Book Review: Smoke Bitten by Patricia Briggs

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

Smoke Bitten by Patricia Briggs

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Series: Book 12 of Mercy Thompson

Publisher: Ace (March 17, 2020)

Length: 368 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Along with the Dresden Files, the Mercy Thompson series is one of the longest-running urban fantasy series I’m currently following right now, and I gotta say, at twelve books it’s still going strong. Granted, we’ve had some ups and downs with the last few installments, but Smoke Bitten puts us back on track with some intense paranormal action and good old-fashioned intrigue.

Of course, we have Underhill to thank for most of that. Obviously, if you haven’t read all the books up to this point, you might want to catch up before proceeding with this review as it may contain spoilers for the previous volumes, and Underhill definitely counts as one of these major plot developments. Also known as the fae realm, Underhill has opened one of her gateways quite literally into Mercy’s backyard, letting through a lot of strange types—and strange vibes. Not that Mercy needs any more complications in her already drama-filled life. Her relationship with Adam has been quite strained lately, thanks to the meddling by his manipulative ex-wife. After one particularly heated conversation, Mercy decides to take a brisk walk to cool her temper, and that’s when she hears the gunshots.

To her shock, she finds two of her neighbors dead from an apparent murder-suicide. But something about the situation feels very wrong, and as usual, Mercy’s suspicions prove correct. This tragedy had the mark of Underhill all over it, a place where only the deadliest, trickiest creatures have managed to survive in the aftermath of the great fae exodus, which left the realm lawless and unguarded. Now something malicious has passed through its gates into this world, something capable of taking the form of anyone it chooses. Worse, it can also seize control of anyone it bites, stealing their memories and knowledge. And unfortunately, its rampage has just begun.

After the rather stagnant feel of the previous books, it’s nice to see Smoke Bitten return the series to fine form. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been a fan of Mercy Thompson for a long time and that’s not about to change. Still, we’re talking about a series that encompasses a dozen novels, not to mention all the spin-offs and anthologies it has spawned. All these stories add up, and thus you end up with the difficult challenge of balancing years of history along with the repercussions, while trying to come up with new ideas to keep things fresh. I certainly don’t envy this part of the author’s job, considering how she’s also been juggling the Alpha & Omega series, so on some level, it’s really no surprise that pack drama and supernatural politics take up a lot of page time in her books.

Still, it can get tiring, which is why I personally found Smoke Bitten so revitalizing. Compared to Storm Cursed, which I had described as being too unfocused and bogged down by useless posturing and talk, this book saw Mercy plunge right back into the action, taking charge and kicking ass. I guess if there’s one positive thing about the previous installment feeling too much like a “bridge book” is that it ultimately led to plenty of compelling developments in this one. I do so enjoy the way Mercy gets the other werewolves to follow her lead, as well as stand on even footing with Adam. As a coyote shifter, she’s part of the pack but not bound by the strict rules of their magic, and I think it’s important that she never allows anyone to forget she is her own person.

And speaking of Adam, there are some marriage woes in Smoke Bitten, and I’m still of two minds about it. On the one hand, I adore the passion between Mercy and Adam, as well as the strength of the love they have for each other. It honestly pained me to read about the problems in their relationship. Yet on the other hand, given how Adam’s issues were a direct consequence of certain events that happened in Storm Cursed, they weren’t completely unexpected and hence Briggs can’t really be faulted for throwing in unnecessary drama. I don’t want to go into any more detail than that for fear of spoilers, but what I will say is that the issues Mercy and Adam faced here were very unique and, if nothing else, an interesting way to test their bond. At the end of the day, I believe they are an even stronger couple now for having weathered through it.

Bottom line, I will always love the Mercy Thompson books. While some are going to be better than others, it frankly amazes me that we are on book twelve and I still find the series as fun and engaging as the day I first picked up Moon Called years ago. The world only gets richer and more vivid with time, with the characters feeling deeper and more alive and rewarding to follow.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Reread of River Marked (Book 6)
Review of Night Broken (Book 8)
Review of Fire Touched (Book 9)
Review of Silence Fallen (Book 10)
Review of Storm Cursed (Book 11)
Review of Shifting Shadows (Anthology)

YA Weekend Audio: Red Hood by Elana K. Arnold

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

Red Hood by Elana K. Arnold

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 1.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Harper Audio (February 25, 2020)

Length: 8 hrs and 14 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Bisou was just a little girl when her mother was murdered. After that, she came under the care of her grandmother, Mémé, moving to live with her in the Pacific Northwest. There, she grew into a teenager, went to high school, starting dating James, a popular boy on the basketball team. Then, on the night of the homecoming dance, she gets her first period—while in a very intimate situation with James in his car. Shocked, panicked, and embarrassed, Bisou flees for home, taking a route through the dark woods. It was then that the wolf attacked, drawn to the scent of her blood. Fighting for her life, Bisou manages to drive a stick through the vicious wolf’s eye and force it, in its blinded rage, to slam into a tree with its momentum and break its neck.

The next day dawns with normalcy, with Bisou shaken but unharmed, having kept her night’s encounter with the wolf a secret. But at school, dire news has unsettled the student body. Early in the morning, the naked body of Tucker, a star basketball player, had been found in the woods, his neck broken and his eye ruined. Even though she knows that it should be impossible, that stories of boys transforming into beasts is the stuff of fairy tales, Bisou understands deep down that Tucker had to have been the wolf in the woods last night. And she had killed him.

Now everyone is asking difficult questions, from the local police to Keisha, Bisou’s inquisitive classmate on the school newspaper. Apparently, the town has seen something like this before a generation or two ago, and whatever it was seems to be happening again. Sure enough, a month later, Keisha is attacked by another wolf, though this time, Bisou knew what to expect and was ready. Still, it is a mystery why boys are inexplicably turning into wolves, and why somehow the danger in the woods always seems to call to Bisou when the moon is full and she is on her menstrual cycle. Thankfully, Mémé may have some answers to that.

Before I start, I feel I should make it clear that I am reviewing the audiobook edition of Red Hood, which may have greatly affected my enjoyment—or the lack of it. I find that the audio format tends to accentuate certain quirks in the writing, making things like purple prose or unique stylist choices more obvious, and this was most definitely the case with this novel, which was written almost entirely in the second person. This narrative mode is tricky to begin with, and it’s incredibly awkward when done poorly. Any weaknesses in the prose are very obvious when you listen to it being read aloud, and that can be incredibly jarring. So with that being said, I absolutely hated the second person perspective in this, to the point where listening to it actually pained me, like a toothache that never went away and that you couldn’t ignore. While I believe it’s a bold choice for any author to attempt to write in the second person, unfortunately I just don’t think Elana K. Arnold was able to pull it off. Again, I stress that my experience might be due to the format; the second person narrative mode will likely feel different or better reading this book in print, but in audio it was distracting to the extreme.

Also, I’m not sure the themes in the story helped. I think the line between a book delivering a good message versus being preachy is very thin, and at times Red Hood falls on the wrong side of it because it is very open about its agenda. This is not an issue in and of itself, and I think it’s wonderful that there’s a market right now for feminist activism in YA fantasy and how some stories choose to send those messages in a way that’s loud, clear, and unashamed. Personally though, I prefer my books—especially my fiction—to be a little more perceptive and subtle. But from the violent themes of resistance to a character who was very clearly a mouthpiece for the author’s own views, the female empowerment message is ever present but often comes across muddled or misguided, not to mention how poorly some of its components are integrated into the plot. As well, let’s not forget James, the only good representation of masculinity, whose portrayal was as hollow and sincere as a plastic bucket. And finally, there was the over-sensationalism. Though I doubt it was Arnold’s intent (or at least, I hope it wasn’t), some of the more graphic descriptions of sexual acts and the messy realities of menstruation did not work for me, feeling less like a brave celebration of femaleness and more like exploitation of it for shock value’s sake, which was saddening and a disappointment.

Bottom line, I think Red Hood is a novel you will either embrace or reject, depending on your expectations. It’s also likely that readers who have the print version (or audio listeners who aren’t as picky as I am) will have a better time with it. January LaVoy did the narration for the audiobook, and even though I love her work, not even her solid performance could overcome the more distracting elements in the writing. All in all, sadly I can’t say this book was my cup of tea.

Bookshelf Roundup 03/14/20: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads

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

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Received for Review

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

First a huge thanks to Saga Press for this trio of ARCs I received last week: The Down Days by Ilze Hugo is a magical realism debut, The Kingdom of Liars by Nick Martell a high fantasy novel of magic and political intrigue, and The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones is a described as a creeping supernatural horror. Really looking forward to diving into these beauties, which all have release dates in May.

With thanks also to Orbit books for We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson which was a surprise arrival, but a very welcome one. This book was a finalist in the fourth SPFBO and I’ve been curious about it ever since it started racking up all these high marks from every judge in the competition.

Also thank you to Tor.com for sending along finished copies of The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo and Anthropocene Rag by Alex Irvine. I hope to knock at least one of both of these off my TBR before the end of the month!

And a special shout out to Flame Tree Press and Smith Publicity for sending along an ARC of The Wise Friend by Ramsey Campbell, a horror novel of the occult which has been on my radar for a while. As a bonus, a review copy of The Garden of Bewitchment by Catherine Cavendish was also enclosed because of my interest in atmospheric Gothic horror, as well as a copy of Slash by Hunter Shea because I had made a comment about how long I’ve wanted to try his work. I was incredibly touched by the kind gesture, and also by the inclusion of this cool hardcover journal, which will definitely come in handy when I do my reading notes.

In the digital pile, I was so happy to pick up an advance listening copy of Night of the Dragon by Julie Kagawa from Harper Audio. I cannot wait to read the conclusion to this epic YA trilogy.

Reviews

No Bad Deed by Heather Chavez (4.5 of 5 stars)
The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller (4 of 5 stars)
The Seventh Sun by Lani Forbes (3.5 of 5 stars)
The Deep by Alma Katsu (3 of 5 stars)

Roundup Highlights:

This Week’s Reads

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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: Exotic

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:

“That which yields, is not always weak”
~ a cover that is EXOTIC

Mogsy’s Pick:

The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

When I saw this week’s topic, I immediately thought of City of Brass. Exquisite, spellbinding, and exotic are all words that perfectly describe this gorgeously written novel, and I remember well the way it transported me to its rich world of fantasy and magic. The book has been graced with a couple of beautiful covers as well, and today I want to feature and compare the US and UK editions:

HarperVoyager US (2017) vs. HarperVoyager UK (2018)

Winner:

I’m definitely biased today, as the US version is the one I own, and it is even more stunning in person. I just love the fiery contrast of the colors and gold embossed detail.

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

Book Review: No Bad Deed by Heather Chavez

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

No Bad Deed by Heather Chavez

Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Thriller, Mystery

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: William Morrow

Length: 312 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Whew, I definitely needed a moment to catch my breath after this one. In a word, No Bad Deed was wild. So wild, it admittedly required a fair bit of suspension of disbelief, but I do so enjoy books like these that are full of twists and high stakes. It’s the kind of suspense thrillers that I live for.

It all started one rainy night, while diving home from work, Cassie witnesses a man brutally beating a woman at the side of the road. As a veterinarian, our protagonist’s first instinct is to help those in need, prompting her to pull over right away to put a stop to the attack. That’s how she first meets Carver Sweet, a convicted murderer, who would have killed again if Cassie hadn’t intervened. Leaving his victim broken and bloody in a ditch, he issues a warning: “Let her die, and I’ll let you live.” Then he steals Cassie’s idling car and speeds away, along with everything in it—including her purse containing her keys, wallet and driver’s license. With that, a dangerous criminal now knows everything about her, including her name and where she lives.

