Book Review: You Sexy Thing by Cat Rambo

Title: You Sexy Thing

Author: Cat Rambo

Series: None Listed ATM

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Just when they thought they were out… TwiceFar station is at the edge of the known universe, and that’s just how Niko Larson, former Admiral in the Grand Military of the Hive Mind, likes it. Retired and finally free of the continual war of conquest, Niko and the remnants of her former unit are content to spend the rest of their days working at the restaurant they built together, The Last Chance. But, some wars can’t ever be escaped, and unlike the Hive Mind, some enemies aren’t content to let old soldiers go. Niko and her crew are forced onto a sentient ship convinced that it is being stolen and must survive the machinations of a sadistic pirate king if they even hope to keep the dream of The Last Chance alive. -Goodreads

The Review:

Wait!! Don’t let the title scare you off – this is a new space opera series from TOR.

They’re taglining it as “Farscape meets The Great British Bake-off” and yes, I can see the comparison to Farscape and yes, a restaurant and cooking plays a roll in the story… however, I think they’re overselling the food aspect. I was expecting the setting and the overall story to have more to do with owning and operating a business – the restaurant as the central point which all of the other components/conflicts revolve. However, it was more just a quick novelty, and then we moved on to dealing with minor bad guys from the main character’s past.

Truth be told, in a market flooded with similar stories, the cooking was the only aspect that initially differentiated it from the rabble. Since that wasn’t really the focus, everything else was just okay, run-of-the-mill space opera. I didn’t have any particular connection to the characters. The conflict felt like a side story to all of the setup for the “Hive Mind,” from which they’d originally opened a restaurant to escape. And it used my least favorite writing tool of “just give me a chance to explain!” – “No!!” near the end that sucked what enjoyment I was having out of it.

However, that’s just me being a bit over critical. I’ve read so many space operas lately that I can’t often find joy in a basic, fun story like this one – I also need more depth, a bit of substance, and an overarching plot I can get behind. So, if you’re not grouchy like me, you might appreciate the lighthearted fun this novel offered and enjoy the interesting cast of characters.

Oh! One thing to it’s huge credit is the creation of many non-humanoid main characters. Not only were they fun concoctions, but talked, behaved, and interacted with the other characters in a way totally not human, which I loved. The story also contained an A.I. Spaceship, who’s emotional growth and development was by far the most interesting takeaway from the story. So, the book still has a lot of things going for it, personal expectations aside.

Originally receiving a review copy of this for audio production quality, I thought I’d also mention that the narrator for the audiobook, Vivienne Leheny, did a great job animating all the diverse beings and making them feel even more alien. Her performance definitely added to the experience.

Recommendations: If you’re seeking a lighthearted, quirky space opera read, this is a great pick. It won’t offer a lot of depth and substance, but it will offer the fun-factor.

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by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Darkness Unbound by Keri Arthur

Title: Darkness Unbound

Author: Keri Arthur

Series: Dark Angel #1

Genre: Paranormal Romance

Rating: 2/5 stars

The Overview: Being half werewolf and half Aedh, Risa Jones can enter the twilight realms between life and death and see the reapers, supernatural beings that collect the souls of the dead. But she soon makes a terrifying discovery: Some sinister force is stealing souls, preventing the dead from ever knowing the afterlife. Reapers escort souls—not snatch them—but Risa is still unnerved when a reaper shadows her in search of someone Risa has never met: her own father, an Aedh priest, who is rumored to be tampering with the gates of hell for a dark purpose. With the help of her “aunt”—half-werewolf, half-vampire Riley Jenson—and an Aedh named Lucian who may have lost his wings but none of his sex appeal, Risa must pursue whatever shadowy practitioner of blood magic is seizing souls, and somehow stop her father . . . before all hell breaks loose. -Goodreads

The Review:

Darkness Unbound unfortunately did not hold up well on my reread.

I picked it up again as a refresher before finally continuing the series. The first time around I was super excited for it. The Riley Jensen series had wrapped up and the prospect of getting more in that world delighted me. I must have been riding the high from the Riley books (which now I’m nervous to reread because of how dramatically my rating dropped for this one), and I’m pretty sure I gave this one a high rating because of the nostalgia it evoked. It does include all of the old beloved characters, so it felt like a fresh continuation. And at the moment, that’s still the only thing it really had going for it.

The book is a quintessential paranormal romance. The sex/romance aspect of the plot was the most prominent and all the other components were underdeveloped. I very much prefer the more robust conflict-driven urban fantasy market. I don’t care one way or another if there are sex scenes in those books, but in this case they were so over-the-top I couldn’t help but laugh.

Now, don’t get me wrong, if you like paranormal romance, this was actually an okay read. And what’s more, I’ve read enough from Arthur to know she can dazzle me (I loved her City of Light series), so I’m probably going to keep reading to see if the series develops beyond the basic “seen it a dozen times before” structure.

For the time being, I think the main character, Risa, was relying on the novelty of her persona from the Riley series and I didn’t get a clear sense of who she is and what she wants. There was no connection at all for me for these characters. The conflict also read a little thin. Super convenient things and 2-dimensional villains. I say again, had this read been for obligation or for any other author, I probably would’ve DNFed. But I thought I considered myself a long-time fan and I already own the series, so I’m going to give the rest a go. Also, for what it’s worth, the last chapter was incredibly compelling…

Recommendations: if you’re a paranormal romance fan, this is right up your alley, and in fact a mite better written than most I’ve read (consider diving into the Riley Jensen series first). If, like me, you prefer urban fantasy novels, this will leave you wanting a more developed plot and less romance.

Booktube Review:

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by Niki Hawkes


Project Malazan: The Lees of Laughter’s End by Steven Erikson

Title: The Lees of Laughter’s End

Author: Steven Erikson

Series: Bachelain & Korbal Broach #3

Malazan Ultimate Reading Order: #4

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: In the wake of their blissful sojourn in the city of Lamentable Moll, the intrepid sorcerors Bauchelain and Korbal Broach — along with their newly hired manservant, Emancipor Reese — have set out on the wide open seas aboard the sturdy Suncurl. Alas, there’s more baggage in the hold than meets the beady eyes of Suncurl’s hapless crew, and once on the cursed sea-lane known as Laughter’s End — the Red Road in which flows the blood of an Elder God — unseemly terrors are prodded awake, to the understated dismay of all. It is said that it is not the destination that counts, but the journey itself. Such a noble, worthy sentiment. Aye, it is the journey that counts, especially when what counts is horror, murder, mischance and mayhem. For Bauchelain, Korbal Broach and Emancipor Reese, it is of course just one more night on the high seas, on a journey without end — and that counts for a lot. -Goodreads

The Review:

Having just read and loved the introduction to Balchelain and Korbal Broach in Blood Follows, Erikson had me hooked and I was eager to continue. This installment took a little of the enthusiasm out of my sails, but I still enjoyed it.

The setting for Lees at Laughter’s End was my favorite element of the novella. Or rather, the atmosphere the author created using a combination of interesting setting, great characters, spooky magickings, and a splash of dark humor. The thing I’m starting to appreciate most from Erikson is his ability to create a totally immersive experience.

What struck me was how curious I still was about the characters at this point. They’re still enigmas and I was absolutely fascinated with some of the things they did in this story. They’re truly unlike any characters I’ve read before, and the combination and execution are downright dazzling.

…but the story was also weird.

I’ll admit I didn’t enjoy this novella quite as much as Blood Follows because it danced on the edge of ridiculous a few times (which is not to my personal taste). It never quite went over the edge, but it was close. The unexpected happenings, while far-fetched, did add a good bit of suspense to the novel (because when anything is possible, no one is safe). And so I can appreciate it for what it was even though it got just a tad wild for me.

Recommendations: this novella would be perfect for Malazan fans who love the fantasy/horror sub-genre. I haven’t read Lovecraft (too creepy), but this reminded me of some elements I’ve heard are prominent in his Cthulhu works. As a completionist, I’d say read all the things. But if you’re trying to determine which to leave out, Blood Follows was a stronger Bachelain/Korbal Broach snippet. That pains me to say though – you should just read all the things too – why make hard decisions?

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by Niki Hawkes


Project Malazan: Blood Follows by Steven Erikson

Title: Blood Follows

Author: Steven Erikson

Series: Bachelain & Korbal Broach #1

Malazan Ultimate Reading Order: #3

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: All is not well in Lamentable Moll. A sinister, diabolical killer stalks the port city’s narrow, barrow-humped streets, and panic grips the citizens like a fever. Emancipor Reese is no exception, and indeed, with his legendary ill luck, it’s worse for him than for most. Not only was his previous employer the unknown killer’s latest victim, but Emancipor is out of work. And, with his dearest wife terminally comfortable with the manner of life to which she asserts she has become accustomed (or at least to which she aspires) — for her and their two whelps — all other terrors grow limp and pale for poor Emancipor. But perhaps his luck has finally changed, for two strangers have come to Lamentable Moll… and they have nailed to the centre post in Fishmonger’s Round a note requesting the services of a manservant. This is surely a remarkable opportunity for the hapless Emancipor Reese… no matter that the note reeks with death-warded magic; no matter that the barrow ghosts themselves howl with fear every night; and certainly no matter that Lamentable Moll itself is about to erupt in a frenzy of terror-inspired anarchy…. -Goodreads

The Review:

Before beginning my Project Malazan: The Ultimate Reading Order, I’d heard these Bachelain and Korbal Broach novellas weren’t worth the effort. As reading just the main Malazan saga is a colossal commitment within itself, I can see why taking precious time away from that undertaking would put one at risk of losing momentum. Personally, I figured if I was willing to take the time to read the little stuff, then I was definitely more committed to seeing this venture through. Good or not, the completionist in me was going to pick them up regardless.

That said, I believe Blood Follows is a very enriching accompaniment to the main series.

It’s a fantastic short story that introduced these characters brilliantly. I figured I knew about what I was getting into with this novella and made some predictions early on. None of them were correct. Erikson isn’t afraid to take risks and “go there” with his stories – something that makes them both difficult to read and so worth the effort at the same time. This short was just a tiny snipped into the lives of these characters, but I felt a depth and robustness in their presentation that frankly I can’t remember experiencing with any other author. He always offers complete immersion into his tales.

So, one of the main complaints people have about the Malazan series is that it takes a ton of concentration to read. Erikson throws you straight into the fire without offering one iota of context or explanation. A lot of what he writes feels ambiguous, even when read carefully. I’d wondered if it were a deliberate style choice or if his brain was just on a different wavelength. Probably both are true, but after reading this novella, which was so much more accessibly written and easy to follow, I’ve come to the conclusion that at least the former is accurate and what he’s been doing to us in the Malazan series is deliberate and calculated. At this I am both wildly impressed at his skills and sufficiently irritated haha.

Recommendations: if you want to read Malazan, Blood Follows will enhance the main series. The novellas that come after are a little more difficult to endorse, but I’m confident about the appeal of this one.

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by Niki Hawkes


Tackling the TBR [74]: October 2021

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:

October 2021 TBR Tackler Shelf:

Oh my gosh! It has been so long since I posted a Tackling the TBR post.

All of my reading energies this month are going towards completing Memories of Ice by Steven Erikson. I’m about 10% in and loving it so far! As I mentioned in a recent video, I’ve altered my reading habits and am now committed to only picking up one book at a time…… however, Memories of Ice is so dense that I can’t switch to audio while cleaning, driving, etc., so I’m very carefully and intentionally breaking my rule this month to allow myself to enjoy some very light reads on the side. If and only if I get through that giant tomb of a novel, then I will reward myself with A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie. Too many good books and not enough time spent reading them! 

Have a great month in reading!

by Niki Hawkes



Book Review: The Sword of Kaigen by M.L. Wang

Title: Sword of Kaigen

Author: M.L. Wang

Series: Theonite #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: A mother struggling to repress her violent past, a son struggling to grasp his violent future, a father blind to the danger that threatens them all. When the winds of war reach their peninsula, will the Matsuda family have the strength to defend their empire? Or will they tear each other apart before the true enemies even reach their shores? High on a mountainside at the edge of the Kaigenese Empire live the most powerful warriors in the world, superhumans capable of raising the sea and wielding blades of ice. For hundreds of years, the fighters of the Kusanagi Peninsula have held the Empire’s enemies at bay, earning their frozen spit of land the name ‘The Sword of Kaigen.’ Born into Kusanagi’s legendary Matsuda family, fourteen-year-old Mamoru has always known his purpose: to master his family’s fighting techniques and defend his homeland. But when an outsider arrives and pulls back the curtain on Kaigen’s alleged age of peace, Mamoru realizes that he might not have much time to become the fighter he was bred to be. Worse, the empire he was bred to defend may stand on a foundation of lies. Misaki told herself that she left the passions of her youth behind when she married into the Matsuda house. Determined to be a good housewife and mother, she hid away her sword, along with everything from her days as a fighter in a faraway country. But with her growing son asking questions about the outside world, the threat of an impending invasion looming across the sea, and her frigid husband grating on her nerves, Misaki finds the fighter in her clawing its way back to the surface. -Goodreads

The Review:

What started out as a potential DNF eventually evolved into one of the most memorable books I’ve ever read.

The unconventional plot structure was easily one of my favorite things about Sword of Kaigen. Many books these days seem to follow a basic try/fail formula with the climax of the book taking place near the end of the story. It’s a framework that has proven to sell big, so it’s over taught and over produced. I have a few critical opinions of the self-publishing market in general, but found a surprising appreciation for it here, as it allowed this talented author the freedom of creativity without outside mandates, and the ability to take risks not conducive to generating a series and making more money. It was a complete and utter breath of fresh air.

You don’t have to be a mother to fully appreciate this story, but for me it added a heart-wrenching level of poignancy. I felt deeply connected to this character and her children. The author was brilliant at making several scenes in this book a sensory experience and I can still feel the hairs on my neck tingling just thinking about some of the moments within. I was so caught up at one point that I found myself crying with the character. That level of emotional investment in books doesn’t happen to me often, maybe once every couple of years. This is why, even though objectively the book landed at about a 4-star rating I bumped it up to a 4.5. Stupid book, making me feel things.

As amazing as so many elements of this self-published novel were, there were a few areas where the lack of an editor showed through. I mentioned I’d almost DNFed the books and this was around the 20% mark. If it hadn’t been for the half dozen members of FBR on Goodreads who jumped on to our buddy read thread to proclaim their love for the book, I’d have called it quits. The reason for this was the poor pacing and plethora of info dumps. As interesting as the story was, the author spent a ton of time upfront explaining stuff to the reader. For every couple of lines the characters spoke, the conversation was paused for a couple of pages, unpacking what was just said. It slowed the plot progression considerably and made me wonder what magic I was missing.

Then around the 25% mark, stuff started happening. A little less information, a little more action. I started to find a connection to the characters.

Then the shit hit the fan at 50%, and I was absolutely hooked.

Another issue was the underdeveloped world-building and character roles. Initially, this idea that a place for a ninja society to grow untainted by the modern, technologically advanced society surrounding it was a cool juxtaposition. It was giving me very Hogwarts for Ninjas vibe at the beginning, which I loved. However, it did not develop much more beyond that as the book went along. Quite the opposite: it got more confusing and less well-imagined. Several things about the world and the behavior of the peoples within it didn’t make sense. And the roles of a handful of characters still remains very unclear.

And one final note: I have a hard time when awful things happen to children in books. This ultimately didn’t count against my rating, but it is a trigger-warning in case it affects someone else similarly. Several parts were difficult to read.

People are championing this series as a stand-alone, which I admit I find perplexing. There are enough things happening at the end of the book to indicate the author was leaving her options open for a sequel. Just because a sequel hasn’t been written yet and the author is supposedly not working on it doesn’t mean the book is a stand-alone. And I’d argue that not enough external plot points resolved themselves for it to be a satisfying solo novel in any case. I’ll believe it’s a stand alone if 10 years go by and nothing else is written on it. I will say I’m at least content with what I read if that’s all we ever get.

Recommendations: this book’s strengths outweigh its weaknesses, but it takes a good 25-50% in to really start appreciating what it has to offer. After that, hang on to your seat! I’ve heard some negative feedback for the audiobook version but I personally liked the narrator (I pretty much forgot he was there as the story got going, which is an odd compliment lol). There’s a lot of hype surrounding the book for a reason and I consider it worth the read.

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by Niki Hawkes