White Christmas – Korean mini-series.

Stars 5+ out of 5


Today I am stepping away from tradition and reviewing not a book, but a TV series, and a Korean TV series to boot. Well, this series is an absolute masterpiece so I couldn’t help by share it on my blog, because more people should be able to watch it. I just wish it was more readily available on official streaming services.


Susin High School, nicknamed “Prison High” or Alcatraz by both students and staff, is an elite school attended by the top 1% of students in Korea. During the 8 days of Christmas break, 8 students decide to stay behind instead of going home like everybody else. Seven of them have received a threatening black letter, while the eight one has motives of his own. Stuck with them is the PT teacher who volunteered to supervise them during the break and a psychiatrist whose car crashed on the mountain road nearby. When a record snow fall blocks the roads leading to the school, they are cut off from the rest of the world for 8 days, and there might possibly be a killer in their midst.


At first, this show sounds like a typical teenage slasher movie – 8 students, 8 days of isolation, who will survive at the end? Or like one of the Agatha Christi mysteries – 10 people stuck together and a letter threatening to kill one or 7 of them. So it might just be a “whodunit” movie. And for the first 2 episodes, it seems to be exactly that – the students try to figure out why they received that letter and who sent it.


… and then the story suddenly changes and the stakes go way up and it’s not just a matter of who sent the letter, but a desperate fight for survival for everyone involved.

White Christmas
Meet the students

Are monsters born or are they created? That’s the main question this show seeks to answer by pitting all the characters against their worst fears and pushing them to their breaking points.


I loved everything about this show. It’s only 8 episodes long but it manages to introduce us to all the characters and show us why they are who they are and behave like they do. More than that, it manages to make us care about those 8 students even if we still don’t like some of them. They are real, they are human, and we get them. So it’s becomes particularly painful to see them each face their own “monster in the corner” and slowly break down.


I think that we have the excellent writing and directing to thank for that, but also the talented actors, all of whom were unknowns at the time this series was filmed. All of them went to have successful acting careers afterwards. They really owned their characters and managed to portray all the good and the bad in them so realistically that you can’t help but root for them until the end.


The cinematography is top notch as well. Everything you see on the screen has a hidden meaning. The school itself is a huge building made of glass and concrete. It looks light and cold by day and threatening and suffocating by night. It’s all sharp angles and stark modern furniture. It’s so sterile and cold that it looks more like a hospital than school… Or a prison, since there are CCTVs everywhere, even in the student dorms.


There are also several shots of our characters in front of mirrors which echo something one of the characters says, “Your faces when alone and the faces you show to others are different.” So it’s rather ominous and fitting that all of them get to see several reflections of themselves, one of which might be a monster.


… And I could rant about this series on and on, but I will refrain myself because mentioning anything else would be spoilery.  So buy it and watch it. You will not regret it at all. It’s only 8 hours long but you will be at the edge of your sit through all of it.

PS. For US readers (and I think Europe also), this drama has been licensed and is available on the streaming site Viki.com – White Christmas.

The Casquette Girls by Alys Arden.

Stars: 4 out of 5.


I actually loved this book a lot more than I thought I would. It’s well written and even though it takes the tragedy that was hurricane Katrina and uses it as a plot device, it’s well done and not used only to wring tears from the readers.


In fact, when this book starts, the Storm, because the hurricane that devastated New Orleans in this book was so big that it didn’t even have a name, is already over. The protagonist and her family are left to pick up the broken pieces of their lives that were left in its wake.


What I loved the most about this book is the description of New Orleans. You can see that the author loves this city and knows a lot about its history and mythology. New Orleans is alive and vibrant on these pages, even when it’s broken and flooded and full of death and rot. It’s still a city unlike any others, full of magic and religion and voodoo, full of quirky people who speak a strange mélange of French, English, and Creole. A city that will party and sing even when the world is ending just to prove to it that it’s still alive. Laissez les bons temps rouler.


I loved all the quirky characters this books is populated with. The inhabitants of the Vieux Carre all feel like one big dysfunctional but loving family. Those are the die hards, the ones who came back as soon as the city was deemed safe enough to return because they simply couldn’t imagine their life anywhere else. And you can feel their love for their beautiful (if destroyed) city through all their words and actions. Kudos to the author for showing that.


I also liked Adele, the main protagonist. Yes, she is seventeen and dreams of boys and dresses and first love, but when push comes to shove, she demonstrates a surprising level of maturity and determination. More importantly, she acts instead of reacting. Love protagonists like that! I love that she is no damsel in distress either and prefers to resolve her own problems herself instead of waiting for someone else to do that for her. And that she takes matters personally when people she cares about are hurt.


So by now you are probably wondering why I gave The Casquette Girls only 4 stars out of 5 if I liked this book so much? Well, the thing that didn’t work for me was the love story. My first gripe is purely subjective and personal – I don’t like love triangles. But I hate it even more here because it didn’t really feel like a love triangle until the last fourth of the book. For most of it, Addie had feelings for Nico and a developing friendship with Isaac… but then all of a sudden it shifts, but not really. So it felt like Addie settled for the second best because the first choice was unavailable. This is not fair to Adele and not fair to Isaac, because both are great characters.


But since it’s the first book in a series, I am willing to give the author the benefit of the doubt on that account and hope that she either develops that relationship better in the future books or resolves it in a way that makes sense.


All in all, this is a wonderful book that I would definitely recommend. If you want to read a story of magic, vampires, old family secrets, and new friendships, all set in the magical city of New Orleans, this book is definitely for you.


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

Zero World by Jason M Hough.

Stars: 2.5 out of 5

I had a lot of difficulty grading this particular book. There are many things I loved about it and just as many that I absolutely hated, and some left me indifferent. So after much internal debate, I decided on 2.5 stars.

Let’s talk about the things I loved first.

I liked the technologically advanced Earth of the future that we are introduced to in the beginning of the book. The space travel, the physical enhancements and implants that seems to be common amongst the population. I would have loved to have been able to explore that world a bit more and I was disappointed when the focus shifted towards Gartien.

But I loved Gartien as well, because I’m a sucker for well-crafted new worlds and the amount of work the author put into creating this world that is so close but yet different to our Earth is impressive. I love the details the author added to flesh out those differences, be it in the customs and habits of its inhabitants, or in their speech patterns and religious beliefs. Even their physiology is slightly different than ours.

Character-wise, I liked Melni. She is a strong woman and an effective undercover operative who is very good at planning, but can think on her feet when needed. What I didn’t like is how quick she is to trust Caswell and even side with him when push comes to shove. It looked extremely out of character for someone for whom caution and suspicion were a necessity of survival.

So what didn’t I like about this book? Well, the plot was rather lacking to be frank. It starts like a science fiction spy / assassin thriller then shifts gears about 50 pages into the book and becomes a sort of Indiana Jones-esque romp through Gartien with seemingly half the world in hot pursuit of our protagonists. And it ends… I won’t say anything about the ending there apart from it was messy and left me highly dissatisfied.

The plot also left me with the feeling that the author started with one book in mind, then flipped everything into a different direction halfway through. There are also some lapses of logic in the character’s actions that I found hard to get past.

For example, Caswell only has 15 days to complete his mission before the implant in his brain automatically resets his memory back to 15 days ago, erasing all knowledge of where he is and what he is supposed to do. Yet, when we get bogged down in the details of his journey with Melni (whom he follows almost halfway across the world), that sense of urgency is lost. I mean, hello, your clock is ticking, Caswell, show a bit more concern about it!

Speaking of Caswell. This is the first book where the protagonist left me absolutely indifferent. It’s not that I didn’t like him and I didn’t really hate him. I just could care less about him and whether he survived to complete his mission. Maybe because in my eyes, Caswell is a coward. He chose to get that implant because that way he can kill as many people as he needs and pretend that it never happened because his memory is wiped clean every time. I’m sorry, a killer is still a killer even if he doesn’t remember his kills. And the sea of bodies he leaves in his wake on Gartien only proves my point.

In other words, I was looking forward to Zero World but I leave this book rather disappointed. I liked Darwin’s Elevator much better.

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

NaNoWriMo is a battle of endurance.

NaNo-2015-Participant-Badge-Large-Square (1)

Well, we have survived the first week of NaNo. How about a big cheer? If you are like me, you spent these 8 days riding the excitement and doubling if not tripling your word count. As of today, my WIP stands 500 words shy of 20k.

Even if your word count is less than that or if you are behind the curve a little, don’t get discouraged. Remember that every words you write this month is one more word you didn’t have before that. Anything is better than zero.

But as we are entering the second week of this challenge, you have probably started noticing that your enthusiasm is waning. You might have hit a road block, or your story turned down a totally unexpected road, or you might just have gotten tired of writing it.  After all writing 1667 new words a day every day is hard and sometimes soul wrenching work. Especially if you also work full time, have a family that wants to be fed every day, and a house chores that won’t get done by themselves.

So now that the first rush is gone, it gets harder and harder to force yourself to sit down and write. If you’re like me, the sight of an empty page scares you when you stare at it first thing in the morning and the prospect to have to fill it with another 1.6k can seem daunting. That’s why I say that NaNoWriMo is a battle of endurance.

Don’t give up now. It doesn’t matter is you are ahead or behind on the word count, keep on writing. The only way you will win and, more importantly, get that novel written down, is if you work through the slump, and through the fatigue, and through the discouragement. All writers go through that stage at least once per first draft (and sometimes more than once) and the only way to get across the wall is to grit your teeth and keep climbing.


But I have a few pieces of advice to help you win this battle. They worked for me, so hopefully they will work for you as well.

  1. Pace yourself.

Don’t try to do all of your daily word count in one session, and don’t postpone that session until last thing in the evening before bed. You will be tired then and the amount of words you’d have to produce would seem more daunting than ever. Break your day into several smaller sessions instead: 400 words with your morning coffee, 300 more during your coffee or cigarette break at work, 600-700 at lunch, and all of a sudden the amount you need to do in the evening would shrink to almost nothing at all.

  1. Write down what you want to work on the next day.

Even if you’re pantsing your NaNo, I found that it helps to jot down a few thoughts before going to bed. Write down the next scene you need to work on, or just an inkling of who where and what will happen. That why the next morning you won’t have to frantically rake your brain about where your story is going. You would have a departure point to start on your writing.

  1. When you hit a roadblock, throw a wrench at it.

If you’re stuck in your story and have no idea what to do next, make something bad happen to your characters. Then buckle up for the ride and watch them scramble to overcome this new crisis. You might get so excited about this new turn of events that you wouldn’t even notice that you hit your word count for the day.


  1. Don’t give up.

Seriously, don’t. Nope! Forbidden! It’s your story. Nobody will be able to write it if you give up. So fight on, get to the end of it one word at a time.


Write on wrimos!