book cover for Martha Wells' All Systems Red
Martha Wells, Murderbot Diaries

Wells, Martha — All Systems Red

Jacket-flap

On a remote planet, a team of scientists are conducting tests under the not-so-watchful eye of their Company-supplied security droid. Unbeknownst to them, the droid is a self-aware unit that hacked its own governor module to give itself free will; while it calls itself “Murderbot” (not out loud, of course), its primary desire is to watch TV and be left alone. If it doesn’t want to be scrapped, however, it’ll have to play its part—something that becomes increasingly difficult after a neighboring mission goes dark and the team, including Murderbot, must find out what happened lest they suffer the same fate.

First in a series, but can stand on its own.

book cover for Martha Wells' All Systems Red

What I Think

A surprisingly comedic foreign planet mystery, filled with fun characters and held together with tightly-paced plot. At 149 pages, it’s quite short, but it doesn’t feel rushed.

Four out of four stars.

Conclusion

I really liked it, and I’ll be picking up the next book in the series when I can.

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Grace and Fury, Tracy Banghart

Banghart, Tracy — Grace and Fury

Jacket-flap

In pseudo-Italy, the only opportunity women have to rise above servitude and poverty is to be chosen to become one of the Heir’s wives, or Graces, who embody the ideal of womanhood, actually have a trace of power, and live in luxury. Because of her beauty, Serina has been raised her whole life to become a Grace. But when the time comes, it is her younger sister Nomi, with her rebellious desire for women to be equal to men and her secret literacy, that the Heir choses to be his Grace.

After Nomi steals a book from the palace library and Serina is the one who is caught with it in a highly contrived scene, Serina is taken to an island prison where different ‘crews’ of female prisoners are forced to fight Hunger Games-style for food and fresh water. It’s a horrible place, but on the bright side they ‘get’ to do un-womanly things and one of the guards is kind and good-looking. Nomi is left behind in wealth and splendor to wallow in guilt and go googly-eyes over the Heir’s suspicious younger brother.

First book a series.

book cover - banghart, tracy - grace and fury

What I Think

When it comes to scene-building, this book struggles to explain and to remember where characters and places are in relationship to one another—particularly when it comes to characters in a scene and transitioning between different parts of a scene.

When it comes to the characters themselves, they sometimes fail to react to something they should have some sort of a reaction to. They sometimes think about things in a certain way or feel a certain way about something that contradicts the thoughts and feelings on those subjects that they had in a previous scene, with no character development or anything in between to explain the change. When it comes to the viewpoint characters, it seems like we’re told they have certain character traits that don’t always, or just rarely, show up.

And then there’s the world-building, which rubs me the wrong way. I know it’s fantasy, but there were technological aspects of the world-building that seemed to come out of nowhere. I know you can’t explain every piece of technology, and very few people would be interested in reading that, which is why fantasy and sci-fi often rely on the real world and other established fantasy and sci-fi technology so that they can invoke, by mentioning a few sorts of technology, what other types of things exist in that world. I think you have more leeway in doing futuristic worlds, because I—and, I believe, most people—assume that if something seems to invoke a historical time period, it should keep only to the sorts of technology that such a time period would have. Which is why there are no bicycles in Lord of the Rings.

All of which is to say, there were a few key moments that confused me as to the historical time period this book is, technologically-speaking, set in.

One out of four stars.

Continue reading “Banghart, Tracy — Grace and Fury”

book cover of Derek Milman's Scream All Night
Derek Milman, Scream All Night

Milman, Derek — Scream All Night

Jacket-flap

Dario, the youngest son of an eccentric filmmaker, is forced to confront his childhood after his father’s death places him in charge of Moldavia Studios, the castle that serves as the set and home for Moldavia’s cast, crew, and B-horror productions. Dario’s new position puts him at odds with his older brother, Oren, who expected to take their father’s place, as Dario struggles to make a film that will rescue the sinking studio and all those who have built their lives inside Moldavia’s gates.

Probably a stand-alone.

book cover of Derek Milman's Scream All Night

What I Think

The writing is pretty good, the plot, setting and most of the characters are interesting. I wanted to like it. It’s just that the terrible pacing kind of ruined it for me. The first three-quarters drag while the last quarter flies by, mostly told rather than shown. That being said, the writing is good and the book as a whole is surprisingly likable.

Three out of four stars.

