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DNF Q&A: Mutineer by Mike Shepherd

Title: Mutineer

Author: Mike Shepherd

Series: Kris Longknife

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 1/5 stars

The Overview: Kris Longknife is a daughter of privilege, born to money and power. Her father is the Prime Minister of her home planet. Her mother the consummate politician’s wife. She’s been raised only to be beautiful and marry well. But the heritage of the military Longknifes courses through Kris’s blood-and, against her parents’ objections, she enlists in the marines. -Goodreads

The Review:

When trying to make a decision on whether or not to read something, it can often be much more helpful to look at the low star ratings than the high ones. To that end I’m going to be including more DNF reviews in my lineup. I have a Q&A format here that I adapted from Nikki at There Were Books Involved (with permission, which is important even if her blog doesn’t exist anymore), and I think it’s a great way to discuss the book constructively. Here goes:

Did you really give Mutineer a chance?

Not as much as I usually give before throwing in the towel – 25%. But it was clear from very early on the book was not going to resonate with me.

Have you enjoyed other books in the same genre?

Space Opera SciFi? Heck yeah! Even the cheesier ones. I was hoping this series would be a fun palate cleanser between other reads, but alas. Here are a few I enjoyed a lot more:

Did you have certain expectations before starting it?

Hopeful optimism that the books would be at least 3-star quality. Beyond that I felt like I was ready to put up with a lot of weaker components if the overall story was entertaining.

What ultimately made you stop reading?

Ugh. About the point where the main character was in someone’s kitchen planetside describing the finer points of white flour and Ghirardelli chocolates, I lost patience. We were so completely removed from what I signed up for that I’d had enough. I read a few chapters more, but knew it was going to be a DNF. There were just too many things leading up to that point that had me dissatisfied.

Character development was one of the biggest misses.

The main character was not realistic to me in the slightest. Having suffered trauma at an early age, the character experienced several unbelievable reactions early on in the book. Where the mere mention of the event sent her into fits of fainting, unable to control her body. It was eye-rolling and very immature.

I’m by no means downplaying the different effects trauma can have on someone. To add context, this woman grew up very wealthy (using the “poor little rich girl” angle that drove me crazy) and her family was aware of the trauma. As infeasible as I find it that someone with that much distance from the event and resources available to heal from it would still be experiencing reactions to that degree years later, it’s the fact that she’s a ranking military officer that finalized how much I disliked that plot point. I’ve never been in the military, but I’m pretty sure they don’t let you in without background checks and psychological evaluations to ensure you’re not going to have episodes in the middle of dangerous situations where you could get others killed. At the very least she would’ve gotten help from the base shrink.

This is a very specific rant, yet the unrealistic aspects of the story kept trickling in left and right to the point where the author lost my trust in his ability to deliver a story that would work for me.

The final tip off was when the main character’s parents were introduced, and as it turns out she was not only a spoiled rich girl, but a petulant one at that. Peace out.

Is there anything you liked about Mutineer?

The fact that it was a Scifi. Although considering how little of the first part had to do with actual space, I’m more or less assuming here.

Would you read anything else by the author?

No. I need things to make more sense than they did here, and I need more realistic development of characters. The author and I are so far apart on preferences that I don’t think it possible to ever meet in the middle.

So you DNFed the book. Would you still recommend it?

Well, since most my complaints were very specific dislikes about the plot itself (and how unrealistic I found them), perhaps someone with more patience and a willingness to go with the flow might actually like it when they get to the space parts. At this point I probably wouldn’t mention it even in passing to someone though. Most books that I don’t like are from an evaluation standpoint, whereas this one actively annoyed the snot out of me lol.

by Niki Hawkes

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DNF Q&A: King of Ashes by Raymond E. Feist

