Image

Novella Review: Sweep with Me by Ilona Andrews

Title: Sweep with Me

Author: Ilona Andrews

Series: Innkeeper Chronicles #4.5

Genre: Fantasy. Er, kind of. Scifi?

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: [Goodreads just has a stock-overview for the whole series. This one is about facilitating a meeting at the Inn between a cool magical being and a corrupt business man… among other things] Thank you for joining us at Gertrude Hunt, the nicest Bed and Breakfast in Red Deer, Texas, during the Treaty Stay. As you know, we are honor-bound to accept all guests during this oldest of innkeeper holidays and we are expecting a dangerous guest. Or several. But have no fear. Your safety and comfort is our first priority. The inn and your hosts, Dina Demille and Sean Evans, will defend you at all costs. [But we hope we don’t have to.] Every winter, Innkeepers look forward to celebrating their own special holiday, which commemorates the ancient treaty that united the very first Inns and established the rules that protect them, their intergalactic guests, and the very unaware/oblivious people of [planet] Earth. By tradition, the Innkeepers welcomed three guests: a warrior, a sage, and a pilgrim, but during the holiday, Innkeepers must open their doors to anyone who seeks lodging. Anyone. All Dina hopes is that the guests and conduct themselves in a polite manner. But what’s a holiday without at least one disaster? -Goodreads

The Review:

Now we’re back on track! I really missed Dina and the Inn in the last installment (which was a great read, but it was more a spin-off than a true continuation) so I’m glad to see her back with flair. I really loved the conflict in Sweep with Me and the interesting characters who visited the Inn (the inclusion of so many non-human entities is what makes this series so fun). It hits the spot perfectly for that light-hearted palate cleanser between heavier reads, and sadly finishing this one puts me completely up to date with IA reads (::shrieks:: what am I going to do?!!?). This series has been excellent to recommend to people looking for something light, and it stretches nicely to fill a lot of spec-fic genres (it reads like an urban fantasy, the magic feels very fantasy, yet the concept and world-building is all modern scifi… I love it when books break molds). I can’t wait for the next one. :) Emerald Blaze (the newest Hidden Legacy book coming out August 2020) will have to hold me over!

P.S. I love the cook. He reminds me of Huido in Julie Czerneda’s Trade Pact Universe / Clan Chronicles.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

Image

Book Review: The Cruel Stars by John Birmingham

The Cruel Stars by John Birmingham

Title: The Cruel Stars

Author: John Birmingham

Series: The Cruel Stars #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: The galaxy was once terrorized by the Sturm, a group of “species purists” intent on destroying any human with genetic or cybernetic enhancements. Fashioning themselves as the one true “Human Republic,” the Sturm cut a bloody swath across the stars, killing billions before finally being defeated and driven into the far reaches of Dark Space. Centuries of peace bred complacency. Everyone believed the Sturm had died out in the Dark. They were wrong. The enemy has returned and, with a brutal and decisive attack, knocks out almost all of humanity’s defenses. Now on the brink of annihilation, humankind’s only hope is a few brave souls who survived the initial attack: Commander Lucinda Hardy, thrust into uncertain command of the Royal Armadalen Navy’s only surviving warship. Booker3, a soldier of Earth, sentenced to die for treason, whose time on death row is cut short when the Sturm attack his prison compound. Princess Alessia, a young royal of the Montanblanc Corporation, forced to flee when her home planet is overrun and her entire family executed. Sephina L’trel, the leader of an outlaw band who must call on all of her criminal skills to resist the invasion. And, finally, Admiral Frazer McLennan, the infamous hero of the first war with the Sturm hundreds of years ago, who hopes to rout his old foes once and for all—or die trying. These five flawed, reluctant heroes must band together to prevail against a relentless enemy and near-impossible odds. For if they fail, the future itself is doomed. -Goodreads

The Review:

Although wildly entertaining, The Cruel Stars didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

It started out with a bunch of POV introductions, one at a time, that took up a good 20% of the page count. The language was a bit thick at first, and there were a few info-dump scenes where the entire conversation served no purpose but to tell the reader stuff about the character. Needless to say, it took a moment to get going.

But get going it did, and I found myself interested in most of the characters. The concept is that these slightly remarkable individuals will have to come together to save the galaxy from an elitist threat. So the culminations of events that eventually converged them together kept my interest really well. There was also a good balance between slow character development moments and action scenes (after the first 20%). When the inciting moment finally hit, I was hooked.

Up until the last few chapters, I had the book at a 4-star rating. But the way the events unfolded left me wanting. For starters, the “remarkableness” of the individuals involved didn’t play a huge role in the final conflict. What’s more, all of the interesting dynamics that had been building the whole book were reduced down to a surprisingly simple outcome. It was too simple for my tastes, taking the expansive feel of the story and reducing it down to a minuscule gunfight within a few mile radius. At least, that’s how it felt.

I loved the concept of the enemy – a group of human “purists” who are out to destroy any who have been genetically or cybernetically altered. But Birmingham didn’t really explore that much in this first book. There was a single sentence in passing that speculated on whether or not the alterations were destroying what makes people “human” at their core (implying it could eventually cause them to destroy themselves) that my mind ran with. It gave the hated enemy a really interesting ground to stand on because, theoretically, they could have an outside perspective of corruption that those ingrained in the system can’t see (or they could just be evil fanaticists… it’s hard to tell). But it got me asking questions: What does the “enemy” know that the POVs don’t?! Is there more depth here? But the problem is that none of this was explored in the text, it’s just my own conjecture.

I love profanity in books. Seriously. A well-placed f-bomb can completely elevate a scene, and I especially love when it’s used for comedic effect. But for it to work, it has to be incorporated with a certain amount of consciousness. Swearing is it’s own art form, and and based on its use in Cruel Stars, Birmingham was essentially fingerprinting with mud. The placement was random and in such great volume that it only served to make the characters sound crass and uncreative. Even its placement within each sentence made the language clunky and awkward.

So for some pacing issues, an over-simplified climax, an under-realized concept, and the chaotic use of profanity, I came away from the book disappointed in enough key elements that I probably won’t be continuing the series, but also still kind of glad I’d read it.

Recommendations: the book advertises that it’s similar to both the Expanse and Battlestar Galactica, but I thought it channeled Serenity more than anything else (if we must compare. Although it did have some similarities to the BG tangent Pegasus, but the comparison is thin). I probably wouldn’t recommend this unless you’ve already read a bunch of other titles in the genre and just want some mindless action with a little humor mixed in. I was a lot more critical in this review than I usually am, but at least the book provoked something from me. And despite my objections, it was still enjoyable to read. Do with that what you will haha.

Other books you might like (…better):

by Niki Hawkes

Image

Book Review: Sweep of the Blade by Ilona Andrews

Sweep of the Blade by Ilona Andrews

Title: Sweep of the Blade

Author: Ilona Andrews

Series: Innkeeper Chronicles #4

Genre: Fantasy… kinda

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Maud Demille was a daughter of Innkeepers. She knew that a simple life wasn’t in the cards, but she never anticipated what Fate would throw at her. Once a wife to a powerful vampire knight, Maud and her daughter, Helen, had been exiled for the sins of her husband to the desolate planet of Karhari. Karhari killed her husband, and Maud had spent a year and a half avenging his debts. But now all the debts are paid. Rescued by her sister Dina, Maud had swore off all things vampire. Except she met Arland, the Marshal of House Krahr. One thing led to another and he asked for her hand in marriage. She declined. Try as she might, she can’t just walk away from Arland. It doesn’t help that being human is a lot harder for Maud than being a vampire. To sort it all out, she accepts his invitation to visit his home planet. House Krahr is a powerful vampire House, and Maud knows that a woman who turned down the proposal from its most beloved son wouldn’t get a warm reception. But Maud Demille never shied from a fight and House Krahr may soon discover that there is more to this human woman than they ever thought possible. -Goodreads

The Review:

I hate to say it, but this is my least favorite Ilona Andrews book so far… although even a bad IA book is still worthy of 3 stars.

It wasn’t what I was expecting at all. The whole framework of the Innkeeper novels is built around Dina, her Inn, and the overall goal of finding her parents. This was a HUGE tangent from that, focusing on the sister (Maud) in a continuation of things that happened in the third Innkeeper book. It doesn’t take place on Earth and it’s plot is 100% removed from any momentum the series has built so far. I wouldn’t consider it a waste of pages, because it’s still and Ilona Andrews work and everything they do is enjoyable to read, but as far as series satisfaction is concerned, I’m annoyed. This should’ve been a spin-off (or a novella) instead of a continuation. Maybe if there had been even a thread of the original plotline present, I would’ve been satisfied, but no such luck.

All that said, it wasn’t a BAD book. It included fun characters, an exploration of a vampire home world (filled with vampire politics, scheming, and warfare), and most notably, continued a romance between two characters. I liked reading about all of theses things… it’s just not what I signed up for. Compound that with the fact the first 20% was a complete recapping of things I already knew from the book before it (just in more detail), and I’m still annoyed. It soothes the blow a little bit to consider that the chapters are first published as a free online serial, then compiled later into book format, so my rant may not be that justified… but still. 

Recommendations: I’m not saying skip it, but I’m saying I knew exactly what I wanted from a book 4 in a series, and this was not it. Even so, these authors dazzle me so often, even a book I didn’t care for from them gets 3 stars, so that’s still an endorsement for the quality of all things IA. I’m sure this will play into future novels, but suffice to say it wasn’t my favorite.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

Image

Mini Book Review: One Fell Sweep by Ilona Andrews

One Fell Sweep by Ilona Andrews

Title: One Fell Sweep

Author: Ilona Andrews

Series: Innkeeper #3

Genre: Fantasy. Kinda

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Dina DeMille may run the nicest Bed and Breakfast in Red Deer, Texas, but she caters to a very particular kind of guest… the kind that no one on Earth is supposed to know about. Guests like a former intergalactic tyrant with an impressive bounty on her head, the Lord Marshal of a powerful vampire clan, and a displaced-and-superhot werewolf; so don’t stand too close, or you may be collateral damage.

But what passes for Dina’s normal life is about to be thrown into chaos. First, she must rescue her long-distant older sister, Maud, who’s been exiled with her family to a planet that functions as the most lawless penal colony since Botany Bay. Then she agrees to help a guest whose last chance at saving his civilization could bring death and disaster to all Dina holds dear. Now Gertrude Hunt is under siege by a clan of assassins. To keep her guests safe and to find her missing parents, Dina will risk everything, even if she has to pay the ultimate price. Though Sean may have something to say about that!!Goodreads

The Review:

This was easily the best Innkeeper novel yet. The plot had a lot more depth. It’s clear where the series is headed now, and I find myself eager for the next book. I don’t know how they manage to hodgepodge so many genres without the story feeling clunky and piecemeal, but they do. It’s kind of brilliant – a fun blend of scifi (aliens), urban fantasy (supernatural characters), and fantasy (magic system). It also incorporates those very specific character dynamics the IA team is well known for. The actual conflict resolution for this one was a bit too tidy, but everything leading up to it was wildly entertaining. I loved the aliens (and the twist involving the aliens at the end), but I’ve always been a sucker for good creature creation, so that’s not surprising (I’d like to point out some similarities to another excellent scifi author – Julie Czerneda). Overall, everything these authors produce is quality, Innkeeper Chronicles being no exception! 

IA fans: for me this one ranks just above the Edge series and a notch or two below Hidden Legacy (however, if you plan on reading Edge, do those first to avoid some minor spoilers… wink wink). These books are functioning as perfect palate-cleansers between heavier series, and I’ve no idea what I’m going to do with myself when I run out of IA titles. I’ve been spoiled so far!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

Image

Book Review: Honor Among Thieves by Rachel Caine and Ann Aguirre

Title: Honor Among Thieves

Authors: Rachel Caine & Ann Aguirre

Series: The Honors #2

Genre: YA Sci-fi

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Petty criminal Zara Cole has a painful past that’s made her stronger than most, which is why she chose life in New Detroit instead of moving with her family to Mars. In her eyes, living inside a dome isn’t much better than a prison cell. Still, when Zara commits a crime that has her running scared, jail might be exactly where she’s headed. Instead Zara is recruited into the Honors, an elite team of humans selected by the Leviathan—a race of sentient alien ships—to explore the outer reaches of the universe as their passengers. Zara seizes the chance to flee Earth’s dangers, but when she meets Nadim, the alien ship she’s assigned, Zara starts to feel at home for the first time. But nothing could have prepared her for the dark, ominous truths that lurk behind the alluring glitter of starlight. -Goodreads

The Review:

Honor Among Thieves started brilliantly, but eventually derailed into a very familiar YA relationship-focused story… I really wish I’d liked it more.

I’ve had good experiences with Caine’s Morganville Vampires and Weather Wardens series, but Ann Aguirre is one of my all-time favorite authors, so to say my expectations were high is an understatement.

The book is separated into three parts, and I had vastly different experiences with each one. Here was my progressive thought process, followed by some positive notes.

Part 1: [4.5/5 stars] Wow!! I was hooked from the first page. It set the framework for a fantastic training-driven plot. And it included one of the first female MCs I’ve liked in ages. Her story wasn’t typical, and reading about her struggles before being pulled into the Honors was gripping. I thought for the first time in as long as I can remember that I was going to passionately enjoy a YA novel.

And then Part 2 happened.

Part 2: [1.5/5 stars] The story devolved into a dialogue-heavy exploration of a relationship between the main character and the alien. It was page after page of endless conversations of the characters explaining things to each other with absolutely nothing to break it up. You know those YA books where the girl meets a boy and the entire book shifts gears to focus on only their love story? Yeah, replace the boy with the Leviathan, and you have a book that was, in essence, a cookie-cutter YA romance trope. Ugh. I think the authors did themselves a huge disservice isolating these characters, especially when considering how many other cool elements introduced in the first part could’ve been expanded on. Overall, it was a huge disappointment for me. I expected so much more with the premise – I wanted a sci-fi adventure novel. What I got was a non-sexually driven love story. The connection between the characters was done really well, so I can see why readers who rate higher on character development were pleased with the book, it just missed the mark for me.

Part 3: [2.5/5 stars] This is where they pulled back in some other characters and briefly yanked the story out of its laser-focus on the relationship. Some cool stuff happened, and it happened with a lot of energy and excitement. Had I not just suffered through part 2, I probably would’ve rated this section higher. However, I still think the plot went in a weirder direction than it needed to. While reading part 1, I quickly reserved the next two books in the series, but after finishing the book I’m not sure I liked the direction of the story enough to invest time in the sequel anytime soon (if at all).

Some positives: Here’s the thing, a lot of the things I love about these authors made an appearance here. They’re both good at creating characters with compelling personalities and difficult back-stories (Aguirre being a bit grittier of the two). They’re also proficient at dialogue (Caine being the most adept, IMO). And Aguirre has written some of my favorite relationships to date – some of which were between aliens and humans (it’s always about the CONNECTION and chemistry rather than the romantic aspect). All of these things were present here, so I think my overall issue with the story has more to do with plot decisions and the general focus of the novel (as it differed from my expectations) rather than any lack of craft or execution.

Recommendation: if you like character-driven stories and don’t mind a disproportionate focus on a relationship, you’ll probably like the sci-fi twist the book adds to that plot structure. If, like me, you were cravings something more akin to Sanderson’s Skyward, it’s a bit of a letdown. I had conflicting thoughts between every section of this book, mostly based on plot decisions, but still recognize the quality of what was presented (it’s coffee. I wanted tea). I think most YA fans will love it.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

Image

Book Review: Starsight by Brandon Sanderson

Starsight by Brandon Sanderson

Book: Starsight

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Series: Skyward #2

Genre: Teen Science Fiction

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: All her life, Spensa has dreamed of becoming a pilot. Of proving she’s a hero like her father. She made it to the sky, but the truths she learned about her father were crushing. Spensa is sure there’s more to the story. And she’s sure that whatever happened to her father in his starship could happen to her. When she made it outside the protective shell of her planet, she heard the stars–and it was terrifying. Everything Spensa has been taught about her world is a lie. But Spensa also discovered a few other things about herself–and she’ll travel to the end of the galaxy to save humankind if she needs to. -Goodreads

The Review:

Starsight was a little weaker than the first book, but still brought the fun-factor in abundance.

The first half of the book left me wanting a bit… there were too many “convenient” plot points for my liking. Too many things left up to random chance all happening at once. So it took a great deal of suspended belief to get me through it. The writing also felt rushed. Like Sanderson didn’t have time to get the main character from point A to point B gracefully, so he just manifested a quick fix and BOOM: plot advancement. I think it was disappointing because I’m used to a lot more finesse from him. I can’t think of very many instances in his work where “just go with it” would be my advice, but it definitely applied here.

I also wasn’t crazy about the direction the plot took. The new characters introduced seemed… juvenile may be a little harsh, but the tone of dialogue and overall presentation brought the relative badass effect of the first book down a few notches. It became more fluffy, and I had signed up for a more serious we’re-fighting-for-our-very-existence type of story. Another factor could be due to the character voices the narrator performed for the audiobook, but I didn’t have any struggle with the first book, so something definitely changed, and my bet is on the overall tone of the text.

So with all of those concerns in mind, the first half of the book was… maybe not a struggle, but I wasn’t excited about what I was reading. However, somewhere in the last quarter of the book, Starsight picked up a killer momentum that won me back over. Things got serious, crazy new things were revealed, and the ending left me reeling. It saved the entire experience, and I’m back to being super eager to see what happens next. I’m sure if I didn’t have to wait for the next book, I wouldn’t feel the need to be quite so critical of this installment, but seeing as it’s all we’ll get until the end of 2021, I’m giving myself permission to be picky. ;P

Recommendation: this series is one of those I’d feel comfortable recommending to all members of the family 13+. It has that excellent mass-appeal, really fun characters, and it’s from an author I trust. Personal biases from this second book aside, the series as a whole has been delightful. Give it a go for something that manages to be both light and fun, yet still full of substance.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes