Bookshelf Roundup 03/19/23: 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!

Huge thanks to Union Square Co. for a review copy of Going Dark by Melissa de la Cruz, she’s an author I’ve enjoyed in the past and I love the sound of this YA mystery thriller!

Thank you also to Tor Books for an ARC of Ebony Gate by Julia Vee and Ken Bebelle, the first in a new fantasy series described as a “female John Wick story with dragon magic set in contemporary San Francisco’s Chinatown.” It’s become one of my most anticipated releases for this summer.

Also thanks to Orbit Books for the arrival of a couple finished copies, and what great timing! I’m hoping Infinity Gate by M.R. Carey will be my next read, followed by The Foxglove King by Hannah Whitten (or vice versa, depending on my mood).

With thanks to the kind folks at Minotaur Books also came these surprise arrivals, but I’m very excited because Antimatter Blues by Edward Ashton was already on my reading list, as the sequel to Mickey7 which I really enjoyed. There’s also the mystery sci-fi thriller Blind Spots by Thomas Mullen, set in a world where an event seven years ago called The Blinding made everyone go blind in a matter of months. With the use of a technology that simulates vision, people were able to adjust to the new normal, until a killer finds a way to hack into the system to change what people see.

Just one audiobook in the digital review haul today, with thanks to Penguin Audio for the psychological sci-fi thriller The New One by Evie Green which follows a stressed out couple whose troubled teenage daughter ends up in a coma and is not expected to recover. Heartbroken, they agree to be a part of an experimental program which would give them their daughter back, but in the form of an artificial copy and perfect in every way.


Feed Them Silence by Lee Mandelo (3.5 of 5 stars)
Conquer the Kingdom by Jennifer Estep (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!

Novella Review: Feed Them Silence by Lee Mandelo

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

Feed Them Silence by Lee Mandelo

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction, Horror

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Tordotcom (March 14, 2023)

Length: 112 pages

Author Information: Website

In the near future, the planet has been ravaged by environmental degradation and  climate change, leading to food shortages and mass extinctions. At the center of this story is one of the world’s last wild wolf packs, on the verge of perishing following a particularly harsh winter. Having just received a large grant to test out a new and potentially groundbreaking technology, neuroscientist Dr. Sean Kell-Luddon seizes upon this opportunity to test out a neurological interface which would allow the translation of an animal subject’s perception into the mind of a human. Her team has captured a female wolf, dubbed Kate, surgically inserting implants into her brain which would send signals back to the scientists. Sean, who has volunteered to be the human subject, would then be able to connect to Kate’s mind directly, experiencing everything that the wolf sees, thinks, and feels. Using this information, it might be possible to gain a better understanding of the creatures, and perhaps to even save them from dying out.

At first, the results are everything the researchers could hope for. Kate’s implants begin providing valuable data right away, as Sean experiences a connection with the wolf that is stronger and more intimate than any bond she’s ever had—stronger than even the relationship she has with her wife Riya. In fact, their marriage has been strained as of late. Riya complains of the long hours Sean spends at the lab, an issue which has not been helped by the new wolf project. The longer Sean spends interfacing with Kate, the more she also feels detached from her real life, losing objectivity with her job and her colleagues. Those around her are noticing the way the work is affecting her, but all that’s on Sean’s mind are her precious wolves and thinking about the next time she can be inside Kate’s head again.

Feed them Silence was my first book by Lee Mandelo, and for a tiny novella it packed quite a punch. Now, while it’s not uncommon for me to feel conflicted about a book after reading it, especially if it tackles controversial themes, I was honestly left with no idea how to feel about this one.

In the end though, I decided I enjoyed it. Yes, the characters are terrible people, and story itself is BLEAK BLEAK BLEAK, but I think it’s also important to acknowledge the positive along with the negative. For one, there’s no question that it’s well written, and it was clear Mandelo was out to challenge readers’ preconceptions even if it made them feel uncomfortable.

Most importantly, the writing captured my attention and I was hooked. While I see that Feed Them Silence often gets tagged as Horror, at its core I don’t feel it fits as neatly into the genre, even though its premise reminded me immediately of David Cronenberg’s The Fly. Perhaps because they both play out like a warning against scientific hubris, or the fact that they’re both stories about brilliant scientists completely losing control of themselves, feeling their humanity slip away inch by inch. Of course, in Sean’s case, it was her mind falling apart, but it’s interesting to note that, like Seth Brundle, her motivation also came initially from a place of good intentions before her eventual obsession led to destroying her life with that same kind of unbridled energy.

But boy, how impossible it is to ignore just what awful human beings the characters are. No doubt this is by design, but forget being able to sympathize with either Sean or Riya, who are both self-righteous pieces of shit with their heads far up their own asses. Theirs is a marriage based on guilt and manipulation, there’s infidelity involved (“only” three times), and nobody seems to care enough to actually communicate beyond jumping straight to unreasonable ultimatums. If we were supposed to despise Sean, then good job, Lee Mandelo, mission accomplished. But as a result, we were left with nothing to inspire us to root for Sean, and with nothing in her marriage with Riya worth fighting for, it also meant free reign for this egoist to completely cave to her obsession.

Like I said, it’s a bleak book. And while I love science-y books, it was ultimately heartbreaking to see Sean’s passion for the science and her work become twisted by darker motives. Granted, there was a glimmer of hope left in the ending, but on the whole, I have a feeling animal lovers will probably dislike how things play out.

All this is to say, Feed Them Silence will not be for everyone, but on some level, it did work for me. Despite the unlikeable characters and some plot elements that didn’t quite sit right, I found the story fascinating and utterly engaging. Overall, I found this novella deftly written, and I appreciate its unique perspective.

Waiting on Wednesday 03/15/23

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 Will of the Many by James Islington (May 23, 2023 by Gallery/Saga Press)

“At the elite Catenan Academy, a young fugitive uncovers layered mysteries and world-changing secrets in this new fantasy series by internationally bestselling author of The Licanius Trilogy, James Islington.


The Catenan Republic – the Hierarchy – may rule the world now, but they do not know everything.

I tell them my name is Vis Telimus. I tell them I was orphaned after a tragic accident three years ago, and that good fortune alone has led to my acceptance into their most prestigious school. I tell them that once I graduate, I will gladly join the rest of civilised society in allowing my strength, my drive and my focus – what they call Will – to be leeched away and added to the power of those above me, as millions already do. As all must eventually do.

I tell them that I belong, and they believe me.

But the truth is that I have been sent to the Academy to find answers. To solve a murder. To search for an ancient weapon. To uncover secrets that may tear the Republic apart.

And that I will never, ever cede my Will to the empire that executed my family.

To survive, though, I will still have to rise through the Academy’s ranks. I will have to smile, and make friends, and pretend to be one of them and win. Because if I cannot, then those who want to control me, who know my real name, will no longer have any use for me.

And if the Hierarchy finds out who I truly am, they will kill me.”

Book Review: Conquer the Kingdom by Jennifer Estep

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

Conquer the Kingdom by Jennifer Estep

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 3 of Gargoyle Queen

Publisher: Harper Voyager (March 7, 2023)

Length: 432 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Even though deep down I know these books aren’t intended to be much more than guilty pleasure reads or brain candy, this third and final installment of the Gargoyle Queen probably could have used a bit more oomph. That said, I thought Conquer the Kingdom was still a very entertaining and overall satisfying ending to this romance and adventure-infused fantasy trilogy.

In the wake of the events at the end of Tear Down the Throne, our protagonist the crown princess Gemma Ripley of Andvari is on the hunt for a dangerous enemy who has vowed to destroy her kingdom. But even with her powerful mind magier powers and the help of her friend and spymistress Reiko, the two them have not been able to track down the scheming Milo Morricone.

However, an opportunity to lure him in may present itself in the coming days, with the Sword and Shield gladiatorial tournament being held soon in the capital city of Glanzen. At the same time, the event also brings much risk to Gemma amidst an influx of visiting strangers. Already she has to watch her back with Queen Maeven of Morta, who has already tried to take her down, but as Milo’s mother, she may also be the key to understanding the enemy’s diabolical plans. Meanwhile, Gemma’s relationship with Maeven’s other son Leonidas deepens, creating another set of problems as their future together becomes uncertain. After all, Leonidas still has a duty to his own people, and while he may have Gemma’s love and trust, it will be harder to win over the rest of Andvari.

Like the previous books, Conquer the Kingdom was a fun romp, though the action was definitely heavier on the back-end, leaving the first two thirds of the novel relatively uneventful. Throughout the series, Gemma has faced countless challenges and many foes, and because of this I had expected the conflict to be somewhat bigger and more significant. Instead, for most the story Gemma occupies herself with trying to find Milo, and when she isn’t making any headway on that front, the narrative is mostly filled with idle conversation with few highlights.

Still, as a final installment, it achieved the purpose of wrapping up loose ends and tying up the storylines for the various characters. Even though most of the plot lacked intensity, the author did a good job capturing the complexities of the different relationships for Gemma, including her romantic one with Leonidas and her adversarial one with Queen Maeven. Side plots also explored supporting characters like Reiko and Kai, and of course the series’ unique and fascinating creatures like the gargoyles and strix.

But by far the best and most exciting part of the novel came near the end with a rescue mission that culminated in an epic showdown, making up for the slower start. Not only was it an explosive way to conclude the trilogy, but the finale also provides an emotional and satisfying sendoff for this cast of memorable characters, rewarding readers with feel-good vibes. This makes The Gargoyle Queen a great choice for fantasy fans who are perhaps looking for something lighter and more casual. While the series has never pretended to be anything more or anything less, I do love how accessible it is without sacrificing any character development or the depth of their relationships.

When I think back to my first book by Jennifer Estep, which was Kill the Queen, I find it amazing that we’ve now come to the end of her second trilogy set in this world. While I have no clue whether she’ll follow it up with a third, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if another spinoff does come to pass, since clearly there are still so many stories in this Crown of Shards/Gargoyle Queen universe still waiting to be told. If that happens, I know I’ll be reading.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Capture the Crown (Book 1)
Review of Tear Down the Throne (Book 2)

Bookshelf Roundup 03/12/23: 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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No Bookshelf Roundup last week because I was sick. Caught some bug from my kids because their school is a festering petri dish of germs on any given day, but I’m feeling much better now! Going to be a bit of a longer post today as we make up for the last two weeks…

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 Orbit Books I received an ARC of Infinity Gate by M.R. Carey. I’m really excited to see the author tackle sci-fi and the multiverse.

Also thank you to Tordotcom for the following finished copies: Dead Country by Max Gladstone is the newest novel set in the world of the Craft Sequence, Feed Them Silence by Lee Mandelo is a horror novella about a scientist who uses a neurological interface to link her mind with a wolf with disturbing results, and The Crane Husband by Kelly Barnhill, described as a contemporary retelling of The Crane Wife story from Japanese folklore.

From the kind folks at Minotaur Books also came the surprise arrival of The Wayward Prince by Leonard Goldberg, the seventh book in The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes Mysteries series which looks very intriguing. I’ve not actually read any of the books though I think I might have some of the earlier ones on my shelves.

Also thrilled to receive ARCs of Camp Damascus by Chuck Tingle and Looking Glass Sound by Catriona Ward, definitely two of my most anticipated releases from my favorite horror publisher Nightfire Books. I’m prepared to be scared.

Big thanks also to Angry Robot for a review copy of Moths by Jane Hennigan, a dystopian thriller about a toxin which infects only biological males, killing them in their sleep or turning them into psychotic killers. This is giving me some pandemic fiction vibes, but I’m willing to give it a shot!


A new month means new audiobooks! With thanks to Brilliance Audio, I received a listening copy of Mothered by Zoje Stage. From the wonderful team at Simon & Schuster Audio I received a bunch of exciting titles including The Only Survivors by Megan MirandaArca by G.R. MacallisterThe Curator by Owen King, and A Door in the Dark by Scott Reintgen. Last but not least, thank you to Hachette Audio for a review copy of A Brief History of Living Forever by Jaroslav Kalfar.


Delicious Monsters by Liselle Sambury (4 of 5 stars)
The Angel Maker by Alex North (4 of 5 stars)
Murder at Haven’s Rock by Kelley Armstrong (4 of 5 stars)
Arch-Conspirator by Veronica Roth (4 of 5 stars)
Nocturne by Alyssa Wees (2 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!

YA Weekend: Delicious Monsters by Liselle Sambury

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

Delicious Monsters by Liselle Sambury

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Horror, Young Adult

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry (February 28, 2023)

Length: 512 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

A haunted house sits in the center of Delicious Monsters by Liselle Sambury, a young adult horror novel following the lives of two young black women whose stories unfold a decade apart.

In the beginning we meet Daisy Odlin, a seventeen-year-old who can see dead people. Living in Toronto, a bustling city home to millions, encountering ghosts everywhere she goes has been an unavoidable reality for as long as she can remember. Negative vibes seem to attract them, as Daisy believes, and unfortunately, there’s little for her to feel happy about these days. Her older boyfriend has just dumped her and, completely new to love and naïve to the toxic signs of an abusive relationship, Daisy is left feeling lost, sad, and angry. But then one day, a phone call changes her life. Her mother has just inherited a mansion in rural northern Ontario, offering a fresh start and a chance to escape. Having spent her childhood summers there, Daisy’s mom has plans to turn the house into a luxurious AirBnB, but strange things start happening almost as soon as they arrive. The two of them are also staying in the separate bunkie on the property, and for no reason she can fathom, Daisy is forbidden to ever set foot in the main house. Why is her mother being so secretive, and why do their neighbors, a family of self-proclaimed psychics, keep insisting on coming over to do a spiritual cleansing?

Ten years later, the house is again at the focus of a popular investigative web series called Haunted, whose creator Brittney wants the new season to be about the missing and forgotten black girls who go ignored in the media. But Brittney has a personal stake in this story as well. Her cold, disparaging mother, who had stayed at the house as an AirBnB guest, later claimed in her bestselling book that the experience turned her life around. Brittney, however, believes it all to be a sham. She wants to debunk the “Miracle Mansion” myth by shining a light on the tragic events surrounding a young black victim that occurred there, and also to expose her mother for the liar and scam artist she knows her to be.

This novel was a great read, which I actually enjoyed more than my last book by Liselle Sambury. Don’t get me wrong, Blood Like Magic certainly had its moments, but it was still at its heart a rather run-of-the-mill YA paranormal fantasy while Delicious Monsters told a much more sophisticated story that explored themes and topics going far deeper than its YA horror label. In fact, despite its haunted and ghostly trimmings, this book wasn’t conventionally frightening or even that creepy at all. The monsters our main characters deal with are of the more earthly sort, as both Daisy and Brittney wrestle with their emotional demons while looking for the truth in different ways.

As with most stories told via dual perspectives though, Delicious Monsters occasionally runs into issues related to pacing and balance. While efforts were clearly made to split the attention between the two protagonists, I felt that Daisy’s chapters were not only more eventful and detailed, but they were also infused with more intellectual and emotional depth.

Granted, Brittney’s role as a filmmaker might have put her into a more secondary role than her subject, who was Daisy herself, but I never really understood the former’s deep and unbridled bitterness for her mother. Meanwhile, in Daisy readers got more of a coming-of-age narrative exploring the ups and downs of a girl trying to navigate relationship problems, mom problems, moving-from-the-city-to-a-small-town problems…all the while struggling with the fact she sees dead people. Not to mention it can be a callous world with some of its more hideous realities—such as a one-sided relationship with an older man exhibiting predatory behavior by taking advantage of an inexperienced and moonstruck teenager.

Likely that also explained why I was more willing to give Daisy a pass when it came to the excessive hostility wafting off her character, as I felt that she had been badly treated in the past, and as a seventeen-year-old still trying to figure out life, the angst might have been slightly warranted. On the other hand, I had a much tougher time connecting with Brittney whose approach to life with a massive chip on her shoulder got old pretty quickly. I just find it hard to sympathize with judgmental characters who think that feeling crappy entitles them to be nasty to their friends or people they don’t know. Like I said, it might have something to do with the fact I felt readers didn’t get to know Brittney as well as Daisy, but generally, there is a lot of anger and resentful coming off from both characters in this book, where the supporting characters are definitely more reasonable and likeable.

Its flaws aside though, I would still recommend Delicious Monsters. This feels like a very personal book, which can be gleaned in moments especially from the Daisy chapters, and despite the uneven pacing and slower first half, the ending with its revelations and emotional punches made it all worthwhile.

Thursday Thriller Audio: The Angel Maker by Alex North

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

The Angel Maker by Alex North

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

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Macmillan Audio (February 28, 2023)

Length: 8 hrs and 1 min

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrators: Rosalie Craig

If you could see the future, would you want to?

At 17 years old, Katie Shaw didn’t know what to say to her boyfriend Sam when he asked her that question. What if you didn’t like what you saw, and there was nothing you could do about it? Life is a series of decisions, and if you could see the future but didn’t know which choices led you there, then how could you even begin to know how to change it?

The day she and Sam had that conversation also ended up being the worst day of Katie‘s life. One moment of impulse was all it took, a single irresponsible decision by our protagonist which led to her beloved little brother Chris having to walk home from school by himself. It meant that the young boy was all alone and defenseless when a knife-wielding madman named Michael Hyde ambushed him from out of nowhere and almost took his life. This attack changed the Shaws’ lives forever. The trauma left Chris with scars both physical and mental, sending him down a path of darkness which led to drug abuse in his adult years. Katie never forgave herself, and now almost twenty years later, she is still living with the guilt. Estranged from Chris, she instead pours all her love and attention into her own family which includes Sam, now her husband, and their young daughter Sienna.

But then one day, Katie receives a phone call from her mother. Sounding very distressed, she claims that Chris has turned over a new leaf in recent years, but now she’s worried because he’s gone missing. Aware of her mom’s massive blind spot for anything that has to do with her youngest child, Katie has some doubts, but promises to try and see what she can find out. But what neither of them know is that Chris has caught the attention of a serial killer with dangerous delusions of being able to see the future, who will stop at nothing until he catches his prey. Meanwhile, a pair of detectives investigate the murder of wealthy philosophy professor Alan Hobbes, who had mysteriously put all his affairs in order just hours before his death—almost as though he’d known his killer was coming. In Alan’s possessions, the detectives also find a collection of notes and items related to a serial killer from the 1950s and 60s known as the Angel Maker.

Gradually, the story begins to weave together the threads connecting the police investigation into Alan Hobbes’ death with Katie Shaw’s frantic search for her brother. Along the way, the events of the past and present are revealed through the eyes of multiple characters, showing that the plot actually goes much deeper than previously realized.

The Angel Maker featured some great writing, and in fact it may be my favorite of Alex North’s novels that I’ve read so far! I would describe the pacing as slow burn, but definitely balanced enough that it was never boring. That said, the amount of setup in the first half of the book can be quite daunting and demanding on the reader’s patience, mainly due to the shear amount if background context involved as well as the not-so-linear format of storytelling.

Ironically, I found the detective chapters to be the driest, as their sole purpose appeared to be revealing the history of the Angel Maker murders and the backstory for our killer (speaking of which, North also seems to have a penchant for writing over-the-top villains and this was no exception). Thankfully though, to make up for this we have Katie’s chapters which were always running a mile a minute as she pretty much solves the mystery of her missing brother on her own, thank you very much.

This novel was also a good listen, as I had the pleasure of reviewing the audiobook edition read by Rosalie Craig. It was my first experience with her as a narrator and I thought she did a fine job with all the characters’ voices which ranged from young to old with very diverse backgrounds and accents.

Part police procedural, part psychological thriller, The Angel Maker blends mystery, horror and even a dash of the supernatural as it explores the doctrine of determinism and questions whether our fates are written in stone or alterable. Throw in a hefty dose of heart-wrenching family drama as well, and you’ve got all the ingredients for a compelling read. If that sounds like what you’re looking for, I wouldn’t miss it.

Waiting on Wednesday 03/08/23

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

Malevolent Seven by Sebastian de Castell (May 16, 2023 by Jo Fletcher Books)

“‘Seven powerful mages want to make the world a better place. We’re going to kill them first.’

Picture a wizard. Go ahead, close your eyes. There he is, see? Skinny old guy with a long straggly beard. No doubt he’s wearing iridescent silk robes that couldn’t protect his frail body from a light breeze. The hat’s a must, too, right? Big, floppy thing, covered in esoteric symbols that would instantly show every other mage where this one gets his magic? Wouldn’t want a simple steel helmet or something that might, you know, protect the part of him most needed for conjuring magical forces from being bashed in with a mace (or pretty much any household object).

Now open your eyes and let me show you what a real war mage looks like . . . but be warned: you’re probably not going to like it, because we’re violent, angry, dangerously broken people who sell our skills to the highest bidder and be damned to any moral or ethical considerations.

At least, until such irritating concepts as friendship and the end of the world get in the way.

My name is Cade Ombra, and though I currently make my living as a mercenary wonderist, I used to have a far more noble-sounding job title – until I discovered the people I worked for weren’t quite as noble as I’d believed. Now I’m on the run and my only friend, a homicidal thunder mage, has invited me to join him on a suicide mission against the seven deadliest mages on the continent.  

Time to recruit some very bad people to help us on this job . . .”

Book Review: Nocturne by Alyssa Wees

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

Nocturne by Alyssa Wees

Mogsy’s Rating: 2 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Del Rey (February 21, 2023)

Length: 240 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Nocturne by Alyssa Wees weaves a compelling story and it’s quite imaginative for a retelling. That’s why it pains to say I found it quite disappointing.

In this strange and very different reimagining of the Beauty & The Beast fairy tale, we follow a promising young ballerina in 1930s Chicago who suddenly finds herself standing at the crossroads of fate when her talent attracts the attention of a wealthy patron. Growing up in hard times following the Great War, Grace Dragotta only had one dream: to dance for the Near North Ballet Company and become their prima ballerina. After losing her family, the ballet becomes her life, and through hard work and dedication she finally achieves her goal.

But as it turns out, things aren’t that simple. Grace finds out that her new coveted position comes with strings. It turns out that Master LaRosa, a enigmatic prince and philanthropist of the arts had arranged for her to become prima ballerina after making a hefty donation to the company. As part of the arrangement, Grace must also travel to LaRosa’s estate and live with him there, but for what purpose, she has no idea. All she knows is that her new master’s mansion is as otherworldly and mysterious as the man, and that she must unlock its secrets in order to discover her purpose.

While I really don’t want to knock Nocturne too hard because in truth the story is quite creative, admittedly this book can also be a little confusing. The beginning is the most straightforward and easiest part to understand, but unfortunately it is also the slowest. With a mother who wasted away from illness and a brother who was gunned down in the streets, Grace has a backstory that is both tragic and traumatic, but it also takes forever to unfold.

By the time she makes prima ballerina and is whisked away to some rich prince’s palace, the pacing starts to pick up, but this is also when things start to get weird. Once Master LaRosa’s true nature is revealed (and It’s honestly quite predictable), we next start down this endless winding path of him telling Grace what to do—what to eat, how to dress, when she can leave the house and only to go where he wants her to go. He’s a “Beast”, that’s clear enough, but then he also shows her his creepy portal which is a gateway to the realm of death and asks her to marry him, making it clear he will not stop until he gets the answer he seeks. For Grace, the situation is complicated, and not only because he is her patron. In spite of herself, she finds herself drawn to the master and his proposal because of the power only he can give her, even knowing that accepting it will cost her everything. Only her love of life and dancing prevents her from saying yes.

But issues surrounding this whole disturbing scenario aside, deep down I know the author is only trying to mirror the original source material. Truth be told, what I actually struggled with the most was the writing style, which was purple to the extreme—one of the worst examples of overly flowery and convoluted prose I’ve ever seen. Wees seemed more interested in showcasing her ability to come up with fancy metaphors and use a thesaurus than anything else. It became almost unbearable to the point where it took a lot away from my enjoyment and any interest to follow the plot or connect with the characters, when so much of the text is just insubstantial fluff. It’s hard to relate to or sympathize with Grace and her troubles when it’s all being overshadowed by the over-the-top prose.

Ultimately, I can’t say I would recommend Nocturne. It’s a unique take on a fairy tale classic for sure, but the execution was somewhat marred by the flowery writing style which negatively impacted my ability to engage with the story and characters. I wanted to like this book so much, but it just wasn’t for me.

Audiobook Review: Murder at Haven’s Rock by Kelley Armstrong

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

Murder at Haven’s Rock by Kelley Armstrong

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

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Series: Book 1 of Haven’s Rock

Publisher: Macmillan Audio (February 21, 2023)

Length: 10 hrs and 33 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Therese Plummer

When the Rockton series ended, I was relieved to learn that it won’t be the last we’ll see of Casey Duncan, Eric Dalton, and the gang. Enter Haven’s Rock, the new spinoff that’s really just a continuation of Rockton under a new name, though given all the new changes it’s easy to see how a rebranding might be in order.

Theoretically, Murder at Haven’s Rock could work as a jumping point for new readers, but I wouldn’t recommend it. While the mystery plot itself may be able to stand alone, you’ll still be missing out on years’ worth of character histories and dynamics. More importantly, Rockton is just so good, you would be doing a disservice to yourself not to start from the very beginning.

On that note, please also be aware this review may contain spoilers for the Rockton series—especially the ending. As certain events ultimately led the closing of the original town, Casey and Eric have decided to oversee and finance the building of a new one, and they have named it Haven’s Rock. Like its predecessor, it is meant to be a refuge for those who don’t wish to be found. Even now, construction is being carried out with the utmost secrecy, taking place in the middle of the Yukon wilderness.

However, things are not off to a great start. Before the town can even officially open its doors, two members of the construction crew suddenly go missing in the night, and Casey and Eric are called in to help track them down. The situation only goes downhill from there when a body of a woman is found in the woods, confirming Casey’s worst fears. They thought they had chosen the perfect place to build Haven’s Rock, a safe place to start over. But soon, as her investigation leads to more death and more foul play, the mounting evidence leaves no room for doubt: there is a murderer on the prowl, leaving the future of their new town in question.

I really enjoyed Murder at Haven’s Rock, but to fully understand why, we must go back to my reviews of some of the later Rockton books. Namely, I’d noted things were starting to feel a little stale, given how we were six or seven books deep in a series that took place in the middle of nowhere and we were starting to see some repeating patterns in the storylines or plots that became increasingly ridiculous just to keep things fresh. Well, this series fixes all that, shaking up the status quo and ensuring everyone gets their chance at a brand new start. Meanwhile, all the things I loved about Rockton, like the fantastic setting and the locked-room style mystery plots, are happily preserved.

My favorite part though, is that feeling of limitless potential. I’ve missed that. Hats off to Kelley Armstrong for all the work she put into the set up of Murder at Haven’s Rock to ensure that it ends with a lot to lead into the next book. These characters are amazing, though if you already were a fan of the Rockton novels, I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir, but it still fills me with delight to see Haven’s Rock giving Casey and Eric a new purpose, taking them to another level of their game.

I also had the pleasure of reviewing the audiobook edition, and if you haven’t been initiated to the voice talents of Thérèse Plummer yet, I highly recommend her narration. She became one of my favorite narrators after listening to the original Rockton series and I was so thrilled to listen to her again in Murder at Haven’s Rock. I look forward to the next book.