Olga Godim

Fantasy, romance, mystery, and more...

They met in a wardrobe

A wonderful example of the author’s historical romantic suspense novel. The heroine Emma is a paid companion. One of the demands of her job is being meek. Unfortunately Emma’s strong will, innate sense of justice, and sharp tongue make it hard for her to perform her duties.

The hero Edison is a filthy-rich businessman, a bastard son of a nobleman. He is a self-made man, proud and loyal to his friends, an alpha-male in the best sense of the word.

The story is set in England during a vaguely historical period. It happened some time in the 19th century, but not one detail betrays any precise era. It could be Regency. It could be Victorian or Georgian. Many of this author’s books boast the same vague timing, and I like it about them. Her books are not really historicals, so the exact timing doesn’t matter.

What matters is the plot and the suspense. Edison is after a mysterious book of alchemical secrets. He doesn’t believe in its supposed mystical powers, but he is trying to locate it anyway because his old, dying mentor asked him to. Endless complications arise in his way. During one of them, he hides in a wardrobe, and there he encounters Emma, who is also hiding there, embroiled in an adventure of her own.

Characters bonding while hiding in a wardrobe is an old literary trope, harking back centuries. After they both safely escape the wardrobe, Edison hires Emma to pose as his fiancée, to distract the society’s attention from his search and help him with his inquiries. Of course, they fall in love. There are also several murders in this story, a mysterious assassin, a naughty widow, and a sufficiently clever villain. Several subplots intertwine in unexpected ways, making it hard for Edison and Emma to unravel the convoluted knots of menace, but of course, they persevere and in the end win on all counts.  

Overall: an engrossing and thoroughly satisfying historical romance.    

 

Note to librarians: I couldn't find this book in the database (only the audio version seems to be there) and I don't feel qualified to add it as I don't know its ISBN code or ASIN code or any of this book's other important parameters. I only know I like it.

 

FBI romance

The Thing About Love - Julie James

I expected more from this novel. It is a romance between two FBI agents, John and Jessica. Six years ago, while studying together at the FBI Academy, they were bitter enemies. Now, they have to work together on one undercover assignment, and they rapidly become friends, and then lovers.

I didn’t give much credence to their prior enmity – it felt like a writer’s gimmick, to create the first hurdle to their relationship – but the relationship itself built nicely. I enjoyed reading John and Jessica’s story.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to it. Some scintillating banter. Some self-searching inner monologues. Lots of sex. Lots of unnecessary details of food and clothing. The tension of their undercover case rose steadily, but the denouement was more of a farce than an FBI-style confrontation.

Overall – an average modern romance.    

Cover Crush - The New Yorker, 1976

— feeling big smile

For my American friends. That was how the New Yorkers of 1976 saw the rest of their country and the world. I wonder if anything has changed by now. Any New Yorkers out there? :)) Note the price, people.

Unconventional Lexi

Many reviews compare this book to Rainbow Rowell. There are similarities, yes, but personally, I like Rowell much, much better. This book just didn’t do it for me, didn’t hit that elusive note that makes readers open their eyes wide, say “Ahh!” and smile.

The protagonist Lexi is seventeen. Her divorced father owns a company that organizes book and comics conventions, and Lexi is her father’s unpaid assistant. She manages the conventions’ staff. Conventions are her life, and the novel is built around them. Lexi falls in love during a convention. She has a revelation (or five) about life and love during a convention. Her friends are all convention friends.

The story is a YA and is full of teenage angst, silliness, and self-doubts. I’m so far removed from that miserable age, and from the book’s intended audience, that all the heroine’s moping around left me unmoved. I wanted to shake her shoulders and yell at her: “What are you doing, idiot!”

Fortunately for Lexi, by the last convention of the season, she comes to her senses and accepts the love of a gorgeous and talented young author, but their young romance and their turbulent teenage problems, totally artificial, if you ask me, just didn’t cut it.

While the characters didn’t work for me, the writing was good, and the humor saved this story from being a total failure. Maybe it would’ve work better for someone a bit younger than myself.

Today's Google doodle.
Today's Google doodle.

Happy birthday, Canada! We are 150 today.

Unicorn in Calabria

Note to librarians: Unfortunately, this book is not in the BL database, so I can't put it on my shelf. I'm using the cover from GR.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Unicorns come to Calabria. Not once upon a time in an imaginary land, but now, in the 21st century, a beautiful unicorn comes to a run-down farm on a hillside in Calabria, South Italy, and settles in. The farm owner, a lonely hopeless man, shuns the technology of his times. He ekes out his meager existence from the land and takes care of his few animals, when he witnesses the miracle of the unicorn. The strange, un-earthy creature gives a new meaning to his life, opens his eyes and his heart, and in return, he is willing to protect it from the unicorn hunters, the insatiable media, and the ruthless Mafiosi.

The story reads like poetry, lyrical and dreamy. It’s not a fast-paced fantasy adventure but a slow-flowing feast of words, and despite my preference for quick action of the usual sword-and-sorcery pageant, I couldn’t stop reading it from start to end. Fortunately for me, it is a short book, 174 pages, but it is one of the best books I’ve read recently. It left me oddly happy. Even though I have never seen a unicorn, I felt as if its magic brushed against my skin too, just as it did for the protagonist of this unusual tale.

Have you ever heard of Saki?

Interesting literature, a website dedicated to serious literature, compiled 10 of Saki's best short stories, and you can check their post here.

 

I tried one of them - The Open Window - and laughed out loud. It is really good and really short and really funny. Read it here.

 

I'm going to read all of them, as I never heard about this writer before. He reminded me a little of Chekhov, but not as depressing.

Cranes of memory

During the WWII, seven brothers went to war from one small village in Dagestan, in the Caucus Mountains. None returned, and the parents didn’t survive seven death notices. In 1963, almost 20 years after the war, the village put up an obelisk to commemorate the fallen: a grieving mother and seven cranes flying away. Famous Soviet poet Rasul Gamzatov, a Dagestan native who had also fought in the war, visited the monument. Inspired by it, he wrote a poem about slain soldiers turning into cranes. He wrote it in his native tongue.

After it was translated into Russian, composer Jan Frenkel wrote the music, and the poem became a song, one of the better known songs about the war in the Soviet Union. It was first performed in 1969 by Mark Bernes, a very popular singer in Russia in those days.

To mark the day of May 29 – the day people remember those who died in wars – I attempted my own translation, this one into English. I tried to keep to the rhyming scheme and meter of the original poem. Of course, it is not nearly as good as the Russian version, but I wanted to share with you, and this was the only way. Here it is.

        

Rasul Gamzatov – Cranes

 

I think sometimes that every fallen hero

In bloody battles mercilessly slain

Does not dissolved into earth-bound zero   

But turns instead a white and graceful crane.

 

Forever since that fateful mortal moment,

Cranes soar on the winds and call to us.

Until we hear their wistful sonnet,

And gaze in melancholy, as they pass.

 

The swoop of cranes labors forever higher

Through day and night and sun and misty rain.

But empty spot unfolds between the flyers.

It is for me, when I become a crane.

 

One day I’ll fly together with my comrades

Beneath my wings, the heavens blue and kind.

And I will call from up among the clouds

To everyone I loved and left behind.

 

You can watch and listen to the original recording from 1969 here.

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Old book covers are awesome!

Look what I found on Tumbrl. This is a reblog from Books and Art.

 

Back to the Stone Age by Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1937, first edition.

Illustration and original dust jacket by John Coleman Burroughs.

~~~~~~~~~~

Five hundred miles beneath the surface of the earth lies a world of eternal day and endless horizons, in which dinosaurs still roam and caveman hunt and terrors forgotten in the outer world still survive. Young Wilhelm Von Horst, given up for lost, had not died. His only companion a barbarian girl, he battles his way to safety through terrors inconceivable on the surface of the earth.

~~~~~~~~~~

 

OG: I really want to read this one. It must be horrible, but I don't care. The novel itself is probably available for free from the Gutenberg project, but I'm not sure I could find this edition to see the illustrations.

 

Has anyone read this book?

AI and a former slave

A Closed and Common Orbit - Becky  Chambers

I’m divided about this science-fiction novel. It consists of two distinct storylines with alternating chapters that don’t intersect until the very end. They even happen decades apart. I loved one of the stories. I was ambivalent about the other.

Let’s start with the one I liked less: the story of Sidra, an AI in a synthetic, human-looking body. She calls it her housing or her kit. Sidra didn’t chose to be housed in the kit. She is an AI intended for a spaceship. She longs to be in a spaceship. But due to tragic circumstances before this story started, someone put her into the kit, and she is trying to adjust to life as a quasi-human.

Her situation is complicated by the fact that such constructs are illegal. If the authorities find out that Sidra, who tries to live like a human, is actually a software, they will terminate her and punish those who made her that way: Sidra’s friends. To prevent such an eventuality, Sidra’s only solution is to pretend. Unfortunately, an AI couldn’t lie – there is a protocol in place. Yeah, tough.

Sidra’s story left me cold. I couldn’t sympathize with her imaginary plight. I was a computer programmer before I became a writer. I dealt with software every day. Not an AI though; I programmed accounting software, but there is not much difference. A soft is still a soft, a complicated system of code that is just a non-linear, nested sequence of multiple ‘if-then’ interspaced with bits of action. It can’t develop emotions. I don’t believe it. So when Sidra started behaving like a hormonal teenager, exhibiting rebellion and self-disgust, I wanted to puke.

The only thing I liked about Sidra’s subplot is world-building. Ms. Chambers started building this complex cosmopolitan world in the first novel of the series – The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet – and I enjoyed it very much. She deepens her world-building here, gives us more details, more nuances, and more planets. 

The second story, the one I liked best, happens in an entirely different part of this galactic world, on a different planet. It is a much better story with a very likable heroine. It starts when a ten-year-old girl Jane escapes a factory.

She worked at the factory as one of a cadre of girls, all Janes, all numbered. Our Jane’s number is 24. She doesn’t know what is outside the factory walls. She only knows work – sorting scrap – and a little bit of free time for eating, sleeping, and personal hygiene. None of the Janes knows how to play or be children. Trapped inside the four factory walls since they were toddlers, they have never seen the sky or the sun. They have never made any choices – never been allowed. They are slaves without knowing it.

When Jane escapes – practically by accident – she finds herself alone in a hostile world, a humongous scrap yard with no humans. Everywhere around her are things new and frightening. By sheer luck, she finds a disabled space shuttle, discarded as scrap years ago. The shuttle’s AI is still functional, and Jane makes her home in it. Together, a ten-year-old girl and a broken machine form a family of sorts, while Jane learns about the real world around her and tries to keep herself from starving to death.

A Mowgli of science fiction, to a degree, with a computer for a foster mother, Jane’s story is a continual saga of self-discovery. It touched my heart on the deepest levels. I was so sorry for her and so awed by her courage and determination that I wanted to talk to her, to explain, to kiss and make better. This child made me ache for her. I was reading and simultaneously inventing better solutions for her problems. I wanted her life to be easier, but it wasn’t. It was hard and intense and imbued with Jane’s humanity. Her story alone makes this book worth reading.

Werewolves are black

The Black Wolves of Boston - Wen Spencer

I like everything written by Spencer, but this book is not my favorite. In fact, I liked it least of all her novels.

This one starts with Joshua, a regular eighteen-year-old high school senior, suddenly becoming a werewolf. Afraid to hurt his family and bewildered by what's happening to him, Joshua runs away from home and ends up in Boston. While Joshua tries to get his act together and adjust to being a werewolf, he meets a variety of characters: Decker, the vampire, Winnie, the medium, Elise, the angelic warrior who fights evil, and finally, other werewolves, the ones responsible for his transformation.

One of the werewolves, probably the most important to this story, is Seth, a sixteen-year-old werewolf and a Prince of Boston. To keep all of Boston from contamination by evil is his reason for existing, and he’ll do anything to keep Joshua safe. Unfortunately, Seth has troubles of his own, one of them being a minor – he is only sixteen.

All of the above are the good guys. Mostly. There are bad guys too, the Wickers, the villainous cabal of witches and warlocks, and Joshua is central to their plan for world-domination. Joshua himself doesn’t realize it, and nobody but the Wickers know what they plan to do with him, except that it would surely be something horrendous. Most of the story is a mad scramble by the other characters to keep Joshua safe, discover the Wickers’ heinous ploy, and stop it before Boston is plunged into darkness. 

 

Bad stuff

  • Too many POVs. There are 4 POV characters – Joshua, Seth, Decker, and Elise - and the chapters for them alternate, which makes for a jumpy ride for the reader. Joshua and Seth are paramount to this story. Their POVs are needed. The other two just dilute the reader’s attention and distract from the protagonists’ struggles. Even worse: less page space for each of the two heroes result in sketchy characterization for everyone. We don’t have time to bond with any of the characters; they are all too distant. I wasn’t emotionally involved with any of them, and that’s a huge flaw in fiction.  
  • Proofreading. Or rather the lack of it. There are too many extra words or missed words or words out of place. I read a hardcover, but it felt like a bad Kindle file.

 

Good stuff

  • Beautiful, full-page B&W illustrations. Almost every chapter has one, and they enhance the reading experience tremendously. In the past, artists routinely illustrated adult literature, but the practice has fallen off the wagon in the past couple hundred years. Modern publishing mostly relegated illustrations to picture books for children, but I hope the tradition will make a comeback soon, and we’ll see the artistic interpretations of our favorite characters on the pages again, not just in the movies.
  • Humor. Oh, yeah! There are many places in the book where I laughed, and chuckled, and giggled, and shook my head at the absurdity of the familiar, as seen through the sharp eyes of the author.
  • World building. It’s a strong aspect of Spencer’s writing in general. Every stand-alone book and every series of hers introduces a world that is unique and interesting. In this one, there are werewolves and vampires, like in many other paranormal fantasy books, but the writer sees them in a different way. Her werewolves are magical creatures who guard the Earth from evil monsters and prevent breaches in reality that spawn the aforementioned monsters. Her vampire is an original. He doesn’t drink blood. To sustain himself, he drinks life-essence through a kiss. Besides, he is depressed and lonely, and his depression manifests as hoarding.
  • Story. Yes, the story is fascinating, and the tension builds the way it should. Despite my general disappointment with the characters, I still want to know what will happen to them next. If there is a second book in the series, I’ll definitely read it.

A quick romance

Not a bad book, but to call it a romance is a misnomer. The romance itself starts about half-way into the book. Before that, it is a light, slightly humorous historical. The hero, Cal, serves the British government as something of a spy. Napoleon is finally dead, but Europe still seethes with instability. New countries appear, borders shift, dime-sized kingdoms collapse. In such a volatile atmosphere, a smart patriotic man and a former officer could do a lot to promote British interests.

When Cal learns that his older brother is dead, and he is the heir to the family estate and fortune, he isn’t happy. He wants to keep doing his job, but first, he needs to take care of the few details, including his two half-sisters, 18 and 20.

He plans to finish all the arrangements in a few weeks and be back on the job, but he didn’t take into account his head-strong sisters and other assorted dependents. All of them need him, but his autocratic ways, that served him so well in the army, don’t work at all on the mischievous females in his charge. They have minds of their own and no compulsion to obey his orders.

His only recourse is to marry in haste and let his new wife take care of the girls and the estate, while Call pursues his professional goals. And who better to suit his needs than the girls’ former teacher at the elite school for noblewomen, Emm.   

So the romance starts, as Cal proposes a marriage of convenience to Emm, and she accepts. Of course, she does – he is a rich earl, and she is a penniless teacher. As they try to adjust to each other, to learn each other’s ways, their mutual attraction grows, finally giving truth to the genre of this novel.

The writing is professional, the characters charming, if not very deep, and their harebrained escapades are frequently amusing. The tension builds nicely, although the resolution is somewhat disappointing.

Overall – not bad. I enjoyed reading this book. 

 

Note to librarians:

There is no image for this book cover in the BL database. I pulled it from GR. Perhaps, you could fix that and add the cover to this book. (*) 

 

(*) I've got to practice the colored text HTML for this one. :)) Thanks, Murder.

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Love & death historical

'Til Death Do Us Part - Amanda Quick

Calista operates an exclusive introduction agency in Victorian London’s high society. Trent is a writer of popular detective novels. When his sister signs up with Calista’s agency and starts meeting men, Trent is concerned. He doesn’t want a possible charlatan to take advantage of his sister. He comes to Calista’s home to investigate her and her agency.

He finds out that Calista is not a charlatan, and nobody takes advantage of his sister, but Calista has troubles of her own. Someone is stalking her, sending her scary, death-inspired gifts, and Trent, despite his initial mistrust of her, is the only one she could turn to for help.

Together, they discover the identity of Calista’s tormentor and simultaneously fall in love.

Fast paced and intriguing, this historical romantic suspense is easy to read, and its characters are typical for this writer: a strong brooding male with an unbreakable sense of honor and a courageous female with a compassionate heart.

A nice addition to a romance genre.   

Anna Cinderella

Someone To Love (A Westcott Novel) - Mary Balogh

An original take on the Cinderella story. How do you go from poverty to riches without losing yourself in the process? Mary Balogh attempted to answer this question.

Anna, the female lead of the story, has lived in an orphanage all her life, first as an orphan child, then as a teacher. Suddenly at twenty-five, she becomes a lady heiress, thrust into the high society of London, but what she has wanted most for her entire life – her own family, someone to love – still eludes her. Her family wants nothing to do with her, and who could blame them. The same twist of fate that made Anna an heiress deprived them of all they owned. And the one responsible for this imbroglio is safely dead, beyond any blame or retribution. So they blame the only one who is left – Anna, even though she wants to share her newfound wealth with them.

Like Anna, Avery, the Duke of Netherby, is an unusual male lead. To start with, he is not tall and manly. He is golden-haired, short and slight, beautiful like a girl and almost, but not quite, effeminate. He is aloof and keeps everyone at a distance, but Anna gets under his skin in no time. Love creeps at them both and catches them both unawares, and they submit to its sweet demands without much resistance.

The story is charming and quiet, with no suspense subplot: pure romance at its best. It is very well written, and I loved it. It’s the beginning of a new series, and I look forward to more books about the characters I met in this one.

Who is Mencken?

Inside Job - Connie Willis

Too cold, too distant. The writing was OK, but at no point did I care about any of the characters. The story is about charlatans and gurus, mediums of all sorts who perform cheap theatrical tricks, make gullible people believe, and extract good money from their victims for the privilege to be conned. The protagonist makes his living debunking such conmen, and most of the story is a preaching by the author about the harm the unethical quacks inflict on everyone and the need to take them down. There is also tons of info about Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956), the influential American journalist and satirist who routinely made fun of the fraudsters of his time. I didn’t know the name of Mencken before I read this book. I never wanted to know. I still don’t, but the author shoved his quotes and opinions down my throat.

I didn’t like this novella at all.

Discworld - view from cosmos

Look what I found on one of the Russian sites: Discworld.

Unfortunately I don't know who created this picture.