Title: King of Ashes

Author: Raymond E. Feist

Series: Firemane #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: DNF

The Overview: For centuries, the five greatest kingdoms of North and South Tembria, twin continents on the world of Garn, have coexisted in peace. But the balance of power is destroyed when four of the kingdoms violate an ancient covenant and betray the fifth: Ithrace, the Kingdom of Flames, ruled by Steveren Langene, known as “the Firemane” for his brilliant red hair. As war engulfs the world, Ithrace is destroyed and the Greater Realms of Tembria are thrust into a dangerous struggle for supremacy.
As a Free Lord, Baron Daylon Dumarch owes allegiance to no king. When an abandoned infant is found hidden in Daylon’s pavilion, he realizes that the child must be the missing heir of the slain Steveren. The boy is valuable—and vulnerable. A cunning and patient man, Daylon decides to keep the baby’s existence secret, and sends him to be raised on the Island of Coaltachin, home of the so-called Kingdom of Night, where the powerful and lethal Nocusara, the “Hidden Warriors,” legendary assassins and spies, are trained… (It goes on forever…)
-Goodreads

The Review:

When trying to make a decision on whether or not to read something, it can often be much more helpful to look at the low star ratings than the high ones. To that end I’m going to be including more DNF reviews in my lineup. I have a Q&A format here that I adapted from Nikki at http://www.therewerebooksinvolved.com (with permission…although it might be moot because she’s not blogging anymore), and I think it’s a great way to discuss the book constructively. Here goes:

Did you really give King of Ashes a chance?

Admittedly, I didn’t give it as much as I could have. I did make it to about 30% before tossing it aside, while acknowledging that this is one of those rare cases where it could actually have gotten better. It didn’t, according to what I gleaned from my book club meeting, but I was so fed up, it was a risk I was willing to take.

Have you enjoyed other books in the same genre?

Yes. I’m considering this a more modern fantasy even though it’s written by a classic author, and most of my favorite works come from this genre.

It’s perfect in line with what I’d like to read.

Did you have certain expectations before starting it?

Surprisingly, I went in with low expectations even though I’ve loved a few early works from this author (he’s a family favorite). But his later Riftwar books proved very unsatisfying, so I was wary of starting this one. Truth be told, had it not been a book club selection, I’m not sure I would’ve have ever made time to pick it up.

What ultimately made you stop reading?

Omg. The execution of the story. The basic idea behind the book was actually super interesting. Something I would’ve wanted to read in any other context. The prologue even had me giddy with anticipation, thinking, “this is going to be good.”

The first thing that threw me off was how the writing was very much at an arm’s distance from the story. Take a conversation between two characters as an example: instead of immersing you in the scene with back and forth dialogue, Feist would take you one step back and describe the conversation happening. Using each point brought up to launch into a couple page description of whatever info needing to be dumped at that point before closing the conversation with one or two lines. I noticed this also with setting. He went off on a ten page diatribe about this market setting instead of having his characters interact with it and dropping in details that way. I’ve no idea if this is a habit he had in his early works because it has been some time since I read them, but now I’m afraid to reread because I know I’m going to notice it now and it will irritate me. I highly doubt it was this passive, though.

The thing that ultimately made me put it down was the book’s very odd fixation on sex. I think it’s important to clarify that I don’t care one way or another if there’s sexual content in fantasy novels. Some authors can even use it to enhance character and provide comic relief (Abercrombie). But the very least I ask is that reading it doesn’t feel like I’m reading the sexual fantasies of a 16 year old, and that those fantasies are completely dominating the story. It was so bad. The characters were constantly thinking about and talking about sex, and when they weren’t, the narration picked it up describing why sex wasn’t allowed in the school or why so and so slept with so and so and it wasn’t until I got to the training brothel (because when you have a guild of spies, that’s the only thing women are good for, right?) I finally threw it down in frustration. This is not what I signed up for. And if you’re going to include sexual content in your books ad nausium, at least make it good sex! Holy shit.

Is there anything you liked about the King of Ashes?

The prologue. And the idea behind the story. He lost me completely on the execution.

Would you read anything else by the author?

I’ve read literally everything he has published (20+ novels) minus one co-written trilogy and a random stand-alone. I think the buck stops here though. I may read that outstanding trilogy eventually, but I’m in no hurry.

So you DNFed the book. Would you still recommend it?

No. Normally my constructive analysis allows me to figure out who might be a more appropriate audience for a given title. Or at the very least, I concede that it might be just me who didn’t like it. In this case, I know it bothered me more than most, but I still wouldn’t hand it to anyone and would actively discourage someone from reading it. It was that bad.

by Niki Hawkes

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DNF Q&A: The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

Title: The Curse of Chalion

Author: Lois McMaster Bujold

Series: World of the Five Gods #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: DNF

The Overview: A man broken in body and spirit, Cazaril, has returned to the noble household he once served as page, and is named, to his great surprise, as the secretary-tutor to the beautiful, strong-willed sister of the impetuous boy who is next in line to rule. It is an assignment Cazaril dreads, for it will ultimately lead him to the place he fears most, the royal court of Cardegoss, where the powerful enemies, who once placed him in chains, now occupy lofty positions. In addition to the traitorous intrigues of villains, Cazaril and the Royesse Iselle, are faced with a sinister curse that hangs like a sword over the entire blighted House of Chalion and all who stand in their circle. Only by employing the darkest, most forbidden of magics, can Cazaril hope to protect his royal charge—an act that will mark the loyal, damaged servant as a tool of the miraculous, and trap him, flesh and soul, in a maze of demonic paradox, damnation, and death. -Goodreads

The Review:

When trying to make a decision on whether or not to read something, it can often be much more helpful to look at the low star ratings than the high ones. To that end I’m going to be including more DNF reviews in my lineup. I have a Q&A format here that I adapted from Nikki at http://www.therewerebooksinvolved.com (with permission), and I think it’s a great way to discuss the book constructively. Here goes:

Did you really give Curse of Chalion a chance?

I went in pretty open-minded and even liked the first chapter or so, but once I started becoming dissatisfied, it became a practice of actively looking for reasons to justify calling a DNF. This is perhaps not fair to the book, but had it been anything other than a pick for a book club I run, I’d have just set it down as soon as it became clear I wasn’t digging it. I think I made it about 35%.

Have you enjoyed other books in the same genre?

Yes! Slow-burn, politically-driven fantasy novels rank among my favorites:

Did you have certain expectations before starting it?

My expectations were hopeful but not too terribly high. I remembered the author’s Sharing Knife (I only read the first one) as a relationship-heavy book with very relaxed and flowy writing. I expected much the same here, but was hoping the romance wouldn’t be quite so prominent (it wasn’t, but it still absorbed too much of the narration for my tastes). I’d also heard so many great things about her scifi Vorkosigan series that I was hoping she was consistently good all around.

What ultimately made you stop reading?

Ultimately, it came down to the childlike, irrational decisions made by the characters. For a novel that was supposed to be ALL about the characters and the politics, the characters came across every surface-level and their actions basic. The politics were equally simple. She lost my faith in her ability to give me something of substance early on and I didn’t find anything to convince me otherwise as I kept reading. None of the happenings in how these characters behaved was realistic to me, and in comparison to dozens of other fantasy novels with similar elements, this one came across very juvenile.

Is there anything you liked about the Curse of Chalion?

The character profiles at the beginning were fun, but they never evolved past just being just profiles. The first chapter was great. The writing was fluid. That’s about it.

Would you read anything else by the author?

I’m still holding out for Vorkosigan, but my enthusiasm has waned considerably. I’m definitely now at peace with not continuing with any of her fantasy works.

So you DNFed the book. Would you still recommend it?

That strongly depends on how well I can gage what someone wants out of a fantasy novel. If it’s a relaxing, easy read, this one might fit the bill. My personal tastes crave books with a lot of depth and dynamics these days, but I remember back when an easy-flowing fantasy book was just what the doctor ordered. So yes, to the right audience. Particularly those who enjoy romance novels but want something a little more robust. This author is a great hybrid of the two genres.

by Niki Hawkes

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DNF Q&A: Firstlife by Gena Showalter

Firstlife by Gena Showalter

Title: Firstlife

Author: Gena Showalter

Series: Everlife #1

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Rating: DNF Rating

The OverviewTenley “Ten” Lockwood is an average seventeen-year-old girl…who has spent the past thirteen months locked inside the Prynne Asylum. The reason? Not her obsession with numbers, but her refusal to let her parents choose where she’ll live—after she dies. There is an eternal truth most of the world has come to accept: Firstlife is merely a dress rehearsal, and real life begins after death.

In the Everlife, two realms are in power: Troika and Myriad, longtime enemies and deadly rivals. Both will do anything to recruit Ten, including sending their top Laborers to lure her to their side. Soon, Ten finds herself on the run, caught in a wild tug-of-war between the two realms who will do anything to win the right to her soul. Who can she trust? And what if the realm she’s drawn to isn’t home to the boy she’s falling for? She just has to stay alive long enough to make a decision… -Goodreads

The DNF Q&A:

This is a reviewing feature I’ve been eyeballing on one of my favorite book blogs There Were Books Involved for a couple years now because I think it’s an excellent way to talk about an unfinished book fairly. I’m incredibly grateful because Nikki (the brains behind the blog, who has a most excellent name)  kindly allowed me to steal the idea and questions for my own blog. As my list of “amazing books to read” continues to grow, I find I have less and less time and patience to devote to the books I’m just not enjoying. I never would have considered DNFing a book ten years ago, but then I came across a quote, “Read the best books first, for you might not have the chance to read them all,” and have since made it my personal mantra. Life’s too short to read books you’re just not enjoying. So let the Q&A begin!

Did you really give Firstlife a chance?

Yes – I made it about halfway through before setting it aside.

Have you enjoyed other books in the same genre before?

I’ve loved a lot of things from the YA genre, although I admit lately I’ve had less patience for teen angst in general. I haven’t read anything quite like Firstlife before, but it had vague similarities to these other titles, which I enjoyed (mostly):

Did you have certain expectations before starting it?

Unfortunately I had low expectations going into Firstlife, but decided to pick it up despite a few negative reviews. Even more unfortunate was that it lived up to my low expectations.

What ultimately made you stop reading?

Two things: 1. It was just too bloody weird. Now, I’ve always appreciated Showalter for dancing to her own drum (a quality I’ve adored in other works of hers), but Firstlife was a bit too far-reaching even for me. The very beginning explains these “influencers” of the two philosophical groups venturing down to the “Firstlife” world to influence the main character to join their side. Both influencers are male, but one goes down in a girl’s body… it was weird. It, along with an odd sequence of events, was just too weird for me. Did I mention it was weird?

2. I did not like the main character, finding her decisions contradictory (which I hate). She was supposed to be this tough, somewhat stubborn girl who chose to undergo imprisonment and physical torture rather than stray from her convictions. But, as soon as the two “influencers” walked-in, she started waffling about everything before they’d even really made their pitch on why she should join their side. Especially the boy – all he had to do was ask her to jump and she’d say “how high?” It was a frustrating contradiction of character – she came across very weak minded when the framework of the story set her up as someone incredibly strong unswayable. I really, really hated that.

Was there anything you liked about Firstlife? 

I liked a lot of things at first, such as character, world building, and story, but quickly soured to all of them because of the issues listed above.

Would you read anything else by this author? 

Yes, although I’m now terrified to read her other YA trilogy – signed hardcovers I’ve had on my shelf for ages. If I ever need a delightfully cheesy paranormal romance, however, she’s still one of my first picks.

So you DNF’d the book – would you still recommend it?

I don’t think so. There are too many other books I’d recommend first.

by Niki Hawkes

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DNF: Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Title: Queen of the Tearling

Author: Erika Johansen

Series: Queen of the Tearling #1

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Rating: DNF

The Overview: An untested young princess must claim her throne, learn to become a queen, and combat a malevolent sorceress in an epic battle between light and darkness in this spectacular debut—the first novel in a trilogy.

Young Kelsea Raleigh was raised in hiding after the death of her mother, Queen Elyssa, far from the intrigues of the royal Keep and in the care of two devoted servants who pledged their lives to protect her. Growing up in a cottage deep in the woods, Kelsea knows little of her kingdom’s haunted past . . . or that its fate will soon rest in her hands.

The Q&A:

This is a reviewing feature I’ve been eyeballing on one of my favorite book blogs There Were Books Involved for a couple years now because I think it’s an excellent way to talk about an unfinished book fairly. I’m incredibly grateful because Nikki (the brains behind the blog, who has a most excellent name)  kindly allowed me to steal the idea and questions for my own blog. As my list of “amazing books to read” continues to grow, I find I have less and less time and patience to devote to the books I’m just not enjoying. I never would have considered DNFing a book ten years ago, but then I came across a quote, “Read the best books first, for you might not have the chance to read them all,” and have since made it my personal mantra. So let the Q&A begin!

Did you really give Queen of the Tearling a chance?

Yes, but admittedly not nearly as much of a chance as I could have. I made it about 20% before putting it down (which, when you’re not enjoying the book, is actually pretty far in my opinion).

Have you enjoyed other books in the same genre before?

Absolutely! In fact, some of my all-time favorite books come from the Teen Fantasy genre:

Did you have certain expectations before starting it?

Yes – since reading Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson (and in the process discovering my new favorite teen book), I’ve been clamoring for anything to come close to being just as good. After reading the overview, I’d hoped Queen of the Tearling would be that book. Sadly, it didn’t even come close.

What ultimately made you stop reading?

It’s a long story that I feel compelled to elaborate, but at the crux of it, the author lost my trust in her ability to compose a solid story very early on. Everything about her storytelling was one big contradiction after another. Here are a few examples:

  • While the young queen is traveling with a group of soldiers, the author has one of them warn her that assassins are on their trail… Then in almost the same breath the author describes the soldiers casually sitting around the fire drinking. All without a hint of irony.
  • The author makes a big deal out of how reluctant the soldiers are to serve this new queen, but half a chapter later has them practically commit suicide on her behalf without any indication of the change of heart.
  • Finally, we get a big old description of how well the main character can ride a horse (and the girl even defends herself on this account profusely), only to have her balk later on and say she has never ridden a galloping horse before (personally, I think the author needed a reason for her main character to get thrown from the horse, but couldn’t come up with anything better).

These are just a few examples, all of which contributed to my growing discontent with the story. My biggest issue was with the soldiers. They were really unbelievable. I’ve read dozens of fantasy novels with soldiers from all walks of life and in all sorts of odd situations (most recently within The Game of Thrones – an excellent example of the variety of militaristic units and soldier behaviors) which is why I did not find these soldiers even remotely realistic. They did some very un-soldier like things that seemed very illogical and counterintuitive – which wouldn’t have been a big deal if the author had acknowledged (and possibly expanded on) it within the text. Unfortunately, I got the impression the author didn’t know what she was talking about and couldn’t bullshit convincingly.

I realize I sound like a fantasy snob with this assessment, but when you read enough of a certain genre, you can’t help but build up certain standards on the elements within it, and with that comes a certain expectation of consistency. These soldiers weren’t abnormal or a creative new take on an old idea, they just weren’t well-developed, lacking common sense, knowledge, and training. It was clear by the way it was written that it was a lack on the author’s part rather than the characters’.

Okay, I think I’ve beaten that topic to death. Moving on…

Was there anything you liked about the book?

I’d like to say I really liked its concepts and characters, but even 100 pages in, I didn’t notice anything unique about the story. I did find the main character kind of interesting before she started contradicting herself.

Would you read anything else by this author?

Sadly, no. The author has fully and truly lost my trust in her ability to take me on an enjoyable journey.

So you DNF’d the book – would you still recommend it?

Normally, if I don’t like a book, it’s based on personal preferences regarding the storyline. In this case, my colossal issue is with poor execution of craft, which I don’t think I could stand behind in recommending it to anyone.

by Niki Hawkes

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DNF Q&A: The Omen Machine by Terry Goodkind

The Omen Machine by Terry Goodkind

Title: The Omen Machine

Author: Terry Goodkind

Series: Richard and Kahlan #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: DNF

The Overview: #1 New York Times-bestselling author Terry Goodkind returns to the lives of Richard Rahl and Kahlan Amnell—in a compelling tale of a new and sinister threat to their world. In addition to concluding the Sword of Truth series, The Omen Machine also launches the new series of “Richard and Kahlan.

