Friday Face-Off: Romance

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 of a book with A ROMANCE YOU ENJOYED

Mogsy’s Pick:

Bring Me Their Hearts by Sara Wolf

I recently finished the Bring Me Their Hearts trilogy, and even though the ending was not as strong as I would have liked, I still remember the first book fondly when the the main character Zera’s relationship with Prince Lucien was still new, exciting, full of surprises and witty back-and-forth banter. It was a romance that was developed steadily and carefully, with both of them getting to know each other before falling in love. I wouldn’t really call myself a fan of the YA fantasy romance genre, so whenever a book impresses me, I take note. I’m only featuring three covers today, but they’re all quite beautiful.

From left to right:
Entangled Teen Paperback (2018) – Entangled Teen Kindle Edition (2018) – German Edition (2018)

Winner:

Talk about hitting the cover jackpot. Three gorgeous covers, each with their own strengths. The Entangled Teen paperback is bold, colorful and attractive, and the artist completely nailed the expression on character’s face. The Kindle edition on the other hand is not as bright, but the imagery is striking, made even more dramatic by the black-and-white effect. The German version goes for that photo-realistic look, and the result is a very polished cover that could practically be a movie poster. Well, it wasn’t easy, but I made my choice. Really though, I don’t think you can go wrong with any of these.

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

Excerpt: The Children of D’Hara by Terry Goodkind

Today I am pleased to be featuring an excerpt from Terry Goodkind’s The Children of D’Hara, releasing today from Head of Zeus. Terry Goodkind, who sadly passed away last year at the age of 72, was known for his 17-volume Sword of Truth series, published between 1994 and 2015. The Children of D’Hara picks up immediately after the conclusion of the Sword of Truth series, and collects the first five episodes into one breathtakingly compelling volume: “The Scribbly Man”, “Hateful Things”, “Wasteland”, “Witch’s Oath”, and “Into Darkness.”

Richard Rahl and Kahlan Amnell confront an apocalyptic nightmare in this irresistibly tense, utterly terrifying, near-thousand-page return to Terry Goodkind’s 26-million-copy bestselling Sword of Truth world.

The insatiable hunger of the Golden Goddess…

The irresistible power of a Witch’s Oath…

A fracture in the world of life…

An opening in the world of death…

Richard Rahl and Kahlan Amnell face the perfect storm.

The Children of D’Hara picks up immediately after the conclusion of the Sword of Truth series in one breathtakingly compelling, powerful, blockbuster novel.

Previously published in five parts: The Scribbly Man, Hateful Things, Wasteland, Witch’s Oath, Into Darkness.

Excerpt from The Children of D’Hara by Terry Goodkind, on-sale February 4, 2021. Published by Head of Zeus. Copyright © 2021 Terry Goodkind, reprinted with permission from Head of Zeus.

“I have come to accept your surrender.” Richard’s brow drew down as he leaned an elbow on the padded leather arm of the massive chair he was in. He was more perplexed than troubled.
The rotund man was wearing formal white robes ornately embroidered in gold designs that added an air of dignity to his pear shape. He stood patiently at the head of a line of supplicants stretching back into the distance of the enormous, vaulted room. Windows high up to the side let in streamers of hazy afternoon light that gave the vast room an almost spiritual quality. Fat black marble columns, variegated with red and gold veins, rose up in a tight row to each side of the long room. Gilded capitals atop the columns supported balconies where large crowds watched the proceedings along with the people on the main floor in the shadows behind the columns.At the head of the room, behind Richard and Kahlan sitting in stately chairs at a heavy table on a raised platform, a ring of leaded- glass windows surrounded a two-story-high, carved white marble medallion depicting the long lineage of the House of Rahl. It was an impressive seat of power. Growing up in the woods of Hartland, Richard could never have imagined such a place, much less imagined himself sitting at the head of it.Nearby, palace officials and their aides stood ready to assist with anything needed. Heavily armed men of the First File, between Richard and Kahlan and the rest of the roomful of people, did their best to remain inconspicuous, mostly staying out of the way toward the sides. Behind Richard and Kahlan, in front of the massive marble medallion, six Mord-Sith stood at ease.

Five of the Mord-Sith wore their white leather outfits. One, Vika, was wearing red. Richard had requested that they all wear white for the occasion so as to appear less menacing, it being a time of peace, after all. Vika had said that she was there to protect the Lord Rahl and if she looked menacing, all the better. Richard had long ago learned that life was easier if he let Mord-Sith have their way with petty issues. He knew that if it was vital, they would follow his orders. To the death if need be.

The people to each side on the main floor and up in the balconies, everyone from farmers to nobility, all fell silent as they waited to hear what the Lord Rahl would say in response to such an outlandish demand. The heavyset man in gold-embroidered white robes waited as well.

Beneath an elaborate white cloak pushed open in front by his substantial girth, silver chains around his neck just below the folds of false chins held a variety of small ornaments that reminded Richard of symbols of rank that army officers wore on their uniforms for formal occasions.

Richard remembered seeing similarly dressed people in an open tent down in the market at the base of the enormous plateau that supported the sprawling People’s Palace. The people down in the market and tent city had been gathering for weeks to have a chance to witness the kind of event that had never taken place in their life- times—or to profit from it.

“My surrender,” Richard repeated in a quiet voice into the hushed air. “My surrender of what?”

“Your world.”

Some of the nearby soldiers and court attendants chuckled. When they did, many of the people watching joined in to giggle with them. Or, at least they did until they saw that Richard was not amused.

His gaze flicked to Kahlan, seated beside him behind the table where supplicants could place maps, contracts, and other documents for their review. Besides the white dress of the Mother Confessor, he saw Kahlan was wearing her Confessor face. Her long hair gleamed in the light coming from the ring of windows behind them. He couldn’t imagine a good spirit looking any more striking.

Her beautiful features revealed nothing of what she might be thinking. Despite how unreadable and dispassionate she may have appeared to others, Richard could read the fire in that calm expression. Were she a wolf, her ruff would be standing up.

Richard leaned toward her, wanting to know why she seemed to be seething. She finally broke eye contact with the man and leaned toward Richard to speak in a confidential tone.

“This man is from Estoria. The medals and awards around his neck mark him as the consul general.” She stole a brief look at the man. “I think I may have met him once or twice, long ago when he was less important.”

“What’s Estoria?”

“It’s one of the minor lands in the Midlands that I oversaw as Mother Confessor. For the most part the people there earn their living as professional diplomats for hire. The consul general would be the equivalent of a king.”

Richard frowned. “You mean they are diplomatic mercenaries?”

She nodded. “Strange as it sounds, there are those who need a diplomat to champion their cause. When they do have such a need, they will often hire an Estorian. Estorians sometimes argued the position of a patron before me on the council.”

Richard was still frowning. “Who would have need of such services?”

“You’d be surprised. Anyone from a wealthy individual having a dispute with a ruler to a kingdom on the verge of war. Skilled diplomacy can in some cases resolve a dispute, or at least stall armed conflict indefinitely while talks drag on and on. Estoria is considered neutral ground, so they often host the different sides in complicated negotiations. Putting up such important guests and their entourage is part of how the people there earn a living. The consul general will often host elaborate banquets for each side of the negotiations. At separate times, of course.

“Estorians have a long history as professional diplomats. They live to negotiate. They are very good at it. It is often said that an Estorian would try to negotiate with the Keeper of the underworld himself to try to come to an agreement on a later departure from life. That’s what they do—they negotiate.”

“So what has you so upset?”

Kahlan gave him a look, as if she couldn’t believe how dense he was being. “Don’t you see? Estorians negotiate. They don’t ever make demands. It’s not in their blood.”

Richard finally understood what had her hackles up. This man was certainly making a demand, and apparently such a thing was completely out of their nature.

He turned his attention back to the diplomat standing before the gate through the railing not far in front of them. A pair of guards in intimidating dark leather breastplates over chain mail stood at the railing to each side of the low gate to admit supplicants with documen- tation for review or anyone else Richard or Kahlan might gesture to come closer.

Inside the railing to either side were the phalanxes of palace officials in white or pale blue robes. They dealt with a diversity of matters within the People’s Palace and even D’Hara at large. They seemed to relish minutiae. Once a person had come before Richard and Kahlan to state their case, make a technical request, or ask for guidance, they were often directed to one of the variety of officials who could handle the details of their concern.

A number of the people waiting in the long line of supplicants were representatives of distant lands who had come, usually dressed in ceremonial attire, not to ask for anything but simply to swear their loyalty to the newly formed D’Haran Empire. They all wanted to look their best at the banquets planned for later. Peace greased the wheels of trade. Being a willing and cooperative part of the empire made trade with all parts of the empire easier.

The man in the gold-embroidered robes showed no emotion as he waited for Richard’s formal surrender.

“What are the proposed terms?” Richard asked out of curiosity, expecting some kind of diplomatic proposal that would turn out to be much less ominous-sounding and reveal what was really behind such an odd demand.

“There are no terms. The surrender must be unconditional.”

Richard arched an eyebrow. That didn’t sound like his idea of a diplomatic negotiation.

He sat up straighter. “What is your name?”

The man blinked, as if the question had been unexpected and totally irrelevant. For some reason he had difficulty looking directly at Richard. He averted his eyes whenever possible.

“My name has no bearing here and is unimportant in the matter before you,” he said, confirming the bewildered expression on his face.

“Important or not, I would like to know your name.”

Long bracelets dangled from the man’s thick wrists as he spread his plump hands. His droopy eyes searched absently left and right, as if he didn’t know what to do about the unexpected request. “I am only here with instructions to accept your surrender on behalf of my patron.”

“Who is this patron?”

“The goddess.”

Richard was taken aback. He had heard of goddesses only in mythology. He didn’t think goddesses, in mythology anyway, hired professional diplomats.

“We are gathered here to address the issues of those who come before us. This ‘goddess’ is not here. You are.” The patience left Richard’s voice. “Give me your name.”

The man hesitated, avoiding looking directly at Richard. He picked up a long lock of gray hair that had fallen forward over his dark eyes and placed it back down over the bald top of his head. He licked his finger and then smoothed the lock down to paste it in place.

“If it will help ensure that you comply with the demand of the goddess, my name is Nolodondri, but I am known by Nolo.”

“Tell me, Nolo, why has this goddess not come in person to request the surrender of the D’Haran Empire?”

The man lifted the freshly licked finger to make a correction. “Not your empire, Lord Rahl, your world. And it is not a request. It is a command.”

“Ah. My world. I stand corrected. And it is a command, not a request. Duly noted.” Richard rolled his hand. “So you worship this goddess, do you?”

Nolo’s brow twitched. “No, not exactly.”

“What does that mean?”

“Would the sky expect the veneration of the ants on the ground beneath it?”

“Well then, why would this goddess send an ant to do her bidding instead of coming herself to make such a monumentally important demand?”

Nolo bowed his head slightly. “The goddess does not bother with petty tasks such as the surrender of worlds, so she directed me to come here to command compliance with her wishes.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Richard could see Kahlan’s aura darkening.

“You say that this was her ‘command’—that I surrender my world?”

Nolo bowed his head deeper, as if Richard were dense. “Yes, of course. I thought that I had made that clear.”

Cassia’s white leather creaked as she leaned in from behind Richard’s right shoulder to whisper to him. “Please, Lord Rahl,” she said as she pulled her single blond braid forward over her shoulder as if holding her own leash, “I’m begging you. Let me kill him.”

Berdine, also in white leather, leaned in beside Cassia. “Lord Rahl, you left me here, unable to protect you, for ages. I think I deserve to be the one to kill him.”

“Maybe we can decide that later,” Richard said to them with a small smile. “For now, let me handle this?”

Both rolled their eyes as they straightened, but they released their Agiels, letting the weapons hang from their wrists on fine gold chains, always at the ready.

About the Author

Terry Goodkind was a contemporary American writer and author of the best-selling epic fantasy series, The Sword of Truth, creator of the television show The Legend of the Seeker, and writer of the self-published epic, The First Confessor: The Legend of Magda Searus (a prequel and origin story of the first Mother Confessor). He had over 20 million copies in print and has been translated into more than 20 different languages, world-wide.

Waiting on Wednesday 02/03/21

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

A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow (October 5, 2021 by Tordotcom)

A new book by Alix E. Harrow? Of course I’ll read it! I’m even more excited about the fact it’s a new twist on a classic fairy tale (although, ahem, I feel the synopsis is being just a tad unfair to Sleeping Beauty) and I also love the cover with its multilayered symbolism and imagery.

“USA Today bestselling author Alix E. Harrow brings her patented charm to a new version of a classic story, splicing the threads of the Sleeping Beauty stories

“Sleeping Beauty is the worst fairy tale, pretty much any way you slice it. It’s aimless and amoral and chauvinist as shit. Even among the other nerds who majored in folklore, Sleeping Beauty is nobody’s favorite. The romantic girls like Beauty and the Beast; vanilla girls like Cinderella; goth girls like Snow White. Only the dying girls like Sleeping Beauty.”

It’s Zinnia Gray’s twenty-first birthday, which is an extra-special occasion, because it’s the last she’ll ever have. When she was young, an industrial accident left Zinnia with a rare condition. Not much is known about her illness, but the main fact for Zinnia is that no one who has it has lived to twenty-two.

Her best friend is intent on making Zin’s last birthday special with a full sleeping beauty experience, complete with a tower and a spinning wheel. But when Zinnia pricks her finger, she founds herself cast into another world, with another sleeping beauty, just as desperate to escape her fate.”

Audiobook Review: The Burning Girls by C.J. Tudor

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

The Burning Girls by C.J. Tudor

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Random House Audio (February 9, 2021)

Length: 10 hrs

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrators: Gemma Whelan, Richard Armitage

I’ve been a fan of C.J. Tudor ever since her debut The Chalk Man, and I’ve gone on to enjoy every book by her after that. Still, not gonna lie, there was a nervous moment where I thought this streak would be broken with The Burning Girls! This was a slow-burn of a mystery, one that almost lost me early on, but I’m glad I stuck with it, because the ending revelations were totally insane and sooo worth it.

Our story begins as our protagonist, Reverend Jacqueline “Jack” Brooks, is transferred to Chapel Croft, a tiny old town with a dark history going back to the sixteenth century. During Queen Mary’s purge of the Protestants, eight villagers were burned at the stake in front of the church, including two young girls. Today, residents still commemorate this event with the yearly burning of effigies made from twigs. But that not the village’s only strange tradition. When Jack arrives at her new home with her daughter Flo, they are met with an unpleasant surprise: an exorcism kit, left anonymously along with a message from scripture. “But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed and hidden that will not be known.”

Gradually, mother and daughter attempt to make the best of the situation, starting with getting to know Chapel Croft and its people. Unfortunately, all that seems to do is unearth even more tragic news about the town. Jack finds out about Merry and Joy, two teenage girls who vanished around thirty years ago, never to be seen again. More recently, there was also the suicide of Reverend Fletcher, her predecessor, who hanged himself in the church. Overwhelmed with trying to process this new information, Jack is also struggling to save her relationship with Flo, who is growing into a recalcitrant teenager hungry for more independence. Recently, the fourteen-year-old has been getting herself into more trouble, and Jack suspects that Lucas Wrigley, one of the local teens, may have something to do with that. The young man, who experiences involuntary muscle contractions caused by dystonia, seems relatively harmless, but in a small town like Chapel Croft, people talk, and Jack isn’t sure she likes the stories they tell about Flo’s new friend.

Similar to the author’s previous books, The Burning Girls is an atmospheric mystery with strong suspenseful elements, and maybe even just a touch of the supernatural. You’re by no means going to get the full-on speculative treatment here, but there are definitely some creepy parts that border on horror, like rumors of hauntings and other tales of ghostly sightings on the church grounds. I loved how this vagueness kept you guessing.

Small villages with dark histories are another hallmark of Tudor’s books. As Chapel Croft’s newest vicar, Jack becomes privy to a lot of its stories and secrets. Through her eyes, we meet a parade of residents, including the local gossip who is only too eager to dish on the latest scandal, the town head honcho who is used to getting what he wants by throwing his weight and money around, and of course, a group of bored and disturbed teenagers who decide to make messing with Flo and Wrigley their newest game.

Needless to say, this was a novel that required a lot of setup. On top of the history of the town (the burnings back in the 1500s, the disappearance of the teen girls in the 90s, the suicide of the previous vicar, etc.), there was also the matter of Jack’s own backstory. Our protagonist remains tight lipped about her past, not even confiding in her own daughter, but of course, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that it has something to do with the mysterious stranger coming after them. His POV chapters would be inserted intermittently between Jack and Flo’s, which made things feel even more confusing as there were already a million other pieces of this puzzle I was trying to put together. The slow buildup made these early sections a tough read, not to mention the frustration of getting too many questions and not enough answers.

Still, I am glad I kept pushing forward, because in the end, we’re talking about just a little bit of work for a lot of reward. Tudor certainly knows how to deliver the goods, and I should have known better than to bet against her. Speaking as a fan of thrillers and mysteries, I think if you’re an avid reader of the genre there’s a chance you might guess some of the twists, but that didn’t make the ending feel any less terrifying or exciting. All that slow ramping up at the beginning really paid off, and I was impressed how everything came together.

