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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…

Other books you might like:

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

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The Heroes of Olympus by Rick Riordan – Series Discussion [No Spoilers]

Series Review (and some musings):
Heroes of Olympus
by Rick Riordan
2.5/5 stars

Let’s talk about Heroes of Olympus for a minute. I Buddy Read this series with some lovely ladies over at Fantasy Buddy Reads, and I have to say… I think I enjoyed talking to them about the books a lot more than I enjoyed actually reading them.

This is a shame, because I loved the Percy Jackson series, so why did I have such a hard time getting into this one? Especially considering it’s a continuation to the tale with more large-scale dynamics? It comes down to one thought:

These books me feel like I’m getting too old to appreciate middle grade.

…or am I?

Last week I started an ARC of Brandon Mull’s Dragonwatch: Wrath of the Dragon King (a comparable middle grade book) and am loving every second of it. So that made me wonder if perhaps my issues with Heroes of Olympus might have more to do with the story itself rather than my not being the target audience.

For one thing, the books take a lot of time introducing new characters and building up your enthusiasm for them. The first book felt more like a set-up novel, which meant I had a hard time getting into it.

For two things, I found the actual plot in all the books to be way too drawn out, filled with so many tangents that you couldn’t possibly get any sort of momentum from it. It followed a formula: meet “x” mythical creature, have a conflict with it, then move on to the next one. Over and over and over again. It was tedious.

In some ways, I can appreciate the educational appeal of learning about so many mythical beings, but from a purely plot-progressing standpoint, I think it was the biggest reasons why the series wasn’t as good as PJ. If all of those tangents had been cut down to just the events that furthered the end-goal for our characters, the books could have been amazing.

Basically, they were too long and too drawn out.

Granted, a younger reader might have relished in all of the additional details and creature conflicts. I certainly wouldn’t have been so dissatisfied had I read it when I was a kid, but there are so many amazing middle grade books out there enjoyable to all audiences that I don’t feel as generous about blaming my age for lack of enjoyment.

So with that said, I’m curious – do any of you feel like you’re outgrowing certain genres? Do you think it’s you? The books? A little of both? I’d love to hear some thoughts. :)

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Title: Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

Author: Becky Chambers

Series: Wayfarers #1

Genre: Science Fiction (Space Opera)

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Follow a motley crew on an exciting journey through space—and one adventurous young explorer who discovers the meaning of family in the far reaches of the universe—in this light-hearted debut space opera from a rising sci-fi star. Rosemary Harper doesn’t expect much when she joins the crew of the aging Wayfarer. While the patched-up ship has seen better days, it offers her a bed, a chance to explore the far-off corners of the galaxy, and most importantly, some distance from her past. An introspective young woman who learned early to keep to herself, she’s never met anyone remotely like the ship’s diverse crew, including Sissix, the exotic reptilian pilot, chatty engineers Kizzy and Jenks who keep the ship running, and Ashby, their noble captain.-Goodreads

The Review:

Wow, this book was downright cheerful! Is that allowed in sci-fi? It totally should be.

A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is definitely a character-driven story. There is a loose plot, but 90% of the focus is on the relationships between the characters. In my eyes, it’s the epitome of a true space opera. I found a lot of enjoyment out of just relaxing into the characters and letting them make me laugh. I don’t think I’ve ever read a lighthearted sci-fi that wasn’t over-the-top cheeky (like Hitchhiker’s), and this book struck a nice balance between levity and realism. The humor was more understated and situational (my personal preference), but what really stood out was the level of optimism infused into the characters. They dealt with a few relatable hard moments, but always maintained a positive outlook on each other and the situation. It was super refreshing. Especially considering how many dark books I’ve been reading lately. The pure joy in this this book caught me off guard in the best way possible.

Good aliens are a huge requirement for me to get behind a space-travel sci-fi. Chamber’s creature creation was great – she provided several different biological makeups and unique cultures. She even used their differences to make a few subtle points against prejudice (awesome). If I had one minor criticism: other than a few mannerisms and physical differentiations, most of the alien species came across very “human” (quirky humans, but still very familiar in the ways they communicated and processed information). When compared to my favorite sci-fi author, Julie Czerneda, I found a few things about their construction just shy of ideal, but that certainly didn’t take away from my enjoyment (because, after all, the more human they feel, the more I relate to them). So, as far as relative enjoyability of each POV, Chambers’ aliens were excellent. :)

As I’ve mentioned, the story is very character-driven, so much so that it only touches briefly on external conflicts beyond the Wayfarer ship. But brief doesn’t necessarily mean unimportant. The details provided made this universe feel really established, and it opened up possibility for a lot of cool interspecies conflicts in future books. I have a feeling it’s all going to add up to a profound experience at some point.

Series status: this lighthearted tale was exactly what I needed between some of my heavier reads. I’ve already picked up the next book.

Recommendations: if you like sci-fi and are in the mood for something lighthearted and fun, you can’t pick a better candidate than LWtoSAP. I also think this would be a great transition novel for readers who want to get into the genre, but are intimidated by the heavier military/technology/conceptual sci-fis. It’s definitely going on my list of “fun” books to recommend.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes