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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?? šŸ˜­šŸ˜­

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: 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 bigā€”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 evacuatedā€”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 thatā€™s before he encounters the alien enemy. Butler has no choice but to drop down onto a hostile planetā€”because someone is using the war zone as a cover. The answers are thereā€”Butler just has to make it back aliveā€¦ -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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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 spaceā€”and one adventurous young explorer who discovers the meaning of family in the far reaches of the universeā€”in this light-hearted debut space opera from a rising sci-fi star. Rosemary Harper doesnā€™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, sheā€™s never met anyone remotely like the shipā€™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.

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by Niki Hawkes

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Niki’s Narrative Novella Review: The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells

Omg – the alliteration was unintentional (but the best thing I’ve done all week). This post is about my reading experience with Murderbot Diaries and why it’s now one of my favorite mini-series.

Niki’s Narrative Novella Review (Spoiler-Free)
The Murderbot Diaries

By Martha Wells
[5/5 stars]

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

All Systems Red: All Systems Red seemed to have everything I’d been hounding for in a good sci-fi – an interesting character, a compelling mystery, exploration, and some cool technology shit. Five pages into this novella and I was able to check off all the things. Hell, one sentence into this book and I knew we were going to get along (Wells is so good at opening lines. I haven’t even read The Wizard Hunters yet, but for years now I’ve been using it as a positive example of how to hook a reader). Murderbot was just so goddamned funny that I constantly felt on the verge of uncontrollable giggles the entire time. It spoke to my very introverted self like we’d been besties for years (ironically), but also spurred a level of compassion from me I haven’t given to a book in a long while. I came away from this first novella feeling like I’d just read a gem.


Artificial Condition: My feelings going into AC were tentative optimism. After all, sequels are never as good as the first, right? So if this could hold up to even 75% on how much I enjoyed All Systems Red, then I’d be good. The first few chapters were slowly paced and I really enjoyed reimmursing into Murderbot’s brain. Wells even had me laughing early on with MB’s interaction with a new character. And then the plot thickened and we were on our way to answering some questions. I lost myself for a few hours as the story snowballed to the end with a fantastic momentum that perhaps was even more of a ride than the first book. At this point, I went “omg, give me the next one,” and proceeded to troll the publisher and review sites until I lucked into a copy (okay, I didn’t really troll, but I was still exceptionally lucky).


[August 7, 2018] Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells

Rogue Protocol: I braced myself for this book. My trust in this author and this series was so strong by this point that I just hopped in and buckled up without even asking where we were going. And I was treated to possibly my favorite of the bunch (it’s like combing fine hairs). With all the key components right up front, some amazing Murderbot feels that kind of rocked some of my perspectives on life (that’s deep), and crazy whirlwind action that almost gave me whiplash, it rocked. If I wasn’t convinced from how much I loved the first two books, I was definitely a huge, unapologetically screaming fangirl by this point. Holy smoley that was good.


[October 2, 2018] Exit Strategy by Martha Wells

Exit Strategy: I entered into this final installment a little worried. For the character, for my emotions, for that heightened expectations that comes from reaching the end of something truly fantastic and hoping the quality holds up. I was not disappointed. Exit Strategy had the perfect balance of all the amazing elements that make this series so special. Did I shed a tear at some point during this book? I can’t remember. It might have been a combination of laughing and crying, or just something in my eye. Either way, I have strong opinions about how much I’d love to see this world expanded on more. I still have a few questions, but more importantly I’d miss Murderbot too much. In an interview I read, Wells mentioned that this is the end of the story arc, but she’s already thinking about what to do with it next (yay!).

So if you need me, I’ll be in my cubicle recharging from this series and trying not to get snot on my phone. I really hate it when I leak.

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by Niki Hawkes

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Mini Book Review: All Systems Red by Martha Wells

All Systems Red by Martha WellsTitle: All Systems Red

Author: Martha Wells

Series: Murderbot Diaries #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 5/5 stars

The Overview: In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety. But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isnā€™t a primary concern. On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ā€˜droid ā€” a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as ā€œMurderbot.ā€ Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is. But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth. -Goodreads

The Mini Review:

Murderbot might be my spirit animal.

I loved this novella. It had a fun plot and,Ā 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 and I can’t wait to see where the story goes next!

Series status: I plan to read all the things… in fact I may hound for ARCs and purchase hardcovers for my collection.

Recommendation: All Systems Red seems to me the epitome of the best the genre has to offer, so whether your looking to get into sci-fi or are an established reader seeking your next good read, All Systems Red earned its spot as a staple in my recommendation arsenal.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Title: Ancillary Justice

Author: Ann Leckie

Series: Imperial Radch #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest. Once, she was the Justice of Toren – a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy. Now, an act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with one fragile human body, unanswered questions, and a burning desire for vengeance. -Goodreads

The Review:

I’ve been systematically devouring as many of these sci-fi series as I can get my hands on (fueled by James S.A. Corey, Ann Aguirre, Martha Wells, and Rachel Bach, to name a few), and I’d been saving Ancillary Justice for a rainy day. I was certain I was going to love it… but unfortunately it fell a little short of my expectations.

For the first third of the book I thought I was having an issue with my ability to concentrate. I found the writing really dense and it was often difficult to figure out what was happening. Sometimes rereading passages would help, but more often than not I felt like I was missing something. It distanced me from the story and made me feel disconnected from the characters. Around the 30% mark, it finally started to draw me in with a few action scenes and got better from there. By the time I finished, I was glad I’d read it, but holy cow that was a rocky start. My conservative rating is a reflection of that and the fact that the book lacked some depth.

The potential for political intrigue was one of my biggest motivators to keep reading. The dynamics were so interesting early on that I really thought it was going to expand into something profound. All the ingredients were there, they just didn’t get manipulated enough for any sort of payoff. It lacked a nefarious edge to really get me down and gritty with the story, so I came away feeling like I’d just read a whole lot of fluff (with potential).

I did have some positive takeaways: The book started with a great concept and maintained a strong voice throughout. It also boasts one of the more fascinating POVs I’ve come across (non-human, which was a delightful surprise). Those items alone saved it to a “I liked it” rating.

I’m kind of an outlier when compared to the mass majority of stellar ratings, but I do have a Goodreads friend who had similar issues with this book, but explained them a lot betterĀ [see hisĀ review]. He talked about his theory for it’s success based on people being fascinated by theĀ various stylistic elementsĀ and I’m not ashamed to admit I’m one of those people – I really love when an author can show me something I’ve never seen before. But the rest of his points were spot-on with my impressions of this book (nice review!).

Recommendations: I’m not as wide read with sci-fi as I’d like to be (yet), but I’ve definitely read several I liked better than Ancillary Justice. Despite that, it’s still recommendable for its interesting concept, characters, and overall story. It’s not the first book I’d hand you in the genre, but it would certainly come up in conversation. Keep this one in mind after you’ve read my other sci-fi recs first. ;)

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by Niki Hawkes