Audiobook Review: Lux by Brandon Sanderson & Steven Michael Bohls

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Lux by Brandon Sanderson and Steven Michael Bohls

Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy

Series: Book 4 of The Reckoners

Publisher: Audible Originals (July 22, 2021)

Length: 13 hrs and 54 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: MacLeod Andrews

So, imagine my surprise when I found out about a new Reckoners novel. After Calamity closed out the original trilogy back in 2016 with the feel of definitive ending, I didn’t think there would be more, though technically I guess Lux is more of a story that runs mostly in tandem to the events happening with the Newcago Reckoners. More importantly, it can be read as a standalone and it also adds more content to the universe.

Available exclusively as an Audible Original as of this writing, Lux takes place in Texas following a different group of Reckoners, a covert group of people with teams located all across the country. Our protagonist is Jax, whose older brother was killed by an Epic, a super-powered human, when he was just ten years old. Left alone in a ruined world, Jax was recruited by the leader of the Reckoners and sent to be trained in their coming war with the Epics, whose powers corrupt them and turn them into heartless oppressors. As the last surviving pockets of resistance, the Reckoners devote their lives to finding out the Epics’ weaknesses, to unlock their secrets and destroy them.

The early sections of the book read like your classic training school story. Jax and his fellow Reckoner initiate Paige are pushed to the limits, but both emerge on the other side as effective soldiers and spies. They are now ready for the group’s biggest, most important mission yet: to infiltrate Lux, the mysterious floating city brought into the existence by the powerful High Epic known as Lifeforce. Lux has recently rolled into Texas Reckoners’ territory, come to steal what’s left, but also to add to its ranks by offering the desperate citizens a glittering new life. Jax and his friends are determined to stop this from happening, but first they must find a way into this shining fortress city. And what they find there may not be anything like they expect.

As I said, Lux can be read as a standalone, though it does have some time overlap with the first three Reckoners books and reading them first would provide lots of context, plus there are also plenty of references and other delightful little easter eggs that a fan of the previous novels will be able to appreciate. For a spinoff though, it does an excellent job introducing new readers to the universe, which presents a very different kind of “superpowered” story where the Epics are villains rather than heroes. When it comes to Brandon Sanderson, you can always expect a unique twist, and while Lux is a co-written effort, it still bears all the hallmarks of his imagination and creativity. Apparently his co-author Steven Michael Bohls had quite a fair amount of autonomy on the project, but the writing itself feels pretty seamless from the original trilogy, at least to me, and of course the audiobook narration had a lot to do with that too (more on that later).

I really liked Jax as a protagonist. He’s a tough young man, and believes in doing the right thing, even if it means putting himself in danger. Like so many of the Reckoners who have survived up to this point, he’s had a hard life and has lost people close to him. He’s more serious than David in the previous trilogy, but still has plenty of humor and spirit to keep his voice interesting. There are also other a variety of side characters to support him, and among my favorites are Hershel and Paige. In addition, one of the best things about Lux is that it gives us a glimpse into Epic society, providing a few of them with POV chapters and allowing readers into their heads.

Story-wise, it’s another action-packed adventure. Admittedly, world-building in Lux is a bit slapdash, but considering we are dealing with a one-off novel, I can see why some of the main ideas have to be painted with a broad brush in order to move the plot along. Some of it can be a bit confusing, but as we gradually build up to that heart-stopping, stunning finale, it’s easy to forgive a few hiccups here and there. The ending also wraps things up but also sets us up quite nicely for possible future books, and I suppose if you weren’t completely satisfied with the way Calamity ended, kind of like how I felt, there’s hope that there’s we may get actual closure at some point.

And finally, I want to comment on the audiobook, which is the only available format right now. Read by one of my favorite narrators, seasoned voice actor MacLeod Andrews who also delivered an incredible performance for the first three books, he once more brings the characters and world of Lux to life. Despite this book featuring a whole new cast and setting, I’m glad he reprised his role of narrator, not only because it gave the book a sense of continuity, but also because Andrews’ voice helped put me right back into the Reckoners universe and immersed me in Brandon Sanderson’s world of Epics and the brave heroes who fight them. If you want to discover it for yourself, this would be a perfect place to jump on board, and I would also recommend the book for existing fans as it is a hugely entertaining spinoff that adds a lot to the original trilogy.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Steelheart (Book 1) by Mogsy
Review of Steelheart (Book 1) by Wendy
Review of Firefight (Book 2) by Mogsy
Review of Calamity (Book 3) by Mogsy

Bookshelf Roundup: 07/31/21: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads

Bookshelf Roundup is a feature I do every weekend which fills the role of several blog memes, like Stacking the Shelves where I talk about the new books I’ve added to my library or received for review, as well as It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? where I summarize what I’ve finished reading in the last week and what I’m planning to read soon. Mostly it also serves as a recap post, so sometimes I’ll throw in stuff like reading challenge progress reports, book lists, and other random bookish thoughts or announcements.

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This last week has been chaos with work and also my parents visiting, so my time for reading and review has taken a hit. I got a lot of exciting reads lined up though, and I’m hoping to attack them with a vengeance!

Received for Review

My thanks to the publishers and authors for the following review copies received, and be sure to click the links to their Goodreads pages for more details and full descriptions!

Lots of activity in the mailbox recently. With thanks to Del Rey for a finished copy of The Desert Prince by Peter V. Brett. I can’t wait to dive right back into the Hollow, and this is one of my top anticipated reads lined up for next month. Also thank you to Head of Zeus and the kind folks at Kaye Publicity for a copy of The Fort by Adrian Goldsworthy. Historical fiction isn’t really one of my go-to genres, but dude, Ancient Rome from an author who knows his stuff. I just couldn’t resist. I also have an excerpt from the book lined up for early August, so be sure to keep an eye out for that! From Minotaur Books I also received The Darkness Knows by Arnaldur Indriðason, an Icelandic mystery about a “cold case” of a frozen body discovered in a glacier, apparently that of a businessman who disappeared decades before. This is the first book of the series, so a good place to jump on.

A huge thanks also to DAW Books for a finished copy of The Godstone by Violette Malan, which sounds like an intriguing new epic fantasy series for fans of magic and adventure. It’s also the first physical book I’ve received from the publisher in more than a year so I was pretty psyched at its arrival. Thank you also to the Titan Books team for The Follower by Nicholas Bowling, described as “Twin Peaks meets Welcome to Night Vale.” Featuring a mountain-worshipping cult and bizarre townsfolk, it sure sounds like it! And of course a big thank you to Subterranean Press for this lovely ARC of Vile Affections by Caitlín R. Kiernan, the author’s seventeenth short fiction collection which should be very exciting to her fans.

 

And a huge explosion in the digital haul this week, thanks mostly to the amazing folks at Macmillan Audio! From the publisher I received the following listening copies: From the same authors who brought us the Awakened trilogy, The Stowaway by James S. Murray and Darren Wearmouth is a new mystery thriller set aboard a cruise ship. Also, you might recall last year I reviewed They Threw Us Away, a middle grade horror novel about a group of teddy bears who came to life after being tossed in a garbage dump. They Stole Our Hearts by Daniel Kraus is the follow-up to that, the next chapter in the The Teddies Saga. Next up is Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney, the next domestic thriller from an author known for her killer twists. This will be my third novel by her, and I’m excited that Richard Armitage will also return to narrate another one of her books!

Now for some sci-fi and fantasy! So thrilled to receive a listening copy of The Exiled Fleet by J.S. Dewes, sequel to The Last Watch. I loved the first book, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. I also received Mordew by Alex Pheby, the start of an epic fantasy trilogy with a touch of gothic darkness. And rounding it all up is Empire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff, which probably needs no introduction. There’s an embargo on reviews until the release date for this one so I probably won’t be tackling it until September, but I’m already buzzed with anticipation.

Finally, I also received a review copy of the audiobook for Pawn’s Gambit by Rob J. Hayes, which just released a few days ago! Huge thanks to Rob who contacted me to let me know of this exciting news, and also provided me an eARC of Spirits of Vengeance, the next novel in the Mortal Techniques sequence. And check out that sweet, sweet amazing cover!

Reviews

The Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley (4 of 5 stars)
The Final Girl Support Group (4 of 5 stars)

What I’ve Been Reading

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Have you heard of or read any of the books featured this week? What caught your eye? Any new discoveries? I hope you found something interesting for a future read!

Friday Face-Off: Chaotic Colors

Welcome to The Friday Face-Off, a weekly meme created by Books by Proxy! Each Friday, we will pit cover against cover while also taking the opportunity to showcase gorgeous artwork and feature some of our favorite book covers. If you want to join the fun, simply choose a book each Friday that fits that week’s predetermined theme, post and compare two or more different covers available for that book, then name your favorite. A list of future weeks’ themes are available at Lynn’s Book Blog.

This week’s theme is:

“Maybe too much going on…”
~ a cover featuring CHAOS

Warcross by Marie Lu

I’m a fan of minimalistic and subtler styles when it comes to art, so whenever I see covers with lots of color, they always seem more chaotic to me!

From left to right:
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers (2017) – Penguin Books (2019) – Spanish Edition (2028)

 

German Edition (2018) – French Edition (2018) – Polish Edition (2019)

Winner:

Well, I probably gave away my pick in the intro. I prefer clean, simple and elegant covers but I also like the colorful design of the G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers edition, so that’s my favorite this week.

But what do you think? Which one is your favorite?

Review: The Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

The Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of Ashes of the Unhewn Throne

Publisher: Hardcover: Tor Books | Audiobook: Brilliance Audio (July 6, 2021)

Length: 752 pages | 35 hrs and 33 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrators (Audiobook): Moira Quirk, Joe Jameson, Oliver Cudbill

The Empire’s Ruin is epic in every sense of the word—epic in scope, epic in ambition, epic in its delivery. But if you’re familiar with Brian Staveley’s other works in The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne universe, this should come as no surprise. It has been more than four years since his last novel, the standalone Skullsworn, but clearly he has lost nothing of his craft as he returns to the Annurian Empire with a furiously bold and inexorable new tale.

As the opening volume of a new trilogy called Ashes of the Unhewn Throne, this novel begins a new adventure in a world on the brink of ruin following the decimation of the Kettral and the fact that the kenta gates, long used by emperors to instantly travel to any point in their vast empire, are now defunct. Of course, reading the previous trilogy is highly recommended before tackling this one, but it is not completely necessary; Staveley does a bang-up job rehashing the details of past events you need to know, and newcomers will not miss a beat. A handful of years have passed since the end of The Last Moral Bond, and the story now shifts to a new group of POV characters, though longtime fans may recognize a couple names. First, we have Gwenna Sharpe, our favorite Kettral—a member of the emperor’s elite warriors, named for the giant war birds they ride into battle. Faced with their dwindling ranks, Gwenna sets out on a journey to the faraway land of Menkiddoc in search of their fabled kettral nesting grounds, tasked to bring back new eggs.

Meanwhile, in the swamp city of Dombâng, a young priest named Ruc tries hard to forget his blood-soaked past as he dedicates his new life to Eira, the goddess of love. But Dombâng is now a city freed from the yoke of the Annurian Empire, and worship of the local deities have resurfaced. Residents conduct violent practices such as human sacrifices in the name of the Three, making it a dangerous situation for Ruc who is in a constant battle to resist an overwhelming instinct threatening to pull him back into the darkness. His fellow priest, friend, sometimes lover Bien helps to keep him in the light, but she also has her own secrets. As the dangers close in, the two of them must find a way to escape. And then there is Akiil, a monk-turned-grifter who uses his past connection with the emperor’s brother to ingratiate himself into her court. As the last surviving Shin monk, he may have the information Adare needs to unlock the secrets of the kenta gates, which would the use of them again.

Of the three perspectives, there was definitely one that outshone the others. If there was a main character, it would be Gwenna, who storyline easily dominated this novel, both in breadth and interest. Of course, she had the advantage of being a standout already from the previous trilogy, but if you are meeting her for the first time, I think you’d agree too—she’s a force to be reckoned with! Of all the characters in the supporting cast of Staveley’s novels, I’m glad he brought her back to have a starring role in a new series. I think fans both new and old will find her storyline to be the most fascinating and gripping. The runner-up would probably be Ruc, whose origins in the swamps and his subsequent misadventure in the ever changing social and religious landscape of Dombâng made for compelling character development. From the brackish waters of the delta to the harrowing life-or-death struggles in the arena, there was never a shortage of grit in Ruc’s chapters.

So that leaves Akiil. To be fair, there were some inherent reasons why his chapters might have been the weakest, which had nothing to do with the writing or storytelling. For one, his character’s role in this novel was relatively minor, and his time on the page was also the shortest. While there may be more planned for him later in the series, for now it appears his storyline is in the process of being established, and so we don’t get as much activity compared to the other two POV threads. That would be one of my criticisms, and there were a few other hiccups, including pacing issues cropping up here or there as momentum ebbed and flowed with the different character perspectives. However, in some ways that is to be expected with a novel of this size, and I think epic fantasy readers will know to roll with the punches.

All in all, I enjoyed my return to the world of The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, and with this introduction to a new series, we also got to see more of the universe. For me, it was a perfect mix of the new and the old, and the addition of more exciting action and magic on top of a solid foundation. Brian Staveley has come a long way since The Emperor’s Blade, and his talent and reputation as a fantasy genre powerhouse has only grown with every novel since his debut. Reading his books is always a pleasure, and The Empire’s Ruin was definitely worth the wait.

Audiobook Comments: At more than 35 hours, this was quite a hefty listen, but this is also why I frequently prefer epic fantasy in this format, since it makes it easier to stay focused and I get through them much faster. I also enjoyed the three narrators that they tapped to read The Empire’s Ruin, especially Moira Quirk, as I’ve been a fan of hers for a while. Joe Jameson and Oliver Cudbill also delivered great performances, and together the trio did fine work with the mix of alternative POVs and side character voices. It definitely made sense to have multiple narrators, and this audiobook ended up being an immersive listen.

Waiting on Wednesday 07/28/21

Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that first originated at Breaking the Spine but has since linked up with “Can’t Wait Wednesday” at Wishful Endings now that the original creator is unable to host it anymore. Either way, this fun feature is a chance to showcase the upcoming releases that we can’t wait to get our hands on!

Mogsy’s Pick

The Resting Place by Camilla Sten (March 29, 2022 by Minotaur Books)

After having such a good time with The Lost Village earlier this year, I’m definitely up for another book by Camilla Sten. The premise sounds absolutely chilling.

The medical term is prosopagnosia. The average person calls it face blindness—the inability to recognize a familiar person’s face, even the faces of those closest to you.

When Eleanor walked in on the scene of her capriciously cruel grandmother, Vivianne’s, murder, she came face to face with the killer—a maddening expression that means nothing to someone like her. With each passing day, her anxiety mounts. The dark feelings of having brushed by a killer, yet not know who could do this—or if they’d be back—overtakes both her dreams and her waking moments, thwarting her perception of reality.

Then a lawyer calls. Vivianne has left her a house—a looming estate tucked away in the Swedish woods. The place her grandfather died, suddenly. A place that has housed a dark past for over fifty years.

Eleanor. Her steadfast boyfriend, Sebastian. Her reckless aunt, Veronika. The lawyer. All will go to this house of secrets, looking for answers. But as they get closer to bringing the truth to light, they’ll wish they had never come to disturb what rests there.

A heart-thumping, relentless thriller that will shake you to your core, The Resting Place is an unforgettable novel of horror and suspense.”

Audiobook Review: The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Horror, Thriller

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Penguin Audio (July 13, 2021)

Length: 13 hrs and 49 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Adrienne King

Leave it to Grady Hendrix to write an exceptionally unique and fun story! This is my fifth book by the author, and the original ideas just keep on coming with no signs of slowing down. In The Final Girl Support Group, he once more blends pop culture and quirky horror, this time centering on the phenomenon of slasher fan films which hit its heyday in the 1970s to 80s. It riffs on the concept of the archetypal “final girl”, or the sole female survivor of the blood-soaked massacres typically featured in those kinds of films, and the idea that a group of them get together once a month for therapy sessions to help overcome their trauma.

Our protagonist is Lynnette Tarkington, who technically isn’t a final girl even though she was the only one to emerge alive from the horror of her own encounter with a psychotic killer—but more on that later. First you have to know that the experience scarred her deeply, both physically and mentally. Lynnette trusts no one and lives alone in an apartment that she’s practically turned into a mini-fortress, though to most it will seem like more of a cage. Her only real contact with the outside world is the support group she’s joined with other women who have lived through a similar ordeal, led by the kindly psychologist Dr. Carol. Aside from Lynnette, there are five others who attend regularly: Adrienne, Marilyn, Dani, Heather, and Julia. Over the years though, the topics have gradually exhausted themselves and the benefits of therapy have either waned or stalled, and this fills Lynnette with anxiety, as she fears it means that the group’s days are numbered.

At the latest session though, Adrienne doesn’t show up, and soon all of their worst fears are realized when they find out why. Adrienne is dead, fallen to the monster that finally got her, and Lynnette is convinced someone is coming after the final girls to finish them all off. Whoever it is though, they are good at covering their tracks. They’ve even found ways to sow doubt among the final girls, and before long Lynnette finds herself on the run, cut off from the support system she’s come to rely on. Luckily, she’s used to being by herself, and if she’ll take matters into her own hands if it means preventing anyone else from dying.

As with Hendrix’s other books, The Final Girl Support Group features a main hook or gimmick. In this case, it’s the idea that all the classic slasher movies that have found their way into mainstream popularity are based on real events. The movies themselves in the book are fictional but they all have their real-world analogs, among them Halloween, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Scream, and there are of course Easter Eggs and subtle references aplenty to hint at which final girl belongs to which franchise. The women of the support group whom these films are based on, however, are an ugly reminder that, contrary to the rosy picture Hollywood likes to paint, the futures of these final girls are often very bleak.

Take Lynnette, for example. The others don’t really consider her a “true” final girl because she’s the only one who didn’t manage to kill her monster, but the experience has left her no less changed. Ever since then, she’s been looking over her shoulder expecting the horror to come back, and in a way, she was right to. All final girls get sequels, after all. Part of Lynnette’s way of coping is to come up with a plan for every contingency, investing in surveillance and keeping her body in tip-top shape for the day when her monster may rise again.

Next, we have a story that’s pretty over-the-top, but given this is Grady Hendrix, did you really expect anything less? I have to say though, once I managed to wrap my head around the meta vibes, falling into the flow of things was relatively easy. In fact, it was quite brilliant the way the author paid homage to the horror classics, employing all the favorite tropes while simultaneously exploring the psychology behind society’s fascination for the violence and thrills of slasher films, until ultimately the novel becomes the very thing Hendrix set out to caricaturize.

Needless to say, I had a lot of fun with The Final Girl Support Group. It’s probably one of the better books I’ve read by the author, which is no surprise given the way his talents have evolved and improved over time. Conceptually, this was probably the most unusual and complex of all his works, but rest assured it loses none of the quirkiness and entertainment.

Bookshelf Roundup: 07/24/21: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads

Bookshelf Roundup is a feature I do every weekend which fills the role of several blog memes, like Stacking the Shelves where I talk about the new books I’ve added to my library or received for review, as well as It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? where I summarize what I’ve finished reading in the last week and what I’m planning to read soon. Mostly it also serves as a recap post, so sometimes I’ll throw in stuff like reading challenge progress reports, book lists, and other random bookish thoughts or announcements.

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Received for Review

My thanks to the publishers and authors for the following review copies received, and be sure to click the links to their Goodreads pages for more details and full descriptions!

The amazing folks at Subterranean Press were extremely good to me this week, with this trio of new arrivals: A Twist of Fate by Kelley Armstrong, the second book in the author’s gothic paranormal time travel mystery series, A Stitch in Time. Next up is another exciting sequel, Masquerade in Lodi by Lois McMaster Bujold which is ninth in the Penric and Desdemona sequence. Luckily for me the books are mostly standalone because I’m definitely not caught up with all of them, but I love these characters. And finally Belladonna Nights and Other Stories by Alastair Reynolds is the fourth collection in his long career of publishing short fiction, and features much sci-fi including some tales from his  Revelation Space universe.

With thanks to Redhook, I also received an ARC of The Seven Visitations of Sydney Burgess by Andy Marino, a horror thriller about a woman’s spiral into madness as she wakes up in the hospital after a traumatic event that everyone seems to remember differently than her. It’s sounds absolutely harrowing and intense.

And speaking of horror, last but not least thank you to Inkshares for an ARC of The House of Dust by Noah Broyles, a haunting southern gothic blending mystery and spooky small-town folklore. Releasing in late September, this one will be just in time for the creepy season, and I can’t wait to read it!

Another light week for the digital pile. With thanks to Penguin Audio, I picked up a listening copy of Holdout by Jeffrey Kluger, an action thriller about an astronaut who risks it all aboard the International Space Station to save what matters to her most.

And from Audible, I was super excited to receive Nolyn by Michael J. Sullivan, the first book of the Rise and Fall trilogy that takes place in the Riyria universe but is a standalone tale. From the publisher I also received Lux by Brandon Sanderson and Steven Michael Bohls, technically the fourth book in The Reckoners series, but it too appears to be separate from the original trilogy and can be read as a standalone. This one wasn’t even been on my radar until an email hit my inbox on release day, I love being surprised like that!

Reviews

Not A Happy Family by Shari Lapena (3.5 of 5 stars)
A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers (3.5 of 5 stars)
Capture the Crown by Jennifer Estep (3 of 5 stars)

What I’ve Been Reading

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Have you heard of or read any of the books featured this week? What caught your eye? Any new discoveries? I hope you found something interesting for a future read!

Friday Face-Off: Deep into the Ground

Welcome to The Friday Face-Off, a weekly meme created by Books by Proxy! Each Friday, we will pit cover against cover while also taking the opportunity to showcase gorgeous artwork and feature some of our favorite book covers. If you want to join the fun, simply choose a book each Friday that fits that week’s predetermined theme, post and compare two or more different covers available for that book, then name your favorite. A list of future weeks’ themes are available at Lynn’s Book Blog.

This week’s theme is:

“In the universe or going deep into the ground”
~ a cover featuring A BLACK HOLE

The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

After a dig through my sci-fi bookshelves for any covers featuring black holes turned up nothing, I decided to explore the other interpretation, which was a hole going deep into the ground. That search wasn’t that much more successful, though I did find The Luminous Dead, a novel I had mixed feelings about, but it follows a caver who gets hired onto a dangerous mining mission to map the deep dark tunnels of the planet. More importantly, it has covers that sort of fit the bill, and they will be compared against each other today in a head-to-head:

 Harper Voyager (2019) – German Edition (2021)

So hard to choose this week. In many ways, the two covers are almost antithetical to each other, with one predominantly blue featuring someone reaching out of a hole, while the other one is fiery red and features a person reaching in. I do find the German edition slightly more interesting to look at though, and that perspective (and the skull) definitely puts you more on edge, so I think I’ll go with that one.

But what do you think? Which one is your favorite?

Thriller Thursday Audio: Not A Happy Family by Shari Lapena

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Not A Happy Family by Shari Lapena

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Mystery, Suspense

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Penguin Audio (July 27, 2021)

Length: 9 hrs and 11 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Ellen Archer

Shari Lepena’s mystery thriller novels are always a ton of fun, and Not A Happy Family is a whodunit that will definitely keep you guessing. At the center of this story is the Merton family. Fred is the patriarch, who founded a highly successful robotics company that made him rich. He’s also a cold man who has never shown much love for his children, and in fact, he delights in humiliating them every chance he gets by pointing out their failures. His wife Sheila is mostly a passive bystander, powerless to stop this cruel treatment. Oldest daughter Catherine is the one who has been spared the brunt of Fred’s wrath, growing up to become a respected and well-to-do doctor. Middle child Dan, however, is the least favorite, and his father’s greatest disappointment. Even youngest daughter Jenna, the rebellious artist who still lives off her parents seems to catch more slack than she should.

As the book begins, the Mertons are just about to begin their Easter dinner at Fred and Sheila’s home located in their swanky neighborhood of Brecken Hill in upstate New York. Catherine, Dan, and Jenna have all brought their significant others, and also present is Irena, the Merton’s housekeeper, who practically raised the kids. Everyone sits down to a lavish meal, but unfortunately, it isn’t long before Fred unleashes his mean streak. Catherine, who has always dreamed of inheriting her parents’ gorgeous multimillion dollar mansion, feels the rug pulled out from under her as her father informs them all that he has decided to sell the house. He had already sold his company six months ago to spite Dan, denying his son the chance of ever taking over one day. Jenna is also threatened with the cutting off of her financial support. All in all, everyone leaves the house that night in frustration and rage.

Then a few days later, Fred and Sheila are found brutally murdered in their home. While it was made to appear like a burglary gone wrong, the police don’t buy it. They suspect one of the three Merton children, who now stand to inherit millions. All of them also have a reason to want to kill Fred, a psychopath who was so awful to them, and Sheila, who was neglectful and let the abuse happen. Fred also has a sister, Audrey, who claims that her brother had been planning on changing his will to bequeath her half his wealth, leaving Catherine, Dan, and Jenna to squabble over the rest. Audrey believes that one of the Merton children must have found out about his plans and decided to kill him before they could be carried out, but at this point, with all these hidden motives and secrets flying around, anyone could be the killer.

The way the plot unfolds is pretty standard, via a tried-and-true formula, but there’s a reason why stories like this work so well, and why they are so successful. Readers get to follow along with the police as they interview all the family members and their friends involved, bringing to light their financial troubles, odd behaviors, and other reasons that would make you suspect all of them at some point. As the POVs switch between the different characters, we also find out more about the Mertons’ backgrounds and Fred’s past history, all of which are clues that make up the available evidence. Of course, there are also red herrings aplenty, and you can’t always trust what anyone says because as we find out early on, everyone in the Merton family is a compulsive liar.

Fans of thrillers who like to read about dysfunctional families and characters you just love to hate will also have a blast with this one. The reason why there is so much suspense surrounding this murder mystery is precisely because any of these narcissistic, greedy, and impulsive people could have done it, as they all stem from the same psychopathic gene pool. None of them are all that bright either, which also goes for the investigators who feel incompetent at times for the sake of dragging out the story.

With that said, I wouldn’t say this is Lapena at her best, and there were a few instances in the book where you would need to suspend your disbelief. Still, on the whole, I thought Not A Happy Family was a very entertaining read and will be a great treat for fans both new and old. My family listened to this novel as an audiobook on a road trip and the compulsive nature of this mystery simply made the hours and miles fly by, while we all had fun trying to guess who the killer was as each chapter and POV revealed new information. Ellen Archer’s narration was on point and made this format a fantastic way to enjoy the book.

Waiting on Wednesday 07/21/21

Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that first originated at Breaking the Spine but has since linked up with “Can’t Wait Wednesday” at Wishful Endings now that the original creator is unable to host it anymore. Either way, this fun feature is a chance to showcase the upcoming releases that we can’t wait to get our hands on!

Mogsy’s Pick

Sundial by Catriona Ward (March 1, 2022 by Nightfire)

I just started The Last House on Needless Street but so far I’m enjoying it a lot – so much that I’m already looking forward to another book by the author. This one sounds creepy!

Sundial is a new, twisty psychological horror novel from Catriona Ward, author of The Last House on Needless Street

You can’t escape what’s in your blood…

All Rob wanted was a normal life. She almost got it, too: a husband, two kids, a nice house in the suburbs. Far from her childhood home, Sundial, hidden deep in the wild Mojave Desert.

But beneath the veneer, Rob is terrified for her oldest daughter, Callie, who collects tiny bones and whispers to imaginary friends. Rob sees a darkness in Callie, one that reminds her too much of the family she left behind.

Running from her past has led her directly back to it — what’s buried at Sundial could never stay a secret forever, and Rob must risk one last trip out there to protect her family, and her future.”