Still, Carver’s words be damned, Cassie saves the injured woman’s life. After giving her statement to the cops and watching the ambulance carry the victim off, Cassie returns home to her family, informing her husband Sam of what happened and cautioning him to change the locks. They have an uneventful night, until the next day, Halloween. After working late again, Cassie comes home to an empty house, learning that her teenage son Leo had gone to a friend’s and that Sam had taken their young daughter Audrey out trick or treating. Thinking everything is fine, Cassie lets herself drift off to a nap…only to wake up to silence and darkness, filled with a sense of dread. It was late, and Sam and Audrey had not come home. Calls to Sam’s phone also go unanswered. Finally, Cassie decides to go out and look for her husband and daughter, to discover that Audrey had been left in the care of a neighborhood woman. Sam had told his six-year-old that he would be right back…but never returned.

Worried and confused, Cassie can’t help but think her husband’s disappearance has something to do with Carver Sweet, who has everything he needs to find out about her family, her job, her whole life. Since the woman she had saved last night had survived, is Carver now making good on his threat by first coming after those Cassie loves? Or is there something else going on with Sam, who had been growing distant and more secretive in the past few months? The police aren’t much help, as there’s evidence to suggest that Sam might have left willingly on his own. Of course, the possibility that her husband was having an affair devastates Cassie, but that still doesn’t explain why he would abandon Leo and Audrey, his children that he adored more than anything in the world. There’s more happening here that meets the eye, and Cassie intends to find out the truth, especially when it becomes clear that everyone close to her will remain in danger until she does.

Like many folks, I always try to predict the outcome whenever I’m reading a mystery or thriller, but there I was, trying to do the same with No Bad Deed and finding myself completely blindsided at every turn. Not gonna lie, the story employs no small amount of absurdity and plenty of over-the-top twists to achieve this, but my addiction to this novel was so complete that I was beyond caring about the odd logical leap. Quite honestly, I’m at a loss as to where to begin with my review, because I feel like any discussion of the aspects I enjoyed would risk giving away some of the plot—this book was simply the type of intricately layered, tightly wound thriller with tiny clues and traps connected at every level.

What I will say is I’ll never get tired of the amateur lady sleuth archetype that you tend to find in so many of these domestic suspense thrillers. Speaking of logical leaps, these stories always require the police to have their hands tied for whatever reason, leaving our protagonist with no choice but to take on the investigative duties herself. Thing is though, Cassie is a disaster when it comes to this kind of work. She’s impulsive, careless, utterly clueless as to how to cover her tracks or protect herself. But instead of feeling frustrated, I thought these traits further highlighted just how deep in over her head our protagonist was, which added to the entertainment. And of course, when it came to Leo and Audrey, Cassie was as fierce as a lioness defending her cubs. The love, loyalty, and tenacity she displayed made her an admirable character in my eyes, not to mention that at her core she is a good person—the kind who would work pro bono to save a dog, or to pull over in a rainstorm to stop a vicious attack even at the risk to her own life. It made it easy to root for her.

Despite its flaws (namely the more far-fetched parts of the story and some dunderheadedness on the protagonist’s part), I’m giving No Bad Deed high marks for being able to so thoroughly suck me in and for leaving me with a massive book hangover. One of the most exhilarating and compulsive thrillers I’ve read this year!

Waiting on Wednesday 03/11/20

“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 End of Her by Shari Lapena (July 28, 2020 by Pamela Dorman Books)

Very excited about another upcoming domestic thriller-suspense by Shari Lapena!

“In upstate New York, Stephanie and Patrick are adjusting to life with their colicky twin babies. The girls are a handful, but Stephanie doesn’t mind being a stay-at-home mom, taking care of them while Patrick does the nine to five to pay the bills.

When a woman from Patrick’s past drops in on them unexpectedly, raising questions about his late first wife, Stephanie supports her husband wholeheartedly. She knows the car accident all those many years ago was just that–an accident. But Erica is persistent, and now she’s threatening to go to the police.

Patrick is afraid his job–and his reputation–will be at risk if he doesn’t put an end to Erica’s questioning immediately. And when the police start digging, Stephanie’s trust in her husband begins to falter and Patrick is primed to lose everything he loves. As their marriage crumbles, Stephanie feels herself coming unglued, and soon she isn’t sure what–or who–to believe. Now the most important thing is to protect her girls, but at what cost?”

Book Review: The Deep 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 Deep by Alma Katsu

Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Genre: Horror, Historical Fiction

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons (March 10, 2020)

Length: 432 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

I was a fan of Alma Katsu’s The Hunger, and was excited to hear her next book would be another historical horror, set to the backdrop of the sinking of not one but two great ships—the RMS Titanic and her fleet mate the HMHS Britannic, both of which met tragic fates.

The novel first opens in 1916, as the Great War rages across Europe. For years, Annie Hebbley has been living in an asylum slowly regaining her lost memory. She now remembers her name, the fact that she used to serve as a maid on a passenger liner, and that the ship, Titanic, had struck an iceberg and sank to the bottom of the ocean. Her doctors feel that Annie is now fully recovered, and should return to society and normal everyday life, starting with taking the position she has been offered as a nurse aboard the Britannic, newly refitted as a hospital ship to ferry injured British forces.

And so, Annie embarks on her new journey, quickly settling back into life on the ocean, despite her past traumatic experiences at sea and the fact that her nursing duties are so different than the work she used to do. The story then flashes back to 1912 aboard the Titanic, where Annie served as a cabin maid to the glamorous and wealthy passengers in first class. It is here where she meets and immediately becomes drawn to Mark Fletcher, despite him having a wife and child.

The rest of the novel alternates between these two timelines: the past, which gradually reveals the tumultuous events aboard the Titanic as Annie becomes increasingly embroiled in the Fletcher’s lives; as well as the present, which chronicles her confusion and despair as she chances to meet Mark again on the Britannic. Now a soldier, wounded and in the care of Annie, he had also survived the sinking four years ago but believed that his wife and baby had perished. Rather than sharing Annie’s joy at being reunited, however, Mark instead recoils in horror at the first sight of her, requesting a move to another ward. Deeply hurt, Annie seeks to repair their connection by telling Mark that his daughter had not in fact died that night. But being close to him now has also reawakened buried emotions and secrets, as well as memories that threaten her sanity.

I don’t know what I expected from The Deep, but the horror was most definitely lacking. Instead, the balance heavily favored historical drama, likely caused by the inordinate amount of time it took for this book to get off the ground. To be fair, a story like this needed a lot of setup, considering the two separate narratives that had to be established, and the author chose to unravel both these timelines in tandem which was probably the most efficient for storytelling. However, this decision presented its fair share of problems, not least of them the awkwardness of trying to give each thread the same amount of attention while ensuring the plot’s pace ran smoothly. Unfortunately, this balancing act was not entirely achieved, and whatever horror elements there were ended up slipping through the cracks as a result.

As much as I hate to say, but much of the first half of the book also felt like a waste of time in retrospect. Katsu featured many characters in the Titanic including the wealthy real estate developer and investor John Jacob Astor and his pregnant wife Madeleine, boxers David “Dai” Bowen and Leslie Williams, businessman Benjamin Guggenheim, fashion designer Lady Duff-Gordon and others—all of them real historical figures, but none of whom had really any impact on the overall story whatsoever. To tell the truth, it struck me an indulgence by the author, a way for her to show off her knowledge and research which I have no doubt was considerable, but ultimately unnecessary to the larger picture.

That being said, while The Deep had its flaws, it also had its high points. I absolutely loved the concept behind the book, especially the way it drew attention to the Britannic, which met the same watery fate as the Titanic but is perhaps not as well-known as her sister ship. I also enjoyed the sinking scenes but wish there had been more time spent on them, and that they had been written with greater gravitas. Description was light on the whole with this novel and it’s a shame because so much could have done with the atmosphere, from the luxury and decadence aboard Titanic to the more disturbing, creepier moments like when Annie’s unsettling memories return to haunt her. Generally speaking, the mood was largely absent, which I thought was the novel’s weakest point.

Considering how much I enjoyed The Hunger, it’s hard not to view The Deep as a disappointment. The premise behind it was good but perhaps a tad over ambitious. Building up two timelines at once while trying to inject as much history and horror elements into this awfully restrictive structure ended up causing a lot of balancing and pacing issues, and ultimately, it’s a format that didn’t quite work for me.

Audiobook Review: The Seventh Sun by Lani Forbes

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

The Seventh Sun by Lani Forbes

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

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Series: Book 1 of The Age of the Seventh Sun

Publisher: Blackstone Audio (February 18, 2020)

Length: 10 hrs and 23 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Stacy Gonzales

Set in a fantasy world heavily inspired by the legends and traditions of ancient Mesoamerica, The Seventh Sun is a coming-of-age novel by debut author Lani Forbes featuring a rich blend of history, magic, and mythology.

One of the two protagonists is Ahkin, a young prince who thought he had years to learn the sacred rituals which would prepare him for the day he will succeed his father and lead the Chicome people. But as the story opens in the early hours of an ill-fated morning, he is interrupted by a nervous servant who tells Ahkin that his powers are urgently needed to call the sun. It appears that the emperor had passed away suddenly in the middle of the night, and according to tradition, his wife must now also sacrifice herself and follow her husband into the underworld.

And so, within moments, Ahkin finds himself losing both his parents and becoming the emperor, responsible for the wellbeing of every life who lives under his rule. As it is his royal blood that controls the sun, it is his duty to spill a few drops of it each morning to bring about its life-giving rays and please the gods, preventing the coming of another apocalypse. In order to ascend the throne, Ahkin must also marry, choosing a wife among the daughters of the empire’s minor kings, each descended from the gods and are hence blessed with their own unique powers.

This is where our second protagonist, Mayana, comes into play. Her birthright is control of water, but unlike her family, she doesn’t believe the gods demand sacrifices in return for peace and prosperity. However, when she becomes one of the six young princesses called to the palace, Mayana knows she must keep her blasphemous beliefs to herself in order to survive. Only one woman can become Ahkin’s wife, with the rest to be sacrificed to bless the match. In order to ensure she will be the one chosen by the matchmakers, she’ll need to play the role of devout subject and hope to catch the young prince’s eye and keep it. But as she grows closer to Ahkin, and as he begins to develop deeper feelings for her, Mayana knows she won’t be able to keep her secrets forever. As empress, she would be called upon to take part in the bloody sacrificial rituals she doesn’t agree with. How can she rule the empire if she doesn’t believe in its traditions, and what would Ahkin think of her when he inevitably finds out?

To start, The Seventh Sun was a novel full of surprises for me—some good, and some admittedly not so good. On the whole, while I thought it was impressive for a debut, it was also not without its share of “first novel problems” including unstable pacing and issues related to telling not showing. The story itself was interesting, but predictable in a way that you can probably zone out through much of the novel’s middle sections without missing out on anything too important, and in fact, that’s exactly what happened to me with the audiobook. The other issue related to this is the writing style and storytelling. Although I knew this would be a coming-of-age novel, what I did not expect was for elements in it to skew so heavily YA. The plot boils down to a competition between the six young women, who are put through multiple trials with only one winner to emerge while failure will mean death (like we haven’t seen a variation of this scenario in YA a million times before?) In play is also the ever-annoying miscommunication trope, in which two people claim they are on so in love, but of course never tell each other anything.

But there are positives. The world-building is strong, and though the book synopsis describes The Seventh Sun as being based on the legends and history of the Aztec and Mayans, I would say it’s the author’s own flourishes (and here she does take a lot of artistic liberties) that make the setting of her book and the magic of her characters memorable. The final chapters were also a bit surprising, and though I was disappointed to discover that there would be no clean ending to tie everything up neatly, I enjoyed finally getting a few twists and certain developments I didn’t see coming.

Though I wasn’t completely blown away, I saw a lot of promising things in The Seventh Sun that will make me strongly consider picking up the sequel, if nothing else because the ending took the story in a direction I completely did not expect, and I would be curious to see what will happen to Ahkin and Mayana. The audiobook narrated by Stacy Gonzales was another reason for my increased interest, because she made the characters come to life and their emotions feel real. When the next book comes out, should I decide to pick it up, it will definitely be the audio format again because of her fantastic performance.

YA Weekend Audio: The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

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

The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

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

Genre: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Macmillan Audio (February 25, 2020)

Length: 9 hrs and 53 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Caitlin Davies

I was surprised how much I enjoyed this. No pretenses, limited drama, just plain good fun with a generous helping of romance. And of course, a wildly entertaining heroine didn’t hurt.

At the heart of The Shadows Between Us is a fairy tale as old as time—a girl hopes to catch the eye of the king, marry him and become his queen. But instead of living happily ever after, here the girl actually has vicious designs to murder the king and steal his kingdom. Let’s be clear: Alessandra is not a nice person. She’s never claimed to be. She is highly ambitious and has always made it known that she’s only out for herself, and you can either help her or get the hell out of the way.

Now she’s set her sights on the throne itself, and the key to getting it is the newly crowned Shadow King. So named because of the tendrils of living shadows that swirl around him, Kallias is a mysterious young man who mostly keeps to himself, but Alessandra believes she knows what he wants. Her plan is to present herself at court and make it impossible for him to resist her charms, and once he makes her his wife, that’s when she will strike.

And for a while, things seemed to be going as planned. Alessandra is confident that she has Kallias’ attention, and he’s shown his interest by officially making their courtship public. But then came the assassination attempt on his life, and Alessandra is outraged. Someone is trying to kill the king before she can get him to marry her, how dare they! Unexpectedly, Alessandra as Kallias’ would-be killer now finds herself doing everything she can to keep him alive, becoming his most loyal protector, and the irony is not lost on her.

First, let’s talk about Alessandra. She’s completely full of herself, and I love it! I’m sick and tired of heroines in YA who act all coy and demure, who are all full of false modesty. For one thing, they’re not fooling anyone. To have someone like Alessandra, who owns her egotism and her thirst for ambition, is like a breath of fresh air. She’s also got a voracious sexual appetite and isn’t ashamed to admit it, though she does ensure she gets plenty of dirt on her lovers just in case they decide to turn on her. This is one smart, ruthless cookie you won’t want to mess with, and you definitely won’t want to get between her and what she wants.

And yet, in spite of all her flaws, Alessandra is incredibly likable. And really, she’s not all bad. As her relationship with Kallias deepens, she realizes that she does in fact care for him, and goes on to prove that there are other things she cares about other than herself. It’s safe to say she carried the book for me, through the sheer force of her personality. Quite honestly, while I enjoyed the story, world-building and other characters, those aspects weren’t anything too special. In fact, I think in many ways Kallias was overshadowed by Alessandra—not because he wasn’t a good character or that he wasn’t well-written, but simply because everything just tends to fade to the background when compared to our fiery protagonist (okay, with maybe the exception of Demodocus, but who doesn’t love that big adorable furball?) In addition, Alessandra was what made the love story arc not only tolerable but actually enjoyable, and that’s a big deal considering how picky I am about how romances are handled in YA.

But at the end of the day, The Shadows Between Us was simply a straight-up fun and energizing read, headed by a truly memorable and ferociously indomitable heroine. I was almost disappointed to find out this was a standalone, by the way the ending wrapped up so neatly, because I most certainly wouldn’t have minded another book with Alessandra. The story itself was a bit predictable, but that’s not to say it didn’t have its moments, and there were also a few surprises. It held my attention from beginning to end, and I was sorry to say goodbye. Without a doubt, Tricia Levenseller will be an author I’ll remember, and I’ll be watching for what she writes next.

Audiobook Comments: I’m a huge fan of Caitlin Davies, and in my opinion, they couldn’t have chosen a better narrator for The Shadows Between Us because of the way she flawlessly channeled Alessandra’s attitude. Her reading was spot on and pitch perfect, and I don’t think this book would have been nearly as good had someone else been narrating. Fantastic performance, and highly recommended.

Bookshelf Roundup 03/07/20: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads

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

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Received for Review

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

First, a big thank you to Titan Books for sending me this beautiful finished copy of Re-Coil by J.T. Nicholas, which is even more colorful and vivid in person. I took part in the tour for this book earlier in the week, and now I’m even more excited to check it out. Also thanks to William Morrow for a surprise copy of Hour of the Assassin by Matthew Quirk, which I think I received because I reviewed the author’s The Night Agent last year. Political thrillers aren’t really my thing, but if I have time I might it a try.

With thanks also to Tor.com for sending along a finished copy of Hearts of Oak by Eddie Robson which I’d like to try because I’ve been hearing some great things from early reviews, as well as an ARC of Drowned Country by Emily Tesh, the sequel to Silver in the Wood. I’m kicking myself for not having started the series yet, but I know it’s never too late!

Courtesy of the wonderful peeps at Subterranean Press, I also received these pretties: The Orphans of Raspay by Lois McMaster Bujold is the seventh novella in the wonderful Penric and Desdemona sequence. Honestly though, just seeing Bujold’s name on the cover of a book is reason enough to read it. And finally, Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy 3 edited by William Schafer is the third installment of the publisher’s acclaimed dark fantasy anthology series, featuring stories from ten of the most exciting names in the genre including Kat Howard, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Sarah Gailey, C.J. Tudor, Richard Kadrey, P. Djèjí Clark and more.

 

I’ve been doing pretty well whittling down my audiobook pile lately and needed to stock up on good listens, so I decided to make a few requests. From Hachette Audio, I grabbed The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett which caught my eye for being described as a more mature YA fantasy with fairy tale vibes and court intrigue, as well as Girl on the Edge by Karen Dietrich, a thriller about a girl who seeks to understand what drove her father to commit mass murder. Speaking of thrillers, from Penguin Random House Audio I also grabbed listening copies of The Body Double by Emily Beyda, a debut novel about a young woman recruited to impersonate a reclusive Hollywood star; Providence by Max Barry, a story about four astronauts journeying across space in a supposedly indestructible ship to fight against an alien race; and The Keeper by Jessica Moor, a crime mystery following a detective who investigate an apparent suicide that turns out to be a murder. I love listening to thrillers in audio, so we’ll if any of these are what I’m looking for. Courtesy of the kind folks at Audible Studios I also picked up Twilight of the Gods by Scott Oden (so happy the books in this series finally got audio versions, I might add) and House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas for review this week, as well as Voodoo Shanghai by Kristi Charish with thanks to the author for providing me a reviewer code!

Reviews

False Value by Ben Aaronovitch (4 of 5 stars)
The Queen of Raiders by Sarah Kozloff (4 of 5 stars)
Bent Heavens by Daniel Kraus (4 of 5 stars)

This Week’s Reads

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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!:)