Thursday, May 19, 2022

Crowbones by Anne Bishop: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Crowbones by Anne Bishop

It has been a long wait for a new book in The Others series, three years since Wild Country and four since Lake Silence, where the characters of Crowbones were introduced. Its book eight in the overall series and third book in the World of the Others spin-off.

Only a few months has passed since the events of Lake Silence. Vicki DeVine has her resort, The Jumble, up and running, and humans are vacationing there for the experience of living among the Others. But not even the Crows that Vicki employs are harmless, and the resort is surrounded and protected by much more deadly creatures too. When humans show disrespect and outright break the rules, the Others retaliate swiftly.

Someone is deliberately spreading maliciousness among humans and the Others. But they haven’t gone unnoticed, and they’re being followed by Crowbones, a creature who punishes the misbehaving. When people start dying, the human police, Chief Grimshaw, tries his best to investigate. When it doesn’t happen fast enough, the Others who rule the small town of Sproing, decide to speed things up by blocking all the routes in and out. Nobody is leaving until the guilty are foundand punished.

This was another great addition to the series. The creepy, dark atmosphere is the same, the world of the Others as unique as it has ever been, and the characters more familiar. There are more point of view characters and Vicki isn’t the focus, despite having her chapters in first person narrative while the others are in third. It’s mostly Grimshaw’s book, and he’s emerging to be my favourite. I kept wishing that the romantic pairing would be with him and Vicki, as they have better chemistry, but the author is set on Julian. He’s fine, just not interesting, and since there werent any scenes where the two properly interacted, it was difficult to get into the spirit of the slowly building romance.

Because of the several narrators, the suspense wasn’t quite as tense as in the previous book and the personal stakes weren’t as high, but it worked well in the end. But we still didn’t learn anything new about Sproingers, those unique critters that live only in Sproing.

I hope we don’t have to wait for the next book quite as long as this one, because I can’t get enough of this wonderful series. Maybe its time for a re-read...

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

The Kiss Quotient is a contemporary romance set in San Francisco. It follows Stella, a highly successful econometrician and Michael, a male escort. Stella is autistic, but she doesn’t want to disclose it to anyone. With her good coping mechanisms, not many people notice, but it has led into some very bad dates and sexual encounters.

Disgusted with herself, she hires Michael to teach her how to be better in bed. This soon turns into teaching her how to be better in relationships. It turns out, she’s just fine with both. She just needs a partner that takes her needs into consideration. But as she is bad at reading people, and he is keeping secrets from her, what could’ve been a start of a great relationship dissolves into misunderstandings and heartbreak. Both need to do some thinking before the happily ever after.

This is a satisfying romance, with enough angst to give it a bite. Sex scenes are great and there are quite a lot of those, especially in the beginning. I liked Stella and Michael both, but side characters remained somewhat vague.

What I didn’t like, and which almost made me give this one star, is how Michael never told Stella that her romantic problems aren’t her fault. He doesn’t tell her that she’s good as she is, and that her problems with sex stem from her partners. Instead of telling her she should let the relationship grow before sex, he pretty much treats her like a porn object, forcing his needs to make her feel good on her. That she does enjoy everything, eventually, didn’t really compensate for it.

Stella figures it out by herself, in the end, and Michael works on his issue too, but as they do it separately, it lessens the romantic impact of the ending. It was satisfying, but not very emotional. But I liked the book well enough to read the next one in the series too.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Under Fortunate Stars by Ren Hutchins: review

3/5 stars on Goodreads

Under Fortunate Stars by Ren Hutchins

Under Fortunate Stars is a sci-fi novel set in the far future, far out there. Humanity is at war with an incomprehensible alien race, with the loss of humanity imminent. Except a hundred and fifty years later, there’s peace with the aliens, thanks to an unlikely crew of Jonah, the Fortunate Five.

The crew of Jonah have no idea what awaits them. They barely know each other. But then a space anomaly strands them and the crew of the science vessel that comes to their rescue tells them what they are expected to do. They don’t exactly believe it, but then again, neither do the people from the future believe these are their saviours.

The book has a decent core idea: how history is made and how it’s remembered are two different things. But I found the execution boring in how neatly everything fell in place. Everyone assumes when the two ships meet in the rift that Jonah is on its way to save the world, instead of arriving from a random point in time. It’s only a matter of getting Jonah where it needs to be.

Most of the book is spent on the science vessel trying to figure out how to get the ships out of the rift and the necessary people on Jonah to make the future happen as it should. The rest is spent recounting the pasts of the key characters, most of which wasn’t all that interestingor even necessary. It didn’t make a very interesting plot.

There was a twist at the end that the author had clearly aimed at. If it hadn’t been the goal, the plot might have been more interesting, as the author wouldn’t have needed to hide who ended on Jonah. There could’ve been a third time level, for example, where the Fortunate Five were negotiating the peace, adding depth to the narrative and balance to the past-heavy narrative.

The end was unnecessarily vague and abrupt. The reader at least should’ve been told what really happened, instead of leaving it to the imperfect historical accounts. We were robbed of proper character arcs and conclusion for the characters.

My biggest problem was, however, that I didn’t connect with the characters; it took me ages to tell Shaan and Una apart, for example. I liked Jereth well enough, and for him I would’ve liked that the author hadn’t copped out from writing a proper ending. Narrative was competent and the chapters were short, keeping the pace good. Pity it didnt lead anywhere.

I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Swordheart by T. Kingfisher: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Swordheart by T. Kingfisher

Swordheart is another wonderful fantasy romance by T. Kingfisher, set in her World of the White Rat between Clockataur War and The Saint of Steel books. Paladins and a gnole are featured, as well as the Vagrant Hills and the great people of the White Rat.

Halla has, to her utter surprise, inherited her late husband’s late great-uncle Silas, of whom she’s been taking care for years. His family doesn’t approve, and they lock her in her room until she agrees to marry Cousin Alvar to get the money. He has clammy hands and is very disagreeable too, not to mention her horrible mother, so she’d rather die. The problem is, she doesn’t quite know how to throw herself into a sword. Less so, when a man appears from it when she draws it.

Sarkis is a mercenary from centuries past who has been cursed into a sword, not quite dead but not truly living either, to obey and protect whoever draws the sword. That it turns out to be Halla is somewhat bemusing to him, but since she clearly needs help, he’s there to provide.

Together they flee the house and through the country to plea her case at the temple of the White Rat. It turns out to be a surprising and LONG journey up and down the same road. I’m not entirely sure the book needed all the twists and turns thrown at the pair, a much shorter book would’ve sufficed, but they were entertaining and there was never a dull moment in the book.

And of course, there’s romance. But how is one to romance an ancient sword who might disappear in the blink of an eye? Especially when one is not very experienced in the romance department, despite being a widow.

This was a great book. Both Sarkis and Halla were wonderful, mature characters and they suited each other surprisingly well, despite being the opposites of each other. Brindle the gnole was delightful and Zale the lawyer of the White Rat a good addition to the story. Villains were villainous, though I’m not sure what purpose the priests of the Hanged Mother served other than slowing down the story. They don’t even show up in the latter series.

There’s a promise of two more books in this series, and I wish they existed. But as this one is four years old already, and the author has written several other books since without returning to the swords, I’m not entirely hopeful. I’ll read them though, if they are ever written.

Friday, May 06, 2022

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik

Can I start with just AAAAGGGHH! I was not prepared for the ending, despite the book pointing at it with a large arrow from the first page. Now I have the agonising wait untill September to find out how it’ll turn out. Based on the description of that book, all is not lost. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

The Last Graduate is the second book in the Scholomance trilogy of a school for mages. The school is infested with all sorts of monsters who kill and eat the students, and the main purpose of the education is to learn to spot and defend oneself against thema fact that I missed reading the first book, if it was spelled out that clearly there. The students are trapped inside it for four years, and those who are alive and able to exit the portal out at the end, after battling through hordes of monsters, graduate.

The main character is El, Galadriel, who has potential to become the greatest evil mage ever. She tries to resist her destiny with everything she has, despite the semi-sentient school pushing her towards it with everything it makes her learn. She’s never truly tempted, but occasionally the spells get out of her hands.

It’s the last year and the school has upped its efforts. At first she believes it’s out to get her, but little by little it dawns on her that it’s preparing her for a different mission: saving her entire graduation class. And that morphs into a bigger challenge: saving everyone. She’s unique in her magic and strength, and possibly the only one who can do it.

She isn’t alone in her mission, much to her surprise, having spent most of her time in the school without friends. She doesn’t always know what to do with them, not accustomed to having friends, but she gets it mostly right in the end. The biggest puzzle for her is Orion Lake, her sort of boyfriend. He’s a wonderful character in his single-minded mission to kill all the monsters, with room for only one other thing, El.

Most of the book is about preparing for the graduation day. It gets slightly repetitive, maybe, but with all the action, it never becomes dull. Obviously the exit from the school doesn’t go entirely as planned, and definitely not for El. The abrupt ending is a perfect cliff-hanger, and I can’t wait to read the last book.

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

Rosebud by Paul Cornell: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Rosebud by Paul Cornell

Rosebud is a sci-fi novella that takes place in a pebble-sized spaceship somewhere around Saturn in the far future. It’s manned by consciousnesses of what used to be humansexcept for one of them who is an AI constructand they’ve been there for hundreds of years, working for a corporation that apparently rules the earth. They are happy to serve.

Then they encounter something unexpected: a pebble even smaller than their ship that emits no light and blocks their communications to earth. The crew sets to explore. Or do they? Or have they? Or did they lose communications after all?

Who even are they?

Told in the point of view of Haunt, an AI construct of computer games presenting as a goth made of smoke, this is a story about time. Whether or not it’s real, simultaneous, and/or malleableand who is there to alter it. The alien pebble takes the crew, Diana, Huge, Bob and Quin to their pasts (Haunt doesn’t have one), and the reader is shown in a few short pages why the humanity and the crew are in their current state (a human woman, a ball of hands, a balloon, and a swarm of insects, respectively, except when theyre not).

This wasn’t an entirely easy novella to get a hang of, but it was interesting and even amusing at times. The ending is good, though the reader is left to make their own conclusions about what it means. Is this a one-off event, or has the crew been stuck for centuries with the pebble, constantly altering the state they and the past are in. And does the answer even matter.

I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.