Audiobook Review: The Next Wife by Kaira Rouda

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

The Next Wife by Kaira Rouda

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Suspense, Thriller

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Brilliance Audio (May 1, 2021)

Length: 9 hrs and 46 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Megan Tusing, Teri Clark Linden, Stephen Graybill, Rachel L. Jacobs

Kaira Rouda returns once more with another highly entertaining domestic suspense about one family’s secrets, scandals, and disastrous journey to self-implosion. What’s not to like? I mean, other than the characters who are all generally very crappy people—by design, of course. After all, you’ve not read a true Rouda novel unless you have had the privilege of being inside the minds of her narcissistic and delusional protagonists, an experience this one certainly provides.

In The Next Wife, readers are introduced to the Nelsons. Once upon a time, John and Kate were deeply in love and built a family as well as a business together. Fast forward to about twenty years later, however, their once modest startup has grown so large and successful that the company is about to go public, but they’re no longer a happy couple. John had left Kate a few years ago to marry his executive assistant named Tish, and boy, what a piece of work she is! Young, beautiful, sexy, and completely devious, Tish had taken advantage of the rift between John and Kate by seducing him, even going as far as to use the couple’s teenage daughter Ashlyn as a way to drive a larger wedge between them.

And in the end, her ploy had worked. As the new Mrs. Nelson, she now owns a part of the company that John and Kate had built, becoming very rich—and with the launch of the new IPO, they’re about to become even richer. But Tish isn’t happy. She thought she had everything under control, monitoring her husband’s phone and other communications, forbidding him to contact his ex-wife or daughter without her say so. After all, John needs no other person in his life but her, she’s made sure of it. So why is he suddenly getting all chummy with Kate at work, when the old hag should have resigned gracefully and gotten the hell out of their lives ages ago? And why can’t their spoiled little brat Ashlyn, who has an internship at her parents’ company, just mind her own damn business? Things are now getting super awkward with all four of them at the office, but Tish has cooked up an idea to get John all to herself. Immediately following their big IPO announcement, before anyone can stop her, she whisks him off for a romantic getaway, where she can have his undivided attention. With this move, Tish believes she has won…until something unexpected and horrifying happens, which throws all her best-laid plans out the window.

The Next Wife is the kind of book that makes you glad this is fiction, because sometimes the characters can get so over-the-top, you think to yourself that people this terrible can’t possibly exist. Tish needs no further explanation, but just when you’re starting to feel bad for Kate, you find out she’s not so innocent and pure either. You also can’t feel too sorry for John, what with his infidelity and letting himself be shamelessly manipulated by Tish. All in all, the only likeable character was probably Ashlyn. Hard not to sympathize with her, especially when she was still in high school when Tish started making the moves on her father, and at the time was too young to understand how she was being used. Now she just feels angry and betrayed by everyone in her life, including her own parents.

Anyway, this book had its ups and downs. When it first started, I thought the tone of it very similar to the author’s previous novel, The Favorite Daughter, because once more we were seeing the story through the eyes of someone who is completely self-absorbed and batshit insane, not to mention highly unreliable. Still, it gets easier once you come to accept the protagonist’s kookiness, and it even becomes kind of fun to see how much more extreme Tish can get. That said, I was pleasantly surprised when we got not one but several POV changes, alternating between John, Kate, and Ashlyn. The multiple narrators made the plot more interesting, not to mention I was truly knocked for a loop when the first big twist happened right at the beginning. I can’t say I expected things to take that turn, and actually thought it might have been a trick!

Beyond that, it’s difficult to say much more about the plot because that would be treading a spoiler minefield, and I’m not about to give anything away. Overall, the story was fairly basic, but decent. Sure, maybe the conclusion could have used a bit more bite, but I was greatly entertained regardless, and I’ll keep reading Kaira Rouda because she is fantastic at writing reprehensible characters. At the end of the day, I can’t really fault The Next Wife for being your standard thriller because it’s the perfect example of a popcorn read—light, fluffy, and low on substance but still oh so delicious and you just can’t help wanting more.

Audiobook Comments: Top-notch performance from all the narrators, but especially for Tish’s chapters because the reader nailed her wily southern girl persona, as well as for Ashlyn, whose youthful frustration and anguish over her broken family could be felt in her voice.

Bookshelf Roundup: 05/15/21: 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!

Huge thanks to Tor Books this week, for sending me a finished copy of The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo, a retelling of The Great Gatsby from the perspective of Jordan Baker, the famous golfer friend of Daisy Buchanan who has been reimagined as a queer immigrant from Vietnam who can work magic and see ghosts. The idea is definitely ambitious and interesting, and I certainly hope it’ll be as good as it sounds.

And courtesy of Tor Teen, I also received Dark ShoresDark Skies, and Gilded Serpent by Danielle L. Jensen from her Dark Shores trilogy. I was actually just pitched the last book but they sent all three, so that was a surprise! At least I’m caught up, so I’m excited to see how everything will tie together.

I was also happy to receive an ALC of Daughter of Sparta by Claire M. Andrews this week. It’s YA historical fantasy so I’m a little wary, but the mythological angle was just too tempting! With thanks to Hachette Audio.

And thank you to HarperAudio for this trio of listening copies: The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid, Day Zero by C. Robert Cargill, and Local Woman Missing by Mary Kubica!

Reviews

The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne (4.5 of 5 stars)
Blade of Secrets by Tricia Levenseller (4.5 of 5 stars)
Firebreak by Nicole Kornher-Stace (2.5 of 5 stars)

Roundup Highlights:

What I’ve Been Reading

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Have you heard of or read any of the books featured this week? What caught your eye? Any new discoveries? I hope you found something interesting for a future read!

Friday Face-Off: Early Fantasy Read

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:

~ an EARLY FANTASY READ

Mogsy’s Pick:

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

I’ve actually been reading fantasy my whole life, but there was a time in my late teens to mid-twenties where I stopped reading entirely to focus on college and then work. About ten years ago though, I picked it up again as a hobby and returned to my favorite genre. That was when I started “catching up” and also reading a lot of the authors that were getting big on the scene around that time, and one of them was Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind. So even though it’s not my “earliest” fantasy read per se, I still think it’s appropriate for this week’s theme since it was one of the books that helped me get back into the genre.

From left to right:
Penguin Group DAW (2007) – DAW Kindle Edition (2007) – DAW 10th Anniversary (2017)

Gollancz (2008) – Gollancz (2017) – German Edition (2008)

Portuguese Edition (2009) – Latvian Edition (2013) – Dutch Edition (2013)

Persian Edition (2016) – Japanese Edition (2017) – Russian Edition (2011)

Winner:

I’ll be honest, it’s been so long I hardly remember anything from the book except for a few key things, and I don’t even know if the Latvian edition is a good match for the tone of the story but I do love this cover!

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

#WyrdAndWonder Book Review: The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne

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

The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne

Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of The Bloodsworn Saga

Publisher: Orbit (May 4, 2021)

Length: 520 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

John Gwynne works his magic yet again! Like many epic fantasies, The Shadow of the Gods follows several characters as they each attempt to navigate their own separate winding storylines, but it is always a thing of beauty to watch it come together in the hands of a master storyteller.

Set in gritty world of hardened warriors, vengeful gods and fearsome monsters, this Norse mythology inspired story follows Orka, who has given up life on the battlefield for a quiet homestead where she lives with her husband Thorkill and young son Breca. Peace is not in the cards, however, as reports of children being stolen away in the night have everyone in the nearby village feeling agitated and suspicious. Orka and her family are content to keep to themselves, until she returns home one day to find Breca, ripped violently from their home. Determined to make those responsible pay, Orka sets out on a journey to rescue her boy.

Meanwhile, another thread follows Varg, a former thrall who is seeking vengeance for his murdered sister. To do so, he will need the services of a witch to recreate her final moments to reveal the identity of her killer. Unfortunately, Varg is on the run himself, and is nearly captured until a mercenary band known as the Bloodsworn intervenes, inviting him to join them. And finally, there is the fierce warrior woman Elvar, who travels with the monster-hunting warband Battle Grim. Like her fellow fighters, she yearns to prove herself through her bravery and skill, but later comes to learn there may be more to life than glory and riches.

What I’ve always loved about Gwynne is his writing style, which immerses you in the setting and evokes a vivid sense of place. The details make his worlds come to life, making it easy to envision the snowy landscapes and gritty atmosphere. The author’s passion for his inspiration was also evident in the attention to the little things, like what the people wore, what they ate, how they spoke…the list goes on and on. So much of it was also his own creation, like the lore of the gods, or the sheer variety of different monsters and creatures that call this world home.

But even more impressive are his characters, the way he weaves multiple narratives that ultimately converge in this heart-stopping climax. Usually when it comes to epic fantasy where you have a bunch of different POVs and side plots, you inevitably get a character or two who may fall by the wayside, but I can honestly say it doesn’t happen here. Orka, Varg, and Elvar were all equally fascinating, their storylines each filled with plenty of action and adventure to hold their own. While it might have been true that a couple of these threads were slower to take off, I nonetheless followed all them with the same enthusiasm, though if forced to choose, my favorite was probably Orka. What can I say? There’s just something very compelling about a protagonist guided by her dual nature as a mother and a warrior because, hey, she may be a killing machine, but she’s got a soft side too.

Also, if you crave epic battle scenes, then you’re going to love this. Clearly, it’s an art form that Gwynne has perfected over the years, and not only that, he’s honed his sense of timing to drop these intense action sequences where they can make the most impact, keeping overall momentum swift and urgent so that the result is nearly flawless pacing. Sure, like I mentioned, there were a couple lulls, but these were never prolonged and I didn’t feel they affected my enjoyment all that much because you could always count on something to pull you right back in.

Bottom line, as the opening volume, The Shadow of the Gods sets up the story beautifully, making me hungry for the rest of The Bloodsworn Saga. This is truly epic fantasy at its best—an outstanding achievement in storytelling, fantasy world-building, and character development. Not to be missed, and I simply can’t wait for the next installment.

Waiting on Wednesday 05/12/21

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

The Pariah by Anthony Ryan (August 24, 2021 by Orbit)

I’m a big fan of Anthony Ryan and his upcoming new series is one I’m really looking forward to!

Following one man’s rise from infamous outlaw to famed warrior, The Pariah is a spectacular first novel in an all-new epic fantasy trilogy from the international best-selling author of Blood Song.

Born into the troubled kingdom of Albermaine, Alwyn Scribe is raised as an outlaw. Quick of wit and deft with a blade, Alwyn is content with the freedom of the woods and the comradeship of his fellow thieves. But an act of betrayal sets him on a new path – one of blood and vengeance, which eventually leads him to a soldier’s life in the king’s army.
 
Fighting under the command of Lady Evadine Courlain, a noblewoman beset by visions of a demonic apocalypse, Alwyn must survive war and the deadly intrigues of the nobility if he hopes to claim his vengeance. But as dark forces, both human and arcane, gather to oppose Evadine’s rise, Alwyn faces a choice: can he be a warrior, or will he always be an outlaw?”

#WyrdAndWonder Fantasy 5 Tuesday: The Rag-Tag Crew

Back in November I ran a series of posts called “Sci-5 Tuesdays” to celebrate Sci-Fi Month, so for Wyrd & Wonder, I thought it would be fun to do something similar to highlight some of the fantasy tropes and themes that I find simply irresistible! In the last few years, I’ve also been fortunate to read some wonderful new books in the genre, so to give them some extra attention, for each Tuesday’s topic I will also be featuring five titles that I recently enjoyed.

In Week 2, we’ll be looking at the RAG-TAG CREW. You know their type. They’re the mavericks and oddballs of society, the weird and the wild. They may come in all shapes and sizes and from all walks of life. Some of them claim to be the best at what they do, even if what they do is esoteric and just a bit insane. In fact, maybe no one wants anything to do with these individuals because they’re just too damn crazy or annoying to work with! Still, when a job needs to be done, these misfits will band together and give it their best shot, and even if they’re not your first choice of a crack team, they’ve got what it takes to get things done. After all, everything’s better with friends.

Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames

In what may be the ultimate “rag-tag crew” book, Kings of the Wyld is the classic quest narrated reworked and presented in a fun and refreshing package. It has it all: gritty anti-heroes and twisted villains, epic battles and heart-stopping fight scenes, exotic locales and all manner of fantastical creatures. If this sounds like your kind of story, then you’re in for a treat. We follow a motley crew of aging yet charming mercenaries as they reunite to rescue a bandmate’s daughter trapped behind the walls of a city under siege. After years of questing and brawling, Clay Cooper is ready put his past behind him. He’s married now with a young child, and he’s looking forward to retiring to a life of quiet and leisure. Fate, however, has different plans. One day, his old bandmate Gabe shows up with a desperate request for help, and it’s a matter of life and death. At first, Clay is reluctant to get involved, but after seeing Gabe’s distress and recalling all the good times he’s had with his friend, he finally relents, and the two of them set out to round up the members of their old band, Saga. (Read the full review…)

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

And of course, no list about rag tag crews would be completely without including the Crows from Leigh Bardugo’s fantasy heist duology set in the world of her Grishaverse. In the bustling trade city of Ketterdam, a gang of thieves called the Dregs will take on any job for the right price. Kaz “Dirty Hands” Brekker is their fearless leader, and the mastermind of their little group. Then there’s Inej, also known as the Wraith. Her talents lie in being able to melt into the shadows. Jesper is the sharpshooter, and he’s also the joker of the group. There was also this great dynamic between him and Wylan, the Dreg’s “outsider” who nonetheless found his way to a special place in my heart. And finally, there’s Nina and Matthias, the Grisha and the Witch Hunter. Nina brings the magic and Matthias brings the intel. When tasked by a powerful crime lord to rescue a scientist with a secret formula from the impenetrable walls of the Ice Court, Kaz goes forth and gathers his crew in preparation for the heist of a lifetime. (Read the full review…)

Heartstrikers by Rachel Aaron

Sometimes, your rag tag crew can be your own weird and whacky family. That’s the case in this five-book fantasy series by Rachel Aaron following the youngest member of a dysfunctional dragon clan as he tries to remain good in the cutthroat world of draconic politics. Julius Heartstriker is not your typical dragon. He’s nice, considerate, and has absolutely no designs on taking over the world, all of which makes him a total failure in his mother Bethesda’s eyes. Sealing him in his human form, the matriarch Heartstriker banishes her son to the Detroit Free Zone to fend for himself. Thankfully, not everyone in his family are so quick to dismiss him. His brother Justin might be their mother’s favorite, but he’ll always be there to fight by his side. Then there’s Bob, their resident seer who has always been kind and looking out for him. And of course, Chelsie, the clan enforcer everyone fears, but somehow she has a soft spot reserved for her littlest brother. And finally, who can forget Marci, the human mage who befriends Julius and stands by him in his quest, despite having her own hefty set of problems to deal with. The fantastic relationship dynamics in this series make it a must-read, and it’ll always have a special place in my heart and on my shelf. (Read the full review…)

The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French

With a title like that, you can be sure this dark epic fantasy will have plenty of grit and violence. Throw in a hog-riding gang of half-orcs, some breakneck pacing and a dash of that crude and vulgar brand of humor, then you’ve got yourself a recipe for a good time. The story follows Jackal, who is sworn to the the Grey Bastards hoof, one of the eight brotherhoods of former slaves that now live on the land known as the Lots. Shunned by humans but also hostile to the orcs, the mongrel bands are all that’s left standing between the city of Hispartha and the forces that want to see it fall. Our protagonist, with his lofty ambitions, can sometimes be blinded to other perspectives around him. Luckily, Jackal has his good friends to back him up. Oats is a thrice who is as loyal as they come, and rounding out the inseparable trio is Fetch, the only female in the Grey Bastards who had to fight tooth and nail for her position in the hoof. Like all friendships, the three of them have their ups and downs, but the well-developed relationships between them made these dynamics very convincing. (Read the full review…)

Baptism of Fire by Andrzej Sapkowski

Baptism of Fire is perhaps my favorite book in The Witcher series, and it’s no surprise, since this installment feels different from the others, shifting to a more traditional quest narrative while downplaying the political intrigue. We start the book off with an introduction to a new character, an expert archer and hunter named Milva. She meets Geralt in the forest, and even though the Witcher only has his mind on continuing on to Nilfgaard to find the young princess Ciri, he gives in to Milva’s request to tag along. They are accompanied by Dandelion, the poet. And on their way, they also meet a dwarf named Zoltan. Further along their journey, they join up with a Nilggaardian named Cahir. Eventually, the party even gets a vampire named Regis. And finally, they are joined by a young woman named Angoulême, who sides with Geralt after he saves her life. Together, they make up “Geralt’s company” or his hanza/hansa/hassa, a term derived from the Nilfgaardian phrase “aen hanse” meaning “gang.” (Read the full review…)

Book Review: Firebreak by Nicole Kornher-Stace

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

Firebreak by Nicole Kornher-Stace

Mogsy’s Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Saga Press (May 4, 2021)

Length: 416 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Opening on a not-too-distant future, Firebreak follows Mallory, AKA Nycorix when she’s online, a gamer who has recently turned to streaming in the hopes of making some extra money to afford the basic necessities of life. Following the corporate war, distribution of all resources has come under the control of the mega-companies, including access to technology, food, and even water, which is particularly scarce. Mal lives in a hotel room with eight other young adults who were also orphaned during the war, one of them being Jessa, her best friend. Together, the two women play a massively multiplayer online war game called BestLife, where they stream themselves killing enemy combatants. But one of the most profitable activities—not to mention a surefire way to gain a ton of subscribers—is to catch a glimpse of the various SpecOps agents who are in game, celebrity super-soldiers created and owned by the corporation Stellaxis.

One day, Mal and Jessa receive an offer of sponsorship out of nowhere, from a mysterious benefactor who wants them to gather as much information as they can on these super-soldiers. In doing so though, Mal discovers a horrifying truth—the SpecOps operatives they see in game are actually real-life people, kids who lost everything into the war and forcibly recruited to work for Stellaxis via torture and the use of augments. At first, Mal and Jessa reluctant to believe any of it, but then their sponsor abruptly disappears, confirming their suspicions of a much deeper and diabolical conspiracy. The plot thickens as they encounter two of the super-soldiers in real life, further propelling the two friends down a path of danger and uncertainty. Mal wants to do the right thing and expose Stellaxis, but what can she do when the enemy is an all-powerful entity that has full control of everything in her life?

It pains me to say this, because my geeky gamer heart loved the MMO aspects of Firebreak, but the truth is, the gaming element was probably the only thing that was done well. Everything else felt a bit half-baked and shoddily executed. To its credit, the book did start out on the right foot, kicking things off with a dynamic sequence in its introduction which featured a flurry of action and gaming terms. I felt like I was with my people when it came to Mal and Jess—two kickass female gamers who knew their stuff and were driven to win.

But pretty soon, the cracks began to show. It first began with my opinion with of Mal, which swiftly plummeted as I got to know her better through her interactions with Jessa and their roommates. Now, I’m all for an anti-social and introverted protagonist and believe they can make for very interesting character studies if written well. But Mal’s personality was off-putting almost from the beginning, unnecessarily snide with her comments and just all around bad-tempered and irritable, often taking her troubles out on others. She’s also not the most competent, and half the time she doesn’t even know what she’s doing. My next point of criticism might seem strange, since I’ve read books that are much worse when it comes to this, but man, after a while, I got so sick of the characters’ endless cussing. It’s one thing if it’s done creatively or adds to the dialogue, but here it just felt like bad writing and made everyone come off as juvenile and dim-witted. Plus, this story already had a vague YA vibe, and ironically, the swearing made things feel even more puerile.

Fortunately, that’s probably the worse of it. The other aspects of the book were pretty good, if a little underdeveloped, as I’d mentioned before. For instance, I think the concept of real-life super-soldiers being kidnapped as children and forced to become in-game SpecOps characters is an intriguing one, though a lot of questions remain, since the narrative fails to provide the clearest explanations. The dystopic setting was also well-imagined, but again we have crucial details lacking, as historical events like the corporate war and its consequences on society are painted with a broad brush, leaving readers to puzzle out the logic of some of these effects by themselves.

Still, despite its flaws, Firebreak was quite honestly a fun book. Had we gotten a more palatable protagonist, I’m even positive I would have given this novel a higher rating. In the end though, a satisfying reading experience for me always begins with the characters, and being put off by Mal probably affected my enjoyment. That said, I think I’m in the minority when it comes to my feelings. Not all readers will have the problems I had with the main character, and ultimately, Firebreak may provide a great read for fans of dystopian world-building and sci-fi action stories about gaming.

#WyrdAndWonder YA Weekend Audio: Blade of Secrets 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.

Blade of Secrets by Tricia Levenseller

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Series: Book 1 of Bladesmith

Publisher: Macmillan Audio (May 4, 2021)

Length:8 hrs and 53 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Emily Ellet

I went into Blade of Secrets expecting fun times, and I was totally not disappointed! I loved Tricia Levenseller’s The Shadows Between Us and so it was no surprise her new Bladesmith duology is off to a rockin’ start, with all the action, adventure and humor I could possibly ask for.

The story begins by introducing us to Ziva, our titular bladesmith who possesses a magical talent enabling her to make enchanted weapons that are highly sought after across the realm. One day, she hopes to save enough money for her and her younger sister Temra to strike out on their own and make a new life for themselves. However, Ziva also struggles with severe social anxiety, and usually it is the bubbly and charismatic Temra who is the face of their business and the one to deal directly with customers. Ziva herself is completely content to work at her forge in the back of the shop alone, where she can stay far away from crowds and avoid any interaction with strangers.

Still, every once in a while, the sisters must make a social appearance, especially in the noble circles of their most lucrative clients. It is during one of these soirees that Ziva meets Warlord Kymora, a former general of the King and said to be the greatest swordfighter in all the land. Kymora, who is aware of Ziva’s reputation, wishes to commission from her a magical sword. She is also willing to pay handsomely, even offering Ziva a position in her household as her personal weaponsmith. Starstruck and honored by the praise, our protagonist agrees and sets about trying to forge the most powerful sword she has ever made. But how? Her magic works in mysterious ways, and often a weapon’s magical effects are imbued during the crafting process and won’t even manifest themselves completely until after they’re finished.

Unexpectedly, the answer to Ziva’s predicament comes in the form of a beautiful stranger she spies passing by the front of her shop as she was in the middle of crafting the weapon. Something about him causes her her forget about her anxieties just long enough for her half-made sword to react, thus giving Ziva the idea to imbue the metal with her most private thoughts. In the end, a blade more powerful beyond her wildest dreams is forged—one not only capable of cutting its victims from a distance, but also revealing their secrets from spilled blood. This is how Ziva discovers Kymora’s deepest desires and realizes she can never allow the sword to fall into such dangerous hands. With no choice but to run, the sisters hire a mercenary to help guide them through the wilderness, as well as a traveling scholar who may be able to help them destroy the magical blade.

I don’t know how she does it, but I just can’t seem to get enough of Tricia Levenseller’s fun, refreshing style! Those who know me know this is not the kind of YA I typically go for—it’s cheesy, fairly predictable and full of clichés, and yet I ate it all up. There’s just something about her writing that makes it easy to overlook these aspects. Some authors try too hard, resulting in overly contrived plotlines and characters, but Levenseller seems to own it, employing well-worn albeit beloved genre tropes like they’re going out of style, and appears not to care one whit about it. I have no idea why such an unapologetic and unabashed approach makes a difference, but it does, while simultaneously delivering an experience that feels more authentic somehow.

I also believe a good story must start with the characters, and here is where I think the characterization of our protagonist really shines. Anyone who has ever struggled with social anxiety will immediately relate to Ziva, especially during the segments where we are inside her head, experiencing the sheer panic and fear of being in a roomful of strangers, feeling like you can say or do nothing right, while the sensation of being watched, being scrutinized is ever closing in, tightening around your chest, making it hard to breathe and think straight. It’s a cycle that plunges a person into paralysis, making you feel helpless and out of control, and it can be extremely unpleasant. My heart broke for Ziva, and having been in her shoes, I felt her portrayal was realistic, sympathetic, delicate and thoughtful. Simply put, her character is not defined by her social anxiety, but it is as much a part of her as, say, her love for her sister, or her determination to do the right thing. This I feel is representation done properly, and not just another box for an author to check off in order to score some internet woke points. I truly felt close to the protagonist, and while all the other characters—Temra, Kellyn, Petrik, etc.—were fantastically written as well, it was still Ziva alone who had a special place in my heart.

Needless to say, I am now a completely sold on anything Tricia Levenseller does and a hundred percent going to be all over the sequel. While Blade of Secrets ended on a semi-cliffhanger in that not everything is hunky-dory but you still know they’ll turn out okay, I’m nonetheless itching to get my hands on the next book to see what happens next. That’s the power of a good story, one that allows you to just kick back and have fun.

Audiobook Comments: Loved, loved, loved Emily Ellet’s narration and portrayal of Ziva as well as the other characters in this charming, lovable cast. Her performance was great, and I hope I’ll be fortunate enough to listen to her again.

Bookshelf Roundup: 05/08/21: 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!

Exciting new arrivals this week! With thanks to Del Rey, I received the following ARCs: Paper and Blood by Kevin Hearne is the second book in his Ink & Sigil series which spins off of The Iron Druid Chronicles. I love the new star character Al MacBharrais and I’m anxiously looking forward to catch up with him on this next adventure! From the publisher I also received The Desert Prince by Peter V. Brett, the start of a brand new story set after the events of the author’s epic Demon Cycle. That series concluded some time ago and it feels like I’ve been waiting forever for Brett’s new project! Can’t wait to read this one.

I also want to thank Titan Books for sending me a copy of The Lights of Prague by Nicole Jarvis, a gaslamp fantasy that has been described as science meets magic. I’m going to be taking part in a blog tour with a review next month, so keep your eyes out for that. I have plans to start this one very soon.

And finally, thank you to the kind folks at Subterranean Press for sending me an ARC of City of Songs by Anthony Ryan. This is the third novella in The Seven Swords series, and I haven’t even started the first! I really want to read these books though, and they’re pretty short, so hopefully one of these days I can sit down and knock them all out at once.

Just one audiobook in the digital haul this week. I became intrigued by The Maidens by Alex Michaelides after seeing this mystery/thriller being talked about everywhere, so when the opportunity the review the ALC came about, I took it. With thanks to Macmillan Audio.

Reviews

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir (4 of 5 stars)
The Helm of Midnight by Marina Lostetter (3 of 5 stars)

What I’ve Been Watching

Like so many others, I’ve been watching Shadow and Bone on Netflix. Progress had been slow because life has been pretty busy, but I finally finished this week. As someone who has read the trilogy as well as the Six of Crows duology, I really liked how they mashed the characters of the two series together, because without a doubt, I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed the show as much if they hadn’t. It might not be the best adaptation, not to mention the writing could have been better, but on the whole I thought they made solid, sensible changes while preserving the most important elements from the source material. Visually, it was also stunning and you could tell everyone put a lot of work and love into it. Fans of the books, especially if you love the Crows, will be quite pleased. If you’ve also seen it, let me know what you think!

What I’ve Been Playing

This past week I’ve also been taking a break from the PS5 to dive back into my Nintendo Switch, because of, ahem, New Pokémon Snap. Back in the day, the original game for the N64 was one of my favorites (DON’T JUDGE ME) which made this an automatic buy. Twenty-two years later, I’m still a total geek for taking cute pictures of Pokémon and bouncing up and down like a lunatic whenever I get a great shot. Now you can even edit your photos with stickers and special filters to show off to the world what a big Pokémon nerd you are…

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: Mid-Series Cover Change

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 MID-SERIES COVER CHANGE

Mogsy’s Pick:

Gunnie Rose by Charlaine Harris

I wanted to feature a fantasy series for our first Friday Face-Off of Wyrd & Wonder 2021, so this week I’ve decided to go with Gunnie Rose by Charlaine Harris, which recently experienced a mid-series cover change for its US hardcover editions.

Here’s what the original HCs for An Easy Death (book 1) and A Longer Fall (book 2) looked like, from Gallery/Saga Press:

But when the Saga Press/Gallery first edition hardcover of the third book The Russian Cage came out, they changed up the look entirely. Later, for the paperback edition release of A Longer Fall, they also created a new cover for it to match:

 

Winner:

I’m so torn on this one! First off, I adored the first edition hardback cover of An Easy Death when it originally came out, because it looked so interesting, dramatic, and just all around badass. So you can imagine my disappointment when the HC edition of A Longer Fall was first revealed, and that cover just looked so bland in comparison.

Skip forward to the first edition hardcover release of A Russian Cage though, and it appears they decided to do away with the painted realistic look all together, opting for a bolder, more stylized motif featuring a central silhouette. I was initially skeptical, but with the reissued edition of the paperback version of A Longer Fall, at least I can appreciate the consistency the new style has brought to the series, and I do like the choice of colors.

Still, my OCD tends to flare up whenever a series changes up its covers partway through, because I just get this massive urge to put everything in order and make it all look uniform.

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