Tag Archives: DNF

The Half Life of Valery K by Natasha Pulley

Stars: 1 out of 5.

DNF at 50%.

I think I am done with this author.

This could have been a wonderful book about the price of human experimentation, damaged people, suffering and atonement… it chose to be a weak romance between two unlikable characters instead.

I mean this was a subject matter ripe for the taking. We are talking about a period in the history of USSR when the government was responsible for the imprisonment and deaths of literally millions of its own people. And the author insists that this book was based on a real “closed” city with real events that happened as well. This could have been an exploration of the horrors of human experimentation, of how political doctrine could distort people’s perception of right and wrong, of how even normal people could commit atrocities for a perceived “greater good” of their country. 

And Valery was the ideal vessel for that exploration. He was a victim as well as a torturer himself. Yes, he spent six years in a GULAG, so he knows first hand the abuse and total dehumanization that happens there. Yet he also worked with Mengele before WWII and experimented on prisoners. If the author would have made this book about his journey of realization that what he had done before was monstrous and his attempts to atone for this by preventing the horrible experiment happening how in City 40, I would have been happily along for the ride. But it wasn’t. In fact, Valery doesn’t feel guilt about any of his actions before his imprisonment. He justifies it all by saying that “science had to be done.” And you are asking me to care for a character like that? Sorry, no can do.

Unfortunately, we didn’t even get that in this book. We got a lackluster romance for which this city and the horrors committed within are just a backdrop. And it was probably my fault for not reading the tags and realizing it was a romance, but this was definitely not what I had wanted in this book. Especially since this romance feels so forced. The author had to fridge both Valery’s first love interest and the KGB guy’s wife just to make that happen. Plus, as I said, they are both despicable human beings, so watching them grow to care for each other did nothing for me.

Also, does the author hate women? This is the second book I have read from her where all the women are either absolutely awful, unfeeling and domineering towards men, or sweet non-entities who are immediately fridged to provide angst for the male protagonists. Either way, they all end badly. Even the main big bad of this story is a woman, and even though she is so over the top bad, she is the most interesting character in this story, which is sad.

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

Atlas (Atlas 1) by Isaac Hooke

DNF at 67%.

Every once in a while, I pick up a military scifi book, because the description or the cover spoke to me. Also, just to see if I might like it. With rare exceptions, like the Old Man’s War by John Scalzi, those books are a disappointment. Unfortunately, this one will fall into that disappointment category as well. 

What I want in the books I read is good characters that are interesting to follow (even if not necessarily likeable), and a good story that doesn’t have too many glaring plot holes. A modicum of internal logic with the worldbuilding is also highly appreciated. As you can imagine, military scifi is a genre that is very light on all of those attributes. 

This story is typical military scifi fare – light on worldbuilding and substance, but hey, we have cool giant robot suites for our protagonist to pilot. The protagonist is also a typical representative of the genre – a wisecracking smartass that is cooler and better at everything than anyone else in the book, despite his humble beginnings. He seriously can do no wrong. 

The supporting cast is just as uninspiring. The men are either the protagonist’s allies and then they are okay guys, or they are his enemies/competitor, in which case they are usually horrible human beings. The female characters are even worse off. They are defined solely by how attractive our protagonist finds them. Other than that, they have no function or personality on their own. But hey, we have cool combat robots!

Once again, I proved to myself that no, I still don’t like military scifi.

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

The Last Heir to Blackwood Library by Hester Fox

Stars: 2 out of 5.

DNF at 75%.

This was going to be a solid 4 or 5 stars book until about 50% into the story. The setup was wonderful. Old manor that used to be an abbey, the moors and the fog, the cold and unwelcoming servants, and a mysterious library… What is there not to like about this?

Unfortunately, things go downhill from there. And not in small part because of the protagonist’s actions. For someone who constantly says that she doesn’t need anyone to take care of her, because she was doing that just fine on her own, thank you very much, she sure makes a lot of stupid decisions. Like not heeding the warnings of her staff about the library, or about associating with certain people. Like trusting a man who she doesn’t really know from Adam, just because he was nice to her and likes talking about books. Like accepting his marriage proposal after barely knowing him a few weeks and going on a couple dates. Especially when even she notices his unhealthy fixation on her library… just because she is lonely and feels unappreciated. Strong independent woman, yeah right. 

That’s the major problem with this book. No matter how much the author tries to show Ivy taking some action, and making some decisions, like organizing a book lending club, she isn’t an active player in this story. She doesn’t push the story forward. None of her actions progress anything. Things happen to her. In essence, she has no agency in this story at all. I understand that it was supposed to convey her dismay and confusion at progressively loosing her memories, but it misses the mark here, in my opinion. She comes across and pathetic and helpless, yet also stubborn and pigheaded when she shouldn’t be. She gives up all resistance the moment she encounters any difficulty.

For example, when she finds her journals shredded, she immediately abandons the idea of keeping a diary of her days. I would immediately create another diary and keep it on my person at all times, and yes, continue to write down everything that happens. She just sweeps all the evidence into the fire and doesn’t even confront her staff about this… or go to town and call her friend Susan, or do anything but continue to flounder in bewilderment. 

This might work for some readers, but this passivity made the book more and more boring to me. To the point that I started skimming ahead to see if Ivy would even try to fight for he freedom and sanity, but by 75% of the book she was just as pathetic – a prisoner in her own home… And I didn’t care to find out what would happen in the end. So I gave up.

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

The City Beneath the Hidden Stars by Sonya Kudei

Stars: 1 out of 5

DNF at 40%.

Well, this was a disappointment. I love discovering new authors. I also love exploring settings set up in cities other than the usual London/New York/another well-known English-speaking city. So I was very excited about this story set in Zagreb. I hoped to learn some new lore and get familiar with a city with so much history. Unfortunately, the result is less than stellar.

I get what the author tried to do. The writing is supposed to be edgy and witty, and the sarcastic commentary that breaks the third wall is supposed to illicit a chuckle from the reader now and then. And it absolutely would… if it’s well done, which is not the case here. The overwrote language, never-ending descriptions and constant “winks” from the omniscient narrator to the readers get pretty boring very quickly. 

I don’t a detailed description of every single item crammed into the stairwell of a hoarder’s house. I don’t need a three page walkthrough of the market square. What I need is an engaging story and interesting characters I can follow. The rest is just setting. If I wanted to visit Zagreb remotely, I’d buy a tourist guide with pictures.

As it stands, I am not even sure, 40% in, what the story is supposed to be about. The Black Queen is returning? Cool cool… only she didn’t DO anything particularly horrendous so far, or even driven the narrative much. As far as the main villain of the story, she simply doesn’t pull the weight. As for the protagonists, they are simply blah.

There is also an overabundance of secondary characters that appear for a few pages, never to be heard of again, but are described in painstaking detail nevertheless. This overdescription of everything makes for a boring and tedious read, and since there isn’t really a good story to back it up, I don’t feel like investing more of my time into this 400 page book.

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

Extasia by Claire Legrand

Stars: 1 out of 5.

DNF at 35%.

This is definitely not for me. I don’t deal well with religious drama, cults, and religious zealots, and while I was told that the book eventually moves past that, I just didn’t feel the strength to slog through that part of the story to get to the interesting bits. I put this book away and picked it up so many times, I finished 3 other books in the meantime. And I had to force myself to pick it back up every time. The only reason I stuck with it so long is because it’s an advanced copy. I usually feel obligated to at least make it through a quarter of a book I received for review before I call it quits.

Religious oppression and violence is not the only reason I couldn’t finish this book. I can’t stand the main protagonist. I also don’t understand her motivations. The choices she makes don’t makes sense. She is so pious and ready to become a saint, and judgmental of anyone she considers not pious enough, especially her mother… then she decides that she wants to find the Devil? Hmmm, why exactly? How a barely remembered story (that ended badly, by the way) would make her think that confronting the Devil would save her village? Why is she willing to commit theft and perjury for that?

There are a lot of her other choices and behaviors that made me shake me head in dismay. And they made me like her even less. For someone who sees herself as a sort of paragon of piety and virtue, she is extremely judgmental and unkind to everyone who she sees inferior to her. That’s especially glaring towards her fellow saints and her sister. I’m sorry, but I can’t possibly root for someone this unlikeable.

The worldbuilding is wobbly at best. I can’t even picture how this village lives. What kind of technology do they have? How do they feed themselves? What do they wear? How do they craft their tools? Nothing. The explanation about Extasia is also rather unsatisfying. 

I’ve seen a lot of raving reviews for this book on Goodreads, but for me, it was a disappointment.

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

The First Days (As the World Dies 1) by Rhiannon Frater

Stars: 2 out of 5

This was rather disappointing. I’m always on the lookout for a good zombie story, and this one had promise. The first chapter sure packed an emotional punch. Two women thrown together by circumstances and desperately trying to survive in a world gone mad overnight. It looked like it would be a bloody and scary romp through rural Texas fighting zombies and finding strength and friendship in each other. And it was just that for the first 100 pages or so. But once they rescue Jenni’s stepson and join the other survivors, thigs quickly degenerate.

