Book/Graphic Novel Review: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

One of the books on those well-read lists is Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. It’s been mentioned many times over the years, and I’m aware of the dark and stormy night, but it never reached high enough on my radar to motivate me to read it. All that changed when the trailer for the 2018 film adaptation dropped a few months back. Suddenly, my reasons to read the source material became legion, foremost among them:

  1. My new found appreciation for Chris Pine after his humble and respectful performance in Wonder Woman.
  2. My belated discovery of director Ava DuVernay and the vibrant vision that she brings to a stagnant Hollywood landscape.
  3. The intense joy it brings me to know that I can take my daughters to a movie where they can see someone who looks like them on the screen.
  4. Oprah.

My reaction was almost instantaneous — that is, after I showed the trailer to my daughters and spent a few minutes retweeting all the things about the movie on my timeline. I immediately hopped onto Chapters.ca and ordered the quintet as well as the graphic novel of the first book. We have some research to do, I told my girls, and as soon as the books arrived, we were cuddled up in bed each night discovering the imagination of Madeleine L’Engle.

Preparation. #AWrinkleInTime

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Meg Murray is a young girl whose father has vanished. His disappearance very likely has something to do with his scientific research into the fifth dimension–time travel. All his family can do is wait for him, until one dark and stormy night, when Meg, her savant little brother Charles Wallace, and their mother are visited by a most unusual stranger. Upon further investigation and the introduction, and the introduction of a new friend, Calvin, Meg and Charles learn that their father is indeed alive, but he is falling victim to a great darkness that threatens their world and many others and only these three young children can save him.

So sets the stage for an adventure that places the utmost demands on the imagination. L’Engle’s language and descriptions are sparingly precise. Enough to help the reader paint their own unique picture in their mind, all within the world L’Engle wants to present. This became more obvious as I read the book alongside the graphic novel, adapted and drawn by Hope Larson. Her artistic style is childlike and expressive, and the limited colour pallette lends to the sense of mystery and foreboding that looms over the story. Larson’s depictions of the witches’ alternate forms, for example, are not what I initially imagined, but it is always fascinating to see different interpretations of works of prose. And of course, DuVernay’s movie goes above and beyond, changing things even further to suit the new medium and take us into the world as she sees it.

The graphic novel adaptation loses some of the beats of the book, but the imagery balances what is lost. And to be honest, the differences are only noticeable because I read them side-by-side.  I love that publishers and educators are recognizing graphic novels as the literary tools they are, and look forward to seeing more students (and grown ups) reading this story in either form in response to the film and beyond.

Reading this for the first time as an adult means that it loses much of the sense of wonder that it could have had if I’d read it as a child, but reading it alongside my daughters helps me to retain some of that innocence and naivete necessary to appreciate children’s books all the more. Meg’s insecurities, her fears, her anxieties, and even her glasses and braces are all things that my daughters could relate to, and I know I could have related to more closely had I read this when I was younger.

The story itself is a powerful one and a familiar one, taking a group of young children through difficult and even deadly challenges. I fault Dumbledore for much of Harry Potter’s horrible fate and the risks he forced upon a young boy, but there’s something to be said about stories where adults give children credit for being able to do far more than we believe they can. In a society that too often coddles children for fear of them losing their innocence, such stories are reminders that children are young and naive and innocent, but guiding them on and through even the darkest paths, giving them the tools of faith and love and trust to forge their way, are the best gifts an adult can give so that they can face the darkness–without losing themselves to it.

The metaphors in the book are many, with some being more obvious than others, and they offered many opportunities for discussion with my girls. I already have March 9, 2018 marked in my planner, and cannot wait to see the movie with them.

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YA Weekend: When I Cast Your Shadow by Sarah Porter

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

When I Cast Your Shadow by Sarah Porter

Mogsy’s Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Paranormal, Young Adult

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Tor Teen (September 12, 2017)

Length: 384 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

When I Cast Your Shadow is a very different kind of story about a haunting. In it, we follow teenagers Ruby and Everett Bohnacker, twins who are still grieving for their older brother Dashiell following his tragic drug overdose. In life, Dash had been a popular, handsome, and charming young man, but underneath that perfection was also a cruel and manipulative side. Now not even death can stop him, as his devious spirit returns to the world of the living in order to coerce his siblings into helping him finish what he started.

First, Dash sets his sights on Ruby, knowing that her love for him would make her a malleable and compliant target. He invades her mind while she sleeps, convinces her to let him drown her in her dreams, which would then allow Dash to possess her waking body like a puppet. Not content with just having his little sister under his thumb though, Dash does the same thing to Everett next, using the boy’s concern for his twin as a weapon. With the ability to possess both his younger siblings, Dash proceeds to drag his family into a dangerous game, involving Ruby and Everett in his battle against some powerful dark forces in the Land of the Dead.

On paper, this book sounded awesome. The premise hinted at a possible new twist on ghosts and had the potential to be a creepy YA horror. Unfortunately though, the story ended up falling short of my expectations due to poor execution, as well as an overall sense of “strangeness” about it that just didn’t really sit well with me.

First were the unlikeable characters. Dash, whose role made him something of a trickster, was obviously meant to be unpleasant, but instead of making me feel more sympathetic towards Ruby or Everett, this only made me grow more frustrated with both of them. The twins are naïve and exasperating in their own ways. Totally blinded to Dash’s faults and unable to see him for the toxic influence he is, Ruby’s hero-worship of him made me feel incredibly uncomfortable, especially with the strong implications that her love for him went beyond the sisterly-brotherly type. Everett was also infuriating with his tunnel vision and complete lack of agency or ability to make any meaningful impact for most of the story, which is a shame because this was due to his character being treated like a footnote for the first half of the book.

On top of that, it was difficult to form any lasting connection with any of the characters because of how utterly bizarre and unrelatable they were. Most of what they said and did struck me as either strange, silly, or lacked common sense. Character development for Ruby and Everett wasn’t so much as non-existent as it was a complete mess, as they seemed to be always flip-flopping on their motivations or feelings. The worst was Dr. Bohnacker, who would be a loving father one moment, but in the next he would be spouting off some of the vilest, most spiteful things that not even a parent in their darkest moments of grief should ever say—especially in front of their surviving children. Speaking of which, a lot of the dialogue was also clunky and awkward, which often made me cringe and think, “No one actually talks like that.” The less said about the cloying nicknames Dash has for Ruby and Everett the better, and their annoying constant repetition.

To the novel’s credit, the plot was actually quite imaginative, though it would have been better if it hadn’t been so confusing. While I enjoyed the concept behind the Land of the Dead and thought that many of the ideas regarding the spirits and possession were creative and suitably chilling, I was disappointed in the lack of explanation into Dash’s conflict with the story’s main antagonist, Aloysius. He was just the “bad guy”, with no context to justify his endgame.

The result was this muddled narrative punctuated with brief periods of brilliance and clarity—because to be fair, the story here did have some outstanding moments. I just don’t want to make this sound like a terrible book with no redeeming qualities as that is simply not the case, though my ambivalence after finishing this novel did prevent me from giving it more than a mediocre star rating. Ultimately the story, characters, and writing all fell short of my expectations, but hopefully others drawn to this book will end up enjoying it more than I did.

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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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!

With thanks to Tor Books for the following: When I Cast Your Shadow by Sarah Porter is a paranormal YA which I’m actually currently reading (and very close to finishing). It’s a bit of an odd and disturbing book, and not exactly in a good way, but I’ll have a better idea of how I feel once I’m done! Then came this surprise ARC of Weave a Circle Round by Kari Maaren in the mail, which of course I’m very excited about because it’s one of the books on my “Can’t Wait” list for this fall.

Another surprise arrival, White Bodies by Jane Robins is a little bit outside my wheelhouse, but seeing how this year has been a good year for me when it comes psychological thrillers, I might give it a try if I can find some time this fall. With thanks to Touchstone Books.

Also a huge thanks to Titan Books for all their help in ensuring that these gorgeous finished copies of The Race and The Rift by Nina Allan got into my hands! Apparently there was a spot of trouble with the shipping at the warehouse and as a result things took a while, but eventually the books arrived safe and sound. I’ve always wanted to try this author and I’ll be starting these very soon.

Next up is an interesting one. I’d almost given The Naturalist by Andrew Mayne a pass but then an article about the science-y aspects of the book caught my eye, making me realize it was more than just a typical mystery thriller. It sounds like a suspenseful read and I have plans to tackle it in early October. My thanks to the publisher Thomas & Mercer and Wunderkind PR.

I’m also very excited about Blackwing by Ed McDonald, which has already gotten plenty of amazing reviews from its UK release earlier this summer. A post-apocalypic grimdark-ish fantasy? Sign me the hell up! With thanks to Ace Books for the finished copy.

And finally, my thanks to Harper Voyager for Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill. This is another book which gotten plenty of accolades and praise from reviewers, so I’m really curious to check it out. When the package arrived, I was also surprised to see that the publisher had included An Excess Male by Maggie Shen King, a dystopian novel set in near-future China that explores the country’s “One Child Policy” in a culture that favors sons. With everyone plotting to have a boy, the result is that in 2030, there are 40 million unmarriageable men who can’t find wives. Having spent a good chunk of my life growing up in China and having seen the effects of the One Child Policy first hand, this topic is pretty close to my heart and it sounds like there could be more truth than fiction in the book’s premise. I’d love to give this one a read this fall if I have time.

  

  

    

On to the digital haul, my thanks to Tachyon Publications for sending me an invite widget to read Starlings by Jo Walton, an anthology collecting some of the author’s short stories. Over at NetGalley I also couldn’t help myself and requested Ironclads by Adrian Tchaikovsky. My first experience with his work went very well earlier this year and now I’m addicted. With thanks to Solaris for approving my request.

Thanks also to Tor.com for sending me an e-galley of The Armored Saint by Myke Cole. I’ve enjoyed his Shadow Ops books in the past, so I’m quite interested to give this one a try too.

Next up, thanks to Tor Books for sending me eARCs for a couple of amazing looking upcoming releases. As a military sci-fi fan, Valiant Dust by Richard Baker is sounding really good to me. And I became very interested in The Midnight Front by David Mack when I found out that the author has written several Star Trek episodes as well as a bunch of other tie-in work. I’m a Trek lover, so that’s all the endorsement I need!

From First to Read, I also received Seventh Decimate by Stephen R. Donaldson. Despite the book receiving some mixed reviews already, I decided that the author of the famed Thomas Covenant books starting a new series is something I really don’t want to miss.

And my thanks to Inkshares for Kill Creek by Scott Thomas – they knew how much I was looking forward to this book and sent me an eARC in advance of the hard copy that’s also on the way to me right now. I’m so excited to read this creepy haunted house horror, which is appropriately schuduled to come out on Halloween.

Rounding up my new arrivals are a couple of audiobook review copies. With thanks to Listening Library for That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston – I really enjoyed the author’s Star Wars book last year and I figured it was high time I tried some of her other YA stuff – and also for Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao, which I hope will live up to its hype!

Reviews

A quick summary of the reviews I’ve posted since the last update:

Age of Assassin by R.J. Barker (4.5 of 5 stars)
Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda (4 of 5 stars)
Revenant Winds by Mitchell Hogan (3.5 of 5 stars)
Warcross by Marie Lu (3.5 of 5 stars)
The Twilight Pariah by Jeffrey Ford (3 of 5 stars)
At the Table of Wolves by Kay Kenyon (3 of 5 stars)
The Dinosaur Princess by Victor Milán (2.5 of 5 stars)
Nyxia by Scott Reintgen (2 of 5 stars)

Roundup Highlights:

What I’ve Read Since the Last Update

Here’s what I’ve “unstacked” from the TBR since my last roundup post. I’ve already posted reviews for a couple of these, and the rest are 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!:)

Audiobook Review: Memories of Ice by Steven Erikson

Memories of Ice by Steven Erikson

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Malazan Book of the Fallen #3

Publisher: Tor Fantasy (December 2006)

Narrator: Ralph Lister

Author Info: steven-erikson.com

Wendy’s Rating: 5 of 5 stars

“War has its necessities…and I have always understood that. Always known the cost. But, this day, by my own hand, I have realized something else. War is not a natural state. It is an imposition, and a damned unhealthy one. With its rules, we willingly yield our humanity. Speak not of just causes, worthy goals. We are takers of life.”

When I first stepped into the Malazan Book of the Fallen series, I had no idea what I was really getting into. When I finished that first book, Gardens of the Moon, I had no idea what I had just left behind. All I knew was that I loved Erikson’s writing and was fascinated by the myriad of unique characters.

Prompted by the high praise for the entire series, I dug a little deeper to discover that the Malazan series is the epic dream child of Erikson and Ian Cameron Esslemont, fellow gamers who created this world as part of their GURPS roleplaying campaign. The series holds fast with its four and five-star reviews across almost 20 books–a testament to the authors’ dedication and creativity. That kind of writing deserves some attention, especially when far more mediocre series garner undeserving accolades.

Last year I read the second book, Deadhouse Gates, and though I did not enjoy it quite as much due to several of the characters, I knew that characters I did care about would be back soon enough and I’d learn more and more about this world as the tapestry weaved itself together. I was not at all wrong. Listening to Ralph Lister expertly navigate so many voices was a highlight of my long commutes this past month, and several times I found myself flailing over amazing scenes in the middle of traffic.

This book brings together the armies of the previous two books. Once enemies, they have formed an uneasy alliance in order to face a far greater threat. No, not the Night King. The Pannion Domin empire threatens to devour all, and the Crippled God’s poisonous quest for revenge is seeping into the world. He remains in chains, but how long will that last?

This series is world building at its finest. Many authors I have read try and fail to comprehend the commitment necessary to truly achieve this. Some go overboard, interjecting too much detail inorganically (looking at you, Sanderson), while others skimp on details and cheat by simply excusing everything with “magic” (looking at you, GRRM). No doubt Erikson and Esslemont’s roleplaying experience gave them a significant advantage, and they use their experience to the fullest. While their settings may be a bit generic, they fill in their worlds with rich cultures and characters, and demographics that cover all sorts of pantheons. Gods and humans and undead and others sweep across the pages in all their glory.

In my Malazan exploration, I have also come to appreciate Erikson’s sense of humour even more. While I found his Willful Child science fiction satire to be a bit too much of a good thing, I am quite fond of the way he sharply interjects his wit into scenes that are anything but happy. And then there’s Kruppe, the portly man who is more than he seems, speaking in third person and knowing far more than he should. I hear Ralph Lister no longer narrates this series after the third book. I am going to judge the next narrator very harshly based on his version of Kruppe.

Admittedly, I still find myself somewhat confused by the overall motivations of the Pannion Domin and the political tides of the book. As such, I have spent some time in the Malazan wiki. I don’t count this as a flaw of the writing though. The first book took a huge risk in dumping the reader into the middle of a battle and then demands that we keep up and learn along the way as the information is parceled out and relationships develop. My mind tends to wander here and there, so it’s my own fault for missing a detail or 30. Still, as I said with the first book, the writing is superb, and the characters are almost all so enthralling that I have very much become invested in their intertwined fates.

Friday Face-Off: Purple

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:

“As purple as the heather ”
~ a cover which is mostly PURPLE

Mogsy’s Pick:
Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

One of my earliest experiences with the cyberpunk noir genre was Altered Carbon, a novel that takes place in a future where humans are implanted with a cortical stack which stores their consciousness including memories and personalities digitally. This information can be transmitted and downloaded to new bodies, called sleeves. So if a person dies, their stack can be recovered and resleeved or stored indefinitely, resulting in a kind of artificial immortality.

Thing is, only the very wealthy can afford to acquire replacement bodies on a continual basis. One of these people, Laurens Bancroft, is so rich that he even has remote storage that automatically backs up his stack every two days. When Bancroft dies of an apparent suicide, he was resleeved from the latest backup, which has no memory of what happened in the previous 48 hours. He doesn’t buy he killed himself and instead believes he was murdered, and hires our protagonist Takeshi Kovacs to investigate his case.

As with most highly regarded novels, this one has a ton of editions and different covers. I am only going to feature a selection of the cooler looking ones, and fortunately several of these fit today’s theme of “Mostly (Shades of) Purple”.

First row, from left to right: Tantor Audio (2005) – Del Rey (2006) – Hungarian (2006) Portuguese (2008)

   

Gollancz (2002) – Gollancz (2008) – German (2014) – Greek (2005)

   

Portuguese (2017) – Italian (2004) – French (2003) – Del Rey (2003)

  

Winner:

Oh boy, how to choose a winner, when there’s such a huge range of art styles to choose from? To be honest though, I don’t think I have a favorite, but there are a few interesting ones here for sure. In the end, it wasn’t a purple cover that jumped out at me; it was the dark and gritty, rust-colored and industrial-style look of the Portuguese (2017) edition that caught my eye. I certainly wouldn’t mind it as a poster on my wall.

What do you think? Do you have a favorite?

Audiobook Review: Revenant Winds by Mitchell Hogan

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

Revenant Winds by Mitchell Hogan

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

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of The Tainted Cabal

Publisher: Audible Studios (September 5, 2017)

Length: 17 hrs and 57 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Oliver Wyman

Revenant Winds is the first book a new series by Mitchell Hogan, and having been curious about the author’s work for a long time, I leapt at the chance to check it out. After hearing the accolades for his Sorcerer’s Ascendant Sequence, I had very high hopes for this novel and I was also drawn to the promise of an epic fantasy that dabbles in ancient demons and curses, unlikely heroes, and secret cabals.

Long ago in the world of this novel, demons roamed wild, menacing the populations that once eked out an existence in this harsh, cruel place. The lore contains tales of devastating cataclysms that scoured the land, leaving mysterious ruins full of treasures and secrets. Now much of the history is forgotten, and accounts of demonic creatures and ancient beings of the elder races have entered into myth. Sorcery is not completely understood, and those who possess magic are either said to be gifted by the gods or cursed by them. When an individual comes into his or her talent though, they are often bound into a covenant with one of the many religions, with the different groups all locked in a constant struggle against each other for dominance.

True to form, our story features many characters, but the three that receives the most attention are Aldric, a priest who possesses the magical power of healing; Niklaus, an expert swordsman and mercenary; and Kurio, a former noble daughter turned master thief. Their three disparate lives converge as Niklaus, enslaved to his goddess the Lady Sylva Kalisia, is on a mission to become a god himself so he can serve by her side forever. Meanwhile, Kurio has stumbled upon something she shouldn’t have during her latest heist job, landing her in a deadly situation that she can scarcely comprehend. And finally, a devout follower of his god who is nonetheless shunned by most of his church because of his sorcery, Aldric is given a special assignment that will bring them all together in a confrontation against an emergent evil long thought defeated.

I’ll admit, it took me a while to get into Revenant Winds, because to me the plot did not pick up until about halfway through when the quest-driven part of the story truly started. Later, I learned that apparently this is par for the course when it comes to Mitchell Hogan’s novels, in that they mostly tend to begin as slow-burners until the momentum kicks in and then builds rapidly. Had I know this, my experience might have been a little different, but some patience is definitely required for the first half in which was mostly taken up by character development and establishing a background for the main story. There’s more of this than you generally find, even in a genre known for lengthy page counts and long intros, though on the upside, readers get to start off on the right foot with a good handle on the world and our key players once the real adventure starts.

More good news is that the second half of the novel makes up for any pacing issues in the first half. Once the main conflict was revealed, things moved fast! It’s almost enough to make me forget about the rough start, as Aldric, Niklaus and Kurio are joined by others, filling in the rest of this fascinating cast. Sorcerous rivalries, daring escapes, and heart-pounding battles against monsters can all be found in this exciting section leading up to the stunning climax and conclusion. There’s also passion amidst the violence as characters form bonds loyalty and love as they travel together, though of course the threat of betrayal is ever present. When you realize that no one is truly safe, that’s when all the character development in the first half of the book makes sense—Hogan has drawn you deep into his tale so now that you are whole-heartedly invested in the people involved, and every single loss feels like a punch in the gut. Furthermore, when he starts writing the action, that’s when his prose really shines, painting the scene with dark designs and gritty detail.

Overall, despite the slow start, I grew to enjoy the epic journey that was Revenant Winds and I’m very happy with my first experience with Mitchell Hogan’s work. While the story took some time to get established, in the end the patience invested was worth it, and I’m looking forward to the continuation of the series.

Audiobook Comments: Fantasy fiction and audiobook fans will probably be familiar with Oliver Wyman, with the impressive number of audiobook narration credits he has under his belt. He rocked the reading of Revenant Winds, as I expected he would, and did a great job brining the story and the characters to life. He has a good voice for this genre, perfectly conveying the mood and atmosphere of an epic fantasy.

Waiting on Wednesday 09/20/17

“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

Starless by Jacqueline Carey (June 12, 2018 by Tor Books)

I just about had a heart attack when the cover for this book was revealed last week. It’s flippin’ gorgeous! It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Ms. Carey, and I can’t tell you how excited I am that she has new novel on the horizon, even if it’s not going to be released until next summer. I tell ya, it’s going to be torture counting the days until I can hold this stunning historical fantasy in my hands.

Jacqueline Carey is back with an amazing adventure not seen since her New York Times bestselling Kushiel’s Legacy series. Lush and sensual, Starless introduces us to an epic world where exiled gods live among us, and a hero whose journey will resonate long after the last page is turned.

Let your mind be like the eye of the hawk…Destined from birth to serve as protector of the princess Zariya, Khai is trained in the arts of killing and stealth by a warrior sect in the deep desert; yet there is one profound truth that has been withheld from him.

In the court of the Sun-Blessed, Khai must learn to navigate deadly intrigue and his own conflicted identity…but in the far reaches of the western seas, the dark god Miasmus is rising, intent on nothing less than wholesale destruction.

If Khai is to keep his soul’s twin Zariya alive, their only hope lies with an unlikely crew of prophecy-seekers on a journey that will take them farther beneath the starless skies than anyone can imagine.

Book Review: Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda

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

Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Thriller, Suspense

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Graydon House (September 19, 2017)

Length: 384 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Best Day Ever is a novel of domestic suspense, so like many of its peers in the genre it’s going to be hard to review without giving away any key details, but I will ensure to keep this spoiler-free. The story is a look into the lives of a seemingly perfect couple: Paul Strom is a successful advertising account executive in his mid-thirties, and Mia is his beautiful younger wife who comes from a prominent and wealthy New York City family. Married for ten years, the two of them have two healthy and happy boys that they are raising in a big house in the best neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio—and recently, they’ve even purchased a cottage in the affluent and historic Lakeside district nestled along the shores of Lake Erie.

To anyone looking in from the outside, the Stroms have the best life, and they’re also about to have themselves the best day ever. To ease his wife’s stress, Paul has planned the perfect romantic weekend away at their lake cottage, just the two of them without the kids. Hitting the road bright and early, the two of them are determined to make the most of their weekend, but tensions start to rise almost immediately as they start discussing recent issues in their marriage. The perfect couple might not be so perfect after all, as dark secrets about their life begin to come to the surface.

Compared to my other reads in this genre, Best Day Ever does not have as strong of a “thriller-suspense” vibe to it, but the pacing was smooth and the book was a page-turner nonetheless. The story is told in the first person, from Paul’s point-of-view, and he is one of the finest examples of an unreliable narrator that I have ever read. You get a sense of “wrongness” about his character from the very first page, but it will take several more to finally be able to put a finger on what that might be. He’s a real piece of work, let’s just leave it at that, but lest you start to feel bad for Mia at this early point, it’s important to note too that she’s not the most sympathetic character either. From the start, she comes across as very standoffish and passive aggressive, not to mention high maintenance and uncompromising.

But again, this is the kind of novel where you can’t take anything at face value. Spending just a few hours with the Stroms on their drive to Lakeside is already enough to clue you in that there something is seriously rotten at the heart of this picture perfect marriage. But what could it be? Not surprisingly, finding out is much of the fun, as the author doles out clues in the most cryptic fashion—always in small doses, and always veiled beneath a layer of uncertainty, making the situation more and more provocative. By the time the drive is over, you might be feeling ready to throttle both Paul and Mia because they are just such infuriating people, but this is all part of Kaira Rouda’s plan to lure you into the couple’s web of intrigue and deception.

As such, the plot is admittedly a slow-burner, but this was acceptable to me, considering the immensity of such an undertaking. Like I said, there aren’t too many scenes in this book I would describe as all-out “thriller”, but there’s definitely an atmosphere of foreboding and distress that keeps the reader on edge. Once you reach the final chapters and everything is revealed, all will make sense and all the time invested will be worth it. There wasn’t a “twist” ending per se, not if you have been following along and have been paying attention, but it was a satisfying conclusion and I was happy with the way things turned out.

It just goes to show, what you see on the surface is never how things really are; people always misrepresent themselves to a certain degree when projecting an image of their identity to the world, even if it’s an innocent little modification of the truth. If nothing else, this novel is a stark reminder that you can find examples of this kind of truth-bending happening around us every day, from dating sites to job interviews. Though the degree of misrepresentation might not be as extreme as what we see in the book, nor do we often see them lead to such dramatic consequences, the story manages to get its point across loud and clear.

All told, Best Day Ever does a phenomenal job shining a light on the dark side of a seemingly happy, blessed, and perfect marriage, making you wonder what the couple could be hiding behind closed doors and how far someone might be willing to go to keep their secret lives buried. Paul Strom is a disturbing individual, but there’s also no denying he was a fascinating protagonist to follow. By telling this tale through the eyes of such an unreliable narrator, the author kept her novel so tantalizingly sinister and engrossing that I just couldn’t put it down. The name Kaira Rouda is now firmly on my radar, and I’ll definitely be on the lookout for her future projects.

Book Review: The Dinosaur Princess by Victor Milán

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

The Dinosaur Princess by Victor Milán

Mogsy’s Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 3 of The Dinosaur Lords

Publisher: Tor (August 15, 2017)

Length: 448 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

In the first book, The Dinosaur Lords, Victor Milán took my imagination by storm with Paradise, a land populated by dinosaurs and the medieval knights that rode them. While things slowed down a little in its sequel The Dinosaur Knights, I still had faith enough to grab the next book, because surely a premise this cool deserved a second chance. Sadly though, instead of picking up again, the plot has continued to lose its steam in this third installment, and I think maybe it’s time to face the hard truth that the honeymoon period between me and this series might be over.

The Dinosaur Princess begins with a kidnapping. With the confusion of the war and all parties still reeling from the revelation of the Grey Angels, the royal family’s enemies have struck the palace and stolen away Montserrat, the adored little sister of Princess Melodía. Taking it upon himself to rescue the girl, Melodía’s lover and the hero of the realm Prince Jaume dels Flors has gathered a team to go after the kidnappers before they can reach the coast and disappear. Luckily for everyone, Montserrat isn’t as helpless as many think she is. Using her language skills to eavesdrop and spy on her captors, the young teen has left an invaluable trail of clues for the Jaume to follow, and the rescue would have succeeded too, if not for an unexpected twist.

As another faction enters the fray, those already embroiled in the war have no idea what to make of the mystical implications behind this development. Some remain skeptical of Jaume’s account of what happened and as a result, both his and Melodía’s standing are damaged in the eyes of the court. This setback is the last thing the princess needs as she attempts to counsel her hot-tempered father, while those with questionable allegiances whisper dangerous sentiments in his ear and others scream loudly for blood and revenge. Meanwhile, dinosaur master Rob Korrigan and his friend the famed captain Karyl Bogomirskiy have their hands full trying to keep the people of the countryside calm and stave off any dissent. Becoming elevated to noble positions should have helped, but to no one’s surprise, it doesn’t.

This series has been described as Game of Thrones meets Jurassic Park, and while I found this to be a brilliant pitch for the first book, the comparison has become less appropriate for the sequels. We seem to be in a holding pattern right now, with the political intrigue having lost much of its attraction, and the pacing of the overall story arc has slowed to a crawl. Most discouraging of all, there has also been a decrease in the dinosaur action. Considering this is the main selling point of the series, this last issue might have been the most detrimental to my enjoyment.

I also feel we’ve lost sight of the main goal, somewhat. Princess Montserrat’s kidnapping smacked strongly of being a diversion, and sure enough, it served as a precursor to another bigger reveal. When so many other conflicts still in the air though, I wasn’t sure throwing a new bombshell like that into the mix was the right decision. The Dinosaur Knights already had the feel of a “bridge” book, and I was looking forward to some steps towards resolution in this third installment, not more interruptions or distractions to weigh down the storyline. All the exposition required to set up this new plot development only served to slow the pacing down some more, and although the author might have tried to offset this by injecting more shock value into the battle scenes and descriptions of scantily clad female characters, that just put me off even more.

With most books that don’t work for me though, I can still usually find a silver lining, and in this case, I loved the focus on Montserrat. While Melodía may be the star of the series, in my eyes her little sis has already surpassed her in many ways. To be honest, I was actually quite unimpressed by the main characters, their roles remaining in a holding pattern like so much else in this book (e.g. Rob and Karyl), though Melodía did have her moments towards the end, making up for the impotent rage she exhibited for most of the novel. A couple more new faces also join the cast, most notably the mercurial Margrethe and the crafty Rosamaria. I admit to being very curious to see where Milán will take the story with this pair of powerful, clashing personalities at court, and if I pick up the next book, these two women will be a big part of the reason.

At this point, I can’t say I’m as excited about this series as I was before, but there’s still probably time for things to turn around, especially now that we’ve spent two books setting up the groundwork for the eventual showdown between the great houses of Paradise, the Grey Angels, and now the newly introduced faction. The slowness along with the lack of any meaningful development in the story made this book a struggle to get through, but if we get more dinosaur action and plot progress in the next one, I could be tempted to read on.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of The Dinosaur Lords (Book 1)
Review of The Dinosaur Knights (Book 2)

YA Weekend Audio: Warcross by Marie Lu

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

Warcross by Marie Lu

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult

Series: Book 1 of Warcross

Publisher: Listening Library (September 12, 2017)

Length: 11 hrs and 46 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Nancy Wu

Although it didn’t take me long to realize I probably wasn’t going to enjoy Warcross *as much* as most of the rave reviews, I still had a really good time with this one. The book’s greatest strength was definitely its fast-paced action and its ability to entertain for hours, which almost makes up for the story’s predictability and derivative premise.

Warcross stars Emika Chen, an eighteen-year-old hacker struggling to make ends meet. Despite doing everything she can to scrape together a living—including moonlighting as a bounty hunter and selling illicitly acquired gaming power ups on the black market—she’s still thousands of dollars in debt and in danger of being evicted because she’s months behind on her rental payment. Like many others, Emika’s only form of escape is her neural link that allows her to immerse herself in a virtual reality world where she can forget all about the troubles of real life—at least for a little while. These days, everyone is talking about Warcross, a competitive game which has taken the world by storm. Originally developed a decade ago by the then thirteen-year-old prodigy named Hideo Tanaka (who also created the technology to make the neural net possible), Warcross has exploded in popularity in the years since its launch, spawning professional teams and even an international competition that hundreds of millions tune in each year to watch.

So on the eve of the Warcross Championships games, Emika links in along with the rest of the world to watch the opening ceremonies, but inside her mind she is hatching up an insane plan. In her hours of studying the Warcross code, she has discovered a glitch which would enable her to swipe a power-up from right under the players’ noses, and the money she could get from selling a prize like that would be the end of all her financial troubles. However, something goes terribly wrong during her hack, and suddenly, Emika’s identity is revealed to the world. Strangely though, instead of being arrested immediately, Emika has become a celebrity overnight and even receives a call from the billionaire Hideo Tanaka himself, making her an offer she can’t refuse. It appears someone is trying to ruin his company by targeting this year’s Warcross Championships, and Hideo strongly suspects an inside job. Now he needs a spy with Emika’s talents to infiltrate the games and live among the players to find out who the culprit is.

I’ll admit, it took me a while to get into Warcross, mainly because it also took me a long time to warm up to the protagonist, and not least because I think gamers who use hacks and cheats are the scum of the earth. The entire basis of the plot pretty much hinged upon Emika making some catastrophically dumb decisions at the beginning, and I found it hard to believe that such an otherwise savvy young woman would behave so irrationally and impulsively after years of being able to maintain a low profile. I dislike ham-handed plot developments, especially those that go against a character’s nature and are done solely to push the story along.

Fortunately, things looked up after this introductory phase. To her credit, Marie Lu does know how to keep a reader entertained, though from past experience with her work, I’ve noticed how she seems unable to help herself when it comes to loading up her stories with YA tropes and clichés. Warcross comes complete with characters that play to conventions, from a down-on-her-luck but exceptionally talented protagonist who can somehow outsmart the world’s best programmers, to the angsty love interest who reads like a “YA book boyfriend” checklist (Fabulously wealthy? Piercing eyes? Swoony accent? Hideo’s got you covered!) There’s nothing at all groundbreaking about the world either, being your rather typical dystopian-flavored future with hints of Ready Player One. The story was also predictable and I saw the “twist” ending coming a mile away.

But like I said, I still had a good time. Despite its heavy reliance on genre tropes, the book’s high octane action and thrills help compensate for the story’s predictability and shortfalls in the innovation department. I’m also a sucker for books that have a gaming angle, and I was fascinated by the dynamic descriptions of the championship matches as well as the darker side of the Warcross world. The atmosphere is just so intense and hectic that it’s not hard to get sucked in and cheer for Emika’s team even when you know exactly how things are going to play out.

Bottom line, Warcross didn’t really blow me away, but I can recognize a fun book when I see one.  Readers of YA fiction and fans of Marie Lu should be happy with it at least, and it’s also a perfectly fine escape if you’re looking for an exciting adventure.

Audiobook Comments: The Warcross audiobook is narrated by Nancy Wu, whose performance was decent enough, though I thought she sounded a little too mature to be an ideal Emika. She was also inconsistent with her voices, especially for Hideo (who didn’t really sound British like he was supposed to) and her accents would occasionally flip on and off. Other than those quibbles, however, it was a good listen and the inconsistencies didn’t affect my enjoyment overly much.