Waiting on Wednesday 08/17/22

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

Empire of Exiles by Erin M. Evans (November 8, 2022 by Orbit Books)

I love epic fantasy books about ragtag teams of unlikely heroes who get together on a quest. Oh and look, there’s not long to wait for this one!

“Twenty-seven years ago, a Duke with a grudge led a ruthless coup against the empire of Semilla, killing thousands. He failed. The Duke was executed, a terrifyingly powerful sorcerer was imprisoned, and an unwilling princess disappeared.

The empire moved on.

Now, when Quill, an apprentice scribe, arrives in the capital city, he believes he’s on a simple errand for another pompous noble: fetch ancient artifacts from the magical Imperial Archives. He’s always found his apprenticeship to be dull work. But these aren’t just any artifacts — these are the instruments of revolution, the banners under which the Duke lead his coup.

Just as the artifacts are unearthed, the city is shaken by a brutal murder that seems to have been caused by a weapon not seen since the days of rebellion.

Since Quill is the only reliable witness to the murder, and no one in power believes his story, he must join with a young mage, a seasoned archivist, and a disillusioned detective to find the truth of the attack. And what they uncover will be the key to saving the empire – or destroying it for good.”

Audiobook Review: Just Like Home by Sarah Gailey

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

Just Like Home by Sarah Gailey

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars 

Genre: Horror

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Macmillan Audio (July 19, 2022)

Length: 10 hrs and 2 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Xe Sands

Sarah Gailey is one of the most versatile authors in SFF today, and when I saw that she was writing a horror novel, my first reaction was “Hell yes!” You never know what you’ll get with her books, so I was filled with curiosity and no small amount of excitement when I picked up Just Like Home.

The story follows protagonist Vera who is returning to her childhood home after getting news that her mother is dying. Twelve years since her return to Crowder House, being back is just as unsettling as she remembered, but her mother Daphne is practically unrecognizable, the illness eating at her from the inside out. While Vera prepares to get Daphne’s affairs settled, she is also distracted by her mother’s houseguest, an artist named James Duvall living in the backyard shed. His presence is not only uncomfortable but also disturbing, as he is paying Vera’s mother to live off the essence of the house, slowly feeding on the psychic dark energies and bad memories like some nasty parasite.

And indeed there is darkness and bad memories aplenty at Crowder House. As the story progresses, it is eventually revealed that Vera’s beloved father had actually led a terrible double life, and that this house he had built with his own two hands was in fact a place he kept all his secrets. There was a reason why Vera was never allowed in the basement, and years after her father was arrested, she still struggles to come to terms with everything that happened.

Just Like Home was as unsettling as I expected and wanted, but the story was also oddly twisted—quite literally at times. By that, I mean for the most part the plot was easy enough to follow, and yet the addition of flashbacks and the use of unconventional tense made for some confusing moments. Still, the revelations involving Vera’s father were teased rather effectively, and it was quite a shocker when all the details eventually came out. For one, the alternating timelines were a good format juxtaposing the carefree father-daughter moments with the horrors that we learned the man was capable of.

That said, pacing was a bit sluggish. The timeline switches along with Vera’s thought processes and the author’s own provocatively expressive prose made Just Like Home slow to take off and unravel. I also frequently became exasperated with the characters, especially Vera, and there seemed to be no end to threads of drama, whether they related to the main story or not. A prime example was James Duvall, who seemed solely there to be a distraction or a time filler. Even when all was said than done, I did not really care for his role in the book or the reasons why he was included.

If you love surprises and twists though, this might just be the kind of horror novel for you. Personally speaking, it also helped going in with the expectation of a supernatural element. By design, the structure of the story was disjointed and uneven anyway, thus the ending’s repercussions did not come across as jarring as they could have. I also love a nice touch of the speculative and I have to say being familiar with Gailey’s style and her penchant for “anything goes” definitely helped a lot.

Ultimately, Just Like Home ended up being a weirder and much more cerebral novel that I thought, but sometimes the best horror stories are those that don’t follow conventional rules or require a roadmap. If you’re feeling brave and adventurous, I would go ahead and give it a look. Kudos to also one of my favorite narrators, the very talented Xe Sands and the excellent job she did bringing the audiobook to life.

Bookshelf Roundup: 08/14/22: 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!

From the awesome team at Minotaur Books, I received a finished copy of Stay Awake by Megan Goldin. Her books are like the perfect thriller escape, and I look forward to taking this one along with me when I go on vacation later in the week.

Thank you also to Angry Robot for a review copy of Silver Queendom by Dan Koboldt. I’ve enjoyed the author’s work before and I’m really interested in checking out his take on a heist fantasy.

Earlier this month from Orbit Books I also received a finished copy of The Oleander Sword by Tasha Suri, sequel to The Jasmine Throne, which was a great read. The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy by Megan Bannen was another arrival from the publisher, which I know I’ll pick up whenever I’m in the mood for a lighthearted fantasy romance.

Finally, courtesy of Orbit’s sister imprint Redhook I received The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope, described as a historical fantasy weaving together African American folk magic, romance, and a daring heist.

In the digital arrivals, a big thanks to both HarperAudio and Penguin Random House Audio for my awesome audiobook haul: Babel by R.F. KuangNumber One Fan by Meg ElisonBindle Punk Bruja by Desideria MesaAll Good People Here by Ashley FlowersSoul Taken by Patricia BriggsSmall Angels by Lauren Owen, and These Fleeting Shadows by Kate Alice Marshall. A good mix of thriller, fantasy, and horror!

Reviews

Old Country by Matt Query and Harrison Query (4 of 5 stars)
Upgrade by Blake Crouch (3.5 of 5 stars)

What I’ve Been Reading

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!

Book Review: Old Country by Matt Query and Harrison Query

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

Old Country by Matt Query and Harrison Query

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Horror

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (July 26, 2022)

Length: 352 pages

Author Information: Website

I’ve always loved the mountains and joke all the time that if I ever win the lottery, I’d buy a ranch out west and spend my days raising horses or something. But damn, Old Country freaked me out so bad, I’ve never been more glad that I live in East Coast suburbia, far from where all the creepy shit in this book takes place. If I were the characters, I’d probably never step foot outside my front door again.

The story follows Marine veteran Harry Blakemore and his wife Sasha, who have left their old lives behind in order to pursue their dream of living off the land in rural country. As the book begins, the couple has just purchased a house nestled in the beautiful wilderness of Teton Valley, Idaho—forty acres of meadow and forest just to themselves and their beloved golden retriever Dash.

At first, the Blakemores are thrilled. Their new home is everything they’ve ever wanted, and their closest neighbors, Dan and Lucy Steiner, are also the nicest, sweetest people who are more than willing to help them get settled. That is, until the Steiners come bearing some strange advice. They claim they are not alone in this valley, that the land is also home to a malevolent spirit that will manifest itself in different ways each season, and unless Harry and Sasha do exactly as they are instructed, bad things will happen. This initially angers Harry, who thinks the Steiners are pulling some sick prank. Refusing to listen further, he throws the old couple off his property, intent to put everything they told him out of his mind. But then, when spring arrives, the first manifestation of the evil spirit materializes exactly as foretold. Harry and Sasha realize everything the Steiners had told them was true, but unfortunately, it’s much too late for any regrets.

What a fun ride this was! All I can I say it, the plot was simple, yet effective. Think of Old Country as a sort of haunted house story, except the setting is a vast expanse of picturesque mountainous wilderness. The authors juxtapose the gorgeous environment with truly disconcerting scenarios of horror, which has the desired effect of making these moments even more frightening and anxiety-inducing. As the year progresses, each new season only brings fresh terrors and more dangerous and extreme situations for Harry and Sasha to endure.

The straightforwardness and simplicity of the story also worked in its favor. This is not a long book, and it is pretty much all meat and no fat. And a good thing too because this limited the length of the frequent flashbacks and made them a little less distracting. Harry was a Marine deployed to Afghanistan, and his experiences there led to PTSD. Until he met Sasha, his life had been stuck in a downward spiral. The authors did a good job establishing the couple’s relationship, convincing the reader of the love they have for each other and making you believe they are an inseparable team. This could only have been achieved by these snippets of backstory, so I was happy we had them.

If anything, the characters might have been written too well, and I sometimes found Harry’s personality to be a bit too much. While his stubbornness and difficult attitude made sense given the things he has seen and lived through, it often became a crutch for the story, with the plot filled with questionable decisions on his part, many of which just seemed to be there to push things along.

Still, on the whole, Old Country was a very enjoyable horror novel, especially impressive considering it started as a Reddit story on r/nosleep, and I’m encouraged to know that nowadays more and more great stories can come from unexpected places. Horror lovers, you will want to check this one out.

Waiting on Wednesday 08/10/22

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

Emily Wilde’s Encyclopedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett (January 10, 2023 by Del Rey Books)

These days I’ve been feeling in the mood for more light-hearted fantasy, which perhaps is why the title and description of this book really spoke to me when I recently came across it while browsing Goodreads. It could be good!

“A curmudgeonly professor journeys to a small town in the far north to study faerie folklore and discovers dark fae magic, friendship, and love, in this heartwarming and enchanting fantasy.

Cambridge professor Emily Wilde is good at many things: She is the foremost expert on the study of faeries. She is a genius scholar and a meticulous researcher who is writing the world’s first encyclopaedia of faerie lore. But Emily Wilde is not good at people. She could never make small talk at a party–or even get invited to one. And she prefers the company of her books, her dog, Shadow, and the Fair Folk to other people.

So when she arrives in the hardscrabble village of Hrafnsvik, Emily has no intention of befriending the gruff townsfolk. Nor does she care to spend time with another new arrival: her dashing and insufferably handsome academic rival Wendell Bambleby, who manages to charm the townsfolk, get in the middle of Emily’s research, and utterly confound and frustrate her.

But as Emily gets closer and closer to uncovering the secrets of the Hidden Ones–the most elusive of all faeries–lurking in the shadowy forest outside the town, she also finds herself on the trail of another mystery: Who is Wendell Bambleby, and what does he really want? To find the answer, she’ll have to unlock the greatest mystery of all–her own heart.”

Book Review: Upgrade by Blake Crouch

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

Upgrade by Blake Crouch

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Ballantine Books (June 12, 2022)

Length: 352 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

If you’re a Blake Crouch fan, you’re probably going to want to read Upgrade. However, I will say, while I had a good time with this book, I don’t think it was the author’s best. The summer blockbuster vibe is still strong with this one, bolstered by high-octane thrills, but the premise itself simply was not as compelling to me as his previous works.

The story follows Logan Ramsay, who works for the Gene Protection Agency, a government organization that oversees gene editing laws and enforces them against rogue scientists. Ironic, considering Logan’s mother, the brilliant geneticist Miriam Ramsay, was the whole reason why such an organization is needed. Her unchecked ambition and lack of care caused the deaths of millions, but now she is dead, and her disgraced son who had helped her is now working to take down black market gene modification operations and the people trying to alter the human genome.

But during a raid on one such illegal lab, Logan inadvertently becomes exposed to a viral agent that infects his genetic code, transforming him in ways he could never have imagined. The changes have made him smarter, stronger, and better in every way—and in spite of himself, Logan begins to see himself and the future of humanity in a whole different light. To complicate things, the dark shadow of his mother’s legacy has also returned to haunt him, as Logan discovers that Miriam had dreamed of engineering such an upgrade in a plan to preserve the human race. Now at a crossroads, he has to decide whether to destroy the virus or share its effects with the world.

Upgrade is what I would call serviceable sci-fi thriller, but from Crouch, I confess I was expecting a little bit more. However, I found the setting of a near-future dystopian to be utterly engaging, reading about a world where gene modification technology has run completely rampant and almost anything you can imagine is possible. As with any industry that becomes a lucrative business though, there are bad actors who will throw caution and ethics to the wind, creating all kinds of problems. As wonderous as some of these scientific breakthroughs can be, any mistakes can also prove costly and utterly horrific. It’s probably no surprise then, that a huge part of the story’s appeal is the “what if” aspect.

I also enjoyed the character of Logan Ramsay, whom despite his checkered past is really just your average everyday guy trying to make the best out of his situation and get on with his life. In fact, that pretty much describes most of Crouch’s protagonists, which is why his books are so entertaining because they so often make you ask yourself, “Gee, what if this happened to me? What would I do?” Perhaps that is also why, once Logan’s character became increasingly “upgraded” and sounding less and less relatable, the story began to lose me. Don’t get me wrong, at no time did I find the story boring, but occasionally the pacing would try my patience, with random infodumps coming out of nowhere, or writing that could get a little too technical at times, making Upgrade feel a bit less user-friendly than the author’s other books.

Furthermore, this doesn’t feel like his most polished work. Sure, certain concepts were extremely well-developed, but there were other ideas that seemed glossed over. Admittedly, more than once, I also got the impression Crouch was rushed, where rather than take the time to go into detail, he would fall back on genre conventions to do the work for him. A lot of the action scenes had a perfunctory feel to them, all flash and not much originality. Readers looking for deeper questions to ponder will probably be disappointed as well, as I feel the novel’s key themes of “Should humans play God?” are pretty well-trodden ground at this point.

Still, there’s no denying Blake Crouch’s talent for writing reliable entertainment, and fans of sci-fi thrillers will probably enjoy Upgrade, especially if you are new to his work. Having read Dark Matter and Recursion before this though, Upgrade is probably my least favorite of his books, and yet at the same time, I’m not sorry I read it. It might not have been phenomenal, but it was quick and fun, and sometimes that’s all you need.

Bookshelf Roundup: 08/07/22: 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!

This week, a couple exciting arrivals from the amazing team at Tor Books and Tordotcom: finished copies of The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean, which I’m reading right now, and A Half-Built Garden by Ruthanna Emrys, a tale of first contact with aliens that takes place in my neck of the woods. With thanks also to Del Rey for a review copy of The Art of Prophecy by Wesley Chu which I’m hoping to get to next!

Courtesy of Minotaur Books, I also received an ARC of Blackwater Falls by Ausma Zehanat Khan, the first book of her new detective thriller series. I’ve read a bit of the author’s fantasy, so I’m curious to see her write in another genre. And with thanks to Scholastic Press, I received an ARC of Two Degrees by Alan Gratz, whose middle grade books seem to be all the rage these days. My daughter is a huge fan, and seeing the excitement in her eyes when this arrived made me feel like a million bucks. She’s reading it now, who knows, maybe we’ll get a guest review from her later this fall!

The beginning of the month always brings lots of audio goodies. With thanks to Macmillan Audio for listening copies of Master of Iron by Tricia Levenseller, the highly anticipated sequel to Blade of Secrets, as well as Face by Joma West, a dystopian tale of a world where “saving face” is all that matters. From HarperAudio, I was also thrilled to receive Clown in a Cornfield 2: Frendo Lives by Adam Cesare, because I thought the first one was pretty fun.

With thanks to Hachette Audio, I also received Ithaca by Claire North, a novel of Greek mythology. Thank you also to Recorded Books for a listening copy of Shutter by Ramona Emerson, a supernatural thriller horror set in New Mexico’s Navajo Nation. I also decided to take a chance on A Broken Blade by Melissa Blair, mostly because I was attracted to the high fantasy setting. Huge thanks to Blackstone Publishing for the opportunity.

Reviews

Black Mouth by Ronald Malfi (5 of 5 stars)
The Swell by Allie Reynolds (4.5 of 5 stars)

Roundup Highlights:

What I’ve Been Reading

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!

Book Review: Black Mouth by Ronald Malfi

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

Black Mouth by Ronald Malfi

Mogsy’s Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Genre: Horror

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Titan Books (July 19, 2022)

Length: 400 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Admittedly I was a little nervous coming to Black Mouth, as I absolutely adored Come With Me by Ronald Malfi last year. After all, there’s always the real possibility that a beloved author’s next book won’t live up to expectations, but whew, I can assure you this was definitely not the case here. In the end, I think I enjoyed Black Mouth just as much, if not even more.

The story follows Jamie Warren, who for nearly twenty years has been haunted by a darkness from his past. In the time since, he’s been struggling with alcohol addiction and trying to hold down a steady job, but at last, he is forced to stop running, brought back to his hometown of Sutton’s Quay, Virginia following the news of his mother’s suicide. With her gone, Jamie now becomes the primary caretaker for his disabled younger brother Dennis, whom police had found wandering the streets alone.

Back in Sutton’s Quay, Jamie also reconnects with his childhood friends Mia and Clay. The three of them have a lot of history, having gone through the same traumatic experience that had driven Jamie away. As children, Jamie, Dennis, Mia, and Clay used to play in the woods near the town’s old abandoned mine near the Warren farm, where they encountered a vagrant who befriended them and entertained with magic tricks. But as the Magician’s interactions with them became increasingly stranger and more disturbing, he eventually manipulated the impressionable children to commit a terrible act, and to this day Jamie has not been able to forgive himself.

Now though, another murder has made the news, that of a young girl stabbed to death by a friend. The details surrounding the case immediately catch Jamie’s attention, as the circumstances sound eerily similar to what he and his friends went through two decades earlier. But surely, after all these years, the Magician must be gone? And yet, when Mia shows them all a photo that she came across which was only taken a few days ago, the identity of the man in it is unmistakable. The Magician appears to have returned, as impossible as it seems, and he is still targeting young victims.

This story is told through various viewpoints, but Jamie is our most present and first-person narrator. The past is woven into the present as he brings us back to that terrible summer in flashback chapters detailing how he and Dennis and his friends first met the Magician. The structure of Black Mouth is very reminiscent of works by Stephen King, as many reviewers have noted, where the plot follows a group of characters reconnecting as adults after shared trauma involving a childhood monster. And for all the Magician looked, acted, and spoke like a man, he was indeed a monster—a predator seeking out vulnerable children with innocent minds to bend and twist to his purposes. If you’re an avid horror fiction fan who prefers the element of creeping dread over more overt devices, I think you’re gong to enjoy this novel very much. At times the tensions got to be almost unbearable, watching our four young protagonists become beguiled by the Magician’s spell knowing you were helpless to stop it from happening.

In the present timeline, the suspense was just as taut and frightful. The questions surrounding the case of a young girl killing her friend are suggestive of the infamous 2014 case where two 12-year-olds lured their friend into the woods and stabbed her 19 times in an attempt to appease the urban legend known as the Slender Man, and in fact the story in Black Mouth also makes mention to this case and draws many parallels to the scenario with the Magician. There are strong, very obvious supernatural vibes in Black Mouth, but at the same time they are also subtle enough that non-paranormal readers won’t be left floundering. Malfi balances the resolution with earthly explanations as well as a more metaphysical aspect that might be a little tough to grasp, especially near the end when Jamie faces his demons both literally and figuratively, but for the most part all the threads came together beautifully in a way that felt satisfying.

Some might find the pacing slow, but I think for the kind of story Black Mouth wants to be, it was just perfect. I knew from reading Come With Me that Malfi is the kind of writer who enjoys drawing out the suspense, but also knows when to stop just shy of making the reader start to lose interest. There’s always something happening on the page, whether it’s character development or building up the setting, even during the quieter moments. Good things come to those who wait, and never is this more true than in this gem of a novel which captures the finer points of what makes an excellent and complex tale of horror.

Waiting on Wednesday 08/03/22

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

Murder at Haven’s Rock by Kelley Armstrong (February 21, 2023 by Minotaur Books)

I am beside myself with excitement! The author’s Rockton series may have officially ended, but I was glad to learn we haven’t seen the last of the characters yet. Murder at Haven’s Rock is what appears to be the first book of a new spinoff series.

“New York Times bestselling author Kelley Armstrong’s Rockton Novels had one of the most unique towns in crime fiction. Murder at Haven’s Rock is a spinoff, a fresh start… with a few new dangers that threaten everything before it even begins.

Haven’s Rock, Yukon. Population: 0

Deep in the Yukon wilderness, a town is being built. A place for people to disappear, a fresh start from a life on the run. Haven’s Rock isn’t the first town of this kind, something detective Casey Duncan and her husband, Sheriff Eric Dalton, know first hand. They met in the original town of Rockton. But greed and deception led the couple to financing a new refuge for those in need. This time around, they get to decide which applicants are approved for residency.

There’s only one rule in Haven’s Rock: stay out of the forest. When two of the town’s construction crew members break it and go missing, Casey and Eric are called in ahead of schedule to track them down. When a body is discovered, well hidden with evidence of foul play, Casey and Eric must find out what happened to the dead woman, and locate the still missing man. The woman stumbled upon something she wasn’t supposed to see, and the longer Casey and Eric don’t know what happened, the more danger everyone is in.”

Book Review: The Swell by Allie Reynolds

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

The Swell by Allie Reynolds

Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Thriller, Mystery

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons (July 19, 2022)

Length: 368 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Allie Reynolds has done it again! Last year, her spectacular debut Shiver took me on a wild ride of a locked-room murder mystery in the French Alps, and this time she takes us to the coastal paradise of a remote beach in southern Australia in The Swell.

The story begins as our protagonist, British sports therapist Kenna Ward, travels to Sydney to visit her best friend Mikki who had recently announced her engagement. But Kenna has not arrived in a celebratory mood. In fact, she’s suspicious about Jack, Mikki’s fiancé. Kenna is worried that her friend is about to rush into a marriage with this strange man she barely knows, and that Jack is only after Mikki’s family fortune. She has come to Australia hoping to find proof of her suspicions and warn Mikki off before it is too late.

Unfortunately, Kenna’s arrival could not have come at a more inopportune time. The couple were just about to take off on an extended surfing trip, but then out of the blue, Jack extends an invitation to Kenna to tag along. Thinking it would give her more time to work on Mikki, Kenna accepts, even though she has sworn off surfing and everything to do with the water ever since her boyfriend drowned three years ago.

Along the way, Jack tells Kenna about their destination, a remote beach and an apparent hidden surfer’s paradise called Sorrow Bay, where they will be meeting up with other members of their tightly knit surfing group. As soon as they arrive though, Kenna is met with hostility from the other “tribe” members, which include Victor, Ryan, Clemente, and the group’s leader, Sky. None of them are too thrilled to have an outsider share in their secret of Sorrow Bay, though eventually, Kenna is considered for membership.

As our protagonist slowly begins to rediscover her love for surfing, she finds Sky’s training methods and the group’s grueling initiation process threatening to push her to her limits. There’s also a certain cult-like quality to the tribe in the way they conduct themselves, and with horror, Kenna soon discovers just how far they’re willing to go to protect their secrets.

If you enjoyed Shiver and were hoping The Swell is similar, well, it is and it isn’t. There’s certainly murder and mystery involved, since one of the elements introduced early on in the story is a case of a missing tourist from Europe who had come to Australia to catch some waves before disappearing without a trace. The plot thickens as we discover that she is not the only surfer who has gone missing in recent weeks…

We also go from the snowy mountains of Shiver to the sandy beaches and heavy waves of Australia, but the camaraderie we get between the characters is surprisingly familiar. Instead of snowboarding though, surfing is the theme of The Swell. Reynolds has experience competing in professional snowboarding which clearly showed in Shiver, where she deftly portrayed the cutthroat competitive athlete culture and mindset. Her author bio now states she sticks mostly to surfing these days, and while you can certainly glean her avid interest in the sport through her writing, she doesn’t get too technical and the story is still very accessible and easy to follow.

The selling point of The Swell though, is the atmosphere and sense of unease. The story is revealed gradually through multiple POVs, and the questions begin right away starting with the relationship between Kenna and Mikki. They claim they are best friends, but there is just something off about their dynamic that points to some unspoken history. And then there’s Jack, whom you are immediately made to suspect, but could that be just misdirection. Once the trio arrive at Sorrow Bay, the relationships get even more complex. There’s almost a cult-like obsession with the way the tribe views their little hideaway as sacred ground or revere the act of surfing as something that goes beyond just a sport or hobby. If you’ve ever read Alex Garland’s The Beach, there is something here that is very reminiscent of that.

Plus, Allie Reynolds just has a wonderful gift with words. If I wasn’t a huge fan already, I am now. You can practically hear the ocean waves and smell the salt coming off the water; I just loved the way her writing brought the setting to life. The story was also suspenseful— though perhaps not as thrilling or filled with harrowing action as her previous book, but still addicting and compulsive, not to mention the ending had one hell of a twist! If you want to know whether The Swell is a great book for summer, the answer is a resounding YES.