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Niki’s Book Journal: August 2018

Niki’s Book Journal [August 2018]

I realize we’re already 1/3 of the way into September, but I’d been keeping this journal through August and it would really bug me to combine it with September and have a month missing. So here we are, lol.

August was a weird month of reading. I started out with a bang – sticking to a schedule (without it feeling like it was an obligation), and crushing my time spent reading from previous months. And then the last week or two of the month approached, and I realized three things: a bunch of high-priority new releases were going to hit the market, I’d signed up for several buddy reads (without writing them down or, you know, actually planning for them), and several of my library holds had just come in much earlier than planned. I felt overwhelmed and inundated with good books (#firstworldproblems) and it kind of paralyzed me a bit. I went from finishing 6+books a week at the beginning of August to barely completing a single one in almost 2. I also lost my writing voice and couldn’t wrap my brain around composing a review. The whole situation was weird – I haven’t had something knock me off my game this bad since December of 2013 (yeah, I remember the date haha. This bout wasn’t nearly as weird as that one). Sometimes I guess my brain just needs a break. I only wish it had let me know it was tired ahead of time so I could have at least planned for it a bit, lol. I seem to be back into the swing of things now. :)


Mini Reviews!!

Sword-Bound by Jennifer Roberson

Sword-Bound (Tiger & Del #7) by Jennifer Roberson [3.5/5 stars]

I wouldn’t call anything in this series groundbreaking for the genre, but for the pure fun-factor, it gets an “A” from me. Sword-Bound is a bonus book of sorts, published over 10 years after what I thought was the final book in the series. I really liked how the story arc in the first 6 books ended, so that’s probably why it took me a while to pick this one up. It read a bit like an extended epilogue (and I hear the author is working on yet another continuation), but I found a ton of enjoyment in the familiar banter between Tiger and Del, the infamous sword fights, and the setting and culture that makes these books so memorable. If you’re interested in a light fantasy read, this series is a great pick.

Black Powder War by Naomi Novik

Black Powder War (Temeraire #3) by Naomi Novik [4/5 stars]

Another enjoyable installment in the Temeraire series. The military angle became a little more prominent in this book, but I didn’t mind it as much as I might have in most other circumstances because of one important thing: no matter what else is going on in the story, Novik never forgets to keep the dragons at the center of attention. She always brings it back to them, highlighting the novelty and fun, and I’m certain that’s why I’m always engaged during sections that would be a detriment to any other story (lengthy travel scenes, lots of dialogue, and battle sequences – I should clarify that I love military strategy and combat in general, but after the thousandth and one battle scenes in all things fantasy, they start to sound the same… I lose interest unless it’s done with a unique twist). Overall, I’m still very much in love with the dragons in this series, and am eager to find out where the story goes next. I’ll be picking up a copy of book #4 as soon as possible! :)

Eulalia by Brian Jacques

Eulalia (Redwall #19) by Brian Jacques [3.5/5 stars]

My expectations for Eulalia were simple: I wanted lots of hares, lots of badgers, and lots of scenes within Salamandastron. I mean, just look at the book title! And the cover! Yeah…. all of that not so much. This is the first Redwall book in a while where I feel a little let down. It had a lot of great moments within it, and the one hare within the story has become one of my favorites from the series (Maudie – she’s the bomb lol), but overall my expectations fell victim to some bad marketing choices. Even so, any time I get to spend in this world is good time, so I’ll give it a pass. The new characters and conflicts were as good as ever, and I find myself eager to dive into the next book (I can’t think about how close I am to the end… sad!).


How did your August go? :)

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Tackling the TBR [38]: September 2018

tackling the TBR

It’s once again time for my favorite feature: Tackling the TBR! There’s nothing I love more than picking out which books to read next, and this slightly organized method of reading has really amped my enjoyment to the next level. Bring on the mantras!

Read the best books first.
&
Life is too short to read books you’re not enjoying.

However you put together your TBR for the next month, the goal is to reduce the amount of obligation in reading and increase the fun.


Here’s a look at how the system works:

1. Identify the titles that take top priority in your TBR.
2. Combine them all in your own Tackling the TBR post.
3. Throughout the month pick from that pile as the mood strikes you.

Here’s what mine looks like:

September 2018 TBR Tackler Shelf:

I seem to have taken an unplanned mental break from everything these last few weeks (sometimes those are good for you). I’d been sticking to a really strict reading schedule (because all of my library holds came in at once and I wanted to make sure I got to them all) and I think I caused myself a little burnout. As a result, this month I’m back to just listing out 10 priority titles, and I might actually be able to get to them all. I’m most excited for all things Ilona Andrews. :)


Have a great September!

by Niki Hawkes

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Tackling the TBR [37]: August 2018

tackling the TBR

It’s once again time for my favorite feature: Tackling the TBR! There’s nothing I love more than picking out which books to read next, and this slightly organized method of reading has really amped my enjoyment to the next level. Bring on the mantras!

Read the best books first.
&
Life is too short to read books you’re not enjoying.

However you put together your TBR for the next month, the goal is to reduce the amount of obligation in reading and increase the fun.


Here’s a look at how the system works:

1. Identify the titles that take top priority in your TBR.
2. Combine them all in your own Tackling the TBR post.
3. Throughout the month pick from that pile as the mood strikes you.

Here’s what mine looks like:

August 2018 TBR Tackler Shelf:

I found myself almost antsy to set this post up because I’ve been having so much fun lately organizing and scheduling books. (<-Edit, that attitude came back to bite me in the butt… you’ll see). From all appearances, my lineup of books looks the same as always, but I have them arranged a little differently this month.

Top Row: Books I already have copies for and am definitely reading (The Kim Harrison ones are super short, so I’ll be doing that entire trilogy).
Middle Row: Books I have a library hold on and would love to read next month if they arrive in time.
Bottom Row: Books I’m either partway through or am just less excited to read (Gardens of the Moon the exception to both of those).

So… I was so excited for this post, that by the time I went to review it the day before publication, everything had changed (lol, I guess you really can be too prepared). Now EVERYTHING on my list I’m excited to read. :D I left a few blank spaces to accommodate a couple of review titles I know are headed my way.

I’ve been over-scheduling myself these last few months, and that has resulted in several half-finished titles I’d like to get a handle on in August (<- Edit, I already got a handle on them by the end of July and deleted them from this list – go me!). I figure if I stick to my conservative 10 book high-priority list, then I’ll have plenty of time between titles to work on some of these lower priority books (which are just good enough that I don’t want to abandon them outright) (<-Edit, I speed-read a couple of them to the end and abandoned the others). The point of this method is to focus only on high-priority titles, so I’m hoping this visual separation will help keep my attentions on the best books first (because let’s face it, some titles that were high-priority drop down the totem pole once you get into them…but I’d still like to finish what I started). I figure a chapter a day of the less-appealing titles is time I can fit in easily. (<-Edit, I decided they weren’t worth my time and did what I needed to do to free up space for review copies and other titles I know I’ll love). 


So, an unconventional post, but one I’m oddly happy with because it shows the honest struggle it can be to plan out reads sometimes. It also highlights how often throughout the month my reading plans are tweaked.  It’s so weird to feel like I’m both a meticulous planner and a mood reader at the same time. I seem to have finally found a method that allows me to mix the best of both worlds… perhaps I’ll do a post on that soon. :)

The fact that I update my reading schedule almost daily has me wondering if posting a Tackling the TBR more frequently might be more helpful. <-Any thoughts on that idea? Would a weekly or bi-weekly Tackling the TBR post (with a different format) feel like too much? I’d love some feedback. :)

 Have a great August!

by Niki Hawkes

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Niki’s Book Journal [July 2018]

Niki’s Book Journal [July 2018]

The biggest bookish thing that happened this month was that I finished work on my reading/creative space and could finally just sit and enjoy it (I’m planning a bookshelf tour at some point).

It was wonderful. Around two weeks in I decided to designate it the no-phone zone. If I want to listen to an audiobook while working on a project, I’d hookup my wireless headphones, leave the phone set to the right screen in the other room, and click it on remotely whenever I needed it. I think it’s brilliant.

Unrelated (but perhaps spurred by my new anti-phone productivity), I finally set myself into a blogging schedule and came up with a way to plan upcoming posts – more on that later. Not being organized in this area is part of the reason why I’m so bad at getting reviews written and posted. It’s an ongoing goal to pay at least a little attention to everything I read on this platform. People see me reading new things on Goodreads all the time, but never get more than a one sentence – I liked it! RTC (if I had a dime for the number of unreviewed books that still say RTC…).


Mini Reviews!!

Kiss of Death by Rachel Caine

Kiss of Death (Morganville Vampires #) [3/5 stars] by Rachel Caine

I guess it says something about the general lack of robustness of this series that I seldom have more than a paragraph or so to write about it. Possibly this is due to how short each book is, but I think it’s mostly because once you’ve read a couple, you’ve pretty much read them all. Kiss of Death did change it up a bit – taking the characters out of their main setting (for reasons that felt a little inconsistent with the plot so far, but whatever), and I have to say I genuinely enjoyed the journey. These really are the perfect bite-sized reads to help break up the heavy fantasy I’ve been reading and, although my reviews aren’t the most flattering, I’ll be disappointed when I run out of them. They’re slightly off-beat and would be great recommends for older teens (it doesn’t have anything explicit, but it definitely endorses underaged sex). I wish I had devoured these when I was younger and more able to appreciate them, but for now, I’m glad that it still has appeal to me as an adult.

Wildfire by Ilona Andrews

Wildfire (Hidden Legacy #3) by Ilona Andrews [4/5 stars]

I devoured this trilogy so quickly that a lot of it feels like a blur now. If the authors hadn’t announced that there’ll be a novella to wrap things up and a spinoff trilogy on the horizon, I’d probably be complaining that Wildfire left the series a bit incomplete. But I won’t, because there is. :) As much as I love the back and forth between the main characters, my favorite element of this book was digging more into how the different “Houses” of this world function and learning more background info about those dynamics. I also have to give the book kudos for handling an aspect of the love story really well (having to do with jealousy and ignorance, but I won’t hash out the whole thing). In any case, Wildfire and the Hidden Legacy series in general perpetuated my fangirl attitude towards these authors and I can’t wait to devour the few unread series I still have from them.

The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince by Robin Hobb

The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince by Robin Hobb [3/5 stars]

Robin Hobb be like “Niki, you think Fitz and the Fool messed you up, you just wait. Ima gut punch you as many times as possible in under 200 pages.” Piebald prince, my friends, is a bonafide tragedy. It was also poignantly written and so starkly engaging at parts, which is exactly what you don’t want in a story that’s setting you up for a throwdown. It has been a month and I’m still not fully recovered. On one hand it was great to see a back history for why the “witted” are so despised in the main Elderling series, but on the other I think I may have been better off remaining ignorant lol. In all seriousness, this was a well-crafted novella on par with Hobb’s other works. My personal dislike of tragic stories definitely affected my rating because, although I love this author, I did not enjoy all the negative feelings stirred up in me while reading this story. Kudos to Hobb for being a skilled enough writer to evoke such a strong reaction in me (she’s my favorite for a reason), but suffice to say I won’t be rereading this tale anytime soon.

The Builders By Daniel Polansky [3/5 stars]

I saw this title pop up on my Goodreads feed and thought “you know, I’ve never tried a grimdark Redwall story – cool!” and then proceeded to devour it that afternoon. It had a clever infusion of woodland creatures into a dark tale of revenge, and I think had it been humans instead of animals I still would’ve enjoyed it. It made me ponder though – were the animals even necessary? In any case, I appreciated the creativity. This is probably the only time I will have the opportunity to refer to a tale of betrayal and murder as “cute,” but that’s exactly what it was. At the very least, it put this author in my radar. It’s a great snack-sized story that I’d recommend if you need something light between books.


Thanks for going on my book journey with me. How was your month in reading? :)

by Niki Hawkes

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The Overflowing Bookshelf Challenge: Getting Organized!

The Overflowing Bookshelf Challenge: Getting Organized!

While working on my massive New Bookshelves Project (Instagram), I also took the time to get organized for my Overflowing Bookshelf Challenge. During the reshelving process, I decided to forego my typical alphabetical order arrangement for my unread titles in favor of a descending “priority” lineup. I’m going to share how this new reorganization has set me up for success with my challenge.

