Book Review: Where Loyalties Lie by Rob J. Hayes

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

Where Loyalties Lie by Rob J. Hayes

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of Best Laid Plans

Publisher: Rob J. Hayes (May 24, 2017)

Length: 372 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Grimdark on the high seas! Sweeter words have never been spoken. I’ve always had a taste for maritime fantasy, so when the chance arose to review Where Loyalties Lie, how could I say no? And the fact that it has pirates in it was simply the icing on the cake.

But while I’d never before had the pleasure of reading Rob J. Hayes, I’m familiar enough with his style to know that his pirates would be the real deal—not the watered down, unobjectionably mild sort you usually see catered to general audiences. His protagonist Captain Drake Morass is exemplary of this, being one of the most brutal and bloodthirsty bastards sailing in these fair isles. Needless to say, he’s also not a man who takes too kindly to being hunted. As Drake and his crew stand witness to a pirate town being slaughtered and burned to the ground by naval forces, he realizes that his way of life may be fast coming to an end…unless someone decides to rise up and fight back. Quickly, an idea begins to hatch in his mind. First, he will unite all the pirates. Next, they will form their own little pirate kingdom, where they will be able to govern and defend themselves. And naturally, Drake will be their glorious leader.

However, Drake’s plans are not without their obstacles. For one thing, his reputation as a dastardly pirate precedes him, and getting any of the other captains to sign on to his campaign will be difficult—unless, of course, he can find someone trustworthy to vouch for him. This is where Captain Keelin Stillwater enters the picture. A practical man, Stillwater is not your typical pirate, preferring more civilized resolutions to conflicts over bloody mayhem if at all possible. He is also one hell of a swordsman and holds a certain level of respect among his fellow pirates, so his word would go a long way to legitimizing Drake’s grand scheme. Together, the two of them will also have to come together to face another threat—Tanner Black. As leader of the most feared pirate fleet on the open seas, Black is setting his sights to dethrone Drake Morass even before he can establish his pirate utopia. To complicate matters is also Tanner’s daughter Elaina Black, who has a past with Stillwater. Torn between her feelings for Keelin and her loyalties to her father, she is something of a wild card who will play a significant role in determining the outcome of this epic ocean-faring saga.

Passion, pride, and fierce ambitions come together in this enthralling adventure full of violence and grit. After a slow-burning start, the surprises come at us fast and thick as the plot takes off in the second half, all set against a backdrop of tensions and hostilities. It’s interesting to note that the pirates of this world have their own politics, so with that also comes the mercurial alliances and betrayals, not to mention their own set of rules and piratical codes of conduct. Anything can happen at all, which makes one wonder if Drake Morass might be in way over his head trying to unite this rough bunch of thieves and miscreants, most of whom are only out for themselves.

After all, it’s not easy being a pirate, especially in the world of Hayes’ First Earth. As I mentioned before, Where Loyalties Lie was my first introduction to the author’s distinctive brand of dark fantasy—which I found to be as brutal and visceral as it was reputed to be. If you’ve come for the raging sea battles and bloody ship takeovers, then you’ll be in for a treat. However, be forewarned as well that depictions of murder, torture and rape are frequent, tossed out almost nonchalantly and often described in graphic detail—not in a way that’s intended to be flippant, mind you, but simply because this is the way of this novel’s world. It’s best, therefore, to avoid this one if you don’t think you can stomach these kinds of horrors, for the threat of violence is an everyday reality for the characters, and the story never lets you forget it. This book is grimdark in its purest form, and it is not ashamed to flaunt the fact.

For the genre, the characters are also as you would expect—most of them are capable of doing great evil, with a few who have some admirable qualities. Admittedly, as with a lot of grimdark novels I wish there had been more variety in the personalities, though there were still enough surprises to keep me guessing at their motives and actions. I also didn’t get a good feel for Drake Morass until later in the novel, largely because the slow build-up in the first half, though I’ve also heard that he is a character—albeit a minor one—from Hayes’ The Ties That Bind trilogy and I can’t help but wonder if not having read the previous series might have played into my initial disconnect with him. That said, the good news is that this is merely a minor issue; by the time the story got going, there is no doubt that I became fully engaged with every single one of these characters, especially once all their potential and intentions were revealed.

Bottom line, for fans of grimdark and pirates, Where Loyalties Lie will be like your dream come true, capable of satisfying the most ferocious appetites for gritty, brutal, and violent nautical fantasy. It is a solid first volume, doing a superb job of establishing the series’ colorful characters and themes, and I am looking forward to the next installment.

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

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

With thanks to Orbit Books for the following new arrivals: The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin is the third and final volume of The Broken Earth series which I’ve been enjoying so far, but I think how I feel about this trilogy as a whole will depend highly on how this one turns out. I’m also looking forward to Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw, a fun looking debut featuring a cool mash-up of urban fantasy and classic gothic literature elements. Hoping I can start this soon! And finally I also received an ARC of The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso, the first volume of a new epic fantasy series coming out this fall. I’m really curious about this one.

Thanks also to Pyr for sending me this finished copy of A Kiss Before Doomsday by Laurence MacNaughton! In case you haven’t seen my review for the book yet, check it out! From the amazing Tor team, I also received an ARC of Last Chance by Gregg Hurwitz, the sequel to last year’s The Rains. It’s a zombie series with a pretty absurd premise, but the first book was fun so I might give the second a try. And speaking of sequels, Communication Failure by Joe Zieja is the follow up to Mechanical Failure, a comedic sci-fi adventure in space. With thanks to the author and Saga Press for the ARC.

Earlier this month I also received a finished copy of Halls of Law by V.M. Escalada from the kind folks at DAW Books. And late last week, literally just a few days after my request on NetGalley was accepted for Artemis by Andy Weir, I actually received a surprise ARC in the mail! I always love having a physical copy to curl up with though, thanks Crown Books! Finally, you might recall from one of my book hauls last month where I received an unsolicited ARC to the sequel of The Supernaturals by David L. Golemon. I had lamented the fact I haven’t read the first book, but to my joy, the publisher actually came to my rescue and sent me a copy. Big thanks to Thomas Dunne Books!

  

  

 

After a couple months of nothing that interested me, First to Read finally got me to part with my points for Nyxia by Scott Reintgen and Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi, two highly anticipated YA fall releases that I had on my radar. I’ve also been on a mystery-thriller kick lately, which is why I just couldn’t resist when I was sent an invitation to read The Blackbird Season by Kate Moretti. The book’s description sounds amazing and it really piqued my interest. From NetGalley I also requested House of Ash by Hope Cook after learning about it from another blogger, because I’m always on the lookout for good YA Horror. My thanks to all the publishers.

And if you’re a fan of sci-fi and/or audiobooks, then you’ve also probably heard about the breakout hit We Are Legion (We Are Bob) by Dennis E. Taylor. With the third book on the horizon, I was recently offered the full trilogy in ebook format for review. Pretty much everyone I know who has read/listened to this series has been raving about it, so I’m really excited to check it out. With thanks to the Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency.

In the audio stack: Raid by K.S. Merbeth is a companion novel to the post-apocalyptic canabaliscious thriller Bite that I really enjoyed last year, with thanks to Hachette Audio. Next up, it’s media tie-ins galore, starting with The X-Files: Cold Cases, a full-cast audio-drama from Audible Studios based on the graphic novels by Joe Harris – and yes, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson as well as many cast members from the original show are involved with the narration!

Then it’s Star Wars time with Battlefront II: Inferno Squad by Christie Golden, a novel that takes place in the aftermath of Rogue One. It also serves as a prequel to the upcoming video game Star Wars: Battlefront II, which I’ll be playing the crap out of come this November, if my experience with the first game is any indication. Last but not least, Minecraft: The Island by Max Brooks is the first official Minecraft novel written by none other than the author who brought us World War Z. This audiobook actually has two editions, one narrated by the funny and talented Jack Black and the other narrated by Samira Wiley of Orange is the New Black fame (I chose the Jack Black version, in case anyone’s curious). My thanks to Random House Audio for feeding my geek.

Reviews

Review roundup time! As you know, I don’t give 5 stars lightly (in fact, I didn’t even have my first 5-star read this year until March), which is why it’s so incredible that these last two weeks saw me post not one, not two, but THREE 5-star reviews. It was tough choosing which book to highlight, but I’m going to have to go with The Punch Escrowwhich is currently vying for the top spot in my list of best books read in 2017 so far.

The Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein (5 of 5 stars)
Badlands by Melissa Lenhardt (5 of 5 stars)
You Die When You Die by Angus Watson (5 of 5 stars)
A Face Like Glass by Francis Hardinge (4.5 of 5 stars)
Lost Boy by Christina Henry (4 of 5 stars)
The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams (3.5 of 5 stars)
Graveyard Shift by Michael F. Haspil (3.5 of 5 stars)
Skitter by Ezekiel Boone (3 of 5 stars)
Wilders by Brenda Cooper (3 of 5 stars)

Roundup Highlights:

What I’ve Read Since the Last Update

Here’s what I’ve “unstacked” from the TBR since the last update. Reviews for a couple of these are already up, and the rest are 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: Knife

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 kindest use a knife, because the dead so soon grow cold”
~ a cover featuring a KNIFE

Mogsy’s Pick:
The Falconer by Elizabeth May

Even though I am behind on this trilogy, I loved the first book. And since there are also several editions that fit the theme, I decided The Falconer was the perfect book to feature for my Friday Face-Off post this week. Actually, it’s quite apropos, considering that I was actually first drawn to this book because of its striking cover…

From left to right, top to bottom: UK: Gollancz (2013) – US: Chronicle Books (2014) – German (2015) – Portuguese (2014) – Italian (2014) – Spanish (2014)

  

  

Winner:

That’s quite an impressive gallery of knife-wielding redheads, but I think I’m going to have to go with the Gollancz cover as my favorite. Like I said, it was the cover that initially motivated me to find out more about this book, and it was this edition that I ended up winning in a giveaway hosted by the publisher. When the sequel came out, I even made a special trip to the Book Depository so I could get the UK copy of The Vanishing Throne with the matching cover, because I loved the design so much.

What do you think? Which one is your favorite?

Book Review: The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams

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

The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of The Last King of Osten Ard

Publisher: DAW (June 27, 2017)

Length: 721 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

This was a very long, very dense read, but I really don’t mean that in a negative way. Quite the contrary, in fact; it’s has been a while since I’ve sunk my teeth into an epic fantasy so rich and layered, and it felt incredibly refreshing to fall into a meaty novel like this and just let it consume me completely.

The Witchwood Crown is the start of a new series set in the universe of Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy, though I believe it would serve as a decent jumping on point for readers new to the author and his books. This was my first experience with his work and I found I was able to follow the story quite easily, excepting some initial confusion over the lore of Osten Ard and the different inhabitants that make the continent their home. Thankfully, in a lengthy novel like this, there’s plenty of world-building and no shortage of opportunities to catch up on all this information so it wasn’t long before I felt totally at ease in this new setting.

The story continues the story of King Simon and Queen Miriamele from the previous series, having been married for the last thirty years since the conclusion of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. Their grandson Morgan is now the heir apparent, after the death of Simon and Miriamele’s son Prince Josua. With their grief still all too fresh, this causes the aging royal couple to become both overprotective and excessively tough on Morgan, who both yearns for and chafes at the growing responsibilities placed upon his shoulders. Like any young person growing up, he’s trying to find himself but always seems to be getting mixed up into trouble with his rowdy, tavern-hopping friends.

Meanwhile, the realm is in danger once again from a threat long since thought vanquished. The Norns, an immortal elf-like race, are rallying together and preparing for an invasion to reclaim the mortal lands for themselves. After falling into disfavor and becoming a sacrifice, a young half-Norn woman named Nezeru is taken along on a journey to fulfill a mission for their queen, and along the way the group encounters a mysterious warrior named Jarnulf who appears to be much more than he claims to be.

There are a lot of characters involved but I liked how the narrative introduced them all gradually, making it easier to identify the multiple plot threads and determine which perspectives are the important ones. While Simon and Miriamele are characters that I’m only meeting now for the first time, evidently there’s still plenty of growth and development to be had even though they’re both now into their golden years.  The two of them are more in love than ever, but the years have also brought certain new life changes and challenges as their priorities have shifted, and most of their disagreements now have to do with their grandson. Speaking of Prince Morgan, he was another important POV character, not to mention one of the more complex and well-written ones. Unlike Simon, who started from humble beginnings as a kitchen scullion, Morgan was born into a royal life and grew up wanting for nothing. In spite of this, he is something of a shiftless and troubled young man who couldn’t be more different than his driven grandfather. And yet there’s something about him that reminds me of a lost and scared little boy, and reading about his self-doubt just makes me want to wrap him up in a big hug.

That said, as a newcomer to this world, I confess it was an interesting experience to be reading the first book of a sequel series, one that I could tell has deep ties to the previous trilogy. While it did not affect my enjoyment overly much, it was at times distracting to be catching little snippets of references to past events and wondering at the full details behind them. The main crux of the story also took a long time to build (for a novel that’s more than 700 pages long, that’s really saying something) and there were rambling sections which I felt could have been trimmed without making too much of an impact on the overall story. Again, this is only my personal opinion as a brand new reader to this world. It’s more than likely that I’m just missing a lot of the nuances, being completely unfamiliar with the events of the previous trilogy, and if you’re an old fan I imagine your experiences will be very different.

At the end of the day though, I think it’s safe to say that no matter who you are, as long as you have a love for rich, multilayered epic fantasy then you will certainly develop a deep appreciation for The Witchwood Crown. It’s a heavy novel, both literally and figuratively, containing robust world-building and character development. Exploring complex themes and conflicts, Tad Williams takes a big-picture look at how several generations deal with problems threatening their kingdom, and while the sheer scope of it can feel a little overwhelming at first, a willingness to invest some time and patience in the story will eventually pay off. I feel like I have a stronger, more confident grasp of the world now, and I look forward to continuing with the next book of the series.

Excerpt and Giveaway: The Ray Electromatic Mysteries Series by Adam Christopher

***The giveaway is now over, thanks to everyone who entered!***
Today, I’m thrilled to share with you all a giveaway for Adam Christopher’s new novel Killing Is My Business, the second installment in his Ray Electromatic Mysteries series which has been described as a blend of science fiction and stylish mystery noir featuring a robot detective. This exciting sequel to Made to Kill is out this week, and to celebrate we’re featuring a special excerpt from Chapter One and also hosting a giveaway for BOTH books in the series! Please check out the end of this post for more details!

Another golden morning in a seedy town, and a new memory tape and assignment for intrepid PI-turned-hitman―and last robot left in working order―Raymond Electromatic. But his skills may be rustier than he remembered in Killing Is My Business, the latest in Christopher’s robot noir oeuvre, hot on the heels of the acclaimed Made to Kill.

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ADAM CHRISTOPHER is a novelist and comic writer. In 2010, as an editor, Christopher won a Sir Julius Vogel award, New Zealand’s highest science fiction honor. His debut novel, Empire State, was SciFiNow‘s Book of the Year and a Financial Times Book of the Year for 2012. In 2013, he was nominated for the Sir Julius Vogel award for Best New Talent, with Empire State shortlisted for Best Novel. His other novels include The Age Atomic and The Burning Dark.

Excerpted  from Killing Is My Business by Adam Christopher (Tor Books, 2017). Reprinted with permission from the publisher.

1

Listen to this:

Vaughan Delaney was a planner for the city of Los Angeles. He occupied a position high enough up the ladder that entitled him to an office at an equally high altitude in a tall building downtown that was home to a number of other local government desks. The office came with a salary that was high for a city employee but nothing to write a favorite uncle about, and a view that was simply to die for.

Vaughan Delaney was forty-two years old and he liked suits that were a light blue-gray in color. He carried a buckskin briefcase that wasn’t so much battered as nicely worn in. On his head he liked to position a fedora that was several shades darker than his suit. The hat had a brim that looked at first glance to be a little wide for the kind of hat that a city planner would wear, but Vaughan Delaney did not break the rules, neither in his job nor in his private life. He had a position a lot of people envied, along with the life that went along with it, and he stuck rigidly within the boundaries of both.

Actually, that wasn’t quite true. Because the one thing that didn’t fit Vaughan Delaney was his car.

His car was a 1957 Plymouth Fury, a mobile work of art in red and white with enough chrome to blind oncoming traffic on the bright and sunny mornings that were not uncommon in this part of California. The machine had fins like you wouldn’t believe and when the brake lights lit you’d think they were rocket motors. It was the kind of car you could fly to the moon in, only when you got to the moon you’d cast one eye on the fuel gauge and you’d pat the wheel with your kidskin-gloved hand, admiring the fuel economy as you pointed the scarlet hood off somewhere toward Jupiter and pressed the loud pedal.

It was a great car and it was in perfect shape. Factory fresh. It was getting on for ten years old but Vaughan Delaney had looked after it well.

And, I had to admit, that car caught my optics. It wasn’t jealousy—I liked my own car well enough, a Buick that was a satisfying ride, functional and elegant and with a few optional extras you wouldn’t find outside a science laboratory.

No, what I had for the red Plymouth Fury was something else. Admiration, and admiration for Vaughan Delaney too. He was every element the city man but that car was a jackrabbit. Perhaps it was his mid-life crisis. Perhaps he was telling the city to go take a jump while he sat shuffling papers in his nice office with his sensible suit and practical hat. Look what I get to drive to the office in the morning, he said. Look what I get to drive out to lunch every Wednesday. Look what I get to drive home in the evening. It was the kind of car that people would lean out of the office windows to take a look at, and Vaughan Delaney did every bit to help, the way he parked the red-and-white lightning bolt right outside the office door.

Because Vaughan Delaney had reached a certain level within the city hierarchy that allowed him to pick his own secretary based on the color of her hair and the length of her skirt and he was not a man who had to walk very far from his car to his desk.

He was also a family man. When the Plymouth Fury wasn’t outside the office or being driven to lunch on Wednesdays it lived in a two-car garage that sat next to a modest but modern bungalow in Gray Lake. Next to the Fury was commonly parked a yellow vehicle that General Motors had shooed out the door without much of a fuss, a rectangular lozenge on wheels with whitewall tires shining and seat belt tight and the sense of humor removed for safety reasons.

This was not a car to take much of an interest in. It belonged to Vaughan Delaney’s wife. Her name was Cindy Delaney.

Cindy Delaney loved her husband and let him know by kissing him on the cheek each and every morning before her husband went to work. The children loved him too. There were two of those, a boy and a girl, and both of them had blond hair like their mother and they were both a decade shy of joining the army and both of them kissed their father on the cheek each and every morning like their mother did, the only difference being that Vaughan Delaney had to go down on one knee so they could smell his aftershave. Then he blasted off in the Plymouth Fury and the quiet street in Gray Lake was quiet once more until Cindy Delaney took the children to school in the yellow boat and then came back again twenty minutes later. Then she put on a housecoat to keep her dress clean and she drove a vacuum over the bungalow while her husband drove a desk down in the city.

They were a nice family. Middle class, middle income, middle ambition. The children would grow up and the boy would play football at high school with his parents watching and the girl would play flute in the school orchestra with her parents watching and all was right with the world.

