Audiobook Review: The Closer You Get by Mary Torjussen

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

The Closer You Get by Mary Torjussen

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Penguin Audio (April 21, 2020)

Length: 10 hrs and 59 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrators: Elizabeth Knowelden, Susan Duerden, Steve West

Some of the best thrillers are based on the unpredictable responses of people to disastrous situations of their own making. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I present to you Exhibit A: The Closer You Get by Mary Torjussen. Packed with dirty secrets, juicy scandals, and characters who can’t seem to stop fucking up their lives at every turn, this one started off in fits and starts but actually ended up being quite entertaining.

At the heart of this tale are two couples. Ruby is married to Tom, but she is having an affair with her boss Harry, who is married to Emma. Ruby and Harry have been seeing each other for a while now, and they’ve finally decided to leave their spouses in order to start a new life. But on the day Ruby was supposed to meet Harry at their hotel to go through their plan together, he never shows up. Having already told Tom that she was going to divorce him, Ruby is terrified that something has happened to Harry and tries calling him to no avail. Harry would not return any of her calls or emails, and the next day, Ruby shows up to work only to find out her contract had been terminated. Her life suddenly in shambles, Ruby has no choice but to rent a cheap apartment and start looking for a new job, all the while wondering what has happened to her lover.

Meanwhile, the story also unfolds via POV chapters from Emma, Harry’s wife. She’s had suspicions about her husband and his beautiful young personal assistant Ruby for a while, but doesn’t want to believe it. As the plot pushes ever onward toward its climax and conclusion, however, it is revealed that not all is as it seems.

The Closer You Get is probably best described as a slow-burn thriller, as the tension gradually grows and bubbles to the surface. The mystery deepens as Ruby starts receiving terrifying prank phone calls and feeling like she is being stalked. While she’s certainly not a protagonist worthy of sympathy, considering her role in the affair, the story still does an impressive job making the reader fear for her safety. But lest you think you’ll find a more sympathetic character in Emma, the wronged woman…well, let me disabuse you of that notion right now, because some not so flattering details about her are revealed from her perspective as well. Like I was saying, this book is just full of fucked up people who do fucked up things.

That said, I do feel that the story is weakened somewhat because it reveals all its cards a little too early. This makes The Closer You Get a rather wobbly thriller in terms of pacing, with an intro that starts off too slow, and a middle that robs the reader of any true surprises. The premise itself isn’t too unique, so I doubt anyone would have trouble predicting the outcome of the story, and the long denouement following the climax was also way too drawn out, spoiling its effect and impact.

Fortunately, the sheer amount of drama this novel throws at us makes up for a lot of these pacing issues. The switches between Ruby and Emma’s POVs had the effect of keeping the interest high by showing multiple aspects of the conflict. The little revelations they provided also fleshed out the character backgrounds and explained their lives at home, so even if you can’t bring yourself to actually like them, at the very least you can understand what motivated their actions.

Ultimately, as domestic psychological thrillers go, The Closer You Get is neither the most original nor the most gripping, but it does offer a fascinating angle on marriage and relationships, as well as the extreme lengths people can go when they feel trapped. Bottom line, this is a story that boils down to characters making poor choices and their consequences, and while the pacing could have been better, I still ended up enjoying this book much more than I thought.

Audiobook Comments: Only a short section in the beginning was narrated by Steve West, which was a pity, since I love his voice! Elizabeth Knowelden and Susan Duerden delivered wonderful performances as our main characters though, and I’m glad they went with two narrators to give Ruby and Emma each a unique voice.

Bookshelf Roundup 05/30/20: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads

ookshelf 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!

I received some book mail from the kind folks at Tachyon Publications this week! First up is an ARC of Kitty’s Mix Tape by Carrie Vaugh, the sixth and final novella in the author’s Kitty Norville series which I confess I’m not too familiar with. But now that I know it’s completed, maybe I’ll go back to the first book and take a look! Also in the package was Adventures of a Dwergish Girl by Daniel Pinkwater, a story which sounds as charming as its cover and title! To see what I mean, here’s the first line of the book’s description: “Molly O’Malley is a clever, adventurous girl. She is also a Dwerg. Dwergs are strange folks who live very quietly in the Catskill mountains, have lots of gold, and are kind of like dwarves (but also not!).” I love it! Definitely going to read it later this fall as we get closer to the release date.

And in the digital book haul, just three audio titles this week, with thanks to Tantor for the listening copies! I was very excited to find out they were pubbing the audiobook edition of Hella by David Gerrold, as this was a novel I’ve been dying to check out. I also received the audiobook of Silver in the Wood/Drowned Country by Emily Tesh featuring both novellas in the Greenhollow Duology, which is just perfect since I missed out on the first book and I’ve been kicking myself ever since. And finally, while Public Enemy Zero by Andrew Mayne isn’t exactly new, I believe it’s the first time coming out in audio. And you know me – I am ALWAYS up for anything by the author, and I’m especially curious to see how his older stuff holds up.

Reviews

Chaos Reigning by Jessie Mihalik (4 of 5 stars)
The Archer at Dawn by Swati Teerdhala (4 of 5 stars)
Sunshield by Emily B. Martin (3 of 5 stars)

Events

And that’s pretty much a wrap for Wyrd & Wonder! It was my first year participating, so everything was kind of touch and go this month, but now that I know what it’s all about, next year I hope to plan a little better and do more fun stuff on top of review posts. I also did terrible on my fantasy backlist challenge, by the way! But May actually turned out to be a very busy month, so was I was definitely relying more on my mood reads to pick me up rather than sticking to a reading list.

This Week’s Reads

Speaking of mood reads, as you can see, my week was clearly dominated by thrillers! As you might also recall, one of my hauls from a couple weeks ago were heavy on the thriller-mysteries, so some of this was me trying to catch up with those as well.

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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!:)

Excerpt: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

Thank you for following along with us on Tor’s serialized excerpt campaign for To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini! In case you missed any parts from the previous days though, don’t fret! As promised, below you’ll find the completed excerpt to close out this special blog event!

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

Kira Navárez dreamed of finding life on new worlds.

Now she has awakened a nightmare.

While exploring a distant planet, she discovers an alien relic that thrusts her into an epic journey of transformation and discovery.

Her odyssey will carry her to the far reaches of the galaxy.

Earth and her colonies are on the brink of annihilation.

One woman.

The will to survive.

The hope of humanity.

This epic novel follows Kira Navárez, who, during a routine survey mission on an uncolonized planet, finds an alien relic that thrusts her into the wonders and the nightmares of first contact. Epic space battles for the fate of humanity take her to the farthest reaches of the galaxy and, in the process, transform not only her ― but the entire course of history.

Excerpt

Excerpt from To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini, published by Tor Books. Copyright © 2020 by Christopher Paolini

Cold fear shot through Kira’s gut.

Together, she and Alan scrambled into their clothes. Kira spared a second of thought for her strange dream—everything felt strange at the moment—and then they hurried out of the cabin and rushed over toward Neghar’s quarters.

As they approached, Kira heard hacking: a deep, wet, ripping sound that made her imagine raw flesh going through a shredder. She shuddered.

Neghar was standing in the middle of the hallway with the others gathered around her, doubled over, hands on her knees, coughing so hard Kira could hear her vocal cords fraying. Fizel was next to her, hand on her back. “Keep breathing,” he said. “We’ll get you to sickbay. Jenan! Alan! Grab her arms, help carry her. Quickly now, qu—”

Neghar heaved, and Kira heard a loud, distinct snap from inside the woman’s narrow chest.

Black blood sprayed from Neghar’s mouth, painting the deck in a wide fan.

Marie-Élise shrieked, and several people retched. The fear from Kira’s dream returned, intensified. This was bad. This was dangerous. “We have to go,” she said, and tugged on Alan’s sleeve. But he wasn’t listening.

“Back!” Fizel shouted. “Everyone back! Someone get the Extenuating Circumstances on the horn. Now!”

“Clear the way!” Mendoza bellowed.

More blood sprayed from Neghar’s mouth, and she dropped to one knee. The whites of her eyes were freakishly wide. Her face was crimson, and her throat worked as if she were choking.

“Alan,” said Kira. Too late; he was moving to help Fizel.

She took a step back. Then another. No one noticed; they were all looking at Neghar, trying to figure out what to do while staying out of the way of the blood flying from her mouth.

Kira felt like screaming at them to leave, to run, to escape.

She shook her head and pressed her fists against her mouth, scared blood was going to erupt out of her as well. Her head felt as if it were about to burst, and her skin was crawling with horror: a thousand ants skittering over every centimeter. Her whole body itched with revulsion.

Jenan and Alan tried to lift Neghar back to her feet. She shook her head and gagged. Once. Twice. And then she spat a clot of something onto the deck. It was too dark to be blood. Too liquid to be metal.

Kira dug her fingers into her arm, scrubbing at it as a scream of revulsion threatened to erupt out of her.

Neghar collapsed backwards. Then the clot moved. It twitched like a clump of muscle hit with an electrical current.

People shouted and jumped away. Alan retreated toward Kira, never taking his eyes off the unformed lump.

Kira dry-heaved. She took another step back. Her arm was burning: thin lines of fire squirming across her skin.

She looked down.

Her nails had carved furrows in her flesh, crimson gashes that ended with crumpled strips of skin. And within the furrows, she saw another something twitch. 

Kira fell to the floor, screaming. The pain was all-consuming. That much she was aware of. It was the only thing she was aware of.

She arched her back and thrashed, clawing at the floor, desperate to escape the onslaught of agony. She screamed again; she screamed so hard her voice broke and a slick of hot blood coated her throat.

She couldn’t breathe. The pain was too intense. Her skin was burning, and it felt as if her veins were filled with acid and her flesh was tearing itself from her limbs.

Dark shapes blocked the light overhead as people moved around her. Alan’s face appeared next to her. She thrashed again, and she was on her stomach, her cheek pressed flat against the hard surface.

Her body relaxed for a second, and she took a single, gasping breath before going rigid and loosing a silent howl. The muscles of her face cramped with the force of her rictus, and tears leaked from the corners of her eyes.

Hands turned her over. They gripped her arms and legs, holding them in place. It did nothing to stop the pain.

“Kira!”

She forced her eyes open and, with blurry vision, saw Alan and, behind him, Fizel leaning toward her with a hypo. Farther back, Jenan, Yugo, and Seppo were pinning her legs to the floor, while Ivanova and Marie-Élise helped Neghar away from the clot on the deck.

“Kira! Look at me! Look at me!”

She tried to reply, but all she succeeded in doing was uttering a strangled whimper.

Then Fizel pressed the hypo against her shoulder. Whatever he injected didn’t seem to have any effect. Her heels drummed against the floor, and she felt her head slam against the deck, again and again.

“Jesus, someone help her,” Alan cried.

“Watch out!” shouted Seppo. “That thing on the floor is moving! Shi—”

“Sickbay,” said Fizel. “Get her to sickbay. Now! Pick her up. Pick—”

The walls swam around her as they lifted her. Kira felt like she was being strangled. She tried to inhale, but her muscles were too cramped. Red sparks gathered around the edges of her vision as Alan and the others carried her down the hallway. She felt as if she were floating; everything seemed insubstantial except the pain and her fear.

A jolt as they dropped her onto Fizel’s exam table. Her abdomen relaxed for a second, just long enough for Kira to steal a breath before her muscles locked back up.

“Close the door! Keep that thing out!” A thunk as the sickbay pressure lock engaged.

“What’s happening?” said Alan. “Is—”

“Move!” shouted Fizel. Another hypo pressed against Kira’s neck.

As if in response, the pain tripled, something she wouldn’t have believed possible. A low groan escaped her, and she jerked, unable to control the motion. She could feel foam gathering in her mouth, clogging her throat. She gagged and convulsed.

“Shit. Get me an injector. Other drawer. No, other drawer!”

“Doc—”

“Not now!”

“Doc, she isn’t breathing!”

Equipment clattered, and then fingers forced Kira’s jaw apart, and someone jammed a tube into her mouth, down her throat. She gagged again. A moment later, sweet, precious air poured into her lungs, sweeping aside the curtain darkening her vision.

Alan was hovering over her, his face contorted with worry.

Kira tried to talk. But the only sound she could make was an inarticulate groan.

“You’re going to be okay,” said Alan. “Just hold on. Fizel’s going to help you.” He looked as if he were about to cry.

Kira had never been so afraid. Something was wrong inside her, and it was getting worse.

Run, she thought. Run! Get away from here before—

Dark lines shot across her skin: black lightning bolts that twisted and squirmed as if alive. Then they froze in place, and where each one lay, her skin split and tore, like the carapace of a molting insect.

Kira’s fear overflowed, filling her with a feeling of utter and inescapable doom. If she could have screamed, her cry would have reached the stars.

About the Author

Christopher Paolini was born in Southern California and has lived most of his life in Paradise Valley, Montana. He published his first novel, Eragon, in 2003 at the age of 19, and quickly became a publishing phenomenon. His Inheritance Cycle—Eragon and its three sequels—have sold nearly 40 million copies worldwide. This is his first adult novel.

Visit the other participating blogs:

TUESDAY, 5/26
Tor.com
 | Between Dreams and Reality colourmeread.com Books, Bones & Buffy | eleven thirteen pm | LitStack | Moonlight Rendezvous | Nurse Bookie | NovelKnight | SciFi Chick | The Nerd Daily

WEDNESDAY, 5/27
The Mary Sue | Book Briefs | Bookish Bliss and Beauty | DMCI Reads | For the Love of Words | Novel Heartbeat | Reading Reality | Simone and Her Books | The Qwillery | The Reading Corner for All

THURSDAY, 5/28
Den of Geek | Beauty in Ruins | BiblioSanctum | Flames Rising | Polish & Paperbacks | She Reads with Cats | WTF Are You Reading? | Amanda Bradburn | A Book and a Cup | Required Reading

Friday Face-Off: Silhouette

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:

“An island, a person, anything you like”
~ any cover featuring a SILHOUETTE

Mogsy’s Pick:

The Girl In Red by Christina Henry

A head-to-head today, and I already have a feeling picking a winner will be tough because all of Christina Henry’s dark fairy tale retellings have the BEST covers. For The Girl in Red, both the US and UK editions feature silhouettes, which is why I chose it to feature this week:

Berkley (2019) vs. Titan Books (2019)

Winner:

It’s close, and I’m sure I’ll change my mind again depending on the time of the day, but I’m going to go with the Titan edition for now. The “double silhouette” concept is clever, and I think the image of the howling wolf is much more dramatic and powerful.

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

Excerpt: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

Today, the BiblioSanctum is excited to be participating in a blog event for To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, the highly anticipated adult novel debut by acclaimed Eragon author Christopher Paolini. This epic tale of first contact and alien wonders and space battles is coming out later this year on September 15 but we are celebrating this week with a special multi-part excerpt reveal as part of a publisher campaign to give readers a sneak peek! Below you’ll find our snippet as well as the links to the other participating blogs, but be sure to come back tomorrow where we’ll also be posting the completed excerpt section in all its glory!

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

Kira Navárez dreamed of finding life on new worlds.

Now she has awakened a nightmare.

While exploring a distant planet, she discovers an alien relic that thrusts her into an epic journey of transformation and discovery.

Her odyssey will carry her to the far reaches of the galaxy.

Earth and her colonies are on the brink of annihilation.

One woman.

The will to survive.

The hope of humanity.

This epic novel follows Kira Navárez, who, during a routine survey mission on an uncolonized planet, finds an alien relic that thrusts her into the wonders and the nightmares of first contact. Epic space battles for the fate of humanity take her to the farthest reaches of the galaxy and, in the process, transform not only her ― but the entire course of history.

Excerpt

Excerpt from To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini, published by Tor Books. Copyright © 2020 by Christopher Paolini

“Jesus, someone help her,” Alan cried.

“Watch out!” shouted Seppo. “That thing on the floor is moving! Shi—”

“Sickbay,” said Fizel. “Get her to sickbay. Now! Pick her up. Pick—”

The walls swam around her as they lifted her. Kira felt like she was being strangled. She tried to inhale, but her muscles were too cramped. Red sparks gathered around the edges of her vision as Alan and the others carried her down the hallway. She felt as if she were floating; everything seemed insubstantial except the pain and her fear.

A jolt as they dropped her onto Fizel’s exam table. Her abdomen relaxed for a second, just long enough for Kira to steal a breath before her muscles locked back up.

“Close the door! Keep that thing out!” A thunk as the sickbay pressure lock engaged.

“What’s happening?” said Alan. “Is—”

“Move!” shouted Fizel. Another hypo pressed against Kira’s neck.

As if in response, the pain tripled, something she wouldn’t have believed possible. A low groan escaped her, and she jerked, unable to control the motion. She could feel foam gathering in her mouth, clogging her throat. She gagged and convulsed.

“Shit. Get me an injector. Other drawer. No, other drawer!”

“Doc—”

“Not now!”

“Doc, she isn’t breathing!”

Equipment clattered, and then fingers forced Kira’s jaw apart, and someone jammed a tube into her mouth, down her throat. She gagged again. A moment later, sweet, precious air poured into her lungs, sweeping aside the curtain darkening her vision.

Alan was hovering over her, his face contorted with worry.

Kira tried to talk. But the only sound she could make was an inarticulate groan.

“You’re going to be okay,” said Alan. “Just hold on. Fizel’s going to help you.” He looked as if he were about to cry.

Kira had never been so afraid. Something was wrong inside her, and it was getting worse.

Run, she thought. Run! Get away from here before—

Dark lines shot across her skin: black lightning bolts that twisted and squirmed as if alive. Then they froze in place, and where each one lay, her skin split and tore, like the carapace of a molting insect.

Kira’s fear overflowed, filling her with a feeling of utter and inescapable doom. If she could have screamed, her cry would have reached the stars.

About the Author

Christopher Paolini was born in Southern California and has lived most of his life in Paradise Valley, Montana. He published his first novel, Eragon, in 2003 at the age of 19, and quickly became a publishing phenomenon. His Inheritance Cycle—Eragon and its three sequels—have sold nearly 40 million copies worldwide. This is his first adult novel.

Visit the other participating blogs:

TUESDAY, 5/26
Tor.com
| Between Dreams and Reality | colourmeread.com | Books, Bones & Buffy | eleven thirteen pm | LitStack | Moonlight Rendezvous | Nurse Bookie | NovelKnight | SciFi Chick | The Nerd Daily

WEDNESDAY, 5/27
The Mary Sue | Book BriefsBookish Bliss and BeautyDMCI ReadsFor the Love of WordsNovel HeartbeatReading RealitySimone and Her BooksThe QwilleryThe Reading Corner for All

THURSDAY, 5/28
Den of GeekBeauty in RuinsBiblioSanctum | Flames RisingPolish & PaperbacksShe Reads with CatsWTF Are You Reading?Amanda BradburnA Book and a CupRequired Reading

Waiting on Wednesday 05/27/20

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 Bright and Breaking Sea by Chloe Neill (November 17, 2020 by Berkley)

To celebrate Wyrd and Wonder, I’ll be featuring fantasy/paranormal-related picks for my Waiting on Wednesday posts for the whole month of May! For our final W&W installment, this is a book whose cover was just revealed last week, and it is stunning! I’ve only read Chloe Neill’s paranormal/UF before this, so The Bright and Breaking Sea should be a bit of a change for me, but the description sounds so good and I am always up for a maritime fantasy adventure!

“Chloe Neill brings her trademark wit and wild sense of adventure to a stunning seafaring fantasy starring a dauntless heroine in a world of magic and treachery.

Kit Brightling, rescued as a foundling and raised in a home for talented girls, has worked hard to rise through the ranks of the Isles’ Crown Command and become one of the few female captains in Queen Charlotte’s fleet. Her ship is small, but she’s fast–in part because of Kit’s magical affinity to the sea. But the waters become perilous when the queen sends Kit on a special mission with a partner she never asked for.

Rian Grant, Viscount Queenscliffe, may be a veteran of the Continental war, but Kit doesn’t know him or his motives–and she’s dealt with one too many members of the Beau Monde. But Kit has her orders, and the queen has commanded they journey to a dangerous pirate quay and rescue a spy who’s been gathering intelligence on the exiled emperor of Gallia.

Kit can lead her ship and clever crew on her own, but with the fate of queen and country at stake, Kit and Rian must learn to trust each other, or else the Isles will fall….”

Book Review: Chaos Reigning by Jessie Mihalik

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

Chaos Reigning by Jessie Mihalik

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Romance, Science Fiction

Series: Book 3 of Consortium Rebellion

Publisher: Harper Voyager (May 19, 2020)

Length: 416 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

With Chaos Rising comes the story of Catarina, the youngest daughter of the Von Hasenberg high house, as well as the epic conclusion to the Consortium Rebellion trilogy that exquisitely combines the sci-fi thrills of a space opera and the heated passions of a sultry romance.

As the baby of the family, Cat is used to being underestimated. In fact, she uses it to her advantage, masking her true self behind a mask of flightiness and frivolity. But the truth is, she has lived a troubled life, growing up secretly experimented on by her father because he had wanted to mold her into a super soldier. Using deception and her cunning, however, Cat managed to make everyone believe that the experiments had failed, and that she is now nothing more than your typical spoiled princess of the Consortium. Not even those closest to her are aware that she still possesses the super strength and powerful abilities the tests had given her.

Of course, this also makes her the perfect spy for her family, and Cat wants to do her part by going undercover at an upcoming gala held by a rival high house to gather information. Unfortunately, her overprotective older sister Bianca is about to ruin all those plans. Having guessed what Cat is about to do, Bianca has planted two of her most trusted operatives on our protagonist’s ship so that she would have others to help her on the mission. It’s a complication for sure, but nothing Cat can’t handle—except one of the agents, Alexander Stirling, is proving to be a dangerous distraction. Handsome and charming, her newest bodyguard is also going to be doing double duty as her date to the party. Despite knowing that it’s all for show, Cat can’t help but be drawn to Alex and regrets that they couldn’t have met under different circumstances. But when an unexpected attack on the Consortium causes all hell to break loose, the two of them are brought closer together as they work to find the culprits and restore order.

I think it’s safe to say that if you enjoyed the first two books, you’ll enjoy Chaos Reigning. The story unfolds and is written in roughly the same vein, except the author has really pulled out all the stops for this one. The stakes are higher, plot developments are much more consequential, and the overall action is more intense. Not surprisingly, the romance is dialed up several notches as well, without losing any of its cheesiness. Truth be told, it might even be over the top. Everything was all NEED and HEAT and BURNING, if things got any hotter this book would have spontaneously combusted in my hands. I’m not going pretend and say it didn’t get ridiculous after a while, but it’s par for the course with this series and the reason why I can only take it in small doses. Could I read books like this back to back without wanting to tear my hair out? No. But doing so once in a while? They can be great escape.

Jessie Mihalik has also saved the best for last. The crux of Chaos Reigning involves an event that rocks the Consortium, altering the fates of Cat and her siblings forever. For me, it gave this book slightly more weight than the others which I suppose is appropriate for the final installment, and it also helped me see past a lot of the story’s flaws. After three books, it’s clear that the series’ biggest weaknesses are the men—our heroines’ love interests. To be frank, Loch, Ian, Alexander—they’re really all variations of the same type: domineering alpha males who are supremely full of themselves. To be fair, Alex might fare slightly better in this respect because his and Cat’s romance could arguably be considered slow-burn, plus he’s sweet and charming. That said, it didn’t help that he fell into the “fake boyfriend” cliché for so much of the story so that when his profession of love finally came, it felt rather sudden and unconvincing. As a result, there wasn’t much about his character that stood out.

So really, for me it was all about Cat. She’s independent and determined like all the von Hasenberg women, but can kick so much more ass—even more so than Ada. Furthermore, I felt Cat was also the best at leadership, which was ironic considering how desperately she didn’t want to end up the head of her house. Given the responsibilities dumped on her though, I thought she handled herself marvelously well and showed more agency and motivation in her choices than her sisters. It’s just a shame that the conflict in this book was resolve so abruptly—and a little too neatly—because I would have loved to see more of Cat in action.

And so, the Consortium Rebellion has come to an end. Romance is not typically a genre I read, but I won’t lie, I had a lot of fun with this one. Cat and Alexander’s relationship might not have been as satisfying, but the action and suspense definitely made up for it, and ultimately Chaos Reigning ended on a finale-worthy note.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Polaris Rising (Book 1)
Review of Aurora Blazing (Book 2)

Book Review: Sunshield by Emily B. Martin

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

Sunshield by Emily B. Martin

Mogsy’s rating: 3 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1

Publisher: Harper Voyager (May 26, 2020)

Length: 432 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Desolate canyons. A lawless wilderness. Bands of outlaws roaming the frontier and attacking traveling wagons. All this in the publisher’s description for Sunshield should have clued me in to what I was in for, but I was still pleasantly surprised when I started this novel to find a fantasy western. Lark is our protagonist, known to the world as the Sunshield Bandit because of her shining mirrored buckler and the reflected sunlight she uses as a weapon. Her targets are the slave caravans that move across the desert, fueling so much of the human misery and injustice in Alcoro. After killing the slavers and stealing their money, Lark also does her best to return the captives to their rightful homes, but the care of so many people requires a lot of resources—resources that she doesn’t have, and that the dusty plains can’t provide. Lark and her own crew are barely surviving as it is.

Meanwhile, far away in the Moquoian court, things couldn’t be any more different. A shining palace of luxury stands amidst a lush forested land, all built upon the backs of slavery and human trafficking. Veran is a young ambassador who has traveled to Moquoia on a mission of diplomacy to negotiate better labor practices on behalf of his people, but to his dismay finds little cooperation from the nobles, least of all the prince, who even seems visibly upset at his presence for some reason. Whether the monarchy likes it or not, however, great change is on the horizon. As the kingdom comes under attack by a nefarious plot to overthrow the crown, Veran is thrust into a precarious alliance with none other than the Sunshield Bandit herself, the two of them forced to work together to resolve a mysterious abduction.

Sunshield certainly wasn’t bad, but it did suffer from a few issues that made me look up the book and author to see if it was a debut (it is not). Namely it was the uneven pacing that made parts of the story a struggle, especially in the first half where the plot took such a long time to take off or even get interesting. The exhausting amount of exposition slows things down further still, such as the lengthy paragraphs of Lark waxing poetic about her many tattoos, describing and reminiscing over each and every one of them in great detail. While I can certainly appreciate the sentiment, moments such as these were ultimately distracting and unnecessary, given the priority in your intro should be quickly establishing a hook. But unfortunately, I’d say this novel didn’t even pick up in earnest until well into its later sections, when Lark and Veran’s story lines finally converged.

Speaking of which, I found the characters to be interesting and well-written, though perhaps not so unique when you strip away surface-level features. Personality-wise, Lark is your typical rebel female heroine, often too proud to do the most logical and sensible thing even when it would benefit a whole lot more people than herself. Considering how long she’d lived her life independently, having to take care of herself and others under constantly changing circumstances, it is also shocking how incapable she is of flexibility or controlling her own emotions. Then there’s Veran, who is genuinely likeable and sweet, though his naivete makes his chapters at court very difficult to read. Constantly second-guessing and repeatedly beating himself up for his stupid mistakes got old after a while, especially since he just kept stumbling into the same traps without learning a thing. And finally, there’s Tamsin, a third POV who’s perhaps the most frustrating of all because her role doesn’t become significant until close to the end of the book. This made her early sections somewhat tedious, knowing little about her situation at that point other than she is being held captive and treated very poorly. To be honest, I skimmed many of her chapters, and seeing as they were kept deliberately short and vague anyhow, I didn’t feel like I missed much.

Still, my love for fantasy westerns absolutely helped. The world-building was fantastic, and the novel’s setting alone made this venture worth it in my eyes, since I have such a soft spot for frontier wilderness landscapes and tales involving outlaws and rebels. Of course, I still wish I had enjoyed Sunshield a bit more, but certain character flaws coupled with the unbalanced pacing of the story held me back from embracing this one fully. The cliffhanger ending was also a point of aggravation because it drops a major revelation for the characters while doing little to resolve their emotions afterwards, resulting in a conclusion that feels interrupted rather than complete. While I’m still open to the possibility of reading the next book, I think I will need to know that certain issues will be ironed out.

YA Weekend: The Archer at Dawn by Swati Teerdhala

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

The Archer at Dawn by Swati Teerdhala

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Series: Book 2 of The Tiger at Midnight Trilogy

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (May 26, 2020)

Length: 449 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

I adored the first book, The Tiger at Midnight, and thought it was an incredible intro to the gorgeous, resplendent world created by Swati Teerdhala. Inspired by the culture of ancient India and Hindu mythology, this story takes readers to a kingdom in rebellion, and at the heart of the conflict are two characters—once at odds—who are now slowly becoming friends and perhaps something more.

Esha, known as “The Viper”, is an assassin for the rebels. Kunal was a soldier for the empire, tasked to hunt her down. However, fate had other ideas, and now they find themselves on the same side, fighting to retrieve a long-lost princess from the clutches of her captors. The Archer at Dawn picks up where the first book left off, with our characters planning a daring mission to infiltrate the Sun Mela, an event that is both a celebration and a competition of wills held at the grand palace. Kunal’s experience in the Senap Guard puts him in position to be the perfect spy; he will return and take up his old post, providing security during the festivities while keeping his eyes and ears open for news of Princess Reha. Esha, on the other hand, will don a disguise and play advisor to Prince Harun, who needs to make a visible presence at the Sun Mela to recruit more allies to the resistance.

Unfortunately, problems arise not long after their operation begins. Esha discovers that those who murdered her family are in attendance and is overcome with the desire for revenge, even though it will jeopardize the rebels’ mission. As well, they are not the only faction with a hidden agenda, as the Crescent Blades learn of other players pulling the strings in this deadly game. Kunal also returns to the guard and finds that things are no longer the same between him and his former comrades now that his eyes have been opened to the truth of his commanders as well as rebellion’s cause. Not to mention, as the situation between him, Esha, and Harun grows more complicated, difficult questions are raised and loyalties are tested.

All told, The Archer at Dawn was a proficient sequel, though I feel it is quite common for second books to struggle to maintain the same momentum. This one doesn’t suffer the same way, per se, but I did find it just a shade less engaging as The Tiger at Midnight. The storytelling wasn’t as tight this time around, nor was it as exciting, though given how significant the theme of subterfuge was for the premise, perhaps that’s understandable. Admittedly, I was also a tad annoyed with the love triangle that was being teased here. Granted, it wasn’t overpowering, and I appreciated the author’s attempt to make it subtle. Still, it begs the question, then why bother have it at all? The plot would have been perfectly fine without it, and we wouldn’t have had to put up with Esha’s constant whining about her tortured feelings for Harun as she and Kunal grew closer. It just seemed like an unnecessary point of drama.

That piece of criticism aside though, I enjoyed seeing our characters continue to grow and find themselves. Kunal probably went through the most drastic change here; he has so much honor and discipline, but his time with Esha and the rebels has made him see that things are not so simple. Although he has a new reason to fight, there are still ties to his past that can’t be forgotten so easily, especially when he finds himself back in his old life trying to play at being the loyal soldier. Esha also continues to grow on me, despite her hemming and hawing over her relationships issues. We knew from the start the romance between her and Kunal would be a journey fraught with obstacles, but it was definitely handled better in the first book when it was a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse replete with innuendo and sexual tension. I do enjoy the progress they’ve made in their relationship, but at the same time I don’t want this tug-o-war of emotions to get too stale.

Still, there’s so much to get excited about. The world-building is superb as always, and we’re showered with even more historical and mythological elements in this sequel. The Sun Mela celebrations and games provided many opportunities to showcase the people and cultures of the world, and Teerdhala deftly weaves magic and wonder into the mix. There were also some rather cool revelations towards the end, which certainly ratcheted up the pacing and interest in the next installment.

Bottom line, if you were a fan of the first book, you owe it to yourself to pick up The Archer at Dawn to find out how the story continues. I found myself amazed and delighted, even though this novel took the series in a slightly different direction by emphasizing subterfuge and political intrigue. Ultimately, it was done in a clever and compelling way, and I am eager to see how the trilogy will wrap up in the next book.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of The Tiger at Midnight (Book 1

Bookshelf Roundup 05/23/20: 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 few surprise arrivals this week. First was a package from the kind folks at St. Martin’s Press containing an ARC of Axiom’s End by Lindsay Ellis, who was a Hugo nominee in 2019 for best-related work. I’ve had my eye on her sci-fi debut for a while, so receiving this was a real treat. Next up, with thanks to Titan Books I received Hope Island by Tim Major, who always seems to have the coolest covers for his books! I’m curious to check this one out too. And the most awesome surprise of all came courtesy of Orbit and their friends at Redhook, from whom I received an ARC of The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow. I really enjoyed her last novel, The Ten Thousand Doors of January, so I’m quite looking forward to this one.

Things aren’t too crazy in the digital pile this week. From Edelweiss, I was really excited to see The House of Whispers by Laura Purcell available for download because I’m a huge fan of her Gothic horror. Although I’m a bit perplexed by the drastic change in title for the US edition (in the UK, it’s known as Bone China), I’m happy enough the book is finally coming stateside. From Listening Library, I also grabbed just one advanced listening copy: The Court of Miracles by Kester Grant. And from the amazing team at Kaye Publicity I also received digital galleys to a couple of highly-anticipated titles coming soon from new HarperCollins YA imprint Blink, including Twin Daggers by MarcyKate Connolly and Ignite the Sun by Hanna C. Howard. Can’t wait to check out both of these.

Reviews

Network Effect by Martha Wells (4.5 of 5 stars)
The Girl Beneath the Sea by Andrew Mayne (4 of 5 stars)
If It Bleeds by Stephen King (4 of 5 stars)
Dark Skies by Danielle L. Jensen (3 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!:)