Bookshelf Roundup: 05/08/21: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads

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

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Received for Review

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

Exciting new arrivals this week! With thanks to Del Rey, I received the following ARCs: Paper and Blood by Kevin Hearne is the second book in his Ink & Sigil series which spins off of The Iron Druid Chronicles. I love the new star character Al MacBharrais and I’m anxiously looking forward to catch up with him on this next adventure! From the publisher I also received The Desert Prince by Peter V. Brett, the start of a brand new story set after the events of the author’s epic Demon Cycle. That series concluded some time ago and it feels like I’ve been waiting forever for Brett’s new project! Can’t wait to read this one.

I also want to thank Titan Books for sending me a copy of The Lights of Prague by Nicole Jarvis, a gaslamp fantasy that has been described as science meets magic. I’m going to be taking part in a blog tour with a review next month, so keep your eyes out for that. I have plans to start this one very soon.

And finally, thank you to the kind folks at Subterranean Press for sending me an ARC of City of Songs by Anthony Ryan. This is the third novella in The Seven Swords series, and I haven’t even started the first! I really want to read these books though, and they’re pretty short, so hopefully one of these days I can sit down and knock them all out at once.

Just one audiobook in the digital haul this week. I became intrigued by The Maidens by Alex Michaelides after seeing this mystery/thriller being talked about everywhere, so when the opportunity the review the ALC came about, I took it. With thanks to Macmillan Audio.

What I’ve Been Watching

Like so many others, I’ve been watching Shadow and Bone on Netflix. Progress had been slow because life has been pretty busy, but I finally finished this week. As someone who has read the trilogy as well as the Six of Crows duology, I really liked how they mashed the characters of the two series together, because without a doubt, I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed the show as much if they hadn’t. It might not be the best adaptation, not to mention the writing could have been better, but on the whole I thought they made solid, sensible changes while preserving the most important elements from the source material. Visually, it was also stunning and you could tell everyone put a lot of work and love into it. Fans of the books, especially if you love the Crows, will be quite pleased. If you’ve also seen it, let me know what you think!

What I’ve Been Playing

This past week I’ve also been taking a break from the PS5 to dive back into my Nintendo Switch, because of, ahem, New Pokémon Snap. Back in the day, the original game for the N64 was one of my favorites (DON’T JUDGE ME) which made this an automatic buy. Twenty-two years later, I’m still a total geek for taking cute pictures of Pokémon and bouncing up and down like a lunatic whenever I get a great shot. Now you can even edit your photos with stickers and special filters to show off to the world what a big Pokémon nerd you are…

What I’ve Been Reading

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Have you heard of or read any of the books featured this week? What caught your eye? Any new discoveries? I hope you found something interesting for a future read! Let me know what you plan on checking out. Until next time, see you next Roundup!:)

Friday Face-Off: Mid-Series Cover Change

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 MID-SERIES COVER CHANGE

Mogsy’s Pick:

Gunnie Rose by Charlaine Harris

I wanted to feature a fantasy series for our first Friday Face-Off of Wyrd & Wonder 2021, so this week I’ve decided to go with Gunnie Rose by Charlaine Harris, which recently experienced a mid-series cover change for its US hardcover editions.

Here’s what the original HCs for An Easy Death (book 1) and A Longer Fall (book 2) looked like, from Gallery/Saga Press:

But when the Saga Press/Gallery first edition hardcover of the third book The Russian Cage came out, they changed up the look entirely. Later, for the paperback edition release of A Longer Fall, they also created a new cover for it to match:

 

Winner:

I’m so torn on this one! First off, I adored the first edition hardback cover of An Easy Death when it originally came out, because it looked so interesting, dramatic, and just all around badass. So you can imagine my disappointment when the HC edition of A Longer Fall was first revealed, and that cover just looked so bland in comparison.

Skip forward to the first edition hardcover release of A Russian Cage though, and it appears they decided to do away with the painted realistic look all together, opting for a bolder, more stylized motif featuring a central silhouette. I was initially skeptical, but with the reissued edition of the paperback version of A Longer Fall, at least I can appreciate the consistency the new style has brought to the series, and I do like the choice of colors.

Still, my OCD tends to flare up whenever a series changes up its covers partway through, because I just get this massive urge to put everything in order and make it all look uniform.

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

Book Review: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

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

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Ballantine Books (May 4, 2020)

Length: 496 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Andy Weir found a winning formula with The Martian, and do you know why it worked? He played to his strengths, putting his super space nerdery and geeky sense of humor to good use, ultimately creating a smart, funny, tech-savvy survival story that is at once action-packed and full of heart. So it’s no surprise that for his latest novel Project Hail Mary, Weir has returned to the tried-and-true, except this time, he’s perfected his methods, and the result is a must-read for his fans.

Like The Martian, this one is also about survival—but here, the stakes are much greater than one man. Humanity itself faces extinction as a former scientist turned schoolteacher finds himself the lone survivor on a desperate, last-ditch space mission to save the Earth and all life upon it. The planet’s fate now rests in his hands.

But first, he’ll need to get his memory back.

As the story begins, our protagonist wakes up alone on a spaceship. He can’t remember how he got there, but somehow he’s aware that he has been asleep for a very long time, and that his vessel has carried him far from home. Any crewmates he had are now dead, assuming they were the two corpses he later finds onboard, though he can’t remember who they are either.

Eventually, he does recall his name—Ryland Grace—and what he used to do—teach junior high. But of course, that was his life before the discovery of the Astrophage, a tiny microorganism that literally eats stars, and now clusters of them are threatening to sap the sun’s energy and plunge Earth into eternal cold and darkness. Since then, Ryland has been recruited by Eva Stratt, the head of a global taskforce whose goal is to save humanity by putting together a team of the best and brightest minds. As the coma-induced fuzziness in his brain gradually clears, Ryland also recalls that once upon a time, he was a leading researcher of life in space, before one of his wilder theories got him ostracized from the scientific community. Yet apparently, his knowledge and experiences were exactly what Stratt needed.

Still, that doesn’t explain his current predicament. After all, he was no astronaut. His original role was to support the space mission crew with his findings. So just how the heck did he end up on this ship, lightyears away from the solar system? And what was he expected to do?

What follows next is the slow, delicious unraveling of this mystery, as our protagonist’s memory returns little by little. In a sense, this was the added element that really set this story apart from The Martian, bringing Project Hail Mary up to a whole new level. For you see, a lot of the ingredients remained very similar. We have a lone astronaut, faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles, who must also “science the shit out of things” to solve problems. But while it was the people of Earth who pulled together to save The Martian’s Mark Watney, here it is the people of Earth that needs saving and poor Ryland Grace has to do it all by his lonesome! (Well, mostly. But saying more on that front will be spoiling, so we’ll just leave it at that!)

There’s also the fact that Project Hail Mary feels a bit more “out there” when it comes to its sci-fi aspects. Granted, there’s still a whole lot of the premise grounded in astrophysics, biology, space aeronautics, etc. but there’s also an over-the-top element involved this time around, and the author clearly enjoyed going to town with it.

Speaking of which, despite the anxiety-inducing tensions and thrills, this was still—by and large—a highly entertaining and damn fun book. This is because, while Watney and Ryland are very different characters, they nonetheless share an important feature in their personalities: infectious optimism. Often, a well-time joke is all it takes to lighten the mood, or a charming little quip to bring hope to a dire situation again. This makes the protagonist genuinely likeable, and easy to root for. Without a doubt, had it been anyone else but Ryland at the story’s helm, Project Hail Mary would have been a very different, much less enjoyable book.

As for criticisms, it’s probably no surprise that some of the same issues that plagued The Martian also cropped up here. If you’re not expecting them, the lengthy segments of tech and science lingo might be a turnoff for some, and especially when Ryland loses himself in a problem, the writing can get a bit carried away with the info dumps. Still, those who are familiar with Andy Weir’s work will know that that’s his trademark and will know to anticipate them. Probably trickier would be the farfetched plot points I alluded to before, as readers will have to make a pretty swift and sudden adjustment once these elements are introduced about a third of the way into the story. How you feel about them will depend entirely on the individual.

All told, I had a great time with this book. It feels like as readers, we’re always demanding of our favorite authors something new and different to keep things fresh and exciting, but as Project Hail Mary proves, sometimes sticking to what works can also turn out just fine. Of course, it helped that Andy Weir knew just how to up the ante, tweaking certain aspects of the story and characters to make them bigger, bolder, better, and simply irresistible. Reading this was a delight, and it’s certainly not to be missed.

Waiting on Wednesday 05/05/21

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

Mogsy’s Pick

Horseman: A Tale of Sleepy Hollow by Christina Henry (September 28, 2021 by Berkley Books)

Another dark and twisty retelling from Christina Henry? Gimme!

“In this atmospheric, terrifying novel that draws strongly from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the author of Alice and The Girl in Red works her trademark magic, spinning an engaging and frightening new story from a classic tale.

Everyone in Sleepy Hollow knows about the Horseman, but no one really believes in him. Not even Ben Van Brunt’s grandfather, Brom Bones, who was there when it was said the Horseman chased the upstart Crane out of town. Brom says that’s just legend, the village gossips talking.

Twenty years after those storied events, the village is a quiet place. Fourteen-year-old Ben loves to play Sleepy Hollow boys, reenacting the events Brom once lived through. But then Ben and a friend stumble across the headless body of a child in the woods near the village, and the sinister discovery makes Ben question everything the adults in Sleepy Hollow have ever said. Could the Horseman be real after all? Or does something even more sinister stalk the woods?”

#WyrdAndWonder Fantasy 5 Tuesday: Mentors

Back in November I ran a series of posts called “Sci-5 Tuesdays” to celebrate Sci-Fi Month, so for Wyrd & Wonder, I thought it would be fun to do something similar to highlight some of the fantasy tropes and themes that I find simply irresistible! In the last few years, I’ve also been fortunate to read some wonderful new books in the genre, so to give them some extra attention, for each Tuesday’s topic I will also be featuring five titles that I recently enjoyed.

To kick off our first week, today we will be looking at MENTORS in fantasy fiction. Where would Bilbo Baggins be without Gandalf, or Harry Potter without Dumbledore? All heroes need a good teacher to guide them and lead them down the right path, and the following are some great books that feature some of my favorite mentor/apprentice relationships.

Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst

Race the Sands was one of my favorite reads of 2020. There’s literally nothing I disliked about this book, a spectacular effusion of excitement, action, adventure, and yes, an excellent mentor and student bond! In the world of Becar, where reincarnation exists, good souls are reborn as humans while evildoers come back forever trapped as monstrous kehoks. Their only chance at breaking this cycle is to win one of the kehok races that all of Becar flock to see each year. Gutsy individuals who are bold enough to impose their wills on these beasts can also compete as kehok riders, earning fame and fortune if they win. Tamra Verlas used to be one these champions, and now she makes her living by training new riders. However, an unfortunate incident last season has all but ruined her reputation, forcing her to scout her own rider and kehok to enter in the races. She ends up finding both at the market—a freshly captured lion-like kehok, as well as Raia, a young runaway from an abusive home. Raia has never ridden a kehok before, but she is desperate for a job, and Tamra is also desperate for a new student. Obviously, racing motifs feature prominently in this book, but there is also the theme of the disgraced trainer who needs to make a champion out of an inexperienced rookie, and there are also a few added twists so that this story will contain plenty of surprises. (Read the full review…)

Age of Assassins by RJ Barker

Age of Assassins is only the first book of The Wounded Kingdom trilogy, but really the entire series is a great example of a heartwarming master and apprentice relationship. “To catch an assassin, use an assassin…” This is the situation Queen Adran has found herself in when she discovers a plot against her son. Opting to handle the matter quietly, she turns to her old friend, killer-for-hire Merela Karn, tasking her to root out the would-be assassin. Enter our protagonist Girton Clubfoot, who is Merela’s young apprentice. Pretending to be a squire while his master dons the guise of a traveling jester, Girton is put through combat training with the other castle boys to maintain the deception. Hiding behind a mask of clumsiness and ineptitude, he secretly begins gathering information that would help them discover who might want the prince dead. Without a doubt though, the highlight of this novel for me was the bond between Girton and Merela. Merela is almost as much a mother to Girton as she is his teacher, encouraging him to see past the disability for which he is named in order to reach his full potential. It’s really quite rare to come across a master-apprentice relationship that feels so genuine and developed. (Read the full review…)

Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell

In Spellslinger, we’re introduced to Kellen, a young mage-in-training. Problem is though, he’s not exactly mage material. With his sixteenth birthday looming on the horizon, the time for him to take is trials is quickly approaching, but he still doesn’t have much control over his magic. In fact, his ability seems to be diminishing by the day, and that’s a big problem. If he can’t pass his trials, he’ll be relegated to the serving class, looked down upon by the rest of the mage society and bringing shame to his family. For Kellen, it’s an unthinkable fate, and he’s willing to do anything to avoid it, even if it means putting his own life on the line. But then enter Ferius Parfax, a visitor from out-of-town whom everyone thinks is a spy trying to steal secrets to take back to her masters. However, there’s more to the outsider than meets the eye, especially when she helps Kellen see things from a new perspective, forcing him to re-evaluate everything he thought he knew about his world and his place in it. With her experience and worldliness, she offers Kellen possibilities he’s never dreamed of. I confess, few YA series openers these days are actually compelling enough to make me want to keep reading. Spellslinger, however, made me want to grab up the next book as soon as I was finished! (Read the full review…)

The Queen’s Road by R.S. Belcher

I loved this so much! I’m a big fan of R.S. Belcher, and The Queen’s Road introduces a whole new world full of wild surprises. At the center of it all is Ray, a young man who has been down on his luck but is still trying his best to keep his life running. Unfortunately, Ray also owes a lot of money to some very dangerous people, and they’ve threated to kill his mother unless he pays it all back. So when a dying stranger comes out of nowhere one night, bequeathing to Ray his vintage Ford Galaxie and a mysterious jeweled ring, our baffled protagonist couldn’t believe his luck. His mom would be saved, and he even has a sweet ride now to make some money street racing. But of course, as Ray will soon find out, some gifts come with strings attached—forever, in this case. It turns out that the dying man was one of the Queen of the Universe’s Rangers, a guardian who travels the network of hyper-space highways that connect all the planets and galaxies in creation, protecting its laws and its people. They are identified by the rings they wear, the very same one given to Ray which will now stay on his finger until the day he dies. Like it or not, Ray is a Ranger now, and he’s got a lot to learn. Luckily, he soon meets Chain, an experienced Ranger who ends up being the young man’s mentor, guiding him through a system of infinite possibilities. (Read the full review…)

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

Nevernight is so titled because it introduces us to a world where its three suns almost never set. Our main character is Mia Corvere, a young woman whose father was a military leader who led a failed rebellion and was consequently executed. Mia was seized along with her mother and little brother, but she managed to escape, surviving alone for the next few years in the cold, merciless shadows of the city. Well, not entirely alone. She is always accompanied by a shadowy presence, a cat-shaped familiar she has come to call Mister Kindly. As well, Mia has the help of her mentor, a shady man named Mercurio. A former assassin, he took Mia in after she was orphaned, teaching her all he knew. Driven by the desire for vengeance on her father’s enemies, Mia ends up following Mercurio’s instructions to train at a secret academy, because she knows she’ll need to be at her very best in order to get at her targets, some of whom work at the highest levels of government. Even though his methods can be harsh and he might not always show compassion, Mercurio was extremely proud of Mia, regarding her as not only his best student, but also a daughter. (Read the full review…)

#WyrdandWonder Excerpt & US/Canada Giveaway: The Sword Falls by A.J. Smith

As part of Wyrd & Wonder, we here at The BiblioSanctum are excited to be featuring an excerpt from The Sword Falls by A.J. Smith, the second standalone volume in the Form and Void series, published by Head of Zeus! Not only that, we are also hosting a giveaway of the book for readers in the US & Canada, so definitely check out the end of the post for more information on how you can win a copy!

The Sword Falls by A.J. Smith

A MAN OF THE DAWN CLAW WILL BE THE ALWAYS KING.

It will ever be so. They will always rule… but they will not always lead.

Prince Oliver Dawn Claw, heir to the Kingdom of the Four Claws, is thrust into a world he doesn’t understand as he waits for his father to die. Away from home, with few allies—and too many enemies—he faces a new and otherworldly threat from beneath the sea. Alliances break and masks fall, as the Dark Brethren reveal their true master.

Meanwhile, Adeline Brand—called the Alpha Wolf—refuses to wait, and becomes the edge of the sword that swings back at the Dreaming God. Assembling allies and crushing resistance, she enters a fight she doesn’t know if she can win, as the sea begins to rise.

Excerpt from The Sword Falls by A.J. Smith, published by Head of Zeus. Copyright © 2021 by A.J. Smith

The void sky was a shimmering black, with pinpoints of light, playing across my vision. In the realm of form, the landscape was filled with stone and wood, packed together as buildings, streets and walls. Beyond the glass, in the realm of void, the world was more elegant. The hold of the Silver Dawn was visible only as a faint net, forming boundaries and structures. But only the most significant buildings had actual form in the spirit world. Everything else I could see was pale blue, flowing like sand dunes or rolling waves. Spirits flew through the air, as sparkling birds; or scuttled across the ground, as small, woodland animals, each with a distinct energy, unknowable to the mortal men and women of the Eastron from across the sea. There was a profound sense of peace, as if the troubles of the world could not reach me.

“Highness, let us not stay here too long,” said the man at my side.

I looked down at him. “Does the peace of the void disagree with you?”

“It disturbs me,” he replied. “Because I know it isn’t real. I prefer the realm of form.”

His name was James Silver Born, called Silver Jack, and he’d come with me only because he refused to leave my side. He didn’t like the void, and distrusted spirits. We were both Winterlords of First Port and our people claimed kingship over the Eastron from across the sea. Our power radiated in the void, shining as globes of wyrd across our limbs and framing our heads. Jack’s wyrd was strongest in his arms and over his heart. Mine was a vibrant nimbus across my whole body, flaring at the head and torso.

“We will speak to the Lord of the Quarter,” I stated.

He hung his head. Silver Jack was short for a Winterlord, barely reaching six feet in height, and far shorter than me. But he was a cunning little bastard, and had been my closest adviser since I left First Port. I’d survived an assassin’s blade at the Severed Hand, and my father, the Always King, had insisted I be accompanied at all times. I’d disregarded the multitudes of hulking duellists who’d volunteered, and the knights of Falcon’s Watch, and chosen a middle-aged man named Jack. He hadn’t even volunteered. He’d been drunk in the Eagle House, waiting for one of his many reprimands. When I found him, he’d muttered that he was a terrible duellist and would rather drink his own piss than follow a prince around. It was broadly the answer I was looking for.

“We’ll be missed,” said Silver Jack. “People will worry.”

“David will worry,” I replied. “And you. And you worry about everything.”

“What about the seven Dark Brethren who are following you, highness?”

I sighed, my calm significantly eroded. It was easy to forget who I was in the void. It was the only time I wasn’t constantly required to be Prince Oliver Dawn Claw, Protector of First Port. One day I would be the Always King. I would be the seventh since Sebastian Dawn Claw arrived from across the sea and founded the Kingdom of the Four Claws. It was the kind of burden that was impossible to walk away from.

“Why aren’t you wearing your armour?” asked Silver Jack.

I looked down at my blue tunic and laced black trousers, tucked into heavy, leather riding boots. I had a short sword at my side, but was otherwise not equipped for combat. My broadsword and armour were in the Golden Keep, casually discarded on a coach. I didn’t like wearing them. Partially because they signalled my station, but mostly because they made my large frame even larger. People were always afraid of me, but with my armour and a sword, I rarely saw a pair of eyes that was not pointed at the ground.

“The Lord of the Quarter,” I repeated, ignoring his question.

He screwed up his face, but resisted further nagging. He followed me across the soft grass of the void, towards a tall tree, with tangled branches stretching out like gnarled hands. Small spirits scuttled away from us, as if repelled by our powerful wyrd. But larger ones – mostly birds of prey – remained imperiously on their perches. On the highest branch, flaring its wings at my approach, was a huge eagle, with gold and silver feathers and ageless eyes of deep bronze. It was the Dawn Claw, totem spirit of the Winterlords.

Ninety years ago, when my great grandfather, King Hector, abandoned the Silver Dawn for First Port, he left the totem behind. The bureaucracy that remained became the Silver Parliament, and vowed to always protect and revere the mighty eagle. Opinion was divided on how faithfully they had kept their vow. Many Winterlords, my father included, believed that the parliament was unnecessary, and the Kingdom of the Four Claws should once again be under the absolute rule of the Always King. He used to muse that, one day, a man of the Dawn Claw would again be the Forever King.

I took a knee. “My Lord of the Quarter. I am Prince Oliver and I bear your name. I pay you my respects and ask for your wisdom.”

The huge spirit took wing and gracefully glided to the ground. Its majestic feathers ruffled in the gentle breeze, and all nearby spirits paused to marvel at its presence. It was the greatest spirit the Eastron had ever found, and the symbol of all that allowed the Winterlords to rule. It craned its neck downwards to regard me. I was tall and bulky, even for a Winterlord, but the huge eagle made me feel like a child. I would be a worm in its enormous, hooked beak, but I sensed warmth and recognition.

The glass has broken. Soon the sword will fall. Then the sea will rise. The Old Bitch of the Sea has been vanquished. The Night Wing has been corrupted. The Kindly One is ignored. But my voice can still be heard.

The spirit did not speak. Its thoughts vibrated into meaning and entered my head as words and emotions. I shared a glance with Silver Jack, confirming that he had also heard the words and felt the emotions. The Dawn Claw knew that the realm of form was teetering on the edge of something, and it struggled to make us understand. It wanted us to act, but its emotions felt like huge, churning clouds, with no definite form or direction. Perhaps I was just too simple to comprehend the thoughts of so mighty a spirit.

You will be king. You must be king. Or all is lost.

“We should leave,” said Silver Jack. “I think its angry.”

“Angry?” I queried, backing away. “I’d have said it was scared. Maybe sad.”

The Dawn Claw let us leave, but we did so only slowly, muttering to each other about what the spirit wanted us to know. It flared its wings, becoming even larger, and curling its huge talons into the shimmering grass of the void.

“I will visit you again,” I said, by way of a farewell.

We turned from the tree and left the presence of our totem. My time in the void was coming to an end. The glass was a thin barrier, but it held back a world of responsibility and a sea of questions I didn’t want to answer. Unfortunately, the Dawn Claw had offered no advice as to how best to deal with the Silver Parliament. And yet its cryptic words would linger.

About the Author

A.J. SMITH is the author of The Black GuardThe Dark BloodThe Red Prince and The World Raven. He spent 12 years devising the series. When not writing fiction, he works in secondary education as a youth worker.

The Sword Falls Giveaway

Well, I hope I’ve been able to pique your interest in The Sword Falls because with thanks to the publisher and amazing folks at Kaye Publicity, we have a few print copies up for grabs! With sincerest apologies to our international readers, due to geographical restrictions, this giveaway is only available to addresses/residents in the US and Canada only.

As to how you can enter, this part’s super easy. All you have to do is leave a comment and make sure to state somewhere that you wish to be entered into The Sword Falls giveaway, and have a way for me to contact you should you win. That’s it! Winners will be randomly selected when the giveaway ends at the end of one week.

So what are you waiting for? Good luck!

#WyrdAndWonder Book Review: The Helm of Midnight by Marina Lostetter

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

The Helm of Midnight by Marina Lostetter

Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of The Five Penalties

Publisher: Tor Books (April 13, 2021)

Length: 464 pages

Author Information: Website

The Helm of Midnight is rich, dark, and atmospheric, but everything that made it such an immersive and mysterious read also worked against it at times, leading me to have mixed feelings about the book.

The story is told through multiple POVs and timelines, and we first begin with an introduction to Krona Hirvath as she and her fellow Regulators must solve the curious theft of a death mask belonging to Louis Charbon, the most notorious serial killer to ever stalked the streets of Lutador. What made it such a powerful and dangerous object is the fact that Charbon’s memories and abilities can be accessed and channeled by someone in possession of the mask, which is a frightening thought indeed. Not only that, another deadly artifact was also stolen during the heist, a jeweled brooch that is said to be steeped in so much negative energy, it would drive a wearer to take their own life. Needless to say, recovering these two items is of the highest priority for the Regulators, and Krona will be racing against the clock to find out who stole them, and why.

Meanwhile, in chapters that take place a few years before the present, readers also get to meet Melanie, a young girl from the country has recently arrived in the city to track down an enchanted mask which she hopes would help heal her mother. However, her plans do not go as she expected at all, and before long, Melanie is in way over her head, dealing with something far beyond her naïve comprehension. And finally, in a surprising twist, we are given a glimpse into the tortured mind of the serial killer himself, Louis Charbon. His perspective is one of the story’s main threads, as chapter by chapter, the horrifying details of his past crimes are revealed.

Gradually, these separate threads will eventually come together to form a coherent narrative, but I’m going to be honest here—you’ll need to be patient, because it does take a while. In a style that can be described as sumptuous and detailed—exhaustively so, at times—author Marina Lostetter spends a great deal of attention on world-building as well as explaining the motives of her characters. As much as I appreciate an author who wants to take the time to get everything just right, it was also impossible not to feel a little antsy and bored, wishing she would move it along a little faster and get to the point.

Of course, it didn’t help that the story was so damn grim and bleak. Now, I don’t mind an element of darkness in a book, and in fact, I eat it up when it’s written well. But combined with the slow pacing, the forbidding atmosphere of the setting was less advantageous and became more stifling. This effect needed to be offset by more action and initiative by the characters, and to be fair, we saw some of that here and there, but in the end, I did not think it was nearly enough to overcome the general sensation of ennui. The characters themselves were also fascinating, but I felt like I was reading a detached account of individual people going through the motions, reacting to certain events. Any relationships between them felt strangely dispassionate, preventing me from connecting with them on a deeper level, and because of the way the narrative was structured, there wasn’t as much mystery in the plot as I’d expected.

That said, there are still plenty of reasons to read The Helm of Midnight if you are a fan of fantasy mysteries. There is a good story here, if you don’t mind not getting as many surprises or action and are content with a book that deals mostly with character motives and conflict, which lets the interest build slowly—but surely—as events unfold. The world-building is sublime too, and that’s where Lostetter’s talent really shines. Granted, maybe there could have been more balance between the different aspects of the novel, because there were times where the prose would get carried away with excessive detail into the magic systems, political and historical lore, as well as the people’s connection to the powers of the five gods that make up the religion of this world. However, no one can deny the sheer originality and creativity of the ideas found here.

If the world-building and premise behind The Helm of Midnight appeals to you, I would definitely check it out. Personally, I would have liked a little more mystery and a bit more personality and punch to the characters, but those with a fondness for dark fantasy featuring highly detailed and rich world-building will probably enjoy this a lot more.

Bookshelf Roundup: 05/01/21: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads

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

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Received for Review

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

With thanks to Tor.com for sending me an ARC of A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow. I love her work, and I’m looking forward to this new novella featuring a bold new retelling of Sleeping Beauty!

I’m also grateful to Tor Books for a review copy of Immunity Index by Sue Burke, author of the excellent Semiosis duology. But after reading some of the very mixed reviews, I have concerns this pandemic sci-fi might be more agenda-driven to the detriment of character and story development. To be honest, I’m just not interested in reading anything like that right now, so we’ll see how it goes.

Also thank you to Orbit for a finished copy of The Broken God by Gareth Hanrahan, the third book in The Black Iron Legacy series. I’m loving the story so far, and can’t wait to get back into the world! It’s also encouraging to hear that there are more books planned beyond this one, so this is not the end.

In the digital haul this week, with thanks to Brilliance Audio for a listening copy of The Next Wife by Kaira Rouda. I’ve really enjoyed this author’s books, so when this new one of hers seemingly popped up out of nowhere, I was really happy to be offered a review copy. With thanks also to Hachette Audio for a review copy of Shards of Earth by Adrian Tchaikovsky. This one isn’t going to be released in the US until August, so it was a nice surprise to see the ALC available now.

From Random House Audio, I also received listening copies of Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good by Timothy Zahn, the sequel to Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising (I realize I have some catch-up to do), as well as Goblin by Josh Malerman, described as a “novel in six novellas” revealing the sinister secrets of a small town one by one.

Finally, courtesy of Macmillan Audio I received Blade of Secrets by Tricia Levenseller, which I hope to start before the weekend is out. I had so much fun with The Shadows Between Us, and can’t wait to read another of the authro’s books! From the publisher, I also grabbed a listening copy of The Perfect Daughter by D.J. Palmer, because I really liked the sound of this thriller about a mother’s horror when her teenager with dissociative identity disorder is charged with the brutal murder of a complete stranger, with no conceivable motive.

Wyrd & Wonder

In other news, in case you missed my earlier coverage this week, Wyrd & Wonder is kicking off! Starting today, in fact! For the month of May, The BiblioSanctum will be joining other bloggers and readers in a celebration of all things fantasy. My first related post is a review scheduled for tomorrow. For more information about this event, check out my intro write-up here.

Reviews

The Last Watch by J.S. Dewes (4.5 of 5 stars)
Break Out by Paul Herron (4 of 5 stars)
Win by Harlan Coben (4 of 5 stars)

Roundup Highlights:

What I’ve Been Reading

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Have you heard of or read any of the books featured this week? What caught your eye? Any new discoveries? I hope you found something interesting for a future read! Let me know what you plan on checking out. Until next time, see you next Roundup!:)

Friday Face-Off: A Favorite Series

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 covers from a FAVORITE SERIES

Mogsy’s Pick:

The Wounded Kingdom by RJ Barker

Book 1: Age of Assassins

Orbit (2017) – Italian Edition (2018) – French Edition (2018) – German Edition (2018)

Book 2: Blood of Assassins

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

Book 3: King of Assassins

Orbit (2018) – French Edition (2019)

Winner:

The Wounded Kingdom trilogy has become one of my favorite fantasy series in recent years, but I think might be my first time seeing covers for editions other than the US/UK Orbit. I’m just floored by how beautiful the French covers are, so much more epic and evocative than the originals!

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

Thursday Thriller: Break Out by Paul Herron

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

Break Out by Paul Herron

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Thriller, Action

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (April 6, 2021)

Length: 304 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

I recently found out Paul Herron is the pseudonym of Paul Crilley, a television, comics, and games writer who has also written a couple fantasy novels I’ve enjoyed. Breakout is his debut thriller. My verdict? It’s like your classic high-octane action movie meets Arkham Asylum—as over-the-top and popcorny as expected, but still shockingly good! You’ve got your tortured antihero ex-cop with nothing to lose. A rookie prison guard whose first day on the job goes horribly wrong. A perfect storm created by two Category 5 hurricanes coming together, barreling down on the Floridian coast. And right in its path sits the infamous Ravenhill Correctional Facility, home to the worst criminals in the country.

One of these inmates is former police detective Jack Constantine, currently serving ten years for brutally gunning down one of the men who killed his wife and unborn child. As the story begins, the warden has ordered all the prisoners to fix up a dilapidated but sturdier part of the old penitentiary to make it more suitable for them to ride out the storm. When Jack hears that his wife’s two remaining killers will be among those who will be relocated to this section of the prison, he can’t believe his luck. He’s never regretted his crime; he’s only sorry that he never got to finish the job. But soon, it seems he may get his chance to do so after all.

Meanwhile, Kiera Sawyer is trying not to freak out as she reports in for her first day at Ravenhill. She knows she probably shouldn’t have come. A monster of a storm is blowing in, and there’s been talk of mandatory evacuations for this part of the state. No one would blame her if she had simply decided not to show up. But Sawyer knows she can’t risk anything jeopardizing this job. She desperately needs it, for the sake of herself and her younger brother. In the end though, keeping the job becomes the least of her worries. The superstorm hits, and it’s worse than anyone could have imagined. Out of time, the warden decides to evacuate his people. As for the prisoners, it is too late for them. As a final act of mercy, one of the officers unlocks the doors to all the cells, giving their occupants at least a chance to survive the rising flood. Once the inmates realize that there’s no one left to guard them though, bitter rivalries are reawakened and old scores are settled, turning the prison into a bloodbath in the middle of the raging storm.

In all the chaos, no one notices that someone had gotten lost and left behind. Someone so new on the job, she’s not even on any of the staff rosters yet, let alone the evacuation list. Sawyer, left to fend for herself in all this madness, knows her only chance of survival is Jack Constantine, a man who doesn’t really belong in here with the rest of the habitual criminals and psychopaths. The only question is, can he move past his own demons to save them both?

I won’t even bother explaining why Break Out would make a good movie, as it already reads like an off-the-shelf screenplay. Here, the author’s experience as a television and script writer was clearly on display. Reading this book felt a lot like watching old school Bruce Willis in Die Hard or Nicolas Cage in The Rock. In other words, it was fucking awesome. If you’re looking for something intellectual, original, and deep, this is not the book for you. If you want stories that are realistic and plausible, again, this is not the kind of book for you. But if, on the other hand, a furiously entertaining, non-stop action thriller that checks off all the genre boxes is to your liking, then this will do for you nicely.

Nothing too complicated to it, really. No elegant grand plan, beyond setting all the violence and chaos in a maximum-security prison in the middle of a colossal hurricane, and that’s because all the ingredients for mayhem are already there. Remove the law and order, and what do you get? Killers, robbers, kidnappers, abusers who now have the run of the place but nowhere to go. Alliances are swiftly formed in a battle for dominance between warring gangs, but even those who survive this initial slaughter must then contend with the raging storm, which threatens to drown them all in an endless torrent of rain and seawater. In this arena of death, only the most ruthless and insane survive…or those who try to play it clever, like Constantine and Sawyer. The two of them make a great team, along with Constantine’s cellmate Felix.

Bottom line, I had such a wild and crazy time with this. Not the kind of novel I would recommend to everyone across the board, obviously, but if your tastes happen to run towards books that read like an action movie in prose form, then Break Out might just surprise you, like it did me. It’s the epitome of a popcorn read—undemanding and fun, and just in time for beach read weather. Paul Crilley/Paul Herron, please write more thrillers.