Sweep in Peace (Innkeeper Chronicles 2) by Ilona Andrews.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

 

Did I mention that Ilona Andrews is one of my absolute favorite authors? Every time I pick up one of her books, I don’t have to worry about being disappointed or bored by the story. I KNOW that it will be good and that it will sweep me off my feet and that I would devour the book in a matter of hours then agonize because it’s finished. Sweep in Peace was one of those books as well.

 

In the first book of the series, Clean Sweep, we were introduced to this original and very interesting world where Dina is the innkeeper of a very particular bed and breakfast. If you are interested, you can read my review of this book here. We get an in depth exploration of a few facets of this world in Sweep in Peace. Notably the bloody history between the Space Vampires and the Hope-Crushing Horde, as well as the meaning of tradition, duty, and compassion.

 

By the end of book 1, Dina succeeded at not only avoiding disaster and keeping her inn, but also at adding a star to the inn’s rating. Unfortunately, guests aren’t exactly knocking at her door, and the inn needs guests to survive and thrive. So when an Arbitrator shows up at her door and requisitions her inn for peace negotiations between three warring factions, Dina has no choice but to agree, even though her intuition and common sense screams that this is a bad idea. Only brokering a peace between nations who had been killing each other for generations is easier said than done. But Dina will do everything in her power to succeed, because the alternative would be disastrous for her inn and herself.

 

I love this world. I loved this story. How heartbreaking and touching it was, yet how the author managed to avoid all the doom and gloom by keeping it lighthearted. Which in turn made the impact of the bloody conflict between those races so much more effective on the reader. Imagine a world where technology fails and the living conditions are harsh, but it’s the only known planet in the galaxy to produce a very valuable mineral. So even though none of the factions want to be there, they are still fighting for domination on a planet where they have to go against each other with swords and arrows instead of tactical air strikes and lasers. It’s up close and personal. It’s bloody. It’s life-altering and soul-wrenching. And it’s a never-ending cycle of destruction because the sides can’t afford to back down even if they can’t afford to keep on fighting either.

 

Most of all, I love Dina. She already proved in book 1 that she is smart and resourceful and more than capable of being a real Innkeeper. She has a level head and doesn’t panic easily, but most importantly, I love that she is more brains then brawl. She will always try to find a peaceful solution to a problem first, though she will not hesitate to kick some ass if there is no other alternative.

 

But in this book, she also shows the depth of her compassion and understanding of other cultures. She studies their customs and rituals, and she is extremely respectful of them. I love how much thought she put into transforming the quarters for each faction into places where they would feel at home and safe…

 

I will not say anything about the rest of the story, because I want the readers to experience it for themselves. My recommendation is buy this book immediately. I won’t regret it. And when is the next one coming out?

Admiral (An Evagardian Novel) by Sean Danker.

Stars: 2 out of 5.

Our protagonist wakes up in a sleeper (something like a cryo-sleep capsule) on a strange ship in the company of three young recruits fresh out of the military academy on the way to their first duty stations. Problem is, the ship isn’t moving, the crew is missing, all the systems are malfunctioning, and they seem to be stranded on a strange planet with no means to contact anyone. Oh, and they might not be alone on that apparently deserted planet either. So in the light of those problems, the fact that he has somehow been promoted to Admiral while he was in cryo-sleep seems like just a trivial matter. After all, what’s a rank if you probably won’t survive to enjoy it?

The rest of the story is a mad race against the clock and the stacking odds towards the finish line where salvation might or might not be waiting for them.

This book is a fast read. Events develop at neck breaking speed, so the characters barely have time to catch their breath before a new catastrophe hurls towards them. Problem is, the reader doesn’t have time to catch a breath either, so it becomes rather tedious after a while. Also, this book as a few too many problems for my liking.

First of all, the narrator has a VERY BIG SECRET that’s hinted upon over and over as the story unfolds. It’s intriguing at the beginning, but gets rather frustrating towards the end when we get no closer to discovering this big secret. The reveal, when it comes in the last ten pages of the book, comes about one third of a book too late, in my opinion, because by that time, it really doesn’t matter what the protagonist was before or what he’d done.

Then there is the small matter of a lot of exposition about the world we’re in, the war that supposedly just ended, the structure of the noble families in the Evagardian Empire, and even about the mysterious Empress who cruises the galaxy in her megaship called the Julian and who always wears a mask so nobody’s ever seen her face…

I understand that this is the first book in what seems to be a new series and that the author needs to introduce his world, but is all that information really relevant to the problem at hand? The problem is simple – they are stranded on a strange and deadly planet and need to get off it before the environment and the natives kill them. How exactly talking about the Empress and everything else is helping them do that. Those moments of narrative exposition feel rather dissonant from the rest of the story because of that. Like we hit pause in the middle of the life or death action to listen to a dissertation about the structure of the Evagardian Empire.

Finally, the stakes shift and change on us constantly, and not only because the situation is evolving, but also because new things are introduced all the time. And the fact that three barely trained soldiers and a maybe admiral manage to overcome adversity that killed 20 000 colonists and get off that planet alive reads like science fiction, and not in a good way. In fact, the more odds the author stacks against his characters, the more implausible their escape is. There is such a thing as too much, when simple logic revolts and your brain starts screaming, “I refuse to believe this.” Not to mention that the final escape reads a lot like deus ex machina to me…

And the ending itself is… anticlimactic to say the least. I had the feeling that the book just sort of fizzled out because the author got tired of writing the story.

The underlying premise of this book had so much promise, but I think the author did both himself and the book a disservice by trying to make it into more than it was. Had he just stuck with the disaster movie like concept and left out most of the allusions to the rest of his world as well is the BIG SECRET about the protagonist out of the picture, it would have read a lot better.

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

That Darkness by Lisa Black.

Stars 2 out of 5.

 

I must admit that I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, it’s an interesting view on the nature of evil and the nature vs nurture part when it comes to creating monsters. On the other hand, the book drags out and lacks in suspense in parts. And I have a problem with the ethical and moral implications of the ending.

 

So what is this book about? It’s told from the perspective of two different protagonists. One is Maggie Gardiner, a forensic investigator who is very good at her job and is like a dog with a bone when she feels that something doesn’t adapt. Which ultimately sends her on a collision course with our second protagonist – Jack Renner, police detective by day and vigilante by night. Also quite possibly a serial killer, since he has a ritual for executing his victims and a distinct MO…

 

I kinda liked the idea behind this story and for the most part I liked how it was told and how it unfolded. I loved Maggie and how tenacious she is. How she is more than capable to hold her own in the very macho world of the law enforcement. How she doesn’t let go when she sees things that just don’t add up. He keeps digging and digging and asking often very uncomfortable questions until the picture in front of her makes sense. And she is not afraid to jump to some very dangerous conclusions – like suspecting that the vigilante is a cop.

 

It’s what she does with that information that baffles me. You suspect someone of being a serial killer, yet you still agree to go with him to the possible murder scenes? And you follow him inside one when he is clearly with his newest victim? Girl, you seemed so smart before that, did you just switch your brain suddenly?

 

And that sudden case of stupid doesn’t affect only Maggie, unfortunately. Jack seems to develop a chronic condition of it as soon as he meets her. In the first part of the book, he is shown as a meticulous and intelligent person who learns about his victim’s habits and plans the execution carefully, trying to leave as few incriminating clues as possible. Then why does he take Maggie around the crime scenes she wants to visit in the SAME CAR he uses for his killings? Really, Jack, really? It’s not even his car. He took it out of the police yard. Why not go and take another out of the dozens they have in there and NOT give a forensic investigator a chance to collect some evidence that would instantly make her suspect you?

 

I think that’s what really killed this story for me. If you portray your protagonists as smart people, then let them be smart until the end, and don’t force them to make stupid mistakes just so that you can advance your story.

 

Now the ending. I think it’s good, because it made me think about what I would have chosen in this particular situation. And let’s just say that’s where my decision defers from Maggie’s.

 

So all in all, it’s an entertaining crime novel that will help you pass a lazy afternoon at the beach, but don’t expect anything too complicated.

 

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

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.

My dreams and stories. The life of a writer.

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