Bookshelf Roundup 10/02/22: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads

Bookshelf Roundup is a feature I do every weekend which fills the role of several blog memes, like Stacking the Shelves where I talk about the new books I’ve added to my library or received for review, as well as It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? where I summarize what I’ve finished reading in the last week and what I’m planning to read soon. Mostly it also serves as a recap post, so sometimes I’ll throw in stuff like reading challenge progress reports, book lists, and other random bookish thoughts or announcements.

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Received for Review

My thanks to the publishers and authors for the following review copies received, and be sure to click the links to their Goodreads pages for more details and full descriptions!

A big thanks to Union Square Co. this week for sending me a review copy of A Broken Blade by Melissa Blair, the first book of The Halfling Saga which is a new Young Adult series about an assassin spy who tracks her latest target to the lands of the Fae. When Tachyon Publications also contacted me last month about their upcoming titles, Bitter Medicine by Mia Tsai also caught my eye. Thanks so much to the publisher for sending me an ARC of this urban fantasy romance between a Chinese Immortal and a French elf. A huge thanks also to Tor Books for sending me an ARC of The Terraformers by Annalee Newitz, a sci-fi novel of space exploraton and settlement which has been described as perfect for fans of Becky Chambers and Martha Wells.

Just in time for the spooky season, Tor Nightfire also made my week with these two new arrivals, Little Eve by Catriona Ward and The Witch in the Well by Camilla Bruce. I’ve already started on the latter. It’s gonna be an awesome October!

In the digital haul, the beginning of the month always brings new audiobooks. With thanks to Hachette Audio for an ALC of Blitz by Daniel O’Malley, the long awaited third book of The Checquy Files.

And with thanks to Penguin Random House Audio for the following listening copies: Station Eternity by Mur LaffertyThe Family Game by Catherine SteadmanJackal by Erin E. Adams, and Dead Man’s Hand by James J. Butcher.

Reviews

Stay Awake by Megan Goldin (4 of 5 stars)
Bad Dolls by Rachel Harrison (4 of 5 stars)

What I’ve Been Reading

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!

Book Review: Stay Awake by Megan Goldin

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

Stay Awake by Megan Goldin

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (August 9, 2022)

Length: 352 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Memory loss thrillers have been done many times before, in many different ways, but Megan Golden has come up with her own twisty, mind-bending take on things. In Stay Awake, we follow Liv Reese, who wakes up one morning in a cab with no memory of how she got there. The last thing she remembers is working at her desk in Manhattan office, then nothing. When the cab drops her off at her apartment, at first she thinks the driver made a mistake. The building looks familiar, but when she rings the bell at the apartment she shares with her roommate, a couple of strangers answer the door, irritated at being woken up at such a late hour. Liv doesn’t have her phone or wallet, but insider her pocket is a knife wrapped in a bloody shirt. Looking down at her hands, she notices scribbles written all across her skin. One of the messages: STAY AWAKE!

While Liv may be confused as to what is happening all around her, readers are clued in almost right away. Our protagonist has a rare memory loss disorder, leading her to become lost and disoriented every time she wakes up, because in her mind it is still two years ago when everything in her life was perfect—she was rooming with her best friend, dating a wonderful new guy, and working at a trendy magazine for the art scene. But now she is alone in the middle of the night on a park bench, wondering why her whole world as suddenly turned upside down. Then, she spies a news report on a murder where the killer has scrawled WAKE UP! across a window in the victim’s blood. The message, so close to the one written on her hands, as well as the bloody knife sends Liv into a panic. She has no idea why she can’t remember anything, but until she finds out more about what’s going, she knows she must keep on running.

It’s understandable, the comparisons to 50 First Dates and Memento. Like the latter, Stay Awake is a narrative where you have to piece things together somewhat backwards. The story is told very cleverly through the creative use of the timeline and various POVs. One of these is Darcy Halliday of the NYPD, who is the hardworking and tough-as-nails lead detective on the murder case. And then of course there are the flashbacks to Liv’s own past, and her attempts to figure out why her memory seems to be stuck to a point in time two years ago. What happened to trigger her memory disorder? What has happened in all that time since? What happened to her best friend? Her boyfriend? Who are some of these people trying to help her now, claiming to know about her situation? Can she trust anyone?

Questions abound in this mystery thriller, and Goldin weaves together these disparate threads with such great pacing and momentum that once you start you just can’t stop. Speaking as someone who has also read the author’s previous two novels The Escape Room and The Night Swim, this one is perhaps the most exciting and propulsive yet. It might not have had the depth and emotional impact of The Night Swim, which is probably still my favorite book of hers, but Stay Awake definitely had a dark, enticing hook that gave the story much of its appeal.

And while it was a killer thriller, in many ways this story also read like a tantalizing police procedural, thanks to the chapters devoted to Detective Halliday who was easily my favorite character. Liv’s narrative, although very compelling, was also disorienting and quite scattered by necessity. Halliday’s POV therefore had the secondary purpose of pulling all the clues together and bringing cohesion to the plot.

In sum, Megan Goldin has written another crowd-pleaser. Mind you it’s not breaking much new ground when it comes to memory loss thrillers, but I did enjoy the tensions of the plot as well as the resourcefulness and tenacity of the main characters. So far the books I’ve read by the author have been very different, and while I expect she’ll come up with more ideas to keep things fresh in the future, I certainly wouldn’t mind if we saw Halliday and her partner Lavelle again in a future case. I’ll continue to follow Goldin’s work with interest.

Waiting on Wednesday 09/28/2022

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

Witch King by Martha Wells (May 30, 2023 by Tordotcom)

Martha Wells, the New York Times bestselling author of the Murderbot series, pens a major fantasy novel in Witch King.

Kai-Enna is the Witch King, though he hasn’t always been, and he hasn’t even always been Kai-Enna!

After being murdered, his consciousness dormant and unaware of the passing of time while confined in an elaborate water trap, Kai wakes to find a lesser mage attempting to harness Kai’s magic to his own advantage. That was never going to go well.

But why was Kai imprisoned in the first place? What has changed in the world since his assassination? And why does the Rising World Coalition appear to be growing in influence?

Kai will need to pull his allies close and draw on all his pain magic if he is to answer even the least of these questions.

He’s not going to like the answers.

Witch King is a rousing tale of power and friendship, of trust and betrayal, and of the families we choose.”

Audiobook Review: Bad Dolls by Rachel Harrison

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

Bad Dolls by Rachel Harrison

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

Genre: Horror

Series: N/A

Publisher: Penguin Audio (September 6, 2022)

Length: 3 hrs and 56 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrators: Helen Laser, Suehyla El-Attar Young, Frankie Corzo, Phoebe Strole

Rachel Harrison continues to impress me, and the fact that I enjoyed Bad Dolls so much says a lot! Short fiction isn’t typically my format of choice, but after the great time I had with both the author’s novels The Return and Cackle, I thought it worthwhile to give her horror story collection a try when I was offered an early listening copy from Penguin Audio. And I’m so glad I did.

Reply Hazy, Try Again

This first story follows an indecisive young woman who impulsively buys a Magic 8 ball from a flea market. At first, our protagonist treats the whole thing like a joke, posing random advice-seeking questions to the toy just to see the replies she’ll get. Soon though, the ball appears to take on a mind of its own, one that impossibly seems to know more than it should.

As creepy as this all sounds, the story is actually quite light on horror and more focused on human drama, touching upon subjects like work, life, and relationships. The idea behind it is very unique though, and I liked that there was a strong paranormal or uncanny element.

Bachelorette

This was perhaps my favorite story of the collection. “If I’d been told in advance about the blood sacrifice, I would have made up an excuse not to attend the bachelorette party.” Best first line ever! Our main character Natalie is invited to the bachelorette party of her childhood best friend, Haley. The two women have always been close, but ever since Haley moved away for college and made new friends, Natalie has started worrying about them drifting apart. So when one of Haley’s sorority sisters rents a beautiful rustic cottage for the bachelorette weekend, Natalie makes a valiant effort to participate in all the activities and pretend she is enjoying herself for Haley’s sake, even though she feels like an outsider the entire time. Still, even best friends have their limits, and there are definitely lines that shouldn’t be crossed.

Many of Rachel Harrison’s stories are centered on female friendships, and this tale was no exception, looking at the evolution of relationships and how people’s lives change over time. Lots of complex feelings explored in this one too, especially the main character’s insecurities and personal fears. Plenty of humor was involved, and the relatability of Natalie’s voice also made this story very easy to get into, helped by the amazing performance of the audiobook narrator.

Goblin

A woman and her friend decide to try out a trendy new app that claims to be able to help them with their dieting goals, except our main character is someone who has recently recovered from an eating disorder. Supposedly, this app works by summoning an adorable little goblin-like mascot to give you encouragement anytime you need a bit of motivation or moral support. Our protagonist thinks there must be something seriously wrong with her app though, since her goblin turns out to be a nasty piece of work.

I struggled a bit with this one, trying to wrap my head around the basic concept. In the end, I liked it, but it’s also the perfect example of a short story that could have greatly benefited from being longer, just so the ideas and the world and the characters could have been more fleshed out.

Bad Dolls

In this story, a woman returns to her hometown following the death of her little sister to be closer to her family. After going through and tidying up the things in the room that she is renting, she finds a mysterious old porcelain doll which no one seems to know to whom it belonged or where it came from.

Out of the offerings in this collection, this tale had the closest feel to a traditional horror story. Dolls have always creeped me out, so this one definitely gave me chills. Like “Goblin”, I think “Bad Dolls” could have been longer, simply because there’s enough content here beyond the horror aspects to warrant a full-length novel, such as the depth of themes involved like family, grief, and sacrifice.

All told though, I highly recommend this collection, whether you’re an existing fan of Rachel Harrison or are completely new to her work. Normally, I wouldn’t suggest starting with an author’s short stories but I’m making an exception with this book because, short as they are, the tales within are a very good reflection of Harrison’s knack for storytelling and her fun twists on horror. Everything she writes is now a must-read for me.

Bookshelf Roundup 09/25/22: 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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This week has been…not so good. One of our dogs got sick suddenly, and it turned out to be more serious than we thought. Long story short, we had to make the difficult decision to put him down, which has left a sizeable hole in my heart and a void in our family. Although I’ve been crying a lot missing my best buddy, I also know it was the right decision, and he’s no longer suffering. Rest well, Strider, my sweet pup. Thank you for twelve amazing years.

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!

Earlier in the month, courtesy of the kind folks at Tordotcom, I received the following: an ARC of The Keeper’s Six by Kate Elliott, a tale of dragons and portals; an ARC of Feed Them Silence by Lee Mandelo, a dark sci-fi horror novella about a scientist who develops a neurological interface to literally see through a wolf’s eyes, though her obsession and depth of her research carries a high cost; and also, a finished copy of Leech by Hiron Ennes, a Gothic horror about a doctor who takes a new post in an an isolated chateau in the north and discovers many mysteries left behind by the institute’s previous physician.

With thanks to Orbit Books, I also received a beautiful ARC of Empire of Exiles by Erin M. Evans. This was one of my most anticipated releases this fall, so I’m really looking forward to reading it. From the publisher I also received a finished copy of Notorious Sorcerer by Davinia Evans, a fantasy debut featuring tons of action and adventure and what sounds to be like a pretty unique alchemy-based magic system.

And finally, big thanks to the Minotaur Books team for sending me a copy of Treasure State by C.J. Box. This was a surprise arrival, but I’m familiar with the author’s name even though I’ve never his books before. This one appears to be a later volume in an existing series called The Highway Quartet featuring Private Investigator Cassie Dewell, but fortunately it sounds like it can be read as a standalone.

Reviews

The House with the Golden Door by Elodie Harper (4.5 of 5 stars)
The Art of Prophecy by Wesley Chu (4 of 5 stars)

Roundup Highlights:

What I’ve Been Reading

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!

