Tag Archives: book reviews

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.

Of Starlight and Plague by Beth Hersant

Stars: 1 out of 5

DNF at 52%

I know that zombie books aren’t a paragon of high literature. I expect that. But when I pick up one, I expect to be entertained at least. This is the first boring zombie book I’ve ever read, so that must be a record. I picked it up because it has a bunch of 4 and 5 star reviews on Goodreads, and now I am honestly baffled. Were we reading the same book? Was there a particular lens I forgot to put on before I started this? I came for mindless zombie fun, what I got instead is a poorly written snooze fest. 

I think the biggest problem here is that the characters are skin deep. Granted, I don’t expect great characterization in a zombie book, since most of them will be zombie appetizer, but I expect to have one or two main characters that I can follow through the story. I need to have somebody I can associate myself with and see the world through their eyes. 

Here, we have no such thing. The two people responsible for the plague die by end of part 1. Which is a shame, because it would have been an interesting story to follow them through the pandemic. To see them realize the horror of what they have unleashed and do everything in their power to stop it before the world is destroyed. It’s a wasted opportunity and it’s such a shame.

Then we have Tammany, an old wise mambo in New Orleans. She seemed interesting and had at least a little depth to her character, even if most of that depth was full of  clichés about voodoo practitioners.  But her story was cut short by the end of part 2. 

By the time I decided to part ways with the book, we were introduced to yet another smart old lady who was planning on surviving the plague with her family. That felt redundant. Why not just continue with Tammany? Why introduce a whole new character, when they serve exactly the same purpose. The story of survival would have been in a swamp in New Orleans in Louisiana instead of a farm up north, but it would have served the same purpose. As it stands, that’s yet another character that has to be introduced, yet another conflict that has to be set up from the beginning. 

And that’s another problem with this book. Since the author has to set up so many characters, the action constantly jumps back and forth in time. We get to the inevitable “zombie” outbreak from the point of view of one character… then we switch to the very beginning of the story again for the next one and follow them to the same precise moment of the outbreak again. Rinse and repeat. This made me feel like the story is just spinning its wheels without going anywhere. And if a story isn’t going anywhere, I eventually loose all interest in it. 

Or the author introduces a character just as they get killed or loose their soul to the New Rabbis then backtracks a few days or weeks to show us how they got there. Problem is, we already know that character is zombie food (or zombie themselves), so why invest time in making an emotional connection with them by learning their story? We won’t be following them for long. 

And what about this irritating way all characters have to quote scientific journals or other sources in their conversations or even in their thoughts? Who, in their right mind does that? Who stops in the middle of their dream to explain a term that she’d known since she was a child? A term that is part of her culture? Yes, that term might be confusing for the reader at first, but most of us are smarter than an average monkey. We can figure out what it means based on the context. Explaining it so blatantly in the text does two things – it insults the reader’s intelligence and it immediately pulls them out of the story because it sticks out like a sore thumb.

Same with incessant quotations of scientific articles and research. I get that the author did her research and is proud of it, but why make your characters shove it down my throat in every conversation? If only one character did that, it would have been a quirk and an interesting layer to their character, no matter how strange, but they all do that. The neuroscientists quote medical journals at each other. Wouldn’t they have read them independently if they are so good at their job? Tammany quotes voodoo research… which is even more weird. Why would a mambo read research done into her religion by outsiders anyway?

All this made for a very frustrating and boring read. This book had potential. But it needs a good developmental editor to unearth that potential out of the confusing heap of dirt the story is right now.

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

The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi

 Stars: 3 out of 5

For most of the book, I thought this would a solid 5 star read. The story was fun to read and fast paced – a perfect book to spend a cold day with, curled up by the fire… Then I hit the last quarter of the book and finished it with my eyes rolling so much it hurt. 

But let’s talk about what worked first, shall we? The story is lighthearted and rather optimistic, which is a plus during this pandemic times that seem never-ending. The protagonist is fun to follow. He never looses his optimism no matter what obstacles life throws in his way. We all could use a bit of that after two years of the global mess we’re in. I also liked that he is an average joe, unlike a lot of other typical protagonists who are either hidden martial artists, or retired military, or chosen ones. He isn’t even the smartest one around. He was hired to “lift things”, not do science. Yet he does indeed lift things and accomplish other dangerous and sometimes gross things with good grace, optimism, and fun. 

I also loved the Kaiju Earth. To imagine a parallel world where life has adapted to a denser atmosphere that is richer in oxygen. A world where some animals are living walking nuclear reactors that sometimes go critical and explode. Only it’s not a catastrophe, like it would be in our world, because everything else around them evolved to absorb that radiation, to use it as fuel and food. So an exploding kaiju is basically like a dinner bell – everything that survives the initial blast and firestorm rushed that way to absorb as much radiation as possible. 

It was fun to imagine a world where giant monsters like Godzilla were an inherent part of the ecosystem. It was also gratifying to have an explanation that worked. I also liked the explanation on how those monsters sometimes ended up crossing to our Earth, and why they couldn’t survive here for long. 

So this was a fun romp until the last twist and the ending, which unfortunately killed the book for me. I almost rage-quit reading at one point, but decided to carry on since I was 80% at that time.

The problem is that the whole plot twist is highly unbelievable. But I could let that slip of the motivation behind it was sound. But as it stands, this book sports the worst antagonist I have seen in a book in looooong time. It’s like Scalzi forgot the true and tried principal that every villain is the hero of his or her own story. Yes, their actions might be atrocious or ridiculous, their plans might be far-fetched, but the motivation behind them must be believable. The antagonist must have a reason for what they are doing. 

Here, they are just being bad for the sake of being bad. I mean, seriously, the author showed this antagonist in such a bad light from the beginning of the book that there isn’t a single redeeming quality in them. They are so evil, they come across as a cardboard cutout. A real person can’t be this horrible all the time. Even the worlds greatest villains and mass murderers have peoples and pets they care about. This antagonist doesn’t. 

I mean, this might work for some readers, since the premise of the book is far-fetched anyway, but this absolutely didn’t work for me. I can’t stay involved in the story if I can’t take the bad guy seriously – I simply stop believing in the stakes. 

Speaking of stakes, that twist with stealing Bella was simply ridiculous. Once again, a plan without any rhyme or reason with consequences that have been tacked on just for maximum damage and to show how villainous our antagonist is. I mean why pull the kaiju to our Earth and let it go nuclear? Those mercenaries had to come close to the kaiju in order to install the devices that would open the barrier, so why not just instruct them to take the samples required and quietly leave? It accomplishes exactly the same thing – the antagonist has all the samples he needs to breed his own living nuclear reactors, and nobody is the wiser. But now, he had to do this dramatic disappearing act, and kill a bunch of people in the process, just because he is evil. 

Oh and the fact that four nerds with absolutely no military training managed to break into a mercenary compound and bring Bella back without getting killed? Yeah, that was absolutely not believable. That’s when my eyerolls reached such a speed that they gave me a headache. 

So kudos for a fun and wonderfully created Kaiju Earth and engaging characters, but the antagonist and the ridiculous ending ruined that book.

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