Audiobook Review: Badlands by Melissa Lenhardt

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

Badlands by Melissa Lenhardt

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

Genre: Historical Fiction, Western

Series: Book 3 of Sawbones/The Laura Elliston Trilogy

Publisher: Hachette Audio (June 27, 2017)

Length: 11 hrs and 17 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Suehyla El-Attar

Badlands is the final volume of the Laura Elliston trilogy, bringing this magnificent emotional journey that began with Sawbones to a gripping and satisfying conclusion. Still, I confess there had been a lot of initial hand-wringing on my part over how all this would end, though I really should have known better than to be worried—Melissa Lenhardt knew what she was doing and was in control the whole time, providing closure to the series while bringing things full circle.

Needless to say, if you haven’t gotten the chance to start the trilogy yet, please keep in mind that this review may contain spoilers for the previous two novels. Last we saw Laura in Blood Oath, she and her husband William Kindle had become separated, with him being taken into custody for abandoning his post in the Army to aid and abet her. Wanted in New York for a crime she did not commit, Laura is now one of the most sought after bounties in the West and is forced to go into hiding again, with only a dubious ally named Rosemond Barclay for protection and support.

As a prostitute and a past lover of her husband, Rosemond is practically the last person Laura wants to be traveling with. However, she is also claiming to be helping Laura on behalf of Kindle, and since there is no one else our protagonist can turn to now that she is alone and penniless once more, she will have to go along with the other woman’s plans—at least for now. Not that she has much of a choice, anyway. Terrified of what might happen to Kindle, Laura is desperate to be close to him again even if it means walking right into the hands of the law, and it doesn’t help that at the time she is struggling to pull herself out of a laudanum-induced haze. For better or worse, Rosemond is the only thing holding her back—serving as both her kidnapper and voice of reason. The two women end up in Cheyenne under the guise of sisters trying to start a new life, though in truth Laura is biding her time while she awaits for further news of Kindle, and Rosemond is following her own plan that only she knows about. Laura knows better than to trust the former prostitute, but after everything the two of them have been through together, neither can she bring herself to simply walk away.

For the last two books, things for Laura have been anything but easy, and so I think readers will welcome this concluding novel which finally lets our protagonist experience some semblance of peace again, even with plenty of heartbreak still in her life. It was however a nice change of pace to see her return to practicing medicine, giving care to the needy as she once did in New York before she went on the run. Despite all the horrors she has been through, at her core Laura is still the same good person—which can be either a blessing or a curse, depending on how you view things. Often she puts aside all rational thought and concern for her own wellbeing when it comes to others (especially with matters related to Kindle), leading her to make several mistakes in the first half of Badlands which she will come to regret for the rest of the novel. Laura’s willfulness in this regard is both a source of admiration and frustration, because on the one hand her empathy is what makes me love her character, but on the other her tendency to care too much has also led to a lot of tragedy for herself and those around her.

I also thought that I would be disappointed at Kindle’s severely diminished role in this novel, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was not the case. It’s true that without him, there is a lot less passion and romance in this installment, but the amazing complexity between Laura and Rosemond’s interplay more than makes up for it. In spite of all her efforts to help other women, Laura has always had a rough time making female friends, mainly because she’s met so few others who share her interests and drive. While Laura and Rosemond have little in common (besides a history with the same man), the two of them manage to strike up a solid rapport if not a true friendship, due to the fact that they both are outcasts in their own way. Rosemond is also a fascinating and enigmatic character who kept me guessing at her motives the whole time, wondering if she truly cares about Laura or if she is simply manipulating her for her own ends.

The best part about Badlands, however, is Laura’s realization that she cannot keep running anymore and that enough people have been hurt because of the choices she has made. The only thing left to do is to return to the place where all this began—except this time, she won’t be alone anymore. Our protagonist has come a long way and has proven herself capable of anything she sets her mind to in an era in which women had little to no power. She has suffered loss but also found love, and I am pleased that we got to see Laura confront her past so that she can finally have the future she deserves.

These books are really something special. I’ve said this before, but I think it’s worth saying again: the author does not pull any punches, and her rendition of the Wild West is a brutally authentic one, which sometimes makes all of the injustices and violence difficult to read. However, it also makes our characters’ struggles more heart-wrenching and their eventual triumph all the more powerful and poignant. The ending was everything I wanted, featuring a touching and joyous scenario that tied everything together perfectly. Melissa Lenhardt has accomplished a superb achievement in bringing the fantastic Laura Elliston trilogy to a phenomenal close, and I can’t wait to see what future stories she will tell.

Audiobook Comments: Suehyla El-Attar has long since won me over with her narrating work, and her performance in Badlands is even better than in Blood Oath, if that is even possible. She is a talented voice actress and a real natural with accents and inflections, adding an extra layer to the story. For instance, in sections where Laura was thinking of Kindle, I could practically hear the hopelessness and despair in her reading. This was an emotional tale, and El-Attar’s narration made the experience even more unforgettable. I highly recommend this series in audio.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Sawbones (Book 1)
Review of Blood Oath (Book 2)

YA Weekend: A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

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

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade/ Young Adult

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Amulet Books (May 9, 2017)

Length: 489 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Now I really wish I had read this book sooner, because in a word, it’s amazing. Sitting in that much-needed place between Middle Grade and Young Adult, A Face Like Glass is a coming-of-age novel about a younger protagonist, but the challenges she must deal with are no less difficult or complex.

Our protagonist Neverfell was just a child when she was found practically half-drowned in a vat of curds by Master Grandible, Caverna’s foremost maker of fine, magical cheeses. But as soon as the cheesemaker cleaned off the little girl and looked at her face, he could tell something was seriously wrong. From that moment on, he has instructed Neverfell to always wear a mask in public, though he refuses to tell her the real reason why, letting her believe she is hideous and disfigured.

For years afterward, Neverfell trains with Grandible as his apprentice, learning all about the ways of Caverna and cheese-making since she herself has no memory of who she was or where she came from. Caverna, as its name would suggest, is a huge underground city made up of tunnels. Skilled craftsmen like Grandible create all sorts of things with fantastical properties to sell to the court, like cheeses that can bring on wondrous visions, perfumes that can influence the emotions of others, wines that can make you forget your worst memories, and much more.

Then there are also the special artisans called Facesmiths, for unlike the people who live in the world above, citizens of Caverna are born with blank faces and no natural instinct to form facial expressions. This is where a Facesmith comes in, developing and teaching new expressions to those who can afford his or her services. The richer you are the more facial expressions you can learn, while the poor, like the laborers and drudges, are only taught a few to get them through a life of servitude.

Because so much can be gleaned about your social status from the number of faces you can wear, this leads to much demand for Facesmiths among the court, and likewise, a Facesmith who can develop the most unique catalogues will also earn a lot of prestige. So when Madame Appeline, one of Caverna’s most prominent and skilled Facesmiths suddenly shows up at Master Grandible’s one day, Neverfell sees the visit as a chance to change her own fate. Appeline is in need of a favor from Grandible, but in spite of the cheesemaker’s initial refusal, Neverfell is convinced that she can make her master change his mind, unaware that she is meddling in dangerous matters she doesn’t understand.

Everything about this novel is pure imagination and magic, and needless to say, I loved every moment. While there is a strong emphasis on the whimsical, I thought it was applied in just the right amount, without becoming overly silly or distracting. Every page was filled with new and interesting ideas, from the oddly precise sleep cycles that citizens of Caverna must keep due to living in the tunnels to the absurd rules of etiquette that the city elites must follow. This is one strange world, where society is strongly shaped by the fact that its people are born with the inability to form facial expressions naturally. Considering the huge range of emotions that that can be expressed through facial cues, just thinking about how every single little facial movement has to be slowly and painfully measured and applied…well, the consequences of it are staggering. One tiny miscalculation or a sudden muscle tic can convey a different meaning and cause a scandal at best, or lead to persecution and even punishment by death at worst.

I was also completely taken with Frances Hardinge’s writing, which is so beautiful and clever. I imagine she faced a lot of challenges for a story like this—after all, how do you even begin to put yourself into the shoes of a character who has little understanding of the relationship between emotions and expressions? Somehow though, Hardinge made it work. Her descriptions are careful but also creative, utilizing unconventional methods to paint a picture of the way someone looks or to convey how they feel. The story is also fast-paced and addictive, and with surprises waiting at every turn, I can’t say there was ever a moment where I felt bored.

Perhaps most importantly, A Face Like Glass has something I don’t often find in a lot of YA and MG books—rich imagination and a shockingly original and unpredictable storyline, refreshingly light on cliché or stereotypes. Consider me a fan. This may be my first book by Frances Hardinge, but you can definitely count on me to read more!

Friday Face-Off: Planet

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:

“Any planet is ‘Earth’ to those who live on it”
~ a cover featuring a PLANET

Mogsy’s Pick:
Earth Girl by Janet Edwards

Any planet is “Earth” to those who live on it – especially to those who are stuck on it. I’m really excited this week, because the book I’m featuring is one of my favorites, and it’s a story that’s close to my heart. Set in the far-flung future, Earth Girl follows the story of an eighteen-year-old girl named Jarra who is among the one-in-a-thousand born with an immune disorder that confines her to earth’s atmosphere. Humans have developed portal technology at this point, using it to colonize a multitude of worlds, but unfortunately Jarra can’t visit any of them. If she even stepped onto any of those planets, she would go into anaphylactic shock in seconds and die if not returned immediately to Earth.

Those afflicted with Jarra’s condition are looked down upon, and called all kinds of terrible, hurtful names. Jarra is sick and tired of it, so when the time comes to enroll in university, she decides to invent a fake background for herself to apply at a school on another planet whose class would be on earth for the first year of practical studies. Time to show the universe just what a mere “Earth Girl” is capable of, and to take a look at the book covers!

From left to right, top to bottom: Harper Voyager (2012) – Pyr (2013)

 

Winner:

No contest here. I’ve waited a long time for this week’s topic to come up because I’ve always had this book in mind to feature for it. I adore this novel and I’ve always loved, loved, LOVED the Pyr cover – and not just because it’s downright stunning! I also like the image of the girl’s ankle shackled to the Earth-and-chain, symbolizing Jarra’s dilemma of being confined to the planet because of her immune disorder. At the same time, she is embracing Earth because it’s the only home she knows and it’s the home she loves. This is a great cover for so many reasons, any of which would have been enough for me to choose it as the clear winner.

What do you think? Which one is your favorite?

Book Review: Wilders by Brenda Cooper

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

Wilders by Brenda Cooper

Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Book 1 of Project Earth

Publisher: Pyr (June 13, 2017)

Length: 350 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Brenda Cooper is taking a new direction in her new book Wilders, switching from space operas to look at a world in a future where human expansion and environmental change has shaped the face of the planet in dramatic ways.

The story takes place in the Pacific Northwest, in the megacity of Seacouver. Established after the merging of Seattle and Vancouver, the place is a shining example of progress and modernity: every citizen is connected to a greater network that takes care of their every need. And yet, not everyone is happy in this high-tech environment where everything is clean, controlled, and carefully ordered. Our protagonist is Coryn Williams, who loves living in Seacouver, but the same cannot be said for the rest of her family. Unable to take the pressures of the city anymore, her parents commit suicide, leaving behind Coryn and her older sister Lou.

Lou, however, is also miserable in Seacouver. At eighteen, she has reached the age where she can choose an occupation after graduating high school, but instead, she decides to leave to work in the wild lands, the unincorporated zones outside the city limits. Coryn is still fifteen, so she is left behind to finish her studies, with only her robot Paula for companionship. For the next three years, she receives regular updates from Lou, who writes about her idyllic life as a ranger working to restore the devastated ecosystem for a non-government organization. Charmed by these wonderful accounts of the wild beyond, when Coryn turns eighteen she also decides to leave the safety of the city with Paula to go reunite with Lou, only to discover that her sister might not have been entirely truthful with her descriptions.

I knew from some of the common themes in Cooper’s previous books that she was very passionate about environmental issues, and she’s brought them to the forefront here in Wilders, a story that speculates how humanity would live after the planet has gone through ecological degradation. Thus, it was with no surprise when I found that the messages in this novel—well-intentioned as they are— were delivered with the approximate delicacy of an orbital strike. That said, the narrative is completely upfront with this, as early as the prologue, so I have to give credit where credit is due. Even before the story started in earnest, I knew exactly what I was going to be in for, and because of that, I was able to overlook most of its weaknesses resulting from the author’s not-so-subtle messages, though admittedly it was a struggle sometimes.

One area I thought the book excelled in was character development. Coryn was a great protagonist, and I thought the story captured her personality and thought processes very well. Having grown up in the city with an appreciation for it not shared by her sister or most of the other characters in this novel, she also gave us a unique point of view. And while it may be true that she’s a city girl needing to overcome her naïve ways to learn about survival in the wild lands, it surprised me how frequently she ended up being the voice of reason. When Lou goes overboard in her romanticizing of nature, for example, or when the Wilders put down the life in the city unfairly, Coryn is often there to slap the truth and reality back into picture. Despite being childishly foolish and having her priorities confused at times, I thought Coryn was an independent and determined character, and as an outsider among the lawlessness of the wildlands, she did a good job holding her own.

In terms of criticisms though, I felt there was an overall “sparseness” to the world of Wilders that prevented the concept of the megacity and its surrounding wilderness from being fully realized. With Coryn being an exception, all of the others characters were painted in very broad strokes and given overly simplistic explanations for their motivations and actions. Furthermore, serious topics like suicide were diminished, such as when no other reason is given for Coryn’s parents’ suicides beyond simply that “they hated the city”, and most of what life is like in Seacouver was told to us instead of shown. There also seemed to be an “all or nothing” division to it, i.e. people in the city either suffered or thrived with no in between. At first I thought there might have been an underlying reason for this that author would reveal in due course, but nope. The Wilders also had a similar weird dichotomy in their attitudes, i.e. if you’re not on their side, then you’re an animal-murdering, planet-hating, city-slicking dirtbag.

For all the book’s flaws though, the story was entertaining, with frequent bursts of action to drive the pacing. Wilders won’t be for everyone, but some parts did work for me, especially some of the more intriguing ideas about futuristic smart cities and ecological reconstruction. I also have a good feeling that any weak points will be beefed up in the sequel, so for now consider me interested and optimistic about the next book of the Project Earth duology.

Waiting on Wednesday 07/19/17

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that lets us feature upcoming releases that we can’t wait to get our hands on!

Mogsy’s Pick

The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton (March 27, 2018 by Tor Books)

Why am I looking forward to this novel? It’s billed as being inspired by both Game of Thrones and Shakespeare’s King Lear. Enough said.

“Tessa Gratton’s debut epic adult fantasy, The Queens of Innis Lear, brings to life a world that hums with ancient magic, and characters as ruthless as the tides.

The erratic decisions of a prophecy-obsessed king have drained Innis Lear of its wild magic, leaving behind a trail of barren crops and despondent subjects. Enemy nations circle the once-bountiful isle, sensing its growing vulnerability, hungry to control the ideal port for all trade routes.

The king’s three daughters—battle-hungry Gaela, master manipulator Reagan, and restrained, starblessed Elia—know the realm’s only chance of resurrection is to crown a new sovereign, proving a strong hand can resurrect magic and defend itself. But their father will not choose an heir until the longest night of the year, when prophecies align and a poison ritual can be enacted.

Refusing to leave their future in the hands of blind faith, the daughters of Innis Lear prepare for war—but regardless of who wins the crown, the shores of Innis will weep the blood of a house divided.”

Book Review: Graveyard Shift by Michael F. Haspil

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

Graveyard Shift by Michael F. Haspil

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Series: Book 1

Publisher: Tor (June 18, 2107)

Length: 352 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Graveyard Shift, pitched as paranormal urban fantasy meets hard-boiled mystery noir, landed on my radar earlier this year and immediately had me salivating at its potential. On top of genre staples like vampires and shapeshifters, this intriguing debut also features a millennia-old main character who used to be a pharaoh and mummy, and as far as selling points go, you just can’t get much more irresistible than that.

When the story begins, our aforementioned former pharaoh/mummy protagonist and Miami vice cop Detective Alex Romer has just been called upon to investigate the scene of grisly murder. It appears that the serial killer known as “Abraham” has struck again, dealing another vicious blow Nocturn-human relations. While vampires—or Nocturns, as they prefer to be called—have been integrated into society ever since their big reveal many years back, these incidents are proof that not everyone has been quite accepting of them. Anti-vampire attitudes have led to groups of vigilantes targeting and killing Nocturns, and worse, the police has also recently learned of a rash of incidents involving poisoned artificial blood drinks showing up on store shelves, sending whoever consumes them into an uncontrollable frenzy.

Now Alex and his partner, an ancient vampire named Marcus, are on the case, doing whatever it takes to sniff out new leads, from shaking down black market blood-dealers in back alleys to trying to infiltrate the shady blood clubs operated by the violent gangs. Meanwhile, paranormal crimes are at an all-time high across Miami, straining the already stressed resources at the special police department in charge of such matters, which is unfortunately leaving their detectives with little support in the field. Desperate to put an end to the chaos but quickly running out of time to do it, Alex and Marcus are forced to team up with dubious allies in order to save innocent lives and keep the city from tearing itself apart.

While it didn’t turn out to be as original or distinctive as I’d hoped, Graveyard Shift was still a lot of fun. Unfolding like your typical police procedural, the story might not be breaking any new ground, but author Michael F. Haspil does succeed in injecting some fresh elements into this equation, and foremost of them is his main protagonist Alex. Once known as the Pharaoh Menkaure, Alex has racked up quite a resume for dealing with supernatural incidents in the thousands of years since he’s been around. Even before he became a Miami detective tasked with investigating Nocturn-related crimes, he was a part of UMBRA, a top-secret government organization involved with the hunting down of any wayward blood drinkers. However, now that the existence of vampires has been revealed to the world, his job has become a lot more complicated and mired in bureaucracy.

Despite the cool factor behind Alex’s origins though, I do wish that we’d gotten a bit more character development and backstory. While he may have fulfilled all the expectations of a standard urban fantasy hero, few of his personality traits stood out to me in particular, and there was also nothing specific in the book that convinced me that we were following the perspective of an ancient Egyptian king, beyond what the text simply stated. On top of that, we were only given tiny and infrequent glimpses into his past, though to be fair, I suspect Haspil might have been vague on Alex’s history on purpose in order to save that story for a future installment. While I wish we’d gotten a fuller picture of his character, I can also understand why an author might want to hold on to some cards and not reveal them all too early.

The story was entertaining and its fast pace kept me on my toes. That said, there was also a lot going on, and sometimes the multiple plot threads had a way of straying from the main conflict. If you enjoy action and mystery though, this novel will have plenty to satisfy your thirst, and eventually everything will tie together and set up possibilities for the future.

All in all, Graveyard Shift is a debut that delivers a solid beginning, and the seeds of potential have been planted for this series to become a strong contender in the genre. The way the book ends leads me to think there will be a lot more to come and I look forward to seeing what’s next.

Review: You Die When You Die by Angus Watson

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

You Die When You Die by Angus Watson

Mogsy’s Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of West of West

Publisher: Orbit (June 20, 2017)

Length: 512 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

You Die When You Die was a crazy wild ride I never wanted to end. Wooooootah, did I love this book! After having a blast with Angus Watson’s Iron Age trilogy I had a good feeling that his new book would be another glorious full-hearted adventure through new frontiers of dark fantasy, and I’m telling you all right now, I was abso-fucking-lutely not disappointed.

Though this novel is more heavily steeped in magic and fantasy, the author has once again drawn much of his inspiration from history, similar to what he did in his previous series. Inspired by the cultures of Native Americans as well as the Vikings, he has created a small population of villagers known to the surrounding local tribes as the “Mushroom Men”, who are simply content to live their modest, bucolic lives in a town known as Hardwork. Despite their name though, Hardworkers actually have it pretty good, to the point where some of the village elders fear that their people may have lost their ability to be self-sufficient. For generations, they have lived in relative peace and security, with whatever protection and resources they need provided by their Scrayling neighbors.

So when the attack on Hardwork came, none of them could quite believe it. Thanks to a Calnian prophecy that says the Mushroom Men will destroy the world, they are all now marked for death. Only a handful of them have survived, those who have heeded the warnings of a simple-minded village boy with the uncanny ability to see the future. His advice? Run. Run as far as you can towards the west, and then run some more. No one really knows what it means, but the survivors have no choice but to follow his words and go “west of west”. Their enemies will not give up until every man, woman, and child of Hardwork is dead, and to show how seriously they mean business, Calnia has even sent a squad of ruthless, magically-enhanced female warriors known as the Owsla after them.

The thing I loved best about this book were the Hardworkers, who are all so wonderfully well characterized and nuanced. Watson has set their culture apart with a unique set of traditions, and even their names possess their own individual charms. As children, many of them receive nicknames that stay with them well into adulthood, and so you get people called Sassa Lipchewer, Wulf the Fat, Freydis the Annoying, or Finnbogi the Boggy. (I mean, how could anyone not fall in love with a character named Finnbogi the Boggy?) As one of the key POV characters, Finn was easy to engage with. Consumed with youthful confidence, he is cocksure and naïve to many of life’s hardships, and up until the brutal attack on his village, his only concern in the world was trying to get the latest girl he’s infatuated with to notice him (and at the moment, it’s a firecracker named Thyri Treelegs). But as the story progresses, Finn begins to undergo a dramatic change, growing up quickly to demonstrate both increased wisdom and courage in many ways. A troop of bloodthirsty warrior women trying to hunt you down and kill you will do that to you.

Speaking of which, I really enjoyed the Calnian Owsla. Having spent generations living an idyllic, peaceful existence, the Hardworkers are of course no match for these powerful and deadly ladies, but even as I spent the whole book rooting for the underdogs, I could not help but admire their foes as well. From Sofi Tornado to Paloma Pronghorn and more, the frequent glimpses we saw through the Owsla’s perspectives were so genuine and enthusiastic that I simply could not bring myself to hate them, and in time we’re also led to wonder if there’s something more to their presence. Furthermore, there’s a fascinating mechanism behind their magical powers, but since that’s one of the coolest reveals in the story, I have no intention of spoiling it here.

Given the relative simplicity and straightforward nature of the plot, I was also impressed with how the author was able to pull it off. What we have is essentially a desperate race towards the west, with the Owsla constantly catching up to the slower and less adept Hardworkers who are escaping with all of their aged and their young. You’d think this cycle would tire itself out after a while, but it doesn’t, all thanks to the action and humor that one would expect from a book titled You Die When You Die. For you see, not all of the tribes that the Hardworkers come across are happy with the Calnian Empire either, and most of them don’t need much of an excuse to give the Mushroom Men an edge if it means screwing with the Owsla in spectacular ways. Also I was just as pleased with the rollercoaster of emotions the story gave me, ranging from pure mirth to profound poignancy. The Hardworkers’ determination and devotion to each other really touched my heart, and even with all the laughter and nail-biting moments, I think what will stay with me most are the times of light camaraderie and when they are helping each other to survive.

If you’re familiar with Angus Watson’s work then you’d know that he never holds back on the shocking twists, and with the ending to this novel, he leaves us wondering what will be coming next. You Die When You Die has a lot to love. It’s a story that commands your full attention from the very first page, whisking readers away on a journey set in an imaginative world full of riveting characters and gritty adventure. Watson has written another winner! I’m really excited to see to where he’ll take the story in the sequel, The Land You Never Leave.

Book Review: Lost Boy by Christina Henry + Giveaway!

***Be sure to check out the end of this post for details on our LOST BOY giveaway!***

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

Lost Boy by Christina Henry

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1/Stand Alone

Publisher: Berkley (July 4, 2017)

Length: 304 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Each year seems to bring its crop of Peter Pan retellings, and 2017 is no exception. We’ve gotten to the point where even the versions told from Captain Hook’s point-of-view, where “Hook is good/Peter is evil” are nothing to bat an eye at. And yet, I still find myself unable to ever resist these, always searching for the one which will finally do this great villain justice.

This was what led me to Lost Boy, and I must say, Christina Henry’s portrayal may be one of the best I’ve ever read. Not surprising, really, considering this is the same author who brought us the dark and bloody Chronicles of Alice, a twisted duology inspired by the classics works of Lewis Carroll which I also happened to enjoy immensely. This time though, Henry is taking us down a different rabbit hole, into one that connects the world of our own with a magical island in another place where children never grow old. This is the home of Peter Pan, who spends his never-ending childhood stealing boys from the “Other Place” to bring back to his island paradise so that he will always have playmates to amuse him. However, Peter has a very sick sense of what constitutes “amusement”. His outward appearance of an eleven-year-old boy belies the fact that he is a master manipulator, with an infectious charm that makes all his Lost Boys love him and want to please him.

The only one who can see through all of this is Jamie, the first boy Peter ever brought to the island. They’ve been the best of friends for a long, long time—long enough that Jamie has become Peter’s favorite companion and right hand man, the one who takes care of the rest of the boys. Someone has to, after all, considering the way Peter goes through playmates like dogs go through chew toys, a fact that Jamie hates. Whether he is leading the boys into pirate raids or making them beat each other up during Battle, Peter only has his own entertainment in mind, giving no thought to whether the others got hurt, sickened, or even died. Already he is showing signs of growing bored with Charlie, the latest boy he has brought back from the Other Place. Younger and more helpless than the others, Charlie immediately becomes attached to Jamie, who steps in to become the little boy’s protector. Unfortunately, this just seems to make Peter resent Charlie even more. Not for the first time, Jamie wonders just how far Peter would go to maintain his absolute rule over the Lost Boys, though if it means harm to Charlie, he knows he will do whatever what it takes to stop his oldest friend.

And here I thought Disney’s depiction of Peter Pan was an annoying little shit. The portrayal of the Boy-Who-Wouldn’t-Grow-Up in Lost Boy on the other hand, is on an entirely different level of evil and heartlessness. While it is said that in the original play and books by J.M. Barrie, the character symbolizes the selfishness of childhood as evidenced by his thoughtlessness and cocky attitude, Christina Henry’s Peter Pan embodies of all of this plus a healthy dose of psychopathy, to the point I doubt even the Once Upon A Time version can hold a candle to hers in terms of sheer dickery. The Peter in Lost Boy is a repugnant little monster, one who relishes in manipulating the minds of young and innocent little boys so that they would worship him and leap unquestioningly to do his bidding—even if it is an order to beat each other to a bloody pulp. To Peter, the Lost Boys are nothing more than disposable and replaceable meat toys; if they get destroyed or if he grows bored with them, he’ll just go over to the Other Place and pick up another.

This in turn made it easy to root for Jamie, our protagonist who has come to realize that what used to be fun becomes no longer so if you’re forced to do it for eternity…never growing older, playing out the same “adventures” again and again. He’s also getting sick of burying his friends, the many Lost Boys who have died over the years because of Peter’s negligence (it’s all fun and games until someone gets decapitated by a cannonball). Without even being aware of it, Jamie is growing up, maturing in mind if not in body, a process which has already begun when we first meet him. What sets Lost Boy apart from similar books is the way Henry handles this transition. For Jamie, his hatred of Peter Pan isn’t a switch that just gets flipped on one day. Instead, it is like a seed which has been planted since the beginning, only it has been buried for a very long time. With every shock and revelation he receives about Peter’s true nature, it grows and grows until something finally happens that makes him reach the point of no return.

Jamie’s characterization was a huge part of what made Lost Boy such a fascinating, addictive read. However, it also led to a lot of powerful and heartbreaking moments. The protagonist’s caring attitude made me sympathize with him, but it also killed me knowing that it would eventually lead to his downfall. After all, we all know of the famous rivalry between Peter Pan and Captain Hook. That part of their story does not change with this retelling, but Christina Henry has made the journey to get there a lot more interesting and at times overwhelming and painful in its emotional intensity.

All told, Lost Boy is Hook’s tale as I have never heard it told before, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’d probably avoid this if you’d like hold on to your memories of Peter Pan as a cute and free-spirited young boy, but definitely pick this up if you are a fan of grim and gruesome imaginative retellings.

Lost Boy Giveaway

Time for a giveaway! With thanks to the publisher, the BiblioSanctum has one print copy of Lost Boy up for grabs! The giveaway is open to residents of the US.  To enter, all you have to do is send an email to bibliosanctum@gmail.com with your Name and valid Mailing Address using the subject line “LOST BOY” by 11:59pm Eastern time on Sunday, July 23, 2017.

Only one entry per household, please. The winner will be randomly selected when the giveaway ends and then be notified by email. All information will only be used for the purposes of contacting the winner and sending them their prize. Once the giveaway ends all entry emails will be deleted.

So what are you waiting for? Enter to win! Good luck!

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

Thank you to the publishers and authors for the following review copies received. For more details and full descriptions of the books, be sure to click the links to their Goodreads pages!

With thanks to Margaret K. McElderry Books for this ARC of The Glass Town Game by Catherynne M. Valente, her upcoming Middle Grade novel following Charlotte, Anne, Emily, and Branwell Brontë as they’re transported into Glass Town, the fictional realm based on a world of the siblings’ own creation. I’ve always been curious about Valente’s MG projects, and this sounds like it could be the perfect place to start.

Raining Fire by Rajan Khanna is the third book of the Ben Gold series which I’m still behind on, but as soon as I’m caught up with book two I’d like to check this one out. My thanks to Pyr Books for the finished copy.

From the kind folks at Simon & Schuster I also received this finished copy of The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck and illustrated/adapted by Nick Bertozzi, a graphic novel adapted from the 1931 classic. The artwork is really breathtaking, and I wish I had read the original story.

Huge thanks to Flatiron Books for this ARC of 13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough! I’m a big fan of the author’s work, not to mention that this novel has already been out in the UK for a while now to great acclaim, which is making me even more excited to read it.

The first book of the Adventures of Arabella Ashby series was such a joy to read, which is why I was thrilled when its sequel Arabella and the Battle of Venus by David D. Levine landed on my doorstep earlier this week. I also received Perilous Prophecy by Leanna Renee Hieber, the third installment of her Victorian-era fantasy series Strangely Beautiful, though I hear this one is considered a prequel novel and thus can be read as a stand alone. My thanks to Tor for these finished copies.

Continuing with the new arrivals from Tor, I also received Tomorrow’s Kin by Nancy Kress which I’m very excited to read because I just love tales of first alien contact. Next up is The Queen of Swords by R.S. Belcher, third in the Golgotha sequence, of which I’ve only read the first book. From the description though, it sounds like this novel can be read as a standalone and I’m really hoping this is the case – after all, how can I resist a story about female pirates? My thanks again to the publisher.

Last week I received a mystery package from Hachette, and to my to delighted surprise it contained this ARC of Provenance by Ann Leckie. The author’s Imperial Radch trilogy is one of the most unique works of science fiction I’ve ever read, so I’m really curious to see what she has in store for us next. Provenance appears to contain some elements of a heist book, featuring a young woman’s quest to retrieve a priceless lost artifact and a prison break. I can’t wait to see what it’s all about! With thanks to Orbit Books.

Thanks also to Harper Voyager for The Reluctant Queen by Sarah Beth Durst, book two of The Queens of Renthia series. I read the first book last year and enjoyed it a lot, and I’m excited to see how the story will continue.

Later this fall, Graydon House which is a new imprint from HarperCollins will be releasing their major launch title Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda, a story that takes place over 24 hours following a seemingly perfect couple. The husband takes his wife away to their lakehouse for a romantic weekend getaway, promising her the best day ever (like that doesn’t sound ominous!) Domestic suspense is a genre that is hit or miss with me, but holy shit I can’t get over how AMAZING this one sounds. My sincerest thanks to the publisher and Wunderkind PR for the review opportunity, I’m seriously dying to read this.

And speaking of suspense, LoveMurder by Saul Black is another surprise arrival, described as a haunting thriller starring a homicide detective who must work with the convicted killer she put away six years ago in order to solve another grisly murder. It is technically the second book of a series, but sounds like it’s possible to just jump right in. My thanks to St. Martin’s Press.

  

 

  

So yeaaaah I went kinda nuts on NetGalley, but you can hardly blame me. From Del Rey, I requested A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne because what urban fantasy fan can say no to a brand new series from the mind who brought us the hilarious Iron Druid Chronicles? From Crown, I also requested Artemis by Andy Weir, a near-future heist thriller that sounds very different from his sci-fi hit The Martian. I also got an email one afternoon in which Little Brown Books for Young Readers was offering a limited number of “Read Nows” for Invictus by Ryan Graudin, so you can bet I slammed on that button right quick. Magicians Impossible by Brad Abraham was also an intriguing supernatural/fantasy thriller novel that caught my eye from Thomas Dunne Books. And finally, I saw Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine from Thomas & Mercer and just could not help myself. I love Rachel Caine but I’ve only read her fantasy, and I’d very much like to see how handles mystery/thriller. With thanks to all the publishers.

This week I also received a couple of review requests from authors. Revenant Winds by Mitchell Hogan is the first of a new epic fantasy series set in a world devastated by a series of cataclysms, and a group of unlikely heroes must band together to stop an evil long thought to have been defeated. Snowspelled by Stephanie Burgis is a romantic fantasy novella set in an alternate version of Regency England in which magic is reserved for gentlemen while ladies are expected to attend to the more practical business of politics. Thanks Mitchell and Stephanie, I’m looking forward to reading!

And finally, my thanks to Tor.com for these e-galleys of Switchback by Melissa F. Olson and Weaver’s Lament by Emma Newman, both of which are sequels to books I have not gotten a chance to read yet. I’ve been falling behind on all these novellas I want to read, but I’m working hard to catch up.

Reviews

In this section I do a roundup of my reviews posted since the last update. I’m so glad I finally got to share my review of Devil’s Call by debut author J. Danielle Dorn, which gets the highlighted spot this week along with the brilliant Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory.

Devil’s Call by J. Danielle Dorn (5 of 5 stars)
Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory (4.5 of 5 stars)
Shark Island by Chris Jameson (4 of 5 stars)
Now I Rise by Kiersten White (4 of 5 stars)
A Kiss Before Doomsday by Laurence MacNaughton (4 of 5 stars)
Warlock Holmes: The Hell-Hound of the Baskervilles by G.S. Denning (4 of 5 stars)
Godblind by Anna Stephens (3 of 5 stars)

Roundup Highlights:

 

Interviews & Guest Posts

A huge thanks to Laurence MacNaughton who stopped by last week for a Q&A about his new novel A Kiss Before Doomsday!

An Interview with Laurence MacNaughton, Author of the Dru Jasper Series

 

What I’ve Read Since the Last Update

The following are books I finished recently. Considering there were a couple of huge clunky tomes in the “unstacked” pile this week, I was surprised I got to read this many books, honestly. Reviews for most of these 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!:)

Friday Face-Off: Boat

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 Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea, in a beautiful pea green boat…”
~ a cover featuring a BOAT

Mogsy’s Pick:
The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

Well, I don’t know about owls or pussy-cats, but the book I’m featuring this week does have a bear. In a world where the ocean has flooded most of the earth, a bulk of the population has taken to the water and made their permanent homes aboard boats, calling themselves the damplings. North is a young woman who travels with a floating circus, performing in an act with a trained bear that has been her best friend and companion since childhood.

Now let’s take a look at the available covers I could find:

From left to right, top to bottom: Crown (2015) – Vintage (2016) – Harvill Secker (2015)

  

Winner:

This was a tough week, because all three covers are so enchanting and beautiful in their own way. Push comes to shove though, I think I’m going to have to go with the Harvill Secker edition because I just love the art style, which reminds of something I might find in a book of children’s fairy tales.

What do you think? Which one is your favorite?