Bookshelf Roundup: 12/04/21: 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!

It’s been another interesting week of books in the mailbox. From the amazing folks at Orbit, I received a finished copy of Discordia by Kristyn Merbeth, the third book of Nova Vita Protocol series. Of course, despite the best laid plans I was unable to get to the second book during Sci-Fi Month so it’ll take me just a tad longer to get to this one, but I’m glad I have the full trilogy now. From the publisher I also received The Liar’s Knot by M.A. Carrick, sequel to The Mast of Mirrors. I quite enjoyed the first book, so I’m looking forward to continuing this series

With thanks to Minotaur Books I also received an ARC of The Resting Place by Camilla Sten. As you might recall, earlier this spring I had a great time with her novel The Lost Village and this one promises to be even creepier! Very excited to dive right in.

And thank you to the Nightfire team for sending along an ARC of Echo by Thomas Olde Heuvelt. I read his book Hex a few years ago and I’ve been wanting to read more by him ever since. I also happen to be a big fan of horror stories set in remote places, so this one sounds right up my alley.

In the digital haul, with thanks to Simon & Schuster Audio for providing me with a listening copy of The Veiled Throne by Ken Liu, book three of The Dandelion Dynasty. Feels like I’ve been waiting for this one forever, I can’t believe it’s finally here! Though, I think I might need a little refresher to remind me where things are at. From the publisher I also received a review copy of Roxy by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman, which was a relatively new discovery for me, but after reading this speculative YA thriller’s summary and its themes exploring the opioid crisis and drug addiction, I decided it was definitely worth a look.

Reviews

Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Ella Cosimano (4.5 of 5 stars)
Cytonic by Brandon Sanderson (3.5 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!

Friday Face-Off: Windswept

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 classic figure, stood majestically, with wind blowing out in a fetching way”
~ a WINDSWEPT cover

Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson

Since one of my favorite tropes in fantasy is “books about books”, that was immediately a point in this novel’s favor! Protagonist Elisabeth Scrivener was abandoned on the doorstep of the Great Library of Summershall when she was just an infant. As a result, she was raised among its shelves of magical tomes, growing up with a natural thirst for knowledge, though unfortunately that curiosity often got her into trouble with her caretakers…

Let’s check out the covers:

From left to right:
Margaret K. McElderry Books (2019) – French Edition (2021) – German Edition (2022)

Winner:

These covers are all so pretty, but I think the Big Bang French edition is the prettiest – the most fetchingly windswept – so that’s going to be my winner.

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

Thursday Thriller: Finlay Donovan Is Killing It by Elle Cosimano

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

Finlay Donovan Is Killing It by Elle Cosimano

Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Series: Book 1 of Finlay Donovan

Publisher: Minotaur Books (February 2, 2021)

Length: 355 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

I’m ashamed to admit it took me way too long to read Finlay Donovan Is Killing It because at first I didn’t think it would be my thing, but then of course the rave reviews started rolling in and made me start to think maybe it is my thing after all! This book ended up being so immensely entertaining that I can only recommend it with all my heart.

But first, let’s set the scene. Protagonist Finlay Donovan is a romance mystery author struggling with ideas for her next book. Part of the reason for her writer’s block is her recent divorce from her scummy ex-husband Steve who had been caught sleeping around with their real estate agent. Now he and the little hussy are getting married, and if that wasn’t soul-crushing enough, Steve is also trying to sue for full custody of his and Finlay’s children, claiming that her lack of a steady income makes her an unfit mother. The thing that hurts the most? Steve isn’t entirely wrong. Finlay is flat broke and the bills are piling up, but as much as she hates going to Steve for help, knowing how he and his fancy lawyer would simply use it against her in court, she has no choice—she must finish her book if she is to have any chance of keeping the kids.

As the story begins, Finlay is having a particularly bad morning. The electricity has just been shut off, the nanny is a no-show, and her four-year-old daughter has just decided to snip off her own hair, cutting herself in the process. Unfortunately, Finlay’s lame attempts to fix it with a knife have only resulted in a sticky, bloody fiasco, and in her hurry to make it across town to meet with her agent, the whole mess gets swept up into her diaper bag. After dropping the kids off at Steve’s (again, hating herself that she has to depend on him) she rushes off to her lunch date, preparing to face down a very angry and very impatient agent. Sure enough, Finlay gets an earful and spends the next little while spit-balling story ideas about how to kill her next victim, promising that she’ll deliver something so good that she’ll be demanding more money—pretty much anything that would buy her more time to write her book.

Sitting at the next table though, is a nervous looking woman seeming to eavesdrop while glancing down into the contents of Finlay’s diaper bag. At first, Finlay thinks nothing of it…but then she leaves to walk her agent to her car, returning to find a note left under her plate from the mysterious woman containing a phone number and instructions to whack her husband for no less than fifty thousand dollars! With horror, Finlay realizes how someone listening in on her previous conversation without any context might have gotten the wrong idea, especially after seeing the bloody, hair-covered knife in her diaper bag. Finlay quickly decides to call the number in the note to explain that she’s no contract killer, but then it turns out the woman’s husband is a very, very bad man. Plus, there’s no denying fifty thousand dollars is a lot of money. More than enough to solve all her financial problems…

Needless to say, the rest of the story is just too good to spoil, you’ll have to read the book to find out what happens for yourself! But what I can talk about though, is how funny, fast-paced, and entertaining this novel was, which resulted in me blowing through its pages in record time. There were also plenty of laughs and some places that were over-the-top, but that didn’t matter; I was in love with the plot’s freewheeling, feel-good nature and was simply having too much fun to care.

Finlay is also a riot of a protagonist. She never gets a break, and it’s easy to sympathize with her and her life of chaos, even if a lot of her problems are of her own making. Still, she is unstoppable, despite being surrounded by forces against her like her cheating asshole of an ex-husband, his snide and spiteful bride-to-be, or even her own bratty children who take her love for granted. Luckily though, she has Vero, who hands-down wins best supporting character of the year. I loved everything about the two of them, from the quirky, unexpected way they ended up together to the hilarious interactions they had.

There’s some romance too, along with the mystery. In many ways, Finlay Donovan is Killing It is very much how I would imagine the main character’s books would read like, if she was a real author. The pure enthusiasm for comedy and intrigue simply cannot be contained. I wish I had started it sooner, though it makes me so happy to know this will be a series, with another book to come out very soon. I cannot wait to go on another adventure with Finlay and Vero!

Waiting on Wednesday 12/01/21

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

Hide by Kiersten White (May 24, 2022 by Del Rey)

November is over, welcome to December! Seriously, I can hardly believe it either, this year has just zipped by so fast. I’m happy to be switching gears though, after a month of sci-fi, to shine a spotlight on something more in the vein of horror thriller. I’m a fan of Kiersten White as well, and this upcoming novel of hers sounds really intense.

“A high-stakes hide-and-seek competition turns deadly in this dark thriller from New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White.

The challenge: spend a week hiding in an abandoned amusement park and don’t get caught.

The prize: enough money to change everything.

Even though everyone is desperate to win—to seize their dream futures or escape their haunting pasts—Mack feels sure that she can beat her competitors. All she has to do is hide, and she’s an expert at that.

It’s the reason she’s alive, and her family isn’t.

But as the people around her begin disappearing one by one, Mack realizes this competition is more sinister than even she imagined, and that together might be the only way to survive.

Fourteen competitors. Seven days. Everywhere to hide, but nowhere to run.

Come out, come out, wherever you are.”

#SciFiMonth Sci-5 Tuesday: Gaming and Virtual Worlds

To celebrate science fiction during the month of November, I’ve put together a series of posts I’ll be doing on Tuesdays to highlight the sci-fi tropes or themes that I find simply irresistible! I’ve also been fortunate to read some great books in the genre over the last few years, and to give them some extra attention, each week I will also be featuring five titles that I recently enjoyed or thought were pretty special.

Today for the final Tuesday of Sci-Fi November, I’m highlighting one of my absolute favorite tropes that I can never resist: GAMING AND VIRTUAL WORLDS! If you enjoy books like Ready Player One or Ender’s Game, these are some others you might want to check out:

United States of Japan by Peter Tieryas

Described as a spiritual successor to The Man in the High Castle, even if you have not read the Philip K. Dick classic, one can immediately surmise a certain set of expectations from United States of Japan. It is an alternate history novel, and it takes place approximately forty years after World War II in a world where Japan won the conflict and conquered America. History has been rewritten, and resistance has been reduced to a small group of rebels called the “George Washingtons”, freedom fighters who are continuing to find new ways to subvert the Japanese rule. Their latest tactic is a video game called “USA” that depicts what the world might be like if the Allied forces had won the war instead. Eventually, the illegal game reaches the attention of Captain Beniko Ishimura, whose role to censor video games ultimately leads him on a journey to investigate USA’s origins, putting him on a path of secrets, dangers and lies. (Read the full review…)

Warcross by Marie Lu

Warcross follows eighteen-year-old Emika Chen, a penniless hacker whose only form of escape is her neural link that allows her to immerse herself in a virtual reality world where she can forget all her troubles. These days, everyone is talking about Warcross, a competitive game which has taken the world by storm, spawning professional e-sports teams and even an annual competition followed by hundreds of millions. On the eve of the championships, Emika links in along with the rest of the world, but secretly, she’s hatching up a plan to swipe a power-up from right under the players’ noses, and the money she could get from selling a prize like that would be the end of all her financial troubles. However, something goes terribly wrong during her hack, and suddenly, Emika’s identity is revealed to the world. Strangely though, instead of being arrested immediately, Emika becomes a celebrity overnight and even receives a call from the billionaire developer of Warcross himself, making her an offer she can’t refuse. Someone is trying to ruin his company by targeting this year’s Warcross Championships, and now he needs a spy with Emika’s talents to infiltrate the games and live among the players to find out who the culprit is. (Read the full review…)

Armada by Ernest Cline

Since Ready Player One is pretty much a given on a list like this, I’ve decided to go with Ernest Cline’s second novel instead. Armada takes place in present day with a shift in focus to all things sci-fi and gaming, following Zack Lightman who spies a flying saucer in the sky one day. Oddly enough, the spaceship looks exactly like an enemy Glaive fighter in Armada, his favorite first-person space combat flight sim MMO. In the game, players take the role of drone pilots, controlling Earth Defense Alliance ships to do battle with alien invaders. Zack’s been playing the game so much, he’s starting to think he’s hallucinating it in his real life as well. Turns out though, Zack’s not crazy. The enemy fighter he glimpsed was as real as it could be. The bad news is, so is the Earth Defense Alliance and the war against the aliens. Governments around the world have known about this imminent attack for decades, and online games like Armada have been training potential recruits for the coming battle. As one of the highest ranked players in Armada, Zack is enlisted with other skilled gamers into the EDA’s forces. (Read the full review…)

Daemon by Daniel Suarez

Daemon is a unique fictional take on MMORPGs and video game AI, taking us to a near-future reality where technology controls everything in our lives via thousands of autonomous computer programs. Legendary computer game designer Matthew Sobol was an expert in creating such programs until his death which made headlines across the globe, but strangely, his obituary posted online triggered more than just grief among his fans and gamers. All of a sudden, a mysterious, previously dormant program called a daemon is awakened, activating a protocol designed to set off a chain of events to cause maximum damage to our interconnected systems. Turns out that Sobol was actually a psychopath who masterminded this entire attack by using his games to recruit a secret army, and then used the news of his demise to create a computer virus that would bring about the end of the world.

The God Game by Danny Tobey

The God Game follows the Vindicators, a group of misfit kids who bonded over a love of video games and coding. But as the teens entered their senior year, Charlie saw his life and grades spiral out of control after he lost his mother to cancer. His close friend Vanhi had her sights set on Harvard, but a bad grade in AP History may have just ended to those dreams. Then there’s Kenny, an aspiring journalist who is caught up in a rivalry at the school newspaper. Next is Alex, whose strict upbringing means every time he brings home a failing test his father beats him black and blue. And finally, there’s Peter, the popular rich kid who can flit from group to group. One day, he introduces the Vindicators to the G.O.D. game, an old-school style text-based program he claims is run by an A.I. chat bot that believes it is God. Good actions in game will earn players “Goldz” currency to buy perks, while disobedience will result in “Blaxx” demerit points that would lead to punishment. Believing it to be just a harmless game, the Vindicators decide to play. However, what started as a handful of innocent instructions from G.O.D. rapidly begins escalating into more dangerous, malicious, and underhanded attacks on others, including their fellow Vindicators. (Read the full review…)

#SciFiMonth Top Ten Science Fiction Reads of 2021

As we get ready to say good bye to another year of Sci-Fi Month, it’s time again to put together a list of my top ten science fiction books (4 stars and up) that I’ve had the pleasure to read in 2021.

Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells

Kicking things off is the one and only Murderbot! In this sixth volume of the Murderbot Diaries, our protagonist puts on a detective hat to investigate the shocking discovery of a dead body on Preservation Station, a quiet little outpost which doesn’t exactly scream killer central. Might this have something to do with Dr. Mensah and her team who are in hiding from their enemies? It’s possible that those hunting them have tracked them down, but then again, the death might be completely unrelated. That’s what Preservation’s Senior Officer Indah is trying to figure out, along with support teams from Station Security and Port Authority. Murderbot being Murderbot though, all it wants is to be left alone with its shows, but Dr. Mensah has other ideas. It had been a right challenge to convince the pertinacious Indah to take in a SecUnit, so in order to continue cultivating goodwill with their hosts, she believes it would be prudent for Murderbot to help out with the investigation as a consultant. While Murderbot isn’t at all happy with that plan (but then again, it seldom is), it knows Dr. Mensah is right. Plus, getting involved in the case might also mean gaining access to some of the security systems and data it had been denied before, and the sooner they can rule out a threat from GrayCris, the safer Dr. Mensah and her team will be. (Read the full review)

The Future Is Yours by Dan Frey

Two friends. One big idea. This is the story of Ben Boyce and Adhi Chaudry, a couple of geeky fanboys who met in college and bonded over a love of technology and science fiction. Both young men are brilliant on their own, but together as a team, they have what it takes to change the world. It all begins with Adhi’s graduate dissertation which none of his supervisors would take seriously, dismissing his vision of a new application for quantum computing as nothing more than a flight of fancy. Dejected, he confides in his best friend Ben, who ends up taking a very different view on his project. Despite having had two start-ups blow up on him already, Ben is confident he can find the connections and funding to help Adhi realize his revolutionary idea. Everyone will want a piece of the technology, Ben insists, and with it, they can also help the world in so many ways. This is how, after much experimentation and trial-and-error, the two men end up launching a groundbreaking new service which would allow users to peer into the future with a special computer that can connect to the internet one year from now. In fact, Ben and Adhi already know their company will be a huge success because they have already tested their technology and seen the headlines—until, of course, their system encounters a glitch. If it turns out their computers cannot offer perfect prediction as they claimed, the impact on their company would be devastating. Just how far will they go to keep it a secret? (Read the full review…)

The Last Watch by J.S. Dewes

I’m usually super skeptical with any book whose blurb invokes comparisons to The Expanse because that’s one tough promise. Still, I must doff my hat to J.S. Dewes, because I have a feeling The Last Watch is about to become my next big sci-fi obsession. To set the scene, imagine the dark and lonely reaches at the edge of the universe, beyond which simply nothing exists. This is the Divide. Here is where the Argus keeps its watch, the space station home to a ragtag crew of misfits known as the Sentinels. Their job is to patrol edges of space, maintaining the warning and defense systems in place to protect against any unknown threats. After all, it wasn’t that long ago when humanity was nearly wiped out by an alien species called the Viators, and only after multiple wars and untold number of deaths did they finally manage to drive the invaders out. Although that had been many years ago, the Sentinels aren’t about to take any chances, always remaining vigilant and on alert. But now comes a danger no one was expecting. The Divide is starting to collapse, threatening to destroy everyone and everything with it. The commander of the Argus, a Titan veteran of Viator war named Adequin Rake,must find a way to stop the collapse, but with communications down and their resources stretched to the limits, the Argus finds itself cut off from all help. Left with no other recourse, Rake turns to the wise-cracking and irreverent Cavalon Mercer, an exiled prince from the Allied Monarchies of the Core. (Read the full review…)

Adrift by W. Michael Gear

Every time I find out about a new book in this series, I simply cannot contain my glee. I do hope the W. Michael Gear keeps them coming, because I don’t think I could ever get tired of returning to Donovan, watching yet another group of know-it-all settlers think they can get the better of the planet only to be slapped down and shown just how wrong they were. Nope, it never gets old! This time, Adrift takes us to the seas, where the Maritime Unit has just set up their research facilities perched on the edge of a reef, hundreds of miles from the closest shore. Having survived the last ten years trapped aboard the Ashanti with a cult of cannibals, the members of this small team mostly made up of oceanographers and marine scientists are excited to have finally arrived on the planet and are eager to start studying its aquatic ecosystems. For many of them, Donovan represents more than just a new life—it’s also a fresh start for humanity. But this idealism is shattered almost immediately. Visiting from the mainland, Supervisor Kalico Aguila tries to warn the scientists that Donovan is not like Earth, but unfortunately, hubris proved to be Maritime Unit’s downfall. (Read the full review…)

Day Zero by C. Robert Cargill

Imagine Calvin & Hobbes but with Hobbes as Terminator, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect from this book. It stars Pounce, a furry anthropomorphic AI “nannybot” shaped like a tiger. His owners had bought him to be a companion and best friend to their eight-year-old son Ezra. When the novel begins, everyone is paying attention to a brewing revolution led by Isaac, the first bot to ever be granted freedom and independence. After founding Isaactown, he has invited other bots to join him to build a place where A.I. can live on their own terms. But not everyone sees this as a good thing. Some even see it as blasphemy against God. Driven by this belief, a radical religious group commits an unspeakable act of violence, annihilating everyone in Isaactown. Things quickly escalate, and before long, the government is warning people to power down their bots until they can determine if the A.I. protocols that prevent them from harming humans are still in place. However, this proves too late, as the majority of bots are already turning on their owners. Ever the loyal companion though, Pounce chooses to protect Ezra, knowing he’s all the boy has left, and he will do whatever it takes to keep him safe. (Read the full review…)

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Andy Weir found a winning formula with The Martian by playing 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 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. In this one, humanity 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 from a sun-eating Astrophage. 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. Eventually, he remembers his original role was to support the space mission crew from the ground, so just how the heck did he end up on this ship, lightyears away from the solar system? And what can he possibly do to save Earth? (Read the full review…)

Dead Space by Kali Wallace

An excellent combination of the crime mystery and science fiction genres, Dead Space was absolutely brilliant, and I believe readers who enjoy a thriller element to their stories will find this one especially rewarding. As the novel opens, we are introduced to Hester Marley, a scientist whose life’s dreams were ripped away by a catastrophic incident that leaves her severely injured and bankrupt. Now she works as a security officer simply trying to remain inconspicuous and make ends meet. But pretty soon, her plans are shot to hell once more as a former colleague is found violently murdered. In truth though, David Prussenko was more than just a co-worker. To Hester, he was also a close friend as well as a fellow victim of the attack that left her life in ruins. Even more devastating, she and David had just reconnected mere hours before his body was discovered, because he had wanted to share with her a shocking discovery related to their past work and history. What had David wanted to tell her, and could it have been related to his murder? (Read the full review…)

The Body Scout by Lincoln Michel

The world of The Body Scout is one where its citizens prize cybernetics and other body modifications, and the use of such enhancements has changed virtually every aspect of human life, including sports. Our protagonist Kobo is a talent scout for the professional baseball league, making his living traveling around the world recruiting new people for his bosses and hunting for the latest mods to improve performance. Meanwhile, his adoptive brother Zunz is making a name for himself as a rising star playing professionally, and Kobo couldn’t be happier for him. But then one day, in the middle of a playoff game in front of millions watching, Zunz suddenly drops dead on the field. Everyone is calling it a tragic accident, but Kobo isn’t buying it. He suspects it may be murder, and the plot thickens as he is next hired by the owner of Zunz’s team to investigate the death, with the promise of a large reward if he can somehow implicate their ivals. Seizing this opportunity to seek answers to his own questions, Kobo begins his twisted journey into the dark and unforgiving world of sports and corporate politics where everyone has a stake. (Read the full review…)

Citadel by Marko Kloos

I’ve been really enjoying The Palladium Wars series, and like its predecessors, the third volume is another fun and action-filled addition to this space operatic mil-SF saga. Once more, we return to our four main perspective characters to follow up on what they’ve been up to since we last saw them: Aden, a former prisoner-of-war from the losing side of the battle who has now joined up with a crew of a transport ship under a false identity; Idina, a Palladian soldier stationed on the defeated planet of Gretia who is working with the local authorities to stem the tide of local unrest; Solvieg, who has managed to regain control of her father’s company after it was taken away from him, but now finds herself with the heavy responsibility of dealing with the family business; and Dunstan, a commander in the Rhodian Navy who has just ben handpicked to captain an experimental prototype ship with technology that has the potential to change the way war is waged forever. (Read the full review…)

Constance by Matthew FitzSimmons

Set in the near future, this story follows Constance D’Arcy, whose aunt Abigail Stickling is the late genius behind Palingenesis, the world’s first and largest manufacturer of clones. After some initial reluctance, Con eventually decides to keep the clone gifted to her by her aunt, though the process would require her to make regular trips to Palingenesis to have her memories uploaded to the system. If she dies, the company will automatically activate her clone and transfer the latest backup, so it’s a good idea to keep it as fresh as possible. So imagine our protagonist’s surprise when, after a routine memory upload, she wakes up at Palingenesis not in her original body but in that of her clone. Not only is she hit with the horrible realization that this means that the real Con, her old self, must have died, but she is shocked to find out that her last memory upload was actually a whopping year and a half ago, far longer than the recommended maximum of three months. Palingenesis, already mired in scandal and bad publicity, would be ruined if this damning evidence of their lapse in protocol is ever discovered. As the company moves to eliminate her, Con finds herself alone in a desperate fight for survival while also trying to piece together her life from the past 18 months. (Read the full review…)

#SciFiMonth YA Weekend: Cytonic by Brandon Sanderson

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

Cytonic by Brandon Sanderson

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult

Series: Book 3 of Skyward

Publisher: Delacorte (November 23, 2021)

Length: 432 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Oh, Brandon Sanderson, you sly dog. So who saw those twists coming? Not me! Cytonic is the third book in the epic YA sci-fi series Skyward, continuing protagonist Spensa’s journey across the galaxy to save her world from destruction. Along the way, we’re also introduced to an incredible line-up of supporting characters as she goes about forming new alliances left and right, though a few familiar names and faces do show up, and some of them are bringing big surprises, I might add.

Before we begin though, it is important to note this review will likely contain spoilers for the first two books, Skyward and Starsight, as well as possibly the novellas set in the world so far, Sunreach and ReDawn. All the events and characters are connected in some way, so it would be impossible to discuss this book without touching upon the others, and let’s not forget how the previous novel ended on a cruel cliffhanger which saw Spensa pull off a desperate gambit to escape a no-win situation.

The good news is, she made it through to the other side of that mysterious portal in one piece. The bad news is, it has literally landed her in the middle of nowhere. Few have ever returned from this place, known to be the home of the Delvers, ancient extradimensional beings that pose a lethal threat whenever they manifest into physical space. But while Spensa is here, she figures she might as well do some investigating into her surroundings, see if the timeless emptiness will shed some insight on how to complete her mission. A cytonic, she is also not without the skills to utilize the energies of the nowhere, not to mention she’s one hell of a pilot.

As I mentioned, in this book our protagonist is joined by a handful of new allies. In the nowhere, she encounters Chet Starfinder, an explorer of sorts. Together with our old friend M-Bot (because yes, he tags along here as well), they provide much of the comic relief so readers have more to interest them than watching Spensa poke her way around trying to figure things out. Then we also have the Broadsiders, who are essentially space pirates with their own code and unique culture. Luckily for Spensa, they also revere good piloting skills, making her a shoo-in for their clan.

So, yes, there were a lot of fun elements to this book. That said, despite the scenes of heart-pounding dogfights between spacecraft and conversations filled with laugh-worthy banter, there was also much about Cytonic that felt like filler. I couldn’t help but feel it was a step back from Starsight, which as you might recall, I loved because of how ridiculously fast-paced, urgent, and exciting it was. In contrast, Cytonic felt like a very different novel than its predecessors, in that it mainly focuses on Spensa as she embarks on this mini-mission which feels a lot like a side quest in the context of the series’ overall arc. Characters we know and love from before, namely the members of Skyward Flight, are largely absent except for a few stolen moments with Jorgen. Before this, I confess I had been looking upon the Skyward novellas with skepticism, but now I see their purpose may have been to remind us all of the big picture, since what we get in Cytonic is only a narrow slice of the greater conflict at hand.

In many ways, this novel also serves as an information drop. There’s a lot to take in about the nowhere and cytonics, especially towards the end. Spensa also gains a lot of new knowledge about the Delvers and their role in the greater galaxy at large, and how it all relates to the war against the Superiority. And yeah, there were some pretty big bombshells as well. There’s no denying that the scope of the world-building has pretty much exploded with Cytonic, and you can be damn sure it’s all very cool, though just be forewarned if you’re not following carefully enough, it can be easy to get lost or confused.

In terms of the story, admittedly a lot of it smacks of being a bridge book connecting what came before to what’s coming next, but on the bright side, we do see plenty of character growth from Spensa. It’s also always a pleasure to see her relationships with others develop, and of course, new characters mean new kinds of interactions and Sanderson is ever the wiz at creating unique personalities and coming up with brilliant dialogue.

Perhaps most important of all, Cytonic also sets the scene up for great things to come in this next installment. No scream-inducing cliffhanger this time around, thank goodness, but the ending does leave us with plenty of questions that I’m eager to get answers to. This was a great book to get to know Spensa better, but here’s hoping the next one will put us back on the fast track.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Skyward (Book 1)
Review of Starsight (Book 2)

Bookshelf Roundup: 11/27/21: 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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For those Stateside, I hope you had a happy Thanksgiving (and if you’re anything like me, you’re probably still working off the turkey coma). This weekend is all about staying in with a good book!

Received for Review

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

Kicking us off this week is Absynthe by Brendan P. Bellecourte, a very cool mix of sci-fi and alternate history set in a version of Roaring 20s Chicago. Really, can it get any more awesome than that? Thanks so much to DAW Books for sending me a review copy.

Up next, with thanks to Tor Books sending me an ARC of The Bone Orchard by Sara A. Mueller. This is one I’ve had my eye on for a while, and a lush, gothic mystery full of secrets and magic sounds right up my alley.

With thanks also to Grand Central Publishing for an ARC of Killer View by Roy Johansen, a thriller which follows two kick-ass women as they embark on a hunt for a missing businessman while trying to stay ahead of a long list of suspects which include murderers, drug kingpins, and other bloodthirsty criminals.

My next arrivals are a couple of Middle Grade books. My thanks to the amazing team at Wunderkind PR and at Quill Tree Books for a review copy of The Halloween Moon by Joseph Fink, which might be a little past the season (it was actually a July release), but I believe any time is good for a Halloween story.

And finally, with thanks to Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers for an ARC of Spy School: The Graphic Novel by Stuart Gibbs, a comic adaptation of the hit sensation by the author. I thought this would be a great one for my 9-year-old daughter, though if I’m to be honest, I’m actually quite interested in checking it out as well. It’s been a while since she’s done a guest review for me, but maybe this time we’ll do one together.

Only one audiobook in the digital haul this week. With thanks to Dreamscape Media for a listening copy of The Hunger of Crows by Richard Chiappone, a new thriller set in Alaska.

Reviews

The Past is Red by Catherynne M. Valente (4 of 5 stars)
The Seventh Queen by Greta Kelly (4 of 5 stars)

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!

#SciFiMonth Friday Face-Off: A Black Hole

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 featuring a BLACK HOLE

Broken Stars edited and translated by Ken Liu

If this theme feels familiar it’s because I’ve done a variation of it before, and believe me, I was as stumped as I felt the last time around! Instead of the “deep in the ground” interpretation though, today I’ve decided to go with the space interpretation, it being Sci-Fi Month and all. Technically I haven’t read Broken Stars in its entirety, but I have checked out a couple of the stories, and quite honestly, it was the only book on my shelf that even came close to matching this week’s theme.

From left to right:
Tor Books (2019) – Head of Zeus version 1 (2019) – Head of Zeus version 2 (2019)

Russian Edition (2020) – German Edition (2020) – Spanish Edition (2020)

  

Winner:

I’m not really sure why Head of Zeus had two different editions released in the same year on what I believe was the same date, but maybe one was print and one was digital? Whatever the case, I’m glad it happened, because the second version is absolutely gorgeous. That’s definitely my favorite this week.

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

#SciFiMonth Novella Review: The Past Is Red by Catherynne M. Valente

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

The Past Is Red by Catherynne M. Valente

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopia

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Tor.com (July 20, 2021)

Length: 160 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Novellas are not my preferred format and I rarely seek them out on my own, but whenever I come across anything by Catherynne Valente, I feel it warrants a look. While her books are by no means always my cup of tea, at least I can be sure I’ll be getting something damned cool and original.

The Past is Red happens to match both those descriptions—and it worked very well for me. The story, which takes place in the future on an Earth flooded by climate change, opens on the life of a girl named Tetley. She and her twin brother, Maruchan, were born in Garbagetown, an island of refuse floating on the ocean. But even in this society made up of some of the world’s last survivors, there exists stratification. Parts of Garbagetown are named the leavings of humanity where they have more or less ended up, so Pill Hill is where all the pharmaceutical waste has collected, Electric City is full of old batteries, and so on and so forth.

Each section’s residents have their own unique customs, culture, and societal status. Against all odds, Tetley, who hails from Candlehole, meets a boy from Electric City named Goodnight Moon, forming a lifelong friendship despite their differences. However, all that comes to an end when a terrible truth is revealed to Tetley, and she takes it upon herself to literally blow it all up. For many years after that, she lives in isolation, ostracized by everyone including her own family. Still, she has never regretted her violent actions, believing Garbagetown to be a magical, wonderful place anyone would be lucky to call home. She can’t imagine why anyone would ever want to leave and sail into the great unknown just to chase an illusion, but she accepts her punishment and is prepared to live alone for the rest of the days…until a visitor shows up with a mysterious summons, bearing intriguing gifts.

Somewhere in my pile of books is a copy of The Future is Blue, an anthology containing the title story in which Tetley first appears. The Past is Red is an expansion of that novelette into a lengthier work giving us an update on the character, and I love that it offers a glimmer of hope in her otherwise dark and broken world. That said, this story is still pretty bleak. Tetley literally lives on a garbage heap, she doesn’t get much love at home, and she is harassed and bullied mercilessly whenever she’s out and about. When you’re living a life hers, there just doesn’t seem to be much to look forward to.

And yet, that isn’t going to stop this girl from dreaming, even if her dreams for the future are vastly different from everyone else’s. While the rest of the world is still chasing a fantasy, building grand plans to leave Garbagetown, or losing themselves in utopic visions that may never come to pass, Tetley has her feet planted firmly in the detritus-strewn streets asking questions like, “Well, just what is so wrong about what we have right in front of us?” Why bother seeking out a new land, after all, if we’re just going to fuck it all up again? Why not just stay and rebuild, and make something beautiful out of what we already have?

In fact, there is beauty in Garbagetown already—but only if you cared to look.  Tetley loves her world because she lives in the now, recognizing that many of the Earth’s problems were caused by the myopic views of the generations that came before hers, AKA the Fuckwits. But for all her hatred of the Fuckwits, Tetley also loves the things they left behind. All their creators are dead and gone now, and nothing can be done about that, just like there’s nothing they can do about the crap place the world has become. Nevertheless, while no one can ever accuse Tetley of being an idealist, she’s also not afraid to see the magic and wonder around her. There’s also wisdom in her practicality of accepting the situation, along with her preparedness to address things accordingly.

As you can probably tell, Tetley made this whole book for me. While she can be both rash and foolish at times, everything about her is also sincere. If I’m to be honest, like most novellas, the story felt too short, and nothing about the plot was particularly mind-blowing. World-building was also great, certainly above average when it comes to imagination, but again, not enough detail came through given the format’s restrictions. Tetley, though, was a shining beacon. Like I always say, a well-written character can change everything. The Past is Red could have easily become this bleak, preachy overblown piece with little substance, but instead it came across very charming and full of heart as it was told through Tetley’s narrative.

All in all, this was a wonderful read.