Book Review: This Gulf of Time and Stars by Julie E. Czerneda

This Gulf of Time and Stars by Julie E. Czerneda

Title: This Gulf of Time and Stars

Author: Julie E. Czerneda

Series: Reunification #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 5/5 stars!

The Overview: …I’d lived on a starship long enough to value the small sounds the Fox made: the whoosh of air through vents, the bone-deep growl of lift engines, and the reassuring almost-whine that meant not only gravity, but that we were moving through subspace under power. Sound meant we were safe and all was well.

Silence meant the opposite…

The Review:

I’d like to start out by saying that Julie E Czerneda is my favorite science fiction writer and This Gulf of Time and Stars is just one of the more shining examples of why I enjoy her books so much. There’s a few reasons why I highly anticipated this book in particular, but one stands above the rest:

At the very back of A Rift in the Sky (the final book in her Stratification Trilogy), almost as an afterthought, Czerneda conveyed the following in her Author’s Note:

I hope you enjoy the first six books of the Clan Chronicles. Once you have, I hope you paid attention and have questions.

Because I promise…

You ain’t seen nothing yet.

I was excited before, but coming across a documented promise from the author that she will soon delve into one of the coolest mysteries I’ve come across made me practically dance with excitement!

This Gulf of Time and Stars was a compelling start to a new chapter in the Trade Pact Universe (and Sira & Morgan’s lives). It started with a ton of nostalgia that reiterated all the things I loved about the characters. Then it proceeded to rip out my heart and take me on an emotional roller coaster all the way to the end, where I sat there exhausted, elated, and eager for more. I can’t wait to have more questions answered and see what Czerneda has up her sleeve next!

If you’re a fan of the Trade Pact Universe, this continuation is ESSENTIAL to your reading repertoire. If you just enjoy a good old sci-fi/space opera love-story with great characters, loads of action, and badass aliens, I’d recommend starting with A Thousand Words for Stranger (or Reap the Wild Wind, if you want to go chronologically). Heck, you might as well pick up Migration (#1 in the Species Imperative Trilogy) and my personal favorite: The Beholder’s Eye (#1 in the Web Shifters rilogy) while you’re at it. ;-)

I’d like to thank Penguin Group Berkley, NAL / Signet Romance, DAW, Julie Czerneda, and NetGalley for the chance to read and review an early copy of This Gulf of Time and Stars!

Other books you might like (besides ALL THE THINGS Czerneda):

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: The Caretaker’s Guide to Fablehaven by Brandon Mull

The Caretaker's Guide to Fablehaven by Brandon Mull

Title: The Caretaker’s Guide to Fablehaven

Author: Brandon Mull, Brandon Dorman

Series: Fablehaven #5.5

Genre: Middle Grade

Rating: 5/5 stars

The Overview: The 3.5 million fans who bought Fablehaven know the series has many imaginative mythical creatures especially dragons. Every one of the dragons has a name and a special power and they all look different and are described in words, but they existed only in our imagination….UNTIL NOW. The Caretaker’s Guide to Fablehaven is the first visual discovery of the creatures in the series and is written as if the reader is the new caretaker of the Fablehaven preserve. It has all sorts of insider’s knowledge the new caretaker of Fablehaven would have to know, such as dragon tears are very powerful in making potions but they are extremely difficult to come by and cruel people have been known to torment young dragons just to collect tears!  So don’t YOU want to be their caretaker?

Entries detail important information about artifacts large and small, a complete bestiary of creatures (from fairies to trolls to satyrs), a guide to identifying demons, dragons, and wizards as well as valuable insights into the other magical preserves. Scattered throughout the book are colorful fairies that also mark some of the characters, artifacts, and creatures that will be featured in the upcoming sequel series, Dragonwatch.

The Review:

I am a HUGE fan of the Fablehaven series. Not since Harry Potter has a middle grade series caught and maintained my adult (and I use that term loosely) attentions and tastes with such alacrity. I’ve read them all several times, and finishing the final chapter is always bittersweet – it ends so well, but I never want it to stop. BUT NOW THE JOURNEY CONTINUES!!! And I couldn’t be more thrilled.

The Caretaker’s Guide is just what the doctor ordered to hold me over until the new novel (Dragonwatch) comes out in fall 2016. I’ve always thought the art throughout the series was part of what helped make it so special – I’d constantly find myself eager to get the next scene depiction hidden amongst the pages. Bringing those gorgeous illustrations all into one place with multiple character and creature profiles resulted in the coolest guidebook I’ve ever seen. I think every fan of the series would enjoy seeing so many aspects brought to life. I will definitely be snagging a physical copy for my own collection asap.

What’s more, there are hints and clues within the pages hinting to what we can expect in Dragonwatch. I was excited before, but I’m through the roof now! Brandon Mull took my favorite part of the Fablehaven saga (the dragon sanctuaries) and wrote AN ENTIRE SERIES around it. If you’re as excited as I am, take a peek at this guidebook – you won’t be disappointed!

Here are the Fablehaven books with their beautiful cover art… read them:

*I want to thank Brandon Mull, Shadow Mountain Publishing, and NetGalley for approving an early copy of this title – you made an uber fan very happy! :-)

by Niki Hawkes


ARC Book Review: Soundless by Richelle Mead

Soundless by Richelle Mead

Title: Soundless

Author: Richelle Mead

Series: Stand-Alone

Genre: Teen Fiction

Release Date: November 10, 2015

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: For as long as Fei can remember, there has been no sound in her village, where rocky terrain and frequent avalanches prevent residents from self-sustaining. Fei and her people are at the mercy of a zipline that carries food up the treacherous cliffs from Beiguo, a mysterious faraway kingdom. When villagers begin to lose their sight, deliveries from the zipline shrink and many go hungry. Fei’s home, the people she loves, and her entire existence is plunged into crisis, under threat of darkness and starvation. But soon Fei is awoken in the night by a searing noise, and sound becomes her weapon.

The Review:

Since I’d been stalking the author, the publisher, and all my blogging friends for the chance to snag an early copy of Soundless since the cover was first revealed in March, you can imagine how off-the-wall excited I was to be selected by Penguin’s First to Read program to receive a digital copy (thank you First to Read – you made my year!).

And, at the end of the day, all that clamoring was worth it – Soundless was a great read!

The setting, cultural immersion, and unique conflict (nobody in this mining town can hear, and now they’re all starting to lose their vision, too) were easily my favorite elements to the story. I can honestly say I’ve never read anything quite like it, so major kudos to Mead for originality.

But all the great atmosphere in the world wouldn’t be worth as much if there weren’t also compelling characters to go along with it. I really enjoyed seeing the world through Fei’s eyes (and hearing it, for that matter – it was fascinating to be immersed in someone experiencing sound for the first time). I also loved her interactions with the other characters – specifically with her sister and the love interest. Fei always seemed a strong, capable girl, and that’s definitely what I like to see in my YA heroines. Could she have possibly used her sharp wit a little more often? Probably, but I think that over-criticism stems from how enamored I still am with the brilliance that is Sydney Sage (Bloodlines), so I guess maybe I should cut Fei some slack. :-)

I’ve read everything Richelle Mead has published, and one of the main reasons she’s one of my top authors is the experience she creates by building this amazing momentum across each respective series. The stories always climb steadily for a long while before finally hurtling towards the end like one giant snowball. It’s truly fantastic! And while I feel Soundless had a decent bit of that momentum, at the end of the day, there’s just no way for a stand-alone novel to compete with a six book series – there’s just simply not enough time! I believe this is the only reason I wasn’t quite as emotionally invested as I have been with her works in the past, but Soundless was still a great story – one I’m sure I’ll find myself recommending often.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Tackling the TBR [6]: October 2015

tackling the TBR

October is here (and where the heck did September go so fast? I’d like to know…) and it’s once again time for my favorite feature: Tackling the TBR! There’s nothing I love more than picking out which books to read next, and this slightly organized method of reading has really amped my enjoyment to the next level. Bring on the mantras!

Read the best books first.
Life is too short to read books you’re not enjoying.

However you put together your TBR for the next month, the goal is to reduce the amount of obligation in reading and increase the fun.

And that’s exactly what it did – last month was an awesome month – I read about half of the books on my TBR Tackler Shelf (which, for my current state of improving eye health, was awesome), And am probably halfway through most of the remaining titles (I read more than one book at a time… Does anybody else do that?).

Here’s a look at how the system works:

1. Identify the titles that take top priority in your TBR.
2. Combine them all in your own Tackling the TBR post.
3. Throughout the month pick from that pile as the mood strikes you.

Here’s what mine looks like:

October 2015 TBR Tackler Shelf:

Of all these titles, I’m probably most excited for the new Jim Butcher book! Although the conclusion to the Paradox series by Rachel Bach is also incredibly appealing…

Now, I can tell you from experience that this Tackling the TBR experiment is so much more fun and rewarding when there’s more than one person (me) participating. Does anybody want to play along?

Even if you don’t specifically use my system, feel free to share your versions of how you manage your TBR pile (and the links to your posts if applicable) in the comments!

Maybe we can help make each other’s systems even better. :)

What books are you Tackling this month?

by Niki Hawkes


Mini Book Review: Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

Title: Bitter Kingdom

Author: Rae Carson

Series: Fire and Thorns #3

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Elisa is a fugitive. Her enemies have stolen the man she loves, and they await her at the gate of darkness. Her country is on the brink of civil war, with her own soldiers ordered to kill her on sight. Her Royal Majesty, Queen Lucero-Elisa né Riqueza de Vega, bearer of the Godstone, will lead her three loyal companions deep into the enemy’s kingdom, a land of ice and snow and brutal magic, to rescue Hector and win back her throne. Her power grows with every step, and the shocking secrets she will uncover on this, her final journey, could change the course of history. But that is not all. She has a larger destiny. She must become the champion the world has been waiting for. Even of those who hate her most.

The Mini Review:

Since The Girl of Fire and Thorns solidified itself as my favorite YA Fantasy last year, I have lost a lot of fangirl points by not posting a review of this 3rd book long before now. Since Carson’s new book, Walk on Earth a Stranger (which is most excellent – review to come), is out today, I figured now is as good of time as any. While reflecting on the series, I think the 1st one was the best, but definitely appreciate Bitter Kingdom for its satisfying resolution to the story. I feel like I’ve gotten to see the many wonders this world has to offer and that exploration is easily one of my fondest takeaways from this series (and the love story, and the strong/memorable characters, and the inspiring conflicts… Okay, I’m basically fond about everything). I’m still thinking about the ending to this book over a year later (yeah, my TBReviewed log goes back that far… #fail) and that’s part of the reason why the series is among my all-time favorites – it’s the type of story that sticks with you.

Overall, the Fire and Thorns series is my #1 recommend for the teen fantasy genre, even over Throne of Glass. The main character, Elise, is amazing, the love story is epic, and the adventure is endless! Read it. Read it NOW! ;-)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: The White Rose by Amy Ewing

October 6, 2015Title: The White Rose

Author: Amy Ewing

Series: The Lone City #2

Genre: Teen Dystopian

Release Date: October 6, 2015

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Violet is on the run. After the Duchess of the Lake catches Violet with Ash, the hired companion at the Palace of the Lake, Violet has no choice but to escape the Jewel or face certain death. So along with Ash and her best friend, Raven, Violet runs away from her unbearable life of servitude. But no one said leaving the Jewel would be easy. As they make their way through the circles of the Lone City, Regimentals track their every move, and the trio barely manages to make it out unscathed and into the safe haven they were promised—a mysterious house in the Farm. But there’s a rebellion brewing, and Violet has found herself in the middle of it. Alongside a new ally, Violet discovers her Auguries are much more powerful than she ever imagined. But is she strong enough to rise up against the Jewel and everything she has ever known?

The Review:

I admit that, even though I fangirled over The Jewel for several months after finishing it (heck, even before I actually read it – have you seen that cover??), I didn’t think the second book would be nearly as good (jaded reader, party of one). But you know what? The White Rose was awesome and I take back all of the judgy, negative feels I had about it.

It started out with a bang and didn’t really let up until the end. Great pacing aside, I loved the half-dozen amazing things I learned in this book about the characters, the city, the magic… I could go on, but suffice to say it was basically one big revelation after another as many of my questions were answered (and were inevitably replaced by several much more desperate ones). So I’m basically torn between happiness and how much I liked The White Rose and FREAKING OUT that I have to wait another year to find out what happens next (seriously, why does this always happen to me? ::sobs::). Okay, I’m done being a baby (mostly), but it’s worth noting that I think The Lone City series is totally worth the wait.

In my review of The Jewel, I stated several very specific reasons why I liked it (yes, I’m quoting myself):

I found everything about The Jewel a mite unexpected. The love interest was fantastically unconventional, all of the characters showed duality, the subject matter was slightly more serious than a typical YA, and the plot never followed the route I thought it would. All of these elements were delightful twists that made the book stand out that much more.

And the best thing is, all of these things are still true about The White Rose. I still don’t know where the story is going (even though I have several speculations), and in a world of predictable YA storytelling, that’s an exciting thing!

I’m a huge fan of The Selection Trilogy, and the series will definitely put you in a similar kind of mood. While the Lone City (so far) lacks just a little bit of the magic that made The Selection so addicting, it makes up for it with the great writing, more robust world building, fewer plot holes, and loads of memorable moments. My only qualm is that the ending felt too rushed (which I bet I wouldn’t have noticed if the third one were out because I would’ve just kept going #getoveritalready). The moral of the story is, I happily recommend this series along with these:

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Written in Red by Ann Bishop

Written in Red by Anne Bishop

Title: Written in Red

Author: Anne Bishop

Series: The Others #1

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 2/5 stars

The Overview: As a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, Meg Corbyn can see the future when her skin is cut—a gift that feels more like a curse. Meg’s Controller keeps her enslaved so he can have full access to her visions. But when she escapes, the only safe place Meg can hide is at the Lakeside Courtyard—a business district operated by the Others. Shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to hire the stranger who inquires about the Human Liaison job. First, he senses she’s keeping a secret, and second, she doesn’t smell like human prey. Yet a stronger instinct propels him to give Meg the job. And when he learns the truth about Meg and that she’s wanted by the government, he’ll have to decide if she’s worth the fight between humans and the Others that will surely follow.

The Review:

Woe is me! Another book EVERYBODY in the blogosphere seems to love that I didn’t. The ultimate shame is that it started out with such promise. The cool ideas and concepts for this world had me convinced I needed a hardcover copy of it ASAP. All I can say now is that I’m glad I stalled on buying it. :/

Like I mentioned, I liked it because of its ideas. Written in Red offered a newly-conceived society and brand of supernatural that screamed of originality (and let’s face it, it’s really difficult to come up with something that hasn’t been done before in such a flooded market). It was awesome. There was also an abnormal focus on business, books, and organization – three things that couldn’t be more up my alley (seriously, my entire life could be summed up by those three words). And I also enjoyed the cute interactions between the protagonist and her new supernatural friends (that’s right, I said cute, which actually sums up how I feel about the book as a whole).

So, there’s clearly an abundance of things in this novel that sparked my interest and even I found myself asking the question what could possibly go wrong?

Famous last words.

What went wrong was a glaring lack of conflicts and driving forces behind each scene. Bishop took a rather practical approach that focused more on logistics surrounding her characters rather than providing any real meaning behind their actions. Don’t believe me? I have examples. Here’s what I call the “towel sequence” in which the main focus of each of these scenes was a nameless terrycloth wonder:

“A moment’s thought about snow and puppies had her running upstairs to snag a bath towel from the linen closet”
“The towel over one arm…”
“He looked at Sam, then at the carry sacks and the towel.”
“Vlad flung the towel over his shoulder and held the handles of the carry sacks”
“and then placed the pup and towel where Sam could look out between the front seats”
“he took the sacks and towel out of the vehicle and carried them inside.”

end sequence one

“Packed up his bowls and towel
“she… made sure the towel was on the seat”
“grabbing her own carry bag and Sam’s towel
“tossed the towel on the floor”
“Told Sam to stay on the towel

I didn’t even notice until compiling these quotes that the carry sacks also offered a supporting role to the scenes. This is one of the funnier examples, but in all seriousness, the writing style as a whole was a lot like these passages – more concerned about how trivial items got from point A to point B then how the specific placement of those items mattered to the plot as a whole. I, for one, discovered that I really don’t give a damn where the towel went. Perhaps if there had been something, anything else driving the plot, these issues wouldn’t have bothered me as much. A conflict of any sort would have gone a long way here, is all I’m saying. I never actually got bored with the story, but after the initial few chapters was rarely ever engaged.

To help emphasize my point, I’d like to share a snippet from Chuck Wendig’s recent article I Smell Your Rookie Moves, New Writers (I realize Anne Bishop is not a new writer, but I feel like this excerpt from his article perfectly sums up my issues with Written in Red). Wendig says:

“Not Everything Is Interesting

At a rough guess, I’d say 90% of All Things Ever are uninteresting. Dull as drawing with white crayons on white paper. Things are boring. Life is boring. Details are mostly boring.

Storytelling, though, is the opposite of that. We tell stories because they are interesting. We offer narrative because narrative is a bone-breaker: it snaps the femur of the status quo. It is in fact the sharp, gunshot-loud fracture-break of the expected story is what perks our attention. Guy goes to work, works, comes home, has dinner, goes to bed? Not interesting. Guy goes to work, has the same troubles with his boss, endures the standard problems of the day (“where are my goddamn staples?”), goes home, eats an unsatisfying dinner, goes to bed and sleeps restlessly until the next day of the same thing? Still not interesting. Guy goes to work and gets fired? Okay, maybe, depending on if he does something unexpected with it. Guy goes to work and gets fired out of a cannon into a warehouse full of ninjas? I’M LISTENING.

Description is the same way. You don’t need to tell me what everything looks like because I already know, and most things aren’t that interesting. Leaves on a tree are leaves on a tree. For the impact of story, how many points each leaf has or how they move in the wind is not compelling. This isn’t a video game where you get points for painting every aspect of the environment with total authenticity. Skip it. Tell us the stuff that is unexpected. The things that shatter our notions: if one leaf has blood on it? Then we need to know that. We want to know that.

Cut the boring stuff.

Write the interesting stuff.

Trim, tighten, slice, dice. Pare it all down. Render. Render!”

If you’re a writer, I would definitely encourage you to read the rest of Wendig’s article – it’s fantastic. And it also helped illustrate the kind of magic writers should be bringing to their stories and why this one in particular left me wanting more.

Overall, my disappointment in this novel stems from how much potential it showed at the beginning that was never lived up to. I’m actually quite shocked to find the writing so lacking in an author I’ve been dying to read for years. Especially since so many people seem to love it. At the end of the day, when you’re 80% through a book and are still waiting for the arc of the story to present itself, you might have a problem.

Other books you might like more:

by Niki Hawkes


Coming Soon: By Aimee Carter


Title: Queen

Author: Aimee Carter

Series: The Blackcoat Rebellion #3

Genre: Teen Dystopian [ish]

Release Date: November 24, 2015

The Overview: Kitty Doe is a Blackcoat rebel and a former captive with a deadly connection to the most powerful and dangerous man in the country, Prime Minister Daxton Hart. Forced to masquerade as Daxton’s niece, Lila Hart, Kitty has helped the Blackcoats take back the prison known as Elsewhere. But Daxton has no intention of ceding his position of privilege—or letting Kitty expose his own masquerade. Not in these United States, where each person’s rank means the difference between luxury and poverty, freedom and fear…and ultimately, between life and death. To defeat the corrupt government, Kitty must expose Daxton’s secret. Securing evidence will put others in jeopardy, including the boy she’s loved forever and an ally she barely trusts. For months, Kitty’s survival has hinged on playing a part. Now she must discover who she truly wants to be, and whether the new world she and the rebels are striving to create has a place in it for her after all.

Waiting on Wednesday
Hosted by Breaking the Spine

I thoroughly enjoyed Pawn, the first book in this series, but never quite made it around to reading the sequel. Now that the third one is on the horizon, I might just hold off a little longer and then binge read all three (sounds like fun, doesn’t it?). Although the story lacks a believable society (and world building in general), I liked enough things about it that those deficiencies didn’t bother me. It’s a cool concept for a story, and I love the mild chess tie-ins that give these books their theme. I am genuinely excited to see where the story goes next!

What book are you waiting on?

 by Niki Hawkes


Niki’s Top Ten Favorite Audiobook Experiences!

top ten tuesday

Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

This is a freebie week for the TTT feature, and since I’ve had this post up my sleeve for a few months now, I’m tickled to finally have an excuse to share it. When evaluating an audiobook, it seems like you have to consider more than just the basic writing, character, setting, etc. that you usually do with a book. You also have to consider the voice of the reader and their overall performance. I’ve listened to several books that came alive in a way that words on a page just couldn’t. Conversely, I’ve listened to many that seem to take all of the things I loved about the written version and poo all over it. I find myself on an endless hunt for new audiobook series that have the perfect mix of amazing story and performance, but here are the ones I’ve discovered so far:

Niki’s Top Ten Favorite Audiobook Experiences!

The Harry Potter Series – Jim Dale
The Kingkiller Chronicles – Nick Podehl
The Stormlight Archive – Michael Kramer & Kate Reading
The Gentleman Bastards – Michael Page
The Expanse – Jefferson Mays
The Red Rising Trilogy – Tim Gerard Reynolds
The Dresden Files – James Marsters
The Hunger Games Trilogy – Carolyn McCormick
The Game of Thrones Series – Roy Dotrice
The Riley Jensen Series – Justine Eyer

I think taking a chance on an audiobook is almost more risky than taking a chance on a new book – it certainly costs a lot more (generally) and there’s that extra performance-quality factor to consider. Thank goodness Audible offers guaranteed listens, that’s all I’m saying.

What are some of your favorite audiobook experiences?

by Niki Hawkes


Tackling the TBR [5]: September 2015!

tackling the TBR

This post is going up a LOT later than I would’ve liked, but I’m honestly thrilled it’s going up at all. You see, I’ve been dealing with the painful eye-strain injury for the last couple of months that has taken from me everything I love to do – blogging and reading at the top of that list. Luckily, I finally seem to be on the upswing of it… fingers crossed.

Because of these issues, I was only able to enjoy 3 TBR books last month, but all is not lost. You see, I discovered just how much I LOVE integrating this feature into my daily reading life. When I was confined to reading only a few pages a day, I knew exactly which novels got top priority and that somehow made my plight seem not so dire. I took comfort in the knowledge that I was reading the best books first. Bring on the mantras!

Read the best books first.
Life is too short to read books you’re not enjoying.

However you put together your TBR for the next month, the goal is to reduce the amount of obligation in reading and increase the fun.

Here’s a look at how this feature works:

1. Identify the titles that take top priority in your TBR.
2. Combine them all in your own Tackling the TBR post.
3. Throughout the month pick from that pile as the mood strikes you.

Here’s what mine looks like:

September 2015 TBR Tackler Shelf:

I really hope all have the ability to read most of these this month. I am incredibly excited for Soundless by Richelle Mead and will be dropping everything to devour that one first. I’m pretty sure every author on this list has made one of my Top Ten Tuesday posts one time or another – that bodes well.

Now, I can tell you from experience that this Tackling the TBR experiment is so much more fun and rewarding when there’s more than one person (me) participating. Does anybody want to play along?

Even if you don’t specifically use my system, feel free to share your versions of how you manage your TBR pile (and the links to your posts if applicable) in the comments!

Maybe we can help make each other’s systems even better. :)

What books are you Tackling this month?

by Niki Hawkes