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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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Niki’s Book Journal [June 2018]

Niki’s Book Journal [June 2018]

This month saw the official launch (on my blog) of my Overflowing Bookshelf Challenge. Along with that went a complete library reorganization and newfound commitment to getting a handle on my overwhelming physical TBR.

Last month I complained that I wasn’t good at prioritizing time to read – something I really wanted to change. I feel as though I’ve made excellent strides by setting myself a few goals. They included a stricter “bedtime” of 11:30 (where I don’t actually have go to sleep, I just need to be in bed with a book winding down from the day). My goals also entail setting my phone out of reach when sitting down to read. If my phone is handy, I grab it. I found myself picking it up to “check something” on average every two pages because I guess my addicted brain can’t focus without extra stimulation at the point (it’s maddening). In any case, both of those things seemed to work, and I got through at least twice as many pages in June than previous months. Win.

Now if I can only bust through five times my normal, I’ll get through my collection in no time. ;)

On to the Mini Reviews:

Saint's Blood by Sebastien De Castell

Saints Blood (Greatcoats #3) by Sebastien de Castell [3.5/5 stars]

Even though Saints Blood contained my least favorite story components of the series, I still was 100% totally on board with the writing and the characters. De Castell manages to strike a brilliant balance between making you cringe at truly awful events and making you laugh at the way the main characters think about and handle them. You know you shouldn’t be laughing because of what just happened, but the Greatcoats are just so damn funny you can’t help yourself. All I can say is, de Castell has completely won me over from the rough start in book 1, and I’m genuinely excited to finish the series out (and move on to Spellslinger).

White Hot by Ilona Andrews

White Hot (Hidden Legacy #2) by Ilona Andrews [4/5 stars]

These authors continue to impress me with their ability to deliver consistently amazing stories filled with action, romance, mystery, magic, and a whole lot of fun. What I liked most about White Hot is how it advanced the overall arc of the trilogy, and how we got to dig a little deeper into what makes Rogan tick. What I didn’t care for too much in this one was the behavior of Nevada – she came off really stubborn and immature at times (a trademark of Kate Daniels is that she’s stubborn, but she usually at least acknowledges the irrationality and uses it to calculatingly prove a point… Nevada was just being petty). The dynamic didn’t work for me, but it was a small issues in the whole scheme of how much I’m enjoying this series. It’s very much on par with what you can expect from an Ilona Andrews novel, and I’m eager to devour all the things they’ve written. 

Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi

Zoe’s Tale (Old Man’s War #4) by John Scalzi [4/5 stars]

Discovering that this cheeky sci-fi series continued book 4 with an even cheekier YA POV was a bag of mixed emotions. I haven’t had the best luck with YA lately, but I loved the character Zoe. If anyone could pull off integrating this unconventional new perspective into an adult series, it would be Scalzi. Happily, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it may have revitalized the series for me. At first I was a bit bored with it’s shared (or dual) timeline with Last Colony (book 3) because I’m not the biggest fan of backtracking. However, Scalzi quickly shifted focus to new events that actually added to the “big picture” of what happened in Last Colony and, as a result, improved my opinion of both perspectives. The end of Zoe’s Tale was particularly satisfying, and overall it reinvigorated my interest in the series. Nice. :)

Broken (Women of the Otherworld #6) by Kelley Armstrong [3.5/5 stars]

Broken was a decent bounce-back from Haunted, with the added benefit of Elena once again as the POV. I’d heard this was another Elena book before diving in, and I admit to setting some expectations that it would also be another “werewolf” book with all the same intense feels as the first two. Er… kind of not the case. If anything, I’d call this a “zombie” book – a hybrid of Elena’s great POV and the plot structure of the Paige books. Not a bad combination, because it made for a fun mystery read, but I’d be remiss if it didn’t admit I missed a little of that carnal component that was so strong in the first book (not just the sex, but the overall intensity between every character). Even so, I’m at the point in the series where storylines and characters are starting to cross and I’m loving the convergence enough to keep my enthusiasm pumped for what’s to come. As with Haunted, Armstrong incorporated a mystery based on real world infamous criminals (Jack the Ripper, in this case), and I appreciate how creatively they’re being integrated into this supernatural world. I hope this book marks the upward swing of the series. :)


Overall, I think I’m on my way to establishing good reading habits, but I still have a lot of work to do. My question for you is: when do you prioritize time to read? Is it something you have to work at?

by Niki Hawkes

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Niki’s Book Journal [May 2018]

Niki’s Book Journal [May 2018]

The first half of May was an oddly stressful month of reading. I scheduled way too many buddy reads between the 1st and the 10th, and was forced to play catchup the whole month as a result. It was not relaxing.

The biggest problem is that I suck at prioritizing books that don’t come in audio. Since my turn to audiobooks a couple of years ago (eye strain injury, blah blah), I seem to have lost the ability to make time to sit down and read physical books. I’m too dependent on the flexibility audio provides and often spend any time I do manage to steal dinking around on my phone (I know I’ve said all of this before, but it’s still something I’m working on).

Now that my eyes are mostly better, I want to prioritize making a dent in my physical collection (via my Overflowing Bookshelf Challenge), but getting though even a single book feels like it takes me forever. I used to breeze through 80 – 100 per year, and can’t figure out where the heck I found the time to do that (yes I can – no children, no iPhone, no audiobooks…). Nowadays I’m lucky if I average even 20 books a year at the rate I’m going.

So my goal going into June is to make a concerted effort to choose reading first over other more brainless activities (ahem, phone) and see if I can recapture some of the good reading habits I used to have. My goal is to complete 4 books from my collection (a book a week sounds manageable if I stick to my resolve).


On to the mini reviews!

Part of this book journal idea was to commit a space where I can quickly drop in and review books that don’t have enough material for a full post. Here are my mini reviews from May 2018:

Knight's Shadow by Sebastien De Castille

Knight’s Shadow (Greatcoats #2) by Sebastien De Castell [4.5/5]

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 simultaneously sinking my teeth into a rich story. When de Castell is on his game, I have a hard time pulling away. I’ll I can say is, he seems to have found his groove, so if you’ve waffled on continuing the series, consider this gentle encouragement to keep going. :)

Skullsworn by Brian Staveley

Skullsworn (Unhewn Throne #0.5) by Brian Staveley [3/5 stars]

If I could’ve chosen any group from the trilogy to learn more about, it would’ve been the Skullsworn (maybe not necessarily through an early Pyrre perspective, but she’s definitely an interesting character). The Skullsworn are essentially a guild that uses death as worship, so they naturally produce highly skilled assassins. I was hoping to get into the nitty gritty of the training process (kind of like what Staveley did with the Kettral in the first book), but it was more focused on Pyrre’s initiation process and less focused on the group as a whole. It had a few good fast-paced “scheming” moments, but a lot of the book was slower moving than I’d anticipated. I also had a pretty solid prediction early on about one of the major plot points, which unfortunately killed any of the suspense I was supposed to be feeling. It was far from a bust, though. I loved the setting – a alligator ridden swamp/delta with plenty of local lore and voodoo (good cultural immersion always goes a long way with me), so even when I wasn’t always 100% engaged with the plot, I was at least enjoying the atmosphere. Pair that with solid writing and a good ending earned this prequel a solid 3 stars (I liked it) rating. Unhewn Throne is a definite keeper for me, so I’m genuinely looking forward to whatever Staveley produces next.

Demon Spirit by R.A. Salvatore

Demon Spirit (Demonwar Saga #2) by R.A. Salvatore [2.5 stars]

I may have stalled on writing this review a bit longer than necessary, but it should tell you something about my general lack of investment in this book that I can’t remember a single, solitary thing about it even though it has only been a few months since I finished it. Nada. Squat. Zilch. A big fat pile of nothing. So I’m left with only the vague memory of forcing myself through the book without retaining anything (because I was bored – the book didn’t have much resembling plot-advancement, that much I remember). This is not good. Despite love of Salvatore in general and my curiosity for everything that takes place between this book and Child of a Mad God, I’m seriously considering abandoning this series for the time being… or at the very least putting it on the back burner for other things. I just can’t bring myself to invest time in the final book of the trilogy when I had such an unremarkable experience with Demon Spirit. Especially when I have a laundry list of things I’m enjoying more. I’ll probably revisit one day, but not in the near future. Heck, I might even skip ahead just to reinvigorate my interest in the series. I own them all. :/ [update: I wrote this review. I meant every single word. But now I’ve changed my mind and want to give the final book a go… it’s a long story. Lol]

Fade Out (Morganville #7) by Rachel Caine [3/5 stars]

It’s clear I’m getting a little too old to fully appreciate YA problems – they all just seem so unnecessarily dramatic compared to RL issues I’ve been dealing with. Even so, Morganville books continue to offer me that light escape I crave between all the heavy adult fantasy novels. Compared to the other books in the series, nothing truly earth-shattering happened in Fade Out, but I did like the expansion on vampiric history and politics (to a minor degree). These bite-sized stories always put me in a good mood, and I’m genuinely interested to see where Caine takes it next.


That’s it for my musings in May! Thanks to all who read my posts. :)

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Niki’s Book Journal [April 2018]

Niki’s Book Journal [April 2018]

This book journal idea may have just revolutionized my reviewing process. I open up the draft for this post after finishing a book (motivated by the fact that I only have to write a paragraph or so), and before I know it I have a full-length review that merits its own post. The combination of retraining my brain to open WordPress right after finishing a book along with a couple other reading trackers have definitely made a positive impact on my reviewing process. Long story short: I only have two books reviewed in this format for April, but I’m okay with that.

I love this new change in my habits because I’m finding myself drawn to writing more throughout the day (which will hopefully culminate into actually working on one of my novels). And as a HUGE bonus, I’m producing more book content both here and on Goodreads, which is in line with making me the consistent book reviewer I’ve always aspired to be.

During this process, I started a tracker in my bullet journal and discovered that on average I’m finishing 2.5 books per week, but generally I’m only reviewing about 1 pw. I don’t think I’d wrapped my head around that particular disconnect of why I never seemed to catch up on reviews (I mean, really, it’s not rocket science). I knew my efforts weren’t enough, I just didn’t realize precisely how ineffective I was being. No more! I have a new system in place to help me even out that ratio.

I created some tracker in my bullet journal. I’ve had several (basically unused) tracking methods over the years, usually just a list on Goodreads, but a couple of months ago I started a bullet journal and it has drastically improved how I organize all the things. I start with a book progress status bar tracker at the top of my weekly spread:

As you can see, I finished three books that week. Then I take those finished titles and put them into my (ugly but functional) new review tracker:

They key here has been creating a category at the top for each step in the process. Composing a review can take a couple hours, so if I just write “write review for x” I have to be able to commit a lot of time to it before I can check anything off. As I’m super motivated by striking things off lists, having each step listed separately allows me to do just one component of it at a time without getting overwhelmed. It’s definitely making a difference. My next step is to beatify the tracker. :)

Journaling done. On to the books!


Carpe Corpus (Morganville #6) by Rachel Caine [3/5 stars]

I always enjoy the atmosphere and mood Morganville books create, so Carpe Corpus gets a decent rating for that alone. I went into this series (a bit late than most) under the impression that there are a few different story arcs within it. With this novel, I fully expected that supposed culmination of events to really wow me… yeah, not so much. The story seemed to resolve itself so quickly that I was left feeling like I missed something. I mean, I know the books are super short, but still. What I did like about this novel in particular was the stellar character dynamics and relationship progressions. I maintain that these characters feel a lot more rounded and realistic compared to many other YA. I’m definitely still looking forward to continuing the series because reading each one feels like coming home, but overall Carpe Corpus didn’t make much of an impression.

The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan

Son of Neptune (Heroes of Olympus #2) by Rick Riordan [3.5/5 stars]

Son of Neptune was a solid sequel to The Lost Hero and an improvement on all accounts. My biggest complaint of the first novel was the senseless repetition, so it was refreshing for book 2 to have a consice plot where everything had a purpose in building towards the overall arc of the novel. There were still lots of “tangent” monsters to fight, but I thought the encounters were integrated much more seamlessly. And as an added bonus, the main POV was a familiar face that I’ve missed (Percy!!). Son of Neptune also introduced some brand new characters who have the potential to land among my favorites for this author. I’m finding myself eager to pick up Mark of Athena sooner than later, which is an excellent sign.

by Niki Hawkes