I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Murder Theory by Andrew Mayne
Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Series: Book 3 of The Naturalist
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer (February 5, 2019)
Length: 318 pages
The crime mystery and thriller genres are full of protagonists who claim they will go to any lengths to stop a killer, but computation biologist Dr. Theo Cray will give them all a run for their money in this totally insane and off-the-wall third volume of Andrew Mayne’s Naturalist series. Once more our hero is on the trail of a serial killer, but this time, he may have met his match. You might even say that Theo is hunting for a dark version of himself, a difficult quandary that forces him to confront some uncomfortable truths about his own psyche.
Shortly after the events of Looking Glass, Theo has resumed his work on top secret projects for the government. However, the repercussions of his last investigation haunt him still. One day, he is approached by an FBI agent whose colleagues had been working on the site of where Theo had tracked down his last target, which was also where the murderer had buried all his victims’ remains. Now two of the agents are dead, and a third one is missing, presumably having gone on the run after killing the others. But when they catch the suspect, the man appears in shock with no memory of what happened. His erratic behavior, and the fact that those closest to him say they can’t even recognize him as the same person they once knew, led to MRI scans of his brain. And the results are terrifying.
Now Dr. Cray finds himself faced with the prospect of a literal mad scientist who is using their vast genius and knowledge to kill. Whoever it is, they’re also an expert in virology and pathological behavior, as well as a master at concealing their identity and not getting caught. And, Theo fears but is loath to admit, they might even be smarter than him.
Our protagonist has always been a driven man, motivated by problems to solve because they allow him to design models and exercise his intelligence, not to mention his work also saves lives and puts murderers out of commission. This time though, his ego is also a major driving force, and while he may be cognizant of the fact, his competitive streak stills gets him into all kinds of trouble. Of course, Theo being Theo, he’s no stranger to trouble, and half the fun of these books is watching him try to mentally MacGyver himself out of some super tight spots.
Things do take a slightly dark turn though, as Theo is pushed to the limits. Our boy takes vigilantism to a whole other level in this one, and if you thought his law-flouting and risk-taking was extreme in the previous books, just wait ‘til you see what he does here. There’s a lot I love about this series, including the thrilling action and fascinating science, but a big part of the enjoyment is also in watching the main character grow over time. In The Naturalist, Theo was a fledgling serial-killer hunter whose naivete was a weakness that almost became the death of him. As a result, he hardened his heart in Looking Glass and welcomed the darkness. By the end of Murder Theory, however, we may be witnessing another change in Theo as he realizes he may have taken things a little too far and that his by-any-means-necessary attitude might be swiftly leading him down a dangerous path.
For this reason, I highly recommend starting the series from the beginning, though one could probably get away with reading Murder Theory as a standalone. A thing to note is that the book does make many references to Theo’s past investigations, in essence forming a thematic link between the serial murder cases in each book that only someone familiar with all three can fully appreciate. Plus, these books are just so much fun, it would be a shame to miss any of it by jumping in at a later point. I continue to be impressed by the scientific aspects, as well as Theo’s knack for spotting patterns in the data. Mayne’s storytelling is also once again on full throttle in this fast-paced no-stops thrill ride boosted with plenty of humor and straight up crazy twists.
That said, Murder Theory probably wasn’t my favorite of the series (an honor that still belongs to Looking Glass) due to a couple minor faults. One, I found the early parts too heavy on the scientific jargon. Two, this book didn’t make me laugh nearly as much as the previous ones did! I guess I’m just going to chalk it up to the darker, more macabre direction of the story. And three, though technically this isn’t a real criticism, I found it way too short. Talk about leaving me wanting more; this was a book hangover that hit me even before I could finish! It’s no exaggeration when I say I would have happily gone for another hundred pages or two following Theo on his pursuit of the killer, and I was practically distraught when the book ended, because damn, that last line!
What more can I say, but I just loved this. I love this series. I love Theo Cray. Yes, things can get a little bonkers sometimes, but that’s what makes these books so amazing. Every time I pick up something with Andrew Mayne’s name on the cover, I know I’ll be in for a hell of a good time, and he hasn’t let me down yet. Can’t wait for the next one.
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: Book 3 of The Valiant
Publisher: Listening Library (February 12, 2019)
Length: 11 hrs and 10 mins
Narrator: Fiona Hardingham
Not my favorite book of the trilogy, but then again, final books in a series seldom are, mostly likely because of the high expectations placed on the ending. Still, this doesn’t mean The Triumphant wasn’t a great read, because it absolutely was, featuring all the incredible action and memorable characters I’ve grown to love. In a way, I did feel like the scope of the story was a little smaller and less epic in this one, but the conclusion was absolutely unforgettable.
Following the events of the previous book, Fallon and her fellow gladiatrices have become the darlings of the Roman Republic. That said, their victory did not come without some negative consequences, one of these being Cai’s dishonorable discharge from the army. Despite understanding the need for this, it still breaks Fallon’s heart to watch her lover now fight for his life in the gladiatorial arenas, knowing that he had given up his reputation and social status to stand with her against his traitorous father. Still, they know they have the favor of Caesar, which goes a long way in securing their livelihood and future as Fallon continues the fight for Cai’s freedom.
But soon, the Ides of March are upon them, and treachery in the senate threatens to throw the entirety of Rome into chaos. All the privileges and protection Fallon and her friends enjoyed are now lost, but in far greater danger is Cleopatra, who has gone from beloved of Caesar to his enemies’ greatest target. She needs to a way out of the city, and Fallon and her sister Sorcha are in a position to help. After gathering the other gladiatrices, they formulate a daring plan to escape Rome and make their way to Alexandria, the seat of Cleopatra’s power. Beyond that, Fallon does not know where her heart will lead her, but perhaps the Queen of Egypt is not the only one who needs to return home.
It’s not too difficult to figure out that the crux of The Triumphant is the assassination of Julius Caesar and the ensuing catastrophe it causes our characters, and in fact the event and its aftermath takes up the bulk of this story. While it is significant, Caesar’s death is also no big twist and thus I felt this final volume lacked a lot of the surprises that so delighted me in the first two books. Much of this one featured Fallon and her companions simply reacting to the reality of their new circumstances instead of driving the plot.
However, as with the previous novels in the series, Lesley Livingston has also added her own flourishes to the history to make things interesting, including familial drama, additional conspiracies, and a touch of the darkly mystical. The action is also top-notch with superb fight scenes and battle sequences. This has always been one of my favorite aspects of this series because the author has such a knack for describing the action so vividly that everything plays out like a movie in your mind.
At this point, I’ve also grown comfortably attached to all these characters, and yet it still surprised me how much it hurt whenever we lost someone. It’s a testament to how well they’ve been written and developed that I should feel so emotionally invested in their fates. In addition, the friendships that have been forged between Fallon and her gladiatrix sisters are those I will remember for a long time. I think it’s safe to say that our protagonist got the ending she’s earned for herself and the friends, and the final pages were deeply satisfying as a result.
All in all, I was very happy with The Triumphant and the way it concluded the Valiant trilogy, and I honestly can’t remember the last time I had this much fun with a YA series. Lesley Livingston is now a must-read author for me; anything else she writes, I’ll be there.
Audiobook Comments: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Fiona Hardingham rocks. Fortunately for me, she narrates a lot of YA and my heart always does a little cheer whenever I see her name listed for an audiobook I’m looking forward to. Her voice was absolutely perfect for Fallon: powerful, fierce, and full of strength.
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone/Book 1
Publisher: William Morrow (January 15, 2019)
Length: 432 pages
A perfectly serviceable political thriller, The Night Agent by Matthew Quirk introduces Peter Sutherland, a junior FBI agent who, despite being something of a pariah in security circles, has been given a second chance to prove himself. After all, his circumstances were through no fault of his own. Peter was just a boy when his father, an FBI counterintelligence chief, was accused of spying for the Russians, a mark on his record that that tormented the elder Sutherland for the rest of his life even after it ruined his reputation and career.
Inevitably, the suspicions also fell on Peter, despite his efforts to play everything straight and do everything by the rules. He has followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a surveillance specialist even knowing his chances of advancement are slim. However, all his hard work finally paid off the day Peter was offered a job in the Situation Room by the White House chief of staff. His role: to be the agent manning the night desk, monitoring any calls that might come in through the emergency phone lines during the graveyard shift. Even though none ever come, it’s still an important job, and Peter is also thankful enough just to have a position in the heart of the capital.
Then one night, on a night like any other, the phone finally rings. Peter picks up the receiver to a terrified sounding woman on the other end. “Night Action,” she says. “They told me to tell you that. That you would know what to do. My name is Rose Larkin. He’s here. He’s inside. He’s going to kill me.”
What follows next is a whirlwind of action and suspense as Peter is thrust into the middle of a conspiracy that implicates the possibility of a mole hidden in the highest levels of the government. While our protagonist is no Jack Bauer (because, let’s face it, who is?) The Night Agent does have the tone, pacing, and feel of something like 24. This story admittedly requires quite a bit of setup, resulting in erratic pacing for the first handful of chapters as the author bounces between multiple perspectives in order to introduce all the characters and the plot’s background elements as quickly as possible. Things smooth out soon after that.
Granted, I haven’t read too many political thrillers, but I imagine The Night Agent is pretty standard as far as the genre goes. The main focus is on the plot, ensuring that something interesting happens in every chapter with plenty of turning points and major reveals. Quirk isn’t one to waste his words and pretty much everything he’s written down is relevant to the main thrust of the story. This kept the momentum strong throughout and the narrative constantly driving forward so that I never found myself bored.
Similar to my experience with most thrillers though, I also found characterization to be on the weaker side as more emphasis is placed on the thriller and action elements. But given the wild ride the author takes us on, it’s a trade-off I didn’t mind too much. Our protagonists also felt genuine enough, and easy to relate to despite the crazy situation in which they’ve found themselves. Peter is an unassuming figure, at least in the political arena that is Washington DC. He may work close to the president and his trusted staff, but at the end of the day he is a low-level FBI agent, unremarkable except for his father’s history. Rose, on the other hand, has a more vivacious personality. She has come to the city to stay with her uncle and aunt, who turn out to be couple of former spies. Both Peter and Rose are just ordinary individuals caught up in extraordinary circumstances trying their best to survive with the limited resources they have, which makes readers sympathetic to their struggle.
All told, I found The Night Agent to be an entertaining read. I doubt it would change the world or blow any minds, but it certainly deserves a look if you’re into high-drama political thrillers. And while I confess this isn’t a genre I’m all that familiar with, after reading this novel I definitely wouldn’t mind reading more just like it.
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:
“Hi little cub. Oh no, don’t be ssscared.”
~ a cover featuring a SNAKE
I really wish I could erase these books from my mind, but this one came in handy today. Circus of the Damned is the third book of Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series which was shortly before they turned into wall-to-wall bad porn. Let’s take a look at some of the more interesting covers I’ve found for this book:
From left to right, top to bottom:
Ace (1995) – Berkley Books (2009) – Headline (2009)
Jove (2002) – Berkley Paperback (2007) – French Edition (2009)
Czech Edition (2007) – Czech Edition (2007) – Italian Edition (2006)
Turkish Edition (2009) – Portuguese Edition (2011) – Spanish Edition (2008)
German Edition (2005) – Greek Edition (2008) – Russian Edition (2010)
My winner was chosen today because I have a weakness for circus motifs – anything to do with carnival marquee posters, flashy flyers and big top tents…you’ve got my attention.
But what do you think? Which one is your favorite?
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Series: Book 4 of Rockton
Publisher: Macmillan Audio (February 5, 2019)
Length: 11 hrs and 30 mins
Narrator: Therese Plummer
I don’t read as much mystery-thriller as I do sci-fi & fantasy, but this is one series I have been following religiously, and every book that comes out just makes me love it even more. Watcher in the Woods is the fourth installment that returns readers to Rockton, a secret town hidden in the wilds of the Yukon. Ex-homicide detective Casey Duncan and her boyfriend Sheriff Eric Dalton are doing their best to police this community of eclectic residents who share only one commonality—they’ve all come here to escape their pasts.
But somehow, despite repeated assurances from the council that everyone in town has been vetted and deemed not a threat, dangerous criminals seem to keep cropping up in their midst. Rockton has only just gotten rid of their last serial killer when it turns out there may be another high-risk fugitive hiding in town. Worse, a US Marshall has come a-knocking, demanding Eric and Casey release this individual, whom he won’t name, into his custody. But how did this US Marshall—if he is who he claims he is—manage to find Rockton, when all the security measures and precautions put in place were supposed to keep them off the grid? And who is he looking for?
Meanwhile, Casey also has her own secret she is trying to keep under wraps. Her good friend Kenny has been grievously wounded, and unfortunately, their town doesn’t have much in the way of medical care. Taking a great risk, Casey calls up her estranged sister April, who is a surgeon, and convinces her to fly in to operate on Kenny. But smuggling April into Rockton is sure to invoke the wrath of the council if they find out, and relations between the sisters aren’t exactly amicable after years of bitter resentment.
There was a lot going on in this book, and I loved it. Having found some of the plot twists in the previous volumes to be a tad on the predictable side, I was glad to see Kelley Armstrong back on form with her terrific plotting and strong sense of timing. It’s a testament to her skills that this is the fourth novel in a series that takes place in the middle of nowhere and features only a limited number of characters, yet she still manages to fill each book with enough suspects and motives to keep her readers on edge and guessing at every turn. With Watcher in the Wood, I felt like I was constantly being hit with new developments and surprises from all sides, but in the best way possible. Even more amazing was how it all came together so marvelously.
And speaking of the new elements introduced, I think my favorite one was the storyline involving April. Casey’s strained relationship with her sister has been a strong theme running through the series since the beginning, but only now are we seeing it so directly addressed and explored. While I thought it was a little unrealistic that it took only a town full of strangers a few days to diagnose and theorize a possible cause for the emotional conflict that has plagued the sisters all their lives, the whole episode still revealed an interesting side to Casey that we’ve never seen before. Of all the new characters Armstrong has brought in so far, April is the one I’m most excited about.
I also like that this series continues to focus its attention on the mystery and thrills, with the romance being served like a delicious sauce on the side. The author hasn’t stopped developing the relationship between Casey and Dalton, but they’ve settled into a comfortable and loving place for now, and I enjoy reading about them even more for it. I feel much the same way about the setting, which Armstrong also continues to build and expand. In this book, we get to learn more about life in the Yukon, and that includes a quick trip to the town of Dawson City. We also get more information about the inner workings of the council and glean clues that support the possibility of them being compromised, setting up potential storylines for future books.
In conclusion, Watcher in the Woods was another fantastic sequel in a series that has captured my attention in so many ways. Mystery, action, romance, and suspense—Rockton has it all. Once more, Kelley Armstrong has me waiting on pins and needles for the next book.
Audiobook Comments: This is a series I adore in audio, and the main reason for that is Therese Plummer, a narrator extraordinaire who has proven herself to be the perfect voice for Casey Duncan. She delivered an awesome performance as always, and I look forward to listening to her read again for the next book.
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!
I love the sound of this creepy horror, releasing this fall just in time for Halloween.
Answer: pretty bad. Grandma was a hoarder, and her house is stuffed with useless rubbish. That would be horrific enough, but there’s more—Mouse stumbles across her step-grandfather’s journal, which at first seems to be filled with nonsensical rants…until Mouse encounters some of the terrifying things he described for herself.
Alone in the woods with her dog, Mouse finds herself face to face with a series of impossible terrors—because sometimes the things that go bump in the night are real, and they’re looking for you. And if she doesn’t face them head on, she might not survive to tell the tale.
From Hugo Award–winning author Ursula Vernon, writing as T. Kingfisher, The Twisted Ones is a gripping, terrifying tale bound to keep you up all night—from both fear and anticipation of what happens next.
Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish, a weekly meme that now resides at That Artsy Reader Girl. The meme first came about because of a love of lists. Who doesn’t love lists? The original creators also wanted their lists to be shared with fellow book lovers and to ask that we in turn share ours with them and connect with other book bloggers. To learn more about participating, stop by their page dedicated to it and dive in!
This week’s topic: Top Ten Upcoming Releases I’m On the Fence About
At the beginning of the year, I made a list of my most anticipated books for early 2019, or what I call my “must-reads”. But then, what about the books I’m curious about but still not quite sure I’m ready to make a final decision on yet? Today, I feature some of the titles I’ve been hemming and hawing over for a while now, but if you think there are any that I should change from a “maybe” to a “must”, please let me know!
Aurelia Isendare is a princess of a small kingdom in the North, raised in privilege but shielded from politics as her brother prepares to step up to the throne. Halfway around the world, Athan Dakar, the youngest son of a ruthless general, is a fighter pilot longing for a life away from the front lines. When Athan’s mother is shot and killed, his father is convinced it’s the work of his old rival, the Queen of Etania—Aurelia’s mother. Determined to avenge his wife’s murder, he devises a plot to overthrow the Queen, a plot which sends Athan undercover to Etania to gain intel from her children.
Athan’s mission becomes complicated when he finds himself falling for the girl he’s been tasked with spying upon. Aurelia feels the same attraction, all the while desperately seeking to stop the war threatening to break between the Southern territory and the old Northern kingdoms that control it—a war in which Athan’s father is determined to play a role. As diplomatic ties manage to just barely hold, the two teens struggle to remain loyal to their families and each other as they learn that war is not as black and white as they’ve been raised to believe.
A killer is on the loose, and only one girl has the power to find him. But in this genre-bending YA thriller, she must first manage to avoid becoming a target herself.
For Adele, the dead aren’t really dead. She can see them and even talk to them. But she’s spent years denying her gift. When she encounters her ex best friend Tori in a shallow grave in the woods and realizes that Tori is actually dead — that gift turns into a curse. Without an alibi, Adele becomes the prime suspect in Tori’s murder. She must work with Tori’s ghost to find the real killer. But what if the killer finds Adele first?
Master mystery-write April Henry adds a chilling paranormal twist to this incredibly suspenseful young adult novel.
In the next chapter of a fantasy series featuring five unforgettable sisters—the warrior, the magician, the lover, the zealot, and the gossip—an insidious threat jeopardizes a fragile peace.
Four years have passed since the five royal sisters—daughters of the king—worked together to restore their father to health and to the throne while fracturing the bonds among themselves almost irreparably. Only Bluebell remains at home, dutifully serving as heir to her father’s kingdom. Rose has been cast aside by her former husband and hides in exile with her aunt, separated forever from her beloved daughter, Rowan. Ash wanders the distant wastes with her teacher, learning magic and hunting dragons, determined that the dread fate she has foreseen for herself and her loved ones never comes to pass. Ivy rules over a prosperous seaport, married to an aged husband she hates yet finding delight in her two young sons and a handsome captain of the guard. And as for Willow, she hides the most dangerous secret of all—one that could destroy all that the sisters once sought to save.
Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident–or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.
Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion–all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret–one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life–or rescue it from annihilation.
Barrie Anne Blythe and her aunt Charlotte have always known that the other residents of their small coastal community find them peculiar — two women living alone on the outskirts of town. It is the price of concealing their strange and dangerous family secret.
But two events threaten to upend their lives forever. The first is the arrival of a mysterious abandoned baby with a hint of power like their own. The second is the sudden reappearance of Barrie Anne’s long-lost husband — who is not quite the man she thought she married.
Together, Barrie Anne and Charlotte must decide how far they are willing to go to protect themselves — and the child they think of as their own — from suspicious neighbors, the government, and even their own family…
Divine justice is written in blood.
Or so Amastan has been taught. As a new assassin in the Basbowen family, he’s already having second thoughts about taking a life. A scarcity of contracts ends up being just what he needs.
Until, unexpectedly, Amastan finds the body of a very important drum chief. Until, impossibly, Basbowen’s finest start showing up dead, with their murderous jaan running wild in the dusty streets of Ghadid. Until, inevitably, Amastan is ordered to solve these murders, before the family gets blamed.
Every life has its price, but when the tables are turned, Amastan must find this perfect assassin or be their next target.
Prince and his fairy courtiers are staggeringly beautiful, unrelentingly cruel, and exhausted by the tedium of the centuries―until they meet foster-siblings Josh and Ksenia. Drawn in by their vivid emotions, undying love for each other, and passion for life, Prince will stop at nothing to possess them.
First seduced and then entrapped by the fairies, Josh and Ksenia learn that the fairies’ otherworldly gifts come at a terrible price―and they must risk everything in order to reclaim their freedom.
Among humans, none have power like mages. And among mages, none have will like Sal the Cacophony. Once revered, now vagrant, she walks a wasteland scarred by generations of magical warfare.
The Scar, a land torn between powerful empires, is where rogue mages go to disappear, disgraced soldiers go to die and Sal went with a blade, a gun and a list of names she intended to use both on.
But vengeance is a flame swift extinguished. Betrayed by those she trusted most, her magic torn from her and awaiting execution, Sal the Cacophony has one last tale to tell before they take her head.
All she has left is her name, her story and the weapon she used to carved both.
Fergus Ferguson has been called a lot of names: thief, con artist, repo man. He prefers the term finder.
His latest job should be simple. Find the spacecraft Venetia’s Sword and steal it back from Arum Gilger, ex-nobleman turned power-hungry trade boss. He’ll slip in, decode the ship’s compromised AI security, and get out of town, Sword in hand.
Fergus locates both Gilger and the ship in the farthest corner of human-inhabited space, a gas-giant-harvesting colony called Cernee. But Fergus’ arrival at the colony is anything but simple. A cable car explosion launches Cernee into civil war, and Fergus must ally with Gilger’s enemies to navigate a field of space mines and a small army of hostile mercenaries. What was supposed to be a routine job evolves into negotiating a power struggle between factions. Even worse, Fergus has become increasingly–and inconveniently–invested in the lives of the locals.
It doesn’t help that a dangerous alien species thought mythical prove unsettlingly real, and their ominous triangle ships keep following Fergus around.
Foolhardy. Eccentric. Reckless. Whatever he’s called, Fergus will need all the help he can get to take back the Sword and maybe save Cernee from destruction in the process.
The Pandora Room is New York Times bestselling author Christopher Golden’s chilling exploration of what happens when the original Pandora’s Box is discovered in an ancient subterranean city, stirring international conflict and exposing the archaeological team to curses, whispers, and the terror of a legendary plague.
In one ancient variation on the myth of Pandora’s Box, there were two jars, one for Pandora and one for her sister, Anesidora. One contained all the blessings of the gods, the other all the world’s curses. Now, in a subterranean city in Northern Iraq, archaeologist Sophie Durand has discovered a secret chamber covered in writing that confirms that version of the tale—a chamber which contains a single jar. “Weird shit” expert Ben Walker joins Sophie’s team just as the mystery deepens and grows ugly. Those who believe the myth want to know which jar has been found in the Pandora Room, the one containing blessings, or the one full of curses. Governments rush to lay claim, but jihadi forces aren’t waiting for the dust to settle. Whatever the jar contains, they want it, no matter who they have to kill…or what will emerge when they open it. For Sophie, Walker, and the others, the Pandora Room may soon become their tomb.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Romance, Science Fiction
Series: Book 1 of Consortium Rebellion
Publisher: Harper Voyager (February 5, 2019)
Length: 448 pages
Not gonna lie, I’ve always been hard on the romances in my fiction. While I have nothing against romance, I’ve always said that if there’s going to be a romance arc in any book, it needs to be convincing—not to mention I also want the characters, plot and other story elements to be strong. It also helps when a novel is upfront with the reader on what to expect. In the case of Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik, it is an example of a sci-fi romance mashup that handles all these points very well.
The protagonist of this tale is Lady Ada of High House von Hasenberg. As the fifth of six children, her usefulness to her family only extends to her marriageability into one of the other High Houses, and only so that her father can have a spy in a rival’s house. To avoid that fate, Ada ran away years ago and has since survived on her own by living under the radar on space stations and mercenary ships. But unfortunately, her luck has just run out. As our story begins, Ada finds herself in a holding cell with another high-profile prisoner named Marcus Loch aboard a bounty hunter’s ship, soon to be handed off to Richard of High House Rockhurst, the man she was supposed to marry. Though Ada knows better than to trust Loch, a known dangerous criminal, she’s also aware he’s her only chance to escape. And so, the two of them strike up a tenuous alliance, agreeing to work together until they make it some place safe. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Loch is hot as hell and has the body of a Greek god.
However, Richard is not about to give up so easily. For some reason, House Rockhurst is really keen on having his and Ada’s arranged marriage go forward, presumably to get their hands on her dowry. But what exactly is it that they want? And why does Richard also seem to want to capture Loch as badly as he wants Ada? As our two fugitives go on the run together, they end up finding the answers to all these questions and more. In order to protect her house and prevent war, Ada will need to recruit more help and put a stop to Rockhursts’ plans. Meanwhile, she’s also realizing that Loch is more than he seems. He’s certainly not the heartless mercenary she had expected him to be, and as the two of them grow closer, Ada must also admit to herself that Loch has become more to her than just an escape plan.
In case it’s not glaringly obvious, Polaris Rising is mostly a romance first, and a genre novel second. By that, I mean it can be awfully self-indulgent at times, being predominantly interested in focusing the attention on the romance arc between Ada and Loch, and it does that boldly with no apology. For one, the plot is light and leaky and doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny. World-building elements are plentiful but just robust enough to get by. Characters are also on the conventional side, with Ada being your typical heroine with a fierce personality and a strong independent streak, while Loch is even more clichéd as the tall, dark, brooding and possessive alpha male whose sculpted face and abs appear to be his main appeal. As they’re both archetypal to an extent, neither instilled much likeability at the beginning, though credit where credit’s due: both scored high on the believability meter. Ada and Loch are flawed characters each dealing with a painful event in their past. Ada’s prevents her from letting anyone get close, while Loch has done some terrible things that he’d rather forget. Again, it’s not the most original setup, resulting in drama that could have been predicted from miles away. And yet, the emotional growth they each experienced was convincingly written and fun to watch, and in the end, isn’t that why we read such stories?
Another point for this book: the supporting cast. Characters like Veronica, Rhys, and Bianca are fully-fleshed individuals in their own right, adding much flavor to the story (not to mention a nice break from the smoldering gazes our two protagonists are constantly throwing at each other). Even if romance isn’t your thing, you’ll love the meaningful relationships that these other characters add to the equation. And ultimately, that’s what I enjoyed most about Polaris Rising—the fact that there’s so much else to like beyond the main romantic arc. In spite of the light world-building, there is also a clear and strong effort to make the sci-fi setting as authentic and full-bodied as possible. It feels developed from the ground up along with the story, and not as though it was slapped on as an afterthought. And of course, if you’re here for the romance you’ll leave very happy, but those of us who require an actual plot with some action too will certainly not be disappointed either. Mihalik manages to balance the sexy times with enough suspense and thrills so that neither aspect overshadows the other, leaving both coming through very naturally.
Overall, I had a really good time with Polaris Rising. Admittedly, the romance genre is still not something I can take in large doses, but I love throwing a book like this into my reading repertoire whenever I feel like I need a change. Like a rich, fluffy, decadent dessert, I can only read these types of novels once in a while, but whenever I do, it’s always oh so satisfying and delicious.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Hardcover: Crown | Audiobook: Random House Audio (February 5, 2019)
Length: Hardcover: 288 pages | Audiobook: 10 hrs and 43 mins
Narrator: Richard Armitage
As much as I loved The Chalk Man, I’m quite pleased to say that The Hiding Place was a bit of a departure from the author’s debut, in a couple of amazing ways. First, I felt that it was much darker and creepier (always a plus), and second, I also greatly enjoyed the touch of the supernatural. Since C.J. Tudor’s previous novel was a straight-up suspense-thriller, this fantastical element might turn out to be a deal breaker for some, but as a speculative fiction reader by nature and habit, I welcomed it with open arms.
The story follows Joe Thorne, a middle-aged school teacher who returns to his home town of Arnhill in order to settle an old score. It’s not what he wants—but it is what he must do. After hearing about a shocking murder-suicide involving a mother who brutally killed her teenage son before shooting herself, Joe fears what happened to him all those years ago is happening again. So he gets a job at the high school he used to attend, replacing the very same woman who committed the crime, and also starts renting an abandoned and dilapidated cottage in town, living in the very same house where the horror took place. All these decisions are calculated moves on Joe’s part. He has a plan, and it requires integrating himself back into the community so that he can track down a few old “friends” still living in Arnhill—those who were there on that day so long ago, when something terrible and strange happened to Joe’s beloved younger sister Annie.
But Joe has plenty of secrets he’s hiding too. His gambling problems have made him some dangerous enemies since leaving Arnhill, and they’ve followed him home to join the ghosts of his past in haunting him. As expected, his return has not been met with overwhelming enthusiasm either. Joe hung out with the wrong crowd as a youth and did some pretty bad things. Being in Arnhill again means reconciling himself with the wretched teenager he once was, as well as confronting the truth of what happened to his little sister in that abandoned old mine where he and his gang discovered the real meaning of terror.
In a way, The Hiding Place can be seen as a redemption story for our protagonist Joe, who finally realizes he’s run from his past long enough. Sure, there are selfish reasons for returning to Arnhill, but he’s also ready to face up to the things he’s done wrong and to try to right them. Something is rotting at the heart of his home town, which could be a combination of corruption and something more uncanny or preternatural—whatever it is, it’s a vicious cycle that needs to be stopped, even if it’s already too late for Joe and his family.
Admittedly, it wasn’t until the story was well underway that I felt fully invested in it. But that’s not to say the introductory parts of this novel were slow or uninteresting, because quite the opposite is true. In fact, the opening scene is gripping both in its disturbing imagery and mysterious intensity, which sets the tone for the rest of the novel. Instead, the reason for the plot’s delayed takeoff has everything to do with how carefully and deliberately information is doled out. Joe plays all his cards close to his chest unless he absolutely has to share the details, so at the beginning, most of the story’s intrigue was driven by simply the desire to know more about him: Why is he really back in Arnhill? Why do all his old friends seem displeased with him showing up again, and what happened to cause this falling out? Why is he so evasive when it comes to certain topics in his past like his sister Annie, or the baffling circumstances behind the car accident that he was involved in when he was younger? What does any of this have to do with the gruesome murder-suicide? And what was the meaning of the puzzling message written in blood at the scene? So many questions were teased, and while they certainly kept me reading to find out more, it wasn’t until the answers started coming that I finally found myself completely drawn in.
I also continue to be impressed with C.J. Tudor’s writing. While her setup may require a bit of patience, she is a natural storyteller, with an incredible way with words. I loved the measured pacing with which she revealed information, and the way she described certain things. Ultimately, I found some of the more mundane (as in earthly) character-related drama to be less interesting than the supernatural elements (others are correct in that some of them are quite reminiscent of classic Stephen King) but in the end, that’s due to the kind of reader I am and the stories I prefer. I understand some might not like the vagueness of the details, but in this particular case, I was happy that we were left with a bit of ambiguity.
Overall, I liked The Hiding Place just as much—and in some respects, a little bit more—than The Chalk Man. I can see Tudor becoming my new go-to author for thriller-suspense mysteries, especially if I’m looking for something with a good dose of creep factor.
Audiobook Comments: In addition to the eARC, I was lucky enough to receive a listening copy of The Hiding Place audiobook narrated by award-winning voice and screen actor Richard Armitage, probably best known for his role The Hobbit. I really enjoyed this listen; I mean, if having Thorin Oakenshield read to you still isn’t enough of an appeal, his smooth mellow voice was also perfect for the role of Joe. His performance was simply captivating, an added bonus to an already engaging story. Highly recommended.
Bookshelf Roundup is a feature I do every other weekend which fills the role of several blog memes, like Stacking the Shelves where I talk about the new books I’ve added to my library or received for review, as well as It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? where I round up what I’ve read since the last update and what I’m planning to read soon. Mostly it also serves as a recap post, so sometimes I’ll throw in stuff like reading challenge progress reports, book lists, and other random bookish thoughts or announcements.
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!
Thank you to the HarperCollins team for sending me a couple of great titles to review! From William Morrow, Crucible by James Rollins is a mystery/thriller described as a mind-expanding adventure that blends science, historical fiction and action. It’s book 14 in the Sigma Force series, but I’ve been assured this can be read as a standalone, so I’m going to go for it. And from HarperVoyager came this exciting ARC of The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling which I’m looking forward to reading because you all know how much I enjoy sci-fi horror!
Thanks also to Subterranean Press for sending me an ARC of Outside the Gates of Eden by Lewis Shiner, a novel that the author calls his magnum opus. Several of his SFF novels have featured rock music as a theme, and likewise I’ve heard that this one will also feature rock and roll in the 60’s as a main focus.
Also thanks to Del Rey for sending along a couple of cool surprises this month. I received a copy of The Memory of Fire by Callie Bates which is about to be released as a paperback, as well as an ARC of The Soul of Power which is its sequel and the third book in the Waking Land series. I wasn’t crazy about book two because of the change in protagonist, but it seems like there will be a shift again in book three and maybe I’ll take take better to it now that I know what to expect. There’s a good chance I’ll read it, because I do want to finish the trilogy.
Courtesy of the kind folks at Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, I also received Dragon Ghosts by Lisa McMann, the third book in the Unwanteds Quests children’s series. Come to think of it, they might have sent me the first book a couple years ago too! I haven’t started it yet, so if I want to read this one, I will need to do some crazy catching up.
Thanks also to Orbit Books for sending me a finished copy of No Way by S.J. Morden, the sequel to One Way. This book continues the journeys of Frank Kitteridge, our protagonist who escaped death on Mars and now must figure out a way to get home. I really enjoyed the first book, so I definitely want to know what happens next.
And a big thank you to Tor Books for sending along these lovelies: A Labyrinth of Scions and Sorcery by Curtis Craddock is the sequel to the brilliant Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors, a genre bending fantasy novel that I loved to bits. I’ve been crossing my fingers for a finished copy of this to arrive, so now that it has, I’m ecstatic! And from the publisher’s young adult imprint Tor Teen, a finished copy of Ship of Smoke and Steel by Django Wexler also showed up last week. I’m a huge fan of the author and I can’t wait to check out his debut into the YA genre!
And that’s not all! As thanks for being a part of their #FearlessWomen campaign last summer, Tor also sent along this care package containing a signed copy of Vengeful by V.E. Schwab as well as these neat little character pins and a pretty tote bag. Needless to say, all this was an awesome surprise!
Again, my digital haul is made up of mostly audiobooks this week. With thanks to Audible Studios for a review copy of King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo which I’m excited to listen to because they always do an excellent job on her books and choose the best narrators (in this case, Lauren Fortgang, a favorite!) From Macmillan Audio, I received Watcher in the Woods by Kelley Armstrong, the fourth Rockton mystery (which I’ve already listened to, and it was amazing), as well as The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo, which I’m looking forward to because she’s an author I’ve always wanted to try. And with thanks to Random House Audio, I also received a listening copy of Suspicious Minds by Gwenda Bond, the first official Stranger Things novel and a prequel to the show which will delve into the truth behind Eleven’s mother.
And I knew I was going to cave on this, and yep, I caved hard: House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig is a book I’ve been hemming and hawing over for a while, but after hearing that it’s supposed to be a retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses fairy tale, that finally did it. The publisher has also auto-approved me on NetGalley, so with that, my last line of resistance was broken. With thanks to Delacorte Press. And finally, if you’ve been paying attention to the coverage of this year’s SPFBO, you might have heard of Under Ordshaw by Phil Williams, most notably from Lynn’s Book Blog where it was one of the books she considered when it came to choosing her finalist. Shortly after reading her high praise and recommendation for the novel, I actually received an email from the author who contacted me to to see if I would be interested in a review copy, so of course I said yes! Stay tuned for more in the coming weeks, as there may be more coverage including a guest post. Thank you, Phil
A quick summary of my reviews posted since the last update:
The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky (5 of 5 stars)
Lipstick Voodoo by Kristi Charish (4 of 5 stars)
The Lost Prince by Edward Lazellari (3.5 of 5 stars)
The Au Pair by Emma Rous (3.5 of 5 stars)
Vultures by Chuck Wendig (3.5 of 5 stars)
A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe by Alex White (3 of 5 stars)
The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi (3 of 5 stars)
The Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson (2 of 5 stars)
What I’ve Read Since the Last Update
Here’s what I’ve managed to “unstack” from the TBR since the last update. More reviews coming soon!
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!