Malin’s #CBR5 Review #156: Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews – triple Cannonball!

It’s my last book of the year, and I’m feeling a bit worn out after a LOT of blogging, so I’m taking the liberty of letting the authors themselves summarise the book (it’s self published), because Ilona writes way better than I:

On the outside, Dina Demille is the epitome of normal. She runs a quaint Victorian Bed and Breakfast in a small Texas town, owns a Shih Tzu named Beast, and is a perfect neighbor, whose biggest problems should be what to serve her guests for breakfast. But Dina is…different: Her broom is a deadly weapon; her Inn is magic and thinks for itself. Meant to be a lodging for otherworldly visitors, the only permanent guest is a retired Galactic aristocrat who can’t leave the grounds because she’s responsible for the deaths of millions and someone might shoot her on sight. Under the circumstances, “normal” is a bit of a stretch for Dina. 

And now, something with wicked claws and deepwater teeth has begun to hunt at night… Feeling responsible for her neighbors, Dina decides to get involved. Before long, she has to juggle dealing with the annoyingly attractive, ex-military, new neighbor Sean Evans – an alpha-strain werewolf – and the equally arresting cosmic vampire soldier, Arland, while trying to keep her Inn and its guests safe. But the enemy she is facing is unlike anything she’s ever encountered before. It’s smart, vicious and lethal, and putting herself between this creature and her neighbors might just cost her everything. 

Full review on my blog.

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Malin’s #CBR5 Review #152: Vampire Science by Jonathan Blum and Kate Orman

2.5 stars

In 1976 a young med student named Carolyn meets the eight Doctor and his teenage companion Sam, while they’re trying to stop Eva, a vampire, from killing a young woman. Having never realised that there was such a thing as vampires, time travel or exciting individuals like the Time Lord and his companion, Carolyn’s word is forever altered, but despite an unspoken invitation to join the Doctor on his continued adventures, Carolyn chooses to take the injured woman to the ER and worry about her upcoming exam instead.

Twenty years later, there are clearly vampires in San Francisco again. Carolyn is a doctor herself now and has made great strides to fulfil her dream of finding a cure for cancer. She has a good life, and a dependable lighting technician boyfriend, but when the Doctor and Sam appear again, barely changed from when she met them two decades ago, she starts to wonder if she made the right choice.

More on my blog.

Malin’s #CBR5 Review #151: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

In 2060, disgraced Jesuit priest Emilio Sandoz is the only survivor left after an expedition to the planet of Rakhat. He’s grievously injured, both physically and mentally, and refuses to speak to the investigators who are desperate to find out what went wrong, far away on the alien planet. Sandoz stands accused of some pretty terrible crimes, and slowly the story of what took place several light years away is revealed.

Proof of extra terrestrial life is discovered in 2019 in a small and fairly insignificant listening post in Puerto Rico. While the United Nations and other global powers are still trying to figure out what to do about the discovery, the Jesuits organise a scientific mission in secret, sending eight people to the newly discovered planet, Rakhat, hoping to establish communication and peaceful relations with the aliens whose heartbreaking songs proved their existence on Earth. Emilio is one of the eight, and at least six of the other members of the exploration crew are close personal friends of his. “They meant no harm” is the final line in the prologue, and it’s such an ominous hint of what’s to come in the rest of the novel.

Full review.

Malin’s #CBR5 Review #146: These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Disclaimer! Disney Hyperion granted me an ARC of this through NetGalley in return for a fair review.

Much as I love the colours and the lush quality of the cover for this book (my husband disagrees with me, he thinks it’s dreadful), it doesn’t actually give a very realistic portrayal of what the book is about. It’s not really floating about in space in a ball gown (but the gown does exist, and Lilac does spend a substantial amount of the story wearing it), or even Titanic in space, as I saw it described elsewhere (although there are obvious nods to the film). So if you’re hoping for that, you may want to adjust your expectations before going in.

Boy meets girl on board the most expensive intergalactic cruise liner in the known universe. Boy and girl have a connection. The next time boy and girl meet, girl viciously rejects boy in front of her friends. Boy is deeply hurt, but this doesn’t stop him from helping her to an escape pod when something goes horribly wrong and the ship they’re on is wrenched out of hyperspace and needs to be evacuated. Boy and girl crash escape pod on nearby planet, and have to make their way across the deserted and sometimes dangerous planet with hardly any supplies, hoping to be rescued.

Our boy is Tarver Mendenson, an 18-year-old officer heavily decorated in the recent war and given special privileges aboard the Icarus because he’s become a poster boy for the army. He’s from a humble background, and not really comfortable in the opulent surroundings and among the wealthy passengers in the first class areas. Our girl is Lilac LaRoux, daughter of the richest man in the universe. Her father owns the Icarus (as well as much of the known universe), and Lilac has learned the hard way that young men who show any kind of interest in her have a nasty way of disappearing. She finds it charming and amazing that Tarver doesn’t know who she is when they first meet, but has to dissuade him from ever talking to her again, lest he find himself suddenly deployed to the front line of another war zone before he knows what hit him. She can’t tell him this, however, and by the time their escape pod crashes, he thinks she’s a spoiled and callous space princess (while mysteriously adept at mechanics) and just wants to be rid of her as quickly as possible.

More on my blog.

alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 62: Abaddon’s Gate by James S. A. Corey

Goodreads: “For generations, the solar system – Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt – was humanity’s great frontier. Until now. The alien artefact working through its program under the clouds of

Venus has emerged to build a massive structure outside the orbit of Uranus: a gate that leads into a starless dark.

Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are part of a vast flotilla of scientific and military ships going out to examine the artefact. But behind the scenes, a complex plot is unfolding, with the destruction of Holden at its core. As the emissaries of the human race try to find whether the gate is an opportunity or a threat, the greatest danger is the one they brought with them.”

I’ve really enjoyed the three books so far in the Expanse series: Leviathan Wakes, Caliban’s War, and Abaddon’s Gate. Where the first set the pace, tone, and foundation for the series in a way that was already epic in scale, the latter two have somehow continued to build on that promise by introducing more narrative lead characters and new high-stakes conflict without letting the story run away from itself. Despite the expansion of character profiles and deeper exploration of those characters’ motivations, the core group we were introduced to in the first book — James Holden and his crew — remain central to the story, thereby anchoring us to a heart of the tale that we’ve grown familiar with and attached to.

Abaddon’s Gate contains a classic redemption tale, a frame-job, and the possibility of massive war among two superpowers, a lesser alliance, and an unknown alien foe that is likely to crush everyone and annihilate humanity in the blink of an eye. Our hero, James Holden, also talks to ghosts and even goes on a one-man mission as an emissary to the alien would-be demolitionists because that’s what the ghost tells him to do. The book rarely takes a moment to breathe, but the slower chapters reinforce the emotional stakes and passion — sometimes quiet, sometimes imbued with burning rage — that drive the characters.

Also remarkable in the series is the way that each book feels, in a way, like a standalone: there are no cliffhangers and the individual stories therein are resolved; however, the resolution sets up a backdrop for what may become the main source of tension in the next book, or the one after. Leviathan Wakes saw the emergence of a dangerous, little-understood alien protomolecule that, by the end, was seemingly dispatched into the inhospitable environment of Venus, therefore saving Earth from destruction. Caliban’s War showed the protomolecule quietly taking over Venus and exhibiting feats of impossible physics, worrying everyone to death over what its next move would be. Abaddon’s Gate reveals what the next move was, and though, again, the immediate conflict was solved, the possibility for major catastrophe still lurks in another form entirely. And none of that takes into account the political and personal struggles of the humans themselves, which could themselves be a collection of compelling and suspenseful stories.

The Expanse series is space opera at its finest. The prose isn’t the most sophisticated, but it’s tightly written and consistently entertaining. Even sci-fi novices could enjoy these books, I think, since they’re not overly jammed with techie jargon and high-concept gimmicks. If you’re put off because it’s set in space, don’t be. The plots are steeped in classic noir and suspense, with war games thrown in for good measure. Highly recommended.

KimMiE” ’s #CBR5 Review #12: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

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The Hunger Games had a “first episode in a trilogy” kind of feel to it (which makes sense, being the first episode in a trilogy and all). By that, I mean that while the story is left on a questioning note, it also stands nicely on its own, the way that Star Wars or The Matrix ended with a future of possibility, but if that was the last you saw of that world, you would have still been happy with it (in the case of The Matrix, you would have been much happier, in fact). The point is, second books/movies in trilogies often have a tough time: they are the bridges between the often self-contained story of book/movie #1 and the conflict resolution of book/movie #3. The worst episode #2 books feel like filler material, killing time until we get to the climax of episode #3. The good ones feel bigger than episode #1, drive the story forward, and build excitement for the final installment. Catching Fire is a great second episode.

Catching Fire feels much bigger than The Hunger Games. While politics served as a backdrop in The Hunger Games, the true state of Panem and the oppression of the people in the districts comes to the forefront in Catching Fire. For the first time we get to witness a confrontation between Katniss and President Snow, a conversation which reveals the true depth of the danger Katniss has put herself and her family in by defying the Capitol at the end of book one. We get more insight into the Peace Keepers and their relationship with the people of the district, and how brutally citizens can be treated. During the Victory Tour, we get to see how life is even harder for some of the other districts than it is for District 12. When the tributes gather on stage the night before the games start, talk is nearly treasonous as the victors try to turn the audience against the games. It’s an exciting time to be a revolutionary, certainly!

We also get more of the “love triangle,” although I think that phrase is selling the relationships between the characters short. Katniss is certainly a conflicted individual who has feelings for both Gale and Peeta, but are any of those feelings romantic in nature? She has too much at stake to allow herself to even explore that question and she doesn’t expect to live long enough for it to matter. But in not facing it, she reveals as much about her character and her feelings as she would if she were to wear her heart on her sleeve.

While The Hunger Games took us into the brutal world of a regime that would force its citizens to murder each other, Catching Fire pulls back and gives us a larger view of that regime and the citizens that live there. True to its name, Catching Fire sets the spark of anticipation, preparing us for the final battles that episode three is sure to bring.

KimMiE” ’s #CBR5 Review #11: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

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I’m usually well behind the curve when it comes to popular culture. I don’t think I even started reading the Harry Potter series until somewhere around the time when Goblet of Fire was published, so  it should come as no surprise that I saw the blockbuster hit The Hunger Games in theaters before deciding to read the book.

As a general rule, I actually do prefer seeing a movie adaptation of a novel before reading it. To me, novels are generally much richer in detail and create a more vivid world, so that I am usually at least a little disappointed when I see a film version of a novel I’ve enjoyed. There are exceptions, of course: The Lord of the Rings trilogy did a tremendous job of adapting books that seemed unfilmable; and there have been occasions when I’ve read a book after seeing a film only to discover that the two versions shared very little beyond the title (Bernard Malamud’s The Natural springs to mind, but I’m sure there are better, more recent examples).  Books and film are different media, and I do try to approach them as as independent of each other and revel in the strengths of each. At any rate, seeing and enjoying the film version is what finally motivated me to read The Hunger Games.

Perhaps because the film adaptation was so strong, I was mildly let down that the book didn’t include a tremendous amount of additional material and plot points. That’s not really fair, I know, but my usual strategy of seeing a film and then “getting more” by reading the book kind of failed me this time. Mainly, I was surprised that the book was written in first-person narrative. I like first person-narratives as much as the next reader, and Katniss Everdeen is a compelling protagonist to be sure, but the world of Panem is full of colorful characters and I was hoping I’d get more insight into how and what they were thinking. Wouldn’t you just love to know what, if anything, is going on inside Effie’s head, or learn more about Cinna’s past? What did Katniss’ mother feel when first her younger daughter’s name is called, and then her elder daughter volunteers to take her place? What did the people of District 12 think as the games progressed—did they feel hope that their tribute might come home alive? Did they even care? Maybe that’s why the movie adaptation worked; the book doesn’t contain much nuance or subtlety for the movie to miss.

Which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy reading The Hunger Games. I did. Very much. Katniss is a complex character full of strength, anger, doubt, and love, and she kicks ass to boot. She is the protagonist that young adult readers deserve and can relate to, and adult readers can embrace as well. The plot is well paced and drives forward to a tense climax, and it did leave me wanting more. Fortunately for me, there are still two more books in the series.