Tag Archives: book reviews

The Scourge Between Stars by Ness Brown

 Stars: 5 out of 5

This was a surprise winner for me. I picked it up on whim and because the cover was so cool. I didn’t expect much of the story apart from space horror. I got that alright, but I also got surprisingly a lot of heart.

Imagine for a moment that you are on board of a generation ship that is running out of resources and no matter how many times you do the math, it all points to the same thing: we won’t reach Earth before our air and food runs out. Add to that that the ship is traveling through a literal minefield deployed by two unknown alien species at war with each other. The humans are just collateral damage in this battle, but it hurts the ship and their chances of survival all the same, because we don’t have the technology to detect and avoid the mines. Then add to that the fact that they unknowingly picked up a hitchhiker or two when they left the colony. And those hitchhikers are fond of human flesh. Yes, the sum total is one terrifying ride.

What I didn’t expect, is that this short novel, more a novella, would be populated by fleshed out characters I would sympathize and root for.  Jacklyn “Jack” Albright is an amazing character. She feels real. She has her flaws and insecurities and moments of pettiness or self-doubt, but she is also courageous and willing to do the right thing even if doing so means facing off with a terrifying monster that tears people apart like they were paper cutouts. She is trying her best to keep her crew together and prevent her ship from falling apart after each space mine, or “engagement” they encounter. She is overwhelmed and terrified, but she still tries everything she can to face the new treat when it arises. That’s what a true captain is, unlike her father who chose to abandon them in this trying time. 

As I had mentioned, the book is very short, and I devoured it in a lazy afternoon reading session. And I ended up loving the story and all the characters and wanting to know more. Like why had the colonists decided to attempt a doomed voyage back to Earth? What had gone wrong in the new colony? Especially since the existence of the native species was just speculation, from what I could understand. Who are those spacefaring aliens waging war across the stars? They seem to have technology eons above what humanity can master.  I really hope that the author will revisit this universe in her future books. 

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

City of Stone and Silence (The Wells of Sorcery 2) by Django Wexler

 Stars 5 out of 5.

If anything, book 2 is even better than book 1. Since the backstory and worldbuilding had already been established in book 1, we can jump right into the story here. And what story it is! We thought that just reaching the garden and surviving the Rot had been a challenge. Well it’s nothing compared to what awaits our friends from Soliton when it reaches its destination.

I love the fact that Isoka underwent tremendous character growth in the last book, and it continues here. She went from being this ruthless, unfeeling person who was only out for herself and and her sister to becoming a reluctant leader who actually cares about the people she ended up in charge of.  This change makes her a lot more relatable and, while I’m sure she had that compassion hidden deep down inside her anyway, it is slowly coming out thanks to Meroe. Meroe loves Isoka, but she also constantly challenges her and makes her take a long and harsh look at her actions. And she leads by example. My only complaint about this book is that we don’t get quite enough Meroe awesomeness. 

We also get to really meet Isoka’s sister Tori in this book. In book one, we only got a glimpse of her through Isoka’s eyes, and she seemed exactly what Isoka wanted her to be: a beautiful and innocent upper-class girl far detached from all the filth and violence of the streets. In this book, we get to live in her head as well. And we find out that she is far from innocent and definitely far from detached. The innocence is a façade that she is putting up for her sister and the retainers she’d hired, but underneath is a thoughtful and determined young lady. There is no malice in that act, mind you. Tori knows that seeing her happy and pure off the filth Isoka has to wade through every day makes her sister happy. So she gives her that happiness. Because she remembers the cold and the hunger and the brutality of the streets, and she remembers everything her big sister had to sacrifice to keep her safe.  And she loves her for it. 

I admit that Tori was the biggest surprise in this book for me. From the glimpse we had of her in book 1, she’d appeared very shallow and young. But we get to follow a young woman with a heart of gold and spine of steel in this book. I can truly say that both sisters are exceptional. I can’t wait to see them reunited at last and delivering their own brand of justice to those who wronged them.

And I can’t wait to jump into the last book in the trilogy. This is a must read. If you like a thoughtfully created world and wonderfully flawed characters, pick up this series.

Blood Binds the Pack (The Ghost Wolves 2) by Alex Wells

Stars: 3 out of 5

I am ashamed to say that it took me almost 2 years to finish this book. According to Goodreads, I started reading on August 20, 2020… Well, I finished it on July 30, 2022. It’s not the longest I had dragged a book on my currently reading list, but it comes close.

And you know what? I am not sure why it took me so long. I loved the first book. I devoured it in two days. I was fascinated by the world, the magic, the characters… Especially Hob and her band of ragtag Wolves and the Bone Collector.

And therein lies the problem, I think. I liked Hob. I wanted to follow her and maybe also find out what happened to Coyote and how he would cope with the changes. Unfortunately, I got very little of that in this book. In fact, I got almost zero on Coyote at all, which is really disappointing. I mean he is back with the Wolves and helping Hob, but we don’t dwell over the profound changes he underwent at the end of the last book or the consequences for him. It’s the same old Coyote, just with a lust for blood… That was disappointing. And I get that there is a bigger story there and that Coyote is only slightly important to it, but it was still disappointing.

The book is divided between three main POVs (with the inclusion of a couple unimportant ones here and there). We follow Mag, Shige, and Hob. Unfortunately, I couldn’t care less for Mag even in the first book, and she gets a lion’s share of page time in this one. Shige isn’t much more interesting to me either. Listening to him whining about his upbringing and his fate and not doing anything to change it gets old fast. And listening to him dwelling in his jealousy for his brother who had actually left is even more irritating. As far as I’m concerned, he could have died in that desert and I wouldn’t have shed a tear.

So this leaves only one POV I was excited to read… and Hob gets very little coverage. Of the three narrators, we stay with her the least until the final battle. I would be excited every time I got to Hob’s narratives, but they would end up way too quickly and I would have to slog through Mag’s troubles with the miners or Shige’s ineffective meddling with TransRift while he was becoming the Weatherman’s puppet… and my interest would disappear to the point where I would put the book down for a few months. And that’s why it took me two years to read 416 pages.

I still think it’s a decent book. I just wish we had learned a bit more about this strange world and that the characters I liked had a bit more screen time. But if you like Mag or Shige, you should breeze through this book pretty quickly and enjoy it.

Exodus Towers (Dire Earth Cycle 2) by Jason M Hough

Stars: 3 out of 5

I am not too sure about this series, to tell the truth. My husband read all the books and loved them, and I am… struggling. 

I mean the premise is wonderful and the worldbuilding is cool, but there is just something missing for me. 

I think it’s just because all the characters are so cookie cutter. The main guys is all good and heroic. The villains are very black and white and villainous just for the sake of it, it seems. The female characters… with the exception of Samantha, they have no personality. They are just there to incite our protagonist towards a particular set of actions or a decision. Neither of them have any agency on their own. I was willing to overlook that in the first book, because it had the thankless task of establishing the world and setting up the protagonist. Plus, it was this author’s debut novel. It is however getting a lot harder to let that slide in this book. 

It doesn’t help that the story doesn’t go anywhere in a hurry. I had the impression that some episodes were added just because the author thought they would be cool, but they didn’t really advance the main story. Case in point, the attempted invasion of the camp by immunes. Yes, that was a heart-ponding conflict for the 100 pages it lasted, but it ultimately didn’t advance the story. The leader was killed, most immunes ran away, and the settlers were left to rebuild their community. What was the purpose of that? It has no impact that I could see on the main plot. It did make the book seem endless and meandering though.

As a result, the book didn’t accomplish half of what it set out to do, even after 540-some pages. Samantha’s story arc is barely started. We only recovered one out of five artifacts that fell on Earth in the first book. When I finished reading, I felt like this book was a half-finished tapestry with loose treads flapping in the wind. 

All in all, I don’t know if I will continue with the series. I mean, I still want to know why the builders did this to Earth and humanity, but I am starting to care less and less about the characters. I might check out the next book, just because I’ve already bought it, but if it doesn’t improve after that, I will call it quits.

Wakers (The Side Step Trilogy 1) by Orson Scott Card

Stars: 2 out of 5.

DNF at 70%, so you darn right I’m leaving a review for this, since I put so much effort into this book!

I am very disappointed. I loved The Ender’s Game by the same author so I had high hope for this story as well. 

And the beginning was pretty good actually: intriguing and suspenseful. I was along for the ride with Laz, and even his constant monologue and the tendency to over-analyze every little thing to death wasn’t all that annoying at first. He was looking for answers, after all, and we, as the reader were looking for them with him. Yes, the pacing was rather slow, but I was willing to forgive that as long as I got the answers I was looking for in the end.

Then Laz finally wakes up Ivy… and things took a nosedive from there. 

First of all, the pace, which was already slow, became glacial. I mean the story progression grinded to a halt to be replaced by pages and pages of mindless and mind-numbing dialogue between two obnoxious teenagers. It was pointless. It wasn’t interesting. It didn’t bring ANYTHING useful to the story. It made my eyes roll back in my head and make me want to take a nap every time I opened the book. It’s an endless stream of verbal vomit between two people who I found more and more unlikeable the further in the book I got. 

Because most of the book is written in these horrible dialogues, the author does a lot of telling, but almost no showing. The characters debate scientific theories, explain to each other things that should be self-evident for them just so the reader can catch up with the science here. Problem is, the reader has checked out ten pages ago. 

I got no sense of the world, because the descriptions are almost non-existent. It’s all just Laz made a snide remark, Ivy retorted with something the author meant to sound smart, but just made her sound like a spoiled brat, Laz retaliated in the same fashion, blah, blah, blah…. twenty pages later we still haven’t learned anything new and the story hasn’t progressed an inch. Heck, I don’t even know what the dogs in the pack of four look like because mighty Laz didn’t care enough about it to talk about it.

I understand that this is a YA book, but I still didn’t particularly appreciate how all adults are described as complete idiots. Seriously, Laz and Ivy have this “better then everyone else” attitude to them when they talk to anybody else that would never have worked in the real world. You might be smart and possess a unique ability, but you are still a teenager, no you are a clone with fake memories, so if you talk to me this way, you will get smacked. I think that’s my biggest pet peeve with the author’s approach – you CAN create smart and resourceful teenagers without making them disrespectful at the same time. 

It made me hate the main characters more and more, and by the end I didn’t care about them or finding the answers to the big questions enough to read through the last 30% of obnoxious dialogue.

I will not continue with the series. I will definitely not recommend this book. And if this is the author’s new style of writing, I doubt I will try any of his newer book going forward. I’d rather re-read the Ender’s Game.

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

In the Watchful City by S. Qiouyi Lu

Stars: 3.5 out of 5.

This was an interesting book. More a collection of unrelated stories than one continuous story, a bit like the Thousand and One Nights. 

This collection of stories helped showcase this strange world that the author has created without having our main characters travel around it. It’s an interesting approach. And a very unique world that uses some of the mythological creatures from our world but in a different way, so the world described is both familiar and very different. Plus, I always love discovering authors who come from different cultures and can share them with me.  So this is the aspect of the book that I absolutely loved.

However, the fact that we have a series of disjointed stories happening in different parts of this world and with characters that aren’t linked together makes it hard to empathize with those characters. We only see them for a brief moment in time, with usually no real insight at their past and no way of following them past the end of their short story, so it’s hard to care for them during that short period of time. And since the “main” storyline is just the vehicle for those other stories, it’s hard to care for Anima and Vessel as well. We simply don’t spend enough time with any of the characters to get attached and to care about what happens to them. 

I would have also loved to have more answers to the questions raised in some of those stories. For example, the very first one about the revenants. Just how many are there? What are the consequences of having such beings roam the countryside? Or the mermaids? What happens there? Or what happens to the Sky empire now that the duarchy has fallen? The author drops hint to what could be amazing stories worth expanding further upon… but it goes nowhere. 

In comparison, the main story about Anima didn’t particularly captivate me. It lacked depth. We needed to explore more of Ora and see the different citizens that live in it. We should have concentrated on that instead of getting glimpses of this city amidst stories from faraway places. I think spreading the attention too thin did all of those stories a disservice.

All in all though, I am intrigued by this world and this author. I wouldn’t mind reading more books set in this world. I just hope that this time the author picks one story and sticks to it.

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

Shadow Shinjuku by Ryu Takeshi

 Stars: 3 out of 5

I have a hard time formulating my thoughts about this book. I liked it enough to stick around till the end, but it didn’t leave a big enough impact to consider it a really good book. 

There is one aspect I really loved, and that’s Tokyo as a whole and Shinjuku in particular. The author does a really good job describing the city, the atmosphere, the sights, the people who live in it. So much so that the city feels like its own entity and an integral part of the story. As an avid traveler who had been cooped up way to long because of Covid, I loved the chance to travel to a different place at least in my mind. And since I had visited Tokyo in 2018, some of the places described were familiar, like old friends.

Unfortunately, you need more than the atmosphere and a good description of the setting to make a good book. You also need a good story and engaging characters. In my opinion, this book is lacking in both those aspects. 

The story itself is not so bad. It’s about finding a purpose in life and a place where you belong. About family, both found and inherited. However, it starts really slow and meanders around aimlessly for over half of the book, just like Sato does. In fact, it doesn’t really pick up pace until about 60% into the book when the stuff with Kiki happens and Sato finally decides to do something apart from procrastinating.

And that is my second gripe with this book. Sato was just too passive a character to qualify for the role of a protagonist. As I mentioned, he spends over half the book just floating with the current, not engaged with the world at all, just observing it from the shadows. And I understand why the author wrote him this way and fully appreciate his transformation by the end of the book, but it really makes for a boring character to follow.

Also, since Sato doesn’t particularly care about any members of his “found family” for half the book, I found it hard to care for them as well. The bonds haven’t been established or properly showcased beforehand, so when bad things start to happen to them, there isn’t this sense of urgency and outrage that I should be feeling. In fact, I empathized with the dog more than I did with any other characters in this book, so that says something.

All in all, this was an interesting story and a good glimpse into a different culture. It would have been better if Sato had been more involved with the world around him from the get go.

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

The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth Durst

 Stars: 5 out of 5

Most epic fantasy books end with our mighty heroes defeating the big bad and riding into the sunset and their happy ever after. But ask yourself this question – what happens after the sun sets? What does that ever after look like? Especially if you spent years preparing for this one battle, dedicated your whole life to it. If you walked from it physically and mentally scarred and lost your heart in the process? This is what this book is about. 

Kreya was the leader of the Five Heroes of Vos, the brave crew who defeated the nefarious bone maker Eklor… but that was 25 years ago. And she lost everything in that battle – she lost her husband, who took a fatal arrow trying to protect one of their friends. This death broke Kreya – they were supposed to spend their life together after this battle, to travel the world and experience life to the fullest, to see and do everything they had put on hold while they were saving the world. They were supposed to grow old together. Now Kreya had 25 solitary years trying to resurrect her dead husband using the research of the very monster they sacrificed so much to defeat.

It was interesting to see that famed ever after and follow a band of heroes in their lives after the main story had seemingly ended. I found the portrayal of how these people would try to rebuild their lives after such a traumatic event very realistic. Some try to rebuild their lives and become successful, and never ever think about the war again. Some found a family and find happiness in a quiet life. Some are so broken that their mind fractures over time, and some, like Kreya, put their entire life on hold in order to bring back the person they love.

I also loved that even though they hadn’t seen each other in years, when one of them needs help, they all gather around that person and offer all the help they can. Sure, some will grumble about it, but they will still do it. That’s what true friends are. And like true heroes, when a new evil threatens their country, they will still rise to the occasion.

As you can see, I absolutely loved the characters. All six of our heroes are very human, with their flaws and their battle scars. And yes, I include Stren’s wife in this, because she is just as much part of the crew this time around as the original 5. They make mistakes, they doubt themselves, they don’t want to be responsible for saving the world again, but they still do it when they realize that nobody else will. 

I would have loved a bit more details about the world. It’s mentioned that Vos is built entirely on mountaintops, that a perpetual mist shrouds the valleys between the peaks and monsters live in that mist. I would have loved to learn a bit more about that. Is this a natural occurrence? Is this the result of some ancient war? Are other countries like that as well or not? Unfortunately, there are no answers to these questions.

But this gripe notwithstanding, this was an excellent book. I highly recommend it for fantasy fans out there.

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

The Moonsteel Crown (Dominion 1) by Stephen Deas

Stars: 5 out of 5

I must admit that I loved this book, despite a couple flaws. But those flaws are too small to mention and didn’t take anything from the sheer pleasure of discovering the rich world the author created and following the characters. 

I think that the characters are the biggest strength of this book. We follow three of them: Seth, a failed priest, Fingers, a thief and pickpocket, and Myla, a sun-monk on the run from her past. They are all flawed. All three have their own fears, hang-ups, and delusions. They aren’t good people by any means, but neither are they bad. They are very human and relatable, even if I had the urge to smack Fingers upside the head on more than one occasion. But truth be told, I have that urge with some of my real life friends as well.

It is truly a delight to follow these three characters through the story and watch them make mistakes, do stupid, and sometimes rather ugly things to each other, and be fully invested in their lives. Because they are human and relatable. Because I understood their motives and I wanted to see them find some kind of meaning to their lives. Not to mention, I wanted them to survive the events of this book so that they could find that meaning.

 I would say that one of the flaws is that the villains are less developed. We get more background with Sulfane eventually, so we understand what makes him do what he does. We don’t get much about Blackhand. He doesn’t seem to have any redeeming qualities. He is ruthless and doesn’t hesitate to double-cross his friends and allies when it suits him. He treats even the members of his own gang like shit most of the time, especially Seth. So I had to wonder why people like Fings and Wil were so loyal to him? Why go to any lengths to rescue him after everything he’s done? I would understand this if Blackhand was ruthless to the outsiders but fair and protective of his own crew, but we never get an indication of that. In fact, he is a shit leader, no matter how you look at it. But that’s a small flaw.

I loved the worldbuilding in this book. Even though the action takes place in one city – Varr (and around it), we get a feeling for a much waster world with a rich and ancient history. Even Varr is a city of many layers, with ruins, palaces, temples and hovels, and forgotten catacombs, that point towards thousands of years of civilization.

I liked that we are introduced to this world organically, through conversations between characters, through snippets in books and stories, through small mentions relevant to the story itself. There are no info-dumps or characters telling each other things they should know just for the benefit of the reader. That way the reader discovers more about the world gradually and is kept interested in learning more. In fact, I definitely want to read the next book and find out more about Dead Men and mages and what happened to the Baleful Eye in the sky. 

While I don’t particularly approve the route Seth chose by the end of this book, and I see the enormous potential for abuse and the risk of him turning into a monster worse than Blackhand, I definitely want to learn more about the secrets he uncovered.

So all in all, this is an excellent first book in a series. It tells a complete story, introduces interesting characters, and makes you want to pick up the next installment. 

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

The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher

Stars: 5 out of 5.

This was an amazingly, delightfully creepy book! The older I get, the less I seem to enjoy horror books, especially the gore and guts kind of horror. I still enjoy the atmospheric, psychological horror, but I find it hard to find good book that don’t repeat the same tired clichés or manage to completely botch the ending. I’m glad I picked up The Hollow Places, because this book delivered.

I think the best part about it is how slowly it develops the creep factor. We start in this wonderful little museum of improbable and impossible things that might look scary and unusual, but are, most of them fake. And our protagonist is someone who grew up in that museum. Who knows every nook and cranny of that building, who played among the display cases and hugged the stuffed animals as if they were her childhood friends. To Kara, or “Carrot” how her family and friends call her, the museum is the safest place on earth. This is a refuge when her family life is shattered by a divorce. A chance to regroup and start over.

And the author takes time to set the stage and introduce us to Kara and her uncle, as well as the museum itself. It’s done in such a way that as a reader, I was in love with the little building as well. I was feeling warm and safe there.

So when creepy and unexplained things start happen in this safe place, it completely knocks the ground from under your feet along with the protagonist. The horror of what’s happening has an even bigger impact because it is intruding into this safe zone.

The author also introduces the horrors of the Willows very progressively. At first, it just looks like a slightly creepy, but ultimately benign world. Yes, it’s flooded. Yes, there are bunkers everywhere, but no people. Yes, the willows are strange, but they are just trees, right? As more an more bizarre things happen to our protagonists, as the level of horror slowly ramps up, so did my blood pressure. I felt for them. I felt with them, especially after the school bus and their realization that they lost their bunker, and that they are possibly stuck in this weird no-man’s land forever.

I loved Kara. She is funny, she is a mess, but she is so relatable. Maybe because I’ve been in her shoes, with a messy divorce and a husband that acted exactly the same way. Yes, Carrot was slightly too stupid to live when it came to one particular object, but I can let it slide, because I liked everything else about her.

And Simon! If I had to get lost in a weird in-between place of existence with somebody, he would be my first choice. He is cool under pressure, and funny, and also relatable. 

And special shoutout to Beau, the bestest, most adorable cranky cat in literature. 

As I mentioned, the horror in this slowly builds up and finds its culmination when the safe place suddenly becomes unsafe. Unlike other horror books I’ve read recently, the author didn’t drop the ball here. The resolution is satisfying and the ending is everything I wanted it to be. And even though our protagonist win in th end, they are left with physical and emotional scars, which is also very logical and realistic. 

All in all, this was a very enjoyable book. I will definitely recommend it to my friends and I will check out other books by this author. Heck, I already told my husband he absolutely needs to read it.