Mogsy’s Bookshelf Roundup: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads

Stacking the Shelves where I talk about the new books I’ve added to my library or received for review, as well as It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? where I round up what I’ve read since the last update and what I’m planning to read soon. Mostly it also serves as a recap post, so sometimes I’ll throw in stuff like reading challenge progress reports, book lists, and other random bookish thoughts or announcements.

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Received for Review

Thank you 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!

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Royal Bastards by Andrew Shvarts – Bastards gotta stick together. That’s what a group of court children who were born on the other side of the sheets learn when they stumble upon a crime they were never meant to witness, and now they’re all that stands between the kingdom and treachery. I don’t know about you, but this one sounds awesome! My thanks to Disney-Hyperion for the ARC!

Worldshaker by J.F. Lewis – My thanks to Pyr for this beautiful finished copy. That’s some seriously gorgeous cover art, which is a considerable improvement from the ARC edition if I’m remembering right!

Etched in Bone by Anne Bishop – I was also really excited to receive this fifth and final novel of The Others series. I’m actually a little nervous to read it because I still can’t quite believe it’s all coming to an end, but hopefully I’ll get to start it sometime next week. With thanks to Roc.

Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey – Much love to Tor for sending me this keeper copy! In case you missed my review for this book, you can find the link below. I loved it, but then it’s Jacqueline Carey and she never disappoints!

A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab – The wonderful folks at Tor also sent me a finished copy of this third and final novel of the Shades of Magic trilogy. This series has been growing on me and I find myself really looking forward to see how the finale will play out.

Eleanor by Jason Gurley – This book made some waves when it came out last year, and now its paperback release is on the horizon. I still really need to read this! With thanks to Broadway Books.

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The Devil Crept In by Ania Ahlborn – A great review of this from Jennifer over at Book Den convinced me to request it and give it a try, and I’m so glad I did. I already read it and it was creepy as hell! My thanks to Gallery Books and NetGalley.

Borrowed Souls by Chelsea Mueller – Thank you to Talos for this e-galley which I grabbed as soon as I saw it pop up at Edelweiss. Borrowed Souls is on my list of most anticipated debuts of 2017 and I can’t wait to check it out.

The Heart of Stone by Ben Galley – I’ve wanted to read Ben Galley ever since last year’s SPFBO, so when he emailed me earlier this month asking if I would like to review his upcoming book, I said absolutely! Next month Ben should also be stopping by for a guest post, so stay tuned for that.

Snapshot by Brandon Sanderson – Audiobook, courtesy of Audible Studios. I only learned of Snapshot recently, but it’s Sanderson so of course I have to read it! Apparently this novella takes place in the same universe as The Reckoners, though I’m not sure how it all fits together yet. Can’t wait to listen and find out.

Star Wars: Aftermath: Empire’s End by Chuck Wendig and The Wanderers by Meg Howrey – More audiobooks, courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio. Of course I have to see the Star Wars: Aftermath trilogy through, and The Wanderers was a book that caught my attention recently, when I saw a blurb describing it as Station Eleven meets The Martian.

Greedy Pigs by Matt Wallace and Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones – More novellas from the generous Tor.com team! I’m very curious about Mapping the Interior and I just finished Idle Ingredients so I should be all set now for Greedy Pigs!

Reviews

Here’s a summary of my reviews posted since the last Roundup. For this week’s highlights, I want to bring attention to a couple of excellent reads: The Grey Bastardswhich I read for SPFBO; and The Valiant, an amazing YA novel about female gladiators in Ancient Rome. 

The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French (4.5 of 5 stars)
The Valiant by Lesley Livingston (4.5 of 5 stars)
Death’s Mistress by Terry Goodkind (4 of 5 stars)
Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty (4 of 5 stars)
Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey (4 of 5 stars)
Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire (3.5 of 5 stars)
Freeks by Amanda Hocking (3 of 5 stars)
Gilded Cage by Vic James (2.5 of 5 stars)

Roundup Highlights:

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What I’ve Read Since the Last Update

Here’s what I’ve read recently, with a couple reviews already posted. The rest to come soon!

Caraval the-grey-bastards-spfbo the-seventh-age-dawn the-devil-crept-in Thunderbird

revenger silence_fallen_layout.indd idle-ingredients kings-of-the-wyld

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

Friday Face-Off: Aliens

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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:

“Aliens–if they exist–are little green men with big eyes and spindly arms…or giant insects or something like a lumpy little creature”
~ a cover featuring ALIENS

Mogsy’s Pick:
Sundiver by David Brin

For this week’s theme, I’ve decided to go with an oldie but a goodie. Sundiver is the first book of The Uplift Saga, a series featuring the central theme of “biological uplift”, a term used to describe the process of transforming a certain species into more intelligent beings by other already intelligent beings. In this universe, humanity is an anomaly – a species that apparently got to where they are with no patron race. But is this truly the case? Or did a mysterious race begin the uplift of humankind a long time ago before abandoning them? The matter is one of fierce debate.

Let’s take a look at the following selection of covers from around the world:

From left to right, top to bottom: Bantam Spectra (2010) – Little Brown and Company (1996) – Bantam (1981)

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Spanish (2010) – Romanian (2013) – Polish (1995) – Spanish (1993) – French (1995) – German (2014) – Czech (1995) – Russian (1995)

sundiver-spanish sundiver-romanian sundiver-polish sundiver-spanish-1993

sundiver-french sundiver-german sundiver-czech sundiver-russian

Winner:

I hate to admit it, but some of these older covers  are just way too goofy looking for my tastes, so simple and elegant wins it for me this week.

What do you think? Which one is your favorite?

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Book Review: Gilded Cage by Vic James

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

Gilded CageGilded Cage by Vic James

Mogsy’s Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of Dark Gifts

Publisher: Del Rey (February 14, 2017)

Length: 368 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Rarely have I read a story where my thoughts at the end are such a complete turnaround from my thoughts at the beginning. When I first started Gilded Cage, I was beyond pumped–the excellent writing, solid world-building, and strong portrayals of the main characters all made me think this book was going to have everything I wanted. Yet by the time I finished, I could barely even put my feelings into words. I didn’t love it, but I also didn’t hate it. The whole thing just left me cold.

In the alternate world of this young adult dystopian, Great Britain is nation starkly divided along class lines. The Equals are the ruling elites who run the government, live on sprawling estates, and enjoy the power granted to them by their magical gifts. Then there are the commoners, who may be the majority, but they have no representation and are expected to submit themselves to a mandatory ten-year term of service to the Equals. This period is called their “slavedays”, in which they will have all their rights stripped away and no longer be considered citizens.

When the story begins, we are introduced to a family about to begin their slavedays. Siblings Abi, Luke, and Daisy Hadley have been arranged to accompany their parents assigned to the Jardine estate, home of one of the most prominent nobles in Equal society. However, on the day the Hadleys are scheduled to depart, a misunderstanding occurs and 16-year-old Luke is instead separated from his family and shipped off to the slavetown of Millmoor. Feeling desperate and alone, he befriends a group of fellow slaves who teach him how to survive, which in turn makes Luke realize there are more ways to fight back than he’d previously believed.

Meanwhile at the Jardine estate, the rest of the Hadley family are exposed to all the political intrigues and scheming of the Lord and Lady Whittam, along with their three sons Gavar, Jenner, and Silyen. Nevertheless, Abi ends up falling for one of the noble-born young men against her better judgment, putting her in the terrible place of questioning her loyalties and having to decide between freedom and love.

Despite its hackneyed dystopian premise and the overly simplistic concepts, I really did enjoy the first part of this book. From Animal Farm to The Hunger Games, you see a lot of the same themes get used over and over for these types of stories, and yet I never seem to get enough. While the core ideas behind Gilded Cage might not be anything we haven’t seen before, I did enjoy seeing Vic James’ take on them and her attempt to inject a few twists. The prologue was a perfect ten what it came to capturing my attention, and what I read in first few chapters made me want to know more. The writing was also delectable.

So I was shocked when it hit me; somewhere around the quarter to midway point, all my previous enthusiasm had somehow drained away, and I hadn’t even realized it was happening. It just occurred to me suddenly that I was bored, I didn’t really care about the characters, and I was zoning out more and more. The feeling was ambivalence, also known as the death knell of a book under review.

Here’s what I think happened: 1) over time, the strength of the story began eroding due to too many POVs. I couldn’t help but feel the author was trying to emulating the structure and style of an epic fantasy, except, of course, Gilded Cage is not an epic fantasy. 2) The story got hung up on too many unnecessary details. Don’t get me wrong, though. Details are nice. Details are important. But when I find I can zone out or forget everything that was said for several pages at a time, and then have it make absolutely no difference at all in the end, that’s a problem. 3) The split storytelling between the Jardine estate and Millmoor was an interesting decision, but I’m not sure that it was carried out too well. While it was nice seeing a picture of both sides of the world, the ultimate effect was neither here nor there. I couldn’t form a connection to either storyline, and ended up shrugging off both.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it. I’m disappointed. What started off so promising ended up making me feel so…blah. Still, that’s not to say the book didn’t have it strengths. I recommend giving it a try if the description interests you. It has also been received very positively by a lot of other readers, and I encourage everyone to check out their reviews for another perspective because they do a fantastic job covering all of the story’s charms and high points. Simply put though, the strengths were not enough to overcome the ennui I felt for most of the book, which stumbled after a great beginning and unfortunately never recovered its momentum.

2-5stars

Mogsy 2

Waiting on Wednesday 02/22/17

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“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that lets us feature upcoming releases that we can’t wait to get our hands on!

Mogsy’s Pick

The Realms of God by Michael Livingston (November 7, 2017 by Tor Books)

Another great trilogy will come to an end this fall. While I look forward to seeing how things play out, I don’t know where I’ll be getting my Ancient Rome fix after this!

the-realms-of-god“The Ark of the Covenant has been spirited out of Egypt to Petra, along with the last of its guardians. But dark forces are in pursuit. Three demons, inadvertently unleashed by Juba of Numidia and the daughter of Cleopatra, are in league with Tiberius, son and heir of Augustus Caesar. They’ve seized two of the fabled Shards of Heaven, lost treasures said to possess the very power of God, and are desperately hunting the rest.

Through war and assassination, from Rome to the fabled Temple Mount of Jerusalem and on to the very gates of Heaven itself, the forces of good and evil will collide in a climactic battle that threatens the very fabric of Creation.

The Realms of God is the thrilling conclusion to Michael Livingston’s historical fantasy trilogy that continues the story begun in The Shards of Heaven and The Gates of Hell.”

Graphic Novel Review Bites

bsg-6Battlestar Galactica: Six

When I started watching Battlestar Galactica, I did not expect to fall in love with Tricia Helfer. But when I saw the look on her face after she unwittingly killed an infant, I knew she was far, far more than a pretty face, and she has continued to prove that in every Pinocchio role she has made me cry through since. The look is exactly what Jenny Frisson captures on the cover of this trade, ensuring that I would pick it up without question. Frisson’s subsequent covers for each of the six issues were no less powerful and emotionally expressive — not that I expected any less from Frisson.

Unfortunately, the story and art on the inside don’t quite live up to the covers. This is meant as a prequel to the series, where the Cylon known as Six doesn’t know that she’s the Cylon known as Six. It begins with her as part of a mining team that undergoes violence and tragedy of which she is the only survivor, though her memories of the event are gone. Instead, she seems to be reliving other lives — and other deaths.

The Sixes were created as the archetype of love and sex, but Helfer revealed early on that Caprica Six in particular is also capable of incredible brutality, as well as beautiful sensitivity, which is epitomized in that scene of Six in the crowd with the baby.

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But the book doesn’t really give me the latter, nor does it really connect the woman we read about here, with the seductress who is ready to destroy humanity for the mysterious plan that the Cylons are formulating. As one of my favourite characters from one of my favourite series, I definitely wanted more from this book over all, but was disappointed in the reality.

2stars

velvetVelvet, Vol. 1: Before the Living End

“And if there’s one thing I’ve learned the past 18 years, it’s that assistants run the world…”

But Velvet Templeton is not your ordinary secretary to the head of a top secret agency. She’s got her own dark past that comes to light when she’s framed for the murder of some of the agency’s top operatives. And it comes as a surprise to the people trying to hunt her down as she tries to clear her name and solve the crime.

Brubaker’s noir and spy game thrillers are almost always a hit with me in some way. Though the eras that he focuses on tend to mean that the female characters have to deal with sexism and misogyny, he writes those women well, and Velvet is no exception. She’s a Strong Female CharacterTM not because she can kick ass (she totally can) but because, after 18 years out of the service, she’s still discovering her own flaws and weaknesses and, as she finds out more about the murders, the truths that she believed in when she was younger start to fall apart.

We’ve seen this kind of mystery thriller before. but Brubaker is usually very good at adding just the right twist. In this case, he saves this for the end of the volume, leaving a cliffhanger that makes me demand more.

4-stars

MonstressMonstress, Volume 1: Awakening

This is a grotesquely beautiful book, more so when you read the foreword and learn about Liu’s inspiration and see how she has translated the monstrosity of war into this story.

Maika is more than just a slave, and she is more than the psychic bond that links her to the monster inside her, but in order to understand her past, present and future, she must put together several pieces surrounding her mother’s archaeological discovery, all while fighting to save herself and others from those who hate and would use and abuse arcanics like herself.

The title of the book speaks of the monster that dwells inside of this girl, but, through the story and art, the monster inside all of us and the ugliness that is often masked by beauty is revealed. It is a harsh story of great pain and loss, but Maika’s strength and the loyalty of companions who would stand by her when that strength fails her seed the book with a powerful sense of hope, despite the darkness. A fitting read, given the times we currently live in…

4-stars

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#SPFBO Book Review: The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French

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Phase 2 of The Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off 2016 is officially underway! For the six-month period from November 1, 2016 to the end of May 2017, we will be reviewing the ten finalists chosen by the blogger judges from the first phase of the competition. For full details and the list of books, see our SPFBO 2016 page.

the-grey-bastards-spfboThe Grey Bastards by Jonathan French

Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of The Grey Bastards

Publisher: Jonathan French (October 16, 2015)

Length: 386 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

I fucking loved this book. The Grey Bastards went down like a shot of good top-shelf tequila: warm and smooth, but with one hell of a spicy kick. If SPFBO has taught me any lessons, it’s that you never know what you’re going to get when you pick up a self-published novel, but many stars aligned to make this one work immensely well for me. It happened to perfectly fit my tastes, for one. With a title and cover like that, you can be sure this dark epic fantasy will have plenty of grit and violence. Throw in some breakneck pacing and a dash of that crude and vulgar brand of humor, then you’ve got yourself a recipe for a good time.

The story follows a half-orc named Jackal who is sworn to the The Grey Bastards hoof, one of the eight brotherhoods of former slaves that now live on the land known as the Lots. Shunned by humans but also hostile to the orcs, the mongrel bands are all that’s left standing between the city of Hispartha and the forces that want to see it fall.

Life among the hoofs has its own trials, however. Long has Jackal wanted to challenge their warchief Claymaster for leadership of The Grey Bastards, but because a failed bid can mean his own death, our protagonist is prepared to wait until he has more support beyond that of his good friends, Oats and Fetch.

Still, that was before their so-called allies started turning against them, or before the Claymaster started sparing their orc enemies instead of swiftly dispatching them, and certainly before before a wily wizard named Crafty managed to weasel his way into the warchief’s good graces. More and more, Jackal is noticing erratic behavior in their gnarled and plague-ridden leader, reaffirming his beliefs that the old half-orc should be deposed. The final straw finally comes in the form of an elf girl named Starling, whom Jackal rescues from a terrible fate. Vehemently disagreeing with the Claymaster on their next course of action, Jackal feels he has no choice but to throw down his ax—thus declaring his challenge and sealing his fate for the inevitable course of turmoil to come.

So yeah, I liked this book. I liked it a lot. And thing is, there isn’t any one aspect of the story that I can single out and claim that I liked the most, since it was the culmination of all of its parts—and all at once—that made The Grey Bastards such a memorable and spectacularly good read. I enjoyed how the plot started small before snowballing to become something much bigger, and at no point did it take a step back or even pause for a breather; there was only aggressive forward motion, constantly driving forward.

I’ll also admit a love for reading dark fantasy featuring raw, gritty, foul-mouthed and violence-seeking characters—call me old softie, but I reserve a special place in my heart for these kinds of anti-heroes. However, an author can wind up with a whole cast of virtually indistinguishable characters if they’re not careful, which is a common pitfall for books in this genre. Fortunately though, French manages to avoid this problem in The Grey Bastards, giving all his half-orc characters their own unique and individual personalities. Jackal is our main protagonist, with his lofty ambitions which can sometimes blind him to other perspectives around him. In part, this book is the story of how he finally opens his eyes to see the big picture, but the journey to get there is a tough one indeed. Lucky for Jackal, he has his friends to back him up. Oats is a thrice (so called because they are three-quarters orc, making them physically larger than their half-orc brethren) who is as loyal as they come, and rounding out the inseparable trio is Fetch, the only female in the Grey Bastards who had to fight tooth and nail for her position in the hoof. Like all friendships, the three of them have their ups and downs, but the well-developed relationships between them made these dynamics very convincing.

In terms of story, The Grey Bastards was a book that pulled me in straight away. It’s fun and exciting, full of unexpected twists and turns, though I feel I have to warn prospective readers that this is not one for the faint of heart. If you are easily turned off by brutal graphic violence or crude and offensive language, then this is probably not for you. French pulls no punches in this vicious and no-holds-barred world full of orcs, humans, elves, halflings, and even centaurs all fighting one and another, with scenes of skirmishing and great battles punctuating the narrative every few chapters. This sets a very fast and readable pace with rich world-building that is not so much inserted as it is integrated into the story, often done in a seamless way that is in context with the events playing out on the page. This has got to be one of the most interesting and fleshed-out fantasy worlds I have ever read, and the author made it all seem so effortless.

In case you couldn’t tell, I am beyond impressed with The Grey Bastards. In reading it I got to experience a strikingly vivid world come to life before my eyes, populated by characters who are at once wild and wonderful. Jonathan French is a fantastic writer and talented storyteller who has created a very special gem here, and the story even ends with potential for our characters to engage in more future adventures. Here’s hoping Jackal and his fellow Bastards will get a sequel soon, because you can bet I’ll be all over that.

4-5stars

Rating: 9/10

Mogsy 2

Book Review: Death’s Mistress by Terry Goodkind

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

deaths-mistressDeath’s Mistress by Terry Goodkind

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of Sister of Darkness: The Nicci Chronicles

Publisher: Tor (January 10, 2017)

Length: 512 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

To put it bluntly, I never thought I would read anything else by Terry Goodkind again. After my disastrous first attempt to get into The Sword of Truth series, I almost turned down the opportunity to read Death’s Mistress, but now I’m very glad I didn’t. It’s been years since I last read Wizard’s First Rule, and it seemed a shame to potentially miss out on a good start to a new series especially when the author’s style or my reading tastes could have changed so much since. And as things turned out, I did have a surprisingly good time with this.

I also had initial concerns about jumping in without having read the entirety of the previous series, but that was not a problem. The book follows Nicci, a “Death’s Mistress” and a former lieutenant of Emperor Jagang who has since switched her alliance after being converted to the right side by Richard. Now that the latter has solidified his rule, Nicci travels the world helping spread the word of his benevolence and letting everyone know that the world is free, while accompanied by the ex-prophet and wizard Nathan.

At the beginning of this story Nathan decides to seek out the witch called Red, and Nicci offers to go along with him for protection, knowing they can trust no one and must be prepared for anything. Sure enough, after their visit, the witch imparts upon them the following obscure message: travel to a dangerous place far away called Kol Adair, where Nathan will find the answers to his struggle with his waning magic. Little do Nicci and Nathan know, that by embarking on this adventure they will also be a part of something much bigger, bringing back peace and hope to many along the way. Indeed, before they can even set off in earnest, Nicci saves the life of a young sailor named Bannon on the docks, preventing him from being mugged and killed by a gang of thugs. Grateful for her help, Bannon offers his services to the Death’s Mistress, volunteering to fight alongside her and Nathan while on their journey to Kol Adair.

I must confess, the story’s introduction was a bit of a whirlwind for me, with the bewildering circumstances around Red and her message, as well as the reasons for Nicci and Nathan to head to Kol Adair. It’s clear that I’ve missed a lot of history, not having followed The Sword of Truth. Trying to piece together everything that has happened since the last time I spent time in this world admittedly took up most of my attention, though fortunately once our characters actually begin their adventure, the path ahead gave way to clearer purposes and more exciting and engaging motifs. Death’s Mistress has a strong traditional fantasy vibe to it, with emphasis on the classic quest narrative. The question why Nicci, Nathan and Bannon were on this journey in the first place became less important to me overtime, while the details surrounding where they’ll go or what they’ll do when they get there or who they’ll meet gradually became more fascinating and relevant.

If there’s a bigger story, it hardly matters—at least at this point. Goodkind is starting a new series here, and you can tell he’s doing his best to make Death’s Mistress as accessible as possible. There’s not much history or deep context in play, and no greater conflict to concern ourselves with…yet. Rather, our characters are given a relatively straight forward task (go to Kol Adair, spread the word of Richard’s reign) and while on their travels they encounter various situations in which they can lend a hand or help solve a problem (picking up some side-quests along the way, so to speak). In fact, the structure of the plot can almost be described as “episodic”, the way our adventuring party moves from one place to the next, setting things aright before moving on again to save the next village or help defend the next town.

The results are surprisingly enjoyable. After all, few things are better than being able to explore new worlds, meet new people, and witness epic battles infused with a real sense of excitement and magic. If you’re a fantasy reader, these are the moments we live for, and this book had a way of satisfying all those little pleasures. From our time with our characters on the high seas, to watching them fight alongside a fishing village against a fleet of attacking slavers, to being with them as they try to save a land leeched of life, it’s never a dull moment with this book. The characters are also memorable, with Nicci being a strong protagonist I could sympathize with and root for. Supporting characters are also well-written and fleshed out, leading to some highly emotional and shocking surprises near the end.

Like I said, I’m very glad I decided to give Death’s Mistress a chance. At times, Goodkind’s writing still has the subtlety of a cudgel and some of his scenes can be a little schmaltzy, but on the whole my experience was a lot better than I expected. Nothing too complicated here in terms of plot, but I think in this case, the straightforward and simple approach worked in the book’s favor, offering readers a chance to just sit back and enjoy the ride.

4-stars

Mogsy 2

YA Weekend Audio: Freeks by Amanda Hocking

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

freeksFreeks by Amanda Hocking

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Series: Book 1

Publisher: Audible Studios (January 24, 2017)

Length: 8 hrs and 43 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Em Eldridge

Continuing with my ongoing love affair with books about carnivals or circuses, I decided to check out Freeks by Amanda Hocking which features a group of traveling sideshow performers in the 80s as they travel across the country looking for work.

The story stars Mara, a teenager who has practically spent her whole life growing up on the road with Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Carnival. While their show boasts many of the usual attractions, what most folks don’t realize is that many among Gideon’s crew actually possess supernatural powers. For example, they have a telekinetic on staff who helps out with a lot of their magician’s “tricks”. Their trapeze artist has abilities to manipulate the air around him so that he can never fall. Mara’s own mother is a fortune teller who gains insights about her clients’ lives by being able to commune with the dead. However, despite being surrounded by these powered individuals and being the daughter of one herself, Mara has no special abilities. She has sometimes wondered what it might be like to settle down and live like “normal” people, but the carnival is the only family she has ever known, and even though the going can get tough sometimes, Mara loves her life and can’t imagine it any other way.

That is, until Gideon takes up a contract to set up camp in a small southern town named Caudry, and sparks fly between Mara and Gabe, a handsome local boy she meets at a party. Mara likes Gabe—a lot—and he seems to like her too. But how would he feel once he finds out she is a carnie? On the other hand…does he even need to know? By this time in two weeks the sideshow will be on the road again and Mara would be on her way to their next destination; if the relationship is doomed to fail anyway, she sees no harm in withholding a few personal details, especially since Gabe seems to be keeping some secrets himself. Before long though, Mara has more pressing matters to worry about. One by one, members of Gideon’s crew go missing or come under attack, savaged by some mysterious creature. Caudry also seems to be giving off some strange, bad vibes. The carnival came here in the hopes of making some extra revenue, but if the incidents keep up at this rate, Mara fears they’ll run out of performers long before their contract is up.

What I didn’t realize before starting this book was how prominently it would be featuring the romantic side plot. While that by itself isn’t always a negative, it is somewhat frustrating when you get teased all these other fascinating elements in the story, such as the sideshow’s supernatural performers and all the peculiar goings-on happening around Caudry. I wanted more of the carnival life, more details on the backgrounds and personalities of the people working there, and more development into the mysteries of the town. But instead, most of what we got was Gabe, Gabe, and more Gabe. The story keeps shoving his and Mara’s relationship down our throats and I can’t help but think way too many pages were wasted in this area.

Plus, after all this buildup to the grand finale where supposedly huge revelations would be revealed, the results were decidedly underwhelming. When all is said and done, the mystery felt much smaller than it was meant to be, and reasons are clear as to why: there’s actually very little plot in this book. Like I said, most of it is padded by the romance, and I won’t deny that this is somewhat disappointing. Hocking has set up something really cool here, creating a world where people with supernatural abilities live among us, then shining a spotlight on a traveling sideshow run by many of these special individuals. However, instead of exploring this aspect, she has decided to go with the tired and well-trod route of “yet another YA romance” while adding nothing too new or different to the formula. Big time missed opportunity here, which is what gripes me the most.

In sum, Freeks had the potential to be more but ended up being rather average. Too much emphasis was placed on what was arguably a lackluster romance complete with stale dialogue and hints of insta-love, while regrettably the best and most interesting aspects of the story were underplayed. The book wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great, just another ordinary middle-of-the-road YA fantasy novel.

Audiobook Comments: I’m glad that I listened to the audiobook version of Freeks, otherwise my rating might have been slightly lower. The performance by narrator Em Eldridge made up for some of the weaknesses of the story, as talented voice actors and actresses are able to do sometimes. For one thing, she’s great at accents—when a character’s description states that they have a southern drawl, for example, that is exactly what she delivers. Her energy also gives life and personality to everyone in the story, especially Mara. I believe this is the first book I’ve ever listened to Ms. Eldridge read, but I’ll definitely be looking for more audiobooks narrated by her in the future.

3stars

Mogsy 2

Friday Face-Off: Cars

the-friday-face-off

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:

“Ridin’ along in my automobile”
~ a cover featuring CARS

Mogsy’s Pick:
NOS4R2 by Joe Hill

The villain of NOS4R2 is Charles Talent Manx, a predator who likes to prey on children by offering them rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith before spiriting them away forever into the otherworldly realm called “Christmasland”. Not surprisingly, many of the books’ covers either portray the aforementioned automobile with the eponymous license plate, and a few feature wintery or Christmas-y themes.

From left to right, top to bottom: Gollancz (2013) – Gollancz (2014) – Orion (2013) – William Morrow (2013)

nos4r2-gollancz-2013 nos4r2-gollancz-2014 nos4r2-orion-2013

nos4r2-william-morrow-2013 nos4r2-subterranean-press

Dutch (2013) – German (2013) – Portugese (2014) – Czech (2013) – German (2014) – Russian (2014) – French (2015) – Hungarian (2014) – Japanese (2014) –  Chinese (2015)

nos4r2-dutch nos4r2-german nos4r2-portugese

nos4r2-czech nos4r2-german-2014 nos4r2-russian nos4r2-french

nos4r2-hungarian nos4r2-japanese nos4r2-chinese

Winner:

Choosing a winner this week was another toughie. I debated back and forth, waffling between several strong contenders including the “Most Familiar” (William Morrow), “Most Artistic” (Subterranean Press, always with their amazingly illustrated covers), “Most Frightening” (German edition, 2014), and “Most Badass” (Hungarian, 2014). In the end though, I had to hand it to the cover I felt fit the tone of the story best. The Portuguese cover with its creepy, washed-out-photograph effect wins here, featuring the Wraith creeping up on you as its owner hunts for his next victim, as he has done for decades. Anything can happen on the lonely road between this realm and the one beyond the veil, and you never know when Charles Manx will come calling.

What do you think? Which one is your favorite?

nos4r2-portugese

Novella Review: Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire

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

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or DayDusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Tor.com (January 10, 2017)

Length: 183 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

This book isn’t your typical ghost story. While it includes a significant number of urban fantasy elements, there is also a darkly profound, rather despairing thread running beneath its surface. Thematically it is also on the weightier side, dealing with topics like suicide, survivor guilt, and emotional trauma. Fans of Seanan McGuire are still going to love her engaging storytelling style and loveable characters, but if you’re used to more offbeat and quirkier UF, I think this one may leave you with a heavier heart.

The story begins with the funeral of Jenna’s older sister Patty, who left for New York City with big dreams but ended up taking her own life instead. Grieving with the loss and blaming herself, a stricken Jenna runs off into the night during a bad rainstorm and tragically slips into the river, drowning in the raging current.

Because Jenna’s death was an accident, however, she died too soon according to a ledger of cosmic checks and balances which states a person’s soul cannot pass on until they have served their full time on the mortal plane. When Jenna died, she found quite a hefty debt still on her record, so like everyone else before her who died before their time, she became a ghost and must remain among the living until that balance is repaid.

Fast forward forty years, and Jenna is living in New York City leeching off a little bit of her debt each day on living strangers, with every minute she gives being another minute added to their youth. However, because Jenna sees “time left” as a form of currency, her gift of life in fact becomes an act of theft in her eyes. In order to earn back what she has stolen, Jenna also volunteers at a suicide prevent hotline trying to save others from Patty’s fate, hoping that when her time finally does come she will rejoin her beloved sister with a clean balance and conscience.

This is probably my third or fourth foray into McGuire’s work, and while overall I have enjoyed her books, I confess thus far I’m still waiting for “the one” which would blow me away. I started Dusk or Dark of Dawn or Day with the hopes that this would be it, but ultimately there was just something about it that didn’t quite click for me. Like I said, this is a story with some heavy, tragic themes to it, so it might simply be a case of the wrong book at the wrong time. Admittedly, the whole thing left me feeling kind of worn and heartsick by the end of it, even though I was hooked by the intro with its fascinating look into this world of ghosts and their concept of “time owed”.

Looking at this from another angle though, it clearly speaks well of the author that she can so successfully convey emotional impact with her writing and portrayal of her characters. My personal reaction to this novella aside, I can recognize a good story when I see one, and this has all the elements of an engaging tale full of imagination and feeling. Jenna is a narrator with a unique perspective, yet the care and attention to detail paid to her backstory makes it easy to sympathize with her decisions when all around her are other ghosts that do not share her same views or values. She’s a genuinely good character who not only extends her kindness to people in need as evidenced by her goal to rescue as many aging cats from shelters as possible, giving them love and a comfortable place to live out their final days. Death is a theme that infuses every page, but sometimes its oppressive presence is lightened with compassion and scenes like that.

The ideas in this book are also mind-bogglingly original. It took me some time to wrap my head around ghosts and their ability to give and take time, but I eventually came to appreciate the ingenuity behind the concept. As well, McGuire paints an interesting picture for her ghosts’ existence, linking them to special relationships with mirrors and witches. For a novella, the world-building is surprisingly robust.

Ultimately, I feel the ending could have been handled better, but since I can’t elaborate without giving away details, I’ll just say that it didn’t come across as eloquent or consistent as the rest of the story. That said, there is no shortage of feeling, and at the end of the day I think the conclusion manages to achieve its desired impact. If this book sounds like something that might interest you, I highly recommend giving it a try.

3-5stars

Mogsy 2