Great collection of sci fi short stories

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Are you living in a simulation?

If you aren’t now, you soon will be. The technology is fast approaching, and within our lifetimes the vast majority of humanity may be plugged into their own private worlds, living out dreams indistinguishable from reality. It sounds like a paradise. But even paradise has its price.  Restricted Fantasies is a collection of short stories about lives lived inside and outside of virtual reality. The advent of simulated realities raises questions of philosophy and technology that drive at the core of our nature as humans—and in the tradition of classic sci-fi, the stories in this collection wrestle with these questions and with the shape of things to come.  (From Goodreads)

I hardly read short stories. I picked this one up because I was in a major sci fi withdrawal and needed something to read in that genre (plus I was going through a major synthwave moment – still am and needed the reading material to compliment the music)

So I’ll break down by story and grade each one.

Seven Minutes in Heaven (5/5)

I loved this blend of keeping tabs on people and making it into a highly addictive game. I’d probably join in on the fun too and feel like I’m contributing to society at the same time amassing enough points to battle that dragon. I’d be addicted just like the guy in this story.

Restricted Fantasies (5/5)

Disturbing but a good one. Imagine going into someone’s twisted world (ie: Where Nazis reign supreme) where he’s made a home in a camp and made himself King. You’d want to take the little girls out of that horrible environment too.

Panopticon (5/5)

A prison setting with an all seeing computer. The little twist in the end almost made me want to weep. I don’t know whether to congratulate on the deviousness of the plan, or to cry because of the gullibility of the other character. Still really good to read.

Second Honeymoon (3.5/5)

This one was okay. A bit of a cheap laugh because of the ending. The honeymoon was long over before it started with this couple. The idea behind it is amazing though. Who wouldn’t want to be in a virtual world where a dreamy pirate comes to rescue you 😉

Irish Grudge (2/5 )

I didn’t like this one. The guy had a lot of anger and resentment issues, lots of ambition and the whole story was just him ranting out. Meh.

First Contact (3.5/5)

This felt like longer than the rest of the stories. It was pretty good and interesting as it dealt with space exploration (apparently it’s a big huge competition) the ending would probably elicit a giggle or two – can you imagine being credited for discovering aliens in a massive love fest?

The Only Way Out is Down (4 / 5)

Another one where the ending made me laugh. You get that one person to ruin everything and you tell yourself it’s because of these immature people, this is why we can’t have nice awesome things. I loved the idea of world creation until that one person comes to ruin it all with stupidity.

Cheat Code (5/5)

I really liked this one! It’s almost like the sci-fi version of the Monkey’s Paw! The wishes just get more insane as the story progresses. You wouldn’t think of it but there is such thing as too much and too many wishes.

Rumspringa (1/5 )

My least favorite. I didn’t care too much for the main character who came off pretty whiny and behaved like a lovesick cow. And she falls for it again too, to add to the frustration. It was drawn out and just felt too long and filled with self pity. My least favorite story in this collection.

Smartest Guy in the Room (5/5)

You really feel for the guy here. Intelligent, a bit on the anti social side, his condescending view on everyone is off putting and he does sort of get his comeuppance in the end. But just when he thought he’s ready to put some real effort into society he gets the shaft. It’s funny and ironic at the same time.

Pleasuredome (1/5)

My other least favorite. It’s just a narration on how he just love spending time in his fantasy world. You do get a bit of the background on where the world is headed and we’re pretty much doomed, but this story didn’t really do justice and it was all about the character having a blast.

Overall a few duds but the majority of the short stories were excellent. Definitely recommended and worth the time to read.

I give it an 8 out of 10.

Thanks Netgalley for the review copy!

 

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More of an Adventure, needs more spooky…

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In 1892, New Fiddleham, New England, things are never quite what they seem, especially when Abigail Rook and her eccentric employer, R. F. Jackaby, are called upon to investigate the supernatural. First, members of a particularly vicious species of shape-shifters disguise themselves as a litter of kittens. A day later, their owner is found murdered, with a single mysterious puncture wound to her neck. Then, in nearby Gad’s Valley, dinosaur bones from a recent dig go missing, and an unidentifiable beast attacks animals and people, leaving their mangled bodies behind. Policeman Charlie Cane, exiled from New Fiddleham to the valley, calls on Abigail for help, and soon Abigail and Jackaby are on the hunt for a thief, a monster, and a murderer.  (From Goodreads)

So it may help to read the first one in order to grasp a bit of understanding of the character relationships and the overall plot (there’s a main one underneath the layers here)

***Possible spoilers here you’ve been warned***

I loved the first one, really liked the characters and Jackaby’s quirkiness. With this one though, it’s a different type of case, albeit still with a supernatural/fantastical element but it felt like you were reading an Indiana Jones type of adventure. Which is all right and it made things different and interesting but I was looking forward to something a little more darker and spookier.

However, the adventure aspect with the missing bones was still well written and enjoyable to read. It took more of a comedic tone and I enjoyed the fighting between Lamb and Horner over the bones while poor Charlie seems to be always stuck in the middle of each argument. Abigail really shined in this one with her passion of dinosaur bones, she was in her element and showed how much she loved doing the job despite the obstacles she had because of her father and society. She really stepped up and developed a lot in this book.

And yes! She breaks the tension with Charlie!!! Finally! It was all throughout the novel until she finally took matters into her own hands. I like them both together. They seem to complement each other well enough even though it seems she has a much more determined and strong minded temperament whereas Charlie is more mellow and laid back. Well maybe Abigail will slowly bring him out of his shell?

What I enjoyed the most about this plot is there’s an even deeper and darker story underneath and this was just a diversion. That pale man is creepy and I hope it gets explored more in the next book as it features Jenny’s story too. This was a fun read but I’ll be happier going onto much darker things in the story.

I give it a 6 out of 10.

 

Anything Assassin’s Must Be Good

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In the kingdom of Lovero, nine rival Families of assassins lawfully kill people for a price. As a highly skilled member of one of these powerful clans, seventeen-year-old Lea Saldana has always trusted in the strength of her Family. Until she awakens to find them murdered and her home in flames. The Da Vias, the Saldanas’ biggest enemy, must be responsible—and Lea should have seen it coming. But her secret relationship with the Da Vias’ son, Val, has clouded her otherwise killer instinct—and given the Da Vias more reason than ever to take her Family down. Racked with guilt and shattered over Val’s probable betrayal, Lea sets out to even the score, with her heart set on retaliation and only one thought clear in her mind: make the Da Vias pay.  (From Goodreads)

This book reminds me so much of Assassin’s Creed. I LOVED IT!

***Spoilers ahead you’ve been warned***

The world building is really well done with different Families pitted against each other and each one wanting to rise up in the ranks to gain more influence and power. There’s elements of fantasy, as it also involves deities and Gods (each city has their own patron deity). Lea has Safraella for example, who happens to be the Goddess of her city and protects her followers from the ghosts that frequent outside during the night. I loved this concept as it kept the world interesting and played a large role in Lea’s character.

Speaking of Lea. I really enjoyed her as a character. She’s fiercely loyal, headstrong, and her skills are on point. She’s a survivor and once she sets her goals, she does it. Despite all she goes through, she continues to keep going. I love her devotion to Safraella. It may seem fanatical to some but it’s what kept her advancing into her plot for revenge. (Also, she wouldn’t have the drive to go find Les and Marcello)

Although I rather liked Lea and Val together but well he just had to go ahead and do that thing didn’t he but well, Family before family right? Les and Lea were all right. Not the ideal chemistry that I thought she had with Val, but it’s still sweet nevertheless. I can’t say I enjoyed reading the romance in the book though. It felt awkward and out of the place (do we really have time for this when revenge is priority??) and I didn’t care too much for reading about that. I preferred the plotting and surprises that were in store for Lea with the Da Vias.

Aside from the awkward moments of romance, the plot itself was great. It’s got good amounts of action and drama to keep the reading going, and the excellent world building really helps in this case. I especially liked the encounter with Lea and the Goddess Safraella herself. The last third part of the book closed nicely (bwahaha! Revenge was sweet!!!!)

I’m looking forward to the second book, I’d like to know what happens next considering what Lea chose to do.

I give it an 8 out of 10.

 

Creepy Russian Dolls…

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Finn and Layla are young, in love, and on vacation. They’re driving along the highway when Finn decides to stop at a service station to use the restroom. He hops out of the car, locks the doors behind him, and goes inside. When he returns Layla is gone—never to be seen again. That is the story Finn told to the police. But it is not the whole story. Ten years later Finn is engaged to Layla’s sister, Ellen. Their shared grief over what happened to Layla drew them close and now they intend to remain together. Still, there’s something about Ellen that Finn has never fully understood. His heart wants to believe that she is the one for him…even though a sixth sense tells him not to trust her. Then, not long before he and Ellen are to be married, Finn gets a phone call. Someone from his past has seen Layla—hiding in plain sight. There are other odd occurrences: Long-lost items from Layla’s past that keep turning up around Finn and Ellen’s house. Emails from strangers who seem to know too much. Secret messages, clues, warnings. If Layla is alive—and on Finn’s trail—what does she want? And how much does she know? (From Goodreads)

First of all I will not look at Russian Dolls the same again. They’ve greatly increased in the creep factor thanks to this book. (It’s a good thing!)

I enjoyed reading this one as throughout the novel you’re always second guessing yourself and just when you think you got it right, something else happens and you’re guessing again. Loved the twists and endless possibilities with this plot! I thought it enhanced quite a few things once Layla’s point of view is introduced because this is where it gets more complex and things start going a bit darker and uglier.

Ellen’s behavior was frustrating. You felt right up there with Finn sometimes because of her bouncing back and forth in opinions and it added more to Finn’s stress (although, it now makes sense as you head towards the ending) It’s definitely felt as it takes its’ toll on Finn. It’s hard to sympathize with him. He does have a temper and his personality and reasoning makes it hard to like him. He rather treats Ellen as a means to an end and his obsession with Layla reaches a disturbing factor.

The book is a quick read and engages the reader. I enjoyed the last bit in the end of the book, it’s well thought out and brings everything to a nice close. I liked how it kept me guessing and the thriller elements are well placed to keep the reading going.

Definitely recommended for a good thriller read!

I give it an 8 out of 10.

Thank you St Martin’s Press for a review copy!

When a Finale is Disappointing…

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A war to the death. Empress Adele has launched a grand crusade against the vampire clans of the north. Prince Gareth, the vampire lord of Scotland, serves the Equatorian cause, fighting in the bloody trenches of France in his guise as the dashing Greyfriar. But the human armies are pinned down, battered by harsh weather and merciless attacks from vampire packs. To even the odds, Adele unleashes the power of her geomancy, a fearsome weapon capable of slaughtering vampires in vast numbers. However, the power she expends threatens her own life even as she questions the morality of such a weapon.  As the war turns ever bloodier and Adele is threatened by betrayal, Gareth faces a terrible choice. Their only hope is a desperate strike against the lord of the vampire clans–Gareth’s brother, Cesare. It is a gamble that could win the war or signal the final days of the Greyfriar. (from Goodreads)

***Possible spoilers you’ve been warned***

I don’t know what happened in this one. The first two books were excellent and fun to read. It got you looking forward to the final installment and wanting a nice close to the series. This one falls short. Drastically.

You get smidgens of action here and there but the bulk of the novel is Gareth and Adele having cheesy love sick conversation about their relationship and what the future holds for them. The setting changes throughout the book but they keep talking about the same bloody thing over and over again. It’s a bloody record that’s been scratched and you can’t turn it off.

Adele goes on the major pity party and gets whiny. I don’t know how she managed to pull this 360 when the first two books she was an excellent character to read. Now all of a sudden it’s “poor me” and “What about Gareth?” “Everybody is leaving me. Wah. Wah. Wah” Oh lordy Adele. Shut up. You’re an Empress. Act like it.

The geomancy theory was okay and interesting but there wasn’t much to it. Sure Adele, let’s destroy the vampire race right? okay good. Save humans. Yay. Oh wait your boyfriend is a vampire but hey! he’s okay with the massive genocide you’re doing. Yeah! that’s great! Thumbs up Gareth! we’re voting for you next time around!

The most disappointing factor of all was the inner vampire plotting was left to a few pages here and there and it lacked any substance. Cesare barely made an appearance and if he did it’s all about “Bwahhaah my plot is unfolding” several more scenes later: “Bwahahaha my plot is still unfolding” it’s like the villain who talks to much and doesn’t actually do the deed he’s supposed to do.

I was severely disappointed with this final book. It’s unfortunate to see such great characters come to a lackluster end.

I give it a 2 out of 10.

 

Setting and Mood is dark and gritty in Silent City

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Pete Fernandez is a mess. He’s on the brink of being fired from his middle-management newspaper job. His fiancée has up and left him. Now, after the sudden death of his father, he’s back in his hometown of Miami, slowly drinking himself into oblivion. But when a co-worker he barely knows asks Pete to locate a missing daughter, Pete finds himself dragged into a tale of murder, drugs, double-crosses and memories bursting from the black heart of the Miami underworld – and, shockingly, his father’s past. Making it up as he goes and stumbling as often as he succeeds, Pete’s surreptitious quest becomes the wake-up call he’s never wanted but has always needed – but one with deadly consequences. Welcome to Silent City, a story of redemption, broken friendships, lost loves and one man’s efforts to make peace with a long-buried past to save the lives of the few friends he has left.  (From Goodreads)

What I liked about this one is the setting and the overall mood of the book. It’s gritty, very noir, and it suits the plot. It shows the other side of Miami besides the beaches and the bustling city we are all familiar with. It’s great writing and really sets the tone throughout the story.

The plot was interesting if a little far fetched. So someone comes up to you and asks you to help find their daughter. Okay. Any other person would go straight to the police right? Although I suppose this is to show Pete’s ‘investigative’ reporter spidey senses and it piques his interest as he delves further into a downward spiral. So maybe that’s what got him going further. Now I understand (without providing any spoilers here) it gets a little more personal later but I expected maybe a little more from it. Perhaps because I’m used to other books where there’s more twists and turns, some more shocking moments, etc. This one just gets down to business and it’s pretty much cut and dry – which is fine for those that enjoy this type of story. However, there is plenty of action which does make the plot move forward.

Pete does take quite a beating in the book but I just could not really like him. He’s gone through a lot, true, but he’s just been on the pity party train and it got old and aggravating. However when he reached the point of no return and when there’s nothing to lose, something sparked in him and he managed to climb out of it (for a bit) but then you have to wonder if he’s going to go back into that void again. Meh.

The supporting characters weren’t that great or likable either. I’d suppose the only one that had something was Mike. Emily wasn’t that great and I found her an annoying pest. And Kathy. She was a piece of work and not that likable either.

I might keep going further into this series. Not sure yet. I did like reading this but at the same time I wanted more out of it. It was enough to get my attention but I really did like the mood and theme of the book. Perhaps I’ll give the second one a try and see how it goes.

I give it a 6 out of 10.  

 

You Won’t Forget This One…

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When Alice was ten, Ray took her away from her family, her friends — her life. She learned to give up all power, to endure all pain. She waited for the nightmare to be over.  Now Alice is fifteen and Ray still has her, but he speaks more and more of her death. He does not know it is what she longs for. She does not know he has something more terrifying than death in mind for her.  This is Alice’s story. It is one you have never heard, and one you will never, ever forget. (From Goodreads)

It’s a quick, but extremely brutal read. This may not be for everyone.

You really do feel for ‘Alice’ throughout the novel and what she goes through. There’s a feeling of utter helplessness watching her suffer under the hands of Ray and his cruelty is hard to read. What’s worse is, as the novel progresses and Ray develops other plans to include Alice you feel horrible reading the book (almost like having a bad taste in the mouth).

Alice’s behavior is also hard to read. She’s been conditioned because of Ray, and some of her actions are the cause of it. You almost cringe because you start doubting her and wonder if she really will listen to Ray or not. She’s had various chances to leave Ray but her fear for her family kept her staying. It’s understandable as Ray is a manipulator and managed to twist things around to get Alice to be compliant.

There’s pieces here and there of Ray and his background. However at that point you don’t care anymore since he’s an awful scumbag and deserves any horrible thing coming at him. It’s a pretty straight forward plot, everything is done through Alice’s perspective, and it’s definitely the type of book that will stick with you for a long while.

I’m not going to recommend this, it may be too much for some readers. Definitely pick up something with a much lighter theme after this one.

I give it a 9 out of 10.