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Book Reviews: The Fire & Flood Series [So Far] by Victoria Scott

The Fire & Flood Series
by Victoria Scott
3/5 stars

The Overview:  [I’m only including the overview for the first book to help avoid spoilers for those who haven’t yet started it] Tella Holloway is losing it. Her brother is sick, and when a dozen doctors can’t determine what’s wrong, her parents decide to move to Montana for the fresh air. She’s lost her friends, her parents are driving her crazy, her brother is dying—and she’s helpless to change anything. Until she receives mysterious instructions on how to become a Contender in the Brimstone Bleed. It’s an epic race across jungle, desert, ocean, and mountain that could win her the prize she desperately desires: the Cure for her brother’s illness. But all the Contenders are after the Cure for people they love, and there’s no guarantee that Tella (or any of them) will survive the race. The jungle is terrifying, the clock is ticking, and Tella knows she can’t trust the allies she makes. And one big question emerges: Why have so many fallen sick in the first place?

The Review:

There are a lot of things about this series I really like – the fact that the plot revolves around a competition (which always sparks my interest), the constant change of settings as the characters raced through different ecosystems, and the animal companion “Pandoras” that each contestant received at the beginning of the race. Any one of these would have prompted me to pick up Fire & Flood, so I just consider a bonus that all of them are present. I also liked Victoria Scott’s writing voice, even though it was a bit heavy-handed to start out with. She’s really cheeky, and made me laugh several times throughout with her humorous, semi-unconventional approach to storytelling.

So, while there were many things I enjoyed about the series, I have to admit that it required a strong “just go with it” attitude and definitely would not hold up to close scrutiny: the characters sometimes jumped out of character or acted inconsistently with past behavior for no other reason than to advance the plot, the framework for the race itself (and the people running it) felt underdeveloped, the settings, while exotic, were a bit under realized, and there were occasional issues with visualization, where time lapses were unrealistic, spaces and objects got bigger or smaller, and characters and Pandora’s all but vanished from scenes until they became relevant again.

As you can see, there were a LOT of issues, but they oddly didn’t seem like a big deal to me while I was reading, maybe because the things I liked about the book were done well enough to compensate. It occurred to me after I was done reading that having inconsistencies within the plot, while not ideal, means there is ample opportunity to surprise your reader. And surprised I was – these books definitely took some twists and turns you don’t see very often in today’s cookie-cutter YA novels. THAT if nothing else might make this series worth reading because it made them unique.

Overall, I liked the first two books enough to want to finish the series. They struck a good chord with me and I admit I was surprised at how forgiving I was willing to be. It just goes to show that you don’t necessarily have to have a full arsenal of writing strengths to be a successful author and to produce entertaining books – you just need to do what you do best to the best of your ability… sometimes that really is enough. Where Scott was most successful, in my opinion, was creating a story that was a lot of fun to read – that’s hard to do with than a dystopian genre, but somehow she managed. Fire & Flood probably wouldn’t be my first recommend of the genre, but I feel it has enough positive attributes to entice a lot of readers. If you do pick it up, take my advice: just go with it. :-)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Mini Book Review: Invaded by Melissa Landers

Invaded by Melissa Landers

Title: Invaded

Author: Melissa Landers

Series: Alienated #2

Genre: Teen Science Fiction

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: The romantic sequel to Alienated takes long-distance relationships to a new level as Cara and Aelyx long for each other from opposite ends of the universe…until a threat to both their worlds reunites them. Cara always knew life on planet L’eihr would be an adjustment. With Aelyx, her L’eihr boyfriend, back on Earth, working to mend the broken alliance between their two planets, Cara is left to fend for herself at a new school, surrounded by hostile alien clones. Even the weird dorm pet hates her. Meanwhile, on Earth, Aelyx, finds himself thrown into a full-scale PR campaign to improve human-L’eihr relations. Humans don’t know that their very survival depends on this alliance: only Aelyx’s people have the technology to fix the deadly contamination in the global water supply that human governments are hiding. Yet despite their upper hand, the leaders of his world suddenly seem desperate to get humans on their side, and hardly bat an eye at extremists’ multiple attempts on Aelyx’s life. The Way clearly needs humans’ help . . . but with what? And what will they ask for in return?

The Mini Review:

After reading an advanced copy of Alienated in fall 2013, I knew it would be torture to wait for Invaded’s release in February 2015… and it was. I sent requests to the publisher, I stalked other book bloggers for potential giveaways, and tried (and failed) to make it to several book events where Melissa Landers was going to be. But it was all in vain, so I ended up waiting… and waiting… and waiting.

And after all that waiting, I am pleased to report that Invaded was well worth the wait. :-)

The first book was a lot like what I would imagine Rory Gilmore going through if she had to host a (hot) alien exchange student – loads of fun, plenty of quick wit, and a sweet love story. It was absolutely delightful – I loved it! And what I loved about the second book is that it took all of those charming elements and put them on Aelyx’s (i.e. the hot alien) home world, L’eihr. It was total cultural immersion into this different world, and I enjoyed exploring every bit of it. The only reason Invaded didn’t receive a total five-star rating is that I missed a bit of the romantic element (which is understandable considering our characters are on two different planets), but even that really wasn’t a big deal because the book was still highly entertaining without the love story being the primary focus.

Overall, Melissa Landers is my kind of author – she makes me fall in love with her characters, want to visit her world, and makes me laugh while doing it. I am definitely committed to read anything she publishes in the future (including her new book Startflight coming out this fall), but rest assured, the wait for the next Alienated book is already physically painful…

Until Midnight by Melissa Landers

Before picking up Invaded, I happily reimbursed myself in the story by reading this Alienated novella: Until Midnight. It had everything I loved about Alienated, all packed into a Christmas-themed short story. It provided a transition between the two novels that I felt was… much-needed is not quite the phrase, perhaps much-appreciated? It brought forth a conflict between Aelyx and another character regarding Cara that definitely added to my overall positive experience the story. My only gripe is that the conflict presented did not get completely represented afterwards in Invaded, but I loved it more for the sentimentality anyway. Also, since I read this novella right before Invaded, I discovered it supplemented some of the romance I mentioned missing from the sequel. Until Midnight is definitely worth your time if you’re a fan of the series.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Coming Soon: Nemesis Games by James S. A. Corey

 June 2, 2015

Title: Nemesis Games

Author: James S. A. Corey

Series: The Expanse #5

Genre: Science Fiction

Release Date: June 2, 2015

The Overview: A thousand worlds have opened, and the greatest land rush in human history has begun. As wave after wave of colonists leave, the power structures of the old solar system begin to buckle. Ships are disappearing without a trace. Private armies are being secretly formed. The sole remaining protomolecule sample is stolen. Terrorist attacks previously considered impossible bring the inner planets to their knees. The sins of the past are returning to exact a terrible price. And as a new human order is struggling to be born in blood and fire, James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante must struggle to survive and get back to the only home they have left.

Waiting on Wednesday
Hosted by
Breaking the Spine

I haven’t even read the fourth book in this series yet, but I already know I’m going to be absolutely thrilled when Nemesis Games comes out in June. These are the kind of books that keep you up all night – partly because they’re so good, but mostly because they are fricking intense! I also think The Expanse series contains some of the most well-written characters of any series I’ve ever read – to the point where I feel like I’m reading about real people, not just figments of someone’s mind. Overall, I consider these books a must-read for anyone who loves a good space opera (Firefly, anyone?). You better believe I’ll be picking this one up in hardcover the day comes out.

What book are you waiting on?

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Dragons of Dorcastle by Jack Campbell

The dragons of dorcastleTitle: Dragons of Dorcastle

Author: Jack Campbell

Series: The Pillars of Reality #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: For centuries, the two Great Guilds have controlled the world of Dematr. The Mechanics and the Mages have been bitter rivals, agreeing only on the need to keep the world they rule from changing. But now a Storm approaches, one that could sweep away everything that humans have built. Only one person has any chance of uniting enough of the world behind her to stop the Storm, but the Great Guilds and many others will stop at nothing to defeat her. Mari is a brilliant young Mechanic, just out of the Guild Halls where she has spent most of her life learning how to run the steam locomotives and other devices of her Guild. Alain is the youngest Mage ever to learn how to change the world he sees with the power of his mind. Each has been taught that the works of the other’s Guild are frauds. But when their caravan is destroyed, they begin to discover how much has been kept from them. As they survive danger after danger, Alain discovers what Mari doesn’t know—that she was long ago prophesized as the only one who can save their world. When Mari reawakens emotions he had been taught to deny, Alain realizes he must sacrifice everything to save her. Mari, fighting her own feelings, discovers that only together can she and Alain hope to stay alive and overcome the Dragons of Dorcastle.

The Review:

I really like the concept for this story – there are two different Guilds, one dedicated to Mechanics, the other to Mages. They don’t much like each other, which sets the stage for a lot of conflict. Add to that the mention of dragons in the title, and I knew this was a book I was interested in reading.

I especially liked the Mages vs. Mechanics idea because it was an opportunity to explore the conflicting concepts magic vs. science. Campbell did a great job integrating the two ideas into a single world, embracing that both were possible depending on your perception of how the world works. It felt like a solid framework to build from, and was probably my favorite element of the story.

However, as much as I liked the concepts, there were a few things about how they were executed that I did not enjoy.

For example, we learned about this framework for the world and how Mechanics and Mages see things differently through dialogue… and a lot of it. Endless pages of the Mechanic explaining how the Mechanics work, the Mage explaining how the Mages work, both of them explaining to other people why they made the choices they did. Then each would turn around and have a mental conversation with himself/herself to rationalizing what they just had explained to them. It was tedious. It also didn’t leave a lot of room for plot-advancement aside from their very thoroughly explored internal growth.

And it wasn’t even always that they were explaining stuff, but rather what they were explaining that put me off. Let me explain ;) – the Mages believe emotion is a weakness, so they suppress all of the things that make them human. But instead of just having the Mage fight not to act on certain emotions and concepts, the author chose to have him not be aware of those concepts altogether, which means the reader has to endure the Mechanic explaining to the Mage what words like “help,” “friendship,” and even “taste” literally mean. Now, I definitely don’t mind when authors take time to explain things to the readers, but they have to be things that don’t exist in our world that actually require explanation. Even if the Mages suppressed certain emotions out of their students, you have to start with at least a semi-understanding of the concept before it can be eradicated, right? In any case, I guess I just didn’t appreciate how it was written, and could see how a different approach might have worked better.

Furthermore, it made the Mage in question come across a little simple and juvenile which meant I had a difficult time taking him seriously. The Mechanic, on the other hand, was a really interesting character and I found myself enjoying her passages the most (although that could be because the plot only seemed to advance under her perspective). It’s also worth mentioning that the end half was better than the first half (because they stopped explaining stuff to each other quite as often), which is why my rating is a bit higher than it was going to be.

Overall, I did not enjoy this book nearly as much as I wanted to. The great concept that got me to pick up the book in the first place was swallowed by needless repetition and dialogue. This is a shame because I finished the book still very interested in the basic idea behind it but lacking the patience to see how it will develop. I might continue on eventually, but it will be a hard sell. Despite my objections, I might actually still recommend it, especially to readers who don’t mind repetition (If you read The Sword of Truth series without once thinking “I’m really getting tired of hearing about the ‘Pristinely Ungifted,'” or any of the other of Goodkind’s repetitive concepts, this might be an excellent series for you). Like I said, the premise really was a good one.

Other books you might like:

The fact that my additional recommendations are pretty eclectic shows that The Dragons of Dorcastle really was a unique book…

by Niki Hawkes

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Top Twelve Authors Who Inspire the Aspiring Author in Me!

top ten tuesday

Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

Today’s topic supposed to be Top Ten Inspiring Bookish Quotes, or some such, but I am yet again going my own route because, as much as I read, I’ve never been one to collect words of inspiration. In fact, I am far more likely to find inspiration out of the book as a whole and have said many times throughout the last couple years how much I admire certain authors for their ability to do certain things well. This week has ironically inspired me to compile all of those well-crafted books in one place.

Top Ten Twelve Authors Who Inspire the Aspiring Author in Me!

World-Building

These three authors are definitely my favorite world-builders! Each story they create has a different setting, magic system, and atmosphere and each time I am in awe at their creativity. Honorable mentions for this category include Julie E. Czerneda and Ann Aguirre.

Character

A lot of others do a good job the characterization, but these three authors stand out to me as exceptional because their characters are so rich and lifelike you feel like you’re reading about real people. They are often flawed and don’t always make the best decisions, which is probably why they always feel so human.

Voice

I will be the first to admit that I don’t read books to specifically appreciate how authors weave words together, but these three authors crafted their tales in such a way that I couldn’t help but pay attention. The language was beautiful and poetic without being pompous or over-the-top. Simply lovely!

Story

How someone crafts a story together so brilliantly always blows my mind, and these three authors dazzled me with how well their stories were composed. I’m sure you’re all not surprised to see Harry Potter on the list, and I think story is what I’ve always appreciated the most about it.

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I have plans to go back and reread all of these authors to help me improve my own craft. There are so many examples of  brilliant writing within each one – if I could absorb the skills from each I would be totally set! I would like to point out that many of these books could easily fit in all the categories, I just placed them the one I thought they represented the best.

What books inspire you? Any from my list?

by Niki Hawkes

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Mini Book Review: A Perfect Blood by Kim Harrison

A Perfect Blood by Kim Harrison

Title: A Perfect Blood

Author: Kim Harrison

Series: The Hollows #10

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 5/5 stars!

The Overview: Ritually murdered corpses are appearing across Cinci, terrifying amalgams of human and other. Pulled in to help investigate by the I.S. and FIB, former witch turned day-walking demon Rachel Morgan soon realizes a horrifying truth: a human hate group is trying to create its own demons to destroy all Inderlanders, and to do so, it needs her blood. She’s faced vampires, witches, werewolves, demons, and more, but humanity itself might be her toughest challenge yet.

The Mini Review:

I don’t know what happened, but somewhere around book 8 this series went from great to freaking amazing. There are so many things I love about these books, and I talk about all of them in my review of Pale Demon. So for the sake of avoiding repetition, suffice to say I still love this series just as much and am genuinely sad that I’m getting close to the end (I’ve been savoring them). What I loved about this book in particular is that, even though it was kind of a tangent from the main story arc of the series, it progressed a couple of the plot points I’m most interested in. I loved the mystery of the whole thing and especially appreciated Rachel’s resourcefulness. Also, the villains in this one are just plain old humans, but somehow managed to creep me out more than any other supernatural creature to date…go figure. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and it reaffirmed why The Hollows is my favorite urban fantasy series. If you haven’t read it yet, start with Dead Which Walking and be ready for it to get better and better with every book!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Coming Soon: The Hollow Queen by Elizabeth Haydon

June 30, 2015

Title: The Hollow Queen

Author: Elizabeth Haydon

Series: Symphony of Ages #8

Genre: Fantasy

Release Date: June 30, 2015

The Overview: Beset on all sides by the forces of the merchant emperor Talquist, the Cymrian Alliance finds itself in desperate straits. Rhapsody herself has joined the battle, wielding the Daystar Clarion, leaving her True Name in hiding with her infant son. Ashe tries to enlist the aid of the Sea Mages. Within their Citadel of Scholarship lies the White Ivory tower, a spire that could hold the key to unraveling the full extent of Talquist’s machinations. Achmed journeys to the reportedly unassailable palace of Jierna Tal, to kill emperor Talquist—all the while knowing that even if he succeeds, it may not be enough to stop the momentum of the war. As they struggle to untangle the web of Talquist’s treachery, the leaders of the Cymrian alliance are met with obstacles at every turn. Rhapsody soon realizes that the end of this war will come at an unimaginable price: the lives of those she holds dearest.  

Waiting on Wednesday
Hosted by Breaking the Spine

After several years of wondering if this series would ever reach its conclusion (there was about six years between the release of Assassin’s King and Merchant Emperor), I am thrilled that the story seems to be winding up for one hell of an ending. It looks like this is the third installment of the final “War of the Known World” Trilogy, bringing the series to an end (I think), and I am really looking forward to it. This is a world I have completely enjoyed being immersed in, but find it difficult to recommend because they are a little long-winded. Regardless, I will miss it when it’s over.

What book are you waiting on?

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Novice by Taran Matharu

noviceTitle: The Novice

Author: Taran Matharu

Series: The Summoner #1

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Release Date: May 5, 2015

Rating: 2/5 stars

The Overview: When blacksmith apprentice Fletcher discovers that he has the ability to summon demons from another world, he travels to Adept Military Academy. There the gifted are trained in the art of summoning. Fletcher is put through grueling training as a battlemage to fight in the Hominum Empire’s war against orcs. He must tread carefully while training alongside children of powerful nobles. The power hungry, those seeking alliances, and the fear of betrayal surround him. Fletcher finds himself caught in the middle of powerful forces, with only his demon Ignatius for help. As the pieces on the board maneuver for supremacy, Fletcher must decide where his loyalties lie. The fate of an empire is in his hands. The Novice is the first in a trilogy about Fletcher, his demon Ignatius, and the war against the Orcs.

The Review:

Two things got me through this book: 1. The sense of obligation I felt towards the publisher and NetGalley for being kind enough to approve me for this title and 2. All of the “keep reading” reviews on Goodreads who claimed the first part of the book is worth trudging through because of the school for demon summoners!! Those were frankly about the only two things that would have kept me reading under any other circumstances. I did not enjoy The Novice nearly as much as I thought I was going to and honestly wish I hadn’t spent so much time on it.

It had all of the elements that, on paper (no pun intended), should add up to a killer novel, but I think it was published before it was developed to a high level. I know firsthand the frustration of working on a story for years, trying to get it perfect, but at some point you really do need to just throw in the towel and work on something else until your writing ability matches your taste level (Ira Glass – On Being Creative, YouTube). The Novice read very much like a first book (my apologies to the author if it wasn’t), so I can’t help but wonder how much better it could have been with more experience. Maybe I’m just projecting my own writing experience onto this product, but I thought it needed a lot more work before it was ready to be published.

I hinted at above that I was interested in the school, and would like to add that I thought the concept for the demons was the coolest idea out of the whole thing. Each kid gets a demon to call their own and proceeds to learn how to channel magic through it at the school. The demons themselves came in all shapes and sizes and I found particular pleasure in finding out what kind each of the students ended up with. For me, these were all the selling points of the novel, the problem is, we don’t see a glimpse of these great ideas until almost a third of the way through the book (that’s about 100 pages, folks). If I were in this author’s critique group, I would have strongly suggested reworking the story to get to the school a LOT sooner. The interesting thing is, the basics of the story are quite similar to those of what I’ve been working on for my own novel (just replace demons with dragons), so I’ve spent a lot of brainpower on exactly the issue of getting the character to the school quickly. I’m not saying my way is better, because obviously I don’t have a book published yet, but it was interesting for me to see “what could’ve been” had I not decided to restructure (tossing out about 90 pages) to get my character to the school immediately. Food for thought…

Anyway, while I appreciated the concept behind the story and a few ideas within it, I will not be recommending this one anytime soon. It felt like it needed a pacing makeover, more depth of character, and more focus on the elements that make it special (e.g. the school and the demons). I feel like I had to work to get to the “exciting” parts and when I finally did the payoff wasn’t enough to justify the effort.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Trilogy Review: The Chemical Garden by Lauren DeStefano

The Chemical Garden Trilogy
by Lauren DeStefano
4.5/5 stars

The Overview: [I’m only including the overview for the first book to help avoid spoilers for those who haven’t yet started it] By age sixteen, Rhine Ellery has four years left to live. She can thank modern science for this genetic time bomb. A botched effort to create a perfect race has left all males with a lifespan of 25 years, and females with a lifespan of 20 years. Geneticists are seeking a miracle antidote to restore the human race, desperate orphans crowd the population, crime and poverty have skyrocketed, and young girls are being kidnapped and sold as polygamous brides to bear more children. When Rhine is kidnapped and sold as a bride, she vows to do all she can to escape.

The Review:

I don’t know when it happened, but somewhere along the lines I became addicted to the type of story that I’m affectionately referring to as “girls in pretty dresses in a slightly dystopic era” genre (I should really come up with a better catchphrase). It seems like a weirdly specific subgenre to like (I blame the Selection by Kiera Cass), but I have absolutely LOVED almost every single book I’ve read so far within it (see my “Other books you might like” list below). I can’t even tell you why I love it – maybe I get a vicarious kick out of being pampered and doted on through these characters, but the real substance comes with the realization that even in the glamorous life, things are never as perfect as they seem…

This trilogy was remarkable and unique in a couple of different ways. For example, the vast majority of YA novels include a love triangle as one of the primary conflicts of the story. While there were two men involved in this series, and some people might consider it to be a triangle (I don’t), the story was always ever about Rhine and her struggle to find her brother… her male counterparts were ultimately incidental to that struggle. It was wonderful because it showed female lead who’s whole world didn’t revolve around a boy, and who proved capable and resourceful enough on her own. Because of this, I’m calling the love story in this trilogy atypical, and in fact found myself more emotionally invested in Rhine’s relationships with the other captive women than I did the main love interest. It’s worth mentioning that I genuinely liked the male interests in the story, I just appreciated that they weren’t the ultimate focus of the book.

So, now that we’ve established how much I loved story and the character, let’s talk about the main reason why I’m still gushing about this trilogy in particular – the writing. Oh my gosh, the WRITING! It’s breathtaking, beautiful, lyrical, and poetic without being pompous and convoluted. This trilogy is more than a dystopian, it’s a work of art. I don’t usually reread passages simply because I think they’re beautiful, but I found myself doing just that several times throughout. The fact that she was often writing about tragic events with such beautiful language only makes it more poignant. The aspiring writer in me wants to be Lauren DeStefano when I grow up. Because of her beautiful writing voice, I am 100% committed to reading anything she publishes in the future, I don’t care what the subject matter is. I’ve already ordered a copy of Perfect Ruin – I can’t wait!

Overall, The Chemical Garden Trilogy is now among my all-time YA favorites and I can definitely see myself rereading it one day. My overall rating for the series is 4.5/5 stars, but for the individual books is as follows:

Wither – 5/5 stars!
Fever – 4/5 stars
Sever – 4.5/5 stars

Other books you might like:

While I enjoyed Matched, it is not one of my all-time favorites… more books like this need to be written!

by Niki Hawkes

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March 2015 Reading Recap!

 

Review Recap
I am knocking all of my reading goals out of the park this year, and that’s in no small part because of my “Read the best books first” mantra. Are you getting sick of hearing about that yet? I talk about it all the time because it has drastically improved my reading experience. In any case, here’s a look at my fantastic month in reading, reviews, and posts.

Books Read:

See… I told you I had a kickass month in reading. I can’t decide if my favorite was the conclusion to the Chemical Garden trilogy by Lauren DeStefano or Havoc by Ann Aguirre… It’s like comparing apples to oranges – they were both so good! I also loved Legion, Invaded, Abaddon’s Gate… Okay, I’ll stop. This “Read the Best Books First” thing is really working out for me.

Books Reviewed:

The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkowski – 0/5 stars (DNF)
The Glass Arrow by Kristen Simmons – 1.5/5 stars
Skinwalker by Faith Hunter – 3.5/5 stars

The Assassin King by Elizabeth Haydon – 4/5 stars
Abaddon’s Gate by James S. A. Corey – 4.5/5 stars
Legion by Brandon Sanderson – 5/5 stars!

Overall, I’m quite happy with all of my reviews. I have a tendency to think everything I write is total crap (as most writers do), so the fact that I actually like everything I wrote this month is something to celebrate. :-)

Waiting on Wednesday Features:

Out of this line up, I am probably most excited for Soundless… but they are all going to be amazing, I’m sure. I also featured a bunch of upcoming releases in one of the TTT posts listed below.

Top Ten Tuesday Features:

Top Ten Fall 2015 New Releases I’m Excited About!

Top Ten Books on My Spring TBR!

Other Fun Stuff:

I don’t have much in the way of adventures this month – I missed out on two or three amazing ones because I got sick. But I did have a few days off to soak in some puppy cuteness:
11039197_10203666015440192_3603732129280434817_nyou’re welcome.

How was your month in reading?

by Niki Hawkes