Tag Archives: 5 stars

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.

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.

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.

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.

mirrors

… 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.

Linesman by S.K. Dunstall.


Stars: 5 out of 5.

I must admit that I absolutely loved this book. It’s one of those books that grabs you from the first page and doesn’t let you go until you are done with the story. Needless to say that I spent a few sleepless nights finishing it up and was rather useless at work the next day because I just couldn’t put it down.

Humanity has spread through the cosmos and populated numerous worlds, all thanks to the Line technology – a technology humans had found on an alien spaceship and successfully replicated. The lines allow spaceships to travel through the void, making travel in space instantaneous. There are a total of 10 lines on a ship and each one is responsible for a different function, but the most important ones are line 9, which takes the ship in and out of the void, and line 10, which allows the ship to travel through the void to another destination.

However, nobody really understands how those lines work or why only certain people have the affinity to repair and maintain those lines. These people care called linesmen and they are ranked from rank 1 to 10, by the number of lines they can interact with. Level 10 linesmen are the rarest and the most important, thus the most sought after.

Then there is Ean Lambert who, while a certified 10, is a joke even among his peers. He came to the cartels late in life and pretty much taught himself how to communicate with the lines. And his method is very unorthodox to say the least. He sings to the line, because he perceives them as music, not as energy like all other linesmen. And he is persuaded that the lines are sentient. No wonder everyone else thinks he’s crazy. Until an alien ship appears in human space and it has a line that only Ean Lambert can hear and interact with…

I absolutely loved Ean. He has a huge chip on his shoulder because he has always been made to feel inadequate. Because of his origin as a kid from the slumps. Because he came to the cartel house as a teenager instead of a small child. Because his methods are unlike the standard methods thought by the cartels, thus are considered wrong. Because he’s always been the laughing stock of his peers.

What I love is that even though he doesn’t have much self-esteem at all, he still refuses to bend and conform to the “traditional” way of doing things. When it comes to the lines, he will always do what feels right, even if it means singing until his voice breaks and everybody looks at him like he has a few screws loose in his brain. He loves these lines, and amazingly enough, they return that feeling. I am happy with the personal growth Ean goes through in this book and that he finally finds a place where he belongs and where he is happy.

The world of Linesman is also really complex and interesting. There are several different factions and world alliances that are at the brink of war, and the appearance of a potential new weapon has all of the scrambling to get to it first.  Political alliances are brokered and broken, tensions run high, and skirmishes threaten to degenerate into a full-blown armed conflict.

There is a sense of urgency throughout this book that keeps your turning the pages, because you want to know what happened to Ean and the crew of the Lancastrian Princess and make sure that they are all okay.

Anyway, I strongly recommend this book to all science fiction lovers and I’m looking forward to Book 2 that’s supposed to come out in February.

Dark Star by Oliver Langmead.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

Dark Star is one of the strangest books I’ve read in a while. It’s written entirely in epic verse, even though the story it tells is more reminiscent of a noir movie than an epic ballade. I admit that this format was rather off-putting at first. I almost closed the book when I saw it. I’m glad I didn’t.

This book is like a dark vortex – it moves slowly at first, luring you with a false sense of security, then sucks you in faster than a whirlpool. Once you start reading, you cannot put it down. And the epic verse gives this story a fascinating depth as well: the format doesn’t allow for wasted words, so the author has to make all of them count. As a result, they have a bigger impact on the reader, highlighting the story like the beam of a good flashlight. Once I started reading it, I simply couldn’t put it down.

Vox is a world of eternal darkness, a planet revolving around a start that’s just a dark hole in the sky, absorbing all light. The city of Vox is powered by three Hearts that had been taken out of the starships that had crashed on this inhospitable world. Light is a precious commodity in this world. People could kill for a functioning lightbulb. And light is growing dimmer and dimmer with each passing year, so it’s no surprise that when one of the Hearts is stolen, the city is plunged into chaos.

But for Inspector Virgil Yorke, the theft of the Heart is not as important as the discovery of a dead girl with so much light in her veins that she glows brighter than any lightbulb even in death. And he will investigate the circumstances of her death with the tenacity of a pit-bull, especially since everyone in the precinct wants this death to be swept under the rug…

It’s rare for me to write a raving review for a book. It seems like no matter how much I enjoy a story lately, I can’t help but find some flaws in it that dampen my enthusiasm. Dark Star is the rare exception to that rule. There is absolutely nothing I can critique here. I loved every single world of this strange epic poem.

I loved Yorke. He is broken. He is hopeless. He is drowning in darkness and haunted by his own ghosts just as Vox is drowning in the non-light of its dark star with light-starved people haunting its streets. He is the best possible guide through this dark world. No wonder that his first name is Virgil. Like Dante’s Virgil, he is leading the reader through his own version of dark hell, and you can’t help but stick for the ride, because no matter how broken and disenchanted Yorke is, he is also very human.  I liked him. I understood him. I empathized with him. And I knew that even if he found out who had killed Vivian North and why, it would not change his own circumstances.

Yes, Dark Star does not have a happy ending, not entirely. It just brings a little bit of light and maybe some peace to the tortured souls of Vox before the end. And allows Virgil Yorke to finally let go of his ghosts…

Do you want to read a wonderful book with a profound story that touches you? That reads like a song, a strange and haunting melody that will stay with you long after you close the book, like the memory of light in a dark room? Then pick up Dark Star. Don’t let the unusual format put you off. This is a must read and re-read in my books.

PS. I received and advanced copy of this book courtesy of NetGalley.

Radiant (Towers Trilogy Book 1) by Karina Sumner-Smith.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

 

This book is a rare mixture of post apocalypse and anti-utopia with magic and even zombies thrown into the mix. It takes an exceptionally good plot and a strong protagonist to make such an mixture work, at least for me, but Karina Sumner-Smith hit the bulls eye with this novel.

 

This is a story about choices and consequences. It’s about growing up and realizing that sometimes the wellbeing of another person is more important than your own comfort. But more importantly, this story is about a true friendship between two very strong but very different girls. Xhea is a girl without magic in a world where everything and everyone lives and breathes magic, but she can see and talk to ghosts when normal people don’t even believe that they exist. Shai is one such ghost, but a ghost that is vibrating with magic when no ghost should be able to generate any.

 

There isn’t much backstory about the world Xhea and Shai live in, which actually makes sense, because Xhea has no way of knowing what brought in the cataclysm that left the extensive ruins she lives in. There are the Towers – beautiful floating semi-organic structures where those who were lucky enough to be born with strong magic live. They live in symbiosis with those Towers: they create and maintain them with their excess magic and in exchange the Towers give them a home and a place to belong. There is a complex web of politics and commercial treaties as well as non-aggression pacts between the Towers. Their citizens live sheltered lives of privilege compared to those who inhabit the Lower City.

 

Anyone who doesn’t possess enough magic to be useful to a Tower is cast down to try and carve a life out of the crumbling ruins of the ancient City that sprawls on the harsh and barren ground below the towers. But even here, on the ground, the level of your magic is important and the stronger spell casters are recruited by the communities living in the husks of several skyscrapers. There, much like in the distant Towers above, magic is the only currency. You can get a meal and a place to sleep for a few renai – plastic pieces infused with the caster’s magic. You can get more if you sign a servitude contract with the skyscraper that sheltered you.

 

Xhea doesn’t fit into this world no matter how much she would love to because she has no magic at all, not a glimmer, not a drop. To everybody else in this society she is worse than useless – she is a burden, an oddity that is to be ignored or eliminated. She manages to stay on this side of starvation by offering her services to those who want to get rid of their ghosts, or who want to talk to them. Business isn’t booming because not many people believe in ghosts, even if the more magically sensitive can sort of feel their presence next to them. Xhea is jaded and bitter and very much out for herself… until a well-dressed man from the Towers asks her to keep the ghost of his daughter for a few days in exchange for renai and food rations.

 

I loved Xhea. She comes across as rude and selfish at the beginning of the book, but, as I described earlier, she has every reason to be. She’d had to survive on her own for most of her life, and the only time she really cared for someone, that person ended up abandoning her. But she evolves. She changes. She goes above and beyond what’s asked of her to help Shai once she discovers what fate awaits the ghost.

 

Shai is a wonderful character as well. She could have been a typical damsel in distress – stuck and helpless, waiting for Xhea to save her, but the author managed to give her agency as well. Which is no small feat considering that she is already dead at the beginning of this story. Yes, Xhea saves Shai, but Shai saves Xhea as well. They are two broken children who had been hurt by the world around them but who manage to comfort each other and draw strength from one another even in the face of very unfavorable odds.

 

The book itself is very well written. Xhea has a distinctive voice that drew me into the story from the first page and kept me engaged and interested until the very last one. I liked this world and I wouldn’t mind discovering more about it in the next books. And I definitely want to know what happens to Xhea and Shai in the next book.

 

In other words, I will definitely recommend this book to my friends. It’s a must read.

The Singular & Extraordinary Tale of Mirror & Goliath by Ishbelle Bee.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

 

I fell in love with this book. Absolutely and totally. But this will also be one of the hardest reviews I’ve had to write so far. Not because the book is bad obviously, since I loved it, but because it’s so different from anything else I’ve read recently. Heck, I don’t even know what genre to put this book into. Gothic? Fairy tale? Horror? New weird? It’s all of that and none of it at the same time. The Singular & Extraordinary Tale of Mirror & Goliath is a genre of its own, that can be summarized by three words: Weird, wicked, wonderful.

 

First of all, this book tells several different stories, some shorter, some longer, but all of them are intertwined and influencing each other.

 

The first story is about Mirror who is and isn’t a little girl. When she was 12, her grandfather locked her inside a big clock painted with ladybirds. When Constable Goliath rescued her out of the clock several months later, she was no longer human, but something else entirely. What, nobody knows, not even her. And Goliath himself is not entirely human either. He is a shapeshifter who can become may other things, like a great big bear or a giant eagle.

 

The second story is about Mr. Loveheart, who used to be an ordinary little boy until the day his aunt poisoned his mother, and Mr. Fingers, the king of the underworld, killed his father and took him into his domain. Now Loveheart has eyes black as tar, wears red hearts on all his clothes and isn’t entirely sure that he still has a heart. He is also pretty sure that he is at least half-mad.

 

When Mirror appears in London, Mr. Fingers sends Loveheart to find her, because he wants to eat her heart and capture the soul she holds inside her. The soul from inside the grandfather clock.

 

This books reads like a fairy tale in parts, but not the sanitized and cheerful version of fairy tales that we got used to see from Disney. No it’s the real deal, the Brothers Grim and Andersen tales where the Little Mermaid sacrifices her life to save her Prince in the end and he never even learns that she loved him.

 

It’s also part horror story, because some really horrible and macabre things happen to all the characters. I mean, the little girl who became Mirror died inside that clock before she became something else. And one of Mr. Fingers other “sons” is the famous Jack the Ripper.

 

I loved the language in which this story is written. It’s simple and clear, but beautiful and poetic at the same time. I could really see, feel and smell everything the author described. And those pictures were strangely beautiful and scary at the same time.

 

This whole book was similar to one of those strangely vivid dreams you have sometimes. Dreams that are so real that they cling to you like smoke tendrils even after you wake up and leave you with the feeling that you had touched a secret world in your sleep.

 

I admit that this kind of book is not for everyone. Some will probably hate it or think it’s too weird for them. But I would definitely recommend it to everyone who used to love fairy tales when they were a child. My opinion: definitely a must read and re-read!

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

Hunting Ground (Alpha and Omega book 2) by Patricia Briggs.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

 

I was a bit apprehensive when I started Hunting Ground. I loved Cry Wolf, the first book in the series (and you can read my review here), as well as the short story that told us how Charles and Anna met. I was scared that the next book wouldn’t be as good, and that I would end up disappointed with the series. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. If anything, I loved Hunting Ground even more than Cry Wolf.

 

The events of Hunting Ground take place just a few weeks after the first book, and all the characters are still dealing with the aftermath of their confrontation with the witch that almost destroyed the Marrok and his pack. But they don’t have the luxury to lay low and lick their wounds because the Marrok has decided to make the existence of werewolves known to the general public, just like the fae have done a few decades ago. The advances in science, technology and medicine leave him no choice – it’s just a matter of time before they are discovered anyway, so the Marrok wants to do a preemptive strike and “come out” on his own terms.

 

Since he is the Alpha of the North American pack, his decision is law, but he decides to call a summit in Seattle as a courtesy to the European, African, Russian and British werewolves, because this decision will impact them as well. The werewolves are coming out of the closet and that is not up for discussion, but Bran is willing to offer terms and aid to the other packs to mitigate the backlash of this announcement.

 

Only the spirits tell Charles, in no uncertain terms, that if the Marrok attends the summit, he will die. So after a lot of werewolf-style discussions (aka lots of snarls, fighting and broken furniture) and a little help from Omega wolf Anna, Bran finally decides to send Charles and Anna in his stead…

 

The story itself is interesting enough, and we get to meet a lot of different werewolves, both dominant and submissive, as well as another Omega. It was interesting to learn more about the structure of werewolf packs and their society, as well as the interaction between different Alpha wolves. The author also reveals more details about what makes an Omega so special and why using Omega powers can be bad in some situations.

 

Oh, and the villain was not who I had expected, so that was a nice plot twist.

 

But what sucked me into this series and kept me reading book after book is the relationship between Charles and Anna. I love how wonderfully detailed those two characters are, and how their backgrounds impact their actions and their perception of the world. More importantly, I love how they grow and evolve in this series so far.

 

They are still pretty much newlyweds, and their past experiences don’t make married life easy. Anna had been raped and abused by her first pack and still has problems with intimacy. Charles has been a loner most of his life. He is used to being treated with fear and disgust because he is the Marrok’s enforcer, the cold-blooded killer who will hunt down and eliminate anyone his father orders him to. He has no friends, because he never knows when he would have to kill someone he’d called friend just a few days ago. So it’s easier for him to build a wall and not get attached to anyone.

 

Needless to say, they both struggle with everything that being a couple entrails. But what I love about this series is that they work on these problems. They don’t just go skulk in different corner after a fight or a misunderstanding. They sit down and talk it out until they uncover the underlying problem and agree on how to make things better. They are a couple, yes, but they are also equal partners, and their relationship is based on mutual respect as well as love.

 

I also love the fact that even though Charles is extremely dominant (he is only a little weaker than the Marrok himself, which makes him the second strongest wolf on the American continent) and has a protective streak a mile wide, he never tries to dominate Anna or to smother her with his care and protection “for her own good.”

 

Oh, the impulse is there, and his protective instincts scream at him a lot. He is just wise enough to stop and think about whether locking Anna in their hotel room or forbidding her from joining the hunt is really the best solution or if it’s just his fear talking. And in the end, he always choses to let Anna do whatever would help her become stronger, even if it means letting her participate in a hunt with a bunch of other Alphas.

 

Anna grows tremendously in this book as well. She finally comes to terms with being a werewolf and an Omega. She even starts using her powers to help Charles and her pack. She also faces her own fears and insecurities. Anna is a very calm and level-headed person, some might even call her passive, but she is no doormat. There is a steal core of resolve under that soft exterior. So it is perhaps symbolic that it’s not Charles, the Marrok’s enforcer, who defeats the antagonist in the end of this book, but shy and broken Anna. I loved the way she does it as well. In fact, I loved that whole scene.

 

My only complaint is how one-dimensional the character of the Beast of Gévaudan, Jean Chastel, was. He is too much horrible bad wolf, maniacal murderer. All darkness and no light. He is so evil he reads like a caricature, especially compared to all the other well-developed characters in this book. I think that he would have been much more interesting if Mrs. Briggs had added a bit more ambiguity to his character.

 

All in all, I will definitely recommend Hunting Ground to my friends, and I can’t wait to start the next one in the series.