Olga Godim

Fantasy, romance, mystery, and more...

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.


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.


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.

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.