All of a sudden, instead of being decisive, smart and brave, these girls just give up all of their initiative to the first male figure they encounter. It’s like they switch off their brains and switch on their hormones. Big man will protect me! I don’t have to think anymore. I just have to spread my legs! Jenni is the biggest offender on that front. And the whole story becomes this weird love square between Katie, Jenni, Travis and Juan. Did we really need that? The world is literally ending around them, why do I have to read about who hooks up with whom?

Not to mention how false that reads. I mean Katie just witnessed her beloved wife, the one she literally describes as her whole world, become a zombie and try to eat her face off. That was not even a week ago. And suddenly she has strange feelings for Travis and is doubting her sexuality? What happened to loss and grief and time to process the enormity of what happened? Jenni witnessed her abusive husband kill and eat both her children and barely escaped with her life. Yet as soon as she sees an attractive man, she switches off her brain and starts thinking only with her nether parts. But the least said about Jenni the better. Her characterization is problematic at best.

That’s another issue with this book – characterization. It’s inconsistent.  Characters do and say things that sometimes wildly clash with how they behaved before and what they were said to believe in. Some plot points and arcs don’t do anything to advance the plot and are there only either for shock value or to add some zombie gore. Like that whole adventure to rescue Jenni’s stepson, what was that about exactly? He fades into the background almost as soon as they reach the refugee camp and has no further role to play in the story. Heck, the dog has more page time than the kid, and more personality.

And it feels like the characters worry more about who will sleep with whom than the more pressing matters, like how to secure food and other supplies. What will happen when electricity goes down and running water dries out. They should be planning raids on nearby stores and pharmacies, and securing a source of running water. They should be thinking about hygiene and how to prevent the spread of diseases that will inevitably follow. Even the common flu can kill. Not to mention dysentery, which they are all likely to get if they don’t figure out a safe way to preserve food and boil the water they drink. I know, I know, I’m asking too much, but I was looking forward to a good zombie survival book, and instead I got this…

At least I crossed another book off my TBR list, I guess. And this one has been sitting on it since 2018.

Souldier (In the Shadows of Eternity 1) by Andrew Dahms

Stars: 2 out of 5

DNF at 50%

I am honestly amazed at all the 5 stars reviews on Goodreads. Have I read a different book than everyone else? They talk about a good story and gripping action… Well, I had to force myself to read to halfway point, and I honestly saw neither. Maybe things get better in the second half of the book, but if I have to wait until then for the story to get interesting, something is wrong. Plus, I don’t have that much patience. 

I think the biggest problem is that the author doesn’t know how to show anything. All he does is tell. We have paragraphs upon paragraphs of descriptions of everything from buildings to uniforms, to what is happening to the character. But it’s all tell, tell, tell… I mean, he even managed to make the basic training sequence boring as fish. And it lasted way too long, by the way. I mean we are barely out of basic training and actually on the Line by the halfway mark. 

It doesn’t help that Vivian’s character is a non-entity. Because the author tells us everything instead of showing, we are never privy to her inner thoughts or find out how she actually feels about the things that are happening to her. I mean we have several chapters describing how grueling her basic training was, and how the drill sergeant did everything he could to break her… but that’s just words. I have no clue how she felt about it. I don’t see her exhaustion, her frustration, her determination to continue. None of that is there.

And why is she here anyway? Yes, she wants to find out what happened to Sally, but again, apart from what the author tells us, nothing shows us just how much she meant to the protagonist. Show us some flashbacks. Show us their interactions when they were friends. Show us how Vivian felt when Sally left to join souldier, or how she felt when she received the news of her friend’s death… then I will believe that she could drop everything and travel half the world away to seek some answers. As it stands, I don’t care.

And that’s the trend in this book. We are told that the characters are doing something or reacting to something, but we aren’t shown that. And often, we aren’t shown any reactions at all where there should be something. 

For example, when Vivian and her fellow enlistees are sent to help load and unload planes during the new wave, the pilot of one of them has a mental breakdown, literally saying that he brought his squad back in boxes. They were unloading coffins. Surely, there would be a reaction to that? We get nothing. No horror at the realization, no desperation, no fear even. Nothing but the description of how grueling it was to work for such long hours for several days. NOT the thing you want to put the accent on in this kind of story. That was a lost opportunity to immerse the reader in the world and show just how bleak the situation is. 

When I realized that at halfway mark the book wasn’t getting any better, and that I was just getting more and more frustrated with the writing, I gave up.

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

Murder Under Another Sun by Colin Alexander

DNF at 25%.

I expected a tight thriller and murder mystery in space. Instead I got a high school trip vs junkies story on a new space colony.

And the premise itself is so stupid that I simply can’t suspend my disbelief that much.

Instead of sending conducting an extensive geological, meteorological, and biological survey of the newly discovered planet, we will just throw a bunch of settlers on it and expect them to start a fully self-sustaining colony.

Oh and the first colonists will all be criminals with not many useful skills between them… and the second wave will be a group of boy and girl scouts barely out of high school. Surely they at least know how to operate the machines that will keep them alive and help build said colony? No? Cool, that’s cool.

That’s the perfect recipe for a successful colony! What can go wrong? Seriously, the person who came up with that mission plan on earth must have been high as a kite. End sarcasm.

Oh, and at a quarter of the book in, still no sign of the murder that is supposed to be at the center of this story. Sorry, I’m out.

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

Bona Fides (MI-X Series 1) by Ash B. Whitley

Stars: 2 out of 5.

DNF at 50%.

The blurb for this book sounded very interesting: a child prodigy stuck in a sort of parallel dimension where she can see and hear what’s going on on our plane of existence, but not interact with anything. Her fight to get back into our world and prove that her father is innocent of her murder. Sounds like a wonderful story, doesn’t it? That’s why I picked that book up. 

Unfortunately, the blurb is misleading. Oh, Rowyn is stuck in a parallel dimension, alright, watching helplessly as her father is convicted of her murder. However, this situation is resolved within the first four chapters of the book, and without much effort on her part, I must add. What happens after that is a story about a group of super-powered young adults who are trying to save the world against a big bad with super powers. Some reviewers drew a parallel with X-Men, and I can see where they come from. 

And I would have stayed for this X-Men like adventure, even if that was not what I was expecting when I picked up the book, but the characters were simply not interesting enough. Their POVs feel “rough”, like the author tried too hard to give them distinctive quirks to make them more memorable. Well, their “voices” sound stilled and unnatural instead. I saw their individual powers, but I never saw the actuals individuals behind those powers.  I think it was also party because the author chose to tell us a lot of things instead of showing them. So we are told that Alexia hates her powers and that they make her toxic to everyone around them, but I don’t see that turmoil in her POVs. 

The problem also lies in the story itself, or, more precisely, it’s execution. There are way to many plot holes and deus ex machina moments. The whole team seems rather ineffective and bumbling through their missions on sheer luck and because the author needs them to succeed. I mean, just because Hakim has a brain that is better than a super computer, it doesn’t make him a good leader. There is a lot more to leading a team of troubled super-powered people than smarts. Empathy goes a long way as well. 

And that’s what this book lacks – empathy. Horrible things happen to characters, but it’s never addressed afterwards. We never see the emotional fallout of Rowyn’s father suicide, for example. It’s just assumed that these people will brush this off an continue like nothing happened. As if having a super power makes them immune to psychological trauma. 

So I left this book disappointed, even though I might have enjoyed it better if the blurb had prepared me for what it really was – a thriller with superheroes, instead of a mystery about a girl stuck out of sync with our plane of existence and desperately trying to get back to it.

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

The Bladed Faith (The Vagrant Gods 1) by David Dalglish

Stars: 2 out of 5

DNF at 45%.

There are the makings of a good book in there, that’s why I am not giving it a one star review, but the execution was sorely lacking, at least for my taste.

First of all, it drags. Even the battles move slowly and the narrative parts between them are never-ending. We get a long training montage at the beginning of the book that was interesting for the first 10 pages, but rapidly lost my goodwill after it dragged and dragged. 

I think the reason for that is because even though the characters acquire new skills and evolve physically, they never grow mentally. I found that the character development is next to null in this book. I never got to bond with the characters because I was never allowed in their heads. What drives them? 

Why does Cyrus decide to endure this harsh training? Just because he was told that he could become the avenger of his people? He didn’t strike me as someone that selfless and patriotic at the beginning of the book. I would understand this better is I was privy to his inner thoughts and doubts instead of just his relentless training. 

Same goes for all the other characters. They are kind of there and going through the motions, but I can’t picture them in my head. They are not “alive” to me. I am a character-driven reader, I don’t do well with books that lack those. I can forgive a lot of flaws and plot-holes as long as I’m invested in the characters. Here, I wasn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some interesting ideas in this book. The whole idea of the origin of divinity is one I would have loved to know more about. This is one of the reasons I kept reading for as long as I did. But then I caught myself skipping pages upon pages and stopping just to read the major plot points. That’s when I knew that it was time to abandon ship. 

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