Book Review: Bad Man by Dathan Auerbach

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

Bad Man by Dathan Auerbach

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Horror

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Doubleday (August 7, 2018)

Length: 400 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Is there anything more heart-wrenching than a tale about a child gone missing? For protagonist Ben, there is no deeper anguish. Five years ago, his little brother Eric disappeared from a grocery store while Ben was supposed to be taking care of him. A moment of distraction was all it took. One second, the three-year-old was there, and the next, he was gone. Search teams scoured the area and the police also looked into all suspects that could have taken the little boy, but nothing ever came of any of the investigations. Soon, Eric’s photo joined the dozens of other children on the missing persons bulletin board, where their faces gaze back faded and forgotten.

But Ben has never stopped looking. He is now twenty, and the years since Eric’s disappearance have not been kind to him or his family. His stepmother has retreated into herself and his dad’s job is no longer enough to pay the bills. Ben desperately needs work, but in a cruel twist of fate, the only place that would hire him is the very supermarket where Eric went missing. Working the nightshift as a stock person, Ben quickly learns the ropes from his new buddies Marty and Frank, and as hard as it is being back in a place with so many painful memories, for a while there, things didn’t actually seem so bad.

Unfortunately, that calm doesn’t last. After a couple weeks, Ben can’t shake the feeling that something is very wrong with the store, the people there, and the entire town. A disturbing find in the lost-and-found bin suddenly reignites his search for Eric, leading to another flurry of printed flyers and house-to-house calls. There’s no one left that Ben feels he can rely upon or trust—not his parents, not his colleagues, and most definitely not the police detective James Duchaine, the man who was put in charge of Eric’s case.

I was kind of torn on my feels for this book. For days, I wavered between rating it 3 or 4 stars before settling on something in the middle. There were certain things I really liked about it, but there were also areas that I felt were weak or fell short of my expectations.

First, the positives: there were moments in Bad Man that were truly terrifying. You don’t even have to look too far beyond reality to find the horror either; hundreds of kids go missing each year, and I can’t even imagine what an awful, desperate, and helpless ordeal it is for the parents and loved ones. This novel opens on the worst day of Ben’s life—the day he lost his beloved little brother. As a mother of a three-year-old, reading this entire sequence made my skin cold and my stomach feel hollow. Ben’s panic and guilt tore at my heart. His pain and fear became mine, and I felt like crying.

For better or worse though, I didn’t find the rest of the book to be so harrowing or intense, though the story still contained its fair share of emotionally traumatizing moments. In many ways, Bad Man is more mystery than horror. Dathan Auerbach handles suspense well, keeping the reader guessing even when not a lot is happening on the page. Most of his characters are there as suspects, their secrets revealed to us slowly as their backstories are told in dribs and drabs. Ben himself is an enigma that we are warned not to fully trust. Grief touches people in different ways, and the uncertainties surrounding our protagonist’s memories is a source of much tension and conflict.

Unfortunately, this compelling atmosphere was not always present. There were times when the author dropped the ball, particularly in sections where the plot meandered and dragged. Certain threads were also picked up but never carried through and I wasn’t always sure if these were supposed to be red herrings or just Auerbach trying out different twists that he didn’t quite know how to pull off. Because this is his debut novel, I’m sort of leaning towards the latter. There are definitely pacing issues, and I didn’t think the novel as a whole had to be so long. The rambling, convoluted jumble that was the ending probably could have used some polish too, for I got the sense that the author might have forgotten to tie up a few loose ends.

Overall, I liked Bad Man, but as a horror/mystery novel, there were things that could have been done better. Author Dathan Auerbach has already found much success with Penpal, a series of interconnected short stories posted to Reddit, but I think he’s probably discovered that a full-length novel requires a whole different level and process of planning and writing. If this debut is any indication though, I believe he’s on the right track, and I look forward to see what he does next.

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Book Review: Dreadful Company by Vivian Shaw

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

Dreadful Company by Vivian Shaw

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Series: Book 2 of Dr. Greta Helsing

Publisher: Orbit (July 31, 3018)

Length: 400 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Despite the mixed reviews for Strange Practice, I ended up enjoying it a lot and was very excited for Dreadful Company. Ironically though, it’s now this sequel that’s making me feel a bit conflicted.  It was a fairly good book, though perhaps not great. And I definitely thought the first book was better.

Dreadful Company picks up shortly after Strange Practice ended, once again following protagonist Greta Helsing, London’s monster expert and doctor to the city’s population of paranormal creatures. This time though, she has been called to Paris, where she is scheduled to speak at a supernatural medical conference. Just your typical travel for work, and nothing out of the ordinary—or at least that’s what Greta thought, as she prepares for a night out at the opera with the vampire Edmund Ruthven, her best friend who has accompanied her on this trip. Unbeknownst to them though, Paris’s labyrinthine underground is infested with a coven of unruly vampires, and they have been planning something nefarious for Greta’s arrival.

But first, Greta encounters a small gremlin-like creature called a wellmonster in her hotel bathroom, its appearance intriguing her because wellmonsters aren’t typically seen unless they are summoned. Soon though, there are more sightings. Deciding that they warrant further investigation, Greta opts to stay behind while Ruthven returns home to England. But before she can get too far with her inquiries, Greta is kidnapped by the vampires, who are led by a real nasty piece of work named Corvin. Meanwhile, back in London, Greta’s disappearance has been noticed by Ruthven and Francis Varney, the vampyre who has been sweet on the doctor ever since she saved him in the first book. Setting off to find her, the two begin scouring Paris for clues while a parallel mission is also being carried out a pair of psychopomps who are investigating a worrisome influx of phantoms around the area.

Dreadful Company and I did not exactly start off on the right foot. Compared to Strange Practice, the beginning here lacked the kind of urgency that pulled me immediately into the first book. While Paris was a nice change of setting and the wellmonsters were adorable and all, I thought this sequel took too long to take off and that on the whole its introduction was pretty uneventful. It wasn’t until Greta was kidnapped that I thought the plot started to pick up.

Once the ball got rolling, however, I have to admit things become a lot more interesting. I was impressed at how engaging Greta’s sections managed to be, considering how she spends most of the early parts of the book imprisoned in a cell. The vampires who kidnapped her are given individual backstories and substance, and their presence proves that even in the supernatural world, things are not so simple or black and white. Greta also once again demonstrates why she is a credit to her profession, showing compassion and providing healing to whoever needs it.

The worldbuilding was also one of my favorite elements from Strange Practice, and I love it here still. The riveting mix of old and new is alive and well in Dreadful Company, where we’re treated to an eclectic mashup of literary monsters in a modern-day setting. The city of Paris simply adds to this charm, as Vivian Shaw also throws in a few references and deferential nods to several French classics. She’s also expanded the world this time with new characters, and I especially enjoyed meeting Crepusculus Dammerung and Gervase Brightside, our spiritual guides to lost souls.

That said, it’s possible that a bit of the novelty and magic has faded since the first book. Part of this is understandable, as there’s a sense that this sequel is more about reinforcing the ideas and themes that have already been established, settling readers comfortably into the world. There’s nothing terribly new or surprising, even a couple reused plot points. And because the characters were all split up, the narrative sometimes had to offer multiple perspectives on the same event, leading to repetition that wasn’t always necessary.

Still, my fixed feelings and quibbles notwithstanding, I wasn’t really disappointed. While I didn’t think Dreadful Company was as good as Strange Practice, it retains that special kind of charm which made me fall in love with the first book. It’s what makes Dr. Greta Helsing such a unique urban fantasy series, and plan on sticking with it.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Strange Practice (Book 1)

YA Weekend: #MurderTrending by Gretchen McNeil

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

#MurderTrending by Gretchen McNeil

Mogsy’s Rating: 1 of 5 stars

Genre: Young Adult, Thriller

Series: Stand Alone/Book 1

Publisher: Freeform (August 7, 2018)

Length: 352 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

I hate giving out 1-stars, and if you’ve followed me for a while, you may have already noticed you don’t see that rating here very often. That’s because even if I didn’t like a book overall, there’s usually still something I enjoyed about it. With #MurderTrending though, I think I’d be hard-pressed to find anything too positive to say about this hot mess. It simply did not work for me—on any level.

But first, here’s the book’s premise for some context of everything I’m going to discuss: It is the near future, and the President of the United States is a former reality TV star who thought it would be a great idea to outsource the justice and penal systems to a psychopath television producer known only by his internet handle, The Postman. Court trials have become a farce where anyone who is merely suspected of murder is pronounced guilty and sent to a prison island near San Francisco, dubbed Alcatraz 2.0, where every inch and corner is surveilled by cameras mounted on robotic birds. This live footage is streamed 24/7 to millions of viewers around the world tuning in to see the prisoners executed in the most brutal ways by federally sanctioned killers with names like Gucci Hangman and Molly Mauler, whose cheesy names and shticks are an attempt to drive up their popularity on social media.

The book follows Dee Guerrera, a teenager who was sent to Alcatraz 2.0 after being wrongfully convicted of murdering her stepsister. She becomes the next victim of Prince Slycer, one of the island’s executioners whose gimmick involves dressing up his executionees as princesses from Disney movies, immediately earning Dee the nickname #CinderellaSurvivor when she manages to escape his clutches. Determined to find her stepsister’s true killer, Dee teams up with other teens on the island in order to expose the reality of Alcatraz 2.0 and bring down The Postman.

Oh boy, where do I start? As an avid reader of sci-fi and fantasy I consider myself to be pretty good at suspending my disbelief. But this book was beyond ridiculous. If it weren’t for the over-the-top gore and violence, I would have thought this was written for six-year-olds on account of how juvenile and ludicrous it sounds. Even leaving aside the more nonsensical elements, in today’s world where you pretty much can’t show anything on the television without getting someone up in arms over it, the idea of a 24-hour snuff show garnering wide acclaim and approval from the public isn’t just eye-roll inducing, it makes me want to bash my head against a wall.

And then there were the characters. Had they been written well, perhaps I could have put aside my incredulity of the premise. Unfortunately, at no point in the novel did Dee actually feel like a real person to me. She seemed detached and strangely unconcerned with her circumstances from the moment she arrived on Alcatraz 2.0. Sure, there might have been a brief flash of “Oh crap, I am screwed”, but this was quickly replaced by her utter conviction that she will find her stepsister’s killer—even though she has absolutely no resources on the island, zero places to start, and every reason to believe she’ll be up next on the literal chopping block. Yet there was no fear or sadness. No hopelessness or despair. This isn’t badass. This is bad characterization.

But maybe, just maybe, these characters were actually meant to be caricatures? After all, there was a character whose one memorable trait was his penchant to quote action movies from the 80s and 90s, and even as his friends were dying slow torturous deaths, he was busy channeling Rambo during the rescue mission. I mean, something this fucking goofy has got to be a joke…right? In fact, this entire novel was so absurd and extreme with its irreverence when it comes to violence and death, I was half convinced it was supposed to be ironic. But try as I did to see this novel as satire—a playful mockery on social media and the American obsession with Reality TV, perhaps—it was probably giving it too much credit. If this was meant to be satirical, then the author lacked the delicate expertise to pull it off properly. There was a desperation in the way her narrative attempted to justify the premise (with very flimsy logic) or to endear readers to the characters (by giving them very annoying quirks), and while sometimes exaggeration can be used as an effective device, in this case it was a complete disaster.

There were so many other problems with this novel, not least the fact the story gets even more unrealistic and ridiculous towards the end (believe it or not). Suffice to say, I think I’ve covered all the major disappointments so I’m just going to wrap this up by saying I probably won’t be picking up anything else by the author. I’ve heard that being this insanely over-the-top is part and parcel of her style, and clearly I am not the intended audience.

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

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

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Received for Review

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

Thank you to Orbit Books for these beauties: King of Assassins by RJ Barker is the third and final novel in The Wounded Kingdom trilogy. I’ve been enjoying the hell out of these books so far, and this could be shaping up to be one of my favorite fantasy series ever. Shadowblack by Sebastien de Castell is the second novel in the author’s YA Spellslinger series (the first book of which I recently reviewed and loved) so I’m looking forward to starting this one real soon. And August must be the month of awesome sequels, because we’re rounding out the Orbit haul with The Tower of Living and Dying by Anna Smith Spark, the follow-up to her amazing grimdark debut The Court of Broken Knives.

From the kind folks at Night Shade Books/Talos, I also received the following: The Tropic of Eternity by Tom Toner is the third book in The Amaranthine Spectrum which unfortunately I’m not caught up with yet, but I’ve heard some fantastic things about the series. Herokiller by Paul Tassi also sounds incredible, described as “Ready Player One meets Gladiator“. This book is a new one to me, but who can ignore a comparison like that?

With thanks to Saga Press and the team at Wunderkind PR, I also received a finished copy of Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse. Its arrival made me very happy because I loved the book, and this hardcover edition is just jaw-droppingly beautiful.

Next up, I was excited to received a finished copy of Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers, which I’ve already devoured because I just love this series so much. And if you caught my review this week, you might have also seen that this was my favorite Wayfarers book yet. Huge thanks to Harper Voyager.

With thanks to Crown Publishing, I also received The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter, which came out last year as the “official sequel” to H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. For those curious, you can read my review of it here. This is the paperback release, and I love how they’ve reworked the cover for this edition.

And with huge thanks to Pyr Books, a couple weeks ago I received this eye-popping ARC of No Sleep Till Doomsday by Laurence MacNaughton, book three in the Dru Jasper series which I’ve been really enjoying. Can’t wait to start this.

Last month I also received a finished copy of Stars Uncharted by S.K. Dunstall, with thanks to Ace Books. I’ve always kicked myself for missing out on the Linesman trilogy from this writing duo of sisters, so no way I’m sitting out this time.

This next arrival I’m also super psyched about: The Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson is the hugely anticipated follow-up to The Traitor Baru Cormorant. I adored the first book, and I’m counting the days until I can dive back into this world. My thanks to Tor Books for the ARC.

Last but not least, I’d like to thank Titan Books for sending me a finished copy of The War in the Dark by Nick Setchfield. Last month The BiblioSanctum participated in a tour for this novel, hosting a fascinating guest post by the author. I was already interested in checking out this book, but now I’m even more excited to read it.

  

Moving on to the digital pile, this week I picked up a couple audiobooks. With thanks to Penguin Random House Audio for advance listening copies of An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena, which sounds a classic trapped-with-a-murderer-in-a-snowbound-inn kind of thriller, and Seafire by Natalie C. Parker, a YA adventure fantasy about a crew of female pirates.

And thanks to an email pitch from the kind folks at Touchstone, I also learned about The Lost Queen by Signe Pike, a historical epic described as “the untold story of Languoreth, a forgotten queen of sixth-century Scotland and twin sister of the man who inspired the legend of Merlin.” Needless to say, I happily accepted the offer of an eARC.

Reviews

A list of my reviews posted since the last update:

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers (5 of 5 stars)
Gate Crashers by Patrick S. Tomlinson (4.5 of 5 stars)
Star Wars: Thrawn: Alliances by Timothy Zahn (4 of 5 stars)
Orbital by Andrew Mayne (4 of 5 stars)
Like Never and Always by Ann Aguirre (3.5 of 5 stars)
Smoke and Iron by Rachel Caine (3.5 of 5 stars)
The Raptor & The Wren by Chuck Wendig (3.5 of 5 stars) 
Contagion by Erin Bowman (3 of 5 stars)

Roundup Highlights:

What I’ve Read Since the Last Update

Here’s what I’ve managed to “unstack” from the TBR since the last update. More reviews coming soon!

    

    

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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: Mask

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:

“…Christine, who have torn off my mask and who therefore can never leave me again!”
~ a cover featuring a MASK

Mogsy’s Pick:
A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

Sitting in that much-needed place between Middle Grade and Young Adult, A Face Like Glass is a coming-of-age novel about a younger protagonist, but the challenges she must deal with are no less difficult or complex. Neverfell was just a child when she was found, practically half-drowned, in a vat of curds by Caverna’s foremost cheesemaker. But as soon as he cleaned off the little girl and took one look at her face, he knew something was terribly wrong. From that moment on, Neverfell was always instructed to wear a mask in public, though she was never told why, leading her to believe that she is hideously disfigured.

For years afterward, Neverfell trains with the cheesemaker as his apprentice, learning all about the ways of Caverna, an underground city made up of tunnels. Skilled craftsmen create all sorts of magical goods to sell to the royal court. Among the most respected of these artisans are the Facesmiths, for unlike the people who live in the world above, citizens of Caverna are born with blank faces and no natural instinct to form facial expressions. This is where a Facesmith comes in, developing and teaching new expressions to those who can afford his or her services. The richer you are, the more facial expressions you can learn, while the poor are only taught a few to get them through a life of servitude.

Everything about this novel is pure imagination and magic, and needless to say, I loved every moment. But how do its covers fare? Let’s take a look at them now:

From left to right:
Pan Macmillan Children’s HC (2012) – Pan Macmillan Children’s PB (2013) – Amulet Books HC (2017)
Amulet Books digital (2017) – Macmillan UK (2016) – Pan Macmillan PB (2017) – German Edition (2014)

  

   

Winner:

The version I own is the Amulet Books hardcover, and I’ve always disliked it for how creepy it looks. I much prefer the Pan Macmillan Children’s 2012 edition, which perfectly encapsulates the magical and whimsical nature of the story. It is also my favorite of the bunch.

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

Book Review: Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

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

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

Mogsy’s Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Book 3 of Wayfarers

Publisher: Harper Voyager (July 24, 2018)

Length: 368 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Record of A Spaceborn Few might be my favorite Wayfarers novel yet. Structurally and thematically, it is quite unlike either of its predecessors, but these differences from book to book are what I love most about this series. First, readers got to explore the galaxy and encounter new alien species and civilizations in A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. In contrast, A Closed and Common Orbit was a smaller and more intimate affair, narrowing the scope to focus on the journeys of two outsiders who ultimately found home in each other. Likewise, this third volume in the series is a deeply personal tale, but at the core of its narrative, the novel also explores the evolution and development of human society, focusing particular attention on the shipborne descendants of the last people to leave a dying Earth.

Needless to say, the anthropology student in me couldn’t help but jump for joy. Chronologically, most of the events in Record of a Spaceborn Few take place right after A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, though the story itself is a standalone. This time, Becky Chambers welcomes us to the Exodus Fleet, a collection of ancient ships home to the largest population of humans found outside the Sol system. Since their departure from Earth, generations have been born and raised here. And while some have left for greener pastures, never to return, others have chosen to stay and carry on the way of life. The Exodans have long abandoned their original goal of finding the perfect planet upon which to settle, deciding on space as their permanent home. The many centuries, however, has taken its toll on the fleet’s deteriorating hulls. In the novel’s prologue, an accident aboard the Oxomoco causes a catastrophic breach and decompression, killing tens of thousands.

As the rest of the fleet rushes to provide aid, the aftermath of accident is related through the eyes of our main characters, who are still affected by memories of the horror years later. Tessa is an Exodan, sister of none other than Ashby who left the fleet years ago to captain the Wayfarer. Her daughter was just shy of five-years-old when the Oxomoco disaster occurred, the trauma of the incident etching itself onto the little girl’s psyche. Then there’s Isobel, a senior archivist who has dedicated her life to recording and preserving the history and memories of the Exodus Fleet. Whether they are happy or sad, all significant events must be documented for posterity. Another character is Eyas, a “caretaker”, the euphemistic name for a person on the fleet who handles the remains of the dead in a highly ritualized process. Nothing is wasted in space, including the bodies of those who pass. Next is Kip, a teenage boy who has no idea what he wants to do with his life, other than the fact he wants to leave the Exodus Fleet as soon as he graduates. And finally, there is Sawyer, a young man from the colony of Mushtullo who arrives at the fleet in order to find his ancestral roots—and maybe, just maybe, a chance at a new life now that there’s nothing left for him planetside.

This book touched me in a profound, beautiful way. Years ago, when I was in college, I read an ethnography for class about a society of island people whose traditions were rapidly disappearing in the face of modern technology and civilization. More and more, their old ways were becoming relics of another era, and young people were leaving in droves for jobs and education on the mainland. To preserve their history and culture, the islanders who remained were a closely-knit community who fought hard to preserve their customs and beliefs that were handed down from generation to generation. I was reminded of all this, because in many ways, I saw parallels in the Exodus Fleet. For some, who can’t imagine a home anywhere else, perpetuating life on the fleet was paramount, while others who felt trapped by it were drawn to opportunities in the wider galaxy beyond. Then there are those who felt obligated to stay out of a sense of duty of guilt, or simply because this was the only life they’ve ever known. Outsiders, even those who came to discover and learn, were not always welcome and were sometimes mistrusted. And when it came to aliens—most of whom saw the Exodus Fleet as a quaint oddity at best, a futile drain on resources at worst—the emotions involved were even more confusing and contentious. This perhaps was best illustrated by the interludes featuring Ghuh’loloan, a Harmagian ethnographer who came to work with Isabel to study and write about the Exodan experience.

Like the previous novels, Record of a Spaceborn Few is celebration of life, love, and hope. The antithesis to the new crop of sci-fi coming out these days featuring nihilistic themes and gritty stories and characters, the Wayfarer series honestly feels like a breath of fresh air. There is just so much heart here, the message being that the galaxy might be a big and scary place, but you can always count on the best of humanity to come out in a crisis. Once again, I’m simply astonished at the level of warmth and compassion found in the individual character’s stories. Each person is someone you can relate to, someone you can come to care deeply about.

What more can I say? Becky Chambers is probably one of the most remarkable talents to break out in recent years, and even with three books under her belt in the Wayfarer series, she’s showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, I think her stories are only getting better and better. Go and read this book. Read A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet too, if you haven’t already. And A Closed and Common Orbit. Read it all. You won’t regret it.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of A Closed and Common Orbit

Waiting on Wednesday 08/08/18

Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that first originated at Breaking the Spine but has since linked up with “Can’t Wait Wednesday” at Wishful Endings now that the original creator is unable to host it anymore. Either way, this fun feature is a chance to showcase the upcoming releases that we can’t wait to get our hands on!

Mogsy’s Pick

The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky January 29, 2019 by Redhook)

After wrapping up her Olympus Bound trilogy, looks like Jordanna Max Brodsky has turned her attention from Greek mythology to something a bit different in her upcoming historical epic fantasy!

“A young Inuit shaman’s epic quest for survival in the frozen lands of North America in 1000 AD.

Born with the soul of a hunter and the language of the gods, Omat is destined to become a shaman like her grandfather. To protect her people, she invokes the spirits of the sky, the sea, and the air.

But the gods have stopped listening, the seals won’t come, and Omat’s family is starving.
Desperate to save them, Omat journeys through the icy wastes, fighting for survival with every step. When she meets a Viking warrior and his strange new gods, together they set in motion a conflict that could shatter her world…or save it.
The Wolf in the Whale is a powerful tale of magic, discovery and adventure, featuring an unforgettable narrator ready to confront the gods themselves.”

Audiobook Review: Star Wars: Thrawn: Alliances by Timothy Zahn

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

Star Wars: Thrawn: Alliances by Timothy Zahn

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

Genre: Science Fiction, Media Tie-In

Series: Book 2 of Star Wars: Thrawn, Star Wars Canon

Publisher: Random House Audio (July 24, 2018)

Length: 13 hrs and 21 mins

Author Information: Website

Narrator: Marc Thompson

A Grand Admiral Thrawn and Darth Vader team-up? Yep, definitely one of the best ideas in the history of best ideas.

A typical buddy story though, this is not. Thrawn: Alliances is the sequel to the Thrawn, at the end of which our eponymous character meets the Dark Lord of the Sith himself. Following his defeat in season 3 of the animated Star Wars: Rebels, Thrawn is summoned by Emperor Palpatine to his throne room along with Darth Vader, where they are given a joint mission to investigate a force disturbance on the far-flung planet of Batuu. It would be a good learning experience for both of them, the Emperor reckons knowingly, watching his powerful apprentice and accomplished admiral comply reluctantly to his orders. Frequently at odds when it comes to matters of the Empire, Vader and Thrawn don’t exactly make a picture-perfect partnership, but Palpatine also knows something no one else does: the two of them have worked together before.

Flashing back to a period set during the Clone Wars between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, Anakin Skywalker says good bye to Padmé Amidala as she prepares to embark upon a clandestine diplomatic mission. After she goes missing, Anakin takes off in search of her, on the way encountering a mysterious officer of the Chiss Ascendancy named Commander Mitth’raw’nuruodo—Thrawn. Desperate to find his wife, Anakin decides to team up with him for the sake of efficiency, even though Thrawn’s shadowy purposes in the system have yet to be figured out.

I confess, when I first discovered the duo timeline format of this novel, I groaned a little inside. I’m not a big fan of multiple timelines in books, and the last Star Wars book I read that utilized this device did not go so well. I’ve got to hand it to Zahn, though; the flashbacks sections were woven neatly through the narrative and he managed to juxtapose past and present smoothly, mirroring certain events and bringing important themes to the forefront. Speaking as someone who isn’t all that enamored with the author’s past work and thought the original Thrawn trilogy was a little overrated, I was actually quite impressed with the ingenious way the story of Thrawn: Alliances played out.

I also loved the dynamics between our two main characters. Readers got to experience the evolution and growth of Thrawn in the preceding volume, watching him rise through the ranks to become one of the most powerful figures in the Empire. This puts him nearly at the same level as Darth Vader in terms of influence and the attention he receives from Palpatine, resulting in a palpable undercurrent of resentment between the two powerhouses who are in constant competition for the Emperor’s favor. Thrawn is still in repentant mode following his recent defeat, and Vader knows just how to twist the knife, using the incident to question the Chiss’s loyalty to the Empire. Thrawn, however, is well aware of his own clout and is unconcerned with the accusations, proving himself to be one of the few people in the galaxy who can question the Sith Lord’s orders without being immediately force-choked for his insolence.

In the Clone Wars timeline, the relationship between Thrawn and Anakin is lot a different. Young, brash, and impatient, Anakin is solely driven by his main objective to finding Padmé, and calm, logical Thrawn is the counterbalance to this impulsiveness. Though Anakin often chafes at Thrawn’s more levelheaded suggestions, there is also a sense of grudging respect from the young Jedi for the Chiss commander’s tactical thinking and strategic brilliance. The only aspect I didn’t like about these past flashbacks is Padmé POV, which I thought got in the way of the relationship development between the two protagonists. Though I understand why her perspective would be needed, her chapters were slower comparatively to the action-packed sections featuring Thrawn and Anakin who are like secret agents on a fact-finding mission to get to the bottom of her disappearance.

Following the recent trend of Star Wars novels exploring the world of the “bad guys”, Thrawn and Vader’s story also presents readers with an interesting point of view with regards to the inner workings of the Empire. Both characters have their own team of underlings, showing stark differences between their management styles and how they are viewed through the eyes of their respective subordinates. I also feel that this new Thawn is more nuanced than his now-Legends counterpart. In the new canon, the grand admiral is portrayed as less evil, with good intentions and laudable qualities such as loyalty and respect to the men and women who work under him. While it would be a stretch to call him a good person since he still works for the Empire while admitting they are tyrannical, I can see how he could be considered a lawful neutral character—a respected opponent rather than a true villain. It’s a testament to Zahn’s skill, for he’s able to make Thrawn relatable and admirable, even if you don’t agree with his every move.

In sum, if you enjoyed the first Thrawn book of the new canon, then you’ll probably wish to pick up Thrawn: Alliances for the continuation of the character’s story arc. It’s a worthy sequel which I would also recommend to Star Wars fans, especially if you followed either Star Wars: Rebels or The Clone Wars animated series (the latter of which is going to be returning with a new season, as was recently announced). And of course, if you love the characters of Thrawn or Darth Vader, then this book is an absolute must-read.

Audiobook Comments: Another fantastic performance by the very talented Marc Thompson. His Darth Vader voice isn’t the best I’ve heard from a Star Wars narrator (that distinction would probably go to Jonathan Davis) but his Thrawn is pretty spot on. Listening to a Star Wars audiobook is always a treat.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Star Wars: Thrawn (Book 1)

Book Review: Gate Crashers by Patrick S. Tomlinson

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

Gate Crashers by Patrick S. Tomlinson

Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Tor Books (June 26, 2018)

Length: 320 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

I loved this book! As someone who has lost track of the number of times I’ve been hoodwinked into reading so-called sci-fi comedy mashups à la Douglas Adams or Star Trek-like spoofs only to have them turn out to be cringeworthy juvenile attempts at humor, all I have to say is Gate Crashers is the real deal. Smart, funny, and creative, it elicited more than a few genuine belly laughs from me, and not a lot of books can do that.

Our story begins with humanity’s first extra-solar mission aboard the space exploration starship Magellan, the most advanced vessel of her kind. Carrying a crew in suspended animation, the ship AI, affectionately nicknamed Maggie, notices an anomaly on her sensors and wakes Captain Ridgeway from her stasis to inform her of the discovery. The anomaly turns out to be of alien origin, and Ridgeway, deeming this evidence of intelligent extraterrestrial life too important to ignore, decides to load the artifact on board and report the find to Earth. Meanwhile, back at home, researchers, politicians, and the media are working themselves into a froth trying to understand and reconstruct the alien technology.

Eventually, the mysteries of the alien artifact are unlocked, changing the trajectory of human space travel and exploration forever. Within a relatively short time, a powerful warship, designed and built with a shiny new hyperspace drive, joins the Magellan in deep space, captained by the chauvinistic, cocky, and supremely vain Maximus Tiberius (with the inspiration for his character being immediately obvious). But humankind’s sudden leap forward in technology and knowledge has not gone unnoticed. It appears that Earth has upset the original creators of the alien artifact, who have been tracking Maggie’s movements ever since their property was stolen. The even greater threat, however, is a more aggressive alien species called the Turemok, who sees humanity’s first awkward baby steps at faster-than-light travel as an opportunity to frame Earth and start a galaxy-wide war.

Gate Crashers fully delivers on the promise of an entertaining and adventurous romp through space. My past experiences with books that have touted something similar, such as Steven Erikson’s Willful Child, Joe Zieja’s Mechanical Failure, or Catherynne M. Valente’s Space Opera, have mostly been enjoyable, but in my eyes, they all lacked something important: balance. Humor, especially parody, can be quite tricky. What I’ve learned is that the amount of silliness in a story is usually inversely proportional to the amount of depth you’ll find. Go overboard with the slapstick or toilet humor, and you also run the risk of turning off your readers looking for something less infantile.

Then, there’s personal taste. What one person laughs at might make someone else groan. Some readers prefer in-your-face jokes and gags, while others go for dry and subtle wit. Myself, I tend to gravitate towards the latter, with just a sprinkle of the former. But above all, I just want a worthwhile story. Gate Crashers is proof that a sci-fi comedy novel can be full of warmth, depth, and substance without sacrificing any of it for the humor. Here we have a full-flavored plot, despite many of the book’s elements being homages to popular science fiction motifs. Readers will be able to spot nods to everything from Star Trek to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, though the story of Gate Crashers also has enough originality to stand on its own.

I also loved the characters, even when it is clear some of them are light parodies of the genre. In humor, a lot of first contact stories depict humans as doltish and incompetent idiots who wind up embarrassing themselves on the galactic stage like some drunken uncle at a dinner party. With only a couple exceptions, Tomlinson’s portrayal of Ridgeway and her fellow space explorers aren’t anywhere near so extreme. There’s a difference between stupidity and ignorance; the humans in Gate Crashers might not know what they’re doing, but they have enough common sense to use what knowledge they have to do right by themselves and the aliens. While their bumbling attempts at space diplomacy might look foolish and absurd, the characters are genuinely full of heart and well-intentioned, qualities that make them very likeable. Everyone has a story (even the non-humans), demonstrating the author’s efforts in character development. Most of them are dealing with very relatable problems or internal conflicts. Even James Kirk—I mean, Maximus Tiberius is someone you will want to root for, as much as he makes you want to shake your head.

Perhaps what works most about Gate Crashers is that it could probably be categorized as full-on comedy, but general sci-fi readers can also enjoy it as an adventurous space opera with comedic elements. While books of this genre aren’t all that uncommon, I found the blend of humor and amount of substance behind the story to be just right, and for me to find something that strikes that perfect balance is very special and rare indeed. If you’re looking for a genuinely entertaining and clever sci-fi novel that will also leave you with a big smile on your face, Gate Crashers is your answer. Highly recommended.

YA Weekend: Like Never and Always by Ann Aguirre

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

Like Never and Always by Ann Aguirre

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Young Adult, Thriller, Mystery

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Tor Teen (July 17, 2018)

Length: 336 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

In the history of real mistaken identity cases, the one about the fatal accident involving two girls and one survivor is probably the most heartbreaking. Most of us have probably heard about the incident or seen the story or some variation resembling it in popular media, but in Ann Aguirre’s new YA thriller Like Never and Always, the scenario is given a disturbing and paranormal twist.

On a hot summer evening, best friends Liv and Morgan are passengers in a car along with their boyfriends, brothers Clay and Nathan Claymore, when an accident changes all their lives forever. Liv wakes up in the hospital, but the visitors by her bedside are not her parents or her boyfriend Nathan but instead Mr. Frost, Morgan’s father, and Clay, Morgan’s boyfriend. They and all the hospital staff are also calling Liv by her best friend’s name, which frightens and confuses her—especially when they break the news that Liv did not survive the crash.

Any hopes that this is just a horrible case of mistaken identity are dashed, however, when they remove Liv’s bandages and it is Morgan’s face starring back at her in the mirror. Not wanting to appear crazy or upset anyone further, Liv decides to go along with it in order to buy some time to figure out what’s going on, but becoming Morgan and stepping into her life is turning out to be more difficult than Liv realized. Her best friend, heiress to her father’s successful tech company, had lived in privilege and luxury, but her life had not been as well put together as anyone thought. Liv also discovers that, despite being popular and beautiful, Morgan Frost was a lonely girl with not a lot of close friends. And underneath that perfect and happy exterior, she was hiding all kinds of dangerous secrets, including an underaged affair with a married man. All of it was part of Morgan’s plan to uncover the truth behind her mother’s mysterious death ten years ago, and now it is up to Liv to finish what her best friend started.

I was of two minds regarding this novel. On the one hand, I loved the premise, as well as the mystery and suspense. On the other, this being a Young Adult novel, it also comes with a heavy dose of romance, as practically required by the genre. Normally, I wouldn’t mind so much, but when soppy romantic drama starts encroaching on my thrillers, that’s when I can get a little cranky. Aguirre had an amazing opportunity here to drum up some real tension behind an interesting conflict, and to be fair, she did a great job exploring the tumultuous relationships behind what I thought was a seriously messed up love triangle involving Liv and the Claymore brothers. But where the story faltered was the timing. I could never tell whether this novel wanted to be a thriller or a romance; the plot would be constantly swinging back and forth between these two genres, and more frustratingly, these shifts always seemed to come about at the worst times. It’s never wise to stop when you have momentum on your side, and yet, so many times it would be interrupted just when the mystery was heating up, and I would get brothers drama when all I wanted was for Liv to get back to investigating Morgan’s mom’s death.

Apart from those complaints though, this book was actually quite good. I enjoyed the premise, as well appreciated the story’s attempt to at least provide an explanation for Liv and Morgan’s body-switching, which in fact turned out to be rather touching. I would even praise this one as an emotionally charged tale of female friendship, which might sound weird at first, considering how one of them is dead, but everything Liv does is because of how much she loves Morgan. After literally living in her best friend’s shoes, Liv begins to understand Morgan as she never did when both girls were still alive and in their own bodies. The story also boldly delved into some difficult and delicate subjects, not shying away from them even when things got dark.

Had the plot stayed on this track a bit better, I might have enjoyed Like Never and Always a lot more. That said, it is by no means a bad book and I still had a great time, but too much mishandling of the romance and wonky pacing ended up dragging the experience down a little. I suppose I would still recommend it, especially if you don’t mind a hefty amount of romantic drama served with your thrills and chills.