Audiobook Review: Raid by K.S. Merbeth

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

Raid by K.S. Merbeth

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

Genre: Post-Apocalyptic, Science Fiction

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Hachette Audio (July 25, 2017)

Length: 8 hrs and 24 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Rachel Frawley

If you took a buddy movie and combined it with the desolation of the Fallout series and the rip-roaring explosive action of Mad Max, then you just might end up with something that looks a lot like Raid. Set in the same world as the author’s debut novel Bite, this was another entertaining romp through a post-apocalyptic wasteland filled with raiders and cannibals.

Told through the eyes of a scarred and vengeful bounty hunter named Clementine, the story begins with our protagonist cashing in on her latest kill at one of the many towns struggling under the control of a merciless dictator named Jedediah Johnson. Of course, for Clementine the greatest prize would be Jedediah himself, the man who is responsible for killing her family, but everyone knows that the raider leader would be too well-protected, surrounded by his many guards inside his impenetrable mansion. So when an informant tells her about a secret passageway that would lead her straight to the heart of his stronghold, Clementine immediately dismisses it as a trick. But to her surprise, the tip turned out to be good, and very soon she has her quarry tied up and gagged in the passenger seat of her getaway car.

The only problem? Clementine had not anticipated that no one would actually want to pay out for Jedediah. Captured he may be, but there are still many of his followers roving around the territory, and few are willing risk the wrath of an angry horde for when they inevitably come looking for their missing boss. Left with no other options in the east, Clementine is forced to take Jedediah across the wastes to hopefully find someone else willing to shell out for his bounty. After all, it would be a shame to kill him and have the biggest catch of her life turn out to be a total bust. Still, Clementine soon finds herself regretting that decision as the two of them are immediately beset upon by obstacles like low supplies, bloodthirsty raiders, and other bounty hunters trying to poach her prisoner.

Raid can be enjoyed without any prerequisites, though if you have read Bite you might be delighted to find that a few familiar faces will show up for a bit of the action. There are also some ties to the first book and other Easter eggs that will be fun to spot, giving something extra to the experience, though overall I would not discourage anyone from starting their wasteland journey with this one if they wish. To be honest, I might actually prefer Raid slightly over Bite because of Clementine, whom I found to be a fascinating protagonist and somewhat more compelling to read about than Kid. As a rough, tough bounty hunter, Clementine is a woman who makes her own way and refuses to let anyone dictate her life. Though she is brutal, she is also not heartless; the problem is that most people in this world are intimidated by her imposing presence, but Clementine has all but given up on being the first one to reach out, convinced that she’ll get nothing but fear and scorn in return.

Thus our protagonist lives a lonely existence, accepting it as the price for her independence. Not surprisingly, what makes Raid such a good book is the way the story transforms Clementine’s way of thinking. While for the most part I would still categorize this novel as a light, popcorny thrill ride, there are nonetheless some deeper themes to uncover if one cares to look for them. Much like it was in Bite, character development was top-notch, with the well-crafted relationships taking center stage. Merbeth’s writing is becoming increasingly polished and she really has a gift for building a believable post-apocalyptic world and making the people who live in it come to life.

My only complaint? The ending. Hate is a strong word so I won’t use it, but the way this story wrapped up left a really bad taste in my mouth. Plus, the author still seems to struggle with pacing issues when it comes to writing denouements, rushing through the final explanations and resolving matters too casually. It’s a shame since the book was well on its way to getting a 4.5 stars or more, but I just had to dock some points for the way the conclusion was handled.

Still, considering how amazing the rest of the book was, I wouldn’t say any of my criticisms are a deal breaker. Certainly I would not hesitate for a second to recommend this novel and the author, and I highly encourage you to pick up Raid if the story or the setting piques your interest. Better yet, pick up Bite too for the full experience! I can’t wait to see what K.S. Merbeth has in store for her fans next!

Audiobook Comments: Having really enjoyed Stephanie Willis’ narration in the audiobook for Bite, I was initially a bit disappointed to see that she was not returning for Raid even though the decision to go with someone else makes total sense since this book stars a different protagonist. And I have to say, getting Rachel Frawley to take on the role of Clementine was a pretty damn good choice. Her voice has a commanding presence which makes it a perfect fit for our rugged bounty hunter protagonist, and while I found her performance to be somewhat wooden in the beginning, she eventually finds a good rhythm. Like Bite, this one was another awesome listen.

Book Review: The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett

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

The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett

Mogsy’s Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Berkley (June 13, 2017)

Length: 368 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

The Space Between the Stars is a contemplative novel about one woman’s journey through a desolate, broken down galaxy after much of humanity has been wiped out by a deadly plague. Jamie Allenby was able to escape much of the chaos due to the fact she was working on a remote planet at the time, but while her choice to be alone may have saved her from the worst effects of the virus, it also left her cut off from the rest of civilization. Now she is desperate to reconnect with her long-term partner Daniel, whom she had sought some time away from after the loss of their unborn child. Jamie has no idea if Daniel is even still alive, but an unknown transmission received on her communicator gives her hope. Recalling a conversation they once had about meeting up in Northumberland if an apocalypse scenario ever happened, Jamie begins working on a plan to return to Earth.

Before long, Jamie meets up with another group of survivors and she is able to leave her lonely planet on a spaceship captained by a man named Callan. A ragtag crew made up of characters with diverse origins, her new traveling companions are all nonetheless struggling with similar fears of the future and trying to come to terms with the loss of so many people. Differences in opinion and beliefs are a cause of much friction among the group especially in the early weeks, as everyone must accept that the old ways are gone and that the way ahead is more uncertain than ever.

To begin, I didn’t think The Space Between the Stars was a bad book, but my overall enjoyment was admittedly dragged down by some pretty deep flaws. You may have heard already that the novel is inherently light on the science fiction, despite its post-apocalyptic premise and space traveling narrative. While this is true, I was surprised to find that I actually didn’t mind the lack of sci-fi elements. No, what I did mind was the novel’s thin plot and absence of any clear direction.

I believe part of the problem stems from the protagonist. Unfortunately, I found Jamie’s character extremely annoying and unlikeable, to the point where everything she did, said, or thought made me want to grind my teeth. I get that she’s a broken and complicated survivor, who has had to deal with some pretty rough stuff. Still, let’s be real—in a scenario where almost the entire human population has been wiped out, who hasn’t been touched by pain and loss? For Jamie though, self-reflection is almost non-existent. She’s also judgmental and hypocritical, too wrapped up with her own problems to open her heart and sympathize with others. This is a character who, by her own admission, dropped out of medical school and switched to veterinary medicine because pesky human patients had that pesky way of telling her about their pesky feelings. Heaven forfend! On top of that, she also can’t stop obsessing about her past. In a devastated world best served by positive attitudes and long-term thinking, she’s bogged down instead with lame excuses for her wishy-washiness and negativity. That’s because bitterness is a constant for Jamie. To see what I mean, just count how many times the words “resent”, “resentment”, and “resentful” come up in the book when they’re being used to describe her moods. The answer is: Way too much.

It’s rare for me to feel such dislike for a main character, but as hard as I tried to compartmentalize those feelings, they nonetheless played a huge role in influencing my overall experience. Often, I found myself wishing we could follow the tale through the eyes of the other characters, like kind and grandfatherly Lowry, pragmatic Gracie, or even the shy and awkward Mila. The story itself was decent, but I also didn’t come away feeling like I got much from it. For all the characters’ planet-hopping and space-faring, the novel’s universe felt small and uninspired, and while there were several interesting developments in terms of world-building, there just wasn’t enough follow through to satisfy me.

Still, I have no doubt most of my disappointment is rooted in my inability to connect with the protagonist. It’s always an uphill battle in these cases, so it’s really tough for me to look objectively at this book and separate its other aspects from my critical feelings towards Jamie. That said, it definitely wouldn’t hurt to check out other reviews if you’re curious about trying a quieter and more low-key sci-fi read. The Space Between the Stars was simply not a good fit for me, but as always your own mileage may vary.

Waiting on Wednesday 08/16/17

“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

This Fallen Prey by Kelley Armstrong (February 6, 2018 by Minotaur Books)

Definitely sounds like Kelley Armstrong will be keeping things tense in this third installment of her new mystery thriller series starring Casey Duncan, a homicide detective who finds herself solving murders in a remote town in the wilds of the Yukon. The author has a real gift for writing suspenseful stories and I’m loving these books so far, can’t wait to see where things will go next.

When Casey first arrived at the off-the-grid town, an isolated community built as a haven for people running from their pasts, she had no idea what to expect, with no cell phones, no internet, no mail, and no way of getting in or out without the town council’s approval. But the very last thing she expected was for the council to drop a dangerous criminal into their midst without a plan to keep him imprisoned, and to keep others safe.

Of course Oliver Brady claims he’s being set up. But the longer Brady stays in town, the more things start to go wrong. When evidence comes to light that someone inside Rockton might be working as his accomplice, helping him to escape, Casey races to figure out who exactly Brady is and what crimes he’s truly responsible for committing.”

Book Review: The Reluctant Queen 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 Reluctant Queen by Sarah Beth Durst

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 2 of The Queens of Renthia

Publisher: Harper Voyager (July 4, 2017)

Length: 360 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

The opening volume of the Queens of Renthia series, The Queen of Blood, was one of my most surprising reads of last year, both in how the story turned out as well as how much I enjoyed it. As a book that contained many elements of your average Young Adult fantasy, I confess I hadn’t really expected much from it at all, though ultimately I came out of it very satisfied and impressed. Needless to say, I’m glad I picked up The Reluctant Queen because, like its predecessor, this sequel was a breath of fresh air, surpassing my expectations once again.

Following the shocking events of the previous novel, Daleina has become queen, though in her eyes, the price of her taking the throne was much too high. Still, despite her devastation at all that had happened, the citizens of Aratay are depending on her to keep the volatile spirits of the natural world in line, and Daleina is determined to do all she can to keep her people safe.

But now, the future of her realm is in jeopardy, for Daleina has just received some terrible news: it turns out that the ill effects she has been experiencing lately are the symptoms of a fatal inherited disease, and she may not have long to live. Worse, if she dies without someone to take her place, the land will be left without a protector to control the spirits, leaving them to run wild over the settlements, destroying and killing everything they touch.

And so, in her desperation to find an heir, Daleina sends her champions out into the world to track down the most promising and talented candidates to bring them back for training—even if they have no aspirations to become queen, for not all girls with the affinity to manipulate spirits wind up at the academies to learn how to use their powers. Some manage to stay under the radar, especially if they simply want to live a humble, quiet existence. Naelin is one such person, who has kept her powerful abilities a secret ever since she was a little girl. She’s content with her life in her remote village in the forest, married to a woodsman and raising their son and daughter. However, when Daleina’s champion comes calling, Naelin’s days of hiding may be over. Now that the truth has been revealed, the spirits have marked her as a threat, and despite her strong reluctance to leave her old familiar life behind, becoming the queen’s heir may be the only way she can protect her children.

I love it when a series evolves, and there’s no question about it—this one is maturing in more ways than one. First of all, the story has grown richer with the addition of a new POV character, and I have to say Naelin is one of the best characters I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in a book. Much like how Daleina was in the previous novel, Naelin is not your typical “Chosen One”; she’s a middle-aged woman and a mother, whose only desire to provide a safe, stable home for her children. She loves the simple yet rewarding life she has built, and is content with the way things are. Furthermore, unlike The Queen of Blood which at times had the feel of a young adult novel because of the age of its protagonist as well as some of its adolescent “magic school” themes, The Reluctant Queen shines the light on topics which are more geared towards adulthood (such as parenting and marital issues), imbuing this series with a certain weightiness that certainly wasn’t there before.

This also makes the novel’s conflicts seem more significant somehow, because Naelin has so much more to lose. Her charming, adorable children are her entire world, and Sarah Beth Durst should be applauded for doing such an excellent job getting readers to engage and sympathize with this little family. They wanted nothing more than to live their lives in obscurity and peace, but instead they are thrust into the limelight, and Naelin is given the most difficult choice of all, which really made me appreciate the author’s exploration into the many different roles of women by featuring a predominantly female cast. On the surface, we have Daleina, whose duty is to provide safety to her people, as well as Naelin, who is a mother fully devoted to her children, but nothing is ever so clear cut or simple. Whether it’s queen, protector, wife, mother, daughter, sister—some characters must bear the burden of a great number of responsibilities and take on multiple roles. The timeless themes of family and sacrifice woven through this story are very powerful and touching, and frankly I wish there were more books like these out there.

Last year, The Queen of Blood made it onto my list of books that I felt were deserving of more attention, and I maintain that more than ever, especially with how good The Reluctant Queen turned out. I really can’t wait to see what happens next. The Queens of Renthia is shaping up to be an excellent series, and I definitely won’t make the mistake of underestimating it again.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of The Queen of Blood (Book 1)

Book Review: The Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark

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

The Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of Empires of Dust

Publisher: Orbit (August 15, 2017)

Length: 512 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

The Court of Broken Knives is unlikely to shatter any molds in the grimdark genre, but I do have to give it credit for checking off all the right boxes and pushing all my right buttons. Also, the writing is exquisite, making it hard to believe this is Anna Smith Spark’s debut as it’s so incredibly polished and well done.

I do worry, however, that prospective readers might pick up this novel dismiss it almost right away because of its first chapter. There’s a pervasive belief about the fantasy genre these days that “grimdark” is all about the violence, nihilism, amoralism, and a lot of piss, blood, shit thrown in along with all the killing and dying. While, sure, those are the common features of many works of grimdark, I would argue that there’s also a lot more to it than that. Unfortunately, a lot new authors also tend to fall into the trap, trying to score points by shamelessly resorting to shock value when their main concern should be developing their characters and story, regardless of the desire to include as many examples of brutal violence, graphic sex, profanity, and explicit descriptions of bodily fluids as possible.

Where am I going with this, you ask? Well, not long before I started The Court of Broken Knives, I’d just come from another debut grimdark that I would described as edgy-for-the-sake-of-being edgy. And when I was reading the opening pages of this, there was that brief period of annoyance where I thought for sure I was strapping myself in for yet another one.

But thankfully, I was wrong. Yes, the book does begin with a bloody battle and lots of DEATH! DEATH! DEATH! Eventually though, we move beyond that into the meat of the story, following a rough crew of mercenaries as they close upon their destiny of Sorlost, the Sekemleth Empire’s seat of power. The truth of their mission will be revealed soon enough, but for now, let’s take a look at the key players. Nervous and inexperienced, Marith is the new recruit, a young Adonis with the face of an angel and a dark secret in his blood. Tobias is his squad captain, a thoughtful but pragmatic leader who keeps his purpose close to this heart and his eye on the prize.

But the mercenaries are just a small piece of the big picture—the muscle behind the brain, so to speak. They follow the orders of Orhann Emmereth, a powerful nobleman and counselor to the Emperor. A hardened and jaded politician, Orhann fears for the future of the Sekemleth Empire and believes that doom will come to them all come unless he can bring about a new leader to rise from the ashes of the old. It is he who has hired Tobias and his mercenaries, tasking them to kill the Emperor and everyone else in his court. Meanwhile, in the nearby temple in Sorlost, much of the power also rests in the hands of a fourth major character. Thalia is the High Priestess of the empire’s rather unusual and cruel religion whose god demands the sacrifice of children, and as the head of the order, it is she who must carry out these difficult ritualistic killings.

From these four perspectives, the author weaves a tale of intrigue, passion, and betrayal about the complexities of human nature and war. Characterization is the real standout here, exploring the different interaction between the members of this eclectic cast. Every one of them is a unique and multi-faceted individual, complete with their own set of quirks and flaws. In particular, I found Orhann and Thalia’s storylines to be the most intriguing, for both are conflicted characters who are in positions of influence and yet are also victims of their own circumstances. Tired and cynical, Orhann may have seen it all in his long career as a politician, but it still wouldn’t be fair to call him a bad or callous man. If anything, he cares too much. Despite the troubles in his personal life, he strives to be the loving husband and soon-to-be father, and any corrupt or treasonous decisions he makes, he does it because he truly believes he is doing it for the good of the empire.

Then, of course, we have Thalia, a complicated woman who carries on with her grisly work with child sacrifices as she knows she must. But there is also a spark of defiance there, fueled by the knowledge of the fate that awaits her at the end of her tenure as High Priestess. Curiously, hers is the only perspective we get in first-person, a strange choice by the author. Short as they were though, Thalia’s chapters do give readers deeper insight into her character and personality. She goes on to develop an unexpected romance with Marith, a grand love affair that really should deserve a paragraph all on its own, though it’s probably best to leave the best parts as a surprise. Suffice it to say that they are not your typical fictional couple, and I wouldn’t go in expecting anything you’d usually get from a more traditional romance.

Likewise, I don’t want to reveal too much about the story, because so much of the joy in reading this book was the experience of peeling back its layers and discovering its secrets. What I can tell you is that it is more than the sum of its parts, and the plot follows a slow-burn approach that gradually builds to a violent climax. To wit, A Court of Broken Knives wasn’t a book that had me on the edge of my seat the whole time, but neither was I ever bored. And although I wouldn’t call it groundbreaking by any means, this is still a very solid and well put-together debut. Certainly, it ended up giving me a lot more than I expected, and I would not hesitate to recommend it if your predilections run to grimdark or dark fantasy. Anna Smith Spark is an author to watch, and I would not hesitate to pick up the next book in the series.

Book Review: The Masked Empire by Patrick Weekes

The Masked Empire by Patrick Weekes

Genre: Fantasy, Gaming Tie-in

Series: Dragon Age #4

Publisher: Tor Books (2014)

Author Info: https://twitter.com/PatrickWeekes

Wendy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Normally, Dragon Age books are at the top of my to-read list, yet for some reason, I let this one slide for a long time because, as much as I love the world of Thedas, fantasy France just didn’t appeal to me, even after I played Dragon Age: Inquisition and got all wrapped up in the intrigue that directly follows the events of this book. You’d think playing and winning the Grand Game, even as an elf whom the court considers to be worth little more than a slave, I’d at least want to find out why I had to work so hard to reunite the empress and her consort.

Now you kids play nice.

Not to mention I have really enjoyed Weeke’s Rogues of the Republic series as well as his writing within the game itself.

But no. Here I am three years later, only just now reading The Masked Empire.

And flailing all over the place because oh my emotions!

The Masked Empire focuses on Empress Celene and the struggles she faces to maintain her crown and her vision of Orlais as the centre of education and artistry, even as the Mage/Templar War and the demands of the Chantry begin to weigh on her. Constantly nipping at her heels is Gaspard de Chalons, her cousin who believes himself to be the better person for the throne, especially with war looming. Behind her stands her most loyal servant, the elf Briala, who is also her secret lover, and at her side, her Champion, Ser Michel de Chevin, bound by the code of honour of the chevalier, but harbouring a heavy secret that could crush his entire world.

At the heart of Orlais’ realm of intrigue is the Grand Game, a political chess game that all Orlesians are born into, no matter their rank. To lose can mean something worse than death for an Orlesian of high rank: utter shame. The Empress is the greatest player of the Game, but Gaspard gives her a run for her money by forcing Orlais into a civil war between the nobles and their elven serfs that in turn, puts Celene at odds with her lover.

Toss in a desire demon — ahem, a Spirit of Choice — and, as it turns out, you’ve got a pretty darn good read here.

I didn’t think I’d care about any of these characters, despite having met them in-game, but through reading this book, I found myself deeply involved in their struggles. They each love and respect each other in their own way, but they also each have much larger troubles that must take precedence over their feelings, forcing them to make painful choices and sacrificing the things and people that they hold most dear. Even Gaspard proved himself to be more than just a usurper to the throne, and I was particularly enamored by the code of the chevalier to which he too adheres.

I’ve played all the Dragon Age games and read all the books. I recall commenting that in Dragon Age: The Calling, author David Gaider wrote the action so well that I could imagine actually controlling the characters on my computer screen with mouse and keyboard. In The Masked Empire, Weekes went so much further. Not only was the action intense and vibrant, the emotions of the characters and the Grand Game itself was almost palpable. So much so that I found myself wishing to see this translated into a visual medium, such as the animated Dragon Age film, Dawn of the Seeker. The subtleties of the Game would be fascinating to see played out on screen.

My only real disappointment in this book is that the game did not follow through well enough with all of the characters it portrayed — in particular, Ser Michel and Imshael, the Choice Spirit. Their entwined fates seem to be leading them to great things at the end of the book, but that fizzles to nothing in the game.

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.

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As you know, I usually prepare my posts beforehand so by the time you read this I should be on the road for our family vacation. While I’ve scheduled a bunch of posts so that the blog’s activity should continue as normal, I apologize in advance if I’m slower to visit your blogs or reply to comments in the coming days. Rest assured though, I’ll catch up with everything once I get back! In the meantime, here’s a roundup of my recent bookshelf activities:

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!

Don’t Live For Your Obituary by John Scalzi is described as a selection the author’s writing advice, commentary, and observations curated over a decade. My thanks to Subterranean Press for the ARC!

Idle Hands by Tom Fletcher is the second book of the The Factory Trilogy, which I’ll probably check out because I really liked the first book GleamHuge thanks to the kind folks at Jo Fletcher Books for this nice surprise from across the pond.

I’m also really curious about A Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan so I was pretty excited when an ARC showed up unexpectedly in my mailbox last week! Thank you, Orbit Books!

Next up, a trio of fantastic finished copies! The amazing folks at Inkshares were kind enough to send me a finished copy of Devil’s Call by J. Danielle Dorn last week, and to my excitement, when I looked inside I saw that they had printed a blurb from my review! Pretty sure I’m sounding like a broken record by now, but I can’t emphasize just how much I loved this book and I highly recommend it.

I also received a paperback edition of Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan which I had a really good time with last year. The sequel just came out, so now is a great time to grab this one to catch up! My thanks to Del Rey.

And speaking of new editions and re-issues, the paperback of The Last One by Alexandra Oliva is coming out in a few days as well, complete with an incredible new look. I like this cover a lot more than the hardback, to be honest! In case you missed my review of the book, which made my list of Top Ten Debuts of 2016, you can read it here. My thanks to Ballantine Books.  

The Overneath by Peter S. Beagle was another wonderful surprise in my mailbox last week, featuring both new and previously uncollected tales by the author whom I had the pleasure of reading for the first time just earlier this year with In Calabria. While I don’t read a lot of short stories, I love Beagle’s prose so much that I’m actually quite excited to check out this anthology! My thanks to Tachyon Publications for the ARC.

Described as a domestic suspense-thriller novel weaving together high stakes hospital politics and the pressures of family life, Best Intentions by Erika Raskin is a bit out of my wheelhouse, but then again, I’ve been having a lot of luck with this genre lately so I’d love to try fitting this one into my reading schedule if time allows. With thanks to St. Martin’s Press.

Sorcery for Beginners by Euphemia Whitmore with Matt Harry was another new one to me, so I did some googling after it arrived. Frankly, it sounds fascinating. From what I gather, it’s a blend of contemporary YA meets “mock manual”, complete with pictures and diagrams and other fun stuff like the kind you’d find in a “For Dummies” style guide. How fun! My thanks to Inkshares for the ARC!

 

 

On to the digital book haul! In preparation for my trip, I had requested a few audiobooks to listen to while on the road. After On by Rob Reid caught my attention because of its description as the definitive novel capturing the culture and technology of today’s Silicon Valley. My thanks to Random House Audio.

Next up, one of my favorite YA authors does DC superheroes? Sign me up please! When Listening Library offered me the chance to review the audiobook of Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh BardugoI did not hesitate for a second.

I also requested the audiobook of The Fifth Ward: First Watch by Dale Lucas when I found out that Simon Vance is the narrator. The man has a voice of gold and I’ll never miss a chance to hear him read. My thanks to Hachette Audio!

The Naked World by Eli K. P. William is the sequel to Cash Crash Jubilee, a fascinating cyber-dystopian thriller I read a couple years back. I’m so glad the book is finally on the horizon because I was starting to grow worried that it was never going to come out! With thanks to Talos via Edelweiss.  

Speaking of highly anticipated sequels, I was also sent a review copy of The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Ardenwhich is the follow-up to The Bear and the Nightingale. The first book took my breath away and I’m really excited to see where the author will take this story next. With thanks to Del Rey.

Finally, with thanks to Tor.com I received Gluttony Bay by Matt Wallace, sixth installment of the Sin du Jour series of novellas. I can’t believe how quickly these are coming out! I still have the fifth book to read before I can jump into this one, so I’d best catch up quick.

Books Won

And here’s something you don’t see very often…I won some giveaways! A while ago I entered a Penguin contest for several of their prize packs and ended up winning Heroine Worship by Sarah Kuhn and a cool tote bag that came with it. I wasn’t crazy about the first book, but I’m definitely not closing any doors to trying this sequel especially since I heard that it offers a POV change. I was also very excited to win This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzi Lee from Sara’s Blogoversary giveaway in which she featured this book as one of her top ten most unique reads. It sounds very interesting indeed, and I can’t wait to try it! Last but not least, I managed to score an ARC of Invictus by Ryan Graudin from NOVL’s newsletter giveaway. So pumped for this!

Reviews

A quick look at the reviews I’ve posted since the last update:

Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine (4 of 5 stars)
The X-Files: Cold Cases by Joe Harris, Chris Carter, and Dirk Maggs (4 of 5 stars)
Tomorrow’s Kin by Nancy Kress (4 of 5 stars)
The Clockwork Dynasty by Daniel H. Wilson (4 of 5 stars)
Where Loyalties Lie by Rob J. Hayes (3.5 of 5 stars)
Star Wars: Battlefront II: Inferno Squad by Christie Golden (3.5 of 5 stars)
Age of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan (3.5 of 5 stars)

What I’ve Read Since the Last Update

Here’s what I’ve finished reading or “unstacked” from the TBR in the last two weeks. Reviews for a couple of these are up already, the rest coming soon!

   

   

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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: Soldier

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:

“No soldier outlives a thousand chances”
~ a cover featuring a SOLDIER

Mogsy’s Pick:
Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

Still my favorite John Scalzi novel even after all this time, Old Man’s War is the author’s exciting and hilarious take on military space opera which draws heavily on the themes of Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein for inspiration. In this story, 75-year-old protagonist John Perry is given a second chance to be young again, but the only catch? He has to enlist in the Colonial Defense Force in order for his consciousness to be transferred to a young, genetically enhanced (and green) body so he can help fight for Earth’s colonies against hostile alien races.

Generally regarded as the book that brought Scalzi to prominence, Old Man’s War has since been reissued multiple times, not to mention translated into many different languages. Not surprisingly, there are a lot of covers, so let’s take a look at a selection of them now.

First row, from left to right: Tor Hardcover (2005) – Tor Paperback (2005) – Subterranean Press (2007) – French (2016)

   

Second row, left to right: German (2007) – Romanian (2015) – Hungarian (2012) – Spanish (2007)

   

Third row, left to right: Portuguese (2015) – Russian (2016) – Turkish (2012) – Polish (2016)

   

Winner:

Hmm. No clear favorite for me this week even with all these choices, though in general I think I prefer the newer covers over the ones pre-2010. The one exception would be the Tor Paperback (2005) because it has that old-school sci-fi look that I think many genre readers would feel a natural affinity for, and it’s also the cover I know best. I also really like the designs for the French (2016) and Polish (2016) covers, but unfortunately neither of them are a good representation of the tone and style of the novel.

Taking in account these factors along with a whole bunch of other considerations, ultimately I think I’m going to have to go with the Portuguese (2015) cover as the winner. For one thing, it’s very action oriented, depicting the conflict between the aliens and Colonial Defense Force soldiers. Its style is also very reminiscent of Starship Troopers, which tells me that the designer understands the intent behind the novel and demonstrates that by giving a nod to the story’s inspiration.

What do you think? Which one is your favorite?

Book Review: Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine

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

Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Thriller, Mystery

Series: Book 1 of Gwen Proctor

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer (July 1, 2017)

Length: 302 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Rachel Caine does thriller-suspense! And she’s a natural at it, if Stillhouse Lake is any indication. Before picking this one up on a whim, I’d only read her books in the YA fantasy series The Great Library and was curious to see how she would tackle a different genre. Now though, I can safely say that my esteem has only grown for her talent and versatility as a writer.

The story follows Gina Royal, a woman who has had her life turned upside down. Before that fateful day when everything changed, she was just your average Midwestern housewife with a loving husband and two great kids, blissfully unaware of anything wrong with her life. Then, a drunk driver accidentally slams his car into the side of the Royals’ house, exposing the dark secret that has been kept hidden for years within its walls. As it turns out, Gina’s husband has been concealing his double life as a serial killer, and she is as shocked to discover it as anyone else. Not surprisingly, the public found that difficult to believe and thus she was tried as his accomplice, and only after years of trials did she manage to convince the court of her innocence.

However, by then the damage had been done. Most of the country now believes her guilty, claiming that no one could have lived in that house for years with a murderer, not knowing what was going on right underneath her roof. Gina knows she had been naïve, giving her husband all the space and privacy he’d asked for, never questioning anything he did. But even though he is now in prison, her nightmare is far from over. The constant harassment and death threats from doxxers and internet trolls have led her to fear for her life and those of her children, leading them to take on new identities and stay on the move. Gina is now Gwen Proctor, and she is a new woman—tough and independent, but also anxious and paranoid, unwilling to let her guard down even for a second. That is, until the family arrives at Stillhouse Lake, a small rural community in Tennessee where Gwen dares to imagine that her family might have finally found some semblance of peace and stability. But then that fleeting moment of happiness is shattered by a gruesome discovery in the lake, a dead body that shows signs of being tortured and killed in the same manner of her ex-husband’s victims. Suddenly, Gwen finds herself under suspicion again—only this time, she may be a target too.

While Stillhouse Lake may lack the complexity of some of the more high-profile books in its genre, it’s nonetheless one of the more enjoyable and addictive mystery-thrillers I’ve ever read. It all started with the intro, which was an insanely nerve-wracking and tense few pages, especially if you were like me and didn’t read the publisher’s description too closely before I started the book. My heart felt like it was being squeezed in a vise as I watched the events unfold, not having a clue what the hell was going on but at the same time being cognizant enough of the situation to know nothing good could come out of it for Gina/Gwen and her family. From then on, the story takes off—perhaps not like a rocket, but definitely more like a powerful steam locomotive that gradually builds up speed before hurtling off towards its mysterious and unforeseeable destination.

Gwen is also a character you can sympathize with, if not relate to (because let’s face it, her situation is pretty unique). We know she is innocent because we get to be in her head—but imagine looking at her story from an outsider’s point-of-view, and it easy to see why she has been driven to her wit’s end by fear and paranoia. So much of her actions may seem extreme or unnecessary, but again, we’re privy to the truth while the rest of the world believes her to be a monster complicit in her ex-husband’s horrific crimes. Also, anyone who has spent enough time on the internet knows how vile people can be when acting under conditions of anonymity, as well as how far some are willing to go when they think their actions are justified. It was easy to feel for Gwen, not only because she’s a mother who wants the best for her children, but also because she’s living with a tremendous amount of guilt. She might not have known what her husband was up to all those years living with him in their old house, but the realization of how naïve and complaisant she was in the face of his manipulative charms is going to haunt her forever.

Having only read the author’s fantasy work before this, I found Stillhouse Lake to be very different but no less engrossing and addictive. Nail-bitingly intense and unsettling, the story managed to lure me in before swiftly sinking its hooks into my mind, consuming my attention. I was a little surprised to learn there will be a sequel, which I gathered simply based on how the book ended (with an edge-of-your-seat climax that led to a satisfying closure, while still leaving things open enough for more to come). Still, it’s news that fills me with excitement. Needless to say, I’ll be continuing with the series, and I can’t wait to read on and find out what happens next.

Waiting on Wednesday 08/09/17

“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

Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (March 13, 2018 by Knopf Books for Young Readers)

I’m so excited about this one! It sounds like this third installment of the Illuminae Files will be picking up from the end of the previous book, continuing the sequence of events that began with Kady and Ezra on the Alexander fleet but now it seems Hanna and Nik will be brought into the fold as well. There’s also a really good chance I’m going to go with the audiobook again since I had such an incredible experience with the previous book in this format.

“Kady, Ezra, Hanna, and Nik narrowly escaped with their lives from the attacks on Heimdall station and now find themselves crammed with 2,000 refugees on the container ship, Mao. With the jump station destroyed and their resources scarce, the only option is to return to Kerenza—but who knows what they’ll find seven months after the invasion? 

Meanwhile, Kady’s cousin, Asha, survived the initial BeiTech assault and has joined Kerenza’s ragtag underground resistance. When Rhys—an old flame from Asha’s past—reappears on Kerenza, the two find themselves on opposite sides of the conflict. 

With time running out, a final battle will be waged on land and in space, heros will fall, and hearts will be broken.”