Continue reading “Milman, Derek — Scream All Night”

book cover of Caryn Lix's Sanctuary
Caryn Lix, Sanctuary

Lix, Caryn — Sanctuary

Jacket-flap (or rather, an alternate version written by me)

Kenzie, a citizen of the Omnistellar corporation, works and lives aboard the space station Sanctuary, Omnistellar’s prison for adolescents with superpowers. During a routine drill, Kenzie is taken hostage by the prisoners of Level 5, who have escaped from their cells, and promptly falls into an aliens-on-the-spaceship survival plot with a heaping scoop of romance on the side.

First book in a series.

book cover of Caryn Lix's Sanctuary

What I Think

This is where I’ll talk about what I think without including spoilers.

This book was mediocre, but like many mediocre YA books, it had the potential to be so much more than it was. It could have been a cheesy B-movie space romp. It could have been a serious-toned, suspense-based horror story. It could have maintained its steam through the ending. But alas, it went for typical YA mashup between an invasive romance subplot and random-genre-of-the-week; in this case, aliens attackers IN SPAAAACE.

The real jacket flap talks about Kenzie’s mother, who is the commander on Sanctuary, and how she is dedicated to following protocol even if her daughter’s life is on the line, which sounds like a we-don’t-negotiate-with-terrorists type plot, but actually it’s only a minor part of the story at most. The hostage situation is never anything more than a front for getting Kenzie and the prisoners to team up in the face of the real plot: the aliens attacking the ship.

The “revelation” that comprise the midpoint of the story is predictable, as is most of the character interaction, and really the plot at large. Kenzie does have one major screw-up I didn’t see coming, but not only is it glossed over in the moment, any potential for it to impact the story is also squashed. I found the end decision predictable as well. The fact that everything is so predictable means there’s no real tension in the story, and the writing, while fairly good, is not great enough to carry the story on its own,  and as a consequence, the book is boring.

Two out of four stars.

Continue reading “Lix, Caryn — Sanctuary”

about

Plan Going Forward

Hey, I’m back! For the first time since high school, I’ve posted a review on this blog. You’ll notice it’s very long. Almost 7,000 words worth of long. As it says in my updated ‘about’ section, I tend to write what I think of as long-form reviews, so my plan is to keep them as much as possible within the 4,000 to 6,000 word range.

Since they are so long, they take a long time to write, and it takes me a while to read a book in the first place. So I’ll only be posting occasionally. Once a month is the plan. My next post will be November 1st, a review of Sanctuary by Caryn Lix.

Continue reading “Plan Going Forward”

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#24 = SEA OF SHADOWS by Kelley Armstrong

What I liked:

1) the worldbuilding was intriguing and believable. their country (whose name I forgot, if it was in fact mentioned at all) has one religion and a caste system. the country next to them has a different religion, and its unclear what its social order is.

one of the castes is the warrior caste, which is pretty important. warriors get special arm tattoos, usually depicting the animal symbol of their clan. in theory, warriors are all honorable and stuff. in reality, they’re people. and people can be manipulative and judgy, as one of the characters, Gavril, learns firsthand in his background. his father was very important within the warrior ranks, but then he did some stuff and was sentenced to die in the Forest of the Dead (I’ll get back to this). Gavril had nothing to do with it, but people still treat him on behalf of his father. if they hated his father, they hate him. if they supported his father, then they very openly stand by him.

that’s one example of believable world-building, another is how the Seeker and Keeper are supposed to be treated vs how they actually are.

the Seeker and Keeper rank very highly within the caste system. supposedly, they out-caste just about everyone, with the exception of the emperor and perhaps his family. but in reality, its more complicated than that; things usually are, and I appreciate the realism.

what are the Seeker and Keeper, you ask? well, they are basically twin shamans who top the religious totem pole, at least in the mortal world. not so much on the spirits’ end of things. and when I say ‘twin,’ I mean twin. literally. every once in a rare while, twins are born. identical twins. if they pass a test, wherein they are bonded to special giant animals—a giant Wildcat and a giant Hound—then they are, in fact, the Seeker and Keeper. if not then they die. this is a medieval-type world, remember. anyway, the Seeker’s job is to, essentially, purify the spirits of the damned and release them to the afterlife. the Keeper’s job is to protect the Seeker, and the world at large, from the evil spirits.

