Waiting on Wednesday 03/07/18

“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

Star Wars: Last Shot – A Han and Lando Novel by Daniel José Older (April 17, 2018 by Del Rey)

Holy crap, it’s a Star Wars book written by Daniel José Older, and it’s about Han Solo and Lando Calrissian! According to the publisher description, Last Shot will explore three eras in the lives of these two iconic characters ahead of the new movie Solo: A Star Wars Story. The hardback will also have a reversible dust jacket featuring the two cover designs:


“Even the fastest ship in the galaxy can’t outrun the past. . . .


It’s one of the galaxy’s most dangerous secrets: a mysterious transmitter with unknown power and a reward for its discovery that most could only dream of claiming. But those who fly the Millennium Falconthroughout its infamous history aren’t your average scoundrels. Not once, but twice, the crew of the Falcon tries to claim the elusive prize—first, Lando Calrissian and the droid L3-37 at the dawn of an ambitious career, and later, a young and hungry Han Solo with the help of his copilot, Chewbacca. But the device’s creator, the volatile criminal Fyzen Gor, isn’t interested in sharing. And Gor knows how to hold a grudge. . . .


It’s been ten years since the rebel hero Han Solo last encountered Fyzen Gor. After mounting a successful rebellion against the Empire and starting a family with an Alderaanian princess, Han hasn’t given much thought to the mad inventor. But when Lando turns up at Han’s doorstep in the middle of the night, it’s Fyzen’s assassins that he’s running from. And without Han’s help, Lando—and all life on Cloud City—will be annihilated.

With the assistance of a young hotshot pilot, an Ewok slicer prodigy, the woman who might be the love of Lando’s life, and Han’s best and furriest friend, the two most notorious scoundrels in the New Republic are working together once more. They’ll have to journey across the stars—and into the past—before Gor uses the device’s power to reshape the galaxy.”


Book Review: The Hunger by Alma Katsu

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

The Hunger by Alma Katsu

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Horror, Historical Fiction

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons (March 6, 2018)

Length: 400 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

The tragedy of the Donner Party is retold with a supernatural twist in The Hunger, a dark mix of historical fiction and horror. For context, in the May of 1846 a wagon train led by George Donner and James Reed set out from Independence, Missouri like so many other pioneer families hoping to settle a new life in California. Instead of following the typical route, however, the Donner Party opted to travel the new Hastings Cutoff, encountering poor terrain and other difficulties that slowed them down considerably, until they became trapped in heavy snowfall somewhere in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Many of the party died, and some of the survivors allegedly resorted to cannibalism to stay alive.

Alma Katsu’s re-imagining of this journey—while staying true to many of the real-life people, places, and events—also plays to the mystery surrounding the terrible fate of the Donner Party, injecting a speculative element in the form of supernatural horror. While one could argue that the facts are already horrific enough, the author takes the suffering, terror, and dread even further still in this Oregon Trail story from hell that makes dysentery seem like a cakewalk. The Hunger follows several characters from the group of almost 90 members in the Donner Party, including Tamsen Donner, George’s wife; James Reed, the co-leader of the group; Mary Graves, a young woman from a large family traveling with the wagon train; and Charles Stanton, a bachelor traveling with the party with no relatives. In addition, periodic interludes are provided in the form of letters written by a journalist named Edwin Bryant, who has undertaken his own journey into the wilderness to conduct research on the mystical traditions of the Native American tribes living in the area.

Many of the other families are mentioned as well, bringing the number of people involved in this book to a staggering figure. The result? Virtually limitless potential for complex character dynamics and fascinating relationships. And indeed, Katsu made sure to take full advantage of this, giving her characters interesting backgrounds full of scandal, controversies, and mischiefs. For many, starting a new life also meant leaving the old one behind along with painful, unwanted memories. Flashbacks are provided for most of the major characters, explaining their reasons for heading west. These backstories also explained many of their motivations, and gradually revealed hidden pasts. After all, secrets don’t last for long in conditions such as these, where travelers lived cheek to jowl within cramped confines, sharing spaces with multiple families.

As you can imagine, disagreements and bitter rivalries also occurred pretty often, and these clashes only intensified as the Donner Party ran into more problems. In books like The Hunger, the horror aspect usually comes at you at multiple angles. First there is the stifling terror of the unknown, and of course people fear the supernatural because it is impossible to understand. But more frightening still is the underlying darkness of human nature that reveals itself when pushed to extremes. There are two kinds of monsters in this book: the literal kind, but also the kind that good people turn into when they feel trapped or if they or their families are being threatened. Stress, paranoia, and desperation all play a part in this tale, making the horrific aspects feel even deeper, more distressing and malignant.

From the moment the mutilated body of a missing boy is found at the beginning of the book, I was wrapped up in the story’s suspense. Graphic descriptions and scenes of violence are used to create horror, but as always, I found that the most nerve-wracking aspects came not so much from what’s written on the page, but rather from what we don’t get to see and from what’s implied. The author utilized these effects to great advantage, slowly dropping hints and details here and there, all the while sowing dissent among the party with spiteful rumors, arguments, and jealousies. An atmosphere of suspense was kept up for the most part, though because of all the POV switches and number of flashbacks involved, these tensions were frequently interrupted. However, this was just a minor nitpick, and besides, considering the amount of character development we got out of it, I deemed it to be a worthy trade-off.

The Hunger would be perfect for fans of dark historical fiction, especially if you are drawn to the period of American history which saw a great number of families leave their homes in the east for the west coast. Alma Katsu does not shy away from the details of hardship and sacrifice while on the trail though, so be prepared for a harsh and unflinching look at life as a pioneer. Readers with a taste for horror will probably enjoy this even more, and those familiar with the bizarre and macabre details of the true Donner Party will no doubt appreciate the author’s attempts to spice up the episode with a supernatural twist. All in all, a standout read.

Guest Post: “The Self-Publishing Catch-22” by M.D. Presley

Today, the BiblioSanctum is excited to help spread the word about Sigil Independent, a new writing guild started by a group of self-published fantasy authors including many Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO) alumni like Phil Tucker, Dyrk Aston, inaugural winner Michael McClung, and several other semi-finalists from the previous year.

The following is a part of their mission statement from their website:

“Like it or not, all self-published authors carry with them the stigma of being a self-published author. With the newfound ease of self-publishing, the traditional gatekeepers no longer hold utter sway and any individual with an idea, internet connection, and fifteen minutes for an upload can call him or herself an author. As such, many self-published books now inundate audiences with errors and amateurism the traditional gatekeepers never would have allowed.

However, as Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off has demonstrated, there’s also a lot of untapped talent out there in the self-published Fantasy realms, often catering to subgenres traditional publishers aren’t interested in. These self-published authors operate on par with their traditionally published peers but lack the means to achieve audience awareness as they endeavor individually. 

To overcome this, SIGIL has formed a guild of like-minded self-published Fantasy authors intent on utilizing traditionally published best practices to ensure our audiences receive the best possible self-published product.”

Needless to say, it’s amazing that SPFBO continues to inspire initiatives like this, and one of Sigil’s founding members, M.D. Presley, has very graciously written us a guest post to help kick off their outreach. If you can, please give them a look and show your support by checking out other fun things on their website like this personality test or download a free sampler book to get to know their authors. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this post by Mr. Presley!

by M.D. Presley

There’s a famous saying among screenwriters in Hollywood: “You can’t sell a script unless you’ve got an agent, and you can’t get an agent without first selling a script.” This little logical conundrum isn’t entirely accurate, but it does touch upon the truth that no producer wants an untested product.

The same catch-22 exists for authors as well in that, to get readers you need reviews, but to get reviews you need readers. But this paradox is compounded exponentially for self-publishers because we carry with us the stigma of being self-published. Because the author in question did not go the traditional route it’s implicitly understood this was because they could not make the qualitative cut.

Don’t believe me? Go check out your favorite book blogger and check out their review policy. Chances are it will contain some variation of this refrain “we do not accept self-published novels.” If the blogger is particularly open minded, it will include this addendum “we do not accept self-published novels unless we are already familiar with the author.

And therein lies the rub: Self-published authors cannot get noticed by book bloggers unless they’ve already been noticed by said book bloggers. And being that word of mouth is the biggest driver in readers giving a new novel a shot, self-publishers are already several steps behind when it comes to launching a new book.

But one aspect of this interaction between authors and book bloggers/ reviewers bears greater scrutiny: What separates an unproven debut novel from a traditional publisher from an unproven debut novel from a self-publisher? The answer lies in the seal of approval of the publisher itself: If the reviewer knows and likes other novels from the publisher, it is expected that any new novels will be of equal quality.

Novels under a traditional publisher share a brand of quality, one that we at Sigil Independent seek to emulate. Although made up entirely of self-publishers, many of which you’ll be familiar with if you follow Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off since we sport many finalists in our stable, we at Sigil Independent retain full control over our works. In fact, Sigil members pay no dues since we’re not a business by any means.

Instead, we’re a guild that aims to create a shared brand of quality; if you’ve already enjoyed at least one of our authors (and honestly, you probably should have already if you regularly follow fantasy book bloggers), you can expect that our other authors are on par in terms of quality. If you’ve given one of us a shot, you should probably see if any of our other nine authors are your cup of tea.

To aid audiences in discovering some of the best self-published fantasy out there, we at Sigil have issued a FREE 500+ page book containing samples of all our authors. And to make matters more interesting and connect readers with the book they are most likely to enjoy, we’ve set up a little questionnaire in the form of a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure story in the prologue (so, for goodness sakes, don’t skip the prologue!) which will immediately take you to the sample that will hopefully spark your new interest in self-published authors to help break that insidious catch-22 cycle.

Other quizzes, author bios, and freebies can be found at our website, www.sigilindependent.com. We can also be found on Facebook at Sigil Independent and Twitter @sigilindie.


A Texan transplant living in California, MD Presley isn’t nearly as clever as he thinks he is. With a background in screenwriting, he fled to publishing with his flintlock fantasy series when the reality of Hollywood got to be a bit too much. A founding member of Sigil Independent, he also blogs weekly at the not-so-creatively-named www.mdpresley.com and tweets on occasion @md_presley.

And no, he’s not related to Elvis. Thanks for asking.

Book Review: Zero Day by Ezekiel Boone

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

Zero Day by Ezekiel Boone

Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Genre: Horror, Thriller

Series: Book 3 of The Hatching

Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books (February 27, 2018)

Length: 322 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Zero Day closes out Ezekiel Boone’s The Hatching trilogy, bringing an end to the spider apocalypse—though it’s anyone’s guess which side will prevail. Since emerging from an ancient egg sac unearthed beneath Peru’s Nazca Lines, these eight-legged menaces have multiplied into the millions, swarming the globe and paralyzing all aspects of life. In the United States, President Stephanie Pilgrim has carried out the unthinkable, targeting dozens of American cities with tactical nukes, but still the threat remains. All it would take is one single spider to get past their guard, and thousands more people would die.

The time has come for a more permanent solution, and humanity’s last chance lies in a theory postulated by Dr. Melanie Guyer who believes all the spiders in the world are linked through their queens. Her hypothesis is simple: kill the queens, and without their leadership, the rest of the swarm should lose their ability to coordinate their movements and die.

However, not everyone close to the President agrees with this plan, claiming that it is too risky. More drastic measures are proposed to destroy all the spiders and not just the queens, creating a rift within the U.S. government. Meanwhile, those around the world who have managed to survive the initial waves of death are continuing to hunker down or fight, doing what they can to prevent the further spread of what has been dubbed the “Hell Spiders”.

I had a fun time with this novel, but I’m also not going to lie; I expected more from a finale. Like the two previous volumes, this final installment is told through a number of different perspectives, showing us how the spider apocalypse is unfolding around the world. That said, most of the main storyline is centered on the American East Coast, where President Pilgrim and her allies face opposition and eventual revolt from dissenters within her own cabinet. As a result, many of the other POVs are greatly diminished, leaving some of the characters with no role in the conflict resolution whatsoever.

Needless to say, I found this disappointing, especially since a few of the characters I’ve come to love were only briefly mentioned or were given perfunctory page time just to remind us that they were still around. In addition, many of the POV transitions felt awkward and ill-timed, almost like the author was struggling to find a balance, and not entirely succeeding. Instead of flowing smoothly, the narrative kept being disrupted or derailed by these frequent POV switches, some of which didn’t even feel all that necessary.

