Bookshelf Roundup 05/28/23: 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.

black line

Received for Review

With thanks to Del Rey Books for:

  • The Hundred Loves of Juliet by Evelyn Skye. This was a new one to me, but I was almost crying by the time I got to the end of the email pitch. After her husband’s diagnosis of a terminal disease just ten months after they were married, the author was inspired to write this Romeo & Juliet reimagining where Romeo has been cursed to live forever, and Juliet to reincarnate and die soon after they meet.

With thanks to Minotaur Books for:

With thanks to Orbit Books for:

  • The Phoenix King by Aparna Verma, the first book of an epic fantasy trilogy set in a world inspired by Hindu myths. It was previously published under its original title The Boy With Fire.

With thanks to St. Martin’s Press for:

  • Murdle: Volume 1 by G.T. Karber, a collection of 100 original murder mystery logic puzzles. This was a surprise arrival and definitely something a bit different. I look forward to sitting down with my family for some fun nights with this book.

With thanks to Penguin Random House Audio for:

  • Mortal Follies by Alexis Hall, a historical fantasy which sees a young noblewoman teaming up with a rumored witch in order to ward off a curse.
  • The Only One Left by Riley Sager, a Gothic chiller about a home-health aide who gets assigned to work with a woman accused of murdering her entire family when she was a teenager.

With thanks to David Walton for:

With thanks to Macmillan Audio for:

  • Gone Tonight by Sarah Pekkanen, a tense thriller following a daughter who is ready to spread her wings and become more independent, while her mother will do anything to keep her close and in the dark about their past.



Recent Reads/Upcoming Reviews

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: Piñata by Leopoldo Gout

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

Piñata by Leopoldo Gout

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Horror

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Nightfire Books (March 14, 2023)

Length: 293 pages

Author Information: Website

In a unique take on the classic possession story, Piñata by Leopoldo Gout is a simmering horror that draws upon indigenous myths while incorporating a bloody colonial past. The plot follows Carmen Sanchez, a New York architect who is back in her home country of Mexico to oversee the transformation of an old cathedral into a luxury hotel. Tagging along for the summer are her daughters, Izel and Luna, taking this opportunity to learn about their heritage.

But even from the start, the renovation has been plagued with issues. Carmen is so busy that her daughters are left on their own most of the time. The three of them are treated as outsiders, and teenager Izel is especially having a tough time fitting in, missing her friends from school. Carmen is also locked in a power struggle with the local foreman and his workers who don’t respect her or follow her orders, despite her being the lead architect on the project. Then one day, the crew uncover a hidden room at the construction site containing a trove of ancient artifacts. An accident involving Luna which also ends up jeopardizing Carmen’s position on the project is the last straw, and she is ready to head back to New York with her girls.

Unbeknownst to her, however, something else comes home with them. Carmen begins having nightmares and frightening visions. Luna begins behaving strangely, acting out at home and at school with violent results. Carmen knows her daughter needs help, but getting it may mean opening her mind to the seemingly impossible.

Piñata was an enjoyable read, but maybe not as enjoyable as I’d hoped—after all, when it comes to horror, possession stories can be some of the scariest, but I simply did not get that from this one. Granted, there were some downright gory scenes described in graphic detail, involving plenty of disturbing situations, but these were relatively shallow, throwaway frights.

As it often is in these cases, I feel it was the pacing that threw off the flow. There was a rather long leadup following Carmen and her daughters as they settle in for their summer in Mexico, though this was actually my favorite part of the book. I enjoyed the author’s descriptions of the sights and sounds, as well as reading about the characters’ cultural shock of being in a place where the local attitudes, beliefs, and values are so different from their own. As the story progresses, Gout also inserts flashes from the past, exploring the country’s complex history and the lives of those who have conquered or been conquered there over the centuries. Fascinating as they are though, some of these sections were admittedly overlong, dwelling protractedly on certain details that, at the end of the day, did not seem to add much value to the plot.

Which brings me to the possession arc itself. While I agree with other reviews that call Piñata a slow-burn horror, when we do reach the boiling point, things steam out way too quickly. One of my favorite parts about this book is the focus on Carmen’s attempts to balance her roles as a mother and a working professional while the family was in Mexico, along with all the turbulent emotions that they bring: love, guilt, pride, worry, etc. However, when it came to the ordeal with Luna, I thought her feelings were oddly muted, and the resolution felt cold and rushed as a result.

In sum, Piñata featured an interesting twist on a familiar premise, taking the supernatural elements from a possession story and presenting them through a historical, cultural, and mythological lens. I think some extra polish to iron out the pacing issues and to dial up the atmosphere would have made this a solid 4-star read. As it is, it’s close, but not quite there.

Waiting on Wednesday 05/24/23

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 Hurricane Wars by Thea Guanzon (October 3, 2023 by HarperVoyager)

“The fates of two bitter enemies with opposing magical abilities are swept together in The Hurricane Wars, the spellbinding debut in a fantasy romance trilogy set in a Southeast Asia-inspired world ravaged by storms, perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas and R. F. Kuang.

The heart is a battlefield.

All Talasyn has ever known is the Hurricane Wars. Growing up an orphan in a nation under siege by the ruthless Night Emperor, Talasyn has found her family among the soldiers who fight for freedom. But she is hiding a deadly secret: light magic courses through her veins, a blazing power believed to have been wiped out years ago that can cut through the Night Empire’s shadows.

Prince Alaric, the emperor’s only son and heir, has been forged into a weapon by his father. Tasked with obliterating any threats to the Night Empire’s rule with the strength of his armies and mighty Shadow magic, Alaric has never been bested. That is until he sees Talasyn burning brightly on the battlefield with the magic that killed his grandfather, turned his father into a monster, and ignited the Hurricane Wars. In a clash of light and dark, their powers merge and create a force the likes of which has never been seen.

Talasyn and Alaric both know this war can only end with them. But a greater threat is coming, and the strange new magic they can create together could be the only way to overcome it. Thrust into an uneasy alliance, they will confront the secrets at the heart of the war and find, in each other, a searing passion–one that could save their world…or destroy it.

An exquisite fantasy brimming with unforgettable characters, sizzling enemies-to-lovers romance, and richly drawn worlds, The Hurricane Wars marks the breathtaking debut of an extraordinary new writer.”

#WyrdandWonder Book Review: Scarlet by Genevieve Cogman

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

Scarlet by Genevieve Cogman

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction

Series: Book 1 of Scarlet

Publisher: Ace (May 9, 2023)

Length: 339 pages

Author Information: Website

Being a huge fan of Genevieve Cogman’s The Invisible Library series, I was quite excited for Scarlet, as you can imagine. That said, when I started seeing the early mixed reviews, I had to remind myself to keep those sky-high expectations in check. The book has been described as a retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel, an early twentieth century historical novel set during the French Revolution following a mysterious Englishman who leads a band of aristocrats on a daring rescue to save French nobles from the guillotine. In Cogman’s version though, there is magic and vampires.

The story introduces Eleanor Dalton, an English maid and budding seamstress in the employ of Lady Sophie, the vampire Baroness of Basting. Our young protagonist’s adventure begins when she makes the acquaintance of Sir Percy Blakeney and is recruited into his secret plot to save what’s left of the French royal family from execution. With the Reign of Terror raging on in France, Marie Antoinette has been separated from her children and imprisoned, a situation that Sir Percy’s League of The Scarlet Pimpernel simply cannot abide. Because of Eleanor’s striking resemblance to the queen, they decide to make her central to their dangerous plot by making her play a body double.

Following intense training with new identities and cover stories in place, the group finally makes its clandestine way towards Paris while trying to blend in with the local populace as bands of revolutionaries comb the countryside for suspicious activity. Once in the French capital, Eleanor becomes further entrenched in the League’s schemes even as she begins questioning her own obligations to Sir Percy, witnessing firsthand for herself the chaos of revolution.

I was glad I tempered my expectations because Scarlet is very different from The Invisible Library. The language is heavy in a writing style that might be appropriate for tone of this particular historical fantasy, but it made getting into it a little more difficult. Having never read The Scarlet Pimpernel, I can’t speak to how Cogman’s reimagining compares but I wonder if it also had a long leadup because an inordinate amount of time was spent establishing Eleanor’s backstory with the Baroness and her eventual recruitment into the League. I understand the need to establish a solid foundation, but you also run the risk of losing your readers if you belabor the process.

Having prepared myself for a slower start though, I knew that greener pastures were ahead and indeed the plot picked up once Eleanor was on her way to France. This marked the moment when the tantalizing concept of “The Scarlet Pimpernel but with vampires” finally lives up to its potential, or in other words, the real fun begins here…

Eleanor also works as a character capable of objectively looking at both sides of the conflict. Charmed by Sir Percy and his fellow aristocrats, she saw a worthy cause in saving lives but at the same time also sympathized with the suffering of the poor. Being of common birth, she was often struck by how out-of-touch and ignorant her noble traveling companions were, realizing with dismay that, even as allies, there was a gulf of understanding between them due to their class differences.

On that note though, I wish there had been more depth to the story to explore these themes. Eleanor’s self-examination is surface-level and hardly scorching, as one doesn’t get the sense that her mind has really been changed at all when all is said and done. The backdrop of the French Revolution is also just that—a backdrop, fabric-thin and one that feels hastily painted. The idea of a vampiric aristocratic class was also a nice touch, but one that was underutilized. I mean, somewhere in there is a metaphor for the blood-drinking highborn classes being a life-sucking drain on the ordinary folk, but other than that, vampires were mostly relegated to the background.

Still, it’s clear Scarlet was written to be a swashbuckling caper rather than a deep historical novel or an analytical critique of the source material. I wish there had been more time to expand upon some of the story’s themes or explore certain elements, but overall, it was an entertaining read and I had fun with it.

#WyrdandWonder Book Review: The Judas Blossom by Stephen Aryan

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

The Judas Blossom by Stephen Aryan

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy. Historical Fiction

Series: Book 1 of The Nightingale and the Falcon

Publisher: Angry Robot (July 11, 2023)

Length: 400 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Born from a fascination with the Mongol invasions and conquests that took place during the 13th and 14th centuries, The Judas Blossom vividly reimaginations the birth of history’s largest contiguous empire. Author Stephen Aryan writes in his foreword that while most of the major events in this fantasy novel are historically accurate, he has made some tweaks and liberties to their timing on top of some additional changes to the characters, and that ultimately what he wanted to do was craft a dramatic story. Well, in that goal, I can confidently say he succeeded.

The book follows mainly four characters: Hulagu Khan, grandson of the great Genghis, is now the rule of the Ilkhanate; his youngest son, Temujin, has one last chance to prove his worth before he is shipped out to fight on the front lines; known as the Blue Princess, Kokochin is the last of her tribe and has arrived in a foreign land to join Hulagu’s harem as one of his many wives; and Kaivon is a desperate young Persian rebel who will stop at nothing to get his revenge on the Mongols for the massacre of his people.

As his father faces the challenge of holding together a vast empire, Temujin is trying his best to avoid following in his footsteps as he finds he has no taste for war. But when his latest stint as a tax collector ends in disaster, he is forced onto the warrior’s path to unlock his inner potential. Meanwhile, Kaivon is left to exact vengeance on his own after his group of rebels are routed and his brother abandons him, heading into the heart of enemy territory to attempt a bolder strategy. When an opportunity to apprentice under the fearsome Hulagu Khan himself arises, Kaivon must tread carefully in order not to reveal his plans to bring the empire down from within. Around this time, Kokochin also discovers that, despite being a khan’s wife, she holds practically no status or power. Seeking new meaning to her life, she finds a purpose in training in the fighting arts and espionage.

I’ve always had a love for historical fantasy, and The Judas Blossom provides a breath of fresh air from the more usual offerings of the genre by whisking us off to the time of the Mongol Empire. Readers get to experience a sense of its sweeping magnitude in this epic tale told through the eyes of compelling characters that cover many aspects of life during this period, and my favorite was probably Kokochin, as so little is known about her in history. In this novel, however, Stephen Aryan has made her a fully realized character, complete with her own hopes and ambitions and a charming personality. Admittedly, none of the other characters interested me nearly as much, but perhaps they will have their chance to shine later in the sequels.

Of course, whenever you have tales about conquerors, you also get the tales of the conquered, along with the violence of bloody war which often accompanies these types of stories. Having read the author’s debut Battlemage, I already knew of his ability to write impressive battle sequences, and indeed the ones in The Judas Blossom were no less action-packed. Amidst the challenges of trying to expand and maintain an empire, the Khan and his family have made lots of enemies from within and without, meaning there’s plenty of political intrigue to keep me hooked with multiple threads involving assassins and secret plots to take down the empire. That said, with so many moving parts to keep track of, some of these plotlines can get confusing as times, resulting in several side characters and the story arcs that they’re involved in feeling slightly underdeveloped. Again, I am hoping that later books in the series will remedy that by exploring everything more in depth.

Overall, I have to say that, as the first volume to The Nightingale and the Falcon saga, The Judas Blossom was a fantastic read and my attention is certainly piqued. As with most series openers, there were some expected hurdles related to balancing character and story development, since there were so many elements to introduce. But now, the stage is most certainly set for greater, grander things as history begins to intertwine with the fantastical. Historical fantasy fans will be delighted by The Judas Blossom and the sweeping scope of its narrative that will transport them to a breathtaking world of danger, intrigue, and magic. Seamlessly weaving together intricate world-building, vibrant characters and resonant themes of courage, love, and sacrifice, this novel will leave you mesmerized. I look forward to the sequel!

Bookshelf Roundup 05/21/23: 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.

black line

Received for Review

With thanks to Tordotcom for:

  • Witch King by Martha Wells. I received a finished copy earlier this month, which I dug into immediately. I hate to say this, because it’s been years since I’ve read Martha Wells’ fantasy and I was very excited, but it ended up leaving me cold. I just wasn’t feeling the main character, I guess? Anyway, a review up will be up soon where I’ll talk about it some more.

With thanks to Angry Robot for:

  • The Judas Blossom by Stephen Aryan. Yay, finished copies are here! I actually read this months ago so I could blurb it, and I was delighted to open my book to see that it was also signed by the author! Now that the embargo on reviews has ended, look for my full review in the coming days.

With thanks to Rocky Pond Books for:

  • The Islands of Elsewhere by Heather Fawcett, from Penguin’s newest children’s and YA imprint. I jumped on this one as soon as I saw Heather Fawcett’s name on the pitch email I was sent; it’s no secret I ADORED Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries and I’m excited to try one of her Middle Grade novels. My daughter has already set her sights on this one too, so who knows, maybe you’ll see her back for another guest or joint review.

With thanks to Nightfire Books for:

  • Schrader’s Chord by Scott Leeds, which has a fascinating premise. I don’t think I can do it justice, so I’ll just let the publisher description do the talking: “Heart-Shaped Box meets The Haunting of Hill House in Schrader’s Chord, Scott Leeds’s chilling debut about cursed vinyl records that open a gateway to the land of the dead.”

With thanks to Tor Books for:

  • Starter Villain by John Scalzi. While we’re on the topic of fascinating premises, check out this one from the king of quirky modern sci-fi. The book arrived around the time the US cover was revealed so I hadn’t seen it yet, so you can imagine my surprised and amused response when I opened the package.

With thanks to Penguin Random House Audio for:

  • To Shape a Dragon’s Breath by Moniquill Blackgoose, which follows a young Indigenous woman at a dragon academy after she finds an egg and bonds with the hatchling. However, she soon finds herself at odds with the people who run the school, who are also the colonizers who rule her land. I wondered at the wisdom of reading another dragon academy book so soon after Fourth Wing, but this one seems quite different with a lot to offer.

It’s here, it’s here! This week also finally saw the arrival of my hardcover copy of The Frugal Wizard’s Handbook for Surviving Medieval England by Brandon Sanderson, AKA Secret Project #2. Production delays meant that these beauties didn’t start shipping until last week, but it was worth the wait. That said, I didn’t actually wait to read the book; ebook copies were made available on schedule so I’d already read it last month and I’ve just been being a lazy bum about getting a review up. This was a fun one, so I promise it will be soon!


Recent Reads/Upcoming Reviews

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: Paradise-1 by David Wellington

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

Paradise-1 by David Wellington

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction, Horror

Series: Book 1 of Red Space

Publisher: Orbit Books (April 4, 2023)

Length: 688 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

I’m of two minds about Paradise-1 by David Wellington. On the one hand, I liked it better than his last book I read, The Last Astronaut. The premise was definitely more to my liking, but the book also suffered from some of the same issues as well as uneven pacing.

Despite the urgency implied by the publisher description, the story also does not in fact begin under such harrowing circumstances. Protagonist Lt. Alexandra Petrova of the Firewatch is first introduced when the story opens on Ganymede, where we find her in pursuit of a dangerous serial killer. When the mission ends in disaster, she is unceremoniously exiled to Paradise-1, a nascent colony on a distant planet. On the day of her departure, she discovers that the vessel transporting her only has two other human passengers—Dr. Zhang Lei, a socially awkward researcher who is haunted by his past, and Sam Parker, the ship’s pilot and a former lover of Alexandra’s. Joining them is also an artificial intelligence in a fabricated body named Rapscallion who will be overseeing ship functions and life support while the humans are placed in cryosleep for the long journey.

As their ship makes its final approach on Paradise-1, however, they are ambushed by a mysterious vessel. Lieutenant Petrova, Dr. Zhang, and Parker are literally shaken out of their pods, waking up to almost complete destruction. They also learn that their ship’s AI is corrupted and trying to reboot itself in an endless loop, while communications sent to the colony are going unanswered, leading to a desperate race against time to find out why. What could be affecting the human colonists on Paradise-1 as well as their onboard AI, making both behave in such an erratic, hostile manner? And in the meantime, the crew still has to figure out how to survive the relentless attack from the hostile ship.

First, the good: Character development was superb. From the beginning, Paradise-1 presented a captivating study of Alexandra Petrova, who has spent her life living in the shadow of her mother, a woman both revered and reviled. In essence, their complex relationship is key to everything that happens. Trying to live up to her mother’s expectations is what got Alexandra into Firewatch in the first place, and what eventually led to her downfall were her attempts to quell rumors of nepotism. Later, we find out that her mother had also gone to Paradise-1. As they say, the plot thickens.

My favorite character though, was Dr. Zhang. While many of the reasons are spoilers, what I can say is that he intrigued me the moment he was introduced in that awkward conversation with Petrova, and then grew steadily on me since. One of the highlights was watching him come out of his shell after suffering a traumatic incident at one of his past research labs, discovering the key role he plays in the disaster at Paradise-1, and seeing him come to trust his crewmates.

Paradise-1 was also much more frightening and intense in tone compared to The Last Astronaut. The story blends two of my favorite space horror tropes, killer AI and extraterrestrial viruses. Considering how our world has recently come out of a pandemic and is now debating the ethics and possible dangers of burgeoning AI technology, these topics seem fitting somehow. Wellington takes all the uncertainty surrounding these discussions and uses it to great effect.

As for the not-so-good: Pacing. Pacing, pacing, and pacing, especially when we are also trying to cram the drama of character backstories in between bouts of action. It wreaked havoc with the flow of the plot, resulting in many lulls. Then there was the question of whether this book needed to be 700 pages, arguably much too long considering its repetitive nature. While there were several arcs comprising this story, they all followed a similar pattern of scouting out a derelict ship, encountering the horror of what has become of their hapless occupants, confirming what we already know. This happened no less than three times, and little progression was made after the first. Worse, each time we lost a little more of the mystery and fear as impatience grew. To add insult to injury, the book also ended on a somewhat brutal cliffhanger, a final slap in the face.

What’s frustrating is that, without these problems, Paradise-1 would have been an amazing book. To be fair, the good still outweighed the bad, but although there were plenty of things I loved, I cannot give this on more than a middling rating due to the pacing issues. While I do want to pick up the sequel to find out what happens, if it turns out to be another 700+ page doorstopper…well, I may have to reconsider.

#WyrdandWonder Audiobook Review: Tress of the Emerald Sea by Brandon Sanderson

Tress of the Emerald Sea by Brandon Sanderson

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Dragonsteel Entertainment (January, 2023)

Length: 12 hours 26 minutes

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Michael Kramer

Me when Brandon Sanderson’s “Four Secret Novels” Kickstarter project was announced: SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY! Clearly I wasn’t the only one, as in no time at all, the campaign went on to break records for the most-funded Kickstarter ever. In early 2023, the first of the secret novels started to ship, but although I received a gorgeous premium hardcover edition of Tress of the Emerald Sea, I opted to listen to the audiobook, which my entire family got to enjoy on a 10-hour road trip during spring break. Best decision ever.

When the story begins, we are introduced to our eponymous protagonist who lives a simple life on an island in the middle of an emerald-green “ocean” which is really made up of countless tiny grain-like spores. Between performing her everyday chores, Tress likes to collect teacups brought to her by sailors who travel from all over the world and are aware of her charming hobby. When she has free time, she also likes to visit her friend Charlie, the Duke’s son. Far from being a hoity toity nobleman like his father though, Charlie is in fact very personable and tells the most amazing stories which Tress can listen to for hours. But then one day, the Duke decides it’s time for his son to marry. They leave on a voyage by sea, breaking Tress’ heart as she watches her love sale away forever.

Except Charlie did not get married. Neither did he come back. When Tress receives the awful news that the Duke’s ship had been intercepted by the Sorceress of the Midnight Sea and that Charlie had been kidnapped, she makes the decision to rescue him. But for a girl who has never left her tiny island home though, that’s easier said than done. The Midnight Sea is also not like any of the others. While oceans of all colors are dangerous, Midnight is especially deadly due to the particular nature of the spores that comprise it. But even before she can brave that challenge, Tress must first find a way off her island when the docks are constantly guarded against unauthorized travel.

Sanderson has said that Tress of the Emerald Sea was heavily inspired by The Princess Bride, and it shows. Tonally, the story feels whimsical and even fairy tale-like at times—very different from any of his other novels, even those that are Middle Grade or Young Adult. It is also very wholesome, which reaffirmed my choice to make this audiobook a family listen. In case you’re wondering, my kids loved this book as well. Not surprising, since The Princess Bride is also one of their favorite movies. They thoroughly enjoyed the twist where it was the girl in role of “farm boy” sailing off on a quest to save the Duke’s son.

But that’s pretty much as far as the inspiration goes. Tress’ journey is all her own, and once the plot gets going, like a snowball rolling down the side of a snow-covered hill, it grows until it becomes something tremendous and epic. At the beginning, when our protagonist takes her first clandestine step aboard a ship as a stowaway, the only thing on her mind was to rescue Charlie. Eventually though, that quest balloons into something so much bigger—an adventure that includes swashbuckling pirates and even a dragon. At one point, one of my daughters even asked, “Did Tress forget all about Charlie?” To be fair, it might have seemed that way, but I learned to never underestimate Sanderson when it comes to bringing a story full circle. Still, even I was amazed at how beautifully and perfectly the story came together in the end.

The world-building was also incredible. Yes, this being a Sanderson novel, I know that’s a lot like saying water is wet. Still, the concept of a world where not only are the oceans made up of spores but that the spores can actually manifest dangerous effects if they were to come in contact with any moisture, that is just another level of ingenuity.

It must be pointed out though, that Tress of the Emerald Sea is a Cosmere novel, part of a bigger fictional universe created by the author in which many of his other works take place. At the end of the day, this is still a standalone novel but newcomers to the Cosmere might experience a bit of confusion. They might not understand certain references, like who the character of Hoid is and why it might be significant to Sanderson fans that this story is told from his point of view. While it’s not a dealbreaker by any means, and Tress can most definitely be enjoyed without any prior knowledge of the Cosmere or any of its books, there might be rare instances of “Cosmere-talk” that might frustrate some readers (like my husband).

That said, I ended up loving this book, and more importantly, so did the three other members of my family who had never even heard of the Cosmere before this. After a brief explanation from me, they were good to go, even my two kids who grasped the concept quickly. Tress of the Emerald Sea was a solid hit with all of us. No matter who you are, there is much to appreciate about this lighthearted novel full of hope, love, courage, and adventure. Tress is a fantastic heroine whose determination is a good reminder of the boundless potential inside all of us.

Waiting on Wednesday 05/17/23

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 Hemlock Queen by Hannah Whitten (February 20, 2024 by Orbit Books)

In the second installment of New York Times bestselling author Hannah Whitten’s lush, romantic epic fantasy series, a young woman who can raise the dead must navigate the dangerous and glamorous world of the Sainted King’s royal court. 
The corrupt king August is dead. Prince Bastian has seized the throne and raised Lore—a necromancer and former smuggler—to his right hand side. Together they plan to cut out the rot from the heart of the sainted court and help the people of Dellaire. But not everyone is happy with the changes. The nobles are sowing dissent, the Kyrithean Empire is beating down their door, and Lore’s old allies are pulling away. Even Prince Bastian’s changed. No longer the hopeful, rakish, charismatic man Lore knows and loves, instead he’s reckless, domineering and cold. 

And something’s been whispering in her ear. A voice, dark and haunting, that’s telling her there’s more to the story than she knows and more to her power than she can even imagine. A truth buried deep that could change everything. 

With Bastian’s coronation fast approaching and enemies whispering on all sides, Lore must figure out how to protect herself, her prince, and her country before they all come crumbling down and whatever dark power has been creeping through the catacombs is unleashed.”

Book Review: The Ferryman by Justin Cronin

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

The Ferryman by Justin Cronin

Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopian

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Ballantine Books (May 2, 2023)

Length: 538 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

It’s an unfortunate reality that many authors who write groundbreaking novels fail to ever capture the same magic again with their follow-up work. But then there’s Justin Cronin, whose new book The Ferryman not only lives up to the epicness of The Passage trilogy but surpasses it in terms of its vision and depth of scope as well.

However, the plot is so multilayered and complex that describing it is going to be next to impossible, so I’m not even going to try. What I will give you is the setup, which is irresistibly intriguing all on its own: In the middle of the ocean lies the archipelago of Prospera, a utopian state hidden from the horrors of the outside world—except things aren’t as idyllic as they seem in this so-called island paradise. For one thing, Prospera has its social divisions as well. Made up of three islands, the largest, Prospera proper, is where the wealthy elite reside, while The Annex is home to working class citizens and support staff.

And then there’s The Nursery. Everyone on Prospera is fitted with a monitor that ostensibly measures their physical and mental health, but it has a more ominous function as well. As you grow older and your numbers fall to an unacceptably low number, your monitor triggers a “retirement process” in which the citizen will be taken to The Nursery in order to have their memories wiped and their old bodies renewed so that they can restart life as another iteration. Those reborn come back as teenagers, to become adopted as wards by Prospera couples, and then the whole cycle begins again.

Our protagonist Proctor Bennett is a Ferryman, and it is his duty to accompany residents by boat to Nursery island when they are ready to be “rebooted”. It is also up to him to ensure that every citizen gets to make that transition smoothly and with dignity. But then one day, he fails at that task spectacularly with none other than his own aging father, who makes a scene at the pier but still manages to get a strange message out to his son. Those perplexing words end up upending Proctor’s life, making him question everything about himself and what he believes in. Why does he dream when no one else does? And what might have driven his mother to commit suicide all those years ago?

From there, the story gets increasingly more elaborate, and I’m not exaggerating when I say a shit ton of things happen in this book, but then I say at 500+ pages, there damn well better be. The Ferryman is definitely not for the fainted hearted or easily daunted; it combines science fiction and dystopian elements with a dash of action and thrills to create an engaging saga that draws from themes ranging from social issues to personal struggles. And while the book is largely told from Proctor’s point-of-view, there are other perspective characters who share some page time, including Thea, an art dealer with whom our protagonist begins a complicated relationship. Still, even the limited cast does not constrain this novel, and in fact, the tight focus only has the effect of making things feel even more critical and immediate.

Underlying all this is also a strong current of mystery. This is a book that starts lobbing clues at you from page one while guarding the full picture closely, doling out the answers little by little so that you form the connections gradually, making each revelation a delight. As Proctor attempts to get to the bottom of the Arrivalist movement, created by a group of dissidents from The Annex, he is also trying to figure out his rocky marriage with Elise, who disappointingly does not share in his desire to adopt a ward. And then there’s Caeli. A rebellious teenager who befriends Proctor, Caeli later disappears and finding her may be the key to solving the mystery.

All of this culminates into a surprise I did not see coming. By the time the book ends, you are so far out of the same territory as when the book began, you start to wonder how in the hell you got here, which only just leads you to retrace your steps and blow your mind anew. Like a Matryoshka doll, there are stories nestled within stories, but there are also huge shifts that nevertheless keep the plot elements tightly woven so that overall themes and character motivations still make sense.

All this might sound cryptic, but if you are curious about any of it, I highly recommend picking up The Ferryman so you can experience the joys and intrigue for yourself. Fans of sci-fi and dystopian fiction looking for an imaginative, mysterious, and thrilling book to feed your brain, I promise you will not be disappointed.