A review copy was received from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Media Tie-In, Young Adult
Series: Star Wars Canon
Publisher: Listening Library (October 11, 2016)
Length: 7 hrs and 8 mins
Narrator: Ashley Eckstein
If you are a fan of Star Wars, especially the animated The Clone Wars TV series, then Star Wars: Ahsoka is certainly not to be missed. While that show may have ended a couple years ago, many were surprised when Anakin Skywalker’s young Padawan Ahsoka Tano, who left the Jedi Order near the end of the Clone Wars, suddenly resurfaced again in the current run of Star Wars: Rebels. This Ahsoka is older, wiser, and carries a lot more scars. What exactly happened to her during those mysterious intervening years? How did she survive the Jedi slaughter following the execution of Order 66? What led her to join the Rebel Alliance’s fight against the Empire? I was excited to read this book in the hopes that it provide some insights into these questions, and I was not disappointed.
I was also fortunate enough to receive the audio edition of Star Wars: Ahsoka for review. With their high production values, sound effects, and music, Star Wars audiobooks are always a treat, but I have to say the very best part of this one is the narrator, Ashley Eckstein, who was also the voice actress for the Ahsoka on The Clone Wars and Rebels. If you’re on the fence about giving the audiobook version a try, this might end up being the deciding factor. Personally speaking, I thought that listening to Ms. Eckstein read the book gave my experience that extra little “coolness” boost, almost like I was listening to Ahsoka tell her own tale.
The story begins on Empire Day a few years after the end of Revenge of the Sith, where we find Ahsoka hiding out on the planet Thabeska under her new assumed name, “Ashla”. When circumstances force her to go on the run again, she decides to head for the remote moon of Raada, home to a rustic farming community. Here, Ahsoka hopes to continue eking out a quiet and simple life for herself, working as a mechanic. However, that peace is about to be shattered. Thanks to its rich soils and resources, Raada has suddenly come to the attention of the Empire, and the Imperial Navy has moved in to take over the agricultural industry. Needless to say, the locals aren’t too happy with this. The Empire is only interested in quantity over quality, and their crops are destroying the moon and the future of its citizens.
Against her original plans, Ahsoka finds herself unexpectedly pulled into Raada’s rebellion. The new friends she has made are humble farmers, full of anger towards the Empire but inexperienced when it comes to fighting. To prevent any more people from being hurt or killed, Ahsoka decides to help them put together a more organized resistance.
Star Wars: Ahsoka can be enjoyed by anyone, even if you only have a slight familiarity with anything to do with Star Wars, but obviously readers who already have a good knowledge of the character and her roles in the two shows will find it a lot more interesting and emotionally impactful. E.K. Johnston made her story accessible to new readers, but there are also a lot of references and flashbacks to past events—many of which were from The Clone Wars—which will no doubt appeal to fans of Ahsoka.
I imagine writing a Star Wars novel is no small task, especially when you’re tackling such an important and popular character like Ahsoka, but I thought Johnston did a fantastic job. Her writing and storytelling remained true to the Star Wars universe and the protagonist’s personality, detailing the thoughts and actions of the young Togruta. The former student of Anakin Skywalker has come into her own, and even though the Clone Wars has hardened and matured her, she still retains all of her courage and hopeful optimism.
With regards to the story, I felt there were some mild pacing issues, namely at the beginning and at the end of the book. The energy in the first few chapters was definitely a bit on the sluggish side, owing to the fact that the main conflict took too long to be introduced. This is understandable in some ways, since the setting as well as characters have to be established, and Ahsoka herself was trying to keep a low profile. After the first quarter of the book though, the plot’s pacing noticeably picks up. The reader’s patience pays off as the action and excitement gradually builds to an amazing climax. After this point, I actually wished there had been more to the finale! I won’t deny that the ending felt rushed and that the book could have been longer, but those complaints aside, I had an amazingly good time with this novel.
But of course, the biggest reason why you should read this book is all the wonderful and significant moments we get to see involving Ahsoka. We learn how she reestablishes contact with Bail Organa and joins the resistance, earning the codename Fulcrum. We also find out how she obtains her new set of white lightsabers, not to mention the fascinating new lore surrounding Force-attuned crystals.
All that being said, if you are relatively new to the wider world of the Star Wars universe, you can certainly still enjoy this novel for what it is—but I probably wouldn’t recommend starting here. This book feels first and foremost like it was written for an audience already familiar with Ahsoka. Johnston clearly knows and loves the character, and delights in sharing that love with her readers by giving plenty of nods to events that happened in episodes of The Clone Wars. Even if you haven’t seen the TV series you will have a great time, but for fans of the show, it’s the little moments like that which will give you an extra thrill. Needless to say, if you love The Clone Wars and Rebels, this is an absolute must-read, and you will get a well-written and entertaining story as well.
Additional Audiobook Comments: Other than stating how awesome it is that Ashley Eckstein is the narrator for this? She’s also amazing with voices and the fact that she voiced Ahsoka in the shows gave this audiobook an additional layer of immersion. She’s no stranger to voice acting, and her talent shines through in this performance.
A review copy was received from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Series: Book 1
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (October 25, 2016)
Length: 384 pages
On the face of it, the premise behind this book resembles something which might have resulted from an ill-considered bet, quite possibly after a wild night of tequila shots. “Duuuuuude, what if you made Breaking Bad take place during the French late Baroque period? Except everything’s, like, totally in the future? You could have Marie Antoinette peddling pep pills out of her panniers! Bet you couldn’t write a story about that.”
“Just watch me!” says my imaginary Aprilynne Pike. And so, we have Glitter, a novel featuring a weird cocktail of historical and futuristic elements, where you will frequently find things like tablets or servitor bots mentioned in the same sentence as corsets and petticoats. All of this is set to the backdrop of the Versailles, where the interiors have been transformed back to their 18th century royal court-and-pomp glory. While modern day life outside the palace goes on as normal, inside its marbled walls the people live much differently, dressing, acting, talking and even eating like it’s still the 1700s.
The reason for this bizarre scenario is soon given, and seriously, you have to read it to believe it. Sometime in this world’s past, a global famine swept the planet, and the only way people survived was thanks to a new kind of crop seed developed and sold by Sonoma Inc. The company then became so stinking rich that, when France fell into massive debt and started offering up its landmarks for sale out of sheer desperation, Sonoma jumped at the chance to purchase the Versailles under the guise of a historical society. After screwing France out of one its most beloved heritage sites, they decided to rename it Sonoma-Versailles and the palace became sort of its own little corporation-kingdom. And since the CEO of Sonoma back then was a huge Louis XIV enthusiast, he made himself and everyone that worked for him live like the decadent royals and courtiers did back when his favorite monarch sat the throne (only with all the luxuries of modern technology too, of course). The tradition continued after him, so that now, three generations later, it has become the culture within Sonoma-Versailles.
Understandably, it’s a bit hard to categorize this novel. I’m not even sure how to describe it (is there such a thing as historical sci-fi?) but whatever it is, it’s crazy and weird but also strangely appealing. If you can get past the sheer absurdity and logical gaps (for one thing, how does a company like Sonoma Inc. manage to stay so rich, when all of their top execs are literally doing nothing but LARPing the Court of the Sun King?) then you’ll find this story is actually quite an entertaining read.
Still, perhaps it is because so much convoluted background information was required to explain its ridiculous premise, the actual hook of the story doesn’t even come about until well into the novel. Our protagonist, Danica Grayson, was just a daughter of a low-ranking Sonoma employee until her father unexpectedly inherited an influential position at the palace. Her power-hungry mother Angela immediately uses this an opportunity to groom Dani to catch the eye of King Justin, Sonoma’s current young CEO. The problem is, Justin turns out to be a murdering megalomaniacal psychopath—not that it seems to bother Dani’s mom one bit. In fact, Angela only uses the King’s dirty secrets to blackmail him into agreeing to marry Dani, so that her daughter can become queen.
Desperate to escape her betrothal, Dani seeks out a crime boss in Paris to help smuggle her out of Sonoma-Versailles. Problem is, his fee is enormous, and she can’t come anywhere close to meeting it on her own. So Dani decides to make a bargain with the crime boss: she’ll mix and deal a highly addictive kind of new drug called Glitter for him, under the pretense of selling it as cosmetics to her unsuspecting peers at court. The plan is that they will all get hopelessly addicted to Dani’s new makeup products and keep throwing money at her to buy more of it without ever knowing why, and she will make her fee and be out of there before her wedding to the King.
Okay. So I had one major issue with this book, and after laying out Dani’s situation, you can probably guess what it is.
The blurb for this book compares it to Breaking Bad and I can see why one would draw that parallel. After all, the show’s main character Walter White also had to resort to cooking and selling drugs because he needed the money, even though it is a heinous thing to do. However, Walter still came off as sympathetic character not only because he was in a bad situation, but also because he was initially doing it to secure his family’s future and well-being. Dani, on the other hand, never managed to earn that kind of sympathy from me. Yes, she was in a bad situation too, but foisting a highly dangerous and addictive new drug on her unwitting fellow courtiers without their knowledge or consent, with the express goal to get them hooked so she can get rich fast?
That is APPALLING.
At first, I didn’t like it, but still had to admire Dani for her cajones. She didn’t want to have to marry her psycho King, I get that. But somehow, being in a bad place made her feel justified to put hundreds of others in a bad place too, even after the horrors of watching her own father deal with Glitter addiction. In the end, it was Dani’s complete disregard for innocent human life that really put a damper on my feelings for this book. To her credit, I think the author knew that her protagonist would be a tough sell, and tried to soften the blow by trying to convince us that Dani had no choice, or that she was frequently wracked with guilt. Thing is, I just didn’t buy it. Dani had plenty of opportunities to back out, but she made the conscious decision not to at every single turn.
I also didn’t like the romance too much. It was like a light switched on and Dani and Saber went from hating each other one day to professing their undying love the next. Their relationship was an awkward match right from the start, when Dani was halfway to throwing herself at Saber the moment she laid eyes on him—even though they’d barely spoken two words to each other. If only she had showed even a fraction of that regard for the clueless folks she’s secretly doping up in Sonoma-Versailles.
Glitter was a very interesting book though, I have to give it that. I was intrigued the moment I read its synopsis, not to mention a little skeptical, but Aprilynne Pike pulled it all off with unashamed poise and gusto. The world-building is a bit iffy in places, but I really didn’t mind that too much. My main complaints had to do with the protagonist, and had she been a tad less despicable I probably would have enjoyed this book even more. If the next book promises growth for Dani, I just might be convinced to continue the series.
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.
Received for Review
Almost all the new acquisitions this week were surprise arrivals in my mailbox. My digital haul, on the other hand (which seems to have a real blue/tan color theme going on there) is another story. Let’s face it, I have a book addiction, though in my defense more than half the titles there are audiobooks and I am always in need of something to listen to. These days, I seem to be running around with my headphones/car stereo/bluetooth speakers on more than I am actually sitting down reading. I’d like to thank the publishers and authors for the following review copies received, and for more details and full descriptions of the books, be sure to click the links to their Goodreads pages!
The Burning Isle by Will Panzo – This book’s blurb had me at “Grimdark”. I’m always looking for my next great dark fantasy read, and I hope this one is as amazing as it sounds! My thanks to Ace Books.
Children of Exile by Margaret Peterson Haddix – I was unfamiliar with this one, but after some research I learned that it is the first of a Middle Grade sci-fi dystopian trilogy. The MG tag immediately made me hesitate, but I can’t deny I am intrigued and also excited by the number of positive reviews. I’ll probably end up giving this a look. My thanks to Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers.
Keller’s Fedora by Lawrence Block – Another novella from the amazing folks at Subterranean Press! This is a book in the John Keller series about a hit-man in New York City, which I have to admit I’m not familiar with. I like the sound of it though, and if I can read it on its own without any prior knowledge of the series and character, I may give it a shot.
The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu – In case you missed my review about how awesome this book is, the link is in the review roundup section below! This was a gigantic tome but I loved every moment. Thank you so much to Saga Press and Wunderkind PR.
The Secret Life of Souls by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee – At first glance, I thought this book might be a contemporary feel-good book about dogs. Then I looked it up. Let’s just say the actual description couldn’t be farther from my first impression. It’s actually a psychological thriller/horror, but there is an extraordinarily gifted dog involved. I hadn’t heard about this before, but now I want to read it so bad! Thank you for the introduction, Pegasus Books.
A new week also brings some new arrivals from Tor: This edition of Dragon and Thief by Timothy Zahn is a reissue of the first book of his YA series Dragonback, and I’m really digging that new cover! Next is a finished copy of Faller by Will McIntosh which I’ve already devoured. There are some really wild and fascinating ideas in this one! I should have a review scheduled soon. Finally, I was really excited to receive a hardcover of Invisible Planets edited and translated by Ken Liu – this is an anthology of contemporary Chinese science fiction in translation, and whoa there are some really cool stuff in here. Huge thanks to the publisher for these goodies.
Patterns of the Wheel by Amy Romanczuk – One more little gem from Tor, and if you are a Wheel of Time fan or a coloring book junkie, then you are going to be very happy to know that finally the world is about to get a coloring book based on the world of Robert Jordan’s epic series! I’ll be hosting a giveaway of Patterns of the Wheel next week too, so keep an eye out for that! I can tell you the right now the illustrations are gorgeous and I’m looking forward to tackling some of them come this winter when I will have more time to hit the coloring pens and pencils (a set of which Tor was also kind enough to send!)
Timekeeper by Tara Sim – I just couldn’t resist downloading this. I know Victorian-era steampunk is one of those ubiquitous tropes, but I just love it. With thanks to Sky Pony Press via Edelweiss.
Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor – Also thanks to Tor.com for sending me this e-galley of the sequel to Binti. While I had mixed feelings about the first book, I still want to read this–but I may try out one of Okorafor’s full-length novels before I do.
Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones – Another impulse request because of this novel’s gorgeous cover and description. I’m definitely in trouble, because there’s already so much incredible YA coming out next year. My thanks to Thomas Dunne Books and NetGalley.
A Darkness Absolute by Kelley Armstrong – I slammed on the request button as soon as I saw this pop up on NetGalley, and no regrets! Earlier this year I read my first Kelley Armstrong novel, the absolutely phenomenal mystery-thriller City of the Lost. This is the sequel and I am just crazy overjoyed to be approved. My thanks to St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books.
The Tourist by Robert Dickinson – Audiobook with thanks to Hachette Audio. The description for this book caught my eye right way, though I won’t lie, I’m actually quite nervous about the mixed reviews. I’m hoping the audio version will help alleviate some of the common complaints, plus I am I also a big fan of the narrator Peter Kenny so I decided to go for it.
Iron Cast by Destiny Soria – Audiobook with thanks to Audible Studios. I had been drooling over this one for a while, so I jumped on it the moment I saw that the audio version was available for request. Looks perfect for when I’m in the mood for some light and fun historical fantasy YA.
I also had the pleasure of connecting with Penguin Random House Audio last week, and I’ve already been set up with a trio of amazing audiobooks. Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff is definitely a must-read for me this fall and I am doubly excited about the chance to experience it in this format. If this book is anything like its predecessor Illuminae, this should be very interesting. I’m also rocking the media tie-ins with these next two: I’ve already binge listened to and completed Star Wars: Ahsoka by E.K. Johnston, which was so good, and Starcraft: Evolution by Timothy Zahn should satisfy my Starcraft itch. My deepest thanks to PRHA!
Sci-Fi November Read-Along
This week I also picked up A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers. Now should also be the perfect time to announce that for the third year The BiblioSanctum will be participating in November Sci-Fi Month hosted by Rinn Reads and Over the Effing Rainbow. As the name of the event implies, next month we’ll be bringing you all kinds of sci-fi goodness in addition to our usual content, including sci-fi related reviews, giveaways, and special features. In addition, the SF/F Read-Along group will be celebrating with a read-along of A Closed and Common Orbit, since last year we covered the first book A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet for Sci-Fi Month 2015. If you’ve been planning on reading this sequel too, why not come join us? You’ll find the details as they are updated here.
The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu (5 of 5 stars)
Pathfinder Tales: Shy Knives by Sam Sykes (4.5 of 5 stars)
The Apartment by S.L. Grey (4 of 5 stars)
Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo (4 of 5 stars)
Like A River Glorious by Rae Carson (4 of 5 stars)
Children of the Different by S.C. Flynn (3.5 of 5 stars)
Forsaken Skies by D. Nolan Clark (3.5 of 5 stars)
Reanimatrix by Pete Rawlik (3 of 5 stars)
We Eat Our Own by Kea Wilson (3 of 5 stars)
Interviews & Guest Posts
Big thanks to Jason Arnopp who stopped by The BiblioSanctum this week! If you’re looking for another great read, check out his spectacularly entertaining and creepy new horror novel The Last Days of Jack Sparks.
What I’ve Read Since the Last Update
Here’s what I’ve been reading lately. A bunch of these books haven’t been reviewed yet, but I’m working on getting them up so stay tuned!
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!
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Series: Book 2 of The Dandelion Dynasty
Publisher: Saga Press (October 4, 2016)
Length: 880 pages
“Not all wars are fought with swords and spears, and not all foes are found on the battlefield. The times are changing, brother, and we must change along with them.”
I think it’s safe to say, if you loved The Grace of Kings, Ken Liu’s phenomenal debut that took the genre by storm last year, you will also be blown away by its magnificent sequel. Liu’s prose is as beautiful and lyrically expressive as ever as we dive once more into this scintillating world where history and mythology collide. You will again be met with epic battles and court intrigue, the triumphs of victory and heartaches of defeat, the timeless fiery passions and ambitions of people touched by fate.
And yet, like the above quote so poignantly suggests, the winds of change are sweeping across the realm, and The Wall of Storms is a story of transformation and adaptation. The empire of Dara still faces challenges but now they come in other guises, and those who want to survive will need to learn to understand the forces they are up against. Conflicts come from both within and without, and yet sometimes your foes are not flesh and blood but philosophies and concepts.
Hence the war continues, even though the long uprising is over and Kuni Garu now sits on Dara’s throne as emperor. In the first part of the novel, we look at how the clashes have persisted, though now the focus has shifted from the arts of war to the scholarly ways of learning. We also have another generation enter the equation. The book begins as Emperor Kuni’s children—Timu, Phyro, Thera, and Fara—sneak out of the palace to enjoy a day of listening to stories in a local tavern. Through the storyteller, we are briefly brought up to speed on the tumultuous relationship between Kuni Garu and the now deceased legendary warlord Mata Zyndu, a subject which was a major part of The Grace of Kings. All hell breaks loose, however, when a disgruntled patron in the crowd accuses the storyteller of sedition for glorifying Zyndu, the Emperor’s one-time friend turned bitter rival. Thankfully, someone else steps in to defend the storyteller and tavern-goers—a character who is new to the series but whom nonetheless plays a very important role in this novel.
Zomi Kidosu is her name, and much of The Wall of Storms is dedicated to the story of her life. The first half of this book tells of Zomi growing up in a poor fishing village, scarred and crippled from an accident which left her with little prospects for the future. But fate leads her to a chance encounter with Luan Zya, the wandering philosopher and former adviser to the emperor. Recognizing Zomi’s intelligence and latent potential, Luan decides to take the girl on as a student, and thus begins one of the most beautiful and heartfelt friendships I have ever read.
Zomi’s efforts eventually lead her to sit the Imperial Examinations. Once again, we can see how history has inspired Ken Liu’s writing and the world of The Dandelion Dynasty. It was a delightful surprise when I saw that the author had taken a fascinating piece of history from ancient China—the real Imperial examination system—and mirrored it for his purposes here. Intended as a way to select the best candidates for civil service, the examinations were indeed as tough and exclusive as Liu portrayed them in this book. Such exams helped shape ancient China’s history, and over time became one reason for the shift from militaristic policies to more scholarly and bureaucratic ones in the early dynasties—a shift that is happening in Dara as well, as this sequel hints. The examinations also encouraged cultural unity, and that really fits one of the key themes in both The Grace of Kings and The Wall of Storms: the idea that there’s more than one way to win a war and conquer your vassals. Again, we talk about change in this sequel—like putting down swords and picking up pens instead.
But if you think this book is going to be dominated by talk of the scholarly pursuits, you are also mistaken. The second half of the book goes back to all out warfare as a rebellion threatens the stability of Dara. In addition to that, a mysterious force also invades from beyond the wall of storms. This is where Princess Thera steps up and becomes an impressive figure in her own right, pushing back against her detractors who are practically in fits at the absurd idea that a mere woman can hold and wield power. These attitudes are summarily smacked down as the sexist, stupid views they are as Thera proves why she is regarded by her father as the strongest and wisest of his children.
Indeed, in this sequel, the women steal the show. I think those who noted the relative absence of major female characters in the previous book will be happy to see that this is not the case here. Between Zomi and Thera, we have two very influential women rocking these pages, but there’s also the behind-the-scenes conflict at court between Empress Jia and consort Risana. While their war of wills involves more subtle attacks rather than overt fighting, it very much parallels the battle of ideologies we saw between Kuni and Mata in the first book. Yet another example of The Wall of Storms displaying familiar themes, but coming at them with a different approach.
Still, the evolution and transformation of this series notwithstanding, if you didn’t take to the style of The Grace of Kings, you’ll probably experience the same issues with this sequel. Liu’s writing is elegant and rich, and like I said in my review of the first book, his evocative prose is meant to be savored. Together with the mini-tales and historical asides he injects into the main plot though, this can sometimes slow the pacing and weigh down the overall story. But if, like me, you were enchanted with this book’s predecessor and enjoyed every moment of its epic, far-reaching narrative, you will love The Wall of Storms just as much if not more.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: whether he’s penning short stories or 800+ page novels, Ken Liu’s writing is so inspiring. If you are a fan of epic fantasy and you haven’t read The Grace of Kings yet, you are missing out on some of the best writing and storytelling this genre has to offer. Now having finished The Wall of Storms, this sequel only served to cement this series in my mind as a true work of art.
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Anchor Books (October 4, 2016)
Length: 272 pages
Being a huge fan of author Sarah Lotz, naturally I just had to check out The Apartment, since she’s one half of the writing duo of S.L. Grey. While I’ve never read anything by her collaborator Louis Greenberg, I do know he’s quite an accomplished dark fantasy and horror writer as well, and together the two of them have created something truly startling here.
The book is told through the eyes of a married couple from Cape Town, South Africa. Mark Sebastian is a middle-aged English professor struggling both personally and financially after a terrible event seven years ago had shattered his first marriage. Steph is a young woman who had to put her life on hold after she got pregnant and married Mark, deciding to be a stay-at-home parent to take care of their young daughter Hayden. Despite the couple’s difficulties though, the Sebastians’ marriage was loving, happy, and idyllic—that is, until their home was violently invaded by three masked men who threatened Mark and Steph at knife point and robbed them of their already meager possessions.
Unfortunately, while the family came out of that agony physically unharmed, the psychological trauma has taken its toll. Mark and Steph are unable to return to their normal lives, due to the constant fear and paranoia. So when a friend refers them to a house-swapping website and suggests that they take a nice relaxing vacation, the two of them are intrigued by this money-saving option. Almost right away, Steph connects with the owners of a charming little apartment in Paris, a young couple who would just love to visit Cape Town and stay at the Sebastians’ place. Despite a few lingering doubts, Mark and Steph decide to take the leap and plans are swiftly made for childcare and travel. After all, who can resist the draw of the city of light and love?
However, once they arrive in Paris, their dream vacation quickly spirals out of control and becomes a living nightmare. Instead of rest and romance, they find only darkness and terror.
Before I go further, there are some quibbles I have to mention. The first and biggest discrepancy that leaped out at me was, of course, Mark and Steph’s decision to agree to a house-swap in the first place, opening their house to complete strangers after we’ve been repeatedly told how uncomfortable and traumatized they were following their home invasion. I would think that the last thing they’d want is to have more unfamiliar people coming into their private living space, sleeping in their beds, eating off their plates, handling their personal belongings, etc. (I thought maybe it was just me, but after seeing other reviews that also point out how this made no sense, I actually feel somewhat vindicated.) More of these puzzling irregularities pop up especially once the characters arrive in Paris—leaving aside the fact they’re quite possibly with the worst credit card company in the world, I also don’t think they tried anywhere near hard enough to exhaust all possible options before resigning themselves to stay in that awful, freaky apartment. If it were me, I would have found some cheap hostel or even slept on a bench at the train station before going back to that place.
Still, despite a few things that didn’t add up, I had a really enjoyable time with this novel. The tensions are thick enough that I was happy to push aside those little inconsistencies if it meant I could just sit back and let the story take me where it wanted to go. Indeed, what I appreciated most about this book was its atmosphere. There was a gradual shift from oppressive and dreadful at the beginning to downright creepy towards the end, leading the reader through several different stages of suspense and horror before letting the conclusion come crashing down on us. I was up way too late many nights reading this book, breaking the promise to myself that “I’ll go to bed once I finish this chapter” multiple times because I kept caving to the temptation to peek at the next page, getting sucked into reading another chapter, and then rinse and repeat.
A couple more comments before I go (though I doubt too many avid horror readers would be surprised by what I’m about to say): You’re probably not going to find any of the characters very likeable. Like many horror novel protagonists, I think both Mark and Steph were meant to be a little foolish, unstable and reprehensible—all by design. And like in most ghost/haunted house stories, there will also be some ambiguity, so don’t be surprised when the book ends without providing all the answers.
All told, The Apartment is a creepy little tale combining traditional horror story-telling elements with the uncertainties and struggles of a recently-married couple who probably don’t know each other as well as they think they do—and some of the shocking revelations from their alternating POV chapters really serve to emphasize that. Despite the story being riddled by little inconsistencies, my overall pleasure at reading this book was unaffected. The Apartment was a very addictive read and I had a lot of fun with it.
“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!
Bane and Shadow by Jon Skovron (February 28, 2017 by Orbit)
I was browsing Amazon earlier this week when I happened on the cover and description of the second book in the Empire of Storms trilogy and just knew right away I had to make it my Waiting on Wednesday pick. I really enjoyed the first book Hope and Red and I’m looking forward to the sequel.
***Be sure to check out the end of this post for details on our giveaway of Shy Knives and signed bookplate!***
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Media Tie-In
Series: Pathfinder Tales
Publisher: Tor (October 18, 2016)
Length: 320 pages
While this is only my third venture into the world of Pathfinder Tales, I swear the experience is only getting better with each book. And my latest read, Shy Knives, just completely stole the show.
Backing up a bit though, I was excited when I first learned that the wickedly funny Sam Sykes had been asked by Paizo to write a novel for them and that he would be joining the Pathfinder fun, but I think I would have jumped on this book even if I hadn’t been getting into the series already. I knew I was going to enjoy myself, but still—I had no idea just how much!
Shaia Ratani, Shy to her friends, is a scrappy young scoundrel who specializes in the kind of jobs that no one else can handle. For one thing, she’s not afraid to work outside the law. For another, she’s also not above getting her hands dirty. She has cheated, stolen, maimed, and killed—and though she doesn’t exactly condone or relish doing harm to others, it’s not like she can afford to regret her past decisions either. Sometimes a job is just a job, and nothing personal.
One day, Shy is approached by a young noblewoman with an interesting case. The Lady Dalaris Sidara is the sole remaining heir to a destitute house, her already precarious future shattered by the death of her betrothed just days before their wedding. They said that her fiancé had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time, overseeing his family’s trade business at a caravan stop when it was attacked by a marauding band of centaurs, but Dalaris suspects that there is more to the story. With the other nobles watching her like a hawk, she needs someone resourceful like our protagonist to poke around and shake out the truth. Some jobs may require heroes, but this one definitely calls for a rogue.
I loved the characters in this book. Shy’s voice is as delightful as they come, with her sharp mind and sharper tongue. Sam Sykes did a wonderful job with her personality, finding that perfect balance between “hardened criminal” and “rogue with a heart of gold” so that Shy came across as lovable protagonist without being too mawkishly sentimental. She also won me over from the very first page with her clever wit and hilarious anecdotes and one-liners. I could probably fill a dozen pages with my favorite quotes, easy. In multiple places, this book literally had me laughing out loud.
Then there’s Dalaris. My favorite description of her comes near the end, from an observation by Shy herself: “There are two types of people in this world: tough people beneath a layer of tears and teary people beneath a layer of toughness. Dalaris, thankfully, was the former.” Despite the relationship getting off to a rough start, this unassuming and ostensibly meek noblewoman ultimately earns Shy’s respect and friendship, and it’s easy to understand why once you get to know her strength (as well as some mind-blowing revelations about her past).
Now that I have three Pathfinder Tales novels under my belt, I’m also struck by the variety of stories. Despite them all taking place in the great wide world of Golarion, the setting for many of the events in the Pathfinder RPG, my reading experiences have vastly differed each time. I liked that Shy Knives doesn’t take itself too seriously, keeping a light tone and injecting a healthy dose of dry humor (which even includes several tongue-in-cheek jibes about D&D groups/adventuring parties). I wanted a fun, swashbuckling good read, and that was exactly what I got. At the same time though, the book is also a testament to the increasing quality of media tie-in novels. Their popularity is a growing trend, and nothing to be sneered at. I think entertaining well-written books like this one will keep helping the genre gradually shed its stigma of being disregarded as derivative, unsophisticated, or too commercial.
The nice thing too about Pathfinder Tales is that you can pretty much jump in anywhere, as most of the books in this series are written to be standalones (even though some authors will occasionally return to their previously established characters for more stories). While I have no idea if more Pathfinder novels are in Mr. Sykes’ future, if he does decide to do another one I hope he’ll consider bringing Shy back for another adventure. I just adored her character. Her humor and charms made Shy Knives an absolute pleasure to read, though I wouldn’t hesitate to give this book high marks just for being so damn enjoyable and addictive—so much so that I devoured most of it in one sitting. If I thought hard about it I could probably come up with some flaws, but quite frankly, I was having too much fun to care. Bottom line, if you’ve been curious about Pathfinder Tales, wait no longer—Shy Knives is the one you’ve just got to, have to, need to read.
Pathfinder Tales: Shy Knives & Signed Bookplate Giveaway
With thanks to Tor Books and Sam Sykes, The BiblioSanctum is pleased to host this giveaway where two lucky winners will each receive a copy of Pathfinder Tales: Shy Knives with signed book plate. This giveaway is open to residents of the US and Canada. To enter, all you have to do is send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your Name and valid Mailing Address using the subject line “SHY KNIVES” by 11:59pm Eastern time on Friday, October 28, 2016.
Only one entry per household, please. Must be at least 18 years old to enter. Two winners will be randomly selected when the giveaway ends and then be notified by email. All information will only be used for the purposes of contacting the winners and sending them their prize. Once the giveaway ends all entry emails will be deleted.
So what are you waiting for? Enter to win! Good luck!
Since revealing our short list in the summer, we have been busy reading and reviewing our top six books in order to determine who will submit for the final rounds of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off. While each of us has read all six of the books, we have posted reviews for two of those books each. Now it’s time for us to sit down and chat about our favourites and our not-so-favourites. What worked for Tiara? Why did Mogsy really like that book? Why did Wendy end up disappointed with her picks? Join us in our Sanctum Sanctorum as we sum up our thoughts and whittle it down to our finalist!
To start, let’s take a look at our six books again…
Reviewed by Mogsy: I enjoyed this book so much. The writing was strong from the get go, and I only became more intrigued after getting to know the protagonist. I think the characters are this book’s greatest strength, but you can also easily get sucked into the fast-paced story. While the cat-and-mouse pattern of events gets a little repetitive over the course of the story, Claire Frank does a fine job keeping things interesting with plenty of action and mystery. If you like fantasy and adventure, I think this one will make you very happy.
Wendy: Strong female character is a catch phrase these days, with people not quite understanding what that means. Rhis is a fantastic example of the right way to write a woman who is well-rounded and comes complete with a healthy sexual appetite, flaws, and mad skills. This is what struck me first about this book and I am pleased to see how well Frank followed through with Rhis. Her adventure, including her relationships, show some great character development. The plot is fast-paced, but it could have served better with some stronger worldbuilding. A lot of interesting seeds have been planted though.
Tiara: This was an engaging fantasy adventure story. I loved the writing style and thought the author did an amazing job with the descriptions without being too wordy.
Reviewed by Wendy: What a delightful romp this was! A non-stop adventure above and beneath the clouds, featuring pirates, space squid, and a French-speaking sky monkey. This is intended for a younger audience, but has that swashbuckling Disney adventure vibe that works for all ages. It does touch on some mature themes that Harriet, the young girl at the heart of the story, must come to terms with as she unravels the truth about her parentage.
Mogsy: I agree, this was lots of fun, and one of my favorites as well. All things being equal though, I would probably give the edge to an adult novel over children’s fiction, but that’s just a matter of my own personal taste. I might not be this book’s target audience, but it really is an excellent and well written story.
Tiara: A fun steampunk adventure. Very fast paced with characters that you really grow to love. It’s geared more toward younger readers, but adults can the magic of this story just as easily.
Reviewed by Tiara: I’m a huge superhero fan and I’ll consume superhero stories in whatever format I can get my hands on. While the story itself is familiar since many hero stories start with some type of huge event that gives ordinary people powers, Rising’s storytelling and worldbuilding was excellent. But it is very much a New Adult story, which may be a bit of a turn-off for some readers. Also the story could’ve been knit together a bit better than it was, but I think overall this is a good starting point that might be worth following into another book.
Mogsy: This book was so unique! And the writing was SO SO SO GOOD. I guess my only issue with this novel was the structure. I would have preferred the three character POVs to be woven together throughout the novel versus separated like three novellas. It was hard to stay interested in the story if I didn’t like one of the characters, for example. But since I love character-focused novels, I guess I can’t complain too much!
Wendy: There was a lot that I liked about this book, not the least of which is the superhero aspect and the descriptions of the various abilities and how this all came to be. But the structure did not work well for me. The introductions for each character were solid, but, as Mogsy notes, there was little to bind them all together within the overarching plot. Hopefully this will all come together as the series continues.
Reviewed by Wendy: This paranormal fantasy lured me in with delicious descriptions, quietly teased supernatural elements, and sharp dialogue, and it kept me going with so much plot foreplay. But after awhile, foreplay can get monotonous. I found myself wishing for a payoff that really didn’t come as the protagonists, Liv and Trey, go from despising each other, to being unable to keep apart once the stars align. As part of a series, there was ample opportunity to move the story forward within this first book instead of padding things out with the literal day to day goings on of the couple as they try to sort out the predicament their star-crossed relationship has gotten them into to thanks to Trey’s mysterious family problems.
Mogsy: I agree 100% with Wendy here. The writing is gorgeous. Loved how it brought out the atmosphere of the setting. The main reason this story didn’t work for me though, is that Fantasy Romance isn’t really my thing, and the amount of detail here surrounding our two main characters’ relationship simply went beyond what I personally felt invested in. But if you are into the genre, you’ll love the interplay.
Tiara: Well, this started out promising, but I found myself distanced from the story as I continued on. There was just something so frustrating about this story that turned me off as I moved further into the story.
Reviewed by Tiara: To be honest, when I first started this book, I didn’t know if I was going to like it much. Once it hit its stride though, I found myself invested in the story of these people and their conflict. Despite the page count, this is a fast, fun story that doesn’t spend too much dawdling. With that being said, this might come off a little tedious to some readers and parts of the book that can be a little predictable at points, but that doesn’t take away from this being a mostly fun read. Miller certainly does an excellent job in baiting readers with just enough of the story to keep them hanging on for the next book.
Mogsy: I found this one to be, in true epic fantasy style, very weighty and very dense. This is not meant to be a criticism by any means. It’s just that, like many books of its genre, it does take a while for the story to get going and build interest. But once I got through the initial five chapters, I was soundly hooked.
Wendy: Sometimes it’s nice to get back to the basics, even with fantasy. Dragons, elves, demons — not that this story is basic in any way. It takes those fantasy standards and makes them its own. There are a lot of details that go into painting this world, which can slow the story down at times, but the result is a rich and complex fantasy that I really enjoyed.
The Warlock and the Wolf by Delfy Hall
Reviewed by Mogsy: I love Historical Fantasy and I have a real soft spot for animal characters, which was why this one captured my attention right away. I enjoyed this one a lot overall, though not being too familiar with the historical setting I wish the story had provided more context. I think the book’s lack of other memorable characters besides Mina and the wolf also hurt it a bit and perhaps caused the slow down in momentum towards the end. That said, there’s plenty to like here and lots of potential for more.
Wendy: The juxtaposition of science and magic captured my attention immediately, as did Mina and her views on both and her relationship with the wolf. But beyond these elements, the story did not manage to keep my attention.
Tiara: This story had a great female character spearheading the story, and it turned out to be much better than I was expecting. This was a very thoughtful story and showed plenty of promise.
And now the time has finally come! We just want to say thank you to the authors in our final six. All of their books were well written and has much to appeal to their respective audiences. For the purposes of this competition though, there can only be one. After careful thought and examination, the three of us compared notes and we’ve decided that the book we’re putting forth to the final competition round will be…
Assassin’s Charge by Claire Frank
The Dragon’s Blade: The Reborn King by Michael R. Miller
Congratulations to Assassin’s Charge by Claire Frank! We would also like to give an honorable mention to our runner-up, The Dragon’s Blade: The Reborn King by Michael R. Miller. It came down to these two books as our final two, and it was a very tough choice since both books spoke to us in their own way. We definitely encourage you to check out both.
Congrats again, Claire, and we wish you the best of luck in the next phase of SPFBO, where each blog will be reviewing the other nine blogs’ picks. We’re looking forward to it!
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Series: Book 2 of Six of Crows
Publisher: Audible Studios (September 27, 2016)
Length: 18 hrs
Narrators: Brandon Rubin, Jay Snyder, Elizabeth Evans, Fred Berman, Peter Ganim, Lauren Fortgang, Roger Clark, Kevin T. Collins
I’m so pleased to say this was the ending I wanted and what this wonderful duology deserved. I think I even liked it more than the first book, even though I rated both books the same, because while Six of Crows may have come up short of my admittedly soaring expectations, Crooked Kingdom actually surprised me by shattering any doubts that it would deliver a satisfying conclusion.
By the way, if you haven’t picked up Six of Crows yet, avert thine eyes now because there may be mild spoilers for readers who have not caught up. We pretty much pick up right where we left off, so being a bit hazy on my memories of what happened at the end of the previous book, there was a brief period of confusion to orient myself to what was happening to all these characters. As you know, there are quite a few of them. First and foremost is the man of the hour, Kaz Brekker. As the leader of his own little gang of thieves, he’s taken it upon himself to plan a daring rescue of one of their own by the villain Jan Van Eck.
The crew’s only bargaining chip is the key to the powerful yet dangerously addictive drug known as jurda parem, but you can bet Kaz isn’t about to give that up so easily. Also at stake is his revenge on Pekka Rollins, the man who destroyed Kaz’s life and took everything away from him, but until they can get their teammate back, everything unfortunately has to be put on hold. Slowly, however, a plan starts to come together where they can potentially score everything they want and more—a payback and a payday in the same package, essentially—but only if they can manage to survive all the crazy schemes and hidden traps.
On an entertainment level, this one clearly wins. I felt the plot of Six of Crows stumbled over itself multiple times in its attempt to juggle the backstories of all these characters, and as a result, the big heist itself became overshadowed. Crooked Kingdom, on the other hand, had the advantage of being able to focus more on the action and adventure since we already got the character introductions out of the way. That’s not to say the complexities of their relationships and dynamics were diminished though, because if anything, I think those connections were only strengthened in this sequel. We only have to look at Kaz, Inej, Nina, Wylan, Jesper, and Mathias to see how far all of them have come since the beginning of the first book.
Weaving in more flashbacks, personal drama, and even surprise family reunions, the author has managed to grow these characters while still keeping up the tensions of the main story, and I feel she’s achieved this balance a lot better this time around. This is so important, especially when you’re dealing with as many as half a dozen POVs. It is very obvious when you have underused characters, like Wylan and Jesper in Six of Crows for example, or when you had Nina and Matthias whose roles were clearly there to provide romantic drama while doing little to advance the overarching plot of the first book. Happily, I found little to none of this frustration in Crooked Kingdom as all members of the crew kept their eyes on the prize for the most part, and they all had their important roles to play. Any detours into past memories or side plots were also kept to a minimum and integrated in a way that felt more natural. The pacing was also quick, powering through and hitting no slumps.
What we have here is more character development, as well as more thrills, and more suspense. Honestly, I have no cause for complaint. I know I had my issues with the first book, but I did say it was a great start with some serious potential, and I am glad that my anticipation for the sequel was supported because Crooked Kingdom in no uncertain terms met that potential. I also liked the ending, which was satisfying and provided closure without making it all sunshine and rainbows. It’s perfect in that it is a wonderful balance of joy and heartbreak. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Audiobook Comments: After my fantastic experience with the audiobook of Six of Crows, I once again opted to go with this format for the sequel. Needless to say I am quite fond of productions with multiple cast members, and I was glad to see that the production team had brought on no less than eight narrators, with many of them reprising their roles from the first book. It’s a feast for the ears if you’ve enjoyed other Young Adult titles performed by some of these narrators, and I’m particularly partial to Elizabeth Evans (of the Throne of Glass audiobooks) who does an amazing Nina, Lauren Fortgang (who narrated Bardugo’s other series The Grisha) who is great for Inej, and Fred Berman (whose gravelly voice I just adored from his reading of Morgan Rhodes’ Falling Kingdoms series) is simply perfect for Kaz’s chapters. Everyone delivered great performances.
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Six of Crows (Book 1)