Tag Archives: 5 stars

Sweep in Peace (Innkeeper Chronicles 2) by Ilona Andrews.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

 

Did I mention that Ilona Andrews is one of my absolute favorite authors? Every time I pick up one of her books, I don’t have to worry about being disappointed or bored by the story. I KNOW that it will be good and that it will sweep me off my feet and that I would devour the book in a matter of hours then agonize because it’s finished. Sweep in Peace was one of those books as well.

 

In the first book of the series, Clean Sweep, we were introduced to this original and very interesting world where Dina is the innkeeper of a very particular bed and breakfast. If you are interested, you can read my review of this book here. We get an in depth exploration of a few facets of this world in Sweep in Peace. Notably the bloody history between the Space Vampires and the Hope-Crushing Horde, as well as the meaning of tradition, duty, and compassion.

 

By the end of book 1, Dina succeeded at not only avoiding disaster and keeping her inn, but also at adding a star to the inn’s rating. Unfortunately, guests aren’t exactly knocking at her door, and the inn needs guests to survive and thrive. So when an Arbitrator shows up at her door and requisitions her inn for peace negotiations between three warring factions, Dina has no choice but to agree, even though her intuition and common sense screams that this is a bad idea. Only brokering a peace between nations who had been killing each other for generations is easier said than done. But Dina will do everything in her power to succeed, because the alternative would be disastrous for her inn and herself.

 

I love this world. I loved this story. How heartbreaking and touching it was, yet how the author managed to avoid all the doom and gloom by keeping it lighthearted. Which in turn made the impact of the bloody conflict between those races so much more effective on the reader. Imagine a world where technology fails and the living conditions are harsh, but it’s the only known planet in the galaxy to produce a very valuable mineral. So even though none of the factions want to be there, they are still fighting for domination on a planet where they have to go against each other with swords and arrows instead of tactical air strikes and lasers. It’s up close and personal. It’s bloody. It’s life-altering and soul-wrenching. And it’s a never-ending cycle of destruction because the sides can’t afford to back down even if they can’t afford to keep on fighting either.

 

Most of all, I love Dina. She already proved in book 1 that she is smart and resourceful and more than capable of being a real Innkeeper. She has a level head and doesn’t panic easily, but most importantly, I love that she is more brains then brawl. She will always try to find a peaceful solution to a problem first, though she will not hesitate to kick some ass if there is no other alternative.

 

But in this book, she also shows the depth of her compassion and understanding of other cultures. She studies their customs and rituals, and she is extremely respectful of them. I love how much thought she put into transforming the quarters for each faction into places where they would feel at home and safe…

 

I will not say anything about the rest of the story, because I want the readers to experience it for themselves. My recommendation is buy this book immediately. I won’t regret it. And when is the next one coming out?

The Emperor’s Railroad (The Dreaming Cities 1) by Guy Haley.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you a little gem in post-apocalyptic genre? This is a relatively short novella (only a little over 100 pages long), but it’s packed full of goodies: huge and very interesting world, a great catastrophe the cause of which is not fully explained, strange beings that might or might not be angels, a mysterious knight, and an engaging narrator. What else would you need for a wonderful book?

Our narrator, Abney, is a 12-year-old boy, and the whole story is told through the prism of his knowledge and perception, even though he tells it as an old man, many years later. And this is important to know, because Abney’s world had not extended past his little town until it got destroyed by the living dead. He is thrown into this vast and dangerous world after a traumatic event and armed only with the stories and beliefs his mother instilled into him.

So to him the Angels are supreme and perfect beings. God is almighty and everything that happened to mankind, from the war that destroyed all the cities of old to the plague of walking dead and even the dragon, is his punishment for the hubris of men of old. And Quinn is a Knight, which to little Abney makes him about just as legendary as the Dreaming Cities and the Angels themselves.

Even though this novella is a story of Abney’s journey through the perilous Kingdom of Virginia to the village of Winfort and the safety of his cousin’s home, it’s also Abney’s journey towards adulthood, complete with disillusionment, injustice and loss. The Angels are not as perfect as he believed them to be. God’s justice isn’t always just. And Knights are not the noble warriors almost larger than life he’d pictured them to be.

I loved this book. It’s a small glance into a rich and complex world, but just because it’s a small story of a little boy traveling a short distance (a mere 50 miles or so) through dangerous country to reach a new town, it doesn’t mean that it’s not interesting. In fact, it manages to introduce this world without resorting to info dumps and leaves the reader with a sense of satisfaction, because Abney’s journey is done, but also with a head full of questions about what the heck happened to make the world this way and what the Dreaming Cities really are.

I can’t wait to pick up the next book in the series because I want to know more about this world. Who are those Angels? Are they really winged beings sent down by God or are they robots, AIs or aliens something like that like Quinn implied? Speaking of Quinn, what promise did he break that he  is seeking penance for? And who is the person he is determined to find in a place that everybody thinks is a dead wasteland? And what are the Knights? From what Abney described, Quinn has a lot more stamina and healing speed than any normal human should have.

A first book in a series did a good job when it managed to tell a compelling and self-sufficient story AND leave you with enough questions to want to pick up the next book. I say good job, Mr.  Haley, because I can’t wait to read the next one

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

Clean Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles 1) by Ilona Andrews.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

 

Let me just say that Ilona Andrews is an author I go to when I want a good book to read and not have to worry to be disappointed with the plot, the characters or major plot holes. I never hesitate to pick up one of her books because I know that I would be completely immersed in the story, laughing and crying with the characters until the very last page. And I will be very very sad and feeling lost once I reach that page, not wanting to leave that world behind.

 

So when I saw that she had a brand new series out there, of course I immediately grabbed the first book! All I can say is that I love love LOVE it! I love Dina and the strange and complex world she inhabits. I love that we already have a hint that this world has may layers even in the first book. I love that all the races we meet have distinct origins and traditions. I love just how original the concept of this book and this world is.

 

But what is this book about? Well, Dina runs a quaint Victorian Bed and Breakfast in a small sleepy Texas town. Only her bed and breakfast caters to a rather different clientele than the usual tourists. See, Dina is an Innkeeper (yes, the capital “I” is intentional), and her guests come from much further away and are infinitely more dangerous.

 

Usually, Innkeepers try to stay out of the news and not get involved in local affairs, because the safety if their Inn is their outmost priority. That and not attracting attention of the police to the occasional flying saucer landing in their backyard or a portal opening on their doorsteps. But when something that is definitely not a cougar starts killing dogs in the neighborhood and the resident werewolf doesn’t seem to want to do anything about it, Dina decides to intervene. Which, of course, bring a load of problems on her head, but hey, at least she gets guests to stay at her inn as well, so that’s good. That they are capable of destroying the whole town is just a minor side effect…

 

I love Dina as the protagonist. Yes, being an Innkeeper gives her some serious juju when she is on Inn grounds, but unlike some protagonists out there, she only uses her magic as last resort. Her biggest strength is her profound knowledge of the customs and preferences of all the races that inhabit the vast universe. She is immensely knowledgeable and treats all of her guests with respect and deference. But she isn’t a pushover either. She is very clear at drawing the lines of what is and isn’t allowed on her grounds and her retaliation if the guests cross those lines is swift and ruthless.

 

I like how knowledgeable Dina is and how respectful she is of her guests and their customs. And I also like that at the same time she is not a jaded and over-confident Innkeeper either. Her backstory is expertly woven into the book and explains this small contraction perfectly. Both Dina’s parents were very successful Innkeepers, so she grew up in a big bustling Inn… Until one day she came back from her travels to find both the Inn and her family gone and just barren ground in the place of the Inn grounds. She looked for them all over the universe, but never found even a hint as to what had happened. Finally, she decided to settle back on Earth and open her own Inn, but then only Inn such an inexperienced Innkeeper could get was an old disused one located away from the usual busy routes. So while she has extensive knowledge of what it means to be an Innkeeper, she is very inexperienced at actually being one. Plus her Inn had been asleep for so long that she has only maybe a tenth of the powers an Innkeeper would normally have…

 

I read the first book and immediately jumped into the next one, that’s how much I fell in love with this new world and these characters. So expect my review of book 2 soon.

 

Once again, Ilona Andrews proves that her books are a must read regardless of which series they belong too. Highly recommending this and everything else she’s ever written!

Marked in Flesh (The Others book 4) by Anne Bishop.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

I absolutely love The Others series, so I look forward to each new book with trepidation. And I have reviewed all the previous books so you can check them out if you want: book one, book two, book three.

First things first, even though I absolutely loved this book, it’s not one a person unfamiliar with the series can pick up and enjoy. If you have never read any of the Others books, you wouldn’t understand 80% of what’s going on and just how high the stakes are, so I would recommend that you start at the beginning with Written in Red. Then you have four whole books of excellent story to look forward to.

Now that I’m done with that disclaimer, let’s dive into the story. Back in book 3, the Elders asked Simon a crucial question: How much human the terra indigene will keep. And the future of all humans in Thaisia rides on the answer to that question.

This book is really about reaping the consequences of what all the characters sowed in the previous three books. I knew that humans and the terra indigene were headed for a confrontation if not an all-out war. All the events in the previous three books hinted on that. Heck, the third book ended with the terra indigene declaring a breach of trust. So the question was not whether there would be a conflict, but just how bloody and all-encompassing it would be.

The Humans First and Last (HFL) Movement is pushing for an open conflict and the annihilation of the “animals” that they consider the Others to be so that the human race can finally have unlimited access to all the resources that the land has to offer. Unfortunately for them, they operate under the (false) impression that the Wolfguard, Crowguard, and Sanginati they are used to seeing in city Courtyards are the only existing terra indigene. But the Intuits, Simple folks and some selected humans who closely work with the Others in Lakeside, know the truth. These terra indigene are but a buffer between humans and the Elders, the ancient and ageless beings who roam the deep country. So far, they hadn’t paid much notice to the clever monkeys living on their allotted piece of land, happy to let the various guards to keep the peace. But with the humans getting bolder by the day, they start to take notice. And that’s very bad news, because those Elders aren’t called Namid’s Claws and Teeth for nothing…

This book shows just how big of an impact Meg’s presence had on the Others and humans alike, both in Lakeside and in smaller communities like Ferryman Crossing and Sweetwater.  If the Elders had asked Simon that question in book 1 or even in book 2, he would have answered “None” without a shred of hesitation. Now he worries and even looses sleep over it. And what’s significant is that he isn’t worried about Meg. In fact, none of the terra indigene are worried about Meg because to them, she has become part of the pack. She is just as terra indigene as they are. But they worry about all the other humans that she had brought to the Courtyard – the Meg’s pack which includes a “gaggle of girls” (I chuckled at that definition), as well as the police officers who did everything to help the Others and cooperate with them throughout the previous books. It also includes the Intuit villages and Simple folks that had been more than willing to cooperate with the terra indigene and are being persecuted by the HFL movement for that.

A great storm is coming, and for the first time in his life, Simon is worried about how to make sure that the human pack he got entangled with would survive the certain annihilation of human kind in Thaisia.

All the characters show tremendous growth throughout the series and I love that we see the progress Meg, Hope, and Jean have made to deal with their limitations and the strive they have to adapt to their new lives. I love that when faced with tough choices, the Lakeside police officers like Monty and Burke side with the Others even if that means being declared Wolf Lovers and being shunned and persecuted. I love that the Intuits of Sweetwater don’t think twice when they get Meg’s warning and grab not only their own children but ride to the terra indigene village and evacuate all the pups as well. I love that when the night of reckoning comes, a lot of terra indigene return the favor and stand guard in front of the human villages that helped them, telling Namid’s Teeth and Claws, “We’re here. Those are our humans. Pass along. Leave them be.”

By the end of this book, the landscape of the world has changed irrevocably, but thanks to the cooperation and friendship of a few humans and terra indigene, there is still hope for the human race in Thaisia…

I loved this book and the further insight we got into the rules of this land and the different kinds of terra indigene that populate it. I’m definitely looking forward to the next one and to see how life will unfold for your protagonists now that the Others have reclaimed the land. And what impact would the Elders’ interest towards the “howling non-Wolf” have on the lives of all the cassandra sangue.

Once again, I will say that this is one of the best urban fantasy series out there right now and I would strongly recommend it to anyone who likes great complex worlds and excellent characters, but you need to start at book 1.

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

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.