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Niki’s Top Twelve Must-Read Books!

top ten tuesday

Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

 This weeks Post was supposed to be along the lines of must-read titles that other people have told me about. Because I haven’t yet read many of the titles that made that list (and therefore can’t personally vouch for their awesomeness) I decided to take a spin on the topic and present my own list of must-reads. I realize this must look similar to many of my other lists, but I just can’t can’t seem to stop raving about my all-time favorite titles. Now, of course, this list is only helpful if you’re a speculative fiction fanatic like me. ;)

Niki’s Top Twelve Must-Read Books:

Fantasy:

 Science Fiction (specifically Space Opera):

Young Adult:

 Urban Fantasy:

These titles have all earned their spots in my favorites list and are usually the first books I recommend to new readers of their given genre.

What books would make your list?

by Niki Hawkes

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Bout of Books Read-a-thon!

bout of books

 This will be the first time I’ve ever participated in a read-a-thon, and I am super pumped to get started. I almost didn’t realize it was happening, so thank you Emily and Danie over at Oh, Magic Hour! for bringing it to my attention. As I’ve just finished up work for one job and have a two week break until my next one starts, this read-a-thon couldn’t have come at a better time!

Here’s a little more about the event:

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 18th and runs through Sunday, August 24th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 11 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. – From the Bout of Books team

Niki’s Goals:

- Finish at least 5 books

-Read at least 1000 pages

- Finish at least 2 ARCs

- Finish at least 2 library books

Here’s a look at the books on my immediate radar:
(subject to change if I see something shiny)

I doubt I’ll make it through all of them, but at least I’ve got a lot of great books to choose from. I’ve also included quite a few YA books because, let’s face it, they’re fast reads. 

 Daily Updates:

 Monday:

Pages: 166 / Books: 0

 Tuesday:

Pages: / Books:

 Wednesday:

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 Thursday:

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 Friday:

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 Saturday:

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 Sunday:

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Total:

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by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

seraphinaTitle: Seraphina

Author: Rachel Hartman

Series: Seraphina #1

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high. Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

The Review:

Since I featured Shadow Scale in a recent WoW post, I figured I should probably get around to writing my review of Seraphina. As someone who openly professes to have a Dragon Obsession, I’m surprised it took me as long as it did to read this one. Well, I guess it’s not too surprising. You see, I initially found the overview a bit dry and didn’t think the cover was particularly appealing (and still don’t even though there’s nothing technically wrong with it). Even so, it’s a YA dragon book, so I knew I still wanted to read it… eventually. So, when my Escape Reality Book Club voted it in as March’s selection, I was thrilled to have the excuse I finally needed to pick it up.

As I’ve implied, I’ve read quite a few dragon books in my day, and  Seraphina was not quite like any one of them. The unique take on dragonkind, specifically how they interacted with humans, was as refreshing as it was different: as accomplished scholars, some dragons take the form of humans and more or less integrate into their society. What I liked is that, even though the dragons were in human form, their behavior was anything but human. It was nice to see them stay true to their nature and I especially loved seeing how they interacted and coped with everyone around them. Overall, I think the book had a great atmosphere – some of which was due to the voice and setting, but most of it stemmed from the quirks of these cool dragons.

While the storyline was unique, I have to say nothing particularly epic happens. It’s honestly a good thing the atmosphere, characters, and dragons were interesting because otherwise the story would have really been a drag. In fact, even with all of those cool elements, there were a few places I found a bit boring… specifically the dream sequences. I should point out that I have very little patience for dream sequences in general, which definitely affected my overall rating of the book. I doubt many other readers would be bothered by them, so take what I’m saying with a grain of salt.

Anyway, I enjoyed Seraphina enough to be interested in seeing where it goes next in Shadow Scale, although I’ll definitely be at risk of forgetting key elements by the time it comes out in 2015.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Coming Soon: Catalyst by Lydia Kang

catalystTitle: Catalyst

Author: Lydia Kang

Series: Control #2

Genre: Teen Dystopian 

Release Date: March 24, 2015

The Overview: In the past year Zel lost her father, the boy she loves, her safety, and any future she might have imagined for herself. Now she, her sister, and the band of genetic outcasts they’ve come to call their family are forced on the run when their safe house is attacked by men with neural guns. But on the way to a rumored haven in Chicago, Zel hears something–a whisper from Cy, the boy who traded himself for her sister’s safety. And when she veers off plan in order to search for him, what she finds is not what she expected. There’s more to their genetic mutations than they ever imagined…aspects that make them wonder if they might be accepted by the outside world after all.

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Hosted by Breaking the Spine

In my review of Control, I point out that there were a couple of things this author did brilliantly – excellent side characters and beautiful immersive writing, to name a couple. I also expressed how disappointed I was at the direction the story took. It had all the elements it needed to be brilliant, but the main character (who is really smart) decided to make a bunch of foolish decisions. I wondered for a while if I was going to continue this series, but have finally decided there are just too many great things about this author to dismiss. Especially considering the things I didn’t like were preferential and not in any way a ding against Kang’s talents. The bad news? This book doesn’t come out until March of next year. I’m going to be waiting a lot of Wednesdays to find out what happens next.

 What book are you waiting on?

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb

fools assassinTitle: Fool’s Assassin

Author: Robin Hobb

Series: The Fitz and The Fool #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 5/5 stars!

The Overview: FitzChivalry—royal bastard and former king’s assassin—has left his life of intrigue behind. As far as the rest of the world knows, FitzChivalry Farseer is dead and buried. Masquerading as Tom Badgerlock, Fitz is now married to his childhood sweetheart, Molly, and leading the quiet life of a country squire. Though Fitz is haunted by the disappearance of the Fool, who did so much to shape Fitz into the man he has become, such private hurts are put aside in the business of daily life, at least until the appearance of menacing, pale-skinned strangers casts a sinister shadow over Fitz’s past . . . and his future. Now, to protect his new life, the former assassin must once again take up his old one. . . .

Want more details? Head here: www.atrandom.com/fools-assassin

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The Review:

Before I get into talking specifics about Fool’s Assassin, you should know that Fool’s Fate (the last Hobb book that included these characters) was the story that single-handedly made me want to start a book blog. It was profound and wonderful – a perfect completion to the story arc that had been developing since the Assassin’s Apprentice. I laughed, I cried, I enjoyed the pieces out of that book. Most importantly, it was so mesmerizing that even though I read it a couple of years ago I still remember every detail – it’s likely to stick with me for the rest of my life. I don’t usually have such a profound connection to a story and its characters, but those rare occasions when I do is proof that books are magical. So, having finished Fool’s Fate feeling completely satisfied with the ending, I was thrilled when I found out Hobb decided to continue the story.

There’s more?!!!! :D

Although several years had passed for the characters, picking up Fool’s Assassin brought me back home. It’s as if nothing had changed – the people were rounded and interesting (because they are too real to be considered mere “characters”), the world was rich and familiar (especially because I’ve since explored more of it in the Liveship Trilogy and the Rain Wild Chronicles), and the plot was totally immersive. Hobb conveys such a great depth of character that I was immediately absorbed back into Fitz’s world. All of the things he’s gone through on his journey came tumbling back over me in waves of joy and sorrow, but I also found myself hopeful for his future as he faced several new challenges.

Without giving much away, I feel it’s prudent to point out that Hobb spent a good portion of the book introducing some amazing new characters (don’t worry, there were plenty of meaningful passages with beloved characters too). Because of this, however, the overall arc of the story really didn’t come into play until near the end of the book. A couple of my fellow reviewers didn’t love how long the story took to get going, but seemed to agree that it was still oddly absorbing. While I can definitely see where they are coming from, I love being in Fitz’s world so much that every moment felt golden and purposeful. It gave me new insight into Fitz himself (which I loved seeing) and also made me fall in love with some of the new characters. I think the bond they formed with both Fitz and the reader will be very important going forward. I loved every bit of this book and was incredibly sad when ended. It was heart-wrenching and beautiful, and the next one can’t come too soon.

I consider The Fool’s Assassin a must-read for any fan of the series, but would strongly recommend that anyone new to Hobb’s work start with Assassin’s Apprentice, where all the magic began! It takes a while to fully appreciate the beauty of the story, but it is well worth the wait!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

words of radianceTitle: Words of Radiance

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Series: Stormlight Archive #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 5/5 stars!

The Overview: In the first volume, we were introduced to the remarkable world of Roshar, a world both alien and magical, where gigantic hurricane-like storms scour the surface every few days and life has adapted accordingly. Roshar is shared by humans and the enigmatic, humanoid Parshendi, with whom they are at war. Among those caught up in the conflict are Highprince Dalinar Kholin, who leads the human armies; his neice Jasnah, a renowned scholar; her student Shallan, a brilliant but troubled young woman; and Kaladin, a military slave who, by the book’s end, was beginning to become the first magically endowed Knight Radiant in centuries.

In Words of Radiance their intertwined stories will continue and, as Sanderson fans have come to expect, develop in unexpected, wonderfully surprising directions. The war with the Parshendi will move into a new, dangerous phase, as Dalinar leads the human armies deep into the heart of the Shattered Plains in a bold attempt to finally end it. Shallan will come along, hoping to find the legendary, perhaps mythical, city of Urithuru, which Jasnah believes holds a secret vital to mankind’s survival on Roshar. The Parshendi take a dangerous step to strengthen themselves for the human challenge, risking the return of the fearsome Voidbringers of old. To deal with it all, Kaladin must learn how to fulfill his new role, while mastering the powers of a Windrunner.

words of radiance 2

The Review:

I’ve been stalling on writing this review for months. You see, there wasn’t a single thing I disliked about the entire novel. It was every bit as amazing as Way of Kings and was, if anything, better. This provided me a bit of a challenge while trying to compose the review because 1) I didn’t want to talk specifics and give away spoilers 2) I felt the pressure to do it justice and 3) I didn’t want to just regurgitate everything I talked about in my review of Way of Kings. It has everything you’d want out of a high fantasy novel – great characters, epic world-building (some of the best I’ve ever seen), a masterfully woven plot, rich cultural immersion, and beautiful, exotic settings – all adding up to one of the best books I’ve ever read. Since I’ve already broken down all of these story elements in my review of Way of Kings, I’m going to take this review in a slightly different direction (… a geek-out).

Let’s talk about Sanderson for a minute and how totally fantastic and unreal I think he is. I mostly want to know how he managed to publish two 1000+ page books and not have a single boring passage within either one?! Every scene had purpose, developing character or advancing the plot with a vibrance and elegance you don’t come across often. I devoured every page and finished the novel feeling like I could have kept reading for ages. I personally believe this series marks a new generation of fantasy… it’s absolutely brilliant. I’d like to say it’s my new all-time favorite, but am having trouble relinquishing loyalty to all of the other amazing fantasy books I’ve read. Let’s just say for now that it’s in strong contention.

While I acknowledge that it’s impossible for a book to please every reader, I’ve never had a conversation with someone who didn’t also love the shit out of this book . If you’ve been on the fence with this one, take it from me – it’s a crowd pleaser. And the best news? The Stormlight Archive is currently projected to be a 10+ book series, and those novels can’t come out soon enough! Seriously, this is the type of epic storytelling that makes my inner fangirl go crazy. I’m positive I will be rereading them for years to come.

Overall, if you are a fan of high fantasy, this series is a MUST read. I’m not normally that pushy but, if you haven’t read it, you are missing out on the beginning stages of what I consider to be the next era of fantasy evolution. As blasphemous this will sound, Jordan ain’t got nothing on Sanderson.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Inventor’s Secret by Chad Morris

Inventor's secretTitle: The Inventor’s Secret

Author: Chad Morris

Series: Cragbridge Hall #1

Genre: Middle Grade

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Imagine a school in the year 2074 where students don’t read history, but watch it happen around them; where running in gym class isn’t around a track, but up a virtual mountain; and where learning about animals means becoming one through an avatar. Welcome to Cragbridge Hall, the most advanced and prestigious school in the world. Twin siblings Abby and Derick Cragbridge are excited as new students to use their famed grandfather’s inventions that make Cragbridge Hall so incredible. But when their grandfather and parents go missing, the twins begin following a trail of clues left by their grandfather. They must find out where their family is, learn who they can trust, and discover what secrets are hidden within Cragbridge Hall. Abby and Derick soon realize they are caught in a race with a fierce adversary to discover their grandfather’s greatest secret–a dangerous discovery that could alter both history and reality.

Inventor's secret 2

The Review:

There came a point in my life where I realized I just wasn’t enjoying middle grade books as much as I used to. It was a horrifying discovery because, after all, these were the titles I grew up on – the very genre that nurtured my love of reading. Nowadays, it takes a remarkable-sounding novel to even get me interested. The Inventor’s Secret was among those exceptions.

It had all of the adventure I was hoping for, but also had some other cool, unexpected elements. For one, there was an overall mystery that held some appeal for my adult tastes: Abby and Derick had to solve a series of clues left by their grandfather to figure out what happened to both him and their parents. Combine the puzzle-solving tasks with some really neat classroom challenges, and I was sold. Those challenges even reminded me of the obstacles Harry Potter faced while going after the Sorcerer’s Stone… Resonance.

The Inventor’s Secret also introduced something that gives my inner child a major geek-out: ANIMAL AVATARS!!! How cool is that? I always love books that incorporate wildlife, and the unique presentation of this concept is what initially drew me to the book. Essentially, these kids are hooked up to a computer that transfers their minds over to mechanical animals (oh, how I wish I was a student at this school). This element reminded me of the Animorphs series by Applegate, which gets extra credit for sparking my love of reading when I was ten… More resonance.

As much as I love mystery, adventure, and animal avatars, I also love when I feel like I’ve learned something from a book (be it potion-making, science, basket weaving, whatever!). I liked this one, especially because it took an ordinary school subject, history, and made it fun! The classrooms were equipped with virtual projectors that surrounded the students with scenes from the past, essentially making them part of the action. Morris made history come alive while simultaneously making me want to learn more about each event (I don’t know exactly how accurate the references were, but I imagine they were well researched). Add all of that awesomeness to some good old time-travel, and the possibilities are endless.

You can see how many great elements this book brought to the table. There was honestly nothing I didn’t like about it. The writing was geared more towards younger readers than Fablehaven or Harry Potter, but not by much. All in all, I highly recommend this title and am excited for the sequel.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Coming Soon: A Play of Shadow by Julie E Czerneda

a play of shadowTitle: A Play of Shadow

Author: Julie E. Czerneda

Series: Night’s Edge #2

Genre: Fantasy

Release Date: November 4, 2014

The Overview: What would you risk for family? The truthseer who won Jenn Nalynn’s heart, Bannan Larmensu, learns his brother-in-law was sent as a peace envoy to Channen, the capital of the mysterious domain of Mellynne, and has disappeared. When Bannan’s young nephews arrive in Marrowdell during a storm, he fears that his sister, the fiery Lila, has gone in search of her husband, leaving her sons in his care. The law forbids Bannan from leaving Marrowdell and traveling to Mellynne to help his sister. At least, in this world. As a turn-born, Jenn Nalynn has the power to cross into the magical realm of the Verge—and take Bannan with her. Once there, they could find a way into Mellynne, if they survive. The Verge is wild and deadly, alive with strange magic. Dragons roar and kruar wait in ambush, and the powerful turn-born who tend their world do not care for Jenn Nalynn. But Jenn is willing to try. Their friends Wisp and Scourge — and the house toads — offer their help. But what none of them know is that Channen is rife with magic, magic that flows from the Verge itself. And not even a turn-born will be safe there.

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Hosted by Breaking the Spine

Okay, so I haven’t actually read the first book in this series (A Turn of Light) yet, but I bought it in hardcover and totally plan on picking it up within the next couple of months. Considering that Czerneda is one of my all-time favorites, it is ultimate shame that I haven’t read this one yet. I think part of my hesitance is that I’ve known her as a science fiction author and this will be her first fantasy… Although I can’t imagine it being anything less than amazing. I think honestly I’ve just been waiting for a rainy day to give it a try. It’s a shame I’m not caught up because the first several chapters of A Play of Shadow are on her website for anybody who’s interested. :-)

 What book are you waiting on?

by Niki Hawkes

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Top Ten YA Dystopian/Post-Apocalyptic Books!

top ten tuesday

Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

 I’ve wanted to put together a dystopian/post-apocalyptic list for a while now, mostly because I’ve read so many of them (it’s true. I lost most of 2013 to these novels… I regret nothing). I figured at the very least I’d be able to save people some time by presenting the ones I liked the most. I realize the dystopian genre did not start with the Hunger Games (or with YA in general, for that matter), but as they are my favorite representations, my list will be very YA-centric.

Top Ten YA Dystopian/Post-Apocalyptic Books!

The top row represents my absolute favorites – the ones I can recommend with 100% confidence. Hunger Games is a given, but my favorite on the list is actually Partials by Dan Wells. The bottom row represents the ones that I enjoyed thoroughly, but know many readers who didn’t feel the same way. As a side note, I actually didn’t give The Testing of very high rating, but loved the second book enough to include it on this list. Also, The Selection by Kiera Cass would have made the list had the third book not been such a disappointment (I feel like it still deserves an honorary mention, though). I have I read so many mediocre dystopians that it’s nice to be able to pay homage to the ones I feel were above par.

 What’s dystopians/post-apocalyptic books would make your list?

by Niki Hawkes

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July 2014: Review Recap!

Review Recap

Although I started several amazing books, I only actually finished 2 novels throughout the entire month of July. I am a bit horrified at this. Considering I average 2.5 novels per week, 2 per month is just pathetic. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever read so little in a month, even when I was going through my Masters program. I blame 1) starting a new business with my husband and 2) a Wii game called Fortune Street that I’ve been playing with my mom several times a week. I certainly can’t blame the amount of excellent books in my TBR!

 However, all is not lost! If you caught my Book Review Conundrum post, you’re aware that I have over a dozen books that still need to be reviewed, so at least this month’s review posting wasn’t as sad as my reading habits.

Book Reviews:

Crashed by Robin Wasserman – 3/5 stars

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi – 3.5/5 stars

Prophecy by Elizabeth Haydon – 3.5/5 stars

Cinder by Marissa Meyer – 4/5 stars

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson – 4/5 stars

The Jewel by Amy Ewing – 4.5/5 stars

And my favorite:

The fiery heart

The Fiery Heart – 5/5 stars!

 Top Ten Tuesday Features:

Niki’s Top Ten Blogging Confessions

 Top Ten Movies and TV Shows

Top Ten Series I’d Take With Me on a Deserted Island

Top Ten Authors I Own the Most Books From

Waiting on Wednesday Features:

 Escape Reality Book Club:

August’s Selection:

How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier

How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier

That sums up my month! How was yours?