Bookshelf Roundup 03/28/20: 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!

A big thanks to Tor Books for a couple of exciting finished copies this week. First, A Broken Queen by Sarah Kozloff is the third book in The Nine Realms series which is still proceeding full steam ahead with its rigorous release schedule, for which I’m grateful. I need to know what happens next! As well, I received this gorgeous hardcover of The Glass Magician by Caroline Stevermer, which I’m looking forward to dive into.

With thanks also to the incredible team at Tachyon Publications for an ARC of The Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemberg, which is part of the author’s Birdverse series. I am not familiar with it, but it sounds interesting.

Up next is a book I’m really excited about! Earlier this month I featured The Mirror Man by Jane Gilmartin in a Waiting on Wednesday post, and the author got in touch after seeing it to offer me an ARC! Believe me, I couldn’t say YES fast enough. Thanks so much, Jane!

Also thank you to Del Rey for sending along a finished copy of Bonds of Brass by Emily Skrutskie. The release of this one totally snuck up on me, as it doesn’t appear to have gotten much buzz which is surprising because it sounds pretty good. I’m going to try and make some time in my schedule next month to check it out.

And finally, with thanks to Saga Press for this surprise arrival of Vagabond by Hao Jingfang, translated by Ken Liu. This is another one I’d like to read if I can somehow figure out a way to fit it into my spring TBR. Even though we’re all holed up at home these days, I have even less time to read because I’m still working from home while taking care of the kiddos. The schools have put out some new curriculum since they’ll be out for four more weeks, and I need to make sure my daughter stays on top of her studies.

  

On to the digital pile! So I loosened my self-imposed NetGalley restrictions this week and picked up three new titles. First, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab is one I’ve been looking forward to, so I pretty much grabbed it as soon as I saw it uploaded, with thanks to Tor. While I was browsing my auto-approvals section (which in retrospect was unwise, walking straight into temptation), I also took the opportunity to snag two more titles, Bone Chase by Weston Ochse with thanks to Saga Press and Out of Body by Jeffrey Ford with thanks to Tor.com. Both books were featured on past Waiting on Wednesdays and are highly anticipated!

Reviews

The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James (5 of 5 stars)
The Return by Rachel Harrison (4 of 5 stars)
Twilight of the Gods by Scott Oden (4 of 5 stars)
Sixteenth Watch by Myke Cole (3.5 of 5 stars)

Roundup Highlights:

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: Freebie

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 FREEBIE!
Choose one of your favorite titles and compare the covers

Mogsy’s Pick:

Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence

I loved this book, and it pleased me to find that it had so many great covers. Suffice to say I was glad it was not the last we’d heard of Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire when this Prince of Fools came out, and of course I also really enjoyed the character of Prince Jalan, a self-confessed liar, cheat, and rakish playboy who believes courage is overrated. But for all his foibles, it’s hard to resist his charms. Let’s see if we can say the same for any of the covers this week, as we take a look at them now:

From left to right:
Ace (2014) – Harper Voyager (2014)

Italian Edition (2016) – Czech Edition (2016) – Persian Edition (2018)

 

Latvian Edition (2015) – Polish Edition (2017) – French Edition (2017)

Winner:

Several stood out for me this week, so it was hard to pick just a single winner. But again and again, one kept pulling my attention to it, and that was the Italian edition. I do tend to like photo-realistic style covers, and there’s something about the character’s pose and expression that drew me to it.

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

Book Review: Sixteenth Watch by Myke Cole

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

Sixteenth Watch by Myke Cole

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Book 1/Stand Alone

Publisher: Angry Robot (March 10, 2020)

Length: 317 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Sixteenth Watch was my first book by Myke Cole since Control Point, and it’s clear his storytelling and writing skills have come a long way since. Still, I had some mixed feelings for this one for reasons more to do with unfulfilled expectations, but other than that, I thought the book was an entertaining tale of militaristic action in space, a slightly different take on your usual mil sci-fi.

The novel opens with a stunner. As a violent skirmish suddenly breaks out between the Americans and Chinese in lunar space, nearly sparking an all-out war between the two nations, Captain Jane Oliver of the U.S. Coast Guard watches in horror as her husband’s ship is torn to pieces. Months later, having come to terms with his death and her grief, Oliver knows she is approaching the end of her career because of her age, and quite frankly is looking forward to retiring in peace. However, her superiors have different plans for her. As the tensions between the US and China continue to mount over Helium-3 mining rights on the moon, the Navy and the Marines are trying to edge the Coast Guard out of the military operations on the border between the two territories. In order to convince the politicians and the public to take them seriously, the Guard wants Jane Oliver to head up an initiative to train a group of officers to win a popular reality competition show called Boarding Action against teams from the other branches of the military. In return, Oliver would be promoted and be allowed to retire on the moon to be with her daughter.

As such, the bulk of the book is focused on this training, as well as dealing with the resulting pushback from their rivals. With dismay, Oliver realizes that low morale and confidence among her team are also causing much of their performance issues. Simply running practice drills will not help in this case, she realizes, and to really get them to push themselves, she’ll need to take some pretty big steps—and big risks.

It’s a fantastic premise, to be sure. That said, I’m just not sure how well it worked in its execution. With such a playing up of the Boarding Action show, as well as the rivalry between the Coast Guard and the other competitors, not to mention all the attention and page-time dedicated to their training, you would think we’d be getting more follow through on that front. But in fact, the plot doesn’t really steer us in that direction at all, and the lack of story consistency and coherence this resulted in annoyed me a little, if I’m to be honest. And while we’re on the topic, I was also not entirely sold on the ending. It certainly didn’t feel like it followed logically from earlier events, and on top of that, it didn’t provide satisfactory closure—and I don’t mean that in the cliffhanger sense, but rather in a way that’s more like a thought left unfinished.

As I said though, I still thought Sixteenth Watch was a good read, and it was the little things I liked, such as the fact that Myke Cole’s background and experiences in the military is evident in the knowledge he brings to his work. An officer in the US Coast Guard Reserve, the author shows his love for the USCG by portraying them and their operations with a high degree of authenticity and accuracy. I also liked the character of Jane Oliver, for not only is it uncommon to see a female middle-aged protagonist head up a military sci-fi novel, she was also written to be believable and relatable. Then, there was the action. All those training maneuvers and battle sequences went a long way in making up for the stalling and meandering in the plot, keeping my interest high even as the pacing sometimes floundered.

Still, for the most part, the pros outweighed the cons. Readers should not expect too much in terms of depth, though I suspect this won’t be a dealbreaker for the majority, given the main goal of the novel to provide action-driven entertainment. With the storytelling and world-building being on the lighter side, the characters were the ones that truly stood out, like Oliver, her executive officer Wen Ho, and the members of the Coast Guard team. In the end, those strengths were enough to keep me turning the pages. While not perfect, Sixteenth Watch was a fun read which I thought succeeded in what it set out to do.

Waiting on Wednesday 03/25/20

“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 Tower of Fools by Andrzej Sapkowski (October 27, 2020 by Orbit Books)

Originally published in 2002 in its original Polish, The Tower of Fools has since been translated into many other languages but finally the official English edition with translation by David French (who also translated several of the author’s Witcher books) will be out later this fall. I’m a huge fan of the Witcher series, and that’s made me curious to check out Sapkowski writing about a whole new world with new characters in the Hussite Trilogy.

“Andrzej Sapkowski, winner of the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement, created an international phenomenon with his New York Times bestselling Witcher series. Now, he introduces readers to a new world, and a new hero–a young magician and healer on an epic journey across a war-torn land.

When a thoughtless indiscretion finds Reinmar of Bielau caught in the crosshairs of powerful noble family, he is forced to flee his home.

But once he passes beyond the city walls, he finds that there are dangers ahead as well as behind. Pursued by dark forces both human and mystic, it’ll take all his wits, his skill in healing, and his knowledge of magic to survive.”

 

 

 

Book Review: The Return by Rachel Harrison

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

The Return by Rachel Harrison

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Horror

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Berkley

Length: 304 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

To be honest, when I first started The Return, I had my doubts the story was going to be as creepy as its blurb touted. The tone of the intro was just bizarre, beginning by glossing over the disappearance of a woman, and then upon her return, treating the reactions of her three so-called best friends with just as much flippancy. When the four of them next traipsed off to a girls’ weekend at some goofy themed resort in the Catskills, I wondered if I’d mistakenly wandered into some chick lit comedy when I’d expected a horror.

Well, suffice to say, the lightness didn’t last long. As the story progressed, its tone grew increasingly darker and more disturbing…and by the end of it, I sure wasn’t laughing anymore.

When The Return opens, our protagonist Elise is the only one unconcerned when she hears that her friend Julie is missing. Even when her other two besties, Mae and Molly, are devastated and a funeral is held a year after the disappearance, Elise is convinced that Julie is still alive and will one day come back. Then one day, out of the blue, it actually happens. Julie shows up on her own porch, with no memory at all of the time she went missing. Her friends, however, are just happy that she’s returned.

In order to reconnect, Mae arranges for the four of them to spend a long weekend at a swanky new hotel that just opened in the mountains, called the Red Honey Inn. For the exorbitant cost, Elise is unimpressed by the gaudiness of its themed rooms and frigid halls, though she’s excited to be spending time with Mae and Molly again, and they’re all hoping Julie will open up about what happened. Their friend has been acting very strangely since her reappearance, like the fact she used to be a strict vegetarian but now she can’t seem get enough of meat—the rarer the better. She’s also not looking too well these days: skin dried, lips cracked, hair and teeth falling out—a far cry from the healthy, vibrant and beautiful woman that Elise remembers.

Not daring to push Julie too hard for the sake of their friendship, the other three all try to ignore her new eccentricities—and some of them are downright freaky—chalking them up to possible trauma. But as the weekend wears on amidst the growing tensions and the increasing dread, it’s clear they’re dealing with something much worse…and not at all natural.

I think the best way to describe The Return is to view it as a novel of two parts—the first half which covers Julie’s disappearance and reappearance, as well as the women’s arrival at the Red Honey Inn; and the second half, where everything starts going terribly, shockingly, and sickeningly wrong for all our characters. Needless to say, as a horror fan I was not so satisfied with all the dithering we had to put up with to get to the good parts, but I absolutely loved where this story eventually led us. Packed with thriller elements and a nice strong dose of body horror, I wouldn’t go into this unless you’ve got a strong stomach and a good tolerance for what I thought were some pretty twisted and flat-out gross scenes and ideas.

Interspersed with the main storyline is also a fair bit of drama—a lot of it related to the women’s friendships and their romantic lives, like jealousy, scandals, backstabbing…you name it, it’s all there. Admittedly, none of it really paints our protagonist or her companions in the best light, though I did enjoy how it added interest to the story and fleshed out the characters.

That said, I think the writing held this one back from being all that it could be. The Return being Rachel Harrison’s debut, I expected a few hiccups, and there were definitely moments where her prose struck me as trying too hard. A story’s mood and atmosphere can’t really be forced, and a few of the book’s more awkward moments or Elise’s overwrought monologuing gave proof to some of that. Still, where it counts, the author delivered. The horror sequences were all very well done and fantastically described, so if what you want is a chilling read, this book will certainly not disappoint you.

All in all, this horror fan found plenty to like about The Return. Considering how I started the book feeling quite skeptical, I was surprised how much I enjoyed it in the end. While not perfect, it’s nonetheless a solid debut that has me excited to read what Rachel Harrison will write next.

Audiobook Review: Twilight of the Gods by Scott Oden

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

Twilight of the Gods by Scott Oden

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 2 of Grimnir

Publisher: Audible Studios (February 25, 2020)

Length: 13 hrs and 15 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Paul Woodson

A few years ago, I read a terrific book called A Gathering of Ravens, a fantasy epic which wove together the flowing threads of myth and time. Its protagonist, Grimnir, was called orcnéas—an Orc—but regardless of the names they gave him, all saw him as a monster. Readers, however, soon saw that he was much, much more.

Now in this sequel, aptly titled Twilight of the Gods, our story with Grimnir picks up again in the early thirteen century, a time where only a few still follow the old ways while Christianity continues to spread across the world. The Raven-Geats are one such people, a northern clan which holds deep beliefs in their Asgardian gods even as they pay tribute to the Christian King. Still, it is a tenuous situation, one that cannot last forever, and sure enough, soon the stirrings of a new crusade emerges, led by a warrior who vows to purge Norse heresy from the lands.

But lucky for the Raven-Geats, they have Grimnir, their ancient guardian and secret weapon. For generations, their village has relied upon his protection, communicating with him through a Priestess of the Hooded One. With the death of the old priestess though, a new one has been chosen, a young woman named Dísa, who is understandably shocked when she sees the true face of their protector for the very first time. He’s a harsh teacher, but gradually, Grimnir hones his new student into a weapon as powerful as himself. Leading an army of warriors against the oncoming crusaders, Dísa will do anything to save the Raven-Geats and their sacred land.

While there are some themes in Twilight of the Gods that mirrored A Gathering of Ravens, on the whole they are very different books. However, one thing this sequel has in common with the previous volume is that I loved it just as much. War plays a big role in this one, resulting in darker, grimmer and more violent vibes, but the protagonists are once more stellar and truly shine. You can certainly read this as a standalone if you wish, but for a deeper understanding of Grimnir’s character, I would highly recommend starting at the beginning. He is the last of his kind, and no ordinary or traditional hero. Most of the time he isn’t even likeable. But even in his brutality and, for lack of a better term, his sheer “orcness”, there is humanity in him—the part that values honor, loyalty and duty to those he has sworn to protect. That said, you have to earn his respect. He is not gentle nor is he kind, and when you read about his style, you definitely think “tough love.” A Gathering of Ravens is a fantastic introduction to all this, especially when it comes to his relationship with Étaín, and you can also see some of it here in his relationship with Dísa.

And then of course, there’s the atmosphere. Author Scott Oden did a magnificent job bringing the setting to life in the first book, and the trend continues. This is a world of orcs, gods, magic and monsters, but the story itself is rooted in history, unfolding in a time of enormous cultural upheaval. The Norse clans are being threatened by the crusaders, as well as by weak leadership from within. Meanwhile, Dísa has to prove herself amidst the power struggle and rally the people. The tension is sharper and more present in this sequel, the story more action driven with plenty of conflict and breathtaking battle sequences.

The result is a delectable historical fantasy with an intriguing mix of adventure, mythology, and action which put me in mind of an old school sword and sorcery. And so, even though I really enjoyed A Gathering of Ravens, I actually think Twilight of the Gods may have surpassed it in some areas, in terms of pacing—which is faster and punchier, given the themes of war—and in the characters, because I really enjoyed reading about Dísa. Believe me, it’s hard to stand out when your costar is someone like Grimnir, but she managed to hold her own, and I loved her story arc and the growth of her character over time.

So bravo, Scott Oden! Clearly, his talents have only grown in the years since A Gathering of Ravens, because Twilight of the Gods flowed beautifully and never had to fight to keep my interest. It was a nice return to an unforgettable character, and I loved the way this sequel expanded his legend. Highly recommended, and I’m also beyond thrilled that this series has finally gotten audio editions. Paul Woodson is a skilled narrator who brings this epic tale to vivid life, and I’m glad I got to have this listening experience.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
A Gathering of Ravens (Book 1)

Audiobook Review: The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

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

The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

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

Genre: Thriller, Mystery

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Penguin Audio (February 18, 2020)

Length: 11 hrs

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrators: Brittany Pressley, Kirsten Potter

I’ve had a really good run of thriller audiobooks lately, and the most recent one to blow my mind is the highly anticipated The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James, which I can tell you right now is worth all the hype. This book robbed me of a good night’s sleep because I stayed up late to finish it, and then I spent more time lying awake thinking about it some more. It had that way of getting under your skin.

Thirty-five years ago, a young woman named Viv Delaney went missing from the small, dwindling town of Fell, New York. She was a night clerk working at the local Sun Down Motel, a seedy establishment where somehow persisted while other businesses closed down or moved away, when one day she failed to show up for work. Her disappearance was widely reported in the news at the time, as she was not the first woman to have vanished or met a tragic end in Fell. In spite of this, no trace of Viv was ever found, and with the town’s reluctance to talk about its missing girls, her case was soon forgotten. Until now.

Fast forward to today, college student Carly Kirk has put her studies on hold because she wanted to know the truth about Viv Delaney—her aunt. Desperate to find out more about the tragedy that so affected her mother’s life, Carly moves to Fell and, surprising even herself, decides to answer a job posting for a night shift position at the Sun Down Motel. As ghoulish as it may seem, the chance to have this one connection with her aunt was too hard to resist, and Carly also hopes that being in the place where Viv worked before she disappeared would help shake loose some answers. Soon enough though, it’s clear there’s something not quite right with the motel. For one thing, not all its guests are alive.

Told via two timelines, the story alternate between Viv and Carly’s perspectives, gradually filling in the missing pieces of the puzzle. I know that descriptions like “page-turner” have been repeated to death, but in this case, it is very true and appropriate. I’m not always a fan of multiple timelines as you might know, so I was surprised how quickly I took to The Sun Down Motel. All credit goes to the author, who was able to create such an intense, dynamic atmosphere that wouldn’t let up. It was the perfect blend of mystery and spoooooooky…

I won’t say much more about the plot because that would be spoiling the fun, but I will talk a bit about the two POV characters, who are both so well written. Viv especially surprised me. Introduced at the start of the book as the young woman who goes missing, even as the horrible scenarios started swirling around my brain about what might have happened, Viv’s chapters swiftly showed me my mistake of assuming she’s just another unfortunate victim. Both she and Carly are truth seekers trying to find answers, and while their goals are very different and separated by more than three decades, in the end, each thread leads to a stunning finale. Usually when a book has duo perspectives like this, I tend to gravitate towards one, preferring it over the other. But in this case, I really can’t decide whose timeline I enjoyed reading more, they were both fantastic.

Finally, if you like a touch of the paranormal in your mystery-thrillers, then this one’s for you! On the flip side, if you prefer them to be more realistic and grounded, then you might not take as well to the fantastical aspects and ghostly business, though I personally loved how these added a horror element to the story.

So yeah, in case you can’t tell, I loved this book. it. It always kills me to write reviews for thrillers I really enjoyed, because most of the time I can’t talk about the things in it that I liked without ruining the plot. But just take it from me, this was a great read and I would highly recommend it. And also, this gets the full five starsbecause I listened to the audio, which was absolutely brilliant, with fantastic performances by narrators Brittany Pressley and Kirsten Potter. I’ll be keeping my eye out for audiobooks narrated by them in the future, and also for more books by Simone St. James.

Bookshelf Roundup 03/21/20: 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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First off, I hope everyone is doing well and staying safe and healthy during these uncertain times! Like most of the country, my family and I are practicing social distancing and staying home if there’s no reason to go out. Since I work from home already, my schedule hasn’t changed all that much except now that school is also closed for two weeks, my cooped up kids have been predictably distracting! Add to that, my workload hasn’t really gone down as expected, and there were actually a couple days this week that got super busy, so I haven’t even gotten any extra down time to enjoy more reading, unfortunately. I am woefully behind on reviews but I did start this week with quite a few scheduled in advance, so we’ll see what happens. In the meantime, guess I’ll just keep plugging away at things one day at a time.

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!

The books are still coming in, with thanks to Orbit for finished copies of some highly anticipated books for this fall. The Book of Koli by M.R. Carey is of course high on the list, the first of a trilogy about a young boy’s journey through a post-apocalyptic world. Next is A Time of Courage by John Gwynn, book three of the Of Blood and Bone series. I’m a little behind, but I plan to read book two and catch up posthaste. From the publisher’s sister imprint Redhook, I also received The Age of Witches by Louisa Morgan. I loved her last book, so I’m really looking forward to this one.

Up next, my thanks to Tor for sending me an ARC of The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison. You might recall that I featured this book on an earlier Waiting on Wednesday, and I am a huge fan of her novel The Goblin Emperor so I’m excited to see what this one will bring. Earlier this month I also scored a copy of The Sisters Grimm by Menna van Praag from a LibraryThing giveaway, so that was pretty awesome! I’ve been hearing some mixed things about it, but I’m still very curious. From the kind folks at Viking Books for Young Readers, I also received a surprise copy of A Phoenix First Must Burn edited by Patrice Caldwell, described as a collection of stories that explore the Black experience through fantasy, science fiction, and magic. Well, you know me and anthologies, but I do like the sound of this and will try to check it out if I can.

Ace/Roc/DAW also treated me very well earlier this week, sending along a couple of surprise ARCs. When Jackals Storm the Walls by Bradley P. Beaulieu is book five in The Song of the Shattered Sands series which I am very behind on, and at this point I’m not sure I’ll ever catch up the way the author keeps churning ’em out! However, I’m pretty jazzed about The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson, a fantasy horror debut that has been compared to M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, so heck yeah I’m all over this. And finally, big thanks to Del Rey for sending along a finished hardcover of The Last Human by Zack Jordan. I’m planning on starting this one very soon.

Only a few new additions in the digital haul, even though it took every ounce of willpower I had not to go nuts clicking a whole bunch of stuff in my auto-approval lists in NetGalley, but I only ended up with The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher because I loved her book The Twisted Ones so much, and I was also sent a widget invitation for Driftwood by Marie Brennan, another highly anticipated release from one of my favorite authors. With thanks to Saga Press and Tachyon Publications, respectively. And late in the week, an advance listening copy of The City We Became by N.K. Jemison became available, so I quickly snagged that one too, and that is my only addition to the audio pile this week with thanks to Hachette Audio!

Reviews

Cries from the Lost Island by Kathleen O’Neal Gear (4 of 5 stars)
Star Trek: Picard: The Last Best Hope by Una McCormack (4 of 5 stars)
Smoke Bitten by Patricia Briggs (4 of 5 stars)
Red Hood by Elana K. Arnold (1.5 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: Brown

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 that is BROWN

Mogsy’s Pick:

The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich

Today’s theme was challenging. Finding covers that are brown wasn’t as much the problem as finding ones that were actually interesting and not so dull and drab. But I think I found a good choice in The Dead House, a YA horror written in the epistolary style and presented as a beautiful visual collection of materials that included diary entries, interview transcripts, news articles, emails, descriptions of video footage, etc. I thought the covers available were pretty cool too:

From left to right:
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (2015) – Orion Children’s Books (2015) – French Edition (2020)

Winner:

Dawn Kurtagich’s books tend to have very different covers between the US and UK editions (and sometimes even different titles) and The Dead House is no exception. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that a new French edition had come out recently, and it’s quite nice too. But at the end of the day, my favorite is probably the Little, Brown Books for Young Readers edition. It’s eerie and atmospheric, and I love the imagery of the veinous looking tree branches behind the girl or whatever they are.

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

Audiobook Review: Cries From the Lost Island by Kathleen O’Neal Gear

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

Cries From the Lost Island by Kathleen O’Neal Gear

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

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1/Stand Alone

Publisher: Tantor Audio (March 10, 2020)

Length: 11 hrs and 6 mins

Author Information: Website

Narrator: Charlie Thurston

So I’m pretty sure this is my background in anthropology talking, but I really enjoyed this. Coupled with my general interest in ancient Rome and Ptolemaic Egypt, it made Cries from the Lost Island by Kathleen O’Neal Gear a delightful escape for this archaeology and history nerd.

The protagonist of this story is sixteen-year-old Halloran Stevens, a smart but socially awkward high school student. His only friends are Roberto, grungy biker and self-proclaimed witch extraordinaire, and Cleo Mallawi, who moved to Colorado to live with her aunt and uncle after her parents were killed in the revolution that rocked Egypt a few years ago. Hal has never met anyone like Cleo before. Intelligent, cultured, and a bit of a social outcast just like him, Cleo comes from a family of scholars and archaeologists, and has a deep knowledge of her country’s history and mythology. She also claims to be the reincarnation of Queen Cleopatra, and that she had killed her first demon with her father’s pistol at the age of ten. Everyone else thinks she’s not quite right in the head, her delusions caused by the trauma of losing her parents. But to Hal, Cleo was the most fascinating and beautiful girl who had ever lived. And despite himself, he believed in all her stories.

Then one day, a frightened and distraught Cleo comes to Hal asking for his help, convinced that more demons are after her. She shows him an ancient medallion that her father had uncovered in a dig site in Egypt and given to her before he died. Hal was the only one Cleo could trust, and she needed him to keep the medallion safe, and let no one—especially her aunt and uncle—get their hands on it. But not long after that, tragedy strikes, and Cleo is found murdered in the woods near her home. A grief-stricken Hal then starts having visions and hearing voices that he is sure belonged to Cleo, even though it should be impossible…unless everything she had told him was the truth. Now his next step is to return the medallion to Egypt, so that the spirit of Cleopatra can finally rest in everlasting peace with the love of her life, Marc Antony. And Hal knows just how he can pull it off. Together with his best friend Roberto, the two of them decide to go along with the pretense of being students traveling abroad with Cleo’s uncle, the famed archaeologist Dr. James Moriarity—the very man who had tried to take away her medallion. The professor claims he only wants to help, but Hal knows better than to trust anyone with the quest he had been given. After all, the soul of Cleopatra depends on it.

As much as I enjoyed Cries from the Lost Island, I will say this: the book’s not perfect and it has a lot of flaws. The first thing I noticed was that it had very strong young adult vibes. I didn’t mind, but others heading into this under the impression this would have a more mature feel are going to be disappointed. Hal is sixteen, and to the author’s credit, his character is written to act and sound his age. Prose is dialogue heavy, and conversations between Hal and Roberto are packed with the usual teen banter you’d expect. This is also less of an action-adventure novel in the style of Indiana Jones and more of an adventurous mystery steeped in historical intrigue. If you’re not too interested in Egyptian mythology and history or the minutiae of the archaeological process, the middle sections of the novel will likely pose a struggle. But if you’re into that kind of stuff, you’ll have a much better time.

Granted, the plot was a bit scattered and pacing could have been better. The beginning of the book is a flurry of activity, from Cleo’s murder to the boys’ journey to Egypt. It’s when they arrive at Moriarity’s dig site where the momentum stalls, and here Hal seems to spin his wheels waiting something for something to happen, rather than take control of his own quest. An author should also balance the need to provide background knowledge to the reader without going overboard. Admittedly, there are times when Gear comes dangerously close to info dumping, and here is where my own personal experiences, education, and interests might have shielded me and made me a lot more tolerant to it.

Without Roberto, I also don’t think I would’ve had nearly as much fun with this book. Hands down, one of the best characters I’ve read so far this year. He’s completely irreverent, politically incorrect, and full of shit half the time, but he brought energy and humor to the story, especially when things dragged and needed an extra boost. The protagonist might have ben Hal, but Roberto definitely stole the show.

All told, Cries from the Lost Island can be a great read if you are into its premise and subjects. It not, it can be a little tougher. There’s a good story here though, if you forgive some of its minor missteps like pacing and some plot meandering, and in any case, it makes up for these with its fascinating historical fiction and paranormal elements, plenty of quippy dialogue, and moments of adventure and humor. If you’re interested in archaeology and Egypt, it’s worth giving it a shot.

Audiobook Comments: Great narration by Charlie Thurston. The story called for a lot of different voices, accents and speaking styles, and I think he did them all very well. A solid performance, and an enjoyable audiobook overall.