Bookshelf Roundup: 03/27/21: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads

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

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Received for Review

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

With thanks to Gallery/Saga Press for this surprise ARC of Among Thieves by M.J. Kuhn. I didn’t know much about it, but after looking it up, I was really excited to find out it’s a fantasy heist novel. Say no more, I am so IN! Also thanks to Titan Books for sending me a review copy of The Swimmers by Marian Womack. In case you missed it, we featured an excerpt from the book last month, so check it out! Thank you also to Orbit Books for an ARC of The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri, the first volume of her new trilogy Burning Kingdoms. I had a great time with the author’s debut Empire of Sand, so I’m looking forward to see what she has in store for this one.

Courtesy of the kind folks at Grand Central Publishing, I also received a review copy of Win by Harlan Coben. I’ve been hearing great things about his books for a long time, but I’ve never actually read him! I think this will be a great opportunity to start with the first book of his new series starring a side character from the author’s Myron Bolitar books. My thanks also to Tor Books for this gorgeous ARC of She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan, one of my most anticipated releases this summer! Earlier this month the publisher also sent along a finished copy of A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine, the sequel to A Memory Called Empire. I’m so upset that I haven’t started this series yet, but it’s definitely high on my priority list still because I’ve heard such amazing things about it.

I also want to give a huge shoutout to the awesome team at Minotaur Books for what is quite possibly the coolest book publicity swag I’ve ever received! When the big box containing this ARC of The Photographer by Mary Dixie Carter, I was definitely a bit puzzled as to what could be inside, because it didn’t feel too heavy. Imagine my surprise (and nostalgic glee!) when I open it and out popped this customized Image3D RetroViewer, complete with its own reel of promotional images and pictures! My entire family had so much fun looking through them, and it sucks that I can’t get the photos to show up here, but many of the images in the viewfinder were taken from the book trailer:

In the digital pile, with thanks to DAW for sending me a NetGalley widget invite for Adrift by W. Michael Gear. I do love this sci-fi series so much, and as I said when I recently featured this book for Waiting on Wednesday, I’m so excited to sail off on Donovan’s seas for the very first time. And finally, thanks to Simon & Schuster Audio for a listening copy of Girls With Rebel Souls by Suzanne Young, the third and final volume of the Girls With Sharp Sticks trilogy. I’m looking forward to see how it all ends!

Reviews

Swordheart by T. Kingfisher (4 of 5 stars)
What Abigail Did That Summer by Ben Aaronovitch (4 of 5 stars)
The Unbroken by C.L. Clark (3 of 5 stars)

What I’ve Been Reading

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Have you heard of or read any of the books featured this week? What caught your eye? Any new discoveries? I hope you found something interesting for a future read! Let me know what you plan on checking out. Until next time, see you next Roundup!:)

Friday Face-Off: A Picture Within A Picture

Welcome to The Friday Face-Off, a weekly meme created by Books by Proxy! Each Friday, we will pit cover against cover while also taking the opportunity to showcase gorgeous artwork and feature some of our favorite book covers. If you want to join the fun, simply choose a book each Friday that fits that week’s predetermined theme, post and compare two or more different covers available for that book, then name your favorite. A list of future weeks’ themes are available at Lynn’s Book Blog.

This week’s theme is:

~ a cover featuring A PICTURE WITHIN A PICTURE

Mogsy’s Pick:

My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

My goodness, this week’s topic was hard! My pick probably barely qualifies, but oh well – it was a book I enjoyed and it has some great covers, so check them out!

From left to right:
Quick Books Hardcover (2016) – Quirk Books Paperback (2017) – Russian Edition (2020)

German Edition (2019) – Portuguese Edition (2019) – Czech Edition (2018)

Winner:

Like a lot of Grady Hendrix’s stories, this novel was a bit offbeat, and I think that calls for an offbeat cover. The Quirk paperback edition mimicking a VHS sleeve for an old-school campy horror movie might be come off as kind of gimmicky, but hey you just gotta love it!

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

Audiobook Review: Swordheart by T. Kingfisher

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

Swordheart by T. Kingfisher

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy, Romance

Series: The World of the White Rat

Publisher: Tantor Audio (March 23, 2021)

Length: 14 hrs and 32 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Jesse Vilinsky

Speaking as a recently converted fan of T. Kingfisher/Ursula Vernon’s who discovered her work through The Twisted Ones and The Hollow Places, I was absolutely thrilled when I discovered that Swordheart was coming to audio. Of course, it’s a very different kind of story—not horror or paranormal, but a fantasy romance. Still, I enjoyed it very much, and it drove home the sheer talent and versatility of this author and her ability to spin an entertaining tale that is well-balanced with adventure and humor.

When we first meet our protagonist Halla, the thirty-something-year-old widowed housekeeper has just inherited the entirety of her great-uncle’s estate but is feeling quite depressed about it, to the point of contemplating her own suicide. For you see, the family of her late husband want all that money, and they’ve imprisoned Halla in her home until she agrees to marry her contemptible cousin. Childless with no one to support her, Halla knows taking her own life would be the only way to ensure that the inheritance will pass on to her nieces, and so, after spotting an ancient sword mounted on the wall of her room, she decides to take it down and use it to end it all.

But once she unsheathes the sword, something miraculous happens. An armored man appears before her, calling himself Sarkis, claiming to be the immortal spirit who has been trapped in the enchanted sword, which now rightfully belongs to her. Throughout history, Sarkis has been called upon by the sword’s previous wielders to serve and protect, and he’d be damned if he’s going to allow his latest owner to use him as an agent of her own demise. Together, Sarkis and Halla foil her husband’s despicable relatives to make their daring escape from the house. Next stop: The Temple of the White Rat where Halla can get in touch with a priest to secure her inheritance and the path to her own future.

The story of Swordheart is pretty straightforward; nothing too surprising in terms of twists and turns, yet it still contains many of the hallmarks of a Kingfisher novel, like a seriously creative inventive premise and delightfully hilarious dialogue. This makes the lowkey plot feel much fuller than it actually is.

Of course, we also have the author’s amazing characterization to thank. From her background, you can probably tell Halla isn’t like the typical heroine you’ll find in a romance. She’s sheltered but she’s curious, filled with questions about the world and constantly driving Sarkis to exasperation (which was yet another source of endless amusement for the reader). Sarkis himself is certainly intriguing as romantic interests go—can’t say I’ve read too many books where the hero is a sword, at least! He’s also battle-hardened and jaded, but still retains enough of his humanity to be sensitive towards Halla’s needs, not to mention a wicked sense of humor to go toe-to-toe with her in their witty banter wars.

Still, one thing to keep in mind is that Swordheart is a romance first, and a fantasy novel second. There’s plenty of vivid worldbuilding, but it all comes in second to the relationship development between Halla and Sarkis. Expect some of the usual fluffy tropes that go hand in hand with the genre, like unnecessary drama caused by miscommunication and angsty overreaction, etc. I probably would have been more okay with this had it not led both Sarkis and Halla to make some inexplicably stupid decisions. Thing is, I don’t mind a bit of melodrama in my romance stories, but creating conflict for the sake of conflict is another matter entirely, and I there were some eye-rollingly blatant examples of that here.

And yet for all that, I still really enjoyed Swordheart, if nothing else because of the unique premise and the super sweet, super heartwarming romance it featured between the two very unconventional leads. I thought it was especially fun to listen to the audiobook, which was charmingly read by narrator Jesse Vilinsky, and the story’s adventurous themes and easy humor made the hours fly right by. If you’re a fan of the author or fantasy romance, provided that you don’t mind some of the genre’s more frustrating tropes, I would definitely give this one a look.

Waiting on Wednesday 03/24/21

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

Mogsy’s Pick

Gutter Mage by J.S. Kelley (September 21, 2021 by Gallery/Saga Press)

This one falls under epic fantasy, but it certainly looks quite a bit different. I’m intrigued by the description of magic meets mystery.

“J.S. Kelley weaves epic fantasy and hardboiled noir in this fast-paced, twisting tale of magic, mystery, and a whole lot of unruly behavior.

In a kingdom where magic fuels everything from street lamps to horseless carriages, the mage guilds of Penador wield power equal to the king himself. So when Lord Edmund’s infant son is kidnapped by the ruthless Alath Guild, he turns to the one person who’s feared by even the most magically adept: Rosalind Featherstone, a.k.a. the Gutter Mage.

But as Roz delves into the circumstances behind the child’s disappearance, she uncovers an old enemy from her traumatic past and a long-brewing plot that could lead to the death of countless innocents, as well as the complete collapse of Penadorian society itself!”

 

Most Anticipated Releases of 2021: April to June

The snow is melting, the grass is growing, and the days are finally getting warmer. It’s time to look ahead to the Science Fiction and Fantasy reads I’m most excited about in the months of April to June. Not only is it fun to organize my reading and to make lists, they also have the added benefit of focusing my attention to the highly anticipated releases that I’d like to check out. There’s already an impressive tower of books on my to-read pile, and while I’m under no illusions that I’ll be able to read them all, hopefully I can get to most of them (and also put some new books on people’s radars)!

So what are your most anticipated releases for the second quarter of 2021?

April

April 6 – Instinct by Jason Hough, Mother May I by Joshilyn Jackson

April 13 – The Light of the Midnight Stars by Rena Rossner, Malice by Heather Walter, The Helm of Midnight by Marina J. Lostetter, Near the Bone by Christina Henry

April 20 – The Galaxy and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers, Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone

April 27 – Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells, Meet Me in Another Life by Catriona Silvey

May

May 4 – Immunity Index by Sue Burke, The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne, Blade of Secrets by Tricia Levenseller, Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

May 11 – We Are Satellites by Sarah Pinsker

May 18 – The Album of Dr. Moreau by Daryl Gregory, The Broken God by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan

May 25 – Hard Reboot by Django Wexler, The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman, Honeycomb by Joanne M. Harris, The Photographer by Mary Dixie Carter

June

June 1 – Adrift by W. Michael Gear, The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell, The Library of the Dead by T.L. Huchu 

June 8 – Daughter of Sparta by Claire M. Andrews, The Coward by Stephen Aryan, A Dark and Secret Place by Jen Williams, Rabbits by Terry Miles, The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid, The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri 

June 15 – For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten, Shutter by Melissa Larsen

June 22 – The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison

June 29 – The Chariot at Dusk by Swati Teerdhala

Book Review: The Unbroken by C.L. Clark

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

The Unbroken by C.L. Clark

Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of Magic of the Lost

Publisher: Orbit (March 23, 2021)

Length: 464 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Borrowing its inspiration from the history of colonialism in North Africa, The Unbroken by C.L. Clark is a military fantasy told through the eyes of two women on both sides of a tense political conflict.

Touraine was a child of Qazāl, kidnapped by the occupying Balladaire and raised to fight in their army, where she eventually rises to the rank of lieutenant. But it is a difficult existence, mistrusted by her own people yet also scorned by those who rule over her. Touraine often finds herself straddling the two worlds, constantly questioning her allegiance—such as when her company is called out to put down a rebellion that has broken out in her homeland.

Meanwhile, despite living in the privileged lap of rulership, Princess Luca Ancier is dealing with a power struggle within her own family. She wants the throne that her uncle currently holds, yet knows not how to go about taking it. As she is being escorted back to the Qazāli capital in which she resides, however, her caravan is ambushed by rebels. Luckily, Touraine was there to guard the princess, thwarting the attack.

Unfortunately, the incident is merely a sign of more tensions and strife to come. Touraine, shaken by something that happened during the rebel attack, realizes her long forgotten ties to Qazāl may yet affect her in ways she can’t even imagine. To her humiliation and shame, she soon finds herself framed for a crime she didn’t commit, and beseeches the princess to help her avoid capital punishment. Luca, sensing an opportunity, decides to intervene and save Touraine’s life, believing she has gained a loyal follower and potential spy in the process. Still, their ensuring arrangement is loaded with challenges, even as the relationship between them develops and deepens. Touraine’s growing sympathies make it increasingly more difficult to carry out the assignments given to her by the princess, and as much as Luca claims to want to help the Qazāl and negotiate for peace, it doesn’t change the fact she is still seeking the throne for her own reasons.

First off, there’s no question there are some great points behind The Unbroken, from the complex character relationships to the provocative themes of colonialism and the power imbalances that drive the plot. The novel is full of uncomfortable questions as well as allusions to certain historical events and circumstances that need to be explored, and in a way, it is both a commentary and a prompt to examine the intricate ties between colonization and one’s sense of social and cultural identity.

And yet, despite all that was going for it, I thought the story floundered in its execution. You ever come across a book that feels full to bursting with a multitude of interesting ideas but somehow still feels insubstantial and empty? That’s sort of what got from The Unbroken. I adored the first hundred pages or so, in which we were treated to about a million people, places, and things to remember, but for all that this setup was chaotic and confused, I was in my element taking in all the rich detail and absorbing the background lore. The worldbuilding was exquisite, the prose robust, and the backstories of the characters were deftly done. But after a while, this initial glow faded away. I became more and more disenchanted by the plot, which slowed to a crawl around the midway point, and also started noticing a few things that didn’t really sit right with me.

