Olga Godim

Fantasy, romance, mystery, and more...

Emails, emails...

Sometimes, you get useful, work-related emails. Sometimes, spam. Sometimes, friendly gossip or family news. And sometimes, an out-of-the-blue email reminds you of a distant connection you've half-forgotten already. I just received one of those, and it made me smile.

Recently, I wrote an article for a local newspaper about an art show. One of the artists I reviewed in the article decided to send me a 'thank you' email, but... she sent it to someone else.

You see, I have a double namesake in the US. We both have the same first and last names. Not Olga Godim (my pen name for fiction) but Olga Livshin (my legal name). That is the name in my articles byline.

I found the other Olga about 10 years ago, when I googled my name on a whim. We exchanged a few emails and even met once, a few years back, when she and her husband visited Vancouver. She is much younger than I am but she is a writer too, and her first language is also Russian. No family relation though. Talk about coincidences.

The artist I mentioned above obviously found Olga's email address online and sent her a 'thank you' message. Olga guessed it was really meant for me and forwarded the message.

So I received the 'thank you' from the artist and a short message from Olga as well. Two birds by the same name with the same email, right?




He didn't do it - but who did?

What Angels Fear - C.S. Harris

A satisfying historical mystery set in Regency England, this book tells a story of Sebastian St. Gyr, a wealthy viscount, heir to an earldom, and a bitter, disillusioned man. Retired from the army after a few years of spying against Napoleon, Sebastian leads a life of a bored aristocrat, drinking, fighting duels, and seemingly not caring for his own safety. Until he is falsely accused of brutally murdering a young actress. Then he discovers that he does care whether he lives or dies. He cares a lot. Unwilling to perish for something he didn’t do, he sets out to discover the identity of the real killer.

To evade capture, he disappears into the seediest parts of London as he tries to piece together the victim’s last few days and find out who wanted her dead.

The novel is a bit grittier and darker than I like, but it’s written well, the pacing is relentless, and the characters come out of the pages almost alive. One of the aspects of this book is political. The timing is just before the Regency is announced, and the politicians and their parties are jockeying for power. The author doesn’t have any illusions about the politicians: they are all ruthless sociopaths. They don’t care whether St. Gyr is guilty or not. Some flimsy circumstantial evidence points to him – so of course the order comes down to the local magistrate to apprehend him and charge him. The masses must be appeased before the Regency starts. The justice – or the travesty of it – must be served.

It’s up to St. Gyr to clear his name, and he is practically alone. He has a few allies but none of them belongs to his family. For some reason, his sister hates him, and his father... well, that’s much more complicated. The author doesn’t describe St. Gyr’s family dynamics in details, and I was sorry for it. I wanted to know what happened to this family to make them all so cold and unloving, so hostile towards each other.

Fast Track – DNF at 30%

Fast Track (Buchanan / Renard / MacKenna Book 12) - Julie Garwood

Everyone says that to learn writing you have to read bestselling authors and analyze what they are doing. Julie Garwood is a bestselling author, with millions copies of her books sold in various languages. I tried to read her book. Unfortunately my analysis didn’t help me learn anything useful for my writing development, except maybe what NOT TO DO.

Her story was boring, and her writing was terrible, banal and descriptive, utterly amateurish. It was painful to read even as much as I’ve managed. I’m not sure how she got her book past an agent or an editor, much less why she is a bestseller. I don’t know who could like this garbage. If I were an editor I wouldn’t let such a manuscript anywhere near a printing press. I would’ve have been ashamed to sign off such a sloppy, unprofessional work.

But she is a bestseller anyway, despite my negative opinion. Maybe she was better in her earlier works. Or maybe other factors were in play besides the quality of her writing. Maybe I should look for those factors instead of concentrating on my narrative, on story structure and character depth, on pacing and suspense. Maybe there is a secret ingredient to being a bestseller other than the writer’s ability to craft a solid piece of fiction.

What is it?   

Love across centuries

Four Dukes and a Devil - Cathy Maxwell, Elaine Fox, Sophia Nash, Tracy Anne Warren, Jeaniene Frost

This anthology is comprised of 5 romance novellas. One of them is a modern romance (Elaine Fox), one is a contemporary paranormal romance (Jeaniene Frost), and the other three are historical romances. The individual styles and quality of writing vary greatly from story to story. Below are mini-reviews for each of the stories. The overall rating is a compilation of the individual rating for each story – see below.


Cathy Maxwell – The Irish Duke (1 star)


Horrible writing. Very blah.



Elaine Fox – The Duke Who Came to Dinner (4 stars)


I liked it a lot. I’ve read many other books by this author and enjoyed most of them. In this contemporary romance, a young teacher, Gray, comes to a small town on Cape Cod to escape her joyless life elsewhere. She meets a fascinating set of characters, including a ghost of a long-dead duke and a strange white dog. And of course, a tall and handsome music critic Sam. With the romantic ocean shore as the background, love has no choice but to flourish. 

The story is written with skill and humor, and I have to share a couple of quotes from it. The first one is how the story starts:

Distracted, Sam Gregory... stared out the window into the dawn light of the village street.

Pedaling a bicycle with all the determination of Dorothy’s Wicked Witch of the West was a slender, fair-haired, stark-naked woman.

Stark, he marveled, forgetting his coffee.


In the next snippet, which happens a couple hours later, Sam finds a woman’s dress in his backyard, just after his dog Duke came in from his solitary morning outing.

He looked from the dress in his hand toward the back door of his house, putting two and two and two together. And getting a mess.

Low laughter started in the back of his throat. A runaway dog, a naked bicyclist, and the sudden appearance of a dress all pointed to one thing: somehow Duke had stolen that poor woman’s clothes. No wonder she’d been pedaling so fast. She wasn’t an exhibitionist; she’d been robbed.

After that, the story really takes off and becomes a swift and charming tale of love and self-discovery. My one objection: it is too short and ends too abruptly. I wanted more.



Jeaniene Frost – Devil to Pay (3.5 stars)


Here we have a paranormal romance. A few months ago, Blake was possessed by a powerful demon. Once in a while, the demon seizes Blake’s mind and goes on a killing spree, spreading blood and destruction. Although Blake himself blacks out during such episodes, he is aware of the consequences and terrified of what he had become. His only way out is death, but the demon wouldn’t let him kill himself.

Elise is a vampire, has been for 70 years. She is a recluse and lives in an abandoned tunnel under a New York metro station. When she meets Blake, she recognizes his evil rider. Her emotions, which have been dormant for many years, stir at Blake’s plight. She wants to help this particular human. Blake pulls at the strings of her heart she had thought extinguished for half a century. Unfortunately, to exorcise such a powerful demon is not easy, even for a mighty vampire. The demon fights back, and the passion that springs between these two doomed lovers seems hopeless until the very end.

The narrative flows, and the tension builds quickly, as Blake and Elise explore their ill-fated, horribly-timed attraction, all the while resisting the demon’s tricks.

I’m glad this poignant story of the two wounded people finding solace in each other’s arms had a happy resolution. I cared for the protagonists and I enjoyed reading their tale.   



Sophia Nash – Catch of the Century (3 stars)


In this historical romance, a handsome and rich duke of Beaufort is en route to his estate in Derbyshire, when his carriage almost runs down a young, badly-dressed teacher with three young boys. Beaufort doesn’t know what they are doing trudging along a country road in the middle of nowhere but he can’t leave them there. He feels compelled to help them.

From the moment he stops his carriage, all his carefully laid plans go astray, and the beautiful teacher finds her way into his heart, no matter how much he resists it.

Victoria, a sharp-tongued spinster, is used to managing classrooms of boisterous children in the orphanage where she works. She resists her attraction to the duke as much as he does. After all, she knows that nothing will come of it. Dukes and teachers don’t mingle, but her heart has other ideas. And so does her treacherous body.

This one was a classic Cinderella story, average in every way but still a nice read.



Tracy Anne Warren – Charmed by her Smile (3 stars)


Not bad but nothing special about this historical romance. Unlike the previous novellas in the anthology, India, the heroine of this tale, is very young, not yet 18, and hasn’t had her first London Season yet. The hero Quentin is much older, over 30. Another difference: by the end of this story, India is still a virgin, although there were a few torrid kisses along the way. The wedding bells were tolling just as the story ended. 

Ghouls - always bad news

An OK urban fantasy novel, this latest installment of the author’s SPI Files series (where SPI stands for Supernatural Protection & Investigation agency) relates a new story about the series’ protagonist, Makenna Fraser, and her friends. A bunch of dimension-hopping ghouls have committed a few daring bank robberies lately. Humans have been killed. Makenna and friends have no choice but to investigate.

Fast moving but utterly forgettable. 


Cover Crush - cabaret thriller

Love this artist's mix of flames and stage. I guess, showbiz burns.




Planet of the ocean

Endless Blue - Wen Spencer

I loved this unusual sci-fi novel. The protagonist, a Russian prince slash spaceship captain, Mikhail Volkov, accepts a puzzling assignment from the Space Fleet command. Several years ago, one of the Fleet warships vanished during a warp jump. Now, the ship’s warp drive (without its ship) suddenly appears near one of the Fleet space stations. Where did it come from? Where is its ship? What happened to the crew? The Fleet wants Mikhail to find out.

And Mikhail does find out. He discovers an entire world in an odd pocket of the universe, a world where all the spaceships which had vanished during warp jumps end up in. This world, called Sargasso by its denizens, is one endless ocean. Islands float in the sky. Minotaurs don’t allow anyone into their section of the ocean. Huge octopi roam the depth and could only be defeated with spaceship canons. And the local humans don’t really want the Space Fleet to arrive on their watery home and establish new rules and laws. They have their own regulations, thank you very much, so nobody really wants to cooperate with Mikhail and his mission.  

Unfortunately for him, Mikhail’s ship is damaged during the crush landing. He needs the locals’ cooperation, so the bulk of the novel follows the convoluted adventures of Mikhail and his crew, plus a number of local humans and aliens, as their agendas clash.  

There are troubles aplenty for everyone. Political squabbles erupt. Personal ambitions collide. Racial tension springs up. Technology goes haywire. Love blooms. Nobody tells Mikhail the truth, and several of his crew fall inconveniently in love. As Mikhail battles his personal self-doubts, in addition to his disintegrating ship and crew, the focus of the novel shifts between him and the other heroes: Mikhail’s foster brother Turk and a local woman Paige.

Paige is a wonderful heroine. Decisive and kind, compassionate and ruthless, loyal and smart, she is more alive in this story than the whining Mikhail, the prince. She captains her own ship, crewed with her siblings and cousins, roams the endless sea of Sargasso without fear, and wouldn’t let anyone dictate her course. Until she fishes Turk out of trouble and falls in love.

Turk is also a much more interesting character than his foster brother, the erstwhile Captain Mikhail. Turk is a Red, created like all Reds by the human geneticists to be a perfect soldier, an outstanding fighting machine. In the outside world, all Reds are property and used mercilessly to fight human wars. Turk is an exception – Mikhail had freed him long ago – but for everyone else outside Sargasso, he is just another Red, little more than an animal trained to kill. Reds don’t even warrant personal cabins on spaceships. They bunk together in ‘Red Pits’.    

Turk struggles with some demons of his own. He hates himself for being non-human. He doesn’t fully understand the concept of personal freedom. He is full of worry for his foster brother Mikhail. His is torn between his duty, which lies with Mikhail, and his love, which belongs to Paige.

Between these three, the story romps along the crazy lines of the impossible, until the author brings it to a surprisingly satisfying conclusion. Almost everyone wins in the end, and I absolutely loved the happy ending.

A wonderful novel.

Penric's suit flops

Loved it. This novella is the conclusion to the previous one, Penric’s Mission. Remember I griped about that one: that it didn’t have an ending. Now it does, with Mira’s Last Dance.

This story is much lighter in tone than Penric’s Mission, with moments of unrestrained hilarity interlaced with sadness. Penric’s mission is a success, all the characters are safe; they found what they were looking for, or at least got as close as it was possible in the confines of their world, but the story doesn’t have a happily-ever-after I hoped for. The woman Penric fell in love with turned him down.

I thought about it. I like Penric and I wanted him to be happy, but I couldn’t blame the author for finishing her story this way. It was logical and couldn’t turn otherwise. Penric possesses a huge personality, plus his demon Desdemona with her dozen previous lives, plus Penric’s multi-faceted education. He is huge on the inside, a giant of culture and magic, a Renaissance man of his fantasy universe.

His love interest, Nikys, on the other hand, is a brave and kind woman, but she doesn’t seem to have a personality at all. No education. No goals of her own except a quiet and secure little life with a quiet and secure little husband in a quiet and secure little house. Penric couldn’t offer her that. His life is bound to be big and turbulent. He carries a demon of chaos inside himself after all. Of course, Nikys refused his proposal.   

Penric’s partner should be either 100% dedicated to him, like so many wives of the geniuses of our world. Nikys clearly is not. Her first priority is her brother. Or Penric’s partner could be a personality in her own right – a talented artist or musician, maybe. Someone with goals and aspirations of her own. Someone who is unusual herself – because her talent drives her towards nonconformity and originality – so she wouldn’t be freaked out by the weirdness that surrounds Penric and his demon. Nikys doesn’t have a talent either. She is just an average, prosaic woman who sees that they don’t suit and acts accordingly. Still, it made me a bit sad.


Note to librarians: the BL database doesn't seem to have the cover for this book, so I pulled it here from GR.  

KFC's first romance

KFC celebrates Mother's Day with its first brand-name romance.Should be delicious.

Read more in USA Today.

She was a lady. She isn't anymore.

Someone to Hold (A Westcott Novel) - Mary Balogh

Camille had been a lady all her life, cold and aloof and as arrogant as a British aristocrat and a daughter of a wealthy earl could be. Until one day, after her father’s death, she discovers that her life has been a lie. Her late father, the earl, was never legally married to her mother. Camille and her siblings are all illegitimate and have not a cent to their names.

The story of this book is the story of Camille’s self-discovery. She is trying to figure out who she is if not a rich and powerful noble lady. She is also trying to find out how those who are not rich and powerful, those she had always considered beneath her notice, live.

I didn’t like Camille or her story very much. She remains cold and aloof even when knocked off her pedestal of money and title. She is trying – I’ll give her that – but her fumblings are halfhearted at best. And she uses those weaker and poorer than herself – the orphan children – as an instrument of her self-discovery. She doesn’t think of what will happen to the children after she leaves them behind. They are just a means to an end. Through them, she is determining how to exist without being a rich lady.

In the end of the book, she accepts money from her legitimate sister as her due. Struggling to keep food on the table is not for Camille. In fact, everyone becomes rich in the end of the book, as if the money problems should always be rewarded by inheritance or kindness of relatives. Nothing like that has ever happened to anyone I know, so I didn’t believe this happy ending for Camille either.

The romance between Camille and her young beau doesn’t play a large role in the story. It almost seems an afterthought, because the author is a romance writer, and her publisher expected at least a token romantic line.

On the whole – a very average novel. I did enjoy it... somewhat. I like Balogh’s writing style and I have read most of her prolific output, but this particular book is one of my least favorite of hers.

Cover Crush: sci-fi + charm

What a charming sci-fi heroine. How do I know it is sci-fi, considering I haven't read the book? I don't know. Doesn't it feel like sci-fi to you? Or is it another genre altogether? Perhaps it is YA.

In any case, the artist did a wonderful job with this cover.


Leah dithers

Unquiet Land: An Elemental Blessings Novel - Sharon Shinn

I liked this novel – I like everything by this writer – but it’s not her best work. In fact, the story seems an afterthought to Shinn’s latest series. It utilizes many of the characters I have encountered in the prior books.

The protagonist, Leah, also appeared before, in Jeweled Fire. There, she played a supporting role. Here, she is given a chance to shine, but sadly, her shine is a mere sparkle.

After 5 years of spying for the Regent in a foreign country, Leah returns home and tries to find a place to belong. She has a young daughter, Mally, whom she abandoned 5 years ago. Mally doesn’t even know Leah is her mother. Leah also has a former lover, but she is still resentful for his rejection 5 years ago. It seems, everything of importance in Leah’s life happened 5 years ago, but the story in this book happens now, 5 years later. Now, Leah tries to establish a new connection with Mally. Now, Leah tries to fit into the society she abandoned 5 years ago. Now, Leah tries to find a new purpose in life and a new love.

Leah’s story is quiet, as is Leah herself, and her new love grows gradually. There is no insta-lust there but lots of doubts. One of Leah’s doubts actually turned me against this book and its heroine. Her new love interest, Chandran, confesses to her early in this novel that a decade ago he killed his wife. She was a monster, or so he says, but he still feels guilty for taking her life.

After his confession, Leah is reluctant to trust him completely. She is dithering, afraid to jump full-tilt into the affair. Even though she is clearly in love with him, and he with her, she is stringing Chandran along, keeps him dangling.

The more I read about Chandran in the tale, the more I liked the guy. He is one of those men who doesn’t shy away from hard decisions but does what he feels right and then accepts the consequences, no matter how painful. He is a rare thing – a man with integrity.  

As the book progresses, the facts unfold, showing us that his former wife really was an evil bitch and deserved what she got. And still Leah holds back. Then, close to the end of the book, she gets in trouble. Her life is in mortal danger. Chandran is not in a position to help; he isn’t aware of the danger she faces, but her friend, a female soldier, jumps in and kills her enemy.

Afterwards, Leah doesn’t hesitate to feel grateful to her friend, doesn’t withhold her trust and affection the same way she has been doing with Chandran for the entire length of the book. In this case, killing is a good thing, right? If someone kills protecting her, that’s okay. But Chandran killed protecting someone else, in a situation unknown to Leah, so different standards must apply. The entire conditional approval of killing rubbed me raw and it poisoned the whole story.

Other than that one serious objection, I enjoyed this book.

Diluted story

What Alice Forgot - Liane Moriarty

This book has a fascinating premise. In the beginning, the protagonist Alice falls during her workout at a gym, hits her head, and forgets the past ten years of her life. The last thing she remembers when she wakes up a few minutes later is what happened ten years ago.

The book follows Alice, as she tries to remember and reconstruct her life in the past ten years: from a happy young woman, deliriously in love with her husband, pregnant with their first child, to the busy mother of three, bitter and disillusioned, on the verge of divorce. She doesn’t recognize herself in the portrait people around her see. How did she come from then to now?

I liked Alice’s story. It was engaging and heartfelt. Unfortunately, her story was diluted by two other stories, unconnected and irrelevant to Alice’s line. One was the story of Alice’s sister Elizabeth, styled as entries in Elizabeth’s journal, written at the request of her therapist. Elizabeth’s storyline has as much importance as Alice... but only to Elizabeth. It should’ve been a separate book – a novella maybe – because Elizabeth’s struggles with her infertility truly warrants a book of her own. Bundled together with Alice’s story as they were, both stories lost some of their power. As a consequence, the entire novel seems unfocused, as if it doesn’t know which direction it wants to go.

And then, there is a third story, told as letters of Alice’s grandmother to her former lover, dead for the past five decades. Yes, she still writes to him but she doesn’t send those letters. She knows he is dead so she just collects her own letters in her drawer. What relevance do these letters have to either Alice’s story or Elizabeth’s is anyone’s guess.

On the whole, not a bad book but not a very good one either. The writing was good, utterly professional, the characterization clear, the characters sympathetic, but the structure of the novel sucked.

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.