Book Review: Obscura by Joe Hart

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

Obscura by Joe Hart

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Science Fiction

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer (May 8, 2018)

Length: 348 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Combining elements from science fiction and thriller-suspense, Joe Hart brings us a gripping tale set in the not-too-distant future where a new form of dementia known as Losian’s Disease is sweeping across the globe, affecting both the old and the young. No one knows the cause, but as the widow and the mother of Losian sufferers, Dr. Gillian Ryan is determined to find a cure. She has already lost her husband, and she’s not about to lose her little girl too. But even as a leading researcher of the disease, Gillian has to show results to continue receiving funding, and unfortunately she has not been making much headway in her work. Desperate to keep her research going, she lets her old friend Carson talk her into taking part in a top-secret NASA mission to examine a space station crew that has been affected by symptoms similar to Losian’s, even if being in space will take her away from her daughter for six months. But if it will save her research and get her closer to finding a cure, Gillian convinces herself that it will be worth it.

However, her journey to space is plagued by problems from the start. Not only has Carson not been completely forthright with her on the details of the mission, there appears to be a saboteur on board, and it appears he or she will go to great lengths to damage NASA’s work—including resorting to murder. As the violence mounts, Gillian finds herself the main suspect as the evidence against her becomes more and more damning. She tries telling the others that she is being framed, that she is innocent—but after a while, even she is beginning to doubt herself. With all the lies and deception surrounding her, as well as the effects of withdrawal, isolation, and being far from home, it is difficult to be certain of anything anymore.

Mysteries set in space—especially those involving murder—always have a certain appeal to me. Usually these stories are set in a small confined area, emphasizing the loneliness and claustrophobic atmosphere. The number of suspects is often limited as well, but because of everyone’s close proximity, it always makes the tension feel much more present and urgent. Joe Hart uses these elements to great effect in Obscura, deftly evoking the feelings of terror and paranoia in his main protagonist. There’s nothing more disturbing than doubting your own sanity, and in this way, Gillian is pushed to the extremes at every turn.

Speaking of which, the characterization of Gillian is fantastic. Hart sets up her background perfectly, painting a picture of a grieving widow and loving mother who has already lost so much to Losian’s Disease. Finding a cure to save her daughter is the goal that drives her, and it’s also the only thing she would sacrifice everything for. She is also under a lot of stress, and has been secretly relying on heavy prescription drugs to get her through, ultimately becoming addicted. Being away from her little girl is bad enough, but when she finds out that she has been deceived—not once, but multiple times—to get her to agree to the mission, that is the last straw. I really felt for her character then, sympathizing with her anger, regret, and frustration. And then came the murder. Gillian might not always make the best decisions, but she feels genuinely like someone who is trying all she can to get out of a bad situation, especially when everyone seems to be against her. She’s terrified and uncertain of herself, but still she refuses to give up.

The plot also makes this novel a page-turner. Just when you think you have everything figured out, Hart throws a curve ball and the story takes a different turn. There are a lot of surprises not mentioned in the publisher description, and I had a great time discovering all of them. Let’s just say I was under the impression that Obscura was more of a straight-up thriller, and I was delighted when it turned out there are actually way more science fiction elements in this book than I thought.

My only criticism is that there might be too many ideas in this book, so that sometimes the plot felt a little fractured and disjointed. I can’t go into much detail without revealing spoilers, but there are a few concepts that aren’t explained very well, and plot points that aren’t as well developed. However, Obscura is still first and foremost a thriller and not a hard sci-fi novel, so in a way, this was to be expected. As long as these shortcomings didn’t affect the overall excitement and flow of the story, I didn’t really mind too much, and the good news is, no one can fault the book’s thriller and mystery aspects. The author did an excellent job of building up the suspense, and then capped it all off with a completely engrossing climax and conclusion.

All in all, Obscura is a fine example of an effective sci-fi thriller, hooking the reader with an intriguing premise. The wonderful characterization and swiftly-paced plot successfully pulled me in the rest of the way, the suspenseful atmosphere capturing my full attention and keeping me riveted, wondering what will happen next.

Advertisements

YA Weekend: LIFEL1K3 by Jay Kristoff

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

LIFEL1K3 by Jay Kristoff

Mogsy’s Rating: 2 of 5 stars

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction

Series: Book 1 of Lifelike

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (May 29, 2018)

Length: 416 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Normally I love anything by Jay Kristoff, as you can see from my past reviews where I’ve rated all his stuff highly, but there was just something about LIFEL1K3 that fell short for me. Perhaps it was the genre or the particular subject matter of artificial intelligence, but trying to stay focused on the story was a struggle every step of the way. I also couldn’t feel connected at all to the people in this book, which is a shame because Kristoff’s characters are usually one of his greatest strengths.