One of them was the relationship between the two protagonists. Obviously, with Luca being a princess and Touraine being a conscripted servant of the throne, there was potential for it to go in a number of possible directions, but a romance was perhaps the most ineffective and uninspired. Trust me, there was plenty enough there to develop and preserve the same powerful emotions between the two main characters that the author wanted to convey without having to involve all the yearning desires and all that messy, angsty drama. At best, the romance felt undeveloped, and at worst, it was a distraction.

All in all, I thought The Unbroken started off on an excellent note, but ultimately ended up being middle-of-the-road. It certainly wasn’t a bad book, but I was led to expect more from its strong introduction, and became disappointed when that didn’t happen. Still, I’m not complaining too much; like I said, there are a lot of high points in this novel which I have no doubt will leave many readers very happy, but as for me, I’ll be taking a wait-and-see approach for the rest of the series.

Novella Review: What Abigail Did That Summer by Ben Aaronovitch

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

What Abigail Did That Summer by Ben Aaronovitch

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Series: Book 5.3 of Peter Grant/Rivers of London

Publisher: Subterranean Press (March 18, 2021)

Length: 232 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

The Rivers of London series has been graced with many incredible supporting characters, but none have been as compelling as Abigail Kamara, Peter Grant’s feisty teenage cousin who has been making a name for herself as a young practitioner-in-training and doing some of her own detective work on the side. So you can imagine how excited I was when I found out she was getting her own story in What Abigail Did That Summer, a novella set concurrently to the fifth book in the main series, Foxglove Summer, in which Peter finds himself in Herefordshire investigating the disappearance of some local kids and getting himself entangled in whacky unicorn magic. Meanwhile though, Abigail was back in London, working on a different sort of missing children case…

It is the summer of 2013 and school has just been let out, leaving Abigail with too much time and freedom on her hands. As it happens, an old friend of hers named Natali had suddenly reappeared in her life with an invitation to a “happening”, but when it came time to meet, the other girl is nowhere to be found. Instead, while waiting in the park, she chances upon a boy around her age named Simon, who had come to the same place because he too had been invited by a girl named Jessica, also a no-show. Before long, both Natali and Jessica are appearing on missing posters and the police are asking Abigail and Simon some uncomfortable questions. Though the girls eventually turned up safe and sound and the police investigation was dropped, Abigail senses magical involvement and isn’t content to put it all behind her just yet.

In the meantime, she and Simon have struck up a comfortable friendship, and when he decides to tag along on some of her reconnaissance work, she could hardly say no. Of course, that meant having to introduce him to her other helpers, a troop of clever talking foxes who have come to take a keen interest in our protagonist and her activities.

While What Abigail Did That Summer is technically a novella, it is a hefty one at more than two hundred pages, allowing for plenty of character and story development. As such, while I typically shy away from short fiction, this one was long enough to satisfy my addiction to the Rivers of London books, even though Peter Grant is not in it at all. Still, that’s a good thing—this is Abigail’s story and hers alone, and I loved that we got to be in her head the entire time, experiencing her life, seeing her world through her eyes. In fact, there is hardly any influence from anyone from the main series at all, save for Thomas Nightingale, and that’s only for a few scenes at the end, as well as fleeting comments from the Folly archivist in the form of footnotes explaining some of Abigail’s more slangish vernacular.

But for all that it takes us away from what we’re used to, there’s a lot here that also feels familiar, leaving no doubt this is part of the Rivers of London universe and under the scope of the Folly. It’s true however that we see things through a “younger” lens, Abigail’s POV being limited to what she knows, the people and places she can access. While important side characters are mainly limited to other teens and foxes, I wouldn’t really classify this as strictly YA either, as I imagine it has tons of crossover appeal. We get to learn a lot more about Abigail’s home life, which isn’t exactly hunky-dory, but simply knowing what goes on behind the scenes makes her feel more real to us, defining her character as more than just “Peter’s cousin.” I also adored the talking foxes, especially Indigo, and I’m glad they played such a significant role in the story.

I don’t have any major criticisms, but thought I’d mention this because I found I experienced something similar with The October Man, another Rivers of London novella written from the POV of someone other than Peter, yet whose voice still sounds a lot like Peter. All of Ben Aaronovitch’s protagonists just seem to sound the same to me. To be fair, Abigail’s voice left no doubt we were following a teenage girl, but many of her descriptive patterns and her overall narrative style fit Peter’s to a tee. The author probably isn’t used to writing from another, non-Peter Grant character’s perspective, and it definitely shows.

