Friday Face-Off: Recent Read

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 cover of a RECENT READ

Mogsy’s Pick:

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

For today’s topic, we got to choose a current read or a recent read, but since the book I’m reading now only has one cover, I went with the last book I finished, The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers. Still, even that has only two covers right now since it was just released, so it’s going to be a head-to-head.

HarperVoyager (2021) vs. Hodder & Stoughton (2021)

Winner:

I used to love the UK (Hodder & Stoughton) covers for this series, because there’s nothing like looking up into a vast starry sky to make one appreciate the majesty, beauty, and sheer enormity of the universe. Still, after four reiterations of the same idea, the novelty has sort of worn itself out. The US (HarperVoyager) covers are kind of cheesy and gaudy in a tongue-in-cheek way, but over time they’ve really come to grow on me. I admire them for their charm, if not for the style itself, and even I have to admit the imagery and colors behind this one are pretty damn cool.

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

Audiobook Review: Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone

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

Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone

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

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (April 20, 2021)

Length: 11 hrs and 38 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Katie Leung

Cat and El are identical twin sisters who want nothing to do with each other. When they were nineteen years old, something happened that caused an irreparable rift between them, causing Cat to leave 36 Westeryk Road, the old Gothic house in Edinburgh where they grew up, and cross the ocean for a new life in America. They haven’t spoken to each other since, and Cat hadn’t planned on ever going back. That is, until a shocking phone call out of the blue changed everything.

Now, Cat finds herself on a plane back to her childhood home, trying to sort out her feelings for the news she just got. A few days ago, El had gone out sailing in her boat and never returned. Now her husband Ross is frantically trying to find her, though the authorities have reason to believe that she had an accident at sea and drowned. Cat, however, does not believe that El is dead. As children, they shared a preternatural connection with each other, and Cat was sure that if something bad had happened to her twin, she would have felt it. Besides, she alone knows the lengths her sister would go to if she wanted to make a point or to teach someone a lesson. Growing up, the two of them had been polar opposites, and El was always the one with the dark, impulsive, and mean streak. Cat doesn’t understand why all of this is happening now, but she feels with a certainly down to her bones that her sister is still alive.

But when she arrives at 36 Westeryk Road, where El and Ross have been living, the memories return to Cat like a tidal wave, reminding her of the good times the three of them had shared here as children. There were the thousands of hours spent under the pantry stairs, playing in an imaginary world they created called Mirrorland—a place of jungles, oceans, roadside American diners and anywhere else the girls could think of where their stories of pirates, princesses, witches, clowns and more came to life. Cat realizes that, no matter what happened between them, she still loves her sister and wants her to be okay. Unfortunately, the police have all but given up on looking for El, and Cat doesn’t know how to explain to them how she knows her twin is still out there, not when she doesn’t understand it herself. Someone has been leaving her cryptic messages, leading to clues scattered all through the old house—clues that have significance to both Cat and El’s shared past in Mirrorland.

This book had my attention from the very first page, beguiling me with its secrets and mystery. And as it turns out, El’s disappearance is only the tip of the iceberg. Much more of the story is buried in the past, unfolding through Cat’s childhood memories of her and her sister playing in their make-believe world. Information was doled out in measured amounts—never too much at once, but always just enough to keep you guessing. As such, every question mark was an exciting puzzle to be solved. For instance, what was the watershed event that ultimately led to the twins’ estrangement? And what was up with that insane introduction which showed the two girls when they were much younger? All I desperately wanted was to fill in those blank spaces, and to that, I knew I had to keep reading.

Ironically, where the book started to lose me was when we got the parts with Mirrorland. While I can appreciate the power of a child’s imagination, and to some extent I understood the effect the author was trying to go for, it was nonetheless difficult for me to perceive everything described as a shared phenomenon experienced the same way by multiple people. As much as I enjoy the occasional dash of fantasy in my thrillers, this felt like magical realism applied in a way that was often confusing and heavy-handed. Still, to be fair, a lot of creativity and effort clearly went into creating Mirrorland, a place where the atmosphere feels both eerie and whimsical, and where youthful innocence can sometimes meet with cruel curiosity, leading to hurt and spite. In that sense, it’s also perfectly believable as a product of a child’s mind.

As well, this bizarre nature of Mirrorland meshed nicely with the strange and uncertain tone of Cat’s unreliable narrative. Both she and El had gone through rough times and trauma, affecting her memories and perceptions of certain events. Gradually, these experiences are explained, and here the story holds no punches—be prepared for it to go to some really dark places.

All told, this was a solid debut, with a great premise behind it. Although I wasn’t completely on board with the implementation of Mirrorland, given how it was a major component, I was still thoroughly gripped by its psychological elements. This one was good at keeping me on my toes, and I ate up all the mystery and intrigue.

Audiobook Comments: This is my first audiobook narrated by Katie Leung, who’s probably best known for playing Cho Chang in the Harry Potter movies, but seeing as she’s already an accomplished actress who’s also had a few audiobooks under her belt, I was pretty confident this was going to be a good listen. Admittedly, I had to set playback speed to slower until my ear adjusted to her character voices and accent, but overall I felt her performance added new layers of depth to the story while bringing Cat and the setting of Edinburgh to life.

Waiting on Wednesday 04/21/21

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

Tidepool by Nicole Willson (August 3, 2021 by Parliament House Press)

I have not had a chance to read anything from Parliament House Press yet, but one day soon I hope to give this small SFF and Horror publisher a try. Lately, a couple of their titles have making waves and I find myself irresistibly drawn to Tidepool, not only for its wickedly wonderful cover but also because the Lovecraftian horror elements in it sound very enticing.

“If ye give not willingly, the Lords will rise…

In 1913, Henry Hamilton disappeared while on a business trip, and his sister, Sorrow, won’t rest until she finds out what happened to him. Defying her father’s orders to remain at home, she travels to Tidepool, the last place Henry is known to have visited. Residents of the small, shabby oceanside town can’t quite meet Sorrow’s eyes when she asks about her brother.

When corpses wash up on shore looking as if they’ve been torn apart by something not quite human, Sorrow is ready to return to Baltimore and let her father send in the professional detectives.

However, after meeting Ada Oliver, a widow whose black silk dresses and elegant manners set her apart from other Tidepool residents, Sorrow discovers Tidepool’s dark, deadly secret.

With this discovery, some denizens of Tidepool—human and otherwise—are hell-bent on making sure Sorrow never leaves their forsaken town.

Lovecraftian dark fantasy gets a modern treatment in this terrifying debut novel.”

Audiobook Review: The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

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

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Book 4 of Wayfarers

Publisher: HarperAudio (April 20, 2021)

Length: 9 hrs and 55 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Rachel Dulude

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within is the fourth book in the Wayfarer sequence, and this time author Becky Chambers brings readers to Gora, an unremarkable planet in every way except for its serendipitous proximity to a number of more popular, well-traveled worlds. This makes it the perfect rest stop for starships making the long journey across the galaxy, a place for travelers to refuel, restock, and refresh. Here, a Laru named Ouloo also runs a establishment called the Five-Hop One stop along with her adolescent child, Tupo.

As the book opens, Ouloo and Tupo are preparing the Five-Hop for a day like any other. On the agenda are three scheduled arrivals, each vessel carrying visitors from a different species on their way to different worlds for different purposes. Speaker is a member of the elusive Akarak who must travel all the time in a bio-suit because her species cannot breathe oxygen. Roveg is a heavily-carapaced being known as a Quelim, making his way to a very important appointment. And Captain Tem is an Aeluon, whom Wayfarer fans would recognize as Ashby’s lover Pei from The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet—en route to meet him now, in fact.

All three guests only intended to stay on Gora for a quick break before heading back out on their way. Unfortunately, a sudden disruption in comms puts a damper on those plans, delaying travel until repairs can be made to the damaged satellites. With nothing else to do but wait, mingle and socialize to pass the time, our five aliens at the Five-Hop One Stop decide to come together and share their stories.

My favorite thing about the Wayfarer series? Every new novel is a completely separate and unknown adventure to discover. The thing I like the least? Every new novel is a completely separate and unknown adventure to discover. It’s possible that I have been spoiled by A Closed and Common Orbit and Record of a Spaceborn Few, the latter of which whose balance of character building and storytelling was as close to perfection as you can get. After all, I just love a good narrative with conflict, along with all the ups and downs that come with it.

The style of The Galaxy, and the Ground Within, on the other hand, is more in the vein of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet—episodic, multi-thread, with no central force to drive or guide it. Unlike the first book though, the entirety of this one takes place over a short time, in a single setting. I waited and waited for something close to a conventional plot to emerge, but it never came. It’s just not that kind of book. So what kind of book is it? It’s how I would imagine my crew from Mass Effect would be like during their off-hours behind the scenes, hanging out in the mess hall of my ship, shooting the shit. And it’s also a lot like the Breakfast Club, except instead of kids with nothing in common, these are aliens with nothing in common (and they actually want to know more about each other). But as their time on Gora grows longer, with some of them having urgent places to go and things to do, gradually patience starts to wear thin, and inevitably a couple of the aliens start to get on each other’s nerves.

Still, this being a Wayfarers book, you can rest assured that won’t lead to anything more serious than a mild tiff. To be sure, this latest installment is of the same tone as its predecessors, if not the same style. The mood is sweet, with themes that are charming and sentimental, just bordering on campy. I loved the description of the Five-Hop as an intergalactic truck stop in the synopsis, though in my mind I likened it more to a cozy bed and breakfast, especially given the way Ouloo so lovingly takes care of her property and guests (tending a garden with plants from different worlds in order to help make her diverse clientele feel more at home, as well as her cakes—who can forget her cakes?) The individual characters’ backgrounds also meant getting snippets of many separate stories, mostly related to their respective lives, cultural traditions and familial relationships. While it could get pretty heavy-handed at times, overall the novel delivered some earnest messages about the sharing of values and problems between different species, portraying this engagement in a realistic light without going full on kumbaya.

All told though, nothing happens here that’s all that surprising, and those messages conveyed were also pretty much as expected. No earthshattering revelations here! Furthermore, the aliens, as unique and strange they might seem to us, all have fairly predictable problems like your standard hang-ups about relationships with parents, kids, siblings, lovers, society and the like. Even the story’s conflicts, what little there were, felt highly manufactured and contrived. Most frustrating of all is the sense that the best and most interesting parts of our characters’ lives will be just around the corner…but of course, that’s when the book ends.

But hey, if the whole of your book is to give off the warm and fuzzies, I guess none of that stuff really matters.

All in all, The Galaxy, and the Ground Within was a good read, but compared to the other Wayfarer books, I would probably put it at the bottom of the stack. Sadly, it does sound like this will be the last one of the series, but since each installment stands alone with only slight elements and references to connect them to each other, I’m glad all four novels can be taken as a complete body of work showcasing the beauty and wonders of the universe Chambers has crafted with such care and attention. I would definitely recommend reading them all to experience the full scope.

Audiobook Comments: This was actually my first time doing a Wayfarers book in audio, and I really enjoyed it. Rachel Dulude’s narration was expert and powerful, and it all made for a wonderfully engaging listen.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of A Closed and Common Orbit
Review of Record of a Spaceborn Few

Novella Review: The Dispatcher: Murder by Other Means by John Scalzi

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

The Dispatcher: Murder by Other Means by John Scalzi

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Book 2 of The Dispatcher 

Publisher: Subterranean Press (April 30, 2021)

Length: 192 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Murder by Other Means is the second novella in John Scalzi’s The Dispatcher series and I wanted to like it more, but this is one of those cases where comparisons to the first book will be inevitable. Long story short, those are some mega huge shoes to fill, and while this sequel certainly wasn’t bad, it also didn’t quite meet those high expectations either.

Before I get into the meat of the review, I think a crash course on the world of The Dispatcher is in order. Basically, the entire premise of the series revolves around a strange phenomenon that suddenly became reality for everyone on the planet, forever changing the way they think about death. For you see, it has now become nearly impossible to kill anyone. Oh, death still occurs, if it happened to be natural or by accident or suicide. But for some reason, if you were murdered, i.e., your life was deliberately taken by someone else, there was actually a really good chance you’d come back to life—999 out of 1000 times, to be precise. In those cases, the victim’s body would disappear and they would be “reborn” naked, as safe and as whole as the day they were “killed”, right back in their homes. No one knows why it works this way, or how it happens. Everyone has sort of just accepted it, just like how you, as the reader, are expected to accept it and don’t ask too many questions.

But then, you might ask, what happens to the 1 in 1000 that are murdered? Don’t they come back? Nope, those are the unlucky chumps that drew the short straw, and they stay killed—dead. But for a lot of people, that’s a chance they’re willing to take—like those who are ill and are undergoing a risky medical procedure, for instance. Something goes wrong? No problem, get someone to murder them, and BAM, get a do-over.

Needless to say, a system like this is rife for abuse, leading to the government to create a whole new role, and that’s where our protagonist Tony Valdez comes in. He is a Dispatcher, an officially licensed killer. The rules surrounding his profession ensures that those utilizing his services do so safely, lawfully, and humanely. But of course, not all Dispatchers stick to “authorized” jobs, many of them taking contracts from private clients ranging from unscrupulous businessmen to wealthy thrill-seekers since that’s where all the big money is. Tony has always tried to stay above board, but now that times are tough, he’s willing to bend the rules a little, depending on the circumstances. And anyway, this latest job he’s been hired for by a private law firm isn’t the worst he’s had to do, as far as shady deals go. But then, when people connected to the firm and those who have been in contact with him start dying under mysterious circumstances, Tony can’t help to wonder if he’s made a big mistake.

The driving force behind this series is an interesting and wildly imaginative concept, of a caliber I would have attributed to an author like Brandon Sanderson if the details surrounding it hadn’t been so macabre. The reality is, though, you do lose a lot of the novelty after the first book, so for this sequel I’d hoped for Scalzi to build upon what’s already there to keep things fresh. Let’s face it, there’s plenty he could have done, limitless possibilities he could explore, given how I’m sure we all have questions. I’ve already suspended my disbelief far enough to go along with anything he might throw my way, but instead, he decided to play it circumspect and go with a rather unremarkable mystery plot.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good mystery. This also being a novella though, there just wasn’t much in the way of development, surprises, or any interesting twists and turns. That said, as long as you don’t mind a more simplistic noir story, Murder by Other Means will still provide a satisfying amount light, easy entertainment. The plot might be undemanding, not requiring the reader to be on alert for any false leads or clues, but that isn’t to say the book was dull. You’ll still get plenty of Scalzi’s brand of humor, as well as the occasional glimpse into the wild and crazy things that people in this world will get up to now that murder is almost impossible. So, even though you’re pretty much led by the nose, at least you’ll have fun.

Ultimately, I’m glad there was a sequel to The Dispatcher. If future books are in the cards though, my hope is that we would get a fresher angle to explore the series concept, or a more original story at the very least. Still, Murder by Other Means made for a fine diversion, and I appreciate the ideas in it for being far more introspective and unique than some of the contrived stuff John Scalzi has been putting out in recent years. There’s a lot of potential here, and I would love to see that developed to its fullest.

Review of The Dispatcher (Book 1)

Novella Review: Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells

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

Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells

Mogsy’s Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Book 6 of The Murderbot Diaries

Publisher: Tor.com (April 27, 2021)

Length: 176 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Detective Murderbot is the BEST Murderbot! Martha Wells returns to the short format with Fugitive Telemetry, the sixth volume released in the Murderbot Diaries sequence and it’s probably my favorite one yet—which is really saying something, considering how much I’ve enjoyed all the books. What can I say, but a murder mystery in space will do it for me every time!

And this one doesn’t mess around. The story beings right away with the discovery of a dead body on Preservation Station, a quiet little outpost on which Murderbot finds itself along with Dr. Mensah while hiding out from GrayCris. The place isn’t exactly killer central, sending the entire station into lockdown and our protagonist’s risk assessment levels soaring. It’s possible that their enemies could have found them, but then again, the death might be completely unrelated. That’s what Preservation’s Senior Officer Indah is trying to figure out, along with support teams from Station Security and Port Authority.

Murderbot being Murderbot, all it wants is to be left alone with its shows, but Dr. Mensah has other ideas. It had been a right challenge to convince the pertinacious Indah to take in a SecUnit, so in order to continue cultivating goodwill with their hosts, she believes it would be prudent for Murderbot to help out with the investigation as a consultant. While Murderbot isn’t at all happy with that plan (but then again, it seldom is), it knows Dr. Mensah is right. Plus, getting involved in the case might also mean gaining access to some of the security systems and data it had been denied before, and the sooner they can rule out a threat from GrayCris, the safer Dr. Mensah and her team will be.

What follows next is a sequence of events that read more like a locked room mystery, but that’s not to say we don’t have many of the tried-and-true elements that made all the other Murderbot Diaries books such a hit. Theoretically, one can probably read Fugitive Telemetry as a standalone, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend it. This story will be much more enjoyable if you have read up to Exit Strategy, the ending of which explains why Murderbot now has reason to fear retribution from GrayCris, not to mention having a solid foundation of knowledge from the previous books would also lead to more appreciation for the characters and the relationships.

As well, being able to understand the significance of society’s attitudes towards Murderbot is a crucial point to this novella. Time and time again, we’ve heard how humans fear and mistrust SecUnits, but so far in the series, our protagonist has spent a great deal of time traveling alone or has had its interactions mostly limited to Dr. Mensah and members of her team. This all changes in Fugitive Telemetry. For the first time, Murderbot’s designation is out in the open, which comes with its own set of unique challenges as most of the population still perceive rogue SecUnits as thoughtless killing machines. Of course, this situation would have been more tragic, if Murderbot’s overall pragmatism and wry commentary about the silly behaviors of humans didn’t make everything so damn hilarious.

It was also profoundly satisfying to watch as Murderbot trounced the Preservation Station’s ragtag security team on threat assessment and defense strategy, though ultimately nothing could compare to the feeling of vindication as those in charge gradually began seeing our protagonist as more a person. All the while, we were also seeing a similar change in Murderbot as it grudgingly developed an appreciation for being a part of a team, and—against its better judgement—even started to feel invested in the lives and wellbeing of those affected by the murder investigation.

Which leads me to the story itself. I’m not going to give away any more details of the plot, other than the fact it kept me hooked from start to finish, and I could not tear myself away. I honestly was surprised by the ending and did not anticipate a lot of the twists and turns. Despite its primary classification as a sci-fi novel, do not doubt that Fugitive Telemetry can hold its own in the mystery category, and even surpass expectations for the whodunnit genre.

Bottom line, followers of the series owe it to themselves to also check out Fugitive Telemetry. For me, it was the perfect blend of entertaining sci-fi action and tantalizing murder mystery, though I also enjoyed seeing our favorite SecUnit continue to navigate the indeterminate world of human space and learning new lessons, both strange and wonderful. And if you still haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Murderbot yet, seriously—what are you waiting for?! Run, don’t walk, to pick up All Systems Red and begin this amazing journey, which I hope will last for a long time yet.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of All Systems Red (Book 1)
Review of Artificial Condition (Book 2)
Review of Rogue Protocol (Book 3)
Review of Exit Strategy (Book 4)
Review of Network Effect (Book 5)

Bookshelf Roundup: 04/17/21: 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!

Only a few new arrivals in the mailbox this week, so this update will be a quick one. First, I received an ARC of Gone for Good by Joanna Schaffhausen, with thanks to Minotaur Books. They’ve been sending me a lot of great thrillers lately, and this one’s the opening volume of a new mystery series featuring a female sleuth on the trail of a serial killer after a cold case is reopened.

Courtesy of the kind folks at Grand Central Publishing, I also received Breakout by Paul Herron, which is a thriller as well, but of a different sort. A correctional officer and an ex-cop flee from a Category 5 hurricane in this edgy page-turner, but the only place of refuge is a maximum-security prison where its eight hundred blood-crazed inmates have been released and left to fend for themselves as floodwaters rise. Okay, this sounds totally bonkers, but now I want to read it so badly!

My thanks also to the awesome team at Subterranean Press for an ARC of The Best of David Brin, an anthology described as a major retrospective collection of the author’s short stories, gathered across his career which spans many decades. This is a huge book, containing more than twenty of Brin’s award winning work.

Just one audiobook in the digital haul this week. I’ve been contemplating picking up The Last Watch by J.S. Dewes for a while, but finally decided to get off the fence recently when I saw some promising reviews on Goodreads and high praise from a couple bloggers I follow. When a listening copy was offered to me for review, I took the opportunity, with thanks to Macmillan Audio.

Reviews

The Lost Village by Camilla Sten (4 of 5 stars)
All the Murmuring Bones by A.G. Slatter (4 of 5 stars)
The Light of Midnight Stars by Rena Rossner (3.5 of 5 stars)
The Stolen Kingdom by Jillian Boehme (3 of 5 stars)

What I’ve Been Reading

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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: *Grabby Hands*

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:

“I have to have it!”
~ a cover that gave you “GRABBY HANDS

Oh, must we make this a competition? Can’t I just, you know, feature all the new and upcoming releases on my TBR with covers that I fell in love with? 😀

Book Review: The Lost Village by Camilla Sten

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

The Lost Village by Camilla Sten

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Horror

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Minotaur Books (March 23, 2021)

Length: 340 pages

Author Information: Website

The Lost Village is a horror suspense novel following an amateur film crew hoping to make a documentary on the mysterious fate of Silvertjarn, a small Swedish mining town in the late 50’s which saw its entire population of about 900 disappear overnight. Only a newborn baby was found left behind in the schoolhouse, her parents unknown.

Now in the present day, a group of young filmmakers are hoping to travel to the village and discover the truth of what happened. As their leader, Alice has a vested interest in the project, and not only because she has already spent much of the funding that was poured into this documentary and needs it to succeed. Silvertjarn was also the hometown of her grandmother, who lost her parents and beloved little sister when everyone disappeared. Alice’s connection to the village had also led her to befriend Tone, the miracle baby that was found, now all grown up and hoping to tag along and uncover her mysterious origins.

Also part of the team is Alice’s good friend Max, who had done quite well for himself after college, and is now a major financial backer of the film. As well, Alice was forced to hire another one of her old contacts from film school, her once best friend Emmy. Following their epic falling out, things were never quite the same between the two women, but Alice needed a production manager and for some reason Emmy was willing to work for her and bring along her partner Robert, an experienced technician. The two of them also didn’t mind taking a pay cut, which was a big plus, since money was tight.

Alice hopes that she will find something in Silvertjarn to make her documentary a hit and launch her career. But when the five of them arrive at the lost village, nothing goes as planned. One of them suffers a serious injury, jeopardizing their whole schedule. Then there are the strange noises, and the glimpses of a stranger among the broken rundown houses. But surely there can’t be anyone else in these woods but them?

The Lost Village is being pitched as The Blair Witch Project meets Midsommar, presumably because of the filmmaking angle and the Swedish setting, respectively. But what it really is something entirely different and on its own. I will say that the book was thoroughly enjoyable, even though it was not without its flaws. It is slow-moving, for one, at least at the beginning, but the mood-building and story development was excellent. The plot unfolds via two timelines, one in the present following our movie crew, and one in the past, which is revealed to us gradually through letters and journal entries written by the close relatives of Alice’s grandmother.

I especially enjoyed these flashback sections to the past, showing us what life in Silvertjarn was like before everyone disappeared, including the devastating closure of the local mine which led to many of its residents moving away to find new work. Some of those who stayed became depressed or turned to drink. For the most part though, this was a tight knit community that supported each other through tough times. But then came the arrival of a mysterious and charismatic new pastor, who changes the fate of the village forever.

Given all that transpires in the past, it’s no wonder I found that timeline more enticing. In fact, one of the criticisms I have is that for about three quarters of the book, much of the present timeline feels uneventful and dull in comparison. When Alice and her team arrive in Silvertjarn, they find a whole lot of nothing. This quiet, eerie and lonely atmosphere was effective only up to a point, however, as tensions around the camp quickly devolve into incessant bickering and handwringing. For a film crew, they also don’t seem to do much or know anything about filmmaking. Granted, this could be due to the problems they run into, but with all these concerns about their limited time, you’d think these characters would have more agency.

Fortunately, the pacing picks up dramatically the closer we get to the ending, as more shocking developments occur in the present and horrible revelations also come to light in the past. The ending could have gone in a number of possible directions, but I thought things came together in the best way they could have. Overall, despite some pacing issues and unevenness in the interest generated between its two timelines, The Lost Village was a good read, for it made up for its minor shortcomings with an intriguing hook and great atmosphere.

Waiting on Wednesday 04/14/21

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

Revelator by Daryl Gregory (August 31, 2021 by Knopf Publishing Group)

Looks like 2021 will be a big year for Daryl Gregory, but seeing as his last novel was Spoonbenders in 2017, I’m not complaining. I love his books!

“In 1933, nine-year-old Stella is left in the care of her grandmother, Motty, in the backwoods of Tennessee. These remote hills of the Smoky Mountains are home to dangerous secrets, and soon after she arrives, Stella wanders into a dark cavern where she encounters the family’s personal god, an entity known as the Ghostdaddy.

Years later, after a tragic incident that caused her to flee, Stella–now a professional bootlegger–returns for Motty’s funeral, and to check on the mysterious ten-year-old girl named Sunny that Motty adopted. Sunny appears innocent enough, but she is more powerful than Stella could imagine–and she’s a direct link to Stella’s buried past and her family’s destructive faith.

Haunting and wholly engrossing, summoning mesmerizing voices and giving shape to the dark, Revelator is a southern gothic tale for the ages.”