Tag Archives: book reviews

Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

I’m always excited when I find a new book that makes me stay up all night reading because I simply can’t put it down. I’m doubly excited when that book is the first in a brand new series. Hunger Makes the Wolf is both those things. Needless to say that I’m absolutely in love, but I promise to keep my fangirling to a minimum and try to explain to you why I thought this book was so good.

Humans have conquered the stars and colonized countless planets. All this was made possible thanks to Rift travel. But the secret to successful rift travel is in the hands of TransRifts Inc, the company that has absolute monopoly over both rift ships and the weathermen who make sure that they make it through the rifts in one piece and unaltered. Needless to say that nothing moves around the universe without TransRifts’ approval.

Tanegawa’s World is a closed planet owned by TransRifts and corporate law is the only law that exists there. Tanegawa is barely terraformed enough to sustain life, and would not be inhabited at all if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s the only known world that produces minerals needed to build transrift ships. Those who live on this harsh and unforgiving desert world have two choices: work in the mines or become a farmer. And if you don’t keep your head down and do exactly what TransRift officials tell you to do, you get blacklisted, which means you can’t work anywhere, so your choices are to die of hunger and exposure or join one of the rowing bands of brigands which, in most cases, means die a violent death in the near future anyway.

Hob Ravani arrived on Tanegawa as a stowaway on one of the rift ships when she was a kid. Luckily for her, she was taken in by Nick Ravani, leader of a bikers gang called the Ghost Wolves. For ten years, she’d managed to stay under the radar from TransRift authorities, as much as a band of mercenaries can stay under the radar, but when they discover the body of Nick’s younger brother in the desert, Hob knows that things are about to change. Because he’s been hot in the back and left to die in the dunes, and his daughter is missing. The Ghost Wolves are on a war path, but even they can’t imagine the consequences of their revenge and the ugly secrets about TransRift, the Weathermen, and Tanegawa that they are about to drag into the light…

First things first, I have a confession to make. I absolutely love Hob Ravani! She is the perfect embodiment of this harsh world she lives in – stubborn, tough as nails, ragged and half starved, and fiercely loyal to those she considers family. She can be hard and unyielding, just like the desert she lives in. She will not run from danger but meet it head first, with a defiant grin on her face and her guns blazing…

I also love that this impulsiveness and unwillingness to compromise and listen to reason has landed her in trouble before. In fact, she starts this book as the lowest man on the totem pole with the Ghost Wolves because one of her impulse decisions almost had them all killed three years prior. What makes Hob a good protagonist is that she acknowledges her mistakes. She doesn’t try to blame her shortcomings on others or on the circumstances. In fact, nobody is harsher on herself than Hob. She knows she screwed up. She swore to never be that stupid again. And even though most of the Ghost Wolves have forgiven her transgression, she hasn’t forgiven herself yet. But even though that mistake makes Hob doubt herself at times, I love that when push comes to shove, she takes the reins of command and does what needs to be done. But she does it after weighting the pros and cons and fully aware of the consequences.

Mag Ravani, Hob’s adopted cousin, couldn’t be more different, but is a strong woman as well. Unlike Hob, Mag is calm and thoughtful. She doesn’t rush into things head first. She sits down and analyses the situation from all angles before she decides on the best course of action. Where Hob is fire, Mag is water. The kind of water in an underground river – a lifesaver for desert dwellers but can drag you under and drown you in its dark current as well. And nobody will hear you screw underground.

I love the fact that Hob and Mag genuinely love each other. They are sisters and they are friends, and even though the events of three years ago cast a shadow over their relationship, they talk about it like adults and manage to move past it. And they have each other’s backs. They work together.

Even though Hob and Mag are the main protagonists of this book, the story is full of other interesting characters that I enjoyed following. All the Ghost Wolves, and especially Coyote. The special agent who infiltrated TransRift and bit more than he can chew. The Bone Collector… I want to know more about them. I want to know more about Tanegawa and I want to know what happens to Hob and the Ghost Wolves after their epic confrontation with TransRift at the end of the book. So I pray and hope that there is a second book somewhere in my near future, because I’m in love with this world.

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

The Fortress at the End of Time by Joe M. McDermott.

Stars: 1.5 out of 5

Once in a while, I come across books that make me wonder what the author was thinking when he wrote them. Why did he think that this particular idea would make a good book? Well, Fortress at the End of Time is one of them. It almost landed in my DNF (did not finish) pile, but I received an advanced copy of it and had promised to write a review, and I don’t think it’s fair to write reviews on books I didn’t finish. So I had to suck it up and read it to the very end. It was a struggle.

I have several problems with this book one of which is the glacial pace at which the story progresses. It is so incredibly sluggishly slow. I mean a snail could move faster than this book does. And I have read some books with a slow pacing before and loved them to pieces, but that was because I was in love with the story they were telling. I didn’t mind that the narrative was slow because I was immersed in the world and the characters and I didn’t want the book to end.

Unfortunately, it is not the case here. The story is not only slow, but also boring. There is no great evil mastermind to defeat, no life or death situations, no real mystery or conflict even. Just a bunch of people stuck in the butthole of the known galaxy on a crumbling space station. Maybe that’s what the author wanted to portray – how tedious and boring such a life could be? How it brought the worse in people?

Granted, it could have been an interesting exploration into the dark depths of human psyche and what we are capable of out of sheer boredom when there is no visible end to the misery in sight. And I would have been on board with that IF the author had managed to make that exploration interesting. As this book stands, it feels like the reader is serving a prison sentence along with the characters – its long, boring and I couldn’t wait to be done with it.

Still, this book could still have been redeemed if we had some interesting characters to bond with. I could have suffered through the slow pacing and the lackluster story if I cared for the characters. I’ve done that before. Unfortunately, this is not the case here.

Try as I may, I never managed to bond with Captain Ronaldo Aldo, or even like him enough to care what would happen to him. He is selfish, self-centered and narcissistic. He thinks that he is better than everyone else and that he knows best what to do in any situation, nevermind the fact that others have been here for longer and have more experience managing people. He never listens to other people’s advice, and often goes AGAINST that advice even when his actions have disastrous consequences time and time again. That’s not a protagonist I want to follow for 272 long sluggish pages, thank you very much.

As for secondary characters… there are none. Oh, there are characters aplenty on the station and the planet it orbits around, but they have no personality of their own beyond a role they play in Aldo’s story. We have the typical love interest and the love rival, and the corrupted superior officer the protagonist has to work with. It doesn’t matter what face those tropes wear and what names they respond to. They are forgettable and interchangeable.

So all in all, I don’t recommend this book. If you like sci-fi, there are plenty of other books on the subject with better stories and characters. Save yourself some time and frustration and pass this one up.

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

Hidden Blade (The Soul Eater 1) by Pippa DaCosta.

Stars: 4 out of 5

Hidden Blade is the first book in a new series by Pippa DaCosta and it has all the ingredients I came to expect from this author after I read Chaos Rises (which I also reviewed): excellent worldbuilding, interesting (if not always likable) characters, and non-stop action.

Ace Dante has been banned from the Underworld and bound to the dark soul of the evilest sorceress he’d ever captured. Now they are condemned to walk this Earth together, because the death of one will bring the destruction of the other as well. So they decide to open a private investigation agency and help mortals in sticky situations where gods are involved.

Oh yes, this is a world where ancient deities never disappeared. They just adapted and morphed and are more powerful than ever. And they like to play games in which mortals have very little chances of winning. That’s where Ace comes in, offering what help he can to even the odds. But when Bastet, goddess of cats and Ace’s ex-wife asks for his help, Ace might just find himself in an impossible situation, because helping her means going against Osiris and Isis, and Osiris has a claim on Ace’s soul. A claim that Ace cannot deny. A compulsion that he simply cannot fight, no matter how much he tries, but that doesn’t mean he won’t try.

As far as first books go, Hidden Blade does an excellent job of introducing the protagonist and the world he lives in as well as showing us exactly what the stakes are. Ace isn’t a nice guy or even particularly a good guy, but he’s been placed into an impossible situation so the reader can’t help but empathize with the poor devil. And despite not being a good guy, he still tries to do the right thing in most situations, even when that means angering the god that can literally order your heart to stop beating at any moment.

Because Egyptian Gods are not very benevolent entities in this world. They are flawed and petty and all-powerful, which is a very bad combination. They can bestow a blessing or reap the supplicant’s heart out and eat it with the same ease, depending on their mood. And Osiris is the most powerful of the Gods, so making him your enemy is a royally bad idea.

As I mentioned above, the action is also relentless. The book is fast paced and keeps you at the edge of your sit all the way through. But even though the story barrels towards the inevitable conclusion at speeds way above the legal limit, it doesn’t feel rushed. Surprising, I know. We still get a glimpse into our characters’ pasts and the motivations behind their actions. We still slow down enough to look around this world and decide that yes, it’s something we would like to learn more about. We learn a bit about Ace, but aren’t given much clues as to what happened in the past that got him banned out of the Underworld and basically put on a leach by Osiris. And the events in the last quarter of the book have such an impact that now I NEED to pick up book 2 and see if Osiris will get what he deserves for what he did…

So to recap this rather rambling review, this book does an excellent job of introducing a new world and making the reader care for the characters. I would definitely recommend it to urban fantasy lovers. And I will pick up book 2 to see where the story goes.

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

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

Stars: 5 out of 5.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shattered Girls (Broken Dolls 2) by Tyrolin Puxty.


Stars: 2.5 out of 5

I had really loved Broken Dolls, the first book in the series, which I reviewed here, if you are interested. So I picked up Shattered Girls with a certain amount of trepidation. Would it live up to its predecessor? Would it expand the world and manage to weave a compelling story at the same time? Sadly, it failed on both accounts, at least in my opinion…

Shattered Girls takes place about 10 years after the first book. The Professor made his invention public and went on to work for a big company and make lots of money. Gabby transformed from a vivacious little girl into a sullen teenager. And Ella… well, Ella is still a doll. But at least she is happily hanging out with Gabby and even attending school classes with her, since everybody thinks that she is just an exceptionally well-made robot.

But all isn’t well in the little town where Gabby and Ella live. Girls keep disappearing and the police doesn’t seem to be able to find any clues as to why or who is behind this. And now Gabby and Ella come back home to an empty house and visible signs of a fight. Something very fishy is going on, but the girls will definitely get to the bottom of it all with the help of their crazy aunt Sianne.

The book follows a similar recipe as the first one – two girls fighting against evil adults and their evil machinations, only this time it doesn’t quite work. Let me explain why.

In my opinion, it doesn’t work because of the stakes are too high in the second book. In Broken Dolls, Ella was fighting against the evil Professor in order to save Gabby from the same unfortunate fate that befell her – being turned into a doll. Nevermind that the Professor wasn’t evil at all and that what he did was to cure Gabby, or that Ella had chosen to remain a doll in the first place as it turned out. What I’m saying is that the stakes were localized and attainable even for a little girl and a plastic doll.

In Shattered Girls, the stakes are much higher: a big corporation is kidnapping children and turning them into dolls. Moreover, they have policemen, politicians and even the press on their payroll. They are big, they are powerful, and they are motivated by nothing but profit. Unfortunately, the fact that the villain is so powerful makes the idea that a teenager and a doll can defeat it rather ridiculous. In which world can a child and a doll go against an evil corporation and win? Even Harry Potter needed friends and all the help he could get often from unlikely allies to defeat Voldemort.

But Ella and Gabby are the protagonists of this story and they will defeat the super villain and restore order even if the author has to bend rules to achieve that. Hence we have adults behaving like they all got struck with a highly contagious case of the stupids. We have a huge corporation whose headquarters have such lax security that a teenager can walk right through the front door just by jamming the surveillance cameras. And so on and so forth.

By the end of the story, I didn’t really care what happened to Ella and Gabby and if they managed to restore all the kidnaped people to their own bodies, because the story turned so ridiculous that I couldn’t suspend my disbelief any longer.

So all in all, I wouldn’t recommend this book, even though the beginning is rather fun and fast-paced. But as soon as the action shifts from the confines of a school or even a small town to New York, the story goes off the rails.

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

Sweep in Peace (Innkeeper Chronicles 2) by Ilona Andrews.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

 

Did I mention that Ilona Andrews is one of my absolute favorite authors? Every time I pick up one of her books, I don’t have to worry about being disappointed or bored by the story. I KNOW that it will be good and that it will sweep me off my feet and that I would devour the book in a matter of hours then agonize because it’s finished. Sweep in Peace was one of those books as well.

 

In the first book of the series, Clean Sweep, we were introduced to this original and very interesting world where Dina is the innkeeper of a very particular bed and breakfast. If you are interested, you can read my review of this book here. We get an in depth exploration of a few facets of this world in Sweep in Peace. Notably the bloody history between the Space Vampires and the Hope-Crushing Horde, as well as the meaning of tradition, duty, and compassion.

 

By the end of book 1, Dina succeeded at not only avoiding disaster and keeping her inn, but also at adding a star to the inn’s rating. Unfortunately, guests aren’t exactly knocking at her door, and the inn needs guests to survive and thrive. So when an Arbitrator shows up at her door and requisitions her inn for peace negotiations between three warring factions, Dina has no choice but to agree, even though her intuition and common sense screams that this is a bad idea. Only brokering a peace between nations who had been killing each other for generations is easier said than done. But Dina will do everything in her power to succeed, because the alternative would be disastrous for her inn and herself.

 

I love this world. I loved this story. How heartbreaking and touching it was, yet how the author managed to avoid all the doom and gloom by keeping it lighthearted. Which in turn made the impact of the bloody conflict between those races so much more effective on the reader. Imagine a world where technology fails and the living conditions are harsh, but it’s the only known planet in the galaxy to produce a very valuable mineral. So even though none of the factions want to be there, they are still fighting for domination on a planet where they have to go against each other with swords and arrows instead of tactical air strikes and lasers. It’s up close and personal. It’s bloody. It’s life-altering and soul-wrenching. And it’s a never-ending cycle of destruction because the sides can’t afford to back down even if they can’t afford to keep on fighting either.

 

Most of all, I love Dina. She already proved in book 1 that she is smart and resourceful and more than capable of being a real Innkeeper. She has a level head and doesn’t panic easily, but most importantly, I love that she is more brains then brawl. She will always try to find a peaceful solution to a problem first, though she will not hesitate to kick some ass if there is no other alternative.

 

But in this book, she also shows the depth of her compassion and understanding of other cultures. She studies their customs and rituals, and she is extremely respectful of them. I love how much thought she put into transforming the quarters for each faction into places where they would feel at home and safe…

 

I will not say anything about the rest of the story, because I want the readers to experience it for themselves. My recommendation is buy this book immediately. I won’t regret it. And when is the next one coming out?

Admiral (An Evagardian Novel) by Sean Danker.

Stars: 2 out of 5.

Our protagonist wakes up in a sleeper (something like a cryo-sleep capsule) on a strange ship in the company of three young recruits fresh out of the military academy on the way to their first duty stations. Problem is, the ship isn’t moving, the crew is missing, all the systems are malfunctioning, and they seem to be stranded on a strange planet with no means to contact anyone. Oh, and they might not be alone on that apparently deserted planet either. So in the light of those problems, the fact that he has somehow been promoted to Admiral while he was in cryo-sleep seems like just a trivial matter. After all, what’s a rank if you probably won’t survive to enjoy it?

The rest of the story is a mad race against the clock and the stacking odds towards the finish line where salvation might or might not be waiting for them.

This book is a fast read. Events develop at neck breaking speed, so the characters barely have time to catch their breath before a new catastrophe hurls towards them. Problem is, the reader doesn’t have time to catch a breath either, so it becomes rather tedious after a while. Also, this book as a few too many problems for my liking.

First of all, the narrator has a VERY BIG SECRET that’s hinted upon over and over as the story unfolds. It’s intriguing at the beginning, but gets rather frustrating towards the end when we get no closer to discovering this big secret. The reveal, when it comes in the last ten pages of the book, comes about one third of a book too late, in my opinion, because by that time, it really doesn’t matter what the protagonist was before or what he’d done.

Then there is the small matter of a lot of exposition about the world we’re in, the war that supposedly just ended, the structure of the noble families in the Evagardian Empire, and even about the mysterious Empress who cruises the galaxy in her megaship called the Julian and who always wears a mask so nobody’s ever seen her face…

I understand that this is the first book in what seems to be a new series and that the author needs to introduce his world, but is all that information really relevant to the problem at hand? The problem is simple – they are stranded on a strange and deadly planet and need to get off it before the environment and the natives kill them. How exactly talking about the Empress and everything else is helping them do that. Those moments of narrative exposition feel rather dissonant from the rest of the story because of that. Like we hit pause in the middle of the life or death action to listen to a dissertation about the structure of the Evagardian Empire.

Finally, the stakes shift and change on us constantly, and not only because the situation is evolving, but also because new things are introduced all the time. And the fact that three barely trained soldiers and a maybe admiral manage to overcome adversity that killed 20 000 colonists and get off that planet alive reads like science fiction, and not in a good way. In fact, the more odds the author stacks against his characters, the more implausible their escape is. There is such a thing as too much, when simple logic revolts and your brain starts screaming, “I refuse to believe this.” Not to mention that the final escape reads a lot like deus ex machina to me…

And the ending itself is… anticlimactic to say the least. I had the feeling that the book just sort of fizzled out because the author got tired of writing the story.

The underlying premise of this book had so much promise, but I think the author did both himself and the book a disservice by trying to make it into more than it was. Had he just stuck with the disaster movie like concept and left out most of the allusions to the rest of his world as well is the BIG SECRET about the protagonist out of the picture, it would have read a lot better.

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