I can’t tell you how much time I’ve wasted staring at my collection, researching titles, and creating shelves on Goodreads while trying to get straight which books I should be reading first. I couldn’t find a great way to keep track of everything, so I’d have to re-look up the same titles constantly, wasting precious brain power and reading time. Clearly I needed a better way to organize these titles, and I took me an embarrassingly long time to realize the best solution would be to physically move them around in my collection instead of creating endless digital lists. #brilliant

Since I had to pull all the titles off the shelves anyway for the bookshelf swap, I took the time to painstakingly research each book to check for audio availability (either through audible, library overdrive, or physical CDs at my local branch – 3 sources for each title!! It took forever). Eventually I had everything separated into 3 categories:

1. Books available on Audio for Free!
2. Books available on Audio for a Cost.
3. Books without an Audio option.

I then arranged them from highest to lowest priority on the shelves in their own respective sections. The image at the beginning of this post is how it turned out. :) Here are the top shelves (or, the highest priorities) within each category:

I love it. This new shelving layout allows me to immediately see what’s on the docket, and it made it immeasurably easier to identify which bottom priority titles were up for eviction from my house (researching these bottom titles required another several hours of effort, but I was able to remove 99 from my shelves, which I’m super proud of).

What im left with are titles I’m genuinely interested in reading and a clear, fool-proof plan for reading them all: start with the highest priority and work my way back.

As I’ve explained before, I’m not the fastest at getting through physical reads for a plethora of reasons (eye strain, arcs, phone distractions, etc), so most of my book enjoyment these days come from audiobooks (it’s a bonus that I can listen to them all day at work). So this is the main reason why I chose to separate my collection accordingly. It also frees up more time for physical reads and will enable me to work though my collection that much faster. Here’s the first physical read series I’m Tackling:

Overall, even though it took a ton of time and effort, I’m 100% pleased with how it turned out and think I’ve taken out most of the obstacles I was facing for getting a handle on my collection. Here are some current stats (not including YA titles…I haven’t touched those yet):

Audio Free: 183
Audio $: 139
Non-Audio: 270
Total Non-Read: 691
Titles for Donation: 99 -> 14%!! (I was shooting for 10%)
New Total: 592

Once I let go of my donation pile, I’ll have 592 books to read. Figure I can do about 5 a month (leaving 5 for non-owned titles), then I should be able to get through all of these in 9.87 years. That may seem like a lot, but before I started thinning out my collection some years ago, I was looking at a 40 year TBR pile. The goal has ever been to get the TBR down to a “manageable” level, and 10 years was my goal. My new goal is 9 years (540 titles) – let’s take it in baby steps. :)


Thanks for following along my challenge journey. My next post will be about the much-needed reorganization of my unread YA titles. And then, dare I say, I’ll be finished with this project and can focus on challenge updates from there on out. :)

by Niki Hawkes

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Top Ten Books I’ve Read So Far in 2018!

Top Ten Books I’ve Read So Far in 2018!

I’ve had a pretty decent year in reading so far, and a few of these titles have even been added to my very conservative list of all-time favorites. What’s more, I actually wrote reviews for most of them (that’s a big wow for me). So, in no particular order:


The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley

Emperors Blades by Brian Staveley [5/5 stars]

This review has been a long time coming, as Emperor’s Blades is still one of the best books I’ve read this year (actual Goodreads update: “5/5 stars! And a new addition to my shelf of favorites!”). But for some reason I’ve been stalling on writing the review. Maybe because I know logically the book had a few problems and won’t work for everyone, but I tell you, every single aspect of the story worked for me. So I’m going to proceed fangirling as if I was unaware of the things others found fault in. ;P To start it off …This is a sneak peak of an upcoming review scheduled July 20, 2018.

Child of a Mad God by R.A. Salvatore

Child of a Mad God by R. A. Salvatore [4/5 stars]

I’ve been reading (and enjoying) R.A. Salvatore for almost 20 years, so what struck me as profound during Child of a Mad God was how well-rounded a writer he has evolved into. He was always an accomplished storyteller, but compared to his early works in the world of Corona (published in the late 1990s) it’s immediately clear how next-level his work has become. Child of a Mad God was superbly written and I don’t have a single critical thing to say about any craft-related aspect of this book – it was excellent. I didn’t realize this book was part of the Corona …Read Full Review

Siren by Kiera Cass [4.5/5 stars]

No one is more surprised than me how much I freaking loved this book. Cass and I have a bit of a hit or miss relationship where I’m either 100% on-board fangirling… or throwing the book in disgust. Luckily, The Siren fell into the former category – something I wasn’t led to expect based on some brutal early reviews I read for the book. I have a theory as to why it caused such harsh reactions for fans of Cass’ work: The book is less about the romance, where the main love interest is kept on the periphery for most of the book …Read Full Review

Knight's Shadow by Sebastien De Castille

Knights Shadow by Sebastien de Castell [4.5/5 stars]

Considering how polarized my opinion was for Traitor’s Blade, it’s surprising even to me how thoroughly I enjoyed Knight’s Shadow. It must have been the perfect combination of elements to satisfy my mood because even while reading it I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why I liked it so much. It just had that addictive quality that kept pulling me back to it in favor of other things, which is something books don’t do to me a lot these days. The balance between humor and grit was well done, so I enjoyed laughing while …Read Full Review

His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik [4.5/5 stars]

Woe is me for not having read this years ago! I had this amazing dragon book sitting unread on my shelf for over 10 years… and I’m surprised no one revoked my membership to the dragon obsession club (not a real thing). In all fairness, the way people described this book and series gave me a very different impression than what the first book actually entailed. They’d say, “it’s an alternate military history, but with dragons.” I’m sure that description is completely accurate for the series as a whole, but had someone mentioned even briefly that His Majesty’s Dragon was less about …Read Full Review

[July 17, 2018] Nyxia Unleashed by Scott Reintgen

Nyxia Unleashed by Scott Reintgen [4/5 stars]

I’m really pleased with this sequel. The story seems more in line with what I think people were expecting from the first book: highly-trained teens dropped on an alien planet to mine Nyxia. There was less competition in this book than the first, and I missed a bit of that head-to-head drama, but the good character dynamics remained strong. What it offered instead was a new world to explore – complete with diverse flora and fauna, a fascinating planetary history, and indigenous beings with a breathtaking culture. Nyxia Unleashed was filled with countless moments of wonder and awe. The world-building was superbly …This is a sneak peak of an upcoming review scheduled July 16, 2018.

Burn for Me by Ilona Andrews

Burn for Me by Ilona Andrews [4.5/5 stars]

Everybody who said “ignore the cover, this book is awesome!” was absolutely right. I should preface this review by saying that I recently got up to date with the Kate Daniels series (my current holy grail of urban fantasy), so I’m still riding the high from all the amazing things I experienced there. My opinion of Burn for Me was definitely influenced by my feelings for these authors in general. Had I read this first, I’m certain the rating would’ve been more conservative because I’d have still been trying to assess how I felt about the writing. Since I already know …Read Full Review

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

Murderbot Diaries (the whole thing) by Martha Wells [5/5 stars]

Murderbot might be my spirit animal. I loved this novella. It had a fun plot and, more importantly, it had a killer main character (pun intended) who will speak to your inner introvert like no other. And it was funny. I wasn’t expecting to laugh so much at a SecUnit POV, but the situational humor and dialogue delighted me at every turn. Good humor will spark a higher rating in me every time, and it almost feels like a bonus that everything else was so good too. Overall, All Systems Red had all the components I look for in a sci-fi …Read Full Review I have a fun full-series narrative review coming July 23, 2018.

Iron and Magic by Ilona Andrews [5/5 stars]

Iron and Magic somehow managed to become my favorite Ilona Andrews book to date! It joined a very small percentage of books allowed on my all-time favorites list, and no one is more surprised at that than me. It’s a true testament to these writers’ skills that they managed to make me fall in love with a book about a character I don’t even like. And furthermore to get me feeling deep empathy towards him. I can say with confidence coming out of this book that I’m 100% rooting for Hugh (even though he’s still an ass ;P). He was always an interesting …Read Full Review

Menagerie by Rachel VincentMenagerie by Rachel Vincent [4.5/5 stars]

I reeled so much from this book but I never got around to writing a review. It was a fantastic surprise and I’m very eager to see how the trilogy concludes in Fury this fall. :)

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I can’t single out just one as my very favorite, but my top 3 are easily Emperor’s Blades, Iron and Magic, and All Systems Red. Here’s hoping the remainder of 2018 is just as awesome. :)

by Niki Hawkes