The Ghoul King (A story of the Dreaming Cities) by Guy Haley.

 Stars: 5 out of 5.

 

Quinn, the Knight of the Dreaming City of Atlantis, is back in this new novella, and I’m so very happy about it! I’d read the first novella of the cycle, The Emperor’s Railroad, and absolutely loved it. If you are interested, you can read my review here. So I was eager to find out where Quinn’s adventures took him next.

 

Well, in The Ghoul King, Quinn finds himself rather down on his luck thanks to the intervention of an Angel, who took it rather personally when Quinn had killed that dragon at the end of The Emperor’s Railroad. So at the beginning of this book, Quinn has lost both his horses and his gear and is forced to fight countless waves of undead in the fighting pits of a squalid little town. So when a woman offers to tell him where his gear and horses are if he escorts her group of technophiles inside the ruined Dreaming City of Columbus, it’s not an offer he can refuse. Even if he knows that the chances that any of them will survive the trip are very slim. Even if he suspects that his employer’s reasons for entering Columbus might not be as innocent as she wants them to appear…

 

The first story gave us a glimpse into what promised to be a very complex world, but left us with more questions than answers in the end. I’m glad that in The Ghoul King, Haley answered at least some of those questions, even though those answers only added to the mystery. One of the answers we got in this book is about the origin of Angel, and just as I suspected, God had very little to do with their creation…

 

Just like in the first book, the reader sees this story through the eyes of a narrator who knows very little about the ugly reality behind the lies he’ grown up with. Though in this case, Jaxon is in possession of more knowledge then Abney from the first book. A forbidden knowledge that would get him killed if the Angels knew he had stumbled upon it. I love how Guy Harley manages to submerge the reader in his narrator’s point of view so seamlessly, that even though we recognize most of the things he describes, we understand why they would seem fantastical and incomprehensible to him. After all, Jaxon was born to a mostly medieval world, so he wouldn’t know what a computer or an elevator shaft is. He’d seen trains, but they were powered by clunky coal engines, so when he sees train tracks in a tunnel buried under a city, he can’t fathom how a train would travel through without its passengers suffocating.

 

And I understand his growing disappointment and even resentment towards the Angels because they decided to keep most of the knowledge of the Gone Before from common people. As a healer, he can’t understand what harm it could do to let doctors study the old textbooks. To educate the masses about microbes and bacteria and that washing your hands and separating your sewage from your drinking water would alleviate a lot of health problems. He doesn’t understand why his desire to learn how to help people would get him banished. And his encounter with Quinn, as well as the ill-fated trip into Columbus only reinforces his conviction that something is very wrong with the world he lives in…

 

As I said, this book gives us some answers and lifts the curtain a bit further over this interesting and complex world, but this story also raises more questions. What do the Angels do with the young people they collect from the villages every year? What happened in Atlantis to make Quinn rebel against the Angels? What is he looking for? And why did the Angels of Atlantis let him live? And also what cataclysm could transform what used to be a highly technological world into a barren wasteland where the remnants of humanity cling to small medieval cities?

 

I am looking forward to more stories set in this world and I hope that I will eventually get all the answers I want.

 

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

The Big Sheep by Robert Kroese.

 Stars: 3 out of 5

 

Blake Fowler works for Erasmus Keane, a brilliant private detective. When they are called on a case of a missing sheep, he doesn’t even suspect the depth of trouble they will get themselves into if they decide to take the case. And when a rising TV star comes to their agency to seek their help because she thinks someone wants to kill her, things only get more complicated. After all, there is only two of them, so working two cases at once can get complicated. Only the two cases turn out to be more connected then they suspect…

 

Mr. Kroese has created an interesting world here. One that I wouldn’t mind exploring further. After the Collapse of 2028, when the United States briefly descended into anarchy, Los Angeles is a city divided. There is the normal city where law and order rule again, and then there is the DZ or the Disincorporated Zone, a walled off portion of the city where warlords rule, police is none-existent, and human life is cheaper than a penny.

 

We get to explore both sides of LA in this book, but I would have loved to see how the rest of the US and the world fared as well. Does each city have their own DZ? How did other governments cope with the Collapse? Maybe we will learn about that if the author decides to continue this story.

 

So all in all, I liked this book and I really liked our protagonist, Blake Fowler. He isn’t a genius investigator like Keane, but he has a good head on his shoulders. Besides, his function in this duo is not to spin crazy theories, but to keep Keane grounded when he digresses too much and to provide raw muscles when things get dangerous. And when it comes to kicking ass, Blake delivers.

 

Unfortunately, even though the protagonists are good, the same couldn’t be said about the villain. I won’t name names, because that would be big spoiler and certain to ruin the enjoyment of the book, but a lot of times I wanted to hand the antagonist Pete’s Evil Overlord List and make them memorize it, especially the following points:

 

I will not gloat over my enemies’ predicament before killing them.

 

When I’ve captured my adversary and he says, “Look, before you kill me, will you at least tell me what this is all about?” I’ll say, “No.” and shoot him. No, on second thought I’ll shoot him then say “No.”

 

I mean seriously, I have never seen an antagonist spend more time explaining their whole plan in specific details than in this book. Not only does that come across as unrealistic and frankly rather stupid on the villain’s part, but it also gets annoying very quickly. You have several scenes full of action and tension… and then over 10 pages of exposition. Tension killed. Yawn fest begins. I admit that by the end, I skimmed over all that to get to the next action scene, because I didn’t WANT to hear about the reasons behind all the actions anymore. I just wanted to know how it ended.

 

So all in all, it was an enjoyable read, even though it could have been so much better with a villain who didn’t feel the need to tell their life story in great detail to the private investigators they were about to kill anyway.

 

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

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.

 

My dreams and stories. The life of a writer.

%d bloggers like this: