Review: The Cold Between (Central Corps #1) – Elizabeth Bonesteel

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Summary:

Deep in the stars, a young officer and her lover are plunged into a murder mystery and a deadly conspiracy in this first entry in a stellar military science-fiction series in the tradition of Lois McMaster Bujold.

When her crewmate, Danny, is murdered on the colony of Volhynia, Central Corps chief engineer, Commander Elena Shaw, is shocked to learn the main suspect is her lover, Treiko Zajec. She knows Trey is innocent—he was with her when Danny was killed. So who is the real killer and why are the cops framing an innocent man?

Retracing Danny’s last hours, they discover that his death may be tied to a mystery from the past: the explosion of a Central Corps starship at a wormhole near Volhynia. For twenty-five years, the Central Gov has been lying about the tragedy, even willing to go to war with the outlaw PSI to protect their secrets.

With the authorities closing in, Elena and Trey head to the wormhole, certain they’ll find answers on the other side. But the truth that awaits them is far more terrifying than they ever imagined . . . a conspiracy deep within Central Gov that threatens all of human civilization throughout the inhabited reaches of the galaxy—and beyond.

Review:

Oh The Cold Between, how much I wanted to love you. You’re a military sci-fi novel written by a woman that contains several strong and likable female characters: there just aren’t enough of you out on the shelves these days. So I stuck with you. I kept going and kept going just waiting for that moment when it would all click together for me and somehow it never quite happened, which is just so disappointing.

Trying to peg the why of it, however, has been difficult.

Pacing may be an issue: the book touts the mystery surrounding the tragedy that happened twenty-five years ago; and yet we don’t really learn what happened until 80% of the way in. So we have an extremely slow build-up, which then forces a quick resolution that ultimately feels anti-climatic because it all happens so fast. The revelation surrounding the mystery doesn’t really aid things either: it’s not exactly obvious, but it doesn’t feel as revelatory as it should either especially since it’s a conspiracy 25 years in the making.

The antagonists may be another issue: there are two, and both feel one note. One is a sadist who goes fully as far as threatening to rape our protagonist – both while she’s alive, and promising to continue to do so after she’s died. The other is power hungry, or maybe power mad, and he seemingly has no other speed so he’s either angry that he’s getting shut down, or probably abusing the power that he does have. Nuance would have gone a long way for both characters here. I know that Bonesteel was trying to make a point about corruption and unchecked power, but those kind of messages tend to get muddled when the bad guys are so flat.

Finally, I’m not sure that I quite bought into the relationship between Elena and Trey. While I appreciate her sense of justice in not wanting to leave him behind, Bonesteel wrote them as if they’d been together or known each other for quite some time – at one point Trey even tells another character something to the effect that he doesn’t know Elena at all. But you know what, neither does Trey. They had a one night stand. Even by the time you factor in the time spent in space and running and what not, they’ve known each other for what, a week? Maybe two absolute tops? He doesn’t know her that well either, and so when he’s telling her he loves her, it’s kind of suspect. The book does focus a lot on that relationship (and relationships in general), so if it doesn’t work for you, it hurts the book as a whole.

So yeah. Like I said. I wanted to love this book and I just couldn’t and that’s just such a shame.

Verdict: A weak Borrow it – There is some good stuff here, and I think that if you like the relationship aspects more than I did, you’ll get some good enjoyment out of it.

Available: March 8

Stacking the Shelves #13

Now that I’ve done my Best Of list, it seems to make sense to do a final Stacking the Shelves for the year. I have to say, there seems to be something about the month of December where I get book crazy. It’s been a little less than a month since my last post, and yet I’ve managed to acquire some twenty books in that time frame! And that doesn’t count one that will arrive in January and that I think I still have 3-4 ARCs out for request on NetGalley and Edelweiss that I’m hoping to get my hands on. Yikes. Maybe I should be sliiiightly more choosy for a while? My TBR pile would thank me 🙂

For the last time in 2015, let’s do this.

ARC

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My first unsolicited ARC. I feel all grown up :* It’s pure sci-fi, which I’m looking forward to. I played in the YA end of the pool in 2015, so looking to dip my toes more in the adult end in 2016.

DRC

There’s definitely a broad assortment of books in this group. In the YA camp we have The Prophecy of Shadows (Greek mythology-inspired), Daughter of Blood (epic fantasy), Seven Black Diamonds (faery) Burning Glass (romance/fantasy), Beyond the Red (sci-fi) and Flawed (dystopian).  On the adult side we have Submissive Seductions (erotica) A Girl’s Guide to Landing a Greek God (Greek mythology based) and Masks and Shadows (historical).  It’s a fun mix. The books here are posted in order of publication date; though it’ll take me a while to get to Daughter of Blood. It’s the the third in a trilogy and I managed to pick up the first two for $1.99 each on Kindle and will be reviewing those first. The others are all stand-alones/first in series, so there is that :*

physical books traded for by me

I picked these up in a blog sale. These are all young adult except for The Forbidden Library which is more middle grade, but Django Wexler was an enticing thought. Becoming Jinn got a lot of love when it came out and others sounded like fun (angels! steampunk!). Given the size of my TBR pile though, these are definitely going to be lower on the totem pole for when I’m looking for something different to mix it up.

eBooks bought by me

Another hodgepodge of adult and young adult. The Strange Maid is the sequel to the just-reviewed The Lost Sun. Hidden is the next Alex Verus novel. The Heir of Night/The Gathering of the Lost are the first two in the Wall of Night books. These Broken Stars is a sci-fi/romance The Rook is a fantastical thriller and Tooth and Claw is a novel of manners…with dragons.

Twenty-one books. Twenty-one. I think I need to slow down just a wee bit. LOL. So. Have you gone as crazy as I have? What have you added to your shelves?

Top 10 of 2015

Where has the year gone? It seems like yesterday that I was writing 2014’s list. Then again, isn’t that how it always goes? Anyways.

Before we get into it, once again here are the criteria I use:

1. Must have been reviewed in 2015 (so older titles qualify)

2. Only one book per author or series

3. Must have been rated as a “Buy It” by me.

Without further ado, let us begin !

Honorable Mention:

Alex Verus Series – by Benedict Jacka

I really wanted to put at least one of these books on my list as it is now one of my all-time favorite Urban Fantasy series. I debated breaking my own rules to put this on the list, but then I realized that this series is unique in that the sum is really greater than the individual parts, with each book I love it just a little bit more. These are quick easy reads with a protagonist that is much more gray than UF heroes/heroines are allowed to be with a great supporting cast including women who only grow stronger as the books pass. I know that the first book can seem derivative, but stick it out and give the series a chance. It may just grow on you the way it’s grown on me.

10.

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Read the review here

A mash-up of historical fantasy, secondary world fantasy, with a dash of science-fiction, The Philosopher Kings poses some great philosophical questions within its text that invites the reader to ponder over just as the characters do. I do think the appeal is too niche to really place it higher on this list, but for those who like philosophy or are looking for something a bit heavier, this is a book well worth checking out.

9.

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Read the review here

Yes, I know I just reviewed this the other day, and this would be the spot I was having trouble deciding what book to put here. The Lost Sun is Young Adult fantasy with Nordic flair and engrossing story of friendship and destiny and is well worth checking out.

8.

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Read the review here

A lush dark fantasy that builds up a wonderful atmosphere of tension that leaves you as unsettled as the heroine as she tries to navigate this world that she suddenly finds herself thrust into. Though not strictly Gothic horror, it has that lovely sense to it. If you like dark fae, give this book a look.

7.

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Read the review here

Urban Fantasy that has a) a completely average male as a lead, b) has no trace of the paranormal nor c) romance make this grounded tale a wonderful and unique read within the genre. If you’ve got a friend that you’re trying to lure into reading Urban Fantasy, this is an excellent series to start with.

6.

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Read the review here

The winning formula for this series is simple: take all your Urban Fantasy tropes and give them a twist. Vampires aren’t the main bad-guys, Charish mouths off and people get pissed at her. That kind of thing. A very fun ride and worth a read if you like the old favorites but want to see a hint of something new.

5.

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Read the review here

A secondary world epic fantasy that combines lush world building and one of the strongest, most sex-positive female characters I’ve ever seen. Even if you don’t read on, anyone who reads epic fantasy should give this book a look. It’s reputation is well earned. Plus, the refreshed covers are simply stunning.

4.

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Read the review here

A historical fantasy that is audacious enough to make Lucifer the hero of our tale – and does so in a manner that is absolutely respectful to the religion in the process. Any and all fantasy writers that want to take on Christianity should use this as a guide on how to do it right. I’m thrilled it’s seeing a stateside release in 2016.

3.

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Read the review here

Combining characters you love and a sense of wonder as you travel the Zodiac’s galaxy, this is a rare sequel that surpasses the original. Fans of YA and sci-fi/fantasy blends should absolutely read this.

2.

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Another piece of YA sci-fi, the complex themes and the beautiful writing make me wonder if this wouldn’t have been better served on adult shelves. Complex themes, a bittersweet ending and a delicate balanced lesbian relationship make this a must read. Oh, and Talis is everything.

1.

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Read the review here

The most audacious book I’ve quite possibly read, even taking on J for the complexity of its story telling. The best part is that there is as much substance to it as there is style. One of the rare books that absolutely deserves the hype it’s received.

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So there we have it! I’d never guess I’d have three YA sci-fi titles as my top three this year, which makes it all the more awesome that I do. I think that niche of the genre really came alive this year and gives me hope that it’ll continue to mature and producer a richer cannon of books that stray away from the typical YA tropes. Aside from that, I don’t feel like 2015 was quite as strong a year for me as 2014 was, but as always, if you look, you will always find some gems.

So tell me, what were your favorites?

The Martian – Andy Weir

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Summary:

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars’ surface, completely alone, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive — and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark’s not ready to quit. Armed with nothing but his ingenuity and his engineering skills — and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength – he embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive, using his botany expertise to grow food and even hatching a mad plan to contact NASA back on Earth.

As he overcomes one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next, Mark begins to let himself believe he might make it off the planet alive – but Mars has plenty of surprises in store for him yet.

Grounded in real, present-day science from the first page to the last, yet propelled by a brilliantly ingenious plot that surprises the reader again and again, The Martian is a truly remarkable thriller: an impossible-to-put-down suspense novel that manages to read like a real-life survival tale.

Review:

Did I really need to put that summary here? Aren’t I the last person to have actually read this book? Maybe! I wanted to give myself some distance between the book and the movie to give both versions of the same material a fair shake. Comparison is inevitable, but comparing too soon and you can irrevocably change your opinion of one version, even if it isn’t necessarily fair to do so.

Either way.

The Martian is the tale of Mark Watney, an astronaut mistakenly left beind on Mars after a freak sandstorm causes a freak accident that makes his commander think him deceased.  It is the ultimate man-versus-natural survival tale where instead of laying down to die, our hero goes full American, says “fuck you, Mars” and proceeds to keep finding ways to survive despite the horrendous odds.

This is a book that is very much worth the hype and if you’ve been living in the stone age with me, I’ll tell you to go and pick it up now. How can you not respect a hero who saves himself not through violence, but through keeping his head on straight and not willing to let the enormity of his situation or the solitude crush him? It’s nothing short of miraculous and remarkable and shows a dedication and a steadfastness that I think the rest of us could hope to obtain.

So really, I feel like the issue here isn’t so much is The Martian a good book (because it definitely is) but did the movie do it justice?

And to that I say: yes. Yes it did. I’d almost even say I think the film is slightly better than the book.

*ducks things thrown at monitors*

I know, I know. I’m sure had I read the book first I wouldn’t be saying that, but hear me out:

Do the situations that get cut out result you in respecting Watney any less?

No.

Is the tension any less for them having been cut out?

No.

If anything, I think the cutting of those few scenes just helped tighten up the pacing which is good, because I did feel like there were a few parts where it dragged. Also, having that human doing the monologues really helps invest you in the story because you get that added inflection that comes from an emotional being reading it. Otherwise, it can be a bit hard to get through. Now that isn’t to say the movie is perfect. The genderswapping of Mindy’s character is completely unnecessary as was the whitewashing of many cast members. Of course, the I could have also done completely without the sappy and anticlimatic ending of Watney on Earth, but still. On the whole, the film did what a good adaptation does: take the best parts of the book and put it on the screen without changing the tone or heart of the book, and that’s what this movie does.

So do I recommend the book? Yes. Do I recommend seeing the film? Absolutely.

Both the book and the film are worth the hype.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now.

Made to Kill – Adam Christopher

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Summary:

It was just another Tuesday morning when she walked into the office–young, as I suspected they all might be, another dark brunette with some assistance and enough eye black to match up to Cleopatra. And who am I? I’m Ray, the world’s last robot, famed and feared in equal measure, which suits me just fine–after all, the last place you’d expect to find Hollywood’s best hit man is in the plain light of day.

Raymond Electromatic is good at his job, as good as he ever was at being a true Private Investigator, the lone employee of the Electromatic Detective Agency–except for Ada, office gal and super-computer, the constant voice in Ray’s inner ear. Ray might have taken up a new line of work, but money is money, after all, and he was programmed to make a profit. Besides, with his twenty-four-hour memory-tape limits, he sure can keep a secret.

When a familiar-looking woman arrives at the agency wanting to hire Ray to find a missing movie star, he’s inclined to tell her to take a hike. But she had the cold hard cash, a demand for total anonymity, and tendency to vanish on her own.

Plunged into a glittering world of fame, fortune, and secrecy, Ray uncovers a sinister plot that goes much deeper than the silver screen–and this robot is at the wrong place, at the wrong time.

Made to Kill is the thrilling new speculative noir from novelist and comic writer Adam Christopher

Review:

Noir + robots.

It sounds awesome. It is awesome.

Ray Electromatic is a really fun concept of a character. He feels like a classic hard-boiled detective that just happens to weigh a ton and has to be careful about sitting on bar stools so he doesn’t crush them. Ray’s accompanied by his handler Ada, another robot whose sense for profit would make a Ferengi blush. They make a good team and it’s nice seeing her being the brains of the operation, as opposed to just being a secretary or receptionist.  I will also say that I loved the backstory of how they came to be the only robots left around. It’s an explanation that makes absolute sense and plays on our fears of automation technologies quite well.

The story itself is a fun mix of Hollywood (done justice here), Russians and secret plots that probably would have held appeal to the Soviets if only the technologies had ever come into existence. One of the things I especially enjoyed is how radiation played a large part of the story, but its detection made perfect sense – a good use of the robotic nature of our protagonist that shows some forethought on the part of the author: he’s not just a robot to be a robot, the story works <i>because</i> he’s a robot.

Finally, because I usually gripe about brevity in genre, I want to hold this up as an example of brevity done right: world building is complete, Ada and Ray feel fleshed out given the constraints of their nature, and the plotting is tight and moves along at a good clip while feeling fleshed out. It’s just the right length.

This is a well-crafted fun read. If the premise calls to you, pick it up. You will have a good time.

Verdict: Buy It.

Available: Now

Wandering Star (Zodiac #2) – @RominaRussell

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Summary:

Orphaned, disgraced, and stripped of her title, Rho is ready to live life quietly, as an aid worker in the Cancrian refugee camp on House Capricorn.

But news has spread that the Marad–an unbalanced terrorist group determined to overturn harmony in the Galaxy–could strike any House at any moment.

Then, unwelcome nightmare that he is, Ochus appears to Rho, bearing a cryptic message that leaves her with no choice but to fight.

Now Rho must embark on a high-stakes journey through an all-new set of Houses, where she discovers that there’s much more to her Galaxy–and to herself–than she could have ever imagined.

Review:

When Romina promised me an ARC of this book, I was so excited that words were hard pressed to convey it. And yet, even within all of my excitement, there was that voice in the back of my head that kept saying what if it isn’t as good. Thankfully, I can tell that voice in my head to shut the eff up for good.

Wandering Star was every bit as good. In fact, it’s better.

In a private Twitter conversation, Romina mentioned how much she loved this book, and that love absolutely shines through the page.

The worlds that make up Capricorn, Sagittarius and Taurus brim with creativity and feel completely distinct from one another. There’s the way the Capricorn sends messages via holograms in the sky and eat communally with bring-your-own-plates-and-silverware whereverr you’re going to Sagittarians traveling by cannon (!) and more Heart puns than you can count in The Heart of Taurus. Honestly, I can’t remember when a novel in this genre felt almost like a travelogue. It was so vivid and so detailed that it made me wish I could go into Space and see these places for myself.

Wandering Star takes a turn to being a more character driven novel, a change I whole-heartedly endorse. Throughout the book we see Rho questioning who she is and how her relationship with her mother and her brother defines her. We get this wonderful doomed romance between her and Hysan. Even as I kept rooting for them to get together, there was this beautiful air of star-crossed lovers/doomed romance that gave their relationship this bittersweet feeling that far too many YA authors are afraid to approach and depict in their novels. Speaking of characters, you see many returning favorites here, and even several fun new ones, such as Miss Trii, a robot built by Hysan that will make anyone with a Jewish mother smile whenever she is on the page.

Finally, we have the plot itself: the interplay between Orphichus and Rho is really interesting to watch, as is Rho’s interactions with the wider Zodiac. While the themes of the plot aren’t exactly new (see any other number of YA novels and especially dystopias that embrace the ideal of embracing yourself for who you are instead of trying to fit in), the take on it is interesting and fresh enough to remain compelling. As before, there are moments are tip-toe to the line of being preachy, but always manages to back away at that last second.

I loved this book even more than I thought possible, and I hope this season sees an uptick in popularity. It deserves more love than it gets. Overall, 2015 has been a banner year for YA sci-fi and this book is helping end the year iwth a bang.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: December 15

Sound (Salvage #2) – Alexandra Duncan

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Summary:

SOUND is the stand-alone companion to Alexandra Duncan’s acclaimed novel Salvage, a debut that internationally bestselling author Stephanie Perkins called “kick-ass, brilliant, feminist science fiction.” For fans of Beth Revis, Firefly, and Battlestar Galactica.

As a child, Ava’s adopted sister Miyole watched her mother take to the stars, piloting her own ship from Earth to space making deliveries. Now a teen herself, Miyole is finally living her dream as a research assistant on her very first space voyage. If she plays her cards right, she could even be given permission to conduct her own research and experiments in her own habitat lab on the flight home. But when her ship saves a rover that has been viciously attacked by looters and kidnappers, Miyole—along with a rescued rover girl named Cassia—embarks on a mission to rescue Cassia’s abducted brother, and that changes the course of Miyole’s life forever.

Review:

If it’s one thing I’ve noted in 2015 is what a fantastic year it’s been for Young Adult science fiction: Illuminae and Scorpion Rules are in the running for the top spots on my Best of list for 2015, I’m eagerly awaiting the release of Wandering Star, the sequel to another beloved book, Zodiac. And with the increase of the science-fiction stories comes an increase in the diversity of the characters telling the stories. It’s win-win all around. And if Sound doesn’t quite reach the same heights as the first two books mentioned, it’s certainly not for a lack of trying: the bar has just been set that high.

Sound is indeed a stand-alone novel – I’d no idea it was even considered a sequel until I saw it mentioned in the summary – about a girl who is in essence so lonely, she hacks the system so she can join a space mission that she’s too young to join by several years, and in essence, the consequences of that decision. Early on the in book, the Miyole allows a pirate to escape, and subsequently blames herself for the kidnapping of Cassia’s brother which sets our plot into motion. Is it really her fault? Probably not. And the choice to go after Cassia’s brother feels like such an illogical decision, but at the same point in time, it’s just the kind of irrational decision that a teenager would actually make (in other words: there’s a reason that the minimum age for service on missions like this is eighteen!) and so our plot gets going.

There is a lot to like here: Miyole is smart and independent. We get to see her fall in love and get her heart broken by Cassia. We see her squabble with a flyer name Rubio and the eventual friendship that forms. We see her face life and death situations and find no end of bravery in her even when she herself thinks she’s just about run out. She’s an admirable main character, and you want her to pull through.

My main gripe with this story is that it feels heavy handed. We get backstory of how Miyole learned about how her Haitian ancestors rose up against indentured servants-turned slaves. So when the same thing happens in this world, what do you know, Miyole feels obliged to do something about it. Here’s the thing: it wasn’t needed. Miyole is clearly a girl with a good heart. She could have wound up in the exact same situation without that backstory and believably made the same choices and beyond that, Miyole is an orphan. Why does one of the few things we get to learn about her have to be her pride in her ancestors fight against the man, so to speak? It’s noble for sure, but it just seems like an odd thing to emphasize for a backstory.

Overall, Sound is a solid bit of sci-fi with a few lovely moments. If you’re a fan, give it a look.

Verdict: A solid borrow it

Available: Now