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The Overflowing Bookshelf Challenge: A Pre-Introduction.

Niki’s Overflowing Bookshelf Challenge

Several months ago I created an Overflowing Bookshelf Challenge for my Goodreads group (Fantasy Buddy Reads), but was too wrapped up in my Incomplete Series Challenge to give it much attention. Now that I’m only down to 11 open series (from 129), it’s time to get serious about my overflowing shelves.

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve probably seen me posting updates on my New Bookshelves Project off and on for the last several months. The project has afforded me the opportunity to really dig into and organize my unread titles. The blunt fact of the matter is that I have waaaaay too many (over 1100). Even if I focus only on owned books, it will take me about 8 years to get through them all. If I’m realistic about how many new books and borrowed books I’ll want to read outside of my collection, I’m looking at more than 20 YEARS!! O_o.

My goal with this challenge is to par down the number of unread titles to just those I can reasonably get to within the next 10 years. Some of these titles I’ve been hanging onto for almost 15 years and a lot of them are medium-high priority titles I keep passing up for low priority “do I really want to keep this? Maybe I should read it to see” books (well, Niki, there’s your problem). From now on I’ll be reading exclusively high-priority titles until I’ve whittled my TBR down to something I can manage. Excessive prioritizing has been working for my Tackling the TBR method, so I don’t know why I haven’t implemented it here before now.

With my next post, I’ll get into the specifics of the challenge, but for now (if you need me) I’ll be digging through my collection. :)

Has your collection gotten out of hand?
On a scale of minimalist to death by TBR, how buried are you?

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Naamah’s Blessing by Jacqueline Carey

Naamah's Blessing by Jacqueline Carey

Title: Naamah’s Blessing

Author: Jacqueline Carey

Series: Moiren’s Trilogy (Naamah) #3

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Returning to Terre d’Ange, Moirin finds the royal family broken. Wracked by unrelenting grief at the loss of his wife, Queen Jehanne, King Daniel is unable to rule. Prince Thierry, leading an expedition to explore the deadly jungles of Terra Nova, is halfway across the world. And three year old Desirée is a vision of her mother: tempestuous, intelligent, and fiery, but desperately lonely, and a vulnerable pawn in a game of shifting political allegiances.

As tensions mount, King Daniel asks that Moirin become Desirée’s oath-sworn protector. Navigating the intricate political landscape of the Court proves a difficult challenge, and when dire news arrives from overseas, the spirit of Queen Jehanne visits Moirin in a dream and bids her undertake an impossible quest. -Goodreads

The Review:

I think I’ve gotten the question “is this trilogy worth reading?” more times since starting it than I can count. People obviously know how much I loved Phedre’s and Imriel’s trilogies (and in most cases they share that love), and are wondering how this final series compares. I’ve been waiting until finishing the trilogy before giving a final assessment, and here it is:

Its not quite as good, but it’s still worth reading.

In some ways it’s like apples to oranges. Phedre’s and Imriel’s stories were a lot more narrowly focused, where the court dynamics and political intrigue played a huge role in lending complexity to the series. It focused on the beauty of Terre d’Ange and its surrounding lands in a manner that made the places almost ethereal. Comparatively, Moiren’s tale focused on a much broader scope. As fun as it was to explore the world, this structure kept the story kind of superficial because we didn’t get to spend enough time in any of the places to really dig in to the nuances of politics. Not that Moiren’s character profile was set up to handle nuance, anyway. Part of what made the first two trilogies such page turners for me was how politically savvy the characters were. They always had their fingers on the pulse of Terre D’Ange, which allowed a narrative driven by the small details. This trilogy is significantly more straight-forward because Moiren (a cave-raised bear witch) doesn’t have the background or the training to really engage in all the politics. Her ignorance of societal dynamics was both refreshing in it’s innocence yet frustrating because it kept the plot from gaining any sort of depth.

Moiren is a lovely character, and if I take anything away from this series, it’s her beautifully kind outlook on the world and her determination to do what feels right despite brutal consequences to herself. Her love is given without expectation, and reading about a character so poignantly selfless was a treat. Even though I wasn’t as in love with this trilogy’s love story, I definitely always felt the depth of Moiren’s love for other characters and mourned the losses fiercely. So, even though a few elements fall short of expectation, Moiren is why you read this series.

Moiren is Naamah’s child, and bid to do her will, which essentially means that she’s compelled to use sex as a healing mechanism whenever required. Where Phedre’s encounters never felt inappropriate to her character or the story, for whatever reason many of Moiren’s encounters felt a little cheap and forced (almost to the eye-rolling point at times, if I’m totally honest). Maybe that’s because the encounters were more of a “duty” where’s Phedre’s came off as a mutually agreed “pleasure,” I’m not sure, but by this final book I was physically cringing every time the story headed in that direction. It is what it is.

Overall, even though the story lacked the plot depth, political intrigue, and oddly compelling sexual encounters (elements that made the first two trilogies so special), it offers instead a beautifully poignant main character and the chance to explore many wonders of the world through Carey’ slens. It might not satisfy the same craving, but it is still definitely a journey worth experiencing.

Recommendations: venture into this trilogy only after reading Phedre’s (Kushiel’s Dart) and Imriel’s (Kushiel’s Scion) trilogies, as this is a future generation continuation. Because I love Carey’s writing and stories so much, I’d definitely recommended it if you haven’t gotten around to continuing yet, but with a few disclaimers to moderate your expectations.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Niki’s Book Journal [May 2018]

Niki’s Book Journal [May 2018]

The first half of May was an oddly stressful month of reading. I scheduled way too many buddy reads between the 1st and the 10th, and was forced to play catchup the whole month as a result. It was not relaxing.

The biggest problem is that I suck at prioritizing books that don’t come in audio. Since my turn to audiobooks a couple of years ago (eye strain injury, blah blah), I seem to have lost the ability to make time to sit down and read physical books. I’m too dependent on the flexibility audio provides and often spend any time I do manage to steal dinking around on my phone (I know I’ve said all of this before, but it’s still something I’m working on).

Now that my eyes are mostly better, I want to prioritize making a dent in my physical collection (via my Overflowing Bookshelf Challenge), but getting though even a single book feels like it takes me forever. I used to breeze through 80 – 100 per year, and can’t figure out where the heck I found the time to do that (yes I can – no children, no iPhone, no audiobooks…). Nowadays I’m lucky if I average even 20 books a year at the rate I’m going.

So my goal going into June is to make a concerted effort to choose reading first over other more brainless activities (ahem, phone) and see if I can recapture some of the good reading habits I used to have. My goal is to complete 4 books from my collection (a book a week sounds manageable if I stick to my resolve).


On to the mini reviews!

Part of this book journal idea was to commit a space where I can quickly drop in and review books that don’t have enough material for a full post. Here are my mini reviews from May 2018:

Knight's Shadow by Sebastien De Castille

Knight’s Shadow (Greatcoats #2) by Sebastien De Castell [4.5/5]

Considering how polarized my opinion was for Traitor’s Blade, it’s surprising even to me how thoroughly I enjoyed Knight’s Shadow. It must have been the perfect combination of elements to satisfy my mood because even while reading it I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why I liked it so much. It just had that addictive quality that kept pulling me back to it in favor of other things, which is something books don’t do to me a lot these days. The balance between humor and grit was well done, so I enjoyed laughing while simultaneously sinking my teeth into a rich story. When de Castell is on his game, I have a hard time pulling away. I’ll I can say is, he seems to have found his groove, so if you’ve waffled on continuing the series, consider this gentle encouragement to keep going. :)

Skullsworn by Brian Staveley

Skullsworn (Unhewn Throne #0.5) by Brian Staveley [3/5 stars]

If I could’ve chosen any group from the trilogy to learn more about, it would’ve been the Skullsworn (maybe not necessarily through an early Pyrre perspective, but she’s definitely an interesting character). The Skullsworn are essentially a guild that uses death as worship, so they naturally produce highly skilled assassins. I was hoping to get into the nitty gritty of the training process (kind of like what Staveley did with the Kettral in the first book), but it was more focused on Pyrre’s initiation process and less focused on the group as a whole. It had a few good fast-paced “scheming” moments, but a lot of the book was slower moving than I’d anticipated. I also had a pretty solid prediction early on about one of the major plot points, which unfortunately killed any of the suspense I was supposed to be feeling. It was far from a bust, though. I loved the setting – a alligator ridden swamp/delta with plenty of local lore and voodoo (good cultural immersion always goes a long way with me), so even when I wasn’t always 100% engaged with the plot, I was at least enjoying the atmosphere. Pair that with solid writing and a good ending earned this prequel a solid 3 stars (I liked it) rating. Unhewn Throne is a definite keeper for me, so I’m genuinely looking forward to whatever Staveley produces next.

Demon Spirit by R.A. Salvatore

Demon Spirit (Demonwar Saga #2) by R.A. Salvatore [2.5 stars]

I may have stalled on writing this review a bit longer than necessary, but it should tell you something about my general lack of investment in this book that I can’t remember a single, solitary thing about it even though it has only been a few months since I finished it. Nada. Squat. Zilch. A big fat pile of nothing. So I’m left with only the vague memory of forcing myself through the book without retaining anything (because I was bored – the book didn’t have much resembling plot-advancement, that much I remember). This is not good. Despite love of Salvatore in general and my curiosity for everything that takes place between this book and Child of a Mad God, I’m seriously considering abandoning this series for the time being… or at the very least putting it on the back burner for other things. I just can’t bring myself to invest time in the final book of the trilogy when I had such an unremarkable experience with Demon Spirit. Especially when I have a laundry list of things I’m enjoying more. I’ll probably revisit one day, but not in the near future. Heck, I might even skip ahead just to reinvigorate my interest in the series. I own them all. :/ [update: I wrote this review. I meant every single word. But now I’ve changed my mind and want to give the final book a go… it’s a long story. Lol]

Fade Out (Morganville #7) by Rachel Caine [3/5 stars]

It’s clear I’m getting a little too old to fully appreciate YA problems – they all just seem so unnecessarily dramatic compared to RL issues I’ve been dealing with. Even so, Morganville books continue to offer me that light escape I crave between all the heavy adult fantasy novels. Compared to the other books in the series, nothing truly earth-shattering happened in Fade Out, but I did like the expansion on vampiric history and politics (to a minor degree). These bite-sized stories always put me in a good mood, and I’m genuinely interested to see where Caine takes it next.


That’s it for my musings in May! Thanks to all who read my posts. :)

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Tackling the TBR [35]: June 2018

tackling the TBR

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.


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:

June 2018 TBR Tackler Shelf:

I don’t have a very concise reading list this month (clearly). I’m in the middle of a massive personal library reorganization, trying to prep for my Overflowing Bookshelf Challenge (it’s currently linked to my ongoing tracker on Goodreads, but I’ll be putting together a feature on here within the next couple weeks). Basically, I have too many books that have jumped up into “high priority” status so, instead of picking a focus like I should, I’m just going to set lofty goals and fail to achieve them. :P Right now I’m torn between kicking off this new challenge and trying to maintain my Incomplete Series Challenge. I think I’m going to wrap up a bunch of series this month, which will free me up to dig into my collection going forward.

  • In the top row are books I’ve already started reading, along with ones on deck for my Incomplete Series Challenge.
  • In the middle row are ARC commitments, along with a few buddy reads I’ve signed up for.
  • In the bottom row are books I’ve selected as starting points for my Overflowing Bookshelf Challenge (Scott!! I know, I know, I changed my mind again on Demon Apostle. I’m going through a book crisis and can’t make up my mind what I want to do).

The titles that immediately jump out at me are Empire of Ashes and the two Murderbot books – I’m stoked to dive into those. I’m also excited to finally have the Word and the Void by Brooks in the lineup because they were recommended to me YEARS ago by a friend (thanks, Jonathan!! I’m finally reading them). I recently watched the two seasons of Shannara and, issues with the execution of the show aside (the second season was much better), the overall concept and ideas kind of reinivigorated my enthusiasm to get back to that series. Word and the Void is first in the chronological reading order, so here goes nothing.

Do you have any reading priorities or challenges you’re tackling this summer? I’d love to hear your game plan! :)

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Last Dragon Standing by Rachel Aaron

Last Dragon Standing

Title: Last Dragon Standing

Author: Rachel Aaron

Series: Heartstrikers #5

Genre: Urban Fantasy/Fantasy [Hybrid]

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: Dear Reader, There is no way to write a blurb for this final book without spoiling all of the others. Suffice it to say, mysteries resolve, dragons war, pigeons abound, and Julius must risk himself in ways he never dreamed possible as Bob’s grand plan finally comes to fruition. But the Great Seer of the Heartstrikers isn’t the only one whose schemes are nearing completion. The Nameless End is coming, and even the machinations of the world’s most brilliant dragon seer might not be enough to stop it. As the world comes crashing down, it’s up Julius to prove what he’s always known: that seers can be wrong, and Nice Dragons don’t always finish last. -Goodreads

The Review:

My thoughts on this final book (reluctant disappointment) are vastly different from my thoughts of the series as a whole (happy feelings). The series is such a unique blend of genres and ideas, with some of the most memorable characters you’ll ever come across. No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished (Book #3) is one of my favorite books I’ve ever read. All that said, although I loved where the story ended, I had quite a few issues with how it got there and can’t help but feel let down by the overall execution of the last two novels of this series.

My #1 Issue: pacing. Rachel Aaron is also known for her super insightful 10000 words a day writing technique (one I’ve tried and it really makes a difference!). Unfortunate, I think all of that unbridled word vomit inevitably led to two final books that were unnecessarily drawn out, wordy, and dialogue-driven than necessary. At least 90% of Last Dragon Standing was strictly dialogue – rehashing ideas and other endless explanations and discussions. The 10% of actual plot advancement was amazing 5-star quality writing, it just took FOREVER to get there. I sincerely think the series could’ve turned out amazing had books 4 and 5 been condensed into a single novel. I did not pick up anything new in book 5 that wasn’t explained 10 different ways throughout book 4, and all of that endless dialogue effectively killed any momentum it had going for it coming into the finale. I maintain that a more concise flow would’ve made for an absolutely KILLER conclusion to this series. Overall, it felt very… self indulgent seems to harsh a phrase, but it definitely looks to me as though the story could’ve benefited from an more impartial outside perspective (such as a publishing house) by requiring a more intensive edit. That’s just my personal opinion on the matter based in part on comparing these last two books to her other trad-pub titles (which had perfect pacing).

Whatever the cause, the end result felt an opportunity wasted.

But is the series still worth reading? That’s an easy: absolutely!

I went into this final book with clear expectations, so I was specifically looking for things to go a certain way. At the end of book 4, I stated: “I swear if they try to rationalize and discuss things with the enemy in the final book, I’m going to throw a fit” … which I did. And: “If she can write at least 50% of the final book without endless dialogue and explanation, I’ll be happy” …which I wasn’t. So you can see how I set myself up for a bit of disappointment. However, the friends I read it with over at Fantasy Buddy Reads didn’t dive in with such a picky mindset, and for the most part loved the dialogue and character immersion this book had to offer. They had so much fun with it, and I was the raincloud on their parade (I hate it when I do that). Also keep in mind that this series produced one of my favorite books EVER (#3) and I still absolutely loved the vast majority of it. I am just feeling very over-critical of the final installment. For what it’s worth, I really like how it ended. :)

Recommendations: Heartstrikers is an excellent series to dive into if you like fun characters, dragons, great world-building, more dragons, and awesome moments. My personal issues with the final book aside, it’s a unique series well worth your time of you’re in the mood to have some fun. :)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence

Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence

Title: Grey Sister

Author: Mark Lawrence

Series: Book of Ancestor #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: Behind its walls, the Convent of Sweet Mercy has trained young girls to hone their skills for centuries. In Mystic Class, Novice Nona Grey has begun to learn the secrets of the universe. But so often even the deepest truths just make our choices harder. Before she leaves the convent, Nona must choose which order to dedicate herself to—and whether her path will lead to a life of prayer and service or one of the blade and the fist. All that stands between her and these choices are the pride of a thwarted assassin, the designs of a would-be empress wielding the Inquisition like a knife, and the vengeance of the empire’s richest lord. As the world narrows around her, and her enemies attack her through the system she is sworn to, Nona must find her own path despite the competing pulls of friendship, revenge, ambition, and loyalty. And in all this only one thing is certain: there will be blood. -Goodreads

The Review:

I hate to say it, but I think Grey Sister suffered from middle-book syndrome.

It kind of did the opposite of Red Sister, which started out slow and gained momentum. Grey Sister started out with a bang and engaged me with all the things I look for in a good fantasy. It was a nice continuation of the story that took place primarily in a school setting (I never get tired of school settings). There were also a lot of great character dynamics and some really interesting training scenes. Nona was testing her boundaries to see if she had the makings to be a “grey sister,” which was easily the highlight of the book for me.

The trouble is, none of those awesome things had anything to do with the second half of the book. By about the 75% I was seriously considering a DNF. What ultimately kept me reading was a general appreciation for the complex world and interesting cast of characters. And a mild curiosity over where the story would go next. I also really like Nona as a main character. She’s smart and resourceful without feeling too superhuman. It’s nice to finally see her start to open up her heart.

Although the last 50% had quick pacing and a lot of action scenes, it didn’t feel like anything was happing to advance the overall plot of the series. It felt like we were on one big tangent with no purpose other than as filler content. I acknowledge that it may serve a purpose in the greater scheme at some point (after all, I’ve no idea what’s planned next), but unfortunately for me it felt inconsequential and was a struggle to get through.

The world really has a lot of things going on – so many ideas left and right that it’s on the cusp of throwing in the kitchen sink. However they’re woven together well enough that it all seems to work. This last book has me feeling a slight Fifth Season (Jemisin) vibe and I really like where the overall story is developing. I think my profound interest in that is both why I want to continue reading, but also why I was so disappointed in the lack of expansion.

Series status: downgraded. I’d like to see where the story goes next, but have to admit I’m no longer eager to pick it up asap.

Recommendations: I think there are a lot of cool elements to this series. It currently lands itself in the middle of my recommendation spectrum. I buddy read this with my Goodreads group and, while most agreed it lost momentum in the second half, I think they all liked it more than I did, so take my rating with a grain of salt. ;P [I wrote this review and assigned a rating, then I checked how others rated it on Goodreads… I’m definitely the anomaly here].

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes