The Proving by Ken Brosky.

Stars: 3.5 out of 5.

A few hundred years ago, a comet came too close to the Earth and when it collided with our atmosphere, it broke into a ring of ice that circles around most of our planet, hiding away the stars. That alone would be a disaster, but ice wasn’t the only thing that came with the comet. Every time a few of those chunks collide up there, they release Specters, strange beings that fall down to the Earth bellow. Problem is, those Specters are incompatible with Earth life. In fact, everything they touch dies, because they vibrate on a different frequency than all the other living creatures on Earth…

How can you fight an immaterial enemy who can phase through walls and can kill you by mere touch? What follows is a near annihilation of mankind. What’s left is holed up in a few cities protected by energy barriers that Specters can’t cross. Problem is, most of the infrastructures needed for those cities to function lay outside of the barriers and need to be repaired from time to time. That’s the job of the Cotteries – groups of people from all the clans who work together as one combat unit. Cotteries are formed  first at the age of 18 when they go through their first Proving, which also serves as a rite of passage into adulthood.

All in all, I really liked this book. The premise reminded me of the movie Final Fantasy The Spirits Within, which I really loved back when it came out in 2001. Same idea of an untouchable enemy that could kill you just by passing through your body. Same small human enclaves hiding behind energy shields.

But The Proving is in no way a retelling of that movie. This is a standalone story with a distinctly different world and interesting structure. The worldbuilding is what I enjoyed the most in this book. The world feels complex and well thought of and I would really like to know more about the clan system and technologies mentioned in this book.

I liked the pacing as well and the different POVs we had which put the same events in different, but complementary perspectives.

My problem with this book and the reason I only gave this book 3.5 stars is the characters. Most of them are supposed to be 18 year olds, but they behave like they are 14-15 at the most. My second problem is that they are supposed to be a Cotterie – a group that will be working together their whole life and performing tasks in a dangerous and deadly environment. Yet they don’t even try to get to know each other and try to cooperate. In fact, they so obviously distrust each other and even look down on each other that I’m amazed they even survived until the end of the book.

This also made me think, are all the Cotteries like this? From what is described in this book, the members have virtually no interaction with each other apart from when they go on missions. No training together, nothing. That’s… a serious lapse in logic in my opinion.

I wasn’t really thrilled by the ending either. I understand that this is the first book in the series and that the author needed to hook the reader into picking up the next one, but end it in a cliffhanger like that? Not cool man, not cool. I would have been okay with the ending if at least some of the questions raised throughout the book had been answered. But as it stands now, there is no resolution in this book. I felt like the characters accomplished nothing. And they didn’t really grow as people either, or learned to cooperate and trust each other. The whole story felt kinda… pointless. We got no answer as to what that secret research facility was working on and what the repercussions for the characters and the mankind would be from discovering that. We got no answer as to what was in those containers they found in the facility. We got no answer as to why the Specters chose that precise moment to change their behavior.

In fact, if the story is headed where I think it’s headed, all those answers will be irrelevant because the characters will have a bunch of new problems to face. That’s disappointing. I felt like the story was building to this big climax, a huge reveal that would shatter everybody’s view of the world… only to fizzle out like a wet firecracker.

Nevertheless, I will probably check out the next book because I liked the world and I want answers. But I will be upset if once again, I don’t get any.

I’m still breathing…

keep-calm-cause-i-m-still-alive

Now that we’re one day past mid-May and almost halfway through 2016 (good God, how did the time manage to fly by so quickly?), some of you might be wondering where I’ve been and why I practically went MIA for a few months, apart from an occasional book review here and there. Well, I can certainly say that 2016 has been one heck of a year for me so far.

My father passed away on January 24th after losing his battle with cancer. Even though we all knew this day was coming, it was still a shock, especially to my mother. They had been together for 53 years, after all. At least, he died in his sleep and he had one of those rare good days before passing when nothing hurt, his mind was clear, and his mood cheerful.

And then, when I had barely gotten over that emotional punch, life threw me another curve ball. My husband informed me that he didn’t want to be married anymore. He did that 5 days before our 8 year anniversary too, no less. Needless to say, that rocked my world, especially since it came out of the blue, at least for me.

So eight years after leaving everything behind in Geneva and moving to the United States to follow him, I was once again scrambling to rebuild something out of the shambles that my life had become.

But I have survived. To paraphrase Sia, “I’m still breathing.” In fact, here’s her song for you. I find it very a propos.

I have learned a couple things in this ordeal though.

First one is that you never know how strong you are until you have no choice but to be strong. I had to find a place to live, make sure that I made enough per month to keep a roof over my head and food in my fridge. I had to figure out how to get all my bills paid each month. I had to start paying off my part of the debts incurred during 8 years of marriage. But most importantly, I had to figure out how to keep moving forward when all I wanted was curl up in a ball and cry.

Needless to say that writing and blogging had not been a priority. In, fact, I hadn’t written more than 100 – 200 words a day on good days since then. It’s hard to focus on the problems fictional characters are facing when you are worried what you are going to eat for the 5 days remaining until the next paycheck once you pay all your bills. It’s hard to summon up the courage to write a romantic scene between your characters when your own romantic life is in shambles.

Not to mention that I was so emotionally and physically drained from all this that I didn’t have much strength left but to eat dinner and go to bed after I came home. Oh, and I joined a gym a month before the breakup because I was fed up with feeling fat and slow and hurting. With my evenings free of any obligations, I went there 5 days a week. That probably also contributed to the exhaustion a bit.

I think I have my budget pretty much sorted out. It’s gonna be though for a few more months, but once I get some of the debts paid off, I will be able to breathe again and even treat myself to new clothes now and then.

 

The second thing I learned is that you never know who your friends are until you end up in an extreme situation like that. All I can say is thank God for my co-workers and friends you were more than supportive and helped me every step of the way. I would not have found a place to stay and that I could afford if it wasn’t for them.  I would also feel extremely lonely and isolated if it wasn’t for a few friends who took it upon themselves to call me and invite me out every weekend since I moved on my own.

So the result of this upheaval is that I am now in a completely different phase in life than when 2016 began. For one, I don’t have to stay in the little military town I am in right now if I don’t want to. Nothing ties me down here anymore. I can go wherever I want. I think that I might start looking for a job in a bigger city (or even a big city like New York or Washington DC) once I have all my debts paid off and some emergency savings in the bank to tie me over. I can speak three languages. Surely some company out there could use my skills?

Also my continued visits to the gym paid off  – I lost 15 pounds and replaced a lot of fat with muscle. I dropped two sizes. I feel stronger, leaner and more energized. Not to mention that I like what I see in the mirror a lot better now.

I am also determined to get back in the habit of writing every day. I need to finally finish the first draft of Shadow Hunters that had been crying in a corner since end of March. It’s 80% done. All it needs is a big push across the finish line.

I also still want to publish Mists of the Crosswords this year, but with everything happening in my life, the publication date will have to be pushed to this Fall / Winter.

And finally, I will try to get back to blogging regularly with new content about my writing and the books I’m reading.

Life isn’t over, even if it felt that way a month and a half ago. Move on, rebuild and thrive. That’s my goal for the foreseeable future.

 

The Emperor’s Railroad (The Dreaming Cities 1) by Guy Haley.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you a little gem in post-apocalyptic genre? This is a relatively short novella (only a little over 100 pages long), but it’s packed full of goodies: huge and very interesting world, a great catastrophe the cause of which is not fully explained, strange beings that might or might not be angels, a mysterious knight, and an engaging narrator. What else would you need for a wonderful book?

Our narrator, Abney, is a 12-year-old boy, and the whole story is told through the prism of his knowledge and perception, even though he tells it as an old man, many years later. And this is important to know, because Abney’s world had not extended past his little town until it got destroyed by the living dead. He is thrown into this vast and dangerous world after a traumatic event and armed only with the stories and beliefs his mother instilled into him.

So to him the Angels are supreme and perfect beings. God is almighty and everything that happened to mankind, from the war that destroyed all the cities of old to the plague of walking dead and even the dragon, is his punishment for the hubris of men of old. And Quinn is a Knight, which to little Abney makes him about just as legendary as the Dreaming Cities and the Angels themselves.

Even though this novella is a story of Abney’s journey through the perilous Kingdom of Virginia to the village of Winfort and the safety of his cousin’s home, it’s also Abney’s journey towards adulthood, complete with disillusionment, injustice and loss. The Angels are not as perfect as he believed them to be. God’s justice isn’t always just. And Knights are not the noble warriors almost larger than life he’d pictured them to be.

I loved this book. It’s a small glance into a rich and complex world, but just because it’s a small story of a little boy traveling a short distance (a mere 50 miles or so) through dangerous country to reach a new town, it doesn’t mean that it’s not interesting. In fact, it manages to introduce this world without resorting to info dumps and leaves the reader with a sense of satisfaction, because Abney’s journey is done, but also with a head full of questions about what the heck happened to make the world this way and what the Dreaming Cities really are.

I can’t wait to pick up the next book in the series because I want to know more about this world. Who are those Angels? Are they really winged beings sent down by God or are they robots, AIs or aliens something like that like Quinn implied? Speaking of Quinn, what promise did he break that he  is seeking penance for? And who is the person he is determined to find in a place that everybody thinks is a dead wasteland? And what are the Knights? From what Abney described, Quinn has a lot more stamina and healing speed than any normal human should have.

A first book in a series did a good job when it managed to tell a compelling and self-sufficient story AND leave you with enough questions to want to pick up the next book. I say good job, Mr.  Haley, because I can’t wait to read the next one

PS. I received an advanced reader copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Way Walkers: Tangled Paths by J Leigh.

Stars: 2.5 out of 5

 

I really wanted to like this book, I promise. It had a really interesting world I was dying to explore. It had so much potential, that with the underdog hero on a quest to find his place in the world…

 

Unfortunately, even with all those things going for it, this book fell flat to me. I finished it, but I had to force myself to do so, and if it wasn’t an advanced reader copy I was reading for a review, I would have dropped it.

 

You see, despite all the potential the story was just so… boring.

 

The protagonist rages against prejudice and how his compatriots see him, but he does it in a very subdued, passive kind of way. And it’s hard to sympathize with him too much because despite some mistreatments, he is still the Crown Prince and Heir to the Throne. Then he sets off on this journey to discover his destiny and his place in the world, but his attitude towards this whole deal is so lukewarm that it doesn’t touch the reader either. If Jathen doesn’t really care much about his travels, why should the reader care?

 

I think the reason for my inability to empathize with the protagonist is the lack of stakes. There are no driving forces in Jathen’s life that push him to do what he does. Yes, his position as Heir is threatened, but it’s never a life or death situation. Besides, he himself isn’t even sure if he wants to sit on the throne someday. So him leaving on that journey is more of a spur of the moment decision than a need. And this lack of urgency, this lack of personal stakes, is what kills this story for me.

 

That and just how uninterested in the world Jathen seems to be. He is given a book that might contain major clues as to who his father might have been, yet he barely skims it when he gets bored. He is given a puzzle but doesn’t give it more than a passing glance and doesn’t even dig deeper when the solution seems too easy. He passes by cities and people with only passing curiosity for anything that isn’t architectural. It’s hard to care about a world and companions that the protagonist doesn’t care about himself.

 

My other problem with this book is that the dialogues seem overly long but actually rather uninformative. By the end of the book I had the feeling that everyone knew who Jathen really was, but nobody would actually tell him anything. They alluded, they spoke in riddles, but never actually gave him and the reader anything. It works alright in the first part of the book, but it gets old really fast. And gets really frustrating when none of those questions were answered by the end of the book. I get it that it’s the first in a series, but even then the reader needed some resolution after sticking with the story for almost 500 pages.

 

That’s the final problem I have with this book. It’s too long. Oh, I have read books that were 500 and even 1000 pages long (Songs of Ice and Fire comes to mind) and didn’t even see the time fly by because every page kept me immerged in the story. Unfortunately, this is not the case with Way Walkers. I feel like the book could have been cut in half without any harm to the story. There is a lot of exposition and infodump disguised as dialogue between Jathen and different characters which made Jathen seem very ignorant of the world he lives in. Surely the Heir to the Tazu throne would have had classes on history, politics and customs of the different nations he would have to interact with? That makes the explanations sound even more tedious because the readers know they are for their benefit only.

 

All this to say that I was disappointed in this book. It had such potential and the world truly seems rich in history and substance. Unfortunately, I don’t feel the desire to drudge through the next book to find out more about it though.

 

PS. I received an advanced reader copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Clean Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles 1) by Ilona Andrews.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

 

Let me just say that Ilona Andrews is an author I go to when I want a good book to read and not have to worry to be disappointed with the plot, the characters or major plot holes. I never hesitate to pick up one of her books because I know that I would be completely immersed in the story, laughing and crying with the characters until the very last page. And I will be very very sad and feeling lost once I reach that page, not wanting to leave that world behind.

 

So when I saw that she had a brand new series out there, of course I immediately grabbed the first book! All I can say is that I love love LOVE it! I love Dina and the strange and complex world she inhabits. I love that we already have a hint that this world has may layers even in the first book. I love that all the races we meet have distinct origins and traditions. I love just how original the concept of this book and this world is.

 

But what is this book about? Well, Dina runs a quaint Victorian Bed and Breakfast in a small sleepy Texas town. Only her bed and breakfast caters to a rather different clientele than the usual tourists. See, Dina is an Innkeeper (yes, the capital “I” is intentional), and her guests come from much further away and are infinitely more dangerous.

 

Usually, Innkeepers try to stay out of the news and not get involved in local affairs, because the safety if their Inn is their outmost priority. That and not attracting attention of the police to the occasional flying saucer landing in their backyard or a portal opening on their doorsteps. But when something that is definitely not a cougar starts killing dogs in the neighborhood and the resident werewolf doesn’t seem to want to do anything about it, Dina decides to intervene. Which, of course, bring a load of problems on her head, but hey, at least she gets guests to stay at her inn as well, so that’s good. That they are capable of destroying the whole town is just a minor side effect…

 

I love Dina as the protagonist. Yes, being an Innkeeper gives her some serious juju when she is on Inn grounds, but unlike some protagonists out there, she only uses her magic as last resort. Her biggest strength is her profound knowledge of the customs and preferences of all the races that inhabit the vast universe. She is immensely knowledgeable and treats all of her guests with respect and deference. But she isn’t a pushover either. She is very clear at drawing the lines of what is and isn’t allowed on her grounds and her retaliation if the guests cross those lines is swift and ruthless.

 

I like how knowledgeable Dina is and how respectful she is of her guests and their customs. And I also like that at the same time she is not a jaded and over-confident Innkeeper either. Her backstory is expertly woven into the book and explains this small contraction perfectly. Both Dina’s parents were very successful Innkeepers, so she grew up in a big bustling Inn… Until one day she came back from her travels to find both the Inn and her family gone and just barren ground in the place of the Inn grounds. She looked for them all over the universe, but never found even a hint as to what had happened. Finally, she decided to settle back on Earth and open her own Inn, but then only Inn such an inexperienced Innkeeper could get was an old disused one located away from the usual busy routes. So while she has extensive knowledge of what it means to be an Innkeeper, she is very inexperienced at actually being one. Plus her Inn had been asleep for so long that she has only maybe a tenth of the powers an Innkeeper would normally have…

 

I read the first book and immediately jumped into the next one, that’s how much I fell in love with this new world and these characters. So expect my review of book 2 soon.

 

Once again, Ilona Andrews proves that her books are a must read regardless of which series they belong too. Highly recommending this and everything else she’s ever written!

Of Scions and Men by Courtney Sloan.


Stars: 4 out of 5.

Of Scions and Men is the first book in a new urban fantasy series and as such, it does a good job in introducing the readers to the world and the characters who inhabit it.

And that’s no small feat, I can tell you. First books in a series have the thankless job of showing the reader a brand new world and making sure that they love the protagonist enough to stick not only until the end of one book, but to keep reading the series, AND they need to do that while avoiding info dumps and expositions and still telling an interesting story. So I’m always happy when a start a new series and am hooked from the get go.

So what is this world that Rowan inhabits? This is a world where the war against terror escalated into a full blown all out Third World War and threatened to wipe the human race off the face of the Earth. Supernatural beings like vampires and shifters, who had until then been content to stay in the shadows and make normal people believe they didn’t exist, decided to intervene and put a stop to the massacre, because, in the case of vampires, they were reluctant to lose their food source. By the time vampires took control of the world and bought order and peace again (in a rather ruthless and bloody fashion, I must admit), most of the planet was a smoldering radioactive mess. And humans aren’t in charge of anything, not even their own lives anymore.

Rowan Brady sold her life, her career and her blood when she chose to become a vampire’s Scion, but it was the only way she could ensure that her brother would have a roof over his head and enough food to eat every day. And even though the loss of freedom and the obligation to give a pint of blood a week to her master is a bitter pill to swallow, in exchange Rowan got a job she loves with the police, making sure that supernaturals don’t engage in illegal blood trade.

I like Rowan and her relationship with Devon. I like how she tries to make the best out of a bad situation and preserve every sliver of independence she can while basically having Devon in her head and thoughts 24 / 7. I like that she always relies on herself and doesn’t flash her scion get out of jail card left and right. I like that she is a truly though and capable protagonist.

I like the fact that Devon isn’t your typical domineering selfish and rather violent male lead we usually get in those kind of books. If fact, as vampire masters go, he is a good one to be scioned to.

I do have a few gripes with this book though, hence the 4 out of 5 stars.

The first one is with Lyle. Lyle is gay and flamboyantly so, since even his true form is a blue jay. He could have been such an interesting character if he’d been fleshed out instead of being a walking assembly of clichés. As he stands now, he is more of a plot point and trusty sidekick to Rowan, always there to help her out and listen to her problems. That’s annoying. I want to know what makes him tick. I want to know his backstory. I want to know what pushed him to display his orientation so blatantly in a world where being gay is greatly frowned upon. Why did he choose to come out of the closet and become an outcast? Hopefully, we will discover more about Lyle in the next books because that’s one character I could really fall in love with.

My second gripe is with Rowan’s constant resentment towards Devon and the fact that she became a scion. I would understand that if she’d been forced to do that against her will, but she CHOSE to become a scion. Yes, it was for her brother’s sake, but still, nobody bent her arm or held her at gunpoint when she agreed to this. And it makes even less sense that she would rail against Devon instead of her little brother whom she is making all those sacrifices for. Also, this reaction is rather out of character for her, at least in my opinion. Rowan is a person used to making tough decisions and owning to the consequences, so rehashing this resentment over and over again gets old really fast.

But all in all, this is a solid first instalment of a new series and I will certainly look forward to the next book. And I would recommend it to lovers of urban fantasy.

PS. I received an advanced reader copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Marked in Flesh (The Others book 4) by Anne Bishop.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

I absolutely love The Others series, so I look forward to each new book with trepidation. And I have reviewed all the previous books so you can check them out if you want: book one, book two, book three.

First things first, even though I absolutely loved this book, it’s not one a person unfamiliar with the series can pick up and enjoy. If you have never read any of the Others books, you wouldn’t understand 80% of what’s going on and just how high the stakes are, so I would recommend that you start at the beginning with Written in Red. Then you have four whole books of excellent story to look forward to.

Now that I’m done with that disclaimer, let’s dive into the story. Back in book 3, the Elders asked Simon a crucial question: How much human the terra indigene will keep. And the future of all humans in Thaisia rides on the answer to that question.

This book is really about reaping the consequences of what all the characters sowed in the previous three books. I knew that humans and the terra indigene were headed for a confrontation if not an all-out war. All the events in the previous three books hinted on that. Heck, the third book ended with the terra indigene declaring a breach of trust. So the question was not whether there would be a conflict, but just how bloody and all-encompassing it would be.

The Humans First and Last (HFL) Movement is pushing for an open conflict and the annihilation of the “animals” that they consider the Others to be so that the human race can finally have unlimited access to all the resources that the land has to offer. Unfortunately for them, they operate under the (false) impression that the Wolfguard, Crowguard, and Sanginati they are used to seeing in city Courtyards are the only existing terra indigene. But the Intuits, Simple folks and some selected humans who closely work with the Others in Lakeside, know the truth. These terra indigene are but a buffer between humans and the Elders, the ancient and ageless beings who roam the deep country. So far, they hadn’t paid much notice to the clever monkeys living on their allotted piece of land, happy to let the various guards to keep the peace. But with the humans getting bolder by the day, they start to take notice. And that’s very bad news, because those Elders aren’t called Namid’s Claws and Teeth for nothing…

This book shows just how big of an impact Meg’s presence had on the Others and humans alike, both in Lakeside and in smaller communities like Ferryman Crossing and Sweetwater.  If the Elders had asked Simon that question in book 1 or even in book 2, he would have answered “None” without a shred of hesitation. Now he worries and even looses sleep over it. And what’s significant is that he isn’t worried about Meg. In fact, none of the terra indigene are worried about Meg because to them, she has become part of the pack. She is just as terra indigene as they are. But they worry about all the other humans that she had brought to the Courtyard – the Meg’s pack which includes a “gaggle of girls” (I chuckled at that definition), as well as the police officers who did everything to help the Others and cooperate with them throughout the previous books. It also includes the Intuit villages and Simple folks that had been more than willing to cooperate with the terra indigene and are being persecuted by the HFL movement for that.

A great storm is coming, and for the first time in his life, Simon is worried about how to make sure that the human pack he got entangled with would survive the certain annihilation of human kind in Thaisia.

All the characters show tremendous growth throughout the series and I love that we see the progress Meg, Hope, and Jean have made to deal with their limitations and the strive they have to adapt to their new lives. I love that when faced with tough choices, the Lakeside police officers like Monty and Burke side with the Others even if that means being declared Wolf Lovers and being shunned and persecuted. I love that the Intuits of Sweetwater don’t think twice when they get Meg’s warning and grab not only their own children but ride to the terra indigene village and evacuate all the pups as well. I love that when the night of reckoning comes, a lot of terra indigene return the favor and stand guard in front of the human villages that helped them, telling Namid’s Teeth and Claws, “We’re here. Those are our humans. Pass along. Leave them be.”

By the end of this book, the landscape of the world has changed irrevocably, but thanks to the cooperation and friendship of a few humans and terra indigene, there is still hope for the human race in Thaisia…

I loved this book and the further insight we got into the rules of this land and the different kinds of terra indigene that populate it. I’m definitely looking forward to the next one and to see how life will unfold for your protagonists now that the Others have reclaimed the land. And what impact would the Elders’ interest towards the “howling non-Wolf” have on the lives of all the cassandra sangue.

Once again, I will say that this is one of the best urban fantasy series out there right now and I would strongly recommend it to anyone who likes great complex worlds and excellent characters, but you need to start at book 1.

PS. I received and advanced reader copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

My dreams and stories. The life of a writer.

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