and has 0 comments

  I've read Vita Nostra, by the Dyachenkos, and I liked it quite a lot. However, due to the defective pipeline for translating and publishing Russian books, I've never got to read the next volumes in the series. Luckily, Daughter from the Dark is a standalone novel, so I went into it with high expectations.

  And it delivered. It's not as interesting as Vita Nostra, but it follows kind of the same ideas, which I feel are very trendy in Russian culture at the moment: mythological and fantastical characters placed in a modern and very Russian setting. There is this bachelor, he is a DJ, lives the club life, has money, charms girls, etc. Suddenly, he is forced to contend with a young girl who claims to be his daughter. She also appears to be magical. A rather interesting examination of human relationships, a sort of adult coming of age story, with some buddy elements, and an exploration of human society, Russian one in particular, to boot.

  The book has some issues though, mainly pacing, but also some incidents that just seem to come out of nowhere, disappear and never be mentioned again. Coupled with the eternal confusion of the main character, it gives the story a feeling of a dream, one specific literary technique that I personally despise. It's just a tiny feeling, but it can be grating. Perhaps it's also a artifact of translation, I have no way to tell.

  Bottom line: a nice simple read that can be easily imagined as a straight to TV Russian low budget film. It's not great, but it can be pleasant. The Russian angle gives it a little freshness from a Western reader's point of view.

and has 0 comments

  Blind Lake starts well: a "new astronomy" installation, a small town enclave around a mysterious device that can image the individual lives of alien beings on another planet, is inexplicably quarantined from the outside. No information passes in or out and anyone wanting to leave doesn't get to live.

  In this situation, people act in different ways, as Robert Charles Wilson explores themes of families breaking up and their effect to children, "lockdown romances", but also paranoia, power dynamics, life purpose and other things. However, what is conspicuously missing is anything actually technical. Even the magical installation is just that: magical. One day a space telescope started to send worse and worse signals, so they used self evolving Artificial Intelligence to clean up the signal. And clean it up the little AIs did, even when the telescope stopped sending any signals. No one understands how and they are seemingly content with the situation.

  The sci-fi elements, even if always present throughout the book, stay in the background. Therefore, the entire story is about people: reporters, scientists, security guards, managers and their families or significant others. The ending isn't helping at all, it's a "whatcha gonna do?" kind of shrug-off.

  Bottom line: It is a well written book and I read it really fast, but it the end it felt like killing time more than reading a book. Like watching a TV series episode that I quickly forget afterwards. I feel like the author has a lot more to offer and maybe his other books, with juicy titles like Darwinia and The Chronoliths, would be better. I don't know if I will ever have time to read any of them, though.

and has 0 comments

  Disappointed by the very praised Every Heart a Doorway, I thought I would give Seanan McGuire another chance and try the Alchemical Journeys series. The first book, confusingly titled Middlegame, is not a bad book, but it is very long and goes pretty much nowhere.

  The premise, just like in Every Heart, is great: a world in which alchemy is real, a form of sciency magic in which people don't do spells, but use magical artifacts, created by complicated rules of time, space and emotion. And what do alchemists want? World domination and a pony, obviously. Through a complicated inheritance chain that vaguely links to the author's A. Deborah Baker children books, this alchemist creates the embodiment of "the doctrine" in two twin children that are separated at birth.

  Great start, only the children don't know anything about alchemy, their only superpowers seeming to be a penchant for words and languages for the boy and one for mathematics for the girl. Also, they discover they can talk to each other if they close their eyes, regardless of distances. And they spend three quarters of the book doing pretty much nothing. If they want to meet, the evil alchemists thwart their attempts. If they want to research their connection or their blood, evil alchemists find out immediately and eliminate any threat.

  Imagine a Harry Potter spin-off where the heroes are a bunch of muggles who don't know magic exists, occasionally meet something magic and then promptly their memories are erased, and you kind of get most of this book.

  The siblings could only get out of their situation by being helped by a third party, and instead of explaining everything from the very beginning, said party is just randomly interfering and being cryptic when she does reveal herself. The ending doesn't fix things at all, being again comprised of random moments strung together in which things happen to the characters instead for them to have much agency or choice in what is going on.

  Bottom line: another story about passive characters that can't help their situation in a cruel and unpredictable world, no matter how interesting. I guess that's McGuire's style and I don't care for it much.

and has 0 comments

  Right after the high caused by reading the first book in the series, it was obvious I couldn't give By Fire Above a fair rating. It would be pretty hard to top that one and, indeed, I enjoyed this book a little less. But just a little. Mostly set on the ground and (un)focused on too many characters, it lacked that weird and fascinating vibe that the battles in the first book brought. But I have to admire the courage of Robyn Bennis to take the story of an airship and make the sequel about anything else but.

  Yet what it lost in fascination it gained in depth: a glimpse of the noble's world, a way to explain Josette's personal history and touch on her romantic inclinations, ground skirmishes and sieges, covert operations and so on. I was more interested in air battles than the detailed emotional lives of people, but then that's just me.

  It almost felt like the setup for a grand new adventure in a following book, yet after writing the first two books in 2018 and 2019, nothing has come up from Bennis in 5 years other than participating in some short story collections and a short novel about the devil. She hasn't written anything in her blog since 2017, which being on Blogspot is not that surprising, but it is a bit off for a writer.

  Bottom line: I loved the first book and this one was quite enjoyable, too. However, knowing now that there isn't likely to be a third book any time soon, I would recommend you stick to reading The Guns Above only.

and has 0 comments

  Finally! A book written with joy and wit and action. Characters that make sense in a world built from the ground up. No agenda, no fillers, just pure enjoyment. Bravo, Robyn Bennis!

  The Guns Above takes action in a fictive world at the technological level of the 1800s, where various kingdoms carry pointless wars in the name of vague territory claims, dubious patriotism and incompetent kings and nobles. They use muskets and cannons and horses and swords and... airships. Big helium filled blimps that support land troops and fight naval battles in the air. In this world women are relegated to "auxiliaries" in the army, with no responsibilities or agency, but winds are changing as the supply of fighting men dwindles.

  The main character is a woman who through happenstance and own abilities becomes the first woman airship captain. For the rest of the book she and her crew carry on tense edge of your seat air battles and navigate both air and the political mire in which such a "revolutionary" situation puts her in.

  If I were to complain, I would say the writing style is a bit inconsistent, but only slightly so. If you are a fan of naval battle stories, witty repartées, sardonic views on the military, politics and life in general and good fun writing, this is for you. I will immediately start reading the next book in the series. Highly recommended!

  There are books better written and more effort went into them, but for the level of personal enjoyment while reading, I will gleefully rate this five stars.

and has 0 comments

  Should I rate a book low because I've read so many stories exactly like it, using the personal family experiences of the writer to create archetypal worlds in which a lot of people would recognize themselves? Should I be influenced by the fact I've just watched (and hated) The Tiger's Apprentice hours before I started reading this book and realizing the stories are almost identical? Or should I just rate it compared to better books and subtract a star? Because as it is, it feels a bit too harsh to rate it three stars, while being certain it does not deserve four.

  Labyrinth Lost is a children/young adult book about brujas (Spanish for witch). Just like in any number of similar stories, Zoraida Cordova takes some aspects of Latin culture and religion and then proceeds with the same exact plot: well meaning, but completely stupid teen who is also THE ONE does something emotional, then tries to undo it, growing in the process. She has protectors that have watched her from afar without her knowledge and friends who aren't what they seem, mentors that have imparted just a tiny smidge of knowledge before vanishing or dying, usually right before a life branching time or ritual approaches. The villain is a psychotic evil person without any hope of redemption, completely two dimensional, powerful beyond belief, yet reluctant to attack before the hero gathers enough information, power and friends to defeat them. There are magical worlds, magical NPCs, betrayal, love, friendship and [Vin Diesel voice] family. There are moments where the power of the hero is conveniently either not available or exactly the type and power required, and it comes from the heart, not - God forbid - from actual effort to learn or train. And when that's not possible, always a ghost, ethereal transmission or unexpected ally comes to the rescue. Decisions are taken from kindness or some sort of deep ingrained morality, but thought or planning. You know the drill.

  At no point of the book was I surprised or warmed up to any of the characters as they were thoroughly formulaic, like they had no identity of their own. I think that makes the book a completely average product. Predictable story, mid characters with no agency or realistic growth, average writing skill. Yup, three stars.

  P.S. Are teens actually reading stuff? Because it feels like people are writing books now solely in hope that they will be optioned for film adaptions which then will push armies of identical children to buy and read the books at the same time.

and has 5 comments

  I first heard of Lenny Bruce in a little TV show called The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. In it, Luke Kirby did a great job portraying this smart, articulate, funny, charismatic comedian who can't stop feeling despondent about the world around him. And later in the series the character starts drinking excessively and, instead of being funny, reads court transcripts in comedy clubs, transcripts of his own trials, a direct consequence of persecution from authorities.

  Well, dear reader, How to Talk Dirty and Influence People has the same structure. The first half is autobiographical, the second is court transcripts and descriptions of the injustices the authorities have piled on him. And it's wasn't in his head either, as his was the first posthumous pardon in New York history. They really did a number on him. But that part just isn't funny or entertaining or truly educational. So high marks for the first half, low for the second.

  Also, if you are looking for a funny book, this ain't it. There is something about biographies of people born before 1950: they are more raw, more honest, more full. So is this one, and you read of the weird, wonderful and terrible that Lenny did, during the war and after. How he was always a sensitive person and thus pretty cautious around other people. But he yearned to love and be loved, so occasionally he was trying it out and getting screwed every. single. time.

  I mean, I immediately connected with the guy. What intelligent person didn't look at the world as it is and despaired? Only most people get beaten down, they "grow out of it", trained to accept every absurdity, atrocity and abhorrence. Not Lenny. He continued to not believe that the world could be like that and would do things like those and continuously exposed and criticized hypocrisy. So if you planned to read a light comical book, you get instead the (short) life story of a guy in a permanent state of "Are you kidding me?!". This book is not about the comedy, but about the life that lead of one Leonard Alfred Schneider.

  Bottom line: I liked it and I think you might, too, but I can't recommend it. The person Lenny Bruce must have been a lot more interesting than this book.

and has 0 comments

  The White Queen is a short reimagining of Alice in Wonderland where Alice is a small child in the Victorian era, plagued at night by demoniac creatures brought on by an evil white rabbit toy. Her parents, having born her just because it was proper, expect her to be meek, silent and not make trouble. Unfortunately, every morning her room is a mess and she is covered in scratches and bite marks. And if you thought this was bad, the parents set out to cure her by sending her to one of the state of the art mental asylums of the era. Jolly good!

  Addison Cain is relentless in torturing her character, using her as a vehicle to expose the hell that a woman's life could be. Is it a feminist story? Not in the bad sense of the word. Is it true horror? Yes, indeed. Is Alice crazy or is it all real? Who knows?

  Bottom line: a little story with a lot of uncomfortable horror in it. I actually liked it short because I don't think I would have enjoyed reading this for an entire week. This way you can finish this in an hour or so, get your horror kick, then return to normal life before mad hatters corrupt your soul.

and has 0 comments

  The Starless Crown is the first book in the Moonfall series. It is a beautiful world, with complex layers and many interesting characters. However, it felt too much like most of the things happening just had to happen to move the story forward or to add the necessary drama or danger. Or maybe I wasn't in the proper mindset. At any rate, I don't think I will continue reading the series. I am curious of where the story is going to go, but the thought of reading thousands more pages to get there doesn't appeal to me.

  James Rollins describes an Earth in the far future when the planet is tidally locked with the Sun, so only a "crown" of its surface is inhabitable, stuck between the hot side facing the Sun and the freezing side in forever dark. There are people, but also weird animals, plants, magic, religions and nationalities. A dark prophecy announces the end of the world: the Moon is falling. An unlikely group of people with their own skills and motivations are forced together by events, and destined to become the last chance of the planet to survive.

  The writing was good, I liked the characters and the storyline. I just felt that the author was stringing events one after the other, with little concern for consistency. It just made me not connect to the characters. Nyx is almost a Mary Sue and the other characters find the skills or the ancient bloodline required like any number of deux ex machinas. I can recommend the book, it was very nice and I am sure many will love it.

and has 0 comments

  I have no idea who recommended me Singularity, by William Sleator. It was probably a horror channel or something. The idea in it, as well as its metaphorical interpretation, are pretty cool. Unfortunately, the writing style, characterization and plot are so bad I couldn't keep reading.

  So here is the story of a family who had prepared a two week vacation for the parents alone, also taking draconian measures that the two twin boys remaining home would have absolutely no fun. "But we're 16, we shave!" - a valid argument - is ignored. So here come the news of the dying of a forgotten relative which leaves them a mysterious country house. So here's the idea: how about the kids go keep people from vandalizing the house while the parents are on vacation, completely unsupervised, in a different environment than they are used to, on the advice and in the 10 minute care of the local lawyer who they had not met before? Perfect!

  The two boys are as different as black and scared. One of them is a full on psychopath, while the other is a soft scared little shit. They get there and immediately meet a random neighboring girl of the same age. They also discover just as fast a "singularity" of time and dimension with weird (and inconsistent) properties. One boy wants to "experiment", the other just wants to be careful and play with his dog, the girl seems to have no personality whatsoever.

  The cartoonish simplicity of the characters and the writing style makes the whole thing, narrated of course first person from the perspective of the "weak but good" brother, unbearable to read for me. And there are these leaps of logic and robotic reactions of the characters that are simply grating. There is this moment where the dog dies. One brother cries, the other and the girl go to eat and then have a swim. Yes, it's that dumb.

  It's a really short book, but after approximatively a third in, after the dog thing, I've decided I would not continue. There are spoiler synopses of the book online, I've read those, yes, interesting premise, terrible execution.

and has 0 comments

  I loved the worldbuilding and the attention to character development in The Praxis. I mean, it was clear from the beginning that it is going to be a military space opera, complete with space empire, feudalistic culture and space navy manual battles, but Walter Jon Williams solved the suspension of disbelief by introducing an alien race that just created the empire, imposed "the Praxis" (with all of the rules above and then some) on all races it enslaved for 10000 years, then tastefully died off. I am sure it's going to be explored in a next book in the series, but these Shaa are some of the most intriguing aliens in a while and I am tempted to continue reading the book just to get to know them.

  But not in this book. Here they just die off, letting the entire empire off the leash. And here we are following two characters, one male, one female, as they attempt to get some recognition in the space military, a bureaucratic and nepotistic organization that has not seen a war in 300 years and only has the responsibility to terribly punish any species that choses to disobey the Praxis. And these characters... they are treated with a lot of care. Even the supporting characters and the many extras get the same treatment. You understand why they are why they are like that. For some that might feel tedious, but the author really makes you feel inside the world and knowing these people.

  And the main characters are the kind I like: they are rogues, they are imperfect, but they have the skills and they put the work to get ahead. I also like the straight face depiction of the ridiculous behavior of the ruling class, the entitlement, stupidity, lack of vision, blatant incompetence. Usually when someone comes with a world based on 1800 Europe, but in space, I groan. Here not only did I feel it made sense, but I felt I've been in many of those situations.

  I liked the book, and I found it very captivating and well written. I don't think I am going to continue with the series, but I am so very tempted.

and has 0 comments

  Sandman Slim is angels, demons, humans, kissi, all kinds of other stuff, in a love letter to Los Angeles, draped in a fantasy detective story - all the tropes of the clueless detective in the dark city are there, plus magic.

  A magician is betrayed and thrown into hell, then his girlfriend is killed, so he comes back for revenge. And if you think that's the story in The Crow, you'd be totally right, complete with a main character that makes decisions based on his own lunacy more often than not. Armed with powerful talismans (that he barely uses and then he uses them wrong) that he stole from hell and helped by an army of pixie like girls (that are totally not his girlfriend who was also a tall slim woman) and with the support of random friends who he makes or meets again exactly when he needs them, he starts bungling about, getting people killed and somehow surviving himself. Not that his heroic purpose is not there or that he doesn't feel guilt for collateral damage, but if you think about it at the end of the book, almost nothing he achieves was his merit, other than an incessant drive to kill a particular person and all of the people who died in the crossfire.

  The book was fun, I enjoyed it once I would turned my brain off. It's pulp and, having looked it up in order to write this review, there are eight freaking books in the Sandman Slim series. I felt instantly tired when I found that out. I am pretty sure I am not going to continue reading the series, not because it was not a good experience, but because I am looking for a different kind of experience most of the time. Right now, having a terrible flu, I couldn't handle anything more intellectual, so it did its job.

  Bottom line: if you are looking for some fun fantasy that leans a bit too much on coastal United States humor and is set in Los Angeles, this is the book for you. Richard Kadrey writes well and you can always use this as a palate cleanser. But if you're looking for a story that will make you question the nature of reality and fill you with thoughts well after you've read it, you might choose something else.

and has 0 comments

  Lovecraftian horror and Celtic myths, which in my opinion are much scarier than Cthulhu and his bunch, so what could possibly go wrong? Well, you can have characters that will be grating to anyone not from a specific part of the United States. And it's funny, because as it is hard for us to comprehend the disgust and horror some things generated in Lovecraft, I am sure future people will be reading The Twisted Ones and feel the same about Ursula Vernon.

  That isn't to say that the book was not good. I liked the ideas in it, I just couldn't like the people in it, especially the main character. The self deprecating humor, the hysterical laughter when something horrific was happening, the meme references, the many mechanisms she employs to self deceive herself that some things are not real, the fanatical belief in the order of the American system and that bad things couldn't happen to her is she just look the other way, all of these things felt so wrong to me. The writing style, with many repetitions of the same things, felt more compulsive than entertaining. I really want to believe that the way the main character was behaving was meant as a parody of the Lovecraftian gentleman hero, but I am afraid the author was quite serious in writing her.

  If you can get past that, this is quite a terrific story. This woman comes to clean up the house of her dead grandmother, who was also a hoarder, so she spends days after disgusting days putting garbage in bags and getting rid of them, with only her dog as company. She comes upon a mysterious diary of her grandfather's, talking about eldritch things while also being incredibly opaque. Then things start happening.

  Kingfisher likes to reinvent stories. I've read some stuff from her reimagining fairy tales and this one is a sort of an answer to The White People, by Arthur Machen

and has 0 comments

  Yes, another Adrian Tchaikovsky book. In truth, Dogs of War is the one that I wanted to read all along, but I was too lazy to get it, so I kept reading other books from the author. Was it worth the wait? I am leaning towards no.

  No, it's not a bad book. However, I expected something completely different. How would you write a book about a "dog soldier" that is modified genetically and cybernetically to be a perfect weapon, but his motivation is to please his master? I feel like Tchaikovsky took the easy way out with this one. I expected something both endearing and funny, because dogs, and then terribly horrible, because war weapon. Some terribly funny dark satire, maybe. A riff on A Boy and His Dog where the dog is an invincible bear-sized beast, perhaps. But the author went with a little war horror at the beginning, nicely filtered through a dog's understanding with terms like "the bigger enemies and the smaller enemies" to describe child murder, blamed it all on the "master" and proceeded to extrapolate a techno-happy ending of the entire thing.

  At this point I feel like Adrian Tchaikovsky is more in love with the ultimate potential of his ideas to truly develop them and the characters in his stories. All his books so far started with some great ideas and world building, then someone presses the fast forward button where everything was solved by "the future". Hey, what happened with the story and the people I was invested in? Never you mind, we're in the future now! Rejoice!

  To summarize: the development hurdles for "bioforms" are never explained, so don't expect any real technological or scientific discussion. The motivation of the dog is actually another implant in his brain, which kind of invalidates the whole premise. Then there are a lot of other animals, which sort of invalidates the title. The master is a run of the mill psycho villain so there is no real human/dog relationship. The horrors of war are filtered and then limited to wounds that are further filtered by implants which can suppress pain. There is no humor in the book, only a depressingly linear progression of the technology described at the beginning, too fast to make you invested in any of its parts, and naively positive in its outcome. There are a lot of repetitions of the "good boy" idea, like if repeating it it becomes more poignant. At this point I wonder if the author ever had a dog.

  So I am going to rate this book average at most. I didn't hate it, but its only truly positive attribute is that it's short. Kind of a let down.

and has 0 comments

  Blindsight was an amazing book by Peter Watts that made me think for years after I've read it. And now I can't remember it, so I should read it again. This kind of occurrence is ironically close to the plight of the characters in The Freeze-Frame Revolution, human components to a mission to seed the galaxy with wormholes, controlled and then condemned by a series of algorithms to expand the range of a human race which seems to have disappeared or at least completely forgotten about them. They spend millions and billions of years in hibernation, only woken a handful at a time to assist with the construction of these enormously expensive devices.

  The main character is a guy who has to navigate the desire for the mission to have some sense, his loyalty to his friends - both human and machine, and simple logic telling him neither are there. And interesting story, full of subtle irony, but also something akin to sadism. For the subject of the book will surely resonate with a lot of people, only in vastly different ways.

  To me, it speaks about the seemingly dumb rules, which should be too stupid to contain human ingenuity, passion and consciousness, and yet they do. People spend their lives "sleeping" between the few and far between moments of relevance and "real life". It shouldn't happen and somehow it does. How can someone engineer a revolt that would only be worked for in these rare moments? I am sure, though, that I am trying to explain what Watts wanted to say through my own dumb perspective.

  I am curious what other people thought of it. Anyway, this is a novella, 250 e-book pages long, so it is worth reading in a day to find out.