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review 2017-07-06 12:55
The Edge of the Abyss by Emily Skrutskie
The Edge of the Abyss - Emily Skrutskie

This review will include spoilers for the first book. You’ve been warned.

At the end of The Abyss Surrounds Us, Cas decided to stay with the Minnow and her crew. I wish I had written down her reason for doing so, since one of my problems with The Edge of the Abyss was that I couldn’t remember why she’d have wanted to stay when staying seemed to cause her nothing but grief.

At any rate, she stayed - I think because she wanted to get more evidence on the guy who was trading Reckoner pups to the pirates, and because she loved Swift so much? Except the latter reason turned out to be less than wonderful, because right after deciding to stay with the Minnow, Cas learned that Swift had personally been responsible for Durga’s death.

So that’s Cas’s emotional state for much of The Edge of the Abyss: upset at Swift for what she did, upset at herself for essentially turning traitor and staying with pirates, and perversely drawn to Santa Elena and whatever scraps of praise she was willing to give out. Bao is somewhere out in the ocean, and Cas mistakenly thinks he’s the only free Reckoner. He very much is not - the crew of the Minnow discover others, which they nickname Hellbeasts. Every last one of them was a Reckoner pup illegally obtained and improperly raised by pirates, and they’re complete destroying the ocean ecosystem. If life in the ocean is to be saved, the pirates, all of them, will somehow have to band together, admit their mistakes, and defeat the Hellbeasts.

Considering that I disliked the first book, I should not have continued on with the series. However, I did, because I wanted to find out what happened to Bao. He was literally the only character I cared about - all the humans could have gotten eaten, for all I cared.

Unfortunately, it took half the book for Bao to show up. Until that point, I had to deal with Cas and Swift’s relationship angst. First Cas would be angry at Swift for being directly responsible for Durga’s death. Then Swift would be upset with Cas for effortlessly becoming Santa Elena’s favorite. Occasionally things would be okay between them for a short while, but it was never long before everything got fouled up again. All it took was one wrong look, or someone waking up on the wrong side of the bed, or Santa Elena smiling at the wrong trainee. I think Cas and Swift only had maybe 10 pages total in this whole book where they weren’t hurting each other in some way.

That’s really not what I want from a romance, and it didn’t help that Cas’s situation seemed more and more like Stockholm syndrome to me. Santa Elena had been manipulating Cas’s emotions from day one, and I hadn’t forgotten that Cas and Swift’s relationship had gone from dislike and wisps of something nicer to full-blown “I’m throwing away my entire former life for you” in the space of a day. I spent so much of this book wishing that Cas and Swift would just break up already. Cas had enough on her plate just trying to figure out what to do about the Hellbeasts and processing her dawning realization that she’d made a terrible mistake by staying on the Minnow.

Even though this book had more Reckoners and Reckoner battles, it was somehow more boring that the first one. I missed Bao, and Skrutskie’s decision to write this series in first person present tense sucked the life out scenes that should have been exciting or painfully intense. Unfortunately, things didn’t improve much once Bao was finally found again - watching Cas remind him of his training wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as watching her train him in the first place. Also, one revelation about him really bugged me. If there was anyone I’d have liked to be exempt from this book’s great gobs of relationship awfulness, it was Bao. At least Cas treated him better in this book than she did in the first one.

I wish I had liked Skrutskie’s writing more, and I wish I had been more invested in Cas and Swift’s relationship. Since I didn’t and I wasn’t, The Edge of the Abyss was a drag to get through and an absolute relief to finally finish. However, I’d absolutely recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the first book and wanted Cas and Swift to work out as a couple. Cas and Swift had some really good scenes near the end, ones where they actually worked together. For me, it was too little, too late. I did at least appreciate that none of the characters I kind of liked died.


(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-11-02 07:40
Chris Strange's Mayday Is the Perfect Halloween Read. Because Kaijus.
Mayday: A Kaiju Thriller - Chris Strange


Chris Strange’s Mayday Is the Perfect Halloween Read. Because Kaijus.



My Thoughts:


As I Began the Book:


Whoa, that is an awesome name for Kaijus!


The author named them Maydays and the book started with the last transmission from a cargo ship before it went down due to a Mayday attack. Then we find ourselves standing at the crime scene of one of the Maydays, Yllia. The protagonist is a PI who is with us at the scene, trying to see if there is a case for him. It is pouring, there is mud and the dead Kaiju lies in the middle of it all. I knew I was going to love this book and I was right because the next thing we find out is it is next to impossible to kill a Mayday but this one just keeled over. Then, our protag discovers that Yllia didn’t just die but that she was murdered.


Fairly into the Story:


Maybe he’d change by the end of the book…


I found out that I hated the PI. There were all sorts of things that were off-putting when it came to this guy. He cracked sexist jokes, he sucked at his job most of the time, and he decided to make the king of Kaijus, Tempest, kneel before interrogating him. The funny part is that I didn’t care! I was enjoying the story too much to give a damn.

I loved that the Kaijus all looked different even though they were part of the same race. From what I gathered, Yllia, was a winged insectoid Mayday, described in the following words:

“Yllia’s official data sheet said this Mayday was 72 metres high, or 136 metres from head to tail, with a 158 metre wingspan… White fur coated her from her bulbous head to the tips of her forked tail. Her four arms — each ending in three delicate scythed claws — were folded beneath her, sinking into the mud. Even lying down she towered over me like a tsunami about to break. One thin, butterfly-like wing lay open across her body; the other was folded up, out of sight.”


Grotesque, on the other hand, was crocodilian:


I’d heard Grotesque described as a gigantic crocodile before. I’d never really seen it — his snout was too flat, his tail too long and snake-like, arms and legs more like a tiger’s than a reptile’s. But seeing him come sprinting across the rubble on all fours, tail flicking back and forth as he moved, the comparison suddenly fit. His jaws sprung open, revealing layer after layer of piercing yellow teeth, made not to cut but to grab and hold on. His leathery skin was a pale greenish-yellow, the colour of sickness. On either side of the jagged spines on his back, large yellow pustules throbbed against his skin.


Tempest is arachnid-like:



Serraton is described as resembling a Chinese Dragon:



Nasir is said to the most humanoid of all the Kaijus. From the description, I imagine he’d look something like this:



What is scarier than a scary monster? A monster who is sadistic and cunning. Tempest lived up to his name and made my insides go all gooey with his smarts. He planned to reclaim his title and rule the world with his army of Kaijus. He was almost human in the way he displayed his hatred and furthered his ambition.



Right There To the End:


Tempest is Bae!


The fight scenes between the Kaijus were written in amazing detail. The author grabs you with his words and makes you stand with the shitty PI as you read them. I was having the kinda fun that I had while watching Pacific Rim and the action just would not let up.


Like all good monster stories, this one ended with the Kaijus in stasis and not dead or defeated. It made the book all the more enjoyable. Like most monster stories, the people in it fail to realize the implications of enslaving gigantic murderous creatures and making them fight for sport.


If you pick up this book, don’t read it for the story or the plot or even the dialogues. Read it for the love of Kaijus and monster flicks that thrives in you. Read it to see not one or two but five Kaijus go at it while puny humans run around trying to save the world.


The author included a note at the end, asking readers if he should continue with a sequel. I think I would love to read what other sadistic ways Tempest might come up with to torture us!


A Little Bit About Making Connections:


I received this book for free in exchange for this review through Making Connections (MC). MC is all kinds of awesome because it highlights indie authors and offers their work up for review. They also do blog tours where different bloggers sign up to promote a certain book.


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review 2016-07-20 10:45
Toxic Behemoth review
Toxic Behemoth: A Kaiju Thriller - David Bernstein

No-one is going to take a novella called Toxic Behemoth too seriously, but author David Bernstein chooses to start this Kaiju-centric tale with some fairly extreme criminal underground action. Caught completely off-guard, I wasn't sure what I was reading until that tale becomes the type of story Kaiju fans are more familiar with around 20% in.

From there, it all becomes fairly standard, with the somewhat varied take of having several chapters from the point of view of the massive monster. The book moves at a starling brisk pace, so before you even know it, the navy are attacking the creature and it is showing off a range of impressive special abilities. Then it starts wreaking havoc and the fun truly begins.

To be honest, I was on board with this one all the way until the last 5%. But Bernstein opts to throw in an ending which did not at all fit with what came before it, and runs completely counter to much of what was previously established - even if bigger Kaiju fans might appreciate what he was aiming to do. But the ending left me with very cold and in and of itself dropped my rating a whole star.

3 Missile-Deflecting Tentacles for Toxic Behemoth

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1137960765
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review 2016-05-01 00:13
Project Nemesis by Jeremy Robinson
Project Nemesis - Jeremy Robinson

Jon Hudson, a lead investigator with the Paranormal Fusion Center of the DHS (Department of Homeland Security), finds himself sent to Maine to check out yet another Big Foot sighting. He meets the local sheriff, Ashley Collins, while he is hung over, clueless, and dressed only in black underwear. There had been a noise complaint and Collins thinks Hudson is the source of that disturbance. Meanwhile, at a secret research site in the Maine woods, former military personnel work hard to perfect growing brainless adults in a short amount of time in order to harvest their organs. However, things are’t going well, at least not until some mystery DNA is added to the mix. Then things go from ‘not well’ to crazy freaking bad! And that is just about the time Collins and Hudson decide to go for a stroll to check out the Big Foot sightings.

Pretty soon they are running from this monster and also the heavily-armed people trying to keep it under wraps. Hudson contacts his team to call in reinforcements. Things continue to get crazy when a helicopter arrives on scene to fly them about. Collins is quite comfortable with the big gun mounted in the helicopter while Hudson continues to feed info back to Washington DC. The monster continues to eat and grow. A single helicopter, a big gun, and two determined humans just aren’t enough to stop this thing. More agencies are pulled in and more resources. Of course, folks have trouble believing in the monster until they see it, which just adds to the tension of the book.

Hudson and Collins make a great team, keeping each other safe and also finding time for some banter. This was a very fun monster romp – plenty of action, lots of weapons, some cat and mouse hunts early on, and then the US finally ends up with their own kaiju. Hooray! OK, maybe ‘hooray’ is the wrong word, but from a purely entertainment perspective, this was a great read and one of the best monster books I have read in some time.

The fun and action are balanced out by a few darker scenes, many of which deal with a young girl name Maigo. The book opens with her and right away I was on her side and wanted to make things right for her. Alas, I don’t think things will ever be OK for her again. As the body count grows, the author tosses in some specific people here and there which made me connect with the victims instead of just reading a body count number at the bottom of a game screen.

The bad guys were interesting too because they came in different flavors. The main bad guy is ex-military and he came across a mystery at some point in his career and this mystery was at the center of many of his actions which lead up to the American kaiju. Then we have the lead scientist who was developing brainless bodies for organ harvest – she’s got some dark past that is being used against her. I also found the body guard to the main bad guy very interesting. He does have a code of honor, it’s just one that depends on him following a worthy leader. Toss in the interdepartmental bickering, and you have lots of people willing to set up road blocks for our heroes. Excellent! It was pure enjoyment to watch Collins & Hudson maneuver around, over, or through so many obstacles!

The Narration: Jeffrey Kafer did a great job. I like his attitude for Hudson, especially early on when the character believes he’s just off on a wild goose hunt. His female voices are believable. He’s great at getting the excitement or seriousness of a situation across.

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review 2016-03-26 22:33
The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie
The Abyss Surrounds Us - Emily Skrutskie

The Abyss Surrounds Us is set sometime in the future. Genetically engineered sea monsters known as “Reckoners” were developed to protect larger ships from pirates, and Cassandra Leung is a Reckoner trainer anxiously embarking on her first solo mission with her favorite Reckoner, Durga. Unfortunately, things go very wrong, Durga is killed, and Cas ends up captured by Santa Elena, the captain of the Minnow, a pirate ship. She learns, to her horror, that the pirates have not only somehow gotten their hands on a Reckoner pup, they also expect her to train it to protect them. She reluctantly agrees, hoping that at some point she'll learn the identity of the traitor who supplied them with a Reckoner pup and related equipment, and that she'll live long enough to pass that information on.

When I heard that this was f/f YA sci-fi with pirates and giant sea monsters, I knew I wanted to read it. I'd have bought the e-book immediately, except it was expensive and had DRM. I considered buying a paper copy, but, after taking a closer look and realizing that the book was written in first person present tense, I opted for interlibrary loan instead.

Let's talk about that first person present tense POV. An author really has to know what they're doing and be telling the right kind of story for it to work. The only decent book I can think of right now that used first person present tense was Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games. Granted, I didn't love it, but my issues with it had very little to do with Collins' POV or tense choice.

First person present tense was a mistake for The Abyss Surrounds Us. It was why, in an effort to give readers some of the history of this world that a 17-year-old like Cas wouldn't normally know or care about, a random elderly man walked up to Cas to reminisce about the past while she stood there and waited him out. The man was a throwaway character who never showed up again, existing only to give readers that bit of world-building info. First person present tense also gave readers sentences like this:

“'Cas, you wanna explain who that was?' Swift asks, and I notice the harsh edge she's forced into her tone.” (203)

Cas didn't actually know that this “harsh edge” was forced – she was guessing, based on recent events. But the author needed to signal to readers that Swift was no longer potentially as awful as she seemed, and there were very few ways she could do that with first person present tense.

First person present tense might have also contributed to Cas feeling like such a flat and bland character, and to Santa Elena just being confusing, period. I felt like I barely learned anything about Cas – what her life had been like when she wasn't training Reckoners, what her relationship with her family members was like, anything. Santa Elena made no sense. On the one hand, the Reckoner pup she'd acquired was a precious resource that could give her a lot of power and prestige. On the other hand, she treated Cas and the Reckoner like they were both expendable and like she'd enjoy hurting or killing one or both of them. Skrutskie tried to humanize her by having her briefly chat with Cas about motherhood (she took over the Minnow while her son was still a baby, and she viewed Cas's efforts to raise her Reckoner as being similar to a mother raising a child), but then kept giving readers scenes in which she behaved like a vicious despot. I'm amazed she made it through the entire book without inspiring a mutiny.

Anyway, I was willing to put up with the first person present tense POV because I absolutely loved the Reckoners aspect, and I still think they're the best thing about this book. Although Cas resented Bao, the turtle-based Reckoner she was forced to train, I loved their training scenes. Had the story gone the way I'd have preferred, Cas would have slowly become more and more emotionally attached to Bao. Her growing affection for him would have mixed uncomfortably with her grief for Durga, who was also a turtle-based Reckoner, and her recognition of the fact that training him to protect the Minnow and its crew meant that one day he'd be killing Reckoners who meant as much to their trainers as Durga had meant to her. Because Bao had imprinted upon the Minnow (Reckoners imprint upon particular ships as part of their training), Cas would also find herself facing a decision to either stay with the pirates or to escape and abandon Bao.

Sadly, the book I wanted was not the book I got. Cas spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to train Bao just well enough to keep Santa Elena from killing her, but not so well that he could truly be used as a weapon. She wanted to figure out Santa Elena's Reckoner source and then escape, but things became more complicated when she began to fall for Swift, the young pirate who'd been assigned to keep an eye on her.

The relationship between Cas and Swift was very subtle, at first. In fact, if I hadn't known this was f/f YA, I'd probably have figured that certain early scenes were laying the groundwork for the two of them to eventually become friends. Cas's attraction to Swift became more apparent later on, but she fought it because 1) she was still Santa Elena's captive and 2) Swift had made it clear several times that her primary loyalty was to Santa Elena.

Then, at the worst possible moment, Cas and Swift's relationship suddenly deepened. In the space of less than a day, Cas went from wanting to escape the Minnow at the first opportunity to wanting to stay for Swift's sake. The speed of it all threw me. It all became clear when Cas was given the opportunity to escape and chose not to. The reason for the sudden deepening of Cas's feelings for Swift was because Skrutskie needed to give her a believable reason to continue to stay with the pirates and do things she might not have otherwise agreed to do. Except it happened so quickly that it wasn't believable. It was like watching a movie and catching glimpses of the lighting equipment or the wires used during a fight scene. The authorial puppet strings moving Cas and Swift into place were so obvious that it was painful.

Things got worse from that point on. Without being too spoilery, in the final few pages Skrutskie jettisoned or stomped on those aspects of the story that might have left me wanting to read the book's sequel despite my issues with her writing. It's possible that she could find a way to fix what she did or undo some of it, but I don't know that I have the trust or patience necessary to find out.

All in all, I loved the Reckoners, but that was about it. The execution wasn't great, the romance was a tool to keep the plot going in the direction Skrutskie wanted, and the world-building had holes you could drive a truck through. I'm still wondering why the Reckoners, who were expensive to breed and train and who even necessitated the creation of a genetically engineered food source so they wouldn't completely clean out the ocean just trying to keep themselves fed, were considered the best way to combat the pirate problem. I'm also still wondering about the book's brief mention of terrestrial Reckoners. If Reckoners were meant to fight pirates, then why would terrestrial Reckoners be necessary?


Rating Note:


During much of the time I spent reading this book, I thought I'd be giving it anywhere from 2 to 2.5 stars, maybe 3 stars if the ending was really good. My difficulty with staying interested in the story plus my hatred of the book's ending lowered my final rating to 1.5 stars.


(Original review, with read-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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