Waiting on Wednesday 07/06/22

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

Mogsy’s Pick

The Lake House by Sarah Beth Durst (April 25, 2023 by Harperteen)

I would be more wary of the fact that this was YA except I trust that anything written by Sarah Beth Durst would be amazing. In the past I’ve also enjoyed her adult fiction with crossover appeal, and I’m curious to read The Lake House because I’d like to see how she tackles mystery/thriller.

“Yellowjackets meets One of Us Is Lying in this masterful survival thriller from award-winning author Sarah Beth Durst.

Claire’s grown up triple-checking locks. Counting her steps. Second-guessing every decision. It’s just how she’s wired-her worst-case scenarios never actually come true.

Until she arrives at an off-the-grid summer camp to find a blackened, burned husk instead of a lodge-and no survivors, except her and two other late arrivals: Reyva and Mariana.

When the three girls find a dead body in the woods, they realize none of this is an accident. Someone, something, is hunting them. Something that hides in the shadows. Something that refuses to let them leave.

Irresistible and action-packed until the very final page, The Lake House will have readers glued to their seats as tension builds and danger mounts-and a final, shocking twist is revealed.”

Audiobook Review: Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree

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

Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree

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

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Macmillan Audio (June 14, 2022)

Length: 6 hrs and 22 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Travis Baldree is a name I recognize back from playing Torchlight, and it seems in the years since his days at Runic Games he’s been keeping busy, narrating audiobooks and now authoring Legends & Lattes, a novel he describes as a low-stakes cozy fantasy.

I know it’s supremely rare to come across anything that live up to their advertised appeal, but that’s exactly what this book is—a heartwarming story that is entirely comfortable in its own skin, simply content to deliver this quiet little tale about an Orc barbarian who retires from a warrior life to open her own coffee shop.

Not much more to that, really. Readers follow Viv as she arrives in Thune, a city remarkable for its classic Dungeons & Dragons vibes and the fact that no one has ever heard of coffee. Our entrepreneurial protagonist quickly sees an opportunity to remedy that by establishing the town’s first café, but with most of her experience being in waging war and bloody battles, she has not a clue on how to build or run a business. Enter her new friends who all pitch in to lend a hand. Among them are Tandri, a succubus who brings her artistic talents and managerial assistance, and Cal, a hob carpenter who helps Viv create a sign for the shop and bestows upon it a name—Legends & Lattes.

This “slice of life” style of storytelling depicting the everyday experience of our characters suits the tone of the novel well, namely because it is completely without pretension and doesn’t claim to break new ground. Even the world, filled with its many races of humanoids and different magical creatures, would be familiar to fans of Tolkien, D&D, or World of Warcraft and the like. Plot development is on the lighter side, and any real conflict is close to non-existent.

It’s easy to see how a book like this would find an audience in today’s climate of uncertainty, when everyone is looking for escapism in comfort, some calm in the storm. Legends & Lattes might not offer much in the way of action or thrills or twists, but it’s like a warm hug in literary form. It also features interesting, authentic feeling characters who embody the true meaning of friendship, togetherness, and support. It’s cozy, it’s adorable, and it’s sweet.

If that is what you’re looking for, then I think you’ll enjoy Legends & Lattes very much. It’s definitely a mood read of a sort—like you have to be in a certain frame of mind to really get into it. For many fantasy fans, the fact that it feels so different from a lot of what’s coming out of the genre lately, that by itself is probably going to be a huge selling point, despite there being virtually no surprises, no chance of heartbreak, and no danger at all to the characters.

Refreshing as that may be, I’m going to be completely honest here—just as being a mood read can play to the book’s advantage, it can be a drawback as well. Once I got into the rhythm of the first half, realizing we were never moving much further beyond that, I found it more difficult to stay focused. I think I needed more…something. Maybe a little more excitement? Warm fuzzy feelings can only get me so far, after all.

At the end of the day, a simple story can be awesome, but still be a shallow experience. That’s not to knock Legends & Lattes too much though, because ultimately I did enjoy it a lot. It was a nice break from the hustle and bustle of most epic fantasy novels, and quite truthfully, it probably scratched an itch I didn’t even know I had. If you’re in the mood for a more stimulating read, I would suggest you look elsewhere, but if you go into this knowing what it’s all about and that it’s what you want, you will not be disappointed.

Kudos also to Travis Baldree, who not so surprisingly also narrated his own book. It’s always a treat to have author-narrated books, provided they are talented and experienced voice actors like in this case, because you know they will give you the exact audio experience they want you to have. This was a totally chill listen, perfectly wonderful and relaxing.

Bookshelf Roundup: 07/02/22: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads

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

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Received for Review

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

With thanks to Tordotcom for sending me a copy of A Taste of Gold and Iron by Alexandra Rowland. Not my usual kind of read, but I’m sure when the mood for a queer fantasy romance strikes, I’ll be glad to have this. I was also very excited to receive a review copy of The Swell by Allie Reynolds from the kind folks at G.P. Putnum’s Sons. The same author’s debut Shiver was a thriller I absolutely loved, and I cannot wait to check out her sophomore novel. And finally, another exciting arrival, this time from Starscape. Bastille and the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson and Janci Patterson is the sixth and final book of the middle grade series Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians and I have been waiting a long time to see how it’s going to end.

In the digital haul this week, with thanks to Simon & Schuster Audio for a listening copy of The Last to Vanish by Megan Miranda, a thriller that opens with the disappearance of a journalist investigating a string of missing persons cases in a small resort town. Also thanks to Listening Library for a listening copy of Go Hunt Me by Kelly deVos, a YA horror following a group of friends on their dream trip to a remote Romanian castle, where they end up being killed one by one. And with thanks to Harper Audio for ALCs of Eclipse the Moon by Jessie Mihalik, the next installment of her Starlight’s Shadow series, as well as The Pallbearers Club by Paul Tremblay, the author’s newest psychological thriller.

Reviews

The House Across the Lake by Riley Sager (4 of 5 stars)
Friend of the Devil by Stephen Lloyd (3 of 5 stars)

What I’ve Been Reading

Have you heard of or read any of the books featured this week? What caught your eye? Any new discoveries? I hope you found something interesting for a future read!

Friday Face-Off: Epic

Welcome to The Friday Face-Off, a weekly meme created by Books by Proxy! Each Friday, we will pit cover against cover while also taking the opportunity to showcase gorgeous artwork and feature some of our favorite book covers. If you want to join the fun, simply choose a book each Friday that fits that week’s predetermined theme, post and compare two or more different covers available for that book, then name your favorite. A list of future weeks’ themes are available at Lynn’s Book Blog.

This week’s theme is:

~ a cover from an EPIC book

The Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley

I was really excited about this week’s topic because epic fantasy is a go-to genre of mine, except it turns out some of my favorite epic fantasy novels actually have some of the most boring and unassuming covers, go figure.

But if there’s one thing I can rely on, it’s a gorgeous Brian Staveley cover with art by Richard Anderson.

Tor Books (2021) vs. Tor UK (2021)

Winner:

Yes, I know I kinda gave it away in the intro, but I do love Richard Anderson’s artwork and the cover he did for the US edition of The Empire’s Ruin is incredible in its dynamic action and killer style. The UK cover is also rather pretty and I like the color scheme, but if I’m to be honest, I’m totally over just weapons on epic fantasy covers.

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

Book Review: Friend of the Devil by Stephen Lloyd

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

Friend of the Devil by Stephen Lloyd

Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Genre: Horror

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Length: 240 pages

Author Information: Website

Wow, what did I just read? I don’t even know where to begin with explaining exactly how this book made me feel. I can probably say with certainty I didn’t love it, but at the same time, it wasn’t bad. For better or worse, Friend of the Devil kept me entertained and it was nothing like I expected.

The story takes place in the 1980s, and follows insurance investigator Sam Gregory. Our protagonist is a war veteran, is a no-nonsense hard-boiled detective kind of character. For his latest job, his company has dispatched him to a posh private school situated on its own little island off the coast of Massachusetts. Danforth Putnum, a boarding school for children of the elite, has reported a theft of a priceless 11th century manuscript from its library safe, which was supposed to be impregnable. The case is too low priority for the police, so it’s up to Sam to gather up all the necessary information.

While poking around the campus, however, he discovers something far stranger going on at the school beyond missing manuscripts and mean bullies. After interviewing some of the staff and students, he learns of some missing kids and hears rumors of a possible demonic entity stalking the island. At the same time, Sam’s presence has caught the attention of a brilliant and tenacious school reporter named Harriet, who is determined to find out what he’s up to.

First, the positives. I enjoyed the setting. I make it no secret that books set in elite prep schools are like my catnip. I’d hate to have to ever attend a school like Danforth Putnam, but I sure loved reading about dynamics between its trouble students and following all the drama unfolding within its walls. The fact that the campus was on its own creepy little island simply added to the appeal.

I also liked the main character. Despite being employed by an insurance company, the role played by Sam Gregory clearly draws inspiration from the protagonists in tough and gritty hard-boiled pulp crime mysteries made popular in the 1930s. Sam has the attitude and the dry wit, but he’s even more rough around the edges, jaded by his time in the military and struggling with substance abuse. He’s seen so much in his line of work that pretty much nothing surprises him anymore, and anyone who thinks they can mess with Sam has got it coming.

And now for the not-so-great. Ultimately, it was the plot that failed to pull its weight for this book, and I hate to say it, but much of it was in the way it was written. You had a strong setting, a powerful main character, a decent story, but it was like the threads holding it all together were untidy and left huge holes. The flow of the novel felt disjointed and sometimes left me with the feeling that something important was missing or didn’t segue right.

Then there was the bloody gore and gruesomeness. Again, it’s not so much the actual content I object to, but more the way it was written. I felt like some of the more graphic scenes were out of place and did not match the overall tone of the book, and descriptions of the brutal killings felt overly self-indulgent and not very necessary.

It made me wonder if the author’s experience as a TV writer and producer might have had something to do with the overall choppiness of the story structure. Writing a novel is quite different than writing a screenplay for a show, and in Friend of the Devil, I sensed that heavier emphasis was placed on individual scenes rather than the transitions between them and the overall flow. So, for example, bursty action-filled sequences were given a lot more attention while anything that was more related to character and plot development was glossed over.

I think with a little bit of polishing and smoothing out of some of its rough edges, this book could have been a great. Still, while Stephen Lloyd’s horror debut did not quite meet all my high expectations, it still delivered the creepiness and suspense where it mattered. Ultimately, Friend of the Devil gets a solid three stars because it kept me turning the pages, despite its flaws.

Waiting on Wednesday 06/29/22

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

Mogsy’s Pick

Across the Sand by Hugh Howey (October 4, 2022 by Harper Voyager)

Remember Hugh Howey and Wool? It’s been six years since he wrote his last novel, which was Sand, and this one takes place in the same world but supposedly can be read as a standalone. It’s been so long, I think it would be quite exciting to read something by the author again!

The first original novel from author Hugh Howey in six years, Across the Sand takes us back to the world of Sand, to a far future many generations after a disaster has destroyed civilization as we know it, where four siblings struggle to build their futures amid the harsh wastes of endless desert.

The old world is buried. A new one has been forged atop the shifting dunes, a land of howling wind and infernal sand.

In this barren home, siblings Conner, Rob, Palmer and Violet daily carve out a future. They live in the shadow of their father and oldest sister, Vic, two of the greatest sand divers ever to comb the desert’s depths. But these branches of their family tree are long gone, disappeared into the wastes beyond, leaving the younger siblings scratching in the dust, hopeful for a better life.

On the other side of No Man’s Land, Anya was born beside the abundant mines knowing her prospects would be to marry, have a family, and work in ore, in service to the Empire of the East. But when an atomic bomb delivered by a stranger destroys most of her town–murdering all her friends and community–she follows her father to a strange land of dunes to bring vengeance to their enemies.“

Audiobook Review: The House Across the Lake by Riley Sager

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

The House Across the Lake by Riley Sager

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

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Penguin Audio (June 21, 2022)

Length: 11 hrs and 3 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrators: Bernadette Dunne

The House Across the Lake is my third book by Riley Sager, and I liked it a lot! However, I’m not sure everyone will have a positive experience, mostly because there’s a HUGE twist at the end of this that I suspect will be quite contentious…

The beginning, though, is a rather typical setup for a Rear Window kind of thriller. Casey Fletcher is our protagonist, recently widowed and trying to drink away her sorrows. An actress by trade, she has been fired from all her projects due to her increasingly worsening alcoholism, and after some prodding from her mother, Casey reluctantly agrees to take a break by spending some time away at the Vermont lake house that her family owns—the same place her husband drowned a year and a half before.

Being here means that Casey can stay out of trouble for the most part, but she’s still trying to drink away the bad memories and spends her time looking through her binoculars at her glamorous neighbors, Tom and Katherine Royce, who live in the glass house across the lake. One day, Casey sees Katherine struggling in the water, and manages to avert another tragedy by swiftly coming to the rescue. The two of them strike up a quick friendship, making Casey feel a little guilty for spying on the Royces, but the more she spends time with the couple, the more she notices something off about the way Tom and Katherine behave around each other. Continuing to watch them though her binoculars, Casey realizes something is seriously wrong with Katherine’s marriage, and when her friend suddenly disappears, our protagonist becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to her.

I’m just going to cut to the chase here. Whatever you might think is going to happen from the short synopsis I provided above, I guarantee it will be wrong. That’s because for most of the novel, Sager leads you to believe The House Across the Lake is going to be another one of your ordinary run-of-the-mill thriller mysteries with a perfectly mundane albeit exciting explanation that you would expect, if not perfectly predict. In reality though, it’s all just a ruse to make you feel all the more astonished and knocked for a loop when everything—and I mean everything—is turned on its head once he drops the big twist.

And it’s big. Genre-changing big. Without spoiling even the tiniest of details, I’ll just say that there is a supernatural element to this, and that is why I think reactions to the ending will be mixed depending on the type of reader you are. Even speaking as someone who enjoys fantasy and speculative fiction, I felt the twist was a bit too much, too sudden, and too in-your-face, so if you’re more into earthly non-supernatural thrillers, I can see how the bombshell might frustrate or even anger you.

For my part though, I enjoyed it. Up until that point, I was admittedly getting drawn into the lull, and while I wouldn’t say I was bored, I have to say I was expecting a little more from the author. The twist changed all that. As awkward as the actual transition was, my interest in the story and how it would end immediately shot straight up to the stratosphere. For a bit of context, I happen to love any kind of sci-fi or fantasy, even if it’s just a dash of it in my fiction. When it’s in my thrillers, mysteries, or horror, I love it even more. Think Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes. That kind of stuff really does it for me.

So, consider this a warning or an endorsement, depending on the kind of reader you are. If you typically enjoy Riley Sager though, The House Across the Lake is definitely worth checking out for his suspenseful prose and characters. The audiobook was also fantastically narrated by Bernadette Dunne, who is amazing. Though I had imagined a less mature and sophisticated voice for Casey, I really can’t complain when it’s one of my favorite narrators doing the reading. Highly recommend if you are into audiobooks to consider the audio edition.

Bookshelf Roundup: 06/25/22: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads

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

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Received for Review

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

With thanks to Minotaur Books for a review copy of Outside by Ragnar Jonasson, the audiobook of which I reviewed recently, but the arrival of the hardcover was a nice surprise. The book was okay, but I had some mixed feelings about the story which I thought could have been more. From the publisher I also received The Blue Diamond by Leonard Goldberg which was another surprise arrival, and though this is the sixth book of a series called The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes Mysteries, I really hope it can be read as a standalone!

Also thanks to Orbit for sending me an ARC of Eversion by Alastair Reynolds earlier this month. Three entwined stories, one set set aboard a sailing ship in the 1800s, another set on a zeppelin in the 1900s, and the last in the far future on a spaceship form a narrative about a doctor who tries to figure out why certain events around him keep on repeating themselves. It sounds fascinating and I must try to read this.

Thank you also to Tor Books for a finished copy of The Grief of Stones by Katherine Addison, the follow up to The Witness for the Dead, which I LOVED, and I hope this one will be just as good. And from the kind folks at Tordotcom, I received a surprise copy of January Fifteenth by Rachel Swirsky which I knew very little about, but according to the book’s description and reviews, the story’s premise appears to explore the concept of Universal Basic Income.

My big audiobook haul came in this week, with thanks to Macmillan Audio! Looks like I’ll be set on thrillers for the next little while, with listening copies of Things We Do in the Dark by Jennifer HillierStay Awake by Megan Goldin, and Daisy Darker by Alice Feeney.

As for speculative fiction, I was also ecstatic to receive What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher, described as a gothic horror retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher. I was also curious about Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree, a little book that came out of nowhere and seems to have taken the fantasy blogosphere by storm. I so happy that the audio version was available to request, and it’s even narrated by the author! And finally, I also received an ALC of Mary: An Awakening of Terror by Nat Cassidy, an intriguing horror novel described as Midsommar meets American Psycho and I’ll be Gone in the Dark.

Reviews

Black Tide by K.C. Jones (4 of 5 stars)
The Peacekeeper by B.L. Blanchard (3.5 of 5 stars)

What I’ve Been Reading

Have you heard of or read any of the books featured this week? What caught your eye? Any new discoveries? I hope you found something interesting for a future read!

Book Review: The Peacekeeper by B.L. Blanchard

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

The Peacekeeper by B.L. Blanchard

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

Genre: Mystery, Alternate History

Series: Book 1 of The Good Lands

Publisher: 47North | Brilliance Audio (June 1, 2022)

Length: 318 pages | 9 hrs and 39 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

For fans of slowburn mysteries with a unique alternate history backdrop, The Peacekeeper is sure to keep you riveted. The story follows Chibenashi, whose titular role makes him a police detective of sorts for his small town of Baawitigong in a North America that was never colonized. His life hasn’t been easy, with a childhood filled with loss and a younger sister to care for, but Chibenashi manages to get by, until the Manoomin harvest, when the murder of a woman turns the close-knit community on its head.

The circumstances around the killing dredges up unpleasant memories for our protagonist. Two decades ago, his mother was murdered too, and his father confessed to the crime. Now it turns out that the slain woman was his mother’s best friend, leading to an investigation which takes Chibenashi down some dark paths he never thought to revisit again. But if there is a connection between the two murders, he must find out—for his traumatized sister and for himself.

I confess, the plot itself is a rather standard murder mystery, but it was the description of the novel’s alternate history setting and its intriguing approach which made me curious and led me to read book. And overall, it certainly did not disappoint in that respect. The alternate history angle was indeed the most fascinating element of the novel, because not only is the entire geography of the continent different, but the author also challenges you reflect upon about how the entire structure of government or society might be changed. Pretty much everything is different.

Are there questions that don’t get answered or holes that don’t get filled in regarding the world-building? Sure, but I don’t think it affected the experience too much. In that sense, the story worked effectively as a thought experiment, putting the main character’s personal demons and emotional turmoil into a fresh new context.

The plot itself was slowburn, as I said, unraveling at a measured pace as Chibenashi goes through the motions of chasing down clues and interrogating leads. The trajectory of the story itself is pretty standard and won’t be breaking any new ground for seasoned readers of police procedurals or mysteries, but the highlight for me was definitely the moral and psychological aspects and questions it presents. After all, I was able to predict the big reveal rather easily, but it was the repercussions and the aftermath of those revelations that truly stuck with me.

And honestly, it probably wouldn’t have made such an impact had Chibenashi hadn’t been written so well. Our protagonist is a flawed man, with a troubled past that has left him burdened with plenty of guilt, sadness, and general sense of being beaten down. He hasn’t always made the right decisions, but his backstory also gives the reader a reason to sympathize with him and see the situation from his perspective. Deep down though, he is also a champion for the truth and won’t stop pursuing it even knowing he might not like the answers he finds at the end.

Bottom line, I enjoyed The Peacekeeper, and though the world-building is arguably the novel’s strongest point, I feel there is also a good story here led by a powerful, memorable protagonist. As luck would have it, I also had the audio edition of the book to review and had the pleasure of listening to the performance of narrator Darrell Dennis, who did a great job delivering a full emotional range for a character like Chibenashi. I would definitely recommend this book if you’re looking for an interesting alternate history novel or a unique mystery.

Waiting on Wednesday 06/22/22

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

Mogsy’s Pick

A Sliver of Darkness by C.J. Tudor (November 8, 2022 by Ballantine Books)

You know how I am with short story collections, but this is one I’ll make an exception for because I love C.J. Tudor and her horror/thrillers!

The debut short story collection from the acclaimed author of The Chalk Man, featuring ten bone-chilling and mind-bending tales

Timeslips. Doomsday scenarios. Killer butterflies. C. J. Tudor’s novels are widely acclaimed for their dark, twisty suspense plots, but with A Sliver of Darkness, she pulls us even further into her dizzying imagination.

In Final Course, the world has descended into darkness, but a group of old friends make time for one last dinner party. In Runaway Blues, thwarted love, revenge, and something very nasty stowed in a hat box converge. In Gloria, a strange girl at a service station endears herself to a cold-hearted killer, but can a leopard really change its spots? And in I’m Not Ted, a case of mistaken identity has unforeseen, fatal consequences.

Riveting and explosively original, A Sliver of Darkness is C. J. Tudor at her most wicked and uninhibited.”