Once more, C.J. Tudor proves her masterful skills at crafting an in-depth mystery dripping with atmosphere. The audiobook edition did not disappoint either. Richard Armitage has been a regular narrator of the author’s books, so it’s no surprise he delivered another brilliant performance with his rich and powerful voice. Not to be outdone, Gemma Whelan also narrated beautifully, reading the bulk of the book which was mostly presented through Jack and Flo’s perspectives. Highly recommended for genre fans, and not to be missed if you’ve also enjoyed Tudor’s previous work.

Audiobook Review: A Stranger in Town by Kelley Armstrong

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

A Stranger in Town by Kelley Armstrong

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

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Series: Book 6 of Rockton

Publisher: Macmillan Audio (February 9, 2021)

Length: 10 hrs and 30 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Therese Plummer

It’s hard to believe that what initially began as a serial novel in six parts ultimately expanded to become one of my favorite crime mystery thriller series in recent years. Given how it basically takes place in the literal middle of nowhere, I’m frankly amazed at the way Rockton just keeps spawning stories, each one more addictive than the last.

A Stranger in Town is the sixth volume, opening once more on the remote community deep in the Yukon wilderness where people go to disappear. But as spring approaches, bringing warmer weather and tourists to the north, the residents of Rockton find that they must work a little harder to keep their little settlement off the map. One day, despite their efforts, the town is shaken when a lone hiker stumbles onto their doorstep, bloodied and delirious with fever, seemingly injured from a bad fall. However, upon inspection of the woman’s days old wounds, Detective Casey Duncan determines that they could not have been caused by an accident—the victim had been violently stabbed, likely by one of the wild people who live out in the woods, known as hostiles.

Of course, it doesn’t help that our hiker doesn’t speak any English, and thus is unable to answer any of Casey’s questions. What is determined, though, is that the woman had not come alone. Handling the investigation the old-fashioned way, Casey and her boyfriend Sheriff Eric Dalton head out into the wilderness and come across the mutilated bodies of two more hikers, and evidence that one might be still alive. Now they’re looking at a possible rescue mission on top of trying to find the killers, and that’s just the beginning. A deadly incident back in town leaves one of their own in a coma, and coming in hot on the heels of that disaster is the arrival of Emilie, a Rockton council member and one of its original founders, here to impart bad news. Rumor is that the town won’t be around for much longer; the hostile situation is getting out of hand, and rather than fix the problem, the council wants to put an end to Rockton and start over somewhere else.

For many though, Rockton has become more than a home. For some, it is their only sanctuary. Something bigger is going on here, and Casey and Dalton must race against the clock to solve the mystery before their little town gets shut down.

Like all the previous books, this one was a lot of fun. For the first time though, the story also involves a conflict dealing with a prominent outside force, that of the council of Rockton and other shadowy parties of foreign origin. I think this had both positive and negative consequences. First, the good: I liked that the involvement of the council gave us more of the history behind Rockton and its founding. Thus far, we’ve only caught snippets about the town in the decades before Casey’s arrival in fleeting conversations, but Emilie’s appearance had a way of turning much of what we know on its head. Along with this came the introduction of a greater conspiracy. Needless to say, I felt this expanded the scope of the series and made the characters’ obstacles seem far more insurmountable, dramatically raising the stakes.

But now, for the bad. In another first with this series, I found myself lost more than once, especially when the plot continuously pulled in new characters and groups of people, when I was already struggling to recall the identities of some of the existing townsfolk and settlers. It’s amazing how many names there are to keep track of after six books, even in an isolated setting like Rockton! Furthermore, the story grew overly complex and at times completely over-the-top, and to really appreciate the developments, you had to suspend some of your disbelief.

Still, I loved that Casey and Dalton got to get back to doing some real detective work, as I felt we’d been steadily losing this sleuthing element over the last few installments in favor of promoting more family relationship and small-town shenanigans. That said, April has become one of my favorite characters in this series and I love how she and Casey are slowly reconnecting, so I certainly don’t mind some family drama.

All told, A Stranger in Town was another strong entry into the Rockton series. Despite the novel’s ups and downs, I can see how at this point a real shakeup was needed, and in this, the plot delivered. Fans of the series will definitely not want to miss this next chapter of Casey Duncan’s adventure, and the ending made me even more curious to see what her future holds.

Audiobook Comments: The first time I ever listened to Therese Plummer’s narration was with the first book of this series, City of the Lost, and now six books later, I am still a huge fan. For me, she will always be the voice of Casey. Simply outstanding.

Bookshelf Roundup: 01/30/21: 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!

My thanks to Seventh Street Books and the awesome team at Kaye Publicity for sending me a review copy of The Strange Case of Eliza Doolittle by Timothy Miller, described as Sherlock Holmes meets Eliza Doolittle. This sounds to me like an intriguing little mashup!

Courtesy of the kind folks at Wunderkind PR and 47North, I also received a finished copy of Knight’s Ransom by Jeff Wheeler, the first volume in the author’s new series set in the same world as his popular Kingfountain novels. It’s on my reading schedule for early next month, and I’m very excited to start.

Some might recall I featured The Future is Yours by Dan Frey on a Waiting on Wednesday last year during Sci-Fi Month, so you can imagine how thrilled I was with the arrival of a finished copy this week! Big thanks to Del Rey! 

And speaking of finished copies, thank you to Tor.com for this gorgeous hardcover of A History of What Comes Next by Sylvain Neuvel! This one is on my reading list for early next month as well, so stay tuned for a review.

In the digital haul this week, I received a few new listening copies with thanks to Penguin Random House Audio, starting with The Burning Girls by C.J. Tudor. I’m a huge fan of the author so I wasted no time in starting the book. So far, it’s a bit slow, but I’m still enjoying it a lot. Next, The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse was a book I saw featured on a couple of other blogs, and it sounded interesting so I when I saw an ALC on offer, I jumped on it! The Diabolical Bones by Bella Ellis was another book that landed on my radar because of a blogger. Lynn had given this mystery starring the Brontë sisters close to full marks late last year, which caught my attention. It’s technically the second book of a series, but I was glad to learn it can be read as a standalone. Finally, The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec is a book I’ve had my eye on for a while. As it so happens, lately I’ve been in the mood for a “witchy” kind of read, and one about Angrboda from Norse mythology is just icing on the cake, so I’ll be starting this ASAP.

Reviews

The Frozen Crown by Greta Kelly (4.5 of 5 stars)
Hall of Smoke by H.M. Long (3.5 of 5 stars)
Send Me Their Souls by Sara Wolf (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: Classic or Vintage Sci-fi

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 CLASSIC OR VINTAGE SCI-FI cover

Mogsy’s Pick:

Neuromancer by William Gibson

Neuromancer was my first book by William Gibson–and might be my last, if I’m to be honest. Man, this book was such a trip. I guess I just didn’t quite “get it”, but what can’t be denied is the novel’s contribution to the science fiction and its status as one of the most seminal works in the cyberpunk genre. There are a lot of covers for this book, more than I could possibly show here, so I’ve only featured a selection of my favorites from which I’ll choose my winner.

From left to right:
Gollancz (2016) – Ace (1984) – Voyager (1986)

French Edition (2001) – Russian Edition (1997) – Portuguese Edition (2016)

 

Italian Edition (2003) – Chinese Edition (2013) – Greek Edition (1998)

German Edition (2021) – Romanian Edition (2017) – Japanese Edition (1986)

Winner:

When I was going through all the covers for this book, I came across a lot of bad ones but there were a lot of really strong ones too, which made it hard to pick a favorite. I’ve always been drawn to illustrated/comic art covers though, so I’m not surprised the Portuguese edition immediately drew my attention, but I also really like the Japanese and Gollancz (2016) editions.

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

Waiting on Wednesday 01/27/21

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

Empire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff (September 2021 by St. Martin’s Press/Harper Voyager UK)

I suspect we’ll be seeing this one around a lot today, with the UK cover having been revealed last week. And no wonder they kept it under wraps and teasing us for so long, what a beaut! It may be the perfect time for vampires to make a comeback, and I’m curious to see how Kristoff will tackle them.

“From holy cup comes holy light.
The faithful hand sets world aright.
And in the seven martyrs’ sight,
Mere man shall end this endless night.”

Twenty-seven years have passed since the last sunrise, and for almost three decades, the creatures of the night have walked the day without fear. Once, humanity fought bravely against the coldblood legions, but now, we exist only in a few scattered settlements—tiny sparks of light in a growing sea of darkness.

Gabriel de León is the last of the Silversaints, a holy order dedicated to defending realm and church, now utterly destroyed. Imprisoned for the murder of the vampiric king, Gabriel is charged with telling the story of his life.

His tale spans years, from his youth in the monastery of San Michon, to the forbidden love that spelled his undoing, and the betrayal that saw his order annihilated. Most importantly, Gabriel will tell the story of the Grail—the legendary cup prophesied to bring an end to the eternal night, whose location is known to a single person: A smart-mouthed teenage urchin named Dior.

Their journey with a band of unlikely allies would see Dior and Gabriel forge an unbreakable bond, and set the broken paragon on a road to redemption.

But now, the Grail is shattered. And with the cup of the Redeemer destroyed and the last Silversaint awaiting execution, what can bring an end to this undying empire?

From the New York Times bestselling author of the Nevernight Chronicle, Jay Kristoff, comes the first illustrated volume of an astonishing new dark fantasy saga.”

Audiobook Review: The Frozen Crown by Greta Kelly

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

The Frozen Crown by Greta Kelly

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

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of Warrior Witch

Publisher: HarperAudio (January 12, 2021)

Length: 14 hrs and 52 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Imani Jade Powers

Mark my words, we’ve got the hidden gem of the year right here, folks, and its name is The Frozen Crown! A fantasy debut by Greta Kelly, this book was utterly absorbing and took me by surprise in the best of ways. From the first word to the very last, I was riveted by the story, the characters, all the magic and the politics, and yes, even those little fine sparks of romance.

Set in a world of rivaling empires, the rightful heir to a beleaguered realm must find a way to regain her throne and repel an invasion, but in order to succeed, she will need to raise herself a grand army. For many months now, the warrior princess Askia of Serevesh has been fighting a losing battle, and desperate times call for desperate measures. Taking along a small contingent of her most loyal guard, she travels south to Vishir in the hopes of securing aid from the emperor, who was a good friend to her late parents.

Yet for all her skills with a blade, Askia finds herself no match for the convoluted southern customs and elaborate rules of the imperial court, and while she herself may have roots in Vishir, her enemies in the capital far outnumber her friends. Fortunately, our protagonist has a secret weapon—a rare kind of magic that might possibly gain her access to the mysterious Shadow Guild whose members could help unlock her true potential. With the empire still very much divided on the subject of witches though, Askia must tread carefully despite her willingness to risk everything to save her people. If playing the petty political games of the nobility will get her what she needs, then she will gladly do so, even if it means having to sacrifice her own hopes and dreams.

Before I continue, I’ve noticed this novel being classified as Young Adult in several places even though its marketing doesn’t really support this, not to mention that Askia is also in her early 20s. That said, it’s understandable why some might categorize it that way, given a few of its shared elements with YA and the fact that it was such a breezy read. Still, the intricacies of the politics, the character motivations, the conflicts and the stakes at hand are clearly intended for more mature audiences, and at most, I would say this book straddles that ideal middle ground of giving readers the best of both worlds. Try to imagine a fantasy narrative that feels comfortable and familiar yet its finer details are often pieced together in a way that completely defies expectations, and that’s how I would describe The Frozen Crown.

In other words, while I can give you the basic gist of the story, the reality is not so simple. Askia might be a princess looking for allies in her bid to take back her crown, but as the plot thickens, one might be surprised to find the line between friend and enemy to be thinner than a knife’s edge. This was a lesson I learned early with the big plot twist that was dropped on us at the beginning, the first of many more shockers to come. Later on, Kelly deftly weaves layer upon layer of intrigue and danger into each scene as her protagonist navigates the treacherous political landscape of Vishir. Along the way, she also manages to work in a wealth of historical information and context to explain the background of her world and characters without having to resort endless exposition. Everything we needed to know—and I won’t lie, it was quite a lot—was revealed organically and in sync with plot events while still leaving plenty of room for Askia to flex her diplomatic muscles and develop her relationships with the other characters. Heck, I even appreciated the light touch of romance which was just a minor aspect of the story, but my interest was piqued nonetheless.

To tell the truth, I can find few faults with this book, which makes the fact that it is a debut even more amazing. I suppose if I had to nitpick though, perhaps the magical systems could have been better explained. We know, for instance, that there are various types of magic users categorized by the abilities they possess, and that these powers can range in terms of rarity and strength. The nature of Askia’s own magic is very specific, and I won’t spoil the details here, though I will say I’d wished for more clearly defined rules and explanations on how her powers worked. Another thing I would have liked to see was more of the world, though this was by no means a dealbreaker. Given the limitations presented by Askia’s point-of-view and the need for her to travel in certain circles to fulfill her goal, I didn’t expect the world-building to expand much beyond the narrow scope of Vishir aristocracy, though I certainly wouldn’t object if the next book showed us more either, so here’s hoping.

Of course, there are so many more reasons to look forward to the sequel, not least of all the way The Frozen Crown ended, which was a cliffhanger to be sure—though thankfully not one that leaves you with questions unanswered, just a pumped up all-consuming need to find out what happens next! As the first half of a duology, it certainly did its job of getting me hooked, delivering everything I could ever want in a character-focused fantasy. I can’t wait to get more.

Audiobook Comments: A special shoutout to narrator Imani Jade Powers who made the story and characters extra powerful. Not only did she provide a great voice for Askia, masterfully bringing forth our protagonist’s spirited personality and clever disposition, her flawless sense of timing and smooth narration kept me on the edge of my seat. Highly recommended.

Book Review: Hall of Smoke by H.M. Long

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

Hall of Smoke by H.M. Long

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of Hall of Smoke

Publisher: Titan (January 19, 2021)

Length: 432 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Maybe it’s all the time I’ve spent playing Norse mythology inspired video games in the past few years, like the latest iteration of God of War series or more recently the new Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, but I found Hall of Smoke to be quite enjoyable, probably because it scratched so many of the same itches. The story opens on the fictional world of the Arpa Empire, following a young warrior priestess named Hessa who is sworn to Eang, the Goddess of War. One day, our protagonist receives a message from her patron deity commanding her to kill a lone stranger traveling through their village. Caught off guard by the man’s kindness, however, Hessa ends up failing to carry out the task, and thus is banished from the sacred Hall of Smoke as punishment for her disobedience.

This is how Hessa finds herself alone on the mountain, about to supplicate herself before her goddess, when the attack on her village comes. But by the time she hears the sounds of battle coming from below, it is too late. She rushes home to find everything razed to the ground and everyone dead. Filled with grief and a desire for revenge, Hessa sets off on a journey to hunt down the man she was supposed to kill, her devotion to Eang still as strong as ever. Hoping to fulfill her goddess’ destiny for her and get back in her good graces, Hessa is determined not to hesitate this time, though nothing could have prepared her for the many challenges ahead, some of which will test her resolve and make her question everything she thought she knew about life, death, and the nature of the gods.

Ahh, this book was such a wonderful and refreshing treat for fans of mythological fantasy and gorgeously crafted worlds! It is also an adventure about the lives of heroic mortals and the gods that seek to influence them. Author H.M. Long has created a rich and lushly detailed world full of magic and monsters, and we are treated to vivid descriptions of the exotic locales around the Empire everywhere Hessa goes.

Hall of Smoke is also an in-depth character study of our protagonist, who Long puts through the wringer. Right from the start, Hessa’s journey has been marked by pain and hardship, being punished simply for the crime of showing compassion, and that’s even before she ends up losing everyone she’s ever loved. Although she has a good heart and is strong-willed, she is not without her flaws, namely a single-mindedness that frequently leads her astray. She also wants vengeance for the slain as well as forgiveness from her goddess, but her limited experiences have left her helpless when faced with problems that make her question her devotion to Eang, not to mention moments where it feels as if Hessa’s beliefs are all-consuming and color every aspect of her life, making it quite difficult to connect with her at times.

Story-wise, the plot is mostly engaging, helped by the strength of the author’s flowing prose. I do like how Hessa travels to different places, keeping the adventure narrative fresh, though the pacing does suffer slightly once things got a little repetitive. Granted, the mystery of the gods was what kept me reading, especially those little snippets where we got to see Hessa interact with Eang, but overall I did feel that the story might have teased us for too long which made me lose some of my interest. And while I understood that this was strictly Hessa’s tale, I also couldn’t help but feel regret for the transience of many of her relationships with the people she meets. It seemed a shame that very few of them, some of whom were actually quite fascinating, were able to stick around to play a more significant role in her life.

Still, overall, despite some bumps along the road, I did enjoy Hall of Smoke. It’s a bold take on a “gods among us” type Viking-inspired fantasy which I would love to see more of, hence my joy at discovering that a follow-up novel is in the works. I plan on checking it out.