I wouldn't consider this a standalone - and ideally you'll read it between Dreadnought and Invincible since it takes place during the middle of Invincible.
It gives the perspective of the Syndicate World that wants to break free - and the two main characters, Iceni and Drakon, are both emboldened by but also hampered by their Syndicate upbringing. It's a fun read to see them battle their own nature to do what's right for their people.
The characters aren't carbon copies of the Alliance counterparts. They will sleep with subordinates or assasinate rivals. But at the same time, this really does have a smart set of supporting characters that are very real in their own right.
This book really is the best of both worlds - more Jack Campbell goodness but NOT a carbon copy of previous characters in the series. Refreshingly, this includes both ground based battles and space battles.
Feedback is the type of series that will rise or fail based upon the choices made for the final reveal. After book one, there was going to have to be one heck of a surprise to explain the high level of technology of the robots and the reason why the Maxfield Academy exists. Unfortunately, it felt like author Wells wrote himself into a corner and couldn't come out of the premise with enough of a unique twist. As such, I do admit to a bit of disappointment that I didn't get the payoff I was expecting at the end of Feedback. But even more problematic was the lack of impetus and action - the story is fairly static for most of the book.
Story: Benson and Becky escaped from Maxfield - only to be trapped in the village outside. Day in and out, they try to formulate escape plans. But Becky's grave injury, politics within the village, and the remote location of the Maxfield complex continually derail their plans. But while Benson learns more about the robots, they too are slowly closing in - and ready to bring Benson and Becky back into the fold.
Book 2 is very different from the first: where we had a very aggressive and strong Benson in the first, in the second we have a confused and surprisingly passive character who spends most of his time in half hearted escape attempts and mooning over Jane and Becky. In fact, not a lot happens for most of the book; we do learn more about Maxfield but never really get satisfactory answers.
I think the big problem I had with Feedback was the writing. There were a lot of times I had to reread passages to understand what was happening. 3/4 of the way through the book I gave up on the rereading and just let it go. That did distance me from the story further.
That lack of engagement - in both the writing and the plot - translated into a 3 star rating for me. A better (or more original villain) at the ending might have lifted this a star higher. I don't regret buying this but at the same time, I had hoped for more.
Note: I listened to the audible version and the narrator did a great job.
Lockwood and Co is a rare animal: a thoroughly enjoyable middle grade story that has the depth and interest to appeal to all ages, especially adults. Characters are nuanced, the plot intriguing, mysteries build upon mysteries, and there is an overall story arc that will take several books to slowly uncover. I was never interested in supernatural/ghost stories but this really does rise above the genre.
Story: For 50 years, ghosts have been a problem for England. Only the young can see/sense/fight them but the spectral visitors are returning in numbers - creating "The Problem" for modern England. Young Lucy is especially talented but an unfortunate incident has left her with no means of employment. She comes to Lockwood & Co hoping for a job fighting ghosts - but will get much more than she bargained for at the small agency.
I really appreciated that there was layer upon layer of intricacies within the plot. The whole supernatural situation is well constructed and the worldbuilding supreme. Imagine a Dickensian type of London but in a modern setting and you have a good idea of the setting. But in addition to the book-specific mystery that they solve (the Screaming Staircase), there are hints that each of the other characters have their own mysteries and skeletons in the closet. That means we have more than a 'monster of the week' plot and even more reason to anxiously await the next book. The hints are tantalizing and the books end with a very big reveal.
I've read the first two books in the series and they are both excellent - the foundation of the first book sets up more intrigue in the second. Characters are built upon from book to book and even side characters (rival agencies, government officials, etc.) are given depth and grow.
This was one of my favorite reads of the year. Note: I listened to the audible version and the narration was excellent.
Out Of The Black is an exuberant, action-packed, and wildly fun conclusion to the Odyssey One series. Although not all our questions were answered and the door was left open to continue a new series in the same world, we get a very definite conclusion as the Odyssey One crashes into Earth.
Story: Weston survives the destruction of the Odyssey One as it crashes into New York City in a last bid attempt to take out as many enemy as possible. The planet is under full assault by a massive Drasin force - from Beijing to Dallas, Cities fall to infestation and millions are dying. Weston picks up local heroes and tries to hold the City from complete destruction. But if help doesn't come, Earth will be razed. And the Priminae are very unlikely to join the battle.
Listening to this Audible reading was like watching a Bruckheimer film - over the top macho swagger, non stop action, yet in a really fun way. Sure, Weston is raised to godlike proportions - now he's a military genius, assault specialist, hidden secret agent who saved the confederation, directly linked to Mother Earth Gaia, and more. As well, his former 'covert team' is reassembled and they read like a cliche of every movie character in the past from femme fatale to James Bond. And if I make a lot of movie references in this review, it's because this book is just so cinematic. Tarantino without the blood and guts.
The entire plot of the book is the battle for Earth, told from many perspectives. There is very little Priminae here - it's all about NYPD, marines, Texas Rangers, Chinese generals, and more. There are definitely a lot of archtypes to go around.
In all, a very fun, almost silly, but ultimately enjoyable final volume in the Odyssey One series.
Stormdancer had two great things going for it: alternative universe Japan and steampunk. And if you had never been introduced to either of those worlds, then you likely would have been fascinated by the 'wealth' (read: truckload) of info dumping done to describe them. But as a long time Otaku and steampunk aficionado, I'm not impressed by the mythology or worldbuilding any more - I know it already. I want a great story first, not tell and never show. But it was all tell and I was bored to tears by this simplistic plot.
Plot: selfish jerk of a Shogun wants to show he's powerful and orders his chief beastmaster to go capture a griffin. Beastmaster and daughter (main character, Yukiko) set out on what is a hopeless task but they run into one. Griffin escapes, Yukiko uses her 'demon' powers to communicate and placate beast, they return to main City, and set out to kill evil emperor Shogun.
Right off the bat, the pace was slow, with lots of descriptions and info dumps, and the characters were very flat. There was so much loving descriptions going on about the world that it was almost annoying to have characters in that pretty place. I loved the entire concept of Lotus plants powering a steampunk type of world. And there were some great chances to really interject horror elements into the plots - demons and sacrifices and ritual deaths. But the author never stayed with the story and kind of meandered through the plot so he could show off his knowledge. This was a book that felt 600 pages long - I kept stopping and it was nearly impossible to want to return to the drudgery of endless mythology descriptions, Japanese history descriptions, societal ranking descriptions, blah blah. Especially since I was so well aware of it already anyway.
I know many will rail against how the author has portrayed Japan; but hey, it is an alternate universe. I don't mind the way he set it up at all and was fascinated by the things that were NOT authentic Japanese history. But the characters really need to live and breathe in that world and no one in the story did that. Everyone talked the same, acted the same, in very simplistic manners. There really was no subtlety or subterfuge, complexities or nuances. And that's where the story really started to drag with me. If the speaker wasn't named, it could have been ANY character that was speaking, male or female. The Achilles heel of this book was the lack of action and pace.
I listened to the Audible version and the author did a decent job, though there were some irritating tics in there. But she made it easy to differentiate between the different characters, giving them much more personality than the writer did.
The School of Good and Evil is an interesting book - what is essentially a riff on fairytales ends up being a straight adventure story lacking any of the morals upon which it is based; as such, it ends without making a point and contradicting itself and the characters throughout. Less demanding readers will read it as a simple tween romp and enjoy it as such. But more demanding readers may be frustrated by the lack of point of view by the author.
Story: Agatha and Sophie live in an isolated village in the middle of a forest. Every year, the 'headmaster' of the School for Good and Evil comes and takes two children in the night to be students in his school. Sophie eagerly wants to go: she's sure she'll be a fairy tale princess. Down to Earth Agatha, however, finds the whole thing pathetic. When both girls are taken to the school, Sophie ends up in the school for evil (to be a witch) and Agatha lands in the school for princesses. With both girls sure they are in the wrong place, how will they survive their schoolmates long enough to get back to their village?
Most of the book is a fish-out-of-water story of each girl dealing with the horrors of their situation: beautiful Sophie with the farting/warted/dowdy evils and grounded Agatha dealing with the vain and superficial princesses. There should be a lot to mine here and a lot to be said about not falling into the cliches of either group. But somehow nothing is really said - is Sophie evil in her heart? Is Agatha really purely good despite her frogs and antisocial behavior? Are the princesses, with the callous and selfishness, really good? And are the evils really born that way or made so through cruel treatment? The answer ends up muddled in each of those situations as the story mostly concerns Agatha trying to get home and Sophie stymieing her. Even a point that neither is wholly good or wholly evil fails to materialize in this muddled plot.
In listening to this Audible version (in which the narrator did an excellent job), I kept feeling like there was going to be something deeper than the shallow story on top. The story really lacked nuance, depth, and especially a POV by the author to make this really work for me.
Although only alluded to in the book, this is actually a dystopian acting as a fantasy. It's strength is fairly grounded main character who doesn't rush off constantly so she can be saved by mysterious bad guy. But it's weakness is that there really is nothing new here and the writing lacks sophistication enough to really draw me in. I never invested in the story or the characters and honestly was a bit bored throughout. It started to play out more like a bodice ripper romance than a fantasy.
Selia owns a tavern and can take care of herself - good with both blade and her brain. When she rescues a man she soon discovers is one of the reviled Svistra, she will embark on a quest that will pit her against both her people and the Svistra. At its heart, though, is her growing love of the Svistra warrior she rescued.
This dystopian world is not too terrible: clealry the Svistra are genetic mutations meant to enhance their physical abilities. This put them at odds with the normal humans, who mistrust them and continually break treaties. Author Thomas has a lot of fun with the world, imagining all kinds of mutations from whatever caused the world to revert back to medieval trappings.
But as the story progressed, I really began to lose interest. There was nothing really new added to the dystopian or fantasy genre (though I appreciate the author didn't have to spell out that this was a dystopian and not a fantasy). I honestly had read this type of plot often in historical romances, especially Scottish, and at this stage in my reading, I really want something different and more unique.
The writing is decent and I was able to follow the story well. I listened to the Audible version and the narrator did a decent job.
This is the type of book that is great for those who want a romance. Perhaps less so for those who want a fantasy or dystopian.
Born at Midnight is an unapologetically young teen oriented book that tackles issues of teen pregnancy, drugs, bullying, parent issues, and more within an urban fantasy setting. Rating this from the perspective of a teen, it's definitely a 5. But more mature readers/adults may find the messages overly heavy and the teens a bit too, well, teen. Kudos to the author for giving us authentic, confused, and realistic teens that aren't overly mature.
The story follows Kylie, a teen who, after being at a party that goes wrong, becomes guilty by association of being a druggie. Her parents are divorcing, things are falling apart fast, and now she finds herself at some dorky Summer camp. But it's not just ordinary summer camp; rather, she finds out quickly that it is a camp for kids with paranormal abilities. And she may just be paranormal herself. But not everyone is happy the camp exists, that paranormals comingle with normies, and they will work hard to destroy the camp for good.
The teens in the book feel very real. I appreciated that Kylie's parents weren't good or bad, but were dealing with their own demons and issues. As well, most of the paranormal kids were going through the same issues as normal teens - boyfriends/girlfriends, social issues, fitting in, etc. As such, the characters feel authentic and react in predictable ways. This could have been a story about the paranormal aspects but it really isn't. It's about being a teen.
I'm going to rate this a solid 4. Admittedly, as an adult, I never got into the story or the teens. But I also respect that if I had read this as a teen, I would have absolutely loved it.
I listened to the audible version of this and the narrator did an excellent job.
Terms of Enlistment is by no means a perfect book but it was one I enjoyed immensely: a non blustery military sci fi that isn't in love with its tech, its military, or right wing politics. Rather, we have an everyman navigating the military as a way out of a dead end life on welfare, who won't suddenly end up captaining a ship or becoming an insta-leader. As well, I appreciated that we didn't have a gender-specific army but instead had capable roles for male and female characters. I read the second book in the series, Lines of Departure, first and liked it enough to buy this first book.
Story: Andrew Grayson joins the military as a way out of an untenable life in the welfare system of the North American government. He will go through training school and then end up tackling the problematic situation of the deteriorating social structure on Earth. But what is happening on Earth is only one problem in a universe that is about to expand rapidly - and the military is suddenly going to become very needed.
What I liked about the books is that we have a very ordinary guy. Although he sounds far too educated to have come from a welfare system in which he didn't get higher education (there are no colloquialisms, slang, dialects, etc.) I actually preferred that simple talk for a simple man. Both this first book and the second book start slowly but really pick up steam by midway through. And then, when the action kicks in, Kloos really knows how to escalate it - his characters don't have bad days, they have *really* bad days.
This is the type of story that isn't about kick butt marines, balls out action, or being macho. It's about being lucky to survive, a feeling of futility but also hope, and living in a world on the brink of falling apart on many levels.
I listened to the audible version of this and enjoyed the narration.
Dualed is the type of book that created an ambivalence in me; on the one hand, there are quite a few items in there that bucks YA dystopian trends (she's an assassin, for example, and by definition, NOT a unique snowflake). But on the other hand, yet again we have a 'too good to be real/never gets upset' and 'ignore best advice and do your own thing' syndromes. What keeps this at a firm 3 stars for me is that a lot of the middle feels like filler to flesh out a basic premise.
Story: West lives in a post apocalyptic society where each person is created with an exact duplicate. The society prides itself on defense preparedness and a competition in the teen years means that every 'partial' will eventually have to kill their duplicate in order to become complete and join society. West has lost most of her family to partial kills or from collateral damage of someone else's kill. Alone, she chooses to become a Striker, an assassin for hire to take out other people's duplicates. She hopes this training will prepare her to face her own trial/assignment; which comes sooner than she would have hoped.
Honestly, after the premise of the story is revealed, I expected a long drawn cat and mouse where our main character would have to outwit her opponent. Instead, West spends most of the book avoiding having to meet up with her duplicate and being saved by her love interest, Chord. This was problematic since the problem of her duplicate was far more interesting than her becoming a Striker/assassin. Indeed, the author failed to show any 'training' she received as a result of being a Striker (she was thrown out into assignment immediately) and perhaps the only thing she learned was that hesitation is deadly. But really, the experience of killing a 'hit' was different than killing your duplicate/alt since you can blend as a Striker but everyone knows when you are in the middle of your assignment to kill your alt.
I had expected we would get a lot of morally-hesitant kills (e.g., killing bad people or people who 'deserved' it) and was pleasantly surprised the author refused to take the easy route. But with West's own alt, I felt it would have been better to make her a more sympathetic (or even better) character than alt. That would have put a lot more ambiguity and better message about the dystopian society. Instead, if West kills her alt, she can say she was the worthy one - and the dystopian society's policies become sound and sanctioned.
In the end, the conflicting messages (dystopian killing society is right), daring plot devices (she kills innocents!), and lack of logic (if you do something to get training in weapons/killing, then GET the training already) make this a solid 3 stars.
Note: I listened to the Audible version of this story and the narrator did an excellent job.
The Lost Sun is a book that defies so many YA conventions: unapologetically violent, a very low key romance, and for once, a story that is not about an entitled unique snowflake girl. As well, the world building is unique, the voice dark yet grounded, and the main character flawed but with unique strengths. At heart, this is a road trip with a decided conclusion at the end despite being the first in a series.
In the United States of Asgard, Viking gods walk the Earth and magic, trolls, and mythos are very much a part of the landscape. Soren is the son of a berserker - one who went mad and killed innocents before being put down. His father was legendary for his valor and strength; now for his fall from grace. In that shadow, Soren wishes freedom from the berserker ability within him. When he meets Astrid, a seer, he will join her on a quest to find the lost sun Baldur the Beautiful; Baldur did not rise with the sunrise and the people are worried. But there is far more at stake than one lost god and Soren, along with Astrid, will come into contact with several of the Gods as they are caught up in Asgardian machinations.
The premise of having a modern America under Viking influence rather than European is quite distinct and well realized here. From the new names of cars, to unique soft drinks, to the way society reacts and acts; they are all logical conclusions to the Asgardian influence. The book is layered and nuanced but would ultimately fail if we didn't invest in the main characters. Fortunately, Gratton does an excellent job of giving us realistic and grounded individuals despite the supernatural elements in the story.
There was such a plausibility and authenticity to the characters and setting that we invested in the world and wanted to see if they would reach their goals at the end. There were a few twists, some were obvious, but overall the story followed a satisfying arc and the author neither overwrote nor overplayed the mysteries.
In all, a great read and I eagerly await the second in the series. Note: I listened to the Audible version and the narrator did an excellent job.
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