City of Blades (The Divine Cities) by Robert Jackson Bennett.

Stars: 5 out of 5

Before I dive into this review, I need to mention that I absolutely loved the first book in the series City of Stairs, which I also reviewed. So I opened City of Blades with a certain amount of trepidation. Would it live up to the hype of the first book or would it leave  me disappointed? Well, I’m happy to say that this book is everything I loved in book 1 and then some!

Imagine a world where gods are as real as the mortals who worship them. Where they actually listen and respond to their worshipers. Where miracles are part of the everyday life. Where divine intervention is as common as rain or wind. This is the Divine Empire who ruled the continent and its colonies with a firm and bloody hand  for millennia…

Until Saypur, a small insular nation, invented a weapon that could kill the Divinities. Now the Empire crumbles as its gods lie dead and its great cities are in ruins, with entire chunks simply vanishing into oblivion when the miracles sustaining them stopped working. Saypur firmly believes in science and technological progress and everything remotely divine is outlawed, and worship is a crime deserving capital punishment.

The first book dealt with the aftermath of that great war that saw the death of all Divinities and changed the world in some spectacular ways. The second book asks another important question. Each God had created some kind of afterlife for their worshipers, so what happens to those afterlives and those countless souls when that Divinity dies? And what happens to the dead now that there is no afterlife waiting for them?

The protagonist of this book is someone we’ve already met in City of Stairs – General Turyin Mulaghesh, and I must say that she is just as kick ass as she was in the first book, but now that we can actually look inside her head, she also because a lot more human and endearing.

Mulaghesh is a woman adrift – she quit her post as General and went into early retirement, but the problem is that she doesn’t know how to be anything but a soldier. So all she can do is slowly drink herself to death and hope that alcohol will keep the nightmares at bay and let her sleep once in a while. When Shara offers her a chance to get back into action, she gripes and whines, but goes anyway.

I love Turyin. She is tired and disillusioned, and tormented by the past battles she fought and the people she killed. And then she lands in Voortyashtan, a city in ruins, a city whose god is dead, a city that is most hated by the Saypuri because Voortya was the goddess of war and death whose Sentinels terrorized their land for centuries. Only certain events let her believe that the goddess of death might not be as dead as she seems, and that the dead themselves don’t want to stay quiet anymore.

I think City of Blades is a bit darker than City of Stairs, because it deals with darker topics, like the meaning of war and when our actions done during war time cross the line between necessity and into atrocity. It deals with death and loss and hope and redemption. Our protagonist is broken and the city in which she arrives is broken as well, but maybe both can glue some pieces together and find a semblance of peace by the end of the story…

I am in love with this world! I want to know more about it, I want around Bulikov and Voorthyashtan, I want to read the old stories and have a chat with Shara over a steaming cup of a spicy Saypuri drink. And it’s all thanks to Mr. Bennett’s wonderful imagination and amazing writing. My only complaint is that I’m done with book 2 and I have to wait a year for book 3. Write faster Mr. Bennett!! 🙂

I am a fervent advocate of this series and I will recommend it to everyone who wants an original world populated by interesting characters and who wants to read a gripping story that asks some thought-provoking questions.

And you don’t need to have read City of Stairs to enjoy City of Blades, because it can be read as a standalone, but I would highly recommend reading both books.

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

Broken Dolls by Tyrolin Puxty.

Stars: 5 out of 5.


I didn’t expect to love this book as much as I did. The premise sounded rather quirky, so it could have gone either way for me. I’m so glad that I decided to give it a chance though, because it was blast to read! In some places Broken Dolls reminded me of another excellent book I had read – The Singular & Extraordinary Tale of Mirror & Goliath, which I have reviewed here. It has the same quirky and slightly psychedelic feel to it.


This is the story of Ella, and Ella is a doll, though she knows that she has been human before, she just doesn’t remember what it was like or anything from her past life. All she knows is the dusty attic and the big chest she lives in, the old tape recorder she plays with during her Imagination Time, and the ancient black and white TV she watches sometimes. The only person she ever interacts with is the Professor, who, even though he always tells her that she is special, nevertheless forbids her from leaving the attic and never explains anything.


She doesn’t remember how long she’s been a doll, but her peaceful and boring life changes when the Professor creates Lisa, another living doll. Lisa is a Goth and a rebel and she remember her human life. And she will stop at nothing to get her human body back and make the Professor pay for what he’s done to her.


At first, Ella thinks that Lisa is crazy and is scared of her, but then Ella meets Gabby, the Professor’s granddaughter and everything changes. Gabby is sick and Ella has the sinking feeling that the Professor will try to change her into one of his living dolls. And Ella will do everything in her power to save her new friend. So the good little dancing doll rebels for the first time in her memory.


What I loved about this book was its unpredictability. You start the book with the idea that you have the plot pretty much figured out – crazy evil Professor praying on little girls and turning them into dolls for his crazy evil pleasure. And for the first part of the book, Mrs. Puxty does a good job to cultivate that assumption… until she starts slowly revealing little details that make us doubt what’s going on and wonder if what we are seeing is perhaps not the whole truth. And in the end we discover that all of our assumptions were wrong and the villains are not who we had expected. What can I say? That was brilliant!


Nobody is who they seem to be when we first meet them, apart maybe for Gabby, but she is a 10 year old child, so not really capable of much deception. So it was fun for me to discover different sides to all these characters and to constantly have to revise my opinion of them. And the best part is that the author does those reveals in a very natural way that flows seamlessly with the story.


I also loved Ella, even though I came to hate her by the end. Well, hate is kind of a strong word. Let’s just say that I disliked the person she was when she wasn’t a doll. I won’t go into many more details because that would be a spoiler, so to know more, you need to pick up this book and read it for yourself.


The book is also well written and the story was fast paced and kept me on the edge of my sit. I devoured it in one day because I just couldn’t put it down! It’s also not very long, only about 150 pages, so that helped.


Anyway, I would definitely recommend this book. You want something fast-paced and interesting to read while curled up on your couch with a cup of hot chocolate? Broken Dolls is a book for you.


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

Evolution of a character or not all princes are jerks.

Paiting a new world, what's more exciting then that?
Paiting a new world, what’s more exciting then that?

Last week I talked about the importance of listening to your characters and letting them evolve. Today I thought that I would give you an example of that, since I had to let the characters take the reins in my current WIP – Shadow Hunters.


When I was outlining and plotting Shadow Hunters, I knew that my protagonist would be a prince. Not only that, but that he would also be a jerk. After all, this kingdom lives under absolute monarchy, which means the king and the royal family have a heck of a lot of power. On top of that, there is a rather rigid caste system with the royal family on the very top of the food chain.


So it made sense that a guy who was born with a golden spoon in his mouth and had servants cater to his every whim would grow up to be a self-absorbed and entitled jerk. So his initial character journey was to meet a girl from a very different environment, fall in love and slowly become a decent human being through a series of more and more staggering trials and obstacles.


With that plan in hand, I started writing my first draft and my protagonist immediately rebelled against me. He absolutely didn’t want to be a jerk. After fighting with him for the first three scenes of the first chapter, I threw the towel and let him drive the narrative. And I discovered some very interesting facts about my prince.


Yes, Akemi’s family is all powerful and his father rules the kingdom with a firm hand, but Akemi himself is the youngest of five children. As such, he is so far down the inheritance line that nobody even considers him a contender. His eldest brother is the Heir in waiting destined to succeed to their father and has been trained as such. His sister is the perfect lady destined to be married off to form an alliance with one of the neighboring kingdoms. He could go into the military, but his second brother already beat him to it and he is, by all accounts, an exceptional warrior. And even the scientific field is covered with his last brother the genius inventor.


Akemi couldn’t even enter the clergy because there is no clergy per se in this world. And it’s not like he has a particular talent for anything. So in the eyes of his family, he is useless. He grew up seeing indifference in his parent’s eyes and annoyance from his eldest siblings.


On top of that, he learned at a very young age that no friendship is free. All the kids that wanted to be his friends in the past and even now that he is studying at the Royal College want something in exchange for that friendship. It’s either status, influence, money, or a way to get closer to his more influential siblings, and once they get what they want, they will jump ship in a heartbeat.


So Akemi learned to wear a mask of indifference and condescending aloofness and not let anyone close enough to see his real face. Heck, he doesn’t bother to learn the names and faces of most of his followers because they change from week to week. He remembers 3-4 that stayed longer than most and even gets attached to them more than he should, despite knowing that it’s a bad idea that would only lead to heartbreak.


So instead of a self-absorbed jerk, I discovered a decent and even rather kind guy who is just so lost and disillusioned about his place in this world that he hides behind a mask. His family thinks he is useless, so he ends up believing the same, and just kinda floats with the current, not making much effort to find a road to follow in life.


So his journey through the book transformed as well. Instead of being just a plain love story where guy meets girl and she makes a human being out of him, he embarks on a journey of self-discovery. Throughout the events of this story, Akemi discovers where his allegiances lies, what his dreams are, and how far he is willing to go to protect those he loves.


I don’t know about you, but I find that kind of story a lot more interesting than the one I had planed to write in the beginning.


Deep in the Hollow by Brandy Nacole.

Stars: 4 out of 5.


Apart from a few little gripes about the last part of the story, I really loved this book.


Jo is a typical teenager faced with very untypical circumstances. A year ago she witnessed the death of her boyfriend Bryce and the circumstances were less than ordinary. Something attacked them at the overlook and pushed Bryce over the stone wall and into the hollow. Problem is, nobody believes her. In fact, everyone in the little town seems to think that she killed her boyfriend. So Jo turned from the leader of the cheering squad and popular girl into the school pariah. Only Jo isn’t as crazy as everyone thinks, and monsters do exist. And this one isn’t done with her yet…


I loved Jo. She has a very distinct voice and is a very interesting and believable character. How do you deal with a tragedy like that when you are barely 18 and struggling with your life as it is? She has PTSD and survivor guilt, and recurring nightmares of the thing that attacked her and Bryce that fateful night. So much so that she’s almost persuaded herself that she is slowly going crazy.


And it doesn’t help that the police thinks she’s guilty, and that everyone in school think the same. Even her parents bailed and left town, abandoning her with her older brother. Her brother tries to help, but the big problem is that he doesn’t believe her when she says there’s a monster haunting her dreams and think that it’s all due to depression.


How do you cope with that and not break? How do you keep on living when everyone around you would rather wish you slunk away and quietly died somewhere out of sight? Even adults would crack under that pressure. So I really admire Jo for hanging on in there and for finding the courage to do what’s right when the truth comes to light.


All these trials have made her cynical, with a rather gloomy outlook at life, but she still possesses a wry sense of humor that gives us a glimpse of the firecracker she used to be before tragedy ripped her life apart.


The story itself is suspenseful and interesting as well. I love the way it deals with difficult themes like loss and grief and the need to move on (and the guilt that arises when you are starting to move on). I liked how the author managed to show the stifling atmosphere of a little town where everybody knows everybody and rumors spread at the speed of sound. And where deep dark secrets are kept from generation to generation.








The gripe I had mentioned earlier has to do with the coven that comes into the limelight in the last part of the book. First, it felt like it popped into existence almost out of nowhere. Second, the members of the coven were way too bat shit crazy to be believable. I mean how can they function and appear normal in everyday life when they fly off the handle like it was depicted in the scene on the overlook?


But apart from that, it was a very enjoyable read, and I would love to see this book turned into a series.


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

Let your characters grow and evolve.


For me, the two key ingredients of a good book is an interesting plot and engaging characters that I want to follow through the highs and lows and growing pains until the end of the book.

I must admit that characters come before plot for me. I am willing to follow well-made characters through even the most boring plot if I like them enough, because they become like friends to me to the point when I’m sad to say goodbye when the book ends. I think that’s part of the appeal of fanfiction – we readers love the characters so much that they loathe to let them go after the official story ended and invent new stories for them. Or explore side characters that the author didn’t have time or book space to delve into.

But I’m getting side-tracked here. I read a lot. A lot lot. And I’ve noticed that there is one thing that will make me drop a book like a hot potato EVERY SINGLE TIME – when I can’t find a single character, even a side character, to like.

I’ve also identified several reasons for that. I think that keeping them in mind while writing my books will make me a better writer, and reading about them might make you guys think about it as well.


  1. Characters never evolve past static cardboard cutouts.

We’ve all picked up a book where the characters have no personality, no life. They are just a bag of walking clichés, or they were created to fulfill predetermined roles – the brooding hero, his love interest who is sometimes a damsel in distress and sometimes a badass girl who nevertheless needs rescuing, the super bad who is bad because of reasons, etc. Or sometimes they are just bland and blah. When I read a book and can’t even picture what the protagonist looks like in my head and how he / she behaves, I’m not going to stick with the story.

Original by nord_modular on Flickr
Original by nord_modular on Flickr
  1. Characters are well-developed but they don’t evolve.

This one leave a bitter taste in my mouth every time because the stories begin with great characters that I usually get invested into, but by the time I reach about halfway into the book, I suddenly realize that they hadn’t grown up at all. That despite all the adventures, the difficulties, and the heartbreak they go through during the story, they stay exactly the same. There is no emotional growth. Worst case would be when they never learn from their own mistakes and continue doing dumb things over and over again.

By the time you realize that there is no forward momentum in the character’s evolution, you’ve already invested several hours into the book, so sometimes you feel compelled to power through to the end, often wishing you could get those hour back and spend them on something more productive.


  1. Characters that behave out of character because the author tries to fit them into a story they’ve outgrown.

When we set off to write a book, we usually have at least a vague idea of where this story is supposed to go and how we would like it to end. Problems arise when our characters take a life of their own and start telling their own story that sometimes clashes with what we had initially in mind.

What I’m about to say is my personal opinion only, but I think it would be a mistake to try and herd them back into the fold and bend them backwards in order to fit the story we had created. It’s like trying to put a square peg into a round hole. Even if you hammer it in there, it still won’t feel right.

That’s when otherwise very logical and well-written characters start behaving in such a manner that makes you scratch your head and wonder what they or the author was smoking. When a heroine how was known to use her head and analyze everything carefully and formulate a plan suddenly rushes into the enemy lair without even a weapon. Or when a cold-hearted jerk suddenly turns into a puddle of goo and declares his never dying love for the heroine WITHOUT any buildup to that change of feelings.

This is what makes me throw a book away in frustration or want to strangle the characters for suddenly becoming mere shadows of themselves. That’s where I feel most betrayed because I loved them how they were and all of a sudden I feel like they had been replaced by a doppelganger.



I think that characters have to come before the story. If they are fleshed out enough, they will tell their own  story that will probably be even more interesting than what you initially set off to write. So let your characters speak. Let them grow and evolve. And when they suddenly decide to step off the road you had outlined before them, let them do that and follow them down that rabbit hole.  That’s where the most interesting conflicts lie.

City of Light (An Outcast Novel) by Keri Arthur.

Stars: 4 out of 5.

I had only read one book by Keri Arthur before – Memory Zero, and I hadn’t been particularly impressed by it (you can read my review if you are interested), so I had been a bit apprehensive to pick up another book by her. But the premise looked interesting and I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic stories when they are well written, so I decided to give this one a try.

Boy am I glad I did! I devoured this book in two days and I would have been done earlier if I didn’t have to stop for things like work, sleep, and food.

So what is City of Light about? Well, it has your traditional plethora of supernatural species like ghosts, shifters, vampire, and demons, but the world they inhabit is rather unusual. It’s a world where the very fabric of reality had been thorn by bombs that had ended the war between humans and shifters. Humans lost, but the bombs opened gateways into a different realm which demons and wrights use to invade our reality. So in the end, nobody won. What remains of the human and shifter population now lives in heavily fortified cities that are constantly bathed in light to prevent vampires from infiltrating them. Only fools or those who have a death wish risk staying outside of their protective walls at night.

Tiger is a déchet – a bread of humanoid super soldier created by humans in a last ditch effort to turn the tide of the war in their favor. As far as she knows, she is the last surviving déchet, because shifters hunted them down and eradicated them mercilessly during and after the war. For over a hundred years after the war, Tiger lived in an old bunker with only a few hundred déchet ghosts for company only venturing out into the light-filled city when she needed food or supplies. And she would have been perfectly content to live another hundred years like that, but   the impulse to save a human child hunted by vampires turns her quiet life upside down. Now her sworn enemies become her reluctant allies, her long lost friend might have become her enemy, and something really shady is brewing in the world outside her bunker.

I absolutely loved Tiger! She is a kickass heroine who can literally kick ass and doesn’t need a man to rescue her. In fact, she does the rescuing of the said man a few times herself, which is a nice reversal on the usual trope. I also like how complex her character is and that the author let us get into her head and really understand what makes her tick. Like her overwhelming need to protect children for example, no matter whether they are human, shifter, or déchet. It could have been written off as just heightened maternal instinct or something, but there is a really good explanation for that instead.

I love this broken and dangerous world that Keri Arthur has created. It was well introduced and set up and I enjoyed exploring it. It’s interesting to see that the war between humans and shifters basically ended in their mutual defeat, because the demons that pour out of the holes they had thorn in their reality don’t care who they kill. So the erstwhile enemies had to become reluctant allies to survive in this new world. And it is a harsh world where light is your only protection against painful death. Where most of the planet is left to roaming vampires and humans and shifters hide behind silver-reinforced walls of a few cities.

I was really invested in the story of City of Light as well. I thought it was interesting and well-paced and kept you on the edge of your sit until the end. I won’t say anything else about it to avoid spoilers.

So why did I only put 4 stars instead of 5? Because of the ending. It felt really rushed. It left a lot of things unresolved. I understand that it’s the first book in a new series and that there needs to be a bigger story that would flow from book to book, but it felt like the author had a set maximum word count for her book and just cut off the story when she reached it. It’s not even a cliffhanger per se, the story just kinda stops mid-stride…

But nevertheless I sincerely recommend this book to everyone who loves post-app and urban fantasy! The heroine is badass and the world is interesting. I will definitely be looking forward to the next book.

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

Getting back in the saddle.


I spent most of my month of December in a slump. Like I had said in my previous post, I might as well have hibernated during those 31 days because I couldn’t scrap up even an ounce of motivation to do anything. Needless to say that my writing suffered from that slump as well.


Oh, I still managed to put some words on the page every now and then, so I wouldn’t feel too awfully guilty. I could tell my conscience, See, there’s some new words, so hush now. Problem was that those were maybe 200-300 words a day. So I had written 50k words in the month of November and barely 15k in the whole of December. That’s a DRASTIC fall in productivity for me.


So on January 1st, I finally pulled out my Excel word count spreadsheet that I hadn’t touched since sometimes in the beginning of December and updated it with the pitiful word counts I’ve had. The results were rather depressing. If I kept going at this rate, I wouldn’t be done with the first draft of Shadow Hunters until end of March. And that provided that I manage to wrap it up in 100k words, which I never do on first drafts.


Now I don’t have a deadline or a publisher breathing down my neck. There is no editor waiting to tear into my draft. Technically,  I could take as much time as I want. I used to enjoy that freedom, but I think it’s done me a disservice in this instance – it made me too complacent.

Lack of Motivation
Lack of Motivation

Yes, I could putter around with the draft, adding 200-300 words here and there and finish the damn story just in time to start a new one for NaNoWriMo 2016. But I have other writing goals for 2016, like editing and rewriting other works, writing several short stories, and publishing at least one book. I can’t accomplish any of these if I drag my feet.


So I gave myself a mental kick in the butt and set myself a hard deadline. I need to finish Shadow Hunters by February 15th. This means I need to write at least 800 words per day every day until then, no matter what. No matter how I feel, no matter how (un)motivated I am, I will sit my butt in that chair and I won’t take my fingers off the keyboard until those 800 words are on the page. And I will make sure to update my spreadsheet everyday as well to keep track of my progress.


Setting up that deadline actually worked wonders for my motivation too. I had written more in the past 4 days than in the 10 last days of 2015. And I actually feel excited about my writing and my story again. It’s not just meh, need to kick that can down the road anymore. It’s wow, let’s see what shit I can land my poor characters in this time. Rubs her hands together with an evil grin at that thought


And since I’m finally out of my slump, the motivation to write blog posts is also back! So expect regular updates on this site once again and the return of book reviews every Friday. I have at least good books screaming to be reviewed right now.


I am so sorry to all my readers that I let the blog fall by the wayside in the past few months. I could give the excuse of work and NaNo and winter blues, but the reality is that there is no excuse. It was just plain laziness on my part. I will do better in 2016.


Pfew, that’s it for my 2016 resolutions. How about you, my loyal readers, what resolutions will you set up for this new year?