LIFEL1K3 tells the story of Eve, who lives in a post-apocalyptic future where the radiation is so high that even spending a little too much time in the sun can kill you. Two years ago, her parents were murdered, and she still bears the scars of that attack in the form of cybernetic implants to see and remember. Now she lives with her grandfather, who is dying. With her talent for tinkering and building machines, Eve has been earning whatever money she can to support them by piloting robots in the popular gladiatorial arenas.

But then one day, a fight goes horribly wrong, and, in her desperation, Eve suddenly manifests a power that allows her to destroy another robot with nothing but her mind. Seen as an abomination, Eve immediately finds herself the target of bounty hunters, gangs, and mercenaries alike, who would all like to see her eliminated. Together with her best friend Lemon Fresh, their robot guardian Cricket, and a robo-dog named Kaiser, Eve has no choice but to leave her life behind and go on the run, rescuing a lifelike android boy named Ezekiel along the way.

First let me just say, while this was not by any means a bad book, there were just so many things about it that personally rubbed me the wrong way. Mainly, all the characters got on my nerves. LIFEL1K3 is technically considered a Young Adult novel, and indeed, some of the darker and heavier themes in the story seem to support this categorization. However, both Eve and Lemon both come across as much younger than their supposed ages due to some of their immature behaviors, questionable actions, and overuse of annoying slang. Not even the robot characters were innocent of this childishness. Cricket was most irritating of all with his constant disparaging of Ezekiel, calling him all sorts of names. After a while, I found myself gritting my teeth through so much of this elementary schoolyard bullshit that my jaws actually started to ache.

The author is also known to play on popular tropes in his books, but he usually puts an interesting or unique spin on them. Just take a look at his Nevernight Chronicle series to see what I mean, with the first volume based around a “Magic School” for assassins while the second one is all about the “Gladiatorial Games” action. Both books were nonetheless fantastically fun, though unfortunately I cannot bring myself to say the same for LIFEL1K3. This time, Kristoff seemed inspired to write his own “Bladerunner” type book, but then failed to really bring anything new or different to the table. His attempt at shocking revelations and twists also kind of fizzled, with many of the plot developments coming across as forced or uninspired. Worst of all, the “big reveal” was something I saw coming a mile away. This to me was the biggest disappointment, because it just seemed so uncharacteristic for Kristoff, who up until now has always managed to surprise me.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. I didn’t like this book and had to force myself to finish, but I’m sure I’ll be in the minority with my opinions and that’s okay. LIFEL1K3 will no doubt find its audience, but it simply didn’t offer enough enjoyment for me personally. It was a shock for me too, that the author who brought me such favorites like The Lotus War trilogy, the Nevernight books, and The Illuminae Files (co-written with Amie Kaufman) could have written something that fell so spectacularly flat for me, but I suppose these things happen sometimes. For now, I’ll just set my sights on Darkdawn, the conclusion to the Nevernight Chronicle trilogy, which is much closer to the caliber of work I’ve come to expect from Kristoff. I’ll still enthusiastically keep an eye on his future projects after that, but I probably won’t be continuing with the LIFEL1K3 series.

Friday Face-Off: Footsteps

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:

“Trip trap, trip trap, trip trap”
~ a cover featuring FOOTSTEPS

Mogsy’s Pick:
The White Road by Sarah Lotz

The White Road takes place in the winter of 2006, at a time when YouTube stars and listicles are just starting to become a thing. Our protagonist Simon Newman and his roommate are a couple of slackers looking to grow their clickbait website, and the idea for their big break comes when they learn of the Cwm Pot caves in Wales where several years ago a group of spelunkers had gotten trapped and died. Simon gets the crazy idea to go down there and come back with never-seen-before footage of the dead bodies, which would be perfect material for their morbid audience.

Unfortunately, that venture ultimately ended in a media disaster, though it did nothing to deter Simon from taking his website’s new found attention to the next level. After descending into the depths of the earth in search of corpses, why not go the other extreme this time around, and do the same thing on the highest point on earth? Mount Everest is said to be the final resting place of more than 200 people, and their remains are often unrecoverable and left where they fell, sometimes for years and years. Surely it wouldn’t be too hard for Simon to go up there and capture more footage of a couple of dead bodies, which would undoubtedly bring even more traffic to their website?

Dumb idea, Simon. Just really, really stupid.

But thankfully, we’re not here to talk about the poor life choices of our protagonists, we’re here to talk about covers! So let’s take a look at them now:

From left to right:
Hodder & Stoughton (2017) – Mulholland Books (2017) – Russian Edition (2017)

  

Slim pickings this week, unfortunately. The choice was easy, as both the Hodder and Russian editions are way too dark for my liking (I really hate that “underexposed photo” look), so while I’m not particularly impressed by any of the offerings this week, the Mulholland cover pretty much wins by default.

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

 

Audiobook Review: Circe by Madeline Miller

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

Circe by Madeline Miller

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

Genre: Fantasy, Mythology

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Hachette Audio (April 10, 2018)

Length: 12 hrs and 8 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Perdita Weeks

When I was a kid, I had this encyclopedia of Greek myths that I loved. However, like all reference materials, the stories in it were presented in a rather dull, textbook-like style—good enough if you’re simply looking up a name, or just want the straight up details…except I wanted more. As a child, going through that big book and reading about all these Greek gods and goddesses doing amazing, uncanny things, I always imagined in my mind what they would think or feel if they were real people with actual emotions and personalities.

In the end, I believe this is why I enjoyed Circe so much. I’ve been dreaming about a book like this ever since I was a kid, and while I’ve not had the pleasure of reading Song of Achilles yet, I’ve heard that this sort of Greek myth retelling is what Madeline Miller is known for. Not only does the author bring our favorite mythological figures to life, she also takes them to newer and higher limits by exploring their hearts, minds, and voices.

In Circe, Miller presents an almost memoir-like narrative about the titular character, a relatively minor goddess compared to some of the bigger, more famous names in the pantheon. Here, however, Circe gets her chance to shine, as readers are treated to a glimpse into her strange and wonderful life which was only lightly touched upon in Homer’s Odyssey. Born to the sun god Helios and the water nymph Perse, our protagonist unfortunately inherited none of her father’s godlike abilities nor any of her mother’s ravishing charms. As a result, growing up, she was often disregarded and ignored, until one day, she discovers that she does in fact possess a special power—a type of witchcraft that allows her to transform her enemies into wild beasts and monsters.

Threatened by the implications of this, Zeus sends Circe into exile, which is how she ends up on the island of Aiaia, where, as the story famously goes, she meets Odysseus and turns most of his crew into pigs. But this book is about so much more. Readers get the chance to journey with Circe as she crosses paths with some of the most well-known figures of Greek mythology. Through her eyes, we also get to experience important moments like the fall of Icarus and even the birth of the Minotaur. And yet, above all else, this is Circe’s tale. We watch as our protagonist continues to develop her abilities and hone her craft every day, because in a world full of danger and vengeful gods, her magic is the only way to protect those she loves.

It’s amazing how a bit of context and character development has managed to totally transform Circe’s story and add layers of nuance. In this book, she is more than just a “witch”, “goddess”, or any other kind of label; she is as human as she can be in her emotions and motivations—imperfect and genuine. Miller’s version of Circe is deeply sympathetic character, despite the cruel and awful things she has done. She has led a harsh life, which has led her to make harsh decisions, and whether you agree with her or not, what’s clear is that Circe is driven by much of the same things as all of us. She has hopes, dreams, regrets, and fears. She also cares fiercely for those she loves, and will do anything to keep them safe—even if it means facing down powerful foes or challenging fate itself.

I also loved how we got to see Circe grow as the book progressed through the various stages of her life, from her time as a child being overshadowed by her more zealous siblings, to her eventual motherhood and overprotectiveness for her son Telegonus. In between, there is so much more as Circe struggles to figure out her role in the family, and then of course there is her forced isolation and the abuses she suffered at the hands of both mortals and the gods. However, there are also moments of lightness and triumph that shine through, like when Circe discovers wonders like falling in love or the power of magic. Furthermore, her vices are counterbalanced by her virtues, such as her determination and strength.

There’s not much else I can say other than I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Kudos to Madeline Miller for deftly transforming Circe’s tale into this gorgeous work of art, giving the character heart and soul. Without a doubt, Circe is a mythology retelling done right.

Audiobook Comments: A book like Circe requires a talented narrator, since it follows the main character through such a wide range of emotions. I’m happy to say that Perdita Weeks was up to the task. I could find no fault at all with her performance, which was absolutely flawless and outstanding. A wonderful listening experience all around.

Waiting on Wednesday 05/23/18

“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

Skyward by Brandon Sanderson (November 6, 2018 by Delacorte Press)

Do I really need to explain why I’m excited? It’s Brandon Sanderson, that’s all you need to know! It’s also the first book of a new series, so I’m curious to find out more.

“From Brandon Sanderson, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Reckoners series, Words of Radiance, and the internationally bestselling Mistborn series, comes the first book in an epic new series about a girl who dreams of becoming a pilot in a dangerous world at war with aliens. 

Spensa’s world has been under attack for hundreds of years. An alien race called the Krell leads onslaught after onslaught from the sky in a never-ending campaign to destroy humankind. Humanity’s only defense is to take to their ships and combat the Krell. Pilots are the heroes of what’s left of the human race.

Becoming a pilot has always been Spensa’s dream. Since she was a little girl, she has imagined soaring above the earth and proving her bravery. But her fate is intertwined with that of her father–a pilot himself who was killed years ago when he abruptly deserted his team, leaving Spensa’s chances of attending Flight School at slim to none.

No one will let Spensa forget what her father did, but she is determined to fly. And the Krell just made that a possibility. They’ve doubled their fleet, which will make Spensa’s world twice as deadly . . . but just might take her skyward.”

Audiobook Review: All The Ever Afters by Danielle Teller

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

All The Ever Afters: The Untold Story of Cinderella’s Stepmother by Danielle Teller

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

Genre: Fairy Tales, Retellings, Fantasy

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Harper Audio (May 22, 2018)

Length: 10 hrs and 50 mins

Author Information: Website

Narrator: Jane Copland

I’ve never been able to say no to a good fairy tale retelling. They are my absolute weakness, and I’ve been especially tempted as of late by the recent crop of novels touting the point-of-view of the “villain”. It ultimately led me to pick up All the Ever Afters, which boldly bears the tagline describing itself as the untold story of Cinderella’s stepmother, the notoriously cruel and wicked antagonist from the classic fairy tale we all know and love.

However, the author Danielle Teller’s approach to this novel is one that I’ve seldom seen in most fairy tale retellings I’ve read, in that she has completely eschewed all aspects of fantasy and magic, choosing instead to ground her story in history. Opening on the French countryside sometime during the mid-fourteenth or early fifteenth century, the tale introduces readers to Agnes, a young girl born into poverty. Her family could not afford to raise her, so she was sent at the tender age of ten to a nearby lord’s manor to become a laundress’s assistant. Worked to the bone and unfairly treated, Agnes had no choice but to use all her wits and wiles to finagle a better position for herself, eventually managing to escape the manor for a less punishing job at the local abbey.

All goes well for several years until Agnes is seduced by the Abbess’s ward and messenger, and their relationship results in a pregnancy. Ejected from the abbey, our protagonist is set up in a village where she becomes the proprietor of a brewery and alehouse, mostly raising her daughters on her own. But soon, tragedy strikes, and Agnes is forced into a situation where she must work her way up from nothing once more. A twist of fate lands her back in the manor where she worked as a child, but the lord is now married with an infant daughter. And thus, Agnes finds herself hired on to be a nursemaid to little Ella, the awkward but radiantly beautiful girl who will one day marry the handsome prince she meets at a fateful ball.

Now Agnes and her two daughters live at the palace, where she tells her tale in the hopes of showing how accounts of her wickedness have either been greatly exaggerated or are outright lies. In fact, she was a victim of forced labor herself, and All the Ever Afters is her own rags to riches story. It is a heart-wrenching novel about growing up with nothing to your name, of having to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps to make your own success. While there have been times where she had to use her cunning or resort to deception to get what she wants, Agnes is no villain. And if on occasion she was tough on Ella or punished her too harshly as a child, we learn that it is only because Agnes has been independent and hardworking her whole life, and as a result, she cannot bear idleness or watching her stepdaughter grow up helpless and spoiled.

In a way, All the Ever Afters is also the untold story of Cinderella’s stepsisters, called Charlotte and Matilda in this version of the retelling. Like their mother, they aren’t the awful people from the many popular versions of Cinderella either, and they’ve gone through their own share of hard times. Now that I’ve read Teller’s portrayal, I also doubt that I’ll ever think about the “ugly stepsisters” epithet the same way again, not after reading about a mother’s hurt and pain from Agnes’s perspective.

As I said before, this is also a purely non-magical story; there will be no fairy godmothers, pumpkin carriages, or singing animals here (though, I was amused to see, the author had managed to work in a tongue-in-cheek jibe at the popular depiction of Cinderella and her affinity for mice, except in this book, Ella’s friendship with her rat Henrietta is nowhere near as adorable…or hygienic). A lot of fairy tale retellings tend to give the mundane things of the world a fantastical twist, but it seems All the Ever Afters set out to do almost the exact opposite, downplaying the magical elements and addressing all that we know about the Cinderella story with realistic explanations.

I also found it interesting how the novel mirrored many of the original fairy tale’s lessons—that is, to always work hard and never let setbacks or difficult people get you down. However, while the classic version also taught that beauty is esteemed, but that having a good heart is the most important, things are not so idealized in Agnes’s more realistic world. Her stepdaughter Ella—who is naïve, spoiled, and rather soft and vapid—manages to snag a prince and is loved by all in the kingdom for no other reason because she is beautiful. Meanwhile, Charlotte and Matilda, who have endured so much more, will never have anywhere close to the same opportunities simply because they are homely. Agnes’s lesson for her daughters? Life is not fair, but you still do what you must to keep moving forward.

All in all, I enjoyed All the Ever Afters very much. With Cinderella only playing a bit part, this tale truly belongs to her stepmother, who has been given new life by Danielle Teller. In this heartfelt novel, there are no magical spells or fairy godmothers, for Agnes is a woman who relies on nothing but herself to change her life and make a better future for her children. If you prefer fantasy in your fairy tale retellings, you may wish to reconsider this one, but if you don’t mind a narrative that’s more rooted in realism, then I really can’t recommend this highly enough.

Audiobook Comments: I was very impressed by Jane Copland’s narration. From her voice, I imagined Agnes to be a proud, sharp-witted and dignified woman, which is exactly the way her character is written. The audiobook experience brought a whole new level of emotion to the story, which I would not have gotten if I had just read the book. A fantastic listen.

Book Review: Song of Blood & Stone by L. Penelope

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

Song of Blood & Stone by L. Penelope

Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy, Romance

Series: Book 1 of Earthsinger Chronicles

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (May 1, 2018)

Length: 384 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Although this book is now published by St. Martin’s Press, my first encounter with Song of Blood & Stone was in 2016 when an earlier version of it was entered into the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off, the writing competition created by author Mark Lawrence. Ever since the SPFBO’s launch, several of its alum have already been picked up by traditional publishing, and it’s always great to see that number grow by the day. As I understand it, the novel has gone through many changes to get to this point, and as I am fascinated by indie publishing success stories, I was excited to check it out.

At its heart, Song of Blood & Stone is a fantasy romance. Starring Jasminda, a young woman of mixed descent, the story is set in world split by a veil called the Mantle which separates Elsira, a land with no magic, from the country of Lagrimar, whose people possess the power of Earthsong. However, the two nations are divided by a lot more. On one side, citizens are forced to worship and fear the True Father, a power-hungry tyrant who hoards the world’s magic for himself, while on the other side, the Queen Who Sleeps lies dormant, leaving her subjects directionless and without their true ruler for centuries. The Mantle has only been breached a few times in history, but every time it has happened, chaos and death have been the result due to the intense fighting and struggle for power.

As a child of two peoples, Jasminda grew up as an outcast in her mother’s homeland on the Elsiran side of the Mantle simply because she has inherited her Lagamiri father’s darker skin as well as his magical abilities. Ever since the deaths of her parents and siblings, she has lived alone maintaining a small goat farm by the mountains. One day, her quiet existence is interrupted by a group of Lagamiri soldiers at her door. Not realizing they have crossed the veil into Elsira and believing her to be one of their own, they demand that she open her home to her country’s soldiers and shelter them from an incoming storm. With them is a battered and broken prisoner named Jack, whom the soldiers claim is an Elsiran spy. Using her Earthsong, Jasminda heals Jack and helps him escape, and together they embark on a dangerous journey to warn the capital that the Mantle is about to fall once again—and that their people must prepare for war and another incursion from the brutal True Father.

Well written with beautiful and detailed flowing prose, Song of Blood & Stone showed immense promise right from the beginning. The world-building was compelling, and it is clear that L. Penelope put a lot of work and thought into formulating the book’s background and premise. The author’s characterization of Jasminda was also very well done, establishing her situation and making her a sympathetic protagonist to readers right away.

However, bearing in mind that this is a fantasy romance, these developments soon give way to the themes surrounding Jasminda and Jack’s burgeoning love story, which may prove frustrating to those who aren’t big readers of the genre. Personally speaking, I wish there had been a better balance between all the elements of the story, especially when the romance started taking priority over developing the characters and world-building. I also felt that there was very little lead-up to the romance itself, as Jack started developing feelings for Jasminda from the start, even as he was being held captive. Although I wouldn’t go so far as to call it insta-love, I still wish that the author had held off on exploring their emotions for each other until after they actually managed to escape (or at very least, waited until they’d known each other for more than a few days).

In time, the plot also revealed itself to be rather simplistic, despite the complex nature behind the history and politics of Elsira and Lagrimar. Part of this is due to the aforementioned lack of world-building once the characters arrive in the city. Queue the romance drama at this point, which—unsurprisingly—also began to impinge upon the story’s pacing. Racial conflicts and the problem of Lagamiri refugees in Elsira also started becoming central to the plot, and in this middle section I felt that the author was trying a bit too hard to inject real-world issues into the book. Normally I wouldn’t mind this, except that it was done very blatantly and at the expense of world-building and character development, ultimately making me feel less connected to the protagonists and their world, which became confusing to me. I had trouble picturing the characters’ surroundings and was never truly able to grasp the setting which came across as a mishmash of genres and time periods thrown together, with ancient magic, mysterious visions and immortals mingling with steampunk elements like airships and more modern tech like automobiles. World-building was certainly creative and ambitious, but due to the lack of attention in developing these ideas, things ended up being rather messy, which was unfortunate.

In sum, parts of this book worked well for me, while others didn’t so much. However, I do think readers who are more inclined towards the romance genre will probably like this one a lot better. While I personally prefer my stories, love or otherwise, to feature a more balanced approach to plot, characters, and world-building, if a fantasy romance is something you think you’d enjoy, then I highly recommend giving Song of Blood & Stone a try.

YA Weekend Audio: Sky in the Deep by by Adrienne Young

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

Sky in the Deep by by Adrienne Young

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

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Macmillan Audio (April 24, 2018)

Length: 8 hrs and 40 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Some books are just so heartfelt and earnest, that they can be forgiven even if the plot is somewhat simple and a bit thin. That’s exactly how I would describe Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young, who eschewed all the fancy bells and whistles in her debut, avoiding bogging down her story with overly complicated and unnecessary details. What you end up getting is a straightforward Viking-inspired tale that never becomes extraneous, leaving way more room for meaningful character development and setting an energetic pace that never flags.

The book follows seventeen-year-old Eelyn, a young woman warrior from the Aska clan. For time immemorial, her people have been engaged in a bitter rivalry against a neighboring clan, the Riki. Every so often, their two clans will clash violently on the battlefield, each side losing people after each skirmish. That is how Eelyn lost her brother Iri five years ago, when she watched him get struck down by an enemy blade.

But then one day, the impossible happens. During their latest battle against the Riki, Eelyn’s life is saved by a familiar figure who appears out of nowhere amidst the chaos. To her shock, her rescuer is none other than her brother Iri, but he is alive and well, and not only that, he is with the enemy warriors—not as a prisoner, but as an equal and peer. Confused and angry, Eelyn goes after Iri for answers, but winds up being captured by the Riki, and during the time with their clan, she finally gets to witness the full depth of her brother’s betrayal. Not only is he fighting with the Riki, he has been taken in by one of their families, becoming the adopted brother of one of their warriors, a young man named Fiske. As the winter wears on, however, Eelyn gradually realizes that her captors are not that much different than herself—they all struggle against the bitter elements, are dedicated to their gods, and live to protect their loved ones. The Aska and Riki even have a common enemy, a ruthless clan long thought to be legend, but which is now rising again to become a threat. In order for both their clans to survive, Eelyn must team up with Fiske to convince their elders to put aside their animosities, for only united can they hope to have a chance.

Sky in the Deep begins in a rather typical fashion—with a battle scene. Here we are also introduced to Eelyn, who is a somewhat archetypal character as well, since, let’s face it: YA is chock full of “badass female protagonists™” like her, whose warrior training involves being taught how to act with more honor than sense, resulting in a worldview limited to winning glory on the battlefield by racking up a steep body count. In truth, I actually found myself wholly unimpressed by the book’s intro, turned off by the usual tropes and also by Eelyn, whose personality was predictable and shallow. And if I’m to be completely honest, the entire story is really just one big cliché, basically boiling down to our protagonist being taken out of her environment and thrust into her captors’, only to eventually become part of their world. There’s even the good old enemies-to-lovers romance which I saw coming a mile away.

Where this book really shines, however, is how these tropes are handled. I really don’t think the author set out to upend the genre here; I suspect she just wanted to tell a good story and focus on the growth of her characters over time. Credit where credit’s due: while I was less than enamored with Eelyn in the first half of the book, I gradually came around to her in the second half. My change of heart had a lot to do with the way her interactions with other characters were written, with her relationship with Iri being a central aspect of the plot. Within Eelyn rages a never-ending tug o’ war where her love for her brother battles the deep betrayal she feels for thinking he has abandoned her. It’s painful for our protagonist too, because the Aska essentially believe that those who kill their own people are denied entry to the afterlife. Eelyn fears that Iri has damned his soul to be alone forever, and thus we also often see her torn between hating him and wanting to save him.

Then there’s Eelyn’s relationship with the other members of the Riki household in which she finds herself enslaved. Inge, the family matriarch, is a stabilizing force with her calm and no-nonsense attitude. She makes Eelyn really open her eyes and look around her to see that maybe there’s more to every situation. Halvard is Inge’s younger son, a little boy whose innocent and child-like view of the world shows Eelyn how prejudices are learned—and how they can be unlearned. And finally, there’s Fiske, who only treated our protagonist well at the beginning for Iri’s sake, but later, he too comes around to see that he and Eelyn are actually very much alike. They both treasure family and care for Iri, and from that common ground is where a romance is sparked and begins to grow. Their love story didn’t exactly blow me away, nor did I find it to be anything special. However, it was sweet and relatively drama-free, which goes a long way with me these days.

All in all, nothing earthshattering to see here, but some books are just plain fun to read. Sky in the Deep is one such example, and I found the novel’s story and characters immensely enjoyable. Perfect if you’re looking for a quick and straightforward read, with almost equal amounts of action and emotion, brutality and sweetness.

Audiobook Comments: I just love, love, love Khristine Hvam. I’ve probably listened to dozens of audiobooks read by her, so as soon as I saw her name listed as the narrator for Sky in the Deep I knew that it would be a fantastic listen. Just as I anticipated, she delivered a wonderful performance, giving Eelyn the perfect voice.

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.

black line

Received for Review

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

First up, a couple of exciting new arrivals from Orbit! The US edition of Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell finally has has a publisher and release date (with the subsequent books in the series to follow swiftly) and I was super excited to be sent an ARC. I guess I’ll have no excuse now not to read this one ASAP! Especially if I want to keep up with the release schedule. I also got sent an ARC of Adrift by Rob Boffard, whose book Tracer I really enjoyed, so I’m curious to see what else he has in store.

From the wonderful team at Del Rey, I was also sent an ARC of The Memory of Fire by Callie Bates, sequel to the author’s debut The Waking Land. I had a good time with the first book, and definitely wouldn’t mind continuing with the series to see what will happen.

With thanks to Subterranean Press, a surprise ARC of The Dinosaur Tourist by Caitlín R. Kiernan arrived a couple weeks ago. I wish I knew more about this one, because it looks fascinating (that cover is amazing, am I right?) but early descriptions I found on the publisher’s website are still very vague, though I do know that it’s an anthology.

Also thanks to Tor Books for sending me a finished copy of By Fire Above by Robyn Bennis, one of the many exciting books featured for the publisher’s #FearlessWomen campaign this spring and summer. I read and enjoyed the first book The Guns Above last year, and I really hope that some time will free up later this month so I can read this sequel.

Earlier this month I also received an ARC of Nebula Awards Showcase 2018 edited by Jane Yolen. These volumes have been published annually since 1966, featuring the winning and nominated stories of the Nebula Awards, voted on by the members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Thank you so much, Pyr Books!

Up next, a parade of gorgeous finished copies! Kicking off this batch is King of Ashes by Raymond E. Feist, which I’ve actually reviewed already. My thoughts on the book can be found here. With thanks to Harper Voyager for the beautiful hardcover.

A few weeks ago I received a pitch for a Young Adult adventure-survival novel that I’d never heard of before called Damselfly by Chandra Prasad. It’s about a group of private-school teens who crash land on a deserted tropical island, and they have work together in order to survive. With shades of LOST and Lord of the Flies, I found the description really intriguing, so I decided to take a look. My thanks to Scholastic Press for the review copy.

I was also thrilled to receive a hardcover copy of Brief Cases by Jim Butcher from the amazing folks at Ace Books. Hard it believe the last book to come out in The Dresden Files was four years ago, and it seems the wait for the next volume will continue, though happily fans will get this anthology to tide them over in the meantime. I’m not even a fan of short stories and I’m still really looking forward to this, which shows you how much I love this series!

Next up are a couple of unsolicited arrivals with thanks to Simon & Schuster. These are both new to me, but they look interesting. From Scribner, In Dust and Ashes by Anne Holt is a crime novel from the celebrated Norwegian author whose Hanne Wilhemsen series is on bestselling lists worldwide. The only thing making me wary is, this is book 10! The story about Hanne trying to solve a cold case sounds great, but as this is also billed as the final book of the series which has been twenty-four years in the writing, I’m not sure how standalone it would be. If anyone knows, please chime in. From the publisher’s Aladdin imprint I also received this Middle Grade novel called Freya and the Magic Jewel by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams, the first book in the Thunder Girls series starring goddesses in Norse mythology. I might hold on to this one for my daughters to enjoy when they’re old enough to read it in a few years; the story looks fun and super cute, if the cat-drawn chariot on the cover is any indication!

And finally, wrapping up this batch is a surprise copy of Ascendant by Jack Campbell, the second volume in his new Genesis Fleet series. I’m not sure if I’ll continue with this since I didn’t really care for the first book when I read it last year, but there’s always a chance for a series to get better with later installments. I guess I’ll wait for reviews of this one to trickle in before I make my final decision. Regardless, a big thank you to Ace Books for sending me the hardcover.

  

In the digital pile, I picked up a few audio review copies this week. My thanks to HarperAudio for Onyx & Ivory by Mindee Arnett, an author I’ve wanted to try for a while. Courtesy of Listening Library, I also received Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl, a book I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz about lately, and it’s gotten me curious.

And yay for new eARCs from Tor.com! Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells is the third installment in the Murderbot Diaries series, which I’m hoping to jump into after I catch up with the second book later this month. And The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark is a book I only found out about recently, but it looks fantastic and I’m looking forward to checking it out.

Reviews

My reviews posted since the last update:

The Queen of Sorrow by Sarah Beth Durst (4 of 5 stars)
The Night Dahlia by R.S. Belcher (4 of 5 stars)
The Defiant Heir by Melissa Caruso (4 of 5 stars)
Last Dragon Standing by Rachel Aaron (4 of 5 stars)
Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente (3.5 of 5 stars)
King of Ashes by Raymond E. Feist (3.5 of 5 stars)

What I’ve Read Since the Last Update

Audiobooks are giving me a huge boost once again because I’ve gotten back into Conan Exiles, an open-world survival game based in the world of Conan the Barbarian. The best way I can describe this game is “Minecraft on steroids with 100% more gore and nudity”, with its entire premise revolving around exploring, crafting, and building. It’s the type of activity that goes hand in hand with listening to audiobooks since concentration requirements are minimal between running around in the world gathering materials and constructing my humble abode (while just keeping an eye out for the odd creature or hostile NPC that can ambush you). This means multitasking and more books completed, which is always good news for me. Here’s what I’ve managed to “unstack” from the TBR since the last update. Stay tuned for more reviews!

   

  

black line

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: Gravestone

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:

“Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs”
~ a cover featuring a GRAVESTONE

Mogsy’s Pick:
The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey

My pick for this week is one of the most frightening books I’ve ever read. It’s also a Young Adult novel, though I’ve seriously questioned that categorization as I wouldn’t recommend this one lightly to just any young reader. Gruesome and graphic, if ever a movie was adapted faithfully from The Monstrumologist, it would earn a resounding R-rating.

Set in late-1800s New England, the story is told from the perspective of a 12-year-old orphan named Will Henry who finds himself apprenticed to an eccentric scientist named Dr. Pellinore Warthrop. Sounds innocent and harmless enough so far, right? But then Will finds out that Dr. Warthrop is a “monstrumologist”, or someone who studies monsters, and he’s about to find out exactly what the job entails. One night, the doctor is visited by a grave robber and is presented with a grisly find – the corpse of a girl with half her face chewed off. Even more disturbing, however, is the tiny fetus of an Anthropophagus creature found in her womb. Anthropophagi, which are monsters that feast on human flesh, are described as a race of mythical beings that have no head, so that their facial features (like their giant mouths filled with razor-sharp teeth) are instead located on their chests. Warthrop concludes that a group of these predators must have moved into the area, taking Will Henry along on his investigation to discover how the creatures might have reached America’s shores.

Let’s take a look at the covers:

From left to right:
Simon Schuster BYR (2009) – Simon Schuster BYR (2010) – Saga Press (2015)
Simon & Schuster UK (2010) – German Edition (2012) – Korean Edition (2017)
Indonesian Edition (2016) – Persian Edition (2016) – Russian Edition (2014)

  

  

  

Winner:

The winner I’ve chosen this week is the original 2009 Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers edition – not really because this cover is my favorite aesthetically or anything like that. It was, however, the cover which first drew my attention to this book. I still remember seeing it for the first time, and I have a distinct memory of myself leaning forward to get a closer look of it on my computer screen, thinking, “What in the hell IS that?” The book was featured in a Kindle Deals email at the time, and after perusing the publisher description, I went right ahead and one-click bought it. It’s not a decision I’ve ever regretted, because I love this book, and it’s all thanks to this one cover.

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