Friday Face-Off: Magic in the Title

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 with MAGIC IN THE TITLE

Mogsy’s Pick:

Thief’s Magic by Trudi Canavan

Magic and magicians seem to feature strongly in Trudi Canavan’s books, and this one’s no exception. In Thief’s Magic, we meet Tyen, a young archaeology student (though calling what he and his professor and fellow students do “Archaelogy” might be a bit of stretch…they’re more like tomb robbers) who discovers a sentient book while excavating an ancient tomb. The book can read the minds of anyone with whom it makes physical contact, communicating through text appearing on the pages. Calling herself Vella, the book claims to have once been a sorcerer-woman, until she was transformed into her current form by one of the greatest sorcerers of history. She has been gathering and storing information through the ages ever since. Sensing bad things to come if Vella were to ever fall into the wrong hands, Tyen decides to keep her to himself for now, but as we all know, a secret this big is always bound to come out sooner or later.

Let’s take a look at the covers:

From left to right:
Orbit (2014) – German Edition (2014)

Bulgarian Edition (2014) – Bolinda Audio (2014)

Winner:

Not a single interesting or good looking one in the bunch, if I’m to be honest. I think the fantasy genre as a whole has decided to move on past the “generic hooded figure” design which used to plague so many of its covers, so a lot these already have a dated look despite not being that old. I guess if I had to choose, it would be the Bulgarian edition, because you can at least see more of the person’s face.

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

 

Excerpt: The Swimmers by Marian Womack

Last year, The BiblioSanctum had the pleasure of featuring The Golden Key by Marian Womack, and today we’re thrilled to spotlight her sophomore novel which published on February 23 from Titan Books and is available now wherever books are sold. Set on the rich and colorful coasts of Andalusia, Spain, The Swimmers is a heady, poetic climate dystopian novel that has been described as a beautiful fever dream–much like that gorgeous cover! Below, we’re sharing an excerpt from the book, which we hope you’ll check out and enjoy!

The Swimmers by Marian Womack

A claustrophobic, literary dystopia set in the hot, luscious landscape of Andalusia from the author of The Golden Key.

After the ravages of global warming, this is place of deep jungles, strange animals, and new taxonomies. Social inequality has ravaged society, now divided into surface dwellers and people who live in the Upper Settlement, a ring perched at the edge of the planet’s atmosphere. Within the surface dwellers, further divisions occur: the techies are old families, connected to the engineer tradition, builders of the Barrier, a huge wall that keeps the plastic-polluted Ocean away. They possess a much higher status than the beanies, their servants.

The novel opens after the Delivery Act has decreed all surface humans are ‘equal’. Narrated by Pearl, a young techie with a thread of shuvani blood, she navigates the complex social hierarchies and monstrous, ever-changing landscape. But a radical attack close to home forces her to question what she knew about herself and the world around her. 

Excerpt from The Swimmers by Marian Womack, published by Titan Books. Copyright © 2021 by Marian Womack

Gobarí was my home, with its crumbling walls and its mouldy porch, and those flowers and bushes and trees, all closing above like a roof. The Venus flytraps as big as a small child, the vines and the tendrils that moved like the living things they were. And those strange days when the sky was green, blue, electric. We did not know it then, what it meant, when the blue surge of light blotted up the sky; most people still don’t know. The day would have been atypical, even in a place like the forest. You could sense it: the animals refusing to make an appearance, the odd silent birds. And the greenery twisting and twirling around you, as if it were on edge. Then, at dusk, the sky an ominous purple, followed by the blue light dancing over us, caressing the stars and the constellations when night fell. At the time, I thought the sky was going to collapse upon us, finally devouring all the monstrosities that lived with us in the forest. Now that I know what the light means I can only feel sadness at my past ignorance.

After one of these events, the forest would grow a little, but never engulfing Gobarí. At the beginning of the property, the green stopped abruptly. At night, I closed my eyes and thought of trees and the vines and the branches, advancing towards the house, and I could hear the shrieks of so many creatures, unnamed long-agomutated things that now came back to feed on us. But I couldn’t have slept anywhere else; the smells and the odd noises and that feeling of oppression, of not being able to breathe… To me, that was home. The forest gave us everything we needed: wood, for fuel and building things, and the cork that furnished the insides of the vessels; plants and flowers and vines and shrubs, and we ate them, we cooked them, or we transformed them into remedies and potions; and wild animals, surreal creatures that changed so quickly that they could never be trapped by any taxonomy, and were wilder than the forest itself, the only meat we consumed. It was fair that they in their turn consumed us, that the forest gobbled up a beanie child now and again, advancing towards a settlement and making it disappear from our world.

At the pond I was surrounded by flowers and plants of many different colours. I could see rabbit’s bread and the sierra poppy Eli liked to collect in thick bunches. Pale flowers grew on the bank, and close to it some silver sage. Savina would know all their properties. Love-in-a-mist, mournful widow, oleander. It was poisonous. The prettiest flowers usually are: she had taught me that when I was very little. Never, ever, succumb to hunger if you don’t know what you are eating. Her first rule of many.

Gobarí wasn’t like the wall, not by a long way. It was a late twenty-first-century construction, the vestige of a lost civilisation, brick and sand and mortar. No one understood why it still stood, situated as it was in the middle of the overgrowth. It had survived the green winter that devoured everything in its wake; it had survived floods and extreme cold and extreme heat. It had survived all the darkness that came after. The storms that hit against its walls every rainy season, but which did not seem to erode its crumbling buttresses, as if some kind of unspoken contract mediated between the house and the elements. Gobarí had always belonged to Mother’s family: an old family, one with certain rights and a ruin in the middle of nowhere. They had been allowed to keep it.

I spent most of my time in the little meadow by the pond, among the eucalyptus plants. It was rich in wild orchids. I had heard somewhere that they could be literal aliens, fallen from some distant planet. They were odd and beautiful, and their names were odd and beautiful: the bug, the bee, the lizard. Frightening, unreal. Orchids were my favourite plants. Eli hated them. She would look at them, terrified. And then she would say: ‘Those horrid things!’ Little by little, the story emerged: the orchids in Gobarí were like miniature versions of the flowers that had killed her grandparents.

‘How do you know that’s true?’

‘There were witnesses. They were at the bank of a river, the Guadin. The tendrils surrounded them. They spent ages dying, minutes and hours.’

She explained this with a serious face on, as if she had learnt to live with the horrid knowledge. But I could sense some intense feeling underneath, as if she were trying very hard to remain composed, when in truth she was as horrified as anyone. I knew it then, that there was a hardness inside her.

Me, I could live with the greenery, I could navigate the forest. I could anticipate a sudden change in the landscape, a passing moment of danger. I could sense new noises, interpret the metamorphosing terrain, an intimate knowledge of the space, developed somehow from early childhood. Allowed to roam freely, I had to look after myself from very early on. Animals scared me more than plants. Some of them made me think of demons, crawled
scratchily up to the surface of the Earth to torment us. I knew this knowledge was one of the few things that remained from when Father was with us. He would insist on passing this on, books and diagrams and conversations that would always end in this one lesson.

‘Never venture somewhere if you hear a call you don’t recognise. Never make friends with a small animal: its mother may come after and eat you. Never go into the forest when the birds are not singing; never go when their shrieks are so loud that they are all you can hear.’

And so on. I would be sitting next to him, my childish senses picking up a hidden current, something underneath. I have a clear recollection of my mother asking me to be quiet because my father was around, and I now know that the moods of the house depended on his moods, that he expected us to be cheerful and happy if he was, and to be subdued and out of sight when he was morose. I now wonder if I internalised this fear of animals because he was the one teaching it to me, and I was scared of upsetting him or something worse. Was I scared of animals, or was I scared of him?

Many years later, when my father was already dead and in the ground, one morning I was waiting for Eli at the pond, by the water, and something happened. A hare came out of nowhere. She was so beautiful, orange with streaks of yellow all over her body. But she was also as big as me, and obviously much stronger. The hare got up on her hind legs and heaved her body up, looking at me with curiosity. Her head tilted softly, as if she were asking a question. She stretched her body up even further. I realised she could kill me with a bludgeoning of her powerful front arms. I took a step back, and of course a branch cracked under my feet. The hare did not like the noise.

She opened her mouth, showing me her pointy teeth, and hissed loudly. I knew she was marking her territory. I thought of Father. If I didn’t make any sudden moves, I would be safe. Hares can be impressive creatures, but you are usually okay if you treat them with the same caution you would take with the larger centipedes.

Something moved through the eucalyptus trees; a rustling sound of branches and leaves being pulled aside. Someone was approaching the pond.

The hare turned in the direction of the disturbance with another sudden hiss. Her eyes as open and big as her mouth as she prepared to attack the intruder.

I grabbed a branch lying on the floor; it was thick and heavy. I moved swiftly, bludgeoning the hare just before she could attack Eli. Next thing I knew, I was staring at a beautiful pattern of colours I couldn’t for a second make sense of. And then it hit me: I was looking at the hare’s brain pouring out of her head, mixed together with a dark red liquid.

I stayed where I was, spattered with the warm blood. I was trying to think of anatomy lessons, the circulation of the blood. How to put it all back, all that patchy learning, first aid, basic cures, herbals. Those things all surface children needed to learn, in case we were one day sent up to the sky. How to put it all back? The thought, like a flash: you cannot put it back. The brain would stay there, on the ground. I looked at Eli, her head round, and in place.

The hare jerked horribly. I kneeled down close to her, and beat her until she stopped moving. Perhaps a couple of times, three, four.

I was panting, covered in blood and sweat. I looked up to the hot sky, white dots still clouding my vision.

Eli was staring at me, at the hare, at the branch that I dropped.

‘Thank you,’ was all she could muster.

But I had an odd flavour in my mouth, as if I were remembering something from long ago. It was the metallic taste of the hare’s blood, splattered over my mouth, horribly. I saw my father in my mind, coming towards me. Towards us: me and a little beanie girl. She used to be my friend. She was dead now.

We were playing, my father advancing towards us, a malignant look on his face. Was it my father, or was it a mullo with his face, coming up from Hell to take us back there with him?

About the Author

Marian Womack is a bilingual writer, born in Andalusia and raised in the UK. She is a graduate of the Clarion Writers Workshop and the Creative Writing Masters at Cambridge University. She works for Cambridge University libraries, and her professional background is in academic libraries, having worked at Glasgow University Library and the Bodleian. Whilst living in Spain, Marian worked as a translator, desk editor, fiction publisher, and bookseller. She now lives in Cambridge, UK. She tweets @beekeepermadrid.

Waiting on Wednesday 02/24/21

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

Adrift by W. Michael Gear (June 1, 2021 by DAW)

It’s always exciting when Amazon alerts you that an author you follow will have a new book out, but even more so when you see it’s from one of your favorite series. I’m already so jazzed about returning to Donovan, and for the first time, it looks like we’ll be heading out to explore the seas!

“The fifth book in the thrilling Donovan sci-fi series returns to a treacherous alien planet where corporate threats and dangerous creatures imperil the lives of the colonists.

The Maritime Unit had landed in paradise. After a terrifying ten-year transit from Solar System aboard the Ashanti, the small band of oceanographers and marine scientists were finally settled. Perched on a reef five hundred kilometers out from shore, they were about to embark on the first exploration of Donovan’s seas. For the twenty-two adults and nine children, everything is new, exciting, and filled with wonder as they discover dazzling sea creatures, stunning plant life, and fascinating organisms.

But Donovan is never what it seems; the changes in the children were innocuous–oddities of behavior normal to kids who’d found themselves in a new world. Even then it was too late. An alien intelligence, with its own agenda, now possesses the children, and it will use them in a most insidious way: as the perfect weapons.

How can you fight back when the enemy is smarter than you are, and wears the face of your own child?

Welcome to Donovan.”

Audiobook Review: The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth Durst

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 Maker by Sarah Beth Durst

Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: HarperAudio (March 9, 2021)

Length: 16 hrs and 35 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Soneela Nankani

The Bone Maker is the sort of book you don’t see too often, in that it features an “aftermath” story. That is, the battle of epic proportions has already happened. The good guys prevailed, while the evil villain was vanquished forever. Everyone rejoiced and went home happy.

Or did they? Twenty-five years ago, a renegade bone maker named Eklor used his corrupted magic to raise an army of monsters against the realm. Five heroes, led by their leader Kreya, managed to defeat him but at a great cost. Only four of them came out alive, and the fallen was none other than Kreya’s beloved husband Jentt. As the rest of the world celebrated the survivors, celebrated their victory, Kreya retreated into solitude with her grief.

But what no one knew was that Kreya had a plan, one that could destroy her if she was discovered. For Jentt’s body had not been burned according to tradition, which was designed to prevent human bones from being collected and worked by magic. Any bone maker caught doing so would be committing the highest crime of their order, but that was exactly what Kreya had in mind. Before his death, Eklor had developed a method using human bone to resurrect the dead, and unbeknownst to all, Kreya had stolen away his grimoire and perfected the spell. All this time, she had kept Jentt’s body with the goal of one day bringing him back to life.

Still, human bones being so difficult to come by, she had never been truly successful, bringing him back for only days at a time. For the spell to last, she will need a large store of bones, and there is only one like that in existence—the very battlefield where Eklor was defeated all those years before. Problem was, getting there will be dangerous, not to mention an unforgivable violation of the law. For her to have any chance to succeed, Kreya will need help. But after so long, will any of her old comrades still heed her call, especially once they find out what she’s been up to?

Not too many authors can pull off a story like this, but I was confident that if anyone could, it would be Sarah Beth Durst. I’ve been a huge fan since The Queen of Blood, and once again she has shown me why I adore her work. One of the reasons why The Bone Maker works so well is its concept. Sure, the beginning of the book may have a “postscript” feel of sorts, but once readers are introduced to Kreya and her current dilemma, we are quickly made to care about her new purpose. For even though the great battle against Eklor happened a quarter of a century ago, the tale unfolding now is a more personal one. After all, we don’t often get stories about what the heroes get up to after the final showdown, but Durst explores a possible outcome that is not so glorious, where the winners don’t all get to live happily ever after.

Another reason why I think this story has legs is the way it flowed, almost like a great season of a TV show, in an episodic fashion. Once a conflict was resolved, another one would swiftly arise and continue the momentum of the plot. Past and present ultimately came together, filling in the gaps of the last twenty-five years and beyond, including world-building details and specifics related to the fascinating bone-based magic system. Gradually, it was revealed that maybe things hadn’t ended the way our heroes thought at all.

Of course, I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the characters. A middle-aged widow, Kreya isn’t your exactly your typical epic fantasy heroine, though writing unconventional albeit ferociously strong and well-developed female protagonists happens to be Durst’s forte. Case in point, I didn’t always agree with Kreya’s motivations and actions, but I could understand where they came from, thanks to the incredible layers of nuance woven into her character. Along the way, we also got to meet her old team, in a process that was very reminiscent of Kings of the Wyld. While each member had moved on, achieving various levels of success and stability (or lack thereof), all of them were affected by the war in some way. As far as “old gang getting back together” stories go, this one wasn’t anything too different, but the unique backgrounds and personalities of all those involved kept things fresh and interesting.

I know that I say this about pretty much all of the author’s books, but you really must read The Bone Maker to experience the wonder and surprises for yourself. Sarah Beth Durst has managed to pull off a challenging narrative by putting her characters first, building a riveting story around their lives while imbuing past and the present with the weight of history and complex magic. Truly, I never wanted this journey to end.

Audiobook Comments: My hat’s off to Soneela Nankani, who gave a fantastic performance. I believe this might be my first audiobook with her narration, but I’ll certainly remember her the next time. An excellent listen, and highly recommended.

Guest Post: “Building Imaginary Architecture” by Michael Johnston

The BiblioSanctum is thrilled to welcome author Michael Johnston, whose King Lear inspired series The Amber Throne continues in The Silence of the Soleri. Out now from Tor Books, this sequel to his first book Soleri presents a detailed historical fantasy vast in scope and steeped in primal magic, and to celebrate its release, Michael has kindly shared with us a fascinating aspect of his research for his books. I hope you’ll enjoy checking it out!

BUILDING IMAGINARY ARCHITECTURE
by Michael Johnston

Let’s talk about imaginary architecture. When I think about it, that’s where I got my start as a fantasy author. Once upon a time, I wanted to be a paper architect, which is what we call the practitioners of imaginary architecture. So what exactly is a paper architect? Well, it’s a term for architects who spend their days drawing things they don’t intend to build. These works are more or less considered flights of fancy or philosophical propositions. Sometimes a bit of both. For the most part, the term paper architect is meant as a slight. Real buildings are made out of bricks and mortar. But I’m fine the notion of working on paper, it gives you a lot more freedom, and you don’t need to hire an engineer to make certain your buildings don’t fall down. Freed of the practical constraints of the profession, you can dream and create within whatever limits you set. That’s what interested me, and it’s also what led me out of architecture and into fiction.

I discovered that paper architects might have a few more things in common with science fiction and fantasy writers than they do with their fellow architects who work in the mainstream profession. And eventually, I thought fiction might be a better home for someone like me who prefers imaginary buildings in place of the real ones.

That’s was my thought processed as I moved from architect to author, and I can’t say I’ve heard of anyone else doing that, so perhaps that process is worth examining. When I first started writing I hoped that my architectural ideas might help inform my literary ones, that I could create a kind of architecturally inspired fiction. To understand what I was thinking when I first started working on Soleri, I’ll walk you through a brief and incomplete history of imaginary architecture, so you see what I’m talking about and understand this unlikely bridge I found between architecture and fantasy.

One of the earliest and most well-known of the “paper” architects was a guy who lived in the 18th century named Giovanni Battista Piranesi. Susanna Clarke recently made reference to him in her excellent novel of the same name, Piranesi. You should read it. Anyway, he created a series of etchings he called the Carceri d’invenzione (or, if you speak English, the ‘Imaginary Prisons’). Google it. If you want to know where M.C. Escher got the idea for his staircase drawings, look at Piranesi. These drawings don’t tell a literal story; rather, they suggest an idea for a place in an incredibly compelling way. For hundreds of years, they’ve inspired artists, architects, and writers to imagine dark and labyrinthine spaces, ones that are impossible to build. That last part inspired me the most; it’s something authors can do.

Piranesi: Carceri d’invenzione

Writers can suggest the impossible. That’s why novel writing is exciting for me: architects can’t really do this. In fact, it’s just about the opposite of what most of them do in daily practice. That’s probably why I found the practice of architecture a little boring. I preferred the “paper” architect approach.

Let’s talk about one more example: Étienne-Louis Boullée. He practiced something called architecture parlante or “talking architecture.” He and his contemporaries thought buildings could actually say things with their forms and compositions. His most famous building is probably his Cenotaph for Isaac Newton. Through several ingenious inventions, the large, hollow interior of the building replicates both a daytime and a nighttime sky. It’s worth a moment on Wikipedia—check it out. He thought buildings could communicate ideas, that they could speak. To me, that sounds like storytelling. The cenotaph tells the story of a day. Again, I found this idea to be a lot more compelling than my daily practice, which mainly involved things like making certain there was enough legroom in front of the toilet (trust me, this is drawn incorrectly all the time).

Étienne-Louis Boullée: Cenotaph for Sir Isaac Newton

You can probably see where I’m headed. I liked the narrative component of paper architecture. I’m a visual person, but I wanted to communicate ideas and tell stories that involved provocative and deeply compelling places, which is actually quite common in fantasy. It’s almost a cliché. You’ve probably heard a hundred different fantasy authors claim that their world was in fact a character, that the very place where the story was set was integral to the novel. This was the bridge I found between my old practice and my new one. I thought buildings could be the basis for a kind of mythology in the same way that traditional myths and stories inspire some fantasy authors. And if you read the Amber Throne novels, I think you’ll see some of these attempts I’ve made to do this as well as some of the actual buildings I’ve mentioned in this essay. They make a guest appearance or two, so check it out.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

MICHAEL JOHNSTON has always been an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy. He studied architecture and ancient history at Lehigh University and earned a master’s degree in architecture from Columbia University. Michael worked as an architect in New York City before switching to writing full time. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter.

Book Review: The Future Is Yours by Dan Frey

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

The Future Is Yours by Dan Frey

Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Del Rey (February 9, 2021)

Length: 352 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

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. On the surface, they couldn’t be any more different in background and personality. Ben was a poor black kid who nonetheless grew up to have a big heart and an insatiable love for life and adventure, befriending people easily with his sociable and charming disposition. Adhi, on the other hand, came from an Indian immigrant family who instilled in him a strict work ethic, though being an introvert and socially awkward, he would have preferred studying and research to parties and going out anyway.

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. From stock market prices and sports scores to natural disasters and political elections, the device predicts everything perfectly. 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? And will it even matter in the end? After all, Adhi has a disturbing theory as to why their machines can only see one year into the future and no further, and if he’s correct, the world will have much bigger problems to worry about.

For me, this novel couldn’t have come along at a better time. I was in the mood for a fast and fun read, and The Future Is Yours is all that and more. Now, you probably wouldn’t think that a story involving quantum computing and such a convoluted system of time travel would be all that light, but in this case, I believe the science and technology was actually designed to be quite minimal and not really intended to stand up to much scrutiny, so it worked out well for me to simply take it all in with a grain of salt and go along for the ride.

As well, I was really more into this book for the story and its characters. One thing to know before going in is that The Future Is Yours is told in epistolary style, presented as a collection of documents including transcripts, emails, newspaper articles, blog posts, etc. I’ve always been a big fan of this method of storytelling even though few stories are actually ideal for it, which was why I was pleasantly surprised to find how well-suited this one was for the format. There were no awkward moments of immersion breaking or sneaky ways to work in some extra exposition. Everything simply flowed the way they were supposed to, another factor which helped make this one such an easy breezy read.

Plus, I knew going in that the focus of this novel was going to be about Ben and Adhi’s friendship, and Dan Frey did a phenomenal job developing both characters through the ups-and-downs of their journey from a dorm room at Stanford to the high-powered boardrooms of Silicon Valley. And while the story might be light on the science behind the ability to see through time, this is certainly not the case when it comes to the consequences of holding such power in your hands. Greed, ambition, and jealousy all play role in the relationship between our two protagonists, and it was amazing how the author tied in business, big tech, and even politics as a bulk of the story unfolds via a congressional hearing at which Ben and Adhi were called upon to explain the dangers behind their technology.

What can I say, but I just loved The Future Is Yours and found it to be an addictive read that kept me transfixed throughout. This might have been a case of the right book at the right time, but I also think it’s more than that. At its heart, this is a tale exploring the strength of friendship, with just the right amount of science fiction to establish its fascinating premise. I wish every book I picked up was so entertaining.

Bookshelf Roundup: 02/20/21: 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!

More surprise book mail this week! With thanks to Saga Press for a finished copy of Machinehood by S.B. Divya, which I’ve seen described as a pretty heavy-concept sci-fi thriller about artificial intelligence in a future where the population is ever increasing its dependence on technology. I haven’t decided if I want to read this yet, but I’ll definitely keep it in mind if I’m ever in the mood for a more cerebral read.

Also thanks to Tachyon Publications for an ARC of this super fun looking Middle Grade book called Jillian vs. Parasite Planet by Nicole Kornher-Stace. This one is probably going to go to my daughter, who might be up for doing another guest review. I do love that the publisher also included a bag of gummi crawlers in the package though, haha! That, I’ll be keeping for myself. 😉

And many thanks also to Ballantine Books for sending along Forget Me Not by Alexandra Oliva, which I’m really excited to read! I had a great time with the author’s debut The Last One, so I’m curious to see how this one will stack up. Really hoping I’ll enjoy it just as much.

Just one audiobook in the digital haul this week, but it’s one I’m very much looking forward to listening to. Black Coral by Andrew Mayne is the sequel to The Girl Beneath the Sea in the author’s new mystery-thriller series about underwater crimes related investigation. I love his work and will read anything writes! Thank you, Brilliance Audio!

A couple of NetGalley widgets also hit my inbox this week. With thanks to Angry Robot for Composite Creatures by Caroline Hardaker, an atmospheric tale set in a near-future dystopia, and Ballantine Books for Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir, a scientific mystery of adventure and survival. I can’t wait to read this one!

Reviews

The Power Couple by Alex Berenson (4 of 5 stars)
The Minders by John Marrs (3.5 of 5 stars)
A History of What Comes Next by Sylvain Neuvel (3.5 of 5 stars)
Star Wars: Into the Dark by Claudia Gray (3.5 of 5 stars)

This Week’s Reads

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

Friday Face-Off: Serpentine

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 SERPENTINE cover

Mogsy’s Pick:

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Ninth House was marketed as Leigh Bardugo’s adult debut, and in this book, she makes no bones about tasting this new freedom and spreading her wings, going bolder and darker than she’s ever gone before. Centered around a college setting, many of the novel’s themes deal with new adult issues—starting a new life, striking out on one’s own, dealing with many of the difficult transitions that come with becoming self-reliant and independent. But in Bardugo’s world of secret societies and dark magic, there are also monsters of both the fantastical and early variety.

Let’s take a look at the covers:

From left to right:
Flatiron Books (2019) – Gollancz (2019) – German Edition (2020)

Dutch Edition (2020) – Polish Edition (2020) – Romanian Edition (2020)

Winner:

Snakes, snakes, and more snakes! In fact, it seems most of these covers went with the entwined text theme with the only variation being the kind and color of snake you got. For this reason, I picked the Polish edition as my favorite, since it alone kept the slithery snake motif but presented it in a more interesting and artistic way.

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

Book Review: The Minders by John Marrs

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

The Minders by John Marrs

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Thriller, Suspense

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Berkley Books (February 16, 2021)

Length: 416 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

If you enjoyed John Marr’s The Passengers, then you should be no stranger to the exhilarating mood and over-the-top thrills of The Minders, his latest novel set in that same high-tech futuristic world of action.

Once more, our story sets out to explore the possible ramifications of cutting-edge technology on a population not quite ready for the potential dangers and pitfalls. Even as the internet continues to expand its reach and impact, cyber security is a never-ending arms race. After all, any computer can be hacked and sensitive information stolen, so the British government has developed a new and radical system to ensure that state secrets will always remain safe.

Subsequently, five citizens selected for a neurological condition which allows their brains to integrate and process massive amounts of information are recruited into this highly classified program. Designated “the Minders”, these men and women are put through a strict training regimen, then implanted with a tiny DNA bead containing the nation’s top secrets. Next, they are told to cut ties with everyone in their lives and move far away to random remote locations around the country known only to a single handler, essentially making them untraceable and presumably unhackable. In return for their services and sacrifice, in five years’ time the Minders will be released from their contract and rewarded with a sizeable paycheck, while any action to compromise the program or betray its secrets will be punished with legal action, jail time, or even execution.

These Minders are: Flick, a former restaurant owner who has lost all direction in her life and is questioning her own sanity after finding out from a DNA matchmaking service that her soulmate was a deranged serial killer (more on this later); Charlie, a 20-something who is feeling increasingly isolated and abandoned by his friends since he alone is the last among them to find a partner through DNA matching; Sinead, who is tired of being ground down by her controlling and emotionally abusive husband; and Bruno, whose wife had been killed in a self-driving car accident, leaving him to raise their autistic son alone. While these characters may come from disparate backgrounds, all of them are ready for a change and have nothing to lose—making them perfect for the Minders program.

But like I said, there are five Minders, and our final character is Emilia, who is the lynchpin to the entire plot. Suffering from amnesia, she wakes up one day to a man claiming to be her husband, but of course, she can’t remember him or anything at all. As the other Minders settle into their new lives, not all of them are adjusting well to the implant in their brain. Worse, despite all the safeguards put in place to preserve the program’s secrecy, somehow their identities have gotten out and now someone is hunting them down one by one.

It’s no exaggeration when I say there is a ton to unpack here. While The Minders can be read as a standalone, it is also the third novel set in the same world as two other John Marrs books, and the story frequently references certain events from both. For example, the self-driving car accident that claimed the life of Bruno’s wife was the result of the fallout from The Passengers, while the DNA matching system that had been causing Flick and Charlie so much misery was actually the premise of The One. Now, it’s okay if you haven’t the previous books, since I think for the most part Marrs does a pretty good job at catching you up. Still, moments of confusion are still possible. Case in point, I haven’t read The One and thought the DNA matchmaking system was just about the most absurd thing ever, though to be fair, I might not have, if I had gotten the full context.

That said, so much more about the book was far out there and completely bonkers. Take how the government “selected” the Minders, for instance, by putting out a brainteaser puzzle through a clickbaity ad on the internet which could only be solved by the kind of people they were looking for (a bit like that old Bruce Willis movie called Mercury Rising, and the fact that it was Bruno’s autistic son who actually solved the puzzle for him was also kind of reminiscent of that plot). And from there, it just gets weirder and wilder, not least of all the idea that the smartest and most highly qualified of Britain’s national defense and security experts were called together to come up with an impregnable and ultra-secure system to guard the nation’s top secrets, and the best they could come up with was to put all of it into the hands of five total basketcases who I wouldn’t even trust to walk my dogs.

In sum, it’s probably not worth the effort or energy picking apart everything in the story that doesn’t make sense, because let’s face it, your head will probably explode. If you’ve read The One or The Passengers, then you already know what to expect, and if not, the first handful of pages are enough to give you a good idea if this is the kind of book for you. Not going to lie, the story gets stupidly ridiculous and over-the-top at times, but if you can handle the tone, it can also be fantastic escapism and incredibly fun.

Waiting on Wednesday 02/17/21

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

The Hidden by Melanie Golding (November 9, 2021 by Crooked Lane Books)

I loved Little Darlings last year, which was a suspenseful thriller with just a hint of the supernatural. So I was really excited to hear that Golding will have a new book out in the fall, one that sounds just as creepy and will even have a Celtic mythology angle.

“Following her acclaimed debut Little Darlings, Melanie Golding’s newest folkloric suspense is a spine-tingling twist on Celtic mythology.

One dark December night, in a small seaside town, a little girl is found abandoned. When her mother finally arrives, authorities release the pair, believing it to be an innocent case of a toddler running off.

Gregor, a seemingly single man, is found bludgeoned and left for dead in his apartment, but the discovery of children’s toys raises more questions than answers.
 
Every night, Ruby gazes into Gregor’s apartment, leading to the discovery of his secret family: his unusually silent daughter and his mentally unstable wife, Constance, who insists that she is descended from the mythological Selkies. She begs Ruby to aid in finding the sealskin that Gregor has hidden from her, making it impossible to return to her people.
 
DS Joanna Harper’s investigation into Gregor’s assault leads her to CCTV footage of the mother-daughter pair from town. Harper realizes she knows the woman almost as well as she knows herself: it’s her estranged daughter, Ruby. No matter the depth of Ruby’s involvement, she knows she will choose her daughter over her career.
 
Steeped in local legend and exploring the depths of what it means to be a mother, Melanie Golding’s newest novel is “a lyrical and atmospheric folktale for the modern age.” (Bustle, on Little Darlings)”