Alliance (A Linesman Novel) by S. K. Dunstall.

Stars: 5 out of 5.


First of all, can I squeee like a fangirl that the second book in this series if finally out? OMG OMG, I’m so happy!!!! Ahem, now that I got that off my chest, let’s proceed with the review, shall we? 🙂


I read and absolutely loved Linesman, the first book in this series, and you can read my raving review here if you want, so I had been waiting for Alliance with bated breath. I am happy to say that I haven’t been disappointed. I burned through that book in three days, and I would have finished earlier, but I had to work, eat, sleep, and exercise as well. I absolutely loved it! I would have given it 10 stars if I was judging books in a 10 star scale.


But let’s stop digressing and dive into the story, shall we?


Alliance picks up a few weeks after the end of Linesman. There’s been a major power shift in the different fractions that share the known space, with several words forming the New Alliance and going against Gate Union. The conflict hasn’t degenerated into a full blown war yet, but it’s mostly because Gate Union is confident that they can suffocate the New Alliance by cutting their access to the jump gates. And the New Alliance is still trying to figure out how to use the alien ships they had discovered in book 1. Because the problem is that Ean managed to link several human ships to the Eleven (the alien line ship), but he has no idea how to unlink them and let them move separately. They all jump together or not at all. Kinda hard to wage a war when your fleet can’t break formation isn’t it?


I love that we start this book exactly where the previous one left off, because this is such a complex word and Linesman raised to many interesting questions about the true nature of lines and the way linesmen interacted with them. I’m happy that the author chose to explore that further in Alliance. And we finally learn what line seven does! It’s not as useless as everyone had assumed for nearly 500 years, and proves to be quite crucial in some rather tense situations.


I also loved that we got more development into the relationship that grows between a captain and his or her ship. It was hinted in the first book that a captain bonds with his ship and that the lines end up reflecting a bit of the captain’s distinct personality. That’s why Captain Helmo immediately noticed when Ean touched on of the lines on the Lancastrian Princess without his approval in book 1.


In Alliance, we discover that captains pretty much bound with their ship for life, that’s why once you assume captainship of a ship, you never move anywhere else. Ship = Captain, hence the instances of “mad ships” when captains die in an accident or are killed, and why captains usually don’t survive the destruction of their ship.


And here comes Captain Selma Kari Wang, the only survivor of a vicious attack on her ship. She lost her legs, she lost her crew, she lost her ship, and with that, she lost her soul and her will to continue living. But to her dismay, the New Alliance wants to put her on the alien ship Eleven. Putting an experienced captain on a brand new ship is never done, but political struggles in the New Alliance play so that nobody asks her about her opinion on the matter. So she is sent on a ship she doesn’t want or care about, that nobody else understands either, when all she wants is to crawl in a hole and die.


Of course, she clashes with Ean, who has a dilemma now. He knows that the lines are more sentient than anybody has ever thought, and that ships need a captain and crew to be happy. But they need a good captain and a close-knit crew. He knows that the alien ships are lonely and crying to be manned and used. He knows that there is a deficit of captains out there and that the crewing of such a strategic ship will be mired in political jostling and problems. But he can’t accept a captain that doesn’t want or appreciate her ship, or who is borderline suicidal…


But those problems have to be put on the back burner when somebody seems very determined to kidnap Ean, and when Gate Unions keeps jumping suicide ships into the Eleven’s fleet in an effort to destroy it in one swift explosion.


All my favorite characters are back, some minor characters from book one get more development and step up to play major roles, and we are introduced to a few awesome new characters as well, like Selma Kari Wang.


The story is fast-paced and full of tense moments, so much so that I couldn’t put it down. I HAD to start the next chapter and see where the story was going as soon as finished the previous one.


So if you are looking for a cracktastic sci-fi series to start, I would recommend picking up Linesman and Alliance at the same time, and you are guaranteed at least a week of exciting reading.


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

In Memoriam – Alan Rickman.

Alan Rickman

Alan Rickman would have turned 70 yesterday. Unfortunately, Fate decided differently, and he passed away on January 14, 2016, after loosing a battle against cancer.

But I couldn’t let this date pass without honoring one of my favorite actors at least in some way, so today I decided to talk about some of Alan Rickman roles that I loved the most. He has been in so many movies, theatrical plays, and radio shows, and even lent his beautiful voice to audio books, that it’s impossible for me to list them all. And I probably haven’t seen all of them either. So I will concentrate on those that I particularly loved.

  1. Hans Gruber in Die Hard.

I think this was one of the first Alan Rickman’s movies I’ve seen and I was 11 years old then. It just goes to show how impressed (and terrified) I was of Hans Gruber that I remember him even after all those years. Hans was magnificent in his ruthlessness and baddassery with a slight touch of crazy. One of the best villains ever.

Die Hard

2. The Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves.

It just goes to show how good Alan Rickman was at playing villains that he managed to transform this rather one dimensional character into somebody I in turn hated, despised, and pitied. He gave the Sheriff of Nottingham a touch of humanity and more than a few doses of insanity. Compared to how dull Robin Hood himself was in this movie, the Sheriff was a joy to watch.

Robn Hood prince of thieves

3. Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility.

As good as Alan Rickman was at playing a villain, he was absolutely swoon worthy as a romantic character. Colonel Brandon was a man of few words, but his eyes spoke volumes. He could melt your heart into a puddle with just one long soulful look. I kept yelling at Marianne to open her eyes and grab on to the treasure that this man was instead of chasing after Willoughby.

Sense and Sensibility

4. Metatron in Dogma

And if you thought he was excellent at playing villains or romantic heroes, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen him in Dogma. He was awesome as Archangel Metatron, The Voice of God. He was so full of sass and sarcasm and quick wit that I’m not gonna include a picture here, but a whole video clip instead. You’re welcome.

5. Professor Snape in Harry Potter.

This is probably the most iconic role Alan Rickman ever played. I’m safe to say that for my generation,  and for younger generations, the name of Professor Snape will always be associated with Alan Rickman. He embodied that character so perfectly, that I can’t imagine anyone else as Severus Snape.

Severus Snape


And there you have it, my five favorite roles Alan Rickman played. What are yours? He was a wonderful actor and human being who touch countless hearts. Our world grew a little duller now that he is gone.

Happy Birthday, Maestro! I miss you.

Oasis (The Last Humans book 1) by Dima Zales.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

This is the first book I read by Dima Zales and I must say that I’m impressed. I will definitely pre-order the second book in the series and check out his other works.

Theo is one of the Youths living in Oasis, the last stronghold of humanity on an Earth that has been destroyed by the Goo. Life is good in the Oasis. Everybody is happy and healthy, since all sicknesses, both physical and mental, have been eliminated.

So everything is sunny in Theo’s world… only Theo has a problem – for the past few weeks, he’s been hearing a voice in his head. His imaginary friend calls herself Phoe and insists that she is real and not a figment of his imagination. And to make things worse, his best friend Mason confides in him that he committed not one, not two, but three horrible infractions that would surely land him in a world of trouble with the Adults. 1. He fell in love with a girl. 2. He confessed to that girl. 3. He feels depressed because she rejected him in horrified horror.

They decide to sleep on it, but when Theo wakes up the next morning, Mason is gone and nobody in the Oasis remembers that he even existed, except him. That’s when Theo’s search for the truth begins as well as his race against the clock, because the Elders know that he is different from other Youths now and difference will not be tolerated.

I loved how fast paced this book was but how at the same time we were given just enough information to understand Theo’s world as well as the backstory. And it was dolled in in small chunks throughout the story so that the reader didn’t feel overwhelmed and bored by info dumps.

We begin our journey firmly in Theo’s head and it’s very easy to relate to his emotions and problems. He doubts his own sanity because of Phoe, and he doubts Phoe’s very existence as well, but his biggest problems is that he cannot talk to anyone about this because he will be punished for being different. And when Mason goes missing, he ends up utterly alone with nobody to turn to except Phoe. The reader goes through the journey with him, from his disbelief, to his growing horror the more he peels the veil of lies he’d been fed all his life and discovers the grizzly truth about Oasis.

It is true that apart from Theo and Phoe, not many other characters are particularly developed, but they don’t need to be. This story is centered around those two characters and their quest for the truth behind Phoe’s nature, so having an extended cast of characters would only have distracted the reader from that quest.

And while the story itself is nothing something new or earth-shattering, it’s very interesting nonetheless. Mr. Zales created a complex world, and all the revelations we discover throughout the book feel logical. At least, I never had a WTF moment while reading this, even if I had a few “why didn’t I think about that, it was staring me in the face” moments.

So if you want to read a different kind of dystopian story than the usual end of the world / postapocalyptic formula we see in many books of the genre, I would strongly recommend Oasis.  I’m very excited to read the next book in the series and see what Theo and Phoe will do now that they know the truth.

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

Signal – what Korean dramas can teach us about telling a compelling story AND keeping you on the edge or your seat.

With this blog post, I want to continue my series of posts about what Asian dramas can teach us about storytelling. You can check out my first post about it here.

This time I want to use the example of Signal, an ongoing Korean drama that, so far, is the best example of a crime procedural done right. It tells us a compelling story which includes an overarching arc relating to the characters, but also the “cases of the day” so to speak and it manages to do so with so much heart and suspense that you can’t help but get invested in every case. More than that, it makes each hour long episode a heart-pounding, edge of your seat, adrenaline ride.

Signal, a Korean Drama by TvN.
Signal, a Korean Drama by TvN.

Here is a brief synopsis of Signal:

Park Hae-Young, a young profiler and detective in 2015, manages to connect with Lee Jae-Han, a detective from the past with the help of an old walkie-talkie. Together they try to solve cold cases.

That sounds intriguing, but nothing stellar, right?

Well let’s add some more details to that. The walkie-talkie only works at 11.23pm and stays on for about one minute. And it doesn’t do that every day either. Neither cop knows when the connection will be possible again.

Also, while time for Hae-Young is linear, for Jae-Han it’s not. The first radio transmission connecting the two detectives happens in August 2015 for Hae-Young and in August 2000 for Jae-Han. At that time, Hae-Young has no idea what’s going on and thinks this transmission is a giant hoax, but Jae-Han knows exactly whom he is talking to and even calls the present detective by name, like they had spoken several times before. The next transmission Hae-Young gets though connects him with a Jae-Han from 1989, back then just a rookie cop, and it’s Hae-Young’s turn to persuade the other detective that he is not pulling his leg.

Moreover, Lee Jae-Han, the cop from the past, went missing shorty after that very first (or very last, depending on the point of view) transmission in August 2000. His official file says that he had been under investigation for embezzling money and fled the country, but the more Hae-Young digs into that, the more he suspects that it was just a carefully crafted cover up. So this is the first mystery driving this series. What happened to Jae-Han and what can both cops do to change his fate?

And finally, any changes made in the past tend to generate a ripple effect that leads to unforeseen (and often disastrous) consequences in the present.

Butterfly effect.
Butterfly effect.

When Hae-Young warns Jae-Han about the location of the next victim of a serial killer, Jae-Han manages to save her, but because of that the killer accelerates his killing spree and 3 more people die that were alive in the unaltered version of events. And one of those new victims was someone Jae-Han liked.

When Jae-Han begs Hae-Young to give him some tips about a string of burglary cases that remained unsolved even in 2015 and uses those profiling tips to catch the culprit, the repercussions are even more severe – the culprit’s daughter dies in front of his eyes in the past and he goes on a revenge killing in the present that takes the life of another cop…

This sense of immediate repercussion adds urgency and suspense to the stories, because you never know if by messing with time, the protagonists will make things worse or better. They might save lives, but they might make it so that more lives are lost as well. So both have to choose just how much to reveal and how much to leave out during each of their radio transmissions.

Timey wimey stuff
Timey wimey stuff

What adds to the suspense of this series is the fact that all the cases, even the case of the day, are tied to the members of the cold case squad one way or another either by what happened in the past or by the ripple effect of the time-altering intervention, so the viewer can’t help but be emotionally invested in the investigation because all the main characters in this series have their own backstories and lives which we get only small glimpses now and then, but which make them more than just “member X of the cold case squad” but real people with their own problem, aspirations, and heartaches.

Take the very first case, for example. Fifteen years ago, a 10 year old girl was kidnapped from in front of her school and found dead a few days later. The culprit was never found and the statute of limitation on that crime expires in 3 days. This case is very important for Hae-Young, because he was the only witness of that kidnapping, because he was the girl’s classmate and happened to see a woman lead her away. He even went to the police station right away, but nobody would talk to a 10 year old boy. He came back year after year, but nobody was interested to listen to what he had to say. That case shaped his character – he became a profiler and a cop to right a wrong, but he despises cops he works with, because in his experience, they are more worried about closing cases quickly and looking good in the public eye than actually trying to find the truth. So he doesn’t mince his words and clashes with most of his colleagues. There is no love lost between him and the other detectives, even though his profiling instincts (and the help of a magic walkie-talkie) help them solve cases.

This is how you make a series that grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let you go – engaging characters that feel like real people instead of walking labels, intricate and interesting story with stakes that are actually important for the characters, and a certain amount of unpredictability that is still consistent with the inner logic of this created world.

Midnight Taxi Tango (Bone Street Rumba book 2) by Daniel Jose Older.

Stars: 4 out of 5.

This is the second book in the series, but it can be read as a standalone without problems. I haven’t read the first book in the series, Half-Resurrection Blues, but the important points of what happened in it were mentioned in book 2, so I didn’t feel lost and confused. Plus, from what I understood, Midnight Taxi Tango covers a different story, so prior knowledge of the world and the characters is not needed.

I really enjoyed this book. More than I thought I would based on the description, actually, and it was all thanks to the wonderful characters Mr. Older has created. They are real. They are larger than life. And their emotions are sincere. You can’t help but root for them and follow them along in their search for the truth.

But those characters are also why I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars. No matter how much I tried to ignore it, Carlos got on my nerves way too much. I understand that he is going through a rough time – he’d killed the brother of the woman he loved, and she in turn tried to kill him then ran off into the sunset. I get it. What got on my nerves is how whiny he is about it. He spends most of the book either brooding about that, or trying to look for her, or brooding about his lost memories. And when the shit hits the fan and he realizes that both his woman and his babies (that he had never seen before) are in danger, he totally loses his shit. It takes the vigorous intervention of the other two protagonists to wipe him back into shape… I can live with brooding, but it gets old real fast.

Not to mention, that I really didn’t like his reaction when he learned a certain uncomfortable truth at the end of the book. I won’t mention it here because it’s a huge spoiler, but Carlos, man, why to be a douche to the woman you love…

So thank God for Kia and Reza, the other two protagonists who share the POVs in this book, because those two women are absolutely amazing. Though, kicking ass and taking names, but without becoming a cliché. Without them to kick Carlos in the nuts every now and then or drag him along kicking and screaming, he wouldn’t have made it to the end of the story.

I loved that they both had their own character and back story and agency, and never became the standard kickass female who suddenly transforms into a damsel in distress in need of rescuing by the male protagonist by the end of the book. No, both Kia and Reza did their fair share of rescuing instead. And they were the ones who collectively killed the big bad in the end, not Carlos. Kudos to strong women how they are supposed to be! I wish there were more of them out there.

And I need to mention the world these characters inhabit as well, because I found it quite interesting. It’s urban fantasy, so it’s New York pretty much like our own, but with the addition of ghosts and other unsavory supernatural entities, like the Resurrected (people who were killed, but inexplicably came back to life, or half-life, again), and the creepy bug-guys who are the baddies in this book. And those supernatural entities try to stay hidden, so most of the normal people don’t know they exist, especially since very few people have the ability to see ghosts.

What I liked about the ghosts in this world is that they are not just forlorn and powerless souls who spend their time mourning their deaths. They have powers, they can interact with the living world if they want to, and they can be deadly. So it makes sense that there would be an Agency responsible for keeping the ghostly activity in check. Though after finishing this book, I’m not so sure that their intentions are all that honorable…

Anyway, I would recommend this series for anyone who likes urban fantasy and is looking for a new take on the genre. And I am definitely looking forward to the next book, though Mr. Older, please make Carlos finally grow some balls? Or let’s just ditch him and focus on Kia and Reza. On, and that awesome librarian as well!

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

Outlines – When it’s time to throw the map out of the window.


So remember when I talked about the importance of outlines and that having a roadmap will help you get to your destination faster while writing the first draft… Yeah, well somethings things happen that throw a wrench into the well-made plan and you are left scrambling to put pieces back together. And they usually form different pattern in the end.


It’s like when you plan out a route to get somewhere only to get halfway and discover that the bridge is out. Now you are left trying to negotiate a myriad of backroads to get to your destination, and your GPS is out. Scary right? But admit that it’s also a bit exciting. Because just like driving, spending several months simply following along a rigid outline can become boring.


I know I was getting a bit tired of my well-planned out story when I finished Part 2 of Shadow Hunters and started on Part 3. And that’s when the writing gods threw a wrench in my plans and made my writing time exciting again.


It all started when a character whom I didn’t have any big plans for decided to not only appear early, but also to take an active role in the story.


When he showed up, I said, “Well hello there! What am I supposed to do with you?”


He smiled and blew up my carefully constructed bridge leading to the final destination.


So now I and the rest of the characters are stuck on the backroads of the story. We see the destination, but what stretches between us and shining light called THE END is terra incognita.


But you know what? I’m looking forward to my writing time again now. I know that I can still use some of the plot points and scenes I had outlined, but they will have to be arranged differently and probably have an unexpected outcome. But a lot of this Part 3 will be totally new. Who will live? Who will die? How will the situation be resolved? Shit, I have no idea now! How cool is that?


So this is my long-winding way of saying that while having an outline is important because it lets you really think your story through to the ending, sticking to it like glue can be a bad thing. Use it as a guideline, but never be afraid to step off the beaten path.


When a character starts doing something unexpected? By all means, let him! And cheer him on too, because chances are, he is giving you narrative gold. When a carefully planned scene suddenly reaches an unplanned outcome, don’t delete it and try to rewrite so that it fits your outline. Let it run its course and see where it leads. Even if it doesn’t quite make sense at the time, even if that means you will have to rewrite parts of the story you have already written down afterwards. Let it flow, because this is your story telling you how it wants to be written.


So throw away the map and jump into the unknown with a smile on your face, just don’t lose sight of the end game! You might meander a little and take a detour or two, but you will certainly find some hidden gems along the way.


Write on, my friends, write on.