YA Weekend Audio: Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray

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

Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray

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

Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult

Series: Book 1 of Defy the Stars

Publisher: Hachette Audio (April 4, 2017)

Length: 11 hrs and 21 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrators: Nate Begle, Kasey Lee Huizinga

I first discovered and became a fan of Claudia Gray through her Star Wars novels. Having loved Lost Stars, I next went on to read and enjoy Bloodline, but even then I was aware that media tie-ins cannot give me the full measure of an author. And so I’d hoped to try one of her Young Adult books for quite some time now, which eventually led me to Defy the Stars.

The book first introduces readers to Noemi Vidal, a seventeen year old soldier for her planet, Genesis. Ever since her people split from Earth many generations ago, the two sides have been fighting. However, Earth has a powerful weapon on their side: Burton Mansfield, a scientist and cybernetics genius who designs androids, or mechs, for the purposes of war. Genesis has been pushing back against these untiring machine forces for as long as Noemi can remember, but it’s just a matter of time before her side loses the war—unless, of course, they take some drastic measures to prevent the enemy from overwhelming them and destroying them all. And so, along with her best friend Ester, Noemi volunteers for the suicide mission that is meant to be the last ditch attempt to save their world.

Meanwhile, on a battled-damaged and abandoned ship called the Daedalus, a mech named Abel has been living alone for the last thirty years, yearning to be reunited with his creator. As the most advanced mech the galaxy has ever seen, he is Burton Mansfield’s greatest and most perfect creation, though in the eyes of Genesis, he is an abomination. For the past three decades, Abel’s programming has been learning and evolving, becoming more human. And then one day, Earth launches a surprise attack on Genesis’ ships, leading a pair of Genesis soldiers to come across the Daedalus in their desperate attempt to escape. Unaware that it not completely abandoned, the two of them board the ship, hoping to find some medical supplies. And that is the story of how Noemi and Ester first met Abel, characters from two warring sides forced by chance to work together in order to survive.

Equal parts space adventure and slow-burn romance, Defy the Stars was an entertaining sci-fi romp from start to finish. I’ve also come to realize that Claudia Gray’s Star Wars novels were not a fluke; this author has got a fine talent for writing stories about characters on opposite sides who have to put aside their differences to work towards a common goal. Like the romance that blooms between a rebel pilot and an Imperial officer in Lost Stars, the relationship between Noemi and Abel also follows the same measured pattern, unfolding realistically as the two of them gradually learn more about each other and where they come from. The love between them is earned, only coming after friendship and trust is established.

The fact that Abel is a mech could have been a point of awkwardness, but I was pleasantly surprised this was not the case. I was happy enough to go along with the explanation that he is the most advanced model Mansfield has ever created, which would account for a lot of his human-like behaviors and thought processes—this is because for all intents and purposes, Abel is human. Gray puts the reader inside his head as he realizes all these changes are happening to him, and I found the evolution of the character to be quite convincing. As well, Abel’s nature may make his personality somewhat open and blunt, but the same flaw also makes him a good and genuine “person”. I loved his frequent and hilariously candid observations about human behavior almost as much as I did his sincere feelings toward Noemi. She in turn is a good match for Abel, even though in many ways she is his complete opposite—passionate, driven by her emotions, and strongly committed to her faith. At the same time she is also headstrong, independent and capable of handling a variety of challenges, including teaching Abel a great many things about what it means to be human. I have to say, one of the reasons I enjoyed the dual POVs so much was because of how it portrayed the growth in their relationship and the way we got to see the chemistry from both sides.

It’s also great to see that Claudia Gray’s work outside the Star Wars universe is just as entertaining. Before I go overboard with my praise here though, just don’t expect this book to set new standards or shatter any molds. There’s nothing too deep here, admittedly, but Defy the Stars is still a rollicking fun read with a romantic arc I actually enjoyed (kind of rare for me, in YA) and on the whole I found the story engaging and thoroughly satisfying. If you’re a YA fan who enjoys science fiction and stories set in space, this fun and fast-paced adventure among the stars could be exactly what you’re looking for.

Audiobook Comments: I was lucky enough to review the audio edition of Defy the Stars and I was not disappointed. Narrated by Nate Begle, who read Abel’s sections, as well as Kasey Lee Huizinga, who read Noemi’s, the audiobook was a great listen. Both narrators did a fine job, and Begle’s performance deserves an extra mention for his ability to find the right balance for Abel, making him sound suitably “mech-ish” but still emotional and human-like. I have no complaints at all and would not hesitate to continue this series in audio format. Highly recommended.

Friday Face-Off: Beach/Seaside

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:

”Oh I do like to be beside the seaside!”
~ a cover featuring the BEACH/SEASIDE

Mogsy’s Pick:
Harrison Squared by Daryl Gregory

Folks don’t usually associate sunny beaches and seashores with tentacles…unless you are an avid reader of Lovecraft-inspired horror featuring creepy little New England towns perched on the rocky coasts of the North Atlantic, of course. My pick for this week’s topic is a book set in fictional Dunnsmouth, a classic Lovecraftian town where strange things happen in the darkness of night and monstrous creatures lurk beneath the cold, merciless waves. Harrison Squared is a dark fantasy adventure following the tale of a teenage boy who lost his leg in a boating accident when he was a toddler. Harrison still remembers the sight of the giant tentacled sea monster that capsized his family’s boat and claimed his father’s life. Now years later, he searches for his marine biologist mother, unwilling to believe she is dead after she fails to return home from her latest research trip out to sea.

Only two covers available for this one, but they are both pretty striking:

Tor Books (2015) vs. Titan Books (2015)

 

Winner:

I’m going to go with the Titan Books edition for this one. Even though it gives off a vague sense that this is a fun, wacky book (it’s really not, in spite of its “adventurous” description and its quirky moments – the overall tone is actually kind of dark which probably makes the Tor cover more appropriate), the bright yellow is simply too eye-catching to ignore. I do love both covers, but the Titan one is especially well designed and constructed. If I passed by it on a shelf, I think it’d immediately leap out at me, before drawing my gaze to the single insidious tentacle reaching out from the life-preserver.

Well, that was my thought process anyway! What do you think? Which one is your favorite?

Book Review: Tremontaine created by Ellen Kushner

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

Tremontaine by Ellen Kushner, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Malinda Lo, Joel Derfner, Patty Bryant, Racheline Maltese, Paul Witcover

Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of Tremontaine

Publisher: Saga Press (May 2, 2017)

Length: 688 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Driven by the excellent experience I had with Bookburners earlier this year, I vowed to myself I would check out more serials from Serial Box. Pleasantly surprised by how well the structure of the serial novel worked for me, I wanted more—and thus my attention immediately fell upon Tremontaine Season One, the collection of all thirteen episodes released from Saga Press.

But while Bookburners came out of the gate running, throwing readers headfirst into the action right from the start, Tremontaine turned out to be a more measured affair, taking a handful of episodes to establish the setting and characters before easing into the meat of the story. Another way to look at it might be: if Bookburners is perfect for fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, then the pacing and themes of Tremontaine would probably make it more appealing to fans of the action, romances, and politics of period dramas.

To provide a bit of context, Tremontaine is actually considered a prequel to Ellen Kushner’s highly acclaimed Riverside series, which I confess I have not read—though I know that the first book Swordpoint and the subsequent novels set in the same universe have been praised for its diversity and LGBT-friendly characters and world. Tremontaine continues in this tradition. In episode one, we are introduced to a vibrant setting, its atmosphere seemingly reminiscent of 17th or 18th century Europe. There appears to be two sides to this city, one characterized by luxuriously dressed nobles indulging themselves with decadent balls, masquerades, and of course, copious amounts of chocolate. The other side is a darker, seedier underworld where all manner of rogues and scoundrels gather to do their drinking, whoring, and gambling.

Among the nobles, one of the most prominent figures is Diane the Duchess of Tremontaine, a beautiful woman with a calculating eye and a sharp mind seeking to restore the glory of her House. While her husband is the one who technically holds ducal authority, in truth it is Diane who has all the power. Next we meet Ixkaab Balam, a young foreign woman who hails from an influential merchant family, newly arrived by boat to make her name in this strange land. Other members of the key cast also include Micah, an autistic farm girl whose uncanny talent for mathematics eventually leads her to a university where she meets Rafe, a passionate scholar who has dreams of one day opening his own school.

With all these disparate plotlines in play, things simmer for a while before exploding. I would say that, as much as I enjoyed the first handful of episodes, I did not consider myself thoroughly hooked until much later in the novel. Tremontaine is a serial that takes a slow burn approach, steadily building its foundations so that when the long anticipated action and passions do come, they are much more impactful. This does mean that it takes a good deal of patience to get to the exciting parts, but sticking it out will pay off in the end.

However, reading Tremontaine also made me feel skeptical of the multi-author serial format for the first time. I think having several authors on the same project works perfectly fine as long as their styles are alike enough to complement each other, as was the case with Bookburners where each episode written by their respective authors flowed easily from one to the next. In contrast, the transitions between episodes did not go as smoothly in Tremontaine. This was my first experience with all the authors, a lineup that includes Ellen Kushner, Malinda Lo, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Joel Derfner, Racheline Maltese, Patty Bryant, and Paul Witcover. They’re all very good writers, each with their own talents and individual flair. The problem with having so many different styles, however, is that the changes between episodes are very noticeable and distracting. Furthermore, episodes in Tremontaine do not follow the “mini-story” structure (the way many episodes in Bookburners did), with many of them having no rising action or resolution, and that together with the awkward transitions between authors made picking up at the beginning of each episode a little more difficult.

The characters were also not as strong as I would have liked. Among the main characters, my favorite was hands down Diane. She’s ambitious, cunning, and merciless, not to mention she’s sitting on a deep, dark secret that paints her in a very bad light. Still, I can’t help it; I seem to be drawn to these sly, scheming Machiavellian types—especially when they’re women. Compared to Diane though, no one else could really hold a candle to her. Kaab was interesting but I felt many of her sections felt like filler, especially when they could have gone to develop other characters like Micah, whom I loved but whose role felt underused. In particular I also felt a deep annoyance for Rafe, whose self-absorption and blind spots were done just a tad too much for me.

Still, I enjoyed my time with the first season of Tremontaine. Admittedly, it had a slow start, and if I had only a few episodes on hand to begin with, I might have given up early. Fortunately, this is where having a complete season really helps; I was able to keep going and reach a point where the story built up enough momentum to deliver on all its promises of swashbuckling action, passionate love affairs, political conflict and scandalous drama—plus enough descriptions of rich delicious chocolate to make your mouth water! Based on a world that is known for its vibrant diversity and queer-friendly themes, this prequel serial continues the trend in offering something new and different from the status quo. If you’re into “vanity fair” types of stories featuring adventure, romance, and intrigue, then I urge you to give Tremontaine a closer look.

Waiting on Wednesday 04/26/17

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

Mogsy’s Pick

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden (January 9, 2018 by Del Rey)

It’s still a long ways off, but when I saw the cover and description of this sequel to The Bear and the Nightingale, I couldn’t help my excitement. I loved the first book, and here’s hoping the follow-up will be just as lovely and magical.

“The magical adventure begun in The Bear and the Nightingale continues as brave Vasya, now a young woman, is forced to choose between marriage or life in a convent and instead flees her home—but soon finds herself called upon to help defend the city of Moscow when it comes under siege.

Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.”

Book Review: Within the Sanctuary of Wings by Marie Brennan

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

Within the Sanctuary of Wings by Marie Brennan

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 5 of Memoir by Lady Trent

Publisher: Tor (April 25, 2017)

Length: 352 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

It is with a heavy heart that I bid adieu to another one of my favorite series, but I am also glad that at long last I got to see all the ideas come to fruition in this fifth and final novel of Marie Brennan’s wholly unique Memoirs of Lady Trent. After all, Within the Sanctuary of Wings is everything a fan could want in a finale—a book that ends on a high note of hope and happiness while also deftly tying all the overall series themes and plot threads together.

Furthermore, I’m sure those who have been along for the ride since A Natural History of Dragons will be glad to know that the details behind Isabella’s most infamous scientific discovery—an event that has been teased for the first four books—will finally be revealed. Without a doubt, the answers were worth waiting for. I guarantee that the revelations in this book will change everything you think you know about this series.

The adventure, however, begins rather quietly. While attending a lecture on Draconean linguistics delivered by her husband, Isabella’s attention is unexpectedly pulled away by a Yelangnese stranger with an urgent matter to discuss with her. The man, whose name is Thu, reports that he has discovered the corpse of a new type of dragon while scouting with his fellow rebels in the mountains of the Mrtyahaima. As expected though, the remoteness of the location and its unforgiving conditions do little to faze the headstrong Isabella, who immediately works on putting together an expedition to Yelang so that her team can investigate Thu’s claims.

Unfortunately, their road is plagued with obstacles. There is only a tiny window time in which they must reach the Mrtyahaima mountains before the monsoon season brings heaps of snow upon the peaks. Then there are the political complications. The region is unstable with different tribes chafing under the Yelangnese rule, and it’s not like Isabella is exactly welcome in Yelang either, after the way she offended their government on one of her past adventures. Worst of all, there’s no guarantee that she will find evidence of a new dragon species. Weeks of planning and risk-taking could end up being all for naught.

But of course, our characters find something. And obviously I won’t spoil what it is here, but it’s something HUGE.

Without revealing anything though, I will admit that the twist caught me off guard—likely what it was meant to do, but it also left me with some mixed feelings. I’ve made no secret that one of my favorite aspects of this series are the dragons and the way they are handled—not as mythological beings or exceptional creatures with special abilities or powers as most fantasy novels depict them. In contrast, Brennan’s dragons are part of the natural world, a key theme which has provided the driving force behind all these books. I found this approach refreshingly original. I also loved the science and the learning, and most of all I loved Isabella’s quest to find out as much as she can about how dragons fit into the natural order of the world. Within the Sanctuary of Wings does not really change any of this, and for that I am glad. But at the same time (and apologies for being deliberately vague on this), this installment did also manage to drop a bombshell which introduced a completely new element into my understanding of this series.

As well, there were a few minor issues with pacing. First, compared to the previous books, this one started more slowly, and even the harrowing journey through the snow and ice did little to give the intro an energy boost. Second, this was also a very Isabella-centric story, resulting in less appearances by some of my other favorite characters like Tom and Suhail. Third, while lots of fascinating things happened throughout, a large chunk of the middle was characterized by inaction which, to be fair, couldn’t be helped given the way certain events played out. Finally, the ending wrapped things up way too conveniently for my tastes, but at that point I understood the need for a quick and satisfying resolution.

Still, despite my quibbles, this was once again another riveting book in the Memoirs of Lady Trent sequence. It has been an absolute joy to be with Isabella as she evolved throughout the series, as well as watching her relationships grow. Sometimes, if I allow myself to get really immersed, I even start thinking of this alternate world as my own, and I have to credit the author’s incredible writing skills. These books have a way of drawing me in, making it easy for me to believe I am actually reading an account of an old woman’s youth and rise to fame as a world renowned dragon researcher. I cheered Isabella on as she fought to pursue her dream of becoming a scientist, bucking social conventions at a time when men still dominated academia. It was hard not to shed a tear by the time I got to the very last page, so moved was I to see how far our protagonist has come.

Within the Sanctuary of Wings is truly Lady Trent’s greatest adventure, closing this outstanding pentalogy with style. It is a wonderful, gratifying conclusion to an overall excellent series that I just can’t recommend enough.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of A Natural History of Dragons (Book 1)
Review of The Tropic of Serpents (Book 2)
Review of The Voyage of the Basilisk (Book 3)
Review of In the Labyrinth of Drakes (Book 4)

Book Review: The End of the Day by Claire 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 End of the Day by Claire North

Mogsy’s Rating: 2 of 5 stars

Genre: Paranormal

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Redhook (April 4, 2017)

Length: 432 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

I suppose it was bound to happen sooner or later. Let me just start by saying I adored the last two novels I read by Claire North, which is how I know firsthand her reputation for writing unique and fascinating stories. I never know what to expect when I pick up a book by her—only that it will be innovative with a good chance of being a bit weird. Well, it seems my luck with those experimental qualities finally ran out. The End of the Day didn’t work nearly as well for me as The Sudden Appearance of Hope or Touch did, and I believe there were several reasons for that.

But first, I’m going to attempt to brief summary of the novel, which is harder than it sounds. The End of the Day did not have a story per se, and if it had a plot, it was disjointed and muddled. There was a another review I stumbled across recently that likened the book to sitting on a park bench people-watching or something to that effect, which is actually a pretty accurate description. Literally, there are pages just filled with nothing but snippets of quotes from conversations featuring random people talking about current issues. In between, what we get is more of a character study rather than a true story.

Our main character is Charlie, and he has a very interesting job from a very interesting employer. His official title is the Harbinger of Death. He’s the guy everyone meets once, before his boss comes a-knocking. Charlie’s visits are sometimes a warning but more often a courtesy, and he usually comes bearing gifts to the people he’s scheduled to visit. From a small village in South America to Greenland to New York City, he also never knows where he’ll be or who he’ll see next. Wherever Death arranges to send him, he just goes, whether or not his employer ultimately decides to “follow up”. Not surprisingly, Charlie has seen and learned a great many things from his experiences traveling around the world and meeting people from all walks of life. Eventually, he starts to question his own existence and the role he performs, gaining a new perspective on death and the meaning of life.

The premise of the book is interesting, I’ll give it that. The execution, however, left much to be desired. I think one of the reasons I loved Touch and The Sudden Appearance of Hope was because, in a way, those could be considered thrillers, with both books featuring the same inventiveness and ingenuity that is pure Claire North, yet they were still fast-paced and exciting reads. In contrast, The End of the Day is more of a slow-burner, and did not contain any overarching conflicts or high stakes.

Instead, what we get a lot of is food for thought. One thing I can say about North’s books is that they’re always discussion-worthy, and indeed, there’s a wealth of clever themes and ideas in this one, not to mention plenty of social issues to explore. And yet, none of this really makes a good story, especially since we spend so much time with Charlie and in the end I still feel like I know so little about him. While I sympathized with many of his points, his character often came across as somewhat shallow and uninformed about a lot of the topics that come up in the novel, given the number of generalizations and strawmen arguments littered across the narrative.

Still, in spite of my disappointment, this is not the end for me and Claire North. The End of the Day might have fizzled for me, but I’ll keep reading her books because when all is said and done, North is an incredible writer and I can always count on her imagination to come up with plenty more fresh and creative ideas for stories. One of my favorite books is Touch, which I highly recommend to anyone who wants a taste of what the author is capable of. On the other hand, The End of the Day might not work so well for pleasure reading; it is heavier on commentary and lighter on story and character development, and coming from a couple of the author’s more plot-driven stories, I simply cannot say I liked the style and tone of this one as much.

YA Weekend: The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

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

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of The Bone Witch

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire (March 7, 2017)

Length: 400 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

I’ve been going back and forth in my mind on how to review this book. Having anticipated it for so long, I honestly thought it would be more—and yet, I can’t say I’m all that disappointed either. Sparse at is might have been on story and plot development, The Bone Witch has a lot else going for it, including topnotch writing and impressive atmosphere.

The book introduces us to twelve-year-old Tea, a bone witch. Unfortunately for our protagonist, she came to discover her powers for necromancy in the worst way possible—by accidentally raising her older brother Fox from the dead, while everyone looked on at his funeral. From that moment on, the siblings’ fates were forever linked. But now that she has been identified as a dark asha, a magic user that deals with death, Tea must be taken away to receive the proper training. In this world, bone witches do not have the best reputations to begin with; within many communities they are feared and reviled, despite the crucial role that bone witches play—for you see, only they can defeat the demonic beings called Daeva, creations of the False Prince that resurrect every so often to plague the populace. During her training, Tea will not only learn how to control her powers, she will also be learning how to fight the Daeva.

Not long after Fox’s resurrection, an experienced bone witch called Mykaela comes to take Tea and her brother away to a school for dark asha. Far from home and still reeling over the fact that her life has been changed forever, Tea nonetheless puts all her efforts into learning all she can for the next few years, gaining control over her powers while also further bonding with Fox, the one tie she has to her family. Throughout this time, her resolve is tested again and again—and the challenges include more than just an appraisal of her magical abilities. Tea uncovers a whole other world of secrets among the leaders and other ashas at the school, some that may hold dire consequences for her homeland and those she cares about.

The story here is very simple. While I wouldn’t exactly say I was bored for most of the first half of the book, plot development in this section was admittedly on the sluggish side, especially once we got past the ruckus over Fox’s surprise resurrection. Instead the narrative spent a lot of time building up the relationship between Tea and her brother, which thankfully was something I enjoyed. Despite Fox’s awkward status as an undead, they say that no one can come back from the afterlife unless they truly wanted to, and it was clear that love and protectiveness for his little sister were the main driving forces behind his character. It was heartwarming to see his support for Tea, especially during her early years at the school at a time when she needed his guidance the most. In fact, this attention to siblings’ character development and the strengthening of their bond was likely what saved the book for me and kept me from losing interest completely.

The first section also spent a considerable chunk of time on world-building. To the author’s credit, she has created a fascinating universe in The Bone Witch, filling it with a complex system of magic which became almost too convoluted at times. There are many types of ashas, or witches, in this world—most have powers that are based around the elements like earth, air, fire, etc. The book doesn’t really go into the details of each kind of magic, only telling us that the kind Tea has, i.e. death magic, is different. Apparently there is an entire set of other rules for bone witches, even though there’s no rhyme or reason as to why, and while they are considered to be a type of asha, it is also generally accepted that they are just “special”. Then there are the Daeva, plus the convenient fact that bone witches just so happen to be uniquely equipped to deal with them. Don’t get me wrong, the concept itself is interesting, but at the same time a lot of it feels way too “constructed” for me to find it convincing.

In the face of all this, the idea of heartglasses almost feels extraneous. To give you a crash course on what these things are, in this world everyone wears a mood ring like bauble around their necks called a heartglass, and they can change color depending on what the person is feeling. It is a more than a piece of jewelry though, because it many ways it is also part of the wearer’s identity and soul. They also hold cultural significance, as lovers can opt to exchange heartglasses (though given the dire consequences in the event one person becomes less committed, I don’t know why anyone would risk doing this) and as well the power of potential witches can sometimes be gleaned from the color of their heartglasses. However, heartglasses can also be forged. Not surprisingly, despite all the focus on world-building, I still have a lot of questions. If I do end up continuing this series, it is my hope that the next book will provide more information on ashes, the magic system, heartglasses, etc. and explore how it all fits together.

For now, I plan to take a wait-and-see approach. I didn’t love The Bone Witch, but I also saw a lot to like about the book, including great characterization and fantastic atmosphere. In addition, the magic system holds plenty of potential—though world-building probably needs to be streamlined and polished up a bit. I guess I’ll wait for reviews before deciding whether or not to dive into the sequel; if book two beefs up the storytelling and improves the plot, I just might give this series another try.

Mogsy’s Bookshelf Roundup: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads

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

black line

I’m back from vacation! We spent the week at Disney World and the kids loved it. It was truly a magical trip for all of us.

Of course, it was also EXHAUSTING! Fun as they are, visits to Disney are not exactly “rest and relaxation”-type vacations and each day pretty much ended with me passing out face-down on the bed as soon as I walked through that hotel room door. While I had a wonderful time, it’s also feels great to be home. Hopefully it won’t take too long to ease myself back into real life again! One of my first chores was to pick up all the mail that had been held while we were away, and sure enough there a few new books among the packages…

Received for Review

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

We kick things off with a couple of my most anticipated books this year, including Swarm and Steel by Michael R. Fletcher. Mere words cannot describe how excited I am for this one! Thank you to Talos/Skyhorse Publishing for sending me an ARC.

Next up is Tyrant’s Throne by Sebastien de Castell courtesy of the amazing Jo Fletcher Books! I have to say I wasn’t expecting to see a package from the UK among my mail, but my heart was practically in my throat as I opened it wondering to myself…could it be? And it was! I seriously cannot wait to dive into this fourth book of the Greatcoats series.

Described as “the sequel to the War of the Worlds“, The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter was another surprise arrival, but I’d actually heard about this one when it came out earlier this year in the UK. This summer it will be released in the US by Crown Publishing, and it simply sounds too cool to pass up. With thanks to the publisher for the ARC.

I’ve been noticing A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge around the blogosphere a lot lately, so it was a pleasant surprise when I arrived home to find that a copy had been sent to me too. Apparently this is the book’s first time being pubbed in the US, even though it’s been receiving great acclaim overseas for years. I might just take a look at this one later this spring! My thanks to Amulet Books.

Also my deepest gratitude to Pyr Books for these two ARCs! I’m still one book behind on the Ben Gold series, but you can bet as soon as I’m caught up I’ll be checking out Raining Fire by Rajan Khanna. I am however all caught up with the Dru Jasper series which is a TON of fun. Later this summer, I will definitely be making some time to read A Kiss Before Doomsday by Laurence MacNaughton!

And a treasure trove of goodies from the wonderful folks at Tor Books! I was thrilled to receive this finished copy of Within the Sanctuary of Wings by Marie Brennan which, like the other books of the series, contains the beautiful dragon artwork by the very talented Todd Lockwood. I was also happy to receive a finished copy of Skullsworn by Brian Staveley which was an incredible read! In case you missed my review, you’ll find the link in the Review Roundup section below.

Next up is Roar by Cora Carmack – it’s true that I have not been having the best luck when it comes to YA lately, but I am feeling very optimistic about this one, especially given all the positive early reviews. As a bonus, the publicist also included a poster of that jaw-dropping cover, along with a map of the world.

And you know how some books just call to you? Pawn by Timothy Zahn was like that, but when I first saw it on NetGalley I had no choice to pass on it because at the time my stats were getting out of hand! An unsolicited finished copy came to me anyhow, but now that I have it on hand I’m going to try extra hard to see if I can fit it into my reading schedule for next month. Finally, Gears of Faith by Gabrielle Harbowy is the newest addition to the Pathfinder Tales sequence. These books are just plain fun, and I just love to indulge in them whenever I can. Thanks again to Tor!

And last but not least, my thanks to Crown for sending me this paperback edition of Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. It releases May 2nd, so that’s a great opportunity to check it out if you didn’t get the chance when the book was first released. It was a five star read for me last year!

  

  

  

Figures as soon as I go out of town, tons of amazing stuff show up on NetGalley! My thank to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for approving me for Song of the Current by Sarah Tolcser. I learned about this one after seeing it featured on several bloggers’ highly anticipated lists and it does look very interesting.

I also grabbed Age of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan with thanks to Del Rey. Sullivan’s one of my must-read authors and I’ve been looking forward to this sequel to Age of Myth for a long time.

And of course, when Orbit’s sister imprint Redhook put up Blood Oath by Melissa Lenhardt I jumped on it right away! The first book Sawbones was one of my favorite books of last year, and also one of the biggest surprises. While it is neither sci-fi or fantasy but historical fiction, you know how much I just looooooove westerns.

I also couldn’t resist requesting Godblind by Anna Stephens when I saw it pop up on Edelweiss. “Grimdark” was the magic word, and it’s a debut too! With thanks to Talos.

It’s also audiobooks galore as I got to nab review copies of Thrawn by Timothy Zahn and Change Agent by Daniel Suarez – my thanks to Penguin Random House Audio for these exciting new titles! From the awesome team at Hachette Audio I also received Defy the Stars by Claudia Graya YA sci-fi adventure which I’ve almost completed as of this writing and so far I’m finding it very enjoyable. Also huge thanks to Macmillan Audio who sent me A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi which I’m really looking forward to, having adored the author’s debut The Star-Touched Queen last year. Finally, my thanks to Audible for providing me with an audio review copy of Cold Welcome by Elizabeth Moon! I’ve never read anything by Moon before, and I’m quite eager to give this one a try.

Reviews

Time for a review roundup! Lots of ups and downs this week, but Skullsworn was clearly the standout and it gets the highlighted spot!

Skullsworn by Brian Staveley (4.5 of 5 stars)
Sins of Empire by Brian McClellan (4 of 5 stars)
The Wanderers by Meg Howrey (3.5 of 5 stars)
Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel (3.5 of 5 stars)
Lady of the Lake by Andrzej Sapkowski (3.5 of 5 stars)
Gauntlet by Holly Jennings (3.5 of 5 stars)
Avengers of the Moon by Allen Steele (3 of 5 stars)
Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer (2.5 of 5 stars)
Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones (2.5 of 5 stars)

Roundup Highlight:

What I’ve Read Since the Last Update

While hardly any actual “reading” was done during the last two weeks, I did get a lot of audiobooks finished on the train ride to/car ride back from Florida (~17 hours each way). You should be seeing reviews of these very soon.

   

 

black line

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

Friday Face-Off: Bridge

the-friday-face-off

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:

“I demolish my bridges behind me…then there is no choice but to push forward”
~ a cover featuring a BRIDGE

Mogsy’s Pick:
The City’s Son by Tom Pollock

Bridges are a feature of many cities…some of them are more famous than others. But what happens when the city comes alive – quite literally! – and landmarks become more than just another outline on the urbanscape? In some books, the setting itself is part and parcel of the entire whole, so that the city might as well be another character in the story. And in The City’s Son, Tom Pollock presents London to the reader in a way that will completely blow your mind. There’s bringing your city to life, and then there’s bringing your city to life. This book takes personification of urban features to a whole new level, plunging into the realm of the bizarre and uncanny, creating wonders you could never imagine in your wildest dreams.

Not surprisingly, we see a great variation in the covers:

From left to right, top to bottom: Jo Fletcher Books (2012) – Flux (2012)

 

Czech (2014) – German (2013) – Russian (2016)

  

Winner:

This week, the challengers are all very strong, even with the shirtless boy wonder in the top right. I knew right away I would be choosing my winner from the foreign editions though, because some of the art styles are so striking, especially for the German and Russian covers. My winner in the end is the one that I think fits the story’s tone best.

What do you think? Which one is your favorite?

Book Review: Sins of Empire by Brian McClellan

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

Sins of Empire by Brian McClellan

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Epic Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of Gods of Blood and Powder

Publisher: Orbit (March 7, 2017)

Length: 624 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

As you know, I’m quite a fan of Brian McClellan’s Powder Mage trilogy, and so I was thrilled when I discovered he was planning to write a new series called Gods of Blood and Powder set in the same universe. Sins of Empire is a return to this world of magic and war, taking place approximately ten years after the end of The Autumn Republic. While the main cast may contain a few familiar faces, this novel is in fact a new story taking place in a new setting, so whether you are an old fan looking to dive back into the world or a newcomer contemplating this as a possible place to jump on board, this book is accessible to all. (However, a small caveat: if you haven’t completed the Powder Mage trilogy yet and do intend to at some point, keep in mind Sins of Empire may contain some spoilers especially for how that series ends.)

The story begins by depositing us in Fatrasta, a relatively young nation that recently gained independence through a violent, bloody war. Still, despite its turbulent political landscape, the country is booming—travelers from all walks of life are flocking to its borders looking for new opportunities, from criminals feeling prosecution from their nations of origin to intrepid settlers that see this new land as fresh start for their families. Then there are the mercenaries, come to Fatrasta to enjoy the patronage of Chancellor Lindet who governs her land with an iron fist. Among them are the Riflejack army, led by Lady Vlora Flint and her partner Colonel Olem, veterans of the Adro Revolution which took place a decade ago. When an insurrection threatens to destabilize Fatrasta even further, Vlora and Olem are called back to the capital city of Landfall to help put down the rebellion and root out its leader, a mysterious rebel known as Mama Palo.

Meanwhile in a high security labor camp, a convicted war hero who helped win Fatrasta her independence fails to make parole. Angry and demoralized, Ben Styke is just about to accept that he will never taste freedom again when a strange visitor claiming to be a lawyer shows up and makes him an offer he can’t refuse. Somewhere else, an ambitious spy named Michel Bravis receives a dangerous assignment to track down the individual or groups responsible for printing and distributing an anti-government publication called “Sins of Empire”. Even though he feels woefully unqualified for such detective work, Michel has no choice but to accept the mission. After all, this may be the path to earn him the promotion he’s always wanted…though on the other hand, failure could mean much more than his downfall.

Together, these separate threads make up the story of Sins of Empire. In classic epic fantasy fashion, we follow and bounce around between the perspectives as the narrative builds, until all the plot lines converge. Those who have read the Powder Mage books will already be familiar with Vlora who was a supporting character in the original trilogy, but now it’s her chance to be a main protagonist in her own right. I must confess, it was a real treat for me to catch up with her again. Thinking back to when Promise of Blood first came out, one criticism I had of the book involved the underutilization of the female character POVs, and even when compared to Nila and Ka-poel, Vlora received relatively little attention. Oh, how the tables have turned now. Despite the popularity of Ka-poel, it is Vlora who I’ve always had a soft spot for, and it was a joy to watch her take charge and shine bright in this series opener.

Credit must also go to newcomers Ben Styke and Michel Bravis, since they too helped make Sins of Empire a strong introduction. While neither of their stories are as interesting to me as Vlora’s at this point, the good news is I can easily see their roles expanding beyond what they are now with future books, and hopefully in time they will become more than just “violent brute with a heart of gold” and “neurotic spy” respectively. However, it’s important to note as well that both their sections provided a bit of mystery to this novel, adding to the suspense as little by little the characters uncover more secrets behind the rebellion in Falastra, not to mention a few shocking revelations. I loved the unexpected twists and game-changing surprises, and I have no doubt these will also be greatly appreciated by other Powder Mage fans!

In addition, the author has clearly learned a lot from completing his debut trilogy. Sins of Empire is solidly written, and as the first book of a series, I feel the plot is also more compelling and better constructed compared to Promise of Blood. All in all it is a great introductory volume, accomplishing its goal of setting up a strong foundation, at once familiar but also different enough from the original trilogy that I find myself excited to see where McClellan will take us next. The ending teases much more to come, and I can’t wait for more answers in the sequel.