Book Review: Otaku by Chris Kluwe

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

Otaku by Chris Kluwe

Mogsy’s Rating: 2 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Tor Books (March 3, 2020)

Length: 352 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

As a longtime gamer, I love to read books with a gaming angle. Needless to say then, Otaku immediately became a must-read, not to mention I was also curious to see how Chris Kluwe, a regular fixture in the online gaming community, would bring his passion for the hobby to his novel debut.

Sadly though, I was disappointed. But before I go into all the reasons why (and it’s quite an extensive list), here’s a bit about the story for context: Otaku takes place in a dystopian future and stars protagonist Ashley “Ashura the Terrible” Akachi, just one of millions of people around the globe playing the popular virtual MMORPG called Infinite Game. But as leader of the Sunjewel Warriors, one of the top guilds in the world, she is recognized for her physical skills and talents—all which must be honed to perfection in the real world so that they can translate to the digital one, where she and her teammates are pitted against all kinds of powerful mobs and raid bosses. This feat of technology is accomplished through the use of haptic chambers known as hapspheres that enclose the gamer, who, wearing specialized gear, would then be able to move around and feel as though they are actually in the game world itself.

Still, Ash’s reputation doesn’t come without a downside. Racism and sexism run rampant in the gaming community, and not one day goes by it seems without some guy threatening to rape or kill her. In her family life, Ash is also struggling having to deal with a hotheaded younger brother and a mother whose mind is almost gone. Her only solace is her boyfriend, but because of who is, they are forced to keep their relationship on the down low, which isn’t a problem for Ash—until, of course, it turns out that her lover has been keeping a big secret about himself from her as well. Next thing she knows, Ash is pulled into a vast conspiracy that involves Infinite Game, one that would bring ruin to both the virtual and real worlds unless the Sunjewel Warriors and other gamers fight back to take back what’s theirs.

Anyway, like I said, there were quite a few things that didn’t sit quite right with me, and I’ll start with the story of Otaku. Being a huge gamer and having personally sunk many years of my life into MMORPGs, the intro of the book immediately struck me as blatant wish fulfillment fantasy and thus was incredibly awkward to read. Now, there’s nothing wrong with wish fulfillment in and of itself, but the problem arises when the author sacrifices everything from characterization and plotting to actual plausibility in order to facilitate his own fantasies, like, oh I don’t know, soloing a dev-controlled raid boss dragon, for example? My eyes just about rolled out of my head, and at that moment I also had my first inkling that things were going to be rough from here on out.

Sure enough, the story just didn’t capture my interest or imagination. Speaking of which, the blurb describing this book as reminiscent of Ready Player One is also a huge misrepresentation, and not least because Otaku lacks the fun factor or depth of world-building. Kluwe seemed more concerned with sending a social and political message along with painting the gaming world as this horrible and no-good evil place, not to mention turning his protagonist into a parody by portraying her as a perpetual victim (but more on that later). Furthermore, while the author’s love for gaming and cyberpunk is obvious, unfortunately he expresses it in all the wrong ways, committing the sin of info-dumping and using a crap ton of technical jargon or gamer-speak that a reader not in-the-know would have very little interest or knowledge in. Again, I think this is a problem with misplaced priorities, where self-indulgence and showing off seemed to have taken precedence over crafting an engaging story.

And finally, I want to talk about our protagonist, the irascible Ashura the Terrible herself. While I can appreciate Kluwe’s attempt to write a diverse character (Ash is a mixed-race queer woman), I have to say, it’s a much less meaningful and significant gesture when the character doesn’t come across as genuine or worse, feels like a caricature. One has to wonder where he drew inspiration for his protagonist, because I can’t imagine there must have been much input from real-life average gaming women, most of whom would have noticed something very “off” with the way Ash is written. Everything—and I mean everything—for this girl seems to come down to dicks. Life is shitty? Well, it’s got to be my lack of a pale-skinned dick. Men acting shitty on the internet? Gee, must be nice to have a dick. Little brother having a shitty day? Oh silly Kiro, your problems couldn’t possibly be worse than mine, because—you guessed it—you have a dick. And that’s the sad part; Ash is so fixated on this one specific aspect of gender inequality, she doesn’t even see those close to her as complex individuals with personal hopes, dreams and struggles because in her mind, it literally all comes down to what’s between a person’s legs.

Not gonna lie, it made Ash incredibly hard to like, as much as I wanted to sympathize with and root for a fellow POC gamer girl. That along with virtually non-existent world-building and lackluster story made it impossible for me to give myself fully to this novel, and it’s a real shame because the premise itself had potential. At the end of the day, Otaku stood in the fire and didn’t survive the wipe, and quite frankly, I just felt relief when it was over.

Waiting on Wednesday 04/08/20

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

Brother Red by Adrian Selby (December 10, 2020 by Orbit)

I had mixed feelings for Adrian Selby’s first book, Snakewood, but I loved, loved, LOVED his second book The Winter Wood. While Brother Road will be the third book set in the same world, like the others it will be a stand alone, and from its synopsis which teases adventure and mystery, I think I will enjoy this one a lot as well.

“From one of the most exciting new voices in dark epic fantasy comes a novel that is both intensely brutal and brilliantly cinematic; the story of a soldier torn between loyalty to her family and loyalty to her calling in her quest to preserve a kingdom’s future.

She was their hope, their martyr, their brother…

Driwna Marghoster, a soldier for the powerful merchant guild known as The Post, is defending her trade caravan from a vicious bandit attack when she discovers a dead body hidden in one of her wagons.

Born of the elusive Oskoro people, the body is a rare and priceless find, the center of a tragic tale and the key to a larger mystery.

But as Driwna investigates who the body was meant for, she finds herself on a trail of deceit and corruption…a trail that will lead her to an evil more powerful than she can possibly imagine.”

 

Most Anticipated Releases of 2020: April to June

Well, I have to say, this was not how I expected spring would start out. It’s strange and uncertain times out there, but at least there are plenty of Science Fiction and Fantasy books to look forward to in the months ahead. That said, while putting this post together I did notice a lot of books have had their release dates pushed back, so it’s possible the info in this list might not be accurate or might still change in the future.

Still, my TBR is packed (especially my April!) and I’m under no illusions that I’ll be able to read everything here, but hopefully I will be able to get to most of them (and also put some new books on people’s radars)!

So what are your most anticipated releases for the second quarter of 2020?

April

 

April 7 The Age of Witches by Louisa Morgan, Titan’s Day by Dan Stout, The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix, The Glass Magician by Caroline Stevermer

April 9 Legacy of Ash by Matthew Ward

April 14 – Deeplight by Frances Hardinge, Book of Koli by M.R. Carey

April 21 – The Girl and the Stars by Mark Lawrence, Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst, Little Secrets by Jennifer Hillier, The Cerulean Queen by Sarah Kozloff, Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett, Looking Glass by Christina Henry, The Ranger of Marzanna by Jon Skovron

April 23 – The Wise Friend by Ramsey Campbell

April 28 – Incendiary by Zoraida Córdova

May

May 5 – The Kingdom of Liars by Nick Martell, Network Effect by Martha Wells

May 12 – Unreconciled by W. Michael Gear,

May 19 – The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones, Chaos Reigning by Jessie Mihalik,

May 26 – Sunshield by Emily B. Martin, Out of Body by Jeffrey Ford

June

June 2 – Star Wars: Queen’s Peril by E.K. Johnston, The Obsidian Tower by Melissa Caruso,

June 9 – Dragon Unleashed by Grace Draven

June 16 – Who Did You Tell? by Lesley Kara

June 23 – Star Wars: Shadow Fall by Alexander Freed, The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison, We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson

June 30 – The Mirror Man by Jane Gilmartin, The Finders by Jeffrey B. Burton, Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Excerpt: Eden by Tim Lebbon

The BiblioSanctum is pleased to be participating in the tour for Eden by Tim Lebbon, an original eco-horror thriller pitting humanity against nature in a time of environmental upheaval. Today we are sharing an exciting excerpt from the book, available now from Titan Books wherever books are sold! Check it out, and be sure to also visit the other stops on the tour!

Eden by Tim Lebbon

From the bestselling author of The Silence comes a brand-new supernatural eco thriller. In large areas of the planet, nature is no longer humanity’s friend…

In a time when Earth’s rising oceans contain enormous islands of refuse, the Amazon rainforest is all-but destroyed, and countless species edge towards extinction, the Virgin Zones were established in an attempt to combat the change. Off-limits to humanity and given back to nature, these thirteen vast areas of land were intended to become the lungs of the world.

Dylan leads a clandestine team of adventurers into Eden, the oldest of the Zones. Attracted by the challenges and dangers posed by the primal lands, extreme competitors seek to cross them with a minimum of equipment, depending only on their raw skills and courage. Not all survive.

Also in Dylan’s team is his daughter Jenn, and she carries a secret–Kat, his wife who abandoned them both years ago, has entered Eden ahead of them. Jenn is determined to find her mother, but neither she nor the rest of their tight-knit team are prepared for what confronts them. Nature has returned to Eden in an elemental, primeval way. And here, nature is no longer humanity’s friend.

Excerpt from Eden by Tim Lebbon, published by Titan Books. Copyright © 2020 by Tim Lebbon

Jenn always loved the companionable tension between seven people who’d prepared together many times before. There was the clink and brush of kit being checked and packed, the smell of chafe cream and sun lotion, the sweet aroma of a fuel-heavy breakfast bubbling on the camp stove, the swill of water in bottles and rucksack bladders, and the nervous and excited chatter, quieter than usual, as if speaking too loud would disturb the comfortable balance they had all found.

She loved the sense of danger, too. They all did. That was why they were here, away from their families, homes and real-world jobs. They all agreed that this might be the most dangerous thing any of them had ever done.

Forest sounds muttered around them—the hushing of leaves in the morning breeze, bird song, secretive rustlings as small creatures went about their dawn tasks unseen. It was everything that made Jenn feel invigorated and alive, and a refreshing change to the rattle and roar of the aircraft.

“Thirty minutes,” the woman said. She called herself Pocahontas, or Poke for short. Jenn had laughed when she’d introduced herself, but Poke’s stern glare had seen the smile away. She conveyed all manner of experience and knowledge in that look, and Jenn had to respect that. No matter what she chose to call herself.

“You don’t look like a Pocahontas,” Cove said as he strapped a rolled bivvy bag to the top flap of his rucksack.

“So what the fuck do I look like?” Poke asked. She was sitting on a fallen tree, smoking a foul-smelling cigarette and watching them prepare. Her dad said Poke was the best fixer he’d ever met.

Jenn found her fascinating. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen anyone smoking. She was pleased to see that the old woman was smiling, and her dark wrinkled skin, lean physique and functional clothing indicated that she was very much at home out here. The gold on her fingers and hanging from her ears showed that she still liked some of the finer things. Her hair was snow-white, and braided tight to her scalp. She had scars. Jenn wondered at the stories each one might tell.

“Maybe a Mildred,” Cove said.

“Or a Whitney,” Jenn said.

Poke laughed out loud, rocking back on the tree and coughing cigarette smoke at the sky. “I guess after Eden’s eaten you all up, I’ll change my name.” She stood and walked a wide circle around them, watching them work.

The pilot had surprised them by turning around and taking off minutes after landing and disgorging them on the old road. Jenn thought he’d have at least checked the aircraft over, but he’d seemed eager to leave. Poke, emerging from the trees as soon as they appeared, said that if he was caught his plane would be impounded, and it was his only source of income. It wasn’t only people he smuggled.

She’d led them into the forest and to a clearing where she’d prepared for their arrival. The stew cooking on the camp fire made Jenn’s mouth water, and she looked forward to how it would fend off the early morning chill. She had decided not to ask what meat it contained.

“Twenty-five minutes,” Poke said.

“It’s a six-hour hike to the boundary,” Cove said.

“And?” Poke stopped close to Cove.

“So why the countdown?”

Poke looked him up and down, chuckled, then continued circling the group without replying. Cove glanced at Jenn and raised an eyebrow. He was the most beholden to gear among them. Branded labels adorned his clothing, rucksack and other kit, and he’d probably spent more money equipping himself for this expedition than the rest of them put together. She wanted to tell Poke how experienced Cove was, but it wasn’t her place to stand up for him. He wasn’t usually averse to singing his own praises.

“Poke’s got us on a tight schedule,” Jenn’s father said. “Listen to her. She knows what she’s doing.”

Jenn noticed that Poke had stopped pacing and was staring at her.

“What?” Jenn asked.

“Nothing.” Poke stomped out her dog-end and pulled another rolled cigarette from her shirt pocket. “Just wondering where the rest of your gear is.”

“Lucy’s already mourning her precious gadgets,” Gee said, chuckling. Lucy glared at him from where she stood next to the small pile of kit they were leaving behind. Eden was a pristine place, the oldest and wildest of the world’s thirteen Virgin Zones, and Dylan had insisted that they treat it with the appropriate respect. This expedition was as stripped down as any they had ever undertaken—no hand tablets or net implants, no GPS, no satphones, no electronics or gadgets at all. It was them against Eden, and there was a purity about that which Jenn found beguiling.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

I love writing, reading, triathlon, real ale, chocolate, good movies, occasional bad movies, and cake.

I was born in London in 1969, lived in Devon until I was eight, and the next twenty years were spent in Newport. My wife Tracey and I then did a Good Thing and moved back to the country, and we now live in the little village of Goytre in Monmouthshire with our kids Ellie and Daniel. And our dog, Blu, who is the size of a donkey.

I love the countryside … I do a lot of running and cycling, and live in the best part of the world for that.

I’ve had loads of books published in the UK, USA, and around the world, including novels, novellas, and collections. I write horror, fantasy, and now thrillers, and I’ve been writing as a living for over 8 years. I’ve won quite a few awards for my original fiction, and I’ve also written tie-in projects for Star Wars, Alien, Hellboy, The Cabin in the Woods, and 30 Days of Night.

A movie’s just been made of my short story Pay the Ghost, starring Nicolas Cage and Sarah Wayne Callies. There are other projects in development, too.

I’d love to hear from you! Website: http://www.timlebbon.net Twitter: @timlebbon

YA Weekend Audio: Night of the Dragon by Julie Kagawa

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

Night of the Dragon by Julie Kagawa

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

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Series: Book 3 of Shadow of the Fox

Publisher: Harlequin Audio (March 31, 2020)

Length: 13 hrs and 19 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrators: Joy Osmanski, Brian Nishii, Emily Woo Zeller

No ending is perfect, but damn if Night of the Dragon doesn’t come close. For once I felt the hype was well deserved, and I’m really glad I picked up this trilogy because Julie Kagawa’s talent continue to explode with creativity and new insight.

But if you are not caught up with the series yet, be aware that this book is the concluding volume of Shadow of the Fox and picks up after Soul of the Sword. The unlikely duo of kitsune shapeshifter Yumeko and Shadow Clan samurai assassin Kage Tatsumi have nearly reached the end of their adventure, but not without having faced much danger and challenges along the way. In their quest to protect the Dragon Scroll and keep it out of enemy hands, Tatsumi was possessed by the demon Hakaimono, and while he has regained control of his body, the evil presence within him still fights to get out. It has made him wary to be around his friends, especially Yumeko, whom he has grown to care about. She’s the only who can keep him anchored now, and the last thing he wants is to see her get hurt.

However, their journey is not finished yet, and with the Master of Demons now one step closer to calling upon the Great Kami dragon that will destroy the world, Yumeko and Tatsumi must travel with their companions to the sea cliffs of Iwagoto in a desperate attempt to seek potential allies. Meanwhile though, another powerful and mysterious force with designs on the scroll watches and waits, ready to spring its trap when our heroes least expect it.

I’ve really enjoyed the books of this series so far, the first one for its quest narrative and rollicking adventure, the second one for its character development and heart-wrenching drama. But this third volume handily became my favorite by combining all these elements and a whole lot more, tying everything up in a stunning conclusion. Fans of far east Asian-inspired mythology will also delight in the way legends and creatures from Japanese folklore heavily feature in this story, as readers will encounter everything from terrifying sea monsters to elusive forest gods and spirits. The action never lets up for our characters as they continue to fight for their survival, and Yumeko herself also discovers much about her kitsune heritage and where she comes from.

Speaking of which, kudos to Kagawa for some of the best characterization and relationship building I’ve seen in a YA series. Night of the Dragon spends a considerable amount of time shining the spotlight on Yumeko and Tatsumi’s growing bond, which is not surprising, seeing as it has been in development since the first book. And the results, my friends, are completely worth the wait. Watching this slow burn romance finally come to fruition was extremely satisfying, made even more heartwarming by the deep connection now shared between our two characters. At first, I was concerned about the potential angst and unnecessary drama that Tatsumi’s demon possession would introduce into the mix, but I was glad Yumeko shot that down right quick.

Things culminated in a conclusion that was utterly magnificent and unforgettable. In general, I am on the fence when it comes to bittersweet endings, but only because I think so few authors can actually pull it off. But to my astonishment, here we have an ending that truly manages to hit that perfect spot between the bitter and the sweet, and I’m not going to lie, but tears were in my eyes by the very last page. I don’t know how else I can describe it, other than it was deeply touching and incredibly beautiful.

In sum, Shadow of the Fox might be one of my favorite YA series in a long time, and much of it is due to Night of the Dragon capping it off so damned exquisitely. I’ll admit I haven’t always been impressed with Julie Kagawa’s work, but this trilogy has undoubtedly shown how much her skills have grown over the years. This book was everything I’d hoped for, and the whole experience has made me feel energized and excited for YA again.

Audiobook Comments: Once more I was fortunate enough to receive an audio copy for review, and narrators Joy Osmanski, Brian Nishii, and Emily Woo Zeller reprised their roles. Again, I was blown away by their performances, which wonderfully complemented the storytelling and characters. If you’re considering picking up these books, know that the audio format is a fantastic way to experience this series.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Shadow of the Fox (Book 1)
Review of Soul of the Sword (Book 2)

Bookshelf Roundup 04/04/20: 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!

There are fewer books coming in through the mail these days, given what’s happening in the world, but I’m still getting some here and there. First, a big thank you to Del Rey for sending along a finished copy of Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett! This one is high priority for April, and I hope to be starting it very soon. My thanks also to Orbit Books for this surprise ARC of Ashes of the Sun by Django Wexler, another highly anticipated release coming out later this summer. I’m a big fan of the author, and can’t wait to discovery this new series. Also thanks to the kind folks at William Morrow for sending The Last Odyssey by James Rollins, the newest novel in the Sigma Force sequence. Technically this is book fifteen in the series, but can be read as a stand alone. I read the previous one without any issues and enjoyed it, so I’m looking forward to checking this one out too.

The ever awesome Subterranean Press also brightened up my day when a box of books showed up last week, containing In the Shadows of Men by Robert Jackson Bennett, a novella about two brothers who purchase a mysterious old motel in the desolate flats of west Texas; Edited By by Ellen Datlow, a huge collection of speculative fiction stories from the queen of SFF anthologies; and Dispersion by Greg Egan, a sci-fi novella about a new disease that fragments the world’s rigid social structure. There’s not a lot of info on these yet, but I’m definitely interested in the Robert Jackson Bennett, and even the Greg Egan, though not sure I want to be reading any book related to a disease right now!

 

In the digital pile, I picked up a few new audiobooks for review. I’m so excited for Deeplight by Frances Hardinge as I haven’t read a single book by her yet that I haven’t loved, and I suspect that’s not going to change with this one! I also picked up The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix which I can’t wait to listen to, and I’ve already heard some amazing things from other reviewers. With thanks to Audible Studios for these! And from Random House Audio, I snagged Pretty Things by Janelle Brown, a new mystery thriller that caught my eye because I’ve been curious about the author and the book’s description sounded really good.

Reviews

Voodoo Shanghai by Kristi Charish (4.5 of 5 stars)
Follow Me by Kathleen Barber (4 of 5 stars)
Girls with Razor Hearts by Suzanne Young (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: A Trick of the Eye

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 TRICK OF THE EYE
A cover that is more than meets the eye

Mogsy’s Pick:

Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire by Rod Duncan

I’ve only read the first book of this series, but it immediately came to my mind when I saw the topic for this week. I’ve always thought the covers were really clever; they’ll look like one thing from far away, but step in to look a little closer, and you’ll see something else…

The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter

Unseemly Science

The Custodian of Marvels

Winner:

This week I don’t think there’s a clear winner, I think all these covers are cool and I like them all!

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

Audiobook Challenge 2020: 1st Quarter Update

April is upon us, and that means it’s time for the first quarter update on what I’ve been listening to for the last three months and how I’m currently doing on the Audiobook Challenge. Here’s a quick refresher on the challenge details this year:

Challenge Details

  • Runs January 1, 2020 – December 31, 2020. You can join at anytime.
  • The goal is to find a new love for audios or to outdo yourself by listening to more audios in 2020 than you did in 2019.
  • Books must be in audio format (CD, MP3, etc.)
  • ANY genres count.
  • Re-reads and crossovers from other reading challenges are allowed.
  • You do not have to be a book blogger to participate; you can track your progress on Goodreads, Facebook, LibraryThing, etc.
  • If you’re a blogger grab the button and do a quick post about the challenge to help spread the word. If you’re not a blogger you can help by posting on Facebook or Tweeting about the challenge.
  • Updates plus a giveaway will be posted twice during the year. First update in June 30, 2020 and last update in December 15, 2020.

Levels

  • Newbie (I’ll give it a try) 1-5
  • Weekend Warrior (I’m getting the hang of this) 5-10
  • Stenographer (can listen while multi-tasking) 10-15
  • Socially Awkward (Don’t talk to me) 15-20
  • Binge Listener (Why read when someone can do it for you) 20-30
  • My Precious (I had my earbuds surgically implanted) 30+
  • Marathoner (Look Ma No Hands) 50+
  • The 100 Club (Audiobook Elite) 100+

I’m off to a good start in 2020, having wrapped up this quarter with 17 audiobooks under my belt. I’ll definitely hit Marathoner at this rate, but unless I push myself much harder, I doubt I’ll make The 100 Club. I think they should have created a level in between, but right now my personal goal is 75 for the year!

Waiting on Wednesday 04/01/20

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 Burning God by R.F. Kuang (November 17, 2020 by Harper Voyager)

Even though I didn’t like second book as much as the first book, I’m still very excited for this third and final volume to The Poppy War trilogy to find out how it all ends!

The exciting end to The Poppy War trilogy, R. F. Kuang’s acclaimed, award-winning epic fantasy that combines the history of twentieth-century China with a gripping world of gods and monsters, to devastating, enthralling effect.

After saving her nation of Nikan from foreign invaders and battling the evil Empress Su Daji in a brutal civil war, Fang Runin was betrayed by allies and left for dead. 

Despite her losses, Rin hasn’t given up on those for whom she has sacrificed so much—the people of the southern provinces and especially Tikany, the village that is her home. Returning to her roots, Rin meets difficult challenges—and unexpected opportunities. While her new allies in the Southern Coalition leadership are sly and untrustworthy, Rin quickly realizes that the real power in Nikan lies with the millions of common people who thirst for vengeance and revere her as a goddess of salvation. 

Backed by the masses and her Southern Army, Rin will use every weapon to defeat the Dragon Republic, the colonizing Hesperians, and all who threaten the shamanic arts and their practitioners. As her power and influence grows, though, will she be strong enough to resist the Phoenix’s intoxicating voice urging her to burn the world and everything in it?”

Audiobook Review: Follow Me by Kathleen Barber

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

Follow Me by Kathleen Barber

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

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (February 25, 2020)

Length: 10 hrs and 13 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrators: Corey Brill, Erin Moon, Emily Tremaine

We’ve all heard the horror stories about social media—tales of people being doxxed, harassed online, and being cyberstalked. While Follow Me by Kathleen Barber may tread a fine line between real life and sensationalistic drama, its premise still makes for a gripping psychological thriller and a cautionary tale against putting too much of your life on the internet. Indeed, implausible as the novel’s plot may seem at times, its themes are all too real.

Meet protagonist Audrey Miller, a social media influencer and Instagram addict who boasts more than a million followers on her popular account. When the book opens, she has just landed a prestigious new job at a Smithsonian art gallery in Washington DC, fulfilling a lifelong dream of working in a museum, the only reason why she would even contemplate leaving her beloved New York City. As luck would have it though, Audrey already has a couple of close contacts in the area, including Cat, a longtime friend who can help her get set up, as well as Nick, an old college ex who always knows how to have a good time. To Audrey, it seems like everything has been coming together for her lately, and as always, she can’t wait to share all the details of her big move on Instagram.

Unfortunately, what Audrey doesn’t know is that one of her followers has been obsessed with her for a long time, and that her move to his hometown has just reaffirmed his sick fantasy that the two of them are meant to be together. Emboldened, he begins to take more extreme steps to try and get her attention, finding out where she lives, who she likes to hang out with, and the places she likes to go. Shy and reserved Cat, who has known Audrey for a long time, has never understood the big fuss around social media, but is concerned about her friend’s nonchalant attitude about sharing personal details online. Given the cavalier way Audrey posts about her life, practically anyone could be her mysterious stalker.

Like many psychological thrillers I’ve read lately, Follow Me has its over-the-top and unrealistic moments, but it nevertheless kept me hooked and turning the pages. Granted, I don’t mind suspending my disbelief in return for fast-paced entertainment which this novel delivers in abundance, doing what every good thriller does by keeping the reader guessing. Case in point, the character list is quite deliberately stacked with potential suspects ranging from the delinquent son of Audrey’s landlord, the handsy creep at her place of work, or even the possessive ex-boyfriend. In classic mystery tradition, the novel teases the truth for as long as possible and won’t reveal the stalker’s identity until the very end.

Because of this though, nothing in the story really unfolds organically as you can feel the author’s hand in everything that happens, fastidiously maneuvering each and every character or plot point into position so that they would play out exactly the way she wants. You’ll have the protagonist responding in absurd ways that go against logic or common sense, for example, such as refusing to move out of her apartment even with all the problems she’s been having with the place, or the fact she continues to post personal details online despite threats to her safety. The story is also mainly told through Audrey and Cat’s perspectives, though a third belonging to the mysterious stalker will sometimes be interjected into the narrative, so there’s a fair bit of the “unreliable narrator” at play here too.

And if you’re reading this review and thinking, “Wow, Audrey sounds like a real dope,” well…you’re not wrong. While her natural charm may come through occasionally, time and time again our protagonist proves beyond a reasonable doubt that she is a complete imbecile. Ironically though, this does sometimes make her naivete or her utter lack of self-awareness believable, not to mention her behaviors often come across as satirical, poking fun at the stereotypical social media obsessives who are addicted to the attention. Still, whatever can be said about Audrey, characters-you-love-to-hate seem to be a thing with psychological thrillers, and she fits the role well.

In sum, Follow Me is not perfect, but it’s still a fun read that keeps you on the edge of your seat. The main issue is that, while its themes are inspired by very real threats associated with social media and the internet, too much of what happens in the story feel too contrived and farfetched. That being said, there’s never a dull moment with this book, giving the plot a chilling and edgy quality that never lets up.

Audiobook Comments: The audiobook is narrated by Erin Moon, Emily Tremaine, and Corey Brill, each taking on one of the three main POV character parts. I thought Aubrey’s voice was airy and bubbly while Cat’s was more reserved and toned down, highly appropriate for their characters, and the mysterious stalker was sufficiently creepy. A great listen.