Still, these issues paled beside the one flaw I could not overlook: there simply weren’t enough spiders! This distinct lack of arachnid-fueled action, especially in the first half, was probably my biggest complaint, and unfortunately, not even the ending which saw the spiders return in full force could really make up for it. Recall in my review of Skitter, where I had praised Boone for upping the ante by making things bigger, better, and bloodier. Compared to its predecessor, however, this book felt like a giant step back. Too much of the story was focused on the human vs. human drama, when the attention should have been given to the spiders (which, in my opinion, are the real stars of the show).

For these reasons, I felt Zero Day really missed its mark in terms of offering a satisfying conclusion. Not only did it skimp on the spiders, the plot also failed to bring anything new to the table, falling back on time-worn clichés like the Hive Queen trope and the good old military coup. And yet, for all its faults, the book was a quick read and provided solid entertainment, which is what saved it from a lower rating. All things considered, it’s probably worth finishing the trilogy if you’ve already come this far, because you’ll want to find out how things end. But while I’m not sorry I read Zero Day, it’s just a shame that the series didn’t end as strongly as it started, and I personally felt it was the weakest of the three books.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of The Hatching (Book 1)
Review of Skitter (Book 2)

Book Review: A Time of Dread by John Gwynne

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

A Time of Dread by John Gwynne

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Epic Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of Of Blood and Bone

Publisher: Orbit (February 20, 2018)

Length: 512 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

This was my first time reading John Gwynne, and wow, he is the real deal, folks. Now I wish I had jumped on board his Faithful and the Fallen series when I had the chance. However, I am glad I was able to read his new book, A Time of Dread, which is the start of a new trilogy called Of Blood and Bone.

Set in the same world as Gwynne’s previous series, this novel takes place approximately 120 years after Wrath, its concluding volume. Thankfully, you don’t have to be familiar with anything that happened before, since this story is designed in such a way that even newcomers like me could pick it up with ease. Peace had finally come to the Land of the Faithful, following the defeat of Kadoshim hordes led by their commander Asroth. The race of warrior angels known as the Ben-Elim, who fought alongside the humans and giants to victory, now rule from their fortress of Drassil, hunting down the remnants of their enemy. The demonic hordes of the Kadoshim may be shattered and their leader imprisoned, but Asroth still has many faithful followers who are out there committing the worst kinds of atrocities, hoping that their side will one day rise again.

In true epic fantasy fashion, A Time of Dread is told through the perspectives of less than four characters, starting with Bleda, a young prince from a warrior tribe who was taken from his home to become a ward of the Ben-Elim in order to promote peace between their peoples. Feeling out of place at Drassil, he nonetheless trains with the other fighters so that he can fit in and help his hosts defend their fortress. Next up is Drem, a boy who was raised in the wilderness by his nomadic father, who taught his son all kinds of survival skills like how to trap and hunt. One day, Drem stumbles upon a number of mutilated corpses in the forest, a clear sign that demonic black magic may be at work. Then there’s Riv, another warrior-in-training within the walls of Drassil, who hopes to one day join her mother and sister in the ranks of the White Wings, the elite soldiers of the Ben-Elim. And finally, there’s Sig, who was apparently a side character in the Faithful and the Fallen series, but now she gets her chance to shine as a major POV. A bear-riding giantess, Sig is partnered with the Ben-Elim, patrolling the area for any threats.

This may seem like a lot to take in, but the novel starts off at measured pace and introduces each element of the world gradually, filling in its rich history and the characters’ backgrounds. This narrative steadily broadens as we move from within the confines of fortresses into the wider spheres beyond, focusing on the big picture and the roles our main characters play within this framework. Some of them are linked almost right away, such as the interactions between Riv and Bleda hinting at a burgeoning relationship between them, while others like Drem lie in wait in the sidelines until the time comes for his involvement in the story’s overall conflict.