this isn’t as impossible as it sounds, because all the spirits of the damned are kept in one place: the Forest of the Dead. it’s basically a forest that looks alive, but has no life in it, and is surrounded by a wall made of cooled lava. criminals of the highest order are sentenced to live out one year in the Forest of the Dead. typically, there are no survivors, and even if one unlucky soul does manage to survive, they probably won’t be freed. why? because if you spend to long in the Forest, you contract swamp sickness, which is bad bad bad. so if someone does survive, and they get swamp sickness, they are put to death.

now, I mentioned the Seeker’s job was to release the spirits of the damned. those spirits are the spirits of the criminals who died in the Forest. the Seeker must go through the lava wall’s one opening and into the forest, with her Hound (the Keeper has the Wildcat) and a contingent of guards. there the Hound tracks down the dead bodies, and the guards take them out of the forest, where the releasing rights are done. they rarely find all the bodies, partly because they can only stay two days without risking swamp sickness.

2) I also liked the monsters. the monster were awesome. the main ones are the shadow stalkers, with a little side trip for giant scorpions, death worm things, and thunder hawks. none of which are supposed to exist. but they do. just like, the Forest isn’t supposed to have anything living in it, but it does. creepy, weirdly evolved things like rats—which is what, I assume, the few criminals who survived ate (assuming they didn’t eat each other. considering there’s at least one criminal, Ronan, who we’re supposed to root for, I think its fair to say they weren’t all cannibals).

3) the emperor was cool. I don’t know how many books go with the incompetent, usually fluff-brained emperor/ess type thing, but this one didn’t and it was a breath of fresh air. of course, he only appears near the end, so I suppose there’s still time for him to prove me wrong, as this is a series.

What I didn’t like:

1) the main characters were underwhelming. Moria and Ashyn. which I kept reading as Moira and Ashlyn by accident. but that wasn’t the problem, not really. the problem was that in the first chapter, the prologue (not told from Moria or Ashyn’s point of view), Moria seems like a really interesting badass—kind of like Ygritte from A Song of Ice and Fire, if you’ve read it. but then she’s just kind of…average. she’s supposedly a superbly trained women warrior, and yet she can never seem to fend for herself. and her Wildcat is supposed to be huge—like lioness-sized—yet it seems practically useless. so does Ashyn’s Hound.

and speaking of uselessness, supposedly Ashyn and Moria can communicate with spirits, yet its more like once-or-twice-I’ll-mention-spirits-muttering-something. and Moria supposedly has the ability to repel evil, but this ability is never shown in action, even against monsters like shadow stalkers and thunder hawks.

so, in essence, neither character nor their bond-beasts are useful in combat. and they encounter quite a bit of combat.

as for their personalities, I found them interesting. I thought they made some questionable choices, but I believed they were choices the characters would have made, and I think the characters recognized their mistakes and tried to move past them. the problem for me is, they didn’t really move past them. the characters didn’t develop over the course of the story.

Gavril, I thought, was especially frustrating. he waffles between decent and unlikable for most of the book, only to make a bizarre turn at the end. I’m not even sure what direction he turned in, but he turned and I didn’t quite believe it. possibly because the turn happened when Moria confronted him about his father, and the ensuing argument was confusing.

2) shadow stalkers and all these other monsters suddenly appear, and not just in the Forest and around it. they appeared in the Waste that lies between the Forest and the town outside of it, and the nearest city. I wondered why monsters weren’t appearing elsewhere, beyond the Wastes. it seemed just so other character could scoff at the main character’s story about the ‘mythical’ monsters.

3) the character’s ethnicity. I know; its a fantasy world, they’re not going to match any real-world ethnicity. come on, now. but still. there are Northerners, who had pale skin, blonde hair, blue eyes, and a stereotype of being slow and stupid. then there are various other skin tones.

but the “perfect” look tone is described as skin the color of golden sand, straight black hair, high cheekbones, slanted eyes. sounds east asian, to me. combined with the mention of a “kitsune” as one clan’s animal symbol, and the fact they have an ’emperor’ and not a ‘king,’ it makes me think all the characters have east asian features, with various skin, hair, and eye colors. after all, this is just one country. but then I’m not sure. for all I know, this is the world’s standard of beauty.

Overall:

overall, I liked it. it was engaging, and—if I hadn’t been interrupted by the night and having to sleep so I could get up early—I could have read it all in one sitting. I’ll be on the lookout for the sequel.