Audiobook Challenge 2021: 2nd Quarter Update

It’s that time again! Summer is in full swing, and I know this update is a bit overdue, but better late than never. The 2nd quarter of the 2021 Audiobook Challenge wrapped up last month, so it’s time for another look at my progress as well as a list of the audiobooks I listened to in the last three months. But first, here’s a quick refresher on what the challenge is all about:

Challenge Details

  • Runs January 1, 2021 – December 31, 2021. You can join at any time.
  • The goal is to find a new love for audios or to outdo yourself by listening to more audios in 2021 than you did in 2020.
  • Books must be in audio format (CD, MP3, etc.)
  • ANY genres count.
  • Re-reads and crossovers from other reading challenges are allowed.
  • You do not have to be a book blogger to participate; you can track your progress on Goodreads, Facebook, LibraryThing, etc.
  • If you’re a blogger grab the button and do a quick post about the challenge to help spread the word. If you’re not a blogger you can help by posting on Facebook or Tweet about the challenge.
  • Updates plus a giveaway will be posted twice during the year. The first update will be July 2, 2021, and the last update will take place on December 30, 2021.

Levels

  • Newbie (I’ll give it a try) 1-5
  • Weekend Warrior (I’m getting the hang of this) 5-10
  • Stenographer (can listen while multitasking) 10-15
  • Socially Awkward (Don’t talk to me) 15-20
  • Binge Listener (Why read when someone can do it for you) 20-30
  • My Precious (I had my earbuds surgically implanted) 30+
  • Marathoner (Look Ma No Hands) 50+
  • Over-Achiever (Power Listener) 75+
  • The 100 Club (Audiobook Addict) 100+

Another 19 audiobooks added to the tally, bringing my current total up to 37! As a reminder, I’m going for the Over-Achiever (Power Listener) level this year, which requires 75. It’s going to be close, but at this pace, I should reach my goal.

Are you doing the 2021 Audiobook Challenge? If so, how are you doing?

Bookshelf Roundup: 07/10/21: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads

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

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I’m preparing this post ahead of time because we’ll be at the beach this weekend, and I’m looking forward to getting lots of sun and reading time in! If you’re in the US I hope you had a lovely Fourth of July holiday, and to everyone I hope you are all having a lovely summer. I’ve got plenty of posts scheduled but will probably be light with comments in the coming days, though I look forward to catching up on the blogosphere with what everyone’s been reading and reviewing once I get back. In the meantime, let’s see what I’ve added to my bookshelves this week!

Received for Review

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

Earlier this week, a gorgeous hardcover of The Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley arrived with thanks to the amazing folks at Tor Books. It is the start of a new series by the author called Ashes of the Unhewn Throne. It’s based in the same world of his Chronicle of the Unhewn Thrown trilogy, which I adored, so I’m very excited to start this one.

With thanks to Tordotcom I also received an ARC of Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo, a novel described as a Southern Gothic horror combined with “dark academia” and “Appalachian street-racing.” Well, that’s certainly hooked my attention.

Speaking of which, here’s another new-to-me arrival that piqued my curiosity when pitched to me recently: City On Fire by Don Winslow is the first book of an epic saga about the clash of crime syndicates in 80s to 90s America. It’s been catching a lot of buzz lately, and looks like it even got a blurb from Stephen King and some comparisons to The Godfather. It does sound good, but hopefully  it’ll be worth the hype! Huge thanks to William Morrow for the galley.

 

It’s the first week of the month, which means lots of new audiobook ALCs! With thanks to Simon & Schuster Audio for listening copies of Such A Quiet Place by Megan Miranda and Falling by T.J. Newman, satisfying my unending craving for more thriller and suspense (though I doubt I’ll be going anywhere near Falling if I have any upcoming flights).

But that’s not all, from the amazing team at Penguin Random House Audio I also received We Were Never Here by Andrea Bartz and I’m especially excited for For Your Own Good by Samantha Downing. From their YA/Children’s imprint Listening Library I also received a listening copy of Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim. I’ve already heard such great things about this book, and the audio is narrated by Emily Woo Zeller, one of my favorite readers.

With thanks to Hachette Audio, I snagged another YA title this week, It Ends in Fire by Andrew Shvarts, whose Royal Bastards trilogy I so enjoyed. And finally, with thanks to the publisher I also grabbed Rovers by Richard Lange, which sounds like quite an interesting take on vampires.

Reviews

The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri (4 of 5 stars)
A Dark and Secret Place by Jen Williams (3.5 of 5 stars)
Darling by K. Ancrum (3.5 of 5 stars)

What I’ve Been Reading

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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!

Friday Face-Off: A Wicked Grin

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:

~ a cover featuring A WICKED GRIN

Bite Me by Christopher Moore

Because who doesn’t love Christopher Moore? His vampire series is certainly no Twilight, but it was where I went hoping to find myself some covers featuring fanged smiles. I was not disappointed.

From left to right:
William Morrow (2010) – Sphere (2011) – German Edition (2011)

Polish Edition (2010) – Hungarian Edition (2010) – Russian Edition (2013)

Winner:

The William Morrow, without a doubt. It’s bold, simple, and quirky without being too weird. Actually, a lot of Moore’s covers are done in this style and I love them.

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

Thursday Thriller: A Dark and Secret Place by Jen Williams

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

A Dark and Secret Place by Jen Williams

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books (June 8, 2021)

Length: 304 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

I always love it whenever authors I’ve enjoyed jump genres, and Jen Williams has proven she can navigate the stormy waters of mystery and thriller just as effectively as she does fantasy.

A Dark and Secret Place follows Heather Evans, who returns to her hometown after getting the distressing news that her estranged mother had committed suicide. It was unexpected, and even more puzzling in light of the note she left behind. Still, the most shocking moment comes as Heather, when going through her mother’s belongings, comes across a stack of old letters from Michael Reave, also known as the “Red Wolf”, a notorious serial killer who is currently serving a life sentence. As Reave as has been in prison for over twenty years, their correspondence goes back a long way, but the contents of the letters also seem to hint at a relationship that goes back even further than that.

Then, a body of a young woman is found, dismembered and posed inside the trunk of a tree, with flowers meticulously planted and placed around her corpse—the same thing the Red Wolf used to do. But with Reave in prison, who is committing these murders now? Of course, Reave has always insisted on his innocence, despite all the damning evidence against him. It’s possible they may be dealing with a copycat, or someone with intimate knowledge of the Red Wolf’s murders. Then there’s the third option, that’s too disturbing to contemplate. Shaken by the discovery of the letters, Heather decides to take them to the police to see if they can provide any insight into the case. Seeing a possible lead, the detectives arrange for her to speak with Michael Reave to see if she can use his relationship with her mother as a way to extract information about his past. Heather agrees, but secretly, she has her own personal agenda. Coming back home has made her realize how little she knew her mother, and it is her hope that an interview with the Red Wolf will reveal some answers into why she might have killed herself.

Does Williams bring anything all that new to the genre? Maybe not, but A Dark and Secret Place is nonetheless a perfectly serviceable thriller, and I loved that there was also a hint or horror and an element involving dark folklore and fairy tales. The main premise is intriguing, and the details behind the Red Wolf murders are disturbing and chilling. Right away, the author establishes a hook and a reason for readers to want to keep reading and find out what happens next. While it’s true that some of the more usual tropes were being employed, they were dependable and effective. The first half of this book had me completely riveted.

That said, it’s hard to say how long this momentum lasted. I think part of the reason for this slight drag is the split in attention, with one thread focusing on Heather’s own investigation into her mother’s past, while the other (in my opinion, the more neglected) thread focused on solving the resumed murders. The hunt for the new killer struck me as lackadaisical and hardly urgent, as Heather returns to the prison to speak with Michael Reave again and again without making much headway, and bizarrely the detectives on the case seemed just perfectly fine with this questionable use of time and resources. To be fair though, this mystery is probably just as much about Heather’s mother as it is about the Red Wolf killings, and ultimately these two plotlines do converge. Still, with so much going on, I just wish everything had been better balanced.

Nothing confirmed this more for me more than the ending, which was, in a word, overwhelming. In most thrillers this is usually the point where everything starts coming together, but in this case, Williams introduces even more details and clues. Like a burst dam, all the information held back suddenly came in a flood, and while it wasn’t a dealbreaker by any means, the overload still felt jarring. However, I did enjoy the late addition of Heather’s good friend Nicki as her sleuthing partner towards the end, so there were some positives and high points. I just wish the two women had teamed up sooner!

All told, I had a good time with A Dark and Secret Place. Balancing the different plot threads as well  the overall pacing seemed to be Jen Williams’ biggest struggle. However, hould she continue to explore the mystery thriller genre, I would definitely keep reading.

Waiting on Wednesday 07/07/21

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

Fevered Star by Rebecca Roanhorse (April 19, 2022 by Gallery/Saga Press)

Beautiful! Glorious! And I can’t wait! I loved Black Sun, and I’m very excited for this next book in the Between Earth and Sky series.

“There are no tides more treacherous than those of the heart. —Teek saying

The great city of Tova is shattered. The sun is held within the smothering grip of the Crow God’s eclipse, but a comet that marks the death of a ruler and heralds the rise of a new order is imminent.

The Meridian: a land where magic has been codified and the worship of gods suppressed. How do you live when legends come to life, and the faith you had is rewarded?

As sea captain Xiala is swept up in the chaos and currents of change, she finds an unexpected ally in the former Priest of Knives. For the Clan Matriarchs of Tova, tense alliances form as far-flung enemies gather and the war in the heavens is reflected upon the earth.

And for Serapio and Naranpa, both now living avatars, the struggle for free will and personhood in the face of destiny rages. How will Serapio stay human when he is steeped in prophecy and surrounded by those who desire only his power? Is there a future for Naranpa in a transformed Tova without her total destruction?

Welcome back to the fantasy series of the decade in Fevered Star—book two of Between Earth and Sky.”

Book Review: The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri

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

The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of Burning Kingdoms

Publisher: Orbit (June 8, 2021)

Length: 576 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

This was wonderful, and Tasha Suri is definitely growing in skill and confidence with each book. While I enjoyed her debut Empire of Sand, it’s clear that in The Jasmine Throne the storytelling and world-building elements are elevated to another realm.

In this opener to a new series called Burning Kingdoms, we are transported to a world inspired by the history, legends and epics of India. The setting is Parijatdvipa, where there are always a number of city states fighting against the rule of the empire, and Ahiranya is one of these. It is also here where Priya works as a servant in the household of the regent, though she also lives clandestine life as a savior to local children afflicted with the rot. Those infected would sprout plant-like growths from their bodies until the disease eventually killed them, and the only treatment is expensive and hard to come by. Priya also has a past that she must keep hidden, because her life would be in danger if her secret abilities become known.

Meanwhile, Malini is sister the cruel emperor, who ordered her to be burned on a pyre to appease his gods. When she refuses to submit, he punishes her by exiling her to the Hirana in Ahiranya, a crumbling labyrinthine temple where she would be kept under constant guard. But clever and resourceful Malini will not give in easily, and she is determined to do everything she can to endure and survive. One day though, she inadvertently witnesses something she shouldn’t, forever entwining her fate with that of Priya, who had been brought on has her maidservant. Together, the two of them must examine their loyalties to their respective countries, and, later, to each other as they grow closer and emotions deepen.

Although there were a few other POVs scattered about, the chapters belonging to Priya and Malini undeniably served as the foundation for this novel, and they were also the most engaging characters. Like most epic fantasy novels, The Jasmine Throne requires a bit of patience and time invested in the first half for the plot elements to build, but once our two main protagonists came together, the difference was immediate. My favorite part of the book was bar none the relationship development, and each woman also had an intriguing backstory that gave even more meaning to their eventual romance. There’s little reason for them to trust one another, and there’s a certain beauty to the idea of two people from such disparate backgrounds coming together and finding each other.

Aside from being character-driven, The Jasmine Throne also impresses with its atmosphere and world-building. Like the relationships in this novel, the lore aspects and details behind the magical systems take their time to build, but the wait and effort’s well worth it. The world is explored through different perspectives, constructing a full-bodied and detailed picture of life in Ahiranya. Although the amount of information can feel overwhelming at first, once everything starts falling into place like puzzle pieces, the author’s vision becomes realized and one gets the sense that these are living, breathing communities that are all connected in some way. History, religion, culture—also all related. Suri has managed to find a balance, something I felt she struggled with in Empire of Sand, whose world contained an abundance of detail but lacked in vitality and charm. Not so in The Jasmine Throne though, which felt colorful and vibrant and alive in comparison.

The best part is that this book seems to set things up a lot more to come. Going back again to comparisons with Empire of Sand, which was a bit too slow for my tastes, The Jasmine Throne held my attention for almost all of it. In addition, one aspect I did enjoy a lot from Suri’s debut was the writing, and I’m excited to report that her prose here is as lush and gorgeous as I expected. This is an area where she excels, and certainly she seemed to know just the right words to create beautiful convincing interpersonal relationships as well as a sense of place. I look forward to the sequel with anticipation.

Most Anticipated Releases of 2021: July to September

July is here, and it’s time to look ahead to the Science Fiction and Fantasy reads I’m most excited about in the third quarter of 2021! Not only do I enjoy making these lists, they also help me organize my reading by focusing my attention to the highly anticipated releases that I’d like to check out.

I’ve been trying to limit my TBR and only focus on the “must reads” but geez, it’s shocking how the books still add up! There’s already an impressive tower on my to-read pile, and while I’m under no illusions that I’ll be able to read them all, hopefully I can get to most of them (and also put some new books on people’s radars.

So what are your most anticipated releases for the next few months? Do you have any of these books on your list? What’s missing that I should be checking out?

July

July 6 Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim, Capture the Crown by Jennifer Estep, Half Sick of Shadows by Laura Sebastian, The Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley

July 13 Such A Quiet Place by Megan Miranda, The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix, Wings of Shadow by Nicki Pau Preto, A Psalm for the Wild-Build by Becky Chambers

July 20 Come With Me by Ronald Malfi, The Retreat by Elisabeth de Mariaffi, For Your Own Good by Samantha Downing, She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

July 27 Not a Happy Family by Shari Lapena

August

August 3 The Guilt Trip by Sandie Jones, The Desert Prince by Peter V. Brett

August 10 Paper & Blood by Kevin Hearne

August 17 The Exiled Fleet by J.S. Dewes, Velvet Was The Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

August 24 Feral Creatures by Kira Jane Buxton, The Pariah by Anthony Ryan

August 31 Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche by Nancy Springer, Revelator by Daryl Gregory, My Heart Is A Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones

September

September 7 Mastermind by Andrew Mayne, Among Thieves by M.J. Kuhn

September 14 Empire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff, The Wisdom of Crowds by Joe Abercrombie

September 21 –  The Free Bastards by Jonathan French, The Seven Visitations of Sydney Burgess by Andy Marino, Horseman: A Tale of Sleepy Hollow by Christina Henry

September 28 The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward, Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo, Hyde by Craig Russell

YA Weekend Audio: Darling by K. Ancrum

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

Darling by K. Ancrum

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Contemporary, Retellings, Young Adult

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Tantor Audio (June 22, 2021)

Length: 6 hrs and 45 mins

Author Information: Website

Narrator: 

Most Peter Pan retellings I read tend to be fantasy, so it was quite surprising to come across K. Ancrum’s YA contemporary thriller reimagining Neverland as the Chicago underground, Peter as the leader of a group of orphans he looks out for, Tinkerbelle as his punk ex-girlfriend, and Hook as the dogged detective looking to bring him down.

Then there’s Wendy Darling, the 17-year-old protagonist at the center of this novel. She and her family have just moved to the city, and with Wendy getting ready to go to college next year, her parents are also looking to adopt a child to raise in their new home. One night though, an intruder comes through her broken window, expecting the house to be empty. When Wendy catches him, the young man introduces himself as Peter, griping about the torn sleeve of his jean jacket. In a rush to get rid of him, Wendy offers to sew it back up if he would just leave and never return. Instead, Peter entices her with the promise of a fun night on the town with his recalcitrant companion Tinkerbelle who seems to take a dislike to Wendy right away.

Thinking, “Heck, why not?”, Wendy accepts and joins them on an adventure into the city, where she is almost immediately accosted by the lost boys due to a misunderstanding, and they take her to their home in the subway tunnels. Peter reveals to Wendy that they are being pursued by Detective Hook who is always looking for an excuse to put him behind bars, but luckily they pay a bruiser called the Crocodile to keep the police off their tail. As the night goes on though, Wendy’s initial fascination with Peter starts to fade as some of his true intentions and secrets become revealed.

I think the coolest part about contemporary retellings that forgo fantasy elements is that they often seem more creative when it comes to creating real-world analogues to the magical stuff. Surprisingly, the author was able to stay pretty true to Barrie’s classic, reimagining more parts of the story than I expected. She also kept the dark tone of the original, which many retellings tend to gloss over. Ancrum definitely dials up the edginess and grit for her version of Peter Pan though, adding a disturbing touch to the mix as well.

That said, the overall spin on the story feels very fresh and original. In part, this is due to the setting. As a Chicago native, Ancrum brings the night scene and the diversity of the city to vibrant life on the page. You might also recognize a lot of the side characters from the ones they were based on, but each one gets the modernized treatment yet still feels three-dimensional at the same time. I especially liked the relationship between Wendy and Tinkerbelle, as it is later revealed that the latter had her reasons for her animosity and tries to give our protagonist a warning about Peter.

The story was well-paced, but also a bit rough in some places. An effort was made at balancing the realism while trying to incorporate as many aspects of the original fairy tale all at once, and it didn’t always work out. Wendy decided to go along with Peter’s invitation much too quickly, for example, and I know teenagers can do some pretty dumb things, but come on! Along with that, there are many other places where you have to suspend disbelief—which I wouldn’t normally mind, but this is a contemporary retelling, and while Ancrum goes to great lengths to make the story seem more convincing, sometimes the there are cracks in the foundation.

But all told, I really did enjoy this. The audiobook which I listened was also well-narrated and I liked the voice of the reader, Angel Pean, who gave life to the characters, in some cases even filling out their personalities with her wonderful tones and expressiveness. It was a relatively short listen as well, and was exactly what I needed when I was looking for a YA book that was fast-paced and entertaining.

Bookshelf Roundup: 07/03/21: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads

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

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Received for Review

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

Okay, it’s going to be a quick update this week! With thanks to Titan Books for City of Iron and Dust by J.P. Oakes, a dark fantasy about a Fae rebellion against their Goblin oppressors, as well as Come With Me by Ronald Malfi, described as a small-town horror about a murdered woman and her husband who discovers she may not have been who he thought she was at all.

With thanks also to Orbit for a review copy of Notes from the Burning Age by Claire North. Even though her stuff has been hit or miss for me in the past, she always has such unique ideas so I’m interested to see what this one’s all about.

In the digital haul, thank you to Penguin Random House Audio for Star Wars: The Rising Storm by Cavan Scott, the latest novel in The High Republic series; Not A Happy Family by Shari Lapena, which I’m super excited about because she always writes good thrillers; and The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix, one of my most anticipated releases this summer!

Reviews

The Witness For the Dead by Katherine Addison (4.5 of 5 stars)
The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid (3.5 of 5 stars)
Red Widow by Alma Katsu (2.5 of 5 stars)

Roundup Highlights:

What I’ve Been Reading

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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!

Friday Face-Off: Landscape I’d Like To Visit

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:

~ a cover featuring a LANDSCAPE I’D LIKE TO VISIT

The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris

So what if Asgard isn’t real? I’d still love to visit. Highly entertaining and original, the novel I’m featuring today chronicles the epic rise of the Norse gods all the way through to the coming of Ragnarok, completely retold from the point of view of none other than the trickiest trickster of them all – Loki.

From left to right:
Gollancz (2014) – Saga Press Hardcover (2015)

Saga Press Paperback (2016) – Polish Edition (2015) – Italian Edition (2015)

 

Russian Edition A (2016) – Russian Edition B (2018) – Chinese Edition (2017)

Winner:

I won’t lie, I already had the Gollancz e in mind when I saw this week’s prompt. While the art is highly stylized, this is still one of my all-time favorite landscape covers.

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