Mogsy’s Bookshelf Roundup: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads

Bookshelf Roundup is a feature I do every other 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 round up what I’ve read since the last update 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!

Kicking off today’s roundup, a huge thank you to the kind folks at Ace/Roc/DAW for sending me an ARC of The Harp of Kings by Juliet Marillier! Quite possibly my most anticipated release of the year, I just love love love this author. Up next, another release I’ve been looking forward to is Howling Dark by Christopher Ruocchio, the sequel to last year’s hidden gem of a sci-fi debut Empire of Silence. From the publisher I also received an ARC of Cry Pilot by Joel Dane – a new one for me, but it’s a military science fiction taking place in what sounds like far-flung post-apocalyptic dystopian future, so I’ll probably check it out. A couple weeks ago I also received a finished copy of Unraveling by Karen Lord. As you might recall, I featured this standalone fantasy mystery in a Waiting on Wednesday post earlier this year, so this is one I’m definitely planning on reading later this summer.

With thanks to the teams at Wunderkind PR and 47North I also received an interesting looking new-to-me book called The Book of Flora by Meg Elison. Further research into it shows that it’s third in a series called The Road to Nowhere though, so I have doubts I can read this as a standalone. If anyone has any information or experience with this series, I’d love to know more. Also, looks like the trade paperback edition of Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett is out now, how the time flies. Thank you to Crown Publishing for sending me a copy!

This next batch is courtesy of the amazing folks at Orbit: Fray by Rowenna Miller is the second novel in the Unraveled Kingdom series, which reminds me that I’d better get to the first book Torn soon. Velocity Weapon by Megan E. O’Keefe has also recently moved from “maybe” to “must” status now with the arrival of this beautiful finished copy! Speaking of which, I also received a finished copy of The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind by Jackson Ford ahead of the book’s imminent release date. Really looking forward to this one.

And so much love to Harper Voyager for sending me an ARC of The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang! The Poppy War was easily hands down my favorite book of last year, and I am beyond excited to read this sequel. Also thank you to Tor Teen for a finished copy of Dark Shores by Danielle L. Jensen, which I actually read earlier this week so a review should be up soon. And thank you to Tor for a finished copy of A Chain Across the Dawn by Drew Williams, sequel to The Stars Now Unclaimed.

With thanks to Jo Fletcher Books UK, I also received Council by Snorri Kristjansson, sequel to the Viking mystery Kin which I just read and reviewed not too long ago. Needless to say, I’m really looking forward to diving in. And finally, with thanks to the publicity team at Subterranean Press for these gorgeous ARCs of their upcoming titles from two very exciting authors: Of Wars, And Memories, And Starlight by Aliette de Bodard and Laughter at the Academy by Seanan McGuire!

 

In the digital pile, with thanks to Grand Central Publishing for approving me for Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky and Saga Press for granting me access to The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher earlier this week on NetGalley. I guess I was in a bit of a horror mood when I made these requests.

It was also a good week for audiobooks. With thanks to HarperAudio for listening copies of Nocturna by Maya Montayne and The Favorite Daughter by Kaira Rouda; Hachette Audio for a listening copy of The Chain by Adrian McKinty; Penguin Random House Audio for a listening copy of Stranger Things: Darkness on the Edge of Town by Adam Christopher; Tantor Audio for The Queen’s Gambit by Jessie Mihalik, the author’s serial novella which is finally coming to audio; and Audible Studios for an advanced listening copy of Beautiful by Juliet Marillier!

Reviews

Here is a quick summary of my reviews posted since the last update:

Star Wars: Dooku: Jedi Lost by Cavan Scott (4.5 of 5 stars)
Finder by Suzanne Palmer (4 of 5 stars)
Uncanny Collateral by Brian McClellan (4 of 5 stars)
One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence (4 of 5 stars)
Little Darlings by Melanie Golding (4 of 5 stars)
The Favorite Daughter by Kaira Rouda (3.5 of 5 stars)
Outland by Dennis E. Taylor (3.5 of 5 stars)
I Know Who You Are by Alice Feeney (3 of 5 stars)
The Haunted by Danielle Vega (3 of 5 stars)

Roundup Highlights:

What I’ve Read Since the Last Update

Here’s what I’ve managed to “unstack” from the TBR since the last update. A bunch of these are written up already, but more reviews are coming soon!

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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!:)

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Friday Face-Off: Magical Things

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:

“Bibbity, bobbity, boo!”
a cover featuring MAGICAL THINGS

Mogsy’s Pick:

The Reader by Traci Chee

Today’s Friday Face-Off topic is magical things, and I thought, well, what’s more magical than books? And in the world of The Reader, books are literally objects of magical power, which is why those in charge want to keep the society they rule over ignorant and illiterate. As a result, our story’s protagonist Sefia grew up without ever having seen a book, but the first time she came across one of these strange, rectangular objects filled with paper with writing on them, she knew that it was special. Somehow though, she is also sure that it is why her father died, and now that those who killed him are hunting her too, Sefia must quickly unlock the secrets of the book and start making sense of the mysteries of her past in order to save herself and those she loves.

Let’s take a look at the covers:

From left to right:
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers (2016)  – French Edition (2017)

German Edition (2016)  – Italian Edition (2016)

Portuguese Edition (2017)  – Russian Edition (2017)

Winner:

My favorite this week is probably the German edition, because it so beautifully and artistically combines two things I’m a sucker for when it comes to covers – books and ships! The other covers that feature this theme are either too busy for me (Portuguese edition) or too plain for my tastes (the Russian edition), so the decision was pretty easy.

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

Novella Review: Uncanny Collateral by Brian McClellan

Uncanny Collateral by Brian McClellan

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of Valkyrie Collections

Publisher: Self-Published (April 2, 2019)

Length: 147 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Brian McClellan does urban fantasy—I knew I had to see this for myself! I loved his first Powder Mage trilogy and I’m also currently enjoying his Gods of Blood and Powder series, so naturally I was curious to check out something by him outside of the epic fantasy genre. When I first heard about his Uncanny Collateral novella, I was instantly intrigued, but I was more so when I found out it stars a half-troll who works as an agent for a supernatural collection agency, and his partner and closest companion is a djinn who lives in a ring on his finger.

Enter Alek Fitz, a reaper for Valkyrie Collections tasked to track down debtors and shake them down for what they owe. It’s a crap job, but having been bought at as infant by his employers, Alek has no choice but to serve them. His only friend is a djinn named Maggie who is just as much a slave as he is, trapped in a ring that’s bound to him forever, but at least the two of them work well together and get along. In fact, with Maggie’s anniversary coming up, Alek wants to do something special for her, but unfortunately the two of them have just been roped into a doozy of a job for a client who is not someone they want to cross. It seems that someone has been stealing souls, a transgression that is causing Death himself a great amount of displeasure, not to mention the ripples of unease these brazen thefts have been sending throughout the supernatural community, driving the fractious imps to the brink of war.

Now Alek finds himself thrown into a situation way over his head, with little clue as to how to solve the problem. Worse, time is quickly running out, and while Alek and Maggie are under extreme pressure from their superiors for being no closer to apprehending the thief, soon it becomes clear that there’s more than just our protagonists’ jobs on the line.

For all that Uncanny Collateral feels like your standard urban fantasy fare that doesn’t really bring anything new to the table, it was still a fascinating read and I had a rollicking good time with it. There’s a lot of pleasure and comfort in its familiarity, to tell the truth, and avid fans of UF should have no problems sinking their teeth into this one, especially if you enjoy series like Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles or Brandon Sanderson’s Legion, as those were the two series I was constantly reminded of as I was reading this.

McClellen also adopts a very slick, cool and no-nonsense voice when he writes from the perspective of Alek Fitz. Combined with the sympathetic backstory for the character, we have a main protagonist who is immediately likeable and endearing. His relationship with Maggie was also a joy to read about, and I especially enjoyed the closeness and the affection they have for each other, which featured very strongly in their easy back-and-forth banter.

Story-wise, the plot wasn’t anything to write home about, though to its credit, I found Uncanny Collateral super punchy, fast-paced, and entertaining as hell. While I can’t say I was expecting all that much out of a 150-page novella anyway, I was still very impressed. Some authors struggle with the short fiction format, but not Brian McClellan, who uses it to his advantage. Whether it’s heart-stopping action, a fascinating tidbit related to the world-building or characters, or a significant development that advances the plot, he ensures that something either interesting or important happens on every page. And most important of all, he is careful to never let any one of the book’s aspects wear out their welcome, such that there were no lulls, dragging scenes, or moments of boredom.

A quick and fun read overall, Uncanny Collateral was an impressively well put together urban fantasy tale that I actually managed to wolf down in about a day. Best of all, despite its fast-paced and vivacious narrative, this novella still went down incredibly smoothly. Highly recommended for UF fans looking for a bite-sized treat, or for readers looking for a little diversion in general. I can’t wait to go on another adventure with Alek and Maggie, if McClellan ends up writing more of these books.

Waiting on Wednesday 05/22/19

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

Find Me Their Bones by Sara Wolf (November 5, 2019 by Entangled: Teen)

I’ve been waiting impatiently for more news to this sequel to Bring Me Their Hearts (which, I might add, was a friggin’ awesome book) and now it finally has a cover to go along with its synopsis. I believe it has had a few release date changes already, so let’s hope this one is final.

“No one can save her.

In order to protect Prince Lucien d’Malvane’s heart, Zera had to betray him. Now, he hates the sight of her. Trapped in Cavanos as a prisoner of the king, she awaits the inevitable moment her witch severs their magical connection and finally ends her life.

But fate isn’t ready to give her up just yet.

With freedom coming from the most unlikely of sources, Zera is given a second chance at life as a Heartless. But it comes with a terrible price. As the king mobilizes his army to march against the witches, Zera must tame an elusive and deadly valkerax trapped in the tunnels underneath the city if she wants to regain her humanity.

Winning over a bloodthirsty valkerax? Hard. Winning back her friends before war breaks out? A little harder.

But a Heartless winning back Prince Lucien’s heart?

The hardest thing she’s ever done.”

Audiobook Review: The Favorite Daughter by Kaira Rouda

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

The Favorite Daughter by Kaira Rouda

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Thriller, Suspense

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Hardcover: Graydon House | Audiobook: Harlequin Audio (May 21, 2019)

Length: Hardcover: 368 pages | Audiobook: 9 hrs and 31 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Kathleen McInerney

Boy, this book is going to be a doozy to review. I mean, just how is one supposed to remain objective and impartial after spending 300+ pages inside the head of someone you think is completely delusional, despicable to the extreme, and unlikeable as all hell? Because that’s how I would describe Jane Harris, protagonist of The Favorite Daughter. Mother of the year, she is not. But then generally speaking, neither is she really a decent human being.

Before I get ahead of myself though, just a little background on the character and her story: Jane is an affluent forty-something woman living with her family in a swanky gated community in Orange County, California. By all appearances, she has the perfect life—or at least, she goes to great lengths to make sure everyone around her believes it. However, exactly one year ago, tragedy struck the family when oldest daughter Mary drowned in an accident after falling from a cliff into the ocean, and Jane has been grieving for the loss ever since.

But as the one-year anniversary of Mary’s death approaches, Jane is determined to show everyone that she is a new woman. At the upcoming Celebration of Life ceremony for Mary, she has a plan to turn everything around so that her husband David will see her in a new light and forget his late-night dalliances at the office. Their youngest daughter Betsy, who will be graduating high school in three days, will also have reason to be proud to call Jane mom. And if they still don’t wise up and appreciate her…well then, Jane will just have to show them they can’t get between her and what she wants without paying for the consequences.

All hail Kaira Rouda, queen of unreliable narrators! Needless to say, seeing the world through Jane’s eyes was a real trip. You could never be sure what was the truth, and what was merely our protagonist’s overblown opinion of herself. Though I suppose if there’s one thing we can be certain of, it’s that Jane loved Mary, and that the death of her “favorite daughter” really messed her up. So when an unknown person starts leaving notes for Jane, not so subtly hinting that Mary’s death was no accident, suddenly we have a delectable mystery on our hands.

Still, let’s go back and focus on Jane for a bit. What an unpleasant woman, but at the same time, I must applaud Rouda for writing a character so complex and capable of evoking such strange and complicated emotions from me. Mixed in with all the moments of “Wow, you’re nucking futs, lady” were also moments of tenderness where I truly felt sympathetic and pity for her situation. Heck, I even found myself cheering her on at some points. In spite of her many faults, she did lose a child, and the story did a good job making you wonder if she’d always been this horribly deluded and nasty, or if Mary’s death made her snap. Let’s just say it was immensely satisfying to see how the answer played into the bigger picture at the end.

But that also brings me to the biggest problem I had with this book, which is that The Favorite Daughter became a fairly predictable read at the end of the day and it’s the main reason why I’m not giving it a higher rating. This is my second book by Kaira Rouda after Best Day Ever, and to be honest, it feels as though she has reused many of the same themes and tactics. As a result, you could see that “twist” ending coming a mile away, which robbed the story of a lot of suspense, and without that crucial element, all you’re left with is Jane’s over-the-top whackadoodle narrative. Not that it wasn’t fun while it lasted, being in her maniacal and egotistical little mind, but I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t hoped for a bigger bombshell of an ending than the one we were given.

Had I not been able to expect what was coming, I might have enjoyed this one a lot more, though if you’ve never read anything else by the author, you probably won’t experience the same issues. If you are a fan of slow-burn mystery thrillers with unreliable narrators and an atmosphere of edginess and foreboding, The Favorite Daughter offers a situation where what you see on the surface is never how things truly are. Devious and manipulative Jane Harris might prove a very difficult protagonist to endure, but she’s also one of the most fun and interesting characters I’ve ever read—the kind to show you why you should never trust what you see or hear.

Audiobook Comments: I was also fortunate to be offered a chance to review the audiobook of The Favorite Daughter, and Kathleen McInerney was such an entertaining reader! I don’t think too many narrators can pull off someone like Jane Harris, but she did so in a very convincing manner with all the perfect inflections and tones for the character, adding so much more to the experience.

Book Review: One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence

One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Book 1 of Impossible Times

Publisher: 47North (May 1, 2019)

Length: 204 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Having only read Mark Lawrence’s fantasy before this point, I had thought The Book of the Ancestor was a departure for him, but One Word Kill was truly an entirely different beast. It was also a novel I inhaled in about two sittings. Despite it being a world apart from the kinds of books the author is generally known for, and the fact it has time traveling elements (which we all know can be tricky), this was a surprisingly easy and entertaining read.

The story takes place in the 1980s, following 15-year-old protagonist Nick Hayes and his small group of friends who get together every week for their role-playing sessions of Dungeons & Dragons. In fact, other than the love for the game, the teenagers have very little in common between them. First aside from Nick, there’s Elton, a funny guy and a healthy skeptic, who as the game master can always be counted on to bring the geeky humor and banter. Then there’s Simon, an awkward and quiet kid who can sometimes let his emotions get the better of him. Next is John, who is rich, handsome and charming, and even though he only hangs out with his “nerdy” friends in secret, deep down the cocky teenager has a heart of gold. And finally, there’s Mia, the newest member of the group and the only girl. Mia has a complicated past, but she’s cool, she’s smart, and in spite of himself, Nick finds himself completely smitten.

But at the beginning of the book, Nick receives the devastating news that he has terminal cancer, and the consequences and the events following his diagnosis bring them together in solidarity in a way that no one could have possibly imagined. For one thing, shortly after Nick finds out he is dying, he discovers that he is being followed by a stranger, who nonetheless feels familiar to him in a way he can’t explain. This mysterious man, who calls himself Demus, claims to know the future, and that in order to survive the cancer and save his friend Mia from grave danger, Nick and his friends must help him with an extremely difficult and extremely top secret mission—like, we’re talking James Bond spy-level kind of shit. And yet, although everything Demus says sounds crazy, Nick is inclined to believe him. For one thing, the man somehow knows things, things that shouldn’t be possible to know, and if there’s a chance he can beat the cancer, or any chance he can also save Mia from certain death, Nick knows that he has to try.

If you’ve ever taken a gander at Mark Lawrence’s author profile, you probably already know he’s a crazy smart guy—a literal rocket scientist—and he’s also had experience dealing with technology that requires top level government secret clearance. So, I think it’s relatively safe to say he knows his stuff. Perhaps that’s also why, despite all the wild and far out WTFery going on in this book, One World Kill still somehow managed to feel grounded and convincing. The plot and its ideas are also relatively easy to follow, which in my experience isn’t always the case when it comes to time travel stories and the reason why so many can be hit or miss for me. Being geared towards YA though, One World Kill contains all the strangeness and complexity of the time travel subgenre but still comes across very accessible and reader-friendly, a testament to Lawrence’s ability to balance his storytelling and to know the audience he’s writing for.

Due to the setting and the camaraderie between the protagonist and his group of friends, it’s also perhaps inevitable that parallels are drawn to certain books by Stephen King, or to movies and TV shows like E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Stranger Things. Indeed, there’s definitely this nostalgic and almost magical aura surrounding One Word Kill, a sense that we are only limited by what we can imagine. As well, this novel doesn’t feel like any time travel story I’ve read before, and honestly, I think it’s because Lawrence never allows the tech and science-y bits to gain the foreground, focusing instead on the human aspects, i.e. the lives of Nick and his friends. As a result, this story plays out like a very personal drama, to the point where pigeonholing it into sci-fi, time travel, or into any kind of category almost feels disingenuous, cheapening the experience. This is because more than anything else, this one’s about the characters, and it makes you care about their wants and dreams.

All told, One Word Kill was very different from what I am used to from the author, but it is now up there with some of my favorites from him. Despite its short length and YA vibes, this book isn’t just all about geeky fun and secret heist action, for it is also a character-first story that packs an emotional punch, combining cheerful sweetness and poignant feeling in equal measure. If this is what we can expect from the next installment, it’s going to be awesome.

YA Weekend Audio: The Haunted by Danielle Vega

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

The Haunted by Danielle Vega

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3 of 5 stars

Genre: Horror, Paranormal, Young Adult

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Listening Library (June 4, 2019)

Length: 7 hrs and 23 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Holly Linneman

Even though I love reading YA horror, I know enough about the genre conventions to not expect that much in the way of thrills and chills. Still, from an author being promoted as “YA’s answer to Stephen King”, I did originally think The Haunted was going to be a lot more frightening or, at the very least, somewhat spookier. Instead, I was presented with a rather tame paranormal novel about a girl who moves into a haunted house, but most of the plot actually revolved around her social relationships and boys. Not that there’s really anything wrong with that, but I wish I’d had the chance to adjust my expectations before I started.

The Haunted follows Hendricks Becker-O’Malley, a teenager who is determined to begin her new life with a clean slate in the small town her parents moved them to following an incident back at her old high school. For you see, Hendricks had thought she was dating the perfect guy, until an incident on prom night made him show his true colors. Now she realized she had been moving too fast and had allowed herself to fall in love with someone without knowing them at all—a mistake she vows she was never going to make again. Which is why, at her new high school, Hendricks has decided to lie low and take things slow, even though shortly after her arrival, one of the most popular guys has already started showing interest in asking her out.

From her new circle of friends, Hendricks also learns more about the fixer-upper that her family has recently moved into, called the old Steele House. Apparently, its bloody history has made it something of a local legend, with the townspeople whispering that the house is haunted because of the infamous murder-suicide that took place in it not too long ago. Hendricks, however, not being the type who takes much stock in ghost stories, isn’t too bothered by the rumors—that is, until she starts having these strange visions and hearing the disturbing voices. Not wanting to worry her parents, who already think she’s suffering from post-traumatic stress from what happened with her ex-boyfriend, Hendricks decides to keep what she saw and heard to herself. But then she meets her neighbor Eddie, the town bad boy who has had his own tragic history with the Steele House. After hearing about his experiences, she begins to wonder if her house might be haunted after all, especially when her baby brother suffers a horrific accident in the upstairs bedroom. Together with Eddie, Hendricks must get to the bottom of Steele House’s mystery and find out what its resident ghosts want before more of her loved ones get hurt—or worse.

As a horror novel and a ghost story, I have to say The Haunted was a wide miss for me. Up until maybe the very end, it just wasn’t that scary or even mildly creepy at all. In fact, if you’re an avid fan of horror, this is probably going to feel pretty cheesy and clichéd, presenting the reader with a formulaic plot and an avalanche of familiar genre tropes, such as catching a flash of something that isn’t really there in a mirror, or like all the glass in a room shattering at the same time. In many ways, this felt a lot like the literary version of a B-horror made-for-TV movie—which I guess has its perks, if you’re into that kind of thing. To be sure, stories like that have no shortage of interest and amusement, but then you also have to accept that the overall experience will be fairly predictable and not that deep.

I also wish the author had developed her characters a bit more. To be honest, I didn’t really get the sense that Hendricks was a genuinely well-rounded individual at all, because the story focused so much on her romantic relationships, using them to define her as a person. All we know about her past, for example, is her situation with Grayson, her ex-boyfriend. Similarly, in her new school in the present, most of what occupies her mind is whether or not she should be going out with Connor, the boy who shows interest in her. I just about threw out my back from cringing so hard when she started waxing poetic about missing the feeling of having someone who loves you most in the world. After finishing this book, I also realized I actually had no idea of this girl’s interests, hobbies, or aspirations…well, other than finding love again, that is. I mean, is this really all there is to Hendricks Becker-O’Malley? Apparently so.

Still, from purely an entertainment value standpoint, The Haunted wasn’t too bad. Definitely decent enough, even if it doesn’t set itself too far apart or rise much above the average when it comes to YA. While it didn’t offer me much in the way of horror, if you’re looking for a ghostly read that is light and quick, I think it will do just fine.

Audiobook Comments: Holly Linneman narrates the audiobook for The Haunted, delivering a good performance which added an extra dimension to Hendricks’ character, despite the limited development the author has given her personality. Overall, she was also easy to listen to, which made this book fly by.

Book Review: Little Darlings by Melanie Golding

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

Little Darlings by Melanie Golding

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Horror

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books (April 30, 2019)

Length: 312 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Little Darlings is exactly the type of mystery/thriller I love to read, containing just a touch of the paranormal and enough creepiness to push this one into almost horror territory. Best of all, it features allusions to the changeling myth, the idea that fairies could steal a baby away, leaving behind an altered or possibly evil simulacrum in its place.

This is the story of Lauren Tranter, a new mom to twin boys Morgan and Riley. The birth was difficult with complications, further adding to her exhaustion and frazzled nerves. One night, alone during her recovery at the maternity ward, Lauren is convinced that a strange woman was trying to get into her room and take her babies, even though everyone, from her husband to the hospital staff, are telling her that the experience was all in her mind, a symptom of her overtiredness and trauma. But Lauren knows what she saw, and the memory of the event has made her so anxious and skittish that even after returning home, she is afraid to leave the house or let her boys out of her sight for a second.

Finally, her husband Patrick has had enough, persuading Lauren that she has to start going out and seeing people again, which would help get her back into the normal routine of life. Knowing deep down he is right, Lauren takes his advice and takes the now six-week old twins out in their stroller for a walk—a miscalculation that she ends up regretting forever. All it took was a moment of distraction, a few minutes where Lauren’s attention was elsewhere while she rested on a park bench, and suddenly, Morgan and Riley were gone. Thankfully, the police quickly mobilized a search and found the twins by the river before anything could happen, and a person of interest was also taken into custody for the abduction. But rather than the joy of being reunited with her babies, Lauren feels instead a terror and a revulsion when she looks down into the twins’ faces. She knows with a mother’s instincts and every fiber of her being that these are NOT her sons. It is as she feared; the strange woman at the hospital had done what she promised she would do—steal away her babies and replace them with her own unnatural, inhuman spawn. Lauren doesn’t understand why no one else can see this, but everyone thinks that the pressures must have finally gotten to her, that the twin’s brief disappearance was what broke her mind. Only Joanne Harper, a determined Detective Sergeant who had been the original officer to respond to Lauren’s emergency call at the hospital seems willing to consider the possibility that not all is as it seems.

To begin, I have to say that when it comes to books, I don’t really scare that easily. The written word isn’t like the movies; without any physical images, it falls to great writing and a very talented author to generate the same kind of visuals in my mind. I can probably count on one hand the number of books that have managed to truly and genuinely creep me out. Now though, I can add Little Darlings to these exclusive ranks. Seriously, what is it about children and babies that make them such an effectively terrifying trope when it comes to the horror genre? And twins, especially creepy twins! There were scenes in this book that would have made me run screaming from the room if I ever had them happened to me. Reading this one in the dead of night was probably not the best idea, but at the same time I relished in the thrill of being scared, and some parts were just so gripping I could not put the book down even though it was well past my bedtime.

I think one big reason why Little Darlings got to me so much was my ability to relate to Lauren. My heart broke to read about all those complex emotions in her, which transported me back to those uncertain months following the birth of my oldest, when I was a nervous and paranoid wreck.  Let’s be clear, there’s no way I could have read this novel when I was a new mom—it’d be too disturbing, and I’d be waaaaay too freaked out. I likely would have been driven to new heights of terror, for there are things in here that are the stuff of nightmares for any parent. I am fine now, but I still remember with uneasy clarity the horrible postpartum anxiety I experienced, the worries and fear that I would fail miserably as a mother and that I was doing everything wrong. And I still spent most of the time reading this book with a heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach, and that’s when I wasn’t also getting the heebie-jeebies.

Bottom line, I had a good time reading this book. Little Darlings was chilling and addictive, a fantastic thriller if you want both a touch of horror and some mystery in one neat package. Great characterization, atmosphere and writing in this one! Recommended.

Friday Face-Off: Fantasy Beast

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:

“The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the Shadow!”
a cover featuring a FANTASY BEAST

Mogsy’s Pick:

The Curse of the Wendigo by Rick Yancey

The fantasy beast I’ve chosen for the theme is week is…the Wendigo! And what a frightening creature of dread and darkness it is, described as mythical man-eating monster which may appear human-like in its characteristics. Many Native American cultures also portray the cannibalistic Wendigos as the embodiment of insatiable greed and excess, gluttonous but also extremely thin to the point of starvation at the same time. The Curse of the Wendigo is the second Monstrumologist novel by Rick Yancey, following the series’ young narrator Will Henry as he accompanies the eccentric Dr. Warthrop into the heart of the Brutal Canadian wilderness in search of more monsters. Let’s take a look at the covers:

From left to right:
Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers (2010) – Gallery/Saga Press (2015) – Persian Edition (2017)

German Edition (2012) – Korean Edition (2017)

Russian Edition (2012) – Russian Edition (2014) – Indonesian Edition (2017)

 

Winner:

Lots of creeptastic ones to choose from today, but my favorite might be the German edition because of the really striking image of the Wendigo against the backdrop of the full moon as well as the amazing atmosphere and the cool art style. Though I must say the Indonesian edition is a close second.

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

Audiobook Review: Outland by Dennis E. Taylor

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

Outland by Dennis E. Taylor

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction, Apocalyptic

Series: Book 1

Publisher: Audible Studios (May 16, 2019)

Length: 10 hrs and 29 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Ray Porter

Before The Singularity Trap and before the Bobiverse, there was Outland, Dennis E. Taylor’s self-published debut that is now getting a re-issue and making its way to the audio format as an Audible Original. Although the story itself a little rough and unrefined, embedded here are the seeds of the author’s style that would emerge in his later works.

However, unlike Taylor’s spacefaring novels, Outland takes place in the present day or in the near future, and the theme is apocalyptic. Following an experiment gone wrong, a group of students in a university physics lab accidentally stumbles across a new technology allowing them to open portals to other dimensions. As it turns out, one of these dimensions is an alternate Earth very similar to our own, except in this particular timeline, humans never evolved. Students being students though, rather than take their discovery public, the group decides instead to use their newfound portal technology in a get-rich-quick scheme, coming up with a harebrained plan to pan for gold on this pristine and uninhabited Earth. It would be easy money, after all, as there is enough gold in some parts of the Black Hills that would make each and every one of them a millionaire overnight.

But meanwhile, disturbing reports are coming out of Yellowstone National Park about the area’s increased volcanic activity and tectonic actions, and soon it becomes clear that an eruption of its supervolcano is all but inevitable. It has long been hypothesized than an eruption that big would end civilization in the United States as we know it, and indeed, the amount of ash alone would be enough to bury large swaths of the country under three feet of the stuff, not to mention the way it would block out the sun and cause damage to all kinds of infrastructure and equipment. Soon enough, the situation proves even more devastating, and our protagonists are forced to abandon their gold panning ventures in Outland, the name they’ve given to the wild version of Earth they’ve discovered. Refocusing their efforts on saving lives, they only have a small window of time to bring as many survivors as they can through the portal and gather enough supplies to hunker down for the long haul.

Kind of like We Are Legion (We Are Bob), the narrative style of Outland somewhat resembles an extended and episodic world-building exercise where the most interesting things actually happen after a crucial event earlier on in the story. In this case, it’s the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano, making this one both an apocalyptic tale as well as one of survival. From that standpoint, things don’t get any better than this. There are sci-fi elements too, of course, but these are light, serving more as a backdrop for what truly matters, i.e. what the characters actually do to stay alive and speculation as to what would happen to the Earth and human populations around the world if such a major natural disaster did take place. That said, I wouldn’t into his one expecting the thrills of a disaster movie nor too much detail when it comes to the science and technology behind the premise, but at the very least, the story is convincing enough to sustain a high level of tension and an immediate sense of danger.

The humor also makes this one supremely readable. Dennis E. Taylor definitely falls into the category of geek writers which includes authors like Andy Weir or Ernest Cline, as evidenced by the profusion of nerdy jokes and pop-culture references littering the pages of Outland. Despite all the destruction, chaos and mass death, the book still had me chuckling in places, and whether you view it as a weakness or not, what we have here is a light, popcorn-y read. This means yes, the plot can be a little clichéd at times, and the characters a bit cookie-cutter and the dialogue a bit cheesy. Admittedly, there’s nothing too emotionally deep or complicated here, but there’s no denying it’s a lot of fun.

Bottom line, if you’re looking for a good mix of humor and danger in your apocalyptic fiction, consider checking out Outland. While it’s nothing mind-blowing, I did enjoy the colony building aspects and all the “what if” scenarios. I’m glad to hear there will be a follow-up, as I’m curious to keep reading to find out what happens next.

Audiobook Comments: As always, Dennis E. Taylor and Ray Porter make a great team, with the latter’s narration perfectly complementing the former’s writing style. Not only did Porter’s amazing voices and accents bring our characters to life, his performance also transported listeners to a world in which one feels fully immersed. If you’re looking for an addictive and compelling audiobook to listen to, Outland is one I would highly recommend.