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Book Review: Little White Lies by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Title: Little White Lies

Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Series: Debutantes

Genre: Teen Fiction

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: Eighteen-year-old auto mechanic Sawyer Taft did not expect her estranged grandmother to show up at her apartment door and offer her a six-figure contract to participate in debutante season. And she definitely never imagined she would accept. But when she realizes that immersing herself in her grandmother’s “society” might mean discovering the answer to the biggest mystery of her life-her father’s identity-she signs on the dotted line and braces herself for a year of makeovers, big dresses, bigger egos, and a whole lot of bless your heart. The one thing she doesn’t expect to find is friendship, but as she’s drawn into a group of debutantes with scandalous, dangerous secrets of their own, Sawyer quickly discovers that her family isn’t the only mainstay of high society with skeletons in their closet. There are people in her grandmother’s glittering world who are not what they appear, and no one wants Sawyer poking her nose into the past. As she navigates the twisted relationships between her new friends and their powerful parents, Sawyer’s search for the truth about her own origins is just the beginning. Set in the world of debutante balls, grand estates and rolling green hills, Little White Lies combines a charming setting, a classic fish-out-of-water story, and the sort of layered mystery only author Jennifer Lynn Barnes can pull off. -Goodreads

The Reviews:

Jennifer Lynn Barnes is one of my favorite writers for her intelligent, almost interactive writing style. She’s an author I trust to take me on a wild ride and keep me guessing the entire way. Little White Lies had all of those great components (even if it was a little more lighthearted than I’m used to reading from her) topped off with some good old southern charm… and snark.

I have to say, the story took a while to get going. I never read more than the first one or two sentences of an overview (mostly to avoid what I consider spoilers), relying on author familiarity and friends’ endorsements to choose titles. As a result, I leave it up to the book to provide an inciting moment to kick things off… however, it took reading almost 20% of Little White Lies before I felt I had a grasp on what the story was supposed to be working towards (which is passable, but still a tad to long for my tastes).

Aside from the slow beginning, most of the book provided that addictive, engaging plot full of twists and turns. The basic idea behind the story was perhaps not as compelling as that found in her Naturals series (it’s a bit easier to feel suspense when you’re dealing with a multiple homicide story as opposed to a reluctant debutant playing a game of “who’s your daddy”), but as always, she found a way to make it fun..

The characters in this book were wildly entertaining, but I never really felt a connection with any of them. Their profiles were animated enough that they almost came across as caricatures than actual people (which upped the fun but lowered the substance). The main character had a good inner story, but she never really let down her tough exterior front to let the reader in. The Naturals series had several instances of deep character explorations dealing with motive (frighteningly poignant at times), so I think my expectations were inflated by how wicked cool I’ve seen her present characters in the past. Overall, they were good, but I think me wanting a little more was the biggest factor against my rating.

Series status: the Debutantes series is currently slotted for two books, and I’ll definitely be picking up the second one when it comes out (fall 2019?).

Recommendations: Little White Lies is a fun (I’ve said that word a lot this review) YA story about debutants getting up to no good. The shenanigans will give you a few laughs and the mysteries will keep you turning pages. It’s not the most profound thing I’ve read from this author, but it’s still worth noting if you like these types of books. :)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Fury by Rachel Vincent

[October 30, 2018] Fury by Rachel Vincent

Title: Fury

Author: Rachel Vincent

Series: Menagerie #3

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Release Date: October 30, 2018

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: 1986: Rebecca Essig leaves a slumber party early but comes home to a massacre—committed by her own parents. Only one of her siblings has survived. But as the tragic event unfolds, she begins to realize that other than a small army of six-year-olds, she is among very few survivors of a nationwide slaughter. The Reaping has begun.

Present day: Pregnant and on the run with a small band of compatriots, Delilah Marlow is determined to bring her baby into the world safely and secretly. But she isn’t used to sitting back while others suffer, and she’s desperate to reunite Zyanya, the cheetah shifter, with her brother and children. To find a way for Lenore the siren to see her husband. To find Rommily’s missing Oracle sisters. To unify this adopted family of fellow cryptids she came to love and rely on in captivity. But Delilah is about to discover that her role in the human versus cryptid war is destined to be much larger—and more dangerous—than she ever could have imagined. -Goodreads

The Review:

The Menagerie Trilogy has been a highlight of my reading year. It’s so different from anything I’ve ever read. Rachel Vincent’s writing always pulls me in (her Shifters series is particularly engrossing), and if anything, she’s only gotten stronger.

