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Book Review: Pokémon Adventures #1 by Hidenori Kusaka (Art by Mato)

Title: Pokémon Adventures #1

Author: Hidenori Kusaka (Art by Mato)

Series: Pokémon Adventures #1

Genre: Manga

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Adventures based on the best-selling video games! All your favourite Pokémon game characters jump out of the screen into the pages of this action-packed manga! Red doesn’t just want to train Pokémon, he wants to be their friend too. Bulbasaur and Poliwhirl seem game. But independent Pikachu won’t be so easy to win over! And watch out for Team Rocket, Red… They only want to be your enemy! -Goodreads

The Review:

I think y’all can probably relate to this: I was minding my own business in Costco the other day when I came across box sets for the ENTIRE first 30 books in the Pokémon Adventures series… and I just had to have them. So I happily blew my grocery budget on them and went home.

I’ve read maybe a handful of manga over the years, and although it’s not a genre I’m well versed in, I liked everything I picked up. I think I feared diving in further for two reasons: 1. I’ve enough to read as is, and 2. My book budget is already a problem.

I’m also not suuuper well-versed in the Pokémon universe aside from having a huge card collection from when I was a kid (I have ALL the original cool shit from the first 151 Pokémon), and I’ve watched Indigo League and a few other series/movies. And I still love playing Pokémon Stadium 1&2 and Pokémon Snap on Nintendo 64. And that’s it. I don’t play the pocket video games, I chose time for other things over Pokémon Go! (Because I would’ve HAD to catch them all to satisfy my completionist attitude), and I stopped collecting cards after the next generation of Pokémon came out.

From my experience, this series is most in line with the Indigo League tv series. And actually, the storylines are parallel so far, but they are told so differently that it’s like reading a whole new series. The biggest improvement is the Pokémon interaction in the manga. I was super disappointed that the “gotta catch em all” thing wasn’t represented in the tv series (like, hardly any at all…wtf?) so reading this feels like getting a second chance to satisfy my cravings: the more Pokémon caught, the better.

Another difference is the grittiness. The tv show kind of bubble-gummed it up with how they portrayed Team Rocket and how they tamed down the interactions with the Pokémon (much less violent). The manga takes itself much more seriously. There are still plenty of funny moments, but overall it’s darker, and because of that I’m liking it a lot more.

Series status: I don’t think I’ll be doing reviews for every book in this series because there’s not a ton of depth within each one (limited by the word count and general nature of the format), but I’m definitely looking forward to working my way through them. I feel like a kid again!

Recommendations: I love Pokémon and have always wanted a little more story than I got while watching the Indigo League. This manga fits the bill perfectly. Since I’m a manga novice, I can’t really compare it to other manga series, so I’ll satisfy by recommending it just to fellow Pokémon nerds like me.

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

Title: A Memory Called Empire

Author: Arkady Martine

Series: Teixcalaan #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident–or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court. Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion–all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret–one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life–or rescue it from annihilation. -Goodreads

The Review:

I have to take a moment to explain how excited I was to dive into this book. I was expecting rich culture, a complex plotline, and fascinating characters. And while I think all those components made an appearance, they weren’t nearly as amped up as I was hoping they’d be.

In fact, 85% of the story was pure dialogue and explanations. It TOLD me about this cool alien world and society, but it often neglected to SHOW me. And that feels like a colossal opportunity wasted. Incidentally, I felt the exact same about Foreigner by C.J. Cherryh – cool concept (so many good ideas to play with), interesting characters (who lacked depth), and sluggish plots (where not much happens, but we discussed a shitload). Maybe that’s the M.O. of this specific sub-genre though and I’m just not equipped to appreciate it. Or maybe I’m just too impatient and many of these things will develop as the series continues. Whatever the case, I tend to expect sci-fi’s to have more action, world-building, or at the very least, some deep character connection. None of which were abundant here…

I thought the political intrigue and overall mystery of the story were interesting, but it took so long to learn new things about it that, by the time I got to the last 10% of the book, I was so disengaged and bored that I no longer cared. It was a major struggle to finish. And for whatever reason, the eventual revelation felt over simplified for such a seemingly sophisticated society.

Part of that declining interest had to do with the main character. She thought about a lot of stuff, but she didn’t make me feel anything, and I remained totally at arm’s distance the entire time. Coming off of Tiamat’s Wrath by Corey, my expectations were definitely inflated. For a book largely focused on character immersion and very little else, the characters need to shine, and for me they just didn’t.

Series status: I’ve bookmarked the sequel on Goodreads, but I honestly don’t think I’m going to pick it up. It just didn’t tickle my fancy.

Recommendations: if you’re in the market for a sci-fi with a cool concept and a shit-ton of dialogue and discussion, this is a good pick (I’m being snarky, but I acknowledge that sometimes a talky novel is just what the doctor ordered). I personally craved more action and world-building (seeing it, not hearing about it), so I was left wanting, but I can see the intellectual appeal this novel might bring to some.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Cerulean by Amy Ewing

Title: The Cerulean

Author: Amy Ewing

Series: “Untitled Duology” #1

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: Sera has always felt as if she didn’t belong among her people, the Cerulean. She is curious about everything and can’t stop questioning her three mothers, her best friend, Leela, and even the High Priestess. Sera has longed for the day when the tether that connects her City Above the Sky to the earthly world below finally severs and sends the Cerulean to a new planet. But when Sera is chosen as the sacrifice to break the tether, she doesn’t know what to feel. To save her City, Sera must throw herself from its edge and end her own life. But something goes wrong and she survives the fall, landing in a place called Kaolin. She has heard tales about the humans there, and soon learns that the dangers her mothers warned her of are real. If Sera has any hope to return to her City, she’ll have to find the magic within herself to survive. -Goodreads

The Review:

What I appreciate most about Ewing is her abundance of cool concepts. I loved the society she created in her Lone City trilogy, and the one conceived here was just as interesting (and even more outside the box). Concept was definitely the biggest draw here for me and easily the main reason I kept reading until the end.

Unfortunately, with that cool concept came not a whole lot of substance as far as plot was concerned. Most of the scenes featured extensive explanations about the world (which I didn’t totally mind) and a ton of dialogue. .. but not a whole lot else. There were a few great moments between characters where I felt invested, but for the most part it didn’t give me much to talk about.

One thing I did appreciate – the book is LGBT friendly. And not in that “token” inclusion I’ve seen in YA books historically, but integrated in ways that felt more authentic (to be fair, I’m no sure how well it represented the community, but I still appreciate the diversity). In a book with very few external happenings, it really is all about the characters and how they relate to one another.

Overall, I liked the concept and general character profiles. However I didn’t think there were enough moving parts or overall plot points to warrant such a long book. I personally craved more substance and depth. And maybe a little grit to make me feel something rather than just read about it.

Series status: this is a duology and I’m not sure yet if I’ll pick up the sequel. I have an affection for Ewing’s stories and appreciate her concepts and style of writing, but this book did not give me anything to sink my teeth into.

Recommendations: if you’re looking for a unique YA tale that’s highly character-driven, The Cerulean is a great pick. It was a bit tame for my tastes and needed more external conflicts, but it was still a lovely read that I think will appeal more to readers who prefer YA as their main genre.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review by Tiamat’s Wrath by James S.A. Corey

Tiamat's Wrath by James S.A. Corey

Title: Tiamat’s Wrath

Author: James S.A. Corey

Series: Expanse #8

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 5/5 stars!! (you heard me.)

The Overview: Thirteen hundred gates have opened to solar systems around the galaxy. But as humanity builds its interstellar empire in the alien ruins, the mysteries and threats grow deeper. In the dead systems where gates lead to stranger things than alien planets, Elvi Okoye begins a desperate search to discover the nature of a genocide that happened before the first human beings existed, and to find weapons to fight a war against forces at the edge of the imaginable. But the price of that knowledge may be higher than she can pay.

At the heart of the empire, Teresa Duarte prepares to take on the burden of her father’s godlike ambition. The sociopathic scientist Paolo Cortázar and the Mephistophelian prisoner James Holden are only two of the dangers in a palace thick with intrigue, but Teresa has a mind of her own and secrets even her father the emperor doesn’t guess. And throughout the wide human empire, the scattered crew of the Rocinante fights a brave rear-guard action against Duarte’s authoritarian regime. Memory of the old order falls away, and a future under Laconia’s eternal rule — and with it, a battle that humanity can only lose – seems more and more certain. Because against the terrors that lie between worlds, courage and ambition will not be enough… –Goodreads

The Review:

I can’t remember the last time I actually yelled at a book.

Coming back to this series felt like embracing family after being gone a few years… like coming home. In my mind, these characters are real people. Their development is so on-point, I always feel their triumphs and defeats poignantly. These authors are brilliant. And I have to say, they really set out to shred my soul with Tiamat’s Wrath. Holy shit.

Truth be told, I’ve been really apathetic lately with books. This is the first novel in a loooong while to evoke a reaction from me. To the point where, yes, I yelled when a few things happened and may or may not have sobbed at one point. I read so much, that kind of emotional investment only comes along once in a blue moon. And it’s these types of books I save my solid 5-star ratings for. Before Tiamat’s Wrath, I hadn’t handed out one since last July. O_o

This book was amazing. It may not have had a lot of action or moving parts, but the depth of character immersion and overall plot advancement was phenomenal. Every moment counted. Every conversation important. Every action riveting. It’s in close competition with Nemesis Games as my favorite of the series. They’re kind of hard to compare though – that one had a ton of moving parts and grand, epic events that blow your mind with the shear scale and implications of it all. This one was much more understated – an emotional roller coaster of internal turmoil that drew you in because of the human element. It was a slow burn, but every moment was fire… at least to me.

They’re definitely gearing up for a finale, and I think it’s going to be a fucking monster. Tiamat’s left me poised on the edge of a cliff, and if I could jump into a freefall right this moment to see what happens next, I wouldn’t hesitate. This is one of those anticipated series finales we’ll all have to cancel plans for… grab some tissues and maybe one of those squishy stress ball thingies and seclude ourselves in quiet corners and wait for all hell to break loose… then deal with the agony of it ending. Needless to say, I have a lot of expectations riding on the final novel, but I’m so confident in these authors that I’m truly not worried (just stressed at what they’re going to do to me).

Series status: highest priority sci-fi… omg gimmie the final novel!!!

Recommendations: if you have ANY interest in the space opera genre, there’s no better place to start than The Expanse series. It will take you on a wild ride, gut-punching you all the while… it’s awesome lol. If you haven’t checked out the novellas by this point in the series, you might want to pick up Strange Dogs before diving in (although I found merit in all of them, so consider that an endorsement). Overall, this is my first pick whenever someone wants an exciting, character-driven series. And if anything, my opinions of it have only gotten stronger with each installment.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik

Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik

Title: Polaris Rising

Author: Jessie Mihalik

Series: Consortium Rebellion #1

Genre: Science Fiction Romance

Rating: 2/5 stars

The Overview: A space princess on the run and a notorious outlaw soldier become unlikely allies in this imaginative, sexy space opera adventure—the first in an exciting science fiction trilogy. In the far distant future, the universe is officially ruled by the Royal Consortium, but the High Councillors, the heads of the three High Houses, wield the true power. As the fifth of six children, Ada von Hasenberg has no authority; her only value to her High House is as a pawn in a political marriage. When her father arranges for her to wed a noble from House Rockhurst, a man she neither wants nor loves, Ada seizes control of her own destiny. The spirited princess flees before the betrothal ceremony and disappears among the stars. Ada eluded her father’s forces for two years, but now her luck has run out. To ensure she cannot escape again, the fiery princess is thrown into a prison cell with Marcus Loch. Known as the Devil of Fornax Zero, Loch is rumored to have killed his entire chain of command during the Fornax Rebellion, and the Consortium wants his head.. -Goodreads

The Review:

I feel compelled to start with a disclaimer that I don’t normally pick up books with romance as the main draw, preferring instead stories that also include a mix of world-building, characters, plot, and external conflicts. Romances tend to just focus on the relationship, and I was hoping that one set in space would require a lot more attention paid to all the other elements I enjoy. Surprisingly, it actually had a good balance, and because of that I enjoyed it more than most from the genre, but overall I don’t think the type of story is my cup of tea, and my rating reflects that.

Don’t get me wrong – I love romance in books, but only when it’s not the sole focus. In this case, where the love story was front and center, I found myself not on board with how it played out. It was kind of insta-lovey. The declarations of love came without a satisfying series of events to back it for my personal tastes. I always want to be able to see why characters fell in love through some poignant moments, and that was missing for me. For a book mostly about the romance, the romance needs to have more substance to win me over.

Honestly though, I knew what I was getting myself into. And for what it was, it did have a nice balance of action and love scenes. The plot was even decent – bringing in an external conflict that at least kept my attention until the end, even if it was a tad repetitive. I can’t help but think other readers are going to enjoy it a lot more than I did because it definitely has some merit.

Series status: It’s currently planned as a series, but I don’t believe I will be reading on… it’s just not for me.

Recommendation: Although this might not be my genre, I think it was a decent story that fans of romantic sci-fi will gobble up. The banter between the main characters reminded me of Ilona Andrews’ writings, which is always a good thing. Venture in expecting a good mix of action and lovey-dovey moments.

Other books you might like… more:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Spider’s War by Daniel Abraham

Spider's War by Daniel Abraham

Title: The Spider’s War

Author: Daniel Abraham

Series: Dagger and the Coin #5

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Lord Regent Geder Palliako’s great war has spilled across the world, nation after nation falling before the ancient priesthood and weapon of dragons. But even as conquest follows conquest, the final victory retreats before him like a mirage. Schism and revolt begin to erode the foundations of the empire, and the great conquest threatens to collapse into a permanent war of all against all. In Carse, with armies on all borders, Cithrin bel Sarcour, Marcus Wester, and Clara Kalliam are faced with the impossible task of bringing a lasting peace to the world. Their tools: traitors high in the imperial army, the last survivor of the dragon empire, and a financial scheme that is either a revolution or the greatest fraud in the history of the world. -Goodreads

The Review:

Spider’s war was an unconventional series-ender, and I’m still not totally sure how I feel about it. On one hand, the atypical resolution was satisfying because it was so far outside the norm. Many of the series I’ve been reading lately have ended with formulaic story arcs, so Spider’s War felt refreshing by contrast. On the other hand, I think it still could’ve ended with a bit more fanfare… the story kind of petered out, missing any sort of momentum. My favorite series tend to be the ones with that amazing snowball careen towards the end where the energy is poignantly felt. This one rolled steadily out the way it rolled in – plodding and consistent. Which I suppose isn’t a bad thing, it just didn’t leave me with a lot of takeaway (which is in stark contrast to how other works by this author have left me – I’m still reeling from those!!).

I think in part it lacked the external momentum because the majority of the focus was on character dynamics and individual story arcs. This is actually my favorite part of Abraham’s writings because he always manages to make me feel connected to the characters – even the villains. The human connection is very much the driving force behind the plot, and that’s why the series is still very much worth reading….

But even so, there were some missed opportunities.

The end of book three introduced a couple of new incredible dynamics to the series that never got expanded on to my satisfaction. In fact, they were almost afterthoughts within the story and added no real value to the final destination. What an opportunity wasted!!! This also could be part of the reason I felt the lack of momentum because my imagination of where it could go was incredible.

Without going into too much detail, I also had trouble with some character inconsistency in this final book. While I love the fact that the series drew me in enough to even care about inconsistencies (I’ve been really apathetic lately with that… meaning I’ve also had nothing to contribute to buddy read discussions lol), a lot of my dissatisfaction stems from not liking where the characters ended up. Some were perfection, some not so much.

Overall, I’m glad to have read this series, and I’ve come away with a stronger than usual love for the characters. I think, however, I’m going to have a difficult time remembering how the series ended a few years from now.

Series status: COMPLETE!

Recommendations: the Dagger & Coin is not your typical fantasy series. It’s highly character-driven and focuses more on the small moments between people than any grand external conflicts. I would probably only suggest it to seasoned fantasy readers who need a break from the formulaic, cookie-cutter series out there. On the whole, it’s worth the read.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes