Olga Godim

Fantasy, romance, mystery, and more...

Cover Crush - cabaret thriller

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

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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