Friday Face-Off: Temple/Religious Icon

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:

~ a cover that features a TEMPLE/RELIGIOUS ICON

Mogsy’s Pick:

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

I had a really tough time coming up with a book for this week’s topic, so I had to look outside SFF to historical fiction for any depictions of temples or churches and the like. While I didn’t really care for this book, I figured, surely a novel about building a cathedral would have some covers that featured one on the cover, right?! Well, I wasn’t wrong about that, but I have to say the good choices were somewhat limited considering how many editions exist for this book. Here’s a small selection of those that I thought were the nicest and most interesting:

From left to right:
Pan Books (2017) – NAL Trade (2002) – Pan Mass Market (2019)

 

Slovenian Edition (2017) – Spanish Edition A (2010) – Spanish Edition B (2014)

 

Chinese Edition (2018) – Dutch Edition (2015) – French Edition (2014)

  

Polish Edition (2018) – Portuguese Edition (2016) – Serbian Edition (2005)

Winner:

There were a few this week that caught my eye, the Spanish Edition B and Chinese Edition among them, but ultimately I felt I had to go with my first instincts. I have a thing for Gothic style architectural drawings, so I think I’m going to have to go with the NAL cover.

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

Best of 2019: Notable Debuts

Yep, it’s that time of the year again! Starting this week I’ll be making lists…lots of lists. All of it will culminate into an end-of-year roundup post with my favorites and best-ofs, but in the meantime there also other categories I’d like to explore, like notable debuts. Each year, I’m always excited to have discovered new authors who have broken onto the scene for the very first time, and 2019 was no exception. So let’s shine a spotlight on these rising stars whose first novels really made an impression on me this year, and I’ve also separated the list into Adult and YA categories.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow is a lush and spellbinding coming-of-age portal fantasy about a young woman who finds answers to her past in a mysterious old book that can open pathways to other worlds.  Transporting us to the early 1900s, the story follows January Scaller, who was just a little girl when she first discovered the Door. But as with many childhood recollections, soon the memory of that encounter began to fade, until many years later, when a teenage January stumbles upon a strange book that changes her life forever. As you know, I’m a huge fan of “books about books”, and The Ten Thousand Doors of January is in its own way a celebration of that love—not only in the way it reveres knowledge, but also in the way it recognizes reading as a form of escapism. If you love stories about the love of books and reading, you really need to check out this novel—and bonus if you enjoy portal fantasies. But this novel is also about so much more, including a thoughtful and heartfelt exploration of family, growing up, and finding your identify. (Read the full review…)

Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton

I thought after years of reading all kinds of zombie fiction I could get my hands on, I’d seen everything, but clearly I was wrong. Yes, Hollow Kingdom is a zombie book, but I guarantee it’ll be unlike anything you’ve read before, because not only are animals the primary focus of the story, they are also its stars. Our protagonist Shit Turd, abbreviated S.T., is an appropriately crass and potty-mouthed crow who leads us through this apocalyptic narrative. His best friends are Dennis, a dim-witted but sweet old bloodhound, and their owner Big Jim, who raised S.T. as a hatchling and taught the little bird all he knew. Things couldn’t have been better for the three of them, living a happy and simple life in Seattle. But then one day, Big Jim’s eyeball falls out. That was when S.T. knew something was wrong, even before his owner tried to take a big bite out of him. All around them, the city is descending into madness, with all the humans of the world turning into hollow, ravenous shells of what they once were. Escaping into this terrifying new reality, S.T. and Dennis decide that their new mission in life is to liberate all the household pets and other helpless animals now trapped behind locked doors, gates, enclosures. Never mind that we’re talking about a crow and a dog here, but these two easily topped my list of favorite book buddy relationships this year, and bottom line, this was a seriously entertaining read. (Read the full review…)

Do You Dream of Terra-Two by Temi Oh

Set in a more technologically advanced version of our present world, this novel follows six young candidates for a highly competitive British space exploration program to establish a colony on far-flung Terra-Two, a pristine Earth-like planet possessing ideal conditions for life. Having spent years studying at the Dalton Academy for Aerospace Science since they were preteens, our six astronaut hopefuls have trained their hearts out for the opportunity, beating out millions of others across the country. However, with emotions already raw from having to leave their loved ones behind and knowing that they will all be living within the tight confines of a spaceship for the next twenty-three years, life aboard their spaceship Damocles will prove to be a rough process, with homesickness, self-doubt, depression and other personal fears plaguing each of them in turn. It’s probably no surprise that I, being a huge fan of books devoted to telling human stories, absolutely adored this book, and if you enjoy character-oriented tales with interesting relationships dynamics and lots of personal growth, then this is one you can’t afford to miss. (Read the full review…)

Titanshade by Dan Stout

So glad I was able to sneak this one in before the end of the year! In this debut, Dan Stout takes us to the gritty, bustling city of Titanshade, where our jaded protagonist named Carter ekes out a living as a homicide detective. The mystery heats up right away as he is called into the scene of a gruesome crime involving the murder of a high-ranking Squib diplomat who had been in town with his people’s delegation to negotiate the funding of a new source of energy which could have saved Titanshade’s dying economy following the depletion of its oil supplies. But now, all that is jeopardized as the pressure comes down hard on the police force to solve the case quickly in order to prevent the political shitstorm that would destroy all chances of a successful deal. Carter is assigned a partner, a Mollenkampi rookie named Ajax, but before they can make much progress, the city is rocked by news of another murder, this time of a family in the suburbs. Despite the differences in the two cases, Carter has reason to believe they are related, but soon he becomes a target himself. In a word, this novel was awesome. Every once in a while, a book that is so entertaining and fascinating in its uniqueness will come along and breathe new life into the genre, and Titanshade is definitely one of those. (Read the full review…)

Unnatural Magic by C.M. Waggoner

Unnatural Magic was a solid read that was hard to pin down at times, but once you learn how to go with the flow, the book might end up surprising you in the best way possible. Set in a world where humans and trolls co-exist, albeit not always peacefully, the story opens on a setting which feels vaguely turn-of-the-century gaslamp. From an early age, Onna has displayed an aptitude for magic, though after being rejected from the local academy, she decides to forge her own path by traveling to the city of Hexos where they will be more appreciative of her talents. Meanwhile in another part of the world, Tsira is a half-troll who is also planning for a journey to Hexos. Despite being daughter of the clan leader, she has always been regarded as a bit of an outsider, and Tsira has had enough, choosing instead to find work among the humans. On the way to the city though, she saves the life of Jeckran, a human soldier who has been wounded. As Tsira nurses him back to health, the two of them grow closer and eventually become lovers, continuing on to Hexos together. While the ties linking all the storylines are initially tenuous, they quickly become more apparent when a brutal string of murders bring human and troll relations to a near state of war. As I said, once you get into the rhythm of things, Unnatural Magic can be absolutely delightful. It has the sprawling feel of an epic fantasy, but also features an intriguing mystery at its heart, and overall is a solid debut. (Read the full review…)

 

Young Adult

Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

Spin the Dawn is Elizabeth Lim’s debut original fiction novel, pitched as Project Runway meets Mulan–and believe it or not, for once we have a YA blurb that is completely accurate! Maia Tamarin is the only daughter in a family of tailors who had to take on duties of taking care of her family after her mother died and her father grew weak and old. The situation only worsened with the Emperor’s war, in which her two older brothers were killed, while her youngest brother returned home alive but broken. Soon after peace was reached, a messenger from the palace arrives at their doorstep with orders for their family to send a representative to work for the emperor, but of course neither Maia’s father nor her brother are in any condition to do so. Problem is, Maia knows she’s perfectly capable doing the job, being quite the accomplished dressmaker and seamstress herself, but of course girls are forbidden to fill the role. Instead, she takes matters into her own hands, disguising herself as a boy to travel to the palace, posing as her injured brother. Once there, however, Maia realizes how she had been misled. The invitation extended to her family was not for a position to work for the emperor, but for a competition to choose the best candidate for the role of palace tailor, judged by none other than the emperor’s bride-to-be, Lady Sarnai. Needless to say, I was quite enchanted. A sewing contest is not something you get to see every day, and I was pleasantly surprised how well the concept worked with some light magic thrown in. (Read the full review…)