Book Review: The Art of Prophecy by Wesley Chu

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

The Art of Prophecy by Wesley Chu

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of The War Arts Saga

Publisher: Del Rey (August 9, 2022)

Length: 544 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

I have been reading Wesley Chu’s work for a long time and if I’m not mistaken, I believe The Art of Prophecy might be his first foray into the epic fantasy genre. This first book of his new series The War Arts Saga is a lushly written story of intrigue, adventure and action set in a world that’s not only inspired by rich histories and theologies of Asian cultures but also the martial-chivalric traditions of the Wuxia genre. There’s no doubt this novel is much bigger, deeper, and very different in style and scope to the author’s previous works, but fans will be happy to know his writing is as witty and entertaining as ever.

It also might not surprise anyone to learn that one of the main themes of The Art of Prophecy is…well, prophecy. According to the book’s lore, many centuries ago it was foretold that a child will be born whose destiny is to defeat the Eternal Khan, the immortal god-king of the Katuia Hordes. When the story opens, this chosen one has been identified as Wen Jian, now a teenager studying at the palace under the tutelage of many masters who have been training him in martial arts since he was small boy. Somewhere along the way though, it appears that both the student and his teachers have become blinded by the pomp of prophecy, losing sight of their purpose. Thus, when the celebrated war master Ling Taishi arrives to evaluate Jian, rather than the great warrior everyone expected, she instead finds a pampered young man who has never been tried in a real battle.

Disgusted, Taishi decides to take the boy on as her apprentice, determined to transform him into the hero that the prophecy promised. Having been doted on and spoiled his entire life, Jian initially rebels against her harsh training, but then the two of them eventually reach a point of mutual respect—just in time to receive the news that the Eternal Khan has died. In a single moment, Jian’s entire world is turned upside down. For if the nemesis that he was fated to kill is already dead, then where does that leave him? Sensing that the boy will be in great danger now that the entire prophecy has crumbled around him, Taishi escapes the palace with Jian and takes him to a warrior arts school, where she plans to hide him until the danger has passed.

But as it turns out, Jian has more to fear than death at the hands of his own people. Out in the Grass Sea, Sali of the Katuia has taken on an important quest now that the khan and her dear friend whom she had pledged her life to is now gone. And then there’s the mysterious Qisami, a ruthless bounty hunter and assassin who has been tasked to kill Jian.

Hands down, what I loved most about The Art of Prophecy was the way it turned a well-known fantasy trope on its head. What happens when the chosen turns out not to be the chosen one after all? While the first part of the novel played out like your typical master and apprentice scenario with Taishi taking on the role of wise teacher and Jian the part of the reluctant student, the plot was turned on its head once it is revealed that the Eternal Khan is dead. From here on out, it was anyone’s guess what would happen. While I will admit to being a big fan of warrior-in-training stories so I didn’t actually mind the cliches in the first part that much, I also had a blast once the focus shifted to Jian’s exile and all the developments that followed.

Once Taishi left Jian at the school and they went their separate ways, that was also when I felt both characters were able come into their own. They became much more interesting as a result, after shaking off the expectations that came with their previous roles. It became a close contest at this point as to who was my favorite POV to follow, as Sali’s presence also grew more prominent as the story progressed. She was definitely one of the more memorable characters, caught between duty and her own personal mission to find her missing sister. Perhaps the only character I did not feel much sympathy for was Qisami. She seemed a little over-the-top, and had little depth beyond being the badass, merciless, psychotic assassin archetype. Hopefully the next book will give her more substance.

For the next installment, I’m also hoping for more world-building. What we got here was quite solid, but sometimes sparse in places. Knowing that this is an Asian-inspired world influenced especially by the traditions of wuxia made it somewhat easier to fill in any voids left in the setting, but I would love to see everything more fleshed out in the sequel—more depth in the history and cultures of the people and in the characters’ backstories.

But all in all, The Art of Prophecy was a great start, and clearly the next step in Wesley Chu’s journey as a writer. It’s a very ambitious project, one that I can see developing into an impressive tour de force. It was undeniably a winner in my eyes in terms of providing action and entertainment, two elements that are often rare or hard to maintain in an epic fantasy series, but which this novel had no problems delivering in high energy amounts. I hope the momentum will continue and I look forward to picking up the next book.

Waiting on Wednesday 09/21/2022

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 Angel Maker by Alex North (February 28, 2023 by Celadon Books)

“From the New York Times bestselling author of The Whisper Man and The Shadows comes a dark, suspenseful new thriller about the mysteries of fate, the unbreakable bond of siblings, and a notorious serial killer who was said to know the future.

Growing up in a beautiful house in the English countryside, Katie Shaw lived a charmed life. At the cusp of graduation, she had big dreams, a devoted boyfriend, and a little brother she protected fiercely. Until the day a violent stranger changed the fate of her family forever.

Years later, still unable to live down the guilt surrounding what happened to her brother, Chris, and now with a child of her own to protect, Katie struggles to separate the real threats from the imagined. Then she gets the phone call: Chris has gone missing and needs his big sister once more.

Meanwhile, Detective Laurence Page is facing a particularly gruesome crime. A distinguished professor of fate and free will has been brutally murdered just hours after firing his staff. All the leads point back to two old cases: the gruesome attack on teenager Christopher Shaw, and the despicable crimes of a notorious serial killer who, legend had it, could see the future.”

Book Review: The House with the Golden Door by Elodie Harper

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

The House with the Golden Door by Elodie Harper

Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Historical Fiction

Series: Book 2 of The Wolf Den Trilogy

Publisher: Union Square Co. (September 6, 2022)

Length: 472 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

I thought The Wolf Den would be hard to top, but my goodness, Elodie Harper has done it again! Earlier this year I was completely floored by the eloquence and profundity of the first book in the series, which led to its sequel The House with the Golden Door becoming one of my most anticipated releases this fall. And what can I say, but it was as utterly riveting and amazing as I’d hoped.

Before I continue though, be aware that this review may contain possible spoilers for the first book if you are not yet caught up. The story picks up almost immediately following the events at the end The Wolf Den in which we saw Amara freed from her life of slavery working as a prostitute at one of Pompeii’s most notorious brothels. And yet, for all that she now dresses in silks, eats the finest foods, and lives in relative luxury, she is still not her own woman. Amara fears that it’s only a matter of time before Rufus, her lover and the patron who bought her, will lose interest and leave her with no possessions or protection. Almost every waking moment is thus spent trying to please him and keep him satisfied, and until she can earn her own living, Amara knows she can never be truly free of her painful, brutal past.

Of course, it also doesn’t help that she has landed herself deeply in debt with Felix, her former owner and proprietor of the Wolf Den, but Amara had been unable to leave her friends behind. After managing to rescue Victoria and Britannica, the three women work to save up the money to repay their old boss, Amara using her head for business and numbers to make clandestine deals. Our protagonist realizes that to be get ahead in this world, she must be ruthless and harden her heart. Yet, against her best judgment, Amara falls in love and becomes involved in a forbidden affair, putting her newfound status as a freedwoman in jeopardy.

Once more, Harper transports readers back to first century Pompeii, a few years before the eruption of Vesuvius. For the time being though, the visions of fire and ash are still far away, and Pompeiians are still living their busy lives blissfully unaware of the fate that will befall their vibrant, bustling city. In The Wolf Den, we saw what women like Amara had to do to survive—enslaved prostitutes who were at the mercy of their masters and clients, forced to live and work in appalling conditions. The House with the Golden Door, on the other hand, showed us another side of life in Pompeii as Amara was raised to her new station as courtesan to a powerful man. No more dank bathhouses or cramped rooms for our protagonist, as she now runs in social circles which include other rich denizens of Pompeii like politicians and wealthy merchants.

That said, I worried that we would lose the spirit of sisterhood that I loved so much in the first book, especially following the loss of Amara’s best friend and her freedom from the Wolf Den. Happily, some of that loss was reduced by the presence of Victoria and Britannica, both of whom played very important roles in the plot, adding much joy and even more heartbreak. Britannica especially became a new favorite, and I can’t wait to see what more she can bring to the series.

Then there was Amara herself. The House with the Golden Door focuses on a new chapter of her life, in which she must learn to navigate the world in her new role. She thought being with Rufus was what she wanted, but the saying “be careful what you wish for” comes to mind, as she realizes her patron isn’t the man she thought he was. Admittedly, a lot of the problems she faces in this book are of her own making, as it’s clear Amara knows her greatest weakness is her soft heart and yet is unable to make the hard decisions needed to protect herself and get ahead. At times I found myself frustrated with her, but also sympathetic. For all her impulsive choices and many missteps, you couldn’t help but understand why she made them. The author did a powerful and convincing job with Amara’s character development, making her extremely relatable.

I was also mesmerized and captivated by the plot. Amara might not be a slave anymore, but her troubles are far from over. The story never lets us forget the precarious situation she is in, and even without traditional action, I found this book very exciting and dramatic. There’s intrigue, romance, and threat of danger—everything I wanted and more. Understandably, I think most people are drawn to historical fiction about Pompeii because of the famous eruption of Vesuvius, but I’m here to say who needs all that when Elodie Harper gives us something so much better—a story portraying the lives of women like Amara who fight so hard for everything they hold dear in spite of the hardships and challenges they face every day.

In short, I can’t recommend this series enough. Both The Wolf Den and The House with the Golden Door are excellent books, not to be missed if you are a fan of historical fiction, and especially if you enjoy strong female leads and stories of strength and resilience. I can hardly wait for the final book of the trilogy.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of The Wolf Den (Book 1)

Bookshelf Roundup 09/18/22: 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!

Quite a few arrivals to feature from Orbit this week. A couple of these were actually delivered last month while I was away, but I only just got to finish going through all my mail. First, the ARCs: One Dark Window by Rachel Gillig and A Dowry of Blood by S. T. Gibson are both soon to be released and look to be perfect fall reading. I can’t wait to start them soon. I was also super excited by the arrival of an ARC of The Stars Undying by Emery Robin, a space opera debut inspired by Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, and that’s all I needed to hear to know I desperately want to read it. And finally I was also excited to receive a finished copy of Ruination by Anthony Reynolds, a League of Legends novel. I don’t actually play LoL, but I would never turn down the chance to read a video game tie-in.

With thanks to Tor Books, I also received a surprise ARC of Ocean’s Echo by Everina Maxwell late last month. I had mixed feelings about Winter’s Orbit, but since this is a standalone set in the same world, I’m feeling good about giving this one a try. And another surprise arrival with thanks to Minotaur Books, Picture in the Sand by Peter Blauner is a historical drama and suspense that spans several generations from 1950s Egypt to modern times in a post-9/11 world. I don’t know much more at this time, but I’m major side eyeing these big name blurbs plastered all over this ARC from Stephen King to James Patterson.

In the audiobook haul, with thanks to Penguin Audio, I was thrilled to receive an early listening copy of Such Sharp Teeth by Rachel Harrison – I am loving her books so much! And from the amazing folks at Macmillan Audio, I also received ALCs of The Mountain in the Sea by Ray Nayler and The Witch in the Well by Camilla Bruce, plus earlier this month also saw the release of Enola Holmes and the Elegant Escapade by Nancy Springer and I am over the moon about there being another Enola Holmes book!

With thanks also to HarperAudio for a listening copy of Sand by Hugh Howey, which I hope to get to before the release of its follow-up Across the Sand next month. And finally, thank you to Brilliance Audio for The Final Equinox by Andrew Mayne, the second novel in the Theo Cray and Jessica Blackwood series in which our protagonists star in a thrilling tale of possible first contact. The synopsis sounds totally bonkers and I’m all for some over-the-top madness from Andrew Mayne!

Reviews

Bastille vs. the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson and Janci Patterson (3.5 of 5 stars)
Soul Taken by Patricia Briggs (3.5 of 5 stars)
The Couple at Number 9 by Claire Douglas (3 of 5 stars)

What I’ve Been Reading

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!

YA Weekend: Bastille vs. The Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson and Janci Patterson

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

Bastille vs. The Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson and Janci Patterson

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

Series: Book 6 of Alcatraz

Publisher: Starscape (September 20, 2022)

Length: 272 pages

Author Information: Brandon Sanderson | Janci Patterson

It feels as though I have been waiting for Bastille vs. the Evil Librarians for a long time, and now that the Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians series has finally come to a close, I have lots and lots of feels! Most are positive, I’m happy to report, but there were also some disappointments. It probably comes as no surprise that there were plenty of changes with this book, from the switch to another POV character to the first time this series was co-authored. There were also some elements I loved, but other places where my feelings were more mixed.

But before I begin my review in earnest, please be aware that from here on out there may be references to the previous books in the series, so I do want to give a possible spoilers warning. The story picks up immediately after the events of The Dark Talent, following some devastating developments which include significant setbacks for our characters. Things are looking pretty grim—so terrible, in fact, that they have caused our titular protagonist to cave into his grief and give up completely.

Not to worry though, because his friend Bastille is here to save the day! A Knight of Crystallia pledged to protect the Smedry line, she’s not about to take the loss lying down, and taking over narrating duties is just the first step. Alcatraz might have lost everything including his will to fight, but Bastille is not about to fail in her task and lose him to the darkness. While the world is falling apart around them, Bastille is determined to save Alcatraz and all of the Free Kingdoms from total destruction, and she has a big sword and a literal literary license to do it (she has a card and everything)!

First, if you’ve read up to this point in the series, please do yourself a favor and pick this one up to find out how it all ends. It took six long years for this concluding volume to finally be out in the world, but trust me, it’s well worth the wait. And let’s be honest, how could anyone read the ending of the last book and not want to continue? Not going to lie, the way things turned out in The Dark Talent made me so depressed, but the only thing that gave me a glimmer of hope was the cryptic note slipped into the back of the book promising there will be more. And thank goodness for that! With Bastille vs. the Evil Librarians came the closure I was desperately seeking, along with some happy surprises made me feel a lot less salty over the ending of the last book.

If you enjoyed the style of storytelling and the unique brand of humor found in the previous books, then you’re going to enjoy this one too. Kudos also to illustrator Hayley Lazo for all the adorable and fun drawings, which really add a lot to the whole reading experience! As for the writing though, speaking as a longtime fan of Brandon Sanderson, I could tell this wasn’t mostly written by him and that the bulk it was probably Janci Patterson, but that’s okay—this series was Sanderson’s creation, and this book still had everything that made its characters and world so fun and unique. Plus, Bastille is now at the helm, and it only makes sense that she sounds different from Alcatraz.

Like I said though, the humor is still there, and Bastille is even snarkier than Alcatraz, I love it! Similar to the previous books, every chapter begins with a witty tangential throwaway segment filled with jokes and puns, so that even though we were in Bastille’s head this time, I still felt right at home. The story also moved along at a breakneck pace, guaranteed to keep even the most distracted middle grader interested with rapt attention. The plot also featured plenty of magical action and the kind of insanity I’ve come to expect from the series, and they must have pulled out all the stops for the finale because believe it or not, things got even crazier in this one (I mean, just look at the cover, which was an actual scene from the story).

But for all that I liked about this book, I felt something was missing. For a long-awaited concluding volume, it simply didn’t feel grand enough, with so much of the plot given to Bastille talking about how annoyed she was at Alcatraz, followed by a shift to them bickering a lot. So much of it was relationship drama, punctuated occasionally by some wild and wacky over-the-top action. Sure, it’s entirely possible that I might have hyped things up for myself in this case, given the long wait time between this book and the last, but compared to some of the previous volumes, I still felt that this had a lot less substance.

That being said, all the crucial elements were there, such as answers to important questions as well as a happy ending. I am such a fan of this series and the characters, that finally getting closure was a relief! I also feel that Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians would be an amazing read for kids 8-14 which is the suggested age range, but adults who are young at heart and don’t mind something a little silly and quirky once in a while would probably have a blast with it as well. This has been an incredible journey, that even with its minor flaws, I felt Bastille vs. the Evil Librarians was the conclusion the readers deserved, and I closed the cover on the final page of my favorite MG series of all time feeling content and satisfied.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Alcatraz vs. The Evil Librarians (Book 1)
Review of 
The Scrivener’s Bones (Book 2)
Review of The Knights of Crystallia (Book 3)
Review of The Shattered Lens (Book 4)
Review of The Dark Talent (Book 5)