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The Q&A:

This is a reviewing feature I’ve been eyeballing on one of my favorite book blogs There Were Books Involved for a couple years now because I think it’s an excellent way to talk about an unfinished book fairly. I’m incredibly grateful because Nikki (the brains behind the blog, who has a most excellent name)  kindly allowed me to steal the idea and questions for my own blog. As my list of “amazing books to read” continues to grow, I find I have less and less time and patience to devote to the books I’m just not enjoying. I never would have considered DNFing a book ten years ago, but then I came across a quote, “Read the best books first, for you might not have the chance to read them all,” and have since made it my personal mantra. So let the Q&A begin!

I’m a Richard and Kahlan fan to the point where my unborn child would’ve been named “Kaylen” had he been a girl, thereby representing my all-time favorite female character from anything I’ve ever read. If that’s not fangirl enough to show my passion for elements of this series, I don’t know what is. I was willing to overlook the Pillars of Creation because I thought the Chainfire trilogy really redeemed the ending of the saga. Heck, I was even willing to overlook the uninspiring prequel The First Confessor, but finally have to admit that this series is no longer doing anything for me. Omen Machine lacked everything that once made the series special. I’ll elaborate:

Did you really give the Omen Machine a chance?

I think so – I read at least half of the book, if not more, before deciding to put it down.

Have you enjoyed other books in the same genre before?

Emphatically, YES! Fantasy is my favorite genre and I still consider the Sword of Truth series a must-read for fellow fanatics.

What ultimately made you stop reading?

I mentioned above that I feel the series has reached a point where it no longer contains the elements that made it special, and unfortunately it also exacerbated all the things I’ve criticized it for. For examples, Omen Machine lacked a sense of adventure and discovery (not to mention world building), didn’t have a clear purpose to the story (or villain, as far as I read), had zero romantic tension/love story, and really didn’t give the characters much to do other than stand around and argue over magical theory. And argue they did… holy shit.

Goodkind has always been accused of needlessly beating his readers over the head with concepts that are fairly simple to grasp. In Omen Machine, there was essentially nothing other than theory and concept driving the plot, and the resulting tirade of repetitive dialogue was enough to make me pull my hair out (and don’t even get me started on the ten page argument the characters had over how to implement a card catalog system in the palace library). It’s like Richard had to say everything four different ways before he was completely satisfied, then a talking-head character would step in and say “what you mean?” and he’d proceed to explain it four more ways. Then, another character would jump in and add one more tiny nuance of a fact and the whole cycle would start all over again. After one such scene went on for over twenty pages, I decided they had about ten more to finish the conversation and continue the plot before I got fed up. After another dozen more had passed with no end in sight, I’d had enough! I put the book down. For all I know the characters beat each other into bloody pulps with all the explanations. I just knew I didn’t want to risk joining them.

This is harsh, but I’m really disappointed in Goodkind. Omen Machine came across as self-indulgent and lazy – it always takes more effort to edit your work down to something concise (which this book desperately needed) than it does to add more detail. But then, cutting out all of the needless repetition would mean he wouldn’t have been anywhere near his word count and would’ve had to replace the vacancies with things like, I don’t know, storytelling and plot advancement. That’s a scathing as you’ll probably ever hear me get, but I just expected so much more at this point and he really let me down.

Was there anything you liked about Omen Machine?

Frankly, no.

Would you read anything else by this author?

Yeah, I actually would if he started a new fantasy series with fresh concepts and characters. I feel like part of his problem with this novel was trying to extrapolate more from the story that had nothing else left to give.

So you DNF’d the book – would you still recommend it?

I definitely still recommend the Sword of Truth series, but unless you just can’t stand not having a new book with Richard and Kahlen’s names in the text, I’d say skip this one. Honestly, I thought the ending to the SoT series was really satisfying, so I’m going to continue pretending like the saga actually ended there.

Other books you might like better:

by Niki Hawkes