Olga Godim

Fantasy, romance, mystery, and more...

Clock towers adventure

Timekeeper - Tara Sim

This novel didn’t really work for me, although it has an intriguing premise. Time can change. It can Stop. It can jump without continuity. The only things that keep the time from hiccuping are the magical clock towers. Each clock tower has an area of influence, usually a town and surrounding area, which together constitute a time zone. Built hundreds of years ago all over the world by unknown magical artisans, the towers are an enigma for most regular people.

The secrets of their construction were lost centuries ago. Nobody knows now how to build new towers anymore, and only magical clock mechanics, gifted with the magical sense of time, are able to repair them. They keep the towers running and prevent the time from Stopping.

Danny, the seventeen-year-old hero of this book, as a clock mechanic. He is thrust into the middle of the story, together with the readers: someone has been sabotaging clock towers around England, time has been acting up, and nobody knows the culprit. Danny’s father was one of the casualties. Three years ago, he was trapped in a town where the time Stopped. Nobody could get in or out of Stopped towns, and Danny still mourns his father. Danny himself was a victim of a bombing of one of the clock towers. He survived, but he still bear scars, physical and mental, and he is determined to figure out who is responsible for what is happening to the clock towers of England.

The story follows Danny through a series of harrowing adventures, blending several genres together. It should’ve been irresistible, but in fact, it drags. I think the author tried to combine too many genres inside one book.

There is the obvious fantasy angle – magical clock towers in the alternative Victorian England – which attracted me to the book in the first place. Then, there is a mystery inside the fantasy. The author follows the rules of the mystery genre and throws lots of red herrings into Danny’s investigation of the clock towers accidents.

I don’t like mystery genre very much. For me, a fantasy reader, the red herrings felt like an unfocused story. A bunch of characters who were not important to the main plot. A bunch of event that convoluted the logic and didn’t have any impact on the ultimate conclusion of Danny’s journey. I got so bored with the story meandering, I started skipping after the first 100 pages or so. Until I got to the last 80 pages, which I read in full. Strangely enough, I didn’t miss much by skipping over more than 100 middle pages. The story was clear, and I read it to the conclusion without wondering what happened in between.

Another genre convention that even worsened my impression of this novel was its YA approach. The protagonist, a seventeen-year-old gay boy, is chock full of teenage angst. He is unpleasant, unfriendly, and cares mostly about himself, like most teenagers I know. I’m not enamored of this genre and I disliked the protagonist. No, this novel didn’t work for me. 

Cover Crush - inverted tropes

— feeling wink

A quirky cover for a quirky anthology.

Thriller at its best

When All The Girls Have Gone - Jayne Ann Krentz

Book Summary:

When Charlotte Sawyer is unable to contact her step-sister, Jocelyn, to tell her that one her closest friends was found dead, she discovers that Jocelyn has vanished.

Beautiful, brilliant—and reckless—Jocelyn has gone off the grid before, but never like this. In a desperate effort to find her, Charlotte joins forces with Max Cutler, a struggling PI who recently moved to Seattle after his previous career as a criminal profiler went down in flames—literally. Burned out, divorced and almost broke, Max needs the job.

After surviving a near-fatal attack, Charlotte and Max turn to Jocelyn’s closest friends, women in a Seattle-based online investment club, for answers. But what they find is chilling…

When her uneasy alliance with Max turns into a full-blown affair, Charlotte has no choice but to trust him with her life. For the shadows of Jocelyn’s past are threatening to consume her—and anyone else who gets in their way.

My Review:

 

The publisher would probably define this book as a romantic thriller. I would say it is a thriller, and a damn good one, with a romance tacked in as an afterthought. The romantic line isn’t that interesting, it doesn’t occupy many pages, and it’s irrelevant to the thriller. It might not have been there at all, and the story wouldn’t have suffered much. And it is a great story. Plot-wise, it is tight and unexpected, with many twists and turns and some very perilous situations for the characters. The writing is polished, clean, and professional. My only complaint was the characters. They are all flat, interchangeable even between male and female parts. I couldn’t envision any of them, nor sympathize with any. They seem colorless mannequins, unimportant except as the game pieces, moving through the dangerous and treacherous maze, which the writer described superbly. Despite their lack of liveliness, the story is very engaging. It was a pleasure to read. On every page, I wanted to know what happened next, not as much because I cared for the heroes but because I wanted to know the answers to the puzzle.

Overall: not bad. Not bad at all.

Captain, wife, mother

Cordelia's Honor - Lois McMaster Bujold

I’ve been Bujold’s fan since my first reading of one of her Vorkosigan novels. Miles Vorkosigan, the hero of the series, is definitely my favorite sci-fi hero, but Cordelia, his mother, is much more. I love Cordelia. Her humanity and strength are humbling and uplifting. I hope such women exist in our lives, not just in Bujold’s sci-fi world.

Although I read and reread most of the books of this series more than once, this is my first review of this novel. It is Cordelia’s story, and it is divided into two parts: Shards of Honor and Barrayar.

The first part, Shards of Honor, opens with Cordelia as a Betan survey ship captain, exploring a newly discovered planet with her colleagues. Suddenly, her world explodes around her. Her scientific camp is destroyed. Some of her ship officers are dead or wounded. Unknown dangers threaten from every tree and bush, and her only ally in the frightening chaos is a Barrayaran officer, Aral Vorkosigan, who takes her prisoner. From that perilous position, Cordelia finally escapes, thanks to her courage and ingenuity, but her troubles are only starting.

Her twisty path weaves through the brutal war; she suffers capture by the Barrayaran military and the POW camp, but even when she at last reaches safety at home, troubles follow her in the person of the army psychiatrist who wants to wipe her mind clean of all she had endured. Especially from her love for Aral, the love that crept on her unawares, the love that changed her life.

Their love triumphs, of course, huge and poignant. The second part, Barrayar, begins after Cordelia’s frantic flight from her home on Beta Colony, one step ahead of the charges of treason and the dratted psychiatrist. Now, she is quietly married to Aral. Both are middle-aged, ready to settle down. He is retired from the military, and both of them are prepared to enjoy their retirement. They plan to start a family.

Barrayar interferes. The old dying Emperor of Barrayar asks Aral to become a Regent to his orphaned grandchild, five-year-old Prince Gregor. A patriot and an aristocrat to his bones, with honor imprinted on his psyche, Aral can’t say NO. Thus, Cordelia is thrust into the maelstrom of Barrayar’s turbulent politics, as the planet climbs from its almost feudal mentality towards galactic standards under Aral’s guidance. The resistance of the proponents of tradition is fierce, and Aral and Cordelia’s son Miles pays the price.

But Cordelia never gives up. She stands beside her husband, proud and free, a symbol of the new possibilities. She fights for her husband as only a Betan ship captain could, and she fight for her son’s life as any loving mother, and she wins in the end, although that victory comes with a painful price.

Cordelia is a marvelous human being, compassionate even to her enemies and a role model to countless young women on Barrayar. Loving and forgiving is her default mode, understanding and acceptance her dual mottos, but she could be ruthless to her enemies and acidic towards fools. I love Cordelia and I enjoyed her story. For me, it was, together with its sequel, Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, the best two books of the entire Vorkosigan saga. And the best heroine in the sci-fi genre.

This book is a sci-fi adventure in form, a love story in essence, and an exploration of several deep and penetrating issues humanity has been wrestling with recently, from feminism to democracy. Although it is at times hysterically funny, the laughter is frequently tinged with sadness. So many of Barrayar’s problems mirror our own that Cordelia’s tale sometimes slips into satire. Other times, into philosophy. It captivates its readers with all its multiple facets and its irresistible heroine.     

A lovely, amazing book.

Utterly European

The Reader on the 6.27 - Ros Schwartz, Jean-Paul Didierlaurent

A charming short novel, a little pathetic, a lot poignant, and utterly European. A translation from its native French, it tells a story of Guylain Vignolles, a lonely man who works for a book-pulping factory and hates his job with a passion. Every evening, when he cleans up his machine after a day of devouring books, he finds and rescues a few disparate pages, usually from different books, that found their way into a dysfunctional corner of the apparatus. The next morning, on his commute to work on the train that leaves his station at 6.27, he reads those pages aloud to his fellow commuters. There are no stories, just snippets of text, and everyone on the train accepts Guylain and his pages as a feature of the train, their mornings’ wake-up ritual. Like coffee.

One day, Guylain finds a USB drive in his customary seat on the train. The drive contains a diary of a woman who works cleaning toilets in a mall. She never mentions the name of the mall or her own last name, just the first name – Julie – but Guylain becomes obsessed with her. They seem like soulmates, both lonely, both in love with words and writing, both loathing their jobs. Both drifting through life, aimless like autumn leaves. Now, instead of pages torn out of the books he destroys, he reads Julie’s diary aloud to his fellow passengers and savors every word. He falls in love with the author of the diary but he doesn’t know how to find her.

I can’t say I liked Guylain – he is too ‘small’ for my taste. I didn’t admire him but I definitely sympathized with him. I wanted his life to improve. I wanted him to find happiness. I desperately wanted him to meet Julie.   

One of the Guylain’s quirks that surprised me was his dislike of his own name. He yearned to be called something banal, like Hugo or Xavier, because his unusual name often elicited mockery by his mates and was generally the source of embarrassment to Guylain. I don’t speak French, so I don’t know how the name sounds to a French ear, but for me, with my love of English, it sounds marvelous, like a knight of the Round Table. Like Gawain. It speak to me of valor and the nobility of the heart, of beauty and kindness, and Guylain definitely qualifies.  

A quiet and wonderful novel.  

I am back. I hope.

— feeling sad

I haven't been on BL since December. I don't know why, but all my social activities, online and in person, dwindled in December, and it's only now I'm trying to pick up my pace again. I didn't read much during this time and posted no reviews anywhere. I didn't write much fiction either, hardly at all, but I kept wondering why I didn't. I missed my writing. I missed BL. I missed my friends here, but I couldn't bring myself to do anything, especially log in.

Perhaps my depression was to blame, although it was an unusual manifestation. I didn't feel sad. I just couldn't communicate with anyone anywhere. I wanted to sit in a box, close the lid, and stay quiet and alone. But now I can at last open the lid again and I'm determined to climb out. It seems I've woken up from a long winter hibernation. Maybe the strange, cold and snowy winter in my home town is to blame?

I started reading again recently and even wrote a few reviews. I'm going to post them, one a day. Hopefully. And I'm going to log in every day, as I did before, and read your reviews, folks. And participate in conversations, at least a little.  

During this time in a box, the only activity that still worked for me was art-related. Some time ago, I started making covers for writers on wattpad, and by now, my covers grace over a dozen stories there. Every time a writer accepted my cover, I quietly celebrated. It didn't require much communication from me, just a message to a writer saying that I made a cover for them and a link.

I enjoy playing with images, even though I'm not an artist. I consider myself a cover designer. So, if any of you needs some visual project done digitally, I might be able to help you.

I also started a series of art posts on my personal blog. The first one is about the legend of St. Martin's cloak and the classical paintings associated with it. Some of you might be interested.

I'm glad to be back, friends.

Roosters and caviar

This year is going to be the year of the Rooster. Of course, the Chinese new year hasn't started yet, not till the end of January (according to my wall calendar), but the internet is already flooded by rooster images, some charming, others funny or inventive, still others indifferent. Here are 2 I like.

This one is from my favorite free image site, Pixabay:

 

And this one was sent to me by my Russian relatives. It made me smile.

The texts above and below the image are traditional wishes: "Happy New Year" and "Health and Prosperity". But the text on the keg of red caviar is more original. It's kind-a slangy old Russian, meaning "To live like that!"
I wish you all, friends, to live like that, with a large keg of red caviar and a small pot of black within your grasp. Why not, right? We might as well wish big. 

For my bookish friends

Hello, you, the hard-core BookLikers.

I'd like to send some holiday cheers your way. Many of you know that I enjoy digital image manipulation. I make book covers, badges, and digital collages. The latest one was the holiday card below. Happy holidays, friends, and good books to you all!

Olga

Cover Crush - red head

I don't know the genre of this book or the plot - something about vikings - but I love the cover.

 

Sexy but blah

Bad Boys Down Under - Nancy Warren

This book includes 3 contemporary romance novellas, vaguely connected by a place (Australia) and a surf board company all characters are linked to. The protagonists are different in all 3 stories, but all of them represent the type of romance I dislike. The hero and heroine meet, feel instant and irresistible lust, fall into bed soon after, and boink each other for the rest of the story. The plots are almost non-existent, and nothing is more important to both protagonists than getting their sexual satisfaction.

I like my romance with more action, with an actual story taking center stage and less heated coupling. Even though the writing was professional, the book didn’t work for me.

 

Note: It served as a book set in Australia – Task #10 – for my BL bingo 12 tasks of holiday season.   

Character dolls by Annie Wahl

Not book-related but utterly charming. I had to share. This artist makes dolls of old people. In her interpretation, old age is a time to party. Here is one of her dolls.

No emphasis on race

Baby, Let It Snow: I'll Be Home for ChristmasSecond Chance Christmas (Kimani Romance) - Beverly Jenkins, Elaine Overton

This book consists of two novellas: Beverly Jenkins’s I’ll Be Home for Christmas and Elaine Overton’s Second Chance Christmas. I only read the first story by Beverly Jenkins.

 

Beverly Jenkins – I’ll Be Home for Christmas

 

This was a professionally written romance between an actress and a celebrity chef. The language was clean and terse, but it didn’t touch me. Neither did the characters or their problems. The only interesting point in this story comes from an unexpected angle.

Beverly Jenkins is an African-American writer, and she writes about people from her community, but I might have had trouble figuring it out if I hadn’t looked at the author’s page on GR and seen her photo first. Or the cover of this book.

Lately, many readers and writers clamor for more ethnic diversity in our stories, but whenever I read a story with one character being non-white, it is clearly defined. The colored character is usually described in details, so no reader would mistake him or her for a white.

Not so in Jenkins’s story. She doesn’t describe her characters. Their ethnicity is simply not important for their romantic line. Their race does come through, but obliquely, when the author mentions a crazy afro hair in an old photo or an African church the protagonists attend. Or the heroine’s brown mounds of breasts in one heated passage.

I liked that a lot and added one whole star to the rating of this otherwise forgettable story.   

This novella also serves as the Task #5 for my BL reading bingo 12 tasks of holiday season.

Cover Crush - ghosts

— feeling ghost

You could see the ghosts in this book before you could read the word, right? Great cover.

Grandmothers' Christmas guide

The Christmas Grandma Ran Away from Home - Nancy Warren

An unexpectedly sweet short novella about an old woman who rebels against her family’s Christmas tradition. This year, for the first time in half a century, she doesn’t want to host a Christmas gathering of her children and grandchildren, doesn’t want to cook her 55th Christmas turkey. She wants someone else to pick up the responsibility. When her sons start talking about her mental health in response to her verbal objections, she books a hotel and a flight a few hours away from home, hops on the plane, and leaves. She is determined to have a wonderful Christmas celebration of her own for the first time in fifty-five years. And she does.

Utterly charming. That’s how a granny should do it!

Too close to home

Heart of Gold - Sharon Shinn

That was a powerful book, a scary book. It explored the sensitive themes of racism and terrorism under the quaint camouflage of fantasy. The action, allegedly, takes place someplace else, where people’s skins are blue and gold instead of brown and white, as they are here, but the punch this book delivers is all the more potent because of it. I read it and thought: even in fantasy, with its unlimited possibilities, the author couldn’t find a solution. How could we, in real life, do better?

There are two major races in the world of this novel: indigo (blue skin) and gulden (golden skin). The indigo race are old aristocrats. They own land and wealth. They are also a matriarchal society. The women inherit, hold government positions, get education. The men, traditionally, just serve as consorts and sperm donors, although the situation has been changing in recent decades. Some indigo men nowadays refuse to get married. They want to have an education and to hold a job, but that’s still rare.

The gulden race is the opposite. They are intensely patriarchal. The majority of them still live in their mountains. Women in the gulden society are property. They can’t even shop for food without permission – a special tag – from their husbands or fathers. Physical abuse of women and children is common in gulden families. Some women try to escape, but it is still rare. Most die in the process.

Both races look at each other as barbarians, indecent in their practices. The only place of change seems to be the city, where both cultures collide. Here, in the city, indigo men could find jobs. Here, in the city, gulden women could hide from their men-folks.

And here, in the city, a young gulden leader unleashes a string of terrorist bombings to force the indigo government to... do what? Now it gets dicey. What he really wants is unclear. He screams: “Freedom!” All terrorists do everywhere, but it feels like he wants to stop progress. Or maybe he just wants the indigo to back off and leave his people the way they are, and his women chattel forever.

I hated the guy. I hated his entire culture, but one of the protagonists, the indigo woman Kit, sees hidden qualities in the gulden way of life. A rebel in her own rich, aristocratic family, she prefers gulden, men and women, to her own people. She grew up among the gulden, as her father, a sociologist, studied the gulden race. It goes even deeper: Kit is in love with a gulden man. In fact, she is full of compassion and understanding for everyone, but is her compassion needed amid the racial hostilities and political intrigues? Is her understanding enough to make a difference?

Another protagonist, an indigo man Nolan, isn’t a rebel in the usual sense. Like others of his race, he doesn’t really accepts gulden as civilized, but he works with them. He is quiet and introspective, a man of science, a biologists, and he likes his job. He is not sure he wants to get married but he will accept life the way it is supposed to be.

When Nolan, by accident, discovers a plot threatening genocide of all gulden, his conscience pushes him to take steps, to ensure such horror doesn’t become reality, and the only one who could help him is Kit. They didn’t even know each other before their crazy attempt to save the gulden race, and Nolan makes some hard decisions along the way. He is so much out of his comfort zone, it’s hard to read, but still he doesn’t waver in his determination. Not everyone would consider his choices moral or ethical. Actually, no indigo did in the story, except Kit, and I’m not sure I do, but he did accomplish his goal: he saved the gulden from extinction, at a great personal cost. At a cost to all indigo, actually.

The terrorism stopped too, but that was in a fantasy tale. Unfortunately, the associations with the real life are too deep in this book, and the decisions and heroes of our life never go the way of Nolan and his ‘happy ending’. I don’t see a happy ending for our global terrorism threat. Things change even here, on this Earth, but much slower than in this author’s fantasy world. And not always for the better. So the reading of this story was a pretty painful experience for me, laced with disappointment and fear for the future. I wish it was as ‘simple’ for us as it was for Nolan and Kit.   

12 Tasks of Holiday Season - final update

I finished the Holiday Bingo, all 12 tasks of it, and I'm proud of myself. Going all the way made me realize how limited my reading really was and it also forced me to broaden my reading choices and encounter some interesting writers along the way. Thank you, Moonlight and Obsidian, for starting it.

Below are the last 2 tasks:

 

Task#10 Holiday Down Under

  • Read a book set in Australia or by an Australian author, or read a book you would consider a "beach read".
  • Christmas crackers are a traditional part of an Australian Christmas. Buy some (or make your own) to add to your festivities and share some pictures!

~~~

Nancy Warren – Bad Boys Down Under. The book consists of 3 contemporary romance novellas, all three happening in Australia. I didn’t like it. Too many bed scenes and too little story. The review is coming.

 

Task #5 Kwanzaa

  • Read a book written by an African-American author or set in an African country.
  • Make a small donation to a charitable organization that operates in Africa.

~~~

Beverly Jenkins – I’ll Be Home for Christmas. The author is African-American, and so are her characters. Nothing spectacular. The review is coming.