I knew all of this because I’d been watching Vaughan Delaney for three weeks. I’d been to the street in Gray Lake and had sat in my car and I’d watched life in and around the bungalow. I’d been to the office building downtown and had sat in my car and watched the Plymouth Fury come in for landing and Vaughan Delaney hop, skip, and jump up the stairs into the building and then waltz down the same steps some eight hours later.

Vaughan Delaney looked like a swell guy with a good job and a nice car and a happy family.

It was just a shame that he had to die.

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The Ray Electromatic Mysteries Series Giveaway

 

Interested in checking out The Ray Electromatic Mysteries? While Killing Is My Business can be read as a standalone, with our giveaway you won’t have to worry about missing out on the first book because thanks to the awesome folks at Tor we have both novels of the series up for grabs. Two winners will be chosen to win a set which includes one trade paperback copy of Made To Kill and one hardcover copy of Killing Is My Business. The giveaway is open to residents of the US and Canada. To enter all you have to do is send an email to bibliosanctum@gmail.com with your Name and valid Mailing Address using the subject line “RAY ELECTROMATIC” by 11:59pm Eastern time on Wednesday, August 2, 2017.

Only one entry per household, please. The winners will be randomly selected when the giveaway ends and then be notified by email. All information will only be used for the purposes of contacting the winner and sending them their prize. Once the giveaway ends all entry emails will be deleted.

So what are you waiting for? Enter to win! Good luck!

Waiting on Wednesday 07/26/17

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

Mogsy’s Pick

The Disappearance of Winter’s Daughter by Michael J. Sullivan (December 1, 2017 by Riyria Enterprises LLC)

Michael J. Sullivan may have have just released the newest novel in his Legends of the Lost Empire series, but that doesn’t mean that’s all we’re going to be seeing from him this year. Come winter, he’ll once again be self-publishing another Royce and Hadrian adventure in the fourth installment of The Riyria Chronicleswhich is a series of standalone novels starring this beloved duo.

“Gabriel Winter’s daughter is dead or captive. He seeks revenge. Now it’s up to Riyria to turn the rivers of Rochelle red.

Desperate for money, the Duke of Rochelle broke with tradition and married Jenny Winter, a wealthy whiskey merchant’s daughter from Colnora. When the unpopular duchess disappears, her father is certain she’s dead by her husband’s hand. Seeking retribution, Gabriel Winter knows just who to hire…the man responsible for waging war with an entire city during Colnora’s Summer of Terror.

Ride once again with Royce and Hadrian as they travel to a mysterious old-world city filled with noble families claiming descent from Imperial aristocracy. Riyria’s job appears easy: Find out what happened to the missing woman, and if she’s alive, bring her safely home; if not, find those responsible and make them pay with their lives. But nothing is ever simple in the crowded, narrow, mist-filled streets of Rochelle, where more than one ancient legend lurks.”

Other books in the Riyria Chronicles sequence (first two published by Orbit):

  

Book Review: The Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein

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

The Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein

Mogsy’s Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Book 1

Publisher: Inkshares/Geek & Sundry (July 25, 2017)

Length: 319 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Everyone, prepare to have your minds blown because The Punch Escrow will be like nothing else you’ve ever seen. It does, however, have all the makings of a runaway hit which will no doubt strike a chord with a broad range of readers, reaching even those who might not normally read sci-fi. Just think about books like The Martian, Ready Player One, Dark Matter, or any other examples of hard science fiction that has achieved widespread popularity due to the fact they are not only clever and technological, but also a lot of fun. This is the successful formula Tal M. Klein has managed to capture and apply to his phenomenal debut.

The story opens in the year 2147, in a world completely altered by technological advancements and their implementation. Still, there are some things that never change, like the fundamental human need to connect with others and conquer the physical distances between ourselves, leading to continuous research and development to find newer, better ways to make travel from point A to point B as fast and efficient as possible. A corporation called International Transport believes it has found the answer. While the technology that makes teleportation possible has already been around for decades, it was IT that finally turned it into the ideal mode of transportation for human beings, making it viable, affordable, and, above all else, safe. Or so they say, anyway.

Enter Joel Byram, our protagonist. He’s a typical average guy who likes to play video games in his underwear, collect random trivia, and listen to obscure 1980s new wave music in his spare time. He’s also dealing with some problems in his marriage. Ever since Joel’s wife Sylvia got her promotion at IT, she has been preoccupied with one classified project after another, and the secretive nature of her work along with the increased hours have made the two of them drift apart. All that was supposed to change with the couple’s plans for a second honeymoon in celebration of their tenth anniversary, a romantic week where they’ll have each other all to themselves in the remote mountains of Costa Rica. Unfortunately though, while at the New York City teleportation center on his way to meet up with his wife in San Jose, Joel suffers a terrible mishap. The incident results in Joel being duplicated, raising some serious questions about the truth behind teleportation—questions that certain parties will go to great lengths to silence.

As I said before, The Punch Escrow is like nothing else I’ve read before, which makes the story difficult to describe beyond what I’ve written above. I’m also nervous to reveal too much, because I would be loath to spoil anything for prospective readers. This is a book full of amazing surprises, and it’s really no exaggeration to say that it’s best to go in with fresh eyes, knowing as little as possible about the plot.

I can, however, extol the awesomeness of safer subjects, like the world-building. Brace yourself for some really cool stuff. Klein has created a futuristic society here that is extraordinary in its originality and carefully considered approach, which is probably why the setting also seems so believable despite some of its more bizarre features. Humanity’s salvation has come in the form of the mosquito, for example, after genetic tinkering has effectively turned these hateful little bloodsuckers into tiny steam reformers, feasting on carbon fumes while excreting water. Didn’t I tell you this book was fun? I mean, how could I not laugh out loud at the author’s descriptions of the gorgeous twenty-second century NYC sunsets, made possible only by the ubiquitous misty clouds of skeeter piss? Massive changes have also occurred to political systems worldwide, with transnational mega-corporations governing at the helm and capitalism reigning supreme. While poverty has effectively been eliminated, money still talks, and with enough chits at your disposal, you can do things like pay other self-driving cars to prioritize your arrival if you need to get some place fast, or even buy anti-aging treatments to extend your life for as many years as you can afford.

But if you’re worried that the hard sci-fi elements will become too heavy or overwhelming, fear not! While there’s a lot of techno-jargon in this story, as well as—I won’t lie—a significant amount of quantum theory involved, much of it is presented in an engaging, entertaining and often humorous way. I even devoured the very technical footnotes, which is huge for me because 1) I hate footnotes, and 2) the ones here are theoretically optional. So trust me, if a total quantum physics noob like me can read this book and enjoy the heck out of it, then anyone can.

Bottom line though, if all my gushing so far has felt as random to you as it has for me, here’s what it all boils down to: The Punch Escrow is one of those wholly unique, mind-bogglingly innovative novels that only come once in a blue moon. The story (which I’m just dying to say more about but can’t) is extremely fun, fast-paced, and thrilling, yet there’s also a deeper, tender side to our protagonist’s existential journey and moments where he experiences meaningful philosophical reverie. There are also ideas in this book that are so incredible that every few pages I simply had to stop and marvel over a sentence or passage, speechless at the sheer imagination. Seriously, short of begging, I really don’t know what more I need to say in order to convince you to read this book.

Oh, what the hell. Please, please, please, just go and check it out now, please!

Book Review: Skitter 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.

Skitter by Ezekiel Boone

Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Genre: Horror

Series: Book 2 of The Hatching

Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books (May 2, 2017)

Length: 352 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Skitter is the second novel of the creepy-crawly-infested Hatching series, and in many ways it is a textbook sequel. Ezekiel Boone is clearly striving for bigger, better, and bloodier—and for the most part he succeeds. That said, while things are definitely moving along as far as the main story goes, there’s still a sense that we’re in a holding pattern. Mostly, we’re seeing a reiteration of many of the same themes found in the previous installment, following the characters as they deal with the fallout from the spider apocalypse while the threat of something even worse to come is hanging thick in the air.

Needless to say, it would be wise to complete The Hatching first before tackling this one (not to mention it’s possible that this review may contain spoilers for book one if you haven’t read it yet). The story picks up from the end of the first novel, after a deadly wave of spider attacks have crippled communications and travel all around the world. These are, after all, not your average arachnids. For one thing, they travel in massive carnivorous swarms, capable of stripping all your flesh from your bones in seconds. For another, they simply love laying their eggs in human bodies, turning their hapless victims into ticking spider bombs. For this reason, the United States has chosen to combat the spider problem the same way it would an epidemic disease—with quarantine zones and the clearing out of infected areas. Once bustling cities like Los Angeles have been given up for lost and now lie in ruins.

But just experts are fearing the worst, there comes a brief respite. Having reached the end of their life cycle, the spiders in the initial wave seem to be dying off, leaving behind blankets of their black lifeless husks. But is the danger really over? Dr. Melanie Guyer doesn’t think so. As a spider researcher now working for President of the United States Stephanie Pilgrim, she believes the great spider die-off could be a precursor to a second wave of attacks, one that might be bigger and even more deadly than the first. Now President Pilgrim will have to face a difficult choice: stick it out and save as many lives as possible while hoping to ride out the next wave, or make a terrible sacrifice now tear the country apart in order to guarantee the survival of humanity?

If you enjoyed The Hatching, chances are you’ll also enjoy Skitter. Boone is sticking to a formula that works, employing all the creature horror genre tropes you’d expect by upping the terror and making his spiders even ickier and more disturbing. Once again, we have a number of different POVs showing how things are unfolding around the globe. In Japan, a scientist makes a gruesome discovery, capturing on camera a gargantuan glowing egg sack that spells more disaster and death to come. Panic in Norway lets us see just how far the spider menace has spread. And in the southwestern United States, terrified refugees fleeing from L.A. are forced to watch as their loved ones are torn away from them at military checkpoints if there is even the slightest chance they are infected with spider eggs. The fates of those taken away are unknown, leaving the reader to draw their own awful conclusions.

Luckily though, not every new face we get to meet is a goner. The cast has been expanded, but the author has also started bringing those characters we’re already familiar with together so that the overall story is still manageable. Some of the more random POVs and plot threads from the last book are now beginning to make sense, as Gordo and his survivalist friends from Desperation, California (my favorite characters from The Hatching!) are finally crossing paths with the group in Washington D.C., which is made up of President Pilgrim and Dr. Melanie Guyer’s teams. Even so, some of the connections are still a mystery, such as Angus and his fiancée and grandfather in Scotland. Only time will tell, I suppose, but for the most part Skitter does have the feel of a “bridge book” attempting to start tying all the disparate threads together.

My only disappointment is that this book felt too short, and despite the greater horror and chaos, it felt like very little actually happened. Instead, we retread some old ground—though to be fair, I can’t complain too much since the stakes are much higher this time around—and everyone seems to be holding their breath for the moment of truth, which presumably will be the focus of the third novel, suitably titled Zero Hour.

Still, overall Skitter was a fast read and fun, and I also enjoyed it for its entertainment value, making it the perfect book to slip in between some of my heavier reads. I’ll be looking forward to see how this trilogy concludes!

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

Audiobook Review: Badlands by Melissa Lenhardt

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

Badlands by Melissa Lenhardt

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

Genre: Historical Fiction, Western

Series: Book 3 of Sawbones/The Laura Elliston Trilogy

Publisher: Hachette Audio (June 27, 2017)

Length: 11 hrs and 17 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Suehyla El-Attar

Badlands is the final volume of the Laura Elliston trilogy, bringing this magnificent emotional journey that began with Sawbones to a gripping and satisfying conclusion. Still, I confess there had been a lot of initial hand-wringing on my part over how all this would end, though I really should have known better than to be worried—Melissa Lenhardt knew what she was doing and was in control the whole time, providing closure to the series while bringing things full circle.

Needless to say, if you haven’t gotten the chance to start the trilogy yet, please keep in mind that this review may contain spoilers for the previous two novels. Last we saw Laura in Blood Oath, she and her husband William Kindle had become separated, with him being taken into custody for abandoning his post in the Army to aid and abet her. Wanted in New York for a crime she did not commit, Laura is now one of the most sought after bounties in the West and is forced to go into hiding again, with only a dubious ally named Rosemond Barclay for protection and support.

As a prostitute and a past lover of her husband, Rosemond is practically the last person Laura wants to be traveling with. However, she is also claiming to be helping Laura on behalf of Kindle, and since there is no one else our protagonist can turn to now that she is alone and penniless once more, she will have to go along with the other woman’s plans—at least for now. Not that she has much of a choice, anyway. Terrified of what might happen to Kindle, Laura is desperate to be close to him again even if it means walking right into the hands of the law, and it doesn’t help that at the time she is struggling to pull herself out of a laudanum-induced haze. For better or worse, Rosemond is the only thing holding her back—serving as both her kidnapper and voice of reason. The two women end up in Cheyenne under the guise of sisters trying to start a new life, though in truth Laura is biding her time while she awaits for further news of Kindle, and Rosemond is following her own plan that only she knows about. Laura knows better than to trust the former prostitute, but after everything the two of them have been through together, neither can she bring herself to simply walk away.

For the last two books, things for Laura have been anything but easy, and so I think readers will welcome this concluding novel which finally lets our protagonist experience some semblance of peace again, even with plenty of heartbreak still in her life. It was however a nice change of pace to see her return to practicing medicine, giving care to the needy as she once did in New York before she went on the run. Despite all the horrors she has been through, at her core Laura is still the same good person—which can be either a blessing or a curse, depending on how you view things. Often she puts aside all rational thought and concern for her own wellbeing when it comes to others (especially with matters related to Kindle), leading her to make several mistakes in the first half of Badlands which she will come to regret for the rest of the novel. Laura’s willfulness in this regard is both a source of admiration and frustration, because on the one hand her empathy is what makes me love her character, but on the other her tendency to care too much has also led to a lot of tragedy for herself and those around her.

I also thought that I would be disappointed at Kindle’s severely diminished role in this novel, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was not the case. It’s true that without him, there is a lot less passion and romance in this installment, but the amazing complexity between Laura and Rosemond’s interplay more than makes up for it. In spite of all her efforts to help other women, Laura has always had a rough time making female friends, mainly because she’s met so few others who share her interests and drive. While Laura and Rosemond have little in common (besides a history with the same man), the two of them manage to strike up a solid rapport if not a true friendship, due to the fact that they both are outcasts in their own way. Rosemond is also a fascinating and enigmatic character who kept me guessing at her motives the whole time, wondering if she truly cares about Laura or if she is simply manipulating her for her own ends.

The best part about Badlands, however, is Laura’s realization that she cannot keep running anymore and that enough people have been hurt because of the choices she has made. The only thing left to do is to return to the place where all this began—except this time, she won’t be alone anymore. Our protagonist has come a long way and has proven herself capable of anything she sets her mind to in an era in which women had little to no power. She has suffered loss but also found love, and I am pleased that we got to see Laura confront her past so that she can finally have the future she deserves.

These books are really something special. I’ve said this before, but I think it’s worth saying again: the author does not pull any punches, and her rendition of the Wild West is a brutally authentic one, which sometimes makes all of the injustices and violence difficult to read. However, it also makes our characters’ struggles more heart-wrenching and their eventual triumph all the more powerful and poignant. The ending was everything I wanted, featuring a touching and joyous scenario that tied everything together perfectly. Melissa Lenhardt has accomplished a superb achievement in bringing the fantastic Laura Elliston trilogy to a phenomenal close, and I can’t wait to see what future stories she will tell.

Audiobook Comments: Suehyla El-Attar has long since won me over with her narrating work, and her performance in Badlands is even better than in Blood Oath, if that is even possible. She is a talented voice actress and a real natural with accents and inflections, adding an extra layer to the story. For instance, in sections where Laura was thinking of Kindle, I could practically hear the hopelessness and despair in her reading. This was an emotional tale, and El-Attar’s narration made the experience even more unforgettable. I highly recommend this series in audio.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Sawbones (Book 1)
Review of Blood Oath (Book 2)

YA Weekend: A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

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

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade/ Young Adult

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Amulet Books (May 9, 2017)

Length: 489 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Now I really wish I had read this book sooner, because in a word, it’s amazing. 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.

Our protagonist Neverfell was just a child when she was found practically half-drowned in a vat of curds by Master Grandible, Caverna’s foremost maker of fine, magical cheeses. But as soon as the cheesemaker cleaned off the little girl and looked at her face, he could tell something was seriously wrong. From that moment on, he has instructed Neverfell to always wear a mask in public, though he refuses to tell her the real reason why, letting her believe she is hideous and disfigured.

For years afterward, Neverfell trains with Grandible as his apprentice, learning all about the ways of Caverna and cheese-making since she herself has no memory of who she was or where she came from. Caverna, as its name would suggest, is a huge underground city made up of tunnels. Skilled craftsmen like Grandible create all sorts of things with fantastical properties to sell to the court, like cheeses that can bring on wondrous visions, perfumes that can influence the emotions of others, wines that can make you forget your worst memories, and much more.

Then there are also the special artisans called 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, like the laborers and drudges, are only taught a few to get them through a life of servitude.

Because so much can be gleaned about your social status from the number of faces you can wear, this leads to much demand for Facesmiths among the court, and likewise, a Facesmith who can develop the most unique catalogues will also earn a lot of prestige. So when Madame Appeline, one of Caverna’s most prominent and skilled Facesmiths suddenly shows up at Master Grandible’s one day, Neverfell sees the visit as a chance to change her own fate. Appeline is in need of a favor from Grandible, but in spite of the cheesemaker’s initial refusal, Neverfell is convinced that she can make her master change his mind, unaware that she is meddling in dangerous matters she doesn’t understand.

Everything about this novel is pure imagination and magic, and needless to say, I loved every moment. While there is a strong emphasis on the whimsical, I thought it was applied in just the right amount, without becoming overly silly or distracting. Every page was filled with new and interesting ideas, from the oddly precise sleep cycles that citizens of Caverna must keep due to living in the tunnels to the absurd rules of etiquette that the city elites must follow. This is one strange world, where society is strongly shaped by the fact that its people are born with the inability to form facial expressions naturally. Considering the huge range of emotions that that can be expressed through facial cues, just thinking about how every single little facial movement has to be slowly and painfully measured and applied…well, the consequences of it are staggering. One tiny miscalculation or a sudden muscle tic can convey a different meaning and cause a scandal at best, or lead to persecution and even punishment by death at worst.

I was also completely taken with Frances Hardinge’s writing, which is so beautiful and clever. I imagine she faced a lot of challenges for a story like this—after all, how do you even begin to put yourself into the shoes of a character who has little understanding of the relationship between emotions and expressions? Somehow though, Hardinge made it work. Her descriptions are careful but also creative, utilizing unconventional methods to paint a picture of the way someone looks or to convey how they feel. The story is also fast-paced and addictive, and with surprises waiting at every turn, I can’t say there was ever a moment where I felt bored.

Perhaps most importantly, A Face Like Glass has something I don’t often find in a lot of YA and MG books—rich imagination and a shockingly original and unpredictable storyline, refreshingly light on cliché or stereotypes. Consider me a fan. This may be my first book by Frances Hardinge, but you can definitely count on me to read more!