would I recommend this book? I would say – up to you, guys. The world is interesting, the plot is rather fun, if you don’t mind skipping all the romance parts.

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett.

Stars: 5 out of 5

I received an ARC of this book for free from NetGalley.

There are books that grip you and don’t let you go until you read the very last line on the very last page. City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett is one such book. I finished it in three days, which is no small feat for me, considering that I have a full time job, a family and my own writing fighting for my time most of the days.

So what is City of Stairs about? Bulikov used to be called the Seat of the World, the city where all six Divinities governing the Continent resided. But the Divinities had been slain 80 years ago, and the Continent was invaded by the people who used to be their former slaves. The passing of the Divinities laid waste to the land, with whole cities disappearing, collapsing or shrinking in the blink of an eye. Even the climate has undergone a drastic change, and the whole land went from being a lush tropical paradise to a frozen wasteland.

The city of Bulikov suffered the most damage. Even 80 years later, it lies in shambles. Its citizens are the poorest on the Continent, the infrastructure is non-existent and the living conditions are atrocious. And the invaders intend to keep it that way, as punishment for everything they had to suffer at the hands of the citizen of Bulikov and their Divinities.

But the citizens of Bulikov remember their glory days. Hatered and discontent brews in the streets and the whole city is a powder keg ready to explode. Will the murder of Efrem Pangyui, celebrated Saypuri historian, be the spark that ignites the city and starts yet another war?

The world created by Robert Jackson Bennett is absolutely fascinating. Each of the six Divinities had their own creation myths and rules by which the world functioned, and those rules were absolute in the zone of their influence. But when they died, all those different view of reality clashed together and produced the Blink, when entire parts of the continent simply vanished; others got warped beyond recognition while those realities fought for dominance. It’s a broke and strange world that we get to explore along with the characters of this story.

Speaking of characters, I absolutely loved Shara and Sigurd, her secretary / bodyguard / enforcer. They are interesting characters with their own flaws and strengths, and I was genuinely engaged with their stories and problems. But the book doesn’t rely solely on its main protagonists. The secondary characters are also memorable and “alive”. You love them or you hate them, but they don’t leave you indifferent.

Most of all, I found the general ideas behind this story extremely compelling and thought-provoking: do the Divinities create their followers or are they created by them? Or is it a two-way relationship? Can they break free from each other without losing their identity? Can whole nations become obsolete along with their Divinity? Is change really such a bad thing? All those questions apply not only to the fictional world of City of Stairs, but to ours as well…

I am glad I found this story and go to read the ARC before the release. I also heard that the author is working on the second book, so I’m definitely placing it on my “books to watch for” list. My advice is – go buy City of Stairs, it’s a guaranteed good read.

Whispers Underground by Ben Aaronovitch

Stars: 4.5 out of 5

Whispers Underground is the third book in the Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovitch. I have reviewed the first two books as well – Rivers of London (Midnight Riot in the US) and Moon over Soho.

Peter Grant is back and better than ever! When the body of an American exchange student is found on the Underground tracks near Baker Street Station, Peter is forced to explore a bit more of the London’s underground tunnels and sewer systems than he really wants to. But the place where the victim was found has a very strong vestigia, which means that the young man had been killed by magic. And with Nightingale busy chasing after the evil wizard called The Faceless Man, who had almost killed Peter in the previous book, it falls to Peter and Lesley to investigate this particular murder.

Needless to say, I loved this book. Ben Aaronovitch has a knack for sprinkling his stories with just the right amount of intrigue and tension to keep his readers turning the pages. At the same time, he manages to insert little historical trivia and tidbits about magic and science, but in a way that never feels boring or info dumpish.

But the strongest aspect of these books is the characters. Peter Grant is as funny and likable as ever, and Nightingale is still awesome and mysterious. Thou we are starting to see a more human side of him as well, which makes me like him even more, and pity him a little as well. For over fifty years, he had lived his life with the guilt of being one of the few survivors of a war that saw most of the English wizards eliminated. He lived with the conviction that magic was slowly dying out and that he had become obsolete, like the dinosaurs. And all of a sudden he discovers that all this time there had been another wizard operating in London, recruiting apprentices and doing rather questionable experiments, all this right under his nose and he didn’t notice anything.

Oh, and Lesley is back! She is still horribly disfigured and has to wear a mask in public, but she is now a full-time member of the Folly and Nightingale’s second apprentice. I’m glad that she gets a bigger role in these books, because I find her interesting and engaging. She’s been handed the short end of the stick, but she doesn’t mop around and wallow in her misery. She presses on instead and tries to master the other gift she has discovered – magic. And, unsurprisingly, she is better at it than Peter, because she is determined and persistent.

We are also introduced to a few new characters that might or might not have a bigger role in the next books.

All in all, it’s an excellent installment in the series, and I actually like this story better than Moon over Soho, maybe because I’m not very versed in the musical / jazz scene, but a murder underground – that’s right up my alley.

I don’t think you necessarily need to have read the previous two books to understand the plot of Whispers Underground, but I would strongly recommend reading them first anyway. If nothing else, it will give you two more exciting stories to discover. You can get them on Amazon – Rivers of London and Moon over Soho.

My conclusion is – wonderful book. I’m glad I bought it and I already acquired Broken Homes, book 4 in the series, so be on the lookout for a review once I’m done with it.

Moon over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch

Stars: 3.5 out of 5

In this second book of the series, Ben Aaronovitch brings us back to London where Constable Peter Grant has to investigate suspicious deaths among jazz players. And for Peter, those deaths strike a little close to home, because his dad, the famous (or infamous) “Lord Grant” used to be a jazz legend, until he lost his air due to drug use.

During the course of the investigation, Peter comes to suspect that Nightingale’s belief that magic is leaving the world and that there aren’t any practitioners left is rather erroneous. There is an unknown magician in London and his intentions are less than honorable.

I loved the first book in the series, Rivers of London (called Midnight Riot in the USA for some reason). You can read my review of it here. I absolutely loved the book, so I picked up Moon over Soho was with an equal amount of anticipation and apprehension. It happened to me way too many times when I love the first book of a series only to be disappointed with the next one. I was very glad to discover that it wasn’t the case with Moon over Soho.

All the characters I grew to love in the first book are back. Nightingale survived his gunshot wound and continues to teach Peter, even if he is still a bit under the weather (but still manages to show just how much of a badass he is in a certain scene with a night club and a demon trap). Leslie also survived her encounter with the vengeful ghost of last book, but is irrevocably scarred by it.

And we finally get to meet the arch-nemesis of the series, an infamous (and powerful) magician who calls himself the Faceless Man. We learn very little about him in this book, but even that shows that he will be a formidable foe for the Folly.

Peter Grant continues to learn magic and explore his limits. I love the fact that he doesn’t just blindly follow Nightingale’s command. He asks questions, he tries to understand why magic works, and he experiments (sometimes with disastrous results).

We also get another glimpse at Peter’s family, meet new magical denizens of London and go to a couple jazz concerts. Oh, and we also get to see the school where Nightingale learned magic, and it’s nothing like Hogwards.

All in all, a wonderful second book in the series! So if you are looking for a good read, pick up both the first and the second book in the series. I am looking forward to starting Whispers Under Ground, the third book.

Hounded and Hexed by Kevin Hearne

houndedHexed

 

Stars: 3.5 out of 5

I love browsing the recommendation section on Amazon. I have discovered a few wonderful books by doing so, books that I would otherwise probably not heard of. It was definitely the case with Hounded, the first book in the Iron Druid series by Kevin Hearne. I had finished the latest of the Harry Dresden books and was looking for something similar. Hounded was amongst the recommendations and I’m glad I decided to give it a try. Atticus O’Sullivan is now amongst my absolutely favorite characters, and Oberon is the best dog ever written.

Atticus O’Sullivan is the last druid and he is close to two thousand years old. He has been all over the world, and seen and done almost everything under the sun. That doesn’t mean that he is life-weary and brooding though, quite the contrary. He still enjoys life and everything it brings. He loves interacting with people and soaking in everything each new century has to offer. I think that’s why I like him so much. I am tired of brooding century-old vampires or ancient wizards with issues and “baggage”, who are just so tired of the world. After several books with similar characters it gets a bit old, so to me Atticus was like a breath of fresh air.

I also loved the fact that there was no love interest (and thus no love-related angst) in the two books. Maybe that will come in later installments, but right now it would definitely have been out of place.

I will not talk about plot here and let you discover it by yourselves. I will just say that it involved a lot of fighting, some demons, Celtic gods and goddesses, and witches, both evil and not so much. Both Hounded and Hexed were a joyful romp through the peaceful Arizona town Atticus chose as his home for now, full of explosions, mayhem and madness.

I like Kevin Hearne style. It’s fun to read, it flows easily, and he has the knack to sprinkle it with humor that just puts a smile on your face no matter what mood you were when you started reading. And I absolutely love the mental conversations between Atticus and Oberon. They make me wonder what my dogs would tell me if they were able to talk.

There have been a lot of criticism of this series where it comes to depiction of female characters, and I must admit that it is rather sexist. But I would disagree that all of the women in the series are there purely as objects of sexual desire. Some of them are well-rounded characters who would not hesitated to kick some ass if needed… and eat your heart out after (Morrigan, I am talking to you).

So all in all, I like this light-hearted series and will definitely read the other books in the series.

Everlost by Neal Shusterman

Everlost

Stars: 4 out of 5

With Everlost, the first book in the Skinjacker series, Neal Shusterman created a fascinating world that I enjoyed exploring.

Nick and Allie die in a car crash, but instead of going all the way to the light at the end of the tunnel, they collide with each other and go of course. So they end up stuck in a world called Everlost – a place that permeates our real world, but in which things that had meaning in our world, but were for some reason destroyed, still remain. It’s a world where the Twin Towers are still standing in New York, the Titanic still sails the seas, the Hindenburg soars through the skies, and all the fortunes in the fortune cookies are always true.

Nick and Allie soon find out that only places that don’t exist in the real world anymore, that are solid in Everlost only, are safe for them. Everywhere else they start sinking into the ground if they stand still for too long. They also discover that this world is only populated by children, the oldest of which was barely 17 when she died, and that monsters do exist, even if they are man-made.

I absolutely loved the world of Everlost. The idea that the ghosts exit in this world that is near ours, but not entirely like ours, is fascinating. Also loved the fact that landmarks, buildings and objects that had some significance or importance to somebody pass into the Everlost as well when they are destroyed. Or that the Afterlights (because they don’t want to call themselves ghosts) are only safe in those places that passed into the Everlost too.

I loved following the main characters, but most of the supporting characters were just as fun to read about. Mary, and the McGill, and Leaf were all very real and well-portrayed characters with their own personalities and goals. They all are basically in the same boat – trying to make sense of what happened to them and figure out how to spend eternity in this strange place.

I was also happy with the fact that the author didn’t chose to go the easy way and populate this world with monsters or other creepy things. The only monsters our heroes encounter are man-made. In fact, this is one of the messages of the book – that you can chose what to be in Everlost, whether you will have the strength to stay human, or lock yourself in a mindless routine that you would be repeating forever, or even become a monster. Every soul copes with the circumstances differently. There is no right or wrong way. But this world is not sad and gloomy at all, because in the end, there is a coin for every lost soul to get to their final destination. They just have to be ready to take that last step.

I really enjoyed this first book and I can’t wait to dive into Everwild, the next book in the series. So if you enjoy a well-thought world and engaging characters, pick up Everlost and read it. Go do it now!

The Amber Chronicles by Roger Zelazny

The Great Book of Amber

Stars 5 out of 5 (especially for the first 5 books in the series).

The Amber Chronicles by Roger Zelazny will always have a very special place both on my bookshelf and in my heart. I was fifteen years old when I came upon the very first book in the series – Nine Princes in Amber. I had never heard of Zelazny before, I was more of a Ray Bradbury, Stephen King and Gabriel Garcia Marquez type. But I was home with a particularly nasty case of flu and nothing to do, so I cracked the book open, not expecting anything exceptional… and I got lost in the complex and wonderful world that Roger Zelazny had created. So much so that I read the first book deep into the night, until I reached the very last page. And when I did, I could barely wait until morning to rush to the library and get all the rest.

The world of the Amber Chronicles is absolutely fascinating. There are two original words – the House of Amber and the Court of Chaos, and a myriad of other worlds that are Shadows (reflections) of those two. Earth is one of those reflections. Amber has a royal family and a very large one at that, because the king, being immortal, had the chance to have many wives and lovers and father many children. So there are, like the first book says, nine Princes in Amber and about just as many Princesses. They have never been a very close-knit family during the best of times, but now the king is missing, and the rivalry for the succession has started. And everything goes in the battle for the throne of Amber…

I also fell in love with the protagonist of the first five books. Prince Corwin wakes up in a hospital on Earth after a terrible accident, with no memories of who he is and a nagging suspicion that the woman who claims to be his sister and who brought him to the hospital is not to be trusted. We discover this wonderful world through Corwin’s eyes, who is rediscovering it and his place in the grand scheme of things.

I love Corwin’s progression throughout the books. He starts off as an arrogant prince of Amber, who doesn’t give a damn about people born in Shadows and is only interested in getting back to Amber and taking the throne from his brother Eric. His reason behind this? Eric is technically a bastard, so he had no right to the throne. Plus Corwin thinks he is more suited to be King of Amber.

And then we follow this character through his journey and watch him transform into someone better, wiser and ultimately more “wholesome”. He makes some mistakes that have far reaching consequences and suffers the backlash for them. Some of his actions put people he cares about in danger. He also discovers that there is more behind his father’s disappearance than meets the eye. But more importantly, at the end of his personal journey, he decides that he doesn’t want the throne of Amber, because one of his brothers is much better suited to be a better king than he ever would be.

I also loved the whole Tarot system, where each Prince and Princess of Amber had a personal card, as well as some key locations in Amber, and Amberites could talk to each other and even travel through them. The episode where Corwin escapes from his prison cell by painting an image of a lighthouse and stepping into it absolutely blew my mind.

Finally, Roger Zelazny was a master of written word and a true poet. Some of his descriptions are so absolutely beautiful. I think I will always remember his description of Corwin riding his horse from Shadow to Shadow and the scenery changing and morphing around him.

Anyway, if you haven’t read anything by Roger Zelazny yet, I would suggest that you start with these books. The first one might have been written in 1970, but it is still just as beautiful and entertaining to read now than it was then.

Outpost and Horde by Ann Aguirre

outpostHorde

Outpost – 3 out 5 stars              Horde – 2 out of 5 stars

I loved Enclave, the first book in the Razorland series, because it was an interesting and fresh take at the post-apocalyptic world with a very strong female protagonist and interesting supporting characters (you can find my review here). So I really wanted to like the next two books in the series, I really did. Unfortunately, those books proved to be a huge disappointment, at least for me.
Oh, the world-building is excellent. Ann Aguirre does a wonderful job describing the different settlements and the different ways people chose to survive after the world we knew suddenly ended. The problem is that, at least in my opinion, she stopped listening to her characters somewhere along the way. While they still behave somewhat in character in the beginning of Outpost, most of them are blatantly out of character during Horde. It’s like the author decided to stick to the plan she had formulated way at the beginning of the series and didn’t take into account that her characters changed in the process. She just clobbered them into submission and made them dance to her tune. Well, they danced poorly, that’s all I can say.

SPOILERS ALERT!!! READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!!!

My biggest disappointment is the evolution of Fade. He was such a strong character in Enclave! I can’t believe that someone who managed to survive in the tunnels on his own for a few months when he was eight years old, and someone who was the best hunter in the Enclave, would just break and fall into pieces after he gets captured. Yes, what he went through was horrible. Yes, he was beaten. Yes, he saw horrible things. But he got out, he survived. Hell, he even managed to walk out of there on his own steam, so he wasn’t beaten that hard. Yet he suddenly transforms into a brooding, self-hating weakling. Even worse, he lashes out on people closest to him because of what happened. Excuse me? This is not the Fade described in such loving details in the previous book and a half. It almost feels like the real Fade died in the Freak camp, and Deuce freed a doppelganger.
My second problem is Deuce’s reaction to Fade’s change. The Deuce I got to know through the first book would not have stood for his endless brooding and would not have excused his constant hostility and lashing out. She would have giving him a good trashing and told him to get his act together. What does this new Deuce do instead? Blame herself and excuse his downright nasty attitude by “Oh poor baby, he got caught, they broke his spirit.”

The whole love story between Deuce and Fade is mishandled in my opinion. Any time Deuce thinks about Fade, she transforms from a tough, rational woman into a doe-eyed simpleton. I get it that she loves him, but fawning over his every move and acting like her brain gets short-circuited every time he is around is so very out of character that it’s not even funny. More than that, this love story turns into a typical YA cliché. This is sad, because it could have been so much more intense and interesting, had Ann Aguirre just listened to her characters instead of imposing her own vision on them.
Thirdly, I am getting really tired of the whole love triangle theme in YA books. It’s been done and overdone. And this love triangle serves to illustrate my point about the author imposing her will on characters. Stalker changes a lot through the books, and for the better. He is still as ruthless, but his develops a conscience, he becomes a decent strong man. In other words, exactly the kind of man that Deuce would fall for if she was acting in character, especially considering the way Fade is behaving… But that doesn’t happen.

My final complaint about this series is that Deuce basically becomes a Mary Sue in Horde. I’m sorry, but I don’t believe that a 17 year old girl would be better suited to lead a whole army than a seasoned warrior. No matter how much she had seen and how many Freaks she had killed before. She is a good fighter yes, a good leader of men she is not. Yet, somehow that’s what happens in book three. A young girl leads them all to victory. Sorry, I don’t believe it.

And that’s how a series that showed so much promised ended up in such disappointment.

Caliban’s War by James S.A. Corey

Stars: 5 out of 5

Caliban’s War is the second book in the excellent Expanse series. The action takes place a couple years after the events of the first book, Leviathan Wakes (which I already reviewed).

The Eros station and the protomolecule it was carrying crashed into Venus, and now strange things are happening beneath the planet’s dense atmosphere. But even though humanity is aware (and afraid) of the monster sitting right at their doorstep, they still can’t put aside their petty squabbles. Earth and Mars are still at the verge of armed conflict and the OPA is now a force to reckon with because it holds the only known protomolecule sample that is not on Venus. The beginning of the book takes place on Ganymede station, which is the granary of the Belt and outer planets and a station that neither Earth nor Mars are willing to let go. So both superpowers have a military presence there, but are just content to sit in the trenches and watch each other warily… Until something tears through an Earth outpost, killing the whole garrison and all hell breaks loose, threatening to set the whole solar system on fire, while the protomolecule on Venus stirs at last.

James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are back! And they are in the thick of the action once again, quite inadvertently so this time. I love those characters and the author handles their development well. They are still the likable bunch I got to know and love from the first book, but the events have also changed them. Holden in particular is faced with a sort of identity crisis in this book, and I absolutely loved how he managed to get through it and stay true to himself.

I also loved the new characters introduced in this book, especially Chrisjen Avasarala, the foulmouthed Earth politician. They are all fully fleshed-out and interesting to follow. I think that’s actually part of why I love James S.A. Corey’s books so much – the believability of his characters. They are never cardboard, they are always alive. Whether you like them or not, you still want to follow their adventures.

The story itself is just as tightly woven and engaging as the one in Leviathan Wakes, and the author knows how to keep you up late turning the pages because you absolutely NEED to know what happens next. And oh dear God, please don’t kill my favorite characters!!!

Ahem, anyway, I think by now it’s clear that I absolutely loved this book. So my advice to you is buy it, rent it, steal it from your friends, do anything necessary to get it and read it. Well, start with Leviathan Wakes first though, and then continue straight to Abaddon’s Gate (I know a will).