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The Obsessive Bookseller’s Mini Book Review Blitz! [4]

Mini Book Review Blitz!

It has been a while since I’ve put one of these together, but I’ve come across a lot of stories lately that were either too short or just didn’t garner enough emotion (good or bad) to warrant full reviews. Here are some snapshot opinions:


Book Info: Ark [Forward Collection] by Veronica Roth

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

I probably wouldn’t have picked up Ark had it not been a review obligation (audiobook production review), but I’m glad I did. It was a lot more understated than I was expecting – a story more about human connection and the little things that make us tick rather than some grand tribute to the end of the world. The main character was a horticulturist trying to catalogue as many plant species as possible before earth gets hit by an asteroid. Humanity had already gone through the grieving process and has settled into a subdued acceptance of Earth’s fate, and the MC’s calm, somber voice was my favorite thing about the story… it was intentional and fitting. All that said, I was expecting a twist or something to change the energy level of the story… to amp up the excitement or pull on my emotions. But it kind of faded out the same way it came in: chill. Overall it was an entertaining short, yet I’d caution you to throw out preconceived notions of Roth’s writing patterns before diving in and just enjoy it for the subtle short that it is.


The Stone in the Skull by Elizabeth Bear

Book Info: Stone in the Skull [Lotus Kingdoms #1] by Elizabeth Bear

Rating: 2/5 stars

I’m writing a mini review for this one because, even though it has only been a couple weeks since I finished the book, I couldn’t tell you much about it. It’s set in the same world as her Eternal Sky series, and I couldn’t help but wonder while reading if she was riding the success of previously developed characters and relationships (which were lost to me) instead of composing something fresh. It certainly felt like I was missing some key components and to be frank – not a whole lot happened. Two of the female characters were so similar, it took me more than half the book to realize they weren’t the same person (this is also a good time to point out that Bear used a lot of pronouns instead of calling the characters by name). It was an interesting, exotic world that I enjoyed reading about, there just wasn’t enough meaningful plot advancement to give me something to really dig into (… and there was a distinct lack of advertised dragons). One thing I did enjoy – I absolutely loved Bear’s writing voice. This is my first book from her, and the prose was one of the most lovely I’ve ever read in a fantasy novel (seriously). So I’m not done experimenting with her yet. I just wish I’d had more to rave about with this one.


The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson

Book Info: The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

As my second time through this novella by Sanderson (this time experienced via graphic audio for a professional review), I liked the reread just as much. The basic premise is rife with authentic Sanderson creativity and world-building – a magic system using detailed stamps to reforge items into something new. I love reading about any magic element that requires a lot of skill, so the craft descriptions throughout the story were my favorite sections. I also thought the main character had a lot of interesting dualities. There were a few moments where her decisions surprised me, and I love that. Overall, of all the shorts from Sanderson (I think I’ve read them all), this is a top 3 for me.


Book Info: Randomize [Forward Collection] by Andy Weir

Rating: 1/5 stars

Upon finishing this short story for a published review, my first thought was: “what the hell did I just read?” My second was “where have I seen this author before?” Um, yeah, it’s the author who wrote the well-know book “The Martian.” I had to reconcile the seemingly pointless story with the weight behind a name like that. I haven’t read the The Martian yet, but I’m surprise he took the direction of hacking casino systems instead of something even more futuristic. I could definitely see a scientific thinker behind the words while reading, which now makes me think I’ll love the Martian even more, but the story left me feeling kind of “meh.” And I think the only reason is that I didn’t find the subject matter particularly interesting. There are so many heist stories now, you have to have a lot of fun with them to gain any traction, and this one was very straight-laced. It also delved into heavy technical description which almost made my eyes roll back into my head a few times. It was close. Overall, I’m interested in the brain behind this story enough to read more works from Weir, but I could’ve happily passed on this one.


by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Part-Time Gods by Rachel Aaron

Part-Time Gods by Rachel Aaron

Title: Part-Time Gods

Author: Rachel Aaron

Series: DFZ #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Life in the magical mess of the Detroit Free Zone is never easy. When you’re laboring under the curse of a certain prideful, overbearing dragon, it can be down right impossible. My name is Opal Yong-ae, and I’m a Cleaner. At least, I used to be. Thanks to the supernatural bad luck that turns everything I do against me, these days I’m more of a walking disaster. Getting rid of this curse is the only way to get my life back. Unfortunately, dragon magic is every bit as sneaky and deadly the monsters behind it, and just as hard to beat. But I’ve never been one to take her doom at face value. Cornered doesn’t mean defeated, and in an awakened city that rules herself, dragons are no longer the biggest powers around. -Goodreads

The Review:

More adventures in the DFZ!! This delightful spinoff series is shaping up to be even more solid than Heartstrikers… I’m loving it.

I binged Part-Time Gods in a single day – its one of those fun, lighthearted books that function as palate-cleansers between heavier fantasy novels. The story revolved around MC Opal going to creative extremes trying to shake off a dragon curse laid on her, which was my favorite element of the book. It added on to the already interesting premise (reminiscent of the show Storage Wars), and gave a much more in-depth exploration the DFZ – a place/entity that has captured my attention since the first Heartstrikers book. And I haven’t even mentioned the dragons and how much I love their haughty, stubborn personalities (the hard-headedness between Opal and her father is a really satisfying contest of wills – I can’t wait to see it played out). All the things, people. This is a killer series.

The only thing holding me back from full praise is the budding love story… I have a few reservations. The characters are adorable and a total perfect fit, but the romantic tension isn’t working well for me. The characters are behaving almost unnaturally to avoid that “getting together” moment and I feel like there’s a lot of extremely forced and unnecessary conflict in play to keep them apart (plus a dose of uncharacteristic stupidity). It’s coming across as more of a writer’s construct to save some of the tension for the next book (which I can appreciate), but there was so much clear chemistry between the characters in this book (also a good thing) that dragging it on felt contrived. Hopefully this means the next book will be on fire.

Recommendations: If you like dragons, fun characters, and books that don’t fit the mold, this is my pick for you. Heartstikers was awesome – containing some of the best “omg!” moments I’ve read in ages, but it lacked a little consistency (I thought books 4 & 5 should’ve been tightened into a single story). This DFZ spin-off is so far much more even, and I’m loving every moment. Rachel Aaron/Bach is among my shortlist of favorite authors for a reason. Give her books a try for some fun!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Novella Review: Auberon by James S.A. Corey

Title: Auberon

Author: James S.A. Corey

Series: The Expanse #8.5

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: Auberon is one of the first and most important colony worlds in humanity’s reach, and the new conquering faction has come to claim it. Governor Rittenaur has come to bring civilization and order to the far outpost and guarantee the wealth and power of the Empire.

But Auberon already has its own history, a complex culture, and a criminal kingpin named Erich with very different plans. In a world of deceit, violence, and corruption, the greatest danger Rittenaur faces is love. -Goodreads

The Review:

A full review for a novella?! Only when it’s from James S.A. Corey. These novellas usually focus on periphery characters, and I love how in-depth and meaningful the authors make them. The stories are always about the human connection and digging into what motivates us. Auberon took a few pages to warm up, but quickly built momentum. I was totally enthralled by the end. There’s one scene in particular that about had me out of my seat in shock. And that ending! O_O

Auberon dives into the culture and struggles of an outpost colony. It presents some interesting dynamics regarding settlements that take on lives of their own, moving increasingly away from the entities that originally colonized them. It’s seems, no matter the setting, humanity is self-serving when resources are scarce, dragging its corruptive ways to the edges of the universe. Then throw in a character (Gov. Rittenaur) who’s supposed to show up and restore focus and order to this lot with absolutely no backing save his supposed “authority”… and you have a fascinating tale. And a stressful one.

And amidst all of those exterior dynamics, the story also provides an examination of personal vices and how they shape our behavioral patterns. I personally found Rittenaur’s vice especially poignant: perfectionism. A need for things to go according to plan and a strong desire for structure. The story really immersed you into the internal struggles of these characters, and I also thought the authors did an especially good job at incorporating sensory detail.

I’m not usually one for novellas unless it’s a series I’m super passionate about (The Expanse qualifies), and even then, I find they often don’t add a whole lot to the main story. The Expanse novellas are the exception. They may not always have direct influence on the story, but they always immerse you into what it means to be human – the point of the whole series, IMO. Auberon was a glimpse into the lives of those on the fringes of society, and it was a heart-wrenching one at that. These authors are brilliant at making me care about even the most insignificant players, and I’m always holding my breath, wondering what choices they’re going to make. People are beautiful, wretched, resourceful, loving, greedy, and always full of surprises, and this novella highlighted that variety for me.

Side note: apparently they incorporated a character from the Churn (another Expanse novella) but I read them so far apart I didn’t make the connection (or even remember the character lol). I’m not sure how this story will play in the bigger picture (if at all), but it was a good teaser to keep me satiated until the final novel comes out (I can’t wait!!).

Recommendations: The Expanse is one of the easiest series to recommend – it has a little bit of everything and is consistently good throughout the series (happily ignoring the tangent that was book 4). And the novellas are equally as good. If you haven’t picked any up, now’s a good time to start with the finale just around the corner…

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Lovely and the Lost by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Title: The Lovely and the Lost

Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Series: N/A

Genre: YA Fiction

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Kira Bennett’s earliest memories are of living alone and wild in the woods. She has no idea how long she was on her own or what she had to do to survive, but she remembers the moment that Cady Bennett and one of her search-and-rescue dogs found her perfectly. Adopted into the Bennett family, Kira still struggles with human interaction years later, but she excels at the family business: search-and-rescue. Along with Cady’s son, Jude, and their neighbor, Free, Kira works alongside Cady to train the world’s most elite search-and-rescue dogs. Someday, all three teenagers hope to put their skills to use, finding the lost and bringing them home. But when Cady’s estranged father, the enigmatic Bales Bennett, tracks his daughter down and asks for her help in locating a missing child—one of several visitors who has disappeared in the Sierra Glades National Park in the past twelve months—the teens find themselves on the frontlines sooner than they could have ever expected. As the search through 750,000 acres of unbridled wilderness intensifies, Kira becomes obsessed with finding the missing child. She knows all too well what it’s like to be lost in the wilderness, fighting for survival, alone. But this case isn’t simple. There is more afoot than a single, missing girl, and Kira’s memories threaten to overwhelm her at every turn. As the danger mounts and long-held family secrets come to light, Kira is forced to question everything she thought she knew about her adopted family, her true nature, and her past. -Goodreads

The Review:

The Lovely and the Lost was a light YA mystery involving trauma recovery, a missing persons case, and search and rescue dogs in action.

Barnes is exceptional at giving her characters depth (especially compared to other YA writers). There’s always a deeper story of trauma affecting the plot, which adds a lot of cool dynamics. Stuff like that can often make a story feel too heavy, but she balances it out with fun characters who are animated and engaging despite their inner demons, and there’s something deeply compelling about that.

I also loved the search and rescue premise of the book – especially the dogs! It added a bit of fun to an otherwise dramatic story. I don’t believe there are any sequels planned, but I liked it enough to continue the series if there was one.

Lament: I waited (impatiently) for like five months to get ahold of a copy of this book from my library, letting it take up precious space in my holds lineup, only to give it half-assed attention because, you know, life. Even so, I absorbed most of it, and it’s a decent read. But I wasn’t as engrossed as I was with her Naturals series… and I don’t think it was all because of my distractions.

There’s an overall mystery to this story, but the focus is on the close relationships between characters and the personal issues they’re working through. I would have preferred a stronger focus on the mystery itself. Something to get the characters more active and mentally engaged with it. I was enjoying the story well enough, but I never felt drawn to it to see what would happen next. That lack of suspense affected my rating a bit. The Naturals was so phenomenal, it may have ruined me for mystery YA forever.

Recommendations: this is a great read if you like highly character-driven YA fiction. The search and rescue dogs made the story fun, and Barnes’ great writing always delivers a solidly composed story (great mysteries). However, if you’re new to this author, I’d say go straight for her Naturals series and come back to this one later… :)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

Title: Skyward

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Series: Skyward #1

Genre: YA Science Fiction

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Defeated, crushed, and driven almost to extinction, the remnants of the human race are trapped on a planet that is constantly attacked by mysterious alien starfighters. Spensa, a teenage girl living among them, longs to be a pilot. When she discovers the wreckage of an ancient ship, she realizes this dream might be possible—assuming she can repair the ship, navigate flight school, and (perhaps most importantly) persuade the strange machine to help her. Because this ship, uniquely, appears to have a soul. -Goodreads

The Review:

Skyward is an easy book to recommend. It’s a YA sci-fi adventure filled with great characters, lots of action, and plenty of snark that will appeal to the masses.

Two things about this book made it stand out to me: the abundance of training and battle scenes involving many fun members of a flight team, and how much I liked Spensa. I love learning new things from books that you can’t actually learn in the real world. How to fly spaceships (okay, not totally out of the realm of possibilities, but still…) and how to engage alien fighters in combat. The characters were great – I especially appreciated all the animated profiles and how they worked together as a team. I loved Spensa as a main character. She has an interesting backstory that fuels her determination – a trait that’s really attractive to me. She’s the type of character you can always trust to make things happen, for better or worse (meaning there’s never a dull moment). And she’s also a character willing to grow through each experience despite being incredibly stubborn….

The story is especially good at unveiling mysteries as it progresses. The more you find out what’s going on, the more questions you have. But the trickle of information is just enough to keep you page turning, but not so tight that you get frustrated (Maze Runner series, I’m talking to you). I had a bunch of theories while reading (none of which panned out… so far), but I liked the fact that the book was engaging enough to get me thinking beyond the words right in front of me.

I remember reading that this series is Sanderson’s creative re-imagining of a classic dragonriding story (he didn’t think he could bring anything new to the idea, so he went another direction completely… a direction involving a young girl’s determination to become a fighter pilot, sassy AI spaceships, and lots of alien ship battles. I definitely could see the influence, but everything else was just pure Sanderson awesomeness.

Recommendation: Sanderson books are always easy to recommend – his baseline quality is incredibly high. Yet Skyward is even easier than most because of its wide age-range appeal. It’s very accessible, with a great balance of silly humor, heavier problems, and loads of action to keep most readers engaged. As long as you’re even mildly interested in sci-fi, this is a great pick. I wish it had been around back when I was a bookseller because it would’ve made hand-selling during the holidays a bit easier.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

Title: The Blade Itself

Author: Joe Abercrombie

Series: First Law #1

Genre: Fantasy

The Overview: Logen Ninefingers, infamous barbarian, has finally run out of luck. Caught in one feud too many, he’s on the verge of becoming a dead barbarian – leaving nothing behind him but bad songs, dead friends, and a lot of happy enemies. Nobleman Captain Jezal dan Luthar, dashing officer, and paragon of selfishness, has nothing more dangerous in mind than fleecing his friends at cards and dreaming of glory in the fencing circle. But war is brewing, and on the battlefields of the frozen North they fight by altogether bloodier rules.

Inquisitor Glokta, cripple turned torturer, would like nothing better than to see Jezal come home in a box. But then Glokta hates everyone: cutting treason out of the Union one confession at a time leaves little room for friendship. His latest trail of corpses may lead him right to the rotten heart of government, if he can stay alive long enough to follow it. Enter the wizard, Bayaz. A bald old man with a terrible temper and a pathetic assistant, he could be the First of the Magi, he could be a spectacular fraud, but whatever he is, he’s about to make the lives of Logen, Jezal, and Glokta a whole lot more difficult. Murderous conspiracies rise to the surface, old scores are ready to be settled, and the line between hero and villain is sharp enough to draw blood. -Goodreads

The Review:

After finishing my second read-through of The Blade Itself, I’m finally ready to share my thoughts on it.

The book is a slow burn, which should not be confused with “boring.” Slower pacing can be incredibly effective if all the scenes have great character development and purpose. This tale took its time, and it was mostly time well used. The first time through, I found myself constantly distracted during one section of the book (about 20% shortly after the halfway point). At the time, I chalked it up to a mood thing on my end. After losing interest at the exact same section during this read, I can trust that something about that part just didn’t work for me. It was a small struggle to get through, but not enough of one to steal my enthusiasm for the rest of the book. Another thing I’ll point out is that I reread the book because I couldn’t remember very many pivotal plot-advancers and I wanted a refresher before continuing. As it turns out, I recalled most of it really well, there just aren’t that many things that happen in the whole book lol. What I’m getting at is, it’s an excellent book (among what I would call the staples for the genre), but it’s definitely not for the reader who needs a ton of action scenes.

It’s a multiple POV story. If you read my reviews for McClellan’s Powder Mage trilogy, you’ll recall how highly I praised the characters for playing so well off of one another (the relationships are everything). These characters weren’t quite as brilliant as those, but were still incredibly strong and memorable. And for a story with not much pacing and a fairly narrow focus, I think good character development is the main reason most people rave this series. I’m especially excited to see how they develop in future books because there’s definitely a ton of growth potential there.

Can we talk specific characters for a minute? Notably the brilliance that is Sand dan Glokta? If you want a master class in how to develop characters with duality and depth, study Glokta. Even though the character’s physicality is repulsive, and his profession as torturer for the crown deplorable, it’s his frank way of seeing the world and sardonic dialogue that still manages to make him one of the most likable characters I’ve ever come across. I’m thrilled to read more, if only just to spend more time with him.

I’d been eyeballing this series for years, but hesitated to pick it up in my younger days because of how often I heard about the gritty nature of the story. You’ll often hear it described as one of the original Grimdark novels…. which might be true, but I have some hesitations selling it with that impressions. Series like Malazan, GoT, and Sword is Truth we’re already on the market, and, in my humble opinion, contained scenes that were significantly darker and grittier than I’ve read here (so far). So for anyone hesitating to read it because of what you’ve heard about the content, it’s not that bad. Comparatively, anyway. It’s still torture lol.

Recommendations: as a (well-deserved) staple in fantasy, I highly recommend The Blade Itself to anyone who wants to experience the best of the genre (based on mass appeal and quality of content, not necessarily on my own personal top books list). So far its Grimdark appeal has been surprisingly moderate, so I think it would appeal to a wider range of readers than I initially predicted. It’s packed with great characters, and I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes