YA Weekend: Dare You To Lie by Amber Lynn Natusch

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

Dare You To Lie by Amber Lynn Natusch

Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Young Adult

Series: Book 1 of Hometown Antihero

Publisher: Tor Teen (September 4, 2018)

Length: 351 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Dare You to Lie is the story of Kylene Danners, a teenager with a lot on her plate. Two years after her departure from Jasperville, Ohio, she is forced to move back into the hostile and bitter environment of her hometown that she thought she had escaped. However, Ky is not going to take these new changes lying down. Living with her grandfather because her dad is in prison and her mom has run off with a new lover to California, Ky is here to settle two scores. The first is to prove that her father, a former FBI agent, did not in fact commit the crime for which he was convicted. The second is an even more personal matter, involving a drunken party during freshman year in which Kylene was photographed topless without her knowledge, and the pictures were leaked online. The suspects were all guys on the football team, and one was her boyfriend at the time. In the end, all of them got off scot-free, protected by powerful parties keen on defending the school’s football record, and Kylene’s reputation was destroyed.

That event was what drove her from Jasperville. But now Kylene is back, and she’s on a mission. With the help of her best friend Garrett and the new girl in school named Tabby, Ky is determined to dig into both cases and find out the truth, no matter what the townspeople may think about her and her disgraced dad. What she didn’t count on, however, was the depth of corruption she would encounter, sending her and her friends down a nightmarish path littered with violence and threats against their lives. Someone is going to great lengths to stop her investigations, but instead of making her back off, the pushback only confirms she is getting close to finding the answers, and she is not going to be intimidated.

I confess, this book probably deserves a higher rating, had not been a few major issues that really grated on my nerves. Annoying thing #1 was probably Kylene’s character herself. This girl comes charging in, full of piss and vinegar, ready to tear the world a new asshole. Normally, I would say, “You go, Kylene!” and God knows with the hand life dealt her, she has every right to have a chip on her shoulder. My problem, however, was the condescending way she immediately casts judgment on everyone, from the moment she steps foot back in her hometown and in her old school. She’s also aggressive and has no self-control, deliberately goading fellow students and even some teachers into altercation, not to mention she has an irritating tendency to get up on her soapbox to pontificate on some social issue or another, usually unnecessarily and at the most inappropriate times. Worse, it felt as if the author inserted many of the school-related conflicts to indulge her protagonist’s savior complex. I really wanted to like and sympathize with Kylene, especially given what happened to her, but she made that hard by coming across as my least favorite kind of character—the ones who are hypocritical and lacking in self-awareness, clearly being propped up by forced scenarios to seem more noble than they really are.

I also enjoyed the mystery, though I did feel the plot was spread a bit thin at times, tackling two cases at once so that it was impossible for the story to give enough time or attention to either one. While there’s a light hint that the two threads could be related, in the end one gets resolved while the other doesn’t, so be prepared for an incomplete ending that includes some groundwork that will set the stage for the next book in the series. Given the circumstances, I think the author did the best she could to balance all the different parts of her story, but it didn’t change the fact that the focus was scattered in multiple directions and pacing was often interrupted by too many distractions.

Speaking of which, it didn’t help that the issue was exacerbated by “guy drama”, between the best friend who has carried a secret torch for Kylene after all these years, and the ex-boyfriend who’s still in love with her who may or may not have been involved in her naked photo scandal. And as if that wasn’t enough, also throw in the rookie FBI agent who is a total hottie but also a major douche canoe (Kylene can’t seem to decide which detail is more important) which gave me all sorts of weird vibes. Because seriously, what kind of mid-20-something would bet to invite himself to an 11th grader’s homecoming dance as her date?

Still, to the book’s credit, the mystery went far deeper than I had expected, even though I was able to guess the person behind all of it before we got anywhere close to the end. It didn’t make following the story’s events any less interesting. A part of me still wants to know the outcome of the larger series arc and to see how our characters’ investigations will pan out, but I think I’ll be keeping a close and wary eye on reviews of the next book before making my decision on whether to continue. If we see growth in Kylene’s character, I just might be persuaded.

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Book Review: Lies by T.M. Logan

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

Lies by T.M. Logan

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Thriller, Mystery

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (September 11, 2018)

Length: 418 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Unassuming Joe Lynch might not be the most successful or most ambitious among his circle of friends, but he’s happy—he’s got a good job teaching at a prestigious school, he’s married to a woman he loves with all his heart, and together they have a beautiful young son. Like most people, Joe has sometimes wondered if life could be more, but for the most part, he feels fulfilled. Things are as perfect as they can be.

Until one day, while driving home from work after picking up his son William from school, he spots his wife Mel’s car on the road and decides to follow her and surprise her on a whim. To his surprise though, Mel pulls up to a hotel and Joe watches her meet up with Ben, a family friend, to engage in what looks to be a serious argument. Concerned, Joe decides to privately confront Ben in the hotel parking garage afterwards to find out what was going on. What he didn’t expect was for the other man to get violent, forcing Joe to defend himself against the physical attack. In the scuffle, Ben is accidently pushed hard to the ground, knocked unconscious. William, who witnesses the entire fight, is shocked into an asthma attack, leaving Joe no choice but to leave the scene in order to get his son some medical attention.

After taking care of William though, Joe makes sure to follow up on Ben, only to find that the other man has disappeared without a trace. At around the same time, Joe discovers that his Facebook account has been hacked, when messages that he did not write begin appearing on his personal feed. When asked about her meeting with Ben, Mel denies everything at first, only to spill the whole truth once she realizes how much Joe actually knows. These new revelations threaten to tear our protagonist’s whole world apart, but things only get worse as the police start investigating him in connection to Ben’s disappearance.

Lies was a solidly entertaining thriller, though I did have to check not long after I started the book to confirm a sneaking suspicion: yes, it was a debut novel for author T.M. Logan. On the whole, this story was well-written and tightly plotted, though once in a while a few minor irritants would worm their way into my mind and interfere with the immersion. Many of these complaints had to do with pacing, and just an overall sense that something with regards to the premise’s logic feels…off. For one thing, it all just felt a tad implausible, requiring a number of coincidences and improbable events and oversights to occur for it to all make sense. Some of the explanations also felt superfluous and repetitive, an issue which might even be worse for readers who are technologically-minded. It made the story feel somewhat messy and disjointed.

I also had difficulty relating to the protagonist. That being said, Joe wasn’t an unlikeable character—far from it, in fact. A hard worker, a loving husband, a kind and dedicated father, he’s everything a standup guy should be. I very much wanted to like him and root for him, but the problem was, he made it so damned hard. For one thing, he’s incredibly naïve. It’s hard to believe this is a man who makes his living teaching and yet fails to realize when the answers are staring him in the face. He’s also prone to emotional manipulation and is way too trusting and forgiving. At times he would seem like a whiz at technology, knowing exactly how to cover his tracks; at others he would seem completely ignorant of the ins-and-outs of social media. It’s hard not to feel sorry for Joe because he was so out of his league and being played so hard, not to mention there’s nothing like watching a man being framed for murder to bring out that righteous indignation. At the same time though, I just plain didn’t get him.

Still, criticisms aside, throughout the reading of this novel, I can honestly say I was never bored. Yes, some of its individual parts need work—but in spite of this, I can see how it has everything to be a successful thriller, including the elements of suspense, secrets and lies. While I took issue with some of the characterization and found the story to be a little on the unbelievable and implausible side, it doesn’t really pay to overthink these flaws. Lies is a book best experienced by letting yourself go with the flow, and to its credit, there’s plenty to make up for the feelings of skepticism and frustrations that might stem from the plot’s predictability or the naivete of the protagonist.

Sometimes you have to suspend your disbelief in order to enjoy yourself, and ultimately this was how I approached Lies. Like a lot of debuts, this novel could have used a bit of polish, but nevertheless it delivered quality entertainment.

Friday Face-Off: Horror

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:

“If I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear”
~ a cover for a HORROR novel

Mogsy’s Pick:

The Troop by Nick Cutter

For today’s topic, I chose…THE TROOPA scoutmaster and his troop of five scouts being abandoned on a small deserted island to fend for themselves against an unknown infection. This book kept me on pins and needles right up to the end.

Let’s take a look at the covers:

From left to right:
Gallery Hardcover (2014) – Gallery Paperback (2016) – Headline (2014)

  

Czech Edition (2014) – Turkish Edition (2017) – German Edition (2014)

  

French Edition Denoël (2016) – French Edition Alto (2016) – Hungarian Edition (2016)

  

Winner:

There’s something about the idea of being lost in an isolated place that strikes a primal fear in my heart. Knowing that no one can help you, or even hear you scream. That this book takes place in a sleepy little town off the coast of Prince Edward Island–a Canadian province known for its lush landscapes and gorgeous coastlines–is simply the icing on the cake. No contest, I just love the Headline edition for juxtaposing the bucolic setting with the horror of being trapped on and island surrounded by the stuff of nightmares. I love how this cover is both beautiful and frightening.

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

Book Review: Kill the Queen by Jennifer Estep

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

Kill the Queen by Jennifer Estep

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of Crown of Shards

Publisher: Harper Voyager (October 2, 2018)

Length: 416 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

I’d never read Jennifer Estep before Kill the Queen, though I’ve often seen her name spoken of highly among readers in urban fantasy and paranormal romance circles. As a result, I’d long been curious about her work, so when I first learned that she was venturing into epic fantasy with a new book described as a royal revenge story about a female gladiator, I was instantly intrigued.

Kill the Queen follows Everleigh (who prefers going by Evie), a minor member of the Bellona royal family. Seventeenth in line for the throne, she mostly passes through the halls of the palace as an afterthought or ignored all together, especially ever since she and her cousin the crown princess Vasilia fell out. People are also dismissive towards Evie because she doesn’t have much in the way of magical power, though secretly, she is glad for the lack of attention—the better to hide her true talent, which is an immunity to magic.

But then one day during a foreign dignitary event, the power-hungry Vasilia finally shows her hand and together with her co-schemers, they unleash a coup on the unsuspecting court. The queen is killed, along with all those in attendance so there would be no living witnesses to Vasilia’s treachery. Thanks to her secret power though, Evie manages to survive her cousin’s magical attack. She flees to a gladiator school, taking refuge with the troupe there after they agree to take her in and train her in the ways of fighting. Not knowing whom to trust, Evie decides to lay low, until it becomes clear she must stop Vasilia from using her stolen crown to plunge the kingdom into war.

While trope-laden and not terribly original, this book nonetheless provided plenty of enjoyment. I think it says a lot about Estep that she was able to carry the story using the strength of her writing skills alone, giving me such a good time that I was willing to overlook all the glaring clichés. Much of it was due to Evie, whose charming personality and voice hooked me right from the start. An unlikely heroine, she’s a forgotten royal orphan with a special hidden talent that just conveniently happens to be the key to saving an entire kingdom—in other words, her character is as stereotypical and formulaic as you could get. And yet, it did not bother me as much as I thought it would. Like I always say though, tropes are popular for a reason and they only become a problem if not written well, and thanks to the author’s natural and flowing prose, her protagonist was immediately granted a high “likeability factor” which kept me reading.

I also thought world-building was on the sparser side, due in part to the lack of fine detail and description one would usually find in an epic fantasy. The book felt very streamlined in that regard, keeping background information to a bare minimum. There’s both a positive and negative to this approach. Of course, I would have delighted in getting more detail about the magic systems or the history behind the setting, but in doing away with lengthy explanations, the story was able to move along at a good clip. There’s also the book’s audience to consider, as Estep was probably aiming for an epic fantasy with enough crossover appeal to her urban fantasy and paranormal romance fans. Subsequently, you have a very readable book told in an easy and sassy style, with just a light touch of romance that did not feel too overbearing.

If Estep’s goal was to write a highly accessible and entertaining high fantasy, I would say she succeeded. At the end of the day, Kill the Queen was a surprisingly good read, despite the story’s overall predictability and heavy reliance on well-worn tropes. While hardcore epic fantasy readers will likely find the plot too simplistic, the world too shallow, and the characters too paint-by-the-numbers for this novel to be truly engaging, for those of us who do not mind something a little lighter and fluffier—or just want to kick back with something fun—this will do the trick nicely. Highly recommended for gladiatorial action and palace intrigue, with potential for the series to grow over time.

Waiting on Wednesday 10/17/18

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 Philosopher’s War by Tom Miller (July 16, 2019 by Simon & Schuster)

Last year’s The Philosopher’s Flight from debut author and ER doctor Tom Miller was perhaps one of the biggest surprises of 2018. Set in an alternate World-War-I-era America and blending together historical fiction and fantasy, The Philosopher’s War will continue the story of Robert Weekes, who becomes the first man allowed to fly in the US Sigilry Corp’s Rescue and Evacuation service in a world where magic is a field dominated by women. I’m curious to see how the protagonist will continue navigating the gender-flipped society as well as the war-torn skies of the First World War.

“The second book in the thrilling series that began with The Philosopher’s Flight finds Robert Canderelli Weekes as a rookie Rescue and Evacuation flier on the front lines of World War I in France. He came to save lives, but has no idea how far he’ll have to go to win the war.

Thanks to a stunning flying performance and a harrowing shootout in the streets of Boston, Robert Canderelli Weekes’s lifelong dream has come true: he’s the first male allowed to join the US Sigilry Corps’s Rescue and Evacuation service, an elite, all-woman team of flying medics.

But as he deploys to France during the waning days of the Great War, Sigilwoman Third-Class Canderelli learns that carrying the injured from the front lines to the field hospital is not the grand adventure he imagined. His division, full of misfits and renegades, is stretched the breaking point and has no patience for a man striving to prove himself. Slowly, Robert wins their trust and discovers his comrades are plotting to end the Great War by outlawed philosophical means. Robert becomes caught up in their conspiracy, running raids in enemy territory and uncovering vital intelligence. Friends old and new will need his help with a dangerous scheme that just might win the war overnight and save a few million lives. But the German smokecarvers have plans of their own: a devastating all-out attack that threatens to destroy the Corps and France itself. Naturally, Robert is trapped right in the thick of it.

The Philosopher’s War is the electrifying next chapter in Robert Weekes’s story, filled with heroic, unconventional women, thrilling covert missions, romance and, of course, plenty of aerial adventures. The second book in a series “that grabs readers from its opening lines and doesn’t loosen its grip or lessen its hold all the way through” (Associated Press), Tom Miller again brings Robert’s world to life with unrivaled imagination, ambition, and wit.”

Book Review: Vengeful by V.E. Schwab

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

Vengeful by V.E. Schwab

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction

Series: Book 2 of Villains

Publisher: Tor Books (September 25, 2018)

Length: 480 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Vengeful was probably the best book I’ve read by Victoria/V.E. Schwab since…well, its predecessor Vicious. I really wish she would write more adult novels like this. I think letting loose gives her the opportunity to go beyond a lot of the usual story clichés that seem to plague the YA fantasy genre, allowing her to develop a more nuanced and mature approach to the personal voices in her stories.

If you’re like me, and you read Vicious back when it first came out, you’re probably going to need a quick refresher course. Vengeful is a direct sequel that expands upon the world of ExtraOrdinary humans, or EOs—individuals who are possessed of superpowers. Unfortunately, time has not been kind to our characters since we saw them last; Victor Vale died at the end of Vicious, before he was brought back to life by Sydney Clarke and her resurrection powers. His former friend and college roommate Eli Cardale was imprisoned. Now Victor is struggling with the aftereffects of being reanimated, because something went terribly wrong with the process.

Meanwhile, a new EO has emerged and is raising hell in the town of Merit. The wife of dangerous mob boss, Marcella Riggins, has survived an attempted murder by her husband—and she is seriously pissed. A mean piece of work even before she got her powers, Marcella is not only out for revenge, but she wants to destroy everything and build her own empire from the ashes. Inevitably, both Victor and Eli become caught up in the destructive wake of her power grab, although for different reasons. Victor has had a chance to re-evaluate many of his viewpoints since the events at the end of the first book. Eli, for his part, has also had to live with the consequences of his choices. Forced to work with an organization dedicated to the capture and containment of EOs, Eli is cooperating for now, but secretly he is biding his time, waiting for the perfect moment when he can confront Victor again.

Vengeful had the benefit of starting out very strong with a hefty amount of history already behind its premise and characters. I find it interesting that Vicious was my first book by the author, but it has been entrenched in my mind like no other book I’ve read from her since. Victor, Eli, Sydney, etc. are some of the best characters she has ever created, and what this sequel manages to do is raise the stakes by developing them even further.

The book kicks off in high gear with an introduction to Marcella, who is easily the best of the new character additions. Yes, her personality was a little extreme and over-the-top, but in not holding back, Schwab may have done her villainess the biggest favor. Admittedly, I’ve not always been a fan of her female characters; more often than not, I’ve found them to be obnoxious, disingenuous, badass-for-the-sake-of-being-badass, and on the whole weak on substance. Maybe the author is simply trying to channel the exaggerated tone of a superhero movie or comic book here, I have no idea, but what I do know is that it worked. Marcella perfectly embodies the phrase, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” She was ruthless, she was scary, she was awesome.

But rest assured, Schwab can do subtle too. Vengeful is a continued exploration of an idea fans have always known—that Victor and Eli are two sides of the same coin. However, both have also changed in ways you can only pick up if you’ve been paying attention. Speaking of which, one of my favorite things about this book is how it not looks forward into the future, but back into the past as well. The heart-wrenching details of Eli’s backstory are laid bare for us to scrutinize, and it’s up to the reader to decide whether he is deserving of sympathy. It’s important to note that there are no true heroes in the Villians universe; with only a couple exceptions, most of the characters fall into shades of grey. This aspect of the series has always been my favorite thing about it, setting it apart from the more pedestrian tales of good vs. evil.

In terms of criticisms, I was not a fan of the sporadic time jumps—though I could also understand why they would be required. Schwab needed to do a lot with this sequel, and had her work cut out for her when it comes to balancing all these moving parts. Given all of her goals for this novel, she did as well as could be expected—which is saying a lot.

As we built towards the climax, Vengeful delivered excitement and then some. In the end, this is a sequel worth reading, especially if you were as taken with Vicious as I was. Once more, V.E. Schwab has woven a compelling tale about the emotional costs of great power, exploring the themes of dubious morality, vengeance, and fate.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Vicious (Book 1)

Book Review: The Stars Now Unclaimed by Drew Williams

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

The Stars Now Unclaimed by Drew Williams

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Book 1 of The Universe After

Publisher: Tor (August 21, 2018)

Length: 448 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

For readers getting ready to head into The Stars Now Unclaimed, you may want to strap in first. The story wastes no time in dumping our protagonist into a mission embroiled in a deep thicket of secrets, intrigue, and action. Jane, who starts off unnamed until her purposes behind remaining anonymous are revealed halfway through the book, is an agent for the Justified, an organization dedicated to locating and retrieving gifted young people scattered throughout the galaxy. Years ago, when the mysterious Pulse happened, whole worlds were changed when they lost all their technology due to the radiation, but one of its side effects also caused children to be born with strange, incredible powers. The Justified believe that these special children are the key to fixing the damage caused by the Pulse, which is why Jane has been dispatched to a wild and untamed planet to find one of them now, a teenager named Esa.

But almost immediately, things go to hell as Jane is ambushed by the Pax, an army of aggressive conquering zealots who were largely unaffected by the Pulse and believe that gives them the right to rule the entire galaxy. The retrieval job quickly devolves into a rescue mission as Jane desperately tries to get Esa off-world to some place safe, recruiting the help of some new and old allies, including her ship’s AI, a sentient robot named Preacher, a Justified information broker, as well as her roguish ex-lover Javi. Together, this ragtag team will need to help each other navigate through some dangerous and explosive conflicts in the hopes that they might stop the enemy from plunging the galaxy further into chaos.

If you wanted non-stop action, then you’ve come to the right place, my friend. Over the years I’ve read a lot of space opera, and The Stars Now Unclaimed blows them all away in terms of number of action scenes and battle sequences. But is this necessarily a good thing? Generally, I prefer beginning my reviews on a positive note, but today I’m leading with something that might be considered a double-edged sword. Your mileage may vary, of course, but personally I found the action scenes here to be too frequent, too drawn out, and much too bombastic. “The more, the better” is not always true, and I would point to this book as the perfect example. Having too much action can in fact rob a scene of its desired dramatic effect, and this was something I noticed again and again, especially with the final battle where I found myself feeling tempted to skim to the end.

The world-building is also fantastic, but like a lot of debut novelists, Drew Williams noticeably struggles with “show, don’t tell.” To his credit, Williams tries to get around explaining all the ins-and-outs of his huge and sweeping universe by pushing all those details into dialogue, but the resulting info dumps are still just as off-putting. That said, I do love the setting he has created, a world containing a mishmash of themes and concepts which feels to me like a loving tribute to a number of sci-fi intellectual properties. In addition to Firefly and The Expanse (the two touted by the publisher’s description), I also caught whiffs of everything from Star Wars and Star Trek to Guardians of the Galaxy and Mass Effect, making me think science fiction fans and pop culture geeks will be sure to fall comfortably into this one.

As for the characters, I appreciated how the narrative was mainly focused on a small, tightly-knit cast. Most of them felt lightly sketched, derivative and archetypal, and again, I was hit with the sensation that I’ve met them (or characters like them) before. For whatever reason though, I thought it worked, giving the book a throwback old-school vibe, all done in the spirit of fun more than anything else. The reason I felt so endeared to these characters was precisely because I recognized them for what they were from the moment I met them. They played off each other well, giving rise to many instances of sharp dialogue and interesting dynamics.

On the whole, The Stars Now Unclaimed gives me the impression of a debut that could use a little more polish, but broadly speaking, it’s pretty solid. In my view, a lot of the effort put towards the action could have been better served developing the characters or world building in a less info-dumpy fashion, but overall I was quite pleased with this novel and I probably wouldn’t say no to checking out the sequel.

Book Review: Mystic Dragon by Jason Denzel

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

Mystic Dragon by Jason Denzel

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 2 of Mystic

Publisher: Tor (July 17, 2018)

Length: 352 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

It’s been a while since I read Mystic, so I wasn’t at all surprised that getting back into the world with its sequel felt like a completely new experience. In a way though, that’s exactly what Mystic Dragon was going for. Seven years have passed since we last saw our protagonist Pomella, who, against all odds, had managed to best the competition and become apprenticed to the new High Mystic, despite being a commoner. But while she is proud of her achievements, a part of Pomella still wants more. She feels that her mentor, the Grandmaster Faywong, isn’t teaching her fast enough.

But now, everything is about to change. A rare celestial event approaches, disrupting the delicate balance between the Mystical realm of Fayün and the mortal world of Pomella’s home. The two sides are beginning to overlap, with Fay creatures pouring through in greater and more dangerous numbers. Soon, people are disappearing or dying. Called upon to do something about the threat, Mystics everywhere are gathering for an important ritual on Moth, the small island where Pomella resides. One of the new arrivals is a young female apprentice named Shevia, whose strange power immediately draws the attention of our protagonist. With familiar echoes of the first book, the story also includes a third perspective featuring Sim, Pomella’s old friend who has spent much of the intervening time traveling as a ranger.

While Mystic Dragon is a sequel, there’s no doubt it was written to be a standalone so that readers can start here without having read the first book. Normally, I would be a big proponent of reading a series in order to gain a full picture, but in this case, Jason Denzel has truly made this book a perfect point to jump on board. One reason for this is the seven-year leap ahead, which makes the story feel like a bonafide fresh start. But even then, newcomers aren’t left hanging. The narrative does a superb job introducing you to the main characters and filling out their background, which includes providing a general idea of what Mystic was about and what has happened since.

That said, everything that made Mystic Dragon such a great standalone also left me with a sense of wistfulness and regret. In my review of Mystic, I called the book one of the most charming fantasy debuts I read in 2015. Much of that was due to the protagonist Pomella, a pure-hearted and somewhat naïve teenager at the time, whom nonetheless refused to let her doubts get in the way of a goal that seemed impossible to achieve. In addition, many of the story’s important coming-of-age themes contributed to its charm and magic, making the protagonist’s emotions and experiences feel very relatable and genuine.

While in general I enjoy seeing character evolve over time, I was taken aback by how much Pomella has changed in Mystic Dragon, which went simply beyond growing up into a more mature and confident Mystic. Of course, I was aware how different a person could become in seven years, but still—gone was the charisma I so adored about her in the first book, to the point I actually found myself struggling to stay interested during her chapters. A part of me also felt disappointment at jumping so far ahead in time, missing the many formative years Pomella had trained with Master Faywong. Needless to say, I did not expect to feel any of this wistfulness when I first picked up the book, which made the early reading experience somewhat difficult and frustrating.

Happily, other characters stepped up to win my heart. Shevia was a fantastic introduction, and I loved her backstory and the role she was given to play. My biggest surprise, however, was Sim, mostly because he was a character I barely remembered from the first book, but he was given a chance to really shine in Mystic Dragon. It was fascinating to get a glimpse into some of things he’s been up to the for the last seven years, and his chapters also reminded me of many things I enjoyed about Mystic, from the imaginative world-building to the well thought out magic system.

In sum, while I did stumble a bit in the early parts of Mystic Dragon, I eventually grew to enjoy it. It also bears mentioning that Mystic was a book that made a strong impression on me; whatever negative feelings I had towards this sequel, the fact that it was not the comfortable return to the familiar characters and setting I had expected probably played a role in them. Your own mileage will certainly vary, whether you are also continuing this journey or just now deciding to visit the world of the Mystic series for the first time. Regardless, I really do think Jason Denzel has written a decent sequel.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Mystic (Book 1)

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

The books are hitting my mailbox fast and hard again, so here are some from both this month and last month as I do my best to catch up. Big 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!

My thanks to Viking for introducing me to The Winters by Lisa Gabriele, a psychological thriller marketed as a modern retelling of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. This is going straight to the top of my fall reading list!

With thanks also to Simon & Schuster for sending me Rabbit & Robot by Andrew Smith. The finished copy is even more vibrant and eye-popping than the ARC! Still planning on giving this one a look if I have some extra time this month.

From the kind folks at Ace/Roc/DAW, I received a surprise copy of Search Image by Julie E. Czerneda, the first book of a new series set in the world of the author’s Web Shifter series. Naturally I’m drawn to this one because I’ve always been curious about Czerneda’s work, but this being a spin-off has me a little concerned that it might be tougher for a newcomer like me to follow. Next up is a finished copy of The Way of the Shield by Marshall Ryan Maresca, the start of yet another series set in his Maradaine universe. I’m already juggling a couple of them, so only time will tell if I’ll be able to take on one more! And a tip of the hat to Kaye Publicity for hooking me up with an ARC of Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch, the next installment in his Peter Grant/Rivers of London series. I’ve already started this one, since I love these books so much; I should have my final review up in time for its release next month.

Also thanks to Del Rey for surprising me with a finished copy of Bright Ruin by Vic James, the third novel in the Dark Gifts trilogy. I wasn’t crazy for the first book so I never got around to the second, but depending on how this final volume is received, I might be convinced to finish the series one day.

My warmest thanks also goes to the amazing team at Pyr Books for sending me a finished copy of No Sleep Till Doomsday by Laurence MacNaughton. I reviewed this book earlier in the week, and in case you missed my final verdict, I had a great time with it.

A shout out as well to HarperCollins for introducing me to November Road by Lou Berney. When this showed up on my doorstep, my first instinct was to dismiss it as “not my thing”, but after some research, I learned some new details about the book that made me reevaluate. Set to the backdrop of the JFK assassination, this historical drama also has elements of suspense, crime thriller, and a love story between two people on the run.

With thanks also to HarperVoyager for sending me a review copy of Kill the Queen by Jennifer Estep. Would you believe I’ve never read this author before? She’s been pretty prolific in recent years, so I’m glad I’m finally getting the chance to read her work. I’m about halfway through this one right now, and I’m enjoying it a lot.

Last month I was also lucky enough to score an ARC of Four Dead Queen by Astrid Scholte from the Bookish First program. I’m usually wary about this type of YA fantasy, but I previewed an excerpt and found it to have a lot of promise, so I guess we’ll see. With thanks to Penguin Teen.

And a long overdue thanks to Tor Teen for sending me a finished copy of Dare You To Lie by Amber Lynn Natusch. The reviews coming out for this have been stellar, and for a YA mystery thriller, the average ratings have been impressive. This will be going onto my “must read” list.

Thanks to Tor Books, I also received a finished copy of Vengeful by V.E. Schwab, the long-awaited sequel to her first adult novel, Vicious. I wish she would write more adult books, because I think this has been her best work in years. My review of it should be up sometime next week, so stay tuned. And finally, I also received a hardcover of Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds by Brandon Sanderson. You just know anything by Sanderson is going to be solid, and this was no exception. My review went up earlier this week, so check it out if you haven’t already.

But wait! That’s not it from Tor. Earlier this year, the publisher launched a campaign called #FearlessWomen, showcasing a number of their new SFF releases written by female authors. The BiblioSanctum took part in this event and you have have seen some of the spotlights on these titles. As thanks for being a part of the campaign, Tor sent along a care package this week containing some books and swag, including a signed copy of The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal, its sequel The Fated Sky, the new and updated edition of Vicious by V.E. Schwab, and a beautiful finished copy of Death Doesn’t Bargain by Sherrilyn Kenyon. I also love the tote, pen, and sticker!

   

  

    

And in the digital pile, so much for the self-restraint I showed last week. From NetGalley, St. Martin’s Press approved my request for For the Killing of Kings by Howard Andrew Jones, the first book of a new epic fantasy trilogy described as a cross between Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber and The Three Musketeers. I’ve actually featured it before for Waiting on Wednesday, so you bet I’m looking forward to this one. From the wonderful publicity team at Entangled: Teen, I also received widget invites to a couple of their most highly-anticipated titles: Valiant by Merrie Destefano and Toxic by Lydia Kang. The publisher has been killing it lately with their YA fantasy titles, so I just couldn’t resist accepting.

From HarperVoyager via Edelweiss, I also picked up Slender Man, which I think will make for some perfect reading later on in the month.

Up next, a parade of audio listening copies: The Brilliant Death by Amy Rose Capetta from Listening Library; Street Freaks by Terry Brooks from Audible Studios; Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa from HarperAudio; Phantom Wheel by Tracy Deebs from Hachette Audio; and Shadow of the Exile by Mitchell Hogan with special thanks to the author for providing me with a code to review the audiobook!

Reviews

A list of my reviews posted since the last update:

No Sleep Till Doomsday by Laurence MacNaughton (4 of 5 stars)
Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds by Brandon Sanderson (4 of 5 stars)
Rosewater by Tade Thompson (4 of 5 stars)
Murder on Millionaires’ Row by Erin Lindsey (4 of 5 stars)
Voyage of the Dogs by Greg Van Eekhout (4 of 5 stars)
Beyond the Sixth Extinction: A Post-Apocalyptic Pop-Up by Shawn Sheehy & Jordi Solano
Ravencry by Ed McDonald (3 of 5 stars)
Priest of Bones by Peter McLean (3 of 5 stars)

What I’ve Read Since the Last Update

Here’s what I’ve managed to “unstack” from the TBR since the last update. More review coming soon.

  

 

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Have you heard of or read any of the books featured this week? What caught your eye? Any new discoveries? I hope you found something interesting for a future read! Let me know what you plan on checking out. Until next time, see you next Roundup!:)

Friday Face-Off: Mystery

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:

“The impossible could not have happened, therefore the impossible must be possible in spite of appearances”
~ a cover for a MYSTERY novel

Mogsy’s Pick:

13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough

This week’s theme is pretty open-ended, allowing for more options and flexibility. I opted to go with one of my favorite Sarah Pinborough books, a mystery surrounding the near-drowning of a prep school student named Natasha Howland. Smart, rich, and beautiful, Tasha was the most popular girl in school. Then one day, in the dark and early hours of a winter morning, her unresponsive body was pulled from the frigid waters of the River Ribble. Paramedics were able to revive her, but doctors say she was technically dead for thirteen minutes.

Upon waking up from her coma, Tasha can remember nothing about the incident except the horrible sensation of drowning. She does, however, have a sick feeling that her best friends Jenny and Hayley might have been involved with why she was in the woods by the river that night, after noticing the strange way the two of them have been acting around her since she regained consciousness at the hospital. Not knowing who to trust, Tasha turns to Becca, her plain and self-deprecating childhood friend with whom she fell out when the girls reached high school. Told through the eyes of these two teenagers, 13 Minutes is the story of how they unravel the events of the night Tasha went into the river.

Let’s take a look at the covers:

From left to right:
Gollancz (2016) – Flatiron Books Hardover (2017) – Flatiron Books Paperback (2018)

  

French Edition (2018) – Turkish Edition

 

Polish Edition (2018) – Serbian Edition (2018) – Russian Edition (2017)

  

Winner:

The French edition wins again this week! Just looking at that cover gives me chills.

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