While Fury had some of my favorite scenes from the whole trilogy (some truly 5-star moments), it didn’t quite deliver the completely satisfying conclusion I’d been hoping for.

My thoughts on Fury are kind of segmented along with the plot. There’s a dual storyline going on – one in the present (following our main characters), and one in the past. Each thread had a different impact on my overall impression of the book. I’ll talk about the past one first:

Omg – so good! The series has been teasing about what happened with the surrogates in the 80s, and this perspective provided a lot of the answers I’d been looking for, doing so with a riveting narrative that had me glued to the pages. These sections were well spaced between the main story, and the pacing within each one was absolutely perfect! As much as I enjoy reading about Delilah and her crew, I found myself eager to get back to these passages to see what would happen next. It was easily my favorite component to this book (and maybe my favorite of the series), earning a solid 5 stars for execution and that amazing can’t-put-it-down factor.

Then we bounce back to the current timeline POV, and my feelings are a little mixed. I think there was awesome advancement with the emotional states of the characters, and a few moments that will shred your heart… but overall I think the story was just okay. Not a lot happened at first, and when the action finally got going, it was a little underdeveloped and abrupt. I would’ve preferred at least another 10 pages at the end to really flush out the ultimate climax of the trilogy because I think it needed more of a moment (especially since the past timeline set such a precedence with perfect pacing and immersion).

In addition, I still have a few burning questions that I don’t feel were answered to my satisfaction (I’m trying to deal, but it bugs me that I may never know some of the things). Just enough info was given for me to infer some answers, which was probably the intended point, but I wish I knew emphatically. This section is a solid 3-stars (I liked it) rating because characters were interesting (as always), and the things that did happen were good continuations to the story (and I’m not mad at the ending, I just wanted a bit more).

Overall, despite my desire for a little more clarity and expansion, I still count this as one of the more interesting books I’ve read this year. Don’t take my criticisms too much to heart because the parts of this story that really worked for me, I loved with an unparalleled ferocity.

Recommendations: the Menagerie Trilogy stands out as one of the most unique stories I’ve ever read, and I highly recommend it to readers in the mood for something immersive and unique. It’s not without flaws, but the awesome bits more than compensate.

I would like to thank Harlequin – Mira, Rachel Vincent, and NetGalley for the chance to read and review an early copy of Fury!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Search Image by Julie E. Czerneda

Search Image by Julie E. Czerneda

Title: Search Image

Author: Julie Czerneda

Series: Web Shifter’s Library

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Esen’s back! And the dear little blob is in trouble again. Things began so well. She and her Human friend Paul Ragem have opened the doors to their greatest accomplishment, the All Species’ Library of Linguistics and Culture. They’re prepared for clients to arrive, but trouble comes knocking instead. First is Paul’s family, who’d mourned his supposed death years ago. Understandably, feelings are bent. But what matters? Paul’s father has gone missing. Before he can convince Esen to help him search, a friend shows up to use the Library. A crisis in the Dokeci System is about to explode into violence. To have a hope of stopping it, Evan Gooseberry needs answers. Unfortunately, the artifact he brought in trade holds its own distracting secret. A touch of very familiar blue. Lesy’s “signature,” left on all her creations. Web-flesh. The race is on. Paul, to find his father. Esen, to search for the rest of her Web-sister while helping Evan stop a war. What none of them realize is the price of success will be the most terrible choice of all. -Goodreads

The Review:

Can I fanigirl a minute over a new Esen novel?? 😭😭

I have to say, even though I loved how the first trilogy ended, I had a true booknerd freakout when I heard there was another Esen novel in the works. Czerneda has long been my favorite sci-fi author, and amazing, funny, awkward, compassionate characters like Esen are a big part of why I recommend her books so often.

It’s abundantly clear Czerneda loves this character as much as her fans do. Her writing in Search Image showed so much exuberance, it was the most fun I’ve seen her have to date (there’s always an element of fun and humor, but she really leveled up here). It’s obvious she delighted in this project, and her enthusiasm within her writing was infectious (and my favorite overall takeaway from the story). I can’t wait to see what fun she comes up with next!

Admittedly, I didn’t remember a lot from the first trilogy before diving into this one (it has been 10+ years), and so I’m certain I missed a few nuances and details, but that didn’t really limit my enjoyment much. Search Image had one of my favorite settings so far (an all-inclusive alien library), and and abundance of interesting aliens. Czerneda’s world building and attention to biological detail is amazing, and something I always look forward to in her books.

Recommendations: if you’re new to this author, I’d recommend starting with Beholder’s Eye. That trilogy had the perfect blend of story, humor, character, concept, and world-building for me, and I find myself recommending it often. If you love it as much as I did, then you’ll have this gem to look forward to next! :)

I’d like to thank Berkley Publishing Group, Julie E. Czerneda, and Netgalley for the chance to read and review an early copy of Search Image!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Dead Iron by Devon Monk

Dead Iron by Devin Monk

Title: Dead Iron

Author: Devon Monk

Series: Age of Steam

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: In steam age America, men, monsters, machines, and magic battle for the same scrap of earth and sky. In this chaos, bounty hunter Cedar Hunt rides, cursed by lycanthropy and carrying the guilt of his brother’s death. Then he’s offered hope that his brother may yet survive. All he has to do is find the Holder: a powerful device created by mad devisers-and now in the hands of an ancient Strange who was banished to walk this Earth. In a land shaped by magic, steam, and iron, where the only things a man can count on are his guns, gears, and grit, Cedar will have to depend on all three if he’s going to save his brother and reclaim his soul once and for all…-Goodreads

The Review:

There’s really no other way to sum it up: Dead Iron was weird.

I’ve been dabbling in clockwork & steampunk lately, and Dead Iron comparatively did a great job creating a unique overall atmosphere in line with that theme. As a general rule, I don’t have a lot of patience with bizarre, but it was balanced enough here that I was still able to enjoy the story and appreciate the elements.

The story bounced around between several POVs, and while I liked all the characters, I struggled to find a real connection to any of them. Possibly because their personal conflicts were each so off the wall that it was impossible to focus on anything else (the side characters were even more odd). I needed at least one of them to have a relatable problem, then I would’ve been more invested.

That said, I liked the basic writing (on par with my limited but good experiences with Devon Monk), and appreciated how well the words flowed off the page. Regardless of my preferential issues with story components, the writing was good enough to solidify my resolve to read more from this author.

Overall, I’m left with a few more positive vibes than negatives, but I find myself not eager to dive into the next book (I think I’m worried I’ve seen everything it has to offer already and will just get bored with the rest of it). It was memorable enough that I don’t think I’ll forget key components or characters any time soon, so I might bump it back down the list and start a few others before continuing.

Recommendations: as I mentioned, if you like steampunk and clockwork, this is a great pick. Bonus points if you also like the Wild West, bizarre scenes, and an urban fantasy writing style. It perhaps might have been a bit too weird for my tastes, but if you’re really in the mood for something out of the box, here you go…

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by Niki Hawkes

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Niki’s Book Journal [September 2018]

Niki’s Book Journal [September 2018]

September was a slow month in reading. It took me almost two weeks to get through Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself (liked it) and I haven’t really read anything of substance since. It’s not a lack of desire, but more a lack of time and some shifting priorities (I’ve been doing a ton of research trying to formulate a better fitness plan, and at work I’ve been doing more tv watching and YouTube surfing than audiobook listening). I’ve also been a little stressed and mentally distracted, so when I do pick up a book, it’s usually not for long.

Slow month aside, I’m still working to reach some reading goals by the end of the year. A friend and I started a challenge on FBR that involves a race to zero-out all of our outstanding incomplete series by the end of the year (she’s totally going to kick my ass lol). To that end, I created a little tracker in my bullet journal to help me plan.

As I mentioned in my Instagram post, I hate the way it turned out haha, but it’ll work just fine for functionality.

On to the mini reviews!!


The Lion of Senet by Jennifer Fallon

Lion of Senet (Second Sons #1) by Jennifer Fallon [3.5/5 stars]

The Lion of Senet was a very character-driven novel. Even though it had an interesting overall plot, the main appeal was how richly the characters were developed and how well they played off of one another. It reminded me a little of Robin Hobb’s Liveship trilogy in that all the characters were flawed (some I outright despised) but I still managed to have compassion for them because they were well written. The whole book was decent, but somewhere around the 75% the story really took off, and I found myself glued to it. I also really liked the overall concept (a subtle religion vs science juxtaposition) and it was fascinating to see how blind faith shaped the characters and the society. I’m very curious to see where Fallon takes it next.

Brief Cases by Jim Butcher

Brief Cases (Dresden Files #15.1) by Jim Butcher [4/5 stars]

Brief Cases was just what I needed to hold me over for the next Dresden book. It had a few short stories I’d read before (in his Working for Bigfoot collection, which honestly I could’ve done without both times), but the ones that were new to me, I absolutely loved. The highlights were AAAA Wizardry, which is a sort of school setting case study (which I always seem to love), Even Hand, a previously printed short about the fascinating Johnnie Marcone, and it all culminated in Zoo Day, easily my favorite story of the bunch. Zoo Day provided a lot of character exploration between Harry, Maggie, and Mouse, and may have even given an insight to where the series is headed next. This collection is a definite keeper for Dresden fans, and I think y’all will have a lot of fun with it (I sure did).

Personal Demon (Women of the Otherworld #8) by Kelley Armstrong [3.5/5 stars]

I’m at the point in this series where I still love all the characters, but I’m basically only reading because they’re fun books and I want to see how it ultimately ends. Every now and then, one will reinvigorate my passion for the series (ahem, No Human’s Involved), but for the most part, I pick them up knowing, if nothing else, the story is going to mindlessly entertain me (not a bad thing). Personal Demon had an interesting main character, and I enjoyed learning more about the demon magic in the world, but nothing truly profound struck me about it. I did like the infusion of all the other characters, but wasn’t crazy about the love interest. Even so, I’m still looking forward to the next book. :)

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Planetside by Michael Mammay

Title: Planetside

Author: Michael Mammay

Series: N/A (…yet)

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 5/5 stars!!!

The Overview: War heroes aren’t usually called out of semi-retirement and sent to the far reaches of the galaxy for a routine investigation. So when Colonel Carl Butler answers the call from an old and powerful friend, he knows it’s something big—and he’s not being told the whole story. A high councilor’s son has gone MIA out of Cappa Base, the space station orbiting a battle-ravaged planet. The young lieutenant had been wounded and evacuated—but there’s no record of him having ever arrived at hospital command. The colonel quickly finds Cappa Base to be a labyrinth of dead ends and sabotage: the hospital commander stonewalls him, the Special Ops leader won’t come off the planet, witnesses go missing, radar data disappears, and that’s before he encounters the alien enemy. Butler has no choice but to drop down onto a hostile planet—because someone is using the war zone as a cover. The answers are there—Butler just has to make it back alive… -Goodreads

The Review:

Planetside is one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Everything about it hit the spot. It’s about a semi-retired Colonel who gets recruited to investigate circumstances surrounding a missing lieutenant. Right off the bat I loved the main character. He had a very no-bullshit approach to things, and his dry humor cracked me up constantly. In some ways, he reminded me a bit of both Avasarala (Expanse – she’s the bomb) and John Perry (Old Man’s War), to give you an idea the type of character profile we’re dealing with here. I think Colonel Butler could’ve been just sitting there reading a newspaper and I still would’ve eaten up every moment.

Planetside also offered an interesting mystery to solve, and I particularly enjoyed the intel-gathering aspect of the story. It made me feel involved, and the incremental reveal of each new piece of info was perfectly done. It also did an amazing job building momentum. You all know how much I love that gradually building plot that eventually sweeps you into a headlong careen to the end. Planetside definitely did not disappoint in that regard. I finished the book on a high, ready to go again.

Colonel Butler’s dry humor, as I mentioned, really was the highlight of the book for me. The way he spoke, processed information, and dealt with people sent me into constant giggle fits. I love dry, subtle situational humor and it’s placement was superb. All great components aside, the fact that Planetside amused me so much is probably the main reason it landed itself on my conservative all-time favorites list. I can’t wait to see what Michael Mammay comes up with next!

Recommendations: love sci-fi? Planetside is my new #1 rec for you. I loved everything about this book and will probably be talking about as often as I can for a while. It had the perfect balance of mystery, humor, and action.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes