Book Review – The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

Holy Schnikes, Blogland, this book was intense. If you follow me on twitter you might have seen a tweet where I thanked the author for scaring the shit out of me. I can’t remember the last time a book scared me so good. Well, I can, it was just fifteen years ago when I read Stephen King’s The Library Policeman my freshman year of high school. That story still gives me the heebies, and I suspect The Luminous Dead will keep me spooked well into middle age.

Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars

the luminous dead

Gyre Price lied on her resume. She lied in her interview. She oversold her caving experience because she really needed the money from this job, plus, she knows she’s good enough to do it right. But as she climbs deeper and deeper into the cave, her lies become the least of her worries. Because Em, her handler, has told more than her fair share of lies, and the cave has secrets to divulge to them both. If Gyre manages to survive the trip.

What I loved:

  • The narration. It’s an extremely close third person narrative, so much so that, in my memory I often think it’s first person. That’s impressive. That’s how close I felt to Gyre as I read. I also think the narrow third person allowed the tension and horror elements to really shine. When I read a first person point of view I often wonder, “is this narrator reliable?” I rarely wonder that in a third person point of view. So, when things start to get spooky in this book, I didn’t doubt their reality. Not until Gyre started to doubt herself.
  • The tension! This book is tense from page one and it impossibly ratchets up with every single page. Any sense of calm is always thoroughly shattered, and the book makes you question EVERYTHING. Multiple times while I was reading I said, “WTF is going on?” Not because of any weakness or lack of clarity in the writing, but because the events were so frequently mind-blowing. And terrifying. Did I mention terrifying?
  • The horror. Here’s the thing. As an editor of a Weird Fiction mag, I read a lot of horror stories. The best ones scare you, not with a monster, but with the possibility of a monster. They terrify you with the unseen, or the partially seen. The shadow at the edges of your vision that you just know is some evil force about to jump out and kill you. But when you look, nothing’s there. The best horror (in my opinion) is played out in the mind, not in the scene. This book is a freaking masterclass in psychological horror. Screen Shot 2019-05-07 at 11.05.31 AM
  • But, that doesn’t mean the monsters aren’t real! There’s a creature called a tunneler, which reminds me of a Thresher Maw from Mass Effect, but that lives and eats through cave systems. Basically, a giant worm of mass destruction. There are also ghosts, and whether they’re real or not I’ll leave up to you to decide.
  • Basically, if you’re afraid of something, it’s in this book. Body Horror? Yep. Tight spaces? Check. Monsters? Ghosts? The dark? Drowning? Yep, yep yep yep. I was literally sweating and my heart pounded during some scenes. There were moments when I had to take a break, put the book down and drink some water before I could pick it back up.
  • There’s also a solid Science Fiction element, with the characters living on a different planet than Earth, and Gyre’s fancy biosuit/mech thing made by Em. The science makes sense without bogging down the story, which is always a plus.

What I didn’t love:

  • ******SPOILER************SPOILER*********SPOILER************SPOILER*****There’s a romance? Kind of? I don’t dislike it for existing and I think it is actually handled well, acknowledging the work that will have to be done to establish trust, but I wasn’t sold that it was really necessary. And it felt sort of inevitable, as if it was the natural outcome of the events of the book and I’m not sure I agreed. It did not detract from my enjoyment of the book at all, however.
    ******END SPOILER************END SPOILER************END SPOILER******
  • The characters were difficult for me to like. It took a long time for me to get attached to either of them, with the story pulling me along much more than the characters for probably the first half of the book. This is probably intentional, since both leads are lying liars who lied, and it does make their development that much more satisfying over the course of the book. But, it slowed me down initially.
  • Having nightmares after staying up past midnight to finish this book. Okay, that’s a lie. I LOVED that this book scared me enough to literally give me nightmares, even if the dreams themselves were unwanted.

caitlin starlingBasically, I found a new author to eagerly await books from, and I even got the chance to meet her at the SFWA event the other week! She’s awesome and local, and this is her first book so you should absolutely buy it if you want to be kept awake at night and have nightmares.

I look forward to her future horror stories, future nightmares, and hopefully future readings!

I’ll be back later this week to finally share my April Reading Recap. Expect silence after that while I scramble to finish my manuscript over the weekend. I’m so close, Bloggos. So, so close. Send me your best wishes and snacks. I’m gonna need ALL the snacks.

Until then,

 

BZ

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Book Review – Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World #1) by Rebecca Roanhorse

This book sideswiped me. I like to think of myself as pretty up to date on SFF publishing. I check the Locus website for upcoming publications. I read articles about the most anticipated releases of the year. I follow burgeoning authors on twitter. I use all of this information to recommend purchases at the library, helping to do some legwork for our Fiction Selector, since she’s in charge of developing the entire collection (over 500,000 circulating materials).

But, with all of that, I still managed to miss the announcements and hype for Trail of Lightning before it was published. In fact, I didn’t hear about it until a couple months after it was out and there were murmurs of its pending awards nominations. Even then, I didn’t get it added to my TBR for another couple months, and only just now finally made time to read it.

Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars

trail of lightning

Y’all. Buds. This book? This book is relentless. The main character, Maggie, is at once familiar and incredibly original. She’s a badass, through and through, but she’s also dealing with a lot of trauma and doesn’t know how to cope. I love her in all her stubborn glory. It’s rare for me to read an Urban Fantasy, which this loosely qualifies as, and read female characters that aren’t sexualized. Even female POV books tend to do this, and I’ve yet to figure out why. But, Maggie? Sure, Maggie’s sexy but not just for sexy’s sake. She feels real. Important. She can be sexy, but it isn’t her only trait. She’s not defined by it.

I loved that.

There’s also a huge world to explore and a ton of secondary characters I want to know more about. Basically, all my basic requirements for a binge-worthy Urban Fantasy series were there, and then some. For instance, this book is set after what’s known as the Big Water, aka post-climate change. The world is redrawn into the protected zone of Dinétah (land of the People, basically) and not. And while Dinétah is relatively safe from the carnage of unchecked climate change, there’s still plenty that’s gone wrong within the walls.

Also, this book balances the macabre and humor very, very well. Plus, the pacing is out of control. I mentioned in my Goodreads review that this book grabs you and doesn’t let go. Now, a lot of reviews say that about books, but rarely do I actually feel like a book dragged me through the mud with it, in a good way of course, and left me out of breath by the end.

Other great things about this book:

  • Really cool magic linked to the family clans of the book’s Indigenous People, particularly the Navajo in this book.
  • Navajo mythology! Coyote, as in the Trickster, is in this book and it is incredibly cool. It’s really wonderful to see non-European mythology in an Urban Fantasy(ish) book. As much as I love different takes on Faerie Courts and Vampires, I could really get behind some more variety in Fantasy fiction.
  • Characters! So many wonderful ones. Maggie, of course, Grandpa Tah, his grandson Kai, Grace and her three badass kids. Oh man. So many. Roanhorse does a wonderful job of fleshing them all out while maintaining her, terse, stacatto prose.
  • Speaking of which. I LOVED the prose of this book. There were so many sentence fragments, and it felt so natural that I often didn’t realize it until my editor brain pumped the breaks and made me reread some lines. Think about it. People don’t speak in complete sentences. We don’t. But so frequently we write in them that we can forget how to use them in a first person narrative. but Rebecca Roanhorse sure as hell knows how to wield a sentence fragment, which only makes her longer, more complex sentences stand out and carry that much more weight. *chef’s kiss*
  • It’s an incredibly quick read. At under 300 pages, told at breakneck speed, you could conceivably rad this book in a day. I read it in four.
  • Um. The cover art? Did you see it? It’s freaking gorgeous! I can’t look away from Maggie, except I want to look at all the other details too! The truck, the lightning, Kai and his spiky hair and cigarette. The subtle metallic shimmer of the gold background. I love it all. Image result for pitter patter gif

So, yeah. What are you waiting for? Go read this book! Plus, this is the perfect time because the sequel, Storm of Locusts, comes out NEXT WEEK! Whaaaaaat?

See, now you have no excuse not to read this book! So what are you waiting for?

I’ll be back later this week to scream at you about the second Shades of Magic book. Barring any other news (fingers crossed) you won’t hear from me until then. Have a good middle of the week, Blogland.

 

BZ

Book Review – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Hey Blogland,

As promised, I’m back and ready to talk about this book. Bear with me though because I am super sleepy and wiped out after an almost 2 hour Walk ‘n’ Talk with Madhu.

My Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars

guernsey

In an unusual turn of events, I became aware of this book after my husband suggested we watch the Netflix adaptation for Valentine’s Day. This was strange for two reasons. One, I watched a movie. I’m really not a big movie person and have to be cajoled to sit for longer than 30-minute intervals. I just don’t have the attention span for most films. Two, I watched a movie knowing it had been adapted from a book I HAD NOT READ. I am eternally vetoing Trevor’s movie suggestions because “I want to read the book first”. But this time he plied me with steak (NY Strip cooked to perfection) and baked potatoes and salad.  I was too hungry to argue, and I have to admit, the trailer had me intrigued.

Well, I liked the film so much that I immediately put the book on hold at the library, and took it with me on our trip to Cincinnati. I figured it would be the perfect vacation read. Entertaining, fluffy (Fanfic speak for zero drama, pure domestic bliss), and since I already knew the plot, easy to put down when it came time to adventure in a new place.

Turns out, there was enough the movie left out to keep me hungrily flipping pages as I read letter after letter from a wide and lovable cast. Guernsey is entirely Epistolary, which was really fun to read. I think the last Epistolary novel I read was Frankenstein in college, and it was a bit more labor-intensive than this. I do think the book actually

dawsey gif
I mean, look at him.

benefited from my having watched the movie, because I already knew and could see all of these characters as I read their letters. Particularly Sidney and Isola. Well, and Dawsey of course.

 

But, you’ll notice that the book only got 4 stars. And here’s why:

I don’t think the book would have been half so successful if I hadn’t seen the movie first. I think it would have been a bit boring. And I didn’t like that Markham turned out to be a bit of a jerk after all, when in the film he wasn’t. I didn’t like the fact that Juliet felt jealous of a freaking HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR because she thought Dawsey liked her. And even though Juliet acknowledged how messed up that was, it still felt gross.

I think the book was all right, but that the Netflix movie took what was there and vastly improved on it. I just wish the whole storyline about Isola’s Grandma and Oscar Wilde had made into the film. Though, I understand why it didn’t, since it literally served no purpose other than to be entertaining.

So, yeah. A fun read, worth an afternoon or two if you want a story that makes you smile and lets you turn your brain off for a bit. If you’d rather reserve your reading time for more challenging or thought-provoking things, I’d say just watch the movie. Which I never, ever say.

guernsey

I could go on forever about the movie. It’s become an instant favorite, and hit a lot of the same beats as the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice (which I adore). Apparently I’m a sucker for a quality period romance, particularly if it’s a slow burn. They’re both movies that thrive on subtlety, where glances and small touches convey more than the dialogue and I CANNOT GET ENOUGH.

And, it turns out, all of that is super hard to convey in a series of letters. Maybe that’s why the book fell a little flat for me.

 

See y’all on Monday.

 

BZ

Book Review – Lies Sleeping (Rivers of London #7) by Ben Aaronovitch

Blogland,

I’ve had a really great and productive weekend, and just finally made time to sit down and write this review. I’m also watching N.K. Jemisin play Mass Effect 3 on Twitch right now, so I’m a little distracted. But, man, what a time to be alive!

On to the review!

Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars

lies sleeping

Lies Sleeping is the long awaited seventh novel in the Rivers of London series. If you’re not caught up, you should probably stop reading now. No. Seriously. SPOILERS AHOY. If you are caught up, but could use a refresher, I have posted reviews of all of the previous six novels and you can find links to them in my 2018 What I’m Reading list.

But, for real. There’s no going back after this. Are you sure you wish to proceed?

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All right. If you’re sure…

At the end of The Hanging Tree the Faceless Man was identified as one Martin Chorley, overall rich white dude with an obsession with Tolkien and, oh. Right. Magically splicing people with animals, murdering several individuals, and even accidentally having a hand in his own daughter’s death. Dude’s as bad an egg as can be. And he’s got Lesley on his side.

The plan this time? Summon Mr. Punch, kill him, and take his power à la Highlander in order to become a god. Honestly? That sounds about right for the Faceless Man. Not like he ever had small ambitions.

mr punch
as if this face isn’t terrifying enough, I’ve also read these books. Punch and Judy is forever ruined.

In this newest book, things seem to come full circle. Mr. Punch gets what’s his. Bev, Guleed, Nightingale, and even Molly all have some plot points either established or resolved, and Peter kinda sorta saves the day.

Well, actually, he cocks everything up trying to do the moral thing and Lesley saves(?) the day while simultaneously getting Peter in deep shit at the Met. She takes off with an ominous, “Don’t try to follow me,” and Peter’s left to clean up the mess of Martin Chorley. Literally.

The book is a blast. A little slow to start, but there are a lot of pieces to weave together and not so many pages to do it in. There’s also a lot of hints at where the series may go from here, with little tidbits about what some of the side characters might get up to in the coming books. I even cried at one point, because something really wonderful happens to Molly and I was legitimately overjoyed for her.

My only gripe is the ending, which I don’t want to get into in too much detail. And it’s not the ending necessarily, but what Aaronovitch decides to make of that ending in whatever story comes next. He’s set himself up for some wicked trope potholes, and I hope he’s able to navigate them in twisted and interesting ways.

But I’m afraid he won’t. He hasn’t fallen into any of them yet, so I’m not sure why I’m so worried, but I am. Time will tell how he handles this new development in the series.

However, as a book in a series, Lies Sleeping was quite, quite good. A fast read with the expected witty dialogue and great character development and setting. Yet again, I felt like I’ve known London my whole life, instead of only having visited for three days when I was fifteen. In just under 300 pages almost every side character known in the series had a moment in the spotlight, which was a bit busy, but still welcome. I love these characters.

I hope there are many Rivers of London books to come, and we at least know that Aaronovitch is working on another novella in the Rivers of London series, The October Man. In the meantime, I’m reading The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark right now, and likely to finish it tonight or tomorrow. Since it’s a novella, look for my thoughts on it in the March Reading Round Up.

I’ll be back tomorrow to talk about goals and such, and the have the February Reading Round up posted later in the week. Then we’re on vacation!

Talk soon, Bloggarts!

 

BZ

Book Review – Firefly: Big Damn Hero by James Lovegrove

Blogland,

I’m a nerd. Between my reading habits and my video game obsessions, most of you are probably acutely aware of this fact. One of my many interests includes the early 2000s cult-classic television show Firefly, including the movie Serenity and a few of the graphic novel tie-ins. I read Mike Brooks’ Keiko series because the cover blurb sold it as “A Must Read for Firefly Fans”, and I loved it. It touched on what Firefly did so well: amazing world-building and characters that were impossible not to love.

Big Damn Hero is the first of a planned series of Official Novels™ written by James Lovegrove and edited by Joss Whedon. The books take place after the show but before the movie, which is the sweet spot that all fans want to live in. So, I had a moderate level of excitement when I saw this book come through the library.

Goodreads Rating: 2/5 Starsbig damn hero

As you might have gathered from the star rating, that excitement didn’t last long. Now, a quick word about how I rate things on Goodreads. I am a very generous reviewer. Ratings of three stars aren’t common, and anything below is really unusual. I rate based on my overall entertainment level and enjoyment of the book, whether that’s plot-based, characters, narrative style, or what-have-you.

So, let me start with the good. The characters felt true to themselves as based on the show. Mal, Jayne, and Shepard Book were particularly well done and I enjoyed my time with all of them. Particularly Book, because we FINALLY got to learn a little bit more about his past. The world-building was decent, but I feel like the majority of that work-load fell to the show and my familiarity with it. This is fanfiction. It might be printed and hardbound, but it’s still fanfic, and that means the bulk of the world- building is already done by the reader and their knowledge of the franchise.

The plot was all right. It felt true to form for the show, but was also really predictable. There were no surprises. Not one. Obviously, this might differ from reader to reader, but for me it was very disappointing. Also, the plot hinged on a character from Mal’s past, but they weren’t foreshadowed or even introduced until well into the last half of the book. I think that was intended to allow for Red Herrings, but all it really did was make the plot feel slow and plodding.

But the worst part, to me, were the tropes. So many tropes. Zoë’s in trouble with the law? Why not just unbutton her shirt a little and seduce her way to safety? (Side note: As a fan, I felt that this was wildly out of character for Zoë, which only made things worse. She actually referred to her breasts as her “bosom”. Zoë Washburne.) A dead woman was the villain’s motivation, and she only existed in the story to act as such. Yes, death of a loved one is sad, and it does change you, but that doesn’t mean you should create and then kill off your female characters just so your men can have some sort of purpose. In general, the female characters were two dimensional and just sort of blank. Kaylee may be the exception here, and River had some good moments, but Zoë and Inara definitely did not.

Knowing your tropes is so so so important. You need to know them so you can avoid them, or, better yet, so you can subvert them. When you know your tropes, you can twist them into something infinitely better and more interesting.  For instance, instead of Zoë just accepting that she had no alternative but to flirt with the Alliance officer, to the point where she actually seems sort of proud and maybe even a little exhilarated with her success, the narrative could have shown how disgusted she was that this was the only option she had. She’s hurt, she’s desperate, and she has to do something so utterly against her own ethical code. Just some internalization and we could have had so much more insight into Zoë’s character and a much more intense and impactful scene.

I know I’m barking up this Feminism tree again, but damn. I am so tired of seeing caricatures of women in fiction. I am tired of men writing as if they’ve never actually noticed that women are people too. I am sick of female characters existing solely to serve a role for the male characters. It’s exhausting.

mal gif
Me, reading this book.

I’m also angry because I know, without a doubt, that there are better Firefly novel length works posted on Archive of Our Own right now. FOR FREE. Written by fans, for fans. But this book gets added to the canon and snapped up off shelves while Titan Books and Joss Whedon make a pretty penny.

So, yeah. I won’t be coming back for the sequels. Which is a shame. They had such potential. I do sincerely hope that Lovegrove enjoys his time in the ‘Verse. According to the book’s average Goodreads rating, there are readers who like his interpretation of it. I’m just not one of them.

I’ve moved on to Lies Sleeping now that it’s back in my hands. Hopefully I’ll finish it sometime next week, since the Rivers of London books usually read quick. Barring any other important news/events, I’ll talk at you all on Monday.

Until then, Bloggos.

 

BZ

Book Review – Traitor’s Blade (Greatcoats #1) by Sebastien de Castell

I didn’t plan on reading this book this year. I got it for free on Audible months ago, almost as an afterthought. It was a moment of, “I have an extra credit, what the hell do I get?” Browse, browse, browse… “Ooooooh! I keep meaning to read that!”

Well, courtesy of a powerfully nauseating migraine on Monday and Tuesday, I finally listened to it. Yep, all thirteen hours in two days. Mainly because I was confined to my bed thanks to unabating queasiness, but also because I enjoyed it that much.

Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars

traitor

This story is strongly reminiscent of The Three Musketeers, but less the book and more the Disney adaptation. You know, the one with Oliver Platt as Porthos, but if it had an R rating. Actually, now that I think about it, can I get that remake? Please?Image result for porthos gif oliver platt

But, really, there are a lot of similarities here. Falcio val Mond, the disgraced First Cantor of the now disbanded Greatcoats, has seen worse days. Though, by any accounts, failing to prevent the murder of the man you’re supposed to be guarding is hardly a good day. Especially when he hasn’t paid you yet. That’s how the former Greatcoats, the dead King’s judiciary force, start this adventure: on the run from a murder they didn’t commit.

Kest and Brasti follow Falcio because, well, honestly, what else would they do? The whole country hates the Greatcoats, has branded them traitors, so they might as well stick with their best friend and eke out a living. But that all changes as they rush to escape the city and take a job guarding the first caravan that would take them. And like any good story, the Greatcoats flee one sort of trouble only to tumble into trouble of another kind. Namely, foiling the plot of the evil and greedy Duchies to unite the kingdom under a false monarch.

What really impressed me about this book was the relationship between Falcio, Kest, and Brasti. They are brothers, well and truly. They care for one another, they tease each other, and they fight with and for one another. Their dynamic was everything to me as I listened to this book.

It didn’t hurt that the plot and world-building were pretty great too.

So, why not five stars? Well, I figured out the big twist really quick. Like, before it was even actually hinted at. But, the narrator (Falcio) kept on not realizing it until the very last chapter of the book. He’s supposed to be smart y’all, and he couldn’t figure it out, while everyone else around him (myself included) did.

That loses a star at minimum. Thank goodness I liked the characters, setting, and the narrator so much! This is the part where I mention how wonderful Joe Jameson’s narration was and how sad I am to have to read physical copies of the rest of the series, since the library doesn’t own the audiobooks. He’s apparently quite the prolific narrator, so I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for other projects of his.

Image result for falcio val mond

I’m just now tucking into the next book, Knight’s Shadow, but hopefully I can make good progress on it. I’m sure it won’t take too long, but with the holidays expect an early 2019 review on this one.

I’ll be back on Christmas Eve with the usually Goals Summary!

Until then, Bloggos,

 

BZ

Book Review – Skyward (Skyward #1) by Brandon Sanderson

Hey Bloggos,

I wasn’t able to finish reading Skyward before the book was due back to the library. The thing about Sanderson books is that they’re very popular, and holds abound. And if there are holds, you can’t renew. So, instead of accruing fines on a book I intended to buy anyway, I just went and bought the dumb thing. Which, it turns out, was a sound decision.

Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars

skyward

So, here’s the thing. I’ve been slowing down on my mad dash of consuming Sanderson content lately. I don’t know. I think that last signing I went to (for Oathbringer) really turned me off to his books, through no fault of his own. There’s just such a cultish fervor surrounding Sanderson and his books, and I am definitely guilty of such behavior. So, I took a step back. I still haven’t read Oathbringer. And I wasn’t even all that excited to read Skyward.

That is, until I actually got a few pages into it.

Image result for skyward m-bot

This book reminded me why so many readers love Brandon’s books. Why I love Brandon’s books. It’s full of amazing characters, hilarious dialogue, and a plot that absolutely held me captive. I loved Spensa and the world she lives in, which I should have expected; Sanderson does world-building better than just about anybody else in the genre right now.

Spensa is the sixteen year old girl who just passed her pilot’s exam. But it doesn’t matter, because the Defiant Defense Force has zero interest in letting her fly. You see, Spensa, aka Spin, is the daughter of the DDF’s only coward. Her father abandoned his Flight during the Battle of Alta, and was subsequently shot down for his cowardice. Spensa has trained and studied her whole life to get into the DDF and prove them wrong about her dad, but Admiral Ironsides won’t give her the chance. They sabotaged Spensa’s test, and suggested she take a job elsewhere.

That is, until Captain Cobb, callsign: Mongrel, accepts Spensa into his classroom. It’s her one chance at redemption and she refuses to let it pass her by, no matter how difficult the Admiral makes her life.

Spensa is allowed to take her Flight class, and nothing else. She can’t join her Flight in the mess hall, she can’t bunk in the academy, and she can’t use the learning resources beyond her classroom. So, she lives in a cave she found by chance, sleeping in the cockpit of a crashed ancient starfighter.

Image result for skyward m-bot

In her spare time, because why not, she repairs the ship in hopes that she’ll be able to fly it when she graduates, since Ironsides is unlikely to let her fly no matter how well she does in her training. And, naturally, she’s out to find out the truth about her father, and what really happened that day at the Battle of Alta.

I’m not going to go into more details from here, because it would be spoiler-y and I really don’t want to ruin this book for anyone. There were quite a few zigs and zags that I didn’t anticipate and really enjoyed. I would prefer to preserve those for readers.

Know that this book did make me tear up a couple of times, and made me cheer out loud at least twice. My husband laughed at me as I read the last fifty or so pages on the couch, because I was yelling at the book quite a bit. In true Sanderson fashion, things do not end how I thought they would.

Thank goodness this is the first of a planned four book series, with the next book set to release in Fall 2019. I do not want to wait long to spend more time with Spensa and her Flight, callsign: Skyward.

I’m still reading Lies Sleeping. I’m having difficulty adjusting to my utter lack of free time lately. That and Red Dead Redemption 2 and a renewed fervor for all things Dragon Age is really putting a damper on my reading. But, it’s less than 300 pages and due back on Tuesday.

I’ll get it done.

Until later, Blogland!

 

BZ