Still, overall, What Abigail Did That Summer was an entertaining novella, and I had a blast. I’m also intrigued with the way it ended, leaving things wide open for possibly more adventures starring Abigail and her foxy friends. Hopefully, Aaronovitch will explore this avenue, because as much as I enjoy the Rivers of London novels, I’m also having a lot of fun with these “side jaunts” with other characters. They certainly add a bit of fascination and variety to the world of the Folly, and if you’re a fan of the main series, you’ll not want to miss this.

Bookshelf Roundup: 03/20/21: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads

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

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Received for Review

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

With the mail services picking up in my area again, Engines of Oblivion by Karen Osborne was an early February release that I was happy to see turn up! This is the sequel to Architects of Memory which I read last year, and it’d be cool to continue the story. With thanks to Tor Books for the review copy, as well as the following ARCs: The Library of The Dead by T.L. Huchu and The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman. Both are on my most-antipated releases for this year and I can’t wait to read them!

Thank you also to kind folks at Minotaur Books for a review copy of The Lost Village by Camilla Sten. This one certainly looks spooky and I look forward to seeing if this “disturbing thriller” will deliver. Also thanks to Redhook for a surprise ARC of The World Gives Way by Marissa Levien, a dystopian novel that has recently landed on my radar, so its arrival was rather serendipitous. And rounding out this week’s arrivals, I also want to thank Titan Books for a review copy of Black Panther: Tales of Wakanda edited by Jesse J. Holland, a collection of stories featuring the Marvel superhero by a lineup of award-winning authors. You know me, I’m all about the comic book tie-ins!

Just a couple of new titles in the digital haul this week, as I already have quite an audio review pile. Still, I jumped at the chance to check out Every Last Fear by Alex Finlay, and also Near the Bone by Christina Henry. Thank you to Macmillan Audio and Penguin Audio for the listening copies.

Reviews

Dead Space by Kali Wallace (4.5 of 5 stars)
The Ladies of the Secret Circus by Constance Sayers (4 of 5 stars)
Later by Stephen King (4 of 5 stars)
The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse (2.5 of 5 stars)

Roundup Highlights:

What I’ve Been Watching

So now that the kids are back in school for hybrid (yay!) and having some semblance of a routine again, I have been packing them off to bed early, leaving my husband and I more time in the evenings to explore a couple new series I’ve been curious about.

Earlier this month we finished Behind Her Eyes, a Netflix limited series based off of one of my favorite books by Sarah Pinborough. It’s been a several years since I read it though, and can you believe I had actually forgotten the twist ending?! Of course, it all came back to me about halfway through the series, which coincidentally was when things in the show started picking up. It seemed like they really dragged things out in the first three episodes, but then the rest was more in keeping with the energy of a fast-paced thriller. When all was said and done and I remembered everything again, I actually thought it was quite a well done, faithful adaptation.

This week, we also watched The One, based on the novel of the same name by John Marrs. Though I haven’t read the book, I did read The Passengers and more recently The Minders which are stories set in the same world, so a lot of the premise to The One did leak through, giving me just enough of a clue to be curious about the new 8-episode series. It’s based around an idea that I found completely ridiculous on the page, but something about it made me think it would work a lot better on the screen. It ended up being pretty entertaining, in a guilty-pleasure sort of way, as expected.

Have you watched any of these, or do you plan to? If so, what did you think?

What I’ve Been Reading

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Have you heard of or read any of the books featured this week? What caught your eye? Any new discoveries? I hope you found something interesting for a future read! Let me know what you plan on checking out. Until next time, see you next Roundup!:)

Friday Face-Off: Ruins

Welcome to The Friday Face-Off, a weekly meme created by Books by Proxy! Each Friday, we will pit cover against cover while also taking the opportunity to showcase gorgeous artwork and feature some of our favorite book covers. If you want to join the fun, simply choose a book each Friday that fits that week’s predetermined theme, post and compare two or more different covers available for that book, then name your favorite. A list of future weeks’ themes are available at Lynn’s Book Blog.

This week’s theme is:

~ a cover featuring RUINS

Mogsy’s Pick:

The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

It all begins with a fallen angel. The War in Heaven has come to Paris – or what’s left of it. The proud city is a ruin now, the once beautiful Seine clogged with the ashes of the dead and destroyed. House Silverspires, which used to be one of the most powerful Fallen factions, has followed Paris’ downfall into decay and disarray. It is thought that the House’s founder Morningstar has abandoned them, or he may be dead; either way, the fate of Silverspires now rests in his protégé Selene’s hands. And Selene, while she’s no Morningstar, is trying to do her best to keep her people safe as a sudden string of uncanny deaths strikes those with ties to her House.

Let’s take a look at the covers!

From left to right:
Roc (2015) – Gollancz HC (2015) – Gollancz PB (2016)

German Edition (2017) – French Edition (2017) – Blackstone Audio (2015)

Winner:

Wow, what a dark set of covers! Here I think a little brightness might actually help highlight the ruined city, which I enjoy as a visual theme as much as I do the angel wings. The French edition it is!

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

Book Review: The Ladies of the Secret Circus by Constance Sayers

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

The Ladies of the Secret Circus by Constance Sayers

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Redhook (March 23, 2021)

Length: 448 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

I discovered a lot of new authors last year, and so far I have not been disappointed by the subsequent works they’ve put out, with Constance Sayers being the latest on this list. I loved her debut A Witch in Time and I am pleased to say she delivers a shining sophomore novel in The Ladies of the Secret Circus.

Told in distinct sections separated by time and place, our story first begins in Virginia in the year 2005 where protagonist Lara Barnes is excitedly preparing for her wedding to Todd Sutton, the love of her life. But on the big day, Todd is a no-show. While initially everyone believed this to be a case of the groom getting cold feet, a humiliated Lara has never accepted this to be the truth. Sure enough, when Todd’s abandoned vehicle is found on a lonely patch of road known as Wickelow Bend, uneasy questions are brought to the surface by old-timers and residents familiar with their town’s history who know it is not the first time this has happened. Thirty years ago, another man disappeared under similar circumstances, their empty car also left on this exact spot.

As Lara begins her own investigations, her findings lead her to uncover more about her family’s magical history and involvement with an enchanted circus with roots that date back to 1920s Paris. An old journal belonging to her great-grandmother Cecile gives Lara glimpses into the past with its lush descriptions of a mysterious traveling troupe whose existence is only known to those lucky enough to receive a magic ticket. This was the world of Le Cirque Secret, whose performers beguiled audiences nightly with wondrous illusions and seemingly impossible feats. From beast tamers to trapeze artists, they all worked under the direction of their enigmatic ringmaster, Cecile’s father. As such, life within this hidden circus was all that she knew, until she fell in love with a charming young artist, sending the two of them down a twisted path of danger and dark magic.

Those who enjoyed A Witch in Time will find similar appealing elements here, I think. For one, there is a significant historical aspect, which is great because I believe this is an area in which Sayers excels. It is no exaggeration to say her prose has a way of sweeping you up and away into another sumptuous and beautiful world, especially when dealing with the sections set in early twentieth century Paris. The story also traces the lives of multiple related protagonists, and in this case, they are the intriguing women of Lara’s family line—mother Audrey, grandmother Margot, great-grandmother Cecile and her twin Esme. And finally, this ensemble would certainly not be complete without the captivating forces of mystery and romance, which The Ladies of the Secret Circus delivers in spades.

Transporting us back and forth between the two timelines, the author manages to weave together a narrative of love and loss that is at once fantastically epic but also surprisingly relatable. This is evidenced right from the first chapter, as Lara stands in front of the mirror altering her wedding dress with nothing but the power of her mind before Audrey arrives, the two sharing a moving mother-daughter bonding moment. The book is simply packed with everyday scenes like this that are touched by magic, but it’s the people and their emotional relationships that bring everything back down to earth and fill me with warm and fuzzy feels. I had a marvelous time following these characters in both modern times and in the past, and this novel is a rare instance where I really cannot say which storyline or POV I preferred because I sincerely enjoyed them all.

Perhaps you might also be wondering how such different people living in such disparate times and places might have anything to do with each other, and well, that’s the crux of it, isn’t it? I won’t go into too much detail, but what I will say is that, like everything else in this book, the answers involve a combination of the real and the paranormal. We have everything from the influence of demonic entities, magical bloodlines, and powerfully wrought illusions to a murder mystery, good old-fashioned detective work, and a thriller-style ending. It’s a wild blend of genres and themes guaranteed to both energize and satisfy. I can honestly say I did not see a couple of the twists coming.

Bottom line, I think experiences with The Ladies of the Secret Circus will depend highly on how you feel about the story’s structure and its mix of romance, mystery, and drama, not to mention the mashing up of the contemporary and historical, the mundane and the magical. If you enjoyed A Witch in Time though, there’s a good chance you’ll like this too! I’m definitely keeping Constance Sayers on my must-read authors list.