Book Review: Dayfall by Michael David Ares

Title: Dayfall

Author: Michael David Ares

Series: N/A

Rating: 1.5/5 stars

The Overview: In the near future, patches of the northern hemisphere have been shrouded in years of darkness from a nuclear winter, and the water level has risen in the North Atlantic. The island of Manhattan has lost its outer edges to flooding and is now ringed by a large seawall. The darkness and isolation have allowed crime and sin to thrive in the never-ending shadows of the once great city, and when the sun finally begins to reappear, everything gets worse. A serial killer cuts a bloody swath across the city during the initial periods of daylight, and a violent panic sweeps through crowds on the streets. The Manhattan police, riddled with corruption and apathy, are at a loss.

That’s when the Mayor recruits Jon Phillips, a small-town Pennsylvania cop who had just single-handedly stopped a high-profile serial killer in his own area, and flies him into the insanity of this new New York City. The young detective is partnered with a shady older cop and begins to investigate the crimes amidst the vagaries of a twenty-four hour nightlife he has never experienced before. Soon realizing that he was chosen for reasons other than what he was told, Jon is left with no one to trust and forced to go on the run in the dark streets, and below them in the maze of the underground. Against all odds he still hopes that he can save his own life, the woman of his dreams, and maybe even the whole city before the arrival of the mysterious and dreaded event that has come to be known as…. DAYFALL. -Goodreads

The Review:

What initially drew me to Dayfall was the interesting concept: a mystery novel set in a not-to-distant-future post-war world where nuclear bombing has caused semi-permanent blackout cloud-cover. Not only have I been itching for a good mystery novel lately, but I loved the presented concept for Dayfall and couldn’t wait to see some cool ideas on how society adapted to these conditions.

The trouble is, the book didn’t quite deliver to my satisfaction for either the mystery or the world-building.

It did have a couple of cool ideas for how city life had changed since the blackout, but for the most part the book fixated on a brief moment where sunlight would shine through (Dayfall) and how seeing the sun for the first time (in less than half a generation) would drive people to literal instantly… a concept that even in hindsight doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Especially since the entire arc of the mystery depended on average citizens turning into aggressive lunatics at the first sign of sunlight. I didn’t see any details within that could’ve explained this shift in human behavior (any sort of made up sci-fi explanation would’ve worked for me. Like radiation mutation or something). And the concept continued to unravel with very inconsistent drop-in details (such as talking about current everyday things in our world, like the NFL, which felt very out of place under the circumstances the author presented) to the point where even suspended belief became impossible for me to maintain.

What’s more, I also found the character profiles incredibly inconsistent. Every time I was starting to get an idea of who they were, they’d do or say something completely out of character from what had been presented so far. They were very erratic, so it made it difficult to get into their thought processes as they tried to solve a mystery. I also had issue with their general lack of common sense and logical follow-through. My concern with this started with the first scene and unfortunately only got worse from there.

Yikes. Okay, so overall, while I can appreciate some concepts within the story and what I think the author was trying to do with it, it just didn’t work for me.

Recommendations: Dayfall definitely had a cool setting for a mystery novel. However, neither the world-building and overall concept nor the characterization were on par with my expectations. There are a whole host of books I would recommend first.

I’d like to thank the publicists at TOR/Forge and Michael David Ares for the chance to read and review an early copy of Dayfall.

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by Niki Hawkes



Book Review: Burn Bright by Patricia Briggs

[March 6, 2018] Burn Bright by Patricia Briggs

Title: Burn Bright

Author: Patricia Briggs

Series: Alpha & Omega #5

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: They are the wild and the broken. The werewolves too damaged to live safely among their own kind. For their own good, they have been exiled to the outskirts of Aspen Creek, Montana. Close enough to the Marrok’s pack to have its support; far enough away to not cause any harm.With their Alpha out of the country, Charles and Anna are on call when an SOS comes in from the fae mate of one such wildling. Heading into the mountainous wilderness, they interrupt the abduction of the wolf–but can’t stop blood from being shed. Now Charles and Anna must use their skills–his as enforcer, hers as peacemaker–to track down the attackers, reopening a painful chapter in the past that springs from the darkest magic of the witchborn… -Goodreads

The Review:

As Patricia Briggs is one of my favorite urban fantasy writers, I love that I have a new release from her to look forward to every year. Reading her books always feels like cuddling up with a warm fuzzy blanket when it’s snowing outside. Burn Bright was a nice installment in the Alpha & Omega series. Perhaps not quite as strong as the last couple of books, but still loads of fun all the same.

The positives were abundant: an interesting mystery to solve (one which I’m sure we’ll see repercussions from in the next Mercy book), plenty of Anna and Charles awesomeness (because their relationship dynamic is still one of my favorites), Marrok werewolf pack politics (a topic of which I never tire reading), and an easy flow of writing that absorbs you for a good ride. Essentially, all of the basics I’ve come to expect from a Briggs novel in abundance.

All that said, I wish the book could’ve had tighter pacing, most notably in the second half. The main story halted several times so other stories could be told and, while they were all interesting and completely relevant to the plot, they effectively killed any building momentum for me. It wasn’t a deal-breaker by any means (because the stories were good), but compared to the last two novels where the story practically careened towards the finish in a can’t-put-it-down-for-anything manner, Burn Bright was just okay in that regard.

Overall, anything Briggs produces is a good read, and this wasn’t an exception. I delighted in learning more about the dynamics within the Marrok’s pack (and especially loved the inclusion of Asil – one of the most interesting side characters in the saga). I love enigmas in books, and Briggs has several she’s been slowing revealing more about for years. It keeps me coming back with gusto!

Recommendations: I’m a huge fan of this series (and Patricia Briggs herself – you won’t meet a more gracious author) and would recommend them to both urban fantasy fans and those new to the genre. At this point, the link between the Alpha & Omega and Mercy Thompson books is strong enough that you should consider reading both series simultaneously by publication order to avoid major spoilers. Additionally, I would encourage you to pick up Shifting Shadows, a brilliant short story compilation, before diving in to Burn Bright.

I’d like to say a big thank you to Berkley Publishing Group, Patricia Briggs, and Netgalley for the chance to read and review an early copy of Burn Bright!

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by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Teckla by Steven Brust

Teckla by Steven Brust

Title: Teckla

Author: Steven Brust

Series: Vlad Taltos #3

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: The third to be published, this is actually the fifth entry in the timeline of the VLAD TALTOS books, and it represents a darker, more serious turn in the series. Vladimir Taltos is a short-lived, short-statured Easterner (what we would call a human) in a world mostly populated by the long-lived, extremely tall Dragaerans. He is also an assassin and petty crimelord. His lifestyle and career require some difficult moral choices. When his wife Cawti joins an uprising of Easterners and peasant Dragaerans (the Teckla of the title), it causes a severe strain in their marriage, and Vlad begins to question those choices. -Goodreads

The Review:

This is one of the few series where I spend most of my time enjoying rather than analyzing. It’s complex enough to keep my interest (with random splashes of sarcasm that usually make me laugh), but easy-flowing enough that I can sit back and relax into it.

Nothing about this series is typical. Of the three I’ve read, so far Teckla was the least unconventional, but still boasted 100% world immersion. The author never explains anything, choosing instead to throw you into the deep end. It works though, because I pick up many intricacies of the world without having to be expressly told a thing. A good comparison is the principle behind the Rosetta Stone language program (where you learn the language organically as if it’s the only one you’ve heard). Brust’s storytelling works a lot alike that, which is why I feel so immersed with these books. Each novel seems to focus on a different culture/race, and as I read and recognize their names as titles of future books, making me all the more eager to get to those and find out more.

Overall, I’m in for the long haul of this series. They’re perfect palate cleansers between other novels and I appreciate what seems to me like a true merging of genres (with fantasy being the most prominent).

Recommendations: I’d hand this series to someone relatively well-read in the fantasy genre with emphasis on its originality. And humor.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Dragon Hunters by Marc Turner

Dragon Hunters by Marc Turner

Title: Dragon Hunters

Author: Marc Turner

Series: The Chronicles of the Exile #2

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Once a year on Dragon Day the fabled Dragon Gate is raised to let a sea dragon pass from the Southern Wastes into the Sabian Sea. There, it will be hunted by the Storm Lords, a fellowship of powerful water-mages who rule an empire called the Storm Isles. Alas, this year someone forgot to tell the dragon which is the hunter and which the hunted. Emira Imerle Polivar is coming to the end of her tenure as leader of the Storm Lords. She has no intention of standing down graciously. She instructs an order of priests called the Chameleons to infiltrate a citadel housing the mechanism that controls the Dragon Gate to prevent the gate from being lowered after it has been raised on Dragon Day. Imerle hopes the dozens of dragons thus unleashed on the Sabian Sea will eliminate her rivals while she launches an attack on the Storm Lord capital, Olaire, to secure her grip on power. But Imerle is not the only one intent on destroying the Storm Lord dynasty. As the Storm Lords assemble in Olaire in answer to a mysterious summons, they become the targets of assassins working for an unknown enemy. When Imerle initiates her coup, that enemy makes use of the chaos created to show its hand. -Goodreads

The Review:

Dragon Hunters delivered all the elements that were missing from book one, with flare (and by flare I mean dragons). Sluggish plot progression wasn’t a problem here. I wouldn’t say Dragon Hunters was a particularly fast-paced book, but the things that happened within each perspective advanced the plot much more sufficiently than in the first book. Same with the plot-transparency – a lot of the devious plots remained shrouded in mystery until the end, which was not the case in book one (and a major component of my dissatisfaction). I said in my review of When the Heavens Fall that Turner had all of the components I look for in a storyteller, he just made some outlining decisions I wasn’t thrilled about. His skill shows itself nicely in this sequel and confirmed my guess that with a different outline, he’d be awesome.

The only thing Dragon Hunters still lacked for me was sufficiently distinct characters. They were all interesting to read about (and had great backstories), Turner just never took the time to give them any introspection or depth (with maybe one exception). There are two main male POVs and two main female POVs, and I had a hard time telling them apart. With each switch I had to consciously wrap my mind around which one had the spotlight. I probably missed a few details early on due to character confusion. Even so, I still enjoyed their basic profiles. But I can also see how improving them would’ve taken this story to the next level.

Since every other aspect was done to my satisfaction, I still value the book highly. I especially loved the setting (costal/island nations centered around pirates, political intrigue, and powers) and the extra bit of subtle world building in the form of a stone-skinned race and people with gills (both of which I’m eager to learn more about). Oh! And the different religions (specifically the Chameleon one) really sparked my interest. So overall, I had a ton of positive takeaways from this book.

Recommendations: Dragon Hunters was a lot stronger than the first book, containing a good mix of action, world building, religion, politics, and sea dragons. The characters probably won’t make you feel a lot of things, but they’re still fun to read about. This series wouldn’t be my pick for new fantasy readers, but is a good pick for Malazan fans looking for something slightly less intense.

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by Niki Hawkes


Project Redwall: Rakkety Tam by Brian Jacques

[4/5 stars] I freaking loved these books as a kid. I read every single one of them multiple times and stayed up to date with the series until I graduated high school. Then for some reason, even though 5 more books were published in the series, I felt myself reluctant to pick them up. What if I didn’t like them as much? What if I was too old for Redwall?? What if the characters referenced a character I didn’t remember because it has been so long and I had to go back and reread them all to get the full experience??? Well, thankfully I finally decided to stop freaking out about all the things and took the plunge into my first Redwall book in 13 years: Rakkety Tam.

And you know what? I LOVED it. The storytelling was every bit as special as it was when I was a kid and my biggest takeaway was a newfound admiration for an author who produced 20+ books in a series and still took the same care to create amazing characters, fun situations, and compelling quests in book 16 as he did with book 1. You can truly see how much passion Jacques had for his stories (and how much creativity!).

Rakkety Tam offered a dashing hero, sufficiently wicked foebeasts, brilliant acts of courage, and a good lesson against greed and avarice. I especially liked the many scuffles and battles throughout and was actively cheering for the good guys by the end. And the bird!! This is the first book I can remember where a bird has a role in the story. They’re super funny in their mannerisms and I think I like them almost as much as the moles. Overall, this was a nice addition to the series.

I tried something new with this book: I listened to the audio while following along in the book. Normally I would’ve just breezed through the audio, but I felt the need to really take my time with this series. And after a few chapters, I decided to try both. I admit the decision wasn’t made totally out of nostalgia. The audiobooks contains a full cast of actors for the characters, with Jacques himself reading the narration. People, I couldn’t understand a freaking word he was saying at first (imagine Sean Connery reading to you… without enunciation). I’m used to his dialect now, but I would’ve missed so much had I not changed what I was doing.

It worked out though, because while listening I discovered how much unbridled FUN it was listening to a cast of voices, especially when they start singing the adorable songs & ditties Jacques loved to include throughout his books. It turned the entire story into an experience, and one I’m beyond happy to have had. Overall, I love that I’m finally continuing, and that I’m having as much fun (if not more) than I did as a kid.

Recommendations: these books aren’t like Watership Down or the Fire Bringer where the reader is thrust into the unassuming lives of woodland creatures (snore), but robust, well-spun adventures where the heroes brandish swords and the villains come for blood! It’s brilliant because it has everything you’d expect from a adult fantasy novel, but it’s use of mice, otters, etc. make it accessible to kids. It’s a series with so much fun and adventure that I’d recommend it highly to any middle grade kid looking to discover books she/he could love.

My favorites in the series (so far):

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Child of a Mad God by R.A. Salvatore

Child of a Mad God by R.A. Salvatore

Title: Child of a Mad God

Author: R.A. Salvatore

Series: Coven #1

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: When Aoleyn loses her parents, she is left to fend for herself among a tribe of vicious barbarians. Bound by rigid traditions, she dreams of escaping to the world beyond her mountain home. The only hope for achieving the kind of freedom she searches for is to learn how to wield the mysterious power used by the tribe’s coven known as the Song of Usgar. Thankfully, Aoleyn may be the strongest witch to have ever lived, but magic comes at price. Not only has her abilities caught the eye of the brutish warlord that leads the tribe, but the demon of the mountain hunts all who wield the Coven’s power, and Aoleyn’s talent has made her a beacon in the night. -Goodreads

The Review:

I’ve been reading (and enjoying) R.A. Salvatore for almost 20 years, so what struck me as profound during Child of a Mad God was how well-rounded a writer he has evolved into. He was always an accomplished storyteller, but compared to his early works in the world of Corona (published in the late 1990s) it’s immediately clear how next-level his work has become. Child of a Mad God was superbly written and I don’t have a single critical thing to say about any craft-related aspect of this book – it was excellent.

I didn’t realize this book was part of the Corona world until I was about halfway through. Even though I’ve only read two other Corona books (Demon Awakens and Demon Spirit), Child of a Mad God felt self-contained enough to be read on its own. It will transport you to an isolated, indigenous  landscape, and set a mood that is almost otherworldly in its delivery. There were a few minor characters (including an unknown (to me) POV in what I call the “Drizzt letter” at the beginning of every part) that felt a little like cameos from previous books and made me feel like I was missing a bit of historical depth. But none of them had any direct impact on the main story. I’m actually looking forward to reading the backlist in this series to find out if we really have seen these characters before.

The main POV characters had so much depth that it sort of took me off guard. I wasn’t expecting to have so much emotion pulled out of me, and that introspection is probably the strongest element of the story. He really digs into the motives and carnal wants of these characters, which slowed the pacing considerably even though it still had a lot of impact. As I touched on already, the world building was fantastic. It was totally immersive into this culture without ever dwelling on the mundane aspects of their daily lives. Instead, it focused 100% on the things that made the plot special. Even though it was slower, not a single page was wasted. 

So, while I absolutely loved all of the elements I usually rate books on (writing, characters, world building, etc.), I need to be honest about my general enjoyment-level of the book. You see, it’s pretty brutal. It often danced on the edge of what I can tolerate (take this with a grain of salt because I’m the first to admit that I’m a wimp), meaning a lot of my reading experience involved an odd juxtaposition of loving it but absolutely hating the awful things that happened within it. Even so, from an analytical standpoint, I can appreciate how those brutal moments helped raise the stakes for the story and really ground the reader in this unforgivable society. By no means is it a happy story, but it’s certainly a compelling one. I usually need a strong ray of hope to keep me engaged in books, which Child of a Mad God was pointedly lacking. I yearned for vindication for these characters and was rewarded with a punch to the gut every time. Even so, the potential for satisfaction in future books is what has me eager to continue the series.

Recommendations: I’d hand this book to fantasy readers who often list “good characters” as their main criteria, but it also fits the bill for excellent world-building and beautiful writing. If you can stomach indigenous brutality and slower pacing, Child of a Mad God is a great pick for you. I felt it stands alone well enough that you don’t have to have read previous Corona books to enjoy it, but that’s speaking from someone who doesn’t yet know quite what she’s missing. :)

I’d like to thank R.A. Salvatore and the publicists at TOR/Forge for the opportunity to read and review an early copy of Child of a Mad God! :)

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by Niki Hawkes