Tag Archives: Reviews

In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad Book 1) by Tana French.

Stars: 2 out of 5.

I am rarely upset about a book. I am excited if I love it and usually just sad or even indifferent if I don’t. After all, you can’t like them all. Well, this time I’m pissed off with this book. Really, really pissed off! In the Woods had all the makings of a 5 star, all-time favorite book, but those hopes crashed and burned about 2/3 in. Now I feel cheated, like a kid who was promised candy only to discover a piece of rock under all that bright glittering packaging.

 

I realize that I’m not exactly an expert in this genre – I rarely read murder mysteries. I watch plenty of those on TV though. I had picked In the Woods because the premise seemed interesting: Three kids go to play in the woods. Only one of them is found the next morning, wearing bloody shoes and no memory of what happened. Twenty years later, that kid, now a detective in the murder squad, is forced to come back to this town to investigate the murder of another child in the same woods.

 

Now my understanding of the murder mystery genre is that the author and the reader enter into an unspoken pact – if the reader sticks with the story, the author will reveal the mystery in the end. Most of the questions will be answered and the culprits found. The reader will know who had done it, why and how.

 

The biggest mystery in this book is what happened to Peter and Jamie 20 years ago. The book even begins with that disappearance, and Katie’s murder comes a few chapters later. So that’s the mystery that should be resolved by the end, right?

 

SPOILER ALERT!!!!

 

WRONG.

 

By the time I was maybe 10 pages away from finishing the book, I had the sinking feeling that the author would not answer any of those questions. We will never find out what Rob saw in the woods that night or what became of Peter and Jamie. I had invested hours of my time to read through 400+ pages just to end up with the lukewarm explanation that “some memories are just gone for good, and some mysteries are not meant to be solved.”

 

I realize that in real life that’s what happens about 70% of the time. I mean, just look at the amount of cold cases gathering dust in police archives around the world. However, book logic is different. I don’t want to get invested in a story that won’t give me a resolution. I want to feel a sense of fulfillment after I finish a book, not to feel cheated and frustrated.

 

I’m upset about this because the book has so much potential. It’s wonderfully well-written. The prose is just beautiful, and some passages are just poignantly poetic. The protagonist has a strong and interesting voice that I wanted to follow. And his personal involvement with this place just made me want to finally find out what had happened on that fateful day 20 years ago even more… So I dived into the book head first and fully expected an exceptional read.

 

The alarm bells first went off in my head when Rob decided not to come forward about his identity even when evidence found on the new crime scene linked it to the case of his missing friends. He chose to keep his mouth shut on the fact that Ryan Adams and detective Rob Adams were one and the same person and he reiterated this decision several times during the investigation. I find this decision stupid and irresponsible, because not only does it jeopardize his career, but the whole case as well, since all the evidence he collected will become inadmissible in court if the truth comes out. And his reasoning behind this decision makes less and less sense the further we get into the book.

 

My second problem with In the Woods is Rob’s partner Cassie. The way Tana French portrays her, she is “saint” Cassie who can do no wrong. She always has the right hunch about the case. She is smart and beautiful and has a keen understanding of people. Yet she chooses to stick with Rob no matter what he does. Even after that disastrous night, she isn’t mad at him for the abject way he starts treating her, but because she lost his friendship and somehow she thinks it’s her fault. Really? Hot, smart and sassy girl who is extremely devoted to her abusive boyfriend / friend. Hello trope!

 

But even though I didn’t like Cassie and had a tough time with some of Rob’s decisions, the story would still have gotten a 4 star review if the author had kept her end of the bargain and actually given me and ending. The fact that it didn’t happen was just the last nail in the coffin lid.

 

I’m upset. I won’t recommend this book. I had planned to read the next one in the Dublin Murder Squad series, but I have zero motivation to do that now.

 

The Mirror Empire (Worldbreaker Saga 1) by Kameron Hurley.

Stars: 3.5 out of 5.

There are books that you fall in love with since the very first page. There are books that take time for you to warm up to. There are also books that absolutely fail to keep your interest. Then there are books that have such an enormous potential that you WANT to love them, but have some flaws that seriously dampen that love.

Well, The Mirror Empire falls into that last category. There is so much to love in this book! The world Kameron Hurley has created is fascinatingly complex and unlike anything I’ve ever seen in the fantasy genre before. Too often, we see endless iterations on the worn out theme of elves, dwarves and magicians. Nothing of the sorts here, thankfully. The races are unique and very distinct and they live in a world like nothing I have seen before. It’s wonderfully alien and complex and a delight to explore.

The magic system is rather unique as well. I don’t think I have read about mages who depend on one of the multiple satellites that orbit this world for their powers. Which makes for an interesting dynamic, with different magical schools coming to power with the ascendance of their satellite and waning into obscurity for a few decades when their star moves away.

So as you see, there is a lot in this book to love, at least for me. The problem is that there is TOO MUCH stuffed in one book. Too many locations, too many characters, too many plot lines at once. And because of that, there is not enough worldbuilding. Yes, I never thought I would voice that particular complaint about a book, but with so many things happening simultaneously in so many places, the author doesn’t have time to concentrate on any of them.

The reader is left stumbling from character to character, trying to puzzle out who all those people are and what part of the world they are in and how the heck does it all tie in together? It’s annoying at first and gets extremely frustrating after a while when you discover that almost nothing will be explained the further you get into the book. We will just continue switching POVs and jumping from story to story, desperately trying to figure out how it all falls into the big picture. Usually, I don’t mind doing the leg work. It can even be exciting. The problem with this book is that so many seemingly unconnected stories are told at once, it’s hard to keep up.

And with so many characters to follow, the author doesn’t have time to dive deep and really develop any of them. As a result, I didn’t feel connected to any of them at all. And if I can’t connect to the characters, it takes away a lot of the tension from the story. Because I can’t worry about the fate of a character I don’t empathize with. I think the book would have been noticeably better with half the characters. At least, we would have been able to spend more time with each one of them and get to know them better.

So what’s the take away from this review, you might ask? Is this book worth reading? I think so. Even if it’s only for the wonderfully complex world Kameron Hurley has created. It’s refreshingly new. But if you like character-driven narrative like I do, this book might not be for you.

Twiceborn by Marina Finlayson.


Stars: 3.5 out of 5.

I must admit that Twiceborn is a very entertaining book. It has everything I love about a good urban fantasy story: a strong (and fleshed out) protagonist, an interesting take on the subject of paranormals leaving among us and a well-paced story.

Kate O’Connor has lost everything when her son died in an accident six months ago. Now she just does some courier jobs for a friend, because he needs help and because frankly, it beats sitting at the house all day. She suspects that some of the packages she carries around might exactly be legal, but can’t muster enough strength to be bothered or even mildly curious about it. Like everything since the death of her son, it seems unimportant… Until one of the jobs goes south, and she finds herself with a gap in her memories and a werewolf in her kitchen bound and determined on killing her.

I liked Kate. She is a very down to earth, no-nonsense kind of girl. And the depiction of her grief was well done and believable, and, more importantly, not overdone. Her reactions in the face of everything that happens to her are also realistic and logical, which is a great plus. And she is not a damsel in distress in constant need of saving, like some of the heroines in  urban fantasy and paranormal romance. Even when confronted by a werewolf in her own kitchen, Katie goes for the knife first and waits to have a hysterical fit after the werewolf is dealt with.  And she also shows her willingness to fight for her life and freedom (and for the safety of her friends) several more times during the book.

I won’t go into details about the plot, because I want this review to be as spoiler free as possible, but I will just say that Kate has to deal with some serious issues and is in danger of losing her own self, and she handles the situation admirably.

The book is also well written. I would never have guessed that it was the author’s debut novel at all, because the quality of the material and presentation is top notch.

So by now you must be wondering why I only gave this book 3.5 stars? Well, even though I liked it, I had several issues with it that bugged me enough to spoil the overall enjoyment.

The first and the biggest issue for me is Ben, or more precisely, the romance between him and Kate. It felt forced, and more importantly it added nothing to the story itself. It felt like the author added this romantic relationship almost as an afterthought after the book was already written.

I think the main reason why this relationship didn’t work for me is the character of Ben himself. He is not fleshed out or unique enough for me to care about. From the moment he first appears in the story until the last page, he is just a walking talking stereotype. He is immediately described as hot, gorgeous, nice and caring. The author might as well have put a big sign over his head saying “love interest” and moved on, because we never get to explore his character any deeper.

Also, for someone who is still grieving about the loss of her child, and who admits not being even slightly interested in any sort of romantic relationship, Kate jumps into bed with him way to easily. I understand doing it once because of the adrenaline rush, the narrow escape and the realization of having been so close to death. But nothing in their relationship prior to that point hints at anything deeper, and certainly not that passion that seems to come out of nowhere. In my opinion, this whole romantic relationship could have been cut out of the book without any damage to the story.

My second problem is some inconsistencies within the worldbuilding. We are told that the heralds are under the Dragon Queen’s protection and thus neutral and untouchable, yet everybody and their mother seems to be able to kidnap / harm / slap them around without any retribution. Seriously?

Also, if all heralds were a magical amulet that protects them from psychic influences, but also proves that they are genuine, shouldn’t it be easy to determine whether the amulet is authentic or fake? Yet we hear the argument that the heralds are not who they say they are and that they anyone could counterfeit that amulet several time in the book. That makes no sense. Either you have an order of heralds who are easily identifiable, neutral and protected, or you have a bunch of wannabes that pretend to be heralds, but then who would trust them?

And the last problem is directly tied to the previous one. If the amulet is supposed not only to identify, but also to protect the herald, shouldn’t it be difficult, even impossible to take off or tamper with? Yet Leandra does just that to Kate at the beginning of the book…

But even despite those gripes I have with the story, I think I will definitely pick up the next book in the series to see who this story evolves. After all, not all the villains have been dealt with, and there are plenty of loose ends left to explore.

My verdict – if you want a well-written and fast paced story with a strong heroine, definitely pick up Twiceborn. And the fact that it’s set in Sydney Australia instead of another city in the USA is an added bonus.

PS. I have been given a free copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review.

From Reader to Writer – a change in perspective.

I have always been an avid reader. The very first book I read on my own had been The 15 year old captain by Jules Verne, and I was 7 when I finished it. So I can pretty much says that I’ve been ready pretty much all my life. If I don’t have at least one book started at any given time, something is really wrong.

This would be my living room if we didn't have ebooks.
This would be my living room if we didn’t have ebooks.

I have also been a writer for over a year. I won two NaNoWriMos and finished several short stories and a novella between those as well. And I have been slowly learning more and more about the craft.

So being both a reader and a writer, I have noticed a change in the way I read books.

Before I started writing myself, I would pick up a book and either stick with it to the end, or abandon it somewhere in the middle (or after the first 50 pages, if the book was absolutely dreadful). I would then move on to the next book and forget about it, if I didn’t like it. Or recommend it to my friends and move on to the next book if I loved it. I didn’t waste much time pondering why I like or hated something.

Those days of blissful ignorance are now gone forever. I can’t just close a book and move on. My mind keeps coming back to it and analyzing WHY I liked it or didn’t like it. It’s especially true with books that I don’t like for some reason. As soon as I feel that my attention is slipping; that the book is losing my interest, I feel obliged to discover why. Does the author abuse infodumps? Are the characters flat or not interesting enough? Does the author tell more than she or he shows? Is the plot lacking conflict?

I can’t stop analyzing what I read, especially since I started posting book reviews on my blog. I must admit that it makes for some rather frustrating reads, when my mind starts picking a book apart instead of enjoying it. And I can’t switch it off, even if I try! In fact, if I get so lost in a story that I forget to pick it apart, it’s a sign that it’s a very VERY good book indeed. And those are the books that usually get a glowing 5 stars review on my blog once I resurface and gather my thoughts enough to actually write one.

I have also noticed that I pay particular attention to the ending. To me, it’s the most important part of the whole book. A badly written ending can ruin the whole story, no matter how wonderful and interesting it was.

I’ve heard my other writer friends talk about this shift of perception before, but until recently, I had thought that they were exaggerating.  Now I can confirm that they were right. I guess, the more you practice your craft, the more you think about it, the more you edit your own works, the more accustomed you get to critical reading. And after a certain point, you undergo the shift in perception I described above.

This shift in perspective means that I read slower than I used to, but I’m not too worried about that. Because I think that every book I read and analyze helps me improve my own craft as well. I learn what works and what doesn’t, what to do in a story and what to avoid at all cost.

There is no such thing as too many books.
There is no such thing as too many books.

I think that as writers we are very lucky in this respect. After all, who else can say that they are learning their profession AND having a good time in the process?

Open Minds by Susan Kaye Quinn.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

I don’t usually read YA. Well, scratch that. There are very few YA books that I actually like. Harry Potter, the Hunger Games, or the Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix come to mind. So I should rephrase this to : I read YA, but the book needs to be exceptional for me to like it. Fortunately, Open Minds by Susan Kaye Quinn is one such book.

This is the first book in a trilogy and it’s perma-free on Amazon, so I admit that I was rather reticent about downloading and reading it. I’ve been less than impressed with the quality of some free books on amazon in the past.

But the moment I opened this book, I was hooked! I kept turning the pages and I couldn’t put it down. Susan Kaye Quinn created an interesting and compelling world where reading other people’s minds is considered the norm, and where people who can’t mind-read, or zeros, are outcasts, relegated to the most menial jobs. Because you wouldn’t trust someone whose mind you can’t read. And they wouldn’t be able to operate most of the machinery anyway, since everything, from phones to cars and kitchen appliances, runs on mindware. I must admit that the worldbuilding in this book is impressive, and the consequences of common mindreading are well-thought of.

Kira is not a typical teenage protagonist either. Sure, she dreams of fitting in and having friends again, and agonizes about the fact that the boy she likes will never go out with a zero. She has the normal hopes and dreams of a teenage girl. And when she discovers that she can not only read minds, but also control them, her first reaction is to pretend that it never happened, to try and hide it, to pass for a normal reader and just fit in. That’s what Kira wants most of all, to fit in. But that option proves impossible, and she discovers that there are a lot more jackers than she thought. She also discovers that the harsh reality for a jacker is either to live your life in hiding, work for the FBI, or be sent to a concentration camp.

I liked the fact that when the shit hits the fan, Kira doesn’t lose time mopping around and waiting for a knight in shining armor to rescue her. She takes the matters in her own hands instead. She does what she thinks is right, even if that means risking her life to free other jackers from a secure FBI facility, or exposing the existence of the jackers and the horrible way they are treated by the government to the media.

I am very interested to see how she deals with the fallout from that bombshell in the next book,  Closed Hearts, btw.

My only gripe with this book would be how quickly Kira changes from being scared of her powers and reticent to use them to using them left and right without remorse. But you can argue that she is placed in a situation where her survival depends on those powers.

I would also have liked to see a bit more of a learning curve, because it seems like Kira went from a zero to a super-jacker in the space of a couple months and without any particular efforts.

But all in all, Open Minds is a fast-paced and interesting book. It’s also very well written and formatted. I would never have guessed it was self-published. So if you want to pick up a though provoking and intelligent book for your teen (or for yourself) to read, head over to Amazon and download the free copy.

Memory Zero by Keri Arthur

Stars: 3.5 out of 5

It’s usually hard to evaluate the first book in a series. After all, the author has to introduce a brand new world, set up the rules, introduce the characters, and tell a story that’s engaging enough to make the reader want to buy the next book. And all this without making the book read like a huge info-dump. Not an easy feat to pull off, by all accounts.

I think that Keri Arthur did a pretty decent job with Memory Zero on all accounts.

Sam Ryan accepts to meet with her partner, Jack, who has gone missing two weeks prior. She hopes that he will give her some answers as to why he has suddenly gone MIA. Instead, he tries to kill her, and she is forced to kill him in self-defense. Only the Jack she had known and worked with for five years was human, and the man she killed is a vampire. So is it really Jack she killed? And why is someone bound and determined to hunt her down? Does this have anything to do with her past that she can’t remember?

Keri Arthur manages to create an interesting world. I can see that it has depth and history, but this is conveyed without the dreaded info-dump. There are hints at a bigger conflict, but mostly we discover this along with Sam. So we only know what concerns her, nothing more. I kinda like that. It gave me enough information to know that it’s a potentially interesting world I wouldn’t mind reading more about, so in that respect Memory Zero did exactly what it was supposed to do – it hooked me.

Now let’s talk about our protagonists. I actually liked Samantha Ryan, even though she comes with the trope I absolutely hate – memory loss. Sam was dumped at an orphanage as a teenager and has no memory about anything that happened to her before that day. One of the reasons she joined the police is to discover any leads about her past. The fact that she found nothing, and that even the birth certificate that was found in her pocket by the orphanage staff is fake, indicates that someone very powerful is involved and they don’t want her digging any further.

She is a strong character, but without being pushy or rude, like too many “strong” female protagonists are nowadays. She has a head on her shoulders and she knows how to use it. I also love the fact that she faces her fears and fights them. She has a fear of dark small spaces, but she is stubborn enough to crawl through the fake ceiling to escape from imprisonment, even though the dark and tight space makes her want to hyperventilate and scream at the top of her lungs in cheer terror.

I am less impressed with Gabriel Stern. He is described as the second in command at SIU, but he spends the whole book one step behind the bad guys, trying to put out the fires that were smoldering for months without him noticing. Heck, he’s even too blind to notice a traitor in his own family!

I think the biggest problem with Gabriel is that the author didn’t bother looking much further than “love interest”, “man with mysterious and dramatic past that leaves him incapable of trust and love” tropes. So his behavior is sometimes illogical and bewildering. I really hope that the author gets a better grasp on his personality and motives in the next book, because right now he is rather frustrating to read about.

But my main problem in this book and the reason I only gave it 3.5 stars is the antagonist. Jack is such a stereotypical villain that almost everything about him is a trope. He is the right hand to the current big bad Sethanon (whom we don’t even see in this book, btw), but he wants to overthrow him and become the next big bad… Ok, whatever floats his boat I guess? He is also inexplicably fixated on Sam, whom she wants to either join his side, or kill, or just experiment on; it’s not every clear, even to the author, I think. Plus I find it hard to believe that Jack managed to play the role of a good partner and friend for 5 years without Sam suspecting anything because the Jack in this book has the acting capabilities of a doorknob.

My other problem with Jack is that he makes way too many stupid decisions. I seriously wanted to hand him the Evil Overlord’s Rulebook when I was reading. I mean who would lock both protagonists in the same room and not even bother to search their pockets? And after that he acts all surprised and asks Sam how she got out. I would have laughed in his face.

This is sad because if the antagonist was less of a caricature and more of a fleshed-out human being, the book would have had a lot more tension.

But despite all this, Memory Zero did what it was supposed to do. I will pick up Generation 18, the next book in the series. I want to know more about Sam’s past and who this Sethanon that everybody is afraid of is. But pretty please, give me a real villain, not a walking cliché next time.

Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

Stars: 5 out of 5.

Sometimes, you stumbled upon a book that resonates with you on a deeper than usual level. Maybe you had a similar idea banging around your head for a while, or maybe some of your inner voices speak in voiced strangely reminiscent of the characters in that book. Or just maybe you really get the world the author is describing. In any case, it makes reading that particular book an absolute joy.

It happened to me before with Leviathan Wakes where I just fell head first in to the world and in love with the characters. You can find my review of it here. And it happened again with Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone.

I knew I would love this book as soon as I read the blurb in the back. A world where craftsmen and women have almost godlike powers? Where gods walk the earth and can be killed and brought back to life? A weird steampunk-ish technology mixed with magic? Heck yeah!

So I downloaded a free sample from amazon and was immediately hooked. Sure, the world is wonderfully weird and complex, but the characters are what really appealed to me. They are different and wonderfully complex.

I loved Tara, the young craftswoman. She has a very strong personality and doesn’t take crap from anybody. She is also new to the Craft and not as ruthless and her older peers. She still has some humanity left in her. This makes her even more endearing, because she has to make some hard choices in this book between her obligations to her employers and her obligations to her new-found friends. Those choices don’t come easy, and I could really feel how much they cost her.

And let’s talk about Abelard! Great job creating this one, Mr. Gladstone, I am really envious. This seemingly lost and naïve acolyte who is chain smoking and dealing with a crisis of faith turns out to have immeasurable hidden reserves and a will of steel. He ends up saving the day and doesn’t ask for anything in return, apart from to be left alone to worship his god in peace.

I was found of the other characters as well, even if those two definitely stole the limelight. The story itself is also deliciously complex and engaging. I loved the fact that underneath it all, it was ultimately a story about love and sacrifice and about the lengths even a god would go to save the one he loves.

So my advice to you is to go pick up Three Parts Dead. You will not regret it. You will spend a day or two in a wonderfully bizarre world with engaging characters. And if you want to return to that world, Mr. Gladsone has two more books out. I’m about to start the next one, Two Serpents Rise.