MY 2020 IN BOOKS (and not only…)

Time for some statistics, as it’s customary when the year approaches its end: this year I managed to read a round 60 books, which does not look much when compared with the amazing feats of some of my fellow bloggers, but it’s a nice goal for me – and as long as I can enjoy what I read, I’m more than happy.  Moreover, only 3 of those 60 books ended up in the DNF category, which is a comforting number. Here is a “parade” of the covers, in all their blazing glory 🙂

This year I decided early on to keep an Excel file listing my books, totaling the number of pages read and keeping tracks of genres, ratings and so on, and since I’ve been oh-so-well organized  😀  I even managed to turn some of those data into nice-looking diagrams, which makes me feel quite accomplished!

For the record, those 60 books averaged a total of 20.269 pages read, and the first detail I was curious about was the subdivision of those pages into genres, so here is the first diagram:

Science Fiction and Fantasy are of course at the top of the list, being my favorite genres, but in 2020 I decided to “branch out” into crime/thrillers for some variety, and it seems that a good portion of my reading material went into this genre, particularly because I’ve been very lucky with my finds.

The second diagram I would like to share concerns book ratings: again, I’ve been quite fortunate in my choices because 46 books obtained a rating between 4 and 5 stars, and only 7 were below the 3-star rating.

And last but not least, I also enjoyed fiction in visual form through a number of TV series:

Season 4 of THE EXPANSE – 5 star rating

Season 1 of PICARD – 4 star rating

Season 1 of THE WITCHER – 3,5 star rating

Season 1 of LOCKE & KEY – 4 star rating

And a complete rewatch of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA for an overall 4,5 rating

Now all that’s left is to see what 2021 will bring, so my wish to you all for the new year is for a time with less stress and more good books to enjoy 🙂




Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme where every Tuesday we look at a particular topic for discussion and use various (or more to the point, ten) bookish examples to demonstrate that particular topic.  Top Ten Tuesday (created and hosted by  The Broke and Bookish) is now being hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl and future week’s topics can be found here. 

The end of the year is always the time to review our reading achievements, and before I go into some year-end statistics I’d like to showcase the 10 books that I most enjoyed, although this list proved something of a difficult choice, since the books that earned a well-deserved 5-star rating were much more than that.  So I decided to line up the ones from my two ever-favorite genres that truly shined, and here we go:


This year, Joe Abercrombie earned the lion’s share of the 5-star ratings for Fantasy, which does not mean that the two other competitors – John Gwynne and RJ Barker – did not amaze me with their books: it’s just that I went on something of an “Abercrombie Rampage”, that’s all 😉


Here I can show more variety, author-wise, and this year saw the return of a couple of series I enjoyed and the appearance of an unexpected “outsider” in the form of a TV tie-in book that, surprising for its kind, turned out to be an amazing, quite enthralling read.

And now it’s your turn: which were your favorite books this year? Inquiring minds want to know… 😉


SOME CHOOSE DARKNESS (Rory Moore/Lane Phillips #1), by Charlie Donlea

I became aware of this author’s work through the review Mogsy at Bibliosanctum posted for the second book of this series: intrigued by what I was reading, I searched for the series’ starter and found both an amazing thriller and a new writer to keep firmly on my radar.

Some Choose Darkness moves on two different temporal lines: the past, set between the years 1979 and 1981, and the present, alternating chapters from both timelines and building a sense of impending doom that compelled me to turn the pages at a very fast rate. Between the end of the ’70s and the start of the ’80s, a serial killer nicknamed “the Thief” preyed on young women in the Chicago area, and  several of them disappeared: we see their end through the eyes of the killer, who enjoys torturing his victims in a very gruesome manner, and we also follow the obsessive search for clues from a troubled woman, Angela Mitchell, who manages to uncover the killer’s identity. 

In the present, almost 40 years after the Thief was apprehended on the charge of murdering Angela, whose body was however never found, the killer is ready to be released on parole and since his lawyer just died, the case is shifted to the man’s daughter, Rory Moore, who normally works for the police as a forensic reconstructionist on cold cases. The Thief is convinced that Angela is still alive, and he asks Rory to continue the search for the woman started by her father: intrigued by the mystery she’s faced with, Rory launches on a journey of discovery not unlike the one that faced Angela as she pieced together the clues about the serial killer, and in both timelines the two women will face chilling discoveries…

Some Choose Darkness focuses more on the psychological aspects of the story (although there are enough twists and revelations to keep your adrenaline running high) and does so by following the path of the two center figures in both timelines, who share many similarities: Angela Mitchell is the typical suburban wife, with a nice house and a caring husband, but she’s afflicted both by an obsessive/compulsive disorder and relational difficulties comparable to autism. Although frightened by the news about the disappearance of young women in the summer or 1979, she keeps collecting newspaper clippings on this story and compiles detailed profiles for the missing women: her husband’s worry about this obsession, that is clearly exacerbating her condition, and her only friend’s doubts about the conclusions Angela reaches, only lead the woman to keep searching and to finally come to a revelation that will place her life in extreme danger.

For her part, Rory suffers as well from a borderline form of autism and OCD, but she channeled it all into the ability to extrapolate data in a very unconventional way, which – together with her eidetic memory – turns her into a quirky, but effective, investigator and a powerful asset for the Chicago PD.  Once tasked by her client with examining clues about Angela Mitchell’s continued existence, Rory is enthralled by her discoveries and the mystery surrounding the woman, and as she tries to solve the puzzle she finds herself on an unexpected path, where momentous revelations will change her life forever.

The most fascinating element in this novel comes from the two protagonists, both troubled by behavioral issues but not succumbing to them, on the contrary putting the differences engendered by their psychological makeup to use: the comparison between the two timelines’ approach to their affliction underlines all the difficulties encountered by Angela as she’s treated with various degrees of contempt by acquaintances and even by the media – even when her findings help apprehend the Thief, she’s depicted by reporters as a mental wreck, with little or no acknowledgment of her role in the solution of the crime.  The way the author represents her is very different, however, because he manages to showcase an inner strength in Angela, one that first carries her forward in a relentless search for the truth and then urges her to take an arduous, heart-breaking path.

Rory is an equally strong figure: unlike Angela she enjoyed the understanding and support of her parents, so she has been able to create a series of coping mechanisms that allow her to lead a normal life and to carve a unique working niche in which her talents can be put to the best of uses.  There is a fascinating narrative thread in which we learn about Rory’s side activity in repairing damaged porcelain dolls: if on one side it shows her need to set things right, restoring the integrity and the beauty of these objects, on the other it’s easy to see how they might be a representation of herself, and the unexpressed statement about Rory’s will of repairing herself without external help.

These two fascinating characters are set in a very enthralling story, one where the two timelines enhance each other leading the readers toward the final showdown in a progression where you can only expect the unexpected: the pacing, as I noticed, is relentless, revelations and discoveries come in a natural way that never feels forced or contrived, and the build-up of tension becomes at times unbearable while keeping you glued to the pages with irresistible fascination.

What I liked most about Some Choose Darkness is that while we get acquainted with the killer’s mentality, the story is not so much about him but rather about the women pitted against his deranged world-view and cruelty.  The character of Rory is a fascinating one, and I enjoyed witnessing how her mind works, so I will keep following her journey in the books that see her protagonist, together with other novels from this newly discovered author who made me a fan with just one book…

My Rating:


SECRET SANTA, by Andrew Shaffer

I received this novel from Quirk Books through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

Lussi Meyer is going through a rough patch: having lost her job at a publishing house some months before, she has uselessly hunted for employment for quite some time and is nearing despair. Her last chance lies in the interview she has obtained with Blackwood-Patterson, an old and somewhat stuffy publishing house specialized in high profile books, not exactly the right fit for her previous career as a horror editor, but whatever helps pay the bills will be welcome.

A bizarre (very bizarre!) set of circumstances sees Lussi not only hired but placed in the position of senior editor: the new management wants to move toward a more modern approach to publishing, and she needs to find the “next Stephen King” before the end of the year if she wants to maintain her job.  The reception Lussi gets from her new colleagues is far from warm, and she finds herself the target of some serious hazing, the latest episode being the Secret Santa gift she receives: a weird wooden doll with very disquieting features.

Not long after that, some of her co-workers become victims of freaky accidents, and Lussi comes to the conclusion that the doll is somehow involved: what she doesn’t know is that her own life might be in danger…

I enjoyed this shortish book quite a bit: for starters it’s set in the ‘80s, with many period references I found both interesting and amusing, particularly where the horror scene was concerned since it enjoyed a revival in those years, and Lussi is quite versed in the matter also thanks to her keen interest in the genre from her early youth.  Then there is the eerie background of Blackwood-Patterson, a place peopled by very peculiar characters that would not have been out of place in the Addams’ house; and last but not least the building itself, with its definite Gothic flavor, the old-fashioned look and dark interiors barely lighted by quaint, feeble lamps, and its many shadows lurking from dark corners.

Still, don’t expect to find paralyzing horror in Secret Santa, because the story is laced with a good dose of tongue-in-cheek humor and peppered with creepy episodes that would be perfectly at home in a parody movie of the genre, as the author delights in poking some fun at its tropes.  Lussi is the perfect example of this tone because, unlike the protagonists of those movies, who seem always destined to some gruesome and bloody end, she navigates her troubles with considerable spirit and, far from being the stereotype of the damsel in need of rescue, she keeps managing to rescue herself very well, and to help others along the way – mainly her friend and horror author Fabien Nightingale.

The element of the creepy doll is certainly the main theme of the story, and another way for the author to indulge in the dark humor running through this book: disturbing dolls are quite frequent in horror, particularly in its visual aspect, and her the doll in question is also a far cry from the kind one would find in a child’s playroom, which adds a few more layers of ghoulishness to the whole recipe.  Mix that with a gloomy, scary building that soon becomes another character in the novel, and you get an amusing page turner that will make you look at the coming holidays from a very different point of view.

Have fun… 🙂

My Rating:


AWAKENED (Awakened #1), by James Murray & Darren Wearmouth

The theme of the abominable, blood-thirsty creature hunting humans in dark, confined spaces is one that’s been used often to promote a claustrophobic feeling of horror in the readers or viewers, one of the best examples being that of the xenomorphs in the Alien franchise. Awakened multiplies this effect by creating a veritable horde of terrifying critters haunting the bowels of New York’s subway system.

Mayor Tom Cafferty’s crowning achievement is the implementation of the Z Train track connecting the city of New York with neighboring New Jersey by digging under the Hudson River. Despite a major incident during the construction – an incident that opens the book with an adrenaline-infused, and quite ominous, prologue – the ambitious project is finally ready for inauguration, and the state of the art terminal station is packed with guests and media people, and even graced by the arrival of the President.

The expectant crowd waiting for the first train is however first mystified by its delayed arrival after loss of communication, and then shocked by the appearance of the wrecked, empty cars, gruesomely drenched in blood. The first hypothesis of a terrorist attack is strengthened by rising levels of methane gas that could kill the attending crowds in a short time, and the situation is made worse by the total lockdown imposed by Secret Service agents bent on protecting the President’s life. It soon becomes evident, however, that the attack on the train was no terrorist strike and that the so-far untapped depths under the city are home to an ages-old menace that’s been disturbed by recent human activities and is now out for blood…

Awakened is the kind of “popcorn thriller/horror” that relies heavily on plot and does not care much about characterization, and as such it could have worked very well for a total immersion in a scary, monsters-of-the-week story asking only for a modicum of suspension of disbelief. Unfortunately the authors choose to reach beyond the parameters of this kind of narrative and added further elements, like a decade-old secret organization born out of a former Nazi’s plans, or a conspiracy theory linked to this organization and involving various world governments. 

On the positive side, I enjoyed the mounting terror experienced by the people trapped in the subway station, and the escalation of the stakes building against their survival, and even though the characterization was somewhat stereotyped, it was of the kind one can expect in this kind of narrative environment: from the quiet guy turning hero to the unexpected double player who betrays the others, to the estranged wife seeking solace elsewhere – the downside is, unfortunately, that the reader is unable to bond with any of them and rarely cares about their survival or early demise. The environment of the oppressive subway tunnels is made even more disturbing by the awareness of the tons of water under which the galleries run, and together with the other elements – the monsters, the methane levels, the impossibility of using conventional weapons because of the explosive danger – makes for a compelling story that simply begs to be consumed quickly.

The negatives, however, gather more and more weight as the novel progresses: the harvesting of pregnant women by the creatures is never explained, and the scene of one of them slowly opening a victim’s shirt with a talon feels more ludicrous than scary; the monsters themselves generate a lot of unexplained questions: we are told that they are intelligent and quick learners, for example, and yet they seem little more than pack animals grunting their way toward the intended victims, while in other instances they exhibit the ability to perfectly mimic human voices to lure people toward their demise.  These are minor annoyances, still, in the face of bigger ones like the representation of the shady Foundation for Human Advancement, which for decades has been keeping the creatures at bay while blackmailing governments for funds: this truly baffled me, because no one seems to be aware of those demons’ existence, and yet politicians have been funding the organization for decades on the basis of pure… faith, for want of a better word. And let’s not go into the Nazi origins of the group, because it feels like such an overused trope, the kind that worked well in the early Bond movies and here is resurrected, complete with the required scene in which the evil guy details his dastardly plans to the heroes while gleefully twirling his mustache.

It was disappointing to see how a novel with the potential to be a good – if somewhat predictable – science fiction/horror story slowly downgraded into a clutter of ideas haphazardly thrown together with little rhyme or reason, which in the end defied its initial purpose. As Coco Chanel was fond of saying about her dressing philosophy, less is more, and it’s a pity that the writers decided to ignore this little piece of wisdom, burdening their story with so much unnecessary baggage.

My Rating:



Sometimes it’s the unlooked-for finds that turn out to be the best: a few weeks ago, while surfing on YouTube, I found the link to this online four-part story, a sort of continuation of the Star Trek series Deep Space Nine.  Further investigation revealed that it’s part of a much larger collection of videos on the YouTube channel of actor Alexander Siddig, best known as Doctor Julian Bashir in the series.

On this channel, the actor keeps in touch with his fans, and at some point he thought he would cheer them up, helping them forget the… Pandemic Blues, by asking a few of his co-stars on DS9 to read online this script, penned by Canadian author Matthew Campbell.

Each one of the participating actors contributed from his or her home (via the ubiquitous Zoom, I presume), giving life to a story that’s both fascinating and actual, since it also deals with a pandemic, in this case hitting hard on the Cardassian homeworld. Besides Alexander Sidding, reprising his role of Dr. Bashir, you will see and hear Andrew Robinson as Garak, and enjoy the cameo contributions by Cirroc Lofton (Jake Sisko), Nana Visitor (Kira) and Armin Shimerman (Quark).

Don’t expect props, CGI or even makeup (although at some point a delightfully funny set of dentures makes its appearance…), but if you listen without looking at the screen, it’s like being back once again on the station and watching the characters we know so well come back to life.  I enjoyed this four-part online story so much that I started a complete rewatch of Deep Space Nine (thank you, Netflix! 😀 ), discovering that, unlike some of its Trek brethren, it has not only withstood time very well, but it feels as actual and fresh as if it were created today.

So, here are the links to the four chapters of the story: enjoy!


RING SHOUT, by P. Djèlì Clark

Ring Shout is the kind of book I jokingly call “a Tardis-like story”, one that is much bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside: it’s a well-crafted mix of historical fiction and horror that kept me compulsively turning the pages, and what’s more prompted me to search for its many references to facts or details I knew nothing about, so that I ended up with a little more knowledge than I possessed before I started reading, which is always a definite plus for me.

The story is set in Georgia, in 1922: never-vanquished racism is experiencing a resurgence thanks to the 1915 first showing of D.W. Griffith’s movie The Birth of a Nation, which offered a sort of heroic aura to members of the Ku Klux Klan, whose heinous actions are here made worse by the appearance of monstrous, extra-dimensional creatures called Klu Kluxes – essentially supernatural beasts able to wear human form.  Griffith himself is portrayed as an evil sorcerer using his movie to propagate hateful, racist ideas to a wider public: while the very real writings of white suprematist Thomas Dixon reached a wide public, it was not considered wide enough, so that it was understood that a more capillary means of propagation was needed, hence the movie:

[…] books could only reach so many. That’s when D.W. Griffith took ahold of it. […] Dixon and Griffith had made a conjuring that reached more people than any book would.

Against this encroaching tide of evil, three very badass young women battle daily to keep the beasts as contained as possible: Maryse is a sort of “chosen one” heroine, able to summon a magical sword animated by the spirits of those who sold their people into slavery; Sadie is an exceptional, fearless sniper, wielding her Winchester rifle, affectionately called Winnie, with gleeful skill; and Cordelia (nicknamed Chef for her ability to cook devastating explosives) is a veteran of WWI dealing with post-war trauma. As the three engage the Ku Kluxes through guerrilla sorties – selling bootleg liquor in their free time – a new menace appears on the horizon through the ominous figure of Butcher Clyde, who rallies both Klansmen and Ku Kluxes for what might be a devastating engagement that threatens to unleash a new, pervasive form of destruction, touching both body and spirit.

As I said, I learned many new interesting facts by following the historical leads contained in this novella: even though I was aware of the existence of Griffith’s movie, I ignored both the story it portrayed and its not-so-subtle racism, just as I heard for the first time the term Ring Shout, which depicts a traditional dance brought from Africa by its enslaved people and offering strength from mixing Christian themes with reverence for one’s ancestors and the wisdom their example can offer. And another first is represented by the mention of Night Doctors, mythical figures used as a scaremongering technique by slave owners to prevent their laborers from running away.

These fascinating real-world details mix quite seamlessly with the breathless pace of the story and its horrific elements, whose Lovecraftian quality seemed to me a sort of tongue-in-cheek poke at racism, given that Lovecraft was well-known for his views on the subject, so that the presence of Cthulhu-like monsters wearing the guise of human beings can speak volumes on the effect that mindless hate and prejudice can have on people. Not to mention the further message that evil need not necessarily wear the face of a slavering monster from Hell, because it can be strengthened just as easily by witnessing injustice and choosing to do nothing about it, or worse, allowing it to prosper by supporting it wholeheartedly.

Even though set in the recent past, Ring Shout brings home in no uncertain terms the awareness that the issues of that past are still present today, unchanged and unchangeable: I like the way the author avoided the use of a preaching tone, but rather blended the more horrifying aspects of the story with some unabashed, witty banter that gifted the narrative with an easily flowing current but was nevertheless able to carry the message home quite clearly. Still, this apparent lightness never shifts attention from important themes, or the realization that now, like back then, humankind is divided by chasms that seem to get deeper with every passing day, that mindless hatred and anger are turning people into virtual monsters, driving them to forget their very humanity in the name of the oh-so-very dangerous mentality of “us and them”. 

The concept of the movie as a recruiting force (for want of a better word), as the images on screen bring the spectators’ worst instincts the surface, is one that I found profoundly disturbing: just as people at the start of the 20th Century felt legitimized in publicly supporting racism by seeing it portrayed in a widely popular movie, now, a hundred years later, their “inheritors” feel the same way because figures invested with authority give them the unspoken permission to be openly and proudly as racist as their ancestors.  Hate of the other has long been a way of mitigating one’s perceived inadequacies, as one of the characters underlines so well:

White folk earn something from that hate. Might not be wages, but knowing we on the bottom and they set above us – just as good, maybe better.

reminding us that such feelings can be a powerfully dangerous tool when wielded by the wrong person…

Despite its short number of pages, Ring Shout is a deep, and deeply engrossing story, a way to explore both factual history and the recesses of the human soul – and above all a thought-provoking book that we should not miss at any cost.

My Rating:


Top Ten Tuesday: ’tis the season…

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme where every Tuesday we look at a particular topic for discussion and use various (or more to the point, ten) bookish examples to demonstrate that particular topic.  Top Ten Tuesday (created and hosted by  The Broke and Bookish) is now being hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl and future week’s topics can be found here. 

For this week’s freebie topic, the only requirement is to showcase holiday-inspired covers, wintry reads, or any kind of book that’s perfect for this season: I have picked a list of books where snow and/or cold landscapes are front and center – let’s not forget that… winter is coming! 😀

THE WINTER LONG (October Daye #8), by Seanan McGuire

HALF A KING (Shattered Sea #1), by Joe Abercrombie

LUNA: NEW MOON (Luna #1), by Ian McDonald

SNOWSPELLED (The Harwood Spellbook #1), by Stephanie Burgis

KING OF ASSASSINS (The Wounded Kingdom #3), by RJ Barker

MALICE (The Faithful and the Fallen #1), by John Gwynne

THE DEFIANT HEIR (Swords and Fire #2), by Melissa Caruso

COLD WELCOME (Vatta’s Peace #1), by Elizabeth Moon


THE DOORS OF EDEN, by Adrian Tchaikovsky

The Doors of Eden, by Adrian Tchaikowsky

Well, now I definitely feel in need of a cup of hot chocolate! What about you? 😉


CALL OF THE BONE SHIPS (The Tide Child #2), by R.J. Barker

I received this novel from Orbit Books through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

From the very first book in RJ Barker’s The Wounded Kingdom series I knew I had encountered a talented new voice in the fantasy genre, so I should not have been surprised that his new saga The Tide Child would follow on the same footsteps, but once again I discovered how this author is able to surpass himself with each new work he publishes: Call of the Bone Ships is the gripping sequel to an outstanding first volume, and it drew me into this world even more deeply than its predecessor did.

We’re back aboard the Tide Child, the black ship of the forsaken among the islanders peopling this world, and her captain – pardon me, shipwife – Meas Gilbryn is bent on ending the long war between her people, the dwellers of the Hundred Isles, and the Gaunt Islanders, and to this effect she had a hand in the creation of a place, Safeharbour, where both groups could live together. It’s a short-lived dream, however, and soon enough Meas, her second Joron and the whole crew must face both the threat to their own existence and the mystery of the mass abductions of weak and powerless people, carried in slave ships to an unknown destination and killed for some dark, loathsome purpose. This is as much of the story as I feel comfortable in sharing, because to say more would deprive any reader of the joy and terror of discovering what this book has in store for them.

With Call of the Bone Ships you don’t need to choose between a character- or plot-driven story, because you can have both: there are long sea chases, battles, mutinies and a dreadful mystery to be solved in what at times becomes an undercover operation, complete with double-dealing agents; there are the delightful details of everyday life at sea on a very peculiar ship that’s crafted out of dragon bones; and again one can meet amazing creatures, or terrifying ones. But what carries this novel more than anything else is the strength of its characters: in the series’ opener they were introduced and we got to know them a little, together with the fascinating world they inhabit, but here – now that the needs for background have been fulfilled – they are given more than enough room to expand. And shine.

“Lucky” Meas moves a little to the sidelines here, although she remains the strong, determined leader capable of taking a motley group of rejects and turning them into a loyal and proud crew: one might say that she is the heart and soul of the ship and the inspiration that drives them to move forward even in the face of certain death. But here she leaves more room for Joron Twiner, her deck-keeper or first officer, to grow into a more rounded, many-faceted character.  Where he started his journey as a despondent, defeated individual, he slowly gained more confidence in himself and a measure of pride in his accomplishments under Meas’ tutelage: in this book we see him not only reach new levels of self-respect and wisdom, but also inspire the same feelings in the rest of the crew as he earns their own consideration and loyalty.

Perversely enough, though, this newfound connection with the rest of the crew and the way he has come to care for them – shown in many little gestures of appreciation and understanding – leave him exposed, vulnerable: now that he has something worthwhile to lose, he’s bound to suffer under the cruel blows of chance as he was not when he had nothing of value he could call his own. And in the course of the story Joron will lose much, in more ways than one, which will remind us that this is a harsh, unforgiving world, that always exacts a price for the small favors it chooses to bestow on people.

Together with Joron, we gain a better understanding of a few secondary characters aboard the Tide Child, and if some of them are not exactly friendly or trustworthy, it all adds to the delightful variety offered by this crew and enhances the story with little and big details that build on its substance. Among these characters, however, the one that stands out more is that of the Gullaime, the avian creature able to summon the winds necessary to propel the ship, or to tame the fury of storms.  The first glimpse we were given of the Gullaime in the first book was that of a wretched creature, kept in the darkness of the hold and summoned only when need arose, but otherwise considered as a useful tool rather than a living being: the different outlook imposed by Meas has now morphed the Tide Child’s Gullaime into an assertive, curious individual and a valued member of the ship’s complement, but it’s in his interactions with Joron that the Windtalker sparkles with intriguing life and opens the way to a number of questions that simply beg to find an answer. There is a so-far barely explained bond between the Gullaime and Joron, one that takes the form of a pervasive song whose effects have been touched on but not completely disclosed, and yet this takes second place to the emotional connection between the two of them that seems to go beyond the confines of mere respect and friendship. I am eager to have this mystery unveiled, but for now I count myself very happy to have witnessed the many, meaningful interactions between the two of them.

There is a great amount of emotional content in Call of the Bone Ships because it offers a number of poignant personal interactions, made even more so by the contrast with the harsh shipboard life and the drama of the quest in which Meas, Joron and the crew are involved. Together with the captivating descriptions of life at sea, of powerful storms and creature-infested waters, these moments gift the book with a lyrical quality that runs seamlessly throughout the story and turns it into a compelling and exciting read. If you have not read The Tide Child series yet, do yourselves a favor and pick it up: you will not regret it.

My Rating:


NOPHEK GLOSS (The Graven #1), by Essa Hansen

I received this novel from Orbit Books through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

It’s once again time for an unpopular opinion on a book that seems to mostly receive high accolades: I requested Nophek Gloss because of its promise of a space-faring adventure and revenge quest (I can never resist a good vengeance story), but found myself struggling to move forward – I set it aside twice, hoping that some distance might foster a different perspective, but once I reached the 58% mark and realized that I was forcing myself to read, I knew I had to admit defeat and walk away from it.

Nophek Gloss starts with an adrenaline-infused inciting incident: 14 year old Caiden and his family live on what looks like an artificial environment, raising cattle; his knowledge of life is quite limited, yet he feels the need to always question rules that have been there for a long time. A devastating epidemic, however, kills the cattle that the colonists are tending and their overseers load all the people on a huge transport with a vague promise of relocation to a new facility. What follows is instead the devastating, bloody end of all that Caiden knew and loved, so that the only thing fueling his will to survive is the burning need to find the ones responsible for his loss and make them pay.

I opened this book with great expectations – maybe too great – and at first it appeared to be all that I was looking forward to, but just as the story reached its first turning point for Caiden (i.e. his encounter with a diverse group of mercenaries who took him in, offering him the chance both to survive and to learn the skills he would need to reach his goal) everything became chaotic and I began to lose my grip on the narrative.  

The universe in which Nophek Gloss is set is rather a conglomeration of universes whose borders can be traversed, each one possessing unique qualities and endless life forms: the problem for me is that this kaleidoscope of worlds, aliens and technologies is offered in what to me amounted to a massive sensory overload – there is a LOT of it, all thrown at the reader with hardly any time to process it before more details are added to an already confused and confusing tapestry.  I don’t mind having to work my way through a story, visualizing or extrapolating what the author is keeping on the sidelines, but here most of it looks like a jumble of terms with no rhyme or reason to it – remember the worst moments of Star Trek’s so-called technobabble? Something like: “reroute the pre-ignition plasma from the impulse deck down to the auxiliary intake”… Well, a good portion of this novel made me feel that way, and it bothered me because it made little or no sense and kept me from forming a mental image of the world the author was trying to show.

Caiden is the other almost insurmountable problem I faced: granted, he’s a teenager and he undergoes a horribly traumatic experience, so it’s understandable that he would suffer from PTSD and survivor’s guilt and would be consumed by the need to exact his revenge on the ones responsible for the situation, but there is no space for anything else in Caiden’s psychological makeup, and that makes it very difficult to see the humanity – if any – behind that huge wall of mindless hate. And I don’t use the word ‘mindless’ carelessly, because Caiden never fails to bodily launch himself against those offenders as soon as he sees one: it doesn’t matter that his new friends advise caution, or that he keeps entering a fight he’s not equipped to win, because as soon as he sets his sights on them he charges like the proverbial bull shown the red cape. And he does that repeatedly, as if every encounter were followed by a complete memory erasure that made him forget past experiences, or – worse – as if he were unwilling to learn from his mistakes.

Worse, the 14 year old accepts a procedure that bestows six years of physical growth on him, together with the sum of knowledge his previously secluded life could not provide: this could have been an interesting way of bringing him to adulthood in a brief span of time, narratively speaking, but keeping his reactions those of a teenager – an unthinking teenager at that – makes that a moot point, because what use is a grown body when your emotions remain those of a child? Not to mention that this choice did little to endear Caiden’s character to me…

When all is said and done, I guess it all comes to personal preferences rather than authorial skills: Nophek Gloss is certainly an ambitious, imaginative story with a rich background, but sadly it’s not the kind of story I can bring myself to enjoy.

My Rating: