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Book Review: Nyxia Uprising by Scott Reintgen

Nyxia Uprising by Scott Reintgen

Title: Nyxia Uprising

Author: Scott Reintgen

Series: Nyxia Triad #3

Genre: Teen Science Fiction

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Desperate to return home to Earth and claim the reward Babel promised, Emmett and the Genesis team join forces with the Imago. Babel’s initial attack left their home city in ruins, but that was just part of the Imago’s plan. They knew one thing Babel didn’t. This world is coming to an end. Eden’s two moons are on a collision course no one can prevent. After building eight secret launch stations, the Imago hoped to lure Babel down to their doomed planet as they left it behind. A perfect plan until the Genesis team’s escape route was destroyed. Now the group must split up to survive the hostile terrain and reach another launch station. As both sides struggle for the upper hand, the fight leads inevitably back into space, where Emmett, his crewmates, and their new allies will fight one final battle for control of the Genesis ships. Win this time, and they’ll survive Babel’s twisted game once and for all. As the Imago world falls, this is the last chance to rise. -Goodreads

The Review:

Even though Nyxia Uprising wrapped up one of the better YA trilogies I’ve read lately, I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as the first two books.

I just couldn’t get into it with the same gusto. Part of that was because of the lack of stimulating story components. Book 1 included a ton of engaging training sequences and compelling unknowns to discover. Not to mention exciting interpersonal conflicts and rivalries. Book 2 had a lot of dazzling world exploration, “magic” training as they learned how to use Nyxia, and some fantastic alien culture immersion.

… whereas book 3 was kindly just one long drawn out fight with few dynamics (and practically zero fun-factor elements). From a construction standpoint, I think it would’ve made for a stronger finish had the series been a duology, and final conflict shortened to wrap up the second book. As a stand alone installment, it was quite weak by comparison.

Another problem was my lack of investment in the characters. The main character, Emmett, didn’t get a lot of page-time, which I missed because it was his unique view on the world that helped hook me into the story in the first place. My issue was compounded because of how long it had been since I’d read the second book – it loses a little of the impact when you can’t remember much about the side characters. The story did eventually provide enough recap for me to recall everything, but it took a while, but even then the deaths and victories felt very distant.

Overall, I’m glad to have read this series – I enjoyed the first two books immensely. This one just didn’t tickle my fancy the same, but I still liked the resolution.

Recommendations: the Nyxia Triad is one of the better YA series I’ve read, and I enjoyed it mostly for its competition and world-building elements. It’s a watered down version of Red Rising with a very distinctive main character. I’d definitely recommend it to fans of the genre.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Storm Cursed by Patricia Briggs

Storm Cursed by Patricia Briggs

Title: Storm Cursed

Author: Patricia Briggs

Series: Mercy Thompson #11

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: My name is Mercedes Athena Thompson Hauptman, and I am a car mechanic. And a coyote shapeshifter. And the mate of the Alpha of the Columbia Basin werewolf pack. Even so, none of that would have gotten me into trouble if, a few months ago, I hadn’t stood upon a bridge and taken responsibility for the safety of the citizens who lived in our territory. It seemed like the thing to do at the time. It should have only involved hunting down killer goblins, zombie goats, and an occasional troll. Instead, our home was viewed as neutral ground, a place where humans would feel safe to come and treat with the fae. The reality is that nothing and no one is safe. As generals and politicians face off with the Gray Lords of the fae, a storm is coming and her name is Death. But we are pack, and we have given our word. We will die to keep it. -Goodreads

The Review:

Storm Cursed had a lot of the elements I’ve come to love from the Mercy Thompson series. Pack dynamics (I love it when they don’t get along lol), fun mysteries (in this case involving miniature goat zombies), and a world filled with so many interesting characters it’s hard to find page-time for them all.

Alas, despite having all the same ingredients, Storm Cursed was my least favorite since Frost Burned. I have some thoughts as to why:

The main character, Mercy is where I see my most prominent dissatisfactions here. For one thing, she just doesn’t seem like the same Mercy I fell in love with at the beginning of the series. Her character seems very different these days, at least to my perceptions. And not because of how her profile has evolved (because character growth is essential to any good series), but more from a writing standpoint (i.e. what Briggs chooses to have Mercy’s POV focus on). She’s very concerned with mundane things that don’t add any real character value for me – such as making sure to not use her phone while driving, or taking care to wear gloves while working on an engine. Moments like that are clear moments, and I’m finding them distracting. The sentiments are all good, for sure, but there are other ways to convey a character’s practical nature without sounding like an after school special. I read a really good article by Chuck Wendig about why including the mundane, even to establish character, can work against you, and much of what he warns against was present in this book (I’m referring specifically to his “Not Everything is Interesting” section).

Maybe it’s just me. Most of the readers in my Goodreads group didn’t have any of these same objections. Maybe all these mundane things add to the experience for others and I’m just being too picky. For whatever reason, it’s just didn’t work for me in this book.

The problem compounds even further for me. Mercy used to be a catalyst! An instigator of change who took her destiny into her own hands and made things happen. But in these last two novels, she was kind of a non-factor when it came to the conflict resolution… very reactionary. This issue doubles down in Storm Cursed because many of the conflicts happened off-page (on the periphery of the story, where the characters find out about them after the fact), which only served to increase the distance I felt. Maybe that’s why I had more time to scrutinize the characters – there wasn’t as much active engagement.

Now for some positive talk (because, after all, I still love the series). What definitely didn’t let me down were the side characters and the overall advancement of the series. Between Mercy Thompson and Alpha and Omega, this world has so much depth! The number of stories and characters Briggs could expand on are boundless. Every side character is interesting. Every backstory compelling. Every supernatural faction is still mostly an enigma. The care paid to its overall construction and development is brilliant, and it’s also why Briggs is one of my favorite authors (not to mention she’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Working as a bookseller, I’ve met countless authors over the years, and she’s still responsible for my favorite interaction to date, by far. If you can catch her at a signing – go!!).

My point is, even though Storm Cursed didn’t quite tickle my fancy like past novels have, I’m still a huge fan of this series and will definitely be reading anything Briggs decides to write next. Which, incidentally, is NOT going to be a random spinoff novel about Christy… apparently Briggs & Co. played an April fools joke where they announced she’d be taking a break from the main characters for a while. Unfortunately I didn’t see the original post, just a summary in a weekly newsletter… meaning I read about it on April 7th and had no reason to suspect it wasn’t legit. So I spread the word… and then facepalmed when I found out it was a joke. But I suppose it’s a testament to this author that I would’ve been totally on board with a Christy novel! I’m not sure how I feel about jokes in general on that scale, but considering that’s how the Hugh books in Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series got started (Iron and Magic was bomb), I won’t complain too much.

Recommendations: while Storm Cursed contained many of the components I’ve come to love from this series, a bit of the magic was missing for me, making it my least favorite in a long while. However, it advances the plot nicely and will give you a few laughs along the way. Definitely don’t pick it up unless you’re up to date with the series. :)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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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.

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by Niki Hawkes