Of course, as with most multi-POV books, I had my personal favorites like Sig. However, because of how well the author balanced character development, I felt I could connect with any of them no matter how often the focus switched between them. I found all of them equally compelling, my heart going out to Bleda for his bravery and determination to do what’s right no matter what, Riv for her genuine personality even though she can be quite temperament and impulsive at times, Drem for his independence and resilience to bounce back from tragedy and loss, and Sig for her loyalty and the great wisdom she has acquired over her long life. Each character had something useful to bring to the table, not to mention different reasons to cheer for them, and together they gave this book an eclectic assortment of personalities and viewpoints, keeping things interesting.

The only criticism I have is the slow pacing of the first half, but quite honestly, it’s a common enough pattern when it comes to epic fantasy series openers, so I’m certainly not going to hold that against the novel too much. There was also a lot of world-building to establish and plenty of characters to introduce, so the extra time spent on these details was necessary, not to mention the fascinating tidbits of lore revealed from the previous series also made it all worth it.

In the end, I’m glad I got to finally read John Gwynne, and A Time of Dread was a very good place to start. While the story may have been slower to take off, the second half of the book was incredibly thrilling and intense, leaving me thoroughly entranced and eager to continue the saga.

Friday Face-Off: Greek Mythology

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:

“The only true wisdom is to know that you know nothing”
~ a cover featuring something from GREEK MYTHOLOGY

Mogsy’s Pick:
Morning Star by Pierce Brown

This week’s topic was a challenge. The only book I could find on my shelves that even remotely fits the theme is Morning Star, and only because one of its editions features Ares, the Greek god of war, a likely reference to the Sons of Ares, the underground resistance group that fights against the Golds and their oppressive rule. In this final novel of the Red Rising trilogy, protagonist Darrow and his allies are risking everything to break the chains and unmake the world of their cruel masters.

Let’s take a look at the covers:

From left to right, top to bottom:
Del Rey (2016) – Bulgarian Edition (2017) – Greek Edition (2017)
Persian Edition (2017) – Polish Edition (2016) – Serbian Edition (2016)




I own the edition published by Del Rey, the cover of which I’ve never really liked, to be honest. It’s kind of boring, and doesn’t exactly scream “exciting finale!” if you ask me. Can’t say I love any of the other covers either, because most of them are either just as dull or way too busy. For my winner, I guess I’ll just have to go with the one I dislike the least, which is the Bulgarian Edition.

But what do you think? Do you have a favorite?

Book Review: Daughters of the Storm by Kim Wilkins

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

Daughters of the Storm by Kim Wilkins

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of Blood and Gold

Publisher: Del Rey (March 6, 2018)

Length: 448 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Combining magical fantasy and family drama, Daughters of the Storm follows the lives of five royal sisters who could not be any more different—unless you count each of them struggling with a bevy of personal problems as something in common. Bluebell, the eldest, is a fierce warrior, who has her sights on becoming the first ruling queen. Next is Ash, whose mystical abilities are developing much faster than she can handle. Then there’s Rose, trapped in an unhappy marriage to a king in a neighboring land, when in fact her heart belongs to her husband’s nephew, who also secretly fathered her child. The youngest are the twins, Ivy and Willow, who are both inexperienced and naïve in their own ways. The former is a self-obsessed girl whose only source of happiness lies in what others think about her, and the latter has secretly become a passionate convert of a religion that her family disapproves of.

Growing up, the sisters have not been particularly close, following their own individual paths. But when news arrives that their father is dying, the five of them must reunite again and figure out what to do. Bluebell, who has always worshipped her father, is convinced that his illness is caused by dark magic and suspects her stepmother of being the one to curse him. To Bluebell’s further chagrin, her stepbrother has also arrived at the news of the king’s impending death, and she fears that he may be working with his mother to seize the throne.

Daughters of the Storm felt like it was written for fantasy fans who enjoy complex family sagas and reading about the ups and downs of strained sibling relationships. It felt like there was little conflict in the story otherwise, as the truth behind the king’s mysterious illness became revealed shortly after the introduction, not to mention we also found out the antagonist’s endgame just as early. While there was a smattering of action and intrigue thrown in here and there, this was definitely more of a family drama, though let me be clear: I don’t want anyone to think I’m using this description disparagingly. After all, family dramas can be wildly entertaining and addictive, if the characters are written well and the author succeeds in making me care about them. And considering how quickly I devoured this book, I’d say Kim Wilkins might be on to something here.

If Daughters of the Storm had a main protagonist, the closest would be Bluebell. As the oldest of the sisters, she is also the most accomplished (at least in my eyes). A warrior princess who has won many battles, she strikes fear into the hearts of men and even kings tremble at the sound of her name. Bluebell was also my favorite character, though I admit this might have something to do with the fact that all the other sisters were so unlikable. Not that Bluebell herself was perfect, but she did strike me as having a good grip on her life and knowing her priorities, which is more than I could say for Rose, Ash, Willow, or Ivy. The twins were the worst; just about everything they said or did evoked a powerful desire in me to slap or throttle them, and of course, this only increased my sympathy for Bluebell, the person whom everyone turned to when they needed help. Bluebell, who already had her hands full trying to keep her father’s kingdom from tearing itself apart, was always the one expected to fix things for her little sisters, and despite her harsh demeanor, her love for her family meant that most of the time she would try and do her best, even when the sheer stupidity or selfishness of her siblings threated to bring all her hard work tumbling down.

Still, my dislike of most of the characters notwithstanding, I did have a good time with this book. It would be more accurate to say I “loved to hate” many of the younger sisters, who were all infuriating in their own way, but that didn’t mean I didn’t have fun following their antics. The best characters are those who refuse to play by the rules—who do what they want, when they want—and you could indeed make the case that each of the sisters were unscrupulous and incredibly self-serving to some degree. What truly impressed me was how the author turned this aspect into the story’s greatest strength, since many of her dubious characters were also those who received some of the best characterization and development. Their stories were just as entertaining to follow, and I can’t say I ever grew tired of reading about what happened with them. In other words, cheering on the good guys is well and good, but sometimes, watching unlikable characters dig themselves deeper or get their comeuppance can be just as satisfying.

If this trend continues, I could probably be convinced to read the sequel. After all, I like my stories to focus on characters above anything else, and it certainly doesn’t get any more character-driven than this. Daughters of the Storm will not be for everyone—especially if you prefer action-oriented fantasy or are looking for something with a little more political intrigue—but if you are drawn to the irresistible call of tangled relationships and fascinating family dynamics, then this is the book for you.

Waiting on Wednesday 02/28/18

“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 Chrysalis by Brendan Deneen (September 4, 2018 by Tor Books)

It’s been a while since I’ve felt this excited for a horror novel, and this one, described as “The dark side of ‘adulting'” and of suburban life gone awry, sounds like it has some very interesting ideas to offer.

“Forced out of New York City by rising rents and gentrification, barely-employed millennials Tom and Jenny Decker–an artist and a personal trainer–luck into an amazingly affordable, completely furnished house in the New Jersey suburbs.

Jenny doesn’t know there’s something hidden in the basement. Tom does. It soon has him in thrall.

The Deckers’ lives are suddenly on an upswing: Tom gets a big-bucks corporate job. Jenny, pregnant, opens a small gym catering to moms-to-be. They make friends despite their worries about becoming boring suburbanites. Tom regularly visits the basement, where the thing scrambles his senses and heightens his emotions, making him feel like a Master of the Universe.

Every upswing has its peak. After that, comes the fall. Tom’s is going to be hard and fast.

A fast-paced novel that combines chills, thrills, and a literal monster in the basement with commentary on love, marriage, and parenthood, The Chrysalis will entertain and frighten Millennials and Baby Boomers alike. No one ever really wants to grow up…but sometimes behaving like an adult is the only way to survive.”

Book Review: Winter Sisters by Robin Oliveira

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

Winter Sisters by Robin Oliveira

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Suspense

Series: Book 2 of Mary Sutter

Publisher: Viking (February 27, 2018)

Length: 416 pages

Author Information: Website

I picked up Winter Sisters thinking it would be a mystery-thriller, when in fact it turned out to be more of an atmospheric historical drama. That said, this was a poignant and fantastic novel; its plot, which started as a slow-builder, quickly saw its tensions rise to become a series of heart-pounding events, eventually culminating in a courtroom scene of epic proportions. Even better, this second installment of the Mary Sutter series can be enjoyed as a standalone without having to read the first book.

It is 1879, and the city of Albany, New York finds itself pummeled by one of the greatest blizzards of the century. Tragedy strikes the O’Donnells as both parents are killed, and in the whiteout conditions, their daughters 10-year-old Emma and 7-year-old Claire go missing. Mary Sutter, who is close to the family, is devastated by the deaths of her friends and the disappearance of their two little girls. Determined to find them, Mary writes to her mother and niece in Paris, who quickly return to America to join in the search effort.

For weeks, Mary and her relatives continue to ask questions and look around, refusing to give up on Emma and Claire despite pushback from members of their community. The police are no help either, having long since declared the girls dead, and a funeral was even held for them with their parents. A tip from an unexpected source, however, gives Mary a different but disturbing new perspective on her search. The more she digs, the more she discovers about the dirty secrets and corruption in her city.

Well, if you’ve read the book, then you’ll know what happened to the girls. If not, I’m not going to say, but I will warn that the details are awful and tough to read. This book is not for the faint of heart and if you know reading about terrible atrocities committed on innocents (especially children) will upset you, I would recommend against picking this up. The story is told in roughly three parts: first, the set-up with the blizzard and the disappearance of Emma and Claire; second, the search for the girls and the result of those efforts; and finally, the aftermath along with the criminal trial. The first part is probably the slowest, with the pacing picking up around halfway through the second. I won’t deny getting through the first half of the book was at times a struggle, but the courtroom drama at the end made it all worth it.

As stated above, you do not need to read the first book, My Name is Mary Sutter, in order to follow the story of Winter Sisters. As a matter of fact, the prime focus appears to be on the case of the missing girls, with all the characters involved feeling almost incidental. Mary, however, is like the glue that holds everything together; everyone has a connection to her in some way, so that readers get a wider and more detailed perspective. A former Civil War surgeon, Mary now operates a clinic with her husband, though she also defies the laws by giving treatment to those who would not otherwise have access to medical attention, such as prostitutes. As I have a soft spot for historical characters who are female doctors, Mary was a joy to read about, and I loved her fierce passion for her job and her conviction to do what’s right. In an era where the medical profession (and society in general) was dominated by men, our protagonist rebelled against social norms and fought hard to give girls and women a voice. It made me want to pick up the first book for a chance to get to know her better, as well as to read about her experiences in the Civil War.

Winter Sisters was also a gut-wrenching read at times, and there were certainly moments of anger, horror, or frustration where I just wanted to squeeze my eyes shut and scream myself hoarse. But there were also plenty of tender, touching scenes involving family and friendship, not to mention the role of love in healing from trauma. I thought the author treated all her characters with the sensitivity and patience they deserved throughout their personal and collective experiences, allowing us to connect to them on a deeply emotional level.

All told, Winter Sisters was a powerful, richly written novel. Robin Oliveira transports readers to post-Civil War era New York, delivering a historical drama that is both heart-rending and full of suspense. With the caveat that some of the more horrific and disturbing details can make this one too unbearable to read at times, I still think fans of courtroom intrigue will especially enjoy the book’s plot and the way it ends. If you’re anything like me though, you’ll probably find the characters and their relationships to be the novel’s greatest strengths. Overall, I enjoyed this novel and would recommend it with all my heart.

Guest Post: “Working Out The Rules of Interstellar Travel” by Gareth L. Powell

Today the BiblioSanctum is pleased to welcome author Gareth L. Powell, author of Embers of War, the first in a three part science fiction series described to be perfect for fans of Ann Leckie, Alastair Reynolds and Adrian Tchaikovsky! The central character of the novel is a sentient starship, called the Troubled Dog. Following a brutal war and disgusted at herself for the role she played in the atrocities, she decides to atone by joining an organization dedicated to helping out ships in distress. Together with her new crew led by Sal Konstanz, a captain who actually once fought against Troubled Dog, they set out to investigate reports of a lost ship in a disputed system, hoping to save as many as they can. Published by Titan Books, Embers of War is now available wherever books are sold, so be sure to check it out! In the meantime, please enjoy this guest post by Mr. Powell on a most fascinating space opera topic – starships and space travel!

by Gareth L. Powell

Space travel is one of the staples of science fiction. Characters move from one planet to another. They set out into the starry unknown in search of adventure, glory, or vengeance—but as a writer, knowing how their starships work has a profound effect on the type of story we’re trying to write.

For instance, our first decision—whether our spaceships can fly faster-than-light or not—dictates the timescale of our story. If we decide to stick with the currently accepted laws of physics, it’s likely our heroes will have to enter some form of cryogenic sleep in order to prevent them dying of old age before they reach their destination. And if their journey takes more than a couple of decades, the world they left will be profoundly changed by the time they return, and some of their friends will have died in the interim.

Good examples of this temporal displacement can be found in Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds, The Forever War by Joe Haldeman, and A Deepness In The Sky by Vernor Vinge.

However, if you’d like to move your characters from one place to another on a scale of days or weeks rather than centuries, you’re going to have to invent some sort of faster-than-light drive.

But, just as fantasy writers have to invent rules and limitations for the way magic works in their worlds, so SF authors have to work out a set a guidelines for how their spaceships behave. After all, if a ship can just go anywhere in the galaxy in the blink of an eye, there would be no way to defend planets or bases from attack. Hostile armadas could pop into orbit, unload a thousand warheads, and be a hundred light years away before the first one had exploded. Space battles would be impossible if ships could just leap away at any second. And how would economies function if you could import fresh produce from Betelgeuse as cheaply as buying it from the farm up the road?

Now, before you panic, I’m not asking you to describe exactly how your starship’s jump drives actually work. If you knew that, you wouldn’t have to write a book, as NASA would currently be showering you with money and asking you to build one! Instead, I’m suggesting you come up with some limitations. After all, you don’t have to be able to describe the inner workings of an internal combustion engine in order to know that your average car can’t travel at 8,000 mph or operate under water.

Classic ways of limiting FTL include putting upper limits on the distance a ship can jump at any one time, and forbidding jump engines from working inside a planet’s gravity well. In Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s classic first contact doorstop, Mote In God’s Eye, resonances between stars mean jump engines only work if activated at a particular point within a system. In the TV series Babylon 5, most ships have to use a network of star gates, and only the largest ships have the power to open their own ‘gates’ into hyperspace. In both cases, it becomes possible to blockade a star system by occupying the jump point or star gate—and it can also lead to thrilling chases and battles, as ships try to slog across the system to reach the next gate or jump point. This kind of travel forms the basis of Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series, in which the remnants of a defeated navy have to travel the long way back through occupied territory, jumping from one system to the next while trying to avoid dead ends and ambushes.

In my new novel, Embers of War, I allow ship to take shortcuts through the ‘higher dimensions’—a place where the usual laws of physics are mutable and the speed of light can be exceeded. I liken the process to a dolphin leaping out of the water into the air. For a moment it finds itself moving through a different medium, where it moves faster because the water no longer drags on it.

However, in order to give my characters time to interact and get to know each other, I’ve had to impose a speed limit on higher dimensional travel. It isn’t instantaneous. In order to make the jump, a ship has to build up speed, kind of like the Delorean in Back To The Future. Then, once it’s in the hypervoid, its engines power it forward at roughly five light years per day. This means journeys can take days or weeks, and regular fuel stops need to be made to keep the engines powering the ships forward.

Whatever you decide, the way your starships move will shape your story, for good or ill. But learning to live with the limitations you impose will help make your story more interesting and authentic, and give your characters more obstacles to overcome.


Gareth L. Powell is an award-winning author from the UK. His alternate history thriller, Ack-Ack Macaque won the 2013 BSFA Award for Best Novel, spawned two sequels, and was shortlisted in the Best Translated Novel category for the 2016 Seiun Awards in Japan. His short fiction has appeared in a host of magazines and anthologies, including Interzone, Solaris Rising 3, and The Year’s Best Science Fiction, and his story ‘Ride The Blue Horse’ made the shortlist for the 2015 BSFA Award.

Embers of War by Gareth L. Powell is published by Titan Books. You can find Gareth on Twitter @garethlpowell