Tag Archive: book review


Most self-help books are notoriously vague and wishy-washy, with one-size-fits-all recommendations and generic assurance that everything will be okay.

“Superproductive” by Chobi Grace is not one of those books. Unlike most other works in that genre, it gives plenty of practical advice (throw your TV remote in a drawer!), psychological insights into why you do the things you do, and nifty ways to hack your daily routine to make it more productive without using up too much of your resources.

At just 50 pages, the book contains all the useful information without the fluff that one usually finds in self-help books. The stories and parables in the book are short, sweet and to the point (the parable about angels was particularly amusing). The book’s illustrations and design make it a lot more appealing than most self-published books on Kindle, which makes it both a visual and an intellectual treat.

If you’ve ever wondered where all your free time goes, or if you’ve always dreamed of writing that Great American Novel, you should give “Superproductive” a chance – it will not disappoint you.

Score: five stars

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“Time Travel: Recent Trips” is yet another sci-fi anthology edited by the prodigious Paula Guran. While this book has some remarkable stories, it appears that the volume’s motto was “quantity over quality.” Some of the stories are downright tedious, while others have almost nothing to do with time travel and serve as a filibuster platform for their author. Because of all that, the book ended up being an average, run-of-the-mill anthology that gets only 3 out of 5 stars.

“With fate conspire” by Vandana Singh: in a dystopian, drowning world of the future, an illiterate refugee gets rescued because her brain is uniquely tuned to a machine that can look into the distant past. When she’s not being haunted by ghosts of people from the past, she sabotages the project because of her feelings. And more feelings. With some feelings on top. A sad weepy story if you’re into that sort of thing.

“Twember” by Steve Rasnic Tem: a middle-aged man living in a small town reminisces about the past while giant mysterious escarpments roam the world and alter the time-space continuum when they pass. Yet another “human interest” story that doesn’t exactly revolve around time travel.

“The man who ended history: a documentary” by Ken Liu: not so much a sci-fi story as a 46-page-long (the longest in the anthology!) NC-17 history lesson about Japan’s Unit-731 from World War II. A Chinese-American historian uses his Japanese-American wife’s invention to experience the past and relive old atrocities, which reopens old wounds and changes the way people view history. Great potential for a great story, but it ended up being rather dry.

“The carpet beds of Sutro Park” by Kage Baker: a glitchy immortal cyborg (see Kage Baker’s “The Company” series for more information) falls in love with a woman while he records her hometown for posterity. Original but depressing.

“Mating habits of the late Creaceous” by Dale Bailey: a magnificent story about a married couple that spent all its money on a time travel to see dinosaurs. A great combination of science fiction, giant lizards and the human element.

“Blue ink” by Yoon Ha Lee: a very clever story about a schoolgirl who gets recruited to help fight the battle at the end of time. Short, beautifully written and with an unexpected ending.

“Two shots from Fly’s photo gallery” by John Shirley: a historian who specializes in the Old West time-travels to the gunfight at the OK Corral to save the woman he loves. A thoroughly researched and excellent story.

“The mists of time” by Tom Purdom: an engaging story about a wealthy man who goes back in time to shoot a documentary about his great-grandfather liberating a pirate ship full of slaves.

“The king of Where-I-go” by Howard Waldrop: a strange story set in the 1970s – a Texan guy’s younger sister gets recruited into a paranormal research project. Curious premise, but the story itself meanders – more about life in the 60s and 70s than anything else.

“Bespoke” by Genevieve Valentine: a cute short story about a post-time-travel world, where a young seamstress helps create authentic period clothing for wealthy tourists going back in time.

“First Flight” by Mary Robinette Kowal: a little old lady goes back in time to 1905 to record one of the Wright brothers’ flights. A feel-good story where, for once, interfering with the timeline doesn’t cause a disaster.

“The time travel club” by Charlie Jane Anders: a quirky story about a group of friends who meet each week in the basement of a Unitarian church and share their made-up stories about time travel, until a real time traveler shows up… Fun and creative.

“The ghosts of Christmas” by Paul Cornell: science fiction meets Lifetime channel in this story about a woman who uses an experimental time travel device to haunt her own past and future, her mather and her daughter. A lot of monologues about feelings, not a lot of science…

“The Ile of Dogges” by Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette: a very Kage Baker-like story about a time traveler rescuing a play that would have been destroyed otherwise.

“September at Wall and Broad” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch: an excellent story that combines the inefficiency of federal bureaucracies (the Time Department), the highly believable description of what it would be like to be a timestream operative, and the little-known Wall Street explosion of 1920. Highly recommended.

“Thought experiment” by Eileen Gunn: an engineer invents an unusual way to time-travel, but fails to consider the consequences. A goofy and entertaining story.

“Number 73 Glad Avenue” by Suzanne J. Willis: A woman and her magical tiny android sidekick steal time from people attending their parties. An unusual concept, though the story itself is a bit confusing.

“The Lost Canal” by Michael Moorcock: an unsuccessful and far too lengthy homage to Edgar Rice Burroughs’s “John Carter of Mars” novels. Apparently, a million years from now people will still speak English and remember what happened in the 20th century and what happened in the 23rd.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

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The third and final book in the Immortal trilogy is fun to read and hard to put down. Adam, the immortal with a snarky attitude and a penchant for alcoholism, gets in trouble once again, but this time the enemy isn’t someone he can track down and stop. Between the CIA, the goblin assassins and very nearly omniscient international conglomerates, there’s not a lot he can do to get out of his predicament.

“Immortal at the edge of the world” ties up some loose ends from the first book (while featuring a couple of characters introduced in the second book) and, most importantly, reveals the identity of Eve, the immortal red-haired woman from Adam’s past. Just about everything that takes place in this book was directly caused by the events at the end of the first book in the series, which only goes to show you – just because you slaughter an entire compound full of bad guys, doesn’t mean you’ll get away scot-free.

The book follows the same formula as the two before it: flashbacks at the beginning of each chapter (fortunately not typed in ALL CAPS, like they were in the second book), snarky observations about today’s world, wacky adventures involving mythological creatures, and action. Lots and lots of action. The immortal man is particularly vulnerable in this book…

That said, the book is not without flaws. The big revelation about Eve at the very end isn’t something you’d ever be able to guess, and the way it’s played out is rather unexpected and anticlimactic. (Much like the ending of Patrick Lee’s “Breach” trilogy.) Also, despite all of his experience and knowledge, our hero is still a bit of a dummy: when given an important, allegedly magical artifact, he goofs around with it for months before finally giving it his undivided attention at the very last possible moment. While the book is overall enjoyable, those two things are why I’m giving it four stars instead of five.

Score: four stars

(Disclaimer: I received my copy from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.)

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The second book in Gene Doucette’s “Immortal” trilogy suffers from the classic case of author fatigue: when your editor is pressing you for a sequel and when your devoted fans will buy anything to read more about their favorite character, the motivation to write the Great American Novel may not be there…

(See also: the disappointing sequel to Justin Cronin’s “The Passage.”)

The story is fairly simple: an oracle tells our favorite immortal that he’s about to die. In the meantime, a series of strange events that may or may not be related to his past in ancient Greece happen to our protagonist, leaving him seemingly no choice but to jump back into the fray.

The ingredients from the first book all seem to be there: an immortal alcoholic? check; snarky observations about civilization? check; bizarre events that don’t quite add up until the very end? check… sort of. There are far fewer flashbacks to the olden days and a lot more seemingly irrelevant (at first, at least) preludes to each chapter. They’re written IN ALL CAPS, which gets very tiresome very quickly, especially as they get longer with each chapter. They make sense in the end, but it’s not very reader-friendly.

Unlike its prequel, “Hellenic Immortal” doesn’t quite have the same black-and-white moral dilemma where the world’s fate is on the line. Throughout the book, and up to the very end, I kept wondering why Adam couldn’t just walk away. After all, he did that a lot earlier in his life. This book reminds me of the joke I heard about “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark: if Indie stayed home and didn’t do anything, the outcome would have been exactly the same. All that running and getting shot at was for nothing. (Sorry, Indie fans!)

I wouldn’t recommend this book, unless you were a huge fan of the first book and wanted to speed-read through it on your way to book three.

Final score: three stars

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Daryl Gregory’s “We Are All Completely Fine” is a short novel (or a long novella) about the world’s most dysfunctional group. Its five members feature a retired monster hunter, a gamer that got more he bargained for, a survivor of a cannibal massacre, a woman whose bones have intricate (but unknown) carvings and a goth girl who is literally (monster) jail bait.

The book is told from different perspectives (5 protagonists, later joined by their therapist). Each voice is unique and individualistic, which isn’t always easy to pull off. Each story is different and unique in its own way, and in the end they all come together for an action-filled finale that shows what happens when more or less regular people try to save the world. (Think “Mystery Men.”)

“We Are All Completely Fine” accomplishes what Chuck Palahniuk’s “Haunted” failed to do: it weaves different stories about damaged people together into a curious narrative which, in addition to spooky horror, also features some humor and unexpected LOL-worthy moments.

If you’re a fan of H.P.Lovecraft or just like interesting, otherworldly fiction, you just might like this book.

Score: 5 stars

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(Disclaimer: this book was provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review)

What would you do if you were functionally immortal and immune to all disease and infection? (But not to sticks and stones and bullets.) The protagonist of Gene Doucette’s “Immortal” does the most logical thing: he becomes a raging alcoholic who drinks his way through thousands of years of human history while trying to stay out of trouble.

Unfortunately, with great lifespan comes great eloquence: our hero is a blabbermouth and as a result, everyone and their dog knows that there’s an immortal guy wandering the world. In today’s modern world, where everything is interconnected and bad guys stay in touch, that could be a problem…

The novel’s narrative starts out in a prison/laboratory, with our unlucky hero looking back at the events that led to his predicament, with occasional flashbacks to his adventures (or misadventures, rather) centuries ago. Vampires, demons, pixies and dragons are real (but magic is not), and Adam (as he currently calls himself) had plenty of run-ins with them over the ages.

If you enjoyed the TV show Highlander but liked Methos more than Duncan MacLeod, you just might enjoy this book: the main character is wily, clever, snarky, provides a lot of hilarious and contrarian opinions on historical events, and firmly believes that discretion is the better part of valor.

I couldn’t put this book down once I started reading it and I can’t recommend it highly enough. 🙂

(The book was provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

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“Reach for infinity” is yet another interesting anthology of hard (or at the very least mildly squishy) science fiction. Edited by Jonathan Strahan, it features mostly optimistic stories of humanity in space. The sub-genres vary from hard science fiction with sleek metal androids to tales for young adults. All of them are beautifully written, guaranteed to appeal to just about any audience and provide a refreshing humanist perspective on the frequently dark and gloomy tropes of science fiction.

Brief (and spoiler-free!) story synopses:
“Break My Fall” by Greg Egan – running a space shuttle from Earth to Mars isn’t the safest job. A tale of a space-faring captain.

“The Dust Queen” by Aliette de Bodard – if you could numb your brain and block certain memories forever, would you? And how much would you be willing to sacrifice to recover those memories later on?

“The Fifth Dragon” by Ian Mcdonald – a tale of two women working on the moon. Love, friendship, money and grandiose plans combine in this bittersweet story.

“Kheldyu” by Karl Schroeder – yet another short story featuring Gennady Malianov, a Ukrainian contractor who specializes in cleaning up other people’s messes (even if involves shooting radioactive camels in the Gobi desert). In this story, a seemingly innocuous launch of a giant CO2-filtering tower in Siberia is only a prelude to something much bigger…

“Report Concerning the Presence of Seahorses on Mars” by Pat Cadigan – a highly detailed and fleshed-out human interest story about human settlements on Mars and how they’d develop after decades spent away from Earth. A very light read that ends up covering a subject one doesn’t see a lot in science fiction.

“Hiraeth: A Tragedy in Four Acts” by Karen Lord – no matter how hard you try, once you leave Earth, sooner or later you’ll get hiraeth (space psychosis). The only viable option is to make yourself less human and more cyborg… A rather sad story about a prototype cyborg and his journey.

“Amicae Aeternum” by Ellen Klages – when you’re about to embark on a centuries-long journey to another planet, how do you say goodbye to Earth or to your best friend? A touching young adult story.

“Trademark Bugs: A Legal History” by Adam Robers – probably the most unusual story in the entire anthology. If you don’t mind the somewhat dry style, you’ll enjoy this tale of pharmaceutical companies who make their money by infecting (and curing! eventually…) people on regular basis. The story itself is a summary of legal cases for and against this development. Dark, clever and entirely plausible in this strange new world of ours.

“Attitude” by Linda Nagata – a young adult-ish story about an immensely popular brand new sport that’s played in zero gravity on a giant orbital platform. The profits are used to expand the platform, but what happens when the organizers of the game that prides itself on ethics and integrity have to choose between profits and fairness? This story would have made a great novella – it feels like the author had to chop off a few parts due to its length.

“Invisible Planets” by Hannu Rajaniemi – inspired by Italo Calvino’s book “Invisible Cities,” this story is about a spaceship talking to a part of its programming about all the strange and different planets they’ve visited.

“Wilder Still, the Stars” by Kathleen Ann Goonan – a tale of replicant-like artifically altered humans who have incredible talents but no rights, no egos, no self-awareness. A 130-year-old woman who dreams of stars makes it her goal to help her new friends.

“The Entire Immense Superstructure: An Installation” by Ken MacLeod – in a futuristic world where one can’t get by without cybernetic lenses, where the rich live in orbital hotels and the poor survive in self-regulating nanotechnological WikiThing compounds, an artist who suffered a nervous meltdown after an expedition to Antarctica decides to go off the grid and make a statement.

“In Babelsberg” by Alastair Reynolds – a beautifully written and increasingly creepy story about a space-faring android tasked with exploring the Solar System.

“Hotshot” by Peter Watts – in a world where the existence of free will has been disproven and Earth is becoming uninhabitable, thousands of kids are conditioned to take part in a (very) long-term space diaspora project.

Score: 5 stars

Pre-order on Amazon (release date: May 27)

Garry Abbott’s “Dimension Scales and Other Stories” is a quirky collection of short sci-fi stories. Perhaps I’m too used to “hard” science fiction with aliens, robots and lasers, or maybe science fiction in the UK is really that much different from its American counterpart, but I found most stories to be an unusual diversion from usual tropes. A lot of them feature regular people in regular situations with some science fiction thrown in for flavor. The only two issues I have with the anthology are the author’s occasional political biases (all rich people are bad; large news organizations are evil) and the fact that some stories don’t work well on their own. Most stories in the collection are tied together and work best if you read them all. (For example, the time traveler’s story is split into two.) That could be a bit confusing if you like to take time with your stories and read them one at a time. Overall, however, this is a creative compilation that deserves a solid 4-star rating.

Brief reviews of the stories:
“The Diary of Derek Froggat, The Accidental Time-Traveller” – a pretty good take on what would happen if a typical person from the 21st century ended up in 1670
“Black Swarm” – in Soviet Russia (and/or England), the ants exterminate you!
“Love in the Shell” – what would it be like to fall in love with a sketchy artificial intelligence?
“Cry Again Army” – what do you give to somebody who already has everything? The future, of course! A story about the mega-rich and their plan to time-travel through cryogenics
“The Drawing Room” – a very short story about a medical check-up gone horribly wrong.
“The Dimension Scales” – a misunderstood mad genius tries to get some attention.
“Alex, Boudicca and Benny the Bear” – probably my favorite story. The scene in the Museum of War, where a hologram of Alexander the Great chats with a cybernetic teddy bear, was pure gold.
“Animals Attack: Parts I to IV” – when all the animals turn on all the humans, a few survivors barricade a stadium and create their own society.
“The Next Level” – more of a thriller than a sci-fi story, about the nature of power and the morality of politicians.
“Newsbot Serial One” – what happens if you overthrow the news media and try to make the news perfectly objective by outsourcing it to robots?
“The Beep Next Door” – have you ever been bothered by incessant beeping coming from your neighbor’s apartment? You may not want to investigate it after reading this story.
“Scalp” – a highly unorthodox approach to growing pineapples in England. (For science!)
“The Day the Stars Moved” – I’m not sure this qualifies as science fiction per se… A story about an ordinary girl with an ordinary life who glimpses something extraordinary.
“The Voice of Strad” – the accidental time traveler time-travels again and pays Antonio Stradivari a visit.

Score: 4 stars

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The contents of ARV-3 by Cameo Renae are as dull and unimaginative as its title. It’s a strange mix of the Young Adult and science fiction genres – a clone of Twilight novels that borrowed much of its plot from Fallout video games and whose protagonist is a cheap knock-off of Katniss Everdeen from Hunger Games.

The plot is fairly simple: a giant solar flare destroys the planet’s electric grid and causes every nuclear power plant to overheat and blow up. The government doesn’t have enough time to produce a stable anti-radiation vaccine and gives several million people the untested version, which turns them into bloodthirsty cannibals (a la “28 Days Later”) obsessed with revenge. They roam the dead planet’s surface, waiting for their chance to kill the few survivors that hid in underground vaults – or hives, as the author calls them.

The plot, with all its radiation and monsters and underground vaults, appears to have been “borrowed” from old Fallout games, though there’s still the outside chance the author might have come up with it herself. The protagonist is Abigail “Abi” Parks, a 17-year-old girl whose obsession with a 19-year-old boy from her hive is surpassed only by her phenomenal sharpshooting skills. The book follows the misadventures of her hive’s 15 members as they get back to the surface after 13 years and try to get to another, bigger hive.

I had to force myself to finish this book and despite all my efforts, I didn’t find a single creative thought or a witty line of dialogue – not even a memorable quote. The Young Adult angle is hard to believe. (Abi and her boyfriend are in their late teens and never even thought of kissing.) The science aspect (the novel claims to be science fiction, after all) is laughable: the deadly radiation that killed everything on the planet apparently goes away after just 13 years. (Great news, y’all! Chernobyl should be safe to live in again!)

The book is plagued with an overabundance of typos, spelling errors, terrible punctuation, etc. The characters are dull, one-dimensional and even speak the same way.

The plot itself is riddled with holes and features some mighty inconsistent writing: even though all the plants and animals in the world died, three buff cowboys appear out of nowhere at some point in the middle of the book. (They must have been living off photosynthesis!) At one point, an army captain starts taking orders from a sergeant. Later on, we find out that the government has been training survivors and fighting irradiated mutants for 13 years, even though they discovered the mutants’ existence only 3 weeks ago. (Let’s do the time warp again!) At one point, 15 survivors pack up a month’s worth of food and water (about 450 gallons of water 1,350 meals?) and manage to fit it on a cart that they lug behind them. The protagonist’s father is a former NASA scientist and an expert on living off the grid, but he somehow forgets that there’s a large city only miles away from his bunker. (“Gee, where did that come from? Guess we’ll have to go through it now.” – I’m paraphrasing, but the gist is the same.)

Oddly enough, ARV-3 has 75 reviews on Amazon, and almost all of them give the book 4 or 5 stars. I suppose that just goes to show you that if you have enough fans, you can get away with writing just about anything.

Score: 1 star

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(This is a spoiler-free review of an advance reading copy provided by the publisher.)

Joe Abercrombie’s “Half a King” is a mutant love child of Hamlet and Oliver Twist. It’s what you’d get if Joss Whedon decided to write a fantasy novel. It’s delicious.

The protagonist, Yarvi, is the ugly duckling of his royal family: born with a deformed hand, his only path in life is to become a minister and advise his older brother, who is obviously going to become the king. At least that was the plan, until both Yarvi’s brother and his father were killed in battle. What happens when a painfully shy teenager with serious self-esteem issues and no leadership skills becomes a king? Nothing good, that’s what.

Yarvi’s misadventures make for a highly addictive rollercoaster narrative as he goes from one worst-case scenario to another, getting an occasional bit of good luck that never lasts long enough. Abercrombie skillfully shows the protagonist’s growth and development as he’s forced to make hard choices and determine who his true friends are, and what he would (or wouldn’t) do for them. The story goes to some mighty dark places, but always stops just short of hopeless despair, keeping the reader engaged, enthralled and entertained.

By far my favorite thing about the book was an overabundance of medieval-style aphorisms. (Think Benjamin Franklin in the 1100s.) Inconspicuously scattered throughout the book, they help make the barbaric “might is right” atmosphere that much more believable. There are several interesting plot twists that can easily be missed and that provide “a-ha!” moments toward the end. The most attentive readers might be able to notice a couple of clues and put together a very unusual science fiction Easter egg that has no bearing on the plot but makes me wish for a sequel that would shed some light on the mystery.

The only gripe I have with “Half a King” is its use of the Rambo trope: warriors that spent several years in chains turn into mean, lean killing machines the moment they break free. Then again, I suppose it was either that or several dozen pages of medieval swordplay montage and physical therapy (also featuring swordplay because, you know, fantasy and stuff). Aside from that minor blight, “Half a King” was probably one of the best fantasy novels I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.

Score: 5 stars

Release date: July 15, 2014

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