The Tiger at Midnight by Swati Teerdhala

Inspired by the culture of ancient India and Hindu mythology, The Tiger at Midnight features a cat-and-mouse game of deception and thrills between a rebel assassin and the reluctant young soldier tasked to bring her to justice. When Esha was a child, she and her family lived at the palace where they were close companions to the royal family. But that was until a bloody coup took everything she has ever loved away from her. Now a fighter for exiled prince’s resistance, she has dedicated her life to avenging her murdered parents and to taking down the current regime. By day, she plays the role of the innocent merchant’s daughter, but by night, Esha assumes the mantle of the Viper, a mysterious assassin who takes down important enemies for the rebels. And tonight, her mark is the ruthless General Hotha, a man who has the blood of innocents on his hands. Meanwhile, unaware that his life is about to be changed forever, a fort soldier named Kunal extends a helping hand to a doe-eyed young woman, unwittingly bringing the Viper one step closer to completing the task of assassinating his uncle, the general. The Tiger at Midnight was a novel that drew me in effortlessly with its vivid prose, robust world-building, and compelling story. The world felt lush and fully-realized, and I enjoyed the magic which began as a light touch in the early sections of the book only to play a major role later on. (Read the full review…)

Wicked Fox by Kat Cho

For 18-year-old Gu Miyoung, a half-human shapeshifting nine-tailed fox demon, immortality comes at a steep price. In order to survive, she must feed on the gi, or life energy of men. Unpleasant business to be sure, but it must be done, though making murderers and other evil men her exclusive prey is one way Miyoung seeks to assuage her conscience. But one night following a feeding, she encounters a Jihoon, a boy from school, out walking his dog and completely oblivious to the fact he’s about to become a goblin’s late-night snack. Miyoung rescues Jihoon, and inadvertently reveals her true nature in doing so, losing her fox bead to him and creating a connection between their life forces. At school, the experience has drawn them together, though Miyoung remains wary about letting any human boy get too close. Overall, I would recommend Wicked Fox for fans of urban fantasy and paranormal YA, especially if you are fascinated by East Asian traditions, cultures, and mythology. After a stellar beginning, the story took some time to develop, but time and patience will pay off in a big way in the end with plenty of delightful revelations and a satisfying conclusion. (Read the full review…)

Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau-Preto

Crown of Feathers takes readers to the Golden Empire, a land whose people are no strangers to war. To the victor goes the spoils, while those defeated are left to lick the wounds. For our protagonist Veronyka and her sister Val, however, it also means being on the run from the anti-magic forces who are now out to hunt them down. Both of them are animages, individuals with the power to form magical bonds with animals. In practice, this connection is also the relationship that allows the famed Phoenix Riders to control their mounts, before their order was dissolved following their loss in the war. Consequently, anyone with the talent are now considered enemies to the current rulers of the empire, but some have chosen not to flee. Together the sisters scour the land for any surviving phoenix eggs, hoping to hatch new bond companions. But after much heartbreak and a riff between the siblings, Veronyka is left to strike out on her own, arriving at a secret camp where a group of rebels are hoping to establish the Phoenix Rider traditions. Joining them and their mission is everything Veronyka has ever wanted, except of one major setback—the rebels are only looking to recruit males. But not content to let a little problem like that get in her way, Veronyka decides to disguise herself and gains access to the camp as a stable boy. While Crown of Feathers is a novel that requires a bit of time and emotional commitment, overall the story was very enjoyable and a solid beginning to a promising new series. (Read the full review…)

Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte

This story is really more of murder mystery—but with a twist. The book’s title refers to the four queens that rule the nation of Quadara, so named because it is divided into four quadrants, each boasting its own unique culture and specialties. Queens are sequestered in their palace, never allowed to leave, and the only through death or abdication could they pass on their rule to an heir, who must be a daughter of their blood. But what happens when a queen dies without an heir? This is the problem Quadara currently faces, with four queens on the throne who have yet to produce female issue, and now they are being systematically targeted by a mysterious assassin. Meanwhile, a plucky thief named Keralie has unwitting stumbled upon a find of a lifetime–a set of comm disks that contain records of how all four queens are brutally murdered. Together with Varin, the messenger she originally stole the disks from, Keralie must discover the identity of those conspiring against Quadara before it’s too late. The overarching plot was really the main drive behind the novel, which was a refreshing change and kept me engaged and turning the pages. It’s also a standalone that ties up quite nicely, but just because there will be no sequel to anticipate doesn’t mean I won’t be looking forward to Astrid Scholt’s future projects with interest. (Read the full review…)

Waiting on Wednesday 12/11/19

“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

He Started It by Samantha Downing (April 28st, 2020 by Berkley)

Last year I had such a good time with Downing’s debut My Lovely Wife, I knew that I would want to read whatever she writes next. What I didn’t expect was for her new book to sound so amazing, or that the cover would be so OMG! So yeah, who’s ready for a road trip, hmm?

“From the twisted mind behind mega hit My Lovely Wife comes the story of a family—not unlike your own—just with a few more violent tendencies thrown in….

Beth, Portia, and Eddie Morgan haven’t all been together in years. And for very good reasons—we’ll get to those later. But when their wealthy grandfather dies and leaves a cryptic final message in his wake, the siblings and their respective partners must come together for a cross-country road trip to fulfill his final wish and—more importantly—secure their inheritance.

But time with your family can be tough. It is for everyone.

It’s even harder when you’re all keeping secrets and trying to forget a memory—a missing person, an act of revenge, the man in the black truck who won’t stop following your car—and especially when at least one of you is a killer and there’s a body in the trunk. Just to name a few reasons.

But money is a powerful motivator. It is for everyone.”

Book Review: Titanshade by Dan Stout

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

Titanshade by Dan Stout

Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Urban Fantasy, Mystery

Series: Book 1 of The Carter Archives

Publisher: DAW Books (March 12, 2019)

Length: 407 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Titanshade was a novel that took me a long time to read, but it certainly wasn’t due to lack of interest. Rather, things have gotten really busy for me in these last few months, but believe me, all I could think of was getting back to this book and I am so glad I got to finish it before the end of the year because apparently a sequel is already on the horizon.

In this debut novel, author Dan Stout takes us to the gritty, bustling city of Titanshade, where our jaded protagonist named Carter ekes out a living as a homicide detective. The mystery heats up right away as he is called into the scene of a gruesome crime involving the murder of a high-ranking diplomat in his hotel room. The victim, who belongs to a race of a frog-like creatures called a Squib, had been in town with his people’s delegation to negotiate the funding of a new source of energy which could have saved Titanshade’s dying economy following the depletion of its oil supplies. But now, all that is jeopardized as the pressure comes down hard on the police force to solve the case quickly in order to prevent the political shitstorm that would destroy all chances of a successful deal.

Though he prefers to work alone, Carter is assigned a partner as part of an effort to improve inter-species relations within the department. A Mollenkampi, characterized by their large and powerful face mandibles, Ajax is a rookie fresh out of the academy, but the truth is, he’s not too happy to be working with Carter either, given the older cop’s dubious reputation. But the two men are determined to do their job, throwing themselves into the investigation to bring swift justice to the killer. Before they can make much progress, however, the city is rocked by news of another murder, this time of a family in the suburbs, and despite the differences in the two cases Carter has reason to believe they are related. What follows next is a journey into the seedier side of Titanshade as our characters follow up on clues leading them to question witnesses from prostitutes to corrupt cops. As they get closer to the truth, Carter also becomes a target, leading him to fear for the safety of his close friend Talena, a young woman who is like a daughter to him.

In a word, this novel was awesome. Let’s cut straight to the chase and talk about one of its strongest aspects, and that is undoubtedly the world-building. The cover sums it up nicely, featuring the gritty, neo-noir urban jungle that is Titanshade, rendered in a style which appropriately evokes the world’s unique brand of nostalgia. And I’ll bet your attention was also drawn to the green toothy monstrous looking creature, hanging out there in the back like it’s the most natural thing in the world. That’s because several races share the universe of Titanshade, in a dynamic you’d more typically see in a sci-fi novel, but of course this is more an urban fantasy and detective mystery mashup. The story has a lot of the hallmarks of the crime noir genre, served up with a generous helping of magic and wonder. From the potent mood-altering properties of Squib blood to the off-putting way the Mollenkampi eat, there are so many little details and I could list a lot more here but then we’d be here all night.

Story-wise, the start was admittedly a bit slow on account of the author introducing his characters, world descriptions, and plot details all at once in rapid succession, though the result was that many of these leads had to be put on pause while the rest of the book caught up. Having a well-established base ended up paying off though, because when all these plot threads starting coming together, the story took off like a runaway freight train and it was all I could do to keep track of all the shocking reveals and sudden developments.

Carter was also a difficult character to get on board with, though I warmed to him after a while, especially when more about his past on the police force was revealed, as well as his special bond with Talena and what she meant to him. Again, these moments, planted in the early parts of the book, came to have a powerful impact later on in the story as significant events unfolded. Dan Stout isn’t one to do anything by accident. Here or there I thought his writing could have been tightened up, but overall, I felt Titanshade was well-written and cleverly plotted. It’s simply a stellar debut, and I was extremely impressed at the way it all came together.

So check it out! Every once in a while, a book that is so entertaining and fascinating in its uniqueness will come along and breathe new life into the genre, and Titanshade is definitely one of those. I can’t wait to read the sequel.

Audiobook Review: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

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

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

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

Genre: Fantasy, Paranormal

Series: Book 1 of Alex Stern

Publisher: Macmillan Audio (October 8, 2019)

Length: 16 hrs and 21 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrators: Lauren Fortgang, Michael David Axtell

I was a bit nervous about starting Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo, but I actually ended up enjoying it quite a bit. I think many reviewers have hit the nail on the head with this one, when they say how you feel about the book will be highly dependent on your expectations and whether you were hoping for something similar to the author’s previous work, because I am telling you now—it is not.

First of all, Ninth House takes place in a contemporary real-world setting, and boy, can it get too real sometimes. The story follows 20-year-old Galaxy “Alex” Stern, newly admitted into the freshman class at Yale. An ex-junkie, raised by a hippie single mom in Los Angeles where her life plunged into a downward spiral of chaos and darkness after dropping out of school, Alex never thought she would find herself in New Haven getting a second chance.

But of course, there is more to everything than meets the eye. Some might say Alex is a no-good reprobate who has thrown her life away, but the truth is a lot more complicated than that. Following an incident involving the scene of multiple murder at which our protagonist emerged as the only survivor, her name came to the attention of a shadowy faction tracking the activities of Yale’s elite—many of them the wealthy scions of the most influential families in the country. In a place of such concentrated power, naturally you will see the springing up of secret societies and old boys’ networks of exclusivity. Known as the “Ancient Eight”, they are overseen by Lethe, called the Ninth House because of its role in keeping the others in line.

And now it is Lethe that has its eye on Alex Stern, because of a rare and powerful ability she has. For you see, Alex can see ghosts. Called “Grays”, these spirits of the dead are everywhere on campus, drawn to the occult ritual energies performed by magical practitioners of the Ancient Eight. In such an environment, Lethe recognizes the value of having someone like Alex on their side, but when the ugly truth behind the magic of the secret societies comes to light, it becomes clear that the school’s problems may be more than she can handle.

Ninth House was marketed as Leigh Bardugo’s adult debut, and in this book, she makes no bones about tasting this new freedom and spreading her wings, going bolder and darker than she’s ever gone before. Centered around a college setting, many of the novel’s themes deal with new adult issues—starting a new life, striking out on one’s own, dealing with many of the difficult transitions that come with becoming self-reliant and independent. But in Bardugo’s world of secret societies and dark magic, there are also monsters of both the fantastical and early variety. Even though this story is told through a paranormal lens, it doesn’t shy away from exploring very real-world problems with a focus on those affecting today’s college students, such as drugs, discrimination, sexual assault, suicide, corruption and more. Needless to say, this is not one for the fainthearted.

And let’s not forget too how the protagonist presents an additional layer to these dynamics. Alex has been a survivor of abuse, a victim of trauma, and a witness to unspeakable horrors. These experiences have shaped her, influenced her actions and decisions. The narrative will occasionally flash back to her past, revealing a troubled childhood of dealing with her mysterious ability. Something terrible happens to her at twelve years old, setting her upon a path of self-destruction to try and drown out the memories and pain. We are given an intimate understanding of who Galaxy Stern is, what exactly it is that makes her tick. Even so, she can be standoffish and tough to warm up to, but just give her a chance to win you over and eventually I guarantee she’ll be storming her way into your heart.

All told, it’s clear that Ninth House won’t be for everyone, but I found that it worked for me. Speaking as an adult SFF reader who is also a big fan of Leigh Bardugo’s YA, the darker, grittier, and more mature tone of this novel was a stark but welcome change, one I personally felt was quite refreshing. There’s just something about this one that’s so real and from the heart, that despite its grimmer outlook and more macabre themes, I’m glad I read it.

Audiobook Comments: Both narrators did a great job, though I’m particularly fond of Lauren Fortgang’s work, and for me, her name and Leigh Bardugo’s audiobooks have become virtually inseparable. I love the way Fortgang brings Bardugo’s characters to life, and her stunning performance Ninth House has once more proven just how talented and versatile she is as a voice artist.

Novella Review: The Deep by Rivers Solomon with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson & Jonathan Snipes

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

The Deep by Rivers Solomon with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson & Jonathan Snipes

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Saga Press (November 5, 2019)

Length: 176 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Inspired by a song, The Deep tells of the Wajinru, water-dwelling mermaid-like creatures who are the descendants of the pregnant African women who were thrown overboard and left to drown during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. However, their unborn babies survived, rescued and raised by whales. Eventually their numbers grew, and they created their own idyllic society under the sea.

But that life of contentment comes at a cost. For the Wajinru have forgotten their past, which is too traumatic and painful to bear. Only one of their members, designated the Historian, holds all their people’s memories and stories of their origin, and her name is Yetu. While her peers go about their happy and carefree lives, Yetu lives under a heavy burden, knowing the price of her role and why it is needed. But eventually, that agony and strain came to be too much. Days before the Remembering, an annual ritual in which the Wajinru come together to take back their memories, if only for a time, Yetu flees to the surface, leaving the crushing weight of responsibility and expectation behind.

However, as she’ll soon find, while she may have shed the role of Historian, letting go of history itself is not so easy. Among the mysterious two-legs, she learns more than she expected to find about the past of her people, as well as what the future ahead may hold.

I almost didn’t read this book after finding out some of its topics, which I find can be very difficult and upsetting to read at times, but I am glad I took a chance. Yes, there is discussion of heavy subject matter, depictions of violence, death, slavery and genocide. But for the most part, The Deep is a lyrical narrative, an introspective artistic take on the idea of shared history, tradition, and connectedness. I won’t lie; there is overwhelmingly profound pain in Yetu’s story as well as in the history of the Wajinru, but there is also a lot of beauty in the book’s themes and in the way they’re layered.

But it is important as well to know the style in which it is written. Coming in at roughly 175 pages, The Deep is a novella so it is a quick read, light on detail, and swiftly paced. It isn’t really a story told in the traditional sense either; rather, it reads more like an exploration of a concept. Structurally, the plot is a little haphazard, but this is understandable given how much of the book’s themes are based on the ideas of memory and forgetting, so we have some instances of repetition and the narrative bouncing back and forth and sometimes circling back. The writing also doesn’t offer much detail, direction or guidance, so it’s important for the reader to stay on top of things.

Normally, The Deep wouldn’t be my kind of read given its short length and style, but I have to say I ended up liking it more than I expected. Granted, I had trouble getting into the book from the outset, mostly because of the writing and the way the intro simply thrusts you into the middle of things with no explanation. But I think the situation changed once I got to know Yetu. I found the concept of a Historian, a single person who bears the burden of keeping memories for an entire society, to be entirely fascinating. But after a while, even more compelling to me was the effect the role was having on Yetu, and her journey was what kept me reading despite the book being rather light on plot.

I think I would have enjoyed this even more had I gone in knowing more about what to expect, but I also came away pleasantly surprised and curious to try more of Rivers Solomon’s work. The Deep was undeniably different from anything I’ve ever read before, in a good way. And while I wish it had contained more story, character development and history—which as you know is a pretty typical sentiment for me when it comes to novellas—I can nevertheless appreciate the book’s artistic merits and the way its premise and ideas were implemented.

Bookshelf Roundup 12/7/19: 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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My, how the time races by! You might have noticed only a week has passed since my last Bookshelf Roundup, and that’s because starting today I’ve decided to make it a weekly post rather than a bi-weekly one. Over time, I’ve been noticing how some of my roundups were becoming very long and unwieldy, which I think kinda defeats the purpose of a summary post! Drafting them was also taking up more and more time, so hopefully by switching to weekly it will become more manageable.

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!

A big thanks to Simon & Schuster for Dead Endless by Dave Galanter, a part of the Star Trek: Discovery series of tie-in novels! Also thank you to Del Rey for sending me an ARC of The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez, a story about a mute boy who falls from the sky and the woman who finds him and takes him in, the two of them communicating with each other through the power of music. This one sounds very interesting, and it wasn’t on my radar before but it sure is now. And also much love to the kind folks at Subterranean Press, who sent me an ARC of The Gobblin’ Society by James P. Blaylock, a new novella starring the author’s Langdon St. Ives character. From the title, you can kind of tell the delightful story you’ll be in for!

Courtesy of Tor.com, I also received an absolute treasure trove of awesome ARCs: Stormsong by C.L. Polk is the second novel of The Kingston Cycle, and I’ve heard such good things about the first book Witchmark that I really thnk I’ll have to start it soon. Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey is one I’ve been looking forward to, so I was thrilled when a surprise copy showed up! Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings also looks amazing, having been described as a haunting fantasy-horror that is half mystery and half fairy-tale. And finally, Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire is the fifth book of her Wayward Children series, which I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t even started yet. But one day soon I’ll binge them all, mark my words!

Hey, I’ve been pretty good at restraining myself from requesting too much lately, just one book in the digital haul this week. As you know, I’ve been following the books in the official Minecraft series and when I saw The End by Catherynne M. Valente I just couldn’t resist. She’s written some great tie-ins, so I’m looking forward to listening to this one, with thanks to Random House Audio.

Reviews

Starsight by Brandon Sanderson (5 of 5 stars)
Blood Heir by Amélie Wen Zhao (3.5 of 5 stars)
The Harp of Kings by Juliet Marillier (3.5 of 5 stars)
Walk the Wild With Me by Rachel Atwood (2 of 5 stars)

Roundup Highlights:

This Week’s Reads

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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! Let me know what you plan on checking out. Until next time, see you next Roundup!:)

Friday Face-Off: Winter

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:

“Now is the winter of our discontent, Made glorious summer by this sun of York”
a cover that puts you in mind of WINTER

Mogsy’s Pick:

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t featured The Bear and the Nightingale for Friday Face-Off yet, because I adore this book and I’ve always found its covers to be gorgeous. But it worked out well, since I can think of no better choice that embodies the spirit of today’s topic. The first volume of the Winternight trilogy, this novel is set at the edge of the Russian wilderness, where the northern winters are characterized by ten-foot high snowdrifts and near perpetual twilight,. And yet, Arden somehow manages to turn such a cold, harsh and dark world into a place of beauty. Those who survive here have to be strong, compassionate and hardworking, much like our protagonist Vasya–a wild but dutiful daughter, headstrong and brave.

Let’s now take a look at all the covers:

From left to right:
Del Rey US (2017) – Del Rey UK (2017) – Del Rey Paperback (2017)

Portuguese Edition (2017) – Serbian Edition (2017) – Czech Edition (2018) – Chinese Edition (2018)

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

Winner:

I have to say, not all of these put me in mind of winter; in fact, some are downright summery, bursting with all the colorful flowers and birds. Naturally though, I still find myself drawn to the snowy covers because of the way they exude atmosphere, elegance and emotion. With that being said, I’m going to have to go with the Del Rey US hardcover as the winner, because when it comes to those three things, this one’s gonna be pretty hard to beat.

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

Book Review: The Harp of Kings by Juliet Marillier

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

The Harp of Kings by Juliet Marillier

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of Warrior Bards

Publisher: Ace (September 3, 2019)

Length: 464 pages

Author Information: Website

I’ll always and forever be a big fan of Juliet Marillier, but I also have to be honest, and the truth is I wasn’t too crazy about this one. Bear in mind though, I’ve probably been spoiled so hard by her Sevenwaters series and Blackthorn & Grim trilogy that these days I set a pretty high bar whenever I pick up one of her books, and to be sure, The Harp of Kings was a solid fantasy novel but I don’t think it was her best.

This story follows three characters—siblings Liobhan and Brocc, and their companion Dau—with the narrative split relatively evenly between their points-of-view. Our trio of young protagonists are initiates on Swan Island, a society that trains warrior and spies. Eager to prove themselves and become full-fledged members, they are thus elated when their superiors tap the three of them for a top secret mission to retrieve an artifact known as the Harp of Kings, so named because it would be ceremonially required at the naming of the next monarch. Without the harp, which has gone missing, it is feared that the people will not accept their new king, so it is of utmost importance that the instrument is found before the upcoming coronation.

But as it turns out, their mission might not be so simple. Assigned new names and backgrounds, they must go undercover and adopt their new identities completely as not to arouse suspicion. Sister and brother team Liobhan and Brocc, both being talented musicians, are tasked to pose as traveling bards, but Dau, their fellow trainee, is given the role of a mute stable boy. Together, they travel to meet Prince Rodan, the one who would soon be crowned king, only to find he’s a boorish little cad that nobody likes. Worse, as our characters learn about the harp and the history of the royal family, they come to realize there may be more otherworldly forces at play. Here where the edges of the mortal realm meet the Fae’s, creatures of magic also have a stake in the future of the kingship.

This book started with so much promise. I loved the beginning, which featured an introduction to our three protagonists, what they do on Swan Island, and all the training that they had to go through to prepare for their journey. It was fascinating reading, especially since we’re talking about Juliet Marillier, who’s a literary genius when it comes to writing characters and her signature Celtic-inspired worlds. And indeed, everything was going well; I was moving along with the flow of things and really getting a feel for Liobhan, Brocc, and Dau in their new roles…when suddenly, they reached their destination and all of it ground to a screeching halt.

I mean, I adore Marillier’s lyrical writing style and I also appreciate how her stories take time to mature. These things can’t be rushed, and a lot of her books are written in a way that is meant to savored. That said, I felt that the pacing of The Harp of Kings was terribly unbalanced, especially after the first quarter where I felt no overall progress was being made and our characters were spinning their wheels with inconsequential side-plots that added little development to the overall story. At one point, we got so off-track that I even forgot they were supposed to be looking for a harp.

This book is also geared towards YA, and every so often, it really shows. Our three protagonists are teenagers with hotheaded and impulsive personalities, and they bring along some of the usual adolescent hang ups. But this also made it more difficult for me to connect with the characters because they frequently let their emotions get the better of them, leading them to make questionable decisions. Needless to say, they all made terrible spies. The POV switches were also uneven and it was easy to confuse Brocc and Dau’s voices because of how similar they were, and the boys also dominated the first half of the book whereas Liobhan’s chapters featured intermittently until she became a steadier presence in the second half.

Simply put, The Harp of Kings just didn’t click for me as well as some of Juliet Marillier’s other books. Nevertheless, if you enjoy spending time in her fantasy worlds, or if you are a fan of the way she blends history, magic, and intrigue in her work, then perhaps you’ll still want to give it a try because I think you’ll find yourself feeling right at home. More importantly, this hasn’t dampened my enthusiasm for her work, and I look forward to the next Warrior Bards book with the hopes that it will improve on the issues I found with this one.

Waiting on Wednesday 12/04/19

“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 Girl and the Stars by Mark Lawrence (April 21st, 2020 by Ace)

Yay, a new epic fantasy by Mark Lawrence is always cause to celebrate! This one’s the start of a new series, called Book of the Ice, which is set in the same world as Red Sister. The cover was recently revealed, and it’s beautiful!

“In the ice, east of the Black Rock, there is a hole into which broken children are thrown. Yaz’s people call it the Pit of the Missing and now it is drawing her in as she has always known it would.
 
To resist the cold, to endure the months of night when even the air itself begins to freeze, requires a special breed. Variation is dangerous, difference is fatal. And Yaz is not the same.
 
Yaz’s difference tears her from the only life she’s ever known, away from her family, from the boy she thought she would spend her days with, and has to carve out a new path for herself in a world whose existence she never suspected. A world full of difference and mystery and danger.
 
Yaz learns that Abeth is older and stranger than she had ever imagined. She learns that her weaknesses are another kind of strength and that the cruel arithmetic of survival